“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.
I came across this last night and it reminded me about the discussion in class re: the particular aesthetic of the dark room with the neon lights or the harsh glare of the computer screen when dealing with hacking and/or cyberpunk:
[Edited by AG on 11/28: I moved my comment down into a comment, so that rathiri’s post wasn’t crowded by my words.]
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.
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.
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?
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.