Methane Wars: Trying to Sell Complexity


Short and sweet. That’s what I’d like to say about a book I finished last year, “Methane Wars” A Fable.”

But what it really turns out to be is short and dense with ideas. Makes it difficult to both describe it quickly and pitch it accurately.

I’ve tried to give it quick labels: satire, dystopian or social commentary. Except when I do that people disagree with me. I don’t mind the disagreement but they don’t offer an alternative. So it doesn’t really get me anywhere but perhaps like me they struggle to categorize it so I don’t hold it against them.

Not that I regret writing the story and despite its denseness it’s in all actuality a fast-tumbling, snow-balling fun read. Of course you can’t know that unless I can entice you in.

Perhaps I should have known it would be difficult to pitch complexity. I just need to look around at the entertainment world. What do I see? Let’s think.

I think I see formulas. Perhaps complicated formulas but formulas nonetheless. You know that if you put these pieces together you should get a certain result. Complicated but predictable if the pieces perform as advertised. This isn’t necessarily bad. The creator can be somewhat confident their efforts will deliver a certain product and the audience finds comfort in the familiar.

What I see less of is complexity. But before I go on here is what Robert Poli (Research Professor at the University of Trento, Italy)  had to say about the difference between complicated and complexity. It’s a little academic but makes the point far better than I could:

  • Complicated problems originate from causes that can be individually distinguished; they can be addressed piece-by-piece; for each input to the system there is a proportionate output; the relevant systems can be controlled and the problems they present admit permanent solutions.
  • On the other hand, complex problems and systems result from networks of multiple interacting causes that cannot be individually distinguished; must be addressed as entire systems, that is they cannot be addressed in a piecemeal way; they are such that small inputs may result in disproportionate effects; the problems they present cannot be solved once and for ever, but require to be systematically managed and typically any intervention merges into new problems as a result of the interventions dealing with them; and the relevant systems cannot be controlled – the best one can do is to influence them, learn to “dance with them”, as Donella Meadows aptly said.

The distinction here between complicated and complex might seem a bit metaphysical and lacking application, but if you pause for a moment we realize it can be quite instructive. For me it brought home the realization that we have to stop trying to understand and solve complex problems with tools and techniques designed for complicated problems.

Back to the book and its complexity. Because I didn’t use a formula but instead took dynamic pieces and started to put them together and let them influence each other I ended up with an organic product that at times even I couldn’t predict what would come next.

Now, I don’t know if that is true complexity since once the story is down on paper it remains static, but it’s my best shot at describing it. And while at the end of the day I might like if people viewed my book through a different lens, I don’t think that’s something I can really ask or expect. You’ll read it the way you read it. And that will be that.

Many other books certainly fall into this category, I am sure, and other art as well. Maybe it should be a type unto itself. Who knows.

At the end of the day, I suppose, this is all just introspective drivel, since the book will be liked or not liked regardless of its complexity. Like so many things in life that we like or don’t like. Sometimes we understand why and sometimes we don’t and the details of its manufacture are not important. And I think that’s OK.

If you’re interested in the book click here:


About joegergen

To evoke a smile. That's all. Author of "Methane Wars: A Fable" and "Lear's Fool" as well as various poems and some these painting things as well.
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1 Response to Methane Wars: Trying to Sell Complexity

  1. Gede Prama says:

    And I love all the posts in this blog really interesting touch words, thank you friend 🙂

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