inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #51 of 128: David Kline (kline) Sun 24 Feb 08 19:10
    
I just looked over the seminar part again.  It strikes me that we see
a lot more about what's going on in Molloy's head during the email and
chat sessions than we do about what Judith's thinking.  About her, you
give us cryptic pieces like this one from p. 84 "Normally she'd have
ignored such a personal opening.  But pity and curiosity moved her. 
Pathways she'd lacked the courage to explore.  Was this one of them?"

Does it really seem like a drag to Judith to be doing this, or is she
more freaked out about it?  Or has she fixed on an initial judgment of
Molloy's character -- like Elizabeth Bennett does in the opening acts
of _Pride and Prejudice_.

These aren't questions that need answering, necessarily.  They're just
things that I wondered as I read--enjoyably so I might add.
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #52 of 128: jagged Judith A Gorog (judithgorog) Mon 25 Feb 08 07:01
    
about story.  As with any of the great 19th century novels, we readers
know more about the characters than they do about themselves, and
about one another.  These two prickly, guarded lovers: Are they gonna
get together? We feel impatience, and eventually great relief. 
GBShaw, if memory serves, did not unite superman and superwoman , nor
did myth; that sort of domestic tranquility was reserved for the "lower
orders," and was rewarded by the gods with continuing "vegetable
love."........ 
and then the dark corners in the story: domestic violence, "failed" or
damaged marriages and relations with children, and Soph -- her immense
suffering. She didn't get human love and comfort, nor the scientific
legacy she had hoped to leave. Judith, too, faces that possibility--
every artist does: this work a dead end? and always the possibility
that someone will come along, see something even the artist/scientist
missed, and take things in a new direction -- scooping out of the
darkness...
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #53 of 128: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Mon 25 Feb 08 07:46
    
Judith Greenwood is one of the least self-aware characters in the
book.  Her friends are continuously pointing this out to her, chapter
and verse.  

Yet one thing she understands in her bones is that she's taking that
all-or-nothing risk pointed out above: is this work a dead end?  Will I
struggle to the mountaintop, only to have the wind blow the snow over
my footprints in minutes?  

It was very important to me personally to write a book about a woman
taking an intellectual risk like that; sinking her teeth into it and
hanging on, win or lose.  

(Author's note: Judith Gorog, posting just before me, has the book
dedicated to her in lifelong friendship--which we have indeed shared
for a lifetime--and my Judith Greenwood's name (but nothing else about
her) is an homage to my friend Judith Gorog.)
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #54 of 128: David Kline (kline) Mon 25 Feb 08 08:41
    
Great to see you here, Judith!

>As with any of the great 19th century novels

When I had finished this book, it really reminded me of Pride and
Prejudice.  For me, it was the whole dynamic between Molloy and Judith,
how the whole gavotte moved along and played out.  Even though it
takes place now, it really did have that 19th century feeling for me,
that dynamic.  I liked that.
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #55 of 128: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Mon 25 Feb 08 09:11
    
David asked me about that privately, and I had to confess, it was
utterly unconscious.  I hadn't read P&P (nor seen the many movie
versions) since college, and it was basically buried for me.  Plus--I
mean it when I said I didn't know how it would end until I wrote the
last chapter.

Molloy came on in the beginning very dark.  I was more afraid of him
than Judith was.  I had visions of this guy just sinking her career by
getting on the board of her institutional home and making mischief, out
of malice or out of other motives.  I knew he was ruthless--early on
he's described as a thug, at best, a desperado.  He gave me chills.  I
really didn't know what to make of him, or what his role would be.

I mentioned this to a friend, who said, hey, maybe he's a decent guy
who's had some good reasons to stay guarded.  So I began his back
story, which eventually I brought up front.  I was living in Germany at
the time, so I had a lot of material I could use.
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #56 of 128: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Mon 25 Feb 08 09:27
    
I also want to make the following distinction: Judith doesn't need
Molloy--not for her science, certainly not for money.  She misses him
when he's gone, and she understands how a liaison with him would have
opened her to a richer (though not necessarily happier) life.  He might
even have brought that touch of the divine that she longs for.

