So I am replaying one of my favorite computer games and I am intrigued to note that I feel the same tension as I begin an episode, and the same satisfaction as I close in on a successful completion. This despite the fact that I’ve played these chapters at least twice before, including the first time through when it was all new. Yet there’s the same aesthetic satisfaction at completing a working construct and the same anxiety as I first get started.
And I’ve been rereading favorite books, not just books but whole series including stories I read when I was in high school, and I remember my mother doing the same. And I am impatient with new works, giving them a fast scan – read opening sentence / does it grab me – if not, put it back on the shelf; if yes, read further. I’ve skimmed whole novels just skipping along to the end to see what happens. Sometimes, if it’s somewhat good, I read the end and then go back a few chapters at a time until the whole thing’s read. For some novels I re-read only the end.
Rare and appreciated is the new work that hooks me to read it from the start to all the way through. Those are the ones I re-read.
So what’s going on?
It’s been asserted that most if not all stories have already been told and that what appeals to us about new work, if it’s not a completely new story, is that it is a familiar story re-told in some new style. I can’t argue with that. It’s been asserted that truly new stories are so foreign to society that the initial reaction is almost always rejection. Only with time and unfolding do truly new stories become familiar enough to gain a following. I can’t argue with that either.
One of the most intriguing themes in fiction is, what would it be like if human life spans exceeded the 120 years that seem to be the current maximum. Neal Asher asserts that there would be a danger period, where a long-lifer gets so bored that she takes undue risks just to be excited to be alive again. Only if she survives the 250-350 year period does she become a likely millennial, suggests Asher. I wonder if something similar applies now – that somewhere in the 40-60 year span of human ages today, there is a danger period where we either lose it or keep it and live on to a full extent.
What does that have to do with new works? For some the same story re-told suffices. For some we’re looking for new stories to find or tell or both.