style/content

Retired superhacker (“console cowboy”) that has fallen deep into depression/drug addiction and culture/unemployment, is located and is fixed on the condition that he complete a job that he is unaware of until much later, and the failure to complete it will result in the release of paralyzing toxins in his body that left his nervous system damaged.

The actions of the characters in the novel, with the (possible) exception of the romance emerging between two characters, are indirectly/directly controlled by one of two AIs—designed by an extremely wealthy family of elites—who use them as pawns in order to facilitate their amalgamation into a singular entity. 

Following lots of high-intensity action scenes, betrayal/drug-use/sex/killing, the two AI’s eventually merge due to the success of the protagonist and the other characters, and the console cowboy returns back to his normal life as a normal hacker and addict. 

I think that when you boil the plot down, which I attempted to do above, you don’t really see the message that Gibson was trying to convey (a push for the acceptance of the natural merging between humans and technology? like his fictional representation of the ideas explored in A Cyborg Manifesto?). His use of hyperdescriptive language and the abruptness in which he introduces high-intensity scenes, for me, was implemented to coincide with the drug-addicted nature of the characters; I kind of felt like I was on drugs when I was reading at certain times (a lot). If I were to compare Gibson to Le Guin I would say that Gibson doesn’t really tell a story or convey a message as explicitly as Le Guin did in The Left Hand of Darkness. I was definitely able to determine Gibson’s views on technology as conveyed through the posthuman/transhuman elements of the book, and enjoyed them especially considering my major is IT and I agree with the argument I think he was making, his style stuck a lot more with me than the message that he may have intended on conveying through the content. On the other hand, the content of The Left Hand of Darkness stuck with me a lot more than her style, although  it was definitely written very beautifully. When I was reading Neuromancer I found myself paying a lot more attention to the unfolding of events (trying not to miss any vital information/figure out what the heck is going on), but when reading the The Left Hand of Darkness I paid a lot of attention to the growth of Genly and the relationship he develops with Estraven.

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.

Blogging prompt: Gibson and the plot (group 1)

A hard exercise for group 1 bloggers: summarize the plot of Neuromancer in three sentences or less. Now reflect, in a brief paragraph, on the significance of the plot, thinking particularly about the relationship between plot and the other kind of plot (conspiracy). What kinds of things get left out, when you boil down the story? What kind of plotter is Gibson, by comparison with other novelists we’ve read (for example, Le Guin)?

I can’t stop you from referring to the plot summary you’ll find on Wikipedia, but if you do so, I expect you to comment interpretively on that document as well as give your own much more concise summary. It is very characteristic of Wikipedia that the summary is very long—nine paragraphs!

Illness and Interconnectedness within Speech Sounds

“When the driver hit the brakes, she was ready and the combatants were not. They fell onto seats and onto screaming passengers, creating even more confusion.” Pg. 90
This moment in Speech Sounds represents the complex relationship between all individuals within the text. The etymology of confusion according to the OED, is the Latin confundĕre, which means “to mingle together or mix up”. This definition accurately depicts the broken-down society of Butler’s short story, because though individuals lack the ability to communicate verbally, they are still very much connected as a result of the illness. Each member is brought together through the larger organizing system of sickness and death, and each person’s role within this system can be easily substituted for—which we see at the end when Rye becomes a parent figure to the two children. This organizing system is in some ways similar to Mercerism within Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, in that both offer a way of linking individuals across time and space. Unlike Mercerism, however, individuals are capable of choosing whom to empathize with and when.

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.

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.

Self-Interest, Circumstance, and Effect

Rye glanced at the murderer. To her shame, she thought she could understand some of the passions that must have driven him, whomever he was. Anger, frustration, hopelessness, insane jealousy… how many more of the were there-people willing to destroy what they could not have?

