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Vas: An Opera in Flatland Hardcover – Jun 2003

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 370 pages
  • Publisher: Station Hill Press (Jun. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1581770944
  • ISBN-13: 978-1581770940
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 16.2 x 3.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,785,487 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

By Thomas Wingfield on 1 Nov. 2010
Format: Paperback
Quite simply the most beautiful book I've ever read.

Totally stunning from every angle. The writing is beautiful and complex but still accessible. The mix of fact and fiction is wonderful, and the many styles of writing keeps the reader engaged with every page.

Design wise it's an accomplished work of art, you can just flick through to any page, open it up and stare at it. The images and typography and layout are all so finely balanced, and even the feel of the book is something special.

Really very impressive, and highly recommended.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 8 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
This is an excellent Book 3 Sept. 2003
By S A Minnesota - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Reading "Vas: An Opera in Flatland" while I waited to have my hair cut, someone nearby asked what I was reading, and was it a good book. Answering, "yes this is an excellent book", I was not prepared for the next question. "How do you know it's an excellent book"? Being a person who would typically answer, "Because someone told me so", or trying to end the conversation I had become a part of, I answered, "because I am enjoying it, its making me think about a lot of different things, and its cool (I apologize for the `cool')".
Sinking my head down I pretend to read but was actually thinking about the question I had already answered. How do I know this is an excellent book? The question intimidated me. I wondered if I was answering this in the presence of the author that wrote it or the artist that put it together what my answer would be.
So I tried, this book (seems unfair to call it that) encompasses written and visual art, science, humor, some history, politics, ethics, and more. From the books bindings, to the artwork and the writing I find it difficult to compare to anything else I have read or seen (OK, as far as books are concerned). I looked at the drawings, layouts and fonts and typeset, I laughed, I read and I learned. I cannot think of other works that touched so many areas. If this is a new approach to literature, I feel it is `excellent'. If this is an approach to literature that I have been missing then I apologize for myself.
Please give this work a chance, while reading, looking, holding, etc you will ask `you' a lot of questions and will be looking at a lot of different images. When you are done you will struggle to put your hand on what you have put down, a piece of art, a book, or something else.
I'm not sure what I should call it, but it is an excellent book. (Buy It!)
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Read This One! 24 April 2003
By A Reader - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In some sense VAS picks up where Richard Powers's groundbreaking The Gold Bug Variations leaves off: assume that the structure of language is reflected in the double helix, and assume further that print technologies are an analog for body technologies, words and images and book materials made flesh and blood and bones. Now imagine a narrative orchestrated around characters whose symbolic proportions resonate with the latter two assumptions, and you have some idea of the staggering visual sweep and poetic beauty of VAS, perhaps the first graphic novel (term used advisedly) in which both "graphic" and "novel" are given their full due as contemporary art forms, thus reinventing the genre while re-novelizing the novel of ideas. VAS stitches personal reproductive drama to social-scientific controversy to illustrate the challenges facing our species, a species wedded to its incorporations. Author Tomasula and designer Farrell have set the bar very, very high.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Proof that the novel is very much alive in the 21st Century 22 Sept. 2003
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been a fan of Steve Tomasula's writing ever since I read his brilliant short story, "C-U See-Me" in The Iowa Review. VAS: An Opera In Flatland only confirms my best suspicions: that Tomasula is one of our most talented and innovative writers creating in this age of same-ol/same-ol. His collaboration with artist Stephen Farrell hits a high note in the field of Text + Image. This is a literal work of art, and should be approached in the same way one views a painting - by allowing the work to speak on its own terms rather than from conventional and limiting expectations. Reading VAS is like witnessing scattershot in reverse: With narrative of an impending vasectomy combined with scientific data and historical facts (to name only a few), and structure combining the media-asides that bombard us daily, the process of reading here is broadly experiential - an accumulation of often poetic, comic, and tragic information that coalesces as you reach the end. Very much like life between the covers. But a very smart, richly lived life.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Near masterpiece 8 July 2013
By David D. Katzman - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An overlooked contemporary experimental ... I call it a "near masterpiece." A marvelous, odd book. It is partly fictional--science-fictional, actually--but quite far from achieving novelhood. It is coherent in terms of content, theme, tone, and design but not in the sense of narrative. Rather it's a collection of brief fictive narrative elements (anywhere from one to five pages) alternated and intertwined with quotes, statistics, and historical anecdotes related to genetics, reproduction, population control/demography, racism, and eugenics. This unusual content is presented in a sophisticated design that I imagine is what a collage would look like if it were made by a DNA-obsessed android. To further complicate matters, the story elements are purportedly set in "Flatland," the world invented by Edwin A. Abbot in his book Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (Dover Thrift Editions), a brief but highly inventive work that I highly recommend you make a beeline* for if you get a chance. Flatland is Abbot's attempt to invent a world that lives only in two dimensions. All the beings in Flatland are literally one or two dimensional: points, line segments, triangles, circles, quadrilaterals, and so on. The creatures in Flatland find it impossible to imagine three dimensional objects, a form we, of course, take for granted. (Although we really shouldn't...I have heard tell of a holographic theory of universe that says we are all existing on an infinite flat plane (a "brane") and three dimensionality is merely an illusion. But I digress.) Flatland is a great book, but Abbot's Flatland has very little to do with Vas. The characters do not behave in any way as if they live in a two dimensional world...other than metaphorically. It seems to me that what Tomasula has in mind is that the characters in Vas live in Flatland because we live in Flatland. Our perspective on life and society is for the most part "two dimensional." Flat, without history, pushing only forward toward "progress" without concern for the $H1& (i.e. environmental destruction) we are leaving in our wake. Although Vas primarily focuses on our genetic compulsions, predispositions, and prejudices, Flatland as a metaphor speaks just as readily toward our economic slavery. We are trapped in our way of life, hurtling along toward a vague environmental apocalypse.

