Beta Testing the Apocalypse by Tom Kaczynski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If Kafka had been born 100 years later and studied architecture, and become a cartoonist, this is what he might have produced. Tom Kaczynski immerses the reader in 21st century angst brought on by gentrification, the commodification of the environment, and the horrors of suburban living (only slightly more terrifying than urban living). This is an angsty collection wherein existentialism bleeds out of the very walls around us. It is also an incredibly smart collection, successfully calling the reader's attention to the ironies and contradictions of modern living, while not being too pedantic about it. Some refer to this as a sidelong segue into science fiction, but it is more a work of magic realism than science fiction. There is a heavy dose of philosophy here, at least implied, particularly something akin to "object oriented" systems in which man's relation to the objects (especially architecture and artificially-controlled spaces) are of paramount importance to one's view of the world. But do please take this last claim with a grain of salt, as I am only very newly-introduced to the "object oriented" philosophy.
One thing that you will see less of in this graphic novel than in other contemporary graphic novels is the hipster aloofness, bordering on amorality, that infects too many comics nowadays. Beta Testing the Apocalypse may be full of angst, but the angst arises because the characters represented actually care about something, unlike those in, say, Clowe's Death Ray or Daly's Dungeon Quest. This is refreshing . . . in an angsty way . . . if such a thing is possible.
Despite my incoherent ramblings, this is a graphic novel that deserves your attention. Like any of the best literature, it will cause you to think, question, reflect on your place in the place in which you live, not in a detached way, but in a way that engages your eyes, mind, and heart. Reading the book, for me, was something approaching a religious experience, and I mean that in all seriousness and reverence. This book deserves to be studied and meditated on, rather than merely read.
You may never look at condos or green-spaces the same way again . . .
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