Story: Christopher Sebela Art: Jen Hickman Colors: Harry Saxon Letters: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou It’s a bit hard to try and give a basic scope for this book. It’s the furthest thing from basic and the comparisons you can draw are far and wide, and encompass several different genres. The thought that keeps coming back for me is an amalgamation of ‘degenerate’ labels to encapsulate an empty shell, give it life, and present a universal – personal level story in grand fashion … Aleph Null (our main character) is on the run. Null is on the run from the government but it isn’t your typical scenario. You see, the government has invested HEAVILY (in the millions of dollars) into Null because Null volunteered to be used for testing. Technology, some changes, and experimentation is what the deal was for volunteering. However, as with all things of this nature there’s the other side of the coin. The side/after effects. Null isn’t too keen on them and has set out to try and find the fix for the issues by way of Laurelwood, a mystery place that can do the fixing.
So how does one summarize that properly? It’s hard, but that’s a good thing because it reflects the scope and depth of this book. For quite a while now I’ve championed the notion that Vault titles make you think. They do, and now they’re beginning to take that and run with it. The approach with Test is slightly different though. Sure, there’s some high sci-fi and fantasy elements at play but the core story is about the individual. There are obvious analogues and commentary that you’ll draw from the representation in the book. For me though, I found something else there that I don’t think was intended.
The whole situation wreaks of the student loan epidemic we face in America. People are driven to change themselves for the better (get educated) and there’s no shortage of agencies there to help you (student loans – in the book the gov money). The end point of both the student loans IRL and the gov monies in the book is an individual that may or may not be any better off than before due to the institution using them for the institution rather than helping the individual. Regardless there are now consequences (side effects) of having taken the helping hand and receiving the upgrades (education) that the individual honestly shouldn’t be wholly responsible for. It’s a trap game all designed to have innocent people trying to better themselves be nothing more than just another link in the chain pulling the institution onwards and upwards. I draw this comparison even more from our main character’s portrayal. It is very clear that all of the “work” done has left them broken and almost defeated. Coming out of the other side of it all isn’t exactly what was desired nor does it feel like what is there is fulfilling. The road is still being traveled but now it leads to a place that may or may not exist. The fix may or may not be real. For me that mirrors the countless number of folks that walk the assembly line, get the loans, and come out years later wondering wtf happened, what it’s all supposed mean, and where the hell they’re supposed to be.
The book looks and feels this way too. The world is very similar to the one we reside in even though these high sci-fi elements exist. The “right in front of our noses” feel of the problems facing our main character look to be hidden right in plain sight. For me that’s a bit more commentary on the state of our world. Several scenes within the book show just how big and daunting any and everything can be for someone. For instance, a trip to the grocery store is overbearing.
Test is a high concept book that tells its story through each of us. There is obvious social, economic, and political commentary but the representation of individual concepts is the heart of the book. As I did, I’m sure you’ll draw your own commonality from what’s portrayed in the book. That, to me, is the beauty of TEST.
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