Tuesday, July 24, 2018

There's a story about that...

I just went through a list of synopses of stories I plan on writing, stories that have been kicking around for a while. Halfway through I thought,"Damn, I'd really like to read these stories." Then I remembered I have to write them first.

I have - well, I haven't had in a while, but let me go on - recurring dreams of flying. It's a common enough theme, and I believe is supposed to indicate some sexual frustration or something like that. In my dreams, though, I'm not really flying, more sort of slowly and gently floating. Like, I can kick off, from a standing position, and float to the ceiling, and then navigate to the other side of the room. Sometimes in dreams I use this as a way to cross the street. It takes more time than the usual way of crossing, but it is a bit more fun and surprising.

I had a notion to incorporate this into a short story: an everyday schlub leads a frustratingly uninteresting life, full of demands and expectation and low on fulfillment. But into the humdrum routine of his life he introduces a newfound ability to fly - well, float - that he mainly does only when no one is looking. (Except when he does it to battle bad guys and save the day, but they're usually too unconscious when he's done with them to say anything.) The old demands and expectations are still there, and are increasingly not being met, but he is feeling a new sense of fulfillment from his fantasies of flying.

Then I realized I was just reimagining O. Henry's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, mixed with the character played by Christopher Walken in the "Weapon of Choice" video. Realizing how unoriginal my idea was was totally a "Simpsons Did It" moment.

A while back science fiction author David Brin announced an idea for effectively weaponizing this. TASAT - "There's a Story about That" - is an organization devoted to calling on the collective brainpower of readers everywhere to approach novel problems and situations by recalling analogous stories and sharing relevant approaches and resolutions. Basically, whatever weirdness the universe and society throw at us, odds are someone has already written a story that addresses similar problems and solutions. Ironically, or at least recursively, when he posted about this effort I had just finished re-reading "The Alien Way" by Gordon R. Dickson, in which a naturalist with a specialization in the behavior of bears is able to recall and painstakingly track down a relevant scholarly article that helps him to understand the social psychology of an alien race and avert an invasion. There are millions of stories out there, filled with tens of millions of ideas, and hundreds of millions of people who have read these stories. How many problems will we face in the future that have already been described and dealt with in stories, some so old and obscure that only a few people have read them? We may be glad to learn that the problem we are facing is nothing new under the sun, that someone already imagined it, and a solution to it - and someone else remembers that problem and how it was dealt with. When the time comes, will the voices of those people be heard?

No comments: