the powers of words 1: if

I like words.  I’ve always liked words, and I am in no way unique in liking words.  But there are some words that I spend more time and attention on than other words.  One of these is IF, my favourite 2 letter word.

I think that IF is an exceptionally powerful word.  Perhaps this comes from my life as a mathematician, wherein we regularly use IF to create worlds and entire alternate universes.  IF my situation satisfies these assumptions, THEN I can do all of the following things, and this is a very common sort of mathematical statement. 

We do of course have to be careful.  When we start with a statement that is false, that is when we start with IF (and then something false), then we can do anything.  And this is where mathematics and fiction part ways.   In mathematics, we use IF to keep ourselves on the straight and narrow path.  We start with IF (and then something true), we see explore the places to which we can get, starting from there.
In fiction, though, I think it’s different.  IF is still a remarkably powerful word, but we no longer need to tie it to truth.  Rather, we need only tie it to something sufficiently plausible to be the point from which we start the story.  Perhaps our IFs are true, perhaps not.  Perhaps there is faster than light travel and warp drive and wormhole travel, and we can enjoy these stories. 

I don’t keep a list of my favourite IFs, my favourite sufficiently plausible beginnings, but science fiction is rife with them.  Very little of what we read and what we write, or try and write, can begin without some IF at its core, some assumption of the world being different than it currently is, that allows the story begin.  

There are some spectacular IFs out there.  Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and the notion of the beast within.  Frankenstein and the birth of the mad scientist, as though electricity might be enough to break the power of death over life.  The Borg, which I have to admit is one of my favourite IFs, the group mind that continues to assimilate and grow.  IF there is a set of rules of behaviour to which we all bind ourselves, what consequences might flow.  

And thinking about IF, I have a quest, and it’s an unfortunate quest.  I want to develop the IF that captures the imagination of others.  The IF that creates new worlds that others want to explore.  

The reason it’s unfortunate is that the hurdle is high.  What might capture the imagination with so many others trying the same thing.  But what else is there to do.  And so, we step away from the blog and we see what worlds we can create.

~ by Jim Anderson on 18 June 2017.

One Response to “the powers of words 1: if”

  1. (Many years ago) one of my bestie school-friend’s favourite one-liners was: If we had some jam we could have a jam sandwich if we had some bread. I quite like the double-if.

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