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By Scrymarch (Thu Aug 31, 2006 at 07:56:31 PM EST) WFC, WFC3 (all tags)
Idleness, Death, Resurrection, Post-Mortem, the order of which must have given the coroner quite a turn. Mostly about stories I didn't write.

Soon after hearing the theme of death and resurrection I decided I wanted to write a story on reincarnation. A few years ago I read Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt and been terribly impressed with it. In fact, to give a more revealing answer to CRwM's question of a few diaries back, it's probably the last book to make me cry.

At any rate, in that book Stan tracks a group - a jati - of reincarnating people from generation to generation in an alternate version of world history. The technique he introduces - and this might be a word-nerd spoiler - is to keep the first letter of the character's name the same in each reincarnation, as well as giving them similar outlooks on life, relationships to the others, etc.

I'd been wondering if this technique might have a life outside Stan's book for a while, and specifically wanting to try it out for myself. So I settled on a story of five or six documents from successive reincarnations of a particular person in different eras. One might be a Victorian obituary in The Times, one might be an entry in the genealogy of a Chinese family in the early Qing. I was going to finish with a birth announcement in 2006, which might have worked, or might have been as cheesy as an explosion at the Gouda factory.

So with weeks to go, I sat down with this, in retrospect, horrendously ambitious plan, and got nowhere. I couldn't write a single word. It wouldn't taxi, let alone fly. I'm pretty sure the idea is dead now.

About 24 hours before the deadline, I started thinking about the WFC again: that it would be good to at least contribute, and let the winner beat a large field. Somehow I got onto the idea of the underground as an underworld. I turned over stories in my head: Persephone, The Inferno, The Divine Comedy, etc. I briefly considered setting the Inferno on the tube, with stations corresponding to levels of hell, but considering I haven't read the Inferno it seemed a bit much. I mused that in the Greek or Christian conception, by contrast with even the poorest subway system, the journeys are invariably one way, and on the broken ground of this metaphor I staked the tent of my story.

After all this thinking there wasn't much time left, so I sat down and wrote something easy: banter between Australians in London. One character took the role of pushing an obviously absurd thesis, in order to give the underworld == underground thing room. Their dialogue also gives a chance to bring in other analogues, recycling, wacky allusions to the Greatest Hit Soliloquoy in Hamlet, etc.

It's supposed to be throwaway funny rather than over-sincere. My wife laughed, dunno if anyone else realised it though. People didn't seem to get that the characters weren't drunk but probably were hungover: it's set on a Sunday morning. It does look rather simplistic next to the displays of technique found in the other entries. One of the problems with the story is it has both extremely low (just laugh) and extremely high expectations in the reader, if you wanted to untangle it. eg, the Hamlet thing, that the train never makes it to Oval (where the South London cricket ground is found), that the Oyster card is a metaphor for the eternal soul.

I had fun anyway. Thanks fleece, commenters, voters.

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Rice and Salt by Kellnerin (4.00 / 1) #1 Fri Sep 01, 2006 at 06:12:24 AM EST
That sounds like a fascinating book (however, did you know that if you type the title into Amazon's search, omitting the terminal "t", it sends you direct to The Vampire Armand?) I was surprised no one did a more traditional reincarnation story. Seems people were tempted to go at the theme obliquely this time (myself included).

I liked "Single." I laughed. +1, Hamlet.

Do not misuse.

Cheers K by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #2 Fri Sep 01, 2006 at 01:41:58 PM EST
I should probably add the caveat that I'm a big Kim Stanley Robinson fan, stemming from the Mars books. I'd still say Rice and Salt is better than any of those. One thing that makes it more accessible is  less pages of detailed description of romantic Martian landscapes.

Amazon's engine seems to have gone into a bit of an overhelpful new clerk at the bookstore phase. Yesterday I got an email from Amazon UK that recommended Colette's Cheri and the Last of Cheri because I'd liked books by William Gibson. Now I know Gibson is a man of broad literary tastes but I didn't realise the cyberpunk fanbase was so interested in courtesans of the Belle Epoque that it was worth offering Cheri and Burning Chrome together at a discount.

Alternatively it could be an experienced clerk with ennui phase. Try something different people! Break out!

Glad you laughed. That's what I was mostly aiming for.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

[ Parent ]
Ah. by 2 plus 3 equals 5 (4.00 / 1) #3 Tue Sep 05, 2006 at 08:35:25 AM EST
It's supposed to be throwaway funny rather than over-sincere.
Okay, I can buy that. It came off more earnest than outside observer to me, plus no familiarity with the Tube or Australians visiting London. I now feel dumb for missing that it was funny.

-- Do the math.
At least it was funny in retrospect! by Scrymarch (2.00 / 0) #4 Tue Sep 05, 2006 at 01:48:24 PM EST
Just like jokes are best when you have to explain them :)

The story never actually states they're Australian but it does imply they're not English.

Lots of Australians (and Kiwis, and South Africans) live in London for a few years in their 20s, it's pretty easy to work there on those passports, especially for minimum wage jobs like bartending. I didn't want to play it up too much as if you've lived there it's verging on the cliche.

I guess I should know my audience better ...

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

[ Parent ]
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