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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.

 

[The Left Hand of Darkness]: Gender and Voices

“Though I had been nearly two years on Winter I was still far from being able to see the people of the planet through their own eyes.  I tried to, but my efforts took the form of self-consciously seeing a Gethenian first as a male, then as a woman, forcing him into those categories so irrelevant to his nature and so essential to my own” (Le Guin 12).

I think that one of the most essential aspects to Ursula Le Guin’s writing in The Left Hand of Darkness, is how despite it following multiple narrations, a benefit towards impartiality, it simultaneously expresses implicit cultural biases which turn Ai among others from being objective into subjective perspectives.  In this instance, the use of gendered nouns, like “male” and “female” play to the latent human biases that we as a society have, placing great emphasis on gender as a tool determinant to how we see others.  Now, this ambiguity from the norm for the reader, places someone reading the text (as a human) in the same confusion Ai feels, and makes the reader feel as though they are unraveling the same questions and learning along with Ai.  Further, the fact that Genly admits to even having problems differentiating after “two years,” further ingrains the dichotomy of gender in our minds as the reader, and makes us wonder about what how Gethenians function without something that society has dictated to being so important and how the solution they have must be so complicated and different from the norms to which the reader and Ai are used.

Le Guin,  Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness. New York: Ace Books, 1976. Print.

Illusion of Reality

“‘I never made any trip. It’s a false memory chain improperly planted in me by McClane’s technicians.’ But then he thought of the box in his desk drawer, containing the Martian life forms. And the trouble and hardship he had gathering them. The memory seemed real. And the box of live forms; that certainly was real” (Dick 397).

“Bridgman picked up a handful of the dark Martian sand beside the instrument panel, felt the soft glowing crystals warm his palm. In his mind he could still see the silver-sheated gantries of the launching site across the bay, by a curious illusion almost identical with the Martian city he had designed years earlier” (Ballard 357).

Ballard and Dick both share a sense of false reality in their stories with both situations being related to Mars. In Ballard’s  The Cage of Sand, Martian sand is transported to Earth along with an undetectable virus that kills the surrounding plants. This area becomes isolated to stop the spread of the virus, however, it also becomes “a corner of Earth that is forever Mars” (Ballard 349). Ballard creates the illusion that the characters are on Mars, which gives the story a sense of inner space. In We Can Remember it For you Wholesale,  Dick creates a false reality for the protagonist that had been forcibly altered by the other characters. The main character, Quail, wishes to change his memories so he believes he accomplished his dream of traveling to Mars. However, he finds out that he did truly visit Mars but that memory was  removed. This story also has a sense of false reality because the character is unaware of what is reality and what is a false implanted memory. With protagonist characters presenting such unreliable perspectives, the readers are unable to conclude what is reality as well. Overall, adding to the fictiveness of the stories.

“. . . a most interesting wish-fulfillment dream fantasy.”

“The mysterious leg cramp was obviously psychogenic. Although unable to accept consciously the logic of Webster’s argument, he would willingly have conceded to the fait accompli of physical capture, gratefully submitted to a year’s quarantine at the Parasitological Cleansing Unit at Tampa, and then returned to his career as an architect, chastened but accepting his failure.” (352)

“Ironically, he had gotten exactly what he had asked Rekal, Incorporated for. Adventure, peril, Interplan police at work, a secret and dangerous trip to Mars in which his life was at stake—everything he had wanted as a false memory.” (399)

Both Ballard and Dick, in these passages, and Dick to a larger extent in “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”, are exploring ideas about desire and wish fulfillment. In “The Cage of Sand” passage, we begin to get the sense that Bridgman is at a bit of an impasse. He has become a bit comfortable being where he is, but he does not want to move on, so he is in a state of limbo, which renders him a bit immobile in responding to situations in which his living arrangements could change. He doesn’t seem to know if he wants to stay inside the reservation or not, and the wardens and Webster’s message to him are forcing him to sort out his feelings sooner than he would like to. Quail has fallen into the “be careful what you wish for” trope, but he is also facing a crisis of desire. He got precisely what he wanted, but by doing that, the experience revealed to him that what he wanted wasn’t really what he wanted. He wanted the romance of going to Mars, of being a secret agent, not the nitty gritty drama of it.

The clock indicates the moment…but what does eternity indicate?

Ballard and Ellison both focus on time. In Ellison’s story Everett C. Marm practices active civil disobedience in an effort to protest the Ticktockman, a man who utilized time to regulate the populace and increase efficiency for the war effort. Everett C. Marm is a man who has been late all his life but argues that he has not been late to living his life and enjoying himself. His message is clear, “Why let them order you about? Why let them tell you to hurry and scurry like ants or maggots? Take your time! Saunter a while! Enjoy the sunshine, enjoy the breeze, let life carry you at your own pace! Don’t be the slaves of time; it’s a helluva way to die, slowly, by degrees… down with the Ticktockman” (Ellison, 376)!

On the other hand Ballard introduces us to Bridgeman who is trapped in the past due to an unlucky circumstance surrounding his Mars architectural career. Similar to Everett, Bridgeman has created a counter schedule, his own pace, where he tries to piece his life back together after the incident. He is trying to find peace with himself, he finds comfort in the ruins of Cape Kennedy and needs time, “Bridgeman had easily adapted himself to his self-isolation, soon evolved a system of daily routines that gave him the maximum of time to spend on his own private reveries” (Ballard, 341). The government represented by Major Webster rushes Bridgeman and informs him that he is running out of time. The horrifying that arises when reading these stories is whether or not we feel as though we have taken enough time out of our day to appreciate our surroundings, learn about ourselves, and contemplate life? Buddhism, Jack Kerouac, or Walt Whitman might point you in the right direction.

