Friday, 5 April 2013

Madness and Play (unedited excerpt)

This is an unedited excerpt from the first draft of the second chapter of the book I'm writing. This is an early version of some of the arguments but gives you an idea of both the style of writing I'm initially looking at and the themes I'm investigating.

There is a curious confluence of ideas between gaming and madness streaming down the years of theory and concept, although not one strong enough to be necessarily formalised. It is not that madness describes a game-world, or that to play games is to be mad, but it is certain that both have been and can be described as worlds separate to that of reality. The history of madness is a history of enforced confinement and separation, and the developing idea of the madness itself being a disconnection between the afflicted person’s perceptions of what is real and what is truly there. The player of games meanwhile willingly enters, just for a while, a space where the rules are defined, different to and cushioned from the rules that govern the outer world.

In his history Madness and Civilisation Foucault traces the idea of madness, from pre-classical times where he posits a mental world of almost pre-fall wholeness: one in which overwhelming passions and mystical insight instead of dysfunction and folly marked out differences. In this world the main othered group, to be kept separate and outside, was the leprous; but with time the mad and the leprous became conceptually mixed. (This in itself is only a very surface reading of the first chapter of Foucault’s book.) From that point on the path madness follows is one of disease, disorder and vagrancy, ladened with meanings that are not itself but always, from the great conceptual shift of the classical period, to be confined.

At times it has been the fact of physical confinement, often predicated out of political or humanitarian ideals as in the hôpitals of the new French republic or the Asylums of Victorian England, that has suggested a deeper fundamental separation to theorists of the mind. Elsewhere in history it has been the study of the mad, of what they say and do and believe, and the fears thereof amongst the sane, that have promoted the need to keep them apart. Just think even now how loaded with political power the phrase ‘care in the community’ has become and you won’t laugh so much at our ancestors who thought that a madness that resided in imbalances of vapours could pervade through a malignant air and infect those nearby.

Foucault’s longstanding message that the things that we do shape the way we think and talk about concepts comes through as his history races ever closer to the present and theory and action reinforce one another until madness is truly defined as a separate way of thought, until madness is defined and codified and treated not as an alternate way of being but as dysfunction and nothing else.

Whether or not you agree with the way in which we currently conceptualise mental illness is, at this point, immaterial. While Foucault’s argument is powerful and his analysis compelling it is by no means a given that the modern view of madness is entirely socially constructed, and in fact a counter argument is that the focus pulling effect has been towards a real truth, one which was discovered incrementally and through a great many experiments: crude at first and often disastrous for those whose lives were experimented with, but essentially self-correcting and progressive.

Despite societal changes, certain tropes and stigmas remain common, and surface even in the most recent iterations of popular culture, which includes game design. The strength of the representation is cemented further when viewed within some certain works of art. Lady Macbeth’s psychosis and paranoia is confined within one of the greatest works in English language, if we are not going to be rid of this powerful psychodrama from our culture for the sake of its inherent sexism then I don’t think that its conflation of villainy and madness is going to convince us either, and maybe it shouldn’t even do so as there is a certain validity there. However, the plaudits rightly showered on the play, and its creator’s central place in what for many is and should be the core of our culture, provide its depictions with a legitimacy that goes beyond their narrative use. Shakespeare is art, and art is truth. Not every popular depiction is necessarily able to be so heralded unchallenged, but the syllogism remains in the background, while the depictions in all media foreground themselves and repeat, in entertainment’s lazy way, across a hundred iterations of the same essential stories, until they acquire a form of accepted truth that is as easy to leave unquestioned as was art’s before it.

So where does gaming sit within this history of popular culture? We tend to talk about it, and I will be doing so too in this book, as a bit of a monolith, as gaming culture. But gaming and games are spread out across activities and people and concepts; an anti-entropic climb from children playing make-believe, to family boardgames, to sports, to gambling to the people who call themselves ‘gamers’ and play with esoteric, highly organized rulesets.

