In my novel reading lately, I’ve been on a space opera kick. I’ve read James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse series, plus the Diving Universe series by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta’s War, so my head has sort of been in outer space. Way, way out there. Which is probably why this graphic novel appealed to me.
Descender Volume One: Tin Stars, by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen, is set within the United Galactic Council, a group of nine worlds working and living together. The timeline is very far-future—thousands if not tens of thousands of years in the future. Technologically advanced, citizens of the UGC employ robots of all stripes and colors, from pets to companions to industrial workers.
Everything is going great until giant robots appear in orbit around each of the nine worlds. They attack. The UGC retaliates. Known as The Harvesters, the giant robots leave. A culling of robots begins everywhere as fear and hysteria grip the citizens of the UGC and beyond.
Ten years later, the questions remain: where did the Harvesters come from, and will they come back?
On a remote mining planet, a robot companion named Tim-21 “wakes up.” He’s been “asleep” for 10 years, and what greets him is a nightmare. The colonists are dead, the family who adopted him are gone. Worse? Scrappers land as soon as he reaches out for help, and hunt him. Tim-21’s parts are worth a small fortune, and they want to cash in. But the Scrappers aren’t the only ones who heard his message. On Niyrata, once the heart of culture and technology within the UGC, Captain Telsa, her subordinate Tullis, and a once-famous roboticist, Doctor Jin Quon, have also been dispatched to find Tim-21 and return him to the UGC. Tim-21 may hold the answers everyone has been seeking.
If they can find him before the Scrappers do.
This story has it all: heartfelt family drama, space battles, moral and ethical dilemmas, and a deep, compelling mystery. From the first few panels, you’re pulled in and slapped back and forth in time and point of view. Through flashbacks, you see Tim-21’s arrival at the mining colony, his acceptance by first his family, and then the rest of the colony. You see his life taking shape.
In contrast, you see Doctor Quon’s story begin at the height of his career. He’s the lead scientific advisor to the UGC, brought in on all things robotic. But when giant robots attack, he quickly falls from grace, and falls far. The emergence of Tim-21 offers him an opportunity, but he doesn’t know exactly what that opportunity might be, only that he needs to take it.
Tesla is the messenger and facilitator of that opportunity, but even she has secrets which don’t begin to reveal themselves until halfway through the book.
Despite some heavy material, the art feels light and almost whimsical. I love that. I also love the colors and the choice to make certain areas (UGC) bright so the panels pop off the page, and others (mining colony, Gnish homeworld), much darker, grittier. All of it together looks like watercolors without brushstrokes.
Overall, there’s a little something for everyone here in Descender.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal), and 2014 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fancast. He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012, 2013, and 2014 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.