REVIEWS COMIC HEROES’ ratings and verdic ts snowpier cer
Polar Express meets Nineteen Eighty-four
If there are two things the French do well, it’s sex and death. That’s what Snowpiercer, a cult classic French title (originally titled Le Transperceneige) – appearing here in English for the first time – is all about. Although admittedly, you might not think so to begin with.
It’s a new ice age – we’re not sure why, although everybody is pretty sure one government or another either dropped the bomb or hit the big red button marked “DO NOT PRESS” – and humanity is on its last legs. More accurately, it’s on its last bit of track. Because the human race’s final few are battling it out for survival on a giant train called Snowpiercer.
If it sounds like the worst commute ever, that’s because it is. The train never stops, and it’s split along fascistic class divisions, with the government in first class and the poor folk in the cargo hold at the rear. As an analogy of society it’s pretty clumsy, but we’ll forgive Jacques Lob, who wrote Snowpiercer in the late ’70s, because he’s created a claustrophobic dystopia that’s up there with the best of them.
The train is policed by soldiers that look like they were airlifted in from Soviet Russia, the conditions are bleak all over and the people are revolting (quite literally). When Prokoff attempts to escape his life in the filthy rear and works his way up the train with human rights activist Adeline, we’re given a whistle-stop tour of the train journey from hell.
People are turning to dodgy drugs and dodgier sex, not to mention priest-engineers, to forget about their inescapable plight. Lob conjures up a series of wonderfully macabre concepts, like the vast lump of regenerating synthetic meat (called “Mama”) that butchers hack to pieces to feed the plebs, as well as a procession of characters that wouldn’t be out of place in Mega-City One.
In other words, this is gritty, slightly grim SF in the grandest tradition of literary dystopias, from Nineteen Eighty-Four to, surprisingly, The Wizard Of Oz. With a twisty thriller of a plot, a wildly effective chase dynamic and evocative black and white artwork from Jean-Marc Rochette, it’s easy to see why Snowpiercer has been made into a film*. (See our news story on page 15.)
An intelligent, uncomfortable but impossible-to-put-down book, Jacques Lob has created a story that shouldn’t really work, but does. There’s a strength of conviction and a furious anger at the heart of Snowpiercer, and it’ll stay with you long after the train has reached its final destination.