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November 29, 2011

Clones, Replicants, and Creatures…Oh MY!

What makes someone a human is a very important theme in Science Fiction. But humanity, or “humaness” is a hard thing to define. It is simply just one of those know-it-when-you-see-it kind of traits. Although many famous science fiction books and movies include casts of characters that may not be biologically human. Sometimes it is the aliens or the monsters who come out looking the most human in the end, while the humans seem unrecognizable to us.

In House of the Scorpion Matt is treated by the majority of humans as little more than a beast. Because he is a clone is seen as less than a second class citizen. He is the property of El Patrón, the original Matteo Alacrán. Although in the universe created by the novel clones are meant to be thought of as creatures, to be scorned and looked down upon, not worthy of even touching a human. As readers we certainly do not have that opinion of Matt. Since Matt is the narrator we sympathize with him most of all. And out of all the characters we meet he often seems the most human to us. Although he is genetically human, he was not born to parents and does not have a unique set of DNA. He may not be biologically human, but in comparison to the cast of traditionally “human” characters around him it is plain to see that he has the most humanity of the bunch. While El Patrón’s famiy and those who live on the estate are a cruel, vindictive, money hungry gang — Matt is a caring, innocent young boy with a thirst for knowledge. We see through his eyes and can relate to our own childhood experiences or recognize a young relative, a nephew ora cousin. Matt’s emotions, friendships, and compassion are what make him more human that the actual human characters.

This is a similar experience to reading Frankenstein or watching Blade Runner. In Frankenstein the monster was a much more sympathetic character then Victor because of his struggles. Victor was a mad man who got carried away with his scientific ambitions and brought ruin and tragedy upon almost everyone he loved or who touched his life. The monster on the other hand only desired to be happy, he was thrust into a life of misery against his will and sought to better himself in every way he possibly could. Despite the fact that he was rejected and tortured at every turn he still longed to be accepted by people and was at heart a gentle creature. Only resorting to violence because he had no other method of reasoning. Of the characters in Frankenstein, just like in House of the Scorpion, it is the inhuman character that is the most compellingly human. It is the monster that displays the most humanity, and the scientist who created him who is the most incomprehensible to us.

The same basic principle is true of the film Blade Runner. The Replicants shown to us in the movie are far more sympathetic and dynamic than any human character given screen time. Similar to Matt they have limited lifespans and their genes and bodies are designed for them. They do not get to choose anything about who they are going to be. Once they are that person however they choose how they are going to be them. The Replicants in Blade Runner show far more humanity than the humans, the feel so strongly for the little life that they have they will go through anything to preserve it.

Filed by forthefairest at November 29th, 2011 under Uncategorized
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November 22, 2011

Regret and Rage

We were all on edge. There wasn’t a personality among us that was in possession of any particular fondness for Siri Keeton. But still. . . it was hard — impossible even.

We felt mostly guilt. Michelle and Sascha for their part in releasing the oxygen into the chamber. The gas was toxic to the scramblers.   None of us had felt good about that test to begin with, we had sensed that something was not right. We should have questioned, we should not have blindly obeyed. Damn Sarasti! Damn him for what he did to Keeton. The burden of torturing alien life forms weighs heavily enough on our consciences. We did not need the added strain of Siri’s pain. Was it our fault? We flipped the switch, the alarm went off, Sarasti struck, Siri bled and hurt. Cause and effect. No matter how you look at it you cannot entirely remove the weight of it from our consciences. If only we could know what truly transpired between those two while our eyes were averted. If only we could know why Sarasti was truly urged to attack. Did Siri provoke an attack by trying to defend the scramblers from the poison gas that we released? Or did Sarasti’s deeply buried bestial nature finally claw its way out to the surface? If only we could know. If only we could find a way to assuage this guilt. .

Beyond Michelle and Sascha’s delicate feelings of concern and blame, are Susan and Cruncher’s repressed feelings of hostility towards Sarasti. Susan was controlling us when we witnessed what Sarasti did to Siri Keeton — When we were forced to stand by and do nothing while he was brutalized and humiliated. Sarasti toyed with him like a cat plays with a mouse, obviously getting a sick sense of pleasure out of his pain. At the time we tried to stop him, or we thought we did, but how hard did we really try. How hard were any of us really willing to try to defend Siri Keeton. Were any of us, and not just the Gang, Bates and Cunningham too, willing to risk the excruciating agony evident on Keeton’s face just to spare the spy some pain. Obviously not. So we feel anger, we feel rage towards Sarasti for what he did, and towards ourselves for what we did not do to help. We are cowards.


