Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Mysteries within mysteries and an original mythology to become immersed in," wrote Warren Ellis before this meaty, post-apocalyptic fiction first hit the stands, and now that I've read further than the first issue which merely hinted at the heart and depth of what's been created here, I can see exactly what he means.
There's a constant dread of danger in this catastrophically damaged world. The various factions and indeed a whole semi-industrialised, mountainous city teeter precariously on the verge of violence, under threat as they are from ruthless political power-play, religious intolerance, and the very terrain which is barren and broken. Whether it's the environmental armageddon we currently face, the lorry loads of immigrants smuggled then sold into slavery, the destructive politics of tyrants like Mugabe or wilfully ignorant racism that doesn't even bother to lurk beneath the surface of our societies, Johnston has found novel ways of building them into his depraved new world, giving it far more bite than most.
He's even thought about the language we use, particularly when swearing which subconsciously references dogs and religion, and substituted goats for the former (goats are the cattle of this future, for there is no grass, and since for those struggling to survive outside citadel limits, goats represent their very means of subsistence, it's no surprise that their language revolves around them), whilst making an interesting point about the latter as a crowd gather to look at the corpse of a murdered sun worshipper:
"Fuckin' deserved it. Filthy fuckin' sun-slaves."
"How do you know he was a sunner?"
"Look at him. All those freaky fuckin' tattoos."
"Weren't no slave, though."
"Oughta be. Sun-damned savages."
"No, why you say that? Why you say "sun-damned" when you don't believe in no Mother Sun?"
While we're on the subject of the two religions explored so far here, I've heard of tax incentives for marriages, but this is the first time I've come across the idea of using them to convert from one religion to another!
This is all in the city of Newbegin whose cold, calculating and treacherous leader is referred to in the text of a letter found by the scavenger Michael out in the wilderness, and attached to a machine which speaks in Tongue, a mysterious - perhaps lost - language. It's written by a father to his son, instructing him to follow the machine to A-Ree-Yass-I where, legend says, the Big Wet that destroyed their world began. He brings it to a town and a woman called Abi, but when their settlement is burned to the ground by marauding Sand-Eaters, the survivors are forced to embark on a punishing journey to Newbegin itself, which, if they survive the bandits, slave traffickers and their own tempers, might not be the salvation they hope for...
[In my original preview to this book, I wrote:
"I'll bet you anything you like that volume one's title comes from one of my favourite Siouxsie & The Banshees tracks
To which Antony replied,
"But, oh my god," I continued, "I've just realised: you don't think the series' title was inspired by The Mission, do you?!"
"Fuck off! (All WASTELAND story titles are track names from various and sundry bands wot I like. The book's title... is not.)"
Thank Christ for that, eh? I thought we were in for a bit of postpunk pugilism.]