Media, Magic, and the Multilevel Network

“A woman who’d been walking down the middle of the busy dirt road that passed through the market wanted to throw her mobile phone away. She’d never liked mobile phones. She knew it sounded crazy, but she had always been sure that they could do more than anyone let on. She had a feeling that they could watch you. That they could speak to you at night when you were asleep and brainwash you.”

Okorafor, Nnedi. Lagoon (p. 277). Saga Press. Kindle Edition.

Okorafor’s novel pushes the limits of the network narrative beyond her readers’ typical capacity, pairing a magical and folklorish use of widespread animal communication (the spider’s web and the enlightened bat’s sonar) with hyper-advanced media technology that helps to align the novel with the scifi genre. This overlapping is most apparent as Okorafor chooses to call Ch. 54, which portrays the President’s speech taking over every single screen in Nigeria, “Spider’s Threads.” I think this is what makes Okorafor particularly unique: throughout this semester we have seen stories portraying the asocial results of hyper-connectivity, as well as the way in which it leads to environmental decay. However, in Lagoon, the President’s sudden and powerful control over mass media, thanks to Ayodele, not only connects Nigeria politically but also, yet again, magically to their physical environment. The president temporarily acts as the spider whose web connects Nigeria as Ayodele simultaneously becomes a fog that everyone inhales–it is connectivity on multiple ecological and social levels. What is more, as the selected quote shows, Okorafor refuses to separate the power of advanced media technology from the mysticism that defines her portrayal of Lagos. Everything–music, magic, media, and Ayodele’s atoms–is contained in the soil of Lagos.

The Phasing Out of Story Mediums

“Jordan wore a black T-shirt with a drawing of a marijuana leaf in the center…He stood up straight and stamped a Timberland boot on the floor… ‘You think it’s some Orwellian shit?…Like that War of the Worlds radio broadcast back in the day that caused all that panic?'” (302)

“There’s a ‘witch slapping’ scene in Lagoon. Are there self-proclaimed holy men slapping the so-called witchcraft out of women? Yes. See for yourself at: youtube.com/watch?v=bfeGpcmfMBA.” (306)

When I saw Okorafor’s comment at the end of Lagoon (in which she gives further insight to some elements of the story), I immediately wondered how quickly the link would expire — or, even further, when YouTube itself would no longer exist and the link be wholly unusable. I paired this with a scene in the extra chapter at the end of the novel, which not only gives the story a specific era in terms of fashion (the marijuana leaf shirt and the Timberland boots) but also brings up a question of the inevitability of the phasing out of technology and whether stories will surpass this phasing. The character, Jordan, brings up the radio drama adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of The Worlds, which first premiered in 1938. While radio dramas have mostly gone out of style (largely due to the introduction of television), the tale of The War of the Worlds radio drama lives on. Jordan’s comparison of the “The President of Nigeria Saved by Witches and Warlocks” YouTube video to the infamous radio drama doesn’t seem to be accidental; Okorafor may be toying with the notion that, while the mediums these stories are presented on may eventually phase out, the stories themselves may survive.

Media and Perspective

That afternoon, the church was packed, thanks to the television, newspaper, and radio, though not so much the Internet.  According to the media, the water along all the beaches was “rising at an alarming rate!” and pushing into the lagoon.  Government buildings and independent businesses were all “closed until further notice!”  There had been an “excruciatingly loud racket tumbling off the ocean.”  Something was amiss, and everyone was getting ready for whatever would come next.  (58)

Throughout Lagoon, we are presented with a staggering multitude of perspectives and, on more than one occasion, multiple accounts of the same event.  In doing so, Okorafor very clearly provides readers with the idea that simply because two people witnessed the same occurrence does not mean that they will interpret that occurrence the same way; in fact, Lagoon almost seems to posit that it is impossible for one person to absorb something in the same way as another.  The presence of the media in the novel only complicates this.  In the passage above, it can be garnered from the three separate quotations that there are multiple outlets reporting on the events taking place in Lagos, and the fact that there are clashing reports–all engendering paranoia of some sort–demonstrates the way in which a different perspective on an event can work towards obscuring that event just as much as it could work toward elucidating it.  In spite of all the information the people of Lagos are being given, nothing is concrete- and as a result, they are not preparing for any danger in specific, only “whatever would come next”.

