Monday, December 1, 2014

The best fractal story for winter

Winter is here. The leaves, having long given up their mobility, now decay in the gutter, smashed together into an ugly pulp—probably hinting at something about ourselves—those pumpkin spice lattes are tasting a little less delicious, and the cold weather is always something of a shock. The early nights, exacerbated by that horrid invention of Franklin’s, only further push the idea that an end of some kind is near. What to do then? Well, I find solace within books.

And lately I’ve been obsessed with an author I found in a used book store out in the Bronx, before I left. The store wasn’t found on Google maps, wasn’t even advertised at street level, unless a rusty 5x5 inch sign on the second floor counts as an advertisement. An old lady who was helping to take my passport photo in her shop a few blocks away was chattering to me about the unfortunate man down the street who was only dealing a little drugs and fell in love with the wrong woman. Woman fell afoul of him and immediately ratted him out.

The old lady stared at me trying to judge my reaction, but since I gave her none she smiled—teeth looking crooked enough that one knew she had never even graced America’s middle class—and asked what it was I did. A writer, I told her, and (instead of giving me that stare that I’m usually torn down with) she immediately hustled me out into the bright road and to the bookstore, owned by the same ratted-by-ex-girlfriend-man who was just out on bail. 

Of course, as I was being pushed up stairs and through doors with no semblance of belonging to commercial establishments, I wondered if I should have turned and taken on the woman because, for all I knew, she could be leading me into an ambush. And, though I had only five dollars in my pocket (it was all I had), I didn’t particularly want to go hungry for a day. All the while she chattered, mainly conspiratorial talk about how everything in the world was a conspiracy; it was the kind of talk I’ve tended to find in poorer neighborhoods because, well, those with bad luck and no luck end up here and also because the world is in conspiracy against them. Her chatter—some of it circled around women being wolves and men being hyenas—didn’t help soothe my worries.

But, the moment I walked into the thin bookstore, used books all around, reggaeton blaring, the smell of old paper fighting off decay, I knew then that the old woman, whatever her quirks, must have, at some point in her life, had her way with men because she’d read me perfectly. This was a place I loved, would love without hesitation. 

Before I could turn and thank her, the door behind me slammed and I found myself face to face with Omar, who politely turned down the music. Omar, I found out, was a recent convert to Islam from the Dominican Republic. He started this store when his grandfather died and bequeathed him both the books and the love of them. So, around the city he goes, in his time off, and finds books that truly define the world—you’ll find not a single genre book here, he claimed in a thick Bronx-Dominican slang—and either clarified or muddied the debate, depending from which angle you came at the world. He was, because of his recent troubles with the woman who ratted him out, very close to losing everything, including this store. He said all this, ending every sentence with a smirk that I couldn’t interpret.

How much weed, I asked and almost had a heart attack when he told me the piddling amount. I thought it was decriminalized, I said. And he looked at me, like he knew I wasn’t from there. Sorry for the bookstore, I stammered and noticed a picture on the wall behind him. That her? Yeah he said, sadly.

She looked like the kind of woman you would leave a photo up of, even after she just destroyed your life. Damn, I said. He nodded as he stared at the photo which was beside an artistic poster: two white pawns posed in front of a chained up, battered, black queen, as another white pawn took a photo of them; behind was a toppled black king—the white king and queen standing over him and laughing; and the rest of the black pieces were being lead away in chains; the two bishops being the exception as they were hanging from scaffolds. Omar saw me examining the poster—maybe with a sneer on my face—and explained that in his youth he had dabbled with creating a smart computer chess program—not just some simplistic search tree pruner—and this poster was the only tangible thing he created during that time. I didn’t know what to say; the poster stuck in my throat like a twig, and I wasn’t sure why.

A young man broke the silent spell as he hustled out from the back of the bookstore and pushed past me without so much as a word. The door slammed behind him as he left. Omar explained that it was the help, or former help. A good kid, but he was someone who was going to fall hard in this life. That he worked hard but had a knack of thinking about the big picture a little too much and then stopping all work and hurtling himself at some windmill or another.

I smiled politely, thought of asking if it was worth it—the woman, that is, I cared not a wit for the rebellious young man—and instead asked if I could take a look around. He nodded and went back to reading Borges. It was here, at the bottom of a shelf that was located in a dug out part of the floor (the floor was only loosely one, as the cement and earth interchanged with each other at random points). You know when you pick a book and, even though you have no knowledge of the writer or book, you know you have to have it? That was this book. Omar nodded his approval.

I loved it. The novel, if the term could be applied, was filled with arrows and interchangeable characters and memes of characters or how a certain item came into being. Flooded with footnotes and the idea that the world could be contained in a single book, and that if it were to be contained, it could only be done so in a none linear way (I’m speaking now of the way sentences are arranged on the page not a plot) and a fragmented way as most people take this world. Thus Algo used multiple fonts and sizes and colors in trying to get this across. There were also multiple languages, to include machine and higher level programming. Not understanding that was part of, as Algo saw it, life. I’m not sure, even to this day, what the point of the story was: I think it was about a young girl living in the city of the Bronx and, her mother sick, going to find her grandmother and get help, as the hospital was out of the question. But the story wasn’t the point of the book. It was what Algo was trying to accomplish.

