Way back in March of 2015 I reviewed a book called The Good Shabti by Robert Sharp (feel free to read my review of The Good Shabti) and spoiler alert, I loved it!
I love Ancient Egypt and am always hungry for any stories that take place there. And while reading the story, I was impressed by how much detail the author incorporated and how ‘real’ everything seemed while also telling a meaningful story. A great first impression no doubt.
Needless to say I was ecstatic when Sharp actually contacted me (all these years later) about his new story called ‘01001001 01000011 01000101’ published over at Pornokitsch.
Just looking at the title, I was pretty confident we wouldn’t be cruising the placid waters of the Nile, but I did not expect that we would be sledging through the permanent snow drift of a post societal collapse where children are sent to scavenge for fuel and have no compunction (or at least very little) at burning books to stay warm.
Spoiler alert, I loved this too.
‘01001001 01000011 01000101’ is a tale of survival, but also a question about the value of information to those who can’t use it. What is the purpose of saving and archiving the past if future generations aren’t able to access that knowledge? What is the value saving something for the future, when an immediate benefit can be gained now? Is all of the knowledge in the world more valuable than a human life? All very serious questions.
I think perhaps my favorite aspect of the story though, is the seemingly random bits of binary code that interrupt the text. I’m a big nerd and just happen to have a binary to text converter in my favorites bar, so an added bit of fun for me was translating the code along the way and attempting to reflect on what it said as I continued reading.
I’m waffling on whether or not I recommend this approach as it was a bit hard to remember what the last part said while reading the newest sequence and also keeping track of the story. I may just advise collecting all of them along the way and translating them all at once at the end. Even so, I very much enjoyed how these interruptions sort of jolt you through the story. You’re kind of reading one part and then you skip ahead a bit. It feels a little like listening to a scratched CD (anybody remember those days?), but in a good way. Neat effect.
Finally, you should all be proud of how many different ways I used the word ‘bit’ just then and didn’t make a joke about it in reference to that word being a portmanteau of binary digit . . . Just be proud ok!
I highly recommend this piece. Sharp continues to bring a tremendous attention to detail and craftsmanship to his work. Where in the past it was focusing on the little details of an ancient civilization which immerse the reader into the story, now it is the small details of the actual form of the piece which again immerse you into a pretty philosophical story. Go read it!
Oh and here’s just a bit (this one I didn’t even mean to do) of fun since we’re talking about binary so much and I just love Flight of the Conchords. Binary solo!
Thank you, James, for this kind review. Its just fantastic to see people engaging with something I have created like this.
I’m delighted that you particularly note the ‘form’ of the piece. I’m fascinated by the idea that the meaning and perhaps the reader reaction to a story might be changed by its form or by other information layered above it. The hidden message in 01001001 01000011 01000101 (I have to cut and paste the title too, just like everyone else!) does not change what happens in the story, but it does change the ‘mood’ a little… I hope.
For the avoidance of doubt, the author of the message embedded inside the story is not me, A Google search will reveal who it is. That writer also plays with form and structure. The piece from which the quote is drawn flips between two timelines, similar to ‘Cryptonomicon’ and, erm, ‘The Good Shabti’.
Another author I think about a lot (and who I recommend to everyone) is Jorge Luis Borges. When I was writing this I had in mind his famous ‘Library of Babel’ story and also ‘The God’s Script’. Those stories are *nothing* like this one, but both deal with the idea that there might be hidden messages buried within otherwise meaningless symbols, if only we had the key to translate them.
Of course! Hopefully I’ll be able to continue to do so as you write more stuff 😉
Also, I’ll be sure to check out Luis Borges. I feel like ‘Library of Babel’ keeps coming up in SFF things that I read so I’ll definitely need to check it out.
‘Borgesian’ comes up in reviews of all sorts of stuff (most recently, Nick Harkaway’s GNOMON) and Borges himself was influenced by all manner of fantasy and literature, e.g. Poe, A Thousand and One Nights, so definitely one to check out.