Change Many Can See

“‘The winds of change are blowing. We are change. You will see'” (Okorafor 112).

In Act I of Lagoon, one of the most prominent uses of visual and digital media is the video message that Ayodele spreads throughout Lagos. This particular scene presents readers with a modern take on invasion suggesting the interconnectivity that the internet provides for people now can potentially be both harmful and helpful. The inevitable change is coming, but one is ignorant to what that might mean. When Ayodele states “You will see,” she hints at the inevitability of it while also admitting that because of the technology the people have they can now all be witness to this change. Instead of the few that experience the androids’ message, for example in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, in hopes of change, Okorafor allows many to hear Ayodele’s message which provides a broader spectrum of reaction. Richard Deckard may go back to his life like nothing ever happened, but Lagos will be forever changed by Ayodele whether for good or bad.

“He” and “I” in Okorafor’s Media Representation

The boy was there. He had no mobile phone. He had never touched a computer. The cramped room he shared with seven other homeless boys and no television. He had no access to any type of screen, large or small. He hadn’t even been immunized against polio. But he was there. (123)

I was there. To be specific, I was in the Testament Cyber Cafe, not far from Bar Beach… Yet there I was in the cyber cafe totally unconcerned, and up to no good. Okay, so I was good at it. I was good at being up to no good. I was good at 419. Nigerian Internet fraud. (194)

I chose to compare these two excerpts because what Okorafor is presenting us with here is an interesting balance between identity, technology, and media. Okorafor introduces the mute boy in the aforementioned scene through the third person, because seemingly he cannot articulate what is going on in his own life. The use of the third person seems conspicuous because we know that being mute does not affect one’s thought processes; but it seems that Okorafor attributing the lack of identity for this individual to his lack of participation in the media of the novel – at least in the way that he does not participate in the technological part of it. Obviously this little boy plays an instrumental part in the novel, and in terms of what the media is representing, he experiences it first hand, whereas most only experience the actions of the book through some type of media representation (YouTube, news columns, etc.). This seems to point at the fact that many people believe that media – particularly social media – is the best way to represent and be your “true self.” Now, I wouldn’t say that Okorafor believes this, since when we look at the other excerpt with “Legba” we can understand his identity through technology and through different types of media to be false – as he is an expert at fraud. Why then should he get an entire chapter to himself in which he is the  main focalizer and voice?

 

Personal note:

Thinking through with Neuromancer and with the cyber cafes in Lagoon, have you ever walked through a casino – like the Bethlehem Sands – and just seen the people mindlessly pulling the levers, oblivious to the world around them? This reminded me of the cyber cafe where everyone just ignored what was going on until if finally crashed in on them.

Also, in terms of technology, many science fiction stories deal with the idea of connecting ourselves to technology, and beyond the obvious connection we have to phones and the internet, I was thinking about our connection to cars. As a commuting student who is put in many tight situations on the major highways coming to school everyday, I would physically get sick if someone crashed into my car – where did this empathy for physical objects come from? Maybe Phillip Dick can help me figure that one out.

The future of science fiction is already upon us!

May the Force Be With You, O

“[The president] wished he were at his home in Abuja with a glass of cool Guinness, watching Star Wars on his high-definition wide-screen television. He loved Star Wars, especially the more recent installments. There was such honor in Star Wars. In another life, he’d have made a great Jedi knight.” – 84

The neat things about this paragraph is that it shows science fiction is an acknowledged and important part of Okorafor’s universe. That might seem like stating the obvious, but in my experience it’s pretty rare to have 21st century characters directly cite the flood other media available to us in their thinking. In much the same way the protagonist in a zombie movie might have never seen or heard of these “dead-walking things” before the Outbreak, Okorafor could have glossed over other frames of reference for aliens. Showing these shout-outs and references not only makes the characters more sympathetic, but reflects how culture influences our thinking. These frames of reference stack on top of one another as time goes on, until Star Wars and District 9 form a sort of mosaic that gives Lagoon more complexity and nuance by having a conversation with the works that inspired it.

