In many ways, The Chaos! Quincunx series is a mostly satiric response to trends and readerly expectations in contemporary genre fiction. Generally, in the marketplace for popular books, it has become less about the writing itself than about delivering a recognized pattern that fits a particular genre category.
In TC!Q, genre is more of a mood or musical instruction. Would it be uncouth to ask a painter why he or she is painting paint instead of depicting a bowl of fruit? In terms of the novel, we tend to use and even abuse language to bring about some purpose, say, to evoke emotion in the reader or to cleverly express an opinion that is very dear to the authorial heart. To deal with language representing itself would be almost verboten, and yet from my perspective, what is or what should the book be about but its own textures and materials moving through time? In this sense, these novels may be transparently conceptualist in nature. Anyway, if there are words stringing you along, why not have them be about words themselves?
Minor Episodes / Major Ruckus
The first two novels in the series relate to a mild giggle in the middle of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony where the composer represents the major and minor keys almost as characters duking it out and switching traditional places. My character Minor, by this logic, is larger than life, while poor Major Ruckus almost never appears except to cause himself more embarrassment.
Minor Episodes is a decadent overture with poetic sentences styled after the marvelous surrealist texts of French poet Robert Desnos. In the penultimate chapter, Minor, that economic omnivore, travels into a “rent in time” that enables him to exist in multiple universes. These universes include a number of chapters that are in a book called Minor Episodes, in which there is a sense that each of these episodes is unending.
Major Ruckus, in comparison, is more like a scherzo movement, or perhaps a reverse-engineered graphic novel. The self-conscious meta-character named Oober Mann is convinced by aliens that he is the author of the universally acclaimed Minor Episodes but this deception is only in aid of snagging a time travel component called the tachyonometer.
Rogue Cells / Carbon Harbour
(terrorist/environmental dystopian genres)
The next two novels in the series leap forward from the near present to one post-apocalyptic future and one post-dystopic future. In each novel, much of the language is at once deliberately arcane and invented, with a vocabulary suited to its own environs.
Rogue Cells is more of an unstable dance movement, poco scherzoso, that joins Oober Mann after the Meltdown in a First Nation state called New Haudenosaunee, where celebrities join religious cults and commit terrorist acts. Some of the characters from the first two novels emerge in this reality through the use of black market cryobeds in a shifty tanning salon. One of the aliens from Major Ruckus, now in the form of The Librarian, has returned to free the essence of her friend that was stashed away in Oober Mann’s muddled mind, and his consciousness becomes the main connector between these two novels, as he is diagnosed with a syndrome that leads him to believe he is writing universally acclaimed masterpieces.
Carbon Harbour is more of a ponderous cavatina that focuses on bio-material magnate Cornelius Quartz in a fairly explicit parody based on Henry James’s The Golden Bowl involving a phallus made out of corn. A number of environmental issues have been solved but people keep retreating into video games in which they enjoy “pollution fantasies” while very real fears and anxieties remain about the proliferation of oil slurping “aquacukes” and enormous composting worms that have almost run out of garbage to eat. Meanwhile, Minor has reunited with his daughter Diminuenda and they are causing havoc everywhere in aid of creating their own religion. Oober Mann is once again used by Major Ruckus and his crew, and is forced to accept The Ignoble Prize at a controversial awards show for The Chaos! Quincunx, while the widespread linguistic breakdown threatens the structure of the novel itself.
Minor Expectations (forthcoming, Fall 2014)
(historical novel genre)
This is not the “last” novel but it does complete the circuit of novels as a sequel to Minor Episodes and a prequel to Carbon Harbour.
Minor Expectations is in theme and variations form, and includes episodes from the life of Diminuenda Minor as they have fallen into the lap of esteemed critic Alfred J. Bastard, who keenly and messily evaluated Oober Mann’s constipated efforts in Rogue Cells. Much to her surprise, after rather wayward beginnings in keeping with an overeroticized Jane Eyre, Diminuenda learns that she is to be the sole heiress to Minor’s fortunes, provided that she uses the tachyonometer to travel through time and “procure” certain objets d’art. The novel includes choice accounts of her adventures that evoke the dominant writing style of a given time and place, and there are many echoes of the other novels, only suddenly cast in a historical aspect.
These novels are all part of The Chaos! Quincunx but they are more or less standalone novels. There are tenuous connective threads and motivic identities that move this way and that through the various “nodes” but not necessarily in a linear way. I have come to think of them more as movements in a late Beethoven string quartet, where an erotic parody style is the bass/base foundation connecting them all and the given genre parody style is leading the dance in terms of a surface style. Also, I will reiterate that language is the real character in these books that undergoes evolution, development, regression and complete doublebacks. It is noteworthy that a number of the scenes are palimpsests, in which meticulously revised language rests atop a previously existing structure, model, or pattern. Then it is Diabelli or Clementi or what Beethoven is in fact doing with their simpler musical outlines? This is what it means to consider a novel in terms of layers and substructures versus a superstructure.
While these notions may sound at once absurd and grand, it is this writer’s hope that they resonate sufficiently throughout the series to warrant the reader’s re-entry from a different point of view each time, or through a preferred fragment in a rare moment of leisure.
A standalone movement is also in the works that will further unify these five parts.