Science fiction often gets called speculative fiction, to shake off the necessity to contain science and, in part, to ditch some of the nerdy baggage that sci-fi has carried with it over the years. But it seems a particularly appropriate term for Soon, which transports us 130 years into the future and goes into a phenomenal amount of detail about what this future world is like.
In the book, Simone is about to embark on a space voyage she’ll never come back from. She’s the commander of the mission, which is clearly important for the future of humanity, though it’s not fully explained why. But with the mission looming in the near future, she takes her adult son, Yuri, on a trip around the world, to give him the luxurious benefit of a world view that few people can afford.
It’s an intriguing surmise. The story is partially about Yuri and the coming-of-worldliness trip that he’s being taken on. His mother and the space mission are almost incidental – he’s accompanying her on this trip but she’s doing talks and media interviews, while he is the one with spare time to explore his surroundings.
However, this trip feels almost incidental, too. It’s a hook on which Thomas Cadène and Benjamin Adam can hang an extraordinary speculative vision of a possible future for Earth. Interestingly, probably only about half of the book follows the characters on their journey. The other half is a detailed illustrated lecture, a brief history of the world, which whistles through the formation of the planet and ploughs through human history up to the book’s present day.
There’s some sober reading in here, not least from the perspective of a reader who is still looking for the end of a global pandemic that seems to be defining our times. In Soon‘s timeline there’s also a serious pandemic, on the back of a global recession. It kicks off apocalyptic chaos, with wars eventually breaking out over control of the vaccine. Take a deep breath and tell me that isn’t enough to keep you awake at night in the long, isolated summer of 2020.
The lecture takes us through these upheavals to an eventual equilibrium of sorts. Yuri isn’t living in a time of chaos, but his mother’s mission, which is costing millions that could perhaps be spent elsewhere and benefits no-one left behind on Earth, gives him a little further perspective. This young man, who’s essentially just upset that his mother is going to leave him behind forever, has some emotional growing-up still to do.
Through the book, the art stands proud, fleshing out Yuri and Simone’s world. It’s subtly done, with wide, sweeping vistas, showing futuristic trains, aircraft flying over landscapes abandoned to nature, unexplained biohazard suits and voice-activated technology pervading it all.
What’s particularly interesting is that the art is essentially duo-chromatic throughout, using a spot colour to add variety. This colour changes depending on where in the world Yuri is, and it bathes the locations in atmosphere, with cool pale blue for the modern city of New Hefei, but hot red for New Cape Town’s bustling humanity.
The characters have a stylised, almost cartoonish feel, though they rarely look out of place. This sketchiness sometimes seeps into the backgrounds, though, which often implies detail rather than picking it out. Occasionally the speech isn’t clear – speech bubbles switch shapes and shades without discernible reason, slightly confusing the notion of who’s saying what.
The lecture sections are stunningly designed but sometimes use lines to show you the direction you should be reading, requiring some interpretation that can get in the way of consuming the flow. The art, in summary, is brave and experimental, but it doesn’t always work perfectly. However, we’re glad it’s like this, because when it works, it’s sumptuous.
This sums up the book as a whole. I definitely need to read the next volume, there’s a lot of unravelling that still needs to be done and I’m intrigued to see where Yuri will go next, and what will happen with his mother’s trip into space. But perhaps even more than that, I want to see more from this glimpse into what looks like a completely plausible post-pandemic future.