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.

[The Space Merchants]: Chlorella’s Predatory Lending

“The pattern of the B labor contract was quite clear.  You never got out of debt.  Easy credit was part of the system, and so were irritants that forced you to exercise it.  If I fell behind ten dollars a week I would owe one thousand one hundred dollars to Chlorella at the end of my contract and would have to work until the debt was wiped out.  And while I worked, a new debt would accumulate” (Pohl and Kornbluth 1).

When we discussed in class how Pohl and Kornbluth each engaged in critique within The Space Merchants, this quote was one of many that sprang right to mind.  While certainly critical of any form of contract that seeks to exploit the poorest members of society during the 1950s, it was especially thought provoking within today’s context with regards to the idea of predatory lending.  Predatory lending, was essentially the practice of praying upon unassuming individuals, by offering them “too good to be true” loan rates on things like cars and homes, and waiting for the person to default on their payments by virtue of the misrepresentation, and reacquiring the property.  While functionally a cheap way for these lenders to make money, the people who were taken advantage of were effectively coerced into taking a deal that would otherwise have been bad for them, much in the same way that Mitch was coerced into working for Chlorella.  Another similarity is the idea of the cycle of debt that accrues, where in both cases, Mitch and the individual, each struggle against massive rates for either interest payments or products, each perpetuating a system, where no matter how much one pays in, there is no way out.  Finally, is the idea that no matter what happens, the victim will be straddled with a new debt.  Even if somehow Mitch or the victim of a subprime mortgage/rate, manages to pay off their original loan, it will often have to be done on the backs of taking out other loans, borrowing money through practices like payday loans, the opening of new credit lines, and even just borrowing from those around them.  In any instance, it creates drastic harms and establishes a system which both Pohl and Kornbluth would stand ardently against.

Pohl, Frederik, and C. M. Kornbluth. The Space Merchants,. New York: Walker, 1969. Print.

Life and Debt

“The pattern of the B labor contract was quite clear. You never got out of debt. Easy credit was part of the system, and so were irritants that forced you to exercise it…And while I worked, a new debt would accumulate.”

This forcibly reminds me of my world literature class last semester when we talked about the negative effects the World Bank and other institutions have on developing countries. What happens is that developing countries borrow money from the World Bank, which restricts what they are allowed to do with it. As a result, their economies never get independent from first world countries, and they are unable to pay the debt  back. The debt increases with time and the additional money they have to borrow. I think Pohl was drawing attention to this vicious cycle in today’s world economy.

Insiders in Science Fiction

When it comes to the insiders in science fiction, it seems as if they can read texts differently than the ones who are not so invested in the genre. Insiders have the ability to enter the multiple worlds of science fiction easily without much research or understanding. The writers of The Space Merchants go on to tell their story with little explanation and with the idea that the reader will completely understand what is occurring. Terms like “consies” and events occurring on Venus are mentioned in the text but in a way where it does not seem out of the ordinary. It is as if Pohl and Kornbluth expect their readers to be insiders and be a part of the science fiction community.

When reviewing Asimov’s letter to the editor compared to the critiques in the New York Times, there is a major difference in language. The “outsiders” are looking at the text from an “out of the box” perspective which requires research on the subject. Asimov, however, had his own opinions based on his experience and knowledge of the genre. So I think science fiction thrives on these insiders to know and understand the genre and are capable of putting themselves into that state of mind that science fiction requires.

Casting Pearls before Swine

There appears to be a great cover up, a need for the individual to pretend to be ignorant in order to sleep at night, men and women using reason to unbind themselves from their obvious immoral decisions. They reason that they are not radical in the way they do business; there is always another group which is less open minded. We are here on the moral spectrum; over there is the World Conservationist Association, Taunton, and individuals who wish to retaliate against their attacker (Thunder and Roses). Yet there is no middle-ground politics, Fowler Schocken and its hatred for government restrictions, tariffs, and subsidies represent a bloodthirsty Ayn Rand’ian interpretation of doing business. Mitchell Courtenay refuses to look past the oppressive advertisement propaganda that he feels he is free from, only to realize that he fell for the same advertisement strategies that he feels he has mastered. Even the men and women hired by Fowler Schocken willingly forget their past hardships in attempt through reason to justify their actions, “I knew now that they had been too snobbish to give me the straight facts on consumers’ lives and thoughts. Or they hadn’t cared to admit even to themselves that they had been like” (Pohl, 104).

It’s all a great cover up, make-up covering the harsh realities of man’s actions, “The mushroom went up a half-mile away. The studio caved in. I came to the next day. I didn’t know I was burned, then. It didn’t show. My left side. It doesn’t mater, Pete. It doesn’t hurt at all, now (Thunder and Roses). Follow the money; it will lead you to the cemetery where morality was buried long ago by robber barons, mega-corporations, and hypocritical Ayn Rand republicans. Secrecy, subcultures, the elite, the club, introduces ways in which one community in power attempts to stay in power, let’s keep the public misinformed. Science fiction has a claim that it is scientific. There is an advertisement hidden within the lines, the question is not what they want me to think about Science Fiction? The question is why do they want me to think this way about Science Fiction?