This is by far my favorite story of all those I have written.
After all, I undertook to tell several trillion years of human history in the space of a short story and I leave it to you as to how well I succeeded. I also undertook another task, but I won’t tell you what that was lest l spoil the story for you.
It is a curious fact that innumerable readers have asked me if I wrote this story. They seem never to remember the title of the story or (for sure) the author, except for the vague thought it might be me. But, of course, they never forget the story itself especially the ending. The idea seems to drown out everything — and I’m satisfied that it should.
Democracy has many fathers, but in its modern, Western variety, the British contribution is marked. From the Magna Carta to the Levellers’ ‘Agreement of the People’ to the Chartists and Pan-African Conference, the British experience went on to influence democracy around the world. The US Declaration of Independence was partly born from the democratic ideals of the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution.
Yet the difference between us and them is that French and American officialdom nurtures its political heritage. Bastille Day, the Fourth of July holiday, even the veneration given to their written constitutions, point to a public culture which reveres and renews its democratic legacy. In Britain, we are close to amnesiac about the individuals who crafted our political freedoms.
Most of our major cities are replete with statues to generals, dukes and royals, but not to our democratic heroes. Outside his home town of Thetford, the great democrat agitator Thomas Paine is barely remembered. Our democratic sites are equally neglected. The Houses of Parliament contains the most pitiful account of its role in the development of democracy. Shamefully, the Magna Carta site at Runnymede has had to be paid for with American funds.
There’s an interesting comments thread following that article. We do seem to readily forget our democratic past, but then we readily forget the past. Maybe that’s a good thing.
Perhaps that’s what we are looking for, as readers, more and more these days – a sort of aesthetic daisycutter bomb of a reading experience that does its work with ruthless brevity and concentrated dispatch.
Have a read of that. It’s a measured analysis of what short stories are and provides some useful ideas about how to think about them. Theory notwithstanding, it also points out who some of the best short story writers are, including dear old Jim Ballard. If Boyd is right then these are the people who can provide you with the concentrated dose of prose you’re looking for.
Those of you who are still reading this after the Big Robot experiment might be wondering whether there’s likely to be a reprise of that kind of material from me or the others involved. To be honest I felt like the whole thing was a bit sloppy and naive, but recently I’ve received a few encouraging comments about it which has made me reflect on the whole process a little differently.
I had pretty much stopped writing fiction after Big Robot. I’ve turned out a few half-hearted ventures, but nothing particularly inspired or inspiring. That is set to change. I’ve begun to collate ideas at a terrific rate, and my inchoate ideas about fiction are starting to sort themselves a little more clearly. I won’t be running another Big Robot, but I will be contributing something a little more interesting later in the year. I’m genuinely looking forward to it.
More on this in the months to come…
Busy? Sort of. Actually I’ve been wearing a tiny robot suit, sat on the back of a unicorn while tripping on mushrooms. The peeled banana is never eaten (I am a robot) and all the while it whispers “I am ripe and juicy”.
One thing I hadn’t foreseen about the processes of becoming a tiny robot in Second Life is that your humanoid body is distorted and withered down to a grotesque skeletal remainder. Inside every cute robot is the husk of a human being.
GC: I can’t resist addressing the story vs. game issue. You have to think of games as being akin to music in this fashion. There are musical forms that are tightly connected to storytelling, such as opera, the musical, the rock and roll ballad; then there are forms where story is irrelevant.
PD: Like pop.
GC: Or symphonic music. There is a narrative in the sense that there is change over time, but it’s not “story” per se. There are many games that integrate story very effectively; there are many games where story is irrelevant. To me, the search for the interactive narrative game is one of those things that people have bashed their head against the wall about since the beginning of computer games – and if you want to bash your head against that wall, that’s great. Sooner or later someone will break through the wall, but me, I’ll go do something else.
Heh, ‘Cloud designer’ makes it sound like Chen is some kind of divine meteorological craftsman. It actually refers to Cloud.
TL: I just want to say there are no statues of committees.
Now there’s a Turner prize entry in waiting.
Surprising English poet William Blake probably wasn’t talking about developing videogames when he said, “I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s,” but his point still stands firm. If you’re going to create something, rather than simply manufacture it, you have to decide how much of it you want to belong to you, and how much you are willing to give way to the aspirations and demands of others. Are you simply willing to craft something for someone else? Or is your act of creation going to belong wholly to some personal, private ambition?
Illustrations are a bit iffy, but hey.
The Archigram of today works for Electronic Arts, has no idea who Walter Gropius is, and offers more insights about the future of urban design, space, and the built environment to more people, in more age groups, in more countries, than any practicing architectural critic will ever do, writing about Toyo Ito. Videogames are the new architectural broadsides.
(Links my own)
I am sitting in a room (1969) is one of composer Alvin Lucier’s best known works, featuring Lucier recording himself narrating a text, and then playing the recording back into the room, re-recording it. The new recording is then played back and re-recorded, and this process is repeated. Since all rooms have characteristic resonance or formant frequencies (eg. different between a large hall and a small room), the effect is that certain frequencies are emphasised as they resonate in the room, until eventually the words become unintelligible, replaced by the pure resonant harmonies and tones of the room itself. The recited text describes this process in action – it begins “I am sitting in a room, different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice,” and the rationale, concluding, “I regard this activity not so much as a demonstration of a physical fact, but more as a way to smooth out any irregularities my speech might have,” referring to his own stuttering.