Daily Archives: September 6, 2009

S. Hughes shadow

From Stephanie Hughes:

I don’t read much fiction these days, but a friend who’s writing a novel (and hoping that it will be a commercial success) has asked me to read an old Michael Crichton whodunit (1992) for an opinion on the style. Called Rising Sun, it seems as much a tract on the dangers of Japanese infiltration of American business as a genuine thriller (long stretches of propaganda, however alarming, do tend to slow things down). However, it has provided a rather slick metaphor for how to deal with our great literary whodunit.

Crichton’s plot hinges on a set of tapes recorded automatically by a system that runs round-the-clock in a high tech boardroom of a state of the art (c.1992) skyscraper just built by a Japanese corporation in LA. The system has recorded a murder that took place in the otherwise empty boardroom at night, and the corporation, anxious to “save face,” is heavily invested in keeping the facts from the public.

The detectives manage to get hold of the tapes, but the question then becomes whether or not they have been altered by Japanese technicians privy to the latest techniques. The detectives’ technician explains that it’s easy to remove traces of a person from a video; what’s difficult to alter are the shadows they’ve cast. Shadows interface with objects in ways that make them very difficult to remove, add, or alter, so that a trained eye can tell that something’s been changed, if not exactly what.

Shakespeare liked to contrast shadow with substance, warning not to take the one for the other. Unfortunately, lacking the substance of hard facts, all we have are the many shadows they cast. Some of these, most interestingly, involve the word shadow itself.

Read Stephanie Hughes’ analysis at: