Apocalypse/Post-Apocalypse & Humanity

1. Thunder and Roses by Theodore Sturgeon (1947) – War/Conflict
2. There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury (1950) – Apocalypse/Post-apocalypse
3. The Cage of Sand by J.G. Ballard (1962) – Apocalypse/Post-apocalypse
4. Speech Sounds by Octavia E. Butler (1983) – Apocalypse/Post-apocalypse

All of the stories that I chose were based solely on their focus on problems of the “inner space” as opposed to “outer space”.  Each discusses a unique problem on earth, most prominent here is: disease and war in a apocalypse or post-apocalypse state. These challenge the rigid scientific dialogue presented in a lot of science fiction, that almost drives those narratives towards pseudoscience. These are very different in that they don’t create a kind of narrative that pretends to be entirely scientific to sound intellectual.

The timeline begins with Sturgeon’s Thunder and Roses (1947) which was published during the Cold War, adheres to that atmosphere of doom and fear. The story has a very noir feel to it and is character-driven. Just as a side note, all the stories that I’ve chosen have been published during the Cold War, which lasted from about 1947-1991 according to most sources I’ve looked up. Thunder and Roses relies on its characters to ask the big question of what would happen during or after a nuclear war? What would drive people to continue living if they knew they were doomed from the beginning? There is an air of indifference with the knowledge that they are going to die one way or another: “(Everybody around here always said “Why not?”)” (195). But this changes towards the end, when Pete Mawser interacts with Starr Anthim, he realizes that even the smallest chance that humanity may survive this is worth it. And even though he does end up killing Sonny, it is in the hope that he may have prevented alot of additional deaths. In other words, he does it for “the greater good” which I guess is a kind of trope that has existed and continues to exist in alot of SF work.

There Will Come Soft Rains by Bradbury (1950), takes a very non-character driven but full of personifications/poetic route.  Bradbury’s take is more believable, and though it lacks real human figures, the house takes on a very human character of its own. The setting like Sturgeon is very dreary, and contains humor even amidst stark circumstances. However, it doesn’t offer up any future hope for humanity since there are no real humans present, nor does it give an idea of what the rest of the world is like. It feels almost empty, that only these mechanical structures have been left behind after a war-like period. It creates a world that seems devoid of human life, which is a very bleak future that alligns itself with the historical events of the Cold War and the thought that nuclear war could eradicate human life.

The Cage of Sand by Ballard (1962), brings its focus onto a trio in the midst of a desert on earth. The focus is very much on the effect of the space exploration on the people on earth. It does talk about the spread of a plant viral disease from Martian soil to the rest of the earth. It does give off a similar very empty feel like Bradbury’s There Will Come Soft Rains, with dilapidated buildings and loss of contact with the rest of the world, with a very beak ending for the individuals that have been isolated. In this story unlike the others, the rest of the world is normal and pretty much unaffected. This is an interesting shift from the prior stories that are although focused on a small setting, talk about the effects of a larger nuclear war.

Speech Sounds by Butler (1983) too is driven by a disease but one that is much more devastating, with the loss of speech or ability to read/write or both. It again brings us back to a global scale in terms of the spread of the disease. What is really different about this story is the hope that it carries through the devastation at the very end. The hope that there are children out there resistant to the disease, that will continue human existence.

Works Cited:

Ballard, J. G. “The Cage of Sand.” In Evans et al., The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, 338–58.
Ballard, J. G. “Which Way To Inner Space?” In A User’s Guide to the Millennium: Essays and Reviews, 195–98. Online on Sakai.
Bradbury, Ray. “There Will Come Soft Rains.” In Evans et al., The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, 235–40.
Butler, Octavia E. “Speech Sounds.” In Evans et al., The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, 567–79.
Sturgeon, Theodore. “Thunder and Roses.” In Evans et al., The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, 190–210.
“US History Timeline: Cold War.” US History Timeline: Cold War. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. <http://faculty.washington.edu/qtaylor/a_us_history/cold_war_timeline.htm>

game

This actually doesn’t really have anything to do with anything…

I came across this game because of someone’s blog post in a popular culture class the other day. I’m going to spoil the game and say it has to do with people’s consciousness –and the transference of an identity, of a mind. It made me think of Calcutta chromosome, and I thought it was weird to encounter such a premise/game while in the midst of such a novel.

