Gulliver’s Travail; or the Robot’s Soul

Of late, I’ve had the sense of being fettered.  Not in the large scale of being tied up or locked away, but in the micro-sectional sense of having everything work improperly, as if there were lassos on my cells.  It could be allergies, but my money is on lasting reaction to whatever crap was in the three things the medicos gave me this week.  Nothing else is new and I tend to improve with regular exposure to irritants.

I feel fairly free right now, though.  An hour on the elliptical, a shower, five minutes to sit and drink iced coffee while my respiratory engines rev down and my sweating stops.  I’m actually reasonably comfortable, yuppie-scum stolen chairs and forgotten head phones aside.

I’ve fully re-invested in the current sci-fi novel.  I’ve about one-hundred and six rough pages written.  While the inspiration was Roadside picnic, (more the sense I got while reading it than any of the specifics of the novel) my own story seems more likely to hit the typical sci-fi / fantasy length than the Strugatsky brothers’ tight two hundredish pages.  Maybe I’ll find a succinct way of telling the story I want to relate in the next hundred of my own pages, but I see the story ballooning rather than refining.  The Strugatskys also made great use of vignette style storytelling.  Their book is divided into four section, each one set several years after the last.  They can reintroduce the main character at each stage of his life, highlighting his changes and the changes to his town, all those in it, and how they relate to the Zone, the exploration of which serves as the framework for exploring  protagonist Redrick Schuhart.  The alien elements of the story are fascinating, but what makes the story is its focus on Schuhart.  For all the oddity, the story is a very human one in its relation.

I’m attempting the same focus.  I don’t believe in the term genre fiction as something derogatory.  I don’t believe that any element or focus in fiction is inherently better or worse than any other.  Romance can be schlocky or it can be heart breaking.  Science fiction can facilitate the exploration of what it means to be human, or it can be a nothing story about space phones being used on space elevators while space friends instant space message each other.  And it turns out they’re space aliens!

Similarly, straight drama can devoid of all reason to read it.  Telling a tedious, long story about hard things happening to sad people, about pointless death and suffering, is not better than any given sci-fi story simply for avoiding a genre tag.

I dislike the term literary fiction as I see it as redundant.  The goal of all fiction is to relate something, to tell an engaging story.  To make a reader think.  One can do that with robots as well as he can do it with cancer.  To call the latter literary and the former genre misses the point.  How does each make one feel?  Cancer is an easy feels button, something to hit like the panic button in a movie or video game, an easy, instant item for eliciting an emotional response.  That doesn’t make the story housing it inherently good.  Read any given young adult (or merely, inexperienced) writer’s early attempt at “something serious” and you’ll get every form of death and dismemberment, ever sort of sad sack sorrow befalling protagonists and supporting characters alike, all without eliciting much more than a “give me a break” from readers.  Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” is heartbreaking every time I read it, despite having no human characters, nor their analogues.  It is not what is written but how it is written that makes the story.  Even Fifty Shades of Twilight could have been good if the things were written by literate writers.

Humanity, either explored or reflected, is the key.  So, as much as I’d like to tell my story in 220 pages like the brothers Strugatsky, I don’t think my understanding of people is quite Bradbury sharp enough for that.

So back to my own novel I go, looking for humanity among the future kipple, ineffable monsters, and deteriorating world already rendered.

*Image taken from a cover for Oscar Wilde's "The Happy Prince," a story both heart breaking and that one would be hard pressed to define as straight drama.