Briar Ripley's Reviews > The Electric State

The Electric State by Simon Stålenhag
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it was amazing

In an alternate universe 1997, a teenage girl and her robot companion travel from the desert of the American southwest towards the Pacific ocean on a mysterious quest, not knowing that they're being pursued by a sinister man for equally mysterious reasons. The landscape through which they travel is littered with wreckage and detritus from a war fought by high-tech giant robots and airships a few decades previous, as well as increasing signs of a civilization collapsing as more and more people become addicted to an internet-like virtual reality network accessed via "neurocaster" headsets that look sort of like creepy bird masks. Ultimately, we find out our heroine's history, her goal, and why she's so attached to her robot buddy; we also find out what her pursuer wants, and we get hints and one hypothesis-- though no definitive answer-- as to why this world is in such a state of surreal ruin.
This science fiction tale is well-told on the writing side, but not all that complicated, and its themes and ideas-- though ones I personally tend to find compelling-- will be pretty familiar to anyone who has read and watched much in the genre. The reason I'm giving it an enthusiastic, bowled over five stars instead of a solid 3 to 3.5-ish is the gorgeous, haunting, completely absorbing artwork. It's realistic and hyper-detailed, with a completely unique look; the closest comparison I can think of is the anime SERIAL EXPERIMENTS LAIN, which shares a sort of suburban late 90s cyberpunk aesthetic, as well as a lot of juxtaposition between the mundane or cute and the eerie and robotic, and a lot of focus on blinking electronic lights in the dusk, on landscapes criss-crossed by phone wires, on computer cables and cords snaking and tangling through spaces until they dominate them like overgrown vines.
But the images in THE ELECTRIC STATE aren't really anime-esque; they could be photographs from another world. And there's a strong emphasis on very American-looking retro cartoon corporate imagery, on the natural world and bleak desert or ocean landscapes, on machines that look worn and sometimes grotesquely organic, like they might have blood and guts inside them. I love it. These images add tons of silent nuance, detail, and subtext to the written narrative. In a heavily illustrated book, what an artist chooses NOT to depict visually also has its significance, and the *absence* of illustration, the abstention from showing us certain things in the story, is used quite effectively here, too. (A small, spoiler-free detail I thought was pretty powerful: no human character's face is ever shown unobscured, although cartoon and robot faces are everywhere.)

(And okay, okay, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that there's a Surprise Tragic Lesbian Love Story in here. Not that in an apocalyptic sci-fi the "tragic" part is a surprise; it's the "lesbian" part that I wasn't expecting. That's a big plus for me; consider it a warning, I suppose, if you prefer your Lesbian Love Stories to not be, y'know, huge bummers.)
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Reading Progress

April 18, 2019 – Started Reading
April 18, 2019 – Shelved
April 21, 2019 – Finished Reading

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