One of our Mad Art Lab alumni, Steve DeGroof, recently wrote a book basically by accident. It was mentioned in the Quickies a couple weeks ago, and I finally overcame my slow reading speed of late to finish it. My first pass impression (which is also a recommendation of “you’ll probably like this if you liked that”) is that these stories read much like the basis for episodes of the old Ray Bradbury Theater show.
Steve started off by playing along with twitter hashtag of #FirstLineToMyNovel and took his 18 entries there and wrote a short story for each on Tumblr. He also gave himself three rules:
- Use the line from the tweet, verbatim, as the first line of the story.
- Write start-to-finish. No rewrites or major edits. Clean up grammar and spelling only.
- Write the stories on Tumblr itself. No writing offline.
Setting aside the book review part for a second I wanted to start with a few thoughts on using a construct like this, some sort of set of rules or restriction, as a launching off point to a creative project. For me that has recently been Tiny Paintings. I decided my project was two-fold: paint on tiny canvases (and hope to get better) and give them away (for reasons to be written about in my next post on that project). There is an interesting focus for me in having a project with a set of rules that can both keep you moving, and limit how much your (ok my) brain shuts down when there are all the options in the world. I’ve done this before with my Puppet A Week project and simply having a weekly deadline to complete something was really helpful, in both the “getting things done” aspect of it, as well as refining the process and basic skills so I could focus on the more creative side of the creations. For myself I have a hope that each time I venture into a construct it has the potential either become more later, or be the launching off point for something else. I didn’t want to only make puppets I could finish in a week, and I want to expand my painting skills to imagery that doesn’t fit well onto a 3″x3″ canvas. In that vein I’d love to see more out of some of these stories in the future.
Back to the book. The stories tend to fall into the realm of some sort of thought experiment, as much sci-fi and fantasy does, and Steve does a good job of exploring his take on “what a likely problem with AI might be” while still leaving room to think of how that idea might play out differently. I don’t want to run down all of the stories, but a couple of my favorites I will. First off, the titular story “Dandelion Seeds” painted an interesting picture of a world with AI and FTL travel being developed, and it certainly had a lot of room to expand into more than just a short story. That said, it plays really well as a short story (I’m reminded of the advice from my friend Beau Brown of NPO, usually about live puppet slam performances but applicable to most short form art: “Keep it too short to suck”), and though it is one of the longer ones in the collection it seems the right length for the story being told. I think my other favorite was Scaled Down, and only partially because my daughter is currently obsessed with Dragons and I’ve been reading dragon themed books with her for the last few months. The execution of the story was great, and though it has the room to become more it sets up an interesting modern world with dragons introduced, and tells one story within that world. I also enjoyed Judgement Day as the thought experiment about how AI’s might develop based on what we know now about software and human development vs all the usual tropes.
After each short story Steve has a brief entry from the tumblr on how it started, how he felt it came out, and if it had legs to be something more. His thoughts on which stories had more potential match up well with my own thoughts, so they must be right (that’s sarcasm). There are moments where the “start to finish to major edits” rule meant he ended a story sooner, or later, or differently, than I thought might have been ideal, but it also means he has room to play later. Dandelion seeds was an enjoyable read and if you head over to the tumblr there are links to purchase it in your format of choice.
(and I’m resisting the urge to go all Reading Rainbow: “But you don’t have to take my word for it”… but you still heard the notes in your head after reading that phrase anyway)