An existential head-rush featuring robots, friendship, and ugly drones with brains.
The best part about being an upper primate is having a massive brain, which we use to build airplanes, annihilate nasty diseases, and bake banana cream pie. However, all that power between our ears can result in overthinking, and we’re constantly trying to figure out who we are and our place in the universe.
To aid with that, we’ve used popular fiction to filter such existentialist pondering, and titles like The Matrix and A Scanner Darkly are a reflection of a species engaging in deep thought to figure out the basic algebra of our mere existence.
Gregory Suicide is the latest in a long line of just such philosophical titles. While it isn’t exactly a bastion of truth regarding the plight of hairless apes, it is a way to frame this “debate” in a way that’s both entertaining and rather refreshing.
Written by Eric Grissom (Deadhorse) and drawn by Will Perkins (Beware…), Gregory Suicide explores the life of the titular A.I., who thanks to his unique programming, can resurrect every time it commits suicide (get it?!) in a vessel (or “slab”). It’s that powerful, albeit morbid, functionality that paves the way for the modern GEMINI, a hive-mind A.I. that’s set to be delivered into homes everywhere. Until, of course, Gregory makes his way back from deep storage, launching him smack dab into a battle between GEMINI and a group of pro-human rebels trying to preserve humanity for humans.
At the very core of the book is what it means to be a human. In this sense, the book can feel like a lot of previous titles using A.I. and robots as stand-ins to delve into notions of consciousness, the existence and value of a soul, and basic morality. Gregory’s position between two worlds — man and machine, yet belonging to neither fully – perpetuates this struggle quite efficiently. As do those moments with his creator, Amala Malek, struggling to understand his place and if his experiences (i.e. remembering visions upon each “death”) count toward transcendence. Even Gregory’s final part in the battle of humanity’s continued tenure and the rise of GEMINI (an uber metaphysical fight/discussion taking place in a kind of Inception dream-space meets Tron) says heaps about the dynamic of man vs. machine.
Yet a lot of these ideas can also feel very generic, leaving some of the more promising elements of the book (like Gregory’s suicide schtick) feeling bogged down by notions explored eloquently elsewhere. Like the need for something resembling closure, or the childlike nature of Gregory’s immersion into reality, which reads like so many other philosophical fiction canons. Or an ending segment with Gregory lookalikes literally asking, “Who am I?” (Talk about nuance, amirite?!) That’s not to say that some level of “predictability” is bad — the dynamic between the rebel group feels both entertaining and another important point of exploration. But this story does have to hit certain points, like a “surprise” betrayal, and that goes a long way to harming any momentum and limiting how much it breaks from archetypal norms.
What does separate Gregory Suicide from other series is that it offers up a few interesting concepts or a new spin in the ongoing debate. One of the most essential is this idea of who we are right now. It’s no longer enough just to say “I think, therefore I am” when it comes to exploring robots and consciousness. The book’s set in a point in the near future where technology is just taking off in a big way (much as it is in our society, though we struggle with driverless cars and perfectly functioning A.I.) As such, this invites bigger questions about the distinction of man and machine, and how Gregory can become more than what he currently is.
It’s not enough for him to be simply aware. Or to have a favorite song (Judee Sill’s “Jesus Was A Cross Maker”). Or that he’s made friends he cares for. With technology blurring the line between us and artificial life, there needs to be more to prove Gregory’s existence, and our own for that matter. It’s that vein of understanding that informs Gregory’s decisions through the book: he’s trying to find humanity in a world where it’s increasingly rare and profoundly complicated. It’s that pursuit that is both compelling while adding to the narrative of what makes a person, and if those cornerstones (love, faith, etc.) remain central as they always have.
As an extension to that larger point, the book also asks questions about the importance of technology. Whereas some past titles in this philosophical tradition can point the finger o’blame at technology, Gregory Suicide is a bit more welcoming. It starts with Perkins’ art/design choices: The cool blues not only feel inviting, but he manages to balance a more familiar world with sudden leaps in technology (the flying drones utilize actual brains). Sure, said machines may want to wipe out humanity, but Gregory himself is a bit more caring toward us lowly humans.
This presents a powerful notion about just how much advancement we as humans should endeavor toward, and what kind of center point exists between our rugged independence and the desire to transcend our species. It’s a bit more subtle throughout the book, but there are several great moments (like Gregory’s interactions with high-tech information booths) where we understand the complexity of the issue and what it means to be a species adopting devices and idea never dreamt before.
Ultimately, Gregory Suicide is a book asking important questions while rehashing other ideas (albeit in fun ways). In this way, it’s a next step in the A.I. fiction franchise. A way to expand our own understanding and really develop those notions we’re interested in most. Not just who are we, but how does that change in 2017 and beyond, and is that something worth achieving? That alone merits solid praise, and helps paint this tome as an important modern entry.
Just not as essential as banana cream pie, OK?