Originally published and released as part of the quarterly comics hamper ShortBox, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell’s What Is Left is a perfect example of the mini-comic format. Compact and expansive, full of feeling and imagination, the book wrings mystery and meaning out of an intriguing sci-fi premise.
In an unspecified future, spaceships are powered by a Memory Core, a combustion engine fuelled by the brainwave activity of a human ‘donor’, specifically when their neurons react to the experience of reminiscing and recollecting. This being a system built around the human element, there’s potential for human error, and an unexpectedly powerful memory can cause a catastrophic meltdown. One such instance sets the stage for this short story, which sees a crewmember sucked into an overloading machine, saving her from the ensuing explosion, but submerging her in the memories of Kelo, the core’s human host.
Valero-O’Connell sets up stylistic boundaries and dazzles within them. What Is Left is a mere 36 pages long, and uses a limited two-colour lilac-and-pink palette, but it is as evocative as Interstellar’s IMAX-sized ‘love transcends time and space’ emotional denouement – and, in fact, it’s far more effective. Her technique is delicate and inviting, yet melancholic and a little enigmatic; like our protagonist, the reader intuits meaning from a series of emotional beats: learning to swim; witnessing a once-in-a-decade botanical phenomenon; a bustling family banquet; a tranquil moment alone; a devastating breakdown. These snapshots of Kelo’s life, from childhood to young adulthood, communicate a character, a world, a life. They also convey a fascinating, thought-provoking central theme, that memory may be the strongest power in the universe. After all, it can power spaceships, and sustain life.
You can buy What Is Left by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell at ShortBox.