Friday, August 28, 2009

FTL # 1-2

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of the first two issues of FTL (Orang Utan, 2009).

It's always difficult to review anthologies when you don't have at least a couple of continuing characters and stories moving from one issue to the next. It's also difficult to decide whether it's worth continuing to read when you can't get invested in stories, but with 99-cent downloads and a handful of surprises, principally in the second issue, I think FTL deserves a look.

Despite the name, which brings to mind well-intentioned, optimistic SF, the first issue of this British small press anthology is really a horror book, with four of its five stories focussing on vampires, dragons and dark fantasy. Only one of the first issue's stories really got my attention, a fun little twister called "Bloodstain" written by Peter Rogers, with art by Nuno Nobre and Ian Sharman, although I did enjoy John C. Boins' art on another short. None of the creators really feel quite ready for a major series yet, but there's nothing truly sloppy or amateurish, either.

The second issue is a big improvement, thanks to a genuinely surprising and excellent opening story. Don't let the faux-Danger Girl cover fool you; "Morgan McFee and the End of Tomorrow" is every bit as good as the best of any recent Tharg's Future Shocks in 2000 AD. Sharman, who inked the best story in the first issue, wrote this story, with art by Melissa Hudson. The rest of the book is similarly uneven, and ends with its weakest hand (also, oddly, by Sharman), but I did enjoy seeing that FTL's editors chose to run the first installment of "The Secret Cross," a First World War horror tale by Steven Saunders, Stephen Lindsay and Dominic Vivona, across two issues, with a cliffhanger ending the six-page chunk presented here. For an opener, I am not keen on its structure - there's far too much narration and not enough character-building dialogue - but Saunders and his team look to have a huge project in mind and this is a decent enough taster.

Despite an overall lack of polish, I see a lot of promise at work here, with rising talent worth keeping an eye out for. The low price for digital downloads makes either issue quite a bargain. Recommended for older readers, though if you're skeptical, I'd suggest picking up the stronger second issue before trying the first.

(A complementary copy of these issues was provided for the purpose of review.)

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