Strange Attractors

I first looked at this graphic novel because I have a fondness for the mid-90s indy comic of the same name. There’s no relation.

Then I was interested by writer Charles Soule’s clear affection for New York City, one of the book’s characters. The premise is that, with enough math and deep understanding, one person can keep the city going by using a variant of chaos theory and the Butterfly Effect. A lot of little actions manage to affect New York’s infrastructure in positive ways, to prevent collapse.

A graduate student is studying why the city recovers from disasters faster than expected in comparison to other locales. He finds the discredited Dr. Brownfield, who begins teaching him his plans and techniques to “fix” the city. I like the math background (which ties into my own studies on difference equations back in the day), but honestly, it could have easily have been a wizard, an apprentice, and magic for the same effect.

The book feels a little like one of those “written to be a movie” storyboard conversions. Perhaps it’s the art, which resembles photo manipulation. Perhaps it’s the thriller-like structure, where the well-meaning hero keeps getting dragged deeper and deeper into a conspiracy, until he finally saves the day. (There’s even a bomb threat to more closely resemble a modern procedural.)

Perhaps it’s the short cuts in the writing, where we’re shown the characters doing X odd thing — such as buying all the Diet Coke from a particular bodega — but we’re never shown why that affects the chaos map. It’s cheating, in a way, as though you were writing Sherlock Holmes knowing amazing things about those who come to consult him without ever showing the grounds for the deductions. There’s also a lack of characterization beyond the roles required for the plot. There’s the Mentor, the Girlfriend, the Crazy Genius, the Best Friend, and the Dog, Boolean.

Soule’s introduction explains his love for New York City, particularly the music (which later features in the story). Artist Robert Saywitz, who designed the complexity maps, contributes some notes on how he put them together.

It’s an amusing read, particularly if you’re fond of or nostalgic for the city, but I recommend a library checkout instead of a purchase. Strange Attractors can be ordered from your local comic shop now with Diamond code FEB13 0711. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)


2 Responses to “Strange Attractors”

  1. Jim Perreault Says:

    I read this review because of my fondness of the 90s comic of the same name. A bit disappointed that it’s unrelated.

  2. Good Comics — and Books — Out May 15 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] terms of graphic novels, Archaia has Strange Attractors, which I reviewed a few months ago. It’s got an intriguing premise, and a strong sense of […]




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