Dystopias are dreams destroyed, cities leveled, civilizations re-defined. But they don’t have to be apocalypses. These states of unease and decay can be subtle, almost dreamlike if done well, as if the future was bleeding into the past but no one knows where the cut was made. Artist Simon Stålenhag is a master of this brand of dystopia, and the first collection of paintings depicting his universe is a must-have for lovers of the genre.
Tales From the Loop is a gorgeous, hardcover book filled with 125 pages of art and story (the result of an enormously successful Kickstarter). It’s a journey through the fields and suburbs of a Sweden in the aftermath of a giant science project. The Loop, the colloquial name for a massive particle accelerator built below ground, and the scientific advances spilling from it, has changed the landscape. Children explore abandoned reactors. Partially sentient robots wander the chilled grasses. Or cause small town mayhem.
Almost all of Stålenhag’s paintings are accompanied by short stories in the style of childhood memories and recollections. They are well-written and provide just enough background to frame the beautiful vistas and mechanical hulks (and sometimes dinosaurs). But not everything is explained. Stålenhag gives readers just enough room to imagine — you can look at each piece a dozen times and dream up a new question each time.
Stålenhag was far and away my favorite sci-fi artist of 2015, and Tales From the Loop will show you why. His universe is a dystopia you wouldn’t mind exploring, one that oppresses you with mystery and beauty rather than drab soldiers or vacuous “you have this emotion, therefore you belong in this group” regimes. The Loop is sophisticated sci-fi buried under snowy Swedish dirt. And I can’t wait to dig deeper.
IMAGES: Courtesy of Simon Stålenhag, Free League
**Nerdist received a copy of Tales From the Loop for review.