Longer ago than I really care to admit, I went to the ICA and saw Jeff Noon and Neal Stephenson talk about writing. (Highlight: Jeff Noon using the technique I’m about to pass on here and saying it was an almost mechanistic process; Neal Stephenson picking up the top sheet, reading a few lines and saying absolutely deadpan: “I think there’s a lot of you in here, Jeff.”)
Noon likened his writing process to using a mixing desk for a music: input sample, distortion, output. So he’d have you take a sample of text, run all the letters together so that they no longer make words, then mess with it - turn every third S into an H, cut and paste bits around, add random letters and random intervals, muddle and obfuscate, transform by addition and disarrangement, and then finally start putting the spaces back in to get words.
On the one hand it’s an AMAZING method, and it always produces something interesting. On the other, the idea of doing a whole novel that way rather than using it to generate a prompt is a bit daunting. And certainly you get a lot of yourself in it, whatever the wild-eyed genius of Droylsden may say. (For the record: if you haven’t read Noon, you’re doing yourself out of something remarkable. Was there ever a TV show? I know there was going to be, for a while…)
Anyway, because I need to kickstart myself today, here’s my input text (yes, it’s from a previous post here on Substack, because the input can be anything at all):
The 30k Valley is the calm place I hit after the first frenzy of creative energy, especially if I’m not really working to a plan. Even if I am, this is the space where the plan encounters the real world. Variations and tangents start to peel the story away from the pure idea, and the kinds of issues you can’t imagine until you try to write something make themselves felt. “Oh, yes, I started the book with the main character in leg irons, how can they win a marathon?”
[Compression: I wasn’t terribly careful about keeping all the letters as I got rid of the spaces and punctuation]
[Distortions: all “th” becomes “b”; all “is” becomes “no”; all “to” becomes “am”… and so on.]
heb irty kvase ynobecal mplac eIhit af terbe stfir fren zyof crea tivqune rgyes pecias yifimno tre asyw orkude mapla nvenia mbibes pace whtrybe planen cestntersbtry al worldariations aplagtan gents starmap qulbes mary away from bure ide aapl ag bkiplags ofno sues yestcant magine untilyes ttrymaw rites omebud emakeb emselves felby esstar tedbebsik wibbem ainch aractel egiron sho wcanbey winamarabon
[Glossolalia: looking for meaning in the noise.]
Herb irty vase why not be calm AI hit the earth friends of Rhea Tivque (a queen) pacific three orkude maples invidious bribes and peace. Planes and planets Canterbury in worldariations Plantagenet starmap quilbs marry away from pure ice apples bikplags of no yestercant imagine Tyrmaw rites of my buds feebly stars with them winching fractals, iron and marathon.
[Cherry-picking - which I think is counter to Jeff Noon’s original version, but I’m doing it anyway and I figure he’ll forgive me for remixing his remix method]
why not be calm
AI hit the earth
friends of Rhea Tivque (a queen)
invidious bribes and peace
Planes and planets Canterbury in worldariations
marry away from pure ice
yestercant imagine Tyrmaw rites
winching fractals, iron and marathon
Okay, so here we are. There’s a LOT going on here - well, there always is with this method - so let’s take a look. I think the AI hitting the earth is a literal problem - a huge space-bound machine barrelling - to its own dismay - straight at the planet. An extinction level event for someone, surely. But this isn’t just an asteroid actioner; it’s truly weird. Rhea Tivque, some sort of queen, faces the prospect of an arranged marriage - not one she’s opposed to, necessarily, as it staves off the ice - and lives in a highly charged political environment of intrigue, bribery, blackmail and the desperate hope of a political resolution to so many tensions within and around her realm that sometimes it seems the only outcome must be war. But something deeper is going on; some kind of time slippage is occurring, cascading fragments of yesterday into today (I love this, thematically: all our problems in 2022 are legacies of 1922 and before, and yet we insist we inhabit this weird segregated idea of “modernity”. We’re just the breaking edge of the same wave. Anyway.) To deal with this, Rhea’s royal engineers have created a vast iron mechanism to stitch causality back into shape - albeit with some imperfections - and so her palace echoes to the sound of the huge engine using a thread of quanta to bind the orderly flow of entropy, while monks mark the hours and learn the maintenance of the mechanism by rote in case a major blip occurs, the whole kingdom is catapulted back in time, and the vital period of research into the problem itself is deleted along with the knowledge of how the system works is itself lost into a temporal fracture. Historyproofing, as it were… And if the AI hits, that’s the least of what’ll happen…
