E.S.S. Archer

Science Fiction and Fantasy Author


Ozymandias, or Why Impermanence Sets Us Free

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

—  Percy Shelley, “Ozymandias”

Us authors tend to dream of creating the next masterpiece, the next work that will be read for generations to come. At least I do, every now and then. As a child, I was inspired by novels that captivated my imagination and perhaps even shone a new light on the world. Perhaps I learned to appreciate the good. Perhaps I focused on the ugly. In any case, those books forged me into the person I am. For better or for worse, stories have a significant influence on my personality, my way of thinking, and even on my outlook on life. And as such, it is only natural to seek to pay it forward, to provide my own unique view of the world in my own stories.

And it is also natural for us authors to try to make things so perfect, so ideal, that we end up reworking a work to its unavoidable death. I do that more than I’d like to acknowledge. In many ways, editing a bad story is like stirring sewer water: you are likely to end up stained and stinking. Nothing good ever comes from it. The subsequent stench only feeds the critical mind, the constant nagging in your own mind that tells you that your next story, too, shall meet an untimely death.

As I become more confident in my vision of life, I have come to understand that no story is perfect for everyone. Like Ramesses II’s works (Ozymandias in Percy Shelley’s poem), no story shall last for millions of years. Who knows? Maybe machines will be ruling the world by then, and all fiction will be banned. Stories are written at one specific time in history. They are influenced by events, customs, prejudices, and many other conditionings that shape its very essence. And as such, they become obsolete once their time is up. Once their teachings and observations on the nature of who we are as humans are no longer relevant, it is only natural that readers move on to greener pastures.

Most of the time, the stories I enjoy writing the most have some of my personal observations of the world. Some I agree with, some I do not. My characters are free to disagree with me as often as they like. It’s more fun that way. These stories may or may not resonate with readers, but they do resonate with me. They resonate with me, because they reflect my constant search for answers of who we are as a species. Year after year, I find myself focusing more and more on the underlying philosophy of some of those stories. I sacrifice pacing and plot for that purpose. I used to stress about striking the perfect balance of the three. There will always be another story to write, there will always be new insights to reflect upon.

I no longer worry about that. And the less I worry, the more I can enjoy writing. In a way, Ozymandias set me free.