Object Coach tells a story through imaginary objects rather than characters

object coach
tom lee
Upswell, $29.99

Tom Lee wants you to pay attention. The idée fixe of Lee’s first novel, Coach Fitz, ran. This unique obsession dominated the life of its protagonist, Tom Lee, who enlisted the training of the eponymous trainer. On their haphazard runs around Sydney, Coach Fitz Tom offered a quirky philosophical worldview centered on finding the universal in the specific. There was something endearing, even comical, about Lee’s penchant for examining the world in hyper-focused detail.

In object coach, Lee’s second novel, We’re Taken Out of the World and Into the Academy. At various points Lee says he is “interested in exploring the relationship between imagination and technology through narrative” and that the novel’s goal is “to give technologies a voice or a sense of being”.

The most compelling part of reading Tom Lee's second novel is trying to figure out his sensibilities.

The most compelling part of reading Tom Lee’s second novel is trying to figure out his sensibilities.Credit:James Brickwood

What begins as sublime idealism soon becomes concrete: object coach is less a conventional novel and more a series of thought experiments in which Lee envisions the hypothetical existence of possible futures in the intricate detailing of objects. This is a novel that bends narrative form. It comes more from ideas than from action and progress. So, as the title suggests, it’s more about objects than people.

object coach is a novel that operates in the realm of design fiction, that is, fiction that speculates on how stories can be told through hypothetical objects. Lee directly characterizes this intention and makes it clear that we should read his creations as “Dream Machines of Native Life”. Lee references the work of Steven Connor, whose book dream machines offers a tale of invented and impossible machines that could empower pleasure, dreams, medicine, invisibility and perpetuum mobile. Lee has his own hypothetical creations, most notably the “Object Coach,” an artificial intelligence that aids Tom’s rehabilitation from a hamstring injury by using body scanners to design 3D-printed devices that are delivered to his door, Amazon-style.



Other curiosities that become obsessions are: Lee notes the affinity of his research with that of a visiting scholar who invites him to an art gallery, where they conceive revolutionary hypotheses inspired by the world and the artworks around them; a class presentation by a design tutor where students explore methods for healthier human-technology interactions; Tom’s attempt to bring two colleagues together serves as inspiration for a short story; the compilation of fictional characters based on the “characteristics associated with floors in the various paddocks”; and writing poetry based on verbatim transcribed overhead dialogue. Each of these fixations forms the basis of a chapter, each carrying its own internal logic.

The sensitivity of object coach Is not clear. That Lee, a Sydney Morning Herald best young australian novelist 2019, is undoubtedly an astute writer; it becomes less clear to what extent his novels are playful or serious. Nothing is more fatal than when a serious writer is misunderstood as an ironist or when an ironist is taken seriously. And the most compelling part of reading Lee’s work is trying to gauge his sensibilities.

Despite the short number of pages (129 of them), Lee thrives on the digression. What are you to make of an episode when several academics are seriously considering how to order the right bottle of wine, and each decision is complicated by another decision? Perhaps it’s satire, gently mocking the academic impulse to analyze everything, even to the point of paralysis. Or maybe this is how Lee’s mind works: every thought, every decision is subjected to intense scrutiny in the search for precision.

https://www.smh.com.au/culture/books/a-novel-with-an-objective-to-bend-the-narrative-form-20230112-p5cc67.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_culture Object Coach tells a story through imaginary objects rather than characters

Jaclyn Diaz

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