Gibson’s Neuromancer: An attempt at a brief summary

In a cyber-punk version of our world, an outlaw computer hacker is given the opportunity to get back into his field of expertise. Through a series of events, he discovers the true purpose of his mission: to unlawfully unite the two halves of a super-AI entity. The events that transpire are those that can only be described as a cybernetic rabbit hole of action.

That was my attempt, to the best of my ability, to summarize Neuromancer in my own words as concisely as I could  without trying to rewrite the Wikipedia summary. It was extremely difficult to nail (what I believe to be) the key points of the novel. In all honesty, I believe trying to describe the plot in full would deter some readers away. I only say this because it feels as if every detail of the novel seems to matter to over-arching story that is being told. It sounds absurd when you have names like Lady 3Jane Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool, but this is what made reading the novel so captivating. Trying to connect every dot that has been laid out by Gibson leaves a story that becomes almost like a puzzle. It’s not the kind of novel that one can finish reading, and then think nothing of it. Gibson provokes the continuation of thought long after you have finished the book by leaving the reader with the questions of what it all really means when Case has ended up becoming part of the super-AI’s design.

 

Gibson Carries a Microscope Le Guin, a Map.

Emotional strained cyber hacker is “saved” by a cool warrior chick who takes him on an adventure back into his old life of crime and takes away his drug addiction. But . . . its not what he thinks and he’s dragged into a huge crazy mess of crime, drugs, fighting, old girlfriends, and ninjas. After its all over he gets paid, gets a new girlfriend, and does his best to become a drug addict again because that’s a good thing.

There are moments in Neuromancer that are so up close its as if Gibson is looking through a microscope at every object in the room and explaining to us what he sees.  I wonder if it is even important to know these small details and if the story would be the same without them, but because he is mentioning them, they seem important. For example, the moment he describes the gun he picks up from the black market and we find out the kind of gun it is a model of a model of. The plastic. The feel of the gun at night. It can be compared to Le Guin’s foray guns of which we are only briefly told shoot metal, like human guns, unlike the sonic guns that seem to just make you feel uncomfortable or pass out.  On that note, the guns in The left hand of darkness are less important it seems than the gun in Neuromancer.  Maybe they are just as important but they aren’t given as much thought and detail.  We don’t particularly know what any of Le Guin’s guns look like let alone feel like. The story is still just as interesting and has just as much that can be said about it.  What ends up happening is that we get an enormous sprawling and mystical landscape from Le Guin, or a map of a new world where we take in what is necessary, and from Gibson we are force fed sensory information that seems unnecessary but because we as readers generally trust that an author will only tell us what we need to know for the story to go on, we try to make meaning from sensory overload.

Details, Details, Details

Expert hacker Henry Dorsett Case is at the bottom of his luck when offered the opportunity to regain his lost purpose and livelihood in exchange for his services to a figure and cause shrouded in mystery and danger. Drug-infused and wildly suspenseful, Neuromancer follows Case and his fellow underworld insurgents as they navigate consciousness, cyberspace, and artificial intelligence that blurs the lines between riveting literature and borderline psychosis. Relentlessly driven by vivid details and captivating cerebral conflict, Case’s journey across the planes of reality ends in success, drugs, and hyperreal version of “happily ever after.”

 

One would think that summarizing a plot in three sentences would be fairly easy, but when the plot of the story is driven by drugs, violence, and cyberspace, three sentences becomes almost as deadly as a mycotoxin to the bloodstream. But despite it’s challenge, it made me really appreciate just how many conventions are being utilized by Gibson in his telling of Case’s adventures within the matrix and beyond. As pointed out by the other blog posts, most of our discussions in class, and most every scholar on the subject, it is the incredibly hyperspecific nature of detail within the story that gives it much of it’s charm. One can practically feel the story as it’s being described within the pages of the books, truly submerging a reader into everything- characters, plot, setting… even abstract consciousness.

