Everday statistics

No, I don’t have any statistics about the world of Everday, yet. (Looks like numbers don’t pass the contratemporal filter.) But here are some curious tidbits about Everday-the-book.

The current wordcount is 77578. Not a big book at all — though it used to be bigger: three years of copyediting squeezed it by more than 10%.

A more interesting parameter is what I call density: the number of unique words divided by total number of words. This currently stands at 0.17. Three years ago it was just 0.14: copyediting eliminated a lot of wordiness, redundancy, repetitiveness.

By the way, this level of density is at least twice as high as in a typical English fiction book of this size. Only poetry comes close. For example, a collection of Emily Dickinson (some 40K words) has density of 0.15. Shakespeare with his Sonnets (18K words) is the champion at 0.19.

And the top ten nouns, by frequency, are: world, Arf, minds, art, life, time, human, knowledge, past, sleep.

How Everday came to be

Once upon a time I was writing a science fiction novel.

It was my first major piece of fiction of any kind, and I rather liked how the first few chapters shaped up. I noticed, though, that my characters dwell too much upon the idiosyncrasies of their world. It was an unusual kind of a scifi world (why write a book that’s not unusual, anyway?), so I couldn’t get away with reusing tropes and cliches of the genre as much as some other writers do. I had to build — explain — everything from scratch.

And these explanations and infodumps were really getting in the way of plot and character development. I struggled to make them brief and unstrained, to inscribe them into conversations naturally, but that didn’t feel right. When something worked as part of a scene, it didn’t work as a world annotation — and vice versa. Narration and worldbuilding refused to mix. (In fact I can’t name any SF book where they would mix entirely satisfactorily.)

*

Eventually I decided to cull all those footnotes and in-text expositions and collect them in a glossary appendix. Back then I planned to spend a few weeks on that glossary, use it to flesh out my understanding of my own world (at that moment rather vague), then — armed with this understanding — continue with the novel.

Instead, something unexpected happened. The glossary just kept growing — wider, deeper, more complex. It totally immersed me. I had to admit I was having much more fun writing it than a conventional novel.

At some point I realized that the glossary was the book that really wanted to be written. It was the book I had always yearned to read myself — the book whose glimpses and echoes I had been catching all across art and philosophy and science but which I never knew could exist.

I abandoned my novel and never looked back.

*

It took me five years just to plow it to the end. During this time, the world of Everday underwent several deep transformations. The text was getting progressively denser and more hermetic as I struggled with it. Most entries had to be rewritten, almost from scratch, multiple times.

Admittedly it didn’t take that long only because it’s big and complex. I was being lazy; I was being distracted by all kinds of unrelated projects, not to mention having to earn bread for myself and family; above all, I didn’t find the right scope, style, tone until well into the book (so its first half was especially hardly hit with rewriting). I wasn’t much of a writer when I started it; I may not be much of a writer now but at least I learned something about how this particular kind of book needs to be written.

Finally, in 2013 I distributed a first version of the complete text — and got some encouraging feedback. At the same time, however, I could finally see the text as a whole myself and realized how painfully unready it was. Clumsy, pretentious, naive (in a non-cute way). I started what I though was a final copyediting pass — but which turned out the first of many, many copyediting passes that would take me three more years to finish.

*

Also in 2013, a friend suggested that my text needs some kind of a gentle introduction — that without it, the cliff is just too high for the reader to jump. So I condensed and developed some ideas I had into a prologue.

It explained a lot about Everday to myself.

The prologue is like an SF short story on its own; the rest of the book, however, is very different. It’s an alphabetic list of entries — an encyclopedia of customs, inventions, words, ideas, places and times, fears and joys: tersely written, full of weird notions, idiosyncratic vocabulary, and cross-links. The world it portrays can perhaps be labeled a utopia, though I worked hard to eliminate a tone of self-conceited soapiness; it is utopian in that most of the urgent-but-obvious problems we’re currently facing have been long resolved — so the really hard and important problems can stand out. The book tries to look at what will be troubling us after we no longer kill each other or pollute the environment.

