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The second volume of Ellis’ Wyndham-inspired Science Fiction epic presents a widening gyre as the story picks up from the close of the first volume, starting with Joanne Creasy as she recovers from the events of the first volume and is sent to investigate the Orkney Tree by the British Government. Dividing much of its focus between this sortie into the far north of Scotland, and the machinations of the Mayor Elect in New York, Volume Two is far more focused than the first book of this series. This provides a strong benefit, effectively allowing Ellis to dive deep into the two characters. We do catch up with two more characters at the end of the book, which I assume is setting up the next book.
The first strand of the story concerns Dr Creasy’s venture into the far north, where she meets an assortment of odd Scotsmen who are undertaking an archaeological dig on the islands, looking at the Stone Age ruins. This gives the story an additional theme of the weight of history and the feeling of cultures clashing as standing stones meet drone robots and other forms of advanced machinery. This clash seems intentional, as if Ellis is trying to introduce a meditation on human development. He also seems intent on holding a mirror up to the modern world, showing us that even with the ten seconds into the future technology the characters have access to, hatred and violence still exist. Dr Creasy witnesses an Indian family’s home being bombed and there’s a specific mention of a group, ISUK, which may be responsible for a terrorist action. This feels as if he is trying to ground his SF elements in the real world, not letting them overwhelm the narrative or whisk the more mundane aspects of the world away.
The New York section is sobering, showing us the chaos the Trees’ arrival caused and the devastation that followed afterwards as the Americans tried to fight the invaders (to no response. Insultingly, the Trees ignored any and all human attempts to destroy them). This initial contact forms the background to this part of Ellis’ story as the Mayor-Elect (who unless I’ve missed something, we still don’t know the name of beyond ‘Vince’) takes steps to gain… something for the slaughter of New York citizens by the Police during the Trees’ arrival (again tapping into stuff that’s going on now). It’s never quite clear if he’s seeking justice or revenge, but regardless how one might phrase it, he wants even. This quest to settle accounts with the NYPD, and tangentially, to free himself of the influence of some criminal elements. It shows what a slippery, difficult character he is as he dives into the most Machiavellian politics we’ve seen so far in this book. This storyline delves deeply into the murkiest world of politics, far from the supposedly clean version that we are presented within the media. This is the cut-and-thrust of corrupt politics.
This storyline has the most violent resolution of the series so far, with boats being blown out of the water by rockets, and the art doesn’t flinch from the violence involved. Again, it's downbeat and as realistic as comics get.
Throughout the book, there’s a contrast between the idyllic green of the Orkneys and the hellish, red-tinged, flooded streets of New York. The art is very carefully chosen and directed and conveys the different vistas with shocking clarity. There’s also a use of repeated and connected imagery that reinforces the core narrative of the book and connects the two strands. In particular, there’s an image of a bullet wound and a stone circle on Orkney. Ellis and Howard use this image as a linking motif.
The black flowers from the first book form the target for both strands of the story. They are found in Orkney, prompting a flight of drones to investigate the islands. In New York, in the meantime, one of them grows in a flowerbed, obviously foreshadowing future events.
The art, again, is downbeat, measured, and muted in colour. It fits the tone of the book, and in places is quite breathtaking.