Fiction  > Speculative & Science Fiction  > Other by A to Z  > S - Z

Solid State

Solid State Solid State Solid State Solid State Solid State Solid State Solid State Solid State Solid State

Solid State back

Jonathan Coulton, Matt Fraction & Albert Monteys


Page 45 Review by Stephen

Protestors' placards:


I don't think CTRL+Z is going to do it for you, fellas.

A 10" single of a comedic graphic novel initially conceived by musician Coulton, further fashioned by Fraction (SEX CRIMINALS, ODY-C, HAWKEYE) then orchestrated by Mr. Monteys with ever such subtle tones, I believe this may hit you where it hurts.

Shall we begin with Side B?

Outside the solid steel gates of the sprawling, industrial yet verdant Booji complex, a throng of semi-enraged activists have gathered to protest the usurpation of their user data. They're clambering all over its ever-so-jolly, brightly coloured logo. They're quite the gaggle to goggle at.

"Read your Terms And Conditions, losers. You're already too late."

So mutters Booji programmer Robert Nowlan, travelling into work on its exclusive overhead monorail. But he's not unsympathetic to their cause. He's heading for a meeting with elderly Booji Boss Ray for whom grimace is a default setting, and involuntary, foamy-mouthed spitting an optional extra. Ray's computer calmly announces:

"Your Buddy Robert Nowlan has confirmed your invitation to chillax."

But Robert is hardly chillaxed. Bounced up from bed by a bad dream, vision or communication from the future, he's been typing furiously and loudly into the early hours of the morning much to the irritation of his sleepy missus.

"Bob. Why are you awake? It's too early."
"Because. There are dumbies on the internet that are wrong about things."

I love Montey's depiction of his intense, in-your-face screen concentration / confrontation as he tap-taps furiously away, then braces backwards while typing ever-onwards, as indignant and pursed-lipped as ever until, victory within his grinning reach, he realises that the sun's come up. He takes the protestors' privacy concerns to Ray, but do you recognise this?

"They all clicked 'agree' after pretending to read the rules like the 1.9 billion other users all over the world did."

That's even after they began objecting to the securing and sequestration of personal data, and on a recurrent, monthly basis too. We just do, don't we?

"It's not too late. We could open the data. Be - maybe not transparent, but at least... I don't know. Is "translucent" a thing?"
"No and - no. That data is ours, legally and in perpetuity. Having it - access to it - that's how we do what we do. It's gonna be worth more than Booji itself one day."

But code-writer Robert is now on a mission and does something determined or desperate - you take your pick - and I think you may well end up wincing. There are two full pages of public reaction in private, as individuals stare at their screens and cup their mouths in wide-eyed horror. One man in particular quietly sobs. There are diplomas framed proudly on his wall.

I cannot commend Fraction and Montey's collaboration on this project highly enough for its lack of hand-holding: for Fraction's judicious decision to let Montey do so much of the storytelling that it's overwhelmingly implication over explication. The cover itself is one such perfect teaser with the moon shining bright above a citadel of surveillance cameras as Robert's fingers hover tentatively above a keyboard within a rounded, triangular, toxic-yellow Hazard Sign.

There's so much more to follow, but shall we regroup on supplementary Side A?

I don't wish to imply that they are separate entities - they're interlinked by multiple, trodden tracks which inform the whole - nor that the first half is any way extraneous. It's just that anti-agapic food supplements play a prominent part.

Ray, for example, is still here, suspended in a colloidal solution at the heart of the futuristic Boojitropoplex surrounded by multiple concentric, impenetrable walls built by its Boojibuddy citizen-drones who constantly rate their own experiences or others' behaviour using green thumbs-up or red thumbs-down emojis. They're up-voting or down-voting, and no one likes to be down-voted, do they? Imagine if that were an option on Twitter!

The graphic novel opens with a lyrical invitation to wake up, which reads a bit like ELO's 'Mr Blue Sky'.

Immediately our Buddy Bob does wake up on rough, grey, rubble-strewn terrain, surrounded by his construction co-workers, each wearing an orange survival suit complete with air-tight dodecahedron-shaped helmet. Bob's has been breached, his pink visor cracked and perforated, a trickle of blood flowing from his forehead. He's still breathing remarkably well.

What knocked him on the noggin then rendered him unconscious is another dodecahelmet, only more primitive with tiny eye holes rather than a visor. Inside, they discover a skull.

Back in his apartment, Bob stares in the mirror, evidently designed for maximum flattery, with a tree-lined waterfall cascading soothingly away in the background. He looks fresh and young, the hole in his helmet pixilated out with any other skin blemishes. Unfortunately his visor won't open - it's broken - which will make eating impossible. Necessity being the mother of invention, instead he lobs a food supplement capsule through the breach in his helmet, catching it in his mouth.

He's not always so successful (much laughter to follow) but, in any case, that's no long-term solution for healthy well-being. Can the simple malfunction be fixed in this most technologically advanced age? After due consideration our aged, all-knowing leader Ray is optimistic.

"Ah-ha! Science. That's the ticket. Engineering!"


"We need to get you a really great straw, Buddy.
"Buddy, get our Buddy Bob here a really great straw. Real long, okay? And really great."

The empty, inarticulate feel-good factor and facile, faux solution put me in mind of successive Republican Presidents like Reagan, W.B. Bush and Trump.

The first half is full of such low-tech farce. Earlier Bob had attempted to requisition a replacement helmet from an Argos-like emporium whose assistant attempts to emulate an automaton by reading scripted questions and responses from a printed paper manual.

"Uh... okay. "Hi Buddy, I'll be your Helpr today..." Uh... "What is the nature - " No no, hang on buddy, hang on -"

It takes them ages until they establish that Bob's original request was sent in 10,699 days ago.

The number of days crossed out on Bob's several annual calendars provides an intriguing sense of context; and in the background there is an equally telling piece of propagandist encouragement involving the complex's last major accident...

So where does Earth's lunar satellite fit into all of this? It is one of Bob's two jobs to track the trajectory of the moon - to be more precise, its analemma (its pattern of deviancy as seen in the sky over the period of a year from a fixed point in the planet) - by fallible human hand. Yes, but in an age of far more accurate robotics...?

Bob's best friend is a giant robot called Robo-Grande who seems as out of the loop as he is when it comes to weird workings of the Boojitropoplex, and as perplexed when it comes to the unexplored concepts of dreams and "desire". Bob's going to start dreaming more and more, and they are both going to begin to explore the "want" lacking in their lives when something vital up above goes suddenly missing.

That's it, folks!

Judging by the interior furnishings, the protests outside Booji take place perhaps a decade into our future; how far ahead the first half is I will leave you to discover for yourselves, along with how they're connected and all the little intricacies in between.

Singer-songwiter Jonathan Coulton provides an invaluable afterword which I would suggest reading first, about the genesis of the project which was originally orientated around an album he was creating around the idea that "the internet sucks now".

If you haven't already figured out what Booji is, I really can't help you any further, but of course the concerns voiced here spread wider than a single corporation. Fraction has had enormous fun with the satirical elements. Everyone in the Boojitropoplex refers to each other as Buddy. "Bro" is banned; Buddy is the brand.

With Fraction's welcome insistence that Monteys provide so much of the narrative visually, you are invited to solve its puzzle yourselves, hence my omissions which are many. Albert Monteys does not disappoint.

Unlike Jeff Lemire's recent SECRET PATH collaboration with musician Gord Downie, there's no free download code for the Solid State album released in April 2017 so you're going to have to buy that separately or, you know, Spotify / YouTube it.

I leave you instead with a recurring sentiment or riddle...

"The brain and the mind are two discrete entities.
"Guilt and shame are two discrete entities.
"Yet both are the result of who you are versus what you do."

... with the promise that all will become clear and give you much pause for thought.