The new graphic novel from the team of Teer, Park, and Fitzpatrick makes for an ideal introduction to science-fiction for younger readers.
- Paperback/full color/$14.99 (US)
- Due in stores 05 August 2015
- Story: Samuel Teer
- Illustrations: Hyeondo Park
- Colors: Kelly Fitzpatrick
- “Beneath a factory floor lives an orphaned girl named Veda. Watched over by the diligent Assembly, a robot that works the production line, Veda discovers a unique power—she can speak to machines! Under the tutelage of Assembly, she learns the three laws of the machines… But it’s the unspoken secretfourth law—avoid the Gremlin—that piques young Veda’s interest and leads her down a dangerous and compromising path on a journey of self-discovery.”
NOTE: Minor spoilers follow.
One of the more unfortunate aspects of modern popular fantasy is the tendency by writers to cast science and nature (or some sort of nature-based mysticism) on opposing sides of a work’s moral spectrum. More often than not, it is science that is portrayed as the tool of some villain or other. It’s a convention that can be traced back to the criticism of technology embedded in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Robert E. Howard’s diatribes against civilization in the Conan stories.
Tolkien and Howard can be excused their biases given the proper context; the former because he had seen firsthand the horrors of industrial warfare at the Battle of the Somme and the latter because of what the oil boom did to the beloved, rugged Texas of his youth. The discourse on technology and its impact on the world has advanced far enough, however, that we should know better: Technophobia offers no workable solutions to the problems posed by science—the real answers can only be found in even more extensive knowledge and better understanding; to wit, the only real way to combat the effects of “bad science” is by using “better science.” Yet time and again, we see in popular entertainment for children many reductionist narratives that conflate science and technology with cold, unfeeling, and calculating greed.
Why bring this all up in a review of VEDA: Assembly Required? Because the all-ages rated, original graphic novel by writer Samuel Teer, illustrator Hyeondo Park, and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick is very much a science-positive work, whilst at the same time reinforcing humanistic ideals regarding the value of community, friendship, and family (traditional or otherwise).
The book begins with a tragedy. A factory worker, unable to afford childcare, surreptitiously brings her young daughter to work, only to die in a horrific accident. Hidden and forgotten, the child is taken in by a factory robot named Assembly. Taking the name Veda (from a stolen worker’s jumpsuit), the child soon develops the ability to speak the robots’ “language,” represented in the comic by visual symbols similar to emoji. She is also able to issue commands that the robots cannot disobey. It’s a simple but effective metaphor that works on two levels: (a) It plainly and clearly represents the practical value of programming knowledge, and (b) it underlines the fundamental importance of language and other forms of symbolic communication in building interpersonal relationships. (It is worth noting here that author Teer’s biographical blurb in the back of the book mentions that he was raised by a deaf parent and an immigrant parent who did not speak much English—it’s probably not out of line of me to assume that Veda’s circumstances are meant to parallel in some way the unique setting of Teer’s childhood language development.)
The primary conflict in the book revolves around the Gremlin, a robot-hating monster with a preternatural talent for destroying machines. The Gremlin plants the seeds of distrust between Veda and her robot family by insinuating that she has nothing in common with them, and that they are secretly plotting to take over the factory. The creature also infects Veda with an illness that slowly mutates her into a Gremlin. It isn’t long before Veda betrays her robot family and (temporarily) falls under the Gremlin’s direct influence.
The resolution to the conflict comes not by direct violence as one might expect, but through Veda using her knowledge of science (and Gremlin behavior) to engineer a situation where the Gremlin can no longer do harm to the factory and its residents and workers.
Because of the occasionally non-verbal nature of Veda’s communication with the factory’s robots and the robots interactions with each other, clarity in visual storytelling and rendering is of paramount importance in the book and artist Hyeondo Park does not disappoint in this regard. The intent and emotional content of pantomime are easily interpreted from Park’s illustrations—not an easy feat when one considers the fact that a large portion of the cast is composed of non-humanoid robots.
A proficiently-executed work, VEDA: Assembly Required makes for an excellent introduction to science-fiction for younger readers, and should offer enough entertainment to keep parents and educators engaged during read-alongs. Recommended.