One morning the people of the North woke up and the people of the South were gone. That’s the first thing every child learns on the colony world of Jigsaw. But for one girl, knowing about The Disappearance is not enough. Hawkeye wants to know why.
That's why she spent half her life researching The Disappearance. And that's also why eight Neighbors show up on her doorstep, demanding that she accompany them into the Forbidden Cities ruled by the Southern gods – to speak with the Spirits of Glory. Everyone thinks Hawkeye is an expert on Neighbors, these almost-humans who move, talk, and think as if they were born inside one of the Time Fractures. But she can't imagine what they want to ask the ghosts of their ancestors, or why they need her to go along. The Southern gods caused every human inhabitant of the Southern cities to disappear overnight - what else might they do?
But the Northern gods say Hawkeye should go – and her curiosity won't let her refuse, even though she's going into more danger than she can imagine. Pain and puzzlement wait along the broken interstate, along with scavengers who want to kill them all. Hawkeye's questions only generate more questions as they move farther and farther into the South, right into the heart of the Disappearance, until Hawkeye's questions have all been answered.
Audiences thought the God Machine was a very satisfying gimmick. They liked the idea that someone with authority gets to tell the characters they're being jerks. Eventually, that literary device, along with the chorus, was used less and less in drama and fiction. But they never went away completely. Lots of writers (and movie-makers) still use the God Machine, even though it's a tricky gizmo (after all, there's a god involved, and they always have their own agendas). And the Chorus crops up in unexpected places, too.
Why would a modern writer, who is presumably working from a highly evolved literary tradition, rely on such archaic devices? Partly because they still work. And partly because we don't always know we're doing it until it's already done. (Kind of makes you wonder if a god is pulling our strings, after all.) I didn't realize I had used the God Machine in my novel ENEMIES (originally written as Lee Hogan) until Roland Green pointed it out in his review: “. . . an author who transforms Baba Yaga (the crone of Russian folklore) into a dea ex machina shows imagination rare enough to warrant high recommendation.” I'm thrilled to get the high recommendation. And I'll do my best to pretend I did that on purpose.
I was more aware of what I was doing in SPIRITS OF GLORY when a god named Dagger shows up to answer questions (and to ask a few) near the end of that story. But I wonder – do gods show up in some form or another in everything we write? After all, we're involved in what Tolkien called sub-creation. A god or two would almost have to make an appearance. But it's less clear why the Chorus is also very much alive and well in fiction.
The Chorus used to stand around making observations about the play to the audience (even, occasionally making remarks to the characters). Woody Allen made wonderful use of the concept in his movie MIGHTY APHRODITE. But his approach isn't completely traditional. The main character Lenny tries to enlist the aid of a member of the Chorus when he's trying to steal some files (making that particular literary device feel very uncomfortable). But for the most part, Allen's Chorus behaves like a regular Chorus, though their remarks can sometimes be very direct: “Please Lenny, don't be a schmuck!”
I liked Allen's approach so much, I wrote the Chorus into my novel, THE NIGHT SHIFTERS. At first, Voice is quite a traditional gal. But eventually, she begins to realize ambitions of her own. Maybe this is because modern readers (and writers) are not quite content to let characters stand by and simply speak their opinions. We expect them to work for their supper.
In the Greek plays, the God Machine shows up at the end, so the plot threads can be tidily woven together. But in the Greek epic poems gods often start the trouble, rather than ending it. Athena shows up and tells someone he needs to go on a quest, or make war with someone. I got about 1/3 of the way through my rough draft for my new project, A MERCIFUL PLAGUE, when I realized I have a character who does the same thing. He's a ghost, but he's every bit as opinionated as Athena.
About the same time I spotted the Machine, I also noticed the Chorus in my story, an AI program named Mechanical who can speak to the main character from a headset. That seems to give Mechanical the ability to speak to her as easily as the Chorus speaks to the audience. Eventually Mechanical, like Voice, will have opinions of his own. I expect that of Choruses and AI programs.
You can make the argument that writers who rely on the Chorus and the God Machine to tell their stories are being lazy. Fiction has evolved since the Ancient Greeks – shouldn't our technique evolve too? But I would argue that if you find creative new ways to use those devices, you have evolved. If the devices work, why not play with them? Who knows what may show up from your subconscious? Creatures like Dagger still have the power to terrify and inform us. We should listen to them, regardless of what form they take.