It’s an image of a civilization that has largely stabilized. My book eschews most of the standard SF plot devices (no wars, no apocalypse, even no aliens) not because I consider them unlikely but because I felt it more interesting to look at what might happen if everything just “turns out okay.” It’s a future in which humankind has nothing and no one to face except itself — and no questions to answer except those it asks itself. Whether the outcome is inspiring, scary, or just bleak and muddled is for the reader to decide.

All I can say is, I really enjoyed writing it. That’s my world.

Now it’s yours, too.

*

Here are the three rules I set for myself early on:

  • Write only about things that move you. No filler.
  • No cliches. Keep rewriting until the text jumps to life and surprises itself.
  • Imply instead of describing. Describe instead of teaching. Teach instead of sermonizing.

Which perhaps can be compressed into a single commandment: Write for yourself. Write what you’ve always wanted to read. Expunge the notion that if others do something, you must do it too. You must not. (Unless you enjoy it — in which case, by all means, do it, don’t struggle to be original at any cost.)

*

And here are three metaphors that may give some idea of how I write.

  • Crystallization

    Long before I attempt to write up a topic, I begin by gathering material. It’s an intentionally amorphous pile, a scattering of all sorts of scraps — disjointed words and terms that may or may not relate, random expressions that “ring the bell” or just impress, vague and hastily scribbled ideas, quotes and pseudoquotes (quasia), notes for myself to research this or that in detail. A lot of that looks terribly silly and out of place — but, at this stage, I don’t erase anything. I accumulate. I don’t impose any structure other than very roughly sorting the stuff into topics.

    At some point, the critical mass is achieved — the solution is oversaturated — and the process of crystallization begins. Everything comes alive. Sentences and concepts get lifted, shuffled, sliced and trimmed, fitted into each other; new ideas pop up, words snap into place, deep connections reveal themselves. After the flurry — often surprisingly brief — is over, what I’m left with is a solid, if still very rough, piece of writing (plus some unused bits to be moved to other places or dropped).

  • Scaffolding removal

    You need to clear the scaffolding once the building is erect — so its true beauty (or ugliness) becomes visible. The problem, of course, is recognizing what is and isn’t scaffolding. As I reread my text, I realize that some parts of it were only useful for myself — were but rungs that helped me climb, auxiliary lemmas that got me to the main result but added little value of their own. So I go ahead and remove them — and oh, what a difference that often makes! So much more elegant, airy, impressive… sometimes the text seems positively smarter than its author.

    After the first draft, the character count of a text I’m working on generally only goes down, never up: I edit by removing much more than by adding. (One danger is removing too much, of course: an intelligent reader should still be able to get to the top somehow.) It won’t be a stretch to say that I have written two interwoven Everdays only to disentangle and erase the weaker one.

  • Zone melting

    Zone melting is the best metaphor I could find for the way I do copyediting. It’s hard work but it has to be done. Even if it may, at first blush, appear like it’s finished, careful reading reveals just how messy the text still is. Clumsy, unclear, or just overlong expressions, unnecessary technicalities, nonobvious connections, accidental tautologies, slips of tone and attitude, unnoticed bits of scaffolding — all these are impurities that need to be driven away.

    So I go through each chapter dismantling — melting — sentence after sentence: I doubt every word, test lots of alternatives, sift, sort, and eventually recrystallize again. As with real zone melting, I often end up with some dangling bits that, while nice by themselves, just felt out of place wherever I tried to fit them; this contaminated end of the crystal needs to be cut off and discarded — mercilessly.

*

Everday is a kind of book that really couldn’t have been written the old way — on paper. With the amount of editing it took, the freedom of electronic text was crucial. It’s one of those cases where quantitative convenience adds up to a new quality.

It’s also a metabook: many of its ideas — quasia, science art, nostalgia, even movable type — apply to the book itself as well as the world in it. Everday-the-book, of course, has entries on Everday and on books.

One key notion that goes through most of the book is evolution. The deceivingly simple recipe — randomize, select, repeat — underlies a lot of Everday concepts and entities. It’s a world where evolve is more often a transitive verb — where the intelligent beings finally have sufficient breadth of perspective, computing resources, and time to really look into what works and what doesn’t: to guide complexities instead of simply enjoying them.

I honestly didn’t set out to write a popularization of evolution — it kind of happened on its own. It, too, happened evolutionarily: evolution emerged as a winner from the pool of various other guiding ideas I had been playing with.

