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Sofa Jet City Crisis. Written by Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys. Illustrated by Adam Dekraker. New York: Visual Assault Comics Press, 1997. 80p. $6.95. ISBN 1-890893-00-5.

Science fiction

Adults, teens, older kids; mild language

NOTE: This book was a Xeric Foundation grant winner.

The year is 2046. Hofstra, a 15-year-old dropout/runaway, arrives in Atlantic City Next Generation with the intent of becoming fabulously wealthy. He is a 'rinther, a labyrinth runner--someone who can interface with cyberspace--and intends to make his fortune by defeating the cyberslot machines in the gambling mecca. After he arrives in the New Jersey Port Authority docks, his attention is caught by a crowd around a woman working a cyberslot machine: Buma Willys (a.k.a. Boomline), a legendary 'rinther who has been banned from every casino in the world. Buma is racking up an amazing score, but before she can cash out, she's yanked out of the machine by Rockne Keobardi, who owns huges casino in the city. They used to work with one another until he left her for dead in a motel room; needless to say, little love is lost between them. Rockne is ready to banish Buma from Atlantic City NextGen for good, but as the pair snarl at one another, a comment from Hofstra causes them to make a bet instead: Buma must tackle Rockne's nastiest cyberslot machine. If she wins, she wins his casino holdings in Atlantic City NextGen. If she loses, she has to leave forever. The challenge is set for midnight.

The "party" breaks up, leaving Hofstra alone. He places a bet on Buma, then travels into the city proper to do some serious gambling. However, he is distracted by a hooker he'd briefly spoken to earlier; the hooker's friend is apparently dead. Actually, it's a setup; they mug him, steal all his stuff, and leave. He awakens in Buma's room; she rescued him because he was a 'rinther. Hofstra begs her to teach him to be as good as she is, and after an argument she agrees. In fact, that night in the casino, she ups the stakes with Rockne: Hofstra, not she, will tackle the cyberslot machine, though she'll ride along with him. Hofstra is understandably shaken, but Buma confides to him that she's got an ace up her sleeve, or at least in the deck she uses to interface with the cyberslot. Called Sofa Jet City Crisis, the deck (which she had stolen a long time ago) provides an interface that limits the ability of a cyberslot to do very much as the user plows through the game. But what neither 'rinther knows is that the cyberslot chosen by Rockne is both experimental and doctored up to prevent anyone from winning... and losing in a cyberslot can mean losing one's life as well.

Sofa Jet City Crisis is a good book with some real strengths and a few flaws in the story. The book's greatest asset is the two main characters, especially Buma, who is well fleshed out and quite likeable despite her crankiness in the beginning. She's one of the very few black female main characters I've seen in comics, which is also a plus; and she's more believable as a black woman with a rough past than is Frank Miller's much better-known Martha Washington. (Hofstra may also be a person of color, but it's not as obvious with him, unless you go by the somewhat out-of-place and ambiguously colored computer image of him on the cover.) Her dialogue is also good; she sounds like she came from the streets but has picked up a lot of wisdom and knowledge in the meantime. (In general I like the slang, present and future, used by the characters.) Hofstra is also a likeable fellow, though it would be nice to see more of his past, especially his prior experiences with cyberslots. He's a bit too articulate for a junior-high-school dropout, at least one whose past hasn't been outlined enough to peg him as a highly bright dropout. But his relationship with Buma is handled well. Rockne isn't as interesting because he's more of a cliche, the high-powered evil executive.

The story is generally interesting and moves swiftly, except for a few moments when characters are given big lumpy chunks of expository dialogue that bring the story to a dead stop (e.g., when Hofstra first meets the hooker, he gives her a long description of the labyrinth). However, a few logical problems raised questions in my head. The biggest one is that it's never explained how a cyberslot machine, which is treated variously as a virtual reality shooter or as a chase game, pays off its player. Is it body count? Time spent? Goal reached? Can you win small "action" payoffs, or is it all or nothing? Would a casino dare to build a machine with no upper limit on how much a single game can pay off--or one that kills the user, thus depriving the casino of the user's money in the future? These details may seem picky, but they're crucial to believing in the main element of the story; if you can't buy into the reality of cyberslots, the whole story falls apart. As an old Las Vegas hand with some knowledge of the casino industry, I find cyberslots rather unlikely--more of a video gamer/nongambler's creation than a logical extension of gambling technology. Another logical problem is the convenience of having Buma rescue Hofstra after he's mugged; really, what are the odds? It would've been much more realistic for him to track her down. And the idea that a rich and powerful casino owner would gamble away an entire block of casinos and hotels on a single bet is less than credible, no matter how much bad blood exists between him and Buma.

The black-and-white art is attractive and professional looking, with good use of silhouettes and shading. There are a couple of clumsy moments, usually having to do with motion, and there are a few instances when the art should be more panaramic than it is (e.g., when depicting the outside of Rockne's casino), but Dekraker does faces and bodies well--though the heights of the main characters are very strange. Rockne towers over Buma, being a good foot and a half taller than her (and as wide as a superhero to boot), and Buma towers over Hofstra to a lesser degree.

Nice faces

Height differences: She's standing up...

Copyright 1997, Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Despite its problems (some of which will likely not matter to the average reader), Sofa Jet City Crisis is an enjoyable book that should appeal to fans of science fiction, especially cyberpunk.

Buy it directly from Visual Assault!

Copyright 2001, D. Aviva Rothschild


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