As a writer, I was impressed and inspired, though the limitations of paper made reading the book troublesome to say the least. Algo, it was said, felt the same way and was working on using new mediums to better achieve what he wanted. I found out about his short story on a webpage. It was meant to be a fractal story that, at the very least, was infinite, or rather, fractal. I recommend you visit it, just google the author.

The skeleton of the story is something short and sweet: again it was about a girl traveling. There was a bridge to cross, and at each end of the bridge there sat her nemeses. One a group of school bullies, the other the monster in her dreams. Short and sweet. A mixture of hard realism and fantasy. This, however, wasn’t what made it the story that I’ve been lost in for the past few weeks. For, should one care and roll their mouse over a noun (usually, verbs too had some function like this), they would find some hovering text explaining the story of that item or action or what it was doing there and so forth. In that text itself was more text to roll a mouse pointer over and so on ad infinitum. You could follow a story about the monster and its family, or the bullies and their families and the people related to that and so on and so on (I have yet to come to repeating text or a set of text without more text that hovers over it). You could do none of that and still get a beautiful short story out of it all.

Like all literature, this one isn't without its faults. There lies at its heart the parts that seem above one's head. Is it really necessary to add programming language? Perhaps it is. But it still seems, to me, as a little much. Perhaps it's my ego that's reacting here. 

Finally,I think that Algo has achieved what he wanted. If one follows a strand long enough they will find an epic. They will find all of human history. This is not a series of random clicks, as it would be if you went to a Wikipedia page and kept clicking random links. No, the curation here is obvious, it shows the deft hand with which Algo has created these inter-correlated stories. I’m not sure when this story (stories) of Algo’s will end (does it have an end? Is the author working on it as we speak? Making the infinite possible?), but I recommend anyone interested in literature (the future of it, the application of it to the new mediums) to take a look.

Update 11Dec2014: Rumor has it that, when just a child, Algo saw a blind beggar on the street and since he had no money started to talk to the beggar. The beggar, hungry, merely grunted. Algo started to describe the street around him, and the beggar, still standoffish, stayed still enough that Algo knew he was listening. Algo started to describe more specific things, things that were at least somewhat interesting: an oil stain like a rainbow, a woman flirting with a man selling cheese. The beggar started to smile. Then Algo started to talk about more and more fantastical things such as flying elephants, women winking and smiling at the beggar, and the beggar’s smile widened. It was that day when he knew what he wanted to be: a storyteller.

(Some cynics on the web also contend that though this happened, Algo returned to the spot where he had talked to the beggar and found out that he had been beaten to a pulp a few years after the incident of his childhood. And only just because. This he found out from storekeepers in the area, most who didn’t seem to be too concerned with what had happened because they were not too happy about the beggar’s late cockiness and unfounded care for himself. This is why, they contend, his writing has taken a  more realist, and perhaps too “computer coding” turn of the late)

Update Jan2015:  That this is not entirely new, should not come as a surprise to anyone. Hypertext fiction has been with us for some time now. I'm not sure, but I will read up on more of it to see how it works, and if worlds are created. Thanks again

Update Jan2016:  That hypertext was a precursor to this method of writing, is nothing new. But there are other points, now. The best literature has always been fractal. Even recently this has been proven. This gives us some idea about the geniuses of past generations. But even other places are working on ways to use technology to best tell a story.


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  1. Fractal writing, eh? Sounds more like mimicking the infinite threads that are the internets (tubes of info, for the Senators out there) and in doing so adding infinite distractions and if that leads to a narrative so be it... guess I'll be the one to check it all out.

    1. It might be mimicking them. But the trick here would be to do so in a way that either properly mimics a narrative or can create something truly interesting and something that truly creates something that digs into a deeper truth.

    2. Okay, smart ass, what about the stories that are being curated from this silly world you mentioned? All over the nets, this new fan fiction comes from people choosing the best linear (yes, that's what the readers want, isn't it?) story out of this odd world that has been created. Nevermind what you're thinking, as cute as that is. Think about the arc of the world, and it tends towards what works. Get it?

  2. What a great story. I think you should make it obvious that the way this book, or website of Algo's works is that it's infinite. Yes, it's truly the definition of what Borges had in mind (and so every story about labyrinths that was a derivative of Borges'). I mean, can you think of a single book or attempt at a book with this infinite story section to it? one merely to follow a thread of their choosing and it's statistically impossible (assuming that it is followed for more than one or ten links) for any two people to read the same story.

    Think about this for a second! This is seriously a revolutionary way of reading and no one is talking about it?! Instead we have old elites of the old guard, such as Franzen, who lament Twitter. Well, let these writers rot. Here is what's being created and with more than mere linear pages in mind.

    Another example of this is how the Guggenheim Museum is a linear affair (more so than a book since one can look at it in two directions) whereas the amazing Met is an affair of multiple or a million objects with a million ways of looking at it. Better yet to compare the Algo fractal story to what it is: New York city with so many places to explore and so much art, to say nothing of life and women, when compared to the Guggenheim. And though the latter certainly has its place in the limited time of what is life, it is nothing compared to the city where art itself is born. So what are the readers to choose? Curation that may or may not hit the heart. Or life itself? (choose any city that you truly love and compare it, it doesn't have to be NYC).


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