I’ve been doodling around for quite a while now on a far future storyline about human-AI hybrids set in a post-biosphere civilization called the Floating World.
The name “Maps From the Floating World” is meant to evoke the famous Ukiyo-e woodcuts of 18th Century Japan. Ukiyo-e (usually translated into English as “Pictures of the Floating World”) were the ancestral art form of modern Japanese manga: mass-produced illustrations for glamorous stories about the geisha, samurai, intellectuals and rich merchants who populated Japan’s great 17th century cities. The original “Pictures of the Floating World” depicted a profoundly new environment in Japanese (and human) history: an urban universe on the cusp of industrialization, full of people uprooted from their rural past and looking for new stories and new ways of living.
In the large scope of human cultural evolution, it’s only a few short steps from 17th century Japan’s “nightless cities” to the overwhelming, disorienting, chaotic cityscapes of cyberpunk … or from the floating world’s geishas and ronin to cyberpunk’s razor girls and keyboard cowboys. I’ve tried to draw a line between these two points — iconic images of proto-industrial urbanism on the one hand and post-industrial science fiction on the other hand — and project it into a distant future. The inhabitants of my imagined Floating World are also people uprooted from their past and trying to chart their course through a new reality. In this case, however, it is the post-biosphere reality of Life After Earth.
The central figures in the story are the human-AI hybrids who map, maintain and repair the informational threads of the Floating World. In essence, they are cosmic systems administrators. But the system they administer is humanity itself, and it is so vast and so old that no one even remembers whether it’s the real world or just a virtual echo of a world long-dead. I guess you could call these AIs gods … if gods were fallible and mortal. The surviving human inhabitants of the Floating World just call them Tinkers.
Okay. So much for idle daydreams. What pushed this project beyond the realm of idle daydreams was meeting artist Martha Lewis.
Martha’s work is truly amazing. It explores technological and scientific images in a way that explodes all the stale old assumptions and stereotypes we’ve come to associate with scientific (and science fictional) illustration. Her paintings have the hypnotic, iconic, otherworldly quality of ancient maps. You can get lost in them. You can imagine futuristic monks meditating in front of them. You could even meditate in front of them yourself. The first time I saw one of her paintings, I had that kick-in-the-gut feeling of having found something I hadn’t even known I was looking for.
Thus, I am very, very excited to be able announce that Martha has tentatively agreed to collaborate on the Floating World project.
At this stage we’re still just throwing ideas at the walls and seeing which ones stick. But the eventual goal is to construct an online graphic novel that will be truly a creature of the web, written, drawn, and designed as fragments of linked hypertext. Eventually, we hope to weave a number of interconnected stories together so that readers will be free to navigate the links between various storylines in any order they choose, be it following the adventures of a favorite character or constructing a large scale history of the system as a whole. In essence, we would like the comic itself to function as a virtual Floating World … one where each reader will be free to construct his or her own personal map of the territory.
All these grand plans are still a long way off, of course. But we are moving forward. I’ll keep you posted on our progress. And hopefully I’ll have some good stories and pretty pictures for you in the not-too-distant future…..