Sunday, April 12, 2009

Revolutionary road on Mars

I must say that when I first encountered Michel Duval and understood him to be a psychologist, well, like White I didn't quite dismiss him, but I set him apart from the other hard scientists. I have to say too that his willingness to go off with Hiroko without a struggle, without questioning her motives viz his position on Mars further undercut his ethos. This after his good work intervening in Maya's life, and giving us insight into the various personalities –what he calls humors (White 580). Nevertheless I not only liked, but agreed with his assessment of Maya's love life. She wants both John and Frank. She doesn't want to have to choose between the two of them. And when Frank tells her she cares only for herself, he is probably right. Blame it all on the intricacies of her upbringing, the place of the men in her life in Russia, and her new found power of sexuality becomes a tool she fashions and deploys for her own needs. No wonder the Egyptians refer to her and her kind as "bitches," and indeed, compared to the Arabic women, she seems that way.

The issue of Terraforming becomes so divisive for reasons I can't quite understand. Isn't the whole purpose of invading Mars to make it habitable? Or is it the approach to terraforming that the first 100 are at odds with? The constant complaints about the temperature, or ecology, etc, should, I think be taken care of through terraforming, a view Sax supports. Unfortunately, Ann Clayborne is of the view that mankind does not have the right to change entire planets therefore Mars should be left in its original state. Hiroko, on the other hand, wants change and she goes about to create her own kind of change through Areophany. Aha, the webs humans weave!

Without proper planning, it seems to me that Mars is taking on the very nature of Earth, that necessitated the exodus in the first place: overcrowding, poor or lack of services lead to disgruntled Martians who resort to sabotage, attacks, murder.

I liked Robinson's narrative style; while he had an omniscient narrator most of the story, his alternative protagonists/antagonists relationship help readers see the story unfold through different lenses. When Frank takes over the narration, we see his mind at work, we develop some sympathy for him when he takes on the Arabs, only for them to take him down. It may be his occasional self-deprecation that draws us to him, but that scene with Zeyk and his wife is quite humiliating. But, it helps usher in the idea of Utopia: Nazik proclaims that Mars is for the Muslim women "there is much that is changing here, changing fast. So that this is the next stage of the Islamic way. We are…The hadj to utopia" (420). I like Nazik. Zeyk may think he is putting on a show for Frank, but Nazik's sassiness displays an underlying power from within. The clearest way she does this is when she is looking for the correct word to describe her new found freedom, Zeyk drops the word utopia, but she doesn’t take it. She finds her own expression, "the Hadj to Utopia" (420).

I was quite intrigued by the culture wars, so to speak. Frank thinking he knew all there is to know about Arabic cult re and that he could therefore speak to it. Feeling a part of yet apart from simultaneously the Arabs and the Americans in Amex. In contrast to the Arab rovers, the occupants of the Amex seem uncouth, uncultured, and here without a cause.

Clearly, the conflicts in Red Mars are tied to the human and physical changes to Mars, in particular : to preserve Mars (Ann Clayborne) or not to by radically terraforming (Hiroko).
The other common cause for concern are the resources of Mars; the strained resources on Mars spur political and interpersonal tensions, which build up to a revolution. And with it comes destruction. The casualties: the space elevator along with several Martian cities.

Then of course there are the one hundred, the victims of anti-revolutionary forces associated with UNOMA. Those who survive assassination flee to the hidden colony in the polar ice cap.
The bottom line seems to be that humans cannot flee their history, their selves. They may have viewed Mars as an empty landscape, a clean slate, a tabular rasa on which to inscribe themselves, but they had baggage and they brought it along with them. Their true selves have always been with them be it in Russia, the US, Japan, Egypt, Japan, wherever it is they came from. They cannot suddenly discover who they are just because they are on Mars. Look at Maya; the Arabs and their relations to women; Fran, etc. As well, the theme of identity is explored but never settled, perhaps only to reveal how unstable identity can be. Look at Michel and his seduction.

Change is painful and it is costly. Mars will be transformed at a price. And that price is always already present in the people's history.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The planet Mars

"I don't think we should pay any attention to plans made from us back on Earth" (58) Says Arkady. When pressed as to why, he responds, "Buildings are a template for society" (59). They imply social organization, which in this case means keeping two entities: Russian and American separate. Buildings, he elaborates, have a grammar, they express values, "I don't want someone in Moscow or Washington" telling me I should live my life (59). And so I am left wondering, which is it going to be: independence or interdependence (from mother Earth)?