Austen is different this way:  Jane Austen writes with delectable
lightness about the Bennett family and their search for mates, but that
light touch deftly disguises what is deadly serious for the Bennett
women and others of their class--choosing the right husband and
securing him is a matter of life-and-death.  This is their vocation,
their job, getting a husband, in a world run by men for men.  They have
no alternative.

So Austen is often dismissed as "chick lit" (surely one of the
laziest, and frankly misogynistic phrases we have around today) when
she is writing lightly about what's dead serious, and what, in real
life, must have been deeply heartbreaking.  

Molloy and Judith meet as economic and social equals.  Neither one
*needs* the other in the sense of a 19th century novel.  This makes
room for other things they can give or take from each other.
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #57 of 128: I am of course married to the Berlin Wall (katecat) Mon 25 Feb 08 11:14
    
and for the other ways they can need each other?
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #58 of 128: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Mon 25 Feb 08 12:13
    
Yes, exactly.
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #59 of 128: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Mon 25 Feb 08 14:45
    
from Pamela:  "chick lit" (surely one of the laziest, and frankly
misogynistic phrases we have around today)

I've been very much enjoying this discussion from the sidelines and
how you approach your writing, Pamela.  When I wrote The Hippie
Narrative, one of the books I examined was Richard Farina's Been Down
So Long It Looks Like Up to Me which was published in 1966. 
Interestingly, he uses the word chic throughout to refer to young
women.  Somewhere along the way the term "chick" supplanted "chic." 
With the women's movement in the 70s, "chick", of course, became a
pejorative.  Had "chic" remained the spelling of choice, one must
wonder if the term, with its hip caché, would have gained this
misogynist connotation.

Etymological food for thought.
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #60 of 128: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Mon 25 Feb 08 15:17
    
Interesting question, Scott.

Yeah, I go back long enough so that chic/chick was an okay word once
upon a time.  (In fact, for a while I lived on the road where Richard
Farina lost his life.  But I digress.)  Somebody who loved this book
nevertheless repeated that he'd heard it was "chick-lit for
scientists."  I was puzzled.  The major female character is a woman is
well into her fifties.  Is this what a chick is?  It has another female
character who, early in her fifties, dies an agonized and sad death. 
Is this chick-lit?  Another woman, also early fifties, faces the fact
that her beloved son might die.  Is this chick-lit?  It has guys, and
they have agendas of their own.  Is this chick-lit?

Well, maybe "chick-lit" is about love, requited or unrequited.  Please
tell me which of these qualify: "Romeo and Juliet."  "Far from the
Madding Crowd."  "Heloise and Abelard."  "The Good Woman of Sezchuan." 
"Othello." "The Last Chronicle of Barset."  "Jane Eyre."  "Wuthering
Heights."

You get my point.  Kitsch is kitsch, and literature is literature, and
it's much too easy just now to dismiss anything by a woman, which
happens to concern women (as well as men) as mere--and it is a
pejorative--chick-lit.

End of soapbox rant.  I just happened to see it in the NY Times Book
Review yesterday, although this time it was "chick-lit in male drag." 
Hello?  What the hell is THAT?  

It's sloppy writing and bad editing, that's what it is.
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #61 of 128: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Mon 25 Feb 08 16:16
    
Great points, Pamela. There's still a ton of sexism out there. (My pet
peeve is a "ton" of this, a "ton" of that, but how do we know how much
sexism weighs?)  BTW, where's the Dude Lit? Isn't that what Cormac
McCarthy writes?  Or are those Westerns?  How about Injun Lit with
Sherman Alexie? Maybe you need to cover the markets for both genders,
dumb it down a bit and change the title to HEY DUDES: CHIC AT THE EDGE
OF CHAOS. ;^)

     
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #62 of 128: David Kline (kline) Mon 25 Feb 08 18:48
    
Heh.

Both halves of "chick-lit for scientists" are wrong.  Its not (just)
for scientists, either.  The science that's in there is great,
accessible science writing.  The way that it is integral to The Story
is quite remarkable.
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #63 of 128: posting for David Thaler (bumbaugh) Tue 26 Feb 08 11:45
    
David writes, from off-Well:



What is the role of reading work such as yours to the doing of science?
Some scientists I know refuse disdainfully to read science fiction
but others are inspired by it.
Some cops I suspect read Sherlock and watch law and order both,
others don't go near it.

