All posts by DFW

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.

 

 

Star Trek and visual quality

Despite my being a fan of Science Fiction TV and films, some criticism can be made that is specific to the visual medium. The Star Trek episode, for example, looks outdated to modern-day viewers in its visual representation. The campy, obviously-constructed set designs, props and costumes, for me, negated a sense of it’s being “real” in an immersive fictional sense. Furthermore, the remastered version I viewed on Netflix had updated the sequences of the USS Enterprise in space, making use of improved CGI. These points highlight technological limitations during the time in which the content is created. This could detract from a quality of timelessness for many viewers, more so than a text where its outdated qualities are less obvious. Fictional immersion may be better for a reader than for a viewer of a Star Trek episode from the late 60s.

The Left Hand of Darkness: Blurring the lines of dream and reality

“It was a particularly bad dream, the kind in which you run down a strange street in the dark with a lot of people who have no faces, while houses go up in flames behind you, and children scream.
I ended up in an open field, standing in dry stubble by a black hedge. The dull-red halfmoon and some stars showed through clouds overhead. The wind was bitter cold. Near me a big barn or granary bulked up in the dark, and in the distance beyond it I saw little volleys of sparks going up on the wind.” (p.110)

Ai’s use of language suggests the whole war-torn refugee sequence to be an unreal dream. It is only in the narrator never telling of waking up and the intricate level of detail that the reader understands his account to be a real-life continuation of the narrative. This blurring of reality and dream is indicative of Ai’s own unstable consciousness in having been abruptly and confusedly awoken. Such incidents question the reliability of our narrator, but the language validates Ai’s self-proposal of his account being story-like as opposed to factual.

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness. New York: Ace Books, 1969. Print.

 

Science vs. Nature

“The Conservationists were fair game, those wild-eyed zealots who pretended modern civilization was in some way “plundering” our planet. Preposterous stuff. Science is always a step ahead of the failure of natural resources. After all, when real meat got scarce, we had soyaburgers ready. When oil for civilian purposes ran low, technology developed the pedicab.” (pp. 18-19)

“I definitely am, however, a guy who gets sore when he pays new-protein prices and gets regenerated-protein merchandise. The texture of the shashlik we both ordered was all right, but you can’t hide the taste.” (p. 33)

Within these extracts, Pohl and Kornbluth criticize the notion that human science can always overcome the human-inflicted failures of the natural world. For example, a transition from traditional cars to pedal-based vehicles would be viewed by the reader as backtracking technological development. Furthermore, Courtenay’s dislike for unnatural food implies a superiority of natural food. Such attitudes still hold relevance today when considering the consistent depletion of natural oil reserves and the contention over genetically modified foods. Additionally, the significant portion of today’s people, industries and governments with a laissez-faire attitude towards environmental conservationism, and the debate that such an attitude incurs from those more environmentally-minded, holds great relevance to the somewhat prophetic setting of the novel.

Pohl, Frederik, and Kornbluth, C.M. The Space Merchants. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2011. Print.

Beyond Good and Evil in “The Call of Cthulhu”

“The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with  laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom.” Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”, p.155.

The passage above struck me as Lovecraft providing a horrifying reminder of our socially constructed morality, beyond which is a largely  incomprehensible space of feeling. For example, likening some flaming holocaust to feelings of ecstasy and freedom seems not just disgusting, but beyond relation in considering our own understandings of ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Though the results may not be as extreme as Lovecraft’s vision of a planet ruled by cosmic eldritch horrors, serious issue could be seen in considering humanity’s own moral adaptation as we venture further into a terrifyingly alien universe.

Lovecraft, H.P. “The Call of Cthulhu”. H.P. Lovecraft: The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Ed. S.T. Joshi. London: Penguin, 2002. 139-169. Print.

“The Star”: The mystery of the wanderer

“…this strange wanderer appeared. A vast mass of matter it was, bulky, heavy, rushing without warning out of the black mystery of the sky into the radiance of the sun.” (Wells, “The Star”, p.41)

What I find interesting about Wells’s text is the vague definition of the mass; often being referred to as a star, a planetary object, or something else entirely different. Within the purpose of the story, the definition is not of much concern when considering the object’s use as somewhat of a plot device to further the narrative through catalyzing humanity’s reactions and affecting the Earth’s environment. However, the mystery surrounding the object’s nature, origins and possible intentions leaves an unsettling feeling in the reader’s mind as it opens them to the vast and alien possibilities of the unknown universe. Furthermore, such lines of thought serve to question our own significance as a planet and people when faced with this infinite-possibility space.

Wells, H.G. “The Star.” The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction. Ed. Arthur B. Evans, Istvan              Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., Joan Gordon, Veronica Hollinger, Rob Latham, and Carol                              McGuirk. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2010. 40-49. Print.