Review: The Reactorside Reader

The Reactorside Reader is a kind of miscellany of side stories – both graphic and prose – associated with Shaenon K. Garrity’s webseries Narbonic. Here we get glimpses into the childhood of mad scientist Helen Narbon, and into married life between her and IT guy Dave (spoiler: it’s chaotic).

The first two stories, “Space” and “The Other Time She Made Him a Sandwich!”, both of them comics rather than prose, are rather sweet little standalones: it’s a pity there aren’t more stories of Dave and Helen post-marriage, as I found them more interesting than the strips in the main run. The whole book exudes a general sense of fannishness: these aren’t texts that have coherent narrative projects but rather spaces in which to hang out with beloved characters. There’s a sort of metatextual dialogue going on too, an awareness of a community that’s formed around the texts; an atmosphere of co-creation between the reader and the author.

Of course, with these strips bound into a physical book, distanced from their original circumstances of production, it’s impossible to access that community any more, or to participate in that dialogue; which might be why I’ve struggled to get into Narbonic as a whole. It’s the kind of morphing text that’s responding to ephemeral cultural circumstances – in-jokes, tropes, fannishness – and that probably needs to be experienced over a period of years, not days or hours, to achieve its intended affect. I just don’t think it’s ever going to be For Me.

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