Even non-games are called games, because they have something fundamental in common: there is the Tarot, with its cards and rules; there is politics or street crime, with their levels and layers and fronting; and there is Hip-Hop, with playful unrealities, avatars and contests of skill. But what is it that binds these all together, that binds them to some of the earliest conceptions of what makes a game a game, rather than just a pastime? I would say that it is the sense of there being another world, a game-world, in which all this takes place in.

Even when it is so close to reality as to be indistinguishable, for a person to conceptualise that they are playing a game they have to believe that the rules are in some way different to those of reality. The purest game worlds are those which are truly separate, where although we can win or lose we do not bring our win or our loss outside, only the memory of it – the experience of which can teach us important lessons about victory and defeat in the real world, as well as strategy and forward thinking and so on. We can also take with us the emotions – the joy of victory and the sadness of defeat, and the skills and sometimes the spoils of the game.

There is often a snobbery, with (often older) games like chess being considered ‘better’ and ‘purer’ than other games. There have always been crazes and fashions in gaming, and games that have been considered dangerous to mind or spirit, addictions that have destroyed lives as surely as there have been escape routes that have saved them. Even as games were being theorised as teaching tools they were also being theorised as dangerous illusions. Unrealities that simulate reality, that can easily confuse and ensnare the weak minded.

And eventually the two worlds under our microscope interact. Like any art form with any representational expression games of all forms have attempted to depict the mad and the unwell and to place them within the framework of a larger understanding; be that of war, or crime or the entirety of life as we experience it depending on the game's theme and scope. This is exactly as you should expect, and as a primarily popular form those depictions have tended to follow the patterns laid down in the rest of popular culture, which makes popular culture a good place to start looking for an overview of mental illness tropes.

Tropes, memes and other ways of streamlining the processing and re-presentation of meaning develop over time; spinning out of complex ideas and eventually coming to stand for those ideas. This is not an essentially deleterious process, as it can allow for something to stand for more than it is, so that a single idea can carry layers of meaning accreted through history or encoded at the time of its first usage. However, it can also allow for lazy, construction-kit storytelling, where each piece is fitted together because it works to do so, but without examining the inner workings of the pieces. It can also allow for lazy, prejudiced thinking, because what is a prejudice other than a trope; a black-box that short-circuits a mental flowchart snapping through to make decision making less burdensome.

Madness is sometimes used as a shorthand – both in popular language and in terms of the moral structure of games – for deviancy or sub-humanness or necessary death. Sometimes games give you moral choices about how you deal with the mad (Bioware etc.), sometimes a moral choice is displayed, but given to the character and played out in cut-scene (so you might finish the boss fight but rather than a death animation the character is shown wrestling with, or giving, mercy – or allowing the mad boss to kill themselves, or at least be the agent of their own death so avoiding ultimate responsibility for their death in true Disney villain style), and sometimes the need for death is given a moral imperative – either by the protagonist ‘I’m putting you down’, the antagonist ‘please stop the voices!’ or the situation - where the mad character will not stop attacking until they die, even if they don’t intend harm.

How do popular ideas of madness integrate themselves into the structures of games, and is this different fundamentally, or merely texturally, to the rest of popular culture and representational mediums? How do games deal with the issues unique to gaming? Should gamers, both players and designers, have any specific cause to be more heavily invested or understanding of these issues? These are questions that I hope to answer over the course of this book.

Too Legit not to Quit

I haven't been blogged for a while and I'm starting to feel it like an itch at the back of my mind. It's not so bad, because I have still been writing and one of the original reasons I started blogging was as a way of keeping a forum open for me to write even when I didn't have the time or energy to do anything long-form. I used to write all the time, working on comics or novels, but when I started doing an accountancy qualification on top of working full time I found I just didn't have the mental space to do the world-building required for long-form fiction. (And that's not just because I was writing secondary world fantasy - drawing maps is the easy part, it's keeping the characters alive that takes up space.) On top of that, a massive over-ambitious superhero project I was working on with Underfire Comics collapsed under its own weight, which left me rather disheartened with the whole concept of trying.

