Category Archives: Blog entry

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.

 

 

[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.

The Future is the Future, Not Now.

In Gibson’s “Burning Chrome”, I found the references to replacement body parts to be very interesting.  Although not quite advanced, in recent years there have been developments in many prosthetic  devices.  This includes, of course, the arm which was referred to during many parts of the story.  The arm is mentioned to be extremely high-tech, with connections to nerves of the user’s body, for direct control; arms, like this are being perfected everyday now, to improve the life of the one who needs it.

We are not yet in “cyberspace”.  The world is not yet ready to enter technology the way it is in Gibson’s work.  We may not be cyberpunk, but we might get there in a few years.  With the way technology develops now-a-days, we might reach that point in fifty years or so.  Even then, I don’t think the world is yet ready for such endeavors.  When is it too much?

A lack of Color

The passage that sticks out to me is the second sentence of the story “Out in the malls and plazas, moths were batting themselves to death against the neon, but in Bobby’s loft the only light came from a monitor screen and the green and red leds on the face of the matrix simulator” (Gibson, 548). What frustrates me about Cyber Punk stories is the over emphasis of darkness and light being expressed only in shades of neon. There is no contrasting natural light which presents life with computers as completely artificial separate from nature. Why is there a stereotype that hackers only hack late at night in a pitch dark apartment with only the light from the screen illuminating a face; more like a batted moth? Why is technology always contrasting with nature, wouldn’t be more interesting to see some natural light through technology? Maybe the reason why the characters in Gibson’s stories always need new eyes is because they ruined their old ones by staring at a screen in the dark. Gibson fails to emphasize a wide enough spectrum of color, simply emphasizing neon, leds, and chrome isn’t enough of a color palate. What’s unrealistic about the image that Gibson paints in his short story “The Burning Chrome” isn’t the ICE, the towers, and the holograms, it’s the complete lack of night and day.

The matrix is an abstract representation of the relationships between data systems. Legitimate programmers jack into their employers’ sector of the matrix and find themselves surrounded by bright geometries representing the corporate data.

Towers and fields of it ranged in the colorless nonspace of the simulation matrix, the electronic consensus-hallucination that facilitates the handling and exchange of massive quantities of data. Burning Chrome, page 549

 

This passage stuck out to me in particular because I have no idea what it’s talking about. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be visualizing here. Maybe, like, Tron? “Bright geometries” and “towers and fields” seem to suggest some sort of actual physical dimension to the representation of data, like cyberspace really occupies space. Except it doesn’t in real life, at least not in that sense of space, but then it would probably be a lot less interesting to try to describe a bunch of big electronic rectangles sitting around. I guess having some implication of cyberspace as an actual location (even though it’s “nonspace,” it’s just an agreed-upon digital visualization of data) makes it more probable as the setting for the action of hacking it? To me this is the most jarring, unfamiliar thing about the story. There’s that weird omnipresence to technology, the scary-but-exciting idea of cyberspace existing somewhere other than inside the computer.

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.

[Star Trek]: Media and Fandom

The medium of television, and the general advent of technology has greatly shaped the manner by which storytellers, particularly of the science fiction genre are able to convey their messages to readers.  The most pronounced mechanism, at least for me having watched Star Trek and many other SyFy features, is the way that it allows the viewer to have a clear and focused image as opposed to having to rely upon their imagination.  An example of this is in LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness, with regards to the Gethenian’s androgyny.  Although it is something that requires chapters upon chapters to explain, it would only take a few hours in the makeup room, and a quick scene for the viewer to better understand the complex idea.  I actually think this makes science fiction more accessible to the masses, as one of the biggest “turn offs” among science fiction haters who I have talked to, is the overly “highbrow” or “elitist”  attitudes with how writers describe intricate details to the point of superfluousness.  When anyone is able to understand the work regardless of their vocabulary, it makes the work more easily comprehensible, even though some die-hard fans argue that the expanding fan base comes at the cost of watering down the detailed universe crafted by the primary author.

Tropes of Gender

I find the tropes about Gethen to be the most interesting. Thinking back to our last discussion on gender in class, the author tries so hard to remove gender from this planet. However, gender identification will always be present.

“Gender Neutral Writing: Much pain to anyone not a Gethenian. Sooner or later they all decide to use “he” or “she” for convenience, though it leads to traps. 

Why is it so comforting to put a he/she identification to this species? We are forcing expectations and roles of a specific gender on beings that are gender neutral themselves. However, thinking about why Le Guin would eliminate gender but keep gender identification, it seems to mock the use of gender roles. In this world, beings that are seen as female are truly male by nature and vice versa. “Genly’s feminine “landlady”, whom he couldn’t resist to think of as a woman, was a father several times and a mother not once.” With supposed women acting like men and supposed men acting like women, gender roles are no longer of use. Even today we encourage the use of gender neutral terms like firefighter instead of fireman all in the effort to eliminate these roles.

TvTropes on LHD

So, the tropes that stuck out to me as issues or just as interesting:

  • Gender Neutral Writing – I’m kind of conflicted about this. I spent a little while angrily googling things like le guin interview pronouns, and found out that she herself advocates for the use of singular ‘they.’ So I’m inclined to think that the weird, annoying retrofitting into the ‘he’/’she’ linguistic gender binary was intended as a way in which none of the non-Gethenian narrators are fully reliable narrators – they’re imposing their own structures of understanding onto a people to whom those structures don’t apply. But on the other hand… there was nothing I can think of in the text that discussed the issues of doing that, and because I’m really invested in getting singular ‘they’ more widely accepted, it makes me uncomfortable to think that readers are coming away without ever questioning why a reliance on binary pronouns might be problematic.
  • Medieval Stasis – I just really question the actual importance of what the reasoning for the super slow technological development is, in the sense that the in-universe explanation could be basically anything. It seems a little handwavey to me: yeah, it’s cold, we’re busy surviving, whatever… Really it’s had the technology it does for as long as it has, in the end, because le Guin wanted it to. (And I’m not saying that as a criticism! I like the setting. I think what I mean is that excessive musing or worldbuilding on How This Came To Be would actually detract from the fact that it is.)
  • UST – Yeah, I definitely thought they were going to kiss.