Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"Ugh. So much for getting in early. Aaaand of course there's a queue for the shower. Fantastic."
"What's the hold-up? Did someone hang themselves in the bathroom again?"
"This is exactly why we banned auto-erotic asphyxiation in the common spaces. You think I made these signs just for the hell of it?"
Haha, the very rude punchline on the sign in question only adds to the ribald feel of this exceptional chunk of comedy sci-fi. I've said it before, but speculative fiction that makes you splutter with tea-spitting mirth is verrry tricky. What a highly polished piece of self-published material this is, both in terms of writing and artistically. Artist Cryoclaire popped into the shop recently and asked if we would take a look at their work. Now, we get a fair few requests of this nature, so I asked if she could leave us a copy to look at when I got chance, which she kindly did of #1 and #2. You never really know what to expect with such submissions, but I was absolutely blown away with what I read.
To sum it up in a nutshell, I'd have to say this is the chimeric offspring of William Gibson and John Allison. Our main character deadbeat Dan, the poor chap above who can't have a wash because someone's up to self-abuse in the water closet, is described as a... 'pissy misanthrope and recovering VR junkie, now condemned to a dead-end job delivering sketchy packages in a post-Soviet urban hellhole.''
Dan made his cyber-notoriety by getting massively off his tits on various pharmacopeia and recording his 'out there' psychonautical experiences, usually having a bad one, for other people to vicariously experience through the safe remove of virtual reality. He stoically, and rather self-delusionally, saw himself as a pioneering trailblazer of consciousness exploration, whereas everyone else just saw him as someone to have a good laugh at. Then a new computer virus partially fried his implanted cybernetic operating system and thus his brain causing him to be forced offline and marooned in the drudgery of everyday life. He's still got his drugs, of course: he needs those more than ever these days, bereft of his online life. He does still get the odd troubling hallucination that he can't explain mind you.
Most worryingly though, the virus seems to be gradually accounting for a not insubstantial slice of this particular tech-addled / drug-abusing fringe of society. Dan is actually one of the lucky ones as all the others to date were rather more permanently synaptically fried. The fact that he barely escaped with even a few neural pathways semi-intact is down to his friend Lin, a black market cybernetics installer who isn't averse to cutting a few corners whilst slicing through tissue! Both Dan and Lin are determined to find out who is behind the killer virus wiping out their... well, acquaintances is probably a better word than friends, frankly.
I should have guessed the creators were big William Gibson fans even before opening the first issue up, given their publishing imprint is called Dead Channel Comix, undoubtedly referencing the first line of Gibson's cyberpunk classic Neuromancer...
"The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel."
Now that's a opening line, and if someone is going to try and emulate the master of cyberpunk (though I seriously wish Gibson would get his finger out and write the last two issues of his comic debut ARCHANGEL - getting a bit tedious waiting now, William), you better be ready to take me on a technological rollercoaster of a ride. Writer Io Black most definitely is; the sci-fi elements of this work, the operating system implants, the cybernetic hacks, the underground techie community, they all feel perfectly credible as a possible mildly dystopian flavoured future. What then flips it all on its head like the blue screen of PC death is the bawdy, knockabout pithy John Allison-esque humour that punctuates the pitter-patter dialogue like phaser fire...
"Ever perform implant surgery when your blood sugar's crashing? Last time I started operating on an empty stomach, I whacked off the wrong limb..."
"... three times."
"But hey, mistakes happen. And I finally unloaded those prosthetics we found on that dumpster-dive last month so that's a win-win right there. Anyway, what's been new with you? Implant still holding up okay? Any cool new hallucinations I should know about?"
"... Just the usual...."
Art-wise, Cryoclaire keeps the Allison vibe alive as I suspect she might well be a big Max GIANT DAYS Sarin fan, which only adds to the frivolity. The other resemblance I could see, which I actually mentioned to her and to my surprise she was utterly unaware of (so clearly not an influence, then!) was Natsume NOT SIMPLE, RISTORANTE PARADISO Ono. It's in the faces.
#2 also hit the mark, moving the mystery elements of the story along and further developing the characters nicely. I'm keen to see where the story goes next and just how much further down past the U-bend Dan's life can possibly get! At least he's still got his drugs, they've not got flushed away yet, though Lin does keep confiscating them in an effort to keep his remaining grey matter from turning to mush! What a friend...