Monday, June 16, 2008

"Futuristic Tales" Puts Doctorow in Pictures


I was psyched when I learned that six of Cory Doctorow's stories had been adapted for the graphic novella. I've long been a fan of Doctorow's short fiction, which he frequently podcasts at craphound.com, and I've been known to enjoy the occasional picture book.

As soon as I downloaded my copy of "Futuristic Tales of the Here and Now" (one of the great things about Doctorow's work is that he always makes it available, in one form or another, for free), I immediately scanned the three stories I had already listened to on his podcast: "Anda's Game," "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth," and "I, Robot." Unfortunately, all these stories suffer greatly from what I can only assume was publisher-mandated slicing and dicing, and much of their message gets lost in truncation.

"Anda's Game" retains its core story of the pudgy girl gamer who learns of the in-game exploitation of fellow females in the Third World, but this version of Anda fails to connect their exploitation to her own, trivializing the subplot of her excess weight. "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth" lurches awkwardly from climax to denouement without explaining what happens in between. And "I, Robot," a spiritual precursor to Doctorow's much-acclaimed "Little Brother," fails to capture the complex circles of surveillance and avoidance he so expertly builds. The result is indeed a taste of Doctorow, but one that drains his work of any depth.

Each of the six stories showcases a different artist, with a style clearly distinct from the other five. Spanish artist Esteve Polls gives "Anda's Game" a classic adventure comics turn, which fits well with the high-fantasy MMORPG its heroine plays (though I doubt any artist could approach the charm of Alice Taylor's audio rendition). "Sysadmins" is appropriately and simply bleak in the hands of Daniel Warner, though I found the text displayed on the titular characters' computer screens -- an essential element of the plot -- disappointingly sparse and hard to read. But it is Erich Owen's work on "I, Robot" that truly falls short. After a promising opening page, his characters flatten into cartoon characters, their expressions failing to capture the moral complexity of their situation, and he seems to rely too much on grain to convey the grim stagnation of his setting. His website suggests that he is capable of much better.

As for the remaining three tales, I think I will go back and snag the text or audio versions from craphound before reading them here. As much as I enjoy sequential art, I'd much prefer my first experience with these stories to be as Doctorow wrote them.

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