I first discovered Simon Stalenhag when I stumbled upon some of his art posted on a message board. It immediately caught my attention.
The image was of a young girl and a small robot standing in what looked like an airplane hanger. To one side, sitting in shadow, were the remains of a giant, decaying robot. In the background, several older-model cars were parked, and beyond them, a desert and mountains.
The image struck a chord with me and I began looking for more of his art.
It turns out that Stalenhag’s works focus on a sort of retro-futurism, which is something I adore. Most, if not all, of his art is centered on the 1990s as a setting, but with the addition of robots and odd mechanics not of that decade. It’s a mixture of beauty and creepiness that I find inspiring.
I thought it would be nice to own a book of his work and, to my surprise, I then discovered that he’s a writer, as well. In fact, several of his books have been optioned by Amazon.
I settled on purchasing The Electric State because the cover image is that same image I’d found several weeks back. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the story, or if it was a story at all. What I ended up with was not only a story, but one told in an interesting way.
Now, I can’t write much about the story itself. There are several twists and turns that I don’t want to spoil. However, what I will say is that the setting is sometime in the 1990s in the western United States. It also takes place after what appears to be a massive war that was fought by battle droids (hence, the giant robot and mechanical devices). There’s also a type of additive VR headset that has crippled much of the population.
The narrative follows a teenage girl and a small robot as they make their way across the bleak western landscape. They are trying to get to something, someplace, on the Pacific coast without being seen. As the story unfolds, more and more of the world, and her past, are revealed.
While the story is wonderful, what struck me most was how Stalenhag told it. Basically, the narrative unfolds through the images and pieces of the story. What I mean is, it’s not your usual story where the reader is taken down a path. Instead, we’re given glimpses of this girl’s journey, just enough to let us know what’s going on while still leaving large bits to the imagination.
I like that. I like that Stalenhag doesn’t lay it all out. I don’t need to know where she’s finding food or how she keeps herself occupied during those long, deserted stretches of highway. There’s just enough to keep me interested in her journey, just enough to feed my imagination so it can fill in the blanks.
The Electric State is one of the most fascinating stories I’ve read, and the illustrations are the perfect accompaniment. I highly recommend this book if you’re interested in sci-fi, retro-futurism, and dystopian fiction.