Deconstructing layout and language in order to explore how idea propagate, acclaimed designer and artist Rian Hughes's debut novel presents a compelling vision of humanity's unique place in the universe, and a realistic depiction of what might happen in the wake of the biggest scientific discovery in human history.
... delights in exploring design’s potential to amplify meaning ... There’s no discernible corner of XX’s nearly 1,000 pages that hasn’t been meticulously considered; open it at random and there’s a good chance your attention will be grabbed — by a punk fanzine, a map of an imaginary planet, dialogue in the form of a Victorian music-hall poster, a cityscape constructed out of slashes, exclamation marks and other punctuation, a page of alien print . . . The text periodically tilts, sways or attenuates as the action requires, while the 'font design credits' list 91 typefaces, many devised by the author ... Hughes’s overarching theme is how ideas, once encoded in print, bits or neurons, compete, evolve and re-express themselves, so the multiplicity of styles is more than apt. Besides, his story is lively enough to be energised rather than swamped by the graphical pyrotechnics.
A novel about first contact is nothing new, of course, but Hughes, best known as a graphic designer, typographer, and illustrator, has reinvented this classic science fiction trope in a massive work of dizzying originality ... XX is a page turner that transcends the typical alien story, becoming an engaging treatise on the nature and development of written language and its indelible impact on human culture ... Hughes is not the first to utilize imagery meant to be read and not simply looked at — though his career as a type designer positions him well to remind readers that words are images ... the imagery partners with the words to coax and tease language, revealing all it can and cannot do, and how that informs human behavior ... In XX Rian Hughes spins a familiar premise into one enchantingly rich with possibility, encouraging us to look beyond the limits of language to new means of understanding.
Even though the overall story is fairly straightforward, there are many shifts in settings and multiple subplots (including an entire novelette) to keep track of. Moreover, the technical and theoretical scientific principles introduced, and the sometimes-disruptive nature of the mixed-media elements, at times make the story difficult to follow ... The combination of hard sf elements and Hughes’s background as a cartoonist create a vivid, expansive reading experience. This will especially interest readers who are excited by hybrid novels that blend traditional and illustrative formats.