The widening aperture
Memories of a map
Moonbound reads as fantasy in its opening chapters, but then the aperture widens, and it becomes science fiction, although the flavor of the fantastic persists: epic, archetypal, rich in symmetry and resonance.
The widening aperture is at the book’s heart. It might be the reason I wrote it.
One of my favorite moves in storytelling is the progressive disclosure of scale. It’s a central pleasure of certain fantasy novels and video games, in which the scope of the story steadily expands, from farmstead, to village, to countryside, to city, to capital, to continent … and with every ratchet click, there’s a thrill —
This is the experience of growing up.
There’s a classic video game, Final Fantasy II, released in 1991, that was, for me, as formative as any book. The plot is dense and weird, basically Shakespearean; there are political maneuvers, moral metamorphoses, wrenching sacrifices. Imagine: you’ve been playing this game for hours, scouring towns, solving puzzles, fighting monsters. You have guided your little bug-like avatars across an expansive map, one step at a time, tap-tap-tap on the Super Nintendo controller.
Then, you discover an AIRSHIP.
You take off, rising into the Z-axis of the world, which you didn’t know had a Z-axis. The map shrinks beneath you, revealing that the complex landscape you’ve been exploring represents just one continent among many, all floating in a scintillating pixelated ocean.
It was dizzying. It was thrilling!
There’s a parallel between that feeling and the feeling I had, fifteen years later, sitting in a dark auditorium in San Francisco for the Seminars About Long-Term Thinking, listening to a geologist or a biologist dance across the epochs.
Whoa, space is bigger than I thought.
Whoa, time is longer than I realized.
Learning just how far scale can stretch, through space and time, has been important for me: intellectually, politically, emotionally. I think scale is a useful, healthy, motivating thing for people to grapple with. I want these books to provide that opportunity, and that challenge.
First published: October 2023
Last updated: November 2023