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A public service announcement: next week, BBC7 will be airing a four-part adaptation of Ted Chiang's fine story 'Understand'.

There's a story to the effect that after Vernor Vinge wrote the story 'Bookworm, Run!', about an intelligence-amplified monkey, he sat down to write a story about an intelligence-amplified human. The rejection note from John Campbell said 'sorry, you can't write this story. Neither can anybody else'--the logic, of course, being that a regular human can't write about a superhuman. With 'Understand', you could argue that Ted Chiang did do it.

The story's protagonist is Leon Greco, an experimental guinea-pig for a new neuron-regeneration therapy known as hormone K. The treatment turns out to be more effective than anyone imagined, accelerating the previously subnormal Greco to superhuman intelligence and insight. It starts with an improved ability to multitask, and an interest in sophisticated theatre and poetry; better coordination and concentration follow, as do an interest in patterns. Any kind of patterns will do--Greco refers to them as 'gestalts'--to the point where he becomes obsessed with understanding.

The central idea of the story (is intelligence a means or an end?) is relatively minor; what makes it impressive is the execution. The story is written in the first-person, and is utterly believeable throughout. It's a testament to the breadth of Chiang's own knowledege, and his skill as a writer, that he can capture the perspective of a being able to edit its own thought processes; a being that, by the end of the story, literally sees the world differently. It's a narrative sleight of hand of the highest order.

The episodes will be broadcast at 6pm (tuesday|wednesday|thursday|friday) and repeated at midnight (wednesday|thursday|friday|saturday). They will also be available for the following week via Listen Again.

[via rec.arts.sf.written]

UPDATE: Having listened to it, it turned out to be a straight reading rather than an adaptation. I should possibly have expected that, but to be honest I found it slightly unsuccessful--particularly in the later stages, the interaction between Greco and his competitor, Reynolds loses something.

I'll try to save 'em (long live StreamBox VCR..)
Fantastic. And I'm going to be at home, so I can listen on my dad's digital radio. Excellent!
You broke the pattern! We had an 'oooh' and an 'aaahh' and a 'whee'; I was hoping for an 'mmmm' next! :-p

-- tom
B+. Good effort; extra points for being slightly disturbing.