In Thomas Moylan’s Scraps of the Untainted Sky, he discusses how sf creates a future world through the present. Speculative fiction has historically held a lens to society in numerous ways. It has long been an effective way of spreading social justice propaganda, with a specific political agenda, arguably the most famous of which is George Orwell’s 1984. It has engaged with issues of race, religion, gender, and sexuality, all projected into a possible future. An sf text can engage with the future in a way that solves, ignores, or even exacerbates its societal flaws. However, despite that the future must necessarily reflect the present, it is “more concerned with the created world or produced social environment, more interested in the collective fate of the human species” (Moylan, 7). This mode has the ability to be extremely committed to its world, and in doing so can wholly absorb its readers. An absorbed reader is thus more able to really construct, consider, and inhabit the future society, which allows them to think more critically about this new space they are occupying. And “although they will be tempted to use familiar material from their own world to interpret the text, they inevitably must contend with textual structure that generates an alternative world that is always already estranged from that empirical reality even as it selectively and symptomatically captures that reality in its pages” (Moylan, 51).
The world-building in the new series The Fuse, by Antony Johnston, Justin Greenwood, Shari Chankhamma, and Ed Brisson begs to be examined through this lens. The story takes place in Midway City, an orbiting energy platform 22,000 miles from Earth (for comparison, the moon is over ten times farther away than that). In a direct juxtaposition with its unfamiliar setting, it’s also a cop serial starring a hot young upstart volunteering for the crappiest police job in the solar system who’s been partnered up with a veteran cop who all but literally says “I’m too old for this shit.” It starts with the murder of a homeless person and progresses through the new guy finding familiar footing on the force. And it’s through this tried trope—cleverly referenced in even the description of their pilot issue, “Cynical, foul-mouthed veteran ANTONY JOHNSTON (UMBRAL, Wasteland, Daredevil) gets partnered with fresh-faced idealist JUSTIN GREENWOOD (Wasteland, Resurrection)”—that these creators navigate the difficult exposition of creating and explaining a future world. The reader’s participation in the trope builds a backbone from which the playful deviations make very specific points.
Johnston uses non-explicit cues in nearly every piece of dialogue to add a component to the nuanced universe in which this story takes place. The new-cop vehicle allows him to introduce the world slowly, answering questions in context with on-the-job training. Even that which is left unexplained undoubtedly has an explanation—it is clear that this world has been meticulously crafted, and anything that is a mystery is left so intentionally. The premise of this world, beyond simply being an orbiting energy platform 22,000 miles from Earth, is multidimensional. There are a finite number of reasons for which people visit The Fuse, namely business, tourism, and relocation. There seems to be a considerable issue with illegal immigration, however, as bizarre as that sounds on a space station. People move up there to evade the problems they left behind them on Earth, which range from “one hell of a tax bill, if you know what I mean” to the mysterious reason that Dietrich volunteered for one of the least-coveted jobs in the solar system—but which Klem posits is likely a romantic issue. Among the other problems faced by this unique living environment, one experiences the physical (“the dangers of projectile weapons in a pressurized environment…[and] a serious gun-smuggling problem”) as well as the social, and the main catalyst within this narrative: “cablers.” Fuse Police veteran Klem describes them: “cablers don’t live on the street like your average bum. They live inside. Ducts, shafts… between the levels, behind the walls. They’re nutjobs. They rob, they steal, and they keep out of the way.”
Greenwood’s art enhances this world, constantly reminding the reader of the interior-ness necessary in an environment like this. He walks the line between the familiarity of an airport terminal and the inherent strangeness of its location in space. He arranges panels within panels, allowing the flow of the conversation to be paced appropriately as the relationship between partners begins to grow. The new-ness, uniqueness of an energy platform is constantly balanced by the mundanity of everyday objects, of grime and poverty. The idea that not much has changed—the police station, the M.E.’s office, but especially the city hall constructed in exactly the same style with which inhabitants of Earth are currently familiar—drives home the main point of sf as a narrative style. This series engages with the present, with social justice and serialized cop shows and illegal immigration and the potential dangers of 3D printing, in a way that is just removed enough from the present to seem foreign, to take the audience out of a reality where what is mundane is therefore not questioned (because it’s always been there, why question it?) and to turn that mirror back on them.
In only two issues, this series has given its readers a taste of an incredibly mature and fleshed out world, and promises more to come. Published by Image Comics, the next issue is set to publish April 23, 2014.