Thoughtful speculation

This is a small-format, short, perfectly-formed science-fiction story. Its basic premise would probably be quite implausible technically, if it was elucidated in sufficient detail to get a handle on it, but the way in which its implications are explored is absolutely exemplary as speculative fiction. A spacecraft propulsion technology uses memories, supplied by a willing host, as fuel. After an accident, a lone survivor finds herself trapped inside the Memory Core, surrounded by the memories of the presumably deceased host. Rosemary Valero-O’Connell draws with the same kind of concise clarity with which she writes. Her art is detailed, and not at all schematic, but its clean lines and transparent sense of depth prevent its decorative affordances from ever obstructing its narrative. We stay with the accident survivor long enough for her to realise what the source of her new environment is, and to begin to the mourn the death of the memory donor, who she didn’t know in life, but comes to know through the cognitive residue she left in the Memory Core – which is what is left of her, as the title tells us. This is an interesting position from which to consider the trace of a human life; we usually think of the deceased individual’s remains as being what others recall of them, the marks they made on bureaucratic records, on family photo albums, their orphaned social media accounts. Perhaps Valero-O’Connell is inviting us to consider memories in the same light, as just another material from which a sense of self emerges, as something which could survive beyond the point at which that emergent property ceases to be assembled. Perhaps she has something else entirely in mind – but there is no trace of the memory donor in this story beyond her residue in the Memory Core, no sense of any lingering spirit. There are only questions. Which makes What Is Left, for me, an exemplary philosophical essay, as well as an exemplary piece of fictional speculation. What we are, and whether we emerge in an ad hoc way from our brains, or whether there is something more to us, some transcendental essence, are evergreen questions in philosophy, ones which can never really be answered, but ones which continue to elicit deep thought and beautiful poetry. This comic is a contribution on both counts.

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