Thoughts on Fiction

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I haven't seen the new GITS movie. The clips I've seen remind me of nothing so much as the Kusama AF movie, and make me wonder if anyone in Hollywood (Paramount in this case) ever learns anything.
I watched portions of the Oshii film recently. I get the sense that Oshii is savvy enough to know that the fictional plot of his movie is expendable. That is why he doesn't trouble himself with the hassles of dramaturgy.
He undermines his own intent however, in the same way I'd commented above. The viewer's mind is too distracted by the problem of sorting out the obscure plot that it doesn't get the space to consider any more weighty meanings.
A lot of Hollywood science fiction does this deliberately to draw attention away from any philosophical implications that might be in danger of sprouting up.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 11 April 2017 09:28 (four years ago) link

In the interests of being complete, here is the other famous M. John Harrison weigh-in on this subject:

TS Hugo Largo vs. Al Factotum (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 11 April 2017 11:52 (four years ago) link

Literary prose as a venue for imaginative narrative is archaic and is especially not suited for world building.
World building works much better on film, where it doesn't require the viewer's full attention while the story stops in its tracks to digress into description.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 13 April 2017 00:26 (four years ago) link

I know what you mean, but don't you think literary description can itself be incredibly satisfying - and create a richness to the story - if written well? Not so much stopping the story in its tracks as providing a sort of caesura in which the reader gains something almost like super-powers, able to see, smell, hear things they'd never be able to in their real lives?

There's a clutch of mystical literature that I feel you might like Peter, full of thrilling description. The Seven Who Fled, by Frederic Prokosch, shot through with fantastically detailed descriptions of lands he'd never visited. Salammbô by Flaubert..

illegal economic migration (Tracer Hand), Thursday, 13 April 2017 08:35 (four years ago) link

I would argue from the opposite angle, that text can evoke worlds with hand-waving efficiency, e.g. "Snow White slaughtered the seven dwarves with seven singing swords soldered by Samsung" is essentially describing an action, but also tells you:
-Fantasy setting
-Morally ambiguous universe
-Multinational conglomerates co-exist with magic
From this the reader can triangulate the world already.

Philip Nunez, Thursday, 13 April 2017 15:03 (four years ago) link

Yes totally!

illegal economic migration (Tracer Hand), Thursday, 13 April 2017 15:22 (four years ago) link

The hand-waving efficiency part is undeniable. It's why word language is the default instrument for authors/creators.
The dependence on words is a historical happenstance. We're taught from school to rely on them, but words have no inherent meaning in themselves. They are a convention.
As a visual artist, my own default is not words, but images.

Peter Chung, Friday, 14 April 2017 00:55 (four years ago) link

I listened to a remarkable conversation on the radio with the great French comics illustrator François Boucq. He says that the task of an illustrator is to translate the abstraction of words into the concrete form of images. To allow the theoretical to become the real.

Peter Chung, Friday, 14 April 2017 01:44 (four years ago) link

Philip, I agree with the point you are making.
I have gotten into a habit of snapping back at arguments that presume the primacy of the written word.
That was not your statement, however, so my reply was off point.

Peter Chung, Friday, 14 April 2017 07:42 (four years ago) link

Haven't read much of the thread yet, but agree 100% with what was said in the initial posts. As to the question of whether one should care what happens after the ending, I don't even know if we should care about the ending itself that much. The ending both as stopping point in time and how it reflects on the prior story is arbitrary. The ending shouldn't always be viewed as a confirmation of all that went before, the story shouldn't be thought of as a proof leading up to the ending. Does the Simon Oakland speech at the end of Psycho really explain everything that occurred? Are those tales framed as "only a kooky fever dream," such as The Wizard of Oz, Jacob's Ladder, really only that? Does the ending of Red River, in which the protagonists are told they are only behaving the way they do because they love each other explain away all the prior conflict?

