Aristoi Remembered

by wjw on May 31, 2011

The fine writer Jo Walton has written an equally fine analysis of Aristoi on the blog.   It’s not a rave filled with nothing but praise, but that’s jake with me.  It’s a great analysis of what in the book works, and what doesn’t, for Jo Walton— and since she’s a very smart reader, that’s a worthwhile perspective.

Jo also falls into the “I really hate the protagonist” school, which a lot of people do.  Other readers just want to have sex with him.  Some hate him and want to have sex with him, which is a reaction Gabriel himself would surely enjoy.

(As for myself, I have neither a hate-on nor a lust-on for Gabriel.  I just think he’s kind of cool.)

I’ll be releasing Aristoi as an ebook some time this year, though this will raise technological issues that will be difficult to solve.   Alone of my books, Aristoi depends on a typographical trick, in which the narrative can split into two columns, one describing the protagonist’s actions, the other the inner workings of his complex multiplatform consciousness.

Splitting the page into two columns will make for difficult reading on most e-platform readers.   In fact it may not simply be difficult, it may be completely incoherent.

(Can I release two versions, I wonder?  A single-column version and a two-column version, and let the buyer decide which is more appropriate for his/her platform?  Or will that just hopelessly confuse everybody?)

I was discussing this issue the other night with Groot.

“Oh my God!” he said. “How can you possibly handle the two columns!”

“I could rewrite those scenes,” I said.

“Oh,” he said.  “I forget that you’re the author, and you can do that.”

Yeah.  I am the author, and that’s what I do.

Fred Hicks May 31, 2011 at 5:14 am

I *think* you could also render those two-column segments as an image, and include that at the appropriate place in the book. It’d just happen to be an image of text.

You could also look into selling a PDF version in addition to e-book, and let the PDF version stay true to the original…

Zora May 31, 2011 at 6:45 am

You could alternate Roman and italic. Roman and italic and small caps, though reading pages of small caps would give people headaches.

Or you could do something with font sizes, if you could insert code that says “one size larger” or “one size smaller”.

Or you could use something besides periods to mark off sentences. Slashes? Asterisks?

Stacy May 31, 2011 at 10:49 am

I don’t know much about typography, but I wanted to say how happy I am that you’re releasing this as an e-book. I think it was the first of your books I’d read, and remains one of my favorites. I love the culture you created with it and would definitely be interested in further stories based in this world.

Thanks for sharing.

TJIC May 31, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Good article, thanks.

Aristoi is one of my favorite books; I remember discovering Hard Wired when it was published, and then snatching up every WJW book I could find for the next few years.

I recall that you’ve said that there’s tentatively another book in the Aristoi world, right? Or am I imagining that?

Fingers crossed!

Brian Renninger May 31, 2011 at 7:31 pm

Rewriting would be a mistake in my opinion. Wait until the technology catches up.

The two-column approach really makes the book. Jo is just plain wrong about that. The double column does take more work to read but it is worth it. I don’t see how you could so accurately match up the interior states with the narrative otherwise. In fact, I think the little disorientation felt when switching between columns reinforces the feeling of future-shock in the book because you know the characters don’t experience that at all. It’s a feature, not a bug.

Of course, you are the professional writer and not me. I’m sure you could make an effective version without the columns but it would be something other than the original Aristoi.

Of your books, Aristoi is tied for first as favorite (voice of the whirlwind is the other).

Brian R.

DensityDuck June 1, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Could you do it with tables? I believe that they’re supported in the HTML that ebook formats developed from.

wjw June 2, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Yeah, I could probably do it in tables. The question isn’t so much whether I could do a double column, as whether the double column would be at all readable on today’s e-readers. In any case, I’ll be launching other books first, and try to gain some practice.

I have had thoughts about a couple of sequels, each from the perspective of the Therapontes and Demos, the other two social classes in this future society. But an actual plot hasn’t come together yet.

This happened with Aristoi, incidentally. I’d designed the society years ahead of starting work, but I couldn’t actually come up with a plot till till it came as a huge revelation, while I was on a panel at the Chicago Worldcon with Gene Wolfe. Listening to him, I suddenly realized what my story was going to be. (Nothing that he actually said inspired the story. I think it was just being within his aura or something.)

Stephen Tilson June 7, 2011 at 3:24 am

Aristoi is not only one of my favorite WJW books, it’s also one of my favorite books, period.

On Gabriel: if I were to meet him in real life, I’d hate him. He’s an arrogant prick, as Jo Walton points out. However… as a character in a work of fiction, I find him fascinating. I empathize with him, much as I occasionally want to shake some sense into him, and care about what happens to him and his associates.

On the two-column technique: on my first read-through, it was a challenge to figure out how to integrate the two levels of the narrative without slowing down either, and in what order to read the columns. However, the technique invites a second and third reading at a slower pace, and it adds texture and suspense to action scenes. Some version of this technique — whether it uses two columns or not — is essential to the success of the book.

Having just read Patrick Rothfuss’s Kvothe series just before my most recent reading of Aristoi, I found there are some interesting (to me) parallels between Rothfuss’s description of “naming” with Gabriel’s attempts to harness — by naming — his deepest subconscious survival-mode mind. No deeply-developed insights or anything here, just noticing parallels. Part of how everything one reads interacts with everything else, I suppose. If I were more deeply read, I’d probably have a lot more.

Please forgive the rambling from a first-time commenter. Just had to get that out there. Well, not “had to,” but strongly wanted to. Thanks for the book, and I hope we’ve not seen the last of that universe.

wjw June 7, 2011 at 8:28 pm

Stephen, if you feel you “have to” start praising me again, you should just give in to the feeling. I won’t mind.

J M Spence July 3, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Also, remember it’s an ebook and length doesn’t matter. You can stick two (or more) different versions in the same file and let the reader pick.

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