Book Reviews

Review: Jeff Lemire’s “Sentient”

Image Credit: TKO Studios

Those of you who are familiar with the works of one Mister Jeff Lemire already know this: he’s a downright sadistic bastage of the emotional-manipulator variety. By this I mean, his stories have an effortless way of playing an orchestral piece with your heartstrings. However, I wouldn’t have my literary selections served to me any other way. Guess that makes me a sucker for punishment, huh?

His series, Sentient, was recommended to me by one of the staff members over at my local comic shop back in January, but, like most comic book geeks, I have a “Mount Vesuvius”-size backlog of books I’m desperately trying to make my way through, so, I just barely read this gem over the past week; and quite the gem it was.

As you can probably discern from the title, Sentient is a story about an artificial intelligence. However, it wasn’t what I was expecting. Being of the 80s and 90s generation of kiddos that grew up on movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Terminator, and The Matrix, I was wholly expecting this to go a different way. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how events of the book unfolded. It was more “J.A.R.V.I.S.” and “F.R.I.D.A.Y.” from the Iron Man films, and less “HAL 9000”. Although, there is a bit of the latter in it.

The story follows a group of humans (both adults and kin) en route to their new home on another planet. The reason for this interstellar immigration is simple: Earth has become uninhabitable, and only has another decade before it is no longer suitable for the sustainability of life. Things are moving along according to plan when tragedy strikes, leaving only the children to fend for themselves; but they aren’t alone. The onboard A.I., VALARIE, takes them under her wing and trains them on how to run the ship so that they can safely make it to the rendezvous point on this “Earth-2”. But in typical Jeff Lemire fashion, VALARIE and the children hit a few “speed bumps” along the way which threaten the lives of everyone aboard the USS Montgomery, humans and non-humans alike.

I’m glad that I put this one on my list (shout-out to Alli, formerly of Collector’s Paradise, for the recommendation). After reading Sweet Tooth (another masterful Jeff Lemire selection), I’ve become a permanent passenger on the J.L. comic-book bandwagon. His character development is always on-point, and the flow of his stories consistently have a rhythm to them which is easy on the eyes. What I mean by this is: writing should progress like a well-structured melody. There should be little to no “jerks” and “stops”. Anybody who is an avid reader knows all too well what this feels like. It’s difficult to enjoy a book when the writer isn’t creating a song in your head as you read. Jeff Lemire understands this, and his stories shine because of it. His dialogue also reads like actual conversation, and not like an exchange of words between caricatures of people.

Art by Gabriel Walta (TKO Studios)

Speaking of story, the pacing of Sentient unfolds like any well-directed Science Fiction film. The suspense and build-up reminded me a lot of movies like Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine” and Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” both of which are two of my favorite Sci-Fi flicks. The emotional crux of the book between VALARIE and the children she’s been tasked with protecting also reminded me of films like “Aliens,” in which Sigourney Weaver’s Ridley is similarly tasked with the safety of a child (Newt).

Additionally, let’s not forget about the fantastic art by Gabriel Walta, which is half of the reason why you should pick up this book. It has a similar look and feel to that of John Romita Jr.’s style, which I’ve always been a big fan of. The colors are muted, which creates a sort of foreboding ambiance, giving the slightest hint that things will inevitably go awry. You see this color palate in a lot of Sci-Fi films, which is used, I think, to create a sense that “space” isn’t the kind of optimistic environment Star Trek gave us (but I’ll take the USS Enterprise over the USS Montgomery any day – nyuk, nyuk). Both word and picture invariably complement each other at every page-turn, and I’d love to see this duo of creatives work on another story in the future.

Again, if you’re like me, I know you probably have several bookcases of titles you’re trying to get through, or, if you’re more sensible (unlike me), you merely have a laundry-list of books on your iPhone’s “Notes” app that takes several minutes to scroll through (*raises hand* this is me, as well). That being said, I highly recommend this addition to your list. The same way Rogue One made you fall in love with K-2SO is the same way Jeff Lemire will make you feel about VALARIE. It’s a nice change to enjoy a story without wondering if, sometime in your past, you pissed off a machine that’ll come looking for you when Skynet finally becomes self-aware.

*ruminates on this for a bit*

Nah, who am I kidding? That’s just Science Fiction make-believe, right?

*checks iPhone before gently and lovingly putting it down*

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