Session Four: World Building

 7/30/09 – 8/5/09
pages 419 – 442

We open with dialogue between Rose and Dave. This is something I really miss in latter day Homestuck, this… meta-ness, is that the word I’m searching for? What I mean is the way there are two characters commenting on the actions of two other characters while remaining wholly separate from the main exchange; it feels almost Shakespearean to me. As an additional layer, we have our shrouded mystery player (WV) also watching and commenting on the action via the link commands at the bottom of the page.  This sense of playfulness about the format, this willingness to use every available option, seems rather missing from Act 6.

As an aside, scrolling through the log, the commands really start to peter out by 2011. Doc Scratch locks them right before the end of Act 5 (this is indicated by an [o]). They make a bit of a comeback when the Alpha kids are introduced, but not really. Caliborn’s the only one who makes use of them before long. I can’t decide if this is something that’s intentional or if the command function is just one more thing that has fallen by the wayside over time. I was leaning towards the former until I really took a look at the log. This is a shame, because I’d have liked to see this feature played with once we had more controllable characters in the same vicinity. (The whole concept of the readers “playing” as the characters might be out the window but that’s another post altogether.) Also, it’s going to make navigating my way through this reread difficult as I won’t have any landmarks to indicate what page I’m currently on. Well, best not to burn any bridges until we’re already across.

On a marginally less dour note, Dave provides us with more information about Lil’ Cal.

TG: dont tell john this but i think he might have been right about the puppets
TG: theyre sort of starting to freak me out a little
TT: You’re referring to your brother’s collection?
TG: i mean dont get me wrong i think its cool and all
TG: the semi-ironic puppet thing or whatever
TG: or semi-semi ironic
TG: man i dont even know
TG: im just starting to think some of this shit is going a little far and its kind of fucked up
TT: I’ve seen his websites.
TT: I like them.
TG: haha yeah well YOU WOULD
TG: oh man i wish lil cal wouldnt look at me like that
TG: with those dead eyes jesus
TG: sometimes i dream that hes real and hes talking to me and i wake up in a cold sweat and basically flip the fuck out

Also, interesting that Rose likes Bro’s websites. I like how this conversation ends with Dave checking to make sure John’s alright. It bookends nicely with his cavalier opening conversation gambit.

Now, Nannasprite has some info she’d like to dump. Huh, like the bucket that was positioned over the door which she dumped on John’s head.. Haha, I just got that.

Good one, Nanna.

We get a new kind of log, a spritelog, which allows us to read spoken dialogue. This is where it’s established that typing quirks carry over into speech, hence why none of John’s sentences are capitalized. I don’t take the quirks to be indicative of speech patterns (except in Karkat’s case) so much as they’re epithetical; they call the character to mind in the same way the text color does. I think of them as closer to handwriting than dialect. In addition to their other quirks, sprites have the ability to underline keywords (I always want to click on these).

There’s a lot going on in this conversation, and I find that my take on it has become more complicated since I last read it. I’ll do my best to summarize and then take it piece by piece.

By biting into the blue apple, John simultaneously entered and created The Medium, a “ring of pure void, dividing light and darkness” that exists inside the Incipishere, which is in turn a place that exists outside John’s universe and thus outside of time as he’s always known it. Above the Medium, beyond seven gates, in the heart of the Incipisphere, is Skaia.

Homestuck Skaia

Skaia is a dormant crucible of unlimited creative potential, because of this, there are forces of light charged with defending it and forces of darkness charged to destroy it. The two were in stalemate until John’s arrival (remember the primary paradox of Paradox Space, things don’t exist until introduced into the comic and then they have always existed) gave the battle shape through the kernelsprite. When the kernelsprite “hatched”, it sent copies of itself to the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness and the “true war” between good and evil began. This is a conflict that the side of light is destined to lose, without exception. On top of this, the forces of darkness have kidnapped Dad. Why is all of this happening? Well, that’s The Ultimate Riddle and it’s up to John (and us) to figure it out.

Homestuck page 424 kernelsprite hatch
A kernelsprite in the act of propagation.

Phew. It’s been awhile since I considered any of this, probably why it was a good idea to do a reread. For the last few years I’ve been thinking in terms of game instances or sessions and it’s hard to remember what it was like before I had all the information I do now. I tend to focus in on words like “void”, for example, in a way I never did before.

