“A Rectilinear Fable…” for those of us who have no idea, can you explain what “rectilinear” means?
For the purpose of the story, I used it to mean simply “being characterized by straight lines, or taking the course of a straight line,” which applies to the protagonist and his journey. For me fables tend to be narrative straight lines, short pieces which progress somewhat relentlessly towards their “moral lesson.” I wanted to set that same expectation for my story, and then deliver on it structurally instead of morally.
Did anything in particular inspire this story? What initial idea did it evolve from?
I had recently read Peter Beagle’s fabulous and fabulist “The Last and Only, or Mr. Moskowitz Becomes French,” and the theme of unexplained transformation was on my mind. I wanted to try my hand at a story in which the central character was subjected to a change that worked on multiple levels. The idea was to push a very simple premise into metaphysical territory in a short space.
Have you ever been to Alhambra? What made you choose this as a place of significance for the story?
I spent much of my early youth in Spain and I was fortunate that my parents dragged my snotty little self to the Alhambra, yes. Two decades later, at more or less the time I read Beagle’s story I watched a documentary that touched briefly on the astonishing geometrical patterns and arabesques of the Alhambra. I remembered my visit, and the thought struck me that it might be envisioned not only as a fortress and a palace, but as a place whose mathematics could wring profound alterations after the fact.
In the story one of your characters refers to a straight line as “An expression of purity. A manifestation of God.” What is your take on mathematics, and the purity of a straight line?
A line has no width or height and, ideally I suppose, is considered infinitely long. It strikes me that there are concepts in mathematics, from the foundational definitions of straight-line geometry in Euclid’s Elements all the way to the most abstruse theorems in contemporary branches, that try to reach into those same unreachable categories of expression that philosophers and theologians run into when discussing God in the abstract. When Saint Anselm of Canterbury proposed his notion of God as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” he was taking a stab at infinity, at one type of infinity, perhaps, amongst infinite others. Georg Cantor developed a mathematics of infinite sets, and that was another attempt. There have been many.
This isn’t a particularly original thought, mind you, but it suited me for the story. How much of the real world is “pure” or “infinite” in the way of mathematics or God? What if infinity landed on a person, instead of a person trying to capture infinity with thought? Gamel Livingstone’s experience is a not-entirely-serious answer to those questions.
The story makes use of a lot of interesting geometric language: “Cissoid of Diocles”, “Conchoid of de Sluze”. There is an odd kind of poetry to these terms. Do you have a personal favourite?
Thank you. I’m not sure I have a favourite, but “trisectrix of Maclaurin” seemed amusing, in the context.
Alvaro Zinos-Amaro’s fiction has appeared in Farrago’s Wainscot, Labyrinth Inhabitant Magazine and Atomjack Magazine. His reviews and critical essays have appeared in The Internet Review of Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, The Fix and Fruitless Recursion. His blog is Waiting For My Aineko.