A Novel by Ben Goertzel

WARGASM's Table of Contents

What is WARGASM?

What kind of novel is WARGASM? It isn't any kind. It does not fall into any particular genre. It is an unique entity. WARGASM the novel is WARGASM the genre.

WARGASM is a long novel. It is a collage, a pastiche. It is a novel of excess and ideosyncracy. As such its closest relatives are perhaps the classics of excess: Finnegan's Wake, Gravity's Rainbow, Also Sprach Zarathustra, Stand on Zanzibar (by John Brunner), the Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, anything by the Marquis de Sade....

More concretely, some strong influences include:

WARGASM's style is not consistent. It is not meant to be. The barriers between experimental prose-poetry, ordinary narrative/dialogue, and lowbrow sci-fi are not only crossed again and again, but are subverted, perverted, and tied up in all kinds of knots. Long passages read like postmodern poetry. Long passages read like a Phil Dick 50's sci-fi novel. Long passages read like ordinary 90's fiction. Long passages read like nothing anyone else you've ever read.

This style-mixing does not come out of a conscious, intellectual desire for experimentation. It is, rather, an attempt at the most direct expression possible.

WARGASM combines elements of fantasy, science fiction, stream-of- consciousness, psychological fiction, and poetry. But all of these elements are directed toward a single aim: the portrayal of the process of reality breaking down.

WARGASM may be understood as a science-fiction story. The key idea, in this view, is the "Great System Crash." In the future, bodies become obsolete, and the entire population of Earth "downloads" their brains into a global computer network. In this computer network, people live happily in various simulated "virtual realities." But then the computer network begins to malfunction. The virtual realities break down. And the result is -- apparent chaos.

But, as with any malfunctioning computer program, the chaos is only apparent; there are certain emergent regularities, certain strange patterns to the breakdown. For example, having sex tends to cause one's reality to disappear. The effects of ordinary hallucinogenic drugs have changed -- instead of lasting for hours or days, they now last forever! And oceans have acquired strange properties; they seem to be media for communication with or transportation into other realms.

But the sci-fi interpretation is only one possible view of WARGASM. The Great System Crash is a metaphor for the individual's plunge into madness. WARGASM is the diary of a young man going mad. He disappears into science-fictional worlds, into worlds of hallucination and delusion. Then he comes back to reality, rethinks and perhaps changes his life, then disappears again. WARGASM is a record of his comings and goings: of the ordinary life from which he is escaping, and the fantastic worlds into which he escapes. It captures the structure of the highly creative but periodically dissipating mind.

WARGASM has been eight years in the making. It is a first novel, a second novel and a third novel -- scrambled in a blender, painstakingly extracted, and lovingly sculpted into a zero'th non-novel.

The Structure of WARGASM

Structurally, the novel falls into three layers. The layers are spliced together rather than presented in sequence (the linear order of time being, after all, secondary to the fundamental patterned order of the mind/world!).

Layer 1 is WARGASM proper: it represents the highest degree of disorganization. Stories and characters blend unsystematically into and out of each other; narrators change places; streams of consciousness flow into each other and intersect. The style varies from surrealistic, free-flowing poetry to sci-fi. Temporally, this represents the completely crashed computer network. Realities have run amok.

Layer 2 is slightly briefer and is divided into tracks and reels. Each segment begins with a title, such as "Track 2, Reel 9." Characters and stories remain in their own tracks. There are intersections between tracks but these are carried out in an orderly manner. Two tracks contain poetic excursions; the rest are straightforward prose, in a more ordinary and less "trash sci-fi" style than is found in Layer 1. Temporally, this represents an earlier phase of system degradation. Realities are beginning to get funny but are still largely intact.

Layer 3 is the briefest of all; it is called SEXPLEX. It represents a very early stage in the degradation of the mind/computer-network. Individuals still have their bodies but are beginning to abandon physical reality for virtual reality. Already problems are occurring: virtual reality is displaying a spontaneous tendency toward the surreal and bizarre. The style here is yet more "hard-boiled" and less extravagant.

Psychology in WARGASM

The psychological ideas which structure WARGASM are in large part the same ideas developed in my theoretical psychology books. Needless to say, however, the mode of presentation is quite different!

As a single representative example of the role of theoretical psychology in WARGASM, consider multiple personality . Everyone has heard of multiple personality patients like Sybil and Billy Milligan. More and more psychologists are coming to believe that these patients represent extreme cases of an ordinary phenomenon -- that, as Marcel Proust realized when he wrote of "The several gentlemen of whom I consist," we are all dissociated to a certain extent. In Chaotic Logic, From Complexity to Creativity, and elsewhere, I have made technical contributions to this aspect of psychological theory. In WARGASM this idea appears as an indeterminacy as to whether or not two personalities belong to the same body . At one point a certain Aglaia claims that all the characters in the novel are her own subpersonalities. At another point a group of four friends, by virtue of sharing an acid trip, meld into a single person. And so on.

A Brief (Non-)Publishing History

Over the past four years I have sent versions of WARGASM, or fragments thereof, to four different publishers, resulting in three rejections and two "partial acceptances," which however I was forced to refuse on grounds of artistic integrity. The editor of the Fiction Collective II press wanted to publish the poetic parts of WARGASM without the science fiction parts (science fiction being part of the "lower realm" of literature and incompatible with the aims of such an highbrow press). And a certain sci-fi publisher, to which I sent only a few excerpts from the book, was vaguely interested in publishing a heavily revised version of the Jake and Josie story. But though I am willing to accept some editorial revision, perhaps even substantial revision, I can't reconcile myself to the idea of dividing the book up by genre. This would kill the underlying vision, which is the only important thing.

And so, I'm hoping to eventually find a publisher who can sympathize with this eccentric vision of mine -- this vision in which trashy sci-fi, stream of consciousness prose poetry and postmodern psychology come together to form a unique picture of the mind and universe gone mad. If you are this publisher, or you have an idea of who this publisher might be, please contact me immediately!

Anyhow, in the meantime, WARGASM is avaliable only through the World Wide Web -- a perfectly valid means of publishing, though, unfortunately, not one that produces any dollars or prestige for the author. Ah well.... But aren't you lucky, getting such a unique literary opportunity for such a low, low price....

Ben Goertzel (mailto:%20ben@psy.uwa.edu.au)