Siri came to us much later, when he awoke. I suppose he wanted answers for what had happened. Who could blame him. We only wish we had answers. Michelle was on top then, she couldn’t face him. The guilt was still too strong. He asked for Susan anyways and Michelle eagerly retreated back into the recesses of our mind, trying as hard as she could not  to watch what followed —  not to even listen to what Siri had to say.  He absolved us, but the relief was only momentary. Our area of expertise is languages. On our best day, with our minds combined, we cannot understand the human mind or behavioral science even a fraction as well as a trained synthesis like Siri can. Yet something in him had obviously changed. Siri Keeton was not the same person as he was before.


I wrote on page 298- 301 and then 320-321. I wanted to do an experiment in how it would be to experience emotions and thoughts from the gangs point of view. Since they must always think in multiples and take into account several different personalities and points of view. I also really enjoyed that scene where Sarasti attacks Siri and have spent quite a bit of time pondering the true motives behind his actions. Also, even though Bates, Cunningham and The Gang insist that Sarasti’s attack was not planned and that they had not prior knowledge of the event before it occurred we never know the truth of that statement and in fact there are moments when that seems to be the exact opposite of the truth. However, in my interpretation of events I chose to believe Susan James’ account of events as she relays it to Siri on page 321.

Filed by forthefairest at November 22nd, 2011 under Uncategorized
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October 31, 2011

Mixed Emotions

My Dearest Boy,

You will be the first of your kind. Your future is bright and vast and limitless.You will be loved and cared for like no other. You will never be alone. You are a construct. In fact, the first human born constuct male. Together with your siblings you will pave the way for others like you. It is what you were conceived for. Not long ago we descended from the stars to build a new race, to build a new earth. And years from now it will be your descendants that  will return to those same stars, together in Lo, who will mature with them — and they will be neither human or Oankali, but something new.

But  as much as you will be adored you will also be hated. You will be feared and hunted. I am sorry, the road you must travel down will sometimes be treacherous and hard. I have done the best I can to equip you for what lies ahead. You have been formed from the best of me, the best of my species, and I love all of you that is human. But you are also Oankali, constructed from the best of Nikanj, Dichaan and Ahajas, and I will do my best to love all that is alien within you.

If there is anything I sincerely hope you inherit from your inhuman ancestors I pray it will be their aversion to falsehoods and deceit. I harbor in my deepest heart a desire for you to be born as close to human as possible, even though I know your appearance must change as you mature. Although a part of me knows you will need what the Oankali have to offer in order to endure  this new, harsher Earth. In order to survive when the raiders come. In order to survive when resisters attack you just for being what you are. You will need your Oankali strength then. You will need eyes in the back of your head and your hearing that would put a hound to shame. One day these Oankali traits will save your life, and I will be glad for your heritage then.


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October 27, 2011

Safe, Sane and Consensual

Consent in modern day life is pretty straightforward. If you do not get verbal or written permission from someone then you do not have their consent. If you do not hear a verbal invitation you do not proceed. If someone does not say “Yes”, tells you “No” or puts up a physical struggle during sex then it immediately becomes rape.

However, consent in Lilith’s Brood is far more complicated. These rules of consent I have just listed are human inventions — conventions that we have practiced socially for hundreds of years. But in an entirely alien environment the lines of consent are free to be redrawn. The Oankali appear to physically force themselves on humans many times in the novel. Although the ooloi do not have sexual organs as we would traditionally define them, their actions could still be misconstrued as rape. I believe that this would be a narrow minded judgement error.

