VAS: An Opera in Flatland
A novel by Steve
Tomasula. Art and design by Stephen Farrell
370 pp, 3-color throughout, including artwork, illustrations and
diagrams. One trifold foldout page.
Adult Fiction/ Biotechnology/ Cultural Studies/ Graphic Design
University of Chicago Press, December 1, 2004. $18.00 paper, ISBN
Up until now, everyone alive on earth was bound to one another through
African Eve, our last common ancestor, who 5,000 generations ago passed
her genes and language to sons and daughters who did the same as they
gradually populated the world. Today, however, Square, Circle and the
other inhabitants of Flatland have the opportunity to step outside this
lineage. To rearrange the bodies of animals, plants, and even
themselves. VAS: An Opera in Flatland is the story of Square’s decision
to undergo an operation that will leave him sterile for the good of his
wife, Circle, for the good of their daughter, Oval, and for the good of
society, including the unborn descendants he will never have. VAS is,
in other words, the story of finding one’s identity within the
double-helix of language and lineage—and Square’s struggle to see
beyond the common pages of ordinary, daily life upon which he is drawn.
Utilizing a wide and historical sweep of representations of the body,
from pedigree charts to genetic sequences, this hybrid novel recounts
how differing ways of imagining the body generate differing stories of
knowledge, power, history, gender, politics, art, and, of course, the
literature of who we are. It is the intersection of one tidy family’s
life with the broader times in which they live.
VAS will be of interest to anyone concerned with the futures we are now
writing into existence.
A breathtaking inquiry into the artifacts of the human imagination,
VAS: An Opera in Flatland is sensuous, ferocious, and original.
—Rikki Ducornet, The Novelist
…this novel constitutes a leap forward for the genre we call ‘novel.’
Collapsing nonfiction into fiction, women’s reproductive concerns into
men’s, history into present, work into play—this novel takes
juxtaposition and digression to new heights.
—American Book Review
Steve Tomasula's extraordinary "novel" —or is it a film script? collage
art work? philosophical meditation? —tracks the story of a "simple"
event in the life of a 21st century family. But "story" is the
wrong word here, for Tomasula's dissection of post-biological life is
about the new interaction of bodies and DNA possibilities. Tomasula's
imagination, his satiric edge, his wildly comic sense of things,
combined with Farrell’s inventive page lay-out make reading this "Opera
in Flatland" an unforgettable experience.
—Marjorie Perloff, The Critic
VAS, a beautifully vibrant collaboration…balances terrifying facts and
a desperate humor with an ease worthy of David Markson,…an experience
both disturbing and enlightening, and one for which I am grateful.
—Review of Contemporary Fiction
VAS is an encyclopedic quest for three-dimensional thinking in a
two-dimensional quadvaverse of cloned geneticists replicating racialist
double binds. With striking visual aplomb, VAS casts factoids off
the steps of the Temples of the Predetermined into the
yet-to-be-written name of errant possibility.
—Charles Bernstein, The Poet
VAS: An Opera in Flatland is a beguilingly intricate, immaculately
crafted labour of love and anyone interested in the future of genetics
or writing, or both, should seek it out.
…visually brilliant—VAS: An Opera in Flatland redesigns the novel,
taking it to a dimension beyond the one in which it ordinarily lives.
—Rain Taxi Review of Books
VAS is a welcome and an innovative contribution to the ongoing
discussion and debate on biotechnology and the posthuman....
Bound in a cover made to look like human flesh…VAS: An Opera in
Flatland…interweaves myriad forms: novel, short story, poetry, comic
book, history, science, reference, libretto, musical score, epigraph,
science fiction, meta-text, and genetic code….The result is a project
so stunningly ambitious its occasional shortcomings are easily
forgiven, and the only true disappointment is that it has to end.
--Gulf Coast Review
Amazing, breathtaking in its originality….
…an unforgettably unique reading pleasure and the most visually
exhilarating fiction to appear in years.
--American Book Review