beware, there be spoilers: Mother Night

Three down and some number to go, and reading Vonnegut’s Mother Night has led me to ponder, and not for the first time, the nature of coincidence.

One coincidence is that Howard W Campbell, Jr, the character from whose point of view the story is told, is one of those characters who deliberately makes themselves the face of the enemy.  This is something that Vonnegut has done before, though in a slightly different way, as we wrote about in beware, there be spoilers: The Sirens of Titan.

The context is different here, because Howard finds himself being recruited by an American intelligence agent to become the voice of the Nazi regime during the second world war, and he does it spectacularly, remarkably well.  I don’t want to say much more, in case you do want to read Mother Night, which I recommend we all do.

Another coincidence is a smaller and stranger one, and gets to a completely different point, which is the extent to which we pick up ideas from the things we read.  And this part is pure pure speculation.

I don’t know whether Douglas Adams ever wrote about why he chose 42 as the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.  After all, 42 is a quite respectable number.  Not too small and not too large, an integer, the product of 2 and 3 and 7, which has great significance in my field of research for reasons I really don’t want to go into here.

The agent who recruited and ran Campbell during Mother Night at one point towards the end of the book, in their third and final face to face meeting, comments that Campbell was the only one of the 42 agents he recruited that survived the war.

I don’t know whether Adams read Mother Night and I don’t know whether the number 42 stuck itself into some subconscious crevice, to make a later appearance in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but it did get me thinking about what excavations of my own subconscious crevices I undertake when I’m writing.

I suspect it’s a lot.  When I’m casting about for something that feels write, an incident or a fact, or a number, that has the right feel to it for what I’m doing, I wonder how often I’m finding and using something with whose shape I’m familiar.  Something to pay some attention to, the next time I sit down for a bit of writing.


~ by Jim Anderson on 22 April 2018.

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