I agree with my classmates in the Gibson’s plot is far more driven by details than perhaps that of Le Guin, who’s Left Hand of Darkness tracks more conceptual thematic elements that drive the plot rather than the incredibly descriptive nature of what the figures of the book are experiencing. Neuromancer truly is one of a kind.

The Eternal Return

Case is a cyberpunk with an existential crisis. He survives a breakneck globetrotting adventure of corporate intrigue and danger that (sort of) pulls him back from the depths of his despair, only to return to his ordinary life in the Sprawl. Life goes on.

Navigating the sci-fi tropes and events in “Neuromancer” creates a deliberate sensory overload. Even after Wintermute and Neuromancer fuse, and the endless conspirators come to rest at their final places in the plot, I think the odd feeling Gibson leaves the reader with is the sense that Case spent most of the book running, and hacking, and otherwise struggling, only to return to the life he was already living in the Sprawl. Obviously the finer details of the book this summary leaves out are worth experiencing, but still. It’s sort of related to Le Guin’s Taoist (I think) idea of everything happening at once. Gibson’s cyberspace and the matrix are in constant flux. Yet the action in “Neuromancer” keeps moving, faster and faster, only for the plot to fold in on itself. I know it’s a platitude, but what comes to mind is “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” I’m not sure if there’s a wider point to all these observations, but then again, neither is Case or Neuromancer.

Abrupt Romance

No one had touched her for three years.  She had not wanted anyone to touch her…  Obsidian could not know how attractive he was to her- young, probably younger than she was, clean, asking for what he wanted rather than demanding it (100).

Within the context of a dystopia, a romance tends to provide some level of hope; the idea that human beings are still capable of loving one another, even in spite of whatever trials and tribulations they may be facing, is a tantalizing comfort.  Blade Runner and Speech Sounds both use this tactic, though the effects of the ways in which these relationships are started are incredibly different.  Whereas the quick coupling of Obsidian and Rye is described quite clearly as being consensual, as demonstrated by the scene in Obsidian’s car, the romance–if it could be described as such–between Rachael and Deckard is rather uncomfortable to watch.  The manner in which he forces her to kiss him is jarring, to say the least, and is so drastically different from Obsidian “asking…rather than demanding”.  Both relationships are abrupt in their inception, bringing about the sense that these people are desperate for the comfort that a romance can bring within their respective circumstances and settings.  However, Speech Sounds uses the quick creation and destruction of its romance to engender a sense of uncertainty–regarding in particular the ephemeral nature of happiness and security in Rye’s world–while Blade Runner uses Rachael and Deckard’s relationship to further blur the definition of what makes a human a human (for is it not inhuman, animalistic, to force oneself onto another person, or even an android?) and add to the sinister, gritty tone of the film.

Butler & Dick Comparison : Numb & Mechanical

As Rye sits in Obsidian’s car, the mentally crippling emotions of “growing hopelessness, purposelessness” and “jealousy” remind the reader of the enslaved android’s dilemma (99). Rye’s “powerful urge to kill another person” stems not only from her own personal issues, but from the idea that someone could have more ability and access to knowledge and expression (99). Rye nearly snaps when she realizes how she is inferior to Obsidian due to her illiteracy and how easily he may or may not take the ability for granted. The scale of the complaint seems arbitrary, but one more issue is enough to nearly set her over the edge. Her gun has the same killing power of a determined Android like Roy before his father & creator. The text places the smoking gun in the hands of a mentally polarizing character and seems to ask the reader whether or not he or she empathizes with her.  Butler seems to be forcing the reader into deciding whether or not one cares if Rye hurts herself, or someone else, or both.  Separately, Butler establishes a hyper-focalization on Rye and Rye’s thoughts, whereas Dick spreads some of the world-building into the thought-experiments and androids themselves. Not to hammer the nail too much, but an emotionally numb and unpredictable narrator has the qualities of an insensitive android, but reads as more real and possible. So although the decision remains on how one values the needs of a troubled human vs. a programmed android, the reader response effect develops similarly from a close narration of the darkest of emotional lows.