Because, you know, evolution is something that is known to work. It is a chunk of dry land in a world that’s anything but dry: in a fluid, relativized world with no governments, no universal ideologies, no material dearth — and no death. That’s a world where everything is imminently solvable, where so much is possible that you may skip doing it forever, where you know too much to be seduced into action by any single idea… but evolution is something worth spending an eternal life on: it is one of the very few things that can still surprise you.

Which, to me, is as noble a goal as anything.

My Everday surprised me. See if it can surprise you.

Everday on /r/utopia

I posted about Everday on reddit — please upvote and discuss. The utopia subreddit looks quite forlorn, let’s see if we can liven it up a bit.

Here’s a sampling of utopia-related Everday entries from my post:

  • Arf is the universal metamaterial: you grow it, you compute in it, you live in it.
  • Change is what humans found necessary and sufficient to do with their bodies, given complete knowledge and control thereof.
  • City: a utopia within a utopia, the story of its quick rise and slow descent.
  • Deep sleep is how Everday deals with death.
  • Family: it still exists, and may matter more than ever before.
  • Flight: what’s the use of a utopia where you can’t fly?
  • Leaving: and yet death somehow refuses to be completely dealt with.
  • Minds are the AIs of the Everday world — perhaps surprising in their unsurprisingness.
  • Nature Minds are the more interesting kind, even if purely hypothetical.
  • Nomogenesis is a look at what we can, and should, do to Earth’s biology other than compensate for the harm we’ve done to it.
  • Panpraxis is an even more outlandish vision — but why have a world that can’t dream?
  • Roads are just that: roads. Simple things matter, too.
  • Scares were never fully conquered but changed almost unrecognizably.
  • Sparsening was the Big Bang that created Everday — or was it a Big Whimper?
  • String is a typical something bigger that every utopia needs.
  • Understanding is the Holy Grail of a world that’s always on the run from self-complacency.
  • Will is the ultimate money — the latest, and final, universal equivalent for a world without coercion or deceit.
  • Wizards roam the roads of Everday. They can change your life — if you’re ready for it. They can make you one of them.
  • World Sleep is rightfully the last chapter of the book of Everday: not just alphabetically but eschatologically.

Do we need suffering?

An interesting discussion on Reddit where I posted a link to my Nomogenesis: Would it be wise to just eliminate all suffering? Setting aside animals for a moment, what about people: is it conceivable that suffering may sometimes be beneficial — that it may let us feel or understand something that we would otherwise be blind to? Would we become “lazy, self-centered, narcissistic” if we protect ourselves from anything unpleasant?

Everday: new logo and cover design

The art of graphic design is strange in many ways. For one, in no other art someone’s lucky finds so quickly devolve into insufferable cliches. So the best you can do when designing something is get rid of any “art.” Just don’t stand in the way of your content trying to express itself. That doesn’t mean designing is easy; simplicity is the hardest thing to achieve.

I made a new logo and cover design for Everday, instead of the old one which was very hastily thrown together a couple years ago. Hopefully this one is good enough to see the book to a wider release. Take a look:

phcover-v2-gc-small

The cloud was photographed near my home, this summer. One thing worth noting is that the thumb above and the large image you get when you click on it are actually slightly different: in the thumb all letters have twice the stroke width of the large image – but due to the difference in scale they look about the same.

Getting the readers hooked

Early readers of Everday noted that it’s easy to get discouraged by its wall of text unless there’s a clear indication up front of who wrote this, why, for whom – and why it’s written like that. It is an unusual book, so it cannot rely on the inertia of genre; it needs to establish its own context, its attitude, its fundamental assumptions. Most of this information is deducible from the text – but the reader needs some incentive to penetrate the terse alphabetic entries in the first place.

So I wrote an introductory story for my book – a more or less traditional SF short story that prefaces the alphabetic part. It has everything the book itself doesn’t: characters, plot, drama. The idea is to engage readers, to convince them the book is interesting enough to invest some work, to establish the voice of the author: the writing style is intentionally contrasting to that of the alphabetic part but it’s still the same voice, the same me. I think I like the result.

Read it here and let me know what you think.