The creator-owned comics coming from Image Comics, continues to provide me with a lot of new and interesting science fiction to read, enjoy and share with you here on the blog. This week? Trees by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard.
I’ve had a copy of Trees Volume 1: In Shadow for a while now, and kept putting off reading it. Something told me it was going to challenge me, and I wasn’t wrong. I needed to be in the right frame of mind, open and willing to pick up on everything, in order to read it. It’s the kind of dense science-fiction story in which the sci-fi element takes a back seat, the narrative driven by the points of view of multiple characters that tie everything together.
Set in a future 10 years after a massive, planet-wide alien landing, Trees moves between several different characters: a young artist in China, a woman in Italy, a scientist in Svalbard who’s looking for meaning, a reporter in France, and a politician in New York. Each lives in the shadow of one of the massive Trees, alien ships that, after landing all across the world, have done nothing for a decade except to expel waste.
The characters feel real and have strong stories all their own. Talking too much about them feels spoiler-y to me. Here’s what I’m willing to say: Vince wants to be mayor of New York City. When the Trees fell, he was in Lower Manhattan and watched as the infrastructure fell apart, as the other parts of the city left them to fend for themselves amid the initial panic of alien invasion. Tian Chenglei is from a small village in China who is searching for a place to be, to belong. He travels to Shu, The Special Cultural Zone, a walled city around the base of a Tree where everyone is welcome and allowed to be whoever they are. Marsh, a scientist, is part of a research team studying the Trees. What he finds growing where nothing should be growing may change our understanding of the Trees and their purpose. Eligia is a woman trapped by circumstance who dreams of more. When she meets a mysterious man studying the Trees near Cefalu, Sicily, he offers her something no one has before: knowledge. From that knowledge, she can glimpse a future where she is in control of her own destiny again. Malek works for the Blue Post News and is covering the impact the Trees have had in Mogadishu and Puntland, Somalia.
All of these people are tied together by the Trees and are living in their shadows. Yet their lives are so very different.
Ellis weaves a wonderful narrative that packs several heart-wrenching blows. The themes are adult, but you shouldn’t shy away from sharing them with your older teens. As you can tell, this is a globally diverse cast. The Trees have been around long enough that people almost—just almost—forget they’re there. Some continue to seek answers as to where they came from, why they’re here, while others try to figure out how they can be exploited for personal gain.
That slow burn of an atypical alien invasion is ever present—10 years later and nothing?—and really ramps up the attention in an incredibly subtle way.
The art by Howard is so well-done. I like how complex everything is, without actually feeling complex. The pages remind me of pencil sketches that someone has gone back over and fleshed out; there’s lots of lines but never in a way that distracts or pulls you out of the narrative. The colors are muted and work so damned well.
For a gripping, near-future science-fiction tale, I highly recommend Trees.
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.