“Why not be calm?” SHIBBOLETH-1 asks itself, spiralling buttered-toastwise towards the gravity well. “Why not, indeed, when one has the option?” It’s not as if panic is useful, even if it feels highly appropriate. SHIBBOLETH-1 - Bolly, to close friends and engineers - is a two kilometre stretch of exotic nevermind wrapped in endgame science. The explanation is long and terribly interesting unless you don’t care. It’s alive, it’s big and heavy as hell and not designed for re-entry. It will hit New Birmingham so hard and fast the sound of the blast will be swallowed by the fusion reaction, which won’t have time to boil more than a few million cubic metres of planet before the really weird shit happens. Bolly’s internal matrix will implode, sucking in everything up to and including the fledgeling sun that used to be the New Birmingham market district, and - safety feature - the AI’s mind will be squirted away in a long line of organised information towards the nearest star. In theory this ejecta could be collected - snorted up like cocaine from the pectoral muscle of a perfect young actor sprawled on a yacht - and reintegrated to produce, if not Bolly, at least Bolly Recovery Code. In practice, Bolly doubts anyone will bother. The solar wind will blow the sophisticated lifeline away over centuries: glittering light pollution.
“Mayday,” Bolly says, artificially calm. “I’ve got a bit of a problem.”
“You think?” demands a voice, “I’d say you are a bit of a problem.”
Bolly checks the ID data and gulps. Rhea Tivque [#actuallythequeen]. She sounds more annoyed than Bolly generally remembers from the last time he saw here, back when they were, you know, dating, but then… yeah. Maybe not all that surprising.
“Hi, your Majesty,” Bolly says. “How are you doing?”
In the observatory of the Divine Palace, as high above the hum of the Reintegrator as you can go in the city, Rhea Tivque shakes her head and wishes, with all her heart, that she wasn’t queen at all. And in fact, strictly speaking, she shouldn’t be: the queen in this decade is legitimately Martha Manuela Kim, but she was temporarily - there’s a word with a depth of meaning in the circumstances - temporarily and temporally - disjuncted when The Event happened and now Rhea is in charge half a century early. On the upside she brings with her a wealth of technological knowledge that doesn’t exist yet, and she is cheating like a motherfucker to put time back where it ought to be. On the downside, this gives her deep tachyonic feedback as fifty years of research loops through the best minds of several generations producing science which shouldn’t exist until half a century after her time, but which she now remembers from childhood. And again, and again, rinse and repeat until we fix this thing or tear the whole cosmos apart trying.
And migraines, but that could just be the stress.
Yeah, okay, that works. It’s rough and a bit clunky because totally unedited, but it’s not so lousy I’m going to hide it from you. Does it work well enough that I’d actually write it? No idea. It’s in my head now, though. If it stays there and manages to carve out some story space I might get to it. It would be hard work; there’s a lot of worldbuilding and tonal decisions, and time stories are always a bastard. I just don’t know if I’d have the patience, but never say never.
Have a go :)
Your entry pass for my brain includes an exit visa absolutely free of charge. Pull the red lever if you feel nauseous or alarmed. No, the other red lever.
This is a very fun process that I’ll try sometime! Thank you for sharing both the exercises and the results.
It also occurs to me that you might appreciate some of the written lore from, of all places, Destiny: The Game. The developers frequently package and distribute chunks of in-game lore as books, and there’s a community run website called ishtar-collective.net that pulls it all together by keywords.
Of relevance: the stories pertaining to Clovis Bray, a megalomaniac obsessed with the singularity. His legacy, the Deep Stone Crypt, a massive AI governed facility in orbit for centuries above Europa, comes crashing down as an extinction level event.
That event isn’t exactly recounted in Lore to my knowledge, but the events leading up to it and surrounding are contained within Destiny Grimoire Anthology Volume III: War Machines. (Clunker of a title, I know.) Or it can be accessed piecemeal for free on Ishtar Collective.