As Nikanj points out  and Lilith is keen to observe through her critical anthropologists eyes: the Oankali do not have a penchant for lying and deception as humans do. They communicate in ways we do can not even begin to comprehend. They are familiar with patterns of scent and sensory experiences beyond our grasps. When the ooloi connect to their humans, they share some of this experience with them. Joseph would have never given Nikanj consent to bond with him a second time if left to his own devices. But Nikanj had already seen his mind. He knew Joseph better than he knew himself and he could sense that Joseph was just deceiving himself and Nikanj knew that he had his true consent — perhaps even his future consent — to bond with him. Although Nikanj’s actions then, as well as his actions when he impregnates Lilith, may appear non-consensual through the filter of human morals and mores we must learn to be more open minded. After-all, we are definitely not in Kansas anymore.

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October 17, 2011

It’s Like Bullet Time

As the government gives chase to Bandit, Tinker and Pirate, in the second edition of We3, a scientist tells the pursuing soldiers over the phone that they do not understand what they are getting themselves into. He describes to them the depth of the alteration done to We3, trying to prepare them, “even their senses are different from ours. They’re much faster than any human. They experience time and motion differently.” That concept would normally be hard for a reader to understand since, being humans, we are only used to experiencing time and motion as we experience it in everyday life. But that is the beauty of a graphic novel, we can be shown what we can not imagine on our own.

Two pages later, on pages six and seven, we are presented with a distorted image of a battle between a helicopter and We3. In the background are straightforward illustrations of the actions taking place as a human might describe or perceive them. Laid over the more commonplace images of carnage are smaller frames. At first these frames seem nonsensical to us. They are each of an individual item: Tinker’s eye narrowing, a bullet seeking it’s target, a bullet as it pierces flesh, a tooth shattering, a drop of blood as it flies through the air. None of them appear to be in any particular order or pattern. They are honestly hard to make sense of, even after consideration. They may even be hard for the reader to look at, if he or she does not have the stomach for gore that most comic book readers have developed now-a-days.  Pages six and seven are meant to illustrate for us the contrast between the big picture that we see being simplistic humans and the tons of tiny pictures that We3 see being finely honed killing machines.

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September 28, 2011

A Map Would Be Appreciated.

Often at the beginning of modern fantasy novels you will find a nicely illustrated map along with a conveniently illustrated legend with navigate the unfamiliar landscape of the author’s world. Such things are provided when authors know they are going to be dropping a reader into unfamiliar territory, in an attempt to give them some bearings on their environment or means of orientating themselves.

In Gibson’s Neuromancer, we are thrown into a futuristic world filled to the brim with places we have never heard of. We can only begin to guess where they may fit geologically. Since Neuromancer take place in the vague  future, it is safe to assume that although these may physically be places we are familiar with, they may well be changed by the throws of time and may be called something entirely different. This first happens in the beginning paragraphs of the novels opening chapter. We are introduced to the concept of the “Sprawl” while not really being told what or where it is — until much later. Although we can pick up from context clues that people speak English in the Sprawl, and that it is probably located where America used to be, we are not even sure of these facts until well into part two of the novel when it is confirmed for us that “The Sprawl” is the name of a giant city-scape — spanning from Boston to Atlanta (or what was previously Boston and Atlanta and is now “The Sprawl.” )

This sort of geographic confusion shows up again, in a major way, in the third part of the novel. When the characters are called by Armitage (or more accurately Wintermute) to go to Freeside. The place is described as a sort of futuristic Las Vegas, with lots of attractions, gambling, hookers. It is laid out as a very active place to live that attracts gambling scum as well as the flashy rich. We are not, however, told it is in space. We find out  that it is a space colony as the characters travel there. We experience with them the ride on the space shuttle and the disorientation of zero gravity and SAS (a sort of space sickness). We do not know how it got there, how long it has been orbiting — for we find out later it is not built on a planet, but an orbiting satellite of sorts –what the local people look like, how they recycle their air, how they grow food, how many people it takes to keep the satellite running.

All of these questions buzz around in my head and distract me from enjoying the plot. For every ten I have answered I feel as if a hundred more pop up freshly in their place. Although this keeps me reading on in hope of having my queries answered, it also makes me unimaginably frustrated. Part of the allure of science fiction and fantasy for me has always been the way authors blend in the fantastic with the common to make it seem natural. But there is so little common and relatable material in Neuromancer I fear getting lost among uncharted waters.

