Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Nothing good grows in the shadow of a Tree."
What an exquisitely beautiful and delicately beautiful book!
I don't tend to associate science fiction with "delicately beautiful". Beautiful, certainly, as Warren Ellis' PLANETARY was from start to finish, but not "delicately" or "tenderly" and this, in places, is both
The light outside Tian Chenglei's bedroom, framed by the tall windows and heavy-hanging drape, is blinding, casting young Tian into silhouette as he sketches and leaving the carpet a half-lit puce. I love the rich gold and midday blue as Professor Luca Bongiorno sits outside a cafe in Cefalu under a Mediterranean sky. He too is sketching Trees. The nearest rises ever upwards, off the top of the page; the one farther off is so tall it fades into heavens.
Over and over Jason Howard nails the necessary sense of scale. These Trees are forever fading out at the top, often at the bottom as well, for they are that vast.
They landed ten years ago without warning, without contact, without anything at all other than their evident existence. Some appeared in remote regions like the Arctic; others appeared in cities as established as New York: that was pretty bad news for anyone underneath. Obviously world leaders reacted but nuclear and biochemical weapons 'inactivated'.
And that was it. On the whole, for the moment, nothing has changed except their existence. Okay, there have been those floods of highly corrosive, green waste, discharged from giant, circular symbols in their 'bark'. But there's certainly been no contact. As President Caleb Rahim of Somalia says of the behemoth straddling his own country and Puntland,
"If there is anything inside that Tree, it has proven over an entire decade that it doesn't care what we do upon it."
Its landing, however, did alter the natural water channels, and not in Somalia's favour. Now Rahim intends to take back the advantage by using the Tree's evident oblivion and one particular property which makes it unique: it is the only known Tree low enough to be accessible by helicopter. You can land on it. And if you can land on it...
Ellis presents us with four intercut perspectives: from Mogadishu, Somalia; from Cefalu, Sicily, where that Professor spies fire in the heart of a young local woman dissatisfied with her lover and his connections to a gang of local fascists; from the City Of Shu, Special Cultural Zone, to which young artist Tian Chenglei journeys and discovers a thrill and a freedom he'd never known in his rural village, and answers to sexuality he never thought he'd find; and then there are the latest developments by the Blindhail Station, North West Spitzbergen, on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.
This is where you'll get most of the verbal fencing you relish from Ellis, between the station's scientists old and new. Whereas most members would love to leg it back home, veteran Marsh refuses to leave and now he's found a very good reason to stay. The ice has become littered with tiny black flowers. Black flowers should not be growing up there.
"Maybe lichen. Not blooms. And even Arctic poppies turn to face the sun."
These haven't. And when inspected under a microscope. Hmmm... familiar...
"Those are wires, Sarah."
"Okay then. Metal filaments... These petals have micrometer wires. They're growing a mineral structure on a biological substrate."
Once more Jason Howard makes it all monumentally beautiful and beautifully monumental. The flowers remind me of those newly discovered in Dash Shaw's BODYWORLD, of which Ellis was a huge fan, which turned out to have properties beyond the psychotropic. I think you'll find these will too. They're certainly pretty hardy!
Also, plenty has changed since the Trees' landing. How could it not? The environment is one thing, human perspective and reaction's another. The Professor will lecture later on.