All posts by Olivia Dunham

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.

SF Mediums

In changing the way in which a story is presented, often the way in which it is perceived is also different. When reading a text, one takes in all the information in the same manner: through reading abstract words and turning them into an image held within the mind. This form allows one to take in the information at any chosen pace and and gives the reader the freedom to process it as he/she chooses. For example, when reading the Left Hand of Darkness, one may begin to assume that the main character  is white. It is not until about the third chapter, when the character’s race is mentioned, that the reader realizes this mistake, or later in the book when race is mentioned for a second time that the reader realizes that he/she had forgotten this fact and at some point continued to picture the character as white. It is only at these points where the reader can understand and connect these patterns in behavior to the novel’s commentary on society’s need to categorize people and place them in hierarchies. In the medium of film, though, how the audience views the text is much more controlled. The information provided presents itself as audio and visuals which must be interpreted as seen. If Left Hand of Darkness where a film, the audience would not have had the realization described above because the audience would not have had the freedom to choose how to picture the character.

The Left Hand of Darkness page 100

Chapter seven, narrated by “a woman of peaceful Chiffewar,” describes the sexual practices and sexual anatomy of those on Winter (Le Guin 103). Though the practices may seem alien in nature simply because they are different, the language makes them seem even more alien. For example, in one section of her analysis, the women lists several differences that one must take into consideration to fully grasp and understand this part of the alien culture. Each difference is introduced with “Consider:” and is followed by a description not only of how this culture is different, but of how one may perceive it as better than that in which she lives (100). It highlights, for example that, “there is no unconsenting sex,” and  that, “there is no division of humanity into strong and weak halves” (100). With the favorable descriptions and the repetition of “consider”- which seems to echo one saying ‘imagine’- this passage alienates the reader by giving her what comes across as a utopian dreamworld. The descriptions on this page give a ‘too good to be true’ felling and make it more difficult to picture as it reads more like a perfect hypothetical scenario that one is trying to sell rather than describe. Using the repetition of “consider” as one would repeat ‘imagine’ when trying to help one picture something wonderful, distances this part of Winter’s culture from reality. In making this sexual utopia dreamlike, the women also makes it unattainable.

The Space Merchants

Poor old Fowler. Who could blame him? His own dreamworld was under attack by every work I had to say. My story was blasphemy against the god of Sales. He couldn’t believe it, and he couldn’t believe that I-the real I-believed it. How could Mitchel Courtenay , copysmith, be sitting there and telling him such frightful things as:” (190).

In this moment, Mitch is forced to see the the truth about his boss and his boss’s character. While Mitch’s unfortunate circumstances have forced him to take a closer look at the reality of his situation and society, his boss has become so immersed in his “dreamworld” that he does not know how to live outside of it and, as a result, resists or ignores anything that would compromise that fake reality. Mitch conveys this not only by telling the reader, but by slipping in and out of free indirect discourse with, “My story  was blasphemy against the god of Sales” and his rhetorical question (190). Though his is slipping into the mind of his boss, the use of diction in “blasphemy” and “god of Sales” adds a satirical note to his critique where he mocks his boss for being reliant on his “dreamworld” to a point where he ignores logic and reason, and, thus, sacrifices his own safety for the sake of preserving his comforting illusions.

The Colour of Out of Space

“He saw so much of the thing-and its influence was so insidious. Why has he never been able to move away? How clearly he recalled those dying words of Nahum’s-‘can’t git away…draws ye…ye know summ’at’s comin’, but ’tain’t no use…'” (199).

What struck me in this passage was the question the speaker asks about Ammi. He doesn’t ask why he’s never moved away, he asks why he’s “never been able to move away.” This is an important distinction, for the first implies that he was able (or allowed) but chose not to, while the second implies that he had no choice. Throughout the story the characters show the audience that they are uncomfortable with the unnatural nature of Nahum’s property, yet those who are closest, most affected, and most disturbed by the presence of the unnatural  creatures and characteristics stay near that which makes them uncomfortable. There seems to be something drawing them to the creepy and unnatural- the unknown. Not only do the characters not move away though, but they begin listening and watching more closely. It’s as if they want to know more about that which they want to leave. This story sends a similar message to that of The Call Of Cthulhu. Though the unknown is alluring (people want to know more about it), exposing one’s self to elements that were not meant for humans will prove to be detrimental. I find it interesting that Lovecraft focuses on this idea that the unknown can be dangerous, and yet he focuses on the unknown in all his writings.

Sultana’s Dream

“By and by I was enjoying the scenery. Really it was very grand. I mistook a patch of green grass for a velvet cushion. Feeling as if I were walking on a soft carpet, I looked down and found the path covered with moss and flowers” (Hossain 8).

“‘But we do not rust our Zenana members with embroidery!’ she said laughing, ‘As a man has not patients enough to pass thread a needle hole even!'” (Hossain 10).

This first passage stood out to me simply because of its descriptions. The descriptors such as “velvet,” “soft,” and “covered with moss and flowers” seem very stereotypically feminine. I find this significant because of Hossain’s purpose. The purpose for writing this feminist piece is to switch the social roles of the sexes (by this I mean roles of house work verses those more respected and paid roles that require an education). By doing so, she forces the audience to recognize how unjust  the social roles of the sexes are in reality and how women are capable of taking on the same roles of men, putting them on an equal level. It would seem then, by using these feminine descriptions and ascribing to constructed gender roles (by this I mean stereotypes such as all girls like pink and all boys like blue) that Hossain would injure her argument. For socially constructed genders roles are what helped lead to the division of sexes to begin with, so in order to achieve inequality, one must deconstruct them. However, as the story continues and Sister Sara makes exclamations about the men such as the one that she made about the needle work, it becomes quite clear that she is mocking society’s gender roles. Her exclamation about men not having enough patience is clearly ludicrous and insulting to men as is the idea that men are animals that are unable to control themselves. Sara’s way of thinking about and exclamations of gender roles are essential because they show how harmful they may be to a society. Using the same gender roles that exist in Hossain actual society  is also crucial because it shows how any person in power can use them to either promote or denote the status of a sex, supporting the idea that they should not exist at all.

Hossain, Rokeya Sakhawat. “Sultana’s Dream.” Sultana’s Dream: A Feminist Utopia and Selections from The Secluded Ones. Ed. Roushan Jahan. New York: The Feminist Press, 1988. 7-18. Print.