Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What Constitutes Human?

We have yet another work that begs the question, what is it to be human? In our previous texts we've dealt with this question multiple times, with more confusion than actual conclusions. After all, it is Science Fiction, so how can we say what is and isn't real?
In The House of the Scorpion, Matt is a clone. Tissue was taken from El Patron, a drug lord on the border of the USA and Aztlan (Mexico), and an attempt was made to craft true, intelligent clones of the man. Only one survived...Matt. Even though he's a clone of a powerful man, who demands that the boy be treated with the utmost care, he is more often referred to as a beast or animal than he is a boy. Yet he is more intelligent, skilled, talented, and empathetic than those who see him as less than human.
There are striking parallels to be drawn with Frankenstein's creature, Oankali ooloi genetically manipulated offspring, replicants in Blade Runner, and even the cybernetically modified animals in We3. Shelley's creature seems a brute and a monster because of the actions he takes in having his revenge on Victor, yet he feels emotional anguish at his abondonment that drives him to commit these vile acts. In Adulthood Rites, Akin is the first "human born" male that the Oankali allow to be "made". If not for his near perfect human appearance before his metamorphosis, he would have been unable to convince the human resisters to ever consider the colonization of Mars. His empathy for the humans' plight makes him the most human character in the novel.
The question of what it means to be human has been a central theme in almost every text we've covered this semester. So it should come as no surprise that The House of the Scorpion is no different.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Siri Isn’t Siri Anymore

The first punch came as I tried to walk away from the group of bullies, their stature far exceeding my own in spite of the equality of age. At eight I was much smaller than other boys my age. Other boys who had been genetically modified…perfected, if you will. I felt something like an explosion against the side of my head as the hardened bones of my attacker's fist smashed hard into my ear. I raised my hands to ward off the next blows only to be kicked in the stomach, doubling over in agony as my arms came back down to hold my gut against the pain.

I fell over onto my side as the boys gathered around me and began taking turns hitting and kicking me. I felt my nose crack, warm blood flowing from both nostrils almost immediately upon impact. I felt my teeth rattle against each other as another blow got through my arms to crash fully into my chin. I could taste blood in my mouth. All I could think of at that moment was how horrible it was to be baseline to the point of absurdity. If my parents had simply had me modified, I wouldn't be treated like this. I'd be…normal.

I can still hear the names they called me everyday growing up. Polly. Mongrel. TwenCen toadie. None of these superboys was "normal" in any way, but that wasn't how they saw it. I was an outsider, even though I was made "the way God intended". Fucking parents. Why did they do this to me?

I was on the verge of blacking out…almost hoping I would so they would stop, or just put me out of my misery. Then I heard the sickening thud of a rock against a superboy skull. Like so much kryptonite, Siri was there, bashing in the heads of three of my attackers. My savior had arrived in the person of my best and only friend. But this was no Jesus, turning the other cheek and bringing peace in his hand. This was vigilante justice without conscience. This was brutality like the world had all but forgotten. I brushed myself off and got to my feet as Siri repeatedly kicked one of my attackers that was still squirming on the ground. Three boys down and bleeding and three run off in horror.

I moved to stop Siri and almost ate the rock myself. I can still see the look in his eyes, and it haunts my dreams. Empty. Void of emotion. He was simply doing, without any concept of what or how or why. He was terrifying in that moment. Terrifying and altogether alien. He was no longer Siri to me at that moment. They'd taken half his brain away to stop his seizures, and I felt that I'd lost my friend and he'd lost himself. The good half was gone, and now there was only a zombie walking through the world in his place.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I chose to rewrite this scene from Pag's perspective in order to incorporate a little emotion into it. You don't get a real sense of emotion from anything we read from Siri's perspective, but we know that the others are emotional beings dealing with complex issues throughout the novel. Pag getting beaten at the very start of the narrative is one of the key scenes in which this happens, as the emotionless Siri reacts not because he cares, but because he thinks it's the right thing to care and then do something about it. I wanted to write the scene so that Pag could have a say in what he was feeling, instead of having an emotionless Siri try to tell us.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

From the Diary of Pilar Leal

Oh my god, I couldn't believe my eyes today! A child…a beautiful little boy was brought into own town today! Four traders came in with their long rifles, carrying this little human boy they had acquired from one of the Oankali villages. We didn't ask any questions, as we don't really want to know where he came from. We really just want to know if he's as normal as he looks. They say he can talk, and not just baby talk, either! They say he can speak as well as any adult! But how is that possible? I don't think he's even two years old, yet. He can barely walk and spends most of his time crawling around in the dirt, eating grass and leaves and bugs, the most horrible things. Tate watched over him but doesn't stop him.