TS Hugo Largo vs. Al Factotum (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 14 April 2017 13:50 (four years ago) link

As for worldbuilding, I'll refer you to the time when I was a nipper and a friend of mine loaned me a book containing the complete blueprints of the U.S.S. Enterprise, which made me unable to watch Star Trek (TOS, of course) for many years.

TS Hugo Largo vs. Al Factotum (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 14 April 2017 13:53 (four years ago) link

Hey, that's exactly what I was saying!

Thoughts on Fiction

Peter Chung, Friday, 14 April 2017 17:49 (four years ago) link

Ha, yes, I see. Now I can go back and read the thread properly.

TS Hugo Largo vs. Al Factotum (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 14 April 2017 19:14 (four years ago) link

Even more than the ending of Psycho, I'd cite the forced ending of Hitchcock's Suspicion. Hitch was forced to tack on a happy ending by the studio, but since it contradicts everything that happened earlier, the best conclusion to draw is that the spoken explanation is a devious lie. Viewers are in such a habit of relying on the spoken word that somehow they don't consider that someone capable of killing might also be capable of lying.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 15 April 2017 01:14 (four years ago) link

Yes. In fact I had thought about mentioning Suspicion as well when this thread was first revived, then overlooked it when I finally got around to typing.

TS Hugo Largo vs. Al Factotum (James Redd and the Blecchs), Saturday, 15 April 2017 01:18 (four years ago) link

"There's a clutch of mystical literature that I feel you might like Peter, full of thrilling description. The Seven Who Fled, by Frederic Prokosch, shot through with fantastically detailed descriptions of lands he'd never visited. Salammbô by Flaubert.."

I found a copy of Salammbo.

I'd read Flaubert's La Legende de St. Julien L'Hospitalier in middle school (French lycée in Tunis), and enjoyed it.
What I mean when I call literary prose an archaic medium for world building, it's because I find myself picturing the imagery residing in the author's mind as he chooses the words that best define a sensory experience. The sensory experience is being conveyed through a cumbersome code, not unlike morse code or sign language. We can admire the author's skill in the use of language to achieve this. But I'm always aware of the author editorializing and commenting on the thing whereas I prefer to simply behold the subject itself. A writer's voice cannot help but be a filter.

I've cited Robbe-Grillet's Jalousie as one of my favorite books, which I read as a student. I mention it because Jalousie is a book consisting of nothing but description. But what astonishes about Jalousie is that all the description is devoid of any emotional language, or even of any poetry or metaphor. It is entirely, obsessively, done without a hint of feeling, and reads like a technical account of physical phenomena. And precisely because of the author's suppression of emotion, reading it becomes an intensely emotional experience for the reader.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 15 April 2017 02:29 (four years ago) link

Hello Peter,
I'm a new member to the forum, but an old fan of AF.
A little off of the current topic, but related to prior comments: what are your thoughts on young people showing literal-minded tendencies?
I am not in animation, nor do I have a large repertoire of animation/film references, but when I can find any form of media that presents something abstract, esoteric, and meaningful, I cling to it wholeheartedly (not the scaffolding, of course, but the messages). AF has obviously supplied these things for me, and further brought me here, and now your words have me wondering what it is you make of a society which seems to be leaning more towards this sort of literal-mindedness in what I would argue to be most aspects of life? Do you have any theories as to why this shift is occurring? I live in a rural area, which tends to be devoid of people with the proper frame of mind which would allow for the appreciation of meaningful and strange media, and so I'm interested in what your personal thoughts on the subject are.

pynchon, Saturday, 15 April 2017 17:33 (four years ago) link

Welcome, Pynchon.
There's a tendency to call philosophical discourse "esoteric". When I use the word, it's to voice my disagreement with convention. The more an artist or a creative work addresses what is universal, vital and primary, the more it is deemed "hard", "inaccessible" and "esoteric". While the more something is frivolous, escapist or refers to a narrow cultural current, the more it is considered understandable or relevant. It should be exactly the other way around. Lost Highway and Men in Black both came out in 1997. Guess which one was being hailed as the must-see?