These views expressed by Arkady seem to encapsulate the dilemma of writers of sf. Here they are attempting to create a brave new world completely unencumbered by the social ills of this world only to recreate those ills in their ideal worlds. Over and over again, the novels we have read seem to aim for a better world, but are unable to escape the burdens of the world they wish to escape. This does not say much about the sustenance of Utopias, now does it? Arkady has a point, after all, like Frederick Jameson observes, Red Mars is for and about scientists. "Pages upon pages offer a host of topics that qualify as hard science" (393). Most of it is imaginative science, but science nonetheless, which is why it is absurd that these inhabitants still define one another along ethnic lines. Shouldn't the inhabitants be defined by this sort of nationality of scientists? We are told that this lot is carefully selected from around the world (dominated by Americans and Russians, but still) they are the forerunners to Mars' colonization. We expect more of visionaries, carefully screened visionaries—the "collectivist protagonists" (397)— for this rather important mission.

The divisions are sharp, but distinct. Leaderships falls "naturally" to the blond, John Boone. Frank Chalmers seems to have as much right as anyone, but is described as "dark" and not considered a natural leader. He is also cast rather suspiciously as if he has something up his sleave and is not to be trusted. And the women, Nadia and Maya, they have their positions as scientists, as leaders, in their own right, but might as well be cogs in the sexual wheel that runs the experiments. Their presence introduces a complex set of relationships as Maya and Nadia, for example, take up positions of leadership and negotiate integrated living arrangements in the spaceship, while offering a metacommentary of the story. Nadia feels good to be needed. Maya, meanwhile is playing catch with two men. The Japanese scientist, Hiroko, is not taken into the fold as easily as the others. She is still considered Other...different. What happened to Arkady's observation that they are all equals here? Not if Nadia is to be believed. Maya, so needy and so self-absorbed will stop at nothing to draw attention to herself.

Politics are very much a part of the game, never mind Sax' s claim that this is "a scientific station" (60). And as usual, America wants to take charge, except, as Arkady claims, Americans are "reactionary" and less interested in helping solve the problems of the world. Robinson could be writing this book against the backdrop of the world economic crisis in 2009. As America desires to hold on the leadership position it has held, its apathetic attitude toward solving the global economy, the environment, international trade, war on drugs across the US-Mexican border remains constant. America's response is described by Arkady as "reactionary," and unfortunately it is still regarded that way in many circles.

While this exchange occurs before the new occupants of Mars have taken up their residence on the red planet, events in the chapter Festival Night have already demonstrated the tragedy of bringing social ills, in this case, envy, jealousy to Mars. John's death seems parallel to that of the biblical Abel, who falls at the hand of his brother for no reason other than envy. A paradise lost, in both cases. Then again the way Jameson sees it, the text is only supposed to represent the state not produce it (409). Perhaps that's why even though Red Mars is not Utopian, it explores issues such as terraforming, longevity treatments, scientific advancements, methods of resistance, etc., issues that allow us to envision a world different from our own.

At any rate, Jameson explores the relationship between sf and the Mars trilogies. I like his distinction between science fiction and scientific fantasy. It seems to me that a bulk of the novels we have read till now belonged to the latter category rather than to that of sf (as per Jameson's definition). I could be wrong, but that distinction has certainly helped clear up some nagging doubt I have harbored over the course of the course.

As the the collectivist protagonists settle in on Mars, 'That's life on Mars" (104) becomes a refrain much like, "young people nowadays." They set about constructing, building, taking geological samples, cleaning, etc. It look like the routine would drain Nadia of all life until the expedition, where seeing non-red solid, and something akin to earth seems to jolt the life inside of her. The are fixing to get life going on Mars.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ocean 2

Approach to Literary Criticism as
  • Political sf
  • feminist
  • Environmental/bio sf
  • Lyrical style of writing
Her Quacker experiences shapes some of the themes in A Door into the Ocean. Her biology knowledge also features highly in her fiction.
the book is also pastoral, ecofeminist. Women who live on a planet in the ocean.

