Human adaptability in Dick and Butler

“He gestured obscenely and several other men laughed. Loss of verbal language  had spawned a whole new set of obscene gestures. The man, with stark simplicity, had accused her of sex with the bearded man and had suggested she accommodate the other men present – beginning with him” – “Speech Sounds”

“The clerk said, “For a toad I’d suggest also a perpetually renewing puddle…I suggest you let our service department make a periodic tongue adjustment” – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (244)

One of the major similarities between Butler and Dick is the implicit capacity for human ingenuity and reinvention of normality in response to fundamental changes in the composition of the ‘normal’ world. In “Speech Sounds,” the inability to speak produces immediate challenges and tensions (as seen in the opening fistfight on the bus) but it also showcases the ability of the human race to install a new order and system for ‘normal’ affairs of life. The quoted passage above is frankly brutal and loathsome, but there is also a strange admission of the ingenuity and adaptability required to implement a widespread, generic code of hand signals among strangers. Rye does not think of the complexity of the process required for dissemination of hand signals but rather notes the ‘stark simplicity’ of the action; in a world challenged by muteness, humans still maintain an ability to communicate and invent new methods of interpersonal connection. Likewise, the remarkable inventiveness of electronic animals in DADoES? speaks to the ability of humans to react to a challenging situation, in this case mediated through commercial forces. In the true spirit of capitalism, Dick’s world strives to produce the most satisfactory correction to its problems and demonstrates a certain (albeit limited) capacity to dull the pain of extinction. Both stories retain a clear sense of pain/tension in the loss of crucial details of reality but mitigate (or modify) the oppression of the world through the ability of humanity to evolve in response to conflict and difficulty.

Roy Baty’s Rage

1:26:20: This scene depicts Roy Baty’s murder of Tyrell, with heavy emphasis on the bloody gouging out of Tyrell’s eyes and the complicated emotions which cross Baty’s face during the killing.

Why does Roy Baty express so much rage and perhaps grief in the killing of Tyrell? Why the deliberate mutilation? Isn’t this an expression of emotion? Watching this scene, I felt a confirmation of both Roy’s villainy and his definite interiority and perhaps even empathy. The murder of a person described as one’s ‘father’ in such a deliberate and torturous way carries enormous emotional resonance and seems unlikely for an android. If androids have the capacity to kill easily, isn’t it because they do not view it as hugely significant or in relation to themselves? The murder of Tyrell to represent the death of the father or creator – particularly as Roy has knowledge of his own impending death – seems to point conclusively to androids as having ‘real’ emotions. As these emotions pass across Roy’s face, the viewer has the ability to attempt to empathically connect, to put themselves in his position and try to guess his range of emotions. Yet this ability to connect seems out of the grasp of androids…the whole scene is very confusing and provocative but (as in other parts of the movie) lacks certain subtleties of the book. It seems too obvious that androids really CAN develop ‘real’ feelings, in contrast with the strange, eerie ambiguity with which Dick ends his novel.

The problem of the Penfield

“‘My schedule for today lists a six-hour self-accusatory depression,’ Iran said.

‘What? Why did you schedule that?’ It defeated the whole purpose of the mood organ. ‘I didn’t even know you could set it for that,’ [Deckard] said gloomily” (Dick 5)

Although there is plenty more to be uncertain about, Dick sets the scene of the novel with a piece of technology which provokes extremely mixed responses from Deckard and Iran. For Deckard, the Penfield mood organ is a fantastic piece of equipment which allows him to escape the ‘negative’ human emotions and thus lead a more concentrated, efficient, and productive life. For Iran, the mood organ is an interruption of normal, necessarily negative human behavior; since she cannot function outside of the mood organ (thanks in part to her controlling husband) she must manufacture the feelings she believes she would feel without the presence of the Penfield. Interestingly, while the characters certainly have more information about the mood organ and its functions than the reader, this information is far from complete. Deckard does not realize that the mood organ has a range of emotions beyond those he associates as positive; the revelation of this information depresses him. Why is this? Deckard’s relationship with technology is difficult to parse. His job involves ruthless pursuit and destruction of technological ‘life’ forms, but he is dependent on a machine to set the structure of his life and does not dig into the complex workings of the machine. He has a certain faith in the positive effects of certain technology which Iran lacks or feels suspicious towards. There is also a sense of the uncertain progress of technology. The reader must wonder when exactly the Penfield came into being; is this a recent technology, a new model of an older technology, or something that is deeply incorporated into the world? Can we presume that all characters we encounter use a similar system or is Deckard somewhat unique? And the 3 code, a desire to dial something is deeply problematic. It is clear that this world has an inextricable link to technology as a driving force, but the exact limits and reasons are unclear and unavailable. A really fantastic introduction to a delightful and intriguing story.

The Ending and Estraven

I was really impressed with the emotion of the ending of The Left Hand of Darkness, especially in relation to the developed character of Estraven. The earlier myths of brothers who swear kemmer and the negation of feuds through kemmer never reach a definitive conclusion; there is no point at which the reader can say with certainty that here is such-and-such a parallel to the stories. Instead we can use these stories and their emotional and moral underpinnings to understand the powerful relationship between Genly and Therem Estraven. The redemptive quality of their individual connection permits Therem to ski into certain death with the understanding that the bond of friendship will allow the Gethenians to join the galactic community of mankind. I’m very interested to see how other people read Estraven’s final decision.

