Writing Without The Second Vowel

“A Void,” is the English translation of the French novel, “La Disparition,” by Georges Perec, written in 1969. What’s remarkable about it is not what it has, but what it doesn’t. Not a single paragraph in this entire book, 300 pages long, has the letter “e,” an indispensable vowel.

Why would a writer limit himself this way? Think about writing a passage about shipping without ever mentioning ship, harbor, wharf, port, pier, dock, marina, shipyard, cargo, passengers, gangway, etc.

When we’re confronted with limitations, we’re forced to work around them and in the process, we chart out new routes. So, when we return to the world of infinite possibility, we apply what we learned to create something offbeat.


A Sharp-Edged Solar System

model q2
A 3D-printed model of Kepler’s impression of the solar system.

In “Mysterium Cosmographicum,” published in 1596, the Renaissance astronomer Johannes Kepler proposed a model of the solar system whose structure was governed by geometry.

There are five platonic solids, a.k.a. regular polyhedra, each nested within the other and separated by six spheres. Each sphere represents the six planets known at the time: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. He believed there were only six planets because there were only five platonic solids.

For each solid, there’s an inner sphere (one that the solid encloses) and an outer sphere (one that encloses the solid), such that each platonic solid fits inside a pair of spheres.

From the inside out: Mercury is separated from Venus by an octahedron; Venus from Earth by an icosahedron; Earth from Mars by a dodecahedron; Mars from Jupiter by a tetrahedron; and Jupiter from Saturn by a cube.

By arranging the solids in the correct order, Kepler found that the spheres could be placed at intervals corresponding to the size of each planet’s observable path (or orbit) around the Sun.

Even though this concept has no astronomical merit, it has cunning.


The Grandest Canyon Ever

Vallis Marineris
Valles Marineris, running across the Martian equator.

A giant gash across the face of Mars, the mark of an ancient wound that never quite healed, Valles Marineris is a chain of canyons 2,500 miles long and 200 miles wide, which dips, in some regions, to a dizzying depth of as much as 4 miles.

A crack as long as America, it dwarfs our own Grand Canyon, which is 277 miles long, 18 miles across and 1 mile deep.