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The Past | The Previous

Originally published at Ben Peek. You can comment here or there.

When I was a kid, I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Cave_of_time

I don’t know what, exactly, my fascination was. They were by and large speculative fiction, but not great SF, and they were written in an ordinary, characterless second person. ‘You open the door,’ they would say. ‘You fall down the well.’ But I loved being able to flick back and forth, to jump out of the linear progression of a novel, and flip back and forth.

It was a form of reading that stuck with as I grew older and began writing. I would find, in my work, this desire to push against the traditional linear narrative, or reading from page one to whatever. I remember when I first read Chuck Palahniuk’s Survivor how much I enjoyed the simple trick of reversing the page numbers. It was still a pretty linear narrative, however. Few books, I would find, would equal B.S. Johnson’s book in a box, The Unfortunates. Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch, maybe. Mark Z. Danielewski’s Only Revolutions didn’t. But I liked finding the books. I liked seeing how authors challenged the fashion in which you would read. I liked it so much that it began to influence how my own work.

When I sat down to write The Godless, I was interested in doing a linear narrative. In a few of my works before, I’d done thinks you could flip and change around. Above/Below was a flip book that I wrote with Stephanie Campisi, a book that you could read from either side, first. Before that, I did a book called Twenty-Six Lies/One Truth, a sort of experimental autobiography. But when I sat down to write The Godless, I wanted to be linear, and I wanted to emulate the structure of a TV show, and it was with some surprise, once I finished, that I realised that you needn’t read the book in a linear fashion. The same is true of Leviathan’s Blood, and will be also true of the final book, The Eternal Kingdom. It emerged rather accidentally from the structural choice I made early on.

Now, I should say that, the books are written to be read in a linear fashion, and if you do that, you certainly aren’t doing anything wrong. But you can, also, read each character arc by itself. You can read them either by section, or by the whole book. For example, if you opened The Godless and turned to ‘Beneath the Skin’, the first episode/chapter of the book after the prologue, you could read scenes 1, 2, 4 ,5, 7, which are Ayae’s scenes, before you turn back and read 3 and 6 of Bueralan’s. In the following episode/chapter, you could do the same, reading 1, 3, 5 and 6 of Bueralan, before turning to 2, 4 and 7 of Ayae. Zaifyr is introduced as a PoV character in ‘The Boy Who Was Destined to Die’, so after that, you just add another break. If you’re particularly keen, you can even go through and just colour tag the particular narrators through the book, and read them in one long uninterrupted break, before reading to the start of the book, and reading a new character. Heast has a few small scenes in The Godless, but he doesn’t become a PoV character truly until Leviathan’s Blood, so you could easily slip him alongside Ayae in The Godless. You could be left with three colours, and three passes to page through the book.

It would change the experience of the book, naturally. It might make it more confusing, it might leave small scenes where characters interact with each other slightly difficult to map out. But it’s not wrong to read it this way, if you wish. I think it would probably work best as a way to map your reread, if you’re so inclined. But I like this idea that you needn’t be forced to read from page 1 to 562, or 698, you know?

As I said, the ‘official’ way to read the Children Trilogy is in a linear fashion. There are benefits to doing that way. Characters mirror each other, arcs bounce, themes develop. But I am also someone who likes to push out of those traditional habits, and if you want to change the book around, cut it up and organise it in different lines, you should feel free to do so.

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