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Matt Sheean & Malachi Ward


Page 45 Review by Stephen

There plenty to give you much pertinent pause for thought here.

Do you ever grow a little anxious? Do you ever feel a bit down?

Perhaps you have a routine for that or a pick-me-up: some songs that will get you grinning or at least sooth away the stress. Maybe, if it's more than a mood shift, then you have medication.

Now imagine there's an app for that. Imagine there's an app that will remember what buoyed you up in the past and present options for doing so again.

Now imagine that app was biologically hardwired into your brain so went with you everywhere and could even adjust your metabolism.

Welcome to The Service! It's not just an app but the entire internet, social media and your personal profile combined. Everyone has it and it's turned on permanently, whirring away inside your head, offering you information on sights and sounds, and even evaluating art objects so you know exactly what you should think about them. Individual insight is so overrated.

Maybe you'd like to impress someone with skills you do not possess. You could run this exchange inside your mind:

"Run BarTndr.p"
"Two Black Widows'"

Suddenly you're Tom Cruise in 'Cocktail'. Might spike your serotonin levels, but that can be monitored and modulated too.

Wait: we've only just begun. I'll try not to load this one way or the other, but do you take pleasure in the slow process of getting to know someone gradually, or would you feel more at ease without the initial small-talk, which in certain circumstances can prove quite awkward?

Our main protagonist Peter Chardin has just made use of the calming programme sent to him by Tom Matheson and it has worked wonders. Now Matheson introduces him in a bar to Anne Northrup, chic but in sunglasses so you can't see her eyes. What Peter does have access to about Anne is any other number of the sort stats you might find on Bookface if you could trawl through someone's history in an instant: personal history, friends and relatives, favourite music, favourite films, favourite books, favourite comics, sundry likes and dislikes and travel experience complete with photographs, ratings and perhaps even a list of subjects not up for discussion.

Presumably these are personalised with default settings for 'public' and 'private' which can then be adjusted for individuals; but what is "allowed" is there for immediate exchange.

The brilliance of Sheean and Ward is that they utilise the comicbook medium to maximum effect here, showing us all this in a single panel - The Service's manifold interactive options floating round each user's head at eye-level in little yellow globules - reproducing as closely as possible the experience of that first instantaneous interaction. It's dazzling to us, but it's extraordinary what we can all become accustomed to.

And how lost we then feel when what we now take for granted is suddenly denied us. It's bad enough leaving your mobile at home by mistake - suddenly you feel unconnected when you wouldn't have thought twice about it two decades ago - and that's just a phone! Now imagine you lost The Service.

That is precisely what happens when Matheson now drives Peter and Anne and a desultory, sceptical Jim to a last-minute party held at his estate by Patrick Whiteside. Peter, Anne and Jim have just enough time to search The Service to learn of the prospective host's prior history:


Matheson is already familiar:

"He's not just a lab-coat, either. He's transformed philosophy of the mind with his unique approach to intentionality."

But he does have his critics, and a certain documented history. Oh, and a Suppression Field around his estate. The Service goes down just as Whiteside's homestead comes into view, high upon rocks above the trees. It is... imposing... and it is guarded.

Inside it is palatial, like a vast, luxuriously appointed personal exhibition hall and art gallery. And Peter does feel liberated by the lack of Service, allowing him to focus on and experience the paintings and sculptures personally, uninformed by the distractions and dictations of 'expert' outside information and accreditation. For someone who was on the research and development of The Service, Patrick Whiteside seems vehemently, vociferously keen on the benefits of not being dictated to.

At which point I would proffer Jonathan Hickman's opening comicbook salvo from way back when, THE NIGHTLY NEWS.

I like that we've lost most of the vowels in the likes of BarTndr, like Tumblr, and I like that Peter Chardin's are the only protagonist's thoughts we are privy to throughout and - as opposed to the apps' and exchanges' capitals - that they're all in a smaller lower case, giving them a vulnerable fragility, and him an isolation.

The printed page is about the matt-est I've ever encountered, and the work which was originally serialised in ISLAND (like Emma Rios' I.D. and Simon Roy's HABITAT) appears to be an organic, collaborative construct in both writing and art by Sheean and Ward. There is some gorgeous design work in elements I can't even hint at for fear of giving the evolutionary game away, and the body language in chapter two was nuanced and telling - as was the walk from Patrick Whiteside's public gallery into his private one.

Above all, however, it made me think a great deal about interaction: where we were once, where we are now and where we might go.

As to where we might go, this flew a great deal further than I was expecting.