BOOK REVIEW: The Department of Truth, Vol. 1 by James Tynion IV

The Department of Truth, Vol 1: The End of the WorldThe Department of Truth, Vol 1: The End of the World by James Tynion IV
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This is the cleverest and most mind-blowing graphic novel I’ve read in a long time. Like the first “Matrix” film, it challenges one’s metaphysical certitude, making one question whether the world might – just might – work differently than we think. But, more importantly, it shines a light on one of the major problems of our age, and it does so in a smart way, recognizing a core conundrum – that there are no clear-cut right answers.

The sci-fi premise at the heart of this book is the idea that collective belief shapes reality, and, thus, conspiracy theories that gain enough of a following can manifest physical evidence of their truth. This is a fascinating concept, but – even without it – the book forces one to reflect upon what might be the single most important dilemma of our age. On the one hand, people would rather believe malarkey that confirms their worldview and ideology than truth that conflicts with it. On the other hand, if people don’t have the freedom to believe whatever they please, in what sense can they be said to be free?

As I read, there were many examples from our present pandemic in which one could see this conflict in action. I saw an article in which a person who took one of the COVID vaccines but mentioned that he felt quite sick afterward was ostracized as an “anti-vaxxer.” While I’m pro-vaccine and took my shots, I’m disturbed by the idea that “off-message” statements are being so vitriolically (and, sometimes, deceptively) attacked. “Truth at any cost” will incur a terrifying cost, I’m afraid. And, therein, lies the point of this book, that the issue is complicated and it’s by no means clear who the good and bad guys are.

I’d highly recommend reading this book.

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BOOK REVIEW: Memetic by James Tynion IV & Eryk Donovan

MemeticMemetic by James Tynion IV
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This story takes what happens to a brain on memes to an extreme (if absurd) conclusion. (To get the most out of the story, one needs to understand “meme” in the sense Richard Dawkins coined the term. Not just as a popular image one sees repeatedly on social media, but as any cultural artifact (image, idea, symbol, fashion, etc.) that behaves in a manner analogous to a gene – spreading, mutating, etc.)

In the story, a meme (featuring a sloth) goes viral. All is benign, at first. People are spending far too much time blankly staring at the meme because it engenders a euphoric feeling, but that doesn’t seem so bad (and — quite frankly – it’s not much different from how people engage with social media and online games in real life.) Then, like a time-release bomb in the brain, something is triggered and people start bleeding from their eyes, screaming, and engaging in Zombie-like behavior. [Except, as befitting a story about memes, the mindless activity of these “zombies” is designed to perpetuate the meme — rather than the eating of brains.]

The story plays out in two interwoven arcs. At the center of each arc is an individual who is – at least at first – immune to the meme by way of a “disability.” One story features a college kid who is color-blind, and the other a retired Colonel who is visually impaired so he can only see vague shapes (i.e. either glaucoma or cataracts.) The college kid’s story is the more human-interest piece, with him just trying to survive the apocalyptic world when he feels challenged enough by his usual world. The Colonel leads a team to try to defeat the meme by tracking its author.

In one sense, the perfect power of this meme and its ability to mutate to more effectively spread itself may feel ridiculous. However, without spoiling the story, I will say the author does offer a kind of explanation that may help quell the mental rejection. I’ll leave the reader to determine whether they think it helps or not. But, more importantly, I think it’s a story that knows it’s venturing into preposterous territory, and that’s kind of the point. We don’t necessarily see the freakish way we respond to memes and the online world, and so this story blows the problem up to absurd scale to make the reader more aware. [It’s also fun.]

I delighted in “Memetic.” I found the concept thought-provoking and the telling entertaining. It’s not just a concept, it offers a strong story. I’d highly recommend this graphic novel for those who find themselves aware of, and disconcerted by, how many people in their immediate environment are entranced by their phones.

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