There's a Good Reason Darth Vader Is Interesting While Superman Is Just Boring

Archetypes are dull as ditchwater. The 'Cloud Atlas' author is much fonder of nuance.

David Mitchell: My job is to perform an act of mimesis of the world, to recreate it in text. And if I view, as I do, the world as a place of many infinite shades of gray, then it’s my job to try to do the same within the level of reality that is more popularly called a novel. It’s not only how I see the world to be. It also makes good dramatic sense. Purely good, purely evil. Characters always dull as ditchwater. Superman is intrinsically boring. Darth Vader is intrinsically boring until a fairly clunky extra leg gets added later on in the character. To truly animate a character, your angels need demonic flex in them. Similarly, to truly make a malign predator interesting on the page and followable and more intriguing, then that demon needs compartments within him or her that are not demonic; they’re more angelic. That are at least contain the possibility of redemption. When you do this, you’re making these characters more like human beings that we know from our daily lives. And good things happen to your narrative. You want to follow them. You can start making the reader care and you cannot make a reader care about an archetype. They have to be fully fleshed into the same shades of gray, the same contradictions, the same — since they’re not just one personality, but a multiplicity of personalities. They’re all a kind of a colony, I believe. Not of one, but of [a] dominant personality who calls the shots most of the time. That’s not the whole story. There are others in there as well. Every Dr. Jekyll needs a Mr. Hyde. They’re there whether you want them to be or not. So why not invite them in when you’re making fictional people and allow them an influence. It makes the fiction better. It’s that simple.

Best-selling author David Mitchell has populated books like Cloud Atlas with an array of characters who are neither purely good nor purely evil. That's because archetypes are "dull as ditchwater." Good writing and strong novels depend on narratives built upon nuanced characters. Shades of gray are interesting. The alternatives are not.


Mitchell's latest novel (published in October 2015) is called Slade House.

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NASA/MSFC/Joe Matus
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  • A supermoon occurs when the moon comes unusually close to Earth and simultaneously appears full.
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The Global Hack is calling for help to address COVID-19 with innovative ideas

A global brainstorming marathon is throwing together brilliant ideas from around the world to rapidly develop solutions to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Photo Source: The Global Hack Facebook event
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The Global Hack is a 48-hour online brainstorming marathon beginning on Thursday, April 9.
  • The event is open to anyone with a solution to address the COVID-19 pandemic and socioeconomic problems caused by it.
  • The prize pool is estimated at 120,000 euros, or about $130,000 U.S. dollars.

A worldwide event to rapidly combat the coronavirus by linking together brilliant ideas from around the globe begins Thursday, April 9.

The Global Hack is calling on the global tech community to develop and share breakthrough concepts addressing issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The online event, which will run April 9-12, is seeking innovative approaches to urgently needed solutions addressing the health and socioeconomic catastrophe unfolding before the world.

What is the Global Hack?

Photo Source: Screenshot / The Global Hack Facebook event

The hackathon is a 48-hour, organized brainstorming marathon. The first Hack the Crisis event began in Estonia in mid-March. Organized by the Estonian start-up Accelerate Estonia and Garage48 in just three days, the event brought together 1,300 people from 20 different countries. One of the ideas presented, the SUVE bot, is now used in government offices in Estonia. The bot is able to answer visitor's questions about the coronavirus in real-time. Another idea presented was Zelos, a platform that connects the most vulnerable, at-risk individuals with volunteers using a call center and task dispatch app to prevent further isolation.

"As this was getting into motion, during the [original] hack during those three days, the organizers were already seeing that this is going to be something huge," says Helery Pops, a communications volunteer for the Global Hack.

Soon after Estonia's Hack the Crisis, activists from 48 other countries took notice and organized their own hacks. Now, this week, the original organizers along with volunteers from several countries are putting together one unified, worldwide hackathon financially powered by European Commission, United Nations, and New America. Focusing on issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it's calling for innovators in countries across the globe to put their ideas into motion.

"This is our call to hack the crisis - not only to brainstorm solutions to prevent and stop the spreading of a highly-infectious disease but to think about how our lives will be different after this," said Kai Isand, head organizer of the Global Hack, in a press release. "The next step for the global movement is to come together in a unified hackathon event where teams will create projects that have a strong international socio-economic impact and create the needed rapid change."

How to Hack

Photo Source: The Global Hack Facebook event

So, here's how it works. First, you come up with a brilliant solution to address the COVID-19 crisis that falls within one of the tracklists on the Global Hack's website. You then share your ideas and find a team to collaborate with on the app Slack, which you can sign up for here (If you already have a solid idea and team, you have until April 9 to upload the project to Devpost). Once the hack begins, you and your team have 48 hours to come up with a solution. The hack will begin with a kick-off session this Thursday, April 9, at 1 p.m. UTC and end on Sunday, April 12. Some examples of categories include arts and creativity, economy, environment, governance, mental health, and education. You then join the appropriate Slack channel for your idea. If you don't want to submit your own idea, there are also challenges that require partners, so you can join one of those. Right now, the prize pool is estimated at 120,000 euros, or about $130,000 U.S. dollars.

Teams building the solutions and prototypes will also be in contact with mentors—experts and professionals in certain categories—who can help them bring their ideas to fruition. For example, if you developed an idea and needed help with the legal logistics, there would be a legal specialist who could talk you through it. Additionally, each track is lead by an inspirational line-up of entrepreneurs and global leaders including Steve Jurvetson, co-found of Future Ventures and board member at Tesla and SpaceX; the current and former presidents of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid and Toomas Hendrik Ilves; and former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov, a past Big Think expert.

Thinking beyond coronavirus

While the idea behind the Global Hack is to tackle the COVID-19 crisis, Pops says that they are tackling the crisis through systematic solutions that reach further than just the virus.

"We want to make sure that the solutions that come out of it apply to a world after the crisis as well," she explains. As an example, she points to the SUVE bot invention as being an ideal solution because, while for now it may be utilized to help people understand what is going on with the health crisis, a year from now it may be a revolutionary way for governments to speak to their citizens.

"Those are the winning ideas, [those] that can be put into practice after the crisis as well," says Pops.

The concept of the hackathon might itself be one of those winning ideas. By uniting brilliant minds from around the globe with field experts, the Global Hack rapidly streamlines the process of a great idea becoming a real-life solution. Innovations that would have taken half a year under normal circumstances happen in days.

Because anyone motivated to act can participate, the hack also democratizes the chance to create a world-changing invention or prototype.

"There are some people who are joining who have had some resemblance of an idea for a long time but this gives them the platform to just do it super quickly and super well," says Pops. "And of course I think it gives people a lot of purpose as well."

Join the Global Hackathon here.