Considering Portal Science Fiction

Earlier this month, Writing Excuses set a prompt to take one big idea from two favorite books, and mash them up into something new. What quickly came to mind was the locative art in Pattern Recognition and tessering in A Wrinkle in Time. And then the question became: How does anyone do anything with those?

As I sat there thinking about this over breakfast, I realized that in a way they’re kind of the same thing. Sort of. We have locative art today. Artists and performers are doing some pretty impressive things with it. We just call it augmented reality. Have the appropriate app on your phone or tablet. Go to the designated place (at the designated time, if necessary). Look around through the app to see the art or performance that’s been installed there to experience it. It’s not really there, and is only visible through the tool…like looking into another world through some sort of portal (if you’re into science fiction and fantasy…).

Tessering is a child’s primer to quantum mechanics. I’d been obsessed with the ant in A Wrinkle in Time for eight years before I read the Shiva paradox. And the moment I read that, I knew I was looking at a variation of the ant crossing the skirt hem. (Not bad for a fifteen year old drama queen. *wink*) In the books, tessering is moving across space and time by folding both as necessary to allow you to take the fewest steps. You’re moving across planets and planes as simply as one would cross a room (barring two-dimensional and frozen planets. Always take along Aunt Beast!)

Stepping away from tessering into the greater realm of quantum mechanics, you eventually get to the mathematical theories that are enabling physicists to seriously consider the nature and reality of shifted planes in the same space (which is murder on the whole “two separate instances of matter cannot occupy the same space at the same time” thing). So, while you may not be tessering when you engage in augmented reality because you aren’t literally going somewhere, you are experiencing a shifted plane of sorts, an alternate reality.

It’s not a mashup. It’s a weak rationalization at best.

What’s really funny is that I’m now thinking about the fact The Chronicles of Amber is on my list of favorite books. Tessering. Walking to/from Amber into the Shadows. Really not different. Seriously, how long have I been obsessed with portal stories?

What’s even funnier? Portal stories are typically a fantasy thing. But so many of my favorite portal stories are science fiction, and don’t necessarily directly involve a portal, just the idea of long-distance travel in short time.

Something to keep in mind…

Transparent Notetaking

I’m currently reading an older book I checked out from the public library that doesn’t appear to have come from someone’s personal library, but it has been marked up by a previous reader who did not then erase the marks before turning it in. I’ve seen this before in other nonfiction books, and it’s historically annoyed me. (I use tiny paperclips to mark up books, and then type up everything into my notes and remove the paperclips before I turn the book back in.)

This time, though, I’m kind of passing judgement on the person’s notes. I’m looking at their coding, and thinking, I would never have highlighted that. It’s just not important. Their notes, barely legible, leave me wondering what kind of student they were.

But at the same time, I’m getting a glimpse into how this person thinks, even if it makes no sense to me whatsoever. You don’t really get that very often…unless you borrow class notes from someone. You can almost put together your own narrative of who this other person is. What are they like (or were they like at the time they read this book)? Why did they read this book? Where were they planning to make use of the information they highlighted? (Given how little sense I’m making of their coding and their notes, I haven’t been able to get too far in answering my questions yet. Perhaps that will change by the time I finish reading the book.)

Not that I’m suddenly going to start leaving tiny paperclips in library books. (I simply don’t have enough to be so irresponsible with them.) Nor am I going to start marking up library books I read. I prefer to be a little mysterious.

A Collection of Meaningful Glyphs

I was forced to sit through the cartoon Viva Pinata a few years ago. (Hey, the requester was cute. What was I supposed to do?) Despite assurances that the last 32 episodes would be less brain cell-killing than the first five, I found myself trying to decide just how badly I wanted to stay on this guy’s good side…right up until I noticed something interesting: I was starting to count how many times I saw a pinata with either a newspaper or a book in his hand. The pinatas’ written language was this bizarre boxy set of shapes, but it made total sense to them and my inner teacher could see how it might encourage kids who didn’t read to give reading a shot.

It wasn’t the first time I’d thought about language as a bunch of nonsensical shapes. When it first really started sinking in as a teenager that there were people older than me who couldn’t read, I started wondering what my books must look like to them. I failed at trying to put myself in their shoes because I could read and couldn’t convince my brain otherwise. It understood that those letters had meanings, and that arrangements of letters had meanings, and it wasn’t keen on forgetting that knowledge for even a few minutes.

I have been fascinated by alphabets for as long as I can remember. I was constantly trying to learn to recognize them when I was a kid. I didn’t get very far, and I was never able to make the connection that what I was doing was like what someone goes through when learning to read English until I started making friends who write quite a bit in their own language. What makes perfect sense to them is to me a collection of symbols that has no meaning to me whatsoever. It’s like staring at a pinata newspaper.

Written language is a collection of symbols that has meaning to us only when we learn what meanings have been associated with each glyph. Until then, we’re just as lost to translate as someone who is illiterate in their own native language. It really makes you think…