Friday, September 11, 2009

"The Edge of Nowhere" by James Patrick Kelly

It's not that I didn't enjoy this story. I did enjoy it quite a bit. I just feel like I've sort of read it before. Kelly's story is set in the small town of Nowhere, which is populated by people forcibly taken from various time periods by the myterious "cognisphere." No one living in Nowhere knows why they're there, or what the cognisphere is. Appropriately, they also don't know exactly where Nowhere is (It appears to be set on top of a giant cliff surrounded by a vaguely abstract green and yellow grid). Also, somehow connected to all this if the MemEx system, a system which tracks the stories the residents of Nowhere tell to each other about their pasts. Strangely, the residents of Nowhere carry currency through this MemEx system, acquiring credit through hearing stories and spending credit by telling. What's interesting though is that none of the stories appear to be new.

That is until the main character, Lorraine Carraway, operator of the Nowhere Very Memorial Library, encourages her boyfriend, Will, to try his hand at writing The Great American Novel. This act sets something new into place, and seems to bring a sort of personal focus to Will, who we find out early on is a bit of a restless dilettente. Almost inevitably, Will's work on his novel seems to lead him to think about what is really going on in Nowhere, and whether there is something beyond its borders. By creating something new in a world that is simply a rehasing of everything that has come before, Will (who I don't think is named Will by conincidence) is, not to give too much away, set free. Of course, the cognisphere also tries to stop this freeing by sending three of its agents (three very well-dressed dogs, but that's another post altogether) to retrieve the manuscript.

When I say that I feel that I've read this before, it's because it often seems to closely mirror other major stories about the idea that there is something beyond what we see or what we know. I was reminded of "The Truman Show" throughout this story, and it also seems to share some pedigree with "The Matrix," although I think this story does a much better job of dealing with things like reality and perception than "The Matrix" ever did. I guess, ultimately, the difference between this story and the movies I've mentioned above, is that Kelly seems to be more concerned with the idea of creation as a way of escape. That the new can be a way out of the repetitiveness of life, maybe? I'm not sure.

In the end, I did enjoy this story, and, the more I think about it here, the more willing I am to say that it was truly quite good. It still echoes some very familiar themes in places, but I'm not sure that's as bad as I origninally thought.

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