He reminds me of my own son, Tino. He's been away for months now…left one day without even saying good-bye. He was our one hope for children of our own…our one hope that we might be able to have human children again, like before the war…before the worms took us and broke our bodies so that we would have to be dependent on them to have babies of our own. I hope we decide to trade for him…and that the others will decide that he should live here, with Mateo and me. It would be so wonderful to have a little one running around again…after…so long. So many years.

There's someone at the door. I shou…

Oh no…the worst possible news. My Tino is dead. The little one says that one of the miscreant traders did it when he was taken by them. He says that the one who did it is dead, but Mateo isn't satisfied with that. The others are culpable, he says, and he's out right now, recruiting friends of ours to go and confront these men. But they have guns! All four of them! And we have no weapons in our village, only tools! Jesus save my Mateo from this madness that has taken him! I miss my son dearly, and I weep to know that he is dead, but taking vengeance in this way will likely leave me a widow as well as a mother who has just lost her last and only son! I have to go after him, try to talk some sense into…

Everything went to hell last night. I heard the gunshots, then the screams, then nothing. I ran to Gabe and Tate's house and saw a large group of people already gathered there. Three of the traders were dead, and the other was having his wounds tended to when I arrived. And there in the midst of it laid my Mateo. I thought for sure he was dead! But the Lord was watching over him, and he survived the gunshot. They had to pull the bullet out of his leg, but Yori says he'll walk again soon and that he'll live. She's less sure about the trader, a man named Damek. I hope he lives. There's been enough death already, and since we can't make more of ourselves, each life becomes more and more precious.

Tate has really bonded with the baby now, so chances are, he'll be staying with the Rinaldis. I'm jealous, but since all the blood was spilled in their house, I guess they have the right to keep him. Maybe I'll get a little girl for myself soon and then we can see about having children running through our streets again…for the first time, I mean…

Monday, October 24, 2011

Everything is Alien

Lilith Awakens once again to find herself in yet another strange room, this time with more amenities than in previous Awakenings. Even though she has a bathroom this time, complete with a shower, the entire situation is still alien to her. She hears voices that only talk to her when she answers the speakers' questions, and she has no idea who they are or why they're holding her.
Once Jdahya enters the room, the alieness becomes far more apparent. His appearance is hidden by the shadowy confines of the room as he stands in a corner, speaking to Lilith. Once she moves forward to see him up close, the true alien nature of her captors is revealed. In this case, Jdahya is a humanoid sea slug with thousands of wormlike tentacles coming off his body, in his case, in locations where humans have hair, ears, and beards. This makes him feel less alien in spite of the obvious differences.
Stepping outside of the expectations, we see that Lilith herself is just as alien to the Oankali. They don't have diseases like cancer, and after removing a tumor from Liltih, they begin to study the way it grows in order to harness the potential in medical research. Humans don't live as long, and that is alien to them as well.
What other things do you see that point to Lilith being as alien to the Oankali and they are to her?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

WE3 and Symbolic Representation

I've chosen to talk about page 49 in the text. This is the same page that I chose for the tracing that we did in class, and I still find the overall flow of images incredibly compelling and worth taking a closer look at.

At the top we have two panels that take up only about one quarter of the page. These first two panels sit one over top the other, spanning all but the full width of the page, with the top panel left justified, and the one beneath it offset to the right. These two panels give the impression of motion by this positioning, but also in the change in focus. The first panel offers a close-up view one doctor's torso, with word bubbles covering his waistline. To his right we have a close-up of Dr. Berry's face, as she looks on with concern. The second panel zooms in, giving us an extreme close-up from the same angle, this time of the man's cellular phone and again of Dr. Berry's face, but this time with a focus on her eyes, and a look of resolve. The word bubble in this second panel, coming from the man's perspective, says simply, "Oh, those poor men." and refers to the soldiers who've gone after We3.

