Low Fidelity — Revisiting an abandoned construction site
As you can read on the What is: Low Fidelity page, the idea for this novel is far from recent. It came to me in late 1995, while I was working on my first novel Richard Martyn. I had hit a creative dead end with that first novel (started in 1992 and finally completed in 1999), I was feeling a bit trapped in its themes (amnesia and its identity-related implications), and I badly needed fresh ideas.
Low Fidelity‘s very first concept was extremely radical: since I was fed up with characters, dialogues, strong first-person points of view, and the like, I wanted Low Fidelity to be a novel about places and objects. The challenge was to write a story without characters. However, after a promising start, I soon realised that while such a story was definitely doable, it could not easily stand the sheer length of a whole novel. I stored all I had written up to that point, and planned to re-use it later, as a part of a bigger project or as a standalone short story.
Despite this false start, the mere process of working on something else that wasn’t Richard Martyn had the positive effect of reigniting my creativity, and on an evening in December 1995 while I was at the library trying to study for my Italian Literature exam, I started jotting down ideas and a possible plot involving a conspiracy related to culture, information propagation, and books. Since the beginning I had a rather clear idea of the main character, a skilled, seasoned ‘cultural investigator’.
As soon as the main plot lines began acquiring a bit of strength, I noticed that the project was rapidly growing into something more ambitious. The snowball effect, in retrospect, was obvious: every aspect of the plot begot questions, whose answers begot more questions. Things started getting less manageable as the world of the novel needed to be expanded and planned in more fine-grained detail. As I mention on the What is: Low Fidelity page, the novel quickly reached a sort of perennial work in progress status, with alternating periods of abandonment/inactivity and periods of resurgence and information-gathering. As my life got increasingly busy, I couldn’t find enough time and energy to devote to this project, but I would keep gathering information and ideas that now lie scattered throughout 16 different Moleskine-sized notebooks.
The actual story-writing has been a different matter. Since I couldn’t decide a proper structure, I started writing the story in self-contained scenes and fragments, to be rearranged chronologically at a later date. Also, I was writing in Italian at the time. Translation into English of both the narrative fragments and the collected bits of information related to the fictional setting began in late 2011, when I first attempted to revive the whole project.
Anyway, I experienced a serious creative block around 2002–2003. I’ve been recovering from this block roughly since 2010, when I started writing poetry again. As for short stories, my Minigrooves represent my most serious creative accomplishment in the last fifteen years, but most of all they represent the end of my creative drought. […] [I]magine my joy when I felt the wheels moving again at the start of this humble literary project.
The important creative realisation I’m referring to is that — believe it or not — my creativity has returned through discipline. I could have started Minigrooves by opening the website and publishing a new story whenever I wanted […] Instead, by self-imposing such a strict schedule, i.e. a new story each Monday and Thursday, I have noticed how the urgency has stimulated the flow of new ideas for new stories.
The extremely positive effect of the Minigrooves project on my creativity is what ultimately stimulated me towards rebooting Low Fidelity. It will be published in serialised form starting next month. Soon I will announce where and how you’ll be able to read it, so stay tuned if you’re interested.
I must say that the process of going back to an abandoned work (for projects of this scale I actually use the term ‘construction site’) has been quite exciting so far. Low Fidelity takes place in the near future (from 2070 to 2073) in a fictional megalopolis that constitutes the Metropolitan Isle of Arslan. Strictly speaking, the setting is post-apocalyptical, but this time the apocalypse doesn’t involve mass contamination, epidemics, aliens, zombies, or other natural or artificially-induced disasters. Rather, it’s mostly centered around technology, culture and society at large. The worldwide Internet collapse is one of the most momentous events occurring in a world where people’s lives are devastated by wholesale surveillance, loss of privacy, an unprecedented rate of cybercrimes happening at every level; in a world whose hyperconnected infrastructure reaches a breaking point and collapses under its own weight.
This collapse happens roughly 20 years before the events in the novel, and represents a ‘point of no return’ on many levels. In the words of Bert Kay, the protagonist, the world of Low Fidelity is “a place that’s trying to recover from a mass techno-overdose”. In the 20 years following the collapse of the Internet, this recovery has taken different directions in different parts of the world. There are places rebuilding the network infrastructure and keeping an optimistic outlook on technology, despite the constant fight against criminal hackers. While in other places — such as the Metropolitan Isle of Arslan — governments have taken a very different direction: to rekindle the relationship between humans and technology, it’s necessary to take one step back to take two steps forward. Hence the decision of reverting to a low-tech approach and bringing society to a ‘new old era’, banning all kind of portable electronic devices and computers from public use, and going back to low-tech forms of security.
What’s truly fascinating for me is to imagine how a world like that could be. This is why a project like Low Fidelity needs a lot of world-building information: it’s set against a background where a lot of significant events have happened, and everyone is dealing with the aftermath. I’m building a coherent, rich, detailed setting where the main story takes place. Arslan is a huge city with its particular geography, transportation system, its address scheme, its government and law… you get the picture. It’s a peculiar place, with its mixture of advanced technology and analogue aesthetics, its contradictions and their implications, and I hope the readers will be intrigued by its charm as much as I am while building it.
Crosslines — getting to know the world of Low Fidelity
You can find a good summary of what Crosslines originally was and what it has become at the What is: Crosslines page. As I write at the end of that section, Crosslines is now an online place which serves as introduction and ‘further reading’ of the world presented in Low Fidelity. It’s a sort of Chapter Zero, but since it cannot be described as being either a prologue or epilogue, I decided to use the term exologue, meaning ‘outside the narration’.
When Low Fidelity begins, Bert Kay, the protagonist, is about to close a very intricate case involving a mysterious terrorist organisation, but in the process uncovers a few things that will lead him to another, equally convoluted investigation, which is what constitutes the main story in Low Fidelity. In this context, consider Crosslines as if it were ‘bonus content’. You don’t need Crosslines to understand Low Fidelity, but it’s something that adds to the story and to the world of the novel, and it can help people get accustomed to the place where the events of Low Fidelity unfold.
Crosslines presents different scenes and fragments that largely take place before Low Fidelity. These scenes are useful to get familiar with many of the characters introduced in Low Fidelity, and we can also get a few glimpses of the kind of investigation Bert Kay is carrying out (I’m referring to the case he closes as Low Fidelity opens). I figured it can be an interesting way of providing all kinds of information and extra details about a certain world and the characters moving inside of it.
Crosslines moves at its own, independent pace. It went online a month ago, and I’ll keep adding scenes and fragments even after Low Fidelity officially starts and develops, and it will probably be updated even after Low Fidelity ends. It’s a sort of open channel to the world of Low Fidelity, and a playing ground where I can keep adding details and stuff about all things Low Fidelity, so to speak.
To sum up
Low Fidelity is a literary project that will be published in serialised form (i.e. in regular instalments) starting May 2013. More information will be provided here and over at the Crosslines website as the inauguration date approaches.
Crosslines is a companion to Low Fidelity which serves as introduction and ‘bonus content’ of the world of Low Fidelity. If Low Fidelity were a movie or a TV series, Crosslines would be its collection of extras (featurettes, mini-documentary, additional behind-the-scenes information, etc.). It has its own website and Twitter account so far, both providing narrative updates and the occasional ‘public service announcements’ related to the Low Fidelity project as a whole.
I hope you’ll enjoy both parts of this ambitious enterprise!