Saturday, February 28, 2009

Of Far Away Places

The Screw Fly Solution

"Imagine, refugees in the U.S.A." Now that quote really caught my attention. And then I learned the bitter truth, the women fleeing femicide! And yet Alan and Anne seem to be so in love

Some cult beliefs manifesting themselves in the incident in Peedsville. The idea that an inquisitive woman would be deemed a danger to the survival of a nation. And to think that she could quite as easily have her life taken away is incredulous. But, "Dr. Fay was very dangerous, she was what they call a cripto-female (crypto?), the most dangerous kind. He had exposed her and purified the situation." The belief that the "evil part" of man is woman confounds me.

I am intrigued by the city listings, especially since one of them is Lubbock, Texas. On the radar that contains New Delhi, Johannesburg, Tripoli, Brisbane, and even Sao Paulo, how does Lubbock feature? I get it, this is an all out war against women, and it is being felt in all the aforementioned cities. There is no hope, no intervention; not even from the UN.

News gleaned from The Miami Herald reveals that a lot that has changed in the time since Alan had been to the US. Women seem to be particularly at risk, and so the fact that he is heading home to his woman and daughter sets the scene for some interesting drama. Meantime, femicide is being viewed as a mania that will run its course and fade away.

Questions: What association is there between technological advancement, population pressure and the susceptibility of women? What about prevention?
Insight: Alan is suffering a real conflict of crisis: the people he most longs for he cannot be with for fear.


Human cruelty, love, gender, violence, aliens, mass death, religion. One thought, as with Greek tragedy, that there would be a savior last minute. No such luck! When it comes down to it, people are not in control--something else, perhaps genes? psychosis? why else would Alan so in love with his two gals succumb? All these themes come alive, thanks to the story's narrative structure: first person interspersed with documentation (also first person) that give us a glimpse into other scenes and form a cohesive pattern that in the end comes full circle.

The Women that Men don't See

An adventure story that involves Ruth Parsons, who has hired a private plane piloted by Captain Estéban, and is taking a trip to Chetumal (Guatemala?) a location in South America along with her daughter Althea. A hitchhiker, Don Fenton, also the narrator comes along. A plane crash strands all four in a desolate area, where lack of fresh water sends Ruth and Don looking for fresh water. We learn that Ruth, like her mother, and possibly her daughter (will) never married. Ruth carries intense distrust for the male dominated society. This disposition sets the scene for her attraction to the student aliens....

The description of the moments before the crash, "One important noise is missing—the motor. I realize Estéban is fighting a dead plane. Thirty-six hundred; we've lost two thousand feet." the situation is quite precarious, for as the narrator says, "It dawns on me we may be here quite some while." That sets the scene pretty good.

I am trying to get to the root of "women that men don't see" in this tale. So far Fenton sees the women, but continually points out their unattractiveness. "Neat," he says, "but definitely not sexy." I find this disconcerting, especially given that these women don't seem to be inclined to look at themselves that way. The exchange between Mrs Parsons and Fenton is telling of his stereotypical attitude to women, she, who confounds them all and proves herself adept at fending off inquisitiveness. Whatever one can say about Fenton, he does have lust on his mind; pining for Ruth, imagining Althea with the Mayan, as if being Mayan and mating with a Caucasian is itself an anomaly.

In any case, here we go again with the discrimination, "Ruth, are you telling me you're prepared to accept a half-Indian grandchild?"It seems to me you can through fiction escape all the things you hate about our world of woes but you cannot escape your prejudices. So far, all the writers we have read have proved this over and over. Despite Ruth's reassurances to the contrary, Fenton keeps pushing the issue, now widening the net to include the father of Althea.

Houston, Houston
Race and gender and the war between the sexes...Tiptree will always be true to herself. Here, she presents us with a sad and joyous exploration of in/vulnerability. Lorimer reminisces with shame an incident that left him exposed before girls in Junior High. Moylan offers that that incident sort of emasculated him and so he spent his days trying to prove his manhood. That may explain his vocation. It does, according to Tipree explain his dsitaste for the female who he calls "natural poisoners." Describing himself as the "token scientist," we can't help but anticipate his role in this saga. Going by the sequence I am reading this, Lorimer is the first scientist thus far in Tiptree's saga. And then there is NASA in Houston, and the setting all in a spaceship. where communication with the US space mission is being intercepted, a federal offense.

