AN AMNESIAC man wakes up in a desolate landscape. As he focuses his unexpectedly perfect eyes — wasn’t he near sighted? — a gorilla wearing a satchel appears over the horizon.
From the waist down, the robot has human legs.
The gorilla is delighted to see him, then worried that he can’t remember a thing.
This is the startling set-up to Aama, a magnificent series of graphic novels, the closing volumes of which are now available in your favourite comic book shop or internet-based retailer.
Written by award-winning Swiss SF dude Frederick Peeters, and released by independent publishing house SelfMade Hero, Aama ponders the consequences of interconnectivity and meanders around the question of whether technology is just another human tool or whether we are becoming the tool of technology.
Set in the far future after an epoch-shaping event referred to euphemistically as “the great crisis”, Aama’s protagonist, Verloc Nim, is a “purogene” of sorts, rejecting gene correction and tech implants for his daughter.
Nim rediscovers this through his hand-written diary — another nod to his analogue leanings — saved for him by the gorilla, a wonderful, cigar-smoking bodyguard robot by the name of Churchill.
As he reads on, Verloc learns of his recent past. We meet his brother, Conrad, a fixer for the Muy-Tang corporation, and the two of them journey to Ona(ji), test-tube planet for the nano-bio technological machinations of Conrad’s paymasters.
What is aama and what is the ultimate aim of the bio-mechanical experiments? Matters — and matter — quickly fall beyond the control of the gaggle of frontier scientists Conrad has been sent to control.
This is one of the most extraordinary graphic novels I’ve read in years. In part a homage to classic European science fiction, the power — and occasionally stately pace — of the narrative and the sheer oddness of the landscapes encountered on Ona(ji) makes this a work I’ll be thinking and dreaming of for years.
Sometimes it feels like what would happen if you read Tintin’s Explorers on the Moon while under the influence of some kind of hallucinatory-inducing toad fluid, only stranger. As Verloc and his companions move closer to Aama’s ground zero, and we are gradually filled in on his family’s past, it becomes almost difficult to take in the array of strange creatures, glooping landscapes, and ever-changing evolutionary dead and would-be ends.
This is contrasted brilliantly in flashback form with Peeters’s scenes of Radiant, the modern, urban home planet of Verloc and his estranged family, with its seething masses of humanity and mutants, all living out their lives on maze-like segregated levels between endless twisting, surreal towers, bringing back memories of Blade Runner and Judge Dredd’s Mega City One.
It’s a beautifully realised world, leaving the reader desperate for more details of a society for which the rules and history are only hinted at.
“For the urban scenes, my starting point was that everyone’s constantly connected to a vast network through brain implants,” Peeters explained to Comic Book Reader on the release of the first volume.
“So people inhabit a concrete reality — they go out, eat, move around, do their business — but they’re also constantly somewhere else, receiving all sorts of sensory information in a steady stream. So there are far fewer ads and billboards.
The apartment buildings look like giant blank cellphones.
“There’s no more religion, or racial or national divides, but there is a strong social hierarchy, almost a caste system.”
This is the system that is in danger of being washed away by Aama. But what will replace it, and at what cost to Verloc, his daughter, and humanity as a whole?