Authorised Happiness Volume 2
Jean Van Hamme (Writer), Griffo (Artist), Design Amorandi (Letters), Jerome Saincantin (Translation)
Dupuis (French), Cinebook Ltd. (English)
March 20, 2019
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In the first volume of Authorised Happiness, readers were introduced to a world where unemployment was rampant, good health came at a premium, and holidays were decided according to social status. In this second volume of Jean Van Hamme’s short story collection, we get a deeper look at the draconian rules of the dystopian Earth. It is not for the faint of heart.
The first story of Authorised Happiness, “Public Safety,” follows Joachim Robin-Place, the Principal Private Secretary at the Ministry of Public Safety. Robin-Place is a champion of the Universal Card—a catch-all identity card that records every piece of data in a person’s life, down to their bank details. This comes back to haunt Robin-Place; he has made enemies who band together to cut off his access to the UC. And without the card, Robin-Place’s very existence comes under threat.
Unlike the previous volume of Authorised Happiness, where most of the protagonists were regular citizens burdened by inflexible systems, this story focuses on one of the bureaucrats encouraging the deployment of these uncompromising policies. And it is good to see a bureaucrat face his comeuppance!
Though the events of this story are extremely disturbing, one can’t help but feel that protagonist Robin-Place deserves what happens to him because of his complete lack of sympathy for those around him. There are hints throughout the text that Robin-Place is worse than he appears—the way he treats his subordinates is appalling, as is his treatment of his former partners. Robin-Place isn’t even that good at his job—his boss calls him out on his “indiscretions.”
What I would have liked in the conclusion was some notion that things had become better after Robin-Place’s experiences, but writer Jean Van-Hamme leaves it vague. It may have been a deliberate choice, a sign that Robin-Place was only one cog in a massive bureaucratic wheel.
Authorised Happiness’ second tale, “Family Planning,” follows the meeting between young Johnny and the president of the country. Johnny has broken into the president’s residence for revenge—the international treaties against population growth led to Johnny’s parents and sisters being imprisoned. Johnny is an illegal—a third child born to a family in a world that only sanctions two children per couple. As the night wears on, Johnny slowly manages to convince the president that the two-child rule is a mistake, and that the illegals deserve better.
“Family Planning” is sadly very relevant in 2019. Not only are we seeing injunctions against certain groups of people having children, but there have been countries who have instituted such rulings against their citizens. There are “illegal” children all over the world, and this story will thus resonate with many readers. I love the dialogue here, and how it showcases the protagonists’ personalities, while also acting as world-building exposition. The melancholic, yet hopeful, ending gives the story a more positive vibe than in any of the tales from the first volume of Authorised Happiness.
In the final story, “Protected Profession,” we get a look at how arts and literature function in this dystopian world. Unsurprisingly, the freedom of expression is limited, something Master Writer Steven Loft finds out. His writing is praised for its quality, but nobody will publish him if he keeps writing about illegal children, the problematic rules that bind people, and the general negativity that surrounds him. Steven refuses to toe the company line and write happy stories, becoming more determined when he meets an underground group who believe in his writing. In a world like this, however, words can get you killed.
This is probably my favourite of all the stories in Authorised Happiness, as it speaks to all creatives—the need to freely express one’s ideas, within reason, and not have to comply with arbitrary rules imposed by an indifferent government. Kind of like the world we’re living in right now, isn’t it? It’s astounding that Jean Van Hamme created these stories in 1989, but also deeply disturbing that they have all come true in some form or other in the 21st century.
This volume of Authorised Happiness felt better put-together than the first, and the stories were even more gripping than I expected them to be. However, the lack of female protagonists is annoying—the first volume had one story featuring a single mom—especially as most of the characters, barring Robin-Place, could easily have been gender-swapped without the essence of the story changing. In fact, “Family Planning” may have been more poignant had Johnny been a girl.
Griffo’s art is far more detailed and colourful in this volume of Authorised Happiness. The first volume felt a bit otherworldly at times, but it is far more realistic in this book, and extremely vibrant, perhaps to reflect the more optimistic outlook of the stories. The way Griffo infuses the page with elements that flesh out the world is fascinating, and his characters are extremely expressive.
With Griffo’s art and Jean Van Hamme’s stories, Authorised Happiness is an insightful look at a dystopian world that is dangerously prophetic about our own. The world-building is extraordinary, almost Philip K. Dick-esque at times, and the plots are gripping from start to finish. A thoroughly immersive read that will live on long after you turn the last page.