Monday, May 11, 2009

"Arriving at the Multiplicity" - By Matthew S. Rotundo

It was during the 2004 election season, I think, that I first became familiar with political blogs--and very quickly discovered the quiet war that raged among them. I was amazed at the depth and breadth of the silent bloodbath. Reading the entries and comments, one could easily be convinced that the fate of all civilization hung in the balance of these ideological battles.

I remember reading through a particular comment thread, wherein one obnoxious commenter was accused of being a twelve-year-old kid, trolling from his parents' computer. That accusation totally changed how I thought of the obnoxious person. It was probably pretty close to the truth, but what amazed me was how quickly the Internet enabled the alteration of my perception. What a weapon that could be, I thought.

The history of politics is replete with smears and distortions, of course. It's nothing new, and it's not limited to any particular party. Perception is reality; politicians ignore this fact at their peril. The most successful of them exploit it to their advantage. But just how malleable is reality? How much can you manipulate it before the manipulation becomes apparent?

It seems to me that the Internet has drastically moved the goalposts. Given its ability to rapidly disseminate disinformation, its ephemeral nature (websites vanish without a trace, individual articles/blog entries are quickly buried in an avalanche of fresh data and forgotten), and its facility for anonymous attacks, it has taken the political game to a strange and disturbing level.

Compounding the problem, the "mainstream media" seem unable to compete--although I think this is more a function of incompetence and cowardice on the part of those media, rather than any inherent superiority of political blogging.

So what does that leave us with? When will it end? How far can it go?

These are classic science fiction questions. "The Multiplicity Has Arrived" is one attempt at an answer.

Each story presents its own unique challenges, and "The Multiplicity" was no exception. The opening paragraph and subsequent interludes were tricky for me. I needed some way to familiarize readers with the workings of the Multiplicity without resorting to great chunks of tedious infodump. Then I got the idea to cast the interludes in the voice of a tent revival preacher. The idea delighted and terrified me at the same time; I don't usually play with voice. It was a stretch for me, but I'm happy with the way it turned out.

I struggled with excessive length on this one, too. Earlier drafts of the story were over 9,000 words. It was just too long. After much scrutiny--accompanied by wailing and gnashing of teeth--I found a scene that could be cut in its entirety. It did little more than reiterate information already established. And removing it required very little revision to other scenes--a sure sign that I didn't need it in the first place. Eureka!

Most troublesome, though, was the crisis of confidence that hit me while working on this story. At some point, I found myself struggling to believe what I was writing. And if I couldn't believe it, I would never be able to make readers buy it, either.

How did I get over that hump? Well, I have a confession to make: I'm not sure "The Multiplicity Has Arrived" is science fiction. It certainly walks and talks like SF, and dresses in SF clothing, but after much consideration, I think it has a bit of magic at its heart. It might actually be fantasy. This realization is what enabled me to regain my belief in the story, finish the rewrite, and send it into the world.

(But don't tell Edmund, OK? I think he thinks it's SF.)

I would be interested in knowing how readers would classify this one. Stop by my blog, or hunt me down at a con (I'll be at ConQuesT, OSFest, and WorldCon this year) and tell me what you think.

Can I get an amen?


Matt's story (science fiction or fantasy, you decide) "The Multiplicity Has Arrived" is available now in issue 12 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show

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