Vas is short for "vasectomy." I did not know that before I picked this book up. The skin colored cover could have given me a hint, but no.

The brief narrative elements do feature the same main characters, Square, and a small cast of extras: his wife, Circle, mother-in-law, Mother, and his daughter Oval. This connective thread is mitigated by the lack of throughline between the sequences. Initially, they are mostly about the subtle psychological battle going on between husband and wife wherein she wants him to get the vasectomy asap but he resists out of some mixture of fear and a need for racial identity and heredity. It might be worth touching on Dawkin's The Selfish Gene here. Although it's never mentioned explicitly as I recall, it's relevant as Tomasula is highlighting the genetic compulsion to pass our genes on or continue our legacy, which the act of vasectomy stymies. The desire to neuter oneself in our society might instead highlight a survival urge in a different way--the desire to increase our economic security (survival) or out of concern for our physical survival (childbirth). In an interesting way, it does put the individual's survival over the gene's survival thus adding some tension to Dawkin's theory.

The narrative snippets soon diverge from the focus on the husband/wife debate and wander off into odd territory. It would seem that the setting is the far future when humans have the ability to genetically manipulate their bodies and minds to the point of correcting all "defects" and diseases and maintain perpetual life. They become designer bodies essentially. The early sequences are quite grounded and felt like they could occur today. But as they progress, odder and more futuristic references and reflections occur such as the main character dissecting a "Cro Magnon" body in the park. He being from the dominant genetic class that appeared to have Neanderthal genes mixed in with Homo sapiens. While the scenes themselves are rather concrete, the context becomes disassociated and abstract. It's not clear, despite the main character being featured in each scene, that they are intended to be continuous. The character seems to have no history. Which makes sense if you live in Flatland. We have no history or future for that matter. Our genes may want to survive, but unfortunately in geologic terms, a compulsion toward genetic survival is a short-term strategy for a species. It doesn't account for global issues that can lead to extinction. In other words, the Ayn Randian world of selfishness is quite short-sighted if you care about future generations--even just your own (gene)ration.

The non-fictional elements of Vas reminded me of David Markson's The Last Novel in the sense of intertwining short factual, historical snippets with brief fictional bits. The difference here being these fictional interludes were much longer and the factional interludes were focused on issues of genetics and racial identity. But they are both similarly eye-opening. While reading Vas, you will be shocked by how many highly-educated figures from the past supported, and easily justified, eugenics and genocide. They quite sincerely believed that elimination of the poor, blacks, Asian, etc, was better for the evolution of the species. Cull the herd to strengthen the offspring, right? Social Darwinism is still alive and well in many political circles so Vas is quite relevant.

Although shocking at times and abstract and multi-layered, Vas is not depressing or boring. I wouldn't describe it as a "difficult" either. You do need to be focused and don't expect to toss it off. You need to be willing to read columns and jumpy text. You'll have to try multiple approaches to reading the various graphic textual layouts that interweave multiple sentences with each other in vertical strata. But rather than difficult, it's energizing and demonstrates how much potential still remains to be tapped in exploring the form of fiction.

If the book has any weakness that prevents me from calling it a masterpiece, I would say it is drive and momentum. It didn't hit me hard enough and stay with me. But I quite admire what it is.

Highly recommended.

*Beeline. Get it?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Fantastic 8 Mar. 2007
By Tanisa - Published on
Format: Paperback
Nice to see a book that uses design in both narrative and layout. This is on my top ten books to read!
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