I’ve driven past LA twice, once in each direction. Even from a distance, and at speed, it’s a city which feels unstable; millions of stories balanced on top of one another and secured by nothing but gravity and shared belief. It’s the only place in America more fictional than New York, both cities home to as many narrative residents as real ones. There’s still a hint of speeding, bomb-laden bus to the LA motorways, just as there’s still the ghost of web fluid, drifting in the winter breeze, on the sides of New York’s skyscrapers. LA is a canvas instead of a city and the temptation to paint something new, or paint over what someone else has created, is very strong at times. This is the uncomfortable, unsettled, quietly furious world that films as diverse as Donnie Darko, End of Watch, The Nines and Crash all inhabit; a city that should be more, home to millions of protagonists all struggling to be heard.
This is the world Ales Kot brings us to in Change and it’s both instantly recognizable and unsettling. The old line about there being a million stories in the naked city springs to mind but here, the million stories all intersect even as reality and fiction do the same thing. Rapper turned would-be film producer W2 is the first, a man who willingly pours his life into his fiction in order to make both better. He’s an interesting figure, physically hulking but the most intellectual of the people we meet, a man driven to make a good story because on some level he believes that will make everything better. There’s a purity to him, a willingness to embrace his pain in the hopes of making it better and making better art from it. He’s doomed, I suspect, as a result, but in many ways he’s an honest man in a sea of liars.
Sonja Bjornquist on the other hand is an honest woman with one eye on the door. The scriptwriter that W2 fires over the changes she made to his screenplay, Sonya is huge fun; a whirling, peppery tornado of writerly angst and handy car thieving skills whose unforced, arch banter with her agent, Werner, is as charming as it is overly intellectual and speaks volumes to her character. Sonja’s brash, showy, utterly convinced of her own genius and wears facial camouflage so she isn’t recognized on security cameras. A writer who wants to work, wants to be recognized for that work but doesn’t want to be seen. The streets of LA are paved with people like Sonja. The streets of every city are. The only difference is she has luck, tenacity and an unusually well developed set of carjacking skills.
Finally, there’s the Astronaut. As the story opens, a manned mission to Europa is hours from return and the astronaut aboard it, as yet unnamed, is fascinated by the world he’s returning to. He has no lines of his own, just thought processes and even without the curious image of him on the front cover, something is clearly wrong. The square jawed fighter pilot astronaut of American myth is replaced by a solemn, almost monastic man who seems to regard the planet he was born on with a cold intellect and mild curiosity. Only in the final pages do we see him react, with terror, to the thing that is mirroring his journey home.
Those final pages are where the story forms, locking these people together into a structure that unites them in terror. The astronaut, whose perspective mirrors the writer’s own, sees what’s about to happen. W2 and his wife face a Cthonic home invasion and Sonja is attacked by Werner whilst, unnoticed, two people in a surveillance van monitor the whole thing. All three main characters are faced either violence or the threat of violence and all three react differently. The astronaut’s perspective means all he can do is watch, W2 responds by getting his wife and himself to safety and Sonja, all her pretensions burnt away, survives. Werner does not. Each one of these pages drips with threat and tension, and Morgan Jeske’s artwork shines here. There’s a gloriously unsettling moment at W2’s house involving a statue and the attack on Sonja, when it comes, is an abstraction of movement, gasps and desperate eye contact. An honest depiction of the sheer terror in any form of physical fight, transcribed into a fictional medium, it’s as appropriate as it is unsettling to read.
Change is about the moment before, when everything is about to pitch and shift and what we’re like when that change begins. It’s a horror story, certainly, but it’s one built from the fragile structures of these people’s lives, a Roland Emmerich movie viewed from a long way off. Like everything I’ve read by Ales, it’s intensely clever, well observed and darkly funny. I can’t imagine three better adjectives to describe the end of the world. Or, at the very least, the end of Los Angeles.
Change Issue 1 is published toda