I initially wanted to start this review off by saying something that linked Alien with The Goonies, or some other mash-up of horror sci-fi and kids-in-at-the-deep-end, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be doing Jeff Lemire and Gabriel Walta a massive disservice. Yes, the dirty great space hulk, floating through space, with human crew undergoing menacing and horrifically violent situations, is deeply reminiscent of Alien, particularly with the first chapter seeing the demise of all the adults on the USS Montgomery. However, while the reluctant child heroes of Sentient are as strong and resourceful as you’d expect from a Spielberg family movie, the continuing horror they encounter is more reminiscent of Lord of the Flies than E.T. It’s also far from derivative: while it may keep some of its influences in plain sight, there’s much more to Sentient than an Alien rip-off.
For starters, the children aren’t completely alone, and have the ship itself to help them survive. Val, the ship’s artificial intelligence, is left to attempt to get the children through the trauma of losing their parents, and whatever else deep space is going to throw at them. But does Val have their best interests at heart or is the mission more important?
This and many more questions are thrown up by Lemire’s wonderful story. It’s a proper page turner, and one that will haunt you long after you’ve put it down. Everything about it is perfect: the dialogue, the characters, the backdrop, everything. It’s simply marvellous.
Walta’s illustration is Lemire’s equal, just as perfect in every respect. The nod to Alien, with its dirty, lived-in aesthetic is obvious, but Walta’s creativity takes it far beyond this. The USS Montgomery is far more than just a floating warehouse, it’s also a home, perfectly illustrated in the first few pages as we get peek into two of the main characters’ living spaces. Talking of Walta’s characters, Walta truly brings them to life, forcing Lemire’s emotional story straight into our eyeballs through the faces of the children. Even Val, the AI, grows in character, not just through Lemire’s fine writing but thanks to Walta’s subtle characterisation.
I know you’re going to enjoy this book. The only caveat might be that, if you aren’t fond of science fiction or horror, you might find the setting or the intensity of the story a bit too much. I don’t think this story transcends the genre’s it’s chosen to sit in, but that doesn’t stop it being a perfect example of the form.