Interpreting and/or Being the Other

“The pendant attached to it was smooth, glassy, black rock. Obsidian. His name might be Rock or Peter or Black, but she decided to think of him as Obsidian. 

[…]

“Now she wore it, thinking it was as close as she was likely to come to Rye. People like Obsidian who had not known her before probably thought of her as Wheat. Not that it mattered. She would never hear her name spoken again.” (Butler 97). 

This encounter between Rye and Obsidian represents the inability to convey individuality in a world lacking speech and communication, as the act of providing one’s name is traditionally a way for humans to assert their individuality. However, names, thoughts, and interiority in general must be conveyed through symbols, which creates the need for a narrator who bears the duty of interpretation. In this case of naming we see that Rye is provided with a very liberal amount of space to interpret others, using her own creativity and predispositions to project identities and ideas upon others. This effect emphasizes the fact that the reader is completely reliant upon a first-person, familiar, and creative narrator as we cling to Rye’s perspective in order to understand this world. The imperative to interpret is similar to Deckard’s role in discerning humanity within androids, but it is different insofar as Deckard’s own sense of humanity, his interiority, and his own unique tools of interpretation are totally dispensable in DADoES, considering the replacement of communication with incredibly invasive technology. (What is more, we know that these things are dispensable because any sense of Deckard’s interiority is excluded from Blade Runner.) Even though both DADoES and “Speech Sounds” place a heavy importance on representing and interpreting the interior through exterior symbols, the different narrative situations make the reader depend on Rye’s interiority and familiarity to ourselves–as opposed to our suspicion that Deckard may even be an android.

The Foreward Advancement of Forward Advancement

For lack of materials, due to the circumstance of being stuck on a train, I’ll try my best to summarize my specific points. The first point of “Speech Sounds,” the moment in which Rye is attempting to catch a bus to Pasadena, in which she mentions that the driver of the bus only runs a completely autonomous business out of his bus to feed him family. That moment in stark contrast to the moment that Deckard takes his hover car over to the Rosen association, seems to be suggesting the fact that without human communication, there can be no technological forward advancement. Even the disconnected and overly controlled, by mood organ, social interactions within Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? serve as enough communication to promote technological advancement within that world. I think Butler is suggesting that what was most important and what was taken away was people ability to communicate which is in turn their ability to cooperate and coexist. Therefore they could not advance.

Singular Hopeful Incidents

“‘I’m Valrie Rye’ she said, savoring the words. ‘It’s all right for you to talk to me'” (Butler 108).

The last line of “Speech Sounds” and the ending of Bladerunner (1982) are quite similar in their hope for an optimistic future. Rye met two children who can speak and so can she which creates the feeling that things will get better (at least for her). In Bladerunner, Roy’s character is able to relay his message Deckard which suggests Roy was able to at least change one mind (hopefully) about the treatment of androids. They are both singular incidents that look towards an optimistic future. The only catch is that the person whose influenced in the end is left with an undetermined future that hinders on what they will do with new found information.

Ineffective Weapons

In comparing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and “Speech Sounds,” I was interested in how the human characters respond to “otherness” as based on what is considered natural, as opposed to what is supernatural. In “Speech Sounds” we know that the illness affects all people, albeit in different ways, and the result of the ensuing “impairments” is a system of judgement and jealousy. This seems comparable to J.R. Isadore’s view of the world in Androids where he is impaired by the environment and is more interested in his relationship to other humans than he is concerned with the androids he encounters. It seems that the effect of “natural” borne illnesses and reactions creates the larger schism between humans than the presence of superhuman or supernatural enemies (ie. the androids). Perhaps this is related to control: unlike the androids, one cannot terminate an illness with a laser.