So, what has stayed my blogger's hand recently? Well, despite the self-indulgence inherent in my take on the form anyway, everything I've had to say recently has seemed crashingly obvious. Tomb Raider is an incredible game which, despite some reservations, absolutely raises the bar for womens' representation in triple-A titles; Elementary is a grand series; I've finally worked out how to win games with my Eldar army in Warhammer 40k, despite having been playing with them for something like 15 years on and off*.

I have also found myself back writing outside of a blog context again, which has been taking up all of the time that I would otherwise have written posts. I have a comic coming out soon, The Goose, which rose from the ashes of the giant superhero book that I mentioned earlier. I actually wrote it about a year and a half ago, but I always tend to do a re-write when I'm lettering as sometimes things that look good on a script just don't read well on a page of art. Additionally, and quite apart from that, I have been working on something, which I have mentioned before, which is almost certainly going to be a book
Initially I was thinking of maybe writing a series of extended blog posts, but decided against it primarily for format reasons - while you can do longform blogs and you can do arguments extended over multiple posts the way in which they are read and collated tends towards a dissipation of logical thread. Basically, I think blogs are great for the repetition and revisiting of a core theme or themes, but not so great if you need to make points that build on previously argued tenets in a sequential fashion. So, write a book instead - that's no different to any kind of other writing that you might decide to do.

It is different though, I've found, and I'm not talking about the technical points of construction - although they do exist. What I'm talking about is a central question of legitimacy, which strikes fundamentally into the sort of iconic status that books have always held for me. I use 'iconic' very seriously here, in that books, specifically bound, printed matter, have always seemed to stand for more than just themselves - more than just the instanced thing, but for the concept of knowledge and authority.
It starts maybe with the special quality prescribed to knowledge contained in school text books but continues beyond even the realisation of the inaccuracies, fudges and occasional untruths that comprise a great many of these. books are authoritative because they are books, because the action of binding feels like a statement about the contents bound; a bid for their permanence, and their entitlement to permanence. While pamphlets and leaflets contain opinion, books contained fact. Someone, a publisher no less, vets the contents - and they would not allow something through that did not pass muster.

Of course I now know that this isn't true. I know that people publish books full of wilful distortions, as attempts to re-write reality to their own narrative. I know that people publish books that are just plain wrong, because they don't really know what they are talking about. And I know that people publish books that don't make a claim at unequivocal truth, but instead present an argument open to interpretation and rebuttal, but ultimately hoping to persuade. None of this actually helps with my problem, because they all show even further how much and how complicated is the power of books.

My problem is one of legitimacy. As I write and research and make notes every now and then it just hits me - how can I justify even attempting to put this out? This has never bothered me when writing fiction, because it is necessarily about making things up and interpreting the world subjectively. It has never bothered me about blogging because the format clearly denotes that the content is opinion. But how can I justify writing a book - regardless of if I find a publisher or end up doing it myself? I am writing about mental health and gaming, but I am not a specialist in either area and this seems important. I lack the authority to speak for either community, except as a member of each. I have no specialist knowledge, only my experience and research, which even there I feel like it might not be enough - that I'm not enough of a gamer, that my mental health problems are not severe enough to really understand what its like. I am not qualified, either colloquially or on paper.

The thing is, I'm still going to write it, even though I don't quite feel like I am entitled too, but I do wonder if other people suffer a similar lack of legitimacy, and how they go about combating it? But then again, as my mind constantly delights in asking me, how do you justify anything?

*The secret is Jetbikes. Unfortunately when I was a teenager I couldn't afford any. Also, I played mainly against Space Wolves, who in the 2nd Ed. rules were so unbalanced it wasn't even funny. I could probably write a whole Things I Failed to Do post about that list.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Further Reading?

