Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Not Crazy At All

When Mary asked for ‘crazy things authors have done for their books’ I was confident I’d be in the clear. As a sensible scientist, nothing I’d done could possibly be classed that way. But I wrote to her anyway, describing the work I’d done with the Periodic Table for one of my characters. When she wrote back telling me I was crazy I didn’t know whether to be honoured or offended. And then I read the responses she’d received from other authors. I’m sorry, guys, but those were seriously crazy. Especially Mary’s own story with the car! Lunatic, more like.

Anyway, to my story of the not-particularly-crazy thing I did for The Ultimate Inferior Beings. As a young boy I’d always been fascinated by the Periodic Table of Elements. Not for its pattern and symmetry, nor for its relationship to the physico-chemical properties of the elements. None of that stuff. Whenever I looked at it I found myself wondering, “Could you make an anagram out of it?”

I didn’t try it, of course; that would be crazy.

But when I was inserting a mad scientist, called fluX, into the book I recalled my earlier fascination and decided to make it part of his mad obsession of proving the existence of God. His belief would be that there’s a Divine Message hidden in the elements of the Periodic Table. Unearthing it would be the Proof he was after.

To make his search convincing I’d have to find the message myself! Now, I knew, that way madness lay, but at least it was an excuse for checking out that anagram. This was over 30 years ago – before personal computers, digital watches, WiFi, and any of that other cool stuff we have these days. It was the Age of Pencil and Paper. And scissors. I wrote out all the elements on a sheet of paper and then cut them out. Then I shuffled the little squares around on the table top, looking for potential messages. It was hard. I spent hours, days, looking, looking, alone in my little bedroom. In the book, fluX uses exactly the same approach, except that, as they don’t have paper in the future, he uses petromorphic ytterbium cellulose paper substitute (and a German accent):

“I hov a lot of tiny squares of petromorphic ytterbium cellulose. Each viz a chemical element written on it. I lay zem out on ze table and shuffle and rearrange zem. Make zem into vords and make ze vords into sentences.”

jixX was nodding understandingly, wondering where this was leading.

“Sometimes zey drop on ze floor, and I hov to pick zem up. Sometimes I sneeze. Zey go everywhere, and my work is undone. Sometimes I zink my English is not good for zis. Sometimes I feel like giving up.”

That, in a nutshell, was me. Crazy? No, I don’t think so.

The first message wasn’t great. It started: Ac Cu Se No Ta Ra Bi Cs Cr I Be S, which translates to ‘Accuse not Arabic scribes ...’ The second message wasn’t great, either. None of them were. What I discovered is that there is no Divine Message in the Periodic Table.

But then, maybe I hadn’t tried hard enough. It’s remarkably difficult, you know, what with all those double consonants and Bs and Ms and Ps. Some words you can’t get, because you run out of options. For example, try finding “Artificial Absolutes” in there and you can’t. You get as far as: Ar Ti F I C. And then you stop; the next element needs to be Ia, which doesn’t exist, or I, which you’ve already used.

Nevertheless, a couple of years ago, with human technology having caught up with my needs, I decided to have another crack – using a computer this time. I wrote a little program to assist my search. Even this was trickier than I’d expected. The program used a dictionary look-up to find valid words, listing all possible messages. The idea was that I'd select the best of them. However, I had underestimated the sheer, astronomical number of possibilities. It looked as if it was going to take weeks and weeks just to generate all the messages – millions upon millions of them. And then I’d have to sift through them all, looking for anything plausible. I’d go mad.

Instead, I prompted the program one word at a time, getting it to generate the next three to four words only. I'd select the best, and the program would generate the next few words. And so on. Eventually I arrived at the Message given in one of the book’s Appendices. Its first 17 elements are: Th I S Pa Ge Pr O V Es Al Li Am He No C Ra P which you can see says: ‘This page proves all. I am He. No crap.’

The full message uses only 59 of the 112 elements, so not too successful. However, the True Message must be in there, somewhere, waiting to be found. I know it is. When I retire and have more time, I will devote myself to finding it. And, mark my words, I will find it!

The Ultimate Inferior Beings is available in e-book and paperback on Amazon.


Review of The Ultimate Inferior Beings
Interview with Mark Roman

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