For scientists, guesstimating seems a little odd, but then again... Apparently Sunbird's been missing for a long time and White Sands has long replaced Houston. Would that be White Sands New Mexico?In Scraps of the untainted, Tom Moylan writes that Lorimer's effort to recall one of "the best descriptions of the etymological process" (16). Tiptree manages to display a brain "expanding, understanding actively" as he attempts to get himself re-acquainted with the times. Tiptree depicts the women as being adept at their vocation, unlike the men, who seem to be struggling with coming to terms with their situation. Moylan observes that Lorimer is not the "alpha male that the other two are."

Given his background, it i fitting that it is Lorimer, who is able to "decode" the women, so to speak. To readjust, he unfortunately looks to his buddies, who are unable to help him, while shunning the women who he "gets" leaves him in limbo. Unlike the dominant-subordinate structure he is accustomed to, these women rule by consensus. Interestingly, Bud still looks at the female populace as there to service him. One could say that Tiptree uses Bud as the poster boy for all male thing evil--rapist, violent, chauvinist, prejudiced. Yak!

Interesting issues:
dominance-submission structure seems to reinforce the notion of societal dominance and how much it takes a hold on individuals. Professed freedom cannot stand in the way of domination. Reminds me of all these Republicans bowing before tht altar of uch Limbaugh. Soon, JM will do his own mia culpa before the great great leader. North Korea anyone?

Love is the Plan the Plan is Death
A bizarre story with an underlying gendered power struggle--Tiptree's favorite theme. There is is the power relationship between Moggadeet Lilliloo characterized by dominance, as Moggadeet subdues Lilliloo through force at the pretext of caring for her. This power relationship is however inverted with Moggadeet not simply subdued but devoured.

"Oh, Lilliloo, greatest of Mothers.

It was not I who was your Mother. You were mine.

Shining and bossed you lay, your armor newly grown, your mighty hunting limbs thicker than my head! What I had created. You! A Supermother, a Mother such as none have ever seen!"

There is something bizarre about this relationship.

Turns out the true power is with Lilliloo.

The questions I am left with after reading these short stories are:
Why are the men so consistently jerks? Is Tiptree channeling the reality of gender relations at the time, or are these a result of her own idiosyncrasies? A result of her life experiences perhaps? And why are women presented as if they have always already lost? Tiptree's women are also plain and unattractive; Connie Constantia Morales is described as "moonshaped."I wonder what's up with that.

The Girl Who Was Plugged
Typical science fiction- tragic story that revolves around the worn out concept of plugging the human brain into a computer for purposes of controlling a different body. Philadelphia Burke, disfigured street girl is the girl who was plugged in. Her body is barely functional. That is until help comes along in the form of science. What follows is a bizarre series that sees Burke's mind linked to that of Delphi, who in turn relays brain manifest themselves in the form of Delphi, a vat grown clone with no mind of her own; her brain just a relay, linked to P. Burke’s mind. The two become intertwined.

Burke, is of course, an outcast.
The high tech and cyber elements of the story are almost cast as characters. They function as tools of integration—the technology that penetrates the human body. One acknowledged incident is where Paul tells Burke that "on the coast the police have electrodes in their heads." This aspect redefines Burke's identity in the body of Delphi. She comes to think of herself as Delphi, wants to be Delphi, wants to escape her ugly body and live within Delphi forever. I wondered, did Delphi come into existence for a while, at least? How does Burke's death coordinate with Delphi's body and allow her to hang onto life for a while.

What is the role of the so-called beautiful gods worshiped by Burke? The element of total control of communication is reminiscent of The Machine Stops, wherein the implication is that if you think outside the norm, you are outed. You are taken care of…reigned in. I see a dystopia here; What with hope, love, and justice all and forgotten. As well, the idea of people being disposable is evident. Just like automation replaces workers on assembly lines, Paul seems slated to replace his father as director of GTX, the one body he tried hard to fight and change.

