Thursday, June 10, 2010

On the Nature of Story

Alien eye-stalk
First in an open-ended series.

What is it we do when we read science fiction? What is it we do when we write science fiction? What is the nature of story?

Story, it has been said, is a way of organizing life experience. Story is remembering. Sometimes, as with Gene Wolfe, story is explicitly ordered by the function of memory.

Story imposes order on incident for the purpose of gathering meaning. If too much order is imposed the story becomes rigid and artificial. If there is too little order the story becomes formless and incoherent. There is a magical middle ground between order and chaos that replicates life. Or at least it replicates the way we perceive life in our story-based view of the world.

Does that mean that story is a valid way of processing information about the world, or more valid than some other way? Not at all. It happens to be the most accessible way that humans process perception of the world, and prior to the emergence of math and science it was the only way.

I had been noodling around some of these ideas when I read Graham Sleight article, Excellent Foppery, which he gave as a talk at Readercon 2009. It is about habits of human cognition and touches on Shakespeare, Wolfe, James Wood, Breughel, and more, and you should go read it. Sleight manages to make more sense than what I wrote above.

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