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September 15, 2011

The Bride of Frankenstein

When we were asked last class to create an online dating profile for Frankenstein’s monster I began to think seriously about his request for a female companion. I knew from the start that there was something that bothered me about Frankenstein’s desire for a romantic partner, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was until you asked us to confront it directly in class. The issue of the creations desire for a bride first appears in the novel at the very end of Volume II, in Chapter 9, when the creature beseeches Victor, “You must create a female for me, with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being. This you alone can do; and I demand it of you as a right which you must not refuse”. The plea is in earnest, and after hearing the story of his life and of his many hardships, it is not the creature’s desire for a companion which is hard to understand. It is his desire of a romantic, female companion — whom the creature himself admits would have to be as deformed and inhuman as himself, in-order to tolerate a life together, “I demand a creature of another sex, but as hideous as myself. . . It is true, we shall be monsters, cut off from all the world; but on that account we shall be more attached to one another. Our lives will not be happy, but they will be harmless, and free from the misery I now feel.

My issue with the subject of the monster wanting a bride of his own species stems from his own creation story and history. He tells us himself that his experience in the world has been limited, he was born with no knowledge, and is almost entirely self-taught. He has existed for only about fiveyears, most of which he spent learning French and observing a single family. His knowledge of social interaction comes chiefly from watching Felix and Agatha through a crack in the wall. His ideas of beauty come only from knowing that human forms are acceptable and that his own form is frighteningly. During his time spent observing the De Lacey’s the creature describes members of both genders as being quite beautiful. This makes perfect sense. Although he eventually coming to grasp the French language vicariously with Safie’s help; the monster has never been educated on matters of sex or gender roles properly, so there is no reason to think that he should have a clear grasp on the inner workings of them.

Asking Victor to create a companion monster for him is in many ways warped and ridiculous. For one, it is unlikely that the creature would find her a suitable companion once she was animated. She would be dumb and viscous, as he first was. She would be a grotesque monster, a paragon of everything he hates about himself that he would have to look in the face. He would not be attracted to her, and she would have no redeeming qualities until he taught her to have them, and then she would just be a mirror-reflection of himself. Ultimately though, it is unlikely that his bride would accept  him. Being new-born and fresh to the world she would most likely fear his appearance and seek the company of more pleasant looking humans. The bride would have most likely fled her horror of a husband, and ended up on the same path as the creature, and Victor would have been doomed to have history repeat itself — again and again.


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September 5, 2011

Seeing is believing.

The first thing that struck me in particular upon picking up Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” for the first time since graduating High-School English was that the language was a great deal less confusing than I remembered it to be. The second was that I still didn’t like it much, but for very new reasons. I find “Frankenstein” off putting  simply because of it’s lack of characters. I don’t mean to say that it doesn’t have any likable characters, or that I find the characters that it does have dull and difficult to understand. What I mean to say by this is that I think the characters Mary Shelley has invented to drive the universe of “Frankenstein” are not truly characters at all, but merely shells constructed with the sole purpose of promoting the plot and advancing her moral vision — which might sound like a completely ridiculous claim, seeing as this is the purpose of characters in many narratives and we do not strive to take away their titles and declare them shells. My particular grievance in Mrs. Shelley’s case is more complex, however.

From the beginning of the story we are made to believe that Victor is a man of much passion and emotion. Partially because of the actions he takes in the narrative, and partially because of how he is described to us by Walton and by himself. We do not know this because of what we see. We are continually told of Victors great love for Elizabeth and for his family, of his great passions for science and philosophy, and of his great sorrow when tragedy befalls him. He is forever describing the depth of his emotions and feeling but we are never made to feel along with him, never given a moment to stop and sympathize. Never for a moment are these characters humanized or relatable. We are told by Victor, of his close relation to Henry, of their love being as strong as  a love between brothers; and we are told similarly of his closeness to Elizabeth and her unparalleled beauty and goodness. We are told these things and then just accepted to take then as fact, even though we see very little evidence of them, and the narrative relies heavily on them. The difference between being told these things and having “seen” them is vital. Actually having them emotionally established for us within the story is as important as the difference between being told there will be a party and cake and actually being at the party, enjoying the very real cake with all of your friends.


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August 31, 2011


Mission Accomplished.

Filed by forthefairest at August 31st, 2011 under Uncategorized
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