Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood

August 17, 2009

Et in Arcadia Ego

Filed under: sf — Tags: , — Sam @ 10:02 am

…hang on, that’s not SF, is it? It’s respectable mainstream theatre, and there’s a production on in the West End. What’s it doing here?

The answer comes in two parts. First, my definition of SF can be more or less summarized as “things which are like other things which are SF”[1]. (Whatever your S stands for. F is for fiction, mostly.) Arcadia makes a more or less perfect pair with To Say Nothing of the Dog, and a really interesting match with Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle.

Secondly – this is a play about science. It’s a wonderful, thinking, tingling play, and it gets both history and science perfectly. It is kind, true, and necessary all at once. It has a fascinating premise – what if a young teenage girl, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, had understood iterative modelling and the Second Law of Thermodynamics? And what effect did it have on the people around her? Is that which has passed away truly gone?

This play is fire to the cool river water of To Say Nothing of the Dog. There’s passion, and love, and death, and literal fire; nearly everywhere in the play, something is burning. And in an ocean of ashes, there are islands of order; patterns arise from nothing.

[1] This is an iterated algorithm. If you knew the algorithm which would make a computer read SF and write an SF response and fed it back say ten thousand times, each time there’d be a book somewhere on the screen. You’d never know where to expect the next book. But gradually you’d start to see this shape, because every book will be inside the shape of this genre. It wouldn’t be a genre, it’d be a mathematical object.

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