The game of course, is not the same thing. But it does deal with several different time lines.

Here’s the link if anyone would be interested.

http://die.clay.io/

Just a thought on the idea of why the sections were labeled so ambiguously, or so non-specifically “august 20” or “the day after” and maybe why the surprise reveal of Sonali being the daughter of Philboni —

Maybe it’s too simple a thought, and I agreed with most of the things said about it in class, but I just thought maybe it has to do with the idea of relation, and how things take on meaning depending on their relation to other things, other events, which may or may not seem to have any significance otherwise. Things might just look like mere coincidence, things might look like the webbing of a whole conspiracy based on unexpected or unseen relations. I thought the sudden reveal of Sonali as a literal relative of Philboni just goes hand in hand with this theme of unexpected relations.

And the section breaks of “august 20” without a year, or “the day after” –both don’t really mean anything by themselves without the context of other surrounding information. These are things that don’t and can’t stand alone. We give them meaning by reading it in relation to the rest of the narrative/novel –just like someone else said about how we sort of play a part of detective fitting pieces together.

Alterations of the human state and technological intervention

“Aye, and Gomorrah” (1967): Astronaut careers require physical removal of genitalia. Transforms people into sexless, androgynous, prepubescent “spacers”.

“Seed Stock” (1970): The narrator has a moment of speculation on further generations and the natural evolution of the humans on this new planet. Despite scientists’ best efforts in accommodating the planet to humans, through the natural course of evolution, they will become more and more removed from traditional humanity as they become a people more suited to live in their new environment.

“Burning Chrome” (1982): The prevalence of technology and cybernetic enhancements to the human body allow for a closer bond between the human and the artificial in this cyberpunk text.

The Calcutta Chromosome (1995): Transference of “chromosomes” unique to your person to others allows for the altering, and extension, of the human state. Advanced technologies feature in a larger conspiracy, though they are not essential to the process of transforming humans.

The above texts all touch upon post/transhumanist themes of changing what it means to be traditionally human, with each featuring advanced technologies to various extents in relation to these shared themes. “Aye, and Gomorrah”, written within the historical context of sexual revolution (mirrored largely by the “spacers” and “frelks” and their social perceptions and positions), depicts a future where human technological intervention in space requires people to undergo physical alteration. “Seed Stock” shows that, despite the best technological efforts of humanity, a natural process of evolution will change their being. “Burning Chrome”, falling within the cyberpunk genre of the 80s, has interaction with technology as key to the lives of its characters. These interactions to “nets” and “mainframes” through the art of hacking are often described in very physical ways. But the interactions also extend to a real physical sense with some cases of cybernetic implants. The Calcutta Chromosome does not require advanced technologies in dealing with its transformation of the human experience, just the advancement of ideas and research. However, AIs, holographic projections, advanced computations and some vision of the internet all play roles within a fairly prophetic century-old conspiracy. Though each text employs advanced technologies when exploring their post/transhuman ideas, there is little in the way of historical consistency when each author has different perceptions and understandings of technology. However, the existence of these advanced technologies is key to the narratives, despite not being key to the process of human alteration in “Seed Stock” and The Calcutta Chromosome.

 

 

The Breakdown of Humanity

Historical Line   – The Destruction of Humanity

 

  1. The Conquest of Gola (1931)
  2. There Will Come Soft Rains (1950)
  3. When It Changed (1973)
  4. Speech Sounds (1983)

I chose each of these texts because they are each about the break down of humanity and what it means to be human. In the “Conquest of Gola” the humans are invading the aliens or the “Golans”, but the reader is inclined to sympathize with the alien because the humans are invading a land that is not theirs to take. The humans are breaking down humanity by tying up the women and turning the men against them. The breakdown of humanity by men is also seen in “When It Changed”. Yet, in this instance, the men were or presumably would be more successful in taking over Whileaway. The women are happy and have adapted to their planet without men and have been for the 600 years men have been wiped off the planet. However, when the men reappear, the men’s view of Whileaway is that it is theirs to take and the women to procreate with – whether or not the women like it. In “There Will Come Soft Rains” a much different view of the destruction of humanity is seen when there is no humans. The automated house continues on and on every day, but there is no one to fill it. It gives a grim view of the reality we could face if nuclear wars happen. This story was written during the Cold War when “There Will Come Soft Rains” was not farfetched. “Speech Sounds” created a world that had suffered the effects of a disease that took away the ability to speak, read, and so on. The adaptations afterward were not glorious and the aggression and violence among humans was unbelievable. In all of these texts the messages have been effective and complex. Yet, I do not believe that the destruction of humanity was portrayed significantly better as time went on, nor do I believe it worsened. I think that the historical context of each text is very telling to the text. The later texts, however are able to incorporate a bit more because they are able to incorporate past events into their stories.