As for your question, it's something I've thought about a lot lately. The rise of religious fundamentalism is a symptom of it. I doubt that it's a cause, but I think the same trends apply. Biblical literalism became a necessary stance in light of a more rigorous epistemology. It's ironic that a more advanced understanding of rational argument is what leads to a stricter insistence on the inerrancy of a nonsensical scripture. When the rules of logic were less understood, the idea of textual inconsistency was less of a problem. So maybe a higher level of education is to blame.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 15 April 2017 20:28 (four years ago) link

There can be such a thing as too much school. What I notice in the discussions of fan culture is a kind of smarty pants syndrome, where each participant shows off the breadth of their knowledge of a particular fictional world. I can never remember the names of the planets (moon?) in Alien and Prometheus, even though I love them both and watch them regularly.
A site I visit to keep up with news from pop culture is IO9. The comments section there is both alarming and depressing.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 15 April 2017 20:41 (four years ago) link

First discussion topic in the comments:

Would it have been that hard for the Pratt character to find some technicians or engineers in hibernation who’d be able to fix his cryo-chamber? Then they all go back to sleep, problem solved. The whole premise is really stupid.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 27 April 2017 11:18 (four years ago) link

"Would it have been that hard for the Pratt character to find some technicians or engineers in hibernation who’d be able to fix his cryo-chamber? Then they all go back to sleep, problem solved. The whole premise is really stupid."

I forgot to add the q

Peter Chung, Friday, 28 April 2017 14:15 (four years ago) link

This blog post sees the trend towards literalism to extend from religion and politics to pop culture. I hadn't thought of the political implications, but we live in highly ideological times.
Naked facts and objective, natural reality in all its rawness are discounted in favor of the primacy of the written word.

Peter Chung, Monday, 8 May 2017 06:27 (four years ago) link

The New Republic article makes me think that there may be a correlation between textual literalism and conservatism, both cultural and political.
Individuals with a preference (or need) for canonicity are expressing their desire for an authoritarian rule of law.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 10 May 2017 06:50 (four years ago) link

one month passes...

I had an idea of what your answer would be, and I can agree with you for the most part. Just as your animated stories send me searching for a personal meaning or an underlying message, so to does the world's current, apparent state send me searching for an understanding as to why literalism has taken over. I don't know if education is wholly to blame. Memorization of facts is okay, but learning the tools by which we apply them is of greater importance. Facts stop our searching, while processes lead us onward.

Biblical literalism sprouts its ugly head in response to its opposition: scientific and logically calculated interpretations of reality. The "facts" of the Bible have been taught to the believers, but not the processes by which we are to scrutinize those "facts." Those who believe in the nonsensical stories of the Bible do not possess the proper logical tools to understand what it is they're arguing for, and furthermore cannot formulate a proper argument to combat opposing theories. Evolution, for example, is seen as a threat to Biblical belief, and so it is rejected on the grounds of 'Biblical inerrancy' simply because they cannot come up with any other justification other than this ex nihilo attempt.

But I feel even more aspects of our culture hinge upon this literalistic train of thought. Even science itself can fall into dogmatic traps. Consumer culture has us believing that some things are in and some are out and that we must follow suit in order to be valued. The hive mind has us believing that we must fit in to achieve purpose or happiness.
I guess what I'm saying is, there seems to be this infectious idea going around that there's a singular right and wrong way to act, believe, think, and exist. As a story-teller, I feel you must share in my contempt for this narrow and sad way of perceiving this awesome, multi-faceted world in which we live. What a disservice we give and disdain we show for such a wonderful universe.

pynchon, Saturday, 17 June 2017 03:50 (three years ago) link

Good article by Film Crit Hulk on Ridley Scott, spends a good amount of time on The Counselor and Prometheus (two films Peter has spoken highly of recently) and the newest Alien movie:

J.P. McDevitt, Tuesday, 20 June 2017 15:38 (three years ago) link

one month passes...

Valerian in 3D is highly recommended.
It was refreshing to see a narrative that stuck to focusing on actions and the consequences while leaving a lot of exposition out.

