On the SFIA theme: "Absent Megastructures"

One of the curses of a writer who is also a narrative geek is that I have to strongly resist the urge to do narratively wonky things in my stories for my own personal enjoyment. That’s sorta like jazz musicians who play obscure wonky jazz things and don’t care what the audience thinks—essentially playing for themselves. A crowd tends to tire of that quickly, unless they’re a like-minded crowd. This week, I did get way deep in a narrative sense, but I went with it because it served the story I was trying to tell. I’m hoping this kind of narrative wonkery is not too obscure or difficult to follow for a sophisticated sci-fi fan, because putting my narrative geek hat on, I would think this story is kinda cool if I didn’t write it.


I’ve never seen a story quite like this, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist somewhere and I’ve yet to come across it (there are a lot of stories out there), and there are certainly similar stories that exist in segments like this. Vonnegut’s story shapes are pretty well studied, and I’ve heard plenty of other metaphorical descriptions of story shapes, but I’d never come across one in infinity symbol form (a lemniscate for the math geeks).


This story is composed in eight segments that exist on points in this paradoxical loop. I’ve taken the liberty as the author as putting forth my canonical order on the PDF version and YouTube reading. Viewers of my Mechanics of Fiction channel may be familiar with the terms “Story Sequence” or the order the teller tells the tale (sjuzet for narrative geeks). That canonical timeline is only one way this story could be read. Another possible progression for this story would be to follow the natural order of time from the earliest moment (Segment PP) and progressing to the last (Segment GSR), which would follow the “True Timeline” (fabula for narrative geeks).


And speaking of geeks, I had to consult some real math geeks to figure out just how many ways this story could be read. I knew it was going to be a lot and I had a sense of how to get the answer, but when you have math geek friends, use them. They told me the answer is 8-Factorial—as in eight possibilities, but each time you read a section, you have one fewer choice left, so it goes something like 8 x 7 x 6 x 5… until you get your total. And there are… 40,320 possible ways to read this story. That means that if you read it once a different way each day (and somehow you miraculously hadn’t tired of it), it would take you roughly 111 years to exhaust each possible track. I am not going to do that, and presumably, you have things to do as well. But I think it’s a cool concept to play with.


So I’m going to add an image on the website here with links to each section. That way, if anyone feels so inclined, they can set their own pathway through this story and compare. The letters for each segment should be linked to an embedded unlisted YouTube video for that corresponding section. That was the best way I could figure out how to get this up in a week. I’m sure there are better ways, but again, I have another story to write for next week. Just click on the paradox image below and that should take you somewhere into the loop...Have fun, and feel free to let me know if you have a cool pathway you want to share!


Sorry to get so narratively wonky and geek out like this, but I followed my own rule on this, breaking the timeline should be done in the service of the story, and I think I did that.


Hopefully it produced something enjoyable or interesting for you!


Rowe

 

For the record, the order of the "True Timeline" (or fabula to the narrative geeks) is: PP-AD-CR-BD-CH-YA-GSD-GSR. My canonical "Story Sequence" (or sjuzet to the narrative geeks) is: YA-GSD-AD-CR-PP-GSR-CH-BD, which loops around the infinity symbol.

If any of this is confusing, or you might like to dive deeper into some of the techniques I used in this story to help make the story sequence work, you can check out my lecture on Time: Order in my Mechanics of Fiction Writing series linked here.

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