Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #300: Concrete Park, Vol. 1 by Puryear & Alexander

I don't ask for much: I really don't. I'm fine with really fuzzy science in my SF -- FTL, timetravel, aliens with prosthetic foreheads and an insatiable lust for Earth-flesh, aliens with hideous slavering jaws and an insatiable hunger for Earth-flesh, implausible biology and cosmology and physics and chemistry and sociology and anthropology. All I ask is that a setting make the least bit of sense -- that there be some kind of argument you could make that it could possibly happen.

Call it the Alien from LA rule: if the civilization in your SF story doesn't make at least as much sense as the worst movie Kathy Ireland ever made -- if the city in your SF world is less plausible than an underground '80s style boiler-room called "Atlantis" and populated mostly by Australians  -- than you've got a problem. Concrete Park has a problem.

It's the usual Hollywood near future crapsack set-up: everyone is young and attractive and photogenic (muscular and/or curvy, as appropriate, and not overly encumbered with clothes), but the world has all gone to hell, leading to riots and food shortages and the usual corporatized/internationalized riot cops in their body armor. Resources are clearly limited, and getting tighter.

But, at the the very same time, Earth is transporting tens of thousands of people to an alien world -- how, we don't exactly see, but they're sent in large numbers -- where they're apparently all going to work with pickaxes at a mine face deep in the ice, as if this is a 1947 Yosemite Sam cartoon. This clearly can't be an expensive journey, since the evil body-armor cops are just hoovering up random street thugs from around the world to shove into slavery on this random alien world: no special skills necessary, no homesteading available, no need to vet or choose people to even the slightest degree.

And, yes, tens of thousands of those enslaved mineworkers have escaped, out into the remorseless desert (I can't even keep up the count of cliches at this point), where they have built a city that looks more solid and with a stronger building code than much of The Bronx. Nevertheless, Scare City is lawless, ruled by feuding gangs that seem to keep to the traditional organized-crime standbys: prostitution, drugs, and shooting at each other while running around.

We see no farms, and nowhere for farms to be. We see no useful economic activity on this planet at all, except the sealed mining camps. We see no indication that anyone involved in creating this story thought for one second about how a society actually operates, or how these people would live and keep up their impressive LA physiques. All we see is Cool Shit.

(Do I need to point out that this is possibly the very most stupid colonization plan in any work of sci-fi in history? And that if they can travel so easily, they can certainly find a nicer planet, or a nicer place on this same planet, since As You Know Bob, planets are very big places. Idiot SF creators, if you need to process a bunch of random people wholesale to an inhospitable world, what you need is a teleportation gate: you can shovel people through it, it's plausible to have a fixed other end, and you can play games with one-way travel and the gate's on/off schedule.)

So some random LA gang banger -- given Sadness and Angst by the oh-so-tragic death of his terminally cute kid sister -- is shanghaied to whatever-this-planet-is-called in the periodic cattle car, crash lands, escapes, and begins to get the inklings that he has a Destiny. And the busty girl on the cover, head of one of the local gangs, runs around at great length to introduce us to what will be the supporting cast. At the end of this volume -- Concrete Park, Vol. 1: You Send Me, collecting the initial run of these stories in Dark Horse Presents -- they finally get to Meet Cute, but they probably won't get to bang until the middle of the next story, after at least two gunfights, one car chase, and a showing-him-around-the-city montage.

The actual story here isn't bad -- seriously overwritten, with a lot of angsty narration, but no worse than classic period Frank Miller -- and the art is energetically fleshy and real. There's room for improvement, sure, especially in that overheated narration, but it's a solid adventure story that would make a perfectly cromulent dumb summer movie. But the world? Hoo boy, that's a stinker.

Unsurprisingly, this was written by a screenwriter (Tony Puryear) and an actress (Erika Alexander), who are also married to each other. Somewhat more surprisingly, the art is also by Puryear: that shows a real attention to craft and storytelling that the world-building entirely fumbles. There's probably no salvaging this milieu without massive retcons, but, if they could find a half-decent science consultant, they could immediately up their game substantially for the next project. Concrete Park, though, is only for readers who either don't understand or don't care how societies work.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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