Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Without optimism for the future how can we hope to shape a better one?"
The crisp yet soft and lithe-as-you-like strokes here smack of the sort of 1960s' / 1970s' fashion and romance line art which Posy Simmonds was referencing in her MRS WEBER'S OMNIBUS where the secretary loses herself in daydreams. Feed it through a futuristic filter then add more than a little John Bryne at his loose-pencil best in the figures, smiles and eyes and you have a very attractive package.
Early on Greg Tocchini delivers six pages of classy, unsensationalist and quite natural nudity, modestly portrayed with deftly deployed holograms and colours for modesty's sake, all drawn in life-class poses then artfully arranged so they communicate with one another, and there's one panel in which Johl Caine playfully pokes his son Marik in the ribs and young Marik positively dances in response, one arm raised, his leg leaping up and away.
Oh yes, the first chapter is bursting with joy!
It's very, very beautiful, with subaquatic, man-made leviathans which might put you in mind of Sean Murphy's THE WAKE. Not only that but spectacle-orientated sci-fi should make you gasp and there are panoramas here which will take your recycled breath away - flourishes which don't constitute a punchline but a moment of irresistibly prolonged awe before the drama resumes.
This is a book about maintaining hope in the wake of barely conceivable adversity.
Over and over again astronomer and loving mother Stel's determined optimism isn't just challenged by those who have given in to despair or feckless, ineffectual resignation but brutally contradicted by events outside her control. Up and down and up and down, the family's fortunes undulate from the highest crests to the lowest troughs: the second chapter climaxes with Stel's moment of wholly unexpected, delicious triumph juxtaposed with another's fall from grace so far that it is devastating.
So it has come to this:
In the future our sun will expand then go supernova, at which point the Earth itself as well as its inhabitants will need more than Factor 500. We will be engulfed. Obliterated. And that will be the end of our story. This isn't speculative, it is a scientific certainty.
Long before then the radiation levels on the Earth's surface will have exceeded intolerable, so if we haven't already escaped this solar system we'll have needed to move underground or deep, deep, deep underwater.
In LOW humanity hasn't yet found an alternative, habitable planet but Johl's wife Stel remains optimistic and focussed.
Johl is focussed but more on the immediate: feeding the subaquatic city of Salus by way of hunting using vast, submerged vessels and personal, watertight exoskeletons keyed to family DNA. His son Marik has followed in his mother's footsteps so Johl is keener than ever for his two daughters, Della and Tajo, to follow his and become pilots. Tajo is dubious but Della's all for it and keen to take her first helm, so Stel reluctantly - yet with good humour - agrees: today will be the first family outing!
The problem is, the problem is, the future is not what it was. The problem is, the problem is, if you've killed their cat, they'll kill your dog. And there is someone out there in the freezing, oceanic depths with a long-held grudge.
Ten years on - ten long years take place between chapter one and the main event - the enormity of the challenge gradually becomes clearer and clearer: probes were first sent out in search of habitable planets over 13,000 years ago. 13,000 years without success, 13,000 years of failure! Can you imagine maintaining hope in that terrible knowledge? Few others have and, now that less than a year's supply of air remains for Stel's deep-sea colony, its leaders have caved in to drug-fuelled, let's-take-what-we-can-get hedonism. They won't assist or in any way enable Stel's action, even when she believes she's successfully retrieved a probe at least to the Earth's toxic surface.
As to her family, I've deliberately left the various other members' plight alone, but that lolloping, grinning son isn't doing much grinning now.
The scope of this first instalment I've barely touched on for Stel is resolute and won't take no for an answer. Where there's a will, there's a way and this is a book for those like me who believe there is always a solution even if it means discarding your comfort zone in favour of getting out there, going it alone and forging your own way forward.