(CW: Foul language. Too much language; i.e., SNOOTiness. We don’t do bloodshed but people with decades of Sim serial murder under their belts have called CT “sick” and claimed they “couldn’t handle writing a story that dark.” )
(That’s to say, it’s not edgy for its own sake but doesn’t appeal much to people who want a light read or who have never been the target of abuse or violence. This is a story for those who have had A Time.)
Catastrophe Theory is a story about two families in a universe where death is optional.
Isn’t it weird that we can agree as a species that death is bad and immortality is also bad? So why not take the guesswork out of it? The Sims 4 creates a world where sims can not only choose when to die, or how, but indeed whether to die at all. And that comes with its own problems.
For instance, how do you make that choice?
That’s what an optimistic Mexican chef, a decorated comedian-slash-intergalactic-hero, an eccentric art dealer, an introspective self-help author, a resurrected 19th-century manslaughterer, an indecisive overachiever, a disturbed horror poet, a cheerful mama’s boy, a research-heavy blogger, a promiscuous people-pleaser, an unhinged musician, an irreverent videogame streamer who’s not on the title banner yet, and a meme-obsessed little kid have to answer.
It’s also a work of exploratory post-postmodern metafiction where the author forfeits her control over the narrative. Like I’d imagine any other work of exploratory post-postmodern metafiction does, it’s saying these words with a wink and a nod, and really, you can interpret it as “breaks the fourth wall a whole lot and alternates between cynicism, hopefulness and extreme silliness.” The strategy of leaning on the AI to synthesize an emergent story also forces CT to be in a dead genre with no readers, which is actually kinda funny in a post-postmodern metafictional way.
(I’ll level with you: I thought introducing another serious work to SimLit would help revive it. What a damn pipe dream. No one ever think that again or it’ll break your heart.)
Because the author’s development itself is supposed to be part of the metafictional aspect—really selling that it’s coming from a place of vulnerability rather than authority—the first chapters are the most poorly written by design. It’s experimental and meant to be analyzed for what works and what doesn’t, which necessarily means it’s weaker in some places than it could be. And that sucks for reader retention.
If you want to skip all the flailing around by an amateur, consider reading the prologue before Book I. Then, if you can make it through the first book, bless you.
We also have a character page.
Living in paradise wasn’t enough. Good intentions weren’t enough; they never were. The Jeong-Espinosas and the Lius were successful and talented, but as time went on, they realized their true talent was making themselves miserable.
Mike Jeong and Claudia Espinosa are proud parents to a habitual overthinker, a doll executioner, and a little boy with the personality of a game-show host—but if you listen closely, the jokes thrown around the dinner table are more about control and belittlement, predator and prey, than anything else. And Aileen and Xiyuan Liu love their young son, a violin prodigy, even when their struggles with sexuality threaten to rip the family apart. The first 20 documented years of family history start as a loose first-person gameplay description before plunging deep into the characters’ heads as they unravel.
Book I of Catastrophe Theory explores its initial hypothesis: there is no need to torture Sims. They torture themselves.
(Dolly hashed most of these out before intending to make the story public, as the screenshot quality and stylistic changes demonstrate. Regardless, it has its moments.)
The tension in Book I can’t be kept under the surface anymore: here it starts bubbling out onto everyone’s shoes. Shu and Claudia struggle to take control of their failing relationships. Kendra finds a way to Keep Strangerville Weird as the Jeong-Espinosas handle an unexpected family tragedy. Liu family drama trickles into the San Myshuno music scene, as if tainting the San Myshuno art scene wasn’t enough. And when the game mechanics poetically thrust the family into the next step in their existential journey, no one is prepared for it.
With suspense at an all-time high, the sims are pushed to their limits. Hector enters adulthood with a hate-fueled drive to succeed. Chantel’s career gives her the coping mechanisms she needs and more than a couple shin bruises. Xiyuan and Bernard reveal more of their authentic selves, to the dismay and delight of everyone around them. Jo and Jasper add new and old faces alike to their growing family. But while many smaller mysteries get resolved, they’re minor-league distractions from the decision at the back of the sims’ minds: what are they going to do with the knowledge that they can beat death?
At least a couple people think they’ve figured it out.
Calendar of Extras (hiatus between Books II and III) links to the following posts:
20 Things In Catastrophe Theory Books I and II You May Have Missed (or Forgotten About): I strongly advise reading this, especially if you don’t have time for a reread. The listicle progresses from small jokes to crucial, gamechanging details. And there’s more where that came from. Catastrophe Theory wasn’t written to be wholly understandable on the first read.
I Don’t Know How to Feel Real: Training Neural Nets on SimLit and Other Written Work
Character Portraits (still learning to draw… they are what they are)
Character Design for Haunted and Sarcastic Ghosts Mod
Q&A with the Shallot-Lius
Haunted 0.1: Silly small comics (Zombies & “Glove Compartment”)
Not Catastrophe Theory
Because the main story didn’t have enough characters. These, at least you don’t have to remember.
The Real Meaning of ‘Claudia! Duck!’ (you’ve activated my trap card)
The Applied Apple Approach (story contest theme was apples… yeah, it was rough)
The Watcher (proof that Dolly isn’t a crap writer, just a crap promoter)