There’s a lot of what I can’t help but think of as bread crumbing going on, with all the talk of gates. So much of this is going to get bypassed when the kids’ session goes off the rails. Nannasprite scolds John for thinking in video game terms, and yet that’s what I at least have irresistibly reverted to.

NANNASPRITE: No, John. You are not inside a computer or software or anything like that! Try not to be so linear, dear. The software that brought you here was merely a mechanism that served as a gateway! Its routines in a way served to invoke this realm’s instance, yet it stands independently of any physical machine, and somewhat paradoxically, always has!

It’s this distinction that sets Homestuck apart from other stories of this kind. Though if anything, this does show how difficult it is to separate content from the mechanism of its delivery. Nannasprite’s statement here is going to be called directly into question by later events.

Back in the day, I was very excited by the use of the word “medium”. Time has only served to reinforce that initial impression. Hussie has a way with words and this one was particularly well chosen. I’m going to toss out some definitions.

  • a middle state or condition
  • something intermediate in nature
  • an intervening substance through which a force acts or an effect is produced
  • an element that is the natural habitat of an organism (as in a culture medium for growing bacteria)
  • surrounding objects, conditions and influences; environment
  • an intervening agency, means, or instrument by which something is conveyed or accomplished
  • a person claiming to be in contact with the spirits of the dead and to communicate between the dead and the living
  • one of the means or channels of general communications, information, or entertainment in society
  • a particular form of storage for digitized information such as magnetic tape or discs
  • (adjective) about halfway between extremes

The plural of medium is media.

All of those definitions factor into The Medium in one way or another. When I first read this conversation, the connotation that sprang to mind was the “substance through which an effect is achieved” and the “instrument through which something is conveyed”, an artist’s medium in other words. The way the kids all played musical instruments, probably combined with the fact that I was raised by an artist (medium can also refer to the liquid mixed with pigment to create paint), made this an automatic assumption. Now the one that stands out to me is “the element that is the natural habitat of an organism”. The Medium is also the realm that exists between light and darkness, between Prospit and Derse as we will come to find. It’s the environment in which most of our story, the kids’ struggle, is going to take place. All stories are middles in a way, the chronicle of change between a start point and an end. Homestuck is in many ways about the internet and internet culture as a means of communication; four internet friends continue to communicate via computers and phones even when all lines have been severed, and they do it with a lot of reference humor to boot. And of course, it’s impossible to ignore the one about transacting with the dead when Nannasprite is floating right there.

Homestuck Incipisphere

I have a lot more trouble with the Incipisphere, possibly because for years I thought it was “Incinisphere”, as in “incinerate”, until someone on the forums pointed the error out to me. In my defense, mine was a cooler word. I confess, the first word that comes to mind for Incipisphere is “insipid”.  The second word that comes to mind is “precipitate” , which when I Google it means: 1. verb cause (an event or situation, typically one that is bad or undesirable) to happen suddenly, unexpectedly, or prematurely. *Cause to move suddenly and with force. *Send someone suddenly into a particular state or condition. 2. (chemistry) Cause a substance to be deposited in solid form from a solution. I must admit, that does all fit better than my initial reading. Perhaps it even counts as foreshadowing.

I always thought it was erroneous that Nannasprite referred to the “big picture” as the battle between light and dark, but upon closer reading I see that she actually means Skaia. I find Skaia easy to forget about, probably because in Homestuck lexicon it is a “passive” force. (If I live long enough, we will discuss in depth all the unfortunate connotations of “passive” and “active”, in particular in relation to the idea of male and female only classes. That is some word choice with which I take definite issue.) Skaia drives the action of the story but rarely enters it, at least directly.

This is an album cover by minty (mintyfizz.tumblr.com).

Here my word parsing falls apart. Skaia has vaguely heavenly connotations, that almost goes without saying. I find theism, by itself, boring so my mind didn’t really turn in that direction. And I’ve never watched the Terminator movies so that passed me right by. At the time, the idea of a crucible of pure creative power made me think of the Orm from The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers, another work I’ve reread so many times that it’s strange to think there was a moment when it was new to me. The Orm is the source of creativity in Zamonia, but the description that interested me was the Orm as a name for the energy one derives from being engaged by a book. I’ve experienced it quite a lot, while reading The City of Dreaming Books for example, which I consistently chose to do over eating since it was 2010 and I hadn’t discovered audio books yet so my only time to read was on lunch break and the only room where we were allowed to have food was too noisy. I needed the sustenance of story far more than calories. I suspect, though I have no way knowing, that the Orm might be a reference to the concept of the sublime. This is a topic I would find difficult to explain even were I not already over 1,900 words into this post. Indeed, I struggle to explain it to myself. The only reason I bring it up now is because as far as the experience of the sublime goes, after a certain point, good and evil are irrelevant. Which brings me back around to the war between the forces of light and dark.

Homestuck eternal stalemate
Riveting…

Why even have it? John, in one of his moments of insight, gets right to the heart of the matter.

JOHN: ok, i think i get it now!
JOHN: so i guess the battle against good and evil is sort of irrelevant? well, i don’t know, that all sounds kind of weird, but in any case, we build the house to get to these gates, and then i can save my dad!

But it has to be there. Why? Well I have thoughts but let’s wait until Prospit and Derse enter the picture. Right now the purpose is that a completely futile battle between light and darkness makes good mental preparation for the next bit of news.

NANNASPRITE: Yes, John!
JOHN: and then after that, we solve this ultimate riddle thing and save earth from destruction!!!
NANNASPRITE: Oh no, I’m afraid not!

NANNASPRITE: Your planet is done for, dear! There is nothing you can do about that!
JOHN: oh…

Two more things to mention before we leave this charming little exchange behind. I never realized before that it’s both John and WV who respond “ME??” when Nannasprite asserts that the balance of power between light and dark was shifted when “you” arrived. This is actually true of both them, come to think about it. Finally, the music Skies of Skaia by Mark Hadley is really great.

After all that anyone could be forgiven a little tantrum.

I haven’t been mentioning Betty Crocker when I should have been. That’s such a weird thing to say… So yes, a combination of the Batterwitch’s machinations and WV shouting at him set John off, though we can assume the earth shattering (ha) set of revelations primed the explosive.

This is one of those images used to demonstrate the inexplicable nature of Homestuck.

Rose gives up drubbing John’s noggin with the bunny’s box and decides to update her walkthrough. We get an interesting tidbit of her conversation with the stuffed corpse of her house cat via the captions. She blames him for getting her into this mess.

Meanwhile, WV and John have what on Sherlock they’re always referring to as a bit of a domestic. What this means for us is that the captions and the command links proceed to insult one another. That is until WV’s finger slips and he accidentally turns off caps lock. This has the effect of changing his text to lower case and opens a hatch inside his metal bunker. Canned goods, a potted plant and a book of etiquette spill out.

Handy

I would recommend giving Rose’s walkthrough a read. It’s not just informative, it’s entertaining. The amount of information she manages to pull from Nannasprite’s info dump is downright impressive and it says a lot about her. The line “We appear to be engaging an instance of a dimension with a highly flexible set of parameters, and a series of objectives surrounding an equally flexible mythological framework” shows that she’s already on the track of putting together an explanation she will share with Dave years later. I’m not sure now whether I find it funny or sad that her questions will take so long to be answered (in story and out). It’s interesting that Rose mentions that she believes that each player’s entry creates a separate instance, an independent game session, for each player given that her walkthrough is going to serve as a guide to the trolls, and they’re going to have some wrong impressions of their own.

The strange thing is though, in our instance of this dimension, there are four receptacles for divided kernels, not three. Does this mean we are “destined” to have a four player chain? How could the game “know” such a thing?

How indeed.

While Rose thrashes out her walkthrough, we head a few months into the past to see an exchange between her and Jade. I do wish that there had ended up being more of these. I think they highlight the personalities of both girls in a unique fashion. Jade calls Rose out on her tendency to mask her feelings as hostility, which I don’t think either of the boys would ever do so directly. Likewise, Rose has the best memory by far and is capable of pin pointing every instance in which Jade knows something she shouldn’t, and then doesn’t hold it against her. Rose is curious, but she’s also willing to trust Jade and allow her to reveal things in her own time. They’re a match for one another, but there isn’t a sense of competition. What I pick up on from these few conversations is a strong sense of affection and complicity. (Few, I think it might only be two grand total, so that would be more accurately described as a couple. Blah.) I’ll probably revisit this one later.

All we need consider right now is that it was John who started Rose knitting. He sent her the knitting needles and yarn for her birthday. Further, Jade tempted Rose into playing Sburb by telling her there was a chance it might restore her dead cat to life. Is anyone else thinking of Madoka Magica? Just me? I should probably go to bed.

I know this was a monstrous post for such a short span of comic. Next time, we’ll resume a faster pace and encounter more puppets then probably any of us is comfortable with.

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