Major themes of science fiction:
What is it to be human?
How do I relate to the other

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A woman on the edge of society

A vision of a future utopia where "natural" acts like conception, parenting, and even nursing (babies) is not the domain of women alone Instead, it is a world that has greatly benefited from science, which has allowed for possibilities like men who suckle and women who do not carry babies in their wombs. There is no possession in this future; not sexual; not parental; not material. This view is pretty radical.

Who is to say that Marge Piercy's portrait of mental institutions and the treatment dealt out to their patients is untrue of the world we live in. The overarching themes of the relative notions of sanity and insanity; welfare and urban poverty are dealt with in a manner that leads the reader to question the nature of power in our society with regard to the urban poor, the undereducated and their lot. Not only that, one is compelled to question male and female relationships and what it means to be a woman in our world, but perhaps in the western world specifically. Connie herself is a symbol of the oppressed weak, who find themselves at the mercy of institutions. Even when we share her sense of impotence in the face of her doctors and hospital staff, we see her as every victim, and so find ourselves rooting for her self-actualization. We want her to fight back, so we too can stand a chance.

Piercy's ideas seem to be drawn from radical feminist ideas as evidenced by her portrayal of a strong and unique woman. But Consuelo Camacho Ramos's life of poverty and abuse, at a time when domestic violence is rampant and women survive by exchanging sexual favors, thereby being objectified does not say much about a unique and radical woman. A victim, who is otherwise made into a villain, thanks to the power of the pimp, Connie is powerless to prevent her inevitable institutionalization in Bellevue Hospital. For a while, there doesn't seem like there is much going for her. But there is hope. Victimized she may be, but victim she will not be. Connie finds a "way out" of this incarceration through her mental forays into the future, which in turn bring us into contact with this village in which Piercy's Utopian vision unfolds before us. Ironically, her substance abuse is a result of the death at the hands of the police of her lover.

It is 2137. Luciente is the person from outer space who communicates with Connie mentally and whose world she visits in the same way. She experiences his world mentally too. Luciente’s community located in Mattapoisett, a seemingly bucolic one turns out to be quite technologically sound as evidenced in the lives of the people who live there through whom we comprehend the breadth of this utopia, particularly the potential uses of biotechnology.

Perhaps Luciente and Connie are drawn together because they are fighting similar causes. Luciente's is a war against a system that prostitutes women and creates a hierarchical system of living, a war Connie knows too well about. This contact, though, allows her to cast off victim-hood and to stand up for herself, an act that brings her to the edge of time.

The world that inspires her resists gender assignation, perhaps to escape victim-hood; here there are per(s). There is balance between work and play; there is a recognition that things can be so much better. And so in this world, humanity is striving to better perself through spirituality, interchange of genders, a reconfiguring of relationships, and a more pleasant union, on its way to becoming a utopia. Ironically, in a hospital that is meant to restore her sanity, Connie struggles to keep what sanity she had, for she senses the doctors will render her insane—brain-altering surgery is all too common.

Beautifully written, Woman on the Edge of Time possesses incredible vision and is empowering. The idea presented by Piercy of shifting our entire social system is profound. Peircy, I dare say, writes about human rights, albeit through the lens of women rights. She highlights the manner in which women rights, responsibilities, and privileges when put in perspective can play a part in a new future. Other themes include American capitalism, and the inescapable human and environmental exploitation. The escapism in the novel has been likened to that in Thelma and Louise, and the stereotypical villains compared to Nurse Ratched in One Flew over a Cuckoo's Nest. I can see why.

I for one I am left wondering if there is not a place to escape race and racism in western fiction. Apparently even SciFi has to pay homage to America's obsession with all things race. The wealthy white male (representing affluence) and their usual victims (minorities), along with the consequences of their actions (of the wealthy), namely: patients and poverty, amply represented It seems to me that while SciFi writers have found a way to deal with gender (perself) when it comes to race they either eliminate all other races altogether,(Herland) or they maintain/perpetuate the status quo. There is no doubt that gender and ethnicity play a role in the disenfranchisement of
Consuelo Ramos.

