Five alive

Kevin asked, what are my top five favorite stories across all media?

Being a writerly sort of fellow, I think I’d like to answer this in a slightly different way.

In no particular order, my five favorite types of stories:

  • I like stories about journeys, real or metaphysical, or, in some cases, both. Stories that take the main character along a path, where they grow from a naive young inexperienced child, to an older, wiser, tested adult. It may not be the first example that I encountered, but the story that had the largest impact on me in this vein is the Original Star Wars Trilogy, a.k.a., the adventures of Luke Skywalker. Digging in to the inspirations for that story, I encountered old Joe Campbell and his explication of the Hero’s Journey, also known as the monomyth. I found J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy chronologically after Star Wars, but remember reading “The Hobbit” before. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, specifically Frodo’s trials as Ring-Bearer, have obvious parallels to Luke’s trials facing his dark father.
  • I like stories that take one idea, usually a Big Idea, and explore all of its implications. The seminal story of this type, for me, was Larry Niven’s “Ringworld”, a sci-fi epic about humans and advanced aliens exploring a giant artificial world, a ring around a star, the most massive engineering project imaginable. The people in the story are almost dwarfed just by the idea and the details of how such a world could even come into existence, and the novel is just a small piece of Niven’s Known Universe, a galactic history that only peripherally includes Earth and extends from the distant past to 3 billion years into the future. It’s a spectacular example of world-building, and the bits and pieces of the KU still live in my head. Obviously Tolkien’s world is another example, as is the Star Wars universe or Star Trek. Sadly, Star Trek is a bit more fragmented and discontinuous than the others, thanks to Paramount’s greediness in selling off parts of the Star Trek franchise.
  • I like stories about hard choices and the consequences thereof. “Casablanca” is the story of a hard-bitten cynic who is faced with the choice between re-uniting with the woman he first loved, and helping a man who could save millions of people. Unfortunately, he can only choose one of them, because the woman is married to the man he needs to help. Ouch. Other characters faced with such a tough choice include Desmond and Penny from TV’s “Lost”, or (I am not kidding) Philip J. Fry trying to decide between saving the universe and his love for Captain Turanga Leela. Seriously, I’m not kidding – that animated television show produced some very touching moments in its four-year run, and I can’t wait to see it continue on DVD.
  • I like stories of an underdog that triumphs over powerful forces. Average, or even sub-average people, trying to make their way in a world they can’t control. An atypical example of this is the movie “Office Space”, where the main character, Peter Gibbons is trying to deal with the soul-crushing beigeness of office work. Joe from “Joe vs. The Volcano” takes a similar journey in his quest to make the life-threatening “brain cloud” mean something. The main character of “The Fuck-Up”, Arthur Nersesian’s hilarious first novel, is also trying to find some meaning in a menial life. At least one of my unpublished novels is a Portland-based homage to “The Fuck-Up”, actually. Philip Dick’s characters also mostly fall into this category, although the world in a PKD novel is usually far, far more chaotic than, say, Nersesian’s Brooklyn or Mike Judge’s Initech. In fact, in a PKD novel, the world may transform or even cease to exist entirely.
  • Lastly, there are stories that tell a well-known history or describe a well-known place, but reveal far more beneath the surface than most know. Tim Powers is a master of this – his version of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas seems familiar, except that Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein were not just scientists, but magicians of the highest power, and the smelly homeless that wander the streets in their gray clothes are in fact zombies and ghosts who have accreted their bodies from the trash that surrounds them. Powers’ colleague and friend, James Blaylock, has also written novels like this, where the Holy Grail is, in fact, an origami paper cup folded from a priceless drawing. PKD’s greatest novel, “Valis” is a masterful turn on this, where Horselover Fat, PKD’s alter-ego in the novel, discovers that the world in which we live is actually ancient Rome, and that Richard Nixon is really a Roman Caesar.

Sorry, Kevin, I couldn’t just pick five! I’m all un-decide-y.

Kevin, for Day 6, take a picture, post it, and write about it.