User:Woozle/blog/2009-04-30 1751 A rational look at Inkworld

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A rational look at Inkworld
2009-04-30 1751

I was just ranting out loud to Harena about how the "real world" characters in the Inkworld series (which I've been reading to the chitlins for their bedtime story) seem to be almost completely oblivious to the benefits which 800 or so years* of additional civilization has brought them.

(*800 years being the approximate time since the middle ages, which corresponds roughly to the level of social advancement in the Inkworld; if you want a specific benchmark, the Magna Carta was in 1215, and it's clear that the Inkworld rulers don't have any such document restricting their rights. [resists temptation to make political comment])

Harena seemed to feel that it was unsurprising. I'm not so much surprised to see it left out as bothered by it.

For one thing, it seems deeply unrealistic: real characters abruptly transported from a more-or-less-modern-day Europe into an isolated feudal (but same-language-speaking) culture would not only be culture-shocked but also constantly discovering new value in many modern ideas (which are, yes, frequently taken for granted).

The fact that The Bluejay is a crusader for justice is made much of, but never once does he say anything like "where I come from, this sort of thing would never be tolerated". Never once does an "our world" character remark that "oh yes, we know the answer to that question now" when an Inkworld character makes a comment out of superstition or ignorance. As Harena pointed out, it's almost as if the "our world" characters have some sort of Prime Directive binding them, preventing them from using knowledge not already possessed by the natives -- but they don't; they have every motivation to improve the world they find themselves in, and nothing at all to stop them from changing it. Yet they completely ignore one of the most powerful tools they have, i.e. their modern knowledge.

I don't mean that Meggie should be able to remember the formula for gunpowder from her chemistry classes at school, or that Mo should be able to construct mnemonic memory circuits from stone knives and bearskins, or build a shortwave radio from vines and bookbinding chemicals; I mainly mean the knowledge of what is possible, from which they should be able to find at least a few useful smidgins. When Resa was tending Mo's gunshot wound, why wasn't germ theory even mentioned? The Inkworlders wouldn't know about it, and hence might not realize the importance of boiling water before using it to clean a wound, or boiling contaminated sheets, or cleaning hands with soap and boiled water before touching a wound -- and medicine comes up an awful lot in the story. How did the soldiers set on fire by Dustfinger know to stop, drop, and roll -- when the common instinct is to run (which oxygenates the fire and can be fatal)? Wouldn't Resa have had a few choice comments to make about child-rearing techniques with regard to Jacopo, or the refugee children of Ombra? Wouldn't Mo have wanted to educate Meggie about the dangers of unchecked executive power as exemplified by The Adderhead and his minions, or the history and practices by which we in the "real world" have slowly overcome that type of abuse?

The way the author completely avoided any mention of science also seemed rather unimaginative and incurious (sharply contrasting with the imaginatively-painted world she was trying to portray the Inkworld as being). Wouldn't Meggie, fascinated as she is by the Inkworld in general, be curious about the natural history of the place? Is life in the Inkworld consistent with the biology we know? Does its night sky resemble ours, or is it in a different solar system altogether? Does it even have a solar system, or does it only exist to the extent imagined by its author(s)? Is there evidence of geology, or is that also defined solely by what the author has written?

Instead of exploring the boundaries of their world and clearing away the mists of uncertainty (having largely to do with the questions "how much of this depends entirely on the author, and how much follows rules, and how are the rules different from those in our world?"), and instead spend most of their time building up more mythology and uncertainty around the power of a small number of individuals (Fenoglio, Mo, Darius, Meggie, and Orpheus) to magically "change the story" by a process of writing "the right words" and then reading them convincingly.

I could go on... I've been thinking of writing an essay on this, actually... but that's the gist of it. The story basically disses technological progress by relegating it to the status of trivia -- hints that Meggie will help a certain character in the story's future by describing modern inventions to him. Never mind the benefits they would bring to all the oppressed masses of Inkworld's humanity.

Am I nuts here?