Near Future SF Done Well



Brian Azzarello (writer) (2011-12)
Penciller: Eduardo Risso; Letterer: Clem Robins; Colorists: Patricia Mulvihill & Giulia Brusco

Spaceman was released as a nine-part series of monthly comics in 2011-2012 from Vertigo (the imprint of DC for grown-ups), and is now available as a deluxe graphic novel edition. By writer Brian Azzarello and penciller Eduardo Risso, Spaceman is among the best hard science fiction produced in any medium, film, TV or book in the last ten years.

The story is set in a post-climate changed Earth where poor masses live in flooded shanty towns and the rich live behind walls of dry-land privilege. This is a world of men genetically engineered to go to Mars and explore, who were unceremoniously cast off by the government who created them when the funding ran out. Human tragedy resulting from funding running out feels like an all too real and modern day storyline.

These few scattered engineered individuals are the ‘Spacemen’ of the story, and the story finds one of them, Orson, now making his way in a world that views him as a sad freakish mistake at best and more often a dangerous freakish mistake. It is a world in which a young sexy celebrity couple run a reality TV show where orphan children compete in a talent contest every year, and the winning prize is to be adopted by said celebrity couple and an invented street lingo pervades everything as a just believable extrapolation of modern language, if you brain me, yeah? And everything is contrasted against a dreamlike Mars journey that never was – the grand expedition that was the implicit promise that the creators of the Spacemen, made to the Spacemen simply by creating them, but then never met – though that story also doesn’t quite work out the way it should in an ideal dream and is perhaps only a ghost of a tragic expedition that could have been. The whole story lurks just on the other side of time’s horizon and it succeeds in the increasingly difficult field of Near Future Hard SF by managing to be just far enough ahead of things to be science fiction but not so far as to be magical far-future stuff and nonsense.

And near future SF is increasingly difficult. Technology is moving at such a pace and culture is changing so fast now that any attempt to project probable technology a few years into the future is liable to be overtaken by real technology before a story even rolls around to publication (the publishing business is slow after all – it can take the lumbering big presses a year or more to move a novel through to print). Spaceman succeeds in part by focusing on things that are not quite yet culturally acceptable (the reality TV adoption show and human genetic engineering for example) and still a few decades away (the ice caps melting leading to general flooding) and rolling this together into a commentary on the direction we are heading as a society and a planet.

If you’re an SF reader, or even if you just like a good, intelligent story, it’s hard to go past Spaceman. If Spaceman were a film it would be considered groundbreaking and it’d be up for all sorts of awards. As it is now generally a law of the universe that good comics become (maybe good, maybe bad) films eventually, you might as well get in on the ground floor and read Spaceman now. That way, when others are raving about it in its filmic form five or ten years from now you can nod smugly and smile about how you got into the real bizz in the way back, if you brain me, lol lol lol.

About Christopher Johnstone

Christopher Johnstone lives in Melbourne
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