Why Quidditch? THE MVP and meta-fiction

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t read THE MVP, then move the hell along. Here there be spoilers …

“He surveyed the oblong playing surface. One hundred and fifty yards long from end-to-end, about sixty yards wide at the middle, marked by a line that split the field into two equal halves. Three five-foot-diameter rings floated on either end: one ring about ten feet high, one about fifteen, and the top one about twenty, their open sides all parallel to the mid-field line.”

Excerpt from THE MVP, Book IV in the Galactic Football League series

I’ve been getting questions about “The Game” that is featured in the opening chapters of THE MVP. The first question usually is: “Is that Quidditch?” The second is more of a statement, along the lines of: “I saw you ripped off J.K. Rowling, you jerk.”

The answer to the question is: “Yes.” The answer to the statement is: “Pretty sure you’re missing the point, my good detective.”

From both parties, there has been a follow-up question: “Why?”

Lemme rustle you up an answer, pardner …

Harry Potter is a pimpMY CHARACTERS ARE YOU:
Almost all of my stories are connected into a continum called “Siglerverse.” Stories aren’t necessarily sequels of one another, but they all spring from the same timeline. That timeline begins from our modern world, from the world that you and I see on a daily basis. There are differences, of course, particularly when the government is involved — presidents have different names and there is a “Department of Special Threats,” which doesn’t really exist, for example. By 99.9% of the time, the characters in my modern-day books live in a world that is your world.

My characters have seen the same TV shows you have, like Columbo and Battlestar Galactica. They’ve seen Aliens and Spiderman. They’ve read the same books, like Misery, 50 Shades of Gray (oh, stop it, you know you peeked) and — yes — Harry Potter.

One character in particular loves Rowling’s work. Petra Prawatt was first seen in the ANCESTOR prequel episodes, three chapters that are in the free podcast and the audiobook, but are not in the eBook or the print versions. You’ll see more of Petra in an a short story scheduled to be included in ROBOT UPRISINGS (New York: Vintage, 2014), an anthology edited by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams.

PETRA IS A SUPERFAN
When Petra first appears in the Siglerverse, she is sporting a Gryffindor scarf. She’s a super-crazy fan of the Harry Potter series. And she’s the only one who’s crazy for that series, right? I mean, Rowling became a billionaire because only a handful of people wanted everything Potter-related they could get their hands on.

But here’s where it starts to feel weird, at least to me; a fictional character being crazy for a fictional character? Doesn’t that somehow cross the streams?

Cardio!WHEN THINGS START TO GET META
There seems to be an unspoken feeling out there that fictional characters can like poets, playwrights and literary figures, and that’s “normal,” but for a character to be hugely into a modern pop-culture prophet, that’s kind of … well, weird. A character quotes Shakespeare and Emerson? No one bats an eyelash. A vampire is crazy about Buffy the Vampire Slayer? It kind of gunks up your brain a little bit.

I think that’s the reason Robert Kirkman’s THE WALKING DEAD is set in our world, just one that has never heard the word “Zombie” or had any kind of zombie books/movies/shows. With that one simple-yet-smart move, he doesn’t have to deal with characters saying “but in the zombie movies, you shoot them in the brain, so let’s do that.” The polar opposite of that is ZOMBIELAND, in which the characters have seen all the zombie flicks that you have — and that knowledge gives them a leg up in the battle to stay alive (cardio!).

Petra is a Potter superfan. She also just so happens to be a genius in self-assembling robotics, biomimicry and cybernetics. And when I say “genius,” we’re talking Einstein-levels of game change: she can create self-replicating life.

So if you’re a 16-year-old girl that is lightyears ahead of everyone around you, and you’re a crazy Potter fan, and you can create life? It makes one wonder what she might have that created life do to test it out.

QUIDDITCH IS A REAL THING, SUCKA
Sure, you read the book (or at least saw the movie) and you know Quiddich is Rowling’s made-up sorcerer sport. Wizard kids on brooms. Pretty bad-ass, if you ask me (although one typo in the words “golden snitch” and the game takes on a whole new meaning).

Okay, you knew that, but did you also know Quidditch is for realz? The International Quidditch Association is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to governing the sport of quidditch and inspiring young people to lead physically active and socially engaged lives.

There are 828 teams in the USA alone, over 1,000 worldwide in over 30 countries, including Russia, South Africa, Australia, Italy, Canada and India, just to name a few.

So “the game” goes beyond the stories of Harry Potter. It’s a real thing. So when I work Quidditch into THE MVP, is this a meta reference, or is it an extension of our modern world, like everything else in my books?

