Modern society is so intractably fucked that it's a fair question whether we still need the dystopian novel. Many of the most despairing science fiction visions, such as Philip K. Dick's fever-dreams of capitalist dictatorships and surveillance states, could pass for contemporary realism. For a modern-day dystopian novel to really hit, it has to go much further than its predecessors while maintaining a sense of eerie plausibility. Author and artist Don LePan's debut, Animals, fits the bill, presenting a vision of Earth 100 years from now suffering from mass extinction because of factory farming and overuse of antibiotics. The unforgiving world he conjures is both horrifying and plausible: Disabled humans are farmed for meat, while the lucky ones are kept as pets. The book's protagonist, Sam, is one of these fortunate-yet-damned, a 10-year-old deaf child who lives for the amusement of his owners. Far from a flight of fancy, LePan's Brave New World by way of Michael Pollan is given added resonance in our age of swine flu outbreaks and egg producers who casually sell salmonella to their customers. And while it's a premise that could easily devolve into a dry treatise on animal rights, LePan keeps things moving, with a narrative by turns chilling and stomach-churning but always keenly observed.
Tue., Nov. 23, 6 p.m., 2010