Scorpion is like an ooloi for Blindsight and Frankenstein

Let’s compare The House of the Scorpion to other works we’ve read.  I’ll try to rank them in some sort of odd sense of perceived similarity and, maybe, even message.

There are some obvious comparisons between Scorpion and Frankenstein.  I think those particular comparisons resonate most strongly.  Let’s really look at the nature of the characters Matteo and the monster.  Both seem to be perceived as abominations or unnatural creations.  They both have to cope with the burden of being something man-made.  While both struggle with this idea, something about being an artificially created being is really terrifying to me.  It’s immensely and immediately unsettling.  I think it has to do a bit with the idea of crossing a boundary that wasn’t meant to be crossed.  Living beings shouldn’t be artificially created.  Although, I will allow that Matteo is a more acceptable level of artificial being.  The idea of Frankenstein’s monster being sewn together from random body parts is terrifying.  In any event, this is the long winded way of saying that I think the creature and Matteo both represent the crossing of a boundary, specifically (what I believe to be) the most dangerous/important boundary.

Frankenstein and Scorpion also both deal with a created creature’s odd relationship with their creation or progenitor.  I think there is some similarity here.  Matteo trusts El Patron.  I think there’s a certain love that the monster has for Frankenstein; although, he doesn’t know how to express it.

The connection between Blindsight and Scorpion.  They both deal with characters who are inherently different from the rest of the characters within the novel because of the way they were either altered or created.  I almost feel like Siri and Matteo can be two sides of the same coin.  I could easily see Matteo acting in the same semi-sociopathic way that Siri does by embracing the nature of his artificiality.  Instead, Matteo embraces his humanity.  Ultimately, however, they are two characters both set aside from humanity.  They seem to be, at once, something more than human and something less than human.

I think there are also similarities between the idea of genetic organ harvesting and the genetic creation of vampires.  Both seem to be realistic outgrowths of rampant genetic testing and so on.  That’s a passing similarity though.

Similar to above, the idea of being disconnected from society is present in Neuromancer.  All of the characters there experience some levels of being “apart” from society in a way not dissimilar from Matteo’s in Scorpion.

I don’t think there is much to be said about a connection between Lilith’s Brood and Scorpion.  Although, I could see a relationship, perhaps, between Akin and Matteo.  They are both seen as saviors due to their genetic makeup.  Akin can save the entirety of the human race, while Matteo can save the life of the aging El Patron.  However, I think Matteo denies this idea while Akin embraces his destiny, so to speak.

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The Limits of Heaven.

“Heaven was not intended for the casual visitor; any paradise in which the flesh-constrained would feel at home would have been intolerably pedestrian to the disembodied souls who lived there.”

I fell in love with this quote near the beginning of the second section of Blindsight.  I almost automatically love any quote having any sort of reference to the afterlife because it opens up so much discussion in regards to a fictional world.  In comparison to books like Neuromancer and Lilith’s Brood, which abstain from a reference or invocation to the some sort of religious higher power and/or afterlife, I feel like such a statement already sets Blindsight apart.

However, I think this quote could have, ultimately, been included in both of those books.  I don’t see this as so much a religious invocation as a reference to the changing standards of the world so omnipresent in science fiction.  The use of the adjective “flesh-constrained” really echoes this notion.  The paradises of the future — specifically, augmentation — feel so pedestrian in comparison to what our constrained present is like.  I think the idea that augmentation colors the world is a recurring theme, not only through the works we’ve read, in science fiction as a whole.  I feel like Case would describe the lack of access to the matrix in a similar fashion.  The matrix is a paradise ineffable to anyone who doesn’t have access.  The world without the matrix is utterly intolerable.

But, let’s focus specifically on Blindsight and what it means here.  Obviously, augmentation plays a great part in the character of Siri and the prominence of the genetically augmented vampires that are plaguing the earth.  How pedestrian the unaugmented world must seem to Siri, who has such a vast alteration in his mental processing.  He can connect with different species in meaningful ways that normal people cannot even begin to comprehend.

Even the way the characters connect to their spacefaring vessels seems so much more brilliant that the way a person pilots a shuttle now.  How pedestrian that must seem to the future.

In this sense, it is such an optimistic view of the future.  Everything now will seem so absolutely gray and muted to the fantasies of what comes next.  While it might be argued that cognitive dissonance is the goal of science fiction, I think that hope is the ultimate goal.  This is a weird thing to say considering many works of science fiction are unapologetically pessimistic.  Many science fiction novels portray a dystopian future.  However, I think there’s an essence of hope and wonderment there too.  The apocalypse is, undeniably, exciting.

