THE EIGHTFOLD PATH by Steven Barnes, Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

THE EIGHTFOLD PATH by Steven Barnes, Review

Alexander Wallace travels the path to nirvana.
I’ll admit I don’t read the most graphic novels; I’m more of a prose buff, myself, but I do quite appreciate, say, Watchmen or V for Vendetta or Jonathan Hickman’s Manhattan Projects. That said, when I learned of The Eightfold Path, I was sold almost immediately: Steven Barnes, science fiction writer, and Charles Johnson, writer and Buddhist scholar, team up with Bryan Christopher Moss, illustrator (all three African-American) team up to write and illustrate a novel combining afrofuturism and Buddhist wisdom. It’s an odd combination of elements, but variety is, after all, the spice of life.

The opening plot is simple: several travelers are caught together in a snowstorm in the Himalayas en route to a Buddhist monastery. Around the campfire, led by a mystic in a cave, they all tell stories, each of which is a situation in which human life is immersed in patterns of samsara (a miserable cycle of rebirth, roughly, although there are nuances here) because they are lacking in the virtues described by the Noble Eightfold Path, the way Buddhism teaches its adherents to escape samsara. In other words, the characters in these stories are people who are lacking in the teachings of the Buddha, and are worse off for it.

The graphic novel reads something like the fixup novels common in science fiction; in particular, its structure reminds me of Robert Silverberg’s Majipoor Chronicles, with stories being accessed by those who are apparently outside the confines of said stories. Their relative lack of connection to one another reminded me similarly of Arthur C. Clarke’s Tales from the White Hart. They vary in genre from dystopian to horror to space opera and many other places, all vividly brought to life by Barnes’ prose, Johnson’s philosophy, and Moss’ art.

Moss deserves significant credit for the success of the book; he succeeds in using a disparate variety of styles to realize all the different scenarios. They are the comic form in its most artful form, dramatizing philosophy in a way both wise and immersive.

And that philosophy is surprisingly deep; I could detect at least some of the aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path in the stories; doubtlessly, someone more familiar with Buddhism would be able to see even more. I certainly took it in as a learning experience, and it will be so for many others.

The Eightfold Path is a wildly original graphic novel great for fans of the medium or for those who love science fiction, fantasy, horror, or the forms of those genres heavy on big ideas. These ideas are not technological or magical at their core, but moral, and it is for that reason The Eightfold Path succeeds as it does.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad