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“If you die here, you die in real life.” “Where have I heard that before?”

The passage that most stuck out to me in Gibson’s “Burning Chrome” was “Black ice. Don’t think about it. Black ice. Too many stories in the Gentleman Loser; black ice is a part of the mythology. Ice that kills. Illegal, but then aren’t we all? Some kind of neural-feedback weapon, and you connect with it only once. Like some hideous Word that eats the mind from the inside out. Like an epileptic spasm that goes on and on until there’s nothing left at all.” (558-559). It isn’t hard to imagine how this works in a SF story, guy goes into some virtual representation of reality, something kills their virtual avatar and then they die in the real world somehow. The reason it jumps out at me is because of how prevalent the concept of dying in virtual worlds equate to dying in the real world is. It has me thinking, why is this idea so common? Are we meant to take some lesson out of it, like don’t make virtual reality a reality? Or converting your mind into data or anything similar is bad? Furthermore, “Burning Chrome” was published back in 1982, yet even today, fiction involving the death in virtual reality equating to death in the real world is being written and published. It’s an interesting concept and I personally like it myself but I’m both amazed and weirded out by the fact that the idea hasn’t gone “out of style” or anything. Just what makes it such a captivating idea?

Cyberspace

Cyberspace. What is it exactly? Wikipedia ascribes a Dr. Don Slater as describing it as a “social setting that exists purely within a space of representation and communication”. I don’t know how reliable this quote is or if this dude actually wrote this in a paper. What I do know is that this phrase sums up to me quite elegantly a cyberspace which exists today and which I can comprehend (though perhaps I can only really comprehend it because it exists). What are web pages but the translation of code into color and shape? Just as the meaningless syllables we string together somehow constitute a deep and complex communication, a chunk of letters, dashes, and squiggles can convey information that is more than the data itself (or rather very few people can see the result from the hard data itself, and to most it is quite magical that a few keystrokes here can transform itself into a unicorn leaping across the page every ten seconds).
[“The matrix is an abstract representation of the relationships between data systems.” Gibson]

But while this kind of cyberspace exists, and we interact with it everyday, I don’t think we exist within it. To be in cyberspace involves a third dimension to what we have that just does not exist yet. What I think of is something more along the lines of the Metaverse from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (the book was truthfully the first thing that came to mind when I read the heading for this section of the class). In “Burning Chrome” there are strong visual analogs for technical happenings that give me this feeling of immersion much like the Metaverse, though not quite. In fact the narrator explicitly compares it to a 3-D chessboard, giving coding, something we know of as purely 2-D, a much more tangible impact in a physical sense. It reminds me of cartoons when a character falls into the television or the computer or a video game; a very Matrix like scene generally follows where the new existence is pure data, composed of binary bits, ones and zeros, stretching in all directions.

Anyways sorry if my ramblings were a bit unintelligible, I am half asleep at this point in time.

Gibson and Cyberspace

On page 548, Gibson writes, “He did it with the tight grace of a kid slamming change into an arcade game, sure of winning and ready to pull down a string of free games. A silver tide of phosphenes boiled across my field of vision as the matrix began to unfold in my head, a 3-D chessboard, infinite and perfectly transparent.”

I love this section for a few reasons. I like how he juxtaposes the familiar and the “futuristic” together. He compares the action of sliding the program into the slot to something old and familiar. Everyone can image arcade games. The older graphics and game style comes to mind. Then suddenly our brain is transitioned into this futuristic imagery that is a bit more abstract. The imagery of the phosphenes  transitions us from this familiar arcade game to the more futuristic computing and lets us know we are transitioning into this “other” world.  Now 3-D images aren’t so special, but compared to the idea of the 2-D, grainy images of an arcade game, 3-D transparent graphics are more futuristic and unfamiliar. Gibson emphasizes this kind of bridge between the new and old in technology. He wants the readers to see how things are transitioning, but the old hasn’t been abandoned yet.

 

“Do you think that’s air you’re breathing now?”

