Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Contraband review

We don't get much excitement at LLC Towers, so I was made up to receive a review copy of Slave Labour's Contraband t'other day.

A curious looking book, Thoms Behe’s dystopian near future tale isn’t easy reading. It’s a text heavy comic which demands a lot of concentration on the part of the reader, and for that reason I suspect a lot of folks will struggle to stay with it. If you make the effort though, you may find Contraband a rewarding experience. It’s flawed yes, but this nightmare take on the information age has plenty to recommend it.

The story is essentially a sci-fi/thriller about Toby, an internet café worker blackmailed into searching for a missing mercenary by two crooked soldiers. The soldiers want their former colleague bumped off because she may have information that could jeopardise their sideline in providing questionable mobile phone content to Contraband, an organisation which is a bit like YouTube without the filters.

It sounds like a routine enough tale, but the difficulty with the book comes in Behe’s decision to tell his story through a series of jumps in time which aren’t always clearly flagged up. One minute we’re in the present, the next we’ve stepped six months into the past. It’s not always easy to tell when these shifts occur, and I found myself going back on myself as I read the book. Even after two readings I’m not quite sure I understood everything about it.

Still, Behe has some interesting things to say about the world we live in and the one we’re heading for and Contraband contains enough good ideas to suggest that he could be a name to watch. His cause is aided by artist Phil Elliott whose clean style is reminiscent of Julien Opie’s work. Elliott's pictures are beautifully simple and provide a refreshing counterpoint to the complicated story.

I can't help feeling that the writing could have benefited from a similar stripping down. Behe clearly has plenty to say about a variety of important issues, but at times the sheer amount of information he packs into his script detracts from the story and hinders the flow of the book.

As a whole, Contraband isn’t a total success then. It's too dense to take in during a single sitting and the non-linear style it follows may turn readers off. There are however plenty of plus points, and if you're a fan of technology or an ideas kind of person then it's definitely worth your while checking out.

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