 

 

What does it mean to be human?

Man from the Atom: Space Exploration, fear of god complex (technology catching up to imaginations, giving more power than should have) 1923 (Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, exploration on interplanetary rockets)
Reason: Artificial intelligence surpassing that of man and ruling over, balancing what one knows to exist to what one proves can exist, 1950 (development of robots- Elmer and Elsie)
Heat Death of the Universe: The life of a house wife is explained by scientific terms in a textbook-like manner making her a scientific subject rather than an individual human 1967 (Second wave feminism)
Burning Chrome: Blurring the lines between humans and machine, what does it mean to be human, how does one define a human? 1982 (Development of home computers and internet)
Each of the four texts above (“Reason,” “The Man from the Atom,” “Heat Death of the Universe,” and “Burning Chrome”) were arguably influenced by outside events. For example, “Man from the Atom” was written around the same time humans began exploring interplanetary rockets, “Reason” was published at about the same time as the Turing Test, “Heat Death of the Universe” came out during second wave feminism, and “Burning Chrome” during the same time computers were available for people’s home and the internet was being developed (Robotics History Timeline). Although each story addresses these different historical influences, they each do so in a similar manner: by blurring the lines between humanity and other forms of intelligence. The blurring of these lines addresses concerns in the development of technology as well as society. Whether they explore the question of humans overstepping into God’s realm, losing their humanity, or becoming scientific terms or machines, the main concern is “what makes us human?”. Their exploration into this question becomes a means to caution the audience of consequences that may come with advances in technology or as a stepping stone to critique humanity.

“Robotics History Timeline.” Robotics Research Group. The University of Auckland, 2013. 8 Dec. 2013. http://robotics.ece.auckland.ac.nz/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31

The Evolution of Knowledge

It is interesting to note the evolution of human knowledge in each of the science fiction texts that we have read so far. In particular, I will discussed the following four short stories: “The Man Who Evolved”, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, “Will We Plug Computer Into Our Brains?” and “How We Became PostHuman.”

Initially, in “The Man Who Evolved” (1931), Hamilton describes Pollard’s quest for higher knowledge. His experiment is driven by his thirst to unearth imporatant and fundamental information about the world and humankind. In order to achieve this, he embarks on a dangerous experiment that enables him to expand his knowledge at a lethal cost. The consequence of exploring this forbidden terrority is that Pollard ends up getting killed. But in this story, it is consequential to note that the characters acquire knowledge without use of any technology.

In “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (1965), Gary Mitchell comes into contact with strange omnipotent powers. As a result with his interaction with the barrier, he becomes “godlike” and excessively arrogant. This episode of Star Trek is not unlike the Hamilton story, but I find it interesting how there are more lethal consequences of Science Fiction in this. In the Hamilton story, the allure of knowledge resulted in one man’s death. In this story, there are more casualties and far more at stake. This episode emphasizes the destructive nature of knowledge.

As we focus on the next few stories, knowledge becames less associated with power and more so with technology. In Gibson’s “Will We Plug Computers Into Our Brains?” (2000) and in Hayes’s “How We Became Posthuman” (1999), both authors describe the role of knowledge within technology. For instance, in Gibson’s essay, he discusses the idea of inserting a silicon chip into the human mind. The chip represents knowledge and by inserting it into our brains, we are essentially acquiring knowledge through technology. I thought an especially telling line of the essay was about how “our hardware, I think, is likely to turn into something like us a lot faster than we are likely to turn into something like our hardware. Our hardware is evolving at the speed of light, while we are still the product, for the most part, of unskilled labor” (Gibson). Hayes, too, discusses the concept of human information existing just as easily in a computer as in a biological human being. Like Gibson, Hayes’s essay spends much time discussing the role of technology and its potential to serve and exceed ours needs.

