Friday, May 15, 2009

"universal explorations", a work in progress

and a world away mannfred gazed out the window while writing in his sensitive longhand one more chapter of his ongoing novel, now projected at around 900 pages somewhere in the year 2010. it would be the long-awaited sequel to his 1972 opus "the world and everything in it", which critics had spent the last 37 years hailing as the greatest work of philoso-poetic genius since james joyce...though in recent years there had been a slight falling off in this steady hail, alas, and it was for this very reason that he was engaged upon the present work.

however, his new quantum-based philosophy, which attempted to meld form and function via very short words and fast sentences, would be sure to win them back. later, he would explore the origins of the universe via a page of flashing prose which radiated in all directions, to be followed by many millenia of quiet expansion, one word per page until further notice. soon, clusters of ideas might appear, proto galaxies or mini-poems, let the reader decide for himself. finally a mature universe would be represented by a blank page with the words "to be continued", and he would turn to the knottier issues of god, free will, and the human purpose.

he had just finished the "god" section, an admittedly short one as his personal experience of god was quite limited, though he had several interesting ideas and would be happy to share them with god or his representatives if the opportunity arose. in the end, it had consisted of extracts from various holy works from around the world and through the centuries, with marginalia by himself in contrasting colors. a respectful attitude prevailed, with a few timid excursions into his own more humanistic leanings. finally, his own feelings on the matter covered a double spread of violet ink and sweeping words, a poetic tribute to the mystery at the heart of it all.

now, he was approaching free will, and found it easy enough going. "what sort of god would not permit free will?" was his polite enquiry, and he could not conceive of such a god other than as a poorly behaved master who failed to even tip the servants. why, even his own cleaner exhibited plenty of free will; in fact she at times seemed to have more than yours truly and would move his books around unmercifully, leading to several hours of delay as he recaptured his notes. thus, a system without free will must be the product of human psychological insecurity and the desire for a divine parent or schoolmaster to remove all need to make one's own decisions, he pontificated, glad to be up to date on the latest in social psychology and other useful fields.

the human purpose was proving more intractable, and as his passing acquaintance with god improved, he began to suspect he had better leave it to that gentleman. however, his publishers expected no less and he would have to dash off a few obscure poems to cover his general sense of the case. that would certainly be no trouble to such as himself! and with an elegant flourish, he began.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

genre fiction at its finest

and meanwhile in a lonely house far out on the prairie, monica sat at her sleek word processor, waiting for that first moment of inspiration. in her wide and varied career in genre fiction, she had crafted many a gothic romance, many a regency bodice-ripper, had even dabbled in the all-male frontier of western and spy novel, but now she was due for a return to the wide open field of SCIENCE FICTION!

yes! for tonight she would venture into the far reaches of space and time to find a story that could span galaxies and yet touch the heart, show man (note to self, find a gender neutral way of expressing this heinlein type concept) at his finest, create many a piquant alien species with its own mores and customs, not to mention languages full of odd vowel combinations guaranteed not to resemble any language here on dear planet earth.

where to start? perhaps with a humble spaceship sitting on its pad, ready to blast off into the outer reaches of the solar system, there to discover an alien probe of many years acquaintance? or perhaps with a lonely visitor from another planet, sadly disguised as a down-and-out on the streets of manhattan? or even a spot of time travel, which would nicely allow insertion of a few chunks from her last unfinished historical thriller. there were so many possibilities!

and yet somehow she sensed a lack of originality here, a "been there done that" so anathema to the true SF fan, who insisted on endless novelty. gods, aliens, machines, the end of time, alternate universes - no concept was too grandiose! and yet drearily the same old human preoccupations infested them all; there was always a wise-cracking hero, often complete with cigar and alcoholic beverage; there was always a bar full of fun-loving aliens, just like us but with extra extremities; there was always some tedious romance, the hero or heroine daring or discarding all to save or win some tiresome person of opposite sex. one might as well stick with the tried and true and set it all here on earth, saving a good deal of imaginative effort (and yet, adding a good deal of research - if lord x resides on mars, no need to get the details of his house and trousers just right).

