On -isms: Concrete Park

By | Thursday, June 18, 2015 Leave a Comment
Imagine Mega City One from the Judge Dredd comics, except without the Judges. There's a structure to the city, but each block acts like its own gang and violence periodically breaks out between them. Everyone is effectively unemployed and living just above squalor, and make what little money they can in illegal activities. Most folks you meet are human, but there's the occasional robot or cyborg, and on rarer occasions a mutant of some kind. Even with the Judges trying to keep order, Mega City One is very much a horrible place and would easily be consider a dystopia.

Concrete Park, volume 2
Now, scale that Judge-less city down a bit in size and drop it on a planet whose entire surface looks like the Cursed Earth. That's basically what you have in Concrete Park by Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander. Readers are dropped into this environment with Isaac, who's being taken to the mines for his crimes, when the ship he's on crashes. He's one of two survivors, and is assisted by local gang leader Luca, although she quickly finds herself at war with one of the other gang leaders.

Despite the fact that the book started coming out as its own book from Dark Horse in the back half of last year (it had been a feature in Dark Horse Presents previously) and the second collection was just released, I've heard very little about it. I don't think I heard anything at all until about two months ago. Which is a shame because it really is a fantastic story so far. It's very well thought-out, and the creators have really nailed the world-building here. There's a deep sense of the city having been built up and has its own unique character, but the story isn't weighed down with a lot of that backstory that some creators feel the need to script out. A lot of that is left unsaid here, but readers still get a sense of it, through the storytelling. The way characters act and interact suggests their actions are all informed by events we don't know about, but the authors do. Which is how world-building is supposed to work.

The story here is solid. There's a lot that the reader doesn't know, even through the second volume, but we as we're following Isaac along, we learn with him on a need to know basis. But the exposition smartly never comes off as ham-fisted. It always works in concert with the story. It did take me a page or two to adjust to how they're using captions and introducing characters, but the creators are consistent in that regard so the book flows well after that short learning curve. There's a surprising amount of invented slang -- it's surprising in that it doesn't feel forced, and frequently doesn't need explanations (although the collected editions do provide glossaries). It's not slang invented for the sake of having slang, but it feels like slang that was evolved naturally, as part of that world-building I noted earlier.

All in all, it's a fantastic story! I highly recommend taking a look!

So why am I talking about it under my "On -isms" column?

Because every character so far has been a person of color. No one is expressly named by race, and with the possible exception of the flower in Luca's hair, none of them conform to any racial stereotypes I'm familiar with. They're all just characters, going around, taking care of their business.

While the notion of racial injustices isn't really noted in any express fashion, I can't help but reflect on the fact that this city of POC is effectively a dumping ground for Earth's criminals. The entire planet is a wasteland where food simply does not grow, and it's used by whoever is in power (which is never shown/stated) to get rid of undesirable elements. You can figure out whether you'd prefer to parallel that with the creation of American ghettos in the late 1960s or the dramatic rise in minority imprisonment in the 1990s. I suspect both influenced the story behind Concrete Park.

Go buy and read this for a great science fiction story. Once you're done, you can sit and reflect on the subtext.
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