Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Will the subject remain on fire?

Going to take a break from the antihero series for a little while... Been trying to force it too much, which is causing a whole lot of nothing to happen. So instead I'm going to talk a little about one of those random things that creep into my mind and make me think way too much.

This is actually slightly related to the antihero series, in that it was an antihero that got me thinking about this subject. Gully Foyle, of Alfred Bester's novel The Stars My Destination, was supposed to be the subject of With Darkness as an Ally Part 5; he was the one who gave me troubles. The world created in the novel revolves around jaunting: the ability to teleport. There is a brief portion in the beginning of the novel that details the early stages of mankind's study of the ability.

So for some time now, I've been thinking about that process. Imagining the groups of sciencey-minded women and men running tests to discover the mechanics of teleportation. If I had better knowledge of the scientific process, or felt comfortable making up some impressive technojargon, I'd attempt to write a short story about these people and their efforts.

I can imagine them inspecting the subject of clothing and such. "Why do we teleport with our clothes?" they ask one another. "Is it because we just subconsciously and automatically include them in the lightning-quick laundry-list of things to teleport? Head: one. Arms: two. Legs: two. Shirt, jacket, pants, shoes, socks, underwear. Keys, wallet, package of gum, thirty-two cents in change."

It seems pretty exhaustive, they think. Does the brain really note all of these things, and if so - what happens if some unknown element is entered? If a piece of paper with a note scrawled on it has been surreptitiously slipped into the pants pocket of the teleporting subject? Will the note make the journey as well, even though the brain cannot possibly know to include it in the list?

Say the note comes along, in spite of its secrecy (I shouldn't even go into the various tests and control factors I thought up to ensure the secrecy of the note... this blog would never end.) So the note comes along, which means that for some reason the process happens to simply include everything under certain parameters: all the things that happen to be on the person of the teleporter. But can it be selective? Perhaps there is something that the teleporter does not wish to bring along. Maybe his pants are on fire. He teleports, and certainly does not want to remain on fire. Does the subject remain on fire when he arrives in his new destination? I'm picturing a professional stunt-man, casual as he is lit up, surrounded by sciencey-minded women and men with fire extinguishers all looking tense and a little baffled.

To hell with science if it can't produce fiction.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

With Darkness as an Ally (Part 5)

The original part five was proving damnably difficult to write (and still remains unfinished) so here is Part 5 v. 2.0.

The antihero of Part 5 v. 2.0 is not dark, brooding, and sinister. He's not even murderous. And the weird thing is that he seems to have this knack for saving the day. After a fashion.

If you embiggen the image, you get a pretty good idea of the nature of this character. It is, of course, none other than Rincewind the Wizard (Wizzard?) of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. I mentioned that Rincewind has a knack for saving the day. But his real talent lies in staying alive and knowing when to run like hell.

I first started reading the Discworld novels in high school, and I even started right at the beginning with The Colour of Magic (which is as near to the beginning as makes no nevermind). It was just some random book that I picked up at the library, unaware that there was a hilarious and wonderful series building up behind it, and I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't really like it the first time through. My forays into the world shaped like a disc were put off until, a few years later, I came across Interesting Times in another library, unaware that it was several books down the line in this same hilarious and wonderful series. And this is when I realized how hilarious and wonderful it all really was.

Limiting the exploration of Rincewind's character to those two books is shameful, but I have to admit that they are the ones I remember the best. And really when it comes right down to it, Rincewind is simply a coward, always more frantically concerned with his own life than anything else. It's much more fun to share a few of my favorite "Rincewind-isms":

Few problems can't be solved with a scream and a good ten yards' start.
The best defense against threatening danger is to be on another continent.
I want my life to be dull and uninteresting. I'm afraid it'll be short.

As protagonists go, it's not very inspiring stuff. It's not very dashing to imagine a bedraggled figure screaming in terror and making a mad dash for freedom, but dashing isn't always what we're in the mood for anyway. And the fact that Rincewind is often paired up with other unusual characters seems to really make the outstanding traits of everyone shine. The way they all play off one another does great credit to Terry Pratchett. But really I think the ultimate answer to why Rincewind is such a phenomenal character is the fact that he's just plain funny. Such an unheroic individual being constantly thrown into wild and outlandish scenarios is extremely entertaining, and so we're there with Rincewind every frantic step of the way.

I should also add I got the above image of Rincewind from the Liverpool Museums webpage.