Having read How to Survive in the North, I’ve got a 100% success rate with graphic novels – read one, loved one. Wren McDonald’s SP4RX, a cyber punk novel set in a dystopian future, maintains my winning streak – read two, loved two. It’s a riveting, thriller of a read – and one to make you think.
SP4RX, a not-to-be-messed-with computer hacker, becomes involved in a do-or-die struggle with Structus Industries who are using technology to control the impoverished people on the ‘lower levels’, while the ‘upper levels’ flourish and live a life of indulgence. Desperate and alone, his only hope is a mysterious band of insurgents who plan to bring the system crashing down around them – but can they be trusted?
This is a worthy companion (or more likely a worthy introduction) to 1984 or Brave New World, classic stories of a class system gone horribly wrong (it also reminded me of a recent film – High Rise – based on a novel by JG Ballard). It serves as a warning against inequality and the relentless corporate mantra which means ‘efficiency’ is used as a justification for any number of evils. SP4RX also serves as a warning about technology and how, in the wrong hands, it brings control rather than freedom.
The drawings are extraordinary powerful. McDonald confines himself to the colour purple and uses different shades of the single colour to great effect. As a graphic novel novice, it’s fascinating to look how facial expressions are conveyed – a mere tilt of an eyebrow can convey great emotion and the most powerful scenes are perhaps the wordless ones. Interestingly, SP4RX sometimes loses his facial features entirely, particularly in the busier scenes – he becomes more anonymous, uniform.
Not one for younger children – there’s swearing and a fair dose of violence – but definitely for teenagers who want a page-turner and some food for thought. Give it as a gift, sandwiched between those novels by George Orwell and Aldous Huxley.