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Book Review Graphic sensations of machine manipulation

BEN COWLES recommends an anthology exploring the sometimes terrifying, sometimes life-affirming nature of our symbiotic relationship with technology now and in the future

I Feel Machine: Stories by Shaun Tan, Tillie Walden, Box Brown, Krent Able, Erik Svetoft and Julian Hanshaw
Edited by Julian Hanshaw and Krent Able
(SelfMadeHero £14.99)

BOX BROWN’S Uploading, the first story in I Feel Machine, ponders mortality, the need for human contact, obedience to authority and belief in the afterlife. With a beautiful blocky and minimalistic style, he depicts a world where the majority of human life is experienced online via a virtual-reality contraption reminiscent of an antique diving helmet.

Technology has allowed people to exist for 1,000 years and, at the end of their lives, their human bodies are discarded. Their soul, they are told, is uploaded to a server for the rest of eternity. Just as you begin to mull over the metaphysical intricacies of that, Erik Svetoft’s STHLMTransfer yanks us into an unsettlingly surreal world where human bodies have merged with technology.

With beguiling characters, cinematic flair, very few words and a touch of the 1980s vision of the future, Svetoft weaves a trippy, crime-noir caper of two detectives on the hunt for smugglers of illegally downloaded files. The story touches on unjust laws, the nature of reality and our dependence on technology and its world feels like a living space and one which begs for more stories to be told.

Erik Svetoft’s STHLMTransfer
Erik Svetoft’s STHLMTransfer

Shuan Tan’s Here I Am is a dreamy tale of belonging, an exploration of cultural differences, the extraordinary in the ordinary and the cosmic fluke that is life in our cold universe. Tan’s artwork is striking and hugely engaging, almost as if drawn by a precocious six-year-old. The narrator is a young girl who is quite happy as the only human in world of utterly charming monsters but, when a hole appears in the sky, her world is turned upside down.

It's a masterpiece of the genre and by far the stand-out story and artwork in the book, but what follows points to a much darker and pessimistic route. Contours by Tillie Walden is a neon love story of grief and longing for a world now lost and, while the narrative isn’t all that compelling, the dreamy artwork certainly is.

Julian Hanshaw’s Be Little With Me is set in a world in which everyone looks and dresses exactly the same. It's inhabited by Laurie, his chicken and his friend Seppy, who owns a projector that can reveal tiny glimpses of the multiverse.

Shaun Tan's Here I Am
Shaun Tan's Here I Am

The comic touches on some deep philosophical ground on the nature of reality and the artwork is very striking. But the narrative peters out completely towards the end, turning what was an intriguing story into a string of random events. But maybe that's the point.

Finally, Krent Able’s Bloody Kids — one of the darkest and unsettling comics I’ve ever read — is a horror-genre allegory for the worst things that can happen to people addicted to their phones. In it, two families are on holiday in a remote cabin in the woods and, after eating dinner together, the kids ask to be excused to watch a film upstairs.

The parents begin to discuss how their children are like heroin addicts going cold turkey when they try to take away their phones. There’s a noise upstairs … and the rest is best left unsaid.

Fans of the genre will no doubt enjoy Able’s horror story, though its themes of parricide, sexual violence and nihilism is in harsh contrast to the rest of the book.

Ben Cowles is the Morning Star’s web editor. You can discuss our symbiotic relationship with technology with him on Twitter on @Cowlesz.

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