A while back, on the internet, I stumbled across the work of artist Simon Stålenhag, in what was part of the Tales From The Loop project – though I did not know what it was at that time. So, when the art was collected into a series of books with a narrative behind them – along with a tabletop RPG, I figure it was time to properly check it out.
Tales from the Loop and Things from the Flood are basically two parts of a combined project depicting a 1980s and ’90s (respectively) that never were, with Sweden undergoing a massive amount of technological development based around a project called “The Loop”, a massive super-collider encompassing a not-insignificant chunk of Sweden, with various massive UltraTech level developments coming out of it.
Consequently, it makes for an incredibly visually unique dynamic, with Volvos from around the ’80s and ’90s (and a few from the ’70s), alongside walking robots. ’80s suburban architecture alongside massive high-tech structures and – of course – kids on bikes, because this is part of that genre.
The writing of the book very much keeps the point of view from the perspective of that of the kids – this is the author “remembering” what it was like as a kid in this alternate Earth, so the things that are important and are highlighted are what was important at that time – not necessarily things that would be important for adults, or what seem important later.
To make a comparison to my childhood – I don’t remember the Challenger disaster, because I was 1. I kind of remember the Berlin Wall going down, but I didn’t understand what that meant, because I was 4. I remember the Oklahoma City bombing because it interrupted my cartoons. I remember the Monica Lewinsky scandal because it was the first time as an adolescent (because I didn’t have the internet or any other access to adult materials) I had access to sexually explicit materials. However, everything else around that was normal and generally slipped under my radar. I didn’t understand it.
It’s the same thing here. In the larger world around these books, there are political debates about this project. There are undoubtedly fears from people in the community about the developments of the Loop Project, what it will mean for their community, whether where they live is still a safe place for children. But it doesn’t matter – because for the kids it doesn’t matter.
To be clear, there are things in the books that does intrude into their lives and does end up mattering – Things from the Flood starts with the titular flood causing our protagonist’s family to have to evacuate their home. We don’t see what caused the flood though, not even with an explanation of what caused it from the protagonist as an adult writing years after the fact. How it happened doesn’t matter. That it happened did, because that is what causes the protagonist’s life to change.
Beyond the writing, Stålenhag’s art is evocative – his ship and vehicle designs look like a collaboration between Syd Mead and Chris Foss, with art that feels like a snapshot of a moment in time, but not so photo-real to ruin the idea that this is the memories of the participants as opposed to an implied photo album.
To be blunt, Stålenhag really should have gotten a Hugo Award nomination, at least, for his work on these books.