A quick call for help from anyone who reads this blog and might be willing to put in a bit of time to support a larger project of mine which is currently in its early stages. I'm writing a book length study of the representations of mental illness and mental health issues in gaming, of all stripes. I'm not quite sure at the moment how I'm going to go about publishing it, and it may end up just as a series of long blog posts, but that's part of what I could do with some help on.

What would be really helpful is if I could get a few people to read the first draft of one of my early chapters and let me know if I'm writing at the right level, and if I'm hitting the right sort of points. Ideally I'd like to know from people both with and without experience of both gaming and mental illness to find out if I'm getting both accessibility and accuracy right for the subject areas, so that probably covers everyone.

Any help would be much appreciated. In the meantime, I'm brewing up a post looking at and comparing L.A. Noire and Deadly Premonition, the two detective games I played in 2012. Should be fun, and over analysed as usual.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Rule 63 (Elementary)

Ok, so I've only seen the first episode, but I really enjoyed Elementary. Although I felt the mystery in that episode was a bit lacking that was partly because it was necessarily overshadowed by the set-up of the characters and their interactions, and it hinged on a classic bit of deductive reasoning. Holmes was recognisably Holmes and Watson was recognisably Watson, and both are completely in the public domain.

I'll make an admission: when I first heard that they'd cast Lucy Liu as Watson I made that kind of ugly snorting sound with my mouth that TV shows would have you believe fanboys and nerds make all the time and I said 'this will be terrible, it'll be a car crash, it'll be so funny.' But then I saw everyone else making those noises and I stopped and I thought to myself, 'that is a really ugly noise, and I get so angry when nerds get caricatured so, but the real terrible secret is that we do actually do that, maybe not all the time, but enough of the time.' And then I felt conflicted, and I decided that I would withhold my judgement until I'd seen more about it; until I'd actually seen an episode of the show at least.

But what's more, I decided I needed to examine why my knee-jerk reaction had been disdain. Was it because Liu was a woman, was Asian-American or had been in the high-camp Charley's Angels trilogy? I didn't want to be that person, the one who had any of those thoughts and let them go unchallenged. I also, I realised, was contradicting myself: I get really angry about the sexist and racist essentialism that tends to pervade my fandoms, and I'm a big believer in the legitimacy of re-interpretation, of the death of the author and all that jazz. There are plenty of reasons that the show could be bad, and a mishandled gender-swap could well be one of them, but this all needs unpacking further.

Reinterpretation is unavoidable. It happens all the time, especially in transfers between mediums, and here's the big, important, secret: it doesn't erase, or de-legitimise the original text. I know! Crazy, isn't it? Maybe the first time it's a wrench, and maybe it can be difficult if a character you love is completely changed or cast in an unflattering light in the version which gains the most traction, and you're left in a version of the story most people don't recognise. In fact, I know it's painful because it's happened to me. But the key fact is, you still have that original text to enjoy, to savour and to love. It's yours and it is never going to be taken from you. And I can bet as well that the way you relate to and imagine that character is different, even if only subtly so, to the way that the author thought about them when they created them. It's just how it goes; meaning changes within the interpreter.

On the whole I like re-interpretation, though. I think it is an important part of the artistic toolkit, without which we wouldn't have such seminal works as Romeo and Juliet, or such seminal train wrecks as Romeo Must Die (a glorious ultra-reinterpretation, as Jet Li's entire career to date, black gang culture and a vague idea of Shakespeare got re-interpreted into an floundering attempt to follow in the footsteps of the Jackie Chan classic Rumble in the Bronx, itself a re-interpretation of etc. etc.). My point is, although it is important for living authors to have some control over their IP, as it is how they make the money they need to, you know, go on living, if we lock it completely down we lose something vital in our cultural fabric for not enough gain.