a weariness overtook her. perhaps it was age, or the effects of the rain outside and the overdue power bill. no story seemed worth the telling, much less the reading. who indeed would care to read a real one, featuring perhaps a socially inept writer unable to make a steady living, and struggling for hours a day with weighty concerns such as how to unblock the toilet, find a way to shovel the drive without putting her back out, or budget enough to get the roof fixed before the back bedroom ceiling fell in.

could there be a new genre for her here, perhaps? spunky heroines who "do it all" (and perhaps win some conveniently nearby man). this would be descending far on the scale of her aspirations, and yet perhaps there was a market for it? just make the heroine 20 years younger, 30 pounds thinner, and with thick naturally curly hair, and off we go!

with a heavy sigh, she fixed a cup of instant coffee and began. "eloise sat at her chippendale desk, her naturally curly hair waving in the soft southern breeze. however would she pay all those bills! if only ted had not deserted her in her hour of need, leaving her to carry on the family plantation."

Thursday, May 7, 2009

"reality and dreams" not by muriel spark

"reality is but a dream" thought albert, in the words of his favourite author had he but known. he gazed out the window at his smooth green lawn, surrounded by a tasteful hedge well trimmed by himself, and wondered whether he should fill in the side border with some of those new double daffodils? well, that could wait. he had work to do. and thus his midmorning coffee break must come to a tranquil end and contemplations of infinity wait for another day.

gently he reached for the next book on the top of the pile by his typewriter. it was a book of short stories, he saw, not his usual fare, but a quick study to those in the know. he skimmed through the table of contents, noting titles such as "life is but a dream" (aha, he thought, off to a good start my lad!), "boxes forever" and "ladies dinner bell". this last grabbed his interest and he turned to page 243.

"jessica turned to her boon companion of many years, lady mabel, and inquired as to whether it was yet time to dine. 'indeed', replied my lady, who had been dressed this half hour, and led the way in. in their small but sumptuous dining apartment sat the makings of a splendid meal. many covered dishes gave forth the redolent steam of hours in the kitchen, where Cook and her helpers laboured only to please.

jessica was feeling a little off colour and merely contented herself with a small helping of her favourite cauliflower cheese. lady mabel, au contraire, had a hearty appetite, and was soon tucking into piles of beans al fresco and salade a la normande, a particular speciality of the house. nicely dressed, it could serve an entire family, but lady mabel did her best to polish it off. soon it was time for pudding, and what a pudding it was! a mile high cascade of chocolate met their astounded eyes, and even jessica recovered her appetite sufficiently to partake."

albert skimmed ahead to the end of the story, noting the predictable developments, ending in the happy installation of an authentic dinner bell (no doubt brought back from india by some ancestor of m'lady) and jessica's eternal gratitude at never having to wonder again when dinner might be. "well," he thought, "this one will do" and made a few notes about the stilted yet imaginative use of period language, etc.

all this hard work had brought out the best in him and he allowed himself to add a few notes to his own work in progress, a sensitive novel-to-be about various subjects dear to a boy's heart. a few bittersweet memories floated by, and he noted down the best of them.

and at last it was time for his very own dinner, bell or otherwise, and a quiet evening at home. which soon passed, and he found himself yawning for bed. bed awaited, where he arranged himself comfortably in his favourite blue and white pyjamas and prepared for the soothing hand of sleep to overtake him.

soon, he was deep in a dream. gentle snores emitted from his fine large nose but they he did not hear, for he was wandering the streets of his very own town, designed by himself, where he had passed many a happy hour. for yes, albert was a master dreamer. or so he thought and verily hoped, based on a book he had come across at the tender age of 20, and lived his life by ever since.

he found himself on an empty street. soon, he encountered a neighbor and had a conversation. many merry words ensued, but as always they would fade by morning, much as he hoped to retain them and use them as the basis for his masterpiece, planned to arrive about five years after "life of a boy". one precious image survived, and he eagerly seized it, setting it down in his flowing handwriting in the handy blue covered dream notebook by his bedside. he pondered it long and deeply ere returning to sleep, with those favourite words of his again echoing in his mind. "a dream is but reality," his sleepy mind averred, and he was just awake enough to notate it as he drifted off.