Today I read Harlan Ellison’s Phoenix Without Ashes, a futuristic story where in the year 2785 A.D. humanity has fled the Earth because of a global disaster, and now the survivors float along deep space inside a massive spaceship called the Ark. This ship is so massive that each culture was given it’s own giant bio-sphere like structures that have farmland and other resources to sustain life. However the ship has been out in space for so long that all of the spheres have lost contact with one another and their residents now live oblivious to the fact that they even are on a spaceship let alone that there are many other civilizations on the ship.
Devon, the main character, is a young man who lives on one of the bio-spheres that is a sort of theocratic (Amish) society ruled by a group of fanatical elders, chief of whom is Micah. At the beginning of the story we learn that Devon is a bit of social outcast because he is questioning the elders about their customs (called Cypress Hill, and is only about 400 miles wide). Devon is love with a girl, Rachael, and is upset because the communities computer (which is viewed as an intermediary with the divine) has said she is to mate with Devon’s friend, Garth. Devon soon learns the Elders are the ones speaking through computer and after learning this he must flee to save his own life. While running away from an angry (Micah led) mob, Devan stumbles onto the entrance to one of the tubes that connect his sphere with the rest of the ship. He then stumbles down the rabbit hole and the real adventure begins.
What I liked most about this comic was the old-school science fiction vibe it gives off. There was something so retro about the story structure that I just took to it. As a teenage geek I read a lot. No wait …A LOT! Some of my favorite authors were Isaac Asimov and Alfred Bester (Stars My Destination is one of my all time favorites) and Ellison’s story definitely seemed to fit in with that style of story telling. In fact according to Comic Book Resources the actual teleplay for Phoenix Without Ash was written back in 1972 and that was later re-worked into a Canadian Television show called Starlost. Though by the time the show was released it’s script had moved so far away from what Ellison had planned he insisted his name be taken off the project.
However, Phoenix Without Ash (the graphic novel) was created with Ellison’s full cooperation and is apparently closer to his original vision of the story. Like I said before, I liked the art and most of the story, but there was one thing about this book that bugged the crap out of me. Space Amish! WTF? I can get that these people fled a dying planet on a ship so massive they can lose contact with each other, but what Amish boards a mother fucking space ship and says, “yup, still Amish!” No, I don’t buy it. At some point the ancestors of Cypress Hill had to have boarded the ship willingly, and even though their descendants may have forgotten the past, I can’t believe the original voyagers would walk onto a fully functioning space ship and still want to churn butter. The second Earth went “Kaboom” wouldn’t some of them say, “fuck it, there’s no God and I want an iPad chuck full of YouPorn.
That small flaw aside, I really did dig this story and I recommend you at least check it out at your local comic book store or get a copy through our Amazon Link. Phoenix Without Ashes is published by IDW. Also, I found the first part of Starlost on YouTube and if you want to see a very bad science fiction show, circa 1973 and Canadian (that’s a twofer!), check it out and please to enjoy.
Yet another friendly reminder that if you like this post or any of the downloadable content here at Atomic Moo, then please remember to “like” us on Facebook. We want to contribute as much as we can and we hope to see a community of friendly people grow around our site. Thanks!