I don't think I'm being controversial, either. A lot of fans and nerds would agree with me on those basic facts, if presented in the correct light. Without re-interpretation you lose most of the work of Alan Moore, you lose Doctor Who, you lose both super hero comics and opera in their current form, you lose Aliens and AD&D, The Wrath of Khan and, most importantly of all, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Pertinently, for this discussion, you also lose Sherlock; the current darling of Holmes adaptations.

I think Sherlock needs to have a bit of unpicking actually, because an adaptation is exactly what it is. I like Sherlock, I really do, but it is not without its problems (a casually racist second episode, a lot of ham and a grating tendency to ignore motivation in its various villains), some of which would completely undermine a less stylish, less muscular show. What I'm basically saying is that it isn't perfect, and it certainly isn't a perfect Holmes - it's an interpretation of Holmes for the modern audience.

It works, and it does so in a way that the Holmes of Guy Ritchie for example doesn't, because it keeps certain aspects of the characters that are essential to them, and changes those which aren't; it's faithful to the essentials of the characters, not to the actual behaviour. Sexual politics is a good place to see this in action. To keep the dynamic between Holmes and Watson intact the two must be inseparable, and Watson must be willing to drop everything to go off with Holmes - and so women must be kept out of the equation. Conan Doyle's Holmes actively dismisses women as below his notice while his Watson feels no compunctions about leaving his wife to go on an adventure because that's just what men at the time did. Sherlock's Holmes doesn't understand women - he doesn't really understand people - but he doesn't think them incapable per se, while Watson is available to Holmes instead of being available to women, not as well as, because our culture puts a much higher burden of inseparableness on relationships than did Doyle's. There is nothing wrong with this change, it's just a basic bit of updating and it makes the dynamic between them - the really important thing - more accessible to the aforementioned modern audience.

I've not really heard people complain about this sort of updating, at least not consistently or to that level of detail. Yes, people do complain a lot about modernisation over period setting, but its usually at worst considered a necessary evil as long as the essentials are in place. And it's these essentials, and more importantly what we instinctively hold to be essentials, which I now want to examine further. Why is it that, without thinking about it consciously, a gender-swap is a worse crime than a time-swap or a location-swap? Why is it the I-could-cope-with-those-but-for-that of my reaction? Why hadn't I, and others, learnt my lesson with Battlestar Galactica?

We seem to be very good at mistaking the most superficial aspects of a character for the most essential. Sometimes we're right, but get our response wrong: Othello's blackness, or at least his otherness, is integral to his story but the fact that he shouldn't be straight-up white doesn't then justify all the blackface that goes on. But for a great many characters their skin colour is incidental to the core of the character, although it will naturally situate that specific instance of the character to a greater or lesser extent.

I think that it's much the same with gender - very few characters are essentially one gender or another, when you get right down to what makes them tick. I can think of only a few: maybe Miss Marple, who's M.O. is specifically feminine (and a specific form of femininity at that - being a village spinster), although she shares a lot of her technique with Columbo her (very plot-dependent) stories would break down quite quickly if transposed too far. Meanwhile captain Kirk has a certain hyper-masculinity to him that could also maybe be difficult to translate. I don't know though, even as I write this I can see ways you could play with both of those characters and make something new that nevertheless keeps something intact.

In opera you have what are called trouser roles, where a male character is played by a female singer. The thing is, depending on the singer, sometimes you just can't hide that it's a woman. In this way specific instances of the same work will have different meanings and gender politics - it's just how they are and is an integral consequence of the live, instanced nature of the artform. Similarly in most CRPGs which allow character generation allow a choice of gender, but that will only affect a very few points in the story - usually as few as possible to save on the amount of coding. Your essential decision points remain the same, however, regardless of gender - the essence of the character is unaffected although the way that you process the story that is told might well be affected. These examples of fluidity I think can be really instructive.

