Recursion 5: Do conclusions matter?

0

Last, were you satisfied with the story as a stand-alone narrative with a conclusion? How important is it for playing to have a conclusion?

Comments

  • 0

    I thought a couple of things about the ending:

    1) As mentioned in another thread, I was vaguely unsatisfied by Crouch's resolution which seemed a bit too ad hoc to me

    2) An area the book (deliberately, I think) left untackled was that of independent rediscovery of the chair or a similar device. There's a theory out there (which I personally find convincing) that ideas and inventions come along when preconditions of other ideas, social structures, general human development and so on are right for them. Very often similar things have been proposed or invented independently at different places at almost the same time, simply because the foundational structures are in place.

    So here... if computational and neural science has pretty much got to the chair anyway, and it just needs a little push to get there for real, it seems to me altogether likely that other groups would independently produce something like it. In which case the ending of Recursion is not really an end at all, but simply a postponement of an inevitable development which, for better or worse, has to be grappled with. This ending seems far too much like Pandora working out how to close the lid of the box after all.

    This, I think, is one of the interesting things about the (first couple of) successors to Dune - having set Paul Atreides up as having precognitive powers, the huge advantage that conveys is then offset by allowing everyone and his mate who has access to spice to also have precognitive powers. All this precognition then totally muddies the waters so that vision becomes almost impossible, and we're back to a level playing field again.

  • 1

    The ending wasn't all that good, but not terrible. It didn't ruin the book for me. I've read books with worse endings. Most Stephen King novels for instance.

    In terms of RPGs, I get frustrated with campaigns that just sort of peter out rather than reaching a conclusion. I try to avoid that these days. But real life and creative frustration can get in the way, and the longer a campaign is, the more likely it is to happen. There's a great sense of completion and accomplishment, both as player and GM when a campaign ending works. And it's definitely not all on the GM - player choices make all the difference when it comes to a conclusion.

  • 2
    edited October 3

    Not much to add about the book's ending. I agree with @RichardAbbott that the chair is likely to be rapidly rediscovered, in one form or another, which would reopen the whole history-rewriting issue.

    As for gaming, just about all my gaming is at MK RPG, where we play in eight-week blocks. That means stories need to fit that length, which is generally fairly easy to orchestrate. I find it gives a good balance between exploring a sandbox and keeping things focussed enough to not drift aimlessly.

    In that context, are endings important? Yes, very much so. Stories are told, with endings, and then we all move on to the next campaign.

  • 3

    I seldom start a game with an ending in mind since I like to play sandbox style, but agree that its very much more satisfying to bring a campaign to a close with a tidy or poignant end. I think my 13 Wives campaign, that I once posted in its entirety, managed to do that quite well, but it had a very simple structure - _there and back again _ - just like the Hobbit. Eventually, the characters came home to find that home hadn't changed, but they had.

  • 1
    Back in the sphere of writing, when I was studying poetics a few years ago I read up what various folk had to say about endings in poetry. Granted that this is a more structured form of writing than a novel, but some things carry over (and likewise also into music).

    Some of the main points were

    1) something about every line _before_ the end must signal that there's more to follow. This can be done in lots of ways - a story arc is not resolved, a rhyme or rhythm scheme is incomplete, and so on. Technically this gets called enjambement, (from an old French word meaning to stride over or encroach) and in its very strict form refers to carrying a word over into the next line. So from Seamus Heaney's Beowulf

    They stretched their beloved lord in his boat,
    Laid out by the mast, amidships,
    The great ring-giver. Far-fetched treasures
    Were piled upon him, and precious gear.

    It's clear, for example, that the two middle lines cannot possibly be the end of the poem. In the looser sense, enjambement is anything which keeps the reader or listener aware that it's not yet complete and there's more to follow.

    2) the actual end _might_ satisfy the reader's expectation - a "happy ending", if you like - but it might also thwart their expectation, which is more common in tragedies. This might often happen in books about dystopian societies - the State really does manage to suppress the individual, perhaps - but could happen in any setting. It's a higher risk option for a writer, especially if what they had in mind was a series :smile:
  • 0

    I found the ending unsatisfying. I thought that it was simply shoe-horned in to produce a work of the 'right-size' to bear the price-point. It also made little sense, so that we could have another reveal in another product of how this was a false-memory. I think this is an accurate description of the world (effects are causes of later effects), but I also think that we could imagine putting an end to some terrible things, say measles. I experienced the book as sophisticated money grubbing.

