Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld

SPILL ZONE VOL 1Spill Zone written by Scott Westerfeld illustrated by Alex Puvilland

Scott Westerfeld’s newest story, Spill Zone, is a graphic novel illustrated by Alex Puvilland that takes place several years after Poughkeepsie suffered a major “spill,” and while nobody knows exactly what that entailed, nanotechnology and a nuclear power plant are mentioned as being involved. Whatever it was changed things inside the city, leaving behind fantastical creatures, changed animals, and “meat puppets” (think zombies). Addison’s twelve-year-old sister Lexa escaped that night, driven out on a bus with some other school children by a mysterious driver. Her parents, working at the hospital that night, did not. Addison herself was out of the city that night partying. Now she takes care of her sister (who hasn’t spoken since the incident), making money by illegally sneaking into the “spill zone” to take pictures which she secretly sells to collectors. When one of those collectors breaks her cover, she offers to pay Addison to go back in to the zone (worse, into the hospital her parents might still inhabit) and collect something at the behest of the North Koreans, who covered up their own smaller spill a few years ago.

Spill Zone is a fast moving story. Westerfeld doesn’t spend a lot, or really any, time on backstory or detailed explanation.  What was the spill? Who knows?  How did it change living creatures or create new ones? No idea. Might we get answers to those questions and others in later installments?  Maybe, maybe not. Instead, the book throws you right into the zone’s existence, first building up some tension via several methods, both textual and visual:  first person narration by Addison that references the strange creatures and dangers, creepy horror-type images (canted old house in the dark, a forest), a frog snagging a fly to get us in predator-prey mindset, a pair of nervous soldiers guarding a checkpoint meant to keep people out, and an unsettling rag doll. By the time we reach the zone itself, we’re primed for something dangerous and indeed, things go less smoothly than usual on this trip in.

All that said, really the focus is more on the characters and their relations to one another than on the creatures and zombies—though they do of course play a role. Addison is sharp, tough, determined, proactive, and fiercely protective of her sister. Her sister meanwhile is tough in her own way and just as protective of her older sister and Addison is of her, though Addison is unaware of this or of how she protects her. Which brings us to the third, and most surprising main character—that aforementioned rag doll, who is not only conscious and able to speak to Lexa, but has the sharpest, driest voice in the whole story. Two other characters have minor roles but are clearly set up to become a bigger piece of the story: one is a young soldier who clearly cares for Addison and the other is a young North Korean who was in their spill zone and has emerged somehow different, the knowledge of which prepares us for another event which I won’t detail.

The visuals were a somewhat mixed bag for me. Ironically, I cared least for the images of the zone itself, which were too abstract and muddy for me in terms of the more odd aspects of it, which I thought robbed that strangeness of its full impact, though I’ll grant that abstraction very well may be intended to heighten the intellectual distance, make them less familiar. It just didn’t have that effect for me; others may respond differently. On the other hand, the real world images, particularly the domestic ones were wonderfully done — evocative, atmospheric, and vivid. And though I didn’t personally care for the zone imagery, there’s no doubt Puvilland employs a nice range of colors and style and moves deftly between them.

Spill Zone ends unresolved, with a pretty big (and great) cliffhanger, and it’s easy to see lots of people waiting impatiently for the next installment. I know I will be.

Publication date: May 2, 2017. Three years ago an event destroyed the small city of Poughkeepsie, forever changing reality within its borders. Uncanny manifestations and lethal dangers now await anyone who enters the Spill Zone. The Spill claimed Addison’s parents and scarred her little sister, Lexa, who hasn’t spoken since. Addison provides for her sister by photographing the Zone’s twisted attractions on illicit midnight rides. Art collectors pay top dollar for these bizarre images, but getting close enough for the perfect shot can mean death—or worse. When an eccentric collector makes a million-dollar offer, Addison breaks her own hard-learned rules of survival and ventures farther than she has ever dared. Within the Spill Zone, Hell awaits—and it seems to be calling Addison’s name.

 


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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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One comment

  1. Spill Zone… I’m going to go order this from my comic book story right now. I love this kind of horror-action story.

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