Strange Times Book 1
by Dave West
Possibly the worst thing that can happen when reading something that you’ve really enjoyed is getting to the end of it and realising that it’s not going to be resolved until publication of Book 2. But worse than that would be when you follow a link trail after finishing the first volume in print and expect to find Volume 2 nearly finished, only to realise that there’s just a couple of pages. This means the print version of Book 2 will be out sometime in 2015 or so. This is not a good thing.
And so it is with Strange Times. I was really enjoying this one all the way through until it became really obvious towards the end that we weren’t going to reach any sort of satisfying conclusion. But most of my disappointment with the end of Strange Times has to be put down to thoroughly enjoying the book right until the end.
Strange Times is an end of the world tale, featuring a group of seemingly unconnected characters slowly being drawn together throughout this first book to stop another strange group becoming “the end of human evolution“. From the very start, you can feel the disparate threads all being drawn together tantalisingly well by West until the whole thing becomes this huge tale of time travel, super-speedsters, biblical plagues, ghostly brothers, detectives who can spot those mysterious patterns developing and more. Oh, and a talking rock who can foretell the future.
(Missing a +5, the difference between becoming a world renowed time travel pioneer and a dead scientist in a bubble. From Strange Times Book 1 by Dave West, published by Accent UK.)
The tone of the book is set very early on; a perfectly pitched bit of gentle sci-fi comedy drama, very much in a Douglas Adams vein. There’s a moment on pages 4 & 5 where it all worked perfectly for me and I realised I was going to enjoy this: West’s scientist character Samuel Close leaves for work with the day’s to-do list consisting of just one thing – to travel in time. Samuel Close does indeed move in time, but West throws in something really wonderfully simple and true, so simple I’d never really thought about it before. Although Samuel moves 2 weeks into the future, he also finds himself adrift in space. It’s so obvious; two weeks into the future for Samuel also means two weeks into the future for the earth, and the Earth has moved on in that two weeks, and Samuel hasn’t, hence the predicament you can see in the art above. A great moment of science fiction and science fact and science comedy all coming together.
(No-one ever listens to the talking rock until it’s too late do they? From Strange Times Book 1 by Dave West, published by Accent UK.)
We then start jumping around a bit, with West splitting his tale into very short chapters, 1-4 pages that rapidly introduce a colourful yet seemingly unconnected cast who, over time are all drawn together by events seemingly beyond their control. And that’s another great element of the book; looking out for the connections that you feel will eventually come. And you wont be disappointed when they materialise either, although they’re usually so nicely done that you wouldn’t have been able to guess them either.
So whether it’s the tale of Jackson Clemens and his future divining Rock, the strange deaths of John Simons and Simon Johns, Summer Fields imaginary friends and deep dissatisfaction with living goth life 101, or Jack Dawe’s unusual police work, there’s always a sense that West has a plan for his characters. And they’re very good characters in themselves, all looked at with West’s eye for both science and logical common sense mixed with just the right amount of deadpan humour. Take Billy O’Donnel, huge brain who puts together a speed suit. It works perfectly, too perfectly and he only realises the problem:
(“He had indeed mastered speed, as he always believed he would. It was only as he approached the tall imposing skyline of Leyton City that he remembered Newton’s Second Law Of Motion. And Billy knew he was in trouble”. From Strange Times Book 1 by Dave West, published by Accent UK.)
The connections are what really makes this book, all carefully told in very short sections, concentrating on each individual character, yet all the time drawing them all together to finally meet up and realise that this strange group, living in strange times (it is raining a plague of frogs outside) are meant to meet and meant to stop that other similarly unusual group.
As for the art in Strange Times, it’s a really good, yet unusual style that sits very nicely with the unusual, disconnected story. West’s characters are just shy of comedy stereotypes in a good Douglas Adams style fashion and the art, simplistic, unrealistic but always completely clear and focused on telling this complex and wonderfully engrossing story is a perfect fit.
Strange Tales Book 1 is very, very good. Or at least, it’s a very, very good setup. But it really is just half the story, and whether the story really works, whether all the promise found in this first book is actually worthwhile, I can’t say. Not until Book 2 and the conclusion. However, as setups go, this 170 page, beautifully designed hardback is pretty damn good indeed. Most of Book 1 is available online at the Accent UK site, but for just a tenner, this lovely little book is a hugely entertaining bargain.