The power of language:
Lyrical accounts of sea and marine biology. genomics, speak of life-shaping science. trees grow in girth rather than in phallic mode (anti-male?) a bio-political novel; primacy of non-violence as a trait and political strategy. Shows that peace-making is hard work. Likens huiman political activity to animal behavior as reflected in the struggle betwen Shorans and Valans initially in the novel. Intergalactiv aggressors and small people struggling to survive in a poorly functioning economy. Interlinked binaries seen through the male/female lens.

The idea that people could choose to live peacefully without struggle and conflict. Peacesharing as an attribute of de-sign, of constructing humans living in the world.
She contributes to underscoring the importance of the emerging role of women writers of sf.
The difficult politics of quaker consensus and how they guilt people into doing things.

General Realger transformed into a monster seems suggestive of the kind of person he is
Nice's turn to violence is a little sad, but inevitable.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Door into the Ocean

A Door into the Ocean

Meet Merwen the Impatient and Usha the Inconsiderate. We learn that the two women are foreigners in this place where they have just arrived—the planet Valedon. They are Sharers. They come from a wet place, and so give us a sense that this place is very different from their own. There is constant reference to "parched," "dry floor," which suggests the contrast with their part of the world. Their mission: unknown. They simply state that they are here to share—they are sharers, right? Check out the many variations of the word share:

And indeed they share knowledge, medicinal, and other social qualities, which is ironic given they seem non-human.

And then we meet the residents of Valedon, and see that they are in fact people. People who live and struggle under the yolk of stern régimes reminiscent of the ones we know here on earth. It appears the Shorans are the ones we'd treat with suspect, for they seem to have it too easy. They seem to be in control of their lives; they know what they are doing, unlike, the Ahns, Melas, Tybalts, and the Beryls of Chrysoport.These Valans live a hard life. They have to earn their keep, they live off their sweat and yield to heartless enforcers of the laws of their land. I couldn't shake the biblical memory of Israel under the Egyptian taskmasters.

Joan Slonczewski, on her website, calls this a book of binaries and indeed there are. These binaries mostly rotate around the issue of gender. At first, it seems like female is good and male is bad; thus we have Sharer (female), physically weak, but spiritually superior; Valan (male), otherwise referred to as male-freak. The Sharers are associated with organic, natural science seen through their medicinal healing and are life preserving, as opposed to the Valans, who are sort of stone cold and associated inorganic and physical science. Their lives are depicted as rationed in terms of food, ability to procreate, and the progression from one level to another is hard and painful. These characteristics manifest themselves in the health and well-being of the Sharers as opposed to the ill health of the Valans.

Even the dresses of the two are women are described as 'common' but of "fine silk"; they look disgusting but they smell gingerly (3) and they are fearless and courageous, unlike Valan men, who cower before the moon soldiers.

The other contrast is reflected in the general description of the Valans: they are depicted as violent, cruel and unkind. There is no sense of social justice; this capitalist nation is man eat man, where taxation is high and mercilessly exacted.

So, binaries are at the heart of Door Into the Ocean, and, I suspect that deconstructing them is the task of the reader. There seems to be a play on the words 'share' and 'valan'. Valan speaks of valor, physical strength, force macho, Sexuality—while the Sharers are human, they are all female and reproduce by "fusing ova," a supposedly complicated process that requires hands-on management. I have to wonder if Slonczewski borrowed this idea from Gilman's Herland. The process is unlike that of male/female fusion, so to speak, and it serves to highlight the difference of the Sharers, at least as far as the Valans go.

The spirituality of the Sharers is not to be taken lightly. It is their inner strength that serves to underscore the worth of every single Sharer individually and collectively as a people. It is manifested in the scene at the start of the book when Roald threatens the two as they wait under the shade. They may have been drained of color, but "not from fear" (9). Further, we are told of the fearlessness in their stares as they look beyond the harbor and the cruel soldiers out to harass them. It speaks to a collective sense of destiny that values consensus. According to The Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Cultures by Bonnie Zimmerman, A Door into the Ocean portrays a "feminist non-violent utopia threatened by patriarchal invasion" (790). The novel seems to have been appropriated by the Gay and Lesbian community. Perhaps it's because the Sharer women are portrayed in glowing terms—strong, resilient, self-sufficient, even though not necessarily male–bashing, but are affirmative of who they are as women. They are, however, contemptuous of the Valans as seen in the exchange between Usha and the dolomite corporal, Kaol. Usha seems to be offended by the very word father, particularly in as far as it is associated with oppressing a young woman, for shaming the family for bringing a child into the world out of wedlock. Theirs is a world without fathers.

There is also the linguistic barrier posed by the two distinct planets. It seems rather unfair that while the sharers can understand Valan, their language sounds like Greek in the ears of the Valans, as Spinel finds out. Spinel, it seems plays an important, if bridging role in the novel. He leaves valan to travel to Shora where, after living for a while, he slowly metamorphoses into a moon-creature. He recognizes that he is quite the sacrificial lamb, who has to experience life on Shore as he immerses himself completely in it. it's important to realize that he is not coerced. He chose to not take the pills, for example, a sign Merwin interprets as acquiescence. He becomes a learnersharer--a self-namer.

The writer's knowledge of biology and her feminist ideals seem to infuse her fiction in the form of ecofeminism. As well, Edward Higgins suggests that the writer's Quacker root, or what he calls, "
Quaker-informed values bring her story’s conflicts into a thematic focus of an ethical-theological nature." He quotes Slonscweski as saying:
  • My experience with the Quakers permeates everything I write. I have been shaped by the Quaker example of listening and relating to that of God in everyone and every creature. In my books, wherever people resolve differences by intersecting seemingly irreconcilable views--that comes directly out of what I’ve seen among Quakers (qtd. Higgins)
At any rate, Slonscweski uses her ability as story teller to transmit her sense of values and ideals, through as interwoven plot of a people that leads us through a door into the ocean.The plot seems far-fetched and long-winded, but I liked the book for what I perceived to be its lack of pretentiousness.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Cyberpnk is post the novel, so it shouldn't be the measure of the novel. It shouldn't interfere with the ideas in the novel. Gibson was thinking cyberspace, Bob Marley, etc, and so the ideas were floating around in his head about living in cyber.

The connection with red light districts--an underworld of unseemly dealings, mishmash between east-west cultures,

Zion: Maelcum is and

The power behind the throne, matriarch: mother and grandmother of 3jane creates and activates the system that bears Wintermute...introduces the idea of AI. The human and the prosthetic addition of a machine.
The merger of the two AIs creates personality
Wintermute had to focus through other people's personas...the Neu is able to combine with him to become a personality. The machine becomes human in a positive way... a power balance is created when a human becomes machine rather than machine becoming human like AI. A frightening vision of power

Molly is given power, but with the stereotypical subordinate qualities--claws, glasses (hide her inner self), but she is also a ninja assasin, whos exists for a while as a puppet. But she was violated by habing her consiouness so she could get through sexual encounters without her knowing. She is constatly equivical figure, given power, but taken away (the power is).

Similar to Consuelo, who lives in two worlds

The attempt to create a woman of Power is constantly undercut, perhaps unconsiously

Riviera is pure magic; telepathic and part of teh tradition of sf

The number of borders that get crossed are numerous...the borders between life and death; personality consruct; machine crosses into humanity

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Of a Cyborg and her Cowboy

Isn't it interesting to note that William Gibson was born in Conway, South Carolina! His biography indicates an early interest in science fiction in his childhood. There is also talk that he rejected religion, which, I suppose is meant to explain his imaginative creativity. He is also said to have vowed to "sample every narcotic substance in existence," which drug influence may be that shown in his strung up characters in the Neuromancer. His work belongs to that literary sub-genre known as cyberpunk.

The history of Cyberpunk has it that its origins are closely linked to the development of technology, particularly the computer. The computer brought about new worlds other than our own, which in turn fired up the imagination. The Virtual became a Reality, called Cyperspace. This setting is rather convenient, for as Tony Myers observes, " The concept of cyberspace is valuable as a narrative strategy because it is able to represent "unthinkable complexity," to gain a cognitive purchase upon the welter of data. It is a response to what Fredric Jameson has called "the incapacity of our minds, at least at present, to map the great global multinational and decentered communicational network in which we find ourselves caught as individual subjects" (The Postmodern Imaginary in William Gibson's Neuromancer 887)". Its new inhabitants, the new communities that arose were called cyberpunks. Unfortunately, you can take the human out of the world, but you cannot take the crime out of the human. And so it was that when humans migrated to the nether world, they took their crime with them. Only this time along with physical violence made possible by physically enhancing people, hackers went to work; phishing, and other forms of crime that were difficult to trace, or to prevent. Unfortunately, the world in The world of Neuromancer seems to have degenerated into a dystopia.

