As someone who likes to stick with what’s comfortable, sometimes I have a bit of a hard time challenging myself in terms of my reading. As a librarian-in-training, I can’t afford not to learn new genres or find things I like about ones of which I am not a big fan. Otherwise how can I recommend books? I’ve long been a fantasy nerd but have consistently struggled with science fiction when it focuses heavily on the science. In an effort to continue to challenge myself to like hard science fiction, I decided to pick up FBP this week. FBP (an acronym for Federal Bureau of Physics) is a relatively recent (2013) Vertigo science fiction comic written by Simon Oliver and illustrated by Robbi Rodriguez, Rico Renzi, Alberto Ponticelli and Nathan Fox. FBP has everything I hate in hard science fiction: time travel, in depth physics and science to the extreme. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against science. I just rarely understand what the hell they’re talking about. Throw in some alternate dimensions, theories about reality and alternate selves and my head starts hurting. FBP introduces readers to a world in which none of the normal laws of physics hold true anymore and the struggle of an underfunded and almost extinct arm of the government trying to bring reality back to normal. Collected into four volumes ranging from 2013 to the end of the series in 2016, it’s a helluva ride through the impossible becoming real.
FBP takes place in a near future in the normal scientific laws (like gravity) to which we’ve grown accustomed, no longer behave as normal. Quantum tornadoes randomly destroy towns by breaking down everything (and everyone) in the area down to single molecules, homes and schools are transported to alternate dimensions, wormholes open up in kitchens and things just generally get crazy. Enter the Federal Bureau of Physics, a branch of the government tasked with handling this idiosyncrasies while the scientists try to figure out what the hell is going on. Adam Hardy is a young FBP agent out to prove himself and find out if maybe one of the alternate dimensions might hold his missing father, a brilliant scientist who tried to warn everyone years before about the coming dangers and who was dismissed as a lunatic. Among his coworkers are Cicero, a brilliant but caustic former scientist and now elite field agent and Rosa Reyes, whose own upbringing was turned upside down by the new laws of physics and now just wants to get back to the familiar. It’s up to Adam, Cicero and Rosa to find out how to bring the laws of science back to normal and avoid the attentions of a rich entrepreneur who may not have their best interests at heart for all that he claims otherwise. As Adam’s father always said, “the impossible is always possible…”
In expanding my sci fi horizons, I’ve learned there’s a fair amount of variation in terms of how much science is featured as part of the story. In FBP, science is (as you might assume) very much the focus. FBP incorporates a fair amount of quantum mechanics, theories about the start of the universe, dark matter, wormholes and alternate dimensions so it can be mind bendy even at its best. At its worst, it’s nearly incomprehensible (at least for someone as science challenged as me). I’ll admit now that I maybe understood about 10% of what Oliver and co were playing with in this story so perhaps it might be different for more scientifically inclined readers. At the beginning of the series, that really doesn’t matter. Adam, Rosa and Cicero are fascinating characters who each have their own psychological damage that led them to risk their lives in order to protect people from the dangers of the new chaos and have to learn to interact with each other and with “normal” people so that they can get the job done. As the series continues however, the multi-faceted characters can’t save the story from unraveling into some vague treatise on the end of the world and how humanity always dooms itself and reverts to savage anarchy without the laws of the government holding it into place. If you lean libertarian or conservative, there’s gonna be some stuff in here to annoy you. Though that would be a minor annoyance at most, this just isn’t a very well told story. Loose threads are introduced and then never woven into the narrative, the lead characters make uncharacteristic decisions that are either never or poorly explained and the series loses the chaotic wonder that made it so appealing at the beginning, becoming just a mediocre dystopian adventure that ends with a fizzle. Not to mention the cute little girl who’s supposed to bring it all together and ends up being pen and paper proof that Oliver has never met a kid. She’s the most blatant author mouthpiece I’ve ever seen. By the end, I’d ceased to care what happened to any of the characters and was mind-numbingly bored by the direction it had taken. So much potential just never delivered on.
If there’s one area that FBP absolutely excels, it’s the art. I don’t know where the hell they found a pairing like Robbi Rodriguez (pencils) and Rico Renzi (colors), but they’re just brilliant. Rodriguez has a sketchy, exaggerated style that captures the mad chaos of the new reality in a compelling way. One of my favorites was the way that a quantum tornado was illustrated in a blocky, surreal way instead of the normal tornado that you’d think of. In addition to the way that Rodriguez really captures the crazy, upside-down world feel of the story, Renzi’s colors are vibrant, out of this world and trippy. He uses some effects, particularly with the snow, that make it really feel like you’re struggling through the snowstorm with the characters. Unfortunately….Rodriguez and Renzi leave halfway through the series and you get stuck with Ponticelli, whose art is ugly and boring by comparison. Like with the story, the last half is incredibly disappointing.
While I can’t say I’d recommend FBP to most people, it was certainly a step outside of my comfort zone. It’s a story built on a fascinating concept, with intriguing characters but unfortunately is too flawed to really deliver on that concept. If you love hard sci fi and want to see more science in your alternate dimension, reality defying fiction, it might be worth picking this one up. If you’d prefer flawed characters and a little less science, check out Black Science for an awesome time travel story. Regardless, if you have any hard sci fi stories to recommend or thoughts on this one, let me know in the comments! See you next week!