Review of Archangel (2016)

Butch Guice (artist), William Gibson (writer).

Read in 2020.

Read in the 2017 one-volume hardback.

A corrupt imperial US dynasty uses time travel from an apocalyptic 2016 to reinforce its existence.

On the most basic level, this is a pulp-spy action story, with near-superheroic gadgetry and violence. Completed in 2017, it has unusually strong resonance with the USA’s authoritarian tendencies, from abuse of the Pax Americana to the presidency of Donald Trump. Ultimately, it makes little sense. The method of universe-hopping is inelegant and the characters’ basic plans are foregrounded but not explained. Why try to repeat such a dismal history in an alternate universe? Why did democracy fail? Why did the resistance not stage a conventional coup with its killer micro-drones? Why shoot up the party?

Gibson’s afterword implies that Archangel, named after Arkhangelsk, processes childhood perceptions of “weird” WW2. Its overt political relevance to the time of its publication was an afterthought: The last scene was altered to place a latine survivor at the start of the Trump presidency. There’s a bit of resonance with Valis (1981) and its struggle against Richard Nixon’s Roman empire overlaid on the USA, but Gibson’s writing is ultimately less personal and less profound.

The execution is good, except for some backgrounds apparently based on processed photos, and the basic concept is strong enough to carry the series, but the writing is thin, including even Givens, the main character. I would have preferred something closer to “If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth” (1951) with strict causality like “La Jetée” (1962) instead of fluffy universe-splitting and fisticuffs.

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