COMIC REVIEW: Transreality

TransrealityWhat does it mean to be human?  How does that change when you can back up your consciousness to a hard drive, make virtual copies of yourself, inhabit different bodies and (effectively) live forever?  These questions and more are explored in the brilliant Transreality: a fast-moving, fast thinking and original slice of science fiction that you simply need to get on your shelves.

 

 

 

 

The book is written, drawn, coloured and published by the multi-talented Mr. Chris Lackey, thanks to a very successful Kickstarter campaign.  If his name seems familiar to you, you may have picked up his phenomenal first graphic novel, Deadbeats, or spotted his adaptation of ‘The Temple‘ in Self Made Hero’s second Lovecraft Anthology.  Most people, though, seem to know him as one half of the H.P. Podcraft team: a long-running literary podcast that gave insightful and fun analyses of the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft, before continuing on into the wider world of weird fiction.  However you come to him, you’ll be glad you did.  He has a sharp mind, a warm sense of humour and a pleasingly liberated imagination – as demonstrated by this book.  Enough preamble, let’s take a look at it.

The book opens with a moment of disquiet in a mundane here-and-now house in Yorkshire.  James Watson has a peculiar mental glitch called Capgras syndrome, a condition that leaves him convinced his family are imposters.  A chance meeting in a pub leads to a Capgras support group and a broader understanding of his illness – that is, until a bifurcating stranger rips everything he knows apart.  As he struggles to adjust to a new existence in the future, James determines to rescue his friend, find his wife and ultimately put a stop to digital slavery.

The shift from our normality to a 22nd century post-human world is handled very deftly, which is a real tribute to Lackey’s skill as a story-teller.  He manages to drip-feed information and concepts to us through dialogue, plot and imagery without it ever becoming overwhelming.  Key to this are the characters, who are refreshingly street-level.  James may be quick on the uptake, but he only works in IT.  He’s a family man of modest ambition, just trying to get by.  His friend, Soni, is simply a girl who suffers from the same condition as James.  She’s intelligent and curious, but again, nothing beyond the norm.  Now, admittedly things get a little wackier when we’re introduced to Alexis – an intellectually ‘uplifted’ gorilla with all-over pink hair – but despite all this, her speech and personality are equally down-to-earth.  She’s also immensely fun!  More on her in a minute.  The point is, for all its technological wizardry and wonder, the story is fundamentally human.  It’s about people and relationships, not just big brains discussing big theories.

That said, the world building is incredible.  Elements such as the light-based computer terminals, robotic avatars and devastating swarms of nano-tech are important to the plot, but in many ways they’re just icing on the SF cake.  They’re beautifully realised and help to make Lackey’s world a place of genuine wonder, but in many ways they are there to be admired rather than provide actual sustenance.  The level at which the future is sketched out is pretty special, because Lackey doesn’t just look at technology, he examines social and moral evolution as well.

In counterpoint to James’ outsider perspective, he uses Alexis’ native experience to illuminate the Transreality of the 22nd century. She is an uplifted gorilla, fully integrated into the transhuman society.  It’s a concept that cracks open some deep and fascinating issues (if true) but, frankly, who’s to say if she’s not really a human in a modified gorilla body?  Or an AI?  Who’s even to say if she’s a she?  These thoughts are barely touched upon, but when the gorilla propositions James in an off-hand manner, the implications become immediately clear.   When physical identity becomes interchangeable, the only thing that really matters is the mind.  Once this becomes apparent, everything changes.  The technology forces a fundamental shift in how we perceive every aspect of existence – from morality to mortality.  It’ll pretty much blow your mind.

TransrealityAltOn to the artwork.  I confess, although it’s stylistically distinctive, I found the visuals a little bland.  I’ve struggled to get my head around what my problem is with it, and – well, here’s what I’ve got so far…  Chris uses a combination of hard lines and blocks of soft colour, with minimalist shading.  The line-work is strong with solid body proportions, consistent facial construction and varied panel viewpoints.  There’s a reality to the people that surpasses many comics that I’ve read, though he makes no attempt at photorealism.  The heaviness of the lines make some faces harsh or creepy when they’re supposed to look appealing, so perhaps a finer pen would have made sense for those details.  The futuristic backdrops are quite simple, reminiscent of a 1960’s vision of a pristine future.  I read this to be a combination of stylistic choice and the demands of story focus vs. deadline.  His earth-bound environments certainly demonstrate that Chris has a good eye for detail when appropriate.  He even has enough self-confidence to include cameos for the premium Kickstarter doners and use his wife as a model for one of the major roles.  Fair play.  The colours perhaps edge a little too close to pastel for my tastes, but they’re professionally applied and generally complement each other well.  In point of fact, the whole book is very nicely produced, with good quality gloss paper and a beautiful cover.  The layouts are not thrilling, but neither are they overly repetitive or regular.  Perhaps my issue is that the visual form doesn’t feel as ground-breaking and exciting as the concepts behind the story.  The art simply suffers by comparison.  Hm.

Well, thankfully the story-telling is strong enough that I was able to shrug my mental shoulders and immerse myself in the narrative.  One of the things that most impressed me about the book was the pace at which the tale was told.  It’s a gripping story, weaving its philosophical questions in and out of what is ultimately a domestic techno-thriller.  This is the first trade I’ve read in one sitting for a little while now, so props to Chris for holding my attention in a world stuffed full of distractions.  Hell, new questions keep popping up in my mind on a daily basis when there’s other stuff I should be thinking about – probing at the implications of a transhuman world.  I can’t get it out of my head.

This is a top-notch bit of work.  You care about the characters, you’re continually intrigued by the innovation, and you are led by unexpected routes to a satisfying conclusion.  What more can you ask for?  Well, there are questions left unanswered at the end and a nagging sense that, for all their adventures, you don’t really know the characters as well as you might want to – so I guess actually what you can most ask for is a second volume.  Preferably now!  Or next year.  Next year would be fine.  Failing that, the world is so vivid, bursts with such possibilities, I think it would work wonderfully as a setting for an anthology.  Other writers, other artists could be invited to tell their own disparate stories in the 22nd century, using Transreality as the springboard for their post-human imaginations.  What wonders we might see…

(That was a hint, by the way Chris.  Get on it.)

 

Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Dion Winton-Polak

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