Brink is named after its setting: a series of space stations orbiting a desolate, post-apocalyptic Earth — the last remaining outposts of humanity. They’re massive and can support millions of humans, but the people who live their lives on them are fed strong anti-depressants, to deal with the desolate existence of their relatively meaningless lives. All they’re really doing is breeding and eating synthetic foods, while orbiting a dead planet in massive tin cans.
However, while the backdrop is clearly deep-rooted in science fiction, the book doesn’t stick to the genre alone, rapidly veering off into a police procedural, and determinedly avoiding doing anything else you might expect it to for the entire remainder of the book. The main plot follows two cops as they investigate a cult that seems to be growing in power and status. However, they have to operate somewhat off grid, because everything to do with the running of the space-station, from the security to the food supply, is intrinsically tied up in the machinations of the corporations that run them.
The art in this book is far from incidental. The beautiful, grungy design echoes classic 70s/80s sci-fi movies, crossing the costume design of Alien and Blade Runner with the space station design of 2001: A Space Odyssey. This ties in well with the story, which has a Philip K. Dick feel of paranoia and lives lived on the edge. However, it maintains an original feel, too, wearing its influences subtly and carrying them well.
Even more striking than the overall design, though, is the use of colour, with the extreme harshness of artificial lighting permeating every frame of the book. There’s one particularly stunning sequence where a character is escaping from enemies through an air duct. Inside the duct is bathed in blue light, while outside the rooms and corridors are brighter. It creates a phenomenal contrast of action with the intersections between the two creating a stunning masterclass in dramatic colouring.
The art and the story are intricately tied together, with detail built into the backdrops and explained through a sort of augmented reality effect, where labels display the names of devices and the locations where the action is taking place in the metropolis-sized space-stations. Where necessary it also shows the content of the characters’ personal devices, so they don’t have to read out their messages for us to know what’s going on.
This all ties nicely into Abnett’s script, which is dense and sophisticated but worth savouring. He creates a rock-solid backdrop that’s authentic and believable. His central characters are just as solid and well-rounded, fitting in with and reacting to the technological world they live in. But it’s the layers of plot that will keep you awake, pondering over the implications.
Abnett plays havoc with our expectations, making a surprising and genuinely tense tale that’s overflowing with sleight-of-hand storytelling. It leaves you feeling like you’ve been taken on as much of a rollercoaster ride as the main characters, as Abnett juggles them in a twisted pattern of gentle obfuscation that will be thoroughly appreciated by anyone who enjoys a hearty dose of intelligent sci-fi.