    Part of that experience was the crass and unfeeling way in which the problem of not understanding how the world came to be the way it is was treated. I know many people suffering from this problem, and it is not necessarily a full-blown dementia. I think the book produces a reader who thinks that such things won't happen to her/him, or who is they will despair because their imagination cannot find a way beyond. Amused to death.

    Protagonists in these books are truly god-like in knowledge compared to the mooks, as always because they have the right machine and know the right people. I got no sense of care from our all-knowing female lead (Sophia), and while the male lead had some concern for others, he was crippled by not understanding, and could only kill to make better. I expect better from our stories, and think we should all demand better. I am really sick at heart of killing presented as a good, rather than an unfortunate and evil. Cheap thrills? No, the price is extremely high.

  • 3

    I'm usually worried that nobody will like the monthly pick except for the person who picked the book, and that person will feel jilted, or at least gun-shy about picking another. This month it's the opposite LOL.

  • 0
    > @BarnerCobblewood said:
    > I found the ending unsatisfying. I thought that it was simply shoe-horned in to produce a work of the 'right-size' to bear the price-point.

    I think you have identified a very common problem. It can happen both in the trad publishing world (publisher instructs author of "correct" length) or the indie world (author reads that a book of such-and-such genre "ought to be" so many words).

    What I find even worse than the situation of Recursion is where an author wants to (or is contractually required to) write a series, so truncates a book at the "correct" word count with no proper conclusion at all - basically just a normal chapter end plus a brief note saying "the story continues in volume blah blah, which will be available mid 2021". See my other post about endings in another of these threads - in my view, even a book that is part of a series needs to have a conclusion in its own right.
  • 1
    One thought on violence in the story, which wasn't obvious to me while reading, but this discussion has brought it out.

    At no point was violence or killing an actual solution to the problem. Sometimes it seemed to be, and made things better for a while, but then things always got worse.
  • 1
    > @dr_mitch said:
    > At no point was violence or killing an actual solution to the problem. Sometimes it seemed to be, and made things better for a while, but then things always got worse.

    Except that the main trigger for the Chair to do its stuff was that someone had to die. I can't really think why this might be necessary in a biological sense, and I suppose the main reason was just to raise the stakes of the plot tension. By and large, the good guys chose to do this by suicide and the bad or ambivalent guys by murder.
  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    Except that the main trigger for the Chair to do its stuff was that someone had to die. I can't really think why this might be necessary in a biological sense, and I suppose the main reason was just to raise the stakes of the plot tension. By and large, the good guys chose to do this by suicide and the bad or ambivalent guys by murder.

    But did they? To the person going through the experience, they had a painful few minutes then got better. They "died" in the same way that a Star Trek transporter kills and disintegrates the people it moves.

  • 1

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    Protagonists in these books are truly god-like in knowledge compared to the mooks, as always because they have the right machine and know the right people. I got no sense of care from our all-knowing female lead (Sophia), and while the male lead had some concern for others, he was crippled by not understanding, and could only kill to make better. I expect better from our stories, and think we should all demand better. I am really sick at heart of killing presented as a good, rather than an unfortunate and evil. Cheap thrills? No, the price is extremely high.

    I don't think that's a fair criticism of this book (though it is appropriate for too many books in this genre). Only Helena has an exceptional intellect. Barry, as an investigator, is one who stumbles across the situation. Yes, his first instinct is to stop Slade by force, but I think he's after an arrest over a killing. The only person all-knowing person in the book is Slade, and he's definitely portrayed as a monster because of it, devoid of any empathy for other people.

    As @dr_mitch says, even Barry comes to realised that killing isn't any form of solution to the problems he's facing.

    (Except for the final killing of Slade at the end of the book, but that's tied in with the flawed ending of trying to put the genie back in the bottle, without guarantees that anyone else will find the bottle soon.)

  • 1

    @NeilNjae said:

    @RichardAbbott said:
    Except that the main trigger for the Chair to do its stuff was that someone had to die. I can't really think why this might be necessary in a biological sense, and I suppose the main reason was just to raise the stakes of the plot tension. By and large, the good guys chose to do this by suicide and the bad or ambivalent guys by murder.

    But did they? To the person going through the experience, they had a painful few minutes then got better. They "died" in the same way that a Star Trek transporter kills and disintegrates the people it moves.

    Hmm yes, fair point. But quite a lot of the book circled around the reaction of bystanders to the use of the chair, and in particular the first time that Helena witnessed it being done to a heroin addict picked up from the street. So, seemingly, the team applying the method were essentially committing themselves to killing the subject, and would not know (in their subjective timeline) that the individual was not really dead. That said, I do like your analogy of the transporter, and it's a very provocative twist on that particular device.