One thing is for sure. A lot of the newer Science Fiction stories deal greatly with the topic of technology. Even in the latest stories that we have read in class, like “Burning Chrome” (1982) and The Calcutta Chromosome (1995), the role of technology in a world of hacking to capture forbidden information is absolutely crucial. Even the belief of acquiring knowledge (which in Hamilton’s and Goldstone’s stories) went from being dangerous to being almost encouraged. One can only assume this trend parallels our own world’s constantly shifting focus on technology.

[Historical Line]: Heteronormativity and Science Fiction

Historical Line

1. Sultana’s Dream (1908)
Reversing the gender norms perpetuates the same forms of oppression that we see in the 1900s.
Seems to critique or criticize these stereotypes, but at the same time view them with a form of permanency.

2. There Will Come Soft Rain (1950)
The entwinement of the home and female gender norms is perpetuated here, dictating an interrelatedness that even after an apocalypse persists.

3. Aye and Gomorrah (1967)
Gender norms change slightly with female characters being sexually aggressive and pursuing sexuality, differing from works like The Space Merchants, where sexuality by female characters was seen with a negative light and as a commodity to be used by men for gains.

4. The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
Attempts to transcend gender norms altogether, however still has occasional moments in the minds of the reader where this fails, hearkening back to heteronormativity

Thread: How perceptions of gender norms evolved and changed in the works we had read.

Interestingly, the works we have read have progressed largely throughout the years in terms of how gender norms and heteronormativity is viewed and accepted in a hypothetical society. Starting with “Sultana’s Dream,” the traditional gender norms are reversed, allowing a keen insight as to the perceptions of how one ought to view the status quo. Despite claims that a world where men are locked away in their homes is a utopia, there are still signs of oppression which both serves to criticize the oppressive state of the 1900s, but simultaneously contends that regardless of gender, social norms hold a pervasive level of permanency. This permanency is continued further through “There Will Come Soft Rain,” where even after a nuclear holocaust, the fact that the robotic house still is largely defining itself based on a desire to serve its former female owner plays to the idea that the home is a woman’s domain. The steadfastness of this is made symbolic by the fact that everything else in society was destroyed, however these gender norms were still around and held true. Next, in “Aye and Gomorrah,” we do start to see some divergence, pointing to the idea that women can be sexually promiscuous on their own right, confronting the social norms entrenched throughout works like The Space Merchants, and recognizing that women’s sexuality is not a commodity, but rather a desire, much like any other. Finally, in The Left Hand of Darkness, we see real attempts at breaking down social mores, rather than having any conception of gender at all, we are introduced to aliens who have no gender in their society at all. While a noble attempt by LeGuin, she too falls for the plight of one who lives in a society governed by gender norms, and subconsciously includes parts of her work which point to the characters having genders or gendered traits, despite actively attempting to avoid this. As we read through these works, we notice a marked progression, reflecting the idea that as society becomes more and more accepting of things like feminism and breaking down gender and sexual definitions so too does the literature.

Prompt the Last

Group 2
Choose four texts we have read together, note their dates, arrange them in order, and make very short (a few words) notes about a specific connection you see among them—a device, theme, concern, or pattern. Then write a few sentences reflecting on the historical line you see in terms of these texts and that device: do you see development? sudden change? continuity? regression? Influence? Disputes? Diverging lines? If you find yourself writing a narrative of progression or teleology (it was all leading up to…), ask yourself whether that’s the only way to see it. If you find yourself talking about an unchanging stasis, again, ask yourself how it might work.

Group 1
This is optional but very strongly encouraged as a useful activity of synthesis and good fodder for creative discussion. I’ll be asking all of you to reflect on historical lines in class on Monday.

“Burning Chrome” and lighting

I came across this last night and it reminded me about the discussion in class re: the particular aesthetic of the dark room with the neon lights or the harsh glare of the computer screen when dealing with hacking and/or cyberpunk:


[source: http://fractalsaurus.tumblr.com/post/68239240782]

[Edited by AG on 11/28: I moved my comment down into a comment, so that rathiri’s post wasn’t crowded by my words.]