But, as I've said above, that superficial essentialism is hard to shake, and it is worse in fandoms like fantasy and sci-fi where there is already an edifice of racial-monoculture built into the metaphorical framework. But it is everywhere, really. So, I'm going to finish with one final exercise in self-examination for you to try, if you feel what I've worked through above is still a load of nonsense. If what is important about Holmes and Watson is that they are Straight, White men in (Victorian) London, why is the Guy Ritchie version so wonderfully bad? And why is Basil the Grreat Mouse Detective so very good?

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Expanded Universes (The Coming of the Terraphiles)

The other week I read the Michael Moorecock Doctor Who novel The Coming of the Terraphiles and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's an odd beast, you can't quite be certain who is a guest at and who is hosting the party. the Doctor is clearly a lead character, but the Multiverse takes centre stage. Quite apart from that the story belongs to Bingo, Hari, Flapper and the other members of the Terraphiles, a society of history enthusiasts who base their reenactments on a rather limited set of source books, and  who anyway have so much more history to choose from that the conflation of a mere few hundred years maybe doesn't seem so terrible a fudge.

This is of course correct and in keeping with the way Doctor Who stories are constructed - the Doctor is so often the catalyst in someone else's story, the outside event that shakes things up and gets them moving, his very presence such a disruption that stories happen around him. It is the characters who's lives he enters who we most identify with, not the Doctor himself. (This, incidentally, is why I found the Ten/Rose era so disappointing; as he descended into weepy navel-gazing his awareness of his affect on the world around him not only diminished but was written as being less important - so the viewer was not supposed to care as much either, but that's another discussion.)

Anyway, what was strange for me about reading this novel is that it is possibly the first bit of secondary source material that I have consumed for something of which I am a fan since I stopped reading the Star Wars Expanded Universe books as a teenager. By secondary source material I mean original material which is (until rescinded) canonical, but is not part of the core format and storyline. (In addition, I don't really read fanfiction, either - not because I don't agree with it per se, but because I genuinely don't tend to enjoy that sort of shared speculation, especially when it is written down. I have squicks about what's real and what isn't in my fictional universes.) So, for almost all of my fandoms what the characters have got up to is only what everyone knows they have got up to and what I have speculated they have got up to in my head.

What I'd forgotten was quite how expanding reading a bit of extra material can be, not only because it contains the continuing adventures of characters you like. What really got me, in my gut and in the lightness of my step, was the feeling (once more) of being part of a secret club, of gleaning hidden knowledge that others have not seen, and of knowing that in any discussion I might have about the show I might have a secret adventure that will most likely not be touched by someone else's opinion. (I seem to be a fan who doesn't like to talk to other fans as fans, although I do like to talk to people who are friends and also happen to also be fans, if that makes sense.) I remembered again how good it is to know that the space between episodes is not a nothing, but is teeming with life.

I remember one of the reasons I stopped reading Star Wars EU books was because they became too full, every gap in the story was plugged, every natural lacuna filled with excitement that eventually collapsed into a tedium of overexposure, and I don't want to go back to that state. I don't want to become bored with characters I love, or crucially crowd out my own imaginative vistas with the derivative burblings of hacks, but it has re-ignited my interest in exploring further afield in those shared worlds of the imagination.

Parallel Forms of Darkness (Human Croquet and Mobius Dick)

One of the aspects that makes a novel 'literary' for me is that you can read it for the words as well as read it for the plot, and that therefore reading it with knowledge of what comes next can provide an enhanced, or at the least alternate experience and not a diminished one. In this way novels can be both genre and literary at the same time. This is probably not news to anyone, but it is important in talking about the two books I want to talk about, having recently re-read both of them.