  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    So here... if computational and neural science has pretty much got to the chair anyway, and it just needs a little push to get there for real, it seems to me altogether likely that other groups would independently produce something like it. In which case the ending of Recursion is not really an end at all, but simply a postponement of an inevitable development which, for better or worse, has to be grappled with. This ending seems far too much like Pandora working out how to close the lid of the box after all.

    So what would the end-state of the Recursion tech be? Let's assume it takes half a million quid to build one, and you need technology that only exists from the year 2000 onwards. The price-point's low enough that even small groups (or wealthy individuals) can build one. The tech limit means you can rewrite history from about 1910 onwards.

    How about this scenario? There's a huge incentive to pre-empt any opponents, so people will be looking to make the chair-building tech available earlier than 2000. Given the right know-how, there's no particular reason why we couldn't be fabricating semiconductors in 1920, which makes the chair available for use about 70 years earlier than Helena invented it.

    At some point, there will be a limit were you can't go from the extant technology to chair-capable in about 90 years. That will mean the timeline will look kind of normal until when a bunch of children suddenly get "false memories" of how to accelerate tech to late 20th-century levels in the space of a few years. That could happen in Regency times (late 18th century), perhaps earlier.

    There will be another group of children with very deep knowledge of how realpolitik works, and they'll rapidly take over whatever states exist. World leaders will be about 15 years old, but with several lifetimes experience. One of those groups will be successful enough to wipe out all competition. The trouble is, I think any society complex enough to fully-support a chair-building effort must be large enough to support all sorts of technicians, and so there will always be multiple chair-building efforts. Expect heavy-handed secret police, idelogical reprogramming, and a pretty dystopian controlling facist state winning the war.

    So, where am I wrong?

    And would that be fun for gaming?

  • 0
    A great piece of speculative analysis! Seems sadly plausible to me. I wonder if the race to be the dominant nation would favour an individual leader or a small cabal?

    Also, on the basis that the universe tends to dispel any apparent advantage, I wonder what could happen to derail somebody's world domination plan? Shielding to counter the effect? A way to store "real" memories so that you knew the score before the cutoff time? A genetic change meaning that some people would be immune to attempted changes?
  • 0

    Sounds plausible (well, at least not less plausible than the core premise of being able to change which parallel you're on just be having one person recall and old memory). Would I enjoy gaming it? Maybe - not my usual fodder, but might make good fodder for a Luther Arkwright game.

  • 0

    I realised reading the last few posts on this thread that I could not remember (if it was ever explained) how the specific target effect was selected - the individual in the chair had to identify a vivid memory, but I don't recall how that translated into the routing of the timeline into some particular sequence of events. But however it was done, then presumably there would be some margin for error?

    It doesn't seem conceivable to me that every detail of the new timeline could be anticipated - even without quantum effects, I can't see that the future path of the entire universe (even just planet Earth's bit) could be successfully anticipated and mapped out from initial conditions plus a specific stimulus.

    Does anyone remember if this was ever tackled in the book?

  • 1
    Time travel was essentially someone's consciousness travelling back to the time a suitably vivid memory in their past. That exact point in time. No physical movement, just them going back to literally relive that memory - and their following life. Since time is just a matter of perspective.

    I suppose it's as good a mechanism for time travel as any, though the personal narrative is inconsistent with the "false memories". What I liked was it was something different in time travel fiction that I've not seen before.

    The other treatments of time travel I like in fiction are things where faster than light travel exists and relativity still functions. And weird stuff just happens sometimes because of that. I'm thinking of Exaltant (Stephen Baxter) and sort of Singularity Sky and the sequel (Charles Stross). Embrace the paradox! Some tragectories lead to travel back in time, and that's forbidden by custom and maybe some powerful entity or group, but y'know, it happens sometimes.
  • 1

    I wasn't impressed with the conceit that our shared memories are the stuff that makes 'reality' and the timeline. I thought the whole story lacked a coherent explanation of the relation between perception / memory and actuality. Since it was central, I expected more. As pulp fiction, fine, but as actual SF? Inadequate. Dick and Lem (good name for a band!) do this way better.

