William Gibson’s Archangel. Starting in the year 2016, but the world is a burned out husk, and with far more advanced technology than we’d recognise, the action quickly flips to post-VE Day Berlin, at the point where the ruined city was a playground for spies, with the so-called allies all jockeying for position in the ruined capital. Turns out one of these worlds is not our own - in a last-ditch attempt to survive, the people of 2016 have built a machine called The Splitter, which has created alternate universes that diverge from theirs at subtle points, and the Vice-President of the US has just had cosmetic surgery to match his grandfather’s appearance, and has been sent to the alternate 1945 to guide this world to match the one they’ve destroyed, only maybe they won’t do that last part? But there’s a resistance movement looking to put a spanner in the works - that doesn’t quite work out, and a pilot from the future winds up working alongside some 40’s spooks, and insanity ensues.
Gibson has played around with alternate universe stories going back to his early career - his 1981 short story Hinterlands is a great mood piece with the concept at its core - and more recently with The Peripheral and its upcoming sequel Agency play with the idea of alternate quantum universes where the timeline diverges but can be interacted with. There’s at least a suggestion that the world shown in Archangel might be related to The Jackpot mentioned in The Peripheral, but there’s no solid links yet.
The plot here moves at a good clip - there’s a sense of urgency to the plot that works very well, it reminds me of the first arc in The Wild Storm, which takes place over the course of a day. The characters are very Gibson - everyone has a personality that’s well-defined with a minimum of effort; Naomi Givers, the lead character is quite in Gibson’s wheelhouse of a tough female protagonist, but even though it’s a common point in his books, Givers is different from Molly or Chevette or Cayce. She’s handy with a gun, but gets far more results from her drive and her social and scientific skills. Even The Pilot, who isn’t even given a name gets a lot of interesting details by virtue of his conversations with Givers and her US counterpart Vince Matthews. The only thing that seems off is that one of Givers’ informants is a gay man who avoided the death camps by catching the eye of a closeted Nazi jailor, and there’s some relatively frank discussionf of his sexuality that feels out of place for the setting - though that might be a result of the cultural lens we view WWII through rather than how out gay people behaved with friends.
From a technical standpoint, the book is excellent - the dialogue doesn’t have quite the same flair as Gibson’s prose, but there’s some great moments, like The Pilot explaining that his optical camoflauge is television, and Givers being bemused as she saw a prototype one at the World’s Fair. The art, by Butch Guice is very nicely detailed, both the 1945 and 2016 sections feel like real, believable worlds, the characters have gorgeous expressive features - but - the action scenes aren’t great, with no real feeling of flow between panels, even in a tight intricate fight. Maybe it’s just that Adam Warren’s page-by-page upload of Empowered is in the middle of a fight scene right now, and pretty much everything pales in comparison to his fight choreography.
Overall, this was a highly enjoyable read. It garnered an Eisner nomination and it’s well deserved. It’s not a perfect book by any stretch of the term, but well worth the $25 for the hardback. And it’s got me really excited for Agency in a few months.