The War of the Encyclopaedists: A Chapter 12 review

I’m currently reviewing chapters of War of the Encyclopaedists by Gavin Kovite and Christopher Robinson. As a Dune novel it’s pretty awful. This is pretty great reading material if you want to start writing fantasy novels. I feel like I’m learning a lot about the craft of writing just by obsessively pouring over these chapters.

Look forward to my own upcoming novel tentatively titled Sword Magic of the Tower of Edge.

Chapter 12 is noteworthy for being the first Tricia-centric chapter, I think, though it also has a Corderoy section.

Tricia’s entry into the book still puzzles me. I think I have an idea of the role she plays, but I’m somewhat certain she’s a real person.

Tricia ponders her sense of her destiny to do great things contrasted with her actual achievements for a paragraph or two. She did a die-out protest for example, which she found unfulfilling.

With every retelling, it came more and more into focus: their brand of protest was mere theater, self-indulgence. Tricia had no interest in being a performer.

In this way she kind of reminds me of the Encyclopaedists because she meets a guy named Luc Dubois and she sees an opportunity.

A life with real risk, real stakes.

Just that recurring emphasis of reality and unreality. Of a feeling that one life is unreal and a desperate search for realness.

Luc Dubois is a Belgian photographer who does all kinds of real risky stuff like taking photographs in dangerous places.

Anyway, at a reading of War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning she meets Luc and invites him out to drinks.

“It’s about why war exists,” Jenny said. “People feel like their lives are directionless or untethered, but in war, life has purpose.”

And who creates the war (and by extension purpose)? The Elect.

Since there’s time, Tricia guilts out for a while.

Tricia stared at a knot in the wood paneling that reflected the dim yellow lamplight of the bar, and she thought about the wood-paneled bars across the country where privileged people like her were paying ten dollars for a glass of whiskey, trying to solve the world’s problems, thinking about a boy.

To distract herself she describes Corderoy almost as cute.

“I don’t think he’s actually dumb. He just likes to act that way. He’s one of those guys who probably grew up thinking he was a genius, and when he figured out he wasn’t, he decided intelligence was only cool if you were cynical about it.”

That seems to line up with things, I suppose. Though intelligence is really the only thing Corderoy, on some subconscious level, respects.

Luc shows up with Susan, who works for the Iraq Body Count, which makes her a rival for Tricia on two distinct levels. Tricia’s way in to Luc because of the realness thing.

It was that Luc Dubois represented clarity of vision.

For someone directionless and untethered, I guess War Photography is the Force that Gives Lives Meaning.

Luc’s credentials are impressive. He’s good looking, he has an accent, he’d gone to Baghdad, and he was going back to work as a journalist.

“It’s a real problem,” Luc said. “How can journalists be objective when they rely on soldiers to take them around, protect them.

So Luc’s plans are to get to the reality of the situation, unfiltered by the Elect. Obviously Tricia finds this super appealing. She volunteers to go.

She zones out and imagines adventures in Baghdad.

The Unitarian church near Harvard Square broadcast a running tally of dead troops and civilians in Iraq, but what did that accomplish? Images, stories, that’s what motivated people. And she could help bring them those stories, she really could.

I guess Tricia wants to be part of a new Elect without realizing that she would simply be another Elect. It reminds me of an old Frank Herbert quote that all rebels are aristocrats.

Time skips ahead a few days and Tricia kind of trips out and reminisces about 9/11. That’s kind of what this last half-chapter is about, flashbacks.

Tricia tries to go to the hospital to donate blood, but they were full, so she tried again, and the next hospital was full.

Up at this end of the island, they were powerless to help.

I suppose this frustration to do any good must be a driving element of Tricia’s personality. The next day, 9/12, she went to the police barricades and watched the crowd.

In the days after 9/11, she’d grown annoyed with the flurry of American flags and crisis patriotism in New York and across America. Even her friends were raving about Ani DiFranco’s WTF poem, which Tricia could only interpret as angry, unthinking, and well, stupid.

I wonder what rankles Tricia about this.

It was that she felt deeply, deeply compliti in it all–the comforts and satisfactions of her life had been built on America’s shining successes as much as on its failures, failures ignored by the average personb ecause they were uncomfortable to think about.

Hmm. I think Tricia thinks of herself as the Elect, just of a faction opposed to the Elect in power.

She asks Luc out and plays the text-anxiety game. She also texts an old friend who had really freaked out after 9/11. She had been paralyzed by fear whereas Tricia:

That she’d emerged determined to do some real good in the world, to fight the cause, not the symptom.

And the cause is the Elect mentioned by Professor Ireland James Joyce Analog.

The chapter jumps back to an Encyclopaedist, Corderoy. Corderoy had retreated to the last resort of all college students: doing his homework. He’s been reading Ulysses.

For Bloom was, by virtue of being fictional, fixed in time, no matter how dynamic and lifelike he seemed. This made him easier to grapple with than real people. And Corderoy grappled with Bloom to such a degree that there was no room in his mind for Maria Sardi or even for Mani.

Fictional people are easier to grapple with than real people. And Corderoy turns to a fictional person to supplant thoughts about Mani, eh?

Maybe I could be reaching there.

Tricia invites him to a 9/11 memorial.

Go join a crowd of people. Fuck. No. He didn’t even want to be talking to Tricia.

Which I guess by contrast, Tricia went and joined the crowd outside the barricades.

Corderoy goes out to buy Diet Coke and Pringles and finds himself looked out of his apartment so he decides to hang out on his stoop. Then the worst thing happens, Corderoy has to talk to someone AND the topic is 9/11.

His hand extended casually toward the box of soda. The hand was calloused and dirty, though the nails were well manicured. A pattern that, on closer inspection, recurred in many aspects of his appearance. His greasy brown hair, held back by a stained bandanna, only seemed to emphasize his high and noble forehead.

It’s fascinating to me that Corderoy encounters a Blue Collar Avatar of the Common Man, one of the non-Elect.

He even speaks with a Boston accent.

They talk about where they were on 9/11. The guy was at the dentist. Blue Collar was left in a dentist chair for minutes listening to smooth jazz and people gasping in horror.

“They call ’em flashbulb memories. People tend ta remember where they was that day that best fits their personal narrative.

The malleability of memory seems to fly in the face of Corderoy’s insistence that we burn books because information is immortal. Information is immortal, perhaps, but it’s also fluidic.

So that calls into question both Tricia’s and Corderoy’s upcoming memories of 9/11 into question. Tricia’s story fits into her narrative of trying to do good but being thwarted by banal things. Corderoy’s is sort of a tale of self-loathing, so I guess that fits too.

Corderoy was playing Counter-Strike when he heard the news from his mother who called him up. Or was he? Anyway, he wins the Counter-Strike match in a climactic struggle, which makes me suspect that this was the part that was modified to fit his narrative. Corderoy is pretty ashamed of how much he blew off the news, but goddamn did he win the video game in an awesome way.

Everybody had to be doing something when it happened. He had been planting bombs and firing an AK-47. He’d rather have been taking a shit.

No, I don’t think that’s true because Boston Man totally just stated we choose the memories that fit our narrative.

Turns out Boston Man is named Jack and he’s the super, and he lets Corderoy back in. For all the reality bending powers of the Elect, they still can’t unlock a door.


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