(Butler, 107)

Though both Octavia Butler’s “Speech Sounds” and Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  do utilize the post-disaster world, they figure self-interest within this world differently, thus producing different effects. The way in which self-interest is figured in “Speech Sounds” is best exemplified in the passage above. Though the man murders the woman, he does so in a fit of passion, “Anger, frustration, hopelessness, insane jealousy;” he wishes to perform basic cognitive functions as well (107). As such, self-interest is not a fundamental human characteristic in the text, it is merely circumstantial. This is furthered by Rye’s ability to empathize with the man, “she [being in such a situation when she learns that Obsidian can write] thought she could understand some of the passions that must have driven him” (107). Figuring self-interest like this produces an optimistic effect; humans mean well and as such, have the ability to thrive once more. Conversely, Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? figures self-interest as a fundamental human characteristic; this is best exemplified by Rick Deckard. Regardless of the circumstance, Deckard acts self-interestedly; he hunts down the androids for economic gain; he purchases an animal for social prestige; he coerces Rachel into relations etc. This figuring of self-interest produces a bleak effect; fundamental human self-interest has and will continue to destroy all that it comes into contact with.

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.

Authority and Anarchy

Although we classify Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Speech and Sounds as dystopias, at the very least, Do Androids Dream still has a semblance of control and authority. While the police and bounty hunters have a strong presence in Do Android Dream, and even more so in Blade Runner, police are nearly imaginary in Speech and Sounds. As a policeman or bounty hunter in Do Androids Dream, you have respect and authority. People easily clear a path for you (533), you can live in a high-end apartment as a successful bounty hunter (453), Luba Luft follows Deckard’s instructions (506), people won’t question you if you’ve killed someone because they trust/are intimidated by you, and take custody of someone and have the ability to make sure they are jailed if they catch a murderer (513). The police in Speech and Sounds on the other hand don’t demand this kind of respect and intimidation. Rye points out that Obsidian “decided on his own to keep the LAPD alive” even though “he was sane enough otherwise”. Obsidian is one of the only policemen left and doesn’t have the power to judge and jail someone or even get paid. He doesn’t have the power to go against large groups and his only advantage is a car and a gun. His badge is a pretty decoration and Rye wonders why he doesn’t do something useful like “raising corn, rabbits, and children”. The only reason she obeyed his commands is “mainly out of curiosity” since a policeman is such an anomaly. To her, being a policeman in this dystopian setting is insane, useless, and asking for trouble.

Prompt: Butler (group 2)

On Tuesday we will continue our discussion of Butler. Our main focus will be “Speech Sounds,” but we will also compare the three stories of Butler’s we are reading in light of her personal essay “Positive Obsession.”

In reading “Speech Sounds,” I highly recommend using a mapping site (like Google Maps) to get a sense for the geography of the story. For example, if I have done this right, Rye’s journey begins around the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Virginia Road. Search for other locations mentioned in the text. I’ll invite everyone to talk about city geography in the discussion.

I would like Group 2 bloggers, however, to write comparatively. Think about Philip Dick’s vision of life after World War Terminus (or, if you like, Ridley Scott’s): there are many resonances with the broken-down society envisioned in “Speech Sounds.” Choose a specific moment in “Speech Sounds” to compare to Dick, but rather than comparing the settings or circumstances, compare effects. Does Butler’s use of the post-disaster world allow for the same responses as Dick? Or if not, how does the Butler passage you are choosing indicate what is different.

Write only a paragraph. Group 1 bloggers are welcome to fill in an extra entry (opportunities for this are running out!). Entries are due as usual on Monday at 5 p.m.

Extra: Butler left her papers to the Huntington library in Pasadena. The library has a web page with some material on her, including some images from her notebooks. Especially striking are her self-motivational notes, one of which is reproduced here and worth thinking about as evidence of Butler’s relationship to the field of publishing.

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.

Rick Deckard: Medium man in print, sci-fi badass on screen

In class, the general flatness of Rick Deckard in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was a point of conversation