Piercy's art
Alternates between novels that require research, contemporary fiction, women's feminist theory, etc. Also, she writes novels set in the region where she lives.
Connie presented as empathetic character, that stops in fiction and is not available in the real world. The book is set up to be ambiguous in a number of ways; as a call to action. They are clashes: 1. The genre class: is this a SciFi or is it a psychological novel? She places you in a bind...if you feel she is crazy, then you have to believe that the semi-literate Connie is capable of making up such an exclusive utopia. If she is not crazy, her imagination is still tops. "Even if she is hallucinating she is not crazy." Piercy in a private conversation...The generic difference doesn't matter because the book is a fiction so why does it have an epistemological different status than the norm: science fiction?

Connie does not see this world as a Utopia...she sees it as backward, even more so than ours. Like her, readers are led to an understanding that it can become better with everyone's input. There is ambiguity and tension in that Utopia setting as well, making Woman on the Edge of Time a highly ambiguous book.
This book was published at a time when there was heightened awareness of domestic violence.

Does Piercy oversimplify schizophrenia...considering her attention to other issues? But she was wrongly diagnosed as there is more magical realism than illness. She gets visits from Luciente well before her institutionalization, so her hallucinations are not a result of her hospitalization. Schizophrenia may be a literaly trope than it is

We're headed for a negative future if we don't change course...
What about Connie's need for love; they take her daughter, Dolly, Neda, Sybil, and Skip...everyone she (could) love.."If they had only left me one person...," she says. Piercy, like LaGuin suggests that the bond between people is the basis for all organization...the need to connect with another is the core of social realities.

Murder is a kind of suicide for her

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Utopia of Opposites

It has been called a book of opposites. That's because it is utopian, but does not shy away from the flaws inherent within the utopia; it is feminist, but its protagonist is male; and it may promote communal social(ism) ideals, but it still values the creativity of the individual. Unfortunately, this community is unsuitable for scientific genius to thrive. As we get into the throes of this book, we are keenly aware that something untoward is set to unfold. After all, all utopias critique existing societies, but unfortunately present unattainable options that model life that is quite simply out of this world.

The twin planets: Urras, and Anarres, in which The Dispossessed is set function perfectly for LeGuin's tale. They are the comparable tale of two continents. Urras' oppression and corruption is set in contrast with the utopian Anarres society where idealists loathe government for its potential to turn into a "plutocracy" (Paul Brians). And so they Anarres peoples create a society that runs counter to that of Urras. They abolish all laws along with all forms of control, including language. Theirs is a lush world that is supportive of diversity. It is interesting that Le Guin chooses to depict anarchy and order as two separate planets, with the anarchical functioning better than the orderly. It is, however, a tactical move that allows her to truly break down the two planets; to deconstruct them without any kind of sugarcoating whatsoever. Thus, although Anarres is the better planet to be, Le Guin purposely depicts its flaws, a style that highlights the ideals even more. The society on Anarres seems to work because of its newness and clear-cut separation from the corruption of the other. The idea of relocation is similar to that of Herland, and seems to suggest that settlers need to undergo severance to create, in this case, an anarchical, but utopian society. Still, LeGuin does manage to cast a shadow on anarchism and its potential to exist albeit without imploding.

Shevek, a character, who Le Guin fully develops, depicts the would-be agent of change in a science fiction. His special aptitude to scientific knowledge along with what we learn of his upbringing from childhood, to adolescence, and then adulthood, all skillfully prepare us for the singular sense of purpose behind the mind of the genius in the center of this drama. Unfortunately for Shevek, his impoverished community denies him access to the materials and the opportunity to commune with equally-minded people (scientists). His genius cannot flourish and is in jeopardy.

Funny how fictionalized worlds often mirror our own. Both Urras' and Annares' system of governance closely resemble today's government approach with regard to international global issues and controversies. The question is: how does one know that a given system of government is ineffective or abusive of its power? How can one know unless one has been exposed to a different structure against which to compare? Shevek, the genius physicist thinks it is impossible to know for a fact. He is able to gain an outside perspective only because he was able to leave his anarchy-based Odonian society.

The Dispossessed fits the working definition of utopia, in as far as it fits the criteria of physical isolation; social and political benevolence; communal goodwill, etc. By all accounts, Anarres is presented as better, more desirable, than Urras. But then it has its flaws.

Ursula K. Le Guin has been categorized as being sympathetic to and understanding of anarchist theory; perhaps she was an anarchist herself. She may write about other planets, but she chronicles human experiences that mirror our own, regardless of the setting.

Additional Information

Heavily influenced by Native American cultures: myths and tales.
Science fiction time is Sci-Fi uses actual scientific facts or theories; has some scientific content, however speculative. May break the law of physics, respects social sciences, treats metaphors as metaphors. No interest or relationship with technology. So it's not fantasy.

Is her work soft science fiction? Since it's not based on hard sciences...astronomy, physics, computer science, etc.

Feminism: women's perspective brings good prose. Men think "holistically" while men think in "a linear fashion". The dispossessed have descended from this one line with the genre of science fiction, where utopias had been given up on (given its static/boring perception). It became a social critique of the society we live in so LeGuin sets up these dichotomies, the opposite ways of living that she explores and compares. She picks the extremes, of course. This woman's influence and her way of thinking is strong.

Time: simultaneity and how it encompasses the notion of time is central to The Dispossessed. An epistemological anarchist (Fayerabend against [empirical] method as the way of doing science).

The Wall: what makes the wall? Shevek meets walls (his thinking would come to an end). What created barriers? Are they non-existent; if they exist, can they be easily crossed? She aims to tear down walls, by reaching out to the other and the necessity of not walling others in when you wall others out. She attempt to create a universe where there are no walls.

Her work is deconstructive venture into the ideas she explores. Even Shevek is a scientist and theorist, whose physics is a kind of mysticism, religion, and philosophy. The grand unification he comes to in chapter nine is to figure out simultaneity and sequentialism the diachronic/ synchronic dialect (Saussure). The two help make each other make sense. Literal and metaphor are parallel in this walls are coming down.

The degree in which language is complicit in creating reality. The old language would trap, so to start anew, you create a new language. Language shapes cultural thought, so it's key in founding a new world.

In Utopias, the power of love destroys totalitarian structures; LeGuin uses the love to enable Shevek the courage to leave. What he had to do is be so sure of his relationship with her that he could leave. The relationship between two people is the primal wall to go down; the first step

Narrative techniques/structure of the novel

The story inverts the classical utopia; the land he comes from Urras is the strange land, the land he goes to is (Anaress) is the land we know. Anares is more land and less ocean with all animal life in the ocean. the land is dessicated. Urras has less land, more ocean; virgin than lush. The isolation has enabled them to survive close to their ideal. The desolation allows them to use the minerals (necessary to Urras so it's not destroyed) and also supply and demand. Only people who have plenty can afford to be magnanimous. being altruistic is bad in Anarres because it is assumed that you have more; you are unequal then.

There are two small spaces that aren't part of the planets, though which the stranger is able to go (back and forth) to discover the land.

Three basic levels of the narrative:
1. The positive Utopian value of the anarchist society
2. The complex estrangement by the Urrastic society (USA, Soviet Union, Vietnam)
3. The self-critic of anarchism itself (no Utopians indulge in self-critique

This imperfect utopia in anarchical Anarres does not solve the problems...see glossary. Even if you invent a whole new language or culture, it is based on disspossesion.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

An Eco-disaster(erd) Dystopia

The Sheep Head for a Dystopia

The hungry sheep look up and are not fed,
But swoln with wind, and the rank mist they draw,

Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spred:
Besides what the grim Woolf with privy paw

Daily devours apace, and nothing sed,
But that two-handed engine at the door
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more.

Lycidas, William Blake


If The Sheep Look Up were set in the 21st century, one wouldn't be too far wrong in perceiving inferences of George Bush's legacy as foreign policy antagonist and
defier of warnings about the changing nature of the environment. A president who flouts warnings about the environment and spews gems like, "You are either with us or against us," is no different from Prexy in Brunner's fictional US of A in his perceived war against terror. A nation founded on laws is flouting them in an increasingly repressive system of governance, corporate greed, and a technology that is not up to
the task.
And in this mix are the people; the trusting sheep that won't protest nor exercise their intellect. They are headed for a cliff!

The Sheep Look up. Ah, what a tale!

On the surface, Sheep appears to be a novel about ordinary people ranging from an insurance salesman, a nurse, a journalist, the son of a wealthy oil producer, a soldier, a doctor, a relief worker, and others. The theme seems ordinary too: an interplay of cause and effect, a net of interrelations that spans the whole world, and from which no one can escape. Similarly, the narrative is interspersed by ordinary occurrences such as advertisements, news flashes, public speeches, and daily weather reports that detail the extent of air pollution. Clearly, this fiction falls in the category of nature criticism that paints a dire picture of the environment. Catastrophe looms. It ranges from environmental decay with the resultant foul air and the inevitable water shortages. However, as if to emphasize the idea that the world is one, that what happens in one part of the world affects another, affliction is universal. No wonder the United Nations is added to the mix! While this calamity is not limited to the usual targets in the third world, the tale is set in the United States, specifically, Denver, so there is the usual demographic and class composition in the form of race, blue and white collar workers, entrepreneurs, hippies and the elite, etc. And as it is with science fiction, there is always a scientist, whose radical experimentation verge on the fringe of the outer limits.

It seems rather obvious to state that The Sheep Look up is rather bleak. But, it has to be said. Sheep is so bleak it borders on horror. Perhaps the reason we, collectively as a world, have not felt the kind of horror vividly envisaged in this tale, is that while some of the disasters dealt with equal our own, they have been far spread and confined to far away places, like Auschwitz, Darfur, Rwanda,
Chernobyl, Hiroshima, China (SARS); they have ranged from Mad Cow Disease, Tsunamis, and the list goes on. In recent times, 9/11 literally shocked the entire world, because, thanks to cable news, the whole world bore witness to that attack. That experience allows us to accept the magnitude of destruction portrayed in Sheep.

In the novel, the entire world has been struck with disasters ranging from incurable diarrhea, to starvation, to a season that is out of whack (snow in April). This time, not only has disaster hit closer to home (the US), but it has spared no corner of the world. John Brunner seems to hold the US responsible for the debacle as he presents to us the US on the brink of an apocalypse ushered in by an ecodisaster disaster. Science has brought us antibiotics, insecticides, pollution, all of which hasten climate change and global warming. But first, there is contaminated food delivered in an African country.

Austin Train holds great capital among those who believe in Brunner's passionate cause: the environment. His beef: abuse of the planet. As a result of Train's work, a community of trainites, who are really environmentalists inhabiting the woods, help champion his cause. Unfortunately, Train wants to inject the cause with a measure of intellect so as to be taken seriously, perhaps, by the other environmentalists represented by Bamberly. The trainites may be living off the land, but by engaging in subversive acts like setting off bombs and explosions, they are accelerating its demise. No wonder the elite conservatives despise them and Austin Train wishes to bring that to a halt. Meanwhile, the irony is that the elite environmentalists do not realize the relationship between their own excessive consumption and the degeneration of the environment.

For his part, John Brunner pushes his environmental message at the expense of his messengers. The characters in the novel are introduced to us through limited incidences and discussions involving what else, the environment. They don't develop beyond the mouthpieces that they are. At least I didn't get a sense of who they are in terms of personality; I don't empathize with their dilemma, except for Train, whose thought process we get to engage more with. Brunner does not give me room to. There are no heroes in this novel. There are lost souls who perish due to sill mistakes or preventable accidents.

This lack of rapport between the characters and the reader may well be because of the style that Brunner opts to narrate his tale. Using clips from the media, a little bit of prose,
a couple of vignettes, and not so dramatic shifts from one scene to the next (with no clear connection) --he takes a novel approach to storytelling. However, his seeming foreknowledge of events we now know are consistent with today's digital media is uncanny.

The Sheep Look Up is more about ideas than about characters. it is the series of ideas that carry the story forward. It expresses the complexity of reality rather successfully. The trainites want to be violent, a move contrary to Austin Train, the person they are rallying behind.

The Practice of Everyday Life
Michel de Certeau

Events in history may expose the reality
He was concerned with evaluating power and institutional boundaries.

Major themes/ideas/topics
  • the elements--the pollution of the water, wide scale pollution, the ocean, the Great Lakes dying