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Descender vol 1: Tin Stars

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Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen


Page 45 Review by Stephen

Perfectly paced, action-spliced science fiction in the vein not of the Moebius-inspired PROPHET but of SAGA or OCEAN or TREES.

There's such beautiful, bright light and a vast sense of space that I'm immediately reminded of Jon J. Muth's MOONSHADOW. The watercolours here are equally lush and loose, and in half a dozen paragraphs it will become clear that Dustin Nguyen's command of scale is vital.

The opening shot looking out and over one of the nine Embassy Cities of the planet Niyrata with its fume-free traffic criss-crossing on multiple tiers is an almost electrical thrill, while the cars themselves are the sleekest and juiciest that Matchbox never made.

This is the cultural and technological hub of the nine Core Planets where resides its United Galactic Council. It all seems pretty idyllic and I can quite clearly see how culture could thrive even if not everyone is relaxed. There's one director or delegate striding through a crowd bellowing about her right to exploit resources in spite of the Gnishes' complaints. Her baby's begun crying in spite of its android-nanny's best efforts but big business comes first, does it not?

And then there's young, lean and clean Dr. Quon's oh-so chic bedroom with glass floors, glass doors, glass open-air balcony and big glass tanks full of bright little flecks that are fish! Love the cherry blossom floating in from outside.

Dr. Quon is held in very high esteem. After all, the prodigy practically invented modern robotics. He single-handedly created the little Tim line, indistinguishable from ordinary boys and programmed to be family companions.

Unfortunately everyone's in for an almost immediate and very rude awakening when Dr Quon is summoned by General Nagoki into orbit for something's appeared in the heavens above them and everything changes forever.

Unimaginably vast, it appears to be a celestial machine, humanoid in shape and roughly the same size as the planet itself. One has materialised beside each of the eight other planets and when their blank eyes flare red it looks as though they are about to communicate. They are not.

10 years later and young Tim-21 wakes up on the mining moon colony of Dirishu-6. Everyone is dead. Bodies litter both the sealed lunar walkway and the gangways below that. He can't find the family he was assigned to - Andy and Andy's Mum - but he does find the Communications Hub and manages to access its database. It looks like a lot has happened in the last ten long years, none of it good.

The gigantic Harvesters (as they came to be called) didn't communicate anything other than their wrath. They opened fire on all the nine planets, obliterating life forms and their precarious harmony, sparing only the androids. Then they disappeared. Subsequent suspicions catalysed a robot cull verging on genocide, the militant, tusked Gnishes at its forefront. They're still on the warpath and - now that Tim-21's woken up and logged into the multi-worldwide-web - a Scrapper Elite Squad is heading his way.

Also heading Tim's way is an expedition led by Captain Telsa, daughter of General Nagoki. She's drafted a down-and-out Dr. Quon who's no longer so highly regarded nor half as handsome but unshaven, paunchy and consigned to a lowly bunk bed at home. His reputation was shot during the robotic backlash and now it's in tatters because it has just been discovered that the impossibly advanced Harvesters had precisely the same, complex codex as his Tim-21's. Whom Dr. Quon created.

Two things: the science is a convincing as it is penetrable. You can understand it. Think of the robotic codex as our DNA with its nucleotide sequences. Prior to the Harvesters, the most complex robotic codex invented had an eight-pronged digital lattice. Now we're looking at fifty-six.

Secondly, you wouldn't even care were Tim's past not so tenderly evoked both by Lemire and Nguyen in a series of flashbacks which make clear that young Andy and his mother doted on the boy and how much he too loved his new family. There's also a lovely moment in the present when Tim first finds his robot dog whose bark has gone wonky and backwards. He's been active all this time.

"You must have been so lonely. It's okay... I'm here now."

In the back there's a brief breakdown of each of the nine planets so you can learn what each species has been up to over the last game-changing decade and what they may be planning now. Jeff's left you plenty to puzzle on, and if his name rings a bell then think SWEET TOOTH, ESSEX COUNTY and TRILLIUM etc.

What still hasn't been explained is what happened to Tim when a Scrapper blasted a circular hole in his chest, causing him to - well - die. As far as the eye could see the Harvested stretched before him in greeting - all the robots who had been discarded and destroyed. They asked him to join them, then, just as Doctor Quon repaired and rebooted Tim and effectively withdrew him from that dream, they begged him to find them.

"But you know robots can't dream. Tim-21. That's impossible."
"But if it wasn't a dream - then - where was I?"

Where indeed? Also, what exactly is the Hardwire movement? I infer we'll find out very swiftly in volume two.

The final chapter's a flashback to a few years before the opening sequence when Jin Quon is only on the verge of obtaining his doctorate. He and his tutor make a discovery. This - and what Jin Quon does with it - will change everything you thought you knew.

You now have around seven months to join the dots for yourselves and discover if you've drawn an accurate picture.