Sunday, April 19, 2009

Rewriting history

I went to the library recently to pick up some books on hold for my sweetie. Among them was The Mote in God's Eye, a first-contact novel by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. I sat reading in the car for a bit, to see if I'd like it. I couldn't remember reading a Niven/Pournelle novel. They tend to write hard science fiction, and while I love hard science, I generally like to get it in short nonfiction articles rather than book-length works, and I haven't often found hard sf captivating.

The first few chapters kept me going, but I never reached that level of absorption where time seems suspended. Mote was interesting, but not impossible to put down. Maybe there were more characters than I could track; maybe I had trouble conjuring a mental image of the aliens; maybe I tried too hard to puzzle out the backstory (which I hadn't read); perhaps I was feeling impatient for the payoff of what seemed to me an overlong setup. Maybe a combination. I got halfway through the book before resorting to the Web for a synopsis.

Once I read the synopsis and knew how the story turned out, I was eager to get back to the book and finish reading it. (And, having finished it, I'm looking forward to reading the sequel.)

This started me thinking about "spoilers," the cheat sheets of popular media. You can find spoiler pages for TV shows, movies, books, games, you name it. Sometimes I don't want to be "spoiled." I want to come to a work fresh and open. I want the suspense to last for as long as the author can draw it out. I want to take my time as it unfolds.

At other times, spoilers renew my interest when it starts to flag. And once I've read a book, or seen a movie, what then? Well, I've read Pride & Prejudice and Atlas Shrugged and War for the Oaks and The Beekeeper's Apprentice about a bazillion times each, and each time, I love them more. Something new opens up, even in that familiar experience.

Life can be like that. Retrospect can reveal patterns imperceptible when I was in the thick of things. Imagining the ultimate results ahead can help me re-engage and can carry me forward.

And there's power in retelling the past, or telling it differently. If history is written by the victors, I possess the privilege of rewriting my own history. I can go back with a new perspective, emphasize different details, come to different conclusions, and change the lessons I learn to more empowering or entertaining ones.

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