Returning whence I came, ergodic literature in tow
(For an earlier build-up to this post, see Resources not Services.)
Years ago, I asked where was my Lord of the Rings? Many sympathized with the lament and it's clear they got the message: where was my "epic", my "lasting impression", my "contribution to society"? It's four years later and I've realized the Lord of the Rings was the wrong series to associate the depression with: it's just not good enough.
I've no problem with Middle-earth, and it's still an admirable thing to appreciate and enjoy. What I want to create, however, is something slightly different, something slightly more mysterious. There's been plenty written about Middle-earth, and its epic can be as simple or as complex as you'd like, but it's always optional: the additional books expand archaically on Tolkien's mythology and intentions, but none of it is truly necessary to the core reading.
What I prefer to read, and hopefully write, is something more akin to ergodic literature, something that "requires a 'non-trivial effort' to traverse the text". I consider Infinite Jest a recent example because, although you can read it by "merely moving ... along lines of text and turning pages", there's so much depth and complexity that you'll gain more appreciation via annotation. House of Leaves is another example: atypical page layouts and complexities abound. I've not read any of Thomas Pynchon or James Joyce (gasp!), but I suspect they'd also match my considerations.
Complexity and depth isn't the only thing I find palatable - one downside of the books above is that their "easter eggs" are based on the real world. Still, ergodic alternatives do exist, such as Milorad Pavich's Dictionary of the Khazars; my encyclopedic Ghyll was inspired by this work and was built by dozens of "scholars" over many months. Jorge Luis Borges and most alternate reality games like Perplex City also require "non-trivial" efforts to appreciate them.
Finally, wordplay and and a wry grin are high on my list, and most of the above works contain one, the other, or both. Vladimir Nabokov sprinkled "linguistic playfulness" throughout his work, and Martin Gardner's The Annotated Alice offered an understanding of Wonderland and its embedded secrets that I hadn't anticipated. Creating something that can be read straight through, then spelunked for hidden treasure, then appreciated through research and annotation, is very appealing to me. Something "subtle", as sbp puts it.
The only problem is that I haven't written fiction for decades. I've done two technical books and a dozen articles for O'Reilly, one for Apple, a year-long column for MacTech magazine, non-fiction this, non-fiction that. Ghyll could be considered fiction, but it was written with a scholarly "voice", making it more an exercise in imagination than craft. The last time I really wrote fiction was high school, when New Hampshire English teacher Michael Phelps read one of my Dickensian works to the class and told them they'd see my face on the back of a book someday. Prophetic, and a memory that will stay with me forever. In 2003, I e-mailed Mr. Phelps to tell him of my progress and memories and he replied that, as a teacher, these sorts of updates are vitally important. If you've not reached out to yours, I heartily admonish you to.
Relearning fiction is something I'll begin shortly.