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[Comments] (3) Constellation Games Author Commentary #36: "Protector of Earth": Here it is, the denouement. I hope you've enjoyed the story, the commentary, and whatever bonus materials are coming your way. As I start closing out this commentary series I want to give a big thanks to you, the fans. I've done projects before that have garnered fans, but Constellation Games is the first time I feel like I have a traditional fan base, and it's greatly appreciated on my end.

Now that I've buttered you up, I want to once again ask you to do what you can to get other people interested in Constellation Games. "What's in it for me?" you ask, because buttering you up only goes so far; I get it. Well, maybe you want a sequel. I have an idea for a sequel. But I can't justify spending the time to write a sequel to a book that wasn't a big hit. I'd be better off writing a totally new novel, as I'm doing now.

Hopefully getting people interested will a lot easier now that serialization is done. Ebooks will soon be available for $5, which should take the book into the realm of instant-gratification impulse buys. You'll be able to get a PDF direct from the publisher, or to get Nook and Kindle versions from B&N and Amazon.

It would also help a lot if you left reviews of the book on the bookstore sites, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and so on. Or just post a review on your blog. And remember that someone who's on the fence can read the first two chapters for free as PDF or HTML.

I'm still trying to line up podcast appearances and so on. But I've learned that it's really difficult for an author to effectively promote their own book, because everything I say sounds like an ad. Well, it is an ad. That's why books have quotes on the back covers from people who didn't write the book. Fan-driven publicity is a million times more effective than anything I can do. (n.b. I haven't actually measured this, but a million times seems about right.)

Hopefully after that you're ready for some commentary:

You can read the end of the book as an unimitigated "yay, Ariel", and I deliberately didn't spend much story time on what I'm about to say, but... Ariel's redesign of Human Ring is an incoherent mess. His appreciation of art does not extend much past "art is good and we should have more." He's not a curator, an architect, or a designer of ecosystems. He didn't even get to finish his metafractal before instantiating it.

But this huge mess pushes a habitable Human Ring into the realm of the imaginable. Ariel gets in your face with a really cheesy version of whatever you're good at, and gets you thinking about how amazing it would be if you could redo it properly. (Most of what Ariel does between December 26 and April 22 is working with people with real domain knowledge.)

I used The Dinner Party to dramatize this. Judy Chicago's piece is a monument to dead and mythological heroes, realized in media traditionally associated with women: ceramics, sewing, weaving, embroidery, lace, and (implied) food. It serves as a counterweight to all of history's monuments honoring men.

Like all monuments, The Dinner Party works by overwhelming you. In the Brooklyn Museum the piece has three parts: you walk down a hallway hung with very 1970s tapestries, then you turn a corner and enter a dark triangular room containing nothing but the installation, and you're overwhelmed. Finally you leave the installation room to a big Mathematica-like timeline explaining who all the women mentioned in the piece were. (I get why the timeline is necessary, but it leaves me with the feeling that I've just visited a state park.)

Ariel does not really understand The Dinner Party. Even Somn, who understands it less, can see this. Ariel's reproduction omits the timeline, the hallway with tapestries, and the dark triangular room. He just reconstructed the table in the uniformly-lit docking bay along with everything else. This ruins the overwhelming effect.

It's highly questionable whether Jenny would want to put Protector of Earth in that room. Setting up The Dinner Party next to Trajan's Column doesn't do either piece any favors. But it does put them on the same rhetorical level, and putting hundreds of those pieces in a room a mile square creates its own overwhelming effect. In the docking bay, the monuments humanity has built to its accomplishments are themselves recognized as accomplishments.

Even before the contact event, Ariel knew what this tasted like. He had an archive of all of humanity's Games of a Certain Complexity, acquired through software piracy and playable whenever he wanted to play them. Now he's demonstrated that kind of abundance in a way that people who don't care about video games can appreciate.

Of course, all the artworks on Human Ring are replicas. Even the "fucking Banksy mural" got destroyed by the matter shifters and had to be restored from backup. But as Tetsuo says in chapter 12, there are no un-replicas. Even the original artwork is an imperfect replica of the pure idea in the artist's mind.

And every replica is imperfect. Duchamp's famous "readymades" are, less famously, not ready-made. They've been altered, or they're nonfunctional replicas, or (later on) they're laboriously reconstructed (and further altered) replicas of the original replicas. When BEA Agent Krakowski smashes Fountain in chapter 34 he's destroying a replica of a replica of a possible replica.

Constellation Games is full of replicas. Ariel's house, Dieue's apartment, the shipping containers, Ariel's notebooks, the CDBOEGOACC games and hardware, the golden cellular-automata machine, the periodically resurfaced lunar field, the Disneyland environments of Ring City, Jenny's cosplay, Tammy's missions in the Orion simulator, Ariel's recreation of Tammy's go bag, Dana Light in all her forms, the game companies making the same game over and over, Recapture That Remarkable Taste and Sayable Spice: Earth Remix, the imperfect copy of Tetsuo that Somn has in her head, and the imperfect immortal electronic copy that could have existed instead.

Negative space is Ariel's theme, and replicas are Tetsuo's. Throughout the book, Tetsuo concerns himself with the negative space that separates real replicas from fake ones. The way someone from a culture with less history might care a lot about originals vs. replicas. He cares because the original was trying to tell you something. Probably unintentionally, probably not what the original creator was trying to convey, probably something about that person and their society. A real replica will let that message come through. A fake replica will preserve the text of the article but lose the revealing advertisements. And how you use a replica will, in turn, reveal something about you.