Does your work inspire those who do?  Of course seeking need not be
in science by itself but there is for instance a popular tradition of
"spiritual seeker literature" (eg Sidhartha, Don Juan, Mt. Analogue)
and detective/cop literature has at least the sheen of overlap.
Some microbiologists I know were inspired by nonfiction accounts.
And of course there is the nonfiction saint of Marie Curie as written
by her admiring daughter Marie.

But what of science novels like yours?  what science novels to
inspire working/playing scientists?
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #64 of 128: Jonelle Patrick (jonellep) Tue 26 Feb 08 14:08
    

I was wondering the same thing, Pamela. You certainly know plenty of serious
scientists, many of whom specialize in chaos theory and complexity - have
any of your real-life friends had interesting reactions to the book?

And here's a mini-question - which came first, the book or the title? I
admit thinking that it was an incredibly great title the first time I heard
it (OK, what I REALLY thought was, "I wish *I'd* written a book called 'The
Edge of Chaos'....") and it so perfectly fits both the explicit subject
matter in the book and as a metaphor for the lives and culture of the
characers.
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #65 of 128: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Tue 26 Feb 08 16:31
    
I had a nice (well, since no one will ever see it, brilliantly
eloquent) answer half-written to David Thaler's set of questions when
power went out at my house for five hours.  Nothing to do with the
serious power outage in Florida; just Con Ed in front of the house
being its usual, uhm, unreliable self.
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #66 of 128: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Tue 26 Feb 08 16:45
    
Let's see about David's questions.

What is the role of a book like mine to the doing, the carrying out of
science?  

I can't think it would have any instrumental role as such.  This is
not a recruitment brochure for complexity, or even for doing science. 
To quote, to paraphrase, one of my characters, Molloy, the power of a
work of art is not in what it expresses, or even intends to express,
but in what it calls up in the reader.  Is that inspiration?  A rueful
sense of self-recognition? Averting the eyes, shocked that anyone would
talk so secularly about the holy calling, whether science or the
search for the divine experience?  Beats me.

For some readers, science fiction is a powerful thing to read, for
others of us, not so much.  This book, of course, is science *in*
fiction, which is different from science fiction.  I write about the
scientific milieu because that's what I've lived in since I was
eighteen (English major that I was--I just got lucky, see?).  I
couldn't write about the ballet world or the world of golf with
anything like the same authority, because those aren't the worlds I
live in.  So I write what I know.

What I hope to pull out of that world are universals that speak to
people in the world of ballet, the world of golf.  
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #67 of 128: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Tue 26 Feb 08 16:57
    
To Jonelle's questions:

At least one former member of the board at the Santa Fe Institute has
gone public with his delight in the book, and for that I am deeply
grateful.  That's Stewart Brand, and his endorsement (which came as a
complete surprise to me; I didn't even know he knew the book existed)
was posted on Amazon before I knew it.  Other people at the Institute
have said how much they like it; certainly the Institute itself was
very supportive: when I read at the book launch in Santa Fe, the vice
president made sure everyone knew it was happening, and several of the
scientists were there at the reading.  Another informal group of
complexity mavens in Santa Fe were also in that particular audience to
cheer me on.  I have email that I cherish from people in a position to
know whether I got it right.

The title comes from a concept that is somewhat in dispute in the
sciences of complexity--as David Kline said above, a kind of
"goldilocks" concept that may be more metaphorical than scientific, but
is a very powerful metaphor.  To the best of my knowledge it was
coined by Chris Langton, then at SFI, to try and describe that fluid
state of a system that is not frozen in regularity or hopelessly
chaotic--but on the edge of chaos, open to learning and change.

Anyone who loves language could not resist that phrase. 

 
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #68 of 128: Jonelle Patrick (jonellep) Tue 26 Feb 08 20:02
    

Count me in that group! <still gnashing teeth that this not the title of MY
book> heh.

So, OK, here's the question I've been dying to ask and you gave me a perfect
opening: "write what you know". Do tell, what bits did you lift from your
own life and experiences? (If you must know, I firmly believe in this vision
of you attending soiree after soiree filled with the fascinating, famous,
and sometimes fractious, much like the sparkling dinner party at teh
beginning of the book, so please Tell All!)
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #69 of 128: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Wed 27 Feb 08 06:22
    
Oh dear, oh dear.  Like, I've been in that cave, but never actually
made love there?

