Ian: An Electric Monkey (Book One) – Fabien Vehlmann

4 out of 5

Another day, another fantastically scripted book from Fabien Vehlmann.

Vehlmann once again takes a fairly typical SF setup – a thinking, feeling robot nicknamed IAN (I.ntelligent A.rtificial N.euromechanoid) that grapples with human acceptance and, gasp, emotions – and somehow spins it up anew.  With spacious, expressive art from Ralph Meyer, the first 40+ page foray into this tale delivers some surprisingly affecting moments, as well as some badass action.

A generic ‘Special Rescue’ squad serves as our humanity proxy for IAN; having been teamed up (for hinted at political / financial reasons) with an Artificial Intelligence Research institution, the squad’s latest mission to rescue some deep sea divers finds them paired up with our titular AI.  Ian is bagged in real flesh, is a so-called ‘strong’ AI in that he’s aware of himself, and has been set up with a somewhat controversial set of senses (he can feel pain) and personality, the latter of which requires him to interact with the world around him in order to learn.

He’s accepting of his outcast nature among the squad, particularly spurned by leader Nathaniel Saul, but as their mission becomes complicated by the unforseen, he proves himself a worthy team member.  While this still sounds like completely typical fare, Vehlmann finds a way for Ian to be both normal and super-normal without it coming across as a deus ex machina, and the way he networks around the team makes them all feel very ‘real,’ and thus the bonding we see occur during the course of the book feels equally believable.

There’s maybe a lack of proper introductions, which leaves some page-flipping to determine who’s who, and also some cues in the script that Meyer doesn’t foreground in the art, requiring the same.  These feel like somewhat purposeful decisions for overall momentum and page clarity, though, and due to my enjoyment of the book, I can’t argue with them.