To a certain extent, it seems that characters in Blindsight can directly interface with a vision of heaven, which in particular I find extremely terrifying.  I wonder how characters are able to resist forever surrendering themselves to an afterlife, surrounding by images of their loved ones even if those images are synthesized.  That must be such a compelling addiction, and I feel like an entire novel could be based solely around that concept.

Fanfiction is a really creepy assignment, Professor Sample

Some sort of journal:

I don’t like it. It’s not right. They’re the ones who did this to us. The ones who take away our last vestiges of freedom. Why should we ever try to bargain with them? Those monsters won’t ever change us back. They won’t fix us.

They’ve taken something from us that can’t be given back.

More than just children. They’ve taken our species, our home, our hope.

I don’t think we should be trying to use this child to our advantage. No matter what the result, he won’t make us whole again. We’ll still be sterile in the end.

Earth isn’t a place for children anymore.

Honestly, we should have just let ourselves die. We used to be a proud species. We resist because it’s in our blood and it’s who we are. We shouldn’t try to become what we once were.

Earth isn’t a place for humans anymore.

Fuck the squids. Leave ’em alone and let us rot.

I’d rather die now then ever be touched by one of them again. Rather die than ever see one of them again.

Children ain’t worth it.

Ooloi

I don’t really get the ooloi.  I understand that they facilitate the reproductive process, but I really wonder about their nature as a “gender”.  They aren’t, entirely, a gender.  They’re a bridge so that men and women can successfully reproduce.  I wonder then, why are they considered a gender in that society?  What is the importance of them being genderless?  In particular, I feel like Octavia Butler is trying to make some sort of commentary on the nature of a relationship, particularly since the idea of a man and woman touching without the aid of an ooloi is apparently repugnant to all parties involved.

There’s something definitely there.  In a cursory glance at Butler’s library of fiction, I do notice that she pays special attention to issues of sexuality.  I wonder if the nature of an ooloi is a suggestion that a man and a woman need something else to effectively cooperate and create a successful family unit.  Or, perhaps, she is encouraging the importance of cooperation in her work.  Obviously, humanity is seen as an anathema to itself, partially because of an inability to cooperate with one another.  Are the ooloi a function of cooperation that Butler is suggesting the world take in order to survive?  I feel as if there is some accuracy to that assessment.

I still feel like the gender issue is a strange point, however.  Why can’t an ooloi be a man or a woman?  That is to say, what prevents a genetically different man or woman provide the same capacity as an ooloi in the oankali society?  I think that by observing the other characteristics of the ooloi that I might be able to field a guess.  Specifically the idea that the ooloi can take information or genetic material from any other race and make it a part of themselves.  I believe Butler is trying to say that the spirit of cooperation has to be one with racial motivation, gender motivation, or anything else that can ultimately “stain” the nature of cooperation.  I feel that the importance the oankali place on consensus in regards to settling matters also emphasizes the importance of cooperation.

However, something Butler really succeeded with is showing the use of peer pressure to help resolve conflicts in the oankali society.  Ultimately, peer pressure is a form of cooperation and consensus united against a single person.  I don’t think Butler is necessarily espousing or promoting that as an idea; however, it is interesting to see a link between cooperation and peer pressure.  Perhaps, there’s a warning hidden within it that cooperation can still be dangerous — much like the words of warning given about the tyranny of the majority by Tocqueville.

Whatever the case, this is all a sort of rambling to help me understand the ooloi.  If anyone has any ideas into their nature and why they are what they are, please let me know.

Freud

As I was reading We3 and looking at the character archetypes of the three main characters, I began to wonder what I was really looking at.

Grant Morrison is pretty big into psychology.  I had a friend tell me about his use of Jungian psychology or something along those lines in his comics.  I have to level with you.  I am not “comics” guy.  I don’t get comics, and I don’t find them overly enjoyable.  I think they’re interesting from an anthropological standpoint (I am so pretentious it is literally stunning), but I’ve never gotten into them on a basic level.  That being said, I don’t have any way to verify the comment I just made.

I am going to implicitly trust the possibly stoned ramblings of my friend and how Morrison loves psychology.

The reasoning is:

The three main characters can somewhat be ascribed to the Freudian ideas of the id, ego, and superego.  Basically, id is the destructive “I want to do this now regardless of consequence” drive in people.  The ego tries to placate the id by offering suggestions or literally shutting down the mind through things like repression or regression.  The superego is the conscience that sort of balances everything out.

That is very basic and probably not all that accurate!  I am an English major with the vague memories of a few psychology classes so please bear with me if I have offended you greatly.

Let’s look at these Freudian ideas and how specifically they relate to each of the characters.

