It’s not every day you encounter a screenwriter with a Ph.D. in robotics from Stanford. But Louis Rosenberg, a former professor of mechanical engineering at Cal Poly, is something of a different breed. Rosenberg became interested in the world of fiction after inventing the 3D digitizer technology used by Dreamworks in the creation of several major animated pictures, including Shrek and Ice Age. Inspired by the storytelling side of those projects, Rosenberg went back to school, this time to study screenwriting at UCLA
Since his graduation, Rosenberg has written and co-written a series of science fiction screenplays, several of which have been made into short films by his production company, Outland Pictures. Rosenberg’s feature film Paper Trail, co-written with Joe Rosenbaum, is currently in production with Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, helmed by Danish director Ole Madsen.
Meanwhile, however, Rosenberg has also written two graphic novels (and, recently, a children’s book called Seeking Marlo). Upgrade was his first: a dystopian tale of a man exiled from the Internet, which, in the year 2058, is a lot direr a situation than it sounds. His latest foray into the world of the graphic novel is Eons, the story of a team of perfect human specimens who volunteer to be cryogenically frozen and launched into orbit on a military test mission which—you guessed it—goes horribly wrong.
If Upgrade and Eons are any indication, Rosenberg often borrows the central themes in his stories from the great works of science fiction that have gone before them—and yet his stories remain imaginative and tech-savvy enough to keep science-fiction fans engaged. Upgrade, a story of a civilization that lives entirely in cyberspace, had its own version of Big Brother, and in The System’s frequent upgrades, Rosenberg touched on the Orwellian notion of a government entity perpetually re-writing the present, revising the truth. Heck, he even named the main character’s love interest Julia. But Upgrade ultimately differentiated itself by establishing its own uniquely hopeful, sort of cyberpunk-y vibe (Let’s hack into the system and free humanity!).
Eons succeeds in a similar way. Sure, it’s got “I grew up watching Star Trek and The Twilight Zone” written all over it. It’s got a twist ending that at this point will be very familiar to sci-fi fans (though, to be fair, I totally didn’t see it coming!). But it’s also got some tremendously witty dialogue, which occasionally acknowledges the forebears of the genre (“Beam that shit over, Scotty!”), several surprising turns of events, and a few truly eerie scenes just begging to be translated onto the big screen.
In fact, a lot about Eons feels cinematic: The illustrations by Kyle La Fever even feel like the storyboard sketches for a film. (This seemed to bother a few Amazon reviewers, but I enjoyed La Fever’s panoramic perspectives and sketchy style.) And between the opening scene (deep in a top-secret underground location, a screaming, naked man is dragged by men in white coats and locked in a chamber, which fills with blue liquid as he screams for his life) and the next (a series of interviews with various members of the military), we almost expect a title screen to flash.
The interviews are followed by various tests of mental and physical prowess, in addition to behavior under pressure. We see the men in white coats circle some names and cross others off. Finally, a core group is selected—an Army test-pilot, biologist, sniper, navigator, Marine sniper, survival specialist and surgeon—and taken to Vandernberg (!) Air Force Base. At Vandernberg, they’re briefed on Project Eons, an initiative to find and preserve a “seed population” of human beings to repopulate the earth after its inhabitants have all succumbed to mass extinction. In the event that the Earth becomes uninhabitable, the seven volunteers, plus one Dr. Ketterman, will be cryogenically frozen and sent into orbit indefinitely, in a kind of space pod. For now, the eight volunteers will embark on a 60-day test mission, which, thanks to the cryogenic freezing, will seem to take just a few moments.
But what was intended to be a simple test goes severely awry when the volunteers awaken, not to a welcome party in Dayton, as planned, but in a barren desert with no signs of human life. What’s worse, the space pod has logged about a bazillion planetary orbits, which means they’ve been in space for around 200,000 years. They may now be the last people on Earth. Collective freakout ensues.
Thus begins a struggle for survival against starvation, madness, mysterious howling lion-gorilla creatures, and a slightly unhinged man named Randle, who previously thought he was last person on Earth. An early disappearance by one of their number leads some of the volunteers to suspect crazy-ass Randle, while other volunteers decide to trust Randle’s survival expertise, since he’s been living in the middle of nowhere for three years, and has the beard to prove it.
The plot moves quickly, which has its advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, Eons can be comfortably read in one sitting, and the story exudes a kind of potency when consumed all at once. On the other hand, the quick pace doesn’t leave a lot of time for the reader to get to know the eight volunteers, or for any of the central characters to show—sorry, I always harp on this—significant personal growth. Can we get some internal monologues up in here?
Nevertheless, Eons is a spectacularly imaginative piece of storytelling, with a plot that could never, ever be accused of dragging. Not in 200,000 years.
Arts Editor Anna Weltner thinks it’s gonna be a long, long time. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.