This was originally going to be "5 Books of 2020" as a way to segue neatly from recent review posts, but I wanted to go a bit deeper. 2020 has been a time of escapism, of strange remote places, of everything-being-real-as-if-through-a-mirror. Normality gave way to surrealism in our own homes, and in our heads, and I still feel like waking up is a dream and going to sleep is natural.
As it was, I somehow found time to delve into some new 'worlds' more deeply than I might usually. (Or maybe I'm just getting older now. Answers on a postcard.) 'Worlds' is a difficult one to define - some worlds are more richly and consciously constructed than others (son 1, for instance, is in the middle of the Harry Potter series, and it feels like Rowling is often setting out her universe as a long term plan). Others are intended as throwaway playgrounds, but the intrepid explorer can still find a hundred edges and paths if they know where to look.
So here have been some of my favourite worlds I've been exploring over the last year.
- The world of seafaring and whale-hunting that Herman Melville sets out in Moby Dick. For some reason I have a fascination with tales out in the middle of the sea, and Melville dives fully into the area to describe the wonders of the oceans, document the old whaling industry and its social place, and tie it all in with mankind's relationship with 'god' and nature ('godkind'?). My review here.
- The alternative and diverse worlds explored in Writing Our Legacy's Hidden Sussex anthology. Each tale or poem from the BAME writers included here offers a little glimpse into a parrallel universe for me - like hearing the neighbours on the other side of the wall and wondering what their decor is like even though it is so close. We travel in our bubbles, form our carriages of what we know and love, and yet WOL has brought out voices that speak of the same places I inhabit, but with such different perspectives and backgrounds.
- The small, strange yet delicately delicious world of Cosmo D's Norwood Suite - a game. Or a story, hinted at, through a labyrinthine hotel setup on its last legs, host to a night of odd revelation. As games go, this is short enough - about my level. But the soundtracks and depths which lurk mean that you always feel like you could tumble into it forever and remain trapped. The trailer shows off why it was also a good game to get out my virtual camera for:
- The world-concept that is Permaculture, listed alongside the others here as it is something I have mostly only been reading about. Coming about through putting the Beamspun newsletter together, I found that people have been doing solarpunk far more practically and for a longer time than I had realised. After reading a few books such as Masanobu Fukuoka's One-Straw Revolution and Zen in the Art of Permaculture Design, and hanging out on the reddit, I can link together a few strands in my life much more strongly - namely taoism and wu wei, with a sense of nature, impermanence and ... happiness? It is strange to think of a concept as a world, if the main aim is to live in a different world which is actually the same world. It reminds me that 'the modern world' is as much a construct as any other novel.
(Image by Fiona Campbell, via Russ Grayson's post about Rosemary Morrow.)
- The grittily-extruded world of Moshe Linke's Fugue in Void, a wander through claustrophobic gallery structures and the edges of dreams. This was when I properly started taking some in-game shots, and while the larger project around videogame photography has yet to materialise, I did manage a Fugue in Void narrative-gallery by way of experiment.
Phew, that was a hard choice. Honourable mentions go to William Kamkwamba's famine-caught world in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, the recent history of India and Kashmir in Arundhati Roy's Ministry of Utmost Happiness, and the hilariously bonkers land that belongs to Maro & Luigi's Superstar Saga.
It's been a long year. What worlds have you found joy and solace in?