I think we can see the cat, 2, as being the Id.  He’s the killer.  Interestingly, the people seem to be most afraid of him.  And with some reason, an id-driven person could be regarded with some amount of terror!  I think the part that really encapsulates 2 as the id occurs on page 59.  He disagrees with the others, viciously fighting because he disagrees with the idea of a home existing for them.  Freud specifically argues that the id is often in conflict with the superego.  They both desire different things.  He’s aggressive and acts impulsively.  Another example that really spoke to me was on 40 when he kills the bird for food regardless of the situation.  Again, on 82, 2 acts impulsively eating the food offered by the homeless man regardless of whether or not it’s good for him.  These, together, imply 2 as an impulsive creature that seeks pleasure in life, generally through food.  The cat is often seen as an aloof, almost hedonistic animal.  They act on desire and don’t seem to care much about the rules set forth by an owner.

3, the rabbit, is the ego.  And this is really obvious in some of the same panels mentioned above.  He tries to placate 2, the id, as frequently as possible.  He eats grass as if saying, “Hey, id, it’s all right, we can eat but why don’t we eat something good for us?”  In the fight between 2 and 1, he’s trying to placate them, trying to mollify the situation as best he can.  Interestingly, one of the ways Freud describes the ego as chaining the id is by regression.  3 is the character that is shot in the brain, permanently ruining his speech to an almost child-like level.  When I read the pages after he’s shot, I feel like you can really get a sense of a regressing consciousness that’s likewise repressing the events of the world around him.  Indeed, the ego is an entity of anxiety.  The rabbit, or any rodent creature for that matter, comes across as an anxious creature.

1 is very obviously the conscience, the superego.  He is completely consumed by morality: “gud” and “bad”.  Things are black and white to him, and he’s quick to ascribe morality.  He’s also the driving factor that pushes the other two along, much like the superego.  And, indeed, ethics are an important part of the superego.  I think this is echoed by Morrison’s choice of a dog here.  The dog, man’s best friend, is always seen as a trustworthy companion.  Again, referencing the conflict between the 3 on page 59 to reinforce the idea of 1 being the superego.  It’s the superego and the id that fight, both wanting different things: staying and eating, looking for a life of pleasure against the desire to find a home.

One final sort of point I want to bring to the forefront that I found really interesting is how the novel concludes.  While doing a little bit of research on the id, ego, and superego, I came across the concept of a death drive.  In On Metapsychology, Freud says, “the hypothesis of a death instinct, the task of which is to lead organic life back into the inanimate state” (380).  This is a really fascinating quote directly because of what 1 and 2 do at the end!  They’re shedding the robotic parts of them, the inanimate state of their organic life.  They’re actively rebelling against the death instinct inherent in themselves and choosing to live.  I think that is really the lynchpin of my argument in that I think that’s a perfect analogy and maybe what Morrison is telling the audience.  We have to overcome the desire of death, find a home, and find happiness in being alive.

I think the death drive itself is reflected in 4.  He never speaks.  He exists solely to kill, to destroy.  Indeed, in the one instance of him having a speech bubble, it’s a jagged black bit of art with no words (101).  It’s primal and something that can’t be ascribed with words.  Only when the id and the superego work together can the desire to die be overcome.  And I think that’s a really fascinating interpretation Morrison has encoded within the work.
As I said, I don’t know much about psychology.  Does anyone else see evidence of other forms of psychology in the work?

And Deus Ex is a pretty cool game

I don’t find myself having much difficulty with Neuromancer.  Cyberpunk is a familiar landscape after so many years of playing the (now ancient) game Deus Ex.  That game traverses a lot of the same ground that Neuromancer covers: a world rotting underneath megacorporations with a population augmented by implants.  So, I suppose I didn’t have much difficulty in picking up on the actual story or even any bit of difficulty locking in on the major themes.

However, that last sentence allows me to embarrass myself if I haven’t actually picking up on the themes correctly.

The entire foundation of Neuromancer is one of isolation.  Case is isolated from a fundamental human experience.  It’s easy to scoff at his melodramatic weeping over the disconnect from a more advanced internet, but I wonder how valid that scoffing is.  I can think of the times when weather has knocked out the power for several days.  Being without electricity — the internet, television, news, entertainment, whatever — makes me want to kill myself.  And I still have the ability to do other things.  Case doesn’t.  The entire world built within Neuromancer is locked away from him simply because he can’t connect to the internet.  His frustration is understandable.

And it goes beyond an isolation from activity or even fitting into the world.  He must feel so separate from humanity at large solely because he can’t engage in something so routine.  I wonder what Gibson was getting at with these themes of isolation.  Is it a cautionary tale?  As we become more and more connected, will those who cannot “connect” become more and more isolated from humanity?  And is he necessarily saying this is a negative thing?