    Àpropos the death-memory-timeline thing, I thought a huge gaping hole was the necessity of the tech - if this was possible, why haven't yogis been doing it forever? There is a huge literature on this already, and I didn't think Crouch knew it. I am tired of the cliché that only the techy with machines can accomplish anything (and it is a cliché). Our use of machines is destroying the planet, so if we want to help adjust perhaps we should start imagining stories of ourselves as peoples who have consciously moved past using machines.

    I understand that the detective genre requires a tight focus on the criminal, the victim, and the detective, but I thought that the tight focus on a few people hurt the premise which was more apocalyptic than criminal. A lone wolf will not destroy our world - our systemic failures might. I think Lem has done this detective-SF mash-up better. At the end I thought this book was a detective-SF-apocalypse-superhero thing, and it failed to convince me of any of the parts.

    Last, I found the plot device 'people remember a terrible thing happening so they jump out a building rather than face reality' as the driver for our protagonists's actions unbelievable and contemptuous of people. While it will produce big lights and sounds on our private viewing boxes (which seems to be what corporations think will sell advertising), it fails in literature as a believable motivator. Crouch's vision of everyday people seems to be that they are entirely without agency, and simply pushed around by their minds, unable to understand the difference between imagination, memory, and perception. I can't suspend my disbelief - it's just ludicrous.

  • 2
    Well, obviously Yogis eschew chairs, so I think that solves that plot hole.
  • 1

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    I wasn't impressed with the conceit that our shared memories are the stuff that makes 'reality' and the timeline. I thought the whole story lacked a coherent explanation of the relation between perception / memory and actuality. Since it was central, I expected more. As pulp fiction, fine, but as actual SF? Inadequate. Dick and Lem (good name for a band!) do this way better.

    Àpropos the death-memory-timeline thing, I thought a huge gaping hole was the necessity of the tech - if this was possible, why haven't yogis been doing it forever?

    This setup was the impossible thing that motivated the whole story, so I could accept it as being the Big Idea that made the story possible.

    The only thing the high-tech chair requirement did in the story was ensure that there was a limit to how far back people could regress: you needed to make a thing in order to travel. However, this wasn't an aspect that was explored in the novel: the story was Helena and Barry trying to eliminate the knowledge of the chair.

    Last, I found the plot device 'people remember a terrible thing happening so they jump out a building rather than face reality' as the driver for our protagonists's actions unbelievable and contemptuous of people.

    Yes, and the various state reactions of instant, overwhelming nuclear war. I wasn't sure how that would achieve anything for any of them. If the chair exists and is widely used, the threat to a nation is that its founding is disrupted so it never exists. For instance, if the KMT had received better advice, Mao may never have founded communist China.

  • 1

    @dr_mitch said:
    Time travel was essentially someone's consciousness travelling back to the time a suitably vivid memory in their past. That exact point in time. No physical movement, just them going back to literally relive that memory - and their following life. Since time is just a matter of perspective.

    I suppose it's as good a mechanism for time travel as any, though the personal narrative is inconsistent with the "false memories". What I liked was it was something different in time travel fiction that I've not seen before.

    Yes, that helps, also someone's comment somewhere about how the subjective timeline of the actual traveller was simply linear in terms of their perception, though not of course in terms of their calendar lookups. not unlike "World leaders will be about 15 years old, but with several lifetimes experience".

    Which then made me wonder again about the inertia of history (a la Asimov End of Eternity). For example, knowing the way one future panned out doesn't really tell you what you would need to do to make things happen differently, even supposing that you knew exactly how you wanted it to be different. As a wacky example, if you assassinated Hitler then maybe one of his sidekicks would step in and make things even worse because of reprisals - folklore is full of cautionary tales concerning getting what you wish for. Asimov's technicians planned their actions all out with huge exactitude on the basis of intensive computer predictions, and aimed for minimal interference... and still often got it wrong and had to go back into time and fix it again.

    So if there were two or more chairs sending people back, might the effects of both not just bobble along together without interference? Again as an extreme case, if some civilization on Alpha Centauri had a chair as well, would we expect their meddling to affect ours? Presumably in some arbitrary and unpredictable way? Or would we expect their changes and ours to be simply irrelevant to each other? I guess I kind of feel that the plot as written only works if the chair is a unique one-off invention, and the story then becomes about either who gets there first, or (as indeed it turned out) how do you stop the thing from being ever built at all.

  • 1

    The fact that it's only ever called 'the chair' reveals something. It's never called 'The Memory Chair' or ARC II (Alzheimer's Rehabilitation Chair Mark II). It's always just called 'the chair' like it's the only one that exists, or even that could exist.

Sign In or Register to comment.