Page 45 Review by Stephen
"I reckon computer game realism has reached its peak."
He's playing Doom!
But didn't we all think that when first immersed in the video game Doom? Racing down that first, three-dimensional tunnel alone blew my newbie little mind. Then eventually oh my god it was green and red and terrifying!
Set inextricably in Britain 1996 when copper-wire theft was a thing and some VHS video machines ran on short and long play (compatibility alert!) this is John Allison's best book yet. And that's saying something given how much I adored the revised-for-print edition of BAD MACHINERY: THE CASE OF THE GOOD BOY. I love the Marvel-homage and Tetris-tribute cover. Tetris is very telling here:
"It's the perfect game. The rules are clear. Organise the world into perfect, neat little rows. Watch your problems disappear. There's a tiny, two dimensional world in there. I'm keeping it going."
Hmmm, for how long?
So speaks Shelley Winters, a slim and attractive redhead always smartly dressed for school. She's quick, witty and seems very wise. But she's having to "keep it going" against all odds in the wake of a family tragedy.
Tim Jones too appears to have a level head on his shoulders. Older and taller than Shelley and his best mate, Ryan Beckwith, he seems organised, smart, attentive, generous and reliable. Ryan, meanwhile, has much to contend with. We're talking about Tetris again:
"My life's more like the 'B' game. It's Level 9, High 5. Big messes clogging things up, making it impossible to do well. Everything happening too fast to change."
The difference in Tim and Ryan's lives in is made grin-inducingly clear during their morning schedule readying themselves for school. Allison ingeniously depicts this in a large, early shot of the two adjoining halves of their semi-detached house, each window of which is a panel. Tim calmly brushes his hair, slips on his jacket, kisses his mum good-bye and leaves the house. Ryan panics, brushes his teeth, flails manically as his mum attempts to attach a school tie and
you get the picture.
The "big messes clogging things up" actually boil down to his dad. His parents are separated and his dad has moved out but he keeps coming back and dragging Ryan out to the boozer.
"Mum told me not to let you in the front door, Pa."
"I let myself in the window anyhow, so it's not a problem."
Oh yes, it is.
However. However. Ryan is actually capable and he cares. He's not the irresponsible idiot some might suspect from afar. It's just difficult to say no to your Pa.
Two of the elements I love most about John Allison's art are his figure work and faces. Everyone has a different body form and body language: Ryan wide-eyed and gesticulately wildly, though all too often weighed down by pressure and hangovers; Tim tall and lithe but not lanky; and the small of Shelley's back could not be more perfect.
John also does "drunk" very well!
So. Ryan is assigned to watch over Shelley by a teacher who suspects she is fragile. Tim is very much taken by Shelley while Ryan fancies Becka and a party at Mick Speight's approaches.
How long do you think it will be - in Tetris terms - before, I'm afraid, it's game over?