I recall the idea of the human singularity.  That eventually all human minds will become interconnected through some sort of internet or computer system and, ultimately, individuality will start to wane.  This seems horrifying to me.  But so does absolute isolation from the human consciousness.

But, getting back to the story.  One of the things absent from Neuromancer that I think is better represented in other works that fall under the cyberpunk genre is the question of humanity.  Implants, augmentations, and so on seem to be accepted in Neuromancer.  Would that really be the case?  The world even, to some extent, accepts the existence of artificial intelligence.

In other cyberpunk works, the pro-augmentation side is shown to clash with a more conservative group that upholds the virtue of maintaining one’s unaltered humanity.  Why is this not the case in Neuromancer?  People seemed apprehensive about the internet.  People still do, in fact.  I wonder where these people are in Gibson’s novel.  Is the euphoric dream of the matrix so compelling that it calls, like a siren, to people, forcing them to be abandon their humanity?  Personally, I feel that given a choice between losing technology, I might take the avenue of abandoning my humanity.

More over, at what point does the nature of humanity shift?  When do the people who refuse to accept the matrix change from being “people who refuse to abandon humanity” to “people who refuse to accept humanity”?  I would say when a majority shifts over to whichever side, but, at the same time, I feel like there might be more to the story then that.

I suppose, ultimately, I would have liked to see Gibson explore the debate of the matrix, of augmentation, and so on in a more detailed manner.  Obviously, he does explore the blurring line of humanity and technology.  I would have just liked to see other aspects of it.  I don’t know if that counts as a difficulty or not though.

PS: Gibson is sort of awful at writing dialogue.  Everyone talks like the same person.  Insight into human singularity or bad dialogue? The world may never know.  I absolutely hate how, were I to cover the speech tags, I would be unable to distinguish Molly from Linda from Case from Julius.  The only character with a semi-distinct voice is Ratz, and that’s just because of his constant “artiste”.

Forgive me if you love his dialogue.  I cannot stand it.  My taste is awful, probably.

Wilford Brimley is a pretty cool guy

There is one major sticking point that bothered me about Campbell’s “Who Goes There” (and the terrifying childhood memories of watching The Thing).  Everyone immediately decries the Thing as an immoral monster.  And, although, there is an attempt to weakly refute the inherent evil of the creature,  it isn’t a strong one.

Is it evil?

I wonder about the perspective of the writings when it comes to this question.  It was written in the same time period, relatively, as other popular science fiction works such as Fahrenheit 451 and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  The latter two in particular have to deal with the anxiety of the changing world climate — the growth of communism and the accusations thereof.  Fahrenheit 451 grew out of the desire to burn “pervasive communist literature” and what that might mean for society.  McCarthyism, communism.  The idea that secret communists were stealing our secrets.  A fear not too faroff, mind you, lest we forget Klaus Fuchs.

So, I wonder then:  is the premise of this story similar?  It certainly almost seems like.  An unknown, maybe monstrous force assimilating your best friends, co-workers, confidants and changing them.  Subtly, yes, but changed nevertheless.  I wonder if there is a replication of the fear about the growth of Nazi Germany, assimilating countries into its ever expanding biomass and still retaining the original country.  The fear of tyranny and other undemocratic forms of government across the world.

If from this perspective, then yes, the creature is evil.  It is trying to subvert what we as a people believe is “good”, however subjective that may be.

But, then, from another perspective, I’m not so sure.  I’m reminded of the film Cloverfield.  A rampaging monster destroys New York, and, of course, there’s a group of young adults with a handheld camera to capture the whole event.  But, in the movie, the creature is portrayed as a child who has lost its mother.  It’s going crazy because it’s scared, terrified, and hurt.  It wants its mother back and can’t seem to find her.

What if the Thing is something similar?  A terrified infant creature stuck in a foreign world with foreign creatures (that might appear monstrous to its eyes) that wants to get back home.  It exists only as it knows how to exist.  It isn’t assimilating people with any maliciousness, but because that is all it knows.

Can that be evil?  I don’t think any more than a lion can be evil for killing a gazelle.  It’s simply the basic principles of the creature.

Still, that seems more evil to us: the idea that a creature is taking over humans.  Why is that so much worse?  There are parasites that take over the bodies of ants and control them for their own biological purposes.  I certainly don’t think of that as some sort of terrifying evil.  So then, why am I so unsettled by a fictional creature taking over a human’s body?  I mean, hell, the parasite is real and could theoretically evolve to take over humans at some point.  But I’m not scared of that.

Is it because the Thing is becoming human when it, inherently, is not human?  What does that say about us as a people, then, if we instinctively draw away from the concept of something imitating humanity?  If anyone has any thoughts, please let me know!

I’ll just assume this is why puppets kind of creep me out.