Archive Binge: Oh Human Star
Oh Human Star by Blue Delliquanti may be the new standard that I hold all science fiction to. It is a science fiction story that explores the meaning of the self, studies how our history shapes our personality, looks at how technology is changing our perceptions, considers the ways in which post-human life will develop out of our current existence and wraps the entire thing up in overlapping ribbons of an absolutely killer mystery, a turbulent coming of age story and a bittersweet queer romance.
Through flashbacks we get to see the central characters of robotics genius Alastair Stirling and his assistant, eventual partner and even more eventual lover Brendan Pinsky developing the foundations of synthetic life which then blossom out into a world changing movement by the time that we return to the story’s present. By running the two timelines concurrently we get to see the vast changes that a few years have made to the characters and the setting, and which underlying traits remain unchanged in stark contrast.
The ethical and societal implications of technology, and indeed all of the spin-off technologies that they inevitably create, are never overlooked and while there has been no deep delve into the philosophy of creating mental copies of people, the number of mind-blowing questions raised in each strip is consistently high.
Stirling’s internalised homophobia and abusive childhood define his relationship with Pinsky as much as his genius and his affection do. It is rare to see such depth bestowed on a withdrawn character in fiction. Where characters like him are usually treated as a mystery to be unravelled or a puzzle to be solved, Stirling’s internal contradictions and grief become even more pronounced as we learn more about him.
Which brings us to the third main character; Sulla. An imperfect synthetic copy of Sterling who has grown to resemble a teenager, one who chose earlier in life to have her body reconfigured into a female appearance, driving even more confusion in Stirling, who is a little touchy about his gender and sexuality.
While the three of them are undeniably a tightly knit family, the complexities that technology and mortality have introduced into their lives makes it difficult to see exactly how they connect to one another, although there is something profoundly beautiful in the way that Stirling immediately adopts a parental role over Sulla. A perfect study in one meaning of parenthood for anyone who is unfamiliar with the experience.
The parallel timelines in the story look like they will be eliminated moving forward, as both have now intersected at the story's pivotal moment , but there are still no shortage of questions to be answered about the intervening years and about the ways in which Stirling has come to be an object of worship for the artificial lifeforms that he pioneered. While Pinsky was forced to remain in the real world and be seen as fallible and human, Stirling’s death allowed him to become a myth. A god for the new age. Once the characters and creatures of the “present day” come to realise that their legend walks among them it will be fascinating to see how long it takes for him to dive-bomb off the pedestal they have set him on.
The romance in this comic is painfully realistic, with characters drawn to one another against their own better judgement and despite their misgivings. Sex is depicted frankly with attraction displayed with some subtlety through the character’s viewpoints. Love still exists in the futuristic world of Oh Human Star, and it is as passionate, destructive and redemptive as any found elsewhere in human literature.