1. CesiumLifeJacket
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    CesiumLifeJacket Member

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    Looking for creative help on this surreal sci-fi

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by CesiumLifeJacket, May 28, 2011.

    What I'm working on right now is a sort of surreal sci-fi novella. A lot of unusual things going on in this story, so it could take a tl;dr-inducing number of words to explain:

    The main story follows two people, Emo(male) and Ash(female). They are some of the last known human survivors inside of a gigantic and mysterious machine (think Elephant's Dream if you've seen it; yes that's where Emo's name comes from). This machine, unknown to them, is a kind of cosmic Noah's Ark; it has flown through the galaxy picking up alien races (mostly non-intelligent), and when the story takes place the machine is in a rapid orbit of two colliding superstrings, going back in time to before life populated the galaxy, so that it can go back to each of the dead planets and repopulate them. (Yes you got that right, Life in the universe isn't created by god or a random chemical reaction, it's self-causal!)

    That's about where the sci-fi aspect ends. Surrealism begins here:

    All events in the story have a direct correspondence to human history happening at the same time as the event in the story, and because the machine is moving into the past, Emo and Ash play out human history backwards. I can understand how the decision to do this could appear arbitrary, but i think I can use it to raise all sorts of trippy, solipsistic questions that I don't feel like explaining here. Their enviornment (the machine) changes as human society changes- ie as population grows E&A enter larger chambers of the machine, during periods of war the machine becomes more violent, when they pass into the pre-internet era, the world gets darker, etc. Emo and Ash themselves represent certain aspects of society, which they play out accordingly. They are constantly looking for the center of the machine that will explain what it is and what they are doing in it (and thus by metaphor searching for a meaning in human existence, if this sounds pretentious I don't care). There are other connections between the machine and the world, but they are too numerous/minor to list here.

    Here's the problem: I want Emo and Ash to explore human history from its end to its beginning. Since human history has not yet ended, the story needs to begin in the future, where the reader hardly has a lot of context for what's going on with earth. To highlight the parallels between earth and machine, I want to intersperse the primary text with stories from corresponding points in history. My question is how.

    My first idea was to use (fictional) primary documents from the era I was referring to, such as a transcript of an interrogation of a prisoner in the future, or the diary of a soldier in WWII. This works great until somewhere around 1000 A.D, when English deviates so much from its modern roots it stops being readable. It also constrains my possible subjects to those related to English-speakers.

    My second Idea was to do the obvious and just tell the earth bits outright like in a normal short story. I'm not sure why but this method just seems completely uninspired.

    And so I come here, asking you to offer up your creative powers. What would you suggest I do with the earth timeline?
     
  2. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    (Oh man, Elephant's Dream!)

    Okay, so there's really not a whole lot I can say for you. You seem to have it mapped out pretty well, so I don't think that it's really my place to divine for you this earth's future.

    However, I will suggest use of The Singularity. It'll be interesting to move backwards FROM The Singularity, which poses incredible questions, like how much smarter the machine is than The Singularity. So really, as a future starting point, you can have whatever you'd like.

    For your first idea, you'd be able to go back to 1000 A.D., yes, but then you could provide descriptions of fictional art that portrays history, perhaps. Sculptures, dioramas, paintings. Anything you want.

    The second idea is not uninspired; it is simply ordinary, and there's nothing wrong with that.

    Really, a mixture of both would probably be best. Emo and Ash, I assume, would have no knowledge of the primary documents, and as such, they would provide information to the reader on a personal basis, whereas Emo and Ash would get their information on a more general basis; they would have to deal with the problems in the machine to some extent on an impersonal basis; they're apart from the reader.

    Good luck, is all I can say, I guess.
     
  3. CesiumLifeJacket
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    Wow, I don't know why I didn't think of that before, but yes, including the singularity would be awesome.

    I had considered using images, but to print images in a book they must first be processed by a camera or scanner. Maybe this is unusual, but whenever I see a photograph I ask myself who's taking it, which becomes an awkward question in an era before cameras were invented!

    I guess my biggest problem is this: How do a third-person omniscient account of two people on a space ship and some kind of record of human history end up between the covers of the same book? Perhaps the only way to keep some kind of narrative consistency is to keep the same third-person perspective in the earth bits.
     
  4. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    ... Which is why I suggested descriptions of pictures or something to that extent.

    As for that "biggest problem": why should that even matter? Seriously, why? There's absolutely no reason why you couldn't use both ideas simultaneously. It's just all about arrangement. You can't have one, then the other, otherwise it's too jolting to go from one to the other. You can alternate it, but even then you need to make sure that transitions are smooth. That's the only problem, and you don't NEED a third-person perspective.

    You don't even need to have actual "primary" documents in the pages. You could easily settle for: "From <such and such>, <date>:
    THIS IS A PRIMARY DOCUMENT THAT SAYS SOME COOL STUFF THAT IS REALLY INTERESTING. WOW!"

    If you've read Stephen King's Carrie, it's a perfect example of what I mean. Interspersed with the original manuscript are transcripts of interviews with characters, stuff that comes after the events at the end. It's a brilliant method of writing, I think, if it's apt.

    Another idea, though: do you really need to do the entirety of human history? If the machine moves backwards through time, perhaps it moves back at the same rate that time (subjective, of course, but we won't get into that) moves forward. As such, Emo and Ash could probably just age and die, giving you a window of maybe 80 or 90 years to look at, making it easier on your part, and also giving you a lot of control.

    If you give yourself the task of the entirety of human history, you run a lot of risks. History of humans in the Middle East goes back maybe fifteen to twenty thousand years, tops. I can't remember exactly, but history of the aboriginal humans (more or less in their current state of evolution) of Australia goes back close to thirty thousand years. Another risk is that you might reach an important part of history that you find extremely boring. Writing about it will only make that worse, and your writing may suffer for it. Perhaps if you start it eighty years or so in the future, you can bring it back to the present, making it a contemporary piece where you will get to predict the future for mankind. Given the prospects and expectations of what the Singularity will do, this gives you huuuuge creative control over what you say happens.

    Good luck, at any rate.
     
  5. CesiumLifeJacket
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    my not-so-sharply-honed social intuitions are sensing some hostility or at least irritation here. If something about my mannerisms bothers you feel free to say so overtly.

    The 'biggest problem' thing is a kind of hang-up that's very difficult to explain- sometimes it seems like an impossible obstacle and other times (like right now) I find it as inconsequential as you do. Perhaps I have a split personality or maybe I've gone crazy.

    Maybe I didn't clearly explain that yes, my plan is to alternate between machine and earth texts, so that the earth texts and the machine narrative follow roughly the same timeline; as you move from earth chapter to earth chapter you recede into the past with Emo and Ash.

    How would you provide "smooth transitions" between two startlingly different settings? Common themes between chapters? Something else?

    well... yes.

    I want the story to end with Emo being pod-dropped onto earth 4.5 billion years ago, where he will die almost immediately in the hostile atmosphere, but some extremophiles living on his person will creep off of him and into the amino-acid rich waters, leading to the spread of life on earth. For this reason it's pretty mandatory that I follow all of human history, but in the pre-human era, Ash will be dead and Emo will be in stasis.

    After I move out of the future, I'm not too concerned with relaying historical information to the reader because they can research that on their own. All that the earth texts need to do is indicate a certain time period to let the reader know when E&A are, and then tell a short story that perpetuates the themes of the book. Think Cloud Atlas if you've read it.
     

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