All posts by MollHackabout

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.

Televising Science Fiction

I agree with the readux that television, as a medium, is more far-reaching than print media. Television presents the genre SF in a manner more dramatic and captivating. For example, it makes use of visual effects that bring the narrative to reality. In Star Trek, we see a setting that takes place in space. The characters are seen on a spaceship. Already, tv as a medium makes it easier for the viewers to visualize the story. On top of that, many Star Trek episodes feature aliens/other life forms by presenting them with very distinct physical features. This is important because while many of the print media that we have read (like The Left Hand of Darkness, The Conquest of Gola) feature characters with sharp physical differences to humans, we can actually see such differences in Star Trek–making it a more meaningful experience. Moreover, the particular episode of Star Trek that we watched for class depicts a story line similar to Hamilton’s “The Man Who Evolved.” Here also, Mitchell is exposed to a force that transforms him into the second phase of Pollard’s development–arrogant, supposedly godlike, hostile toward everyone else. But it’s far easier and more effective to see the same story on screen. We can actually picture the action in front of us. Finally, the use of music makes the SF on screen more dramatic, entertaining, and spellbinding. Overall, I think the fact that television can transform mere words (as seen in print) into a reality through use of visual and sound effects is why it is certainly more successful (to me) as a medium. 

Advertising Monopoly

In class, we discussed the passage about how advertising, as the dominant industry of that time, robs bright writers and poets (like Tildy) of their talent by morphing them into indifferent, mediocre corporate pawns. This is because advertising is considered the crème de la crème. Advertising is far more significant and consequential to that society than it is to ours. Whereas advertising is a means to sell a product or concept today, its role in Mitch’s world encompasses a great deal more. As a result of their status and hierarchy, it is mentioned several times that the advertising men are especially vain and smug.

“There’s an old saying, men. ‘The world is our oyster.’ We’ve made it come true. But we’ve eaten that oyster.” He crushed out his cigarette carefully. “We’ve eaten it,” he repeated. “We’ve actually and literally conquered the world. Like Alexander, we weep for new worlds to conquer. And there–“he waved at the screen behind him, “there you have just seen the first of those world” (Page 10).

Advertisers are responsible for changing the face of Mitch’s world, for regulating their commerce, and for exploring the unexplored. This level of power indicates that that one industry has a monopoly over all other industries. From the way they are regarded, their involvement with Venus, and their shrewd outlook toward mankind, I think it is safe to say that advertising is turning Mitch’s society into an anarchy. No government, no private enterprise, no trade, no nothing. Fortunately, Mitch realizes the error of this system at the end of the book by evolving into a consumer and learning the true meaning of pure, unadulterated happiness.

Photo: http://www.usnews.com/usnews/php/galleries/image.php/412/92/92.jpg

*Note, this photo describes income inequality and how the non-advertisers compare to their advertising counterparts.

Ignorance is a Bliss…or is it?

Some of the other bloggers have already mentioned a few of the initial passages in Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” which, in a sense, translate a truth about our own universe. However, I wish to discuss one particular line from the end of the short story that communicates the dangers of knowing too much information.

On the last page, the narrator writes, “I have looked upon all that the universe has to hold of horror, and even the skies of spring and the flowers of summer must ever afterward be poison to me” (Lovecraft 25). This is a particularly important message because it conveys the dangers of breaching on forbidden territory, of knowing “too much.” Even in our own world, we hear of cases of people who are murdered for something they knew. In the mafia world, it is not uncommon for people to get murdered for harboring dangerous information (as witnessed in “The Goldfather” trilogies). Similarly, we hear many stories of innocent civilians from China or Russia who get imprisoned or murdered for revealing a grotesque truth against the government. Edward Snowden, himself, is now in hiding for the information he provided against the NSA (whether he should or should not have revealed anything is still a valuable question today). At the end of the day, the narrator’s fate is reminiscent of what countless individuals in the past have endured in their quest for “truth.”

Supporting Actors in a Greater Scheme- “The Star”

Although the line I have picked has been quoted by JustAPerson, I will choose to discuss why chose it myself.

“How small the vastest of human catastrophes may seem, at a distance of a few million miles.” – “The Star” – H.G. Wells, page 11

This line reminds me a great deal of how we, as humans, often believe that we are the superior species, the “alpha male” if you will–yet we are mere pawns, or supporting characters is a far more complicated plot line. While we have control over certain aspects of our world, phenomena like natural disasters are out of our control. Some would credit science (and Global Warming) as the culprit of the apocalypse in Well’s short story, whereas others might say it’s due to a more omnipotent and divine presence. Either way, we have no control over such events. Dinosaurs, for instance, had no power to stop the comet that ultimately led to their demise. Many years later, when humans arrived, dinosaurs became an ancient and forgotten species. Well’s story (and that line) imply that the world is constantly changing at its own desired speed. No matter what we try to do, we do not have ultimate control over what happens to us. We are not the most important creatures in the planet and if one (let’s saw extraterrestrials from other plants) were to look down at us, we would be a mere speck in a much grander landscape.

As Lupe Fiasco sang in “The Show Goes on”:

“Alright, already, the show goes on
All night, till the morning we dream so long
Anybody ever wonder, when they would see the sun go
Just remember when you come up
The show goes on”

I feel like Fiasco (and Modest Mouse who sang an earlier version, “Float On”) mean that no matter what the world throws at us, we’ll keep moving. I stuck to a more literal interpretation–no matter what happens to Planet Earth (and to us), the show will, indeed, go on.