Monday, August 15, 2011


As a creator, it's easy to make paradoxes without really meaning to. It's easiest for people who make television and movies, and it manifests in the form of the Celebrity Paradox - that is, with a given show that stars a specific celebrity, the generally non-stated assumption that it exists in an alternate universe where neither that show nor that celebrity exist. Otherwise things would get pretty meta, as the celebrity's character could conceivably run into the celebrity on the street, and they could gain insight into their situation by buying the series on DVD.

Recently I've been giving more thought to a subset of this - think of it as the Creator Paradox. Simply put, it's this: within the context of a specific work by a specific creator, what becomes of the rest of that creator's output?

The reason I've been thinking about this is Robert L. Forward's 1985 novel Rocheworld, the story of a voyage of exploration to Barnard's Star. Thankfully, the trigger didn't come until the last few pages, at which point the story was winding down and it didn't trip me up the way it could have.

"George was in his bed, staring up at the viewscreen in the ceiling and scanning through an old science fiction novel, Dragon's Egg. He'd read it many times before, but it was so full of scientific tidbits that he always enjoyed dipping into it before going to sleep. His favorite part was when the alien 'cheela' came up from the surface of a neutron star to visit the humans in orbit above them, riding on miniature black holes."

Granted, when I first read that, it didn't trip me up. Instead, what I thought was something along the lines of "nice, a shout-out to Larry Niven!" Because I've never read Dragon's Egg, you see. It was only later that night while I was tooling around Wikipedia that I went over to the novel's page, found that it had won the 1981 Locus Award for First Novel, and that it was written by... Robert L. Forward.

My reaction was along the lines of "man, how gauche." Giving a shout-out to one of your friends or fellow travellers within your work is one thing. Giving a shout-out to yourself is something else again. Sure, I know that as an author you're going to think your stuff is gold, that it's platinum, that it's so awesome that people will be appreciating it long after you're gone. A touch of arrogance is necessary in a starting writer, or that writer wouldn't believe their stuff is good enough to be published anyway. But outright stating it... it's a big bump in the road that adds nothing to the story. In fact, I think it subtracts from it. It's not smart or witty or anything like that. It's tooting your own horn, and it just looks sad.

Presumably, though, Rocheworld takes place in a world where Dr. Forward never wrote The Flight of the Dragonfly and never expanded it into Rocheworld. This is something I've thought about for myself in the past for my own stories, if only so that I'd have an answer at the ready in the unlikely event anyone ever posed the question. In the context of what I write, I died in 1996 after an unfortunate bicycling encounter with a rusty mailbox. We all have our solutions.

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