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Vast Narrative?

Among the many wonderful ideas that emerged from the collaborative phase (still ongoing!) of my work on The Ido Chronicles, the idea of "vast narrative" stood out for me. The term was originally suggested to me by an academic colleague, Renée Bourassa. It refers to a book that was published about ten years ago now (2009), called Third Person: Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives, edited by Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin. The idea is that with the development of social media environments, it has become possible to create large collective narratives with a multitude of different collaboration modalities and media within which large numbers of people can participate and contribute. Think Star Trek, where fan fiction and even fan productions of episodes play almost as important a role as that of the official producers. While in practice these tend to emerge in unplanned ways, in principle it has become possible to set about to create such vast narratives.

William Blake, The Ancient of Days, frontispiece for Europe A Prophecy

When I originally conceived the project that came to be The Ido Chronicles, the term seemed to apply naturally, given the scope of the project. However, for the first ten years of development, the series has been the result of a single person's vision and energy - myself. As we move towards publication of the first volume of the series, however, that may change, and I am really excited about what is being organized! The cooperative venture that is taking on the publication called variously the Cosmos Coop, the Infinite Conversations Forum, the Metapsychosis Journal, and Untimely Books, is framing the book publication as an opportunity to enhance engagement between the stories told (mine in this case, but there will be others) and diverse potential contributors, whether these be other writers, visual artists, editors, designers, or even, potentially, film-makers and musicians. We are looking at creating opportunities for co-creation. How, exactly, this will take place is still being worked out, but the prospect is exciting.

I have thought long and hard about ways to open the series up to other creative agents. The issue is, of course, how to ensure some level of fidelity to my own vision while allowing for the kind of creative variation that will naturally arrive when others become co-developers of the stories. Obviously, the published books themselves will act as an anchor to such efforts. I also have written, but not yet finalized, a series of documents that concern the world-building set into the series, that could eventually be made available to readers and prospective co-creators. And as this site itself showcases via excerpts, I have about 250 pages of a writer's journal concerning the process I went through to develop the series. These pages also offer insight into the spirit that informed the effort.

There are, indeed, several aspects to the work towards which I have given sustained attention. These include the use of transplanted ecologies in extraterrestrial environments, the selection of a cross-section of actual astrophysical phenomena to provide in situ settings, what one might call socio-technological questions about race, gender, sexual orientation, mental illness, ableness, age, etc. and ideas about how cultures and religions might evolve. I am sure that some of this work may involve missteps - it is just about impossible to address such wide swathes of culture without committing a certain number of faux pas. That may be one area where collaboration may help, although it is equally possible that collaboration may also carry things the wrong way as well, depending upon how the process is managed. But the overall aim of the work is to open up questions about issues that are of necessity interconnected.

Another area that has drawn my attention is the whole issue of physics, both our contemporary understanding of physics but also plausible extensions into what is often called "new physics". These include a range of topics such as the tempo field which slows time at the quantum level; the introduction of q-fields, a kind of second-order quantum gravity field; possible violations of the Pauli exclusion principle; and access to parallel universes. Obviously highly technical considerations such as these will appeal to only a small class of readers, but they happen to be one of my passions. I try to keep such discussions out of the main narratives, however, although they inform some of the choices made.

Although I am a long-time fan of Star Trek, I find the universality of the humanoid form in that conception almost... distressing. Scientists today are actively looking for planets in the so-called "Goldilocks Zone" around other star systems, that is, planets that might potentially be Earthlike, and hence support carbon-based life forms. This is another area where I am a dissenter. I understand the Goldilocks argument, but I am of the opinion that life may spring up across broader ranges of physical conditions than those anticipated by the Goldilocks hypothesis. In my universe, alien intelligences are not humanoid at all. Instead, they exist in forms that humans typically fail to recognize as life at all.

As can be seen, there is a lot of scope here for expansion. One might ask, why invest time and energy into this make-believe universe rather than another? I have no definitive answers to that, of course. I will feel honoured to the extent that anyone finds the universe I have dreamed up worthy of their time, first and foremost simply as readers! However, it is worth pointing out that the universe I have proposed is a kind of paradoxical compromise between utopian futures such as those found within Star Trek, and more dystopian, weapons-heavy futures such as encapsulated by Star Wars. I have often said that what interests me is the dark side of utopia, rather than dystopia per se. I believe strongly that utopia is harder to do well than dystopia, and while both forms of anticipation are important, I tend to believe that we need more utopias than we currently have. The Humanitat, which is the name I call the human society in my books, is, therefore, such a dystopic utopia. And for that reason, I have hopes that it may attract other co-creators.

Will the Humantitat become fertile ground for Vast Narrative? Only time will tell. In all likelihood, it will never lift from the page in just that way. However, even the possibility of dreaming of futures such as this one makes the effort worthwhile, in my opinion. Another strength of this universe is that it concerns the distant future, not so much what happens in the next century (although there are suggestions there as well). As humans, we need to envision our long-term potential, even as we struggle to survive the sometimes impossible-seeming paradoxes of our present-day relationship with planet and cosmos. Ultimately, it may be the idea of Vast Narrative that matters more than any one manifestation.

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