THE GAME ITSELF:
I haven’t played Quidditch, but it looks like a blast. One can imagine that if it continues to develop, the “serious” players may branch off and make it a new sport: sans-brooms, of course. Get rid of the brooms, add in robotic balls that do what the balls do in the game itself, and you’re left with a hard-hitting affair that could be a ton of fun to both play and watch. Point of order: the “golden snitch” has got to go, folks — it completely invalidates the rest of the scoring (not that I expect wizards to be all that logical, mind you).

The Prawatt don’t think this is meta, it’s their game. It’s American Football in America, it’s regular football (my people call it “soccer”) in Europe, it’s cricket in India, it’s hockey in Canada. The IQA is already proof positive that a fictional sport can leap into reality, so why can’t a real sport (which leapt from fiction) leap back into fiction? Also? That’s a lot of leaping …

THE REAL GOAL? TO GIVE YOU THAT “HOLY CRAP!” MOMENT
If I did it right, people who are familiar with Quidditch read THE MVP and had that “a-ha!” moment. You’re reading along, and you think to yourself “waiiiiit a minute here … is this what I think it is?” And then you see that, yes, it is what you think it is.

It’s a big, fat Easter Egg is what it is.

Quidditch get some! Brought to you by GoDaddy code at http://www.scottsigler.com/godaddy-promo-codesThis approach to “meta” also serves to make characters spring to life in your mind. It’s one of my Jedi Fiction Tricks™. If you read INFECTED, there are scenes where Perry Dawsey is watching the TV series Columbo. If you’ve seen that show, this is a subtle technique where the character is doing exactly the same thing you have done – for a brief moment, it’s not a “character” at all but a person with whom you have a shared experience. That brief brush stroke makes Perry “real” for a moment, and that moment sticks with you. It shapes the way you feel about him, helps him transcend the page and become someone you think you know.

For the Prawatt, who are very alien and very like us at the same time, a species-wide fixation on something that is a cultural juggernaut helps humanize them. Sure, they are nightmarish boogeymen, but I’m pretty sure they’re wearing a Slytherin scarf when we’re not looking.

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Comments

  1. Profile photo of Chris ThompsonChris Thompson

    I can’t seem to find the Ancestor prequels. They aren’t in the itunes link Scott posted. I can’t confirm it’s in the book on audible. I’m looking forward to Robot Uprisings

  2. scottsigler

    @Stareagle: Yeah, the living Golden Snitch is awesome. I’d love to see Charlie Day from “Always Sunny in Philadelphia” turn in the “Green Man” suit for a golden one, watch him try to evade capture

  3. Stareagle

    Little behind, since I finally read MVP, but I echo the person who urged you to check out the way Muggle Quidditch handles the snitch. It’s incredible fun, and doesn’t screw up the scoring system like JKR’s insane version.

  4. wingdisk

    So when will the sorting hat make an appearance :)  I had a momentary pause during the Prawatt game, and continued reading.

  5. Stormy

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing against the use of Quidditch (it’s actually awesome to see it in a brutal form like this). 

    It’s just if you put referential stuff under the meta umbrella (using the relaxed meaning), then practically everything becomes meta – and you endless recursive loops because a work that is referenced references works itself which in turn references stuff, etc, etc. …and then what do you do when you get works that reference each other? 

  6. truckpoetry

    I think I’ll leave it at: Like.  (which is weird because I don’t particularly Like Facebook, which originated Like as a one-click response to posts… talkabout getting Meta. whatever)  (also weird is my captcha phrases are uterine firspee… that’s just odd – what is a firspee)

  7. Wyll

    If I ever read a passgae where Quinton Barnes is tied up and erotically tortured by Gredock the Splithead over 50 hours during the Gray Shading of the moon, I will have to raise the “WHOA STOP” sign.

    Apart from that, I am good with any meta Scott wants to toss our way. In fact, I do really enjoy those “a-ha” moments as Scott described them and the sparkling vampire refence I read did make me giggle out loud.

    Quite akward when you are at a funeral.

  8. silivrensf

    Btw HAS Choto read the HP series? He’s read Gunther Jones so its not outside the realm of reason for him to have come across it in the same era.

  9. scottsigler

    @silvernsf: Exactly! Seven centuries from now, Potter will be forgotten as a fiction series but Quidditch (or a variation of it) could very well live on. That’s another idea I was playing with in THE MVP. The Prawatt might never know where the sport came from, only that they play it. Take your typical high school football/volleyball/basketball player, for example, and ask them how the sport came to be. A few might know, but the majority will have no idea.

