what is fiction? a quest to find a believable universe

I think one of the things I enjoy most in life is the "quest to find a believable universe" be it in fictional world-building or understanding reality, as the Scientific American terms it, shrewdly connecting the two. There is immense joy in placing a newfound idea on top of a cohesive pile of concepts that interweave, describing the mechanics of this world, sometimes in surprising ways, finding deeply hidden connections between seemingly disparate parts. This act of discovery, unearthing hidden beauty in the world, is euphoric and addictive.

Gaining an understand of the themes behind a piece of fiction creates commonality between the events within that world, thereby gaining a deeper understanding of the connections between its parts. That payoff of connecting different events is very satisfying, as evidenced by countless fan theories and widespread acclaim of works that are cohesively tied together by themes that run throughout, improving your understand with each new reveal like in Breaking Bad, or just highlighting absurd ironic similarities like in Arrested Development. I seem to enjoy most the fiction that belabours world-building and continues to amaze with increased understanding through continuous reveals, racing ever deeper into the true heart of knowledge. The plot and characters are but a means to better understand the world that contains and binds them.

Creating fiction that isn't internally consistent and "anything can happen" is not just unsatisfying, but also a slap in the face to any effort you may have already put into understanding the rules that tie together this fictional universe. It favours plot and characters over rationality and substance, destroying any chance of working away at a deeper truth in a world without internal consistency, in favour of plot with contrived conflict, character arcs that tug at the heart-strings, or sometimes, just pure spectacle.

Tolkien describes it well in his essay "On Fairy-Stories" saying
...in order for the narrative to work, the reader must believe that what he reads is true within the secondary reality of the fictional world. By focusing on creating an internally consistent fictional world, the author makes secondary belief possible. - Wikipedia: Suspension of disbelief

He describes art that immerses you into an entirely different world, by making it completely believable. Isn't that what all fiction does? Most fiction just uses the shortcut of basing that alternative reality on the world we experience around us:
"It is easier to produce this kind of “reality” with more “sober” material. Fantasy thus, too often, remains undeveloped; it is and has been used frivolously, or only half-seriously, or merely for decoration: it remains merely “fanciful.” Anyone inheriting the fantastic device of human language can say the green sun. Many can then imagine or picture it. But that is not enough — though it may already be a more potent thing than many a “thumbnail sketch” or “transcript of life” that receives literary praise." - J.R.R. Tolkien, care of brainpickings.org
 He does so not without throwing a good bit of shade, towards Shakespeare no less:
"Macbeth is indeed a work by a playwright who ought, at least on this occasion, to have written a story, if he had the skill or patience for that art." - J.R.R. Tolkien, care of brainpickings.org
 It isn't founded in the suspension of disbelief, but rather is defined by the absence of it:
"the moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken, and more specifically of fairy-stories, the "magic" or rather, the art has failed. You are then outside in the Primary World again, looking at the little abortive world." - J.R.R. Tolkien, care of Subcreation - Writing Middle-Earth
 It inherently contrasts to and provides commentary to reality built on "logic" and the "recognition of fact" without which his Fantasy couldn't exist.
"If men really could not distinguish between frogs and men, fairy-stories about frog-kings would not have arisen." - J.R.R. Tolkien, care of brainpickings.org
In a world where people's grasp on reality and facts is despairingly low, no wonder we can't distinguish between fact and fiction and we increasingly prefer fantasy that isn't grounded in reality. So why bother being critical of what's before our eyes and assign deeper meaning, if anything can happen and nothing matters? Or should I say No wonder it increasingly feels like life is imitating art, as what would have once been considered fantasy is now fact, the boundaries of our rational reality are blurring, leading to dispassionate detachment from an absurdist world that requires ever more emotional toil to make sense of, resulting in avoidance and withdrawal into simpler constructs that make sense and don't provide constant sources of cognitive discomfort:
A person who experiences internal inconsistency tends to become psychologically uncomfortable - Wikipedia: Cognitive dissonance
This sounds exactly like the battle plan of certain state actors nowadays (Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia). If not all those battling the modern warfare of controlling our realities. Exhaust and frustrate arguments you can't win. Bring everyone down into the mud with baseless accusations, that require a lot of emotional toil to keep up with, and even moreso to discount (sealioning and whataboutism and more*).
"Never believe that ______ are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words." - Jean-Paul Sartre, care of a guy on /r/AdviceAnimals
* Ad hominem (you're so triggered right now),  Straw Man (we can't all switch to electric vehicles, it's impossible), Hasty Generalization (carbon tax hasn't reversed climate change yet, so let's throw the baby out with the bath water), Moral equivalence (good people on both sides). good list found here.
found another one here: context stripping, removing all nuance puts an immense burden of proof on the audience to question a soundbite, which most won't bear, and rather accept it as truth.

