Fractal Imagery

One of the first things I noticed when I started reading The Familiar was the unique pattern that seem to persist in the crease of the book’s binding. As I read on, I believe it was about 200 pages in, I began to notice that not only had this (what I had assumed was merely cosmetic) design persisted but it changed through the text. So, what’s the significance of this seemingly random pattern that shifts, grows, and moves throughout the text? I literally woke up a few times thinking about this question. After 800 or so pages, and hours of theorizing the importance of seemingly miniscule detail, I believe that this design is one instance of the the motif of fractal imagery.

I would like to place a disclaimer that the computer sciences are far from my area of expertise, but I do have basic knowledge of how fractals function. In nature, fractals can be observed in crystals, in the repetition of the crystalline structure that creates the sharp edges and smooth planes of the minerals. In regard to coding, which I believe everyone would agree is a common theme with characters such as Anwar, fractal coding is utilized to render images. The process through which images are created (if my limited understanding is correct) is tangentially similar to how crystals are formed. Given an algorithm, a set of rules that are finitely specifiable and operable, a computer can repeatedly perform a given piece of code to render an image made of hundreds-of-thousands if not millions of digital polygons on a computer screen. To my understanding, this is how fractal coding functions—by aiding in the production of images.

The motif of fractals first became a topic of interest through the design in the middle of the book that looks like a crystalline structure being formed. However, on page 327, Xanther begins to recount the sensation that goes through her miraculous mind, a process which draws many parallels to fractals and crystalline structures:

“[B]ehind her eyes like this gray ice, only sprouting all these crystal formations….the spiky icy stuff…this prickly stuff everywhere, freezing up into her, like that flaky ice that forms on meat after it’s been in the freezer for a long time, dead meat, right?…Anywho, that’s how Xanther’s head feels most of the time, like frost on dead muscle after it’s been left in the freezer too long.”

Drawing a similarity to Xanther, TF Narcon^9 characterizes itself as being “fractally locatable” a code in which “there is no last integer” (565). Though I’m not entirely certain how these characterizations relate to the characters themselves, this understanding of fractal coding and fractal imagery as a motif definitely seems to suggest some importance, and though I am unaware of how these motifs affect character relations, it could provide insight into some common occurrences in the text, namely the repetition of other images.

As I discussed earlier, fractal coding and naturally-occurring crystalline fractals function through repetition. Throughout the novel there is a repetition of the color pink in seemingly all storylines, animal imagery is related strongly with Luther, as well as animals playing a key role in the jingjing and Xanther storylines, but there are also even more peculiar similarities that seem to occur simultaneously to characters regardless of their spatial setting. The phenomenons which I’m speaking of are the strange sound that Xanther, Astair, Anwar, and  Ozgur all seem to hear. Luther also seems to hear some sound when they go to visit his dogs the first time, but the mysterious source of this sound is never discovered. Though these characters are separated by space, they all experience the same auditory phenomenon. Combined with the continued motif of the color pink and animals, it would seem that this repetition is not something to be overlooked. The repetition of these “auditory images,” as well as the color pink and animals, might be a revealing similarity to the repetition that is present in fractal coding.


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