Down Station - Simon Morden

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Down Station - Simon Morden

The best thing that Simon Morden's Down Station has going for it is that it's not short of ideas. The author's writing is functional at best, his characters behaviour is often inconsistent and unusual, their banal dialogue littered with Londoner colloquialisms and they tend to speak without thinking, but the ideas... the ideas are what make Down Station stand out. Undoubtedly it's this aspect of his writing that won Morden the Philip K Dick award for the first three novels comprising the Samuil Petrovich trilogy. Even though the same failings in the writing existed there, the author nonetheless managed to come up with some amazingly original mindblowing ideas that completely rewrote and reconfigured a familiar London into something much more sinister and post-apocalyptic.

I haven't read Morden since the first Simon Petrovich Metrozone novel, Equations of Life, but Down Station appears to be very much in the same mould, the author working with the same tools and to similar effect. He completely pulls the rug out on the reality of the world as we know it, with London again being the focus of an apocalyptic disaster, and rebuilds it in a surprising manner where absolutely anything can happen. And I mean, absolutely anything...

This new world is discovered by a group of ordinary workers on the London Underground when they find themselves in the abandoned Down Station, a 'ghost' station no longer used on the network. It's more than being just a slip through a portal thing and ending up in a new world. What brings Mary and Dalip there, along with a few of their co-worker colleagues, is a sudden unexpected disaster that seems to engulf and destroy the whole city of London in a ball of fire. Or that is at least the initial impression when they stumble out of the door of the abandoned Underground station and find themselves surrounded by a sea and confronted by a sea monster.

What has happened to London in 2012? I can't help feel that while the adventures of Mary and Dalip in what is known as Down are not short of imagination or incident, the more interesting story might be back in London. But perhaps we'll come to that in later books. Let's deal with Down first. Seven people have been brought through a portal that has deposited them in a strange, sparsely inhabited land, and then disappeared. Among the group there's Dalip, a young Sikh man who was learning the ropes working on the tracks in the Underground, and there's Mary, with a troubled background and a probation officer, who was trying to get her life back together working as a cleaner. Ordinary people, but not so ordinary in Down, where they begin to exhibit strange powers and other unusual characteristics.

None of the characters nor the figures they encounter in Down behave in an entirely credible or consistent manner. This could be seen as a problem or it could also be seen as central to Morden's way of working. The way personality develops does tend to keep the reader off-balance, never sure what will happen next. It also suggests that people are very much a product of their environment and society, and Morden very clearly has ideas about the London side of his characters and how it might exhibits itself in a different place. What happens when you put a young Sikh man and a petty criminal from the East End into a place where they are free to be something else? Well, only in a Morden novel however would you be likely to come across a line like "She had cunning, both as a hawk, and as a veteran of the care system"...

Where you stand on lines like - and it at least gives you an idea of the singularity of Morden's vision - that will determine how well you take to Down Station and whether you continue with what is clearly being developed to be another trilogy. The dialogue and exchanges are often incredibly banal, Morden making things even harder to read by lazily choosing to characterise Mary as exceptionally foul-mouthed, her sentences littered with f-words - but they do come across as real flawed people rather than perfectly crafted fictional creations who carefully phrase every thought and utterance. They are ordinary people in an extraordinary world and, at the moment, we haven't seen and probably can't even imagine half of what the author has in store for them in the sequels.

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Down Station by Simon Morden is published by Gollancz on 18th February.

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