The Furnace: A Graphic Novel Paperback by Prentis Rollins (graphic novel review).

July 10, 2018 | By | Reply More

‘The Furnace’ by Prentiss Rollins opens with learned physicist Doctor Walton Honderich on a plane to New York with his wife, Piper, and his daughter, Clara. He’s depressed and drinking too much because to have a child in this world is to live in constant fear. Along with that, he has guilt.

Soon after arrival, he sees a Gravitationally Autonomous Restriction Drone, a GARD hovering over a crowd in Manhattan. Walton flees. It doesn’t bother anyone else in the crowd but he knows more than them.

A GARD is a sphere covered in spiky protrusions, mostly cameras and projectors, that make the subject under it invisible to all around, though they know he’s there because they can see the GARD. The subject rendered invisible and separate by the guard is a criminal, a former prisoner in a maximum security jail now released into the world under its strict regime. The prisoner can’t interact with other people in any way at all but can move about freely in a state of solitary confinement. A great idea, albeit opposed by some of those damn, soft-hearted liberals when it was implemented. Later, it doesn’t look like such a great idea but I won’t give away the plot.

Doctor Honderich was a key man in the development of the GARD, along with his colleague, Marc Lepore. After his encounter in New York, the story continues to show us more of Walter’s tortured existence. Financially, he’s cosy middle-class but his mind is messed up. One morning in the hotel, when his wife is off sightseeing, he sits down with his daughter and tells her the whole story. She gets it dressed up as a fable about cookies sealed in an oven but we get the facts. There’s a lot about Walton’s own difficult childhood and plenty about that of his colleague and mentor, Marc Lepore. In fact, the theme of the book is partly that of Phillip Larkin’s famous poem ‘This Be The Verse’.

The other theme, obviously, is clever scientists showing off their brain power without any consideration of what the ultimate effects might be for real people, an issue as old as Oppenheimer. It’s all handled subtly. There’s a huge Federal Department in charge of GARDs and, in different hands, this might have turned into a dramatic and violent thriller with secret agents hunting them down. Prentiss Rollins keeps the story in a low-key, intimate and personal, more concerned with the effects on people than slam-bang action. It works.

Tucked into the narrative are various nuggets of wisdom about honesty, sexuality, ambition and other flaws of human nature. There’s an interesting story about a famous scientist who vanished one day and I liked Hofstadter’s law of complex tasks: It always takes longer than you think it will, even if you take into account Hofstadter’s law.

This is a rich and rewarding book, the best graphic novel I’ve read in a while. I consumed it in one sitting on a sunny Saturday afternoon when I should have been doing something more useful instead. The story takes 192 pages and every one of them is worth it. The art isn’t spectacular but it’s competent and realistic, suited to the subject matter. Prentis Rollins appears to have done all his own work and God alone knows how long that took (longer than he thought it would, even taking into account Hofstadter’s law) but it was certainly worth it in the end.

Eamonn Murphy

May 2018

(pub: TOR/Forge. 208 page graphic novel. Price: $19.99 (US), £14.79 (UK) ISBN: 978-0-76539-868-0)

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Category: Comics

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