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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Thread Ripper

Amalie Smith

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To purchase Thread Ripper

Title: Thread Ripper
Author: Amalie Smith
Genre: Novel
Written: 2020 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 216 pages
Original in: Danish
Availability: Thread Ripper - US
Thread Ripper - UK
directly from: Lolli Editions
  • Danish title: Thread Ripper
  • Translated by Jennifer Russell

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Our Assessment:

B+ : appealing experimental fiction

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Information . 14/8/2020 Lone Nikolajsen

  From the Reviews:
  • "Thread Ripper rummer også et nedslag i en personlig kærligheds- og fortvivlelseshistorie, ligesom den fremmaner storartede og ikoniske kvindeskikkelser fra mytologien og videnskabshistorien. (...) Amalie Smiths bedrift i Thread Ripper er at optrævle og knytte en masse forbindelser på kryds og tværs af teknologihistorie og mytologi. Det lyder komplekst og er det vel også i den forstand, at abstraktionsniveauet er højt, perspektiverne svimlende og spændvidden i de vidensformer (vævekunst, mytologi, matematik, computerteknologi, kunstig intelligens), det handler om, er imponerende. Ikke desto mindre er Thread Ripper ukompliceret at læse. Det er en ubesværet fornøjelse at følge den tankevirksomhed, der udspiller sig på siderne." - Lone Nikolajsen, Information

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Thread Ripper is presented as a 'hybridroman' -- a hybrid novel --, with two narrative threads, one printed on each left page, one on each right page. (The pagination is also doubled up -- each page number used twice (so, for example, the last page is '108', and so is the penultimate one, facing it.))
       The narrator -- who points out that, born in the 1980s, she is: "the same age as the internet" -- is trained as a tapestry-weaver, and much of Thread Ripper is her account of working on a large-scale commission, of a tapestry that is to hang in the entrance hall of the Danish Agency for Digitisation. She is designing it on a computer, one she has built and is programming herself; the processor she selected for it an AMD Ryzen™ Threadripper™, from which the novel takes its title: as she explains: "I tore its label in half and named the computer Thread Ripper".
       As she notes, historically weaving has often involved -- often controversially -- labor-saving (or obsolete-making) automation, and the actual weaving of this project is essentially fully automated. But even its design involves a great deal of automation:

I intend to take pictures of plants and feed them into a machine-learning algorithm, which will then generate images of new digital vegetation based on the images I feed it.

Working together with the machine-learning algorithm, I will weave and unravel artificial plant images on screen. A Flora digitalica, I told the committee.
       (Smith has, in fact, explored forms of such digital (re)creation.)
       Looking back at the history of automation in weaving and early ideas of computing machines she becomes fascinated by the figure of pioneer Ada Lovelace, and eventually she saves a second algorithm on her computer, feeding it the letters of Ada Lovelace, as well as "a syntax data set and a couple of biographies". Mostly she lets this one run in the background, wary of opening it after her initial experiences with it .....
       The other narrative thread is focused more on the personal, with many of the sections dated (e.g. 'October 2017') and describing personal experiences, notably her relationship with a William and including, for example, an account of a visit to Japan. (The tapestry project is a year-long commission, and the dated sections cover a similar period as her account of it, from September 2017 to May 2018.)
       The narrator begins by comparing herself to Penelope, Odysseus' wife, and how she kept her suitors at bay by weaving and unraveling a burial-shroud:
Penelope by day: assembling an image. Penelope by night: dismantling an image into its physical components.

I am Penelope, but not the faithful wife. I weave and unravel tapestry while I long and waver.
       Smith weaves together a lot here, from personal ruminations to a sweep of digital history, from the first computer 'bug' to the modern automated loom her tapestry will be woven by. Other material is woven into the text as well, including extensive textual borrowing from Lovelace and others,, and there are relevant images at the beginning of each of the seven parts of the novel. Much as with the experimentation with the digital tapestry -- physical samples of which the narrator tries out -- there is a great deal of trial and adjustment throughout the text.
       Both narrative threads are presented as series of fairly short bits -- short sentences and paragraphs, short episodes --, leaving also much blank space (making the novel also visually striking). Smith explores artificial (and natural) intelligence in a variety of forms, from their (re)creation through algorithms on contemporary computers to plant life. The novel itself is both a tapestry of sorts as well as an exploration of what goes into the making of a larger design such as that (including also how changing inputs changes the final (or evolving) form).
       With both interesting historical titbits and a very personal touch -- and with the solid framing story of the creating of the commissioned tapestry -- Thread Ripper is an engaging work. It tackles big issues -- philosophical and otherwise -- in an approachable and not too heavy-handed way, and is particularly good in its use of the historical material. (Ada Lovelace is, of course, a perfect subject/object for a book like this, but Smith thankfully doesn't overdo it with her -- a temptation many other authors have found harder to resist).
       This is a well-formed, thoughtful novel that even in its doubled presentation reads very well. The experimentation, in form and presentation, serves a purpose and is skillfully done, as Smith stretches the more familiar bounds of fiction to good ends.

- M.A.Orthofer, 31 May 2022

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Thread Ripper: Reviews: Amalie Smith: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Danish author and artist Amalie Smith was born in 1985.

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© 2022 the complete review

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