|David Cronenberg's eXistenZ: A Graphic Novel. Illustrated by Sean Scoffield. Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1999. 111p. $19.95. ISBN 1-55263-027-7.|
They go to another person who can install a working bioport in Ted, operate on the eXistenZ pod, and provide the fugitives with a place to crash. With everything in working order, Allegra and Ted jack in. They play the game for a while--it's a confusing scenario, sort of like a live-action corporate espionage Myst, where you have to do the correct things that your character "knows" to do before the plot can advance. The plot is centered around game-design espionage and mutated amphibians for some reason. At one point, Ted has to eat some of the amphibians. Eventually, when they exit the game, they discover that it's diseased, and that apparently stuff that was happening in the game is now happening in reality. The story dissolves into a melange of people yelling revolutionary slogans and shooting one another, and then that story dissolves back into reality, where we discover that everyone in the story was playing a role in the real eXistenZ--and it's possible that we're still not out of the story yet.
The book includes a long interview with Cronenberg, who expounds on the philosophies behind eXistenZ.
Worse is the feeble understanding of gaming, gaming language, and what gamers expect from their games. (Hey, I've been gaming for almost 22 years; I'm one of the oldest female gamers in Colorado; I know a bit about this subject.) For starters, the eXistenZ world is achingly dull. It seems to consist of a gas station, some roads through wilderness, a Chinese restaurant, a fish farm, a church, and a few dwellings. Big deal. Zork was bigger than that! And when you jack into the game, you have to follow the dictates of your game personality, so there isn't much real gaming involved; you might as well be acting in a play. Also, while Allegra and Ted were obviously player characters (PCs), the rest of the gamers appeared to have been non-player characters (NPCs), and where's the fun in that, especially in a game like this? (Yeah, I know people agree to be NPCs in live-action games, but that's different; you know what you're getting into when you do that. In eXistenZ, the implication is that everyone is supposed to be a PC, and I promise you a lot of irked gamers if they wind up as NPCs instead. A bit part in my own game? No thanks.)
Having demolished the "gaming sensibility" in this book, I'll spend just a moment on the plotting and dialogue, both of which are fairly incoherent. I had to read this thing four times just to get a sense of the second half of the book. I'm still not clear on a number of points, such as why Allegra and her game are the targets of assassins, or why Ted turns on Allegra at the end, or what the hell those stupid salamander thingies are supposed to represent (I guess they symbolize unreality). As for dialogue, well, here's an example:
So tell me: Did any communication take place between these two characters? Whose fault was this--was this terrible exchange really in the script, or did the uncredited adaptor do a lousy job?
Maybe some good art could have helped this sad thing, but eXistenZ didn't get any. What it got were mushy watercolors--rather like stills from the movie had been run through a "Watercolor" filter in a paint program--in the center of deep black panels. The effect is terribly claustrophobic. Most of the panels depict head shots of the principle actors, and their facial expressions don't vary much--a surprisingly uncinematic adaptation of a movie. The less-well-defined organic things, like the amphibian stew served at the Chinese restaurant or almost any game pod, are an unfocused melange of darkish colors that you have to puzzle over to distinguish as actual objects (which is not always possible). Maybe Scoffield took inspiration from some of the more visually incoherent manga, like Record of Lodoss War: The Lady of Pharis.
This book also has poorly designed word balloons, a rarity. Scoffield chose to dispense with the tails of the word balloons of people speaking offscreen, which can be confusing; at one point I thought mysterious disembodied voices were speaking to a character. Also, Scoffield put sound effects in word balloons and didn't use any punctuation, so when guns go off, you see big white ovals with BLAM in them. There were many better ways to do this....
Oh, yeah, the interview. It's pure concentrated ego; Cronenberg acts as if he's the only one who understands virtual reality. Got news for him: SF writers have been expanding on this theme for decades.
Anyway, this book is only for fans of the movie. Others can safely pass.
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