Review: Transreality …. and then there’s the ladybirds.
An investigation into what it is that constitutes existence, a place and time where the concepts of place and time, of body and mind are outmoded. This is Transreality, and it’s a clever sci-fi adventure, more cerebral than blockbuster…..
I kept trying to write this first introductory section of this review and kept failing. Because in the end, no matter what direction I approached it, nothing summed it up quite as well as I.N.J. Culbard does with his back cover quote comparing Transreality to an imagined collaboration between Philip K. Dick and Leo (of Aldebaran and Betelgeuse). Culbard likes Leo a lot more than I did, but the comparison still stands.
And Culbard’s spot on. It’s got so much high concept sci-fi and so many twists and turns that it’s main fault is that it builds so much into the setup and develops so many layers of clever reality that once it gets to the final, concluding part of pulling the story together it’s a bit of a letdown. But anything that aims so high and does so much right in its first three quarters is almost bound to fail at the end. Or is that just my experience?
It is a clever, very dense read. it’s also good. And strange.
Our everyman link to ground us amongst all this weirdness is James Watson, settled family man whose life has been turned upside down by Capgras Syndrome. Never heard of it? Don’t worry, most of the people on this world haven’t either. It’s ridiculously rare, an alternate alzheimers, amnesia with a twist, symptoms differ person to person, but generally it rips you out of your imagined existence, you might know who people are, but fail to recognise them as who you know rthey’re meant to be, they feel different, we’re in deep paranoia mode, that body-snatchers feeling creeping in.
And if it’s so damn rare, how come there’s four people in the small Yorkshire town of Keighley with the syndrome, enough for Dr Audrey Geller to organise a support group for them. That’s suspiciously strange.
But strange is nothing new to Capgras sufferers….
Right then, everything sorted, the everyman battling the weirdness, something not right with the world. You can see where it’s all going? Not a chance. It’s not 20 pages before Lackey throws the first major switch in your path, whipping one strange reality from you, from James, and sending us down a very different rabbit hole.
But here’s where reviewing Transreality gets tricky. There are so many twists and turns that it’s irksome to me to give you too much. This is one that benefits from experiencing the switches firsthand, relatively unexpected, the element of surprise with each switch. So lets both tread carefully eh?
Or maybe, lets just throw a wordcloud at you to give you some sort of sense of what it’s all about:
The system, side rooms and pocket worlds, reintegration, sim reality, virtual worlds, mad A.I., branching, organic hive mind collectives, nanoswarms.
That enough? That give you the sort of epic, thoughtful sci-fi we’re looking at here? Think Philip K. Dick and Iain M. Banks.
You’ll join James as he uncovers more and more about the world he finds himself in. He meets Septimus, part of a group looking to free enslaved minds, giving people freedom to control their own existence. He’ll fall headlong into the world of the United Colonies, of very altered states, each location more and more artificial, more unreal, the sci-fi getting harder and harder as we go further and further. Within 50 pages James and the Capgras Syndrome group find themselves way out of their depth, worlds away from where they thought themselves.
Marrooned in a world where computers are ubiquitous, where most of the world James finds himself in exists purely online, physical bodies as outmoded as 8-tracks feel right now. Bodies become mere playthings to swap and change, rentable suits.
Alone, vulnerable, desperate, he finds himself in the company of frendly Alexis; a bright pink Gorilla, with a hankering to help, and a desire to uncover the machinations of the corporation behind the fates of the remaining Capgras Syndrome group. She’s Lackey’s exposition device, a way to deliver chunks of story to James and us readers without having to rely on interminable captions. It works.
It does help that she’s interesting visually, and proves a little more….. adventurous than James…
That’s about halfway through. I’m not going any further in depth, but suffice it to say that Lackey’s not finished pulling reality out from under us, or James, quite yet. There’s plenty more switching to come yet as James searches for his fellow Capgras sufferers and his long missing wife. Along the way you’ll face questions of identity, what it means to be real, or human, and just how fanciful the notion of reality is in a world where perspective is shaped by imagination, where truth is transitory, and where you’ll question just what life and death, and love really mean in a world where reality and time are broken.
It’s a fascinating and complicated work, one where the initial setup and unfolding of the plot is rewarding and cleverly done, and even though the eventual resolution demands pulling those disparate strands together to a linear ending, it’s still entertaining. That it doesn’t really work is almost inevitable seeing how hard Lackey worked to pull world, perception and reality apart in the rest of the book.
INJ Culbard’s comparison to Leo’s artwork is absolutely spot on. There’s that same flattening of the images and colour, the same easy sense of amazing scenes, dropping weirder and weirder imagery in with such ease. But there’s also the same problem here that I see in Leo’s artwork, that flatness and carefully composed panels leads to a static feel, even in the midst of the few action sequences. One clever artistic trick employed with Lackey that I must mention; the use of colour as an anchor, not in the panels on the page but in the gutters and borders around them, each new switch, each alt-reality designated by its own background colour, an easy and very handy way of holding the reader’s hand through some complex switching of scenes.
I’ll finish with the obvious. There will be a lot of people who see this and immediately think of Inception and The Matrix. It’s bound to happen, as they all share the same structural DNA, they all share a common lineage. And that’s right back to Philip K. Dick and other proponents of Transrealism. Well worth a look if you’re unfamiliar. Lackey obviously is, and he’s crafted a skillful, intriguing , complex and enjoyable cerebral sci-fi epic out of his familiarity.
And then there’s the ladybirds.
You can buy copies of Transreality from Lackey’s website.