George Ten and George Nine sat side by side in parallel. Neither moved. They sat so for months at a time between those occasions when Harriman activated them for consultation. They would sit so, George Ten dispassionately realized, perhaps for many years.
The proton micro-pile would, of course, continue to power them and keep the positronic brain paths going with that minimum intensity required to keep them operative. It would continue to do so through all the periods of inactivity to come.
The situation was rather analogous to what might be described as sleep in human beings, but there were no dreams. The awareness of George Ten and George Nine was limited, slow, and spasmodic, but what there was of it was of the real world.
They could talk to each other occasionally in barely heard whispers, a word or syllable now, another at another time, whenever the random positronic surges briefly intensified above the necessary threshold. To each it seemed a connected conversation carried on in a glimmering passage of time.
Have you ever considered how many words you say in a day? Dr. Louann Brizendine, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco states in The Female Brain that “A woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000.” Sounds plausible, but apparently it’s not true. The real numbers are more like “16,215 for women and 15,669 for men” according to Lise Eliot in her book Pink Brain, Blue Brain. So basically a novelette a day. Ah, if only. If only we could dictate a novel every three or four days. But mostly we fill up the days with, “Do you want another cup of coffee?” “Did you see [such and such] on TV last night?” “Are you finished in there yet?” and “Was it good for you too?” Days and days pass and we say very little meaningful at all. I know I don’t and I seriously doubt that I come anywhere near to using my quota of 15,669 words; like many Scottish males I have a propensity for laconicity.
But every now and then I do write something meaningful. Maybe a few words. Often poem-shaped. And then click! the brain switches itself off. Sometimes it’s not even a whole poem, just a sentence or two, an idea for something bigger. And I suspect most writers are the same. Unless you’re someone like Asimov. (He’s published more than five hundred works in nine of the ten major Dewey Decimal System categories.) But of all Asimov wrote—and I’ve read quite a bit of him (his science fiction at least)—discounting the three Laws of Robotics (which everyone knows) the only thing by him that I could remember was this scene; it was the only image that haunted me. That doesn’t mean that he’s a bad writer—although by his own admission he regarded himself as nothing more than a storyteller—but there are times in this life—these wonderful ever so rare times—when the ideal reader picks up something and a connection is made that lasts for years. The same happened to me when I read Robert Silverberg’s novel A Time of Changes and also with his novella Born with the Dead. A few words and then nothing.
For me that’s what reading’s like, like these two robots sat motionless side by side passing bits of code to each other until they finally amount to something meaningful. I’ve read hundreds of books, not nearly as many as I wish I’d read or probably ought to have read, but only a fraction of the millions upon millions of words I’ve read has stayed with me. Not a very good return on investment when you think about it. This is why when I write I’m careful about what I say. I have a rule that I live by: Say what you have to say and get off the page. I think it’s a good rule.
I wrote this poem a while back:
Advice to a Young Poet
Words are the enemy.
Please believe me when I tell you this;
I mean you no harm.
They won't give up their meanings
except after a fight
and they'll betray you without a thought.
But the worst of it is:
they'll shoot you down with home truths
the kind you can't run from.
So don't run.
Just watch what you say
is what you meant to say.
Tuesday, 26 November, 1996
When I first started computer programming I had a ZX Spectrum. It came with 16K of RAM but I had the expansion pack so had a whopping great 48K to play with; that’s 49512 bytes and it’s amazing what you can do with that small a space when you put your mind to it. Now we think in terms of gigabytes and terabytes and even petabytes. Programmers no longer have to be creative with space, not like they used to. Hence the term bloatware. I’m not a big fan of Twitter but let’s just say for a moment that instead of 16,000 words today you could only send one tweet: what would you say? Or you’re the first person to land on some distant planet: what would you say? Or you’re lying on your deathbed: what would you say?
I don’t write nearly as much as many of my peers. The reason is very simple. I don’t have that much to say. A couple of my friends have just finished first drafts of novels and they posted the figures on Facebook: one was 115,000 words, the other was 186,000 words and I don’t know about you but that’s an awfe loatta wurds t’haff t’read. My longest novel is 90,000 words long and I think of it as a ruddy epic even though there’s nothing remotely epic about it.
The point I’m trying to make with all these examples is that only a fraction of what we say or write will make a difference and only to a fraction of those people who hear or read those words. Depressing really. The rest is wrapping paper. And who saves wrapping paper or even pays that much attention to it?