Mobius Dick and Human Croquet are both about parallel worlds, contain (sometimes cheesy) meta-fictions and sit firmly within often derided genres: Science Fiction and Family Saga respectively. They are also both about particular reaches of darkness, but more on that later. These two genres are, despite their surface differences, similar on a very deep level, one which somewhat precludes re-reading and infuses everything written within their auspices with the air of the throwaway. (The fact that many of the stories so included actually are written to be such is possibly inconvenient to my argument, but generally should be seen as irrelevant.) This connection is revelation, and specifically the revelation of secret knowledge. In sci-fi the revelation is technological: what can this knew technology do and what can be done with it; how will our lives all change when it is free? In the family saga the revelation is historical and personal: what is this secret that holds us back and binds us together; how will our lives all change when it is know? When the truth has already been revealed once, what is there to keep me reading a second time?

Different books answer that last question in different ways, but these two do so with a similar conceit. They do so with loops of meaning and, ultimately, of time - by showing us things early on that won't make sense until we know what happens at the end. This is in some ways a standard technique, but usually it is artificial to the characters - it is a conceit enabled by the narrator denying information to the reader. Crumey and Atkinson's characters are themselves slipping through time, and so what has been hidden and placed out of order is not a deliberate obfuscation between them and the reader, but a true description of their experience. However, even that may be considered a conceit, since these time slips can only happen within fiction, but it is crucially no more of a conceit than the existence of any of these fictional entities we choose to invest our own time in following. This playful honesty is I think again part of the reason these two books lend themselves to being re-read. (There is more that I could say on this front, but I don't want to spoil the stories.)

Then there is the darkness. There is always the darkness. And this is actually where the two books differ. Following on from some previous themes I've taken up on this blog, there seems sometimes, anecdotally at least, to be a general sense that books written by and for women are not as dark, and therefore not as real, as books written by and for men. I mean, this is just so wrong on so many levels it hardly bears discussion, but it sort of colours perceptions. Maybe even it is doing so here, and the best thing would be to ignore it, to not give it the chance to change the way I think or write about things, but I, even now, even after this, can't help myself from doing so.

The thing about the darkness in these two books is that that in Human Croquet is so much darker. In Mobius Dick, which is sci-fi, the darkness is itself speculative, paranoid. It is a possible darkness, a darkness of forces around us, of motives we can't always understand, of people who are doing things that they may well think of as right. It is also about a heroic resistance to that darkness - of standing up and maintaining one's self in the face of it. Human Croquet's darkness is more personal,  it is hidden not by external forces, but by the complicity of those affected and even when it is uncertain it is a probable darkness.

This probable, or possible, darkness is the crux of both books; for me the reason both use the parallel world motif. The other worlds visited, mentioned or passed over may not, in the end, exist. Or alternatively, they may be the things edited out of official histories, but the knowledge of that which happened but now didn't happen remains and its impression cannot be erased. This knowledge proliferates into all sorts of fluid possibilities: multiple pasts and multiple futures all jostling with reality, all likely because the present itself cannot be observed just now - it has been held, artificially, in Schrödinger's box.

And resolution comes when the waveform collapse, when the present is fixed again; when the book is put down for the last time. But the parallel worlds, although they never were, do not go without a trace. The idea of them, the passing of them, leaves an impression and changes who we are. We all occasionally dream of the lives we might have lived, but even those idle dreams affect the lives we live now.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

RIP Ray Bradbury

More than reading his books, of which I have to admit I've only ever read the most obvious, it was reading Ray Bradbury's description of writing Farenheit 451 on library pool typewriters, in paid-for shifts amongst the clatter of numerous other machines and their operators that was a hugely profound experience for me. It gave me the confidence to realise that art could come from anywhere, no matter how mundane or deprived it may seem from the outside. You didn't need space or time or resources, just diligence and imagination. You didn't need six months alone in a cottage, you just needed the burning urge to get your idea down and  the discipline to do so in the moments you had available. To a poor kid who knew he was always going to have to work for a living - surrounded by rich kids who would be able to chase whatever artistic dreams they fancied unencumbered by fear of failing, knowing that they would always have both support and fast track access to a decent career should they need it - that was an incredibly liberating thing to discover.

RIP Ray Bradbury