The third panel, taking up three-quarters of the page, is a great perspective shot through the windshield of a military jeep. The inside of the jeep is completely black, and frames what the two silhouetted soldiers see through the window in front of them. The only clear images are those outside the jeep. This keeps the focus completely on the animals that the soldiers men to destroy. But the blackness does have its own details. We not only see the outline of the two soldiers, one holding the steering wheel and the other the radio mike, we can make out the shadow of the rearview mirror, complete with a "lucky" rabbit's foot hanging from it.

"Aim for the heads! Aim for—" the soldier says into his mike as the jeep bears down on We3. The word bubbles convey a lot more than just the words readily convey. Centered in the panel, we see 1 (the dog). His head is turned toward the jeep, fangs bared and froth coming from his mouth. Behind him we see 3 (the rabbit) crouched in anticipation. He appears to be waiting to see what 1 is going to do before acting himself. In both instances, we can clearly see the heads of the animal cyborgs. Above the radio operator's head, we see the tail end of 2 (the cat) as she scrambles up a tree. We do not see her head at all.

This image and the words that go with it play up the individual roles of the team that is We3. 3 is an explosives expert, so it makes sense that he wouldn't be a frontline combatant. He is shown almost cowering behind 1, who is the tank of the group. In this role, 1 is fearlessly facing off with the jeep, looking far more ready to pounce than even 2, the cat. 2 is the stealth specialist, and takes it upon herself to get into hiding. She knows she's much more deadly when striking from the shadows, and is moving into position to take advantage of her area of expertise. The "Aim for the heads!" is said when we can't see the cat's head at all, which gives us the impression that the soldiers can't hit what they can't see.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Neuromancer -- Confusion in Integral

Having played a cyberpunk version of the GURPS roleplaying game, as well as a few sessions of Shadowrun back in the 90's, I'm not having as hard a time as I might in following Gibson's Neuromancer. That being said, I'm surprised that anyone who has seen The Matrix movies would have difficulty following the story at the halfway point.

The single most confusing aspect of the novel should be all the new terminology being thrown around, and I think most of it makes sense. There are certainly terms that I don't know, with the heavy use of Japanese throughout the story. But who among us can't figure out what Gibson is referring to when Case is "jacked in"...picture a hole in the back of Neo's head...and while everyone isn't immersed into this matrix, you quickly visualize what's going on. Even the description that Gibson gives in Case's early internal monologue monologue (“bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void”) takes us straight to the matrix as it appears on the screens in the Nebuchadnezzar.

For the most part, Neuromancer is a mystery unfolding around the character of Case. It just happens to be set in the realm of Science Fiction. Any confusion from the circumstances themselves, should be there, I think.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

comments on Kevin’s Blog Post

You make a lot of good points with regard to how DuBois treats race relations in The Comet. I agree that there is a definite segregation in both the beginning and the end of the story. Not just between the Jim and Julia, but between Jim and the world around him.

The bank president, in particular, is shown to be "above" Jim in how he "smiled patronizingly" at Jim in the very beginning of the story. The fact that a bank president would treat anyone not of similar social stature this way isn't the point, though. The point is that Jim feels alone in the world, that he is "Nothing!"

The middle of the story goes a long way to keep him apart, even as the two primary characters work together to get through the horrible time they are forced to endure together. At one point, Jill realizes she's alone with a stranger, and worse, "with a man alien in blood and culture." DuBois doesn't really want us to get too comfortable with the idea of blacks and whites interacting too closely.

The one moment that the two have that feels comfortable is at the end of the tale, when they're looking at each other on top of the Metropolitan Tower. She's has just had the epiphany that they will be the mother and father of the new human race. He feels like a risen Pharaoh, a god among men. She sees herself as this man's mate, and he sees himself holding a scepter.

While I feel like this particular scene is forced and completely melodramatic in so many ways, it was an effort by the author to set things not equal, but to put the black man in a position of dominance.

He then brings Jim's dream crashing down around him with the honking of a car horn and the bursting of a rocket. Suddenly, Julia's father and fiancé are there and we're back to reality. Jim is just a black man who is too close to a white woman for some whites' comfort. The division of the people showing up on the roof feels more to me like hope, than it does anything else. Hope for a future where a black man could be alone with a white woman without calls for a lynching.

And then Jim sees the black woman with the dead baby, and is overjoyed that she's alive. I think this final ending to the story sets everything back "the way it should be" with regards to race. This ending would have made the story more agreeable to a white audience in 1920. Their suspension of disbelief to enjoy the Science Fiction story is brought abruptly back to reality with Jim's "sob of joy."