There's a big war that sets up the story, but no details are given as to why they are fighting, and they are not needed.
Most of the time, there is no dialogue explaining strange events, but we understand what is happening purely through context.

It appears that Luc Besson returned to the mindset that inspired his first film, Le Dernier Combat, which had zero dialogue.
Pure cinematic storytelling.

Peter Chung, Monday, 24 July 2017 13:56 (three years ago) link

Alien Covenant, on the other hand, was a crushing disappointment after the sublime Prometheus. It appears that Mr. Scott succumbed to the negativity and gave us a film that undid everything he'd so carefully set up.

Peter Chung, Monday, 24 July 2017 14:29 (three years ago) link

Given your own experience, how much do you ascribe to the director vs the writers in the case of movies like Covenant, Prometheus, etc...? (Prometheus to me seemed very much of a piece with LOST which the writer was also involved with.)

Philip Nunez, Tuesday, 25 July 2017 05:25 (three years ago) link

Scott did not want to make another monster slasher movie, which was what the original Spaihts draft resembled.
A director with a vision will work closely with a writer to shape the story along the thematic lines that drive him to want to make the film.

I remember when Blade Runner first came out, it was received badly. But Scott knew what he was doing. The world caught up eventually. Too bad that today, the pace and volume of audience backlash has become insurmountable.
I came out of my first viewing of Prometheus in a state of elation. A world of discovery and adventure lay ahead for Shaw and for the public.
Alien Covenant is a despicable film and a betrayal- most sadly because of Scott's own doing.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 25 July 2017 06:15 (three years ago) link

two weeks pass...

Rereading the thread, I have another thought to add to the comment regarding the appreciation for literary world building:
"I would argue from the opposite angle, that text can evoke worlds with hand-waving efficiency..."

This is fine if "efficiency" is what matters to you in the consumption of art.
But why would I prefer to read a writer's description of a physically dense, visually rich world, if the choice exists to have the sensory experience first hand?
The same applies to the interactions between characters. Dialogue is speech. It exists because it is SPOKEN.
Reading it on a page is a step removed, and to say you prefer to see the words printed rather than hear them with your ears - that is like saying you would prefer to read Beethoven's 6th symphony as sheet music.

This is maybe the reason why the cinematic form, either in movies or TV has become the preferred medium for audiences to get their fix of narrative fiction.
People don't read novels anymore-- I confess that I don't. There have been enough times when I've either finished a novel or gave up on one and been left feeling like it was a waste of time.
Many of my formative experiences as a young artist have been through literature. But maybe that is destined to be the future role of literary fiction in the lives on new generations.
Reading literature will be like reading textbooks on science and math. You do it in your student years, but once the principles have been absorbed, one rarely goes back, as the effort yields diminishing returns.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 9 August 2017 18:37 (three years ago) link

"There have been enough times when I've either finished a novel or gave up on one and been left feeling like it was a waste of time."

Of course, a good novel does not make me feel this way, but the broader point is that the literary form itself is a reductive and linear experience that makes use of such a narrow range of your body's capacity.
I have to shut off my ears and minimize my eyes for the sole function of recognizing black symbols on a page. As a voracious "retinal fiend", my eyes can only remain starved for so long. In other words, for the duration of time required to read a novel, my poor eyes are shackled.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 9 August 2017 19:25 (three years ago) link

How much do textual descriptions play a part in your production process? (The recent Mad Max movie was apparently conceived of purely in storyboards, rather than script form.)
Has any recent tool development allowed you to scale back text in favor of generating animatics directly?

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 9 August 2017 20:59 (three years ago) link

Textual descriptions are absolutely central to my production process. Written language is the most efficient way to give myself clarity and to stay focused. The efficiency of language make it useful as a production tool. I also enjoy using language to deconstruct and evaluate a project after the fact- as you can see by my postings here.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 10 August 2017 06:44 (three years ago) link

Thanatophobia Script

As you can see from this script, I go into great detail describing scenes that will ultimately play non verbally on screen.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 10 August 2017 06:50 (three years ago) link

three months pass...

