“I don’t have any whisky,” may be a fact but it is not a truth.
—William Seward Burroughs
Where were we?
Adam Roberts wrote a good book badly, or at least wrote a book that wasn’t the sort of book I’d wanted to read, and thought it was. Hagen, son of Alberich, pointed out a couple of ravens to Siegfried, and when Siegfried turned to follow their flight, Hagen stabbed him in the back with a spear. Roberts, in the guise of one Kurt Soldan, managed rather thoroughly to misunderstand not only the point but also the particulars of Schrödinger’s cat. Shocked and awed by their defeat at the hands of the French and British and Americans, humiliated and demoralized by the crushing cavils of the Treaty of Versailles, various disparate elements of German society enthusiastically took up the image of the heroic German soldier, stabbed in the back by dastardly November criminals: trade unionists, communists, Jews, liberals. (General Erich Ludendorff sneered, “I have asked His Excellency to now bring those circles to power which we have to thank for coming so far. We will therefore now bring those gentlemen into the ministries. They can now make the peace which has to be made. They can eat the soup which they have prepared for us!”) Incensed at the defacement of a Time magazine cover, Cerdipity drew a cartoon which showed a Democratic peacenik running away after having stabbed an American soldier in the back. (Journalist Joel Engel sneered, “Someday, though, a populace provoked by the left’s constant fire-breathing may look for a dragon slayer who won’t go quite so easily.”) Soured by the world as it is, humming those lines Morrison stole from Morrisey—“There is another world. There is a better world. There must be”—I picked up a book by Adam Roberts and was profoundly disappointed right from the get-go, so I sat down and tried to figure out why. What was I looking for? What was I missing?
I swear to God there was a there in that the last time I looked.
Let me try again: you’re watching television, and this commercial comes on. There’s a guy sitting in a chair. He’s obviously uncomfortable. Something’s poking at him. He shifts and squirms and reaches down, under the cushion, tugging and pulling until something rips free. He holds it up. It’s that tag: “Do not remove under penalty of law.” SWAT cops burst suddenly through his windows, kick his door in, hold guns on him, bellow his rights at him through a megaphone as he desperately swallows the tag. (I think it was for a chocolate bar. There’s another one which stars those Wallace and Gromit sheep.)
Does it bug you when you remember those tags actually say “Under penalty of law, this tag not to be removed except by consumer”? That they were first put in place to assure the squirming guy that the cushion in question was fresh off the lot, never previously owned, that it was stuffed with specific stuffing? That somehow the meaning of that tag has slipped and shifted from consumer protection to Brazilian harrassment?
And sure, everybody knows that curiosity killed the cat. But: did you also know that satisfaction brought it back? —Imagine two playgrounds, alike in every particular but one: in the first playground, only the first line is allowed. In the second, the entire couplet. Can you chart the resulting differences?
And Siegfried was an arrogant, hubristic ass, a rapist, a murderer, a thief, and his death was necessary to help wash away the curse on the treasure of the Nibelungen and return love to the world, yet look at him now: an heroic soldier, a knight of the realm, the realm itself, struck down in its prime by those who ought to have supported it, our last hope of greatness thrown away by treacherous fifth columnists who should have known better. —And only a dancing Wu Li master would try to insist on the literal ambiguity of Schrödinger’s cat: you can turn an experiment into a metaphor, but you can’t take the gedanken out of the experiment.
And yet—what about Schrödinger’s Knight?
The PCs encounter a knight in an inn. There is a chance of the knight being killed in a combat which erupts at this location. If the knight survives the battle and gets into a conversation with the PCs, then they learn that he is X and they get to hear his story.
If, on the other hand, the knight is killed in the battle, then he is not X, but Y, a messenger carrying a letter for X. In this case, the PCs can learn the same information by finding the letter that Y was carrying on his person.
I think that it might have been Mark Wallace, who in a discussion of this plot technique referred to the knight as “Schroedinger’s Knight.” The reasoning, of course, is that until the in-game events unfold, it is impossible to say whether he is X or Y; until the battle takes place and the PC’s relationship to this character is established, he is effectively both X and Y.
All models are wrong. Some are useful.
It’s not getting Schrödinger’s cat wrong that wrecked Stone for me, any more than it’s a seeming ignorance of the dolchstoßlegende that wrecks Cerdipity’s cartoon. Getting things wrong is what we do, after all, and sometimes we do it brilliantly. Meanings shift, stories change: signifiers point ever and always to nothing but other signifiers. If people remembered the same they would not be different people.
And that’s what’s wrong with Stone. The world within those pages is what it is: all signifiers point to thuddingly designated signifieds. In that world, there is only one model, useful or not: the map is the thing mapped. (And thus difficult to fold.) —I’d wanted a labyrinth; I got a tree. I want an encyclopedia; this is a dictionary.
That it is a stunted tree, a mealy dictionary, is a much less shattering disappointment.
—Oh, he also uses “alright” and says things like “It matched the intense yearning of my heart too closely. But then again, I reasoned, it would not be hard to determine that such might be my dream,” and he says things like “To kill so many people! People, true, I had never met before, and whom therefore didn’t truly exist, but nonetheless!” and there’s his thing for noses. But this is stupid stuff.
Until next time, ponder this: why should we cheer when Stephen Hawking reaches for his gun, but hiss and boo when Hermann Göring releases the safety-catch on his Browning?