The Writer as a Squad of Cognitive Designers

OK, I am going to stretch some analogies here. No pretense for comprehensive overview or scientific method, just plain hypothesizing about the nature of story writing. The reason – it’s fun. Also, I have found out for myself that relating writing as a process to cognitive theories helps me think more clearly about the former and more enthusiastically about the latter. The post is a bit technical, but I have tried to provide brief explanations and relevant links where needed.

Sitting in a series of lectures on cognitive robotics and spatial cognition this week, I have been bouncing around my brain various sporadic thoughts, only vaguely related to the courses in question. So, here follow, very sketchy and somewhat amorphous, a few ideas about writerly roles.

Writing as astral projection (in your own brain)

 What does it take to write good sensory descriptions, to help the reader walk in the shoes of a character, to wrest emotions of fear and disgust out of her, to pump some adrenaline in her bloodstream? Samuel Delany wrote in an essay (either in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw or in About Writing; too bad I don’t have the books to check and provide quotations) that the first step of the writing process is that of imagining a scene as fully as possible. Continue reading

Blue Remembered Earth – Alastair Reynolds

In The History of Science Fiction Adam Roberts writes, after Heidegger, that “technology, from windmills to hydroelectric plants, “enframes” the world in a certain way, allowing or shaping the ways in which we “know” the world around us.” Consequently, the science in science fiction is not much different from a classic thought experiment, an exercise in imagining our possible worlds and their technologically-defined architectures. I find this poke at a definition particularly useful when reading that core type of SF story, the futurist novel. It is easy to invent an imaginary science, like jaunt travel in Bester’s The Star My Destination or Le Guin’s ansible. The more difficult task an SF writer is faced with is to predict the technologies of the future and weave them into the textual world. An emblem of good SF writing is that fulfilling readerly feeling when in the final tapestry those technologies both define and are defined by the cultural milieu in which the narrative agents operate.

Alastair Reynolds has always been a very technology-oriented fantasist. Despite the rather huge gap in my reading of his stories (I hadn’t tried anything outside of the Revelation Space novels), I knew what to expect from his new book with a fair amount of confidence. No FTL-drives and other seemingly magical gimmicks. Continue reading