sidebar: examples of spectacle over substance

Game of Thrones
  1. pushing Bran out of a window to cover up an incestuous affair between narcissists* versus Jaime/Cersei accidental rape scene that makes no sense and serves no  purpose but shock value (relevant Dragon Demands on YouTube). one of those narcissists almost attains a redemption arc before one-night-standing Brianne, destroying her character's theme of blinding service to a cause by turning her into a blubbering emotional mess, before running back to get crushed to death in a basement with Cersei. no, guys, character arc doesn't mean physically returning from later bang to prior bang. but no one expected that, so spectacle created!
  2. D&D takeover completely subverting expectations of internal consistency ("I have no idea why my character did any of this") in order to "show off the actor" and create emotional or visual set-pieces (relevant Dragon Demands on YouTube).
Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker
  1. Opening scene TIE fighters can now hyperspace jump even though their inability to do so was a repeated plot point in A New Hope (Ben Kenobi: "A fighter that size couldn't get this deep into space on its own.").
  2. Po does 4 hyperspace jumps in a row even though famed bad-ass Han Solo refused to bear the risk of a single one while using hyperspace to escape from his less-able TIE fighter assailants ("Traveling through hyperspace isn't like dusting crops, boy! Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova and that'd end your trip real quick, wouldn't it?").
  3. Repeated one-uppance in the balance of galactic space power, summoning all-powerful fleets out of thin air only to have them be one-upped moments later, completely destroying any feeling of substance in the contrived conflict of the space battle fought by all the movie's characters and space horsies *sans* Palpatine, Rey, and Kyloo, fighting the only battle that matters in the throne room. The appearance of a 10,000 times stronger force instantly makes irrelevant all existing navies, creating a momentous do or die battle to snuff it out before its artificially created 16 hour levitation timer expires, though I guess that doesn't matter, since it seemed to still be fighting at full strength and was easily going to destroy the good guys had the brand new even better and stronger friendship-powered good guy fleet not arrived in the nick of time. what's their force level at that point? Vegeta, can we get a power level reading? 10,000 squared? shall we switch to scientific notation for ease? 10^8 it is. why didn't those good guys heed the call in the move just 1 prior to this one? they put a lot more effort into that call for help than just "hey go ask around" in this one, but hey I guess our expectations were subverted when doing the same thing twice succeeds with no explanation whatsoever (an author was given the miserable task of coming up with an excuse: the baddies put them all in super secret jail, and when the Rebellion freed them, used the *Vader's List* of sympathisers to make all new friends).
  4. Zombie Palpatine killing himself because after recently levelling up his force lightning skills to gain fleet-destruction ability he forgot to put any points into an off switch for said same crucial skill, which would have come in super duper handy as his fleet-killing lightning is reversed by not one, but two lightsabers wielded by a not-yet-Jedi not-yet-a-Skywalker. Did he not learn anything from when Anakin had to save his ass from Mace Windu single-lightsaber-blocking his lightning 3 movies ago? Or maybe he was fake-dying back then, in order to have Anakin finally turn to the dark side by  This was a necessary plot device to avoid having Rey kill him directly, which would have her fall into his whole "strike me down" dastardly plan that seems eerily familiar from 6 movies ago, and countless iterations of dastardly plans . I guess a physical act can't be detached from its emotional connection? killing = bad all the time, guys, and you should always feel bad about it, except for all the countless stormtroopers which you should only have feels for when they take their helmets off. Having Kylo kill him wouldn't have him attain his redemption arc turning away from his dastardly plan for galactic conquest by magically turning to the light side because his mommy force-possessed him from across the galaxy into hallucinating a *really good* vision of his dad that finally succeeds into guilting him about the whole patricide thing only while weakened by some momentary lightsaber impalation, after he had just put aside any qualms on his way to his next front-stab, of his newfound zombie master.

No comments: