Monthly Archives: December 2013

Sometimes there are things of brilliance…

I had been reading up on Joseph McElroy, a nearly forgotten, or fully neglected, writer of postmodern subtlety, same gen as Pynchon and DeLillo and crew.  One of his books is Plus, as much about the origination of consciousness than a novel, per se, from the vantage of a brain-in-a-vat perceiving his new circumstance in an orbiting satellite.  I am daunted to read it (having a copy).

Someone compared it to a 1983 Infocom computer game called Suspended, the idea of which still has me gobsmacked. 

Basically, the player is a coma-case, someone whose brain has been controlling a set of robots in general maintenance of an earth-like environment in space.  There has been an earthquake, everything has gone wrong, some of the robots are damaged, and people are dying.  Worse, if the player doesn’t fix everything within a time frame, he may be shut down once help arrives.

The genius is in the set-up.  The character can interface with the robots verbally (this is a text adventure).  Each robot can perceive the world around it in only single perceptual ways.  They often have strange ways of communicating the results.  One robot perceives only electromagnetic pulses, or in the non-visual spectrum, etc.  The player, using a map physically included with the game, must coordinate their efforts to fix the collapsing system.

I can only say the game is a bit forgotten, the kind of abandonware you can find discussed by fanatics on their message boards but few other places.  Video games simply don’t age well.  But the idea, to me, is tremendous. 



Reading through accounts of game-play, it perhaps stumbles due to an overly severe difficulty, requiring the player to stumble upon a correct sequence of moves under draconian limitation, while the genius of the notion, to me, suggests sandboxing and generous time allowances would better suit.  Because the thrill of this is exploration.

I am struggling so much with a notion to steal the idea, or somewhat.  What a perfect metaphor, what a fascinating way to describe the world, story-telling, narrative, emerging consciousness and manipulation (in the neutral definition of the term) of the world: robots, unseen and detatched, identifying and interpreting the world as they experience it, divulging its nature in rigid ways; combined, their coursing information combining enough times for larger pictures to combine, for contours and differences to emerge, for things, then, to be done.

I’m still star-struck by this idea, by the game, and so vainly wish I could just steal it for a novel.  An interactive novel?  Maybe wait forty years to write it, for some unspoken cultural statute of limitations to expire.  Kudos, game makers.


Paris Review has on their site a wide selection of their author interviews through the decades, back into the 1950s.  What I’ve done is pull a huge number of them off, copypasta, convert three at a time into .mobi format, and sent them to my Kindle.  I’d like to think my semi-random coupling (or, tripling) has led to happy little triplets.  Some thoughts of what I’ve read so far:

Margaret Atwood, from ‘Atwood – Elkin – Lorie Moore’ — Handmaid’s Tale is great and ought to be mentioned with the usual Huxleyan Orwellian distopias but it’s not often, maybe because it applies more to North American hogwash and the Brits aren’t hung with evangelicals. I was bored with her interview. I’m glad she’s there and plan to like and read more of her stuff, but this interview comes off strangely as I expect she does in person – bland, domestic, Canadian, friendly, boring. I don’t mean these in confining terms, just that we’d somehow get onto discussions of brands of instant coffee or old cardigans rather than more, confound it.

Ian McEwan, from ‘McEwan – Oe – M. Robinson’ — As I was finishing Amsterdam, which is kind of crap in plotting. He is to me someone I like knowing is there and will like reading but who will have nearly no longetivity. Constantly an ‘oh, okay’, factor. But a good interview. An author who does not seem touched by genius but rather is one of us, who traces the strangeness of our lives and our societies but does not lift it or even expose it or light it on fire.  Note: lighting on fire not necessary. Trying to think of someone from his generation who is American. Maybe Auster. Similar thing there – someone who powers through a lack of stone cold talent with great success. Different writers, though. Maybe.

Don DeLillo, from ‘DeLillo – Powers – Gaddis’ — Realizing how old this guy is, was sort of starting Cosmopolis. Realizing he’s basically said what he’s going to say. Not sure how that makes me feel. Reading interviews from him is opening his early work for me. There was a closed veneer inconducive to one such as me, but I think I’m getting it now. One, no one, or few ones, even try out what he’s doing, so I must love him. Two, he has no grand vision, didn’t, doesn’t. That’s not a bruise on him, just a thing to say. There’s an apophenic sense of creation (in writing) out of him and so there’s a muted, unsure sense of what to read and how, other than White Noise, which, partly as a campus novel I suppose, is (or was, twenty years ago) read in lit classes. As a writer I am unsure what to learn from him.

Harry Matthews, from ‘Matthews – Burgess – Amis’ — Have read nothing by him, but own Cigarettes. Notion of a novel (?) entitled The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium highly intriguing. Clearly a highly intelligent man, only American member of Oulipo but suffers from the goofiness of the whole. Such interesting things to say, then some bull about purely mechanical ways for new writing. I slam my head against the wall, or at least lay it wearily against, at stuff like, “I wrote that portion to remind the reader that this is a book he or she is reading, not reality.”  Garrrr… really?  Still, moved Cigarettes up on the list a tad, puts him up on the ‘when I’m at the used bookstore look for him’ list.

Anthony Burgess, from ‘Matthews – Burgess – Amis’ — Such gunk. Unreadable. What is this guy on about? He’s little known in the United States and I suspect he’s vanishing everywhere. That would make my heart cry but he has a Harlan Ellison vibe.  I imagine both as trollish homonculi with outside regard for their powers, though I think only Ellison looks that way in truth. To be fair much of this is about Joyce and Ulysses and that’s not my ken. What I know of him (Burgess) is Earthly Powers is regarded his best, but it’s massive and I’ll never get to it. This interview wound up skimmed.

Martin Amis, from ‘Matthews – Burgess – Amis’ — What remains in memory are the parts about his father, who I don’t think anyone reads anymore. I can’t name anything other than Lucky Jim. So, filially eclipsed, I guess. Amis has a mousy reputation, or reputation for mousiness, rodentine sniping and gnashing and nibbling at others, but here it’s honest: he feels one must savage younger writers. Okay. I have only read Money and feel it dribbled into an ending mess of syrup, not having the courage of its convictions. Also come away with how Julian Barnes, he, and Ian McEwan arose on the scene together. Much discussion lately on whether they lived to early reputations (let’s minimize ‘much’).

‘Matthews – Burgess – Amis’ in general — Clearly Harry Matthews does not belong. Gives a Henry Miller vibe to me, maybe the initials. But international Americans, same-ish age range?  Not really. Each is experimental in some fashion, or aware of such things. Amis with Burgess purely for the Britishness?  For the smarm rolling off the Thames like a fog?  But really Amis comes off as rather genial.  Ra-ther.

I have about a hundred more to go.  Just reading them whenever.