Strange Attractors is, like Primer, the sort of story that stresses the science section in its genre classification of Science-Fiction: mashing and merging as it does concepts like chaos theory, The Butterfly Effect and fractal mapping into a plot that never once resembles a text-book, despite its deeply educational exposition. The book takes its title from a mathematics term whose definition is near meaningless to me, with my mere High School education in the field (An Attractor is a set towards which a variable, moving according to the dictates of a dynamic system, evolves over time and earns the ‘Strange’ suffix for featuring a non-integer dimension or chaotic dynamics…yeah) and based on the occurrence of those words – which I understand solo, just not in syntax – within it I daresay that its plot was derived from the very same.
So I shouldn’t have got it, the book should not have spoken to me since the science was so over my head; yet it did, deeply so, and the reason for that is instantly obvious once you open the lushly contoured cover – Archaia once again doing an amazing job of producing their books – and actually begin to read. Charles Soule, in his introduction, doesn’t once mention science – specifically or even vaguely- instead he spends those several hundred words wistfully explaining what it is about New York that made him want to write Strange Attractors. His speech suggesting that it was the city, and not those heady concepts, that came first, the city that stands at the core of the book and even though I am an Australian this was a concept that I could not only understand but connect with.
People have these ideas about cities, namely that they are both big and busy; made up of millions of individual parts that are near constantly in motion. This assumption, though technically correct, is a pen-and-paper simplification, because in practice the reality of a city is far more complex: parts break, parts change paths, parts exit and new parts enter. A city is not a closed, constant or controllable system; at least, not outside this book they aren’t. The characters in Strange Attraction develop the idea that maybe, with the right math, they can control the seemingly chaotic ebb and flow of such a city in New York. It’s an impossible idea, for those reasons stated above, but also a gloriously idyllic one; for with flawless future-sight comes a flawless future.
I’ve only been to New York once, unfortunately I’m not a local, but because of the time I spent there this book meant something different to me than it otherwise would have. I stayed there for a month which was in many ways a mistake. I believe that you can see New York as well as you can any other city in the two-to-three days that a tourist tends to afford a location; that’s long enough to see the sights, any longer and you start to see what is down the side-streets. During my stay I found that I was adding new events, experiences and locations to my ‘To Do’ list faster than I was crossing them off; the trip to each one would take me past five or ten more must-see stops, the place expanding exponentially, never still, never completable. That chaos, the cities constant construction and daily deconstruction, really drives the concept of this comic home; it’s a perfect pairing.
Now, you may well be thinking that this is even less of a review than usual, but that’s because the book in question is itself less focused on the traditionally reviewable aspects of a comic, the instinctual pleasures, and more on those that you instead respond to intellectually: the ideas, the concepts. Admittedly Attractors suffers somewhat because of this: those after adrenalised action, deeply described characters or a story on an epic scale should maybe look elsewhere, but the ground-level reality inherent in the scripting of this story struck me as singular in the industry today: whether it be talk of bands or brutal shootings the book is always believable, even with its insane premise. There is a truth inherent in its telling.
The thanks for that truth should be directed as much at Soule as it should be at his team of artists. Greg Scott’s linework is a befitting allegory of the book as a whole; his backgrounds big and complex systems (be them internal or external shots) while his figures flitter somewhat impressionistic-ally in and out of intricacy. Colorists Rat Lyon and Matthew Petz present a pair of potently contrasting approaches to their task: one (as the pages are not numbered in book I’m unsure who is who) approaches the art with a detailed authenticity while the other codes their panels in sharp colour-washes. Primarily this later approach is used during moments of stress to the system and as such the scenes are flooded red, as red is the colour of chaos in the comic’s equation. It’s a subtle but effective subconcious que. Then there is Robert Saywitz’s work on the complexity maps which are wonderfully engrossing but, like the science that they represent, somewhat over my head; that four-page pull-out though was a great surprise.
Strangely enough, given my thoughts coming into the comic, as an exploration of those heady concepts I wasn’t entirely satisfied by Strange Attractors, it was perhaps too short – I can’t help but think that there is so much more potential in this plot and so many more magical moments possible with it in mind (many of which are hinted at by the small activities in the book, but the results never stated strongly enough) – but as an emotional experience Attractors delivered something unlike anything that I have read before, it was an utterly unique experience and in this day and age of proliferate superheros that boldness covers over a lot of cracks in a comic. So on that basis alone I would recommend picking the book up.