Arrival is a 2016 sci-fi film written by Eric Heisserer and directed by Dennis Villeneuve, and tells the story of Louise Banks, a linguist who helps to communicate with aliens visiting Earth. It is based on Story of Your Life, a short story by Ted Chiang. If you have neither seen this film nor read this story, I very strongly encourage you to do one or the other before reading this blog post. I’m going to spoil both of them, and they are both excellent pieces of craft that do not deserve spoiling. Go now; the blog will still be here when you get back.
Category: On Media
La Monte Young was a 20th century composer who is most well known for his very experimental set of works named Compositions 1960. The most famous, #7, is credited with being the first minimalist piece, being only two notes, a B and and F#, meant to be held for a long period of time. Other pieces instruct players to light a fire, push a piano through a wall, feed a piano a bale of hay, set some butterflies loose in a room (the piece ends when they leave), or just contain cryptic messages, like “This piece is like whirlpools in the middle of the ocean.” There’s also one about grasshoppers. Basically, these pieces challenge the very definition of music and have always been fascinating to me. I recommend you at least check out the Wikipedia page for Compositions 1960, if only to have a laugh. I’m not entirely sure what I was trying to do when I wrote the story, or passage, or whatever, below. Maybe it was a bit of a writing exercise, to see how many references I could fit in. Maybe it was a reflection on these strange pieces, or a tribute. Maybe it doesn’t really matter.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency began as a book (or two) by Douglas Adams. Not as well known as the Hitchhiker’s series, which I think is a shame. They have the same absurd humour, but with tighter, cleverer plots. Dirk Gently, a detective who refuses to ‘eliminate the impossible,’ solves crimes by looking for connections between seemingly unconnected events and objects. Against all likelihood (and despite his seeming incompetence), he succeeds in unravelling a supernatural mystery and foiling whoever was threatening the world. If I did have a complaint about the book, it’s that it took me too long to get the resolution in The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul. I felt that too much was implied. (That could just be me being slow, of course.)
Douglas Adams is most famously known for his “trilogy” Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which started out as a radio series, then a book, then a tv show, and there’s even now a movie. He tends to be quoted mostly when people are searching for the meaning of life, because he figured it out, you see. It’s 42.
I have a great love for the Hitchhiker books, not least because the audiobooks are a great cure for insomnia. All I have to do is set one to playing, lie back and close my eyes, and I will be asleep soon enough. But lately I’ve been wondering if Adams’ Great Answer holds a bit more of a message for us. Most of the time people treat it is a glib answer, the punchline of a joke, and make no mistake, it is one of the best punchlines in comedy writing. But I do think there is something a bit deeper.
(Warning: Spoilers for Hitchhikers series ahead)