Reading Pile: The Two Faces of Tomorrow
Based on a James P. Hogan story that was published in 1979, this 1993 adaptation walks an interesting line between a slow build hardcore sci-fi and an energetic action manga. It won't really appeal to everyone due to its somewhat dry technical nature, but then it's possible Yukinobu Hoshino's dynamic style will offer the perfect counterbalance and draw you into this well thought out examination of mankind's possible future interactions with AI.
Set in 2028 (which is now a depressingly optimistic consideration), humanity has created an integrated global computer network that manages most of our technical necessities. A new form of AI called Titan has been making great advances in our mining efforts on the Moon, until an incident one day highlights that its independent decision-making has become a potential threat to humanity. Various simulations show a possible where we're first held hostage by it as the needs of humanity become irrelevant to its other directives. However, if humanity pulls back on further development of the AI, society will most likely stagnate.
The creator of the AI offers a new option: to apply the new AI in a controlled environment, the Janus space station. Here they will activate the new system, called Spartacus, and then actively antagonize it to see if they can create a controlled situation where they can put down a potential robotic revolt.
The first act of the book is all solid set-up and character intros and really strong world building. The second act is where you might consider it to get a bit dryer, but for me it was a very interesting step by step breakdown of the logistics behind this type of AI development. There's no immediate rebellion of the machines, but instead a slow escalation of experiments and discoveries that highlight the thought process of the Spartacus system and its understanding of the world around it. The third act is where all the action and horrible murder takes place, so just be patient and you'll get to it and all the speed lines you can desire. Actually, the speed lines and interesting panel layouts are even there for the slow boring stuff, because Yukinobu Hoshino knows that he's gotta gussy up the sci-fi banter somehow.
On that note, the art is fantastic. The linework is crisp and fluid, and narrative flow is tight and controlled and knows when to pull into a more formal structure for certain scenes and when to play around for when things may be considered slower during the exposition sequences. There's also some interesting uses of shadow and crosshatches in certain scenes that brought to mind the character work of Neal Adams, while at other times it felt a bit reminiscent of Katsuhiro Otomo. There are a lot of humanistic qualities to his character designs, and a lot of focus on facial expressions that aided in grounding the story as it dug deeper into the technical elements of explaining how an AI would evolve.
The collection I have is a chunky boi that clocks in at 576 pages, collecting the entire thirteen issues that Dark Horse published back when they were trying single issues of manga. Unfortunately it is out of print, and it looks like this edition (originally $19.95) is going for $40-65 online at the moment. I have to imagine though that you can probably find this at some used book stores and you may not have to pay that much, or alternatively you can find the single issues at a convention or in the quarter bins of some comic stores.
Either way, I do really recommend keeping an eye out for it. It is a little dated in some aspects, and as one quick twitter review I read online put it, "Reeks of old sci-fi." That's not a bad thing for me though, and in certain ways I would compare it to the first Star Trek movie. It can be slow for sure but it's dedicated in telling this technical sci-fi story that also emphasizes the possibilities of humanity's future in a somewhat hopeful light. That's a particular mood that I don't really mind these days and can use more of, plus it's now infused with a certain nostalgia for 90's manga and that's a unique mixture in itself. It's also just an impressive showcase of Yukinobu Hoshino's art and storytelling, and well worth it for that alone. So if you happen to stumble across a copy, it's well worth taking a look.