For those of us who grew up in the 1980s, there has finally come a novel to light our darkest hour: Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. In a world devastated by ecological and environmental collapse, the one pastime that unites human entertainment, business, and social life is the globe-spanning OASIS–or Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation–which is basically what would happen if you combined your favorite MMO with Second Life and multiplied the result by Tron. Since the real world is so trashed, everyone lives through the OASIS–everyone, including our clever protagonist Wade Owen Watts (yep, “W. O. W.”), better known by his OASIS handle: Parzival.
It is an interesting thing to approach a field of study when one’s background lies elsewhere. Though I am currently pursuing a PhD in Rhetoric, Composition, and the Teaching of English, my BA was in English Creative Writing and my MA more interdisciplinary English, emphasizing writing and literature. Thus, my exposure to classical rhetoricians has been piecemeal at best, even erratic. (If not for my Writing Center work, I am uncertain how much rhetoric I would ever have read at all.) So, in reading The Rhetorical Tradition, I am constantly making new and interesting discoveries. Today, I read my first selection by Gorgias, a first-generation Sophist whose use of language and rhetoric has been likened to a magical phenomenon. The text in question was the Encomium of Helen, speaking in defense of the virtue of Helen of Troy. Notably, I am responding to a translation by George A. Kennedy.
No matter what Captain Kirk might say about Mister Spock, I have to say that it is Jennifer R. Povey’s Transpecial that, out of all science fiction I have read in recent memory, strikes me as “most human.”
A tale of alien first contact and the struggle to coexist, Transpecial probes the ages-old question “What is human?” with satisfying depth and nuance yet without delving into cumbersome overphilosophizing. The Earth is taking its shaky first steps into the galaxy via interstellar travel, and humanity encounters our first alien race, the ky’iin–a race very like humans, save that their evolution has led to body language so alien and predatory that it triggers an immediate fight-or-flight response in most humans. Thus we meet our protagonist, Suza, a linguist who, due to her autism, is not even treated as a legal adult on her home, Mars Colony. Yet, her autism also renders her immune to the profound effect of ky’iin body language, meaning that she may be the only human who can negotiate peace–a peace that becomes very necessary when the ky’inn respond to human hostility with deadly force.
I have added Transpecial by Jennifer R. Povey to my summer reading list and will be sharing my thoughts on the novel here once I have finished it. However, the topic of the book is interesting enough that I wanted to share it up front. Quoted from its site description (link below):
First Contact. With aliens so strange and predatory that humans could only react with revulsion and primal rage. And so, humanity fired first. Now, the ky’iin are raiding the solar system. The potential key to mankind’s salvation? An unlikely pair of diplomats. One, a brilliant young linguist from Mars with a profound social disorder. Through her autism, she sees the beauty within the ky’iin. The other, a ky’iin negotiator who looks beyond humanity’s violent actions to the potential within. Can they serve as the bridge to unite the two species and stop the Contact War? Or will war-mongering saboteurs destroy them before they can act?
As I am familiar with the author’s work, I am quite curious to see how this thought-provoking take on a genre that I have long enjoyed will unfold. The book may be purchased at musapublishing.com.
I recently read A Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster, a text that aptly fields, as advertised, a theory of the nature of fun as a cognitive phenomenon. Koster may be most notably recognized by those of my age group as the lead designer for Ultima Online and is now, from what I can tell, associated with Metaplace. Koster’s experience with game development shows through impeccably in his book, which renders a comprehensible-to-the-layman analysis of how games and “fun” work.
In early chapters, Koster offers a light discussion of how the brain makes meaning by forming patterns—“chunking” and “grokking.” He argues that games teach life skills, such as spatial reasoning, taxonomy, odds calculation, memory/recall, and relationship dynamics. From there, he builds a theory around the concept that what we call “fun” is really a specialized form of learning and that video games are a unique and powerful method of teaching to the learner-as-fun-haver within us. Without “spoiling” the work, I will note that he concludes that while video games teach certain skills at present, they could be used to teach much more sophisticated concepts. As an art form, he renders the video game as still just emerging; by his reasoning, we have only barely begun to see what games can teach us.