Use of the Introduction

One thing I admired enormously about Le Guin’s rhetorical style in The Left Hand of Darkness was the smooth transition from the author’s introduction to the first page of the novel. In her introduction, Le Guin outlines her understanding of the power of SF, the idea that one writes about things which are not true in order to tap into a greater truth. “The author deals with what cannot be said in words. The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words” (xviii). This idea of fiction carrying a deeper truth about the human experience or concepts about philosophy is immediately taken up by the narrator of Left Hand on the first page of the story when he writes “I’ll make my report as if I told a story” (1). What the narrator explains certainly gives the reader insight into the ‘facts’ of the world of Winter and its odd social elements, but it also introduces an idea of the narrator as someone – like Le Guin – interested in plumbing deeper ideas through relation of ‘facts.’ There will be unspoken ideas, things which cannot be said, and this holds true for the narrator just as much as the artist who writes them into creation.

Humanizing effects of comedy

I really enjoy how Lieber presents the dialogue of the non-human entities in The Big Time Pt. 1 – or perhaps it’s best to call them by the colloquial and friendly label ‘ETs.’ Illy in particular is a figure who could be written as supremely menacing and disturbing, with strange tentacles, an elongated shape, and inhuman means of communication. But Lieber’s dialogue presents him as an old familiar of Greta’s, more understandable and sympathetic than many of the human characters, like the drunken Doc or distressed Maud. On page 37, Illy squeaks, “‘Animals with clothes are so refreshing, dahling! Like you’re all carrying banners!'” This serves not only to put a human reader at ease – for a comedic alien has an immediate connection with humanity – but also inverts the experience of estrangement, making the reader aware of the strangeness of humans from an alien perspective. Overall, I began reading The Big Time with a certain amount of caution, worrying that it would focus on cheap thrills, but I found quickly that Lieber’s writing is deceptively simple and manages to alternately comfort and estrange the reader to produce a really delightful experience.

Imagined Nostalgia

In reading the tales in “Amazing Stories” and “Wonder Stories,” I find myself pining for a past which I know only through the recollections of contemporary fiction writers. Although I read a good deal of fantasy, science-fiction, and all manner of ‘wonder stories’ as a child, I dealt almost entirely in full-length books rather than magazines. As I grew older, I began reading earlier, ‘classic’ works by Wells, Dick, Lovecraft, and Moorcock, but these stories came in the form of collected Barnes & Noble editions, or through online archives like pulpmags.org (a resource I’m excited to have for future reading). Why did I seek this earlier material? I believe modern fantasy and sci-fi writers have a tendency to celebrate the long legacy of the genre, frequently dedicating books to noted authors, making oblique references, and paralleling the style of early, ‘pulpy’ stories. So, in reading these stories, I have a strange feeling of familiarity – not for the stories themselves, but for the aesthetic which comes with them. The ads, for instance. The energetic language of opportunity, scientific discovery, and masculine mastery which can come with the purchase of a simple postage stamp is found all over these magazines. My favorite is the ad in the early pages of the Wonder Stories with “Conquest of Gola,” which proclaims excitedly: “LEARN ELECTRICITY without lessons in 90 days BY ACTUAL WORK Great Coyne.” The bold, comic-book-esque emphasis on words and strange, old-fashioned phrasing of technological skill reminds me instantly of nostalgic pastiches by Alan Moore (“The Black Dossier”) and Neil Gaiman (chapter openers for “A Study in Scarlet”), to name a couple. As in the original magazines, this advertising aesthetic is matched by a focus on stories that really are wondrous, amazing, weird, and strange, stories which excite and make one goggle at the page in disbelief (as I found myself doing at various points in “Conquest of Gola” in particular). My point is that despite my lack of familiarity with the magazines of the 20s and 30s, the adoption of the pulp aesthetic by contemporary writers means that the tradition of exciting, optimistic language paired with tales of wonder and excitement which stretch the boundaries of the imagination means that these tales fill me with an enormous degree of nostalgia. Maybe this is not ‘true’ nostalgia, but I suspect that others in the class feel it, that the genre of sci-fi has retained a communal fondness for this early age, and that it still endures in contemporary young readers.

The Philosopher and the Frame

One thing which jumped out at me during the initial reading of “The Time Machine” was the sense of reading a philosophical text which creates a dialogue between semi-defined characters as a jumping off point for a philosophical treatise. This version only exacerbated this feeling, and it made me consider how this initiating dialogue alerts the reader to a method of critical analysis necessary to understand the resulting dialogue. I was impressed by the amount of questions posed by ColorlessGreenSheep in their post, and I agree that the suspense of these questions makes the novel version much more intriguing.

Overall I wished that the article version had used the rigorous dialogue to try to delve more deeply into a philosophical idea of a society by asking questions from all different perspectives, while suspending belief to a certain degree. The interplay of belief/disbelief in the Time Traveller’s story lends depth to Wells’s novel, but it occasionally preempts important questions about the nature of the world and the society. Without these questions, I feel that it is almost impossible to rely on any of the Time Traveler’s theories with conviction. We are presented with details like vast underground Morlock machines and refused any inquiry into the nature of these topics. There is only minor curiosity by the listeners. The first person narrator of the novel seems genuinely interested in future society and seems to accept the physical evidence of the flowers, but the narrative of the Time Traveller obscures his personality and input. In the article, the red-headed man makes some comments similar to the book’s narrator (“to discover a society…erected on a strictly communist basis”), he also becomes associated with violent inquiry (“with violence, the red-haired man wanted to see [the time machine]”). The format of questioning characters could have allowed an interested and spirited discussion of what is admittedly a completely awesome story and permitted greater thought on the details of the Morlock/Eloi society. Unfortunately, the argumentative dinner guests prevent most actual thought on the story, instead trying to relentlessly question the believability of the narrative. I would love to read an updated edition, in which a house of professionals and thinkers contemplate a story with their wonderful, magical friend….hopefully in lower-case.