How It Came to be Written|
Back in 1982
When I was in my first year of college, I had a hope of becoming a science fiction writer. To this end I cast about for ideas, as all hopeful writers do, and one idea I had was inspired by an annoying exchange I had with a classmate who insisted that civilization, technology, and even life itself could not exist without constant exponential growth.
Now anyone who knows math knows this is poppycock, because unlimited exponential growth eventually reaches the limits of any system, no matter how vast. Being a computer wonk I demonstrated this by making an estimate of the growth in accessible information throughout human civilization. I plotted this in terms bits of stored knowledge retrievable per second. I made very coarse estimates for some of the obvious points, and drew a graph which showed that in a couple of thousand years we would have virtually instant access to every bit of information in the observable Universe.
The science fiction writer wannabe in me got to thinking about what it would mean to ride that graph. What new innovations would correspond to the breakpoints like agriculture and cities, writing, printing, radio, and so on? (At this point the Internet was not even on the horizon, but the trend has kept moving in the 20 years since I had the idea.) I drew an outline and populated it with an array of embarrassingly flat characters doing lame things, which I fortunately lost years ago so I can't bore you with it here. It was in this outline that Prime Intellect was first mentioned, and its inventor Dr. Lawrence.
I was saved from writing that dreadfully long and conventional novel by one teeny problem: I had no clue how to end it. My outline ended at an item with some date in the four-thousands and the word: Change. There would obviously have to be another phase change, after which humans would essentially be gods able to do anything at will, instantaneously. How in the hell would that work? And what story could one write about it to conclude this thousand-page celebration of human progress? How to handle the fact that the graph should keep ascending? I eventually gave up on the whole idea and moved on with my life.
Fast-forward to 1994
I lost the outline but I thought of Prime Intellect every once in awhile, and the exponential curve that led to personal godhood. One morning in the spring of 1994 I woke up with a dream ringing in my head. This was unusual enough because I rarely remember my dreams. What was more unusual was the vividness of this dream, which was more like a vision that I felt compelled to record.
I knew as I turned on the computer exactly what I had seen: The universe of Prime Intellect, after the Change. It was a vision of such depravity and corruption that I had been unable to imagine it into existence in my idealistic youth. Now I pounded it into the computer almost as fast as I could type, in a mad jag that lasted more than two solid days. At the end I was limp, exhausted. I had poured my inspiration into the waiting blackness of Bank Street Writer until it was out of me and safely stored on my hard drive.
The result of that jag is Chapter One of the work at hand. It has been edited very little from that original form.
After I recovered I re-read my opus, and I was impressed with it. It was clearly brilliant. If one gauges the effectiveness of a story by its ability to create a reaction in the reader, this was powerful stuff. The problem was what that reaction was likely to be. It was clearly too sick to publish. It was also too good to discard. I filed it away, and thought of it occasionally. The passage also seemed to be suspended in space, with no precedent or antecedent, and I had no idea what the rest of the story might be.
A couple of months later I woke up again with an entirely different vision. This time I saw that Caroline's story wasn't the end of the story; it was the story. The exponential graph wasn't the point; the two thousand years of breakpoints and expansion weren't the point. The point was what happens after the Change. And so I sat down and wrote what is now Chapter Two, compressing two thousand years of my original outline into about a month of dithering. You want editing, well, I reduced what I'd thought would be a thousand page novel into one long chapter. Again, I just pounded it into the computer without thinking very hard until no more words would come.
The same thing happened a few more times. Each chapter or section of the novel represents a sudden, inspired jag of writing. The actual writing took at most 14 days or so total.
The astute reader may be remembering about now that there are quite a few forward references in the book, things in the early chapters that don't make much sense except for how they relate to things that come later. I didn't go back and edit those in. Let me tell you it is really weird to read something you wrote yourself and find some unexpected symbol, metaphor, or reference like that which you didn't realize was there. Where did it come from? Was the whole novel plotted out in some hidden corner of my forebrain before I even got the Vision for Chapter One? Or was it beamed into my head a chapter at a time by the Benevolent Space Aliens? I have no answer.
This book is dripping in metaphors; it is a deceptively simple story which can be workably read on many levels. I did not deliberately or consciously introduce any of those elements, but they are maintained with great consistency across boundaries where I could not have possibly known how I would finish what I had clearly started.
There is another interesting bit. The original ending sucked. The original version of the last chapter was short, pollyannaish, and unconvincing. About a year after I wrote Chapter One I ran across a copy of Re/Search #12, Modern Primitives, a survey of modern people who practice body modification. Half-way through reading the interview with Fakir Musafar I realized what was wrong with the ending.
Caroline has tattoos in order to thoroughly profane the temple of her body, to demonstrate that she knows it is no temple because it is not real. But even though she becomes mortal again, she cannot simply erase the time she has spent in Cyberspace from her memory. Her real habits are her new habits, not the habits she had as a rural grandmother six hundred years in the past. But in this new context, those same rituals become sacred. She re-invents herself as a pantheist, and her obsession with the biological reality of her body becomes a celebration rather than a profanity.
Another writing jag ensued, and then I knew the novel was finished.
And then, other than showing it to a few friends, I sat on it. It would have been hard enough to publish The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect back in the heyday of the New Wave, when there were more and more daring publishers. Even then it took ten years and the intervention of many well-respected writer friends to get K.W. Jeter's Dr. Adder, a book similar in some respects to this one, published.
After the 1980's it simply wasn't going to happen. I tried to forget about it and get on with my life.
And then in 2002
Meanwhile I got on the Internet, stumbled upon kuro5hin.org, and started writing for them occasionally. One fine day the subject of my trunk novel came up, and I found myself being talked into putting Metamorphosis on the Web. And so, twenty years after the original idea and eight years after the writing, here it is before the public at last.
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