There were two parts in this story that really struck me when I read them. The first was this, on page 555: “Trying to remind myself that this place and the gulf beyond are only representations, that we aren’t ‘in’ Chrome’s computer, but interfaced with it, while the matrix simulator in Bobby’s loft generates this illusion. . .The core data began to emerge, exposed, vulnerable. . . . This is the far side of ice, the view of the matrix that fifteen million legitimate console operators see and take for granted. ” I’m not sure why, but it just seemed extremely conscious of the nature of image and representation, and it triggered a whole stream of thoughts for me. How exactly does programming work in that world? Is there a reliance on the the matrix simulators, to be able to manipulate code “physically”, in order to change coding in reality? Or are they both on the same plane? How does the matrix simulator translate things, and how is it coded to do so? It’s interesting, because everything online, on television, on screens in general, is just a stream of zeroes and ones, and we (even right now) see them as language, as images. I just felt an extreme awareness of the artifice of imagery online. Bright colors and borders and interesting fonts are just hiding that stream. That is something we take for granted. The fact that this website exists is a marvel, when you think about it. There’s an entire world, an entire universe, really, in our computer screens and our phones, and it’s constructed by clever numbers.

Also Jack talking about Bobby’s problems with women was gREAT but I won’t elaborate because I could talk about it for centuries.

 

Close yet far

One of the things that strikes me about Gibson’s Burning Chrome is his portrayal of people as “connecting” to manipulate programs. In a lot of ways, Burning Chrome feels incredibly anachronistic. The technology at play seems at times, for lack of a better word, clunky. I think this is the case because Gibson tries to imagine a future where this technology is at play, and even though he gets it right in some regards he really misses the mark in others. The programming jargon sounds kind of 80s in a way and everything about the story gives off a vibe of alienation. It feels kind of like I’m watching an episode of classic Trek, where there’s all this futuristic technology and yet they’re still using tapes. It seems very at odds with the times we live in, where the technology seems slick and fluid and just sort of sneaks into your life before you know it and it consumes you. I can’t even imagine life without my smart phone and I only upgraded from a brick a couple of years ago. Burning Chrome feels outdated in certain regards and yet it hits the bullseye in others. I dunno, I guess in this metaphor a couple of arrows didn’t even hit the target. I don’t really know what I’m saying here.

Overall though, it was definitely an interesting read. It reminded me a lot of visual media like The Matrix and Serial Experiments Lain. It had kind of a philosophical bent to it without directly being a philosophical story. That’s the great thing about Science Fiction. You can ask a lot of questions by asking different questions.

The Cyborg Look

When asked whether or not we live in cyberspace I inevitably, and probably selfishly, ask whether or not I feel myself floating through the subspace particles of ones and zeros. The answer is invariably a large “No.” Then the question of everyone else lops its flabby self onto the coffee table and I’m forced to investigate beyond my own rubber padded containment field. I do serve as the A-typical subject in the matter of technological know-how and possession. You see, I still wander around my networking with the anachronistic caveman tech known as the flip phone. While the rest of the world, New Jersey that is as everyone knows “the center of everything,” plugs into that little square device colored with the Alan Turning icon on the label, while little Rob can’t figure out the workings of T-9.

So are these Borgian species in cyberspace? The guy on the bus with that stern look of intensity yesterday seemed to be. Of course, who wouldn’t want to ignore the rest of reality’s mundane covering when birds can help knock over green pigs? Who hasn’t been on a date with a chick sporting a little pink rectangle over her nose and mouth. I hear comp-sci guys find it sexy (beats me). wires seem to nullify the use of sirens, everyone in the library knows that head phones have a farther audio range than blue tooth and nothing gets through the blaring of Kesha. And we can’t forget texting-while-walking has become a serious public health hazard. People keep bumping into shit. But is all this evidence substantial enough to point fingers at technology and web? I seem to find myself wondering through the alternate dimension of existence, that is everything alternate to an alert understanding of the external world. More than once while turning onto the Lewis off Sumerset Ave I turned to my passenger and calmly proclaimed, “You don’t live at my house do you?”

Time slips off the clock and slides across the floor like water down a drain for many of the members of human society. Many ask, where it went, the details of Earthly rotation seem distant and fuzzy. So what if they miss the spin dressing for the cyborg look with wires and screens and little blinking lights minimizing the sunset and trees and all the other two eyed two eared creatures with interesting things to say and do. The rest of humanity that’s a little bit more squishy, cell phones and wires are hard, spends almost as much or even more time wrapped up in the fog of head space ignoring that physical phenomena called the outside world. Cyberspace is just another distraction the majority of distracted beings will learn to ignore. In meantime, I’ll wait at this bus stop not knowing when it will come. The thing with the red lights that supposedly tells the times is broken, and I hope that girl I asked just really likes Kesha and isn’t just pretending to listen to her iPhone because she thinks I’m creepy.

