John Crowley and Scale

If you make a small prototype machine that can fly, then create a bigger version of it, the bigger version will not necessarily be able to fly -- a problem for the airplane designers in Crowley's new novel Four Freedoms:

"But the small flying 'bats' like those the Van Damme boys played with worked by twisted rubber strings that turned a screw, craft that might carry miniature people on tiny errands in toyland, always failed when scaled up to carry actual gross fleshly people.”

Later in the novel we get this critique of the U.S. economy from Pancho, a worker in the Van Damme bomber factory:

"They say that this new finance capitalism's efficient. Actually it's inefficient, and the more the owners are divorced from the operations of it the more inefficient it can get. They claim 'efficiency of scale' – they don't know that when you scale something up it doesn't always work the same. It's just as when a great corporation claims the same right as an individual to the freedoms guaranteed by our forefathers in 1776. A nice piece of sophistry.”

Four Freedoms shows us other phenomena changing fundamentally as they get bigger – war, for example, and America.

Quantitative changes bring about unpredictable qualitative changes. Perhaps this is also the way to think about how a novel differs from a short story – scale changes everything. There are still words, sentences, and paragraphs, but when you're working on a larger scale, none of them have the same structural properties any more.

Crowley posts here about Alice In Wonderland syndrome. Apparently the author of Little, Big and “Great Work of Time” has a neurological condition that “makes objects (including one's own body parts) seem smaller, larger, closer or more distant than they really are. It's more common in childhood, often at the onset of sleep, and may disappear by adulthood.” This syndrome will sound oddly familiar to those who've journeyed through Crowley's worlds, which are always notably capacious, spacious, and gracious, yet full of transformations as tricky as those occasioned by puberty.

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