  10. scottsigler

    @Stormy: I tweeted asking for a definition of “meta,” not “meta-fiction,” as you’re specifying here, but the recent term that gets tossed around a lot in scifi, i.e., “That’s so meta.” I think you’re 100% accurate in your take. However, Ernie Cline’s READY PLAYER ONE is called “meta” because it’s loaded with 80s pop- and tech-culture references, but it isn’t a book where the characters realize they are in a book, a-la John Scalzi’s recent novel REDSHIRTS. So there might be a slanged-up meaning of the original term.

    That being said, it was Potter’s ubiquitous nature that partially led me to use Quidditch. It’s not a few people watching the SyFy channel that know that story, it’s damn near everyone.

  11. silivrensf

    You can’t get rid of anything. The whole reason it was created was to e as faithful to the original in he books as much as we can reasonably do It. If you get rid of the broomsticks it won’t BE quidditch anymore. It would be The Game actually. So you see the problem with your idea. No one would want to play it anymore in reality. They want to play it BECAUSE its just like in the book. Scott can get away with the Ganges because the Prawatt aren’t human and its so removed from the original that probably the only people in he GFL universe who know about Harry potter are people like Choto the Bright who read ancient lit.

  12. wyrdwyrd

    Real Life Quiddich could be cool.  But they have got to get rid of the broomsticks.  I suppose they would say that they need to have them because that’s how it was in the book and having to hold onto a broom with one hand part of the time is part of the challenge.  Don’t care.  Nix the brooms, then get some R&D guys going full on research mode on how to get a ball to fly around and bash people*, then maybe we’ll have something.

    * actually that part could be a little tricky.  If you succeed, won’t you have created something that could be used for all sorts of really bad sh*t?  Like litte flying bombs for example?   hmm

     

  13. Stormy

    I’m going to be a voice of dissent, but the Game being Quidditch isn’t really meta, neither is Petra being a Potter fan.

    Meta, to take a simplistic view is when something comments on itself. Zombieland is meta because it calls out the zombie rules and makes the Romero references, essentially calling attention to the fact that Zombieland itself is a zombie movie.

    Petra’s fanboyism is just a character trait, it says nothing about the larger whole of the world, even with the consideration that the GFL is a sports series, the parallels to Quidditch (in either form) aren’t really there, so there’s commentary aspect to this.

    Though the old trope is for characters to reference Shakespeare or Wilde, those references in themselves almost becoming a living thing – there’ll be some kids who only know Gilbert and Sullivan by playing Mass Effect.

    That’s one reason why some people shy away from more contemporary references – the chance that it will date a work without the emotional impact or resonance. If Xena had lasted six episodes, it wouldn’t be an easy reference for someone to make, or if BSG has only ever had the initial miniseries without getting picked up, frak wouldn’t be in wide use.

    TLDR – characters can be fans, it doesn’t make it meta.

    *prepares to get squished by plaid tanks*

  14. scottsigler

    It would be challenging for a beer-swilling shlub like me to build a culture on sparkly vampires.

  15. Kevinesque

    Hah, I’m not disappointed, I think you misunderstood what I meant.  I’m noting that I’m glad that the Prawatt world isn’t built on top of sparkly vampire lore… that would be a difficult world to live in (for me anyway).

  16. silivrensf

    The inclusion of ANYTHING a fan might like without going completely ape-shit over whether or not you like it within the book is exactly why I like your writing. Whether or not you LIKE Twilight and Harry Potter don’t really matter. They are things almost everyone knows about even if they don’t like them, so they are fun to recognize and put together. I like that The Game is different from Quidditch but turned into a game that makes sense for the creatures that are playing it. Why would you need to fly if you can jump, run, and play smashmouth just fine while still keeping basically to the ground? And why would you need that extra ball (the snitch) ever anyway in the real world? In the original it added an element of chaos and a useable plot device that your Game just doesn’t need. I’m waiting to see if The Game leaks out of Prawatt space and into the general galaxy. I think the races would be a lot less hostile if they realized that there’s another game to exploit. LOL

  17. scottsigler

    @BigJohn: That one kind of feels like an in-joke for the Junkies. An Easter Egg fo sho, but feels a little different than using someone else’s fictional world. Both are fun!

  18. BigJohn

    Fictitious characters like fictitous things? Kinda like Choto the Bright being so enamored of the writings of Gunther Jones! Genius recognized.

  19. Kevinesque

    For the record, once I realized it was a Quidditch pitch, it only took me a few seconds to ‘get it’.  Supreme ruler just happens to be the mind of a teenaged girl, makes sense that culture would be shaped by that. 

    I’m just glad that you chose the Potter avenue and not the sparkly vampire one.