So, I just finished the Originals by Dave Gibbons. I picked it up because I like Dave Gibbons work, and after a quick view through, it seemed to be something based on futuristic mods. Having dabbled in the mod revival in high school, this caught my attention.
Now, the story is a good one. The characters are believable, their actions understandable, and nothing in it strains one’s willing suspension of disbelief. The plot, as related on Wikipedia:
Lel and Bok are two friends who have recently finished school. Their greatest aspiration is to become members of The Originals, a smartly-dressed gang who ride on floating scooters, called Hovers. Their greatest enemies are the gangs of leather-clad bikers, which they call “the Dirt.”
Lel and Bok become members of the Originals after helping the gang in a fight against the Dirt. Lel starts working as a drug dealer for the gang’s leader, and the pair soon have enough money for fashionable clothes and Hovers of their own. However, as the violence between the two gangs escalates and the police (“the Law”) begin to crack down on gang activity, Lel begins to realize that being an Original is not all fun and games.
Here’s the thing: I was always under the impression that in speculative fiction, the speculative should be more than window dressing. Science fiction, especially, needs to be more than a story which happens in the future, there needs to be a compelling reason why it must be in the future.
I was constantly wondering why this wasn’t set back in the 60s, or even in the late 70s and early 80s, during the revival. There was no reason to set it in the future. All it does is distance us from the story itself. Was this an editorial requirement, in order to make it palatable to the DC/Vertigo readers? If so, stupid move.
Setting this story in the future led me to expect the future technology, culture, or setting would have a direct impact on the story. I was waiting for it. It never came. It left me unsatisfied. You know that old quote from Chekov? One version of which is: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there”
I always prefer the misquote: “If there’s a pistol on the mantel in the first act, it should be mentioned in the second and used in the third.”
In this story, the future setting was the pistol on the wall. The problem was, nobody fired it. It served no purpose, except to distance us from the story and provide expectations that were never met.
What was worse, this wasn’t a terribly original story, which is woefully ironic. It’s basically a riff off Quadrophenia. That’s not so bad, and it’s a good story, but it seemed like the science fiction backdrop was put there to try to hide its lack of originality.
So, unfortunately, I have to give the Originals a pass. It’s not that the story wasn’t compelling. It was. It’s a good story, though not a great one. I would have enjoyed it more if it had been set in modern times. Some kind of original twist would also have been appreciated.
So in the end, the Originals simply wasn’t.