Some Thoughts on the Harlequin…

I keep reading and rereading Harlan Ellison’s “Repent, Harlequin!” Said The Ticktockman just because it’s one of my favorite readings, and because I was using it for my second paper. After the first class we talked about it, it became apparent to me that the Harlequin was indeed caught and “readjusted” to suit the “system,” this “metronomic” world governed by the Ticktockman. But I had thought, after the first reading, that somehow the Harlequin was able to escape his fate, even though he appears on the communications screens at the end clearly brainwashed.

I thought we were supposed to get this feeling about the Harlequin that he can pull off anything, even beyond reason, like somehow getting and paying for so many jelly beans when jelly beans hadn’t even been in production in so many years. I thought his escape, and switch, was perhaps just another question that will “never be answered to your complete satisfaction” (372). And yeah, not only did I think they weren’t able to keep a hold of him to perform whatever adjustments to his brain, I thought he somehow was able to rise up, dethrone, and switch himself with the Ticktockman himself.

I mean, of his previous feats before, many where physically really high up, whether up in the air-boat with the jelly-beans, or up on the shopping center spire. He seems to have this ability to inconspicuously raise himself up high to get the attention of the people. In the same way that he has a knack for elevating himself for his feats, I figured his greatest one then was getting himself to that top position where he could have more influence.

It said that “the important reactions were high above and far below. At the very top, at the very bottom” (369) so I figured he had done what he could from the low position he was in as this laughable jester, and he was championed as a hero from the lowest classes, but now that he had accomplished sort of stirring change from the very bottom, now to get the top he would have to take a different approach. I figured, that maybe, he someone created the plan as it worked out that he was now the Ticktockman and maybe the old Ticktockman was behind the new Harlequin costume/persona spewing good things about being on time, and belonging, but now in this doped up image, it’s more laughable. It’s like with having the Harlequin say these things, the people who didn’t champion him, the upper class would sort of disregard what he says as nonsense, but now what he’s saying as nonsense is the things the Ticktockman would have said seriously. It sort of…discredits those ideals. And then I thought now, as the Ticktockman he can sort of stir change from the top little by little, by being late himself like he is at the end, relaxing the rules from the top, and easing those who became so accustomed to order into disorder.

The Ticktockman himself said that many people liked how the world worked then, people like Pretty Alice, accepted the world how it was, however terrible, just to belong and conform. I thought then the Harlequin would be right in starting with little changes too at the top as he did at the bottom in a way.

And at the very end, with the Ticktockman grinning sheepishly, calling his own actions ridiculous. It just felt very Harlequin-esque. And I guess everyone said that, that was the change the Harlequin started in the Ticktockman himself. And that now makes sense, thinking about it. It’s just not what I originally imagined. Also since the Ticktockman wears a mask just as the Harlequin wears a costume, I just thought it would be so fitting that they could switch without anyone ever knowing. And also the mrmee mrmee, mrmee that the Ticktockman says was so confusing. I tried to make sense of it, and I just thought it reminded me so much of the Harlequin’s own name, Everett C. Marm. E. Marm. But I don’t know.

Doesn’t Really Pertain To Anything But…

While rereading over all the topics that were listed on the Paper 2 assignment sheet I thought of something from another class I have. It reminded me of a short story by Ryan Harty called “Why The Sun Turns Red When The Sun Goes Down.” He’s not an “sf” writer, not labeled as such anyway, just a short story writer but this one had some sf elements. I thought it was an interesting read anyway… It’s a quick and easy read if anyone was interested or anything.

I was just reminded of it thinking of the “Bodies that Matter” and “Automata” topics from the sheet, and the relationship of humans to robots, the mind to the body (whatever it might be), and how memories and having a personal history affects any being.

Anyways, the pdf version of the story can be found at: http://www.whsfilmfestival.com/Walpole_High_School_Film_Festival/Short_Stories_files/Why%20the%20sky%20turns%20red.pdf