In the interests of being complete, here is the other famous M. John Harrison weigh-in on this subject:

TS Hugo Largo,
Belated thanks for the link to M. John Harrison. I read it at the time you posted it, but just looked at it again, and I completely agree with his stance.
It seems impossible that any writer working in genre fiction would not, if they are honest, reach the same conclusion.
I haven't read his books, but I shall seek them out.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 28 November 2017 21:10 (three years ago) link

Personally, I think the book is it's own medium. It's an object. You engage with a book in the manner that one does -- opening it, etc. There are many, many great "experimental" writers that engage with the medium in a way that is specific to the medium and no other, and that continue to make advancements in said engagements.

The divisions in publishing between what is a novel or poetry or anything else are most often grafted onto it for the purposes of marketing. If someone asks me what I do, I usually just say that I" work with text". And much of what I read or have published with my collective is similarly meant to reflect this. (

Unfortunately, a lot of what winds up being published these days is written with an eye toward transposition into other mediums -- films, shows, podcasts -- and this isn't literature.

Here's a really great interview with a publisher/architect that I think reflects some of the more forward-thinking movements in literature and publishing in general:

Derdekeas, Monday, 4 December 2017 02:38 (three years ago) link

*its own medium

Derdekeas, Monday, 4 December 2017 02:39 (three years ago) link

four weeks pass...

I often listen to podcasts or lectures while drawing. This discussion at one point becomes a debate on (as usual with Harris) how to determine an adequate basis for morality.
It's an aggravating exchange when Shapiro persists in trying to bolster his theistic world view that morality can only be acquired through religion. Harris, who himself holds onto a contorted claim for absolute morality, tries to argue on the same shaky ground that "morality" is a thing. Morality is a convenient word for a class of judgments.

The argument here is backwards. Why presume that this thing "morality" exists from the outset? The idea of morality arises out of the fact that human actions must follow only one actual course out of a multitude of potential paths. When making a choice to do one thing versus another, one judges the course that will lead to the desired outcome. Depending on whether one chooses the path leading to benefit or to suffering, that choice is later labeled with the words "moral" or "not moral". Over time, humans become more confident in predicting which choices will be more beneficial than harmful, and they are able to judge an action as moral based on such projections- before observing the actual outcome. The ability to make this judgment is a useful social tool, and we call this tool "morality". But that is what morality is, a tool. Imperfect, but convenient. It is not some cosmic force of nature.

(You could call it a "fiction", so I'm posting these thoughts here.)

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 13:30 (three years ago) link

The argument against subjective morality (a redundancy) is that it reduces moral standards to opinions, or mere personal preference. This is a game. The truth is that, even those who ground their moral standards on some objective foundation (reason, in the case of Sam Harris) are actually just dressing up their personal preference in a more elaborate guise.

Peter Chung, Friday, 5 January 2018 21:20 (three years ago) link

Do you consider language itself a fiction, and thus incapable of describing or alluding to an objective foundation?

Philip Nunez, Friday, 5 January 2018 22:07 (three years ago) link

Good question. Yes, language is a fiction. But no, unlike morality, language IS capable of describing an objective foundation.

There is an important difference between language and morality Morals describe values, not facts. They measure a subjective quantity-- the assessment of what promotes human well-being (I will use Harris' wording), which by its nature cannot exist apart from living consciousness. Values, unlike things, do not exist "out there" in the external world.

