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Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette (1982; fr) (read in 2019)

Published by marco on

Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.

This is an older, French, black-and-white graphic novel about a 1,001-car train charging along a track hundreds of thousands of kilometers long, encircling a globe frozen by man’s hubris and foolishness. It is the last bastion of humanity, holding the last dregs in its innards. The world is cold because man released a chemical to counteract the effects of his having warmed the climate disastrously. It backfired and froze the world.

The story is interesting, well-drawn and offers some insight into man’s hubris, with analogies to our current climate predicament. They were unable to snatch their slim hope, either.

There are the “queuetards” (denizens from the back of the train) and the elites (the front, naturally). Humanity’s age-old structure has been compressed into one dimension. We meet two prisoners, one queuetard (Proloff) and one sympathizer for the queuetards (Belleau), from the middle of the train. They are being taken forward from their prison to the state cars, nearer the front. Their journey takes them through the luxury of the vegetable and plant cars, something the queuetard didn’t even know existed. He only saw the sun again for the first time in years—because the rear cars have no windows.

Proloff moves forward through the train with Belleau, discovering areas that he’s never seen—and eventually moving beyond the cars that even she’s seen. They become lovers (of course). They learn that the train is slowing and, that General Krimson (in charge of the military and, de facto, of the train) plans to decouple part of the rear of the train. The military pursues them—ostensibly because they are spreading a virus throughout the train.

Proloff and Belleau make it to the very front of the train, to the locomotive. Here, Proloff shoots out windows, letting in the -87ºC air. Belleau succumbs, but he is rescued by Alex Forrester, the odd and remote engineer of the train. The engineer works with Olga, the AI in the train. Olga can continue to run indefinitely, as long as she is accompanied by a human presence.

The cars are detached, Proloff takes over as engineer—and the virus story turns out to have been true, as he remains the sole passenger of the Transperceneige at the end of the first book.

The second book picks up the story in a second train, larger than the Transperceneige. It runs on the same track and is aware of the other, smaller train. They are in constant fear of a collision and, thus, make frequent “braking drills” to verify that the train could stop should it be necessary. During this time, the “Arpenteurs” (surveyors) go out onto the frozen surface to perform various missions. The first depicted mission sees the leader fall, spilling one of his eyes from his frozen head. A young Puig Vallès picks it up—and, seventeen years later, becomes a surveyor himself.

Puig is popular among the masses, as the surveys are one of the only real, physical entertainments—everything else is virtual and available to only a select few (the rich and winners of occasional lotteries). As in the film, the train is separated into the have and have-nots. Puig’s popularity is limited to the masses; the leaders seek to get rid of him by sending him on a suicide mission to fly from the train and reconnoiter the track in front. He manages it, as no other before him, and blackmails them into letting him land back on the train—he threatens to kamikaze into the train’s vitals. He had discovered a destroyed bridge in front of the train and could help them deviate before a disaster.

Safely back on the train, he discovers further that the Transperceneige is actually no longer circling the globe. That, instead, the very first braking maneuver was not a test of avoiding the other train, but was to stop and pick up the other, smaller train, depositing it into the capacious bowels of several of the thousands of cars in the larger train. Proloff, as the only survivor, continued on his journey, but in a train within a train. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the virtual reality that the denizens of the larger train “enjoyed”.

The leaders kept this from the general populace, in order to continue to control them with the fear of a collision.

In the third book, Puig is in charge of the larger train. He is now married to Val, the daughter of General Kennel, the new head of the military. There is an accident that forces a braking maneuver. Several cars in the middle of the train are destroyed. Puig dons his surveyor’s suit once again to investigate. At the same time, Reverend Dickson dispatches his secret child-assassins in similar suits to kill him while he’s outside. The assassins are also to detach the back part of the train, leaving half of the remaining population to die.

Puig survives the assassination attempt, killing the other soldiers and making his way forward to depose an ascendant Dickson and General Kennel. He manages it and encases them in the “drawers”—morgue-like containers that serve as a prison on the train.

Shortly after, the train’s communications system detects music playing from the opposite side of the ocean. Puig must make another decision: to mount the emergency treads on the first 25 train cars and abandon the rest of the train to divert across the ocean and investigate the source of the music.

Meanwhile, the Reverend and Kennel have sweet-talked their way out of prison and have taken over the back of the train again. This time, the back of the train is the wagons of pleasure and decadent restaurants near the former front of the train. As they slowly make their way across the frozen ocean, the Reverend and General start a new mutiny to turn the train around and return to the tracks on the former shore.

At the head of the train, Puig responds by cutting water, power and heat to the mutinous cars. Dickson launches one last-ditch attack from the outside, sending his remaining assassins along the top of the train to the command capsule at the front. Puig and his colleagues repel the attack, retaining control of the train. He returns along their route and kills Dickson and Kennel by shooting through the ceiling of their wagon. The train drives on, toward the other shore.

Near the shore, there are frozen waves that threaten to split the train again. Puig once again takes to the sky to perform reconnaissance, confirming that they are very near the shore before nestling back onto the train. A long-dormant but still-active missile battery shatters the middle of the remaining train, forcing another shortening of the train and jettisoning of unneeded material (like Dickson’s artwork).

Finally, they alight on the opposite shore, severely shortened but still moving. The signal is much, much stronger and Puig becomes a surveyor once again to investigate the source. It is an automated system, playing music for a long-frozen audience. The whole journey and struggle was for naught.