Dystopian science fiction is often filled with explosions and sirens, chaos and pain. But the Swedish illustrator Simon Stålenhag’s work captures a different face of the future. His work is characterised by stillness and melancholy, a sense of good things having passed.
His astonishingly good Tales From the Loop, published last year, imagined an alternate version of small-town Sweden in the 1980s following accident involving a particle accelerator. The reader was invited to fill in the gaps between his elegiac paintings, the only text coming in the form of childhood memories.
Stålenhag’s work is typified by large, open vistas broken up by the rusting remains of hulking machines. Often children play beside them, looking the other way, bored by their presence. The digital paintings combine a kind of Americana – gas stations and corn fields – with an unmistakably Scandinavian aesthetic.
A sequel called Things From the Flood will be released next month, set in the decade after the events from the last book. It takes the same format, this time focusing on a pair of young lovers; in one painting they lean against alien machinery covered in blood-red slime, in another they climb to the top of a bipedal cannon to make out. It’s a story that hints at destruction and loss, but is also filled with an uneasy nostalgia.
While this book features a more techno-gothic art style, it remains true to Tales From the Loop, the paintings calm and distant even when depicting the aftermath of horrific events, as if the reader has stumbled upon a crime scene hours or years after the action has finished.