Jacob Young’s Sci Fi Reboot: Performance-Based Fiction Brings Robots, Myth Animals to Life

With his debut novel There is a Place in the Throat that has No Voice, 8:0:8, Portland author and performing artist Jacob Young takes a profound leap outside the science-fiction box to bring us an illustrated story that is more than just another book. Set in the future, post-apocalyptic Cora Provinces, the novel follows the Compass family, a collection of “visionaries, thinkers, and leaders whose legacy has lasted the three ages of humanity,” through their struggles against destruction and their interactions with a myth-animal species “in closer symbiosis with the air than earth.”

“I’m very interested in the idea of bringing together words and images, and how they juxtapose one another,” explained Young. “The words will re-create the images, and the images re-create the words, just by being together—it’s about using that to open the mind, really broaden the perspective of what the story is doing, what we’re perceiving.”

Drawing inspiration in part from graphic novels, the story is illustrated with photographs and artwork created during the preparation, manifest, and deconstruction of an art installation at Ashland, Oregon’s 2010 Midsummer’s Dream Festival. Painted in 48 hours over three days, Young’s installation incorporated the entire third draft of his novel.

“It all came down to me in the moment, and what showed up in the moment… I was going to exist within that art space for a certain amount of time; whatever came out in that amount of time was ultimately what was used,” he said.

Photos of a masked dancer show art supplies used in the project, which Young received from another artist in exchange for an art piece—including some fully finished pieces that he was able to paint into as part of the art installation.

“It was a very designed thing—documenting the preparation, and doing it, then deconstructing it and setting it free to the world,” Young said.

In conjunction with his novel, Young has created a theatrical “Performance-Based Fiction” project, a fiction laboratory which “organically draws from his stories, developing partially-improvised puppet shows for a live audience.”

“More than anything what I’m doing,” said Young, “is using puppetry to create a three dimensional space, where I can exist through multiple characters at once.”

Young graduated from Naropa University in 2010 with a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing. The 8:0:8 novel, from conception to publication, took three years to complete; the third draft of the story was his Creative Thesis at Naropa. He hopes now to continue work on a long-term project along the lines of the 8:0:8 story, using the same archetypal myth aspect rather than the more typical action-adventure approach. While his current novel certainly lends itself to a sequel, he has another vision: a role-playing game.

“It would give [gamers] a foundation to apply role-playing rules, and make something that will reflect the story. I would be so thrilled for the story to be an inoculant for something that has no walls at all.”

Don’t miss a local reading and puppet show by Young on Saturday, Jan. 19 at 7 p.m. at The Book Bin in Corvallis. For a preview of his work, visit www.ritualtheater.org.

by Genevieve Weber