An Aside About Everything

by Sasha


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Great title but short on memorable bits, December 10, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2021

An Aside About Everything seemed to promise a universal message and maybe didn't quite follow through on it, but it was still quite worthwhile. You're some nameless man or, more precisely, Him. You want to find a woman, whose last name is an initial. This reminds me of an admonishment from Geoffrey Braithwaite, the protagonist of Julian Barnes's Flaubert's Parrot. Rule 8 in particular: "8. No novels in which the narrator, or any of the characters, is identified simply by an initial letter. Still they go on doing it!"

Now I may or may not have started my own writings with a character named A. and later, when I was feeling adventurous, J. But AAAE started this off with a main character named Him and K, so along with the title, it felt like it was swinging for the fences with someone generally-named. It never quite got there, and the conclusion, though pleasant, didn't feel earth-shattering. But it had enough for enjoyment.

You, as He, start off in the sort of dingy detective office Geoffrey Braithwaite, again, might cluck at if he played lots of text adventures, parser or twine. It's in The Void, though, and you can escape to it at any time and return to the Outer Ring and, later, the Inner Ring. Along the way you meet a bunch of women who give you information about K. Why they know this, it's not clear, but they seem to have nothing better to do. One has an assortment of pills that give different emotions. You have to find four weird objects to give her to get all the pills, but then, you only get to take one pill at the end, which is kind of a bummer. I have a chance to take mind-altering drugs I never would in real life, and it's taken away from me for .... a revelation that, apparently, the journey is more important than the goal! This is nice, but it belies the game's initial ambition. Perhaps the narrator needs to learn this sort of thing along the way.

But this is sniping on my part. Looking back, it makes sense. He uses four women to get at the woman he really wants, and he has to realize he's been using them, and he has to admit he went about things in the wrong way and didn't deserve K's attention. So it all neatly folds together. And if I knew the ending was coming, I was surprised to remember things I'd looked long and hard for until they weren't worth it for themselves. But I realized things on the way, and I realized I realized things on the way. It just felt a bit blunt.

My adventures where I found this in real life were far less supernatural. For instance, I remembered books I loved as a kid and picked them off with city library intra-branch loan, and tracking down everything by an author or everything in a series was a rewarding sort of adventure, and AAAE felt like that. But it wasn't having the books so much as going through the process of finding what I wanted quickly and no longer missing it or worrying I was missing something big. And of course these books weren't perfect, but they were worth finding, and doing so encouraged me to tackle bigger projects and not be upset about what I missed.

Or there was that BASIC game programming book I remembered a year ago. Another BASIC book tipped me off to vague memories, and I followed the trail until I saw a cover I recognized. Then a friend tipped me off there was a sequel, which I built up in my mind until finally I just went through with it. The programs that seemed so profound, and they seemed, well, pretty cheap, and the sequel objectively wasn't much more. And I couldn't blame myself for not typing them out, or I recognized the coding was weak, and I realized I'd even remembered some as far more complex than they were. It was something I thought I had to find, though I didn't really. But when I found it, it was good enough. (The books, by the way, are by David Ahl.)

Him's realization reminded me of this and more. I don't know if I stayed fully tuned in for AAAE, but part of that was that I was connecting to His experience. And His being able to manipulate women to get what he wanted paralleled a Julian Barnes (again) short story where a person slowly got everything he wanted and asked to be truly happy and then was left with just his life. AAAE felt like that, though it took longer to get there and didn't have the same punch. I don't really remember whom you need to manipulate, and for what, beyond Luna. But it had enough for a good, positive think.

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