Visuals Create Tension

In the film, Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scottthe scene where Rick Deckard first meets Rachael Rosen (16:57) is one the of the few scenes taken directly from the book. Set design plays a key role in this film, the stark contrast between Dr. Eldon Tyrell’s opulent pyramid-like home with the gritty city showcases the extreme difference in class in Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  However, Scott’s use of the two-shot creates more of a tension in the film between Rachael and Rick than Dick creates with words. The fast cuts back and forth create a sense that Rachael is completely sure of herself staring Deckard down and having a response to each question, all the while acting very stiff and robotic. A cigarette cloud forms in front of her face (20:37) which creates the sense that Rachael is beginning to doubt herself and needs to hide her reaction from Deckard. Also, the use of an interposed dissolve into an establishing long shot (20:41) accompanied by Deckard and Rachael’s echoing voices creates a feeling of a long passage of time whereas in contrast to the novel which seems to move at a much faster pace during this point of the story. The visuals allow the audience to see how an android would supposedly act in such a setting when with words there can be several interpretations depending on the reader.

Do Androids Dream of Harrison Ford?

It’s very difficult for me to pick a specific scene from the film because to be completely honest, I was pretty disappointed with it. As much as I would like to say it was a good film, I do not see it as an accurate adaptation of the novel. So much of the original content of the novel had been stripped down, perhaps for the sake of production costs and the time it was filmed in, but there was just too much missing. From the very beginning, there is a complete re-imagination of what I thought was quintessential to the story. Rick Deckard is not the down-on-his-luck cop depicted in early pulps, but he is more of a suave, grizzled freelancer. Harrison Ford would not have been my first choice to play Rick Deckard, as he just appears to be too much of the “action hero” arch type that I never imagined Deckard as while reading the novel. He has no wife and no electric sheep (it’s in the title of the novel, come on Ridley). This lack of authentic novel content continues throughout the film, where I believe it affects some of the themes that Dick was trying to draw upon, such as the relationship between man and the natural world with the absence of animals in the film, along with the role of the androids in this world. In the film, they are not trying to avoid capture, they instead want to discover their life span and whether or not it can be altered. In my opinion, it is just too much of a deviation to be considered as a retelling of the novel.

Deckard’s Moral Questioning

1:27:45 – Deckard being apprehended by another policeman just after being told to go to The Bradbury.

Police: “This sector is closed to ground traffic. What are you doing here?”
Deckard: “I’m working, what are you doing?”
P: “Arresting you.”
D: “I’m Blade Runner…I’m filed and monitored.”
P: …”Okay, checked and cleared.”

This scene caught me a little off-guard as I was fully expecting something akin to when Deckard is apprehended by Officer Crams in Do Androids Dream in chapter 9. Though in different contexts, this scene in the film could have been a gateway to the moment where Deckard is taken to the parallel San Francisco police department run by androids. While this scene in the novel is more or less available to provide a way to introduce Phil Resch into the story (who is not introduced in the movie), it is also important in the development of Deckard’s moral questioning. The scene in the novel encouraged a lot of questioning and speculation regarding the differences between “humans” and androids (especially pertaining to false memories) and set the tone for much of the moral questioning for the rest of the novel. The film focused this issue of morality more onto Rachael’s character than on Deckard’s, which caused a difference in motivation. With this questioning now focused on a love interest, rather than on himself, Deckard’s character doesn’t undergo this questioning that is so embedded into the novel’s design.

Elevation in Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Though I began to analyze particular differences from Dick’s book to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, one quality shared by the book and the film was a somewhat fascination with heights and an aerial perspective. One scene in particular from the film is when Rick is traveling via aircraft to the Tyrell Corporation building within the city itself (about 11-12 minutes in.) Even in the first image of the film (immediately following the logo) is an aerial view of Los Angeles- something that even reminded me of the cover of my copy of We by Zamyatin. In the book, the animals reside on the rooftops- something that didn’t provoke my interest until the aerial shots of the film, and this scene in particular as Rick takes in the sights of the sight along with us. This concept of seeing things from a birds-eye view, both through the images in the film as well as the concept of having the animals above everything else in the novel, elicits a particular capitalization on subjectivity and objectivity, something that I feel is among some of the main dilemmas within this narrative in particular. From this view, is one able to see things as they are, just as when encountering someone and not knowing the truth of their identity? Or perhaps it serves many purposes, all having to do with authenticity, perspective, and awareness.