On the Novel as Simulation Modeling

On the Novel as Simulation Modeling July 26, 2013

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, my academic studies progressed from mathematics to poetry, then to theology. What tied those foci together is that each is a system for working with abstract symbols in order to generate maps of possible realities, something like Marianne Moore’s description of poetry as imaginary gardens with real toads in them. Likewise, I conceive of a genuine novel—that is, a story that is genuinely novel—as a simulation model of an alternative history, which sometimes turns out to be not totally alternative after all.

 The vast majority of novels are intended only as entertainment and are ultimately as inconsequential as a situation comedy. All humans need some entertainment. We need to relax, laugh, be off duty, but I recently had the pleasure of editing an account by Travis Cody of his successful experiment, tentatively entitled Thirty Days Unplugged, of not using any electronic technology, not even a radio, for a full month, of instead reading, going to museums and camping, and discovering how the unrelenting distraction of technology had prevented him from ever thinking or feeling about what was far more important for his life. He also quotes from many studies that show how constant use of social media and other technology has become an addiction as serious as alcoholism or any other drug. Houseman summed it up well: “Ale, man, ale’s the drink / For fellows whom it hurts to think.”

 I decided, since life is preventing me from posting on this blog every day, that I could post my Goddess Murder novel on here as a serial, remembering, as a precedent, that Dickens had published his novels that way, as serials in a British magazine. In order to do so, I needed to break the longer chapters into blog-sized bits of between 1000 and 2000 words. In doing so, I realized that I wanted to maintain the structure of alternating between the present and past timelines in the sequence. To do so, I needed more material set in the past—and then realized that I had enough.

 The novel as it currently exists on Amazon was finished about five years ago. Since then, I have been doing much more thinking and writing, trying to expand the past timeline into a companion novel while thinking about such intriguing issues as the nature of consciousness and quantum mechanics. Instead, I can use the new materials within this altered Goddess Murder structure. It will end up being greatly altered. I am grateful to the friends who have bought V1.0 of the novel. This will be V2.0. Perhaps some might think I should not have published it at all until it was completely finished and polished. Such a criticism would assume that I have been trying to produce a perfectly crafted piece of entertainment. I am not. For me, the novel is a progress report unburdened by footnotes, which I could supply to colleagues well-informed enough to know what to ask for.

 What will change in the novel is not so much the story of Eddie and Andy’s romance as the account of Mary and her legacy. I have been asking, “What if we had, not the Gospel According to Mark, but instead a Gospel according to Mary? That is, not a gospel written 40 years after the fact by an ex-Jew hostile to the original followers, but instead an eyewitness account by his most important student and legitimate successor, his wife? What if we did not have the polemical and apologetic Acts of the Apostles by Luke, but instead Mary’s account of what happened after Jesus’ death?”

Let me give you highlights of where those questions have led.

 First, all the evidence indicates that it was Mary, and perhaps only she, who in Galilee had the experience of seeing her husband alive again.

 Second, she was the leader among the women students, Peter was the leader among the missionaries, and observant James, her brother-in-law, who was bound by a commandment to marry her, was the overall leader of the community. They were all allies.

 Third, the supposed persecution by Saul in the 30s of the Nazarenes, the followers of the Way, never happened. The controversy over observance did not arise until the late 40s.

 Sure, this will rattle even more cages. Good. Those whose faith can be contradicted by mere facts are doomed to be continually disenchanted. As my wife, Melinda, and many others have pointed out, I have a great talent for pissing people off. As my good colleague Bob Mattheissen has said, that is a huge compliment. And to those who say, “I’m shocked!” I always say, “Have you checked your insulation lately?”

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