There is a difference between objective morality and absolute morality, but both are ideals that cannot exist.
Absolute morality is self contradicting. Even theologians will concede this.
Theists will fall back on the notion of "objective morality". I sympathize totally with the impulse being expressed in the debate by Ben Shapiro. One wants to believe that certain actions are good or evil without regard to how anyone thinks about them. I used to espouse that belief myself. But I cannot see how it doesn't just boil down to someone expressing his personal preference. while pretending it is otherwise.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 6 January 2018 08:18 (three years ago) link

To go back to what prompted the post above, while listening to the debate, I realized that I disagreed with both sides (Harris and Shapiro).
But in considering both flawed arguments, a new insight occurred to me, which is that the origin of morality in human affairs must have been prompted by the fact that the course of one's life "collapses" into a singular path at some point. One option is taken and others fall away. Moral standards may have arisen as a tool for aiding in deciding which path to pursue. Whereas the conventional view is that its main importance is in the administration of justice.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 6 January 2018 08:30 (three years ago) link

I wrote " Harris, who himself holds onto a contorted claim for absolute morality,". To be accurate, I should have said "objective", not "absolute".
The difference was less clear to me when I wrote that.
This debate has been distracting me from my work, but I realize that my thinking on this subject has become clearer just in the last few days.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 6 January 2018 08:59 (three years ago) link

"One wants to believe that certain actions are good or evil without regard to how anyone thinks about them."

Isn't the main angst of the modern world the opposite, that there are increasingly mathematical applications of moral calculus (like self-driving trucks that deliberately kill some pedestrians to save others) that go against our pre-modern intuitions?

Philip Nunez, Saturday, 6 January 2018 19:08 (three years ago) link

You may be right, with regard to a younger generation.
The post modern world is moving towards disallowing universal cultural standards, including universal standards of morality.
While I think that objective morality is not possible, that doesn't mean we must do away with all notions of objective truth.
One is values, the other is facts.

Peter Chung, Sunday, 7 January 2018 05:43 (three years ago) link

Sam Harris sees himself as a guardian of Enlightenment-age values; individualism, rationalism, positivism. My suspicion is that inviting guests who espouse a pre-modern worldview to debate him gives him a framework he's more comfortable with than that of his postmodern critics, whose arguments I don't think he understands very well. Whereas he has a ready-made vocabulary for debating someone like Ben Shapiro.

I'm not convinced that a younger generation is less universal in their morality; if anything, there seems to be a shift towards more universalism. For me, my biggest problem with Harris isn't his insistence on universal cultural standards but the double standards he carries. He's a humanist, but some humans are more human than others, e.g., the contempt he has for Arabs and Muslims. He fails to live up to his own espoused ideals. With regard to certain groups of people, he'd rather fill the room with non-members so he can debate their humanity at a comfortable distance.

Blair Gilbreath, Sunday, 7 January 2018 22:20 (three years ago) link

At the same time, one of the criticisms I have of Harris' writing -- and it reflects a trend within the atheist movement -- is the romanticized gloss he puts on cultural Buddhism and the practice of meditation. Suddenly, New Atheists are not skeptics when it comes to the supposed benefits of meditation, and I suspect that ties into their political bias towards (in reality, often repressive) Buddhist countries.

Buddhist Meditation, Pseudoscience, and Sam Harris

Blair Gilbreath, Sunday, 7 January 2018 22:23 (three years ago) link

I'm hardly a Harris admirer, but he is gracious and articulate enough to be a good host to the many interesting guests on his podcast. He is smart, but mostly wrong - his cleverness leads his thinking down paths that are more sophistry and rhetoric than truth. His least useful discussions are the debates, and this one is a good example of that. Jordan Peterson is another.

Back to the original thread topic-
I just rewatched Blade Runner 2049, and it seems a perfect example of a film that delivered a rich experience rather than a tight fictional story. And that is what makes it good. The parts that don't make logical sense are precisely what gives it a dream-like tone, which is what I want from a movie.

Peter Chung, Monday, 8 January 2018 21:46 (three years ago) link

three weeks pass...

The last novel I tried to read is Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, about two years ago. I had to give up at about page 72. After that passage, I pretty much swore off reading fiction for good.
Here is the part that did it:

Hackworth in the hong of Dr. X.
The scalpel’s edge was exactly one atom wide; it delaminated the skin of Hackworth’s palm like an airfoil gliding through smoke. He peeled off a strip the size of a nailhead and proffered it to Dr. X, who snatched it with ivory chopsticks, dredged it through an exquisite cloisonné bowl filled with chemical dessicant, and arranged it on a small windowpane of solid diamond.

