The Informative and Self-Indulgent Foreword
Pt 1: (The Informative Part)
A Brief History of The Porcelain Doll
First off, I want to give props to muscian extrordinaire Tony Macalpine whose rock rendering of Chopin's Sonata #3, which he titled "The Porcelain Doll", led me to use Chopin's music as a background theme and, obviously, inspired the name for this novel.
This novel is really a fan-fiction, set in the fictional realm established in the film Artificial Intelligence. It takes place about two centuries after the unspecified period depicted in the film; during the ice age in between the fall of the Orga's technological empire and the millinial return of the Supermecha. It tells the story of a tribe of wandering nomads struggling to survive amid harsh, chaotic climates and dwindling food supplies.
Needless to say it is a dark tale.
The central character, the namesake of the story, is a robot designed for a very specific purpose; a purpose for which most of the people in the story have no use, and don't really understand. She is actually the protagonist of the tale, but her character arc is reactionary, told as background to the stories of the people in whose company she travels. So, perhaps unfairly, it is the trials of a band of Orga that comprises the foreground narrative in a story about a Mecha.
This is actually the third incarnation of "The Porcelain Doll". In it's first life, it appeared as a 40k word novella at my original fan fiction site back in 2002. That version opened at what is about the halfway point for this novel. I was happy with it, and it received a warm reception among the small group of A.I. fans that enjoyed my writing.
Then, sometime in 2003, I decided that the story would work as a stand-alone novel. So I added another 40k words or so, detailing the background of the characters and their trek to the dead city where the first version began. I also decided that I'd need a few more characters to make the longer version work. A few months later I had a completed novel.
I admit now that I was writing with the naive notion that I was constructing a narrative strong enough to form the basis for a sequel to the film. (It's OK to laugh at that. I do.) I was so confident that I even sent a copy of the completed novel to Steven Spielberg. I am sure I don't have to tell you that I never heard back from him.
I never posted the full version. I decided to self-publish. So I removed any copyrighted terminology, things like "The City At The End Of The World," the word "Mecha" and the name "Alan Hobby", although all are referenced in this tale. Hobby is now referred to as "The American", Manhattan is called "The sunken city" and Mecha are simply referred to as "Machine".
A week before this writing, I decided to revisit the story and post it for all to read and, hopefully, enjoy. So I embarked on a re-edit and was surprised and encouraged to find many redundancies and inconsistent plot points. I was surprised because I hadn't noticed them before; and encouraged because I had obviously become a better writer since. I tightened what loose ends I could without entirely rewriting the story, but there are still a few 'dodgy bits'. I also deleted a lot of superfluous sentences… entire paragraphs sometimes, and rewrote a few sections that I thought could have been better structured.
Because of the way it developed, the novel starts slowly and then builds towards a climactic end. Think of it like Ravel's "Bolero", starting softly, with little tension, then building in theme and complexity. Or, for you fans of rock and roll, think "Stairway to Heaven." The song doesn't really 'get it on' until the halfway point, but without that slow, moody opening, it is incomplete.
The people depicted in this tale are simple but decent; uneducated but not stupid. Except for one person, who appears later in the tale, their speech patterns were intentionally written slightly askew. And while the nomads are often imperfect, as are we all, they embody what I see as the most noble elements of mankind.
What is posted here is Version 3.0, of my story. I hope you find it consuming enough to finish.
Pt 2: (The Self-Indulgent Part)
"What Good Is A Machine The Plays Piano?"
The question that prefaces this self-indulgent part of the foreword is asked by twice in the story by two different characters, and for entirely different reasons. Its a nuanced quesiton, but the interpretaion that concerns this foreword is 'why a story about such a thing?'
My story about a robot that plays the piano started with a discussion about death. David's death, to be precise, the small Mecha child whose search for love is told in the film A.I. It was a, quite often, passionate debate that took place at the original SKG A.I. fansite, and had to do with the subject of robots with souls. Some well-read A.I. fans stated their belief that, one day, robots would acquire a "soul". I do not believe that "soul" is something that is acquired, but that it is, rather, the essence of our true selves; what we really are beneath the layers of flesh that comprise our "soft machine". Simply stated: A brain does not develop a soul. Rather, a brain is the device used by soul to navigate the dense world of matter.
I asserted then, as I do now, that robots will never have that seed of consciousness called "soul"; that robots are actually manufactured extensions of our own consciousness. In no way does this statement diminish their value to society or the aspirations and efforts of those who are in the midst of the difficult process of simulating "Orga".
I decided my point would best made though the subject of art. The reason why that subject is critical is because while art is so unessential to our practical lives it is, conversely, entirely essential to our spiritual lives. We are compelled, often irrationally, to express our 'self' through our senses, in sound and images and movement…. languages that make no sense outside of their own context.
Let's take, for example, that beautiful, lilting clarinet opening to "Rhapsody In Blue". One can write it down, detail the math of the rhythm, the duration of the notes, the pitch and dynamics etc… But the images it evokes, the emotion and meaning behind the music… all that is purely human. One can argue that there is a cultural context as well, but either way, outside of our emotional and psychic connection to art, it makes no sense and has no 'practical' purpose but to communicate what lies beyond the mundane.
That is why we can tell when one version of a picece is better than another, even if the details of their execution are the same. The better version may even be poorly executed by comparison, but might communicate something indefinable but recognizable to those who understand the language.
The robot in my story was designed to interpret music through the element of emotion. But in order for that process to take shape on its own, as it does with you or I, Doll must experience the gamut of life: love, hate, anger, fear, desire…all those emotions that, in excess, form the 7 passions of the mind.
And, unfortunately, there is also death. Much of what we express in our artistic endeavors is inexorably linked to the awareness of our mortality.
In the end The Porcelain Doll is actually a sort of pontification about the strength of the human spirit to endure against all odds, even when we know our end is inevitable; and the roles that our Machines, as the symbols of our aspirations and the extensions of our will, play in our human drama.