Ken Lui vs. William Roughead: A Deal Me In Short “Story” Challenge

classic crimesFor this, my second round/deck in the Deal Me In Short Story Challenge,  I‘m going to continue my bonus challenge of selecting two stories per draw, reading both, and then trying to come up with a way to connect the two.  This may prove an even more difficult challenge in the long run since I’ve selected so many non-fiction pieces this time around. I’ve been inspired by Non-Fiction November.

This time I drew a piece of science fiction called “The Gods Will Not Be Chained” by Ken Lui from The End is Nigh: The Apocalypse Triptych and “The Ardlamont Mystery” by William Roughead from Classic Crimes.  

Ken Lui’s story, set in the near future, is about a young woman whose father, a world renowned computer scientist has recently died.  Her father was working for a company that wanted to upload human personalities in order to use them to further develop more advanced technology.  After some time passes, the girl begins to receive messages on her computer that seem to be a little too close to the messages her father used to send.

Roughead’s article is a novella length piece of crime reporting about a man accused of a murder he probably didn’t comment.  The accused is essentially condemned by the court of public opinion because he really is a very unpleasant scoundrel, though he is also most likely innocent of this particular murder.

So what does a very hip, modern bit of science fiction have in common with classic late 19th century crime reportage?

One thing that struck me was how both pieces rely on quoted text to tell their stories and that both forms of quoted text are outside the realm of more day-to-day text, at least the day-to-day text that I read.

Lui’s heroine meets her father’s ‘ghost’ through the messages he sends via her computer. These messages consist entirely of emoji’s.  For example:

ID  ?

You’ll have to use a bit of your imagination since I cannot figure out how to make WordPress type proper emojis. The above message means “who are you?”  I’m pleased to say that it didn’t take me long to figure out how to read the emoji texts, at least not with the help Mr. Lui’s narration supplies.

William Roughead, the introduction informs me, was an early pioneer of crime writing.  His work influenced most of the early crime writers– Dorothy Sayers was a big fan.  “The Ardlamont Mystery” integrates newspaper coverage, eyewitness testimony and court transcripts to explain how John Alfred Monsoon came to be accused of murdering his student, Cecil Hambrough while out hunting on the Hambrough’s rented estate.  Although Monsoon was eventually acquitted, he later ended up suing Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum which had featured a likeness of him in their chamber of horrors.  Monsoon didn’t object to being reproduced in wax, but he felt it was libelous to put him in all the other villains who populated that particular room.

It’s a fascinating account of the “murder of the century.”

I’m sure there’s a proper graduate school term for this use of quoted texts to tell a story, but I don’t know what it is.  Probably  “something-glossia.”  It’s a very common device but one that both Lui and Roughead use quite well.  I think someone should write a paper on it.

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2 Comments

  1. Jay says:

    I just “discovered” Ken Liu last week, as his story “What I Assume You Shall Assume” was one of the standouts in a genre anthology I just finished (“Dead Man’s Hand” – a collection of ‘weird western’ tales). The story of his you describe sounds interesting too.

    It must be extra hard to make a connection when eme of the stories is an essay.

    1. It’s proving to be a challenge which was the whole point. I should get plenty of draws that are two essays though with this new deck I’ve set up.

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