Dr. X’s real name was a sequence of shushing noises, disembodied metallic buzzes, unearthly quasi-Germanic vowels, and half-swallowed R’s, invariably mangled by Westerners. Possibly for political reasons, he preferred not to pick a fake Western name like many Asians, instead suggesting, in a vaguely patronizing way, that they should just be satisfied with calling him Dr. X—that letter being the first in the Pinyin spelling of his name.

Dr. X placed the diamond slide into a stainless-steel cylinder. At one end was a teflon-gasketed flange riddled with bolt-holes. Dr. X handed it to one of his assistants, who carried it with both hands, as if it were a golden egg on a silken pillow, and mated it with another flange on a network of massive stainless-steel plumbing that covered most of two tabletops. The assistant’s assistant got the job of inserting all the shiny bolts and torque-wrenching them down. Then the assistant flicked a switch, and an old-fashioned vacuum pump whacked into life, making conversation impossible for a minute or two. During this time Hackworth looked around Dr. X’s laboratory, trying to peg the century and in some cases even the dynasty of each item. A row of mason jars stood on a high shelf, filled with what looked like giblets floating in urine. Hackworth supposed that they were the gall bladders of now-extinct species, no doubt accruing value by the moment, better than any mutual fund. A locked gun cabinet and a prim~val Macintosh desktop-publishing system, green with age, attested to the owner’s previous forays into officially discouraged realms of behavior. A window had been cut into one wall, betraying an airshaft no larger than a grave, from the bottom of which grew a gnarled maple. Other than that, the room was packed with so many small, numerous, brown, wrinkled, and organic-looking objects that Hackworth’s eyes lost the ability to distinguish one from the next. There were also some samples of calligraphy dangling here and there, probably snatches of poetry. Hackworth had made efforts to learn a few Chinese characters and to acquaint himself with some basics of their intellectual system, but in general, he liked his transcendence out in plain sight where he could keep an eye on it—say, in a nice stained-glass window—not woven through the fabric of life like gold threads through a brocade.

Everyone in the room could tell by its sound when the mechanical pump was finished with its leg of the relay. The vapor pressure of its own oil had been reached. The assistant closed a valve that isolated it from the rest of the system, and then they switched over to the nanopumps, which made no noise at all. They were turbines, just like the ones in jet engines but very small and lots of them. Casting a critical eye over Dr. X’s vacuum plumbing, Hackworth could see that they also had a scavenger, which was a cylinder about the size of a child’s head, wrinkled up on the inside into a preposterous surface area coated with nanodevices good at latching onto stray molecules. Between the nanopumps and the scavenger, the vacuum rapidly dropped to what you might expect to see halfway between the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies. Then Dr. X himself quivered up out of his chair and began shuffling around the room, powering up a gallimaufry of contraband technology.

This equipment came from diverse technological epochs and had been smuggled into this, the Outer Kingdom, from a variety of sources, but all of it contributed to the same purpose: It sun’eyed the microscopic world through X-ray diffraction, electron microscopy, and direct nanoscale probing, and synthesized all of the resulting information into a single three-dimensional view. (End excerpt)

I found myself going over this passage several times, and many others like it throughout the book, conjuring the image of what he was trying with so much verbal dexterity to describe. This exercise, I realized, was more frustrating than pleasurable, and not ultimately very meaningful other than in appreciating this writer's special skill in using words. Which I had no reason to care about. Meanwhile, whatever narrative momentum had been building had come to a complete stop and I had to struggle to remember what I was doing in this place and what it was that I was expecting to happen next.

When I say that world-building works better on film, this is what I'm talking about.
Here is a frame from Blade Runner:

Peter Chung, Friday, 2 February 2018 12:43 (three years ago) link

what do you think of blade runner's textual elements (prologue, expository dialogue, in-universe ad copy, etc...)?

Philip Nunez, Friday, 2 February 2018 18:32 (three years ago) link

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