Friday, June 27, 2014

Review of "The Truth of Fact, Truth of Feeling" by Ted Chiang

One of the main reasons I utilize youtube is to look for interviews with interesting authors.  Kim Stanley Robinson reveals himself to be as erudite in person as the content of his books; William Gibson proves some of the most influential novels the past decades are rooted in a deep understanding of our modern world; China Mieville, while only beginning to employ his knowledge in his novels, reveals the adjectives flying chaotically on paper can be pulled out of the hat just as easily when speaking.  Iain Banks is even more fiery with a microphone in front of him, and Bruce Sterling comes across as more obtusely alternative than what we see in his stories.  In the midst learning this, I discovered a presentation by Ted Chiang delivered at EXPO 1: New York in the Museum of Modern Art (found here). Discussing all facets of life-logging, including the benefits and disadvantages of prosthetic memory (and memory recall), the talk is eye-opening regarding the technology and its possibilities.  Implementing the idea in story form, “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” is the fictional result.

The novelette is the first person narrative of a journalist describing the research he performed for an article on the latest technology to hit the market: Remem.  Essentially Google for the video life-logs people carry and keep, Remem allows a person to search their past for any recorded moment and view it.  Type or sub-vocalize ‘first party at university’ and in a few seconds a tiny screen pops up in the corner of your retina featuring your first big-scale social experience away from home.  But testing the technology has unforeseen results for the unnamed narrator.  Video of of a troubled experience with his daughter revealing details he remembered differently, he faces a reckoning if he is to move forward with their relationship.

Embedded within the narrative of the journalist is a second story, that of Jijingi, a smart young boy living in Africa in the early part of the 20th century.  A missionary arriving at his village in the early going, Jijingi learns how to read and write his own tongue, and in turn is called upon to be a scribe for his tribe for the ruling Europeans.  Their oral history differing from that which Jijingi records, a major disagreement breaks out that forces him to define what he needs to move forward with his tribe.

At times feeling more like an essay than a story, “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” gives full evidence of an idea thought through, and through, and then some.  The plot in fact playing second fiddle to rumination and discussion of possibilities, those who watch the presentation linked to above will garner almost precisely the same experience as the novelette—including Jijingi’s narrative.  For this, “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” is an angled view of the possibilities regarding searchable video memories, and the difference between real truth and truths that are not always factual but necessary to maintaining a holistic worldview.  Fascinating from a conceptual point of view, the underlying story, however, fails to produce an equally powerful bit of fiction.

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