Maybe miscellaneous notes are an anticlimax after that, but here they are anyway:

And that's Constellation Games. This commentary series will continue for two more weeks, with commentaries for the bonus material posted on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you ordered the bonus material, you should be getting it soon along with the complete ebook. If you ordered the USB key, the bonus material's on there. If you're not sure what to read first, here's the commentary schedule, and my recommended reading order:

Update: I originally put the stories in this list in the order I wrote them. But when I suggested a reading order to Kate, I suggested chronological order, which is the exact opposite order. I've changed the commentary schedule to reflect the order recommended in the email that contains the bonus material.

If all you're getting is "The Time Somn Died", then your task is easy. Otherwise, tune in next Tuesday, when Dana will say, "Americans cost extra." Tune in next Tuesday, when Somn will say, "Ha ha ha... stop it!"

Pictures from the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Botanical garden are ones I took on March 9, 2012. Other image credits: NASA, Jerry Paffendorf, and Kevin Stefanovitch.

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Posted by Jeanne at Tue Jul 31 2012 12:29

For some reason I want to say "yay, congrats for finishing!" But this was done some time ago.

I question the idea that it's highly questionable for Jenny to want Protector of Earth next to The Dinner Party! Before reading the commentary, I thought "yeah, that's brilliant" -- of course that's the guise in which Jenny would want to attend The Dinner Party. I guess there'd be a problem with relative scale, but if Mechagodzilla is maybe what, fifteen feet, it kind of works.

I'm pretty glad to read that the last Ariel note was a late revision and that the book originally ended with Somn's letter; I infinitely prefer that idea. Three major reasons:

(a) I like the notion that the last image we get of Ariel is, for the first time, not his own image of himself, and I further like that Somn's view of him diverges so heavily from that image.

(b) I have a theory (I have no idea if it's original to me or something I read and instinctively stole) that one always automatically sympathizes most with the character in a work who knows the most (as long as you also feel like you share in that knowledge.) If Batman and Superman are talking, as long as we can see Batman's thought process, we are on his side. Ashley sees why Ariel's curation -- in ways, his entire thought process -- is flawed here, and we see it too, and it makes us think New Things about Ariel that we didn't think before, at all. So it feels kinda like slumming it to go back to Ariel right at the end like that -- as DeForest Kelley said re: the offer to appear in Generations, "I had a better exit in the last one."

(c) Another ostensive theory about endings, this one Nabokov's: all of his books (or at least all the ones I can think of) end with a kind of "pull-back," where the fiction becomes conscious of itself to some degree as a fiction. In the last pages of Lolita, Humbert Humbert starts to refer to himself in the third person as HH -- idea is to "wake up" the reader and force a kind of contemplation of what's been happening as it's happening. The "Ashley" ending doesn't QUITE do that (and doesn't have to, see "d") but it works a little better to force that contemplative mode to have the book end on a character who isn't the narrator for the bulk of the book. Am I explaining this at all lucidly? Both endings are "cliffhangers," but the "Ashley" ending asks the question: what does it mean that that's Somn's wish? whereas the "Ariel" ending asks the question: oh shit, WHAT WILL JENNY SAY? One is in-universe and the other is applicable outside that universe, in our universe.

(d) I like how troubling it is that Somn makes that wish and that request. I really can't tell if it's romantic or not -- or rather, it is, but it's also troubling in a way. I can't tell if Somn would be giving up too much if she gets her wish or if she's previously been holding back too much, denying her basic discomfort with the situation her love for Tetsuo has put her in. I really like that I don't know what to think of that exactly. In some ways it's a hopeful wish and in some ways it's a conciliatory one, depending on frame of reference, and such importance placed on the question of frame of reference is so fundamental to the book that I feel it's a good place on which to end the book. (I am also always a sucker for works that end with some kind of forthright confession of/request for love, cf. The Tempest.)

This makes it seem like I despise the Ariel ending, which I don't, but I definitely thought when reading it that the Somn ending would have been better, for some fuzzier, subconscious variant of these reasons. So, great!

Starred this on Goodreads; will write something thoughtful about it later -- I've definitely been telling people about this and will try to signal boost to whatever degree I'm capable. I'm kind of bummed that my Tuesdays won't feature this book anymore; write another one!

Posted by Leonard at Tue Jul 31 2012 13:29

From "Found Objects":

"Protector of Earth is two hundred feet tall," said Jenny. "That is how tall it is. I'm willing to compromise on the scale if we can get, like, a shrink ray to reduce the relative size of the viewers. Otherwise..."

So I think it would overshadow The Dinner Party a bit.

I did imagine the Somn ending as a pulling back, more from Ariel's myopic POV than from the fiction. (I think the reveal of the framing device in 35 pulls back from the fiction.) I think it paves the way for the bonus stories with their alternate POVs.

And although I prefer the Somn ending, I want to stick up for the Ariel ending a little, because it does do some character work. Somn sees what Ariel is saying with the empty space, but she doesn't know the context: the last thing Jenny said to Ariel: "When you're done." Ariel's demonstrating that he did finally finish something, that he could call this done, but he won't, because that would exclude Jenny from the project.

It reminds me of The Great Race, where the Great Leslie gets right to the finish line and then throws the race, because that's the only way he can convince Maggie Dubois that he cares more about her than about winning. Another combination of "romantic" and "troubling."

Posted by Brendan at Tue Jul 31 2012 15:13

I'd like to congratulate you on finishing (this part of) the commentary. It's a huge amount of work, and I've really enjoyed reading it.

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