I received Habitat by Simon Roy as a winner of a giveaway on Goodreads. I am always looking to include more graphic novels on this blog, so naturally I was delighted when I was notified that I had won. Plus, free books! It is also nice to read something with pictures for a change instead of what can often feel like endless pages of uninterrupted text (Infinite Jest, I am looking in your direction).
The Situation: Hank Cho is a new soldier in the Habsec army. The Habsec are a people group living in the distant future. Yet, despite their access to technology such as a 3-D printer that prints weapons, and man-amplifiers that serve as robot suits that can be put on and used in combat, the Habsec are also reminiscent of ancient civilizations due to their love of formal rituals and cannibalistic tendencies. Although he is a new recruit, Cho proves to be a quick study after he makes his first capture. He is subject to the usual teasing that comes from being the new guy, with other soldiers insinuating that he is a "civvie," the group of people Habsecs capture, kill, and eventually eat. But Cho manages to hold his own and impress his superiors.
The Problem: After his first capture, Cho is encouraged to take a souvenir from the victim as a way to remember the occasion. Cho takes what appears to be some sort of token that was simply hanging around the man's neck, but after breaking open the already damaged outer shell, the item is revealed to be a print card similar to the ones used to make weapons from the 3-D printer. But what ends up coming out of the printer is a weapon like nothing Cho has seen before. And when his superiors attempt to take it from him, things quickly escalate, causing Cho to run for his life into enemy territory. The Habsec want that weapon, but the Engineers that now have Cho want it as well, and will not be giving it back without a fight. The two groups have been in an ongoing war since civilization inside of the Habitat collapsed, and this weapon would certainly serve to help one group finally bring about the end of the other.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a graphic novel set in a futuristic dystopia, with a civilization that resembles Mesoamerica in both its architecture and culture. While average everyday citizens are dressed in little more than loin cloths and rags, they have the ability to build and use man-amplifies: suits of armor that people can climb into and use for combat. But despite such advancements in technology, the Habsec have reduced themselves to cannibalism as there is a general shortage of food. Most of the story centers around Hank Cho and his discovery of an incredibly powerful weapon that either side would love to have, but there are brief moments where explanation is offered as to how exactly mankind came to be this way, why there is a war, and if there is any hope that things will ever get any better. Due to a rebellion, the Habitat has since been cut off from other worlds, as well as outside help and resources, which is an interesting and new take on the ejection from the Garden of Eden that takes place in the Bible. From the outset it is clear that the Habitat is a place where people are dying all of the time, though usually at the hands of someone else. This is a world that is ending in more ways than one, and the discovery of this powerful new weapon is not going to be the savior everyone thinks it is.
My Verdict: Sure, plots centered around futuristic dystopias are not new, but Habitat does take it into a new direction; or at least it is new to me. At first this appears to be a story about an ancient civilization, such as the Aztecs of the Mayans. But then the 3-D printer appears and it is clear this is a civilization that reached its zenith, and then somehow regressed. That alone impressed me a great deal. If I had any one real issue with the story is that it isn't long enough, and sometimes the rushed pace made it hard to follow what was happening, and which side was doing what. I felt like there could have been more explanation of the Habitat's past, and the ending is a little too quick and neat given the amount of carnage that comes before. Still, Roy's creative and imaginative story is worth checking out for any graphic novel lover.
Favorite Moment: Anytime the reader was offered even the smallest bit of insight as to how the Habitat came to be what it is today.
Favorite Character: When escaping the Habsec, Cho ends up falling into the hands of the Engineers, with Joan as his accidental protector. She has every reason to simply get rid of him, but she takes him with her as she searches for help and ultimately, a solution to their crumbling way of life.
Recommended Reading: For another graphic novel, I recommend Patience by Daniel Clowes. It is longer, and handles the future in a very different way, while still taking old ideas and giving them a creative presentation.