Sometimes it is good for an author to remind himself what he wanted to do with a book before looking back over the pages to see how far he missed his mark (and I’m pretty sure that every writer worth reading believes that the mark got missed) so, to that end….
I started PLENUM to test myself: I’d spent years pruning code in the vineyards of Information Technology, and when I was ready to write again, I suffered a crisis of confidence every time I opened a word processor. Writing PLENUM was an attempt to cure myself. If I’d known that the cure would take almost three years, several rewrites, and over a hundred and sixty thousand words, I’d probably have looked for a quicker fix — a novella, a collection of short stories, or maybe just jumping to a new track altogether: nuclear opera or faith-based physics. Unfortunately, I am not blessed with that degree of foresight, so I began PLENUM as a novelization of a script I did back before Noah’s flood called The Game of Knights and Dragons.
The basic story I wanted to tell is as old as the novel itself: Boy is kidnapped and taken on a strange journey where he must slay dragons and knights alike to save a string of very scary damsels in distress while struggling to find his way back to a home that may no longer exist. Sure, the tale has been told a million times, but I figured if I avoided pure fantasy and made each of the damsels prettier and scarier than all the others, and also if maybe the Knights and Dragons hated each other more than Democrats and Republicans, and were just as reluctant to work together, even to save the Universe, and if the hero was actually smart enough not to fall in love with the first damsel to sneak under his cave bear skin blanket, but at the same time, just to add a touch of realism here, dumb enough to fall for the totally wrong damsel when he did fall, then maybe, just maybe, I’d write a story that folks would be willing to pay less than the price of a bag of movie theater popcorn to read. And it might help if I told the part about where Cleopatra stood on a palace wall and tempted our hero with a vision of the Roman Empire, and the part where Julius Caesar kicked his ass out of Rome and all the way back to 3000 BC. So I did.
I think that part of PLENUM came out okay. It hit the mark pretty squarely, which was maybe not so much of a challenge given the size of the mark. It is the rest of the challenge that wakes me in the middle of the night and keeps me twitching for hours, the part of the story readers aren’t supposed to notice unless they are cursed with the author’s intellectual kink and have a bad squint besides. Do the readers see a philosophical farce — a hierarchical examination of emergent realities without supposing there is anything higher about one end of the hierarchy? Do they snap that the fundamental phenomenon is emergence, and that the necessary pre-existence of the antecedent before the emergent is an artifact of our preference for seeing time as an arrow rather than a landscape? Does it occur to anyone that we dine with Judy regularly and suppose that Judy is still Judy, setting aside the sure knowledge that today’s Judy is composed of a different collection of atoms and molecules arranged in a bunch of new cells and the nagging suspicion that she’s done something different with her hair? Do they lay the book down with an uneasy suspicion that subsequent never ever equals consequent, even out here in the real world? I certainly hope not.