Wednesday, August 02, 2006

JP's Wilderness

Link to Original Story: Wilderness - JP

Not one of my greatest, but I hope it’s fun to read. I really can’t tell if it’s clever or stupid (such a fine line, really). I was reading Parasite Rex at the time, which is a marvelous book if you haven’t read it; I always thought that if I hadn’t pursued my current profession, I would have become a parasitologist. Of course, if you know my current profession, you might think there isn’t much difference. Anyway, the idea of the universe within being such a distinct environment, an ecosystem all on its own, was just too prevalent in my thoughts to not use on this pitch, regardless of whether or not its been done before. Add to that a rather heated debate between Pa, C and I concerning urban sprawl, and this is what you get.

Okay, I'll admit it - this is a derivative story. It's kind of like Fantastic Voyage meets Sound of Distant Thunder, with a light glaze of Atlas Shrugged in sarcasm sauce. Those are all great stories in their own right (though I personally loathe Ayn Rand's pretentious uber-crap self-indulgence justification - reason drives the world, my butt). JP has put together something that also has a good message and delivers a nice read. It's not honestly that original, neither in its setting, nor in the notion of capatilistic elitist over-exploitation that it delivers, but it's still fun. I don't think every story has to come completely out of left field. It's hard, if not impossible to come up with brand spanking new ideas in this day and age. So you take a little of this and a little of that and mix them together into something tasty. It's like a casserole made from Thanksgiving leftovers - reminiscent of something sure, but good and filling in it's own right.

For the record, I think JP actually does a better job than Asimov with the setting (yeah, I said it). It's visceral (hah!) and it gets you where you want to go. The bigger problem that I have is with his overall theme. Now don't get me wrong, I have a loathing for man's inherent greed, and anthropocentric destructivity that's a mile wide. It's just that I don't really think it's a particularly nuanced view that JP puts out. Macho plutocratic tyrants = feckless exploitation of nature. Yeah. We all agree on that, but it does ring a little bit of the cartoon if you get my drift. Simple lines and bright colors. On the other hand, it is a short story so what should I expect? It made me think. Not a lot, no, but it did make me think. Plus it was fun. Is that enough or is there some way that it could grow into something more layered? I don't know....

JED's Wilderness

Link to the Original Story: Wilderness - JED

I have to say that I think JP hit the nail on the head with his commentary here. I like this story; I think it's fun. But I also think it's divided - it doesn't know whether it wants to be a sci-fi epic of altered biology, complete with intricate world-building details, or a spec fic allegory, where the external world is the mirror of one person's mind. The thing is, I want it to be both, and I'm not sure it can't be.

First off, I think constraining ourselves to preset genre boundaries is a generally poor idea. The story should go where the story goes, and so be it. On the other hand, genres exist because stories that contain a certain conglomeration of elements are more likely to be palatable than others. There's a kind of natural selection going on. Certain mixes just work better than others - no one wants lettuce in their peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and similarly no one wants a child murder in a light comedy (not that lettuce equates to child murder, that would be more like brussel sprouts).

There are several authors of introspective metaphorical alt-realty fiction, who spend a great deal of time with world building and glam-detail. China Mieville for one. Of course, I'm not as good, or as well-honed as he is. But I think it can be done. I'd love to revisit this story someday soon and make a few discrete modifications/additions. Turn up the character of the narrator and make manifest his internal state - clarifying some of the mirroring of psyche to biome. Deal more with the world outside the narrator, giving it a little bit more presence, and more interaction with the events of the story. Give the jungle a little more "dark and hungry" undercurrent, and tone down a bit of the science-geekery (though in my defense, I am a science geek, and therefore that kind of bio-mumbo-jumbo is crazy entertaining to me). All this and a little salt and I think this story could turn into something quite palatable.

I think this is a great idea, though I have to admit to some reservation: I think this story wants to be either a stellar speculative fiction piece or the background/world building phase of a stellar science fiction piece, but it drops right between the two. I like the voice, I like the writing, the descriptions, as always, are marvelous, but I felt like it didn’t have enough plot to be a real SF piece and, if it ever had the intent to go into that weird twilight realm that is SpecFic (which it easily could have—just think of the jungle as a metaphor for life in the city, his problems with job and relationship, the beauty of hope, etc… dig it), it gets sidetracked by JED’s love of detail and explanation. So those are my thoughts. I would love to see JED take it either way; heck, I’d love to see him take it both.