Sophie's death is, in its physical details, something like the death
of a dear friend almost a decade ago, though I personally was not the
one who kept watch at the end.  Sophie's bitterness about her life is
something I could only imagine, though I've observed it in people who
have sacrificed themselves, only to find the sacrifice not worth its
achievement.  Play the science game, and you agree that you'll be
superannuated: how you accept that superannuation is up to you.

Nola too is forced to sacrifice for her son, but that's not where her
bitterness comes from (such bitterness that she has--you couldn't
really describe her as a bitter woman).  She is completely let down by
her self-absorbed husband.  I'm afraid we've all known people like
this.

In short, what you're seeing is not a literal transcription of the
author's life, but eyes wide open, watching, watching, and then
transforming into something else.
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #70 of 128: David Kline (kline) Wed 27 Feb 08 08:27
    
So is it like you've taken small or larger pieces of people or
situations you've known and used them, altered to a small or greater
degree?

One of those pieces I've wondered about is what Judith calls "the dark
corners."  What are they?  Where did they come from?  Everyone has
something in their life that could be called that -- I'm sure you're
not an exception.
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #71 of 128: Cupido Ergo Sum (robertflink) Wed 27 Feb 08 08:52
    
>Play the science game, and you agree that you'll be
superannuated: how you accept that superannuation is up to you.<

Are there games in which you are not superannuated?  Is avoiding
superannuation a primary interest of existence?  

Is doing science anything more than one available diversion among
others that is available to some of us due to certain abilities?  
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #72 of 128: David Kline (kline) Wed 27 Feb 08 10:11
    
As a slight aside, here's something I found when I looked up
superannuated to tune up my understanding of its connotations

Saddest of crackpot theories, said Dr. Bederson, "come from
superannuated, formerly fine scientists who late in their careers get
bored doing bread-and-butter stuff."
-- James Glanz, "Geniuses, Crackpots and a Grand Unified Theory.", New
York Times, January 4, 2000

Meanwhile, robertflink's question is a good one: How is science
different from other "diversions" re: superannuation?
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #73 of 128: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Wed 27 Feb 08 12:13
    
Perhaps superannuation is just more apparent (and decisive) in science
than elsewhere.  I wouldn't argue.

The dark places of the book.  Yes, there are plenty.  Bad family
stuff; bad marriages past and present.  Ron and Gabe are the stable
points in Judith's life, a loving couple who've figured out how to live
with each other and in the world; how to be loyal friends.  They
understand that their friends aren't perfect; in fact, sometimes
friends are exasperating; but these two offer acceptance--and in
Judith's case, they offer love--and friendship to almost all.

Inez is breathtakingly beautiful, obsessed by a good cause (domestic
violence, as it happens).  But her own history has been very mixed.  I
don't see a good outcome for her and Stephen, though I could be wrong.

Benito, whom some people here named as their favorite character, is an
unworldly man, but that lack of worldliness is a kind of escape from
the world.  Unfortunately, the world has its way, and he escapes into
nightmares.

Does anyone really live an all-sunshine all-the-time life?  Of course
not.  That's part of the symbolism of Zozobra (yes, it's a real
ceremony, and I pretty much described it the way it takes place in
Santa Fe each autumn).  Recall that Judith, Gabe and Ron view it as a
duty to witness that ceremony.  They acknowledge that in the past,
possibly in the future, it could be one of them being martyred.
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #74 of 128: Lecto, Ergo Sum (robertflink) Wed 27 Feb 08 13:09
    
>Does anyone really live an all-sunshine all-the-time life?  Of course
not.<

To what extent do you attribute success in navigating the perilous
seas of human relationships to skill or chance or insensitivity or? ? 
With science in the mix, are the navigating problems easier/harder. 
Does it matter if the scientist are of the theoretical type or the
experimental type?  
  
inkwell.vue.321 : Pamela McCorduck, "The Edge of Chaos"
permalink #75 of 128: David Kline (kline) Wed 27 Feb 08 14:55
    
As an aside (and before I forget), our guest Pamela can be seen
discussing this book on video, in a discussion that took place on
Google.  It's here on youtube:  

<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqFADvhswd8>
  

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