“Did you ever read Waiting for Godot?
“Did you ever read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead?”
“Did you ever read Kiss of the Spider Woman?”
“Did you ever read---“
“Jeff, stop it. I’ve never read anything.”
“Some coders read.”
“Yeah that’s right. I’ve read The R Cookbook. Also, Everything you Always Wanted to Know about R. Also, R for Dummies.”
“I don’t like R.”
In “New York 2140” by Kim Stanley Robinson
After having read the latest Stanley Robinson, a scene in Kurosawa's 'One Wonderful Sunday' from 1947 popped up in my mind, where at the very beginning two young lovers plead with the cinema audience to support young lovers everywhere and clap and cheer as they imagine themselves performing Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony.
The background to the scene is that the too poverty stricken young lovers spend a rare day off wandering the ruins of post war Tokyo trying to have some fun and imagine some sort of future. They try to see a performance of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, but are tricked out of the tickets by scalpers. So, they go instead to the empty auditorium. The young man threatens to fall into despair but his girlfriend instead turns to the audience and pleads for 'all young lovers' to give them their support by clapping.
Kurosawa was disappointed that the scene was greeted with mute puzzlement by Japanese audiences (although the film was a success). However, on its rare showings in Europe, this scene got an enthusiastic response, especially in Paris.
Do you think modern SF readers will notice what Robinson did we this novel? Robinson is not exactly a Neal Stephenson, but comes close in his mastery of the dying art of the info dump and breaking the 4th wall. The latter is a theatre term that dates to the 19th century. It’s the imaginary wall between the audience and the stage. Breaking the 4th wall is when the characters deliberately address the audience, like the way Robinson did here with the chapters titled “Citizen”, wherein the omniscient narrator talked directly to the reader. Did he succeed? Regardless of its sometimes-non-mastery, I tend to get immersed all the same because essentially when I'm reading these novels of ideas-SF, I'm reading about some unexamined aspect of myself. And everyone's interested in discovering something about themselves. That’s why I usually enjoy both Stephenson and Robinson, even when they’re not successful. I think that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't; I’d imagine that it's very difficult to do well unless it's connected to some sort of mental state in the characters. Stephenson does this beautifully. I also belong to the sect which believes the info dump, when done right, is what makes SF unique.
SF = Speculative Fiction