There is organized crime and there is oppression…those who lord it over others get them to carry out their wishes or else. Chiba City is not a place desired. It is full of criminals, gangs, thieves, drug addicts, yakuzza, and enhanced human beings, who can easily tear their victims from limb to limb. It also has people who have the capacity to radically alter a person's nervous system; it happened to Chase as punishment for stealing from other thieves. Who knew mycotoxin could be so damaging?

At any rate, the damage prevents Chase for accessing and utilizing his brain-computer interface, a skill he requires to coexist in cybersace. He becomes suicidal, as his desperate attempts to find a cure fail and leave him bankrupt. Along comes Molly, who for lack of a better word I'd call cyborg. In “The Fetishization of Masculinity in Science Fiction: The Cyborg and the Console Cowboy, Amanda Fernbach interrogates this concept of a cyborg, and, I guess, her cowboy. She is a mercenary for a fleeting character named Armitage, who offers to cure Case in exchange for his services as a hacker. Case is obviously excited at the possibility, but it is not as if he has much of a choice. At any rate, this console cowboy gets his nervous system repaired using new technology, but, to maintain leverage, Armitage has mycotoxin sacs implanted into his blood vessels—the same poison which initially crippled Case. Armitage promises Case that if he completes his work in time, the sacs will be removed, otherwise they will burst. Armitage also has Case's liver modified to prevent him from metabolizing cocaine. Wow!

There is a love underlying story…with Molly and Case becoming lovers, and even looking out for each other. They engage in clandestine acts for their master, Armitage, that involve stealing a ROM, sabotaging a plant, holographic illusions, artificial intelligence, traveling across borders to places as far afield as Finland , Turkey's most populous city, and its cultural, and economic center.

The twist is the Tessier-Ashpool family residing at the mansion in the Freeside space station. In the same vein we learn of Wintermute, who was programmed by the Tessier-Ashpool dynasty with a need to merge with its other half—Neuromancer. Unable to achieve this merge on its own, Wintermute recruited Armitage and his team to help complete the goal. Case is tasked with entering cyberspace to pierce the Turing-imposed software barriers using a Chinese military grade icebreaker

They have to contend with Lady 3Jane Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool, an unfrozen daughter clone and leader of Tessier-Ashpool SA. Things go awry. There are captures, slayings, escapes, re-emergence of Linda Lee, Case's girlfriend from Chiba City who was murdered, poisoning, but most importantly, circumstances are such that Lady 3Jane is forced to give up her password and the lock is opened: Wintermute unites with Neuromancer, fusing into a greater entity. All is well with Case restored, except Molly leaves. Benjamin Fair writes of identity that in Neuromancer, "the new forms of identity point not so much to where we are headed in the future as to where we are in our present condition" (92). Fair's discussion of Neuromancer echoes N. Katherine Hayles' work, which I have been studying lately as it relates to information, emodiment, disembodiment. I agree that being posthuman is coexsiting with technology. We need not dominate, not be dominated by technology. Just look at Chase and his struggles, first to escape the body second the price he pays for that desire.
Unresolved issues for me include questions such as:
Why does Molly leave Case?
In what ways is Neuromancer different from Wintermute?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

8 (b) Tiptree

See Joann Russ, Biography on Tiptree--James Tiptree a separate entity from Alice Sheldon.
Women men don't see...capitalized on undermining male stereotypes. The theme of metamorphosis had a great impact on her; she was averse to aging, and bodily transformation,which is why it's ironic that in taking on a pen-name, she transforms herself into a male. Tiptree becomes a conduit for her expressions of issues hitherto hushed about. She played into the notion of male feminists.

She has a determinism that is an "essentialistic strain" that the human species has this connection between sex and violence. Also deals with alternate reality...prescient.

The stories are brutal in their assessment of life and wildly romantic toward love as meaning, eroticism and spiritual ecstasy. Pain and pleasure impulses lie so closely together--a biological relationship; sex and violence...

Tiptree is opposed to people (male/female) who use their power and their dominance to oppress others. Her work exemplifies awareness of feminist issues, given, perhaps her growing up in that era of women suffrage,

In Women, women seem to be aliens too. Women who are adventurous, don't stand out the way pretty women do, yet are extremely competent at what they do. The

Houston, Houston--similar to Herland given the exclusion.