Neville Schroeder was a fireplug. He stood barely five feet tall, red, shabby, and pedestrian. Professor Connelly towered over him, a giant oak tree of a man with a silk paneled vest, tweed coat and tie, expensive glasses, and a neatly trimmed beard.
Outside the classroom window, trees silently and fragrantly exploded in Darwinian splendor. Birds jumped in their jerky way from branch to branch, then down to the ground and back up again – flaunting their alacrity and masterful contempt of gravity. Bees buzzed, and other bugs whizzed and swished. The Sun dumped energy down, and life lapped it up.
Professor Connelly held aloft with two fingers Neville’s paper decorated with a large red C minus. The paper exuded an odor only the Professor could smell.
Above and around the campus a dynamic atmosphere stretched to the edge of space, powerful horizontal tornados jet streamed around the planet; playing storms and droughts like a puppet master, and always somewhere there was at least one entirely peaceful, beautiful scene in the symphony of storms – the one deliberate flaw in a complex three-dimensional tapestry of weather. If you listened hard enough, in one of these quiet places, you could hear the tender timpani of a newly born baby animal’s heart propelling its owner into the adventure of life.
“This is not a story. A story is a written work arranged in an exact order – a form everyone except Mister Schroeder has been discussing this semester. Why do you insist on passing off large collections of words as stories, Mister Schroeder?”
In the International Space Station, an off-duty astronaut stood at the large window looking down on planet Earth. The view was monumental – a living blue wall continually moving in response to the pulse of life below. He thought about animal territories and of the composite mosaic of boundaries for the different species. The overlapping patterns would make a grid as complex as a living thing. Life is patterns within patterns. As always, the astronaut is overcome by the breathtaking panorama of exuberance and complexity.
“I don’t believe art has a formula,” Neville said in a quiet but confident voice.
The center of the Earth is a hot, violent place where stone and metal flow like liquids. Five billion years ago the Earth, the Sun and everything in the solar system was as hot. Most of this hot collapsing gas cloud became the Sun, with gravity ponderous enough to fuse the atoms into a furnace which has consumed fifty million tons of fuel a second for billions of years and will continue for billions of years more.
“Well, you’re wrong. Fiction writing does have a formula. The subject is not open to debate.” said the Professor, as he released the malodorous non-story to flutter down into Neville’s disgraced life.
The Earth was smaller than the Sun and cooled enough on the surface to put the energy from the Sun to good use. The rotating liquid metals at the center of the Earth generated a magnetic field strong enough to protect life from the dangerous cosmic rays spewed out by the Sun. It was the perfect place for life to emerge. The polar auroras are battle banners in the war between the dangerous effluvia from the Sun and the protective magnetosphere of the Earth.
“Pay attention class,” the professor said, “this will be on the final.” There was a flurry of activity as students opened notes. “Even the shortest story follows a form as old as storytelling itself. An introduction sets the scene. Then, there is an inciting event. Then there is rising action leading to a climax followed by falling action. Finally, there is a resolution. Everything in the story should either move the plot forward or contribute to character development. Every real story is in this form.”
The sharks and the fast, active fish are on the top level. Deeper down are whales and their marvelous songs. Deeper still weird crabs, and as you go deeper, lighted nightmares and finally the vile hagfish are wallowing in the flesh of anything unfortunate enough to sink to the bottom of the ocean. Life originated in the sea and overflowed onto the land. Someday it will overflow from the Earth and spill out into the cosmos.
Professor Connelly spun on one heel, pointed an extraordinarily long finger at Neville. In a beautifully trained voice, he thundered: “You’ll never get published, you’ll never be famous, and you’ll win no prizes, Mister Schroeder. What can you realistically hope to accomplish as a writer?”
Neville Schroeder puffed out his chest and expanded to twice his standard size. “I’ll forge the future of the human race in the crucible of my soul. I’ll reach down deep into my mysterious subconscious; dip my pen into my own blood to write in large flaming letters across the sky that I am here. In all of human history, there has never been anyone exactly like me, and there never will be again. I feel life, and I am part of it. My vision is unique and important. In every creative endeavor, there are artists and critics — gods and theologians. What I hope to accomplish, sir, is the creation of worlds.”
After a long career in artificial intelligence research at IBM, JPL, NASA, and Hughes, Chuck Hand now lives on a five-acre farm in Massachusetts and puts in a solid three hours a day writing, reads voraciously, and cautions new writers not to use long sentences. He is also one of the founding members of MetaStellar. Contact him at [email protected].