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Nelson is a new comics anthology from Blank Slate Books, in which 54 leading UK comics artists come together to tell one 250 page story, following a character called Nell Baker from her birth in 1968 to the present day. Each artist gets to write and draw one four page chapter, telling the events of a single day in a particular year, and gradually building up not only the story of Nell's life but a portrait of Britain over the last 43 years.  The story is basically social realist, but the styles of artwork vary widely...

Although the book is based on an original idea by Rob Davies (and co-edited by him and Woodrow Phoenix) the individual artists seem to have been pretty much responsible for the events described in each segment.  This makes the tone very changeable, one minute funny, the next sad, sometimes just downright puzzling.  Things that look as if they're going to be important plot elements in one chapter are ignored in the next, but may surface again ten or twenty years on.  And this is A Good Thing, because it makes Nelson feel like a real life, packed with random moments, odd encounters and curious coincidences.

Rob Davies

Inevitably, as with any anthology, there were some contributors whose work appealed to me more than others, but that's just a matter of personal taste.  I really liked John McNaught's almost wordless 3 pages, filling us in on what Nell's absent dad is up to in 1993, and also the way that Simon Gane, in the 1992 chapter, picks up and runs with something that Sarah McIntyre left hanging way back in 1973. Gary Northfield and Jamie Smart bring a lovely sense of fun and anarchy to Nell's pre-school years.

Jamie Smart
The period detail is nicely handled: here and there historical events intrude into the story (the moon landing, the miners' strike of '84) but mostly it's the background details of clothes, cars, adverts etc which anchor each episode in its particular year.  I'm only two years older than Nell, and the depictions of the '70s and '80s rang true to me.  (Interestingly there's no mention of the Falklands War, nor of the Great Storm of 1987, which used to be a regular feature in stories about the '80s, standing for the collapse of Thatcherism and all sorts of Important Stuff.)

Ellen Lindner
As the story moves towards the present day, however, the treatment of real events becomes less subtle and moments of historical importance start to barge their way into the foreground.  (9/11!  The London Tube Bombings!  The Great Icelandic Volcano Sneeze!) I don't think that's a reflection on the people who wrote and drew the later chapters, but rather a sign of how difficult it is to write about the present and the recent past.  The '70s and '80s are far enough away now that we can see what they were about, but it's sometimes hard to make out more recent years through the thickets of headlines.

Simon Gane
There's also a slight tendency to miserablism in the later chapters.  The young Nell is a comics fan (Luke Pearson's chapter includes a lovely panel of her gazing at a rack filled with all the comics of my childhood, the Dandy, the Beano, The Victor, the Beezer, Krazy, Battle...) and as she comes of age and  heads off to art college I started to think that we were seeing the coming-of-age story of a comics artist.  But things don't work out for Nell; real life gets in the way, and her ambitions seem to fade away.  It's odd that when you bring together 54 of this country's most talented and hard working artists, all of whom have succeeded in making a name for themselves in comics, they end up telling a story of artistic failure.  It smacks of the bleak worldview that runs through a lot of British movies and high-end TV dramas , and I suspect it comes from a feeling that in order to be thought Serious a story needs to be A Bit Depressing.

Not too depressing in this case, though, because the lively drawings and ever-changing styles are always a treat, and when one author takes the story in a glum direction there's usually another along shortly who'll have something funny or heartwarming happen instead.  And some of the darker elements, like one character's descent into homelessness, are handled very well; sad and thought provoking without being mawkish or preachy.

At the end Rob Davies, who penned the first chapter, takes over again to deliver a wry ending which doesn't trouble itself with the big events of 2011 but concentrates instead on the stuff that's really important; friendship; family; memory.  It all adds up to a fantastic communal achievement, and deserves to be widely read.

Nelson costs £18.99 (or £24.99 for the de-luxe hardback edition) and should be available wherever good comics are sold, or direct from Blank Slate.  All profits go to Shelter, the Housing and Homelessness charity.  (I should probably point out that it's not suitable for children.)

'The Recollection'

By Philip Reeve

I loved Science Fiction when I was a teenager, and sometimes since I've gone looking for books that would recapture that Sense o' Wonder from the stories I read then.  Having been away from the genre (at least in its written form) for the best part of thirty years, however, it's difficult to know where to start.  I sometimes get the feeling that I fancy reading a good, old-fashioned, planet-hopping Space Opera, but when I look in the bookshops I'm confronted with books that are a) twice the length of Anna Karenina, b) episodes in on-going series, c) based on aspects of physics so arcane that I can't begin to understand them or d) all of the above.  I tend to start such books with enthusiasm, then lose interest around a third of the way in and skip to the end (still, they're better than all the fat fantasy novels people have recommended to me recently; I don't even skip to the end of those, just abandon them half-read in hotel rooms).

Anyway, you can imagine my cries of delight when I came home from BristolCon with a copy of The Recollection by Gareth L Powell and discovered that it's exactly the sort of book which got me reading SF in the first place. It has more planets, spaceships and mind-stretching Sci-Fi concepts than you could shake a stick at, it's a stand-alone story, and it's only 300 pages long.

Unusually for a tale of galaxy-spanning space brouhaha, it begins in Bethnal Green, where down-on-his-luck artist and gambler Ed Rico is being threatened with violence by some of the people he owes money to.  Within a few pages, however, strangeness intrudes into the story, in the form of mysterious arches which begin to appear all over the world.  They are portals to who-knows-where, and Ed's brother Verne vanishes through one of them, conveniently situated on the down escalator at Holborn tube station.

Following him through a series of such arches, Ed and his sister-in-law find themselves travelling across a series of alien worlds, eventually arriving in a future where humanity has spread across space using technology back-engineered from the arches themselves.  His story interweaves with that of space pilot Kat Abdulov, whose rusty starship, the Ameline, has much in common with the Millennium Falcon, the Serenity and that one in M John Harrison's The Centauri Device whose name I forget.

In fact, M John Harrison is the author I was most often reminded of while reading The Recollection.  The way the story moves between modern London and far future space echoes Harrison's Light, Gareth L Powell's spaceports, like Harrison's, are dingy and litter-strewn, and like Mr Harrison, he has a way with names: Strauli Quay, the Bubble Belt, Vertebrae Beach...  (There's also a chapter called Ragged-Ass Drive Signature, surely a prog-rock album waiting to happen.)  But M John Harrison novels, while reliably brilliant, are intellectually dense and fill the reader with a draining sense of ennui (I was out of sorts for weeks after I finished Nova Swing).  The Recollection is more upbeat, and although a terrible threat to the universe eventually arrives to link the two halves of the story, the book's overall feeling is one of optimism and well-crafted fun.

On the whole I preferred the first half of the book to the second, but I don't really mean that as a criticism: I almost always prefer beginnings to endings.  The final chapters reveal the characters' destinies and explain some of the book's mysteries, but I do hate destinies, and mysteries are much more fun than explanations.  In the end, though, I was left wanting more, which is probably the best thing you can say about a story, and a nice change from all those fat novels I mentioned earlier, which left me wanting less.   The Recollection leaves room for sequels, and if there is one I shall read it, but Mr Powell has already announced his next novel with Solaris, and it doesn't appear to be connected to this one.  That's good, I think, and the sign of an author with ideas to spare.  On the cover of  The Recollection Paul Cornell predicts that 'Gareth Powell is going to be a major voice in SF'.  I suspect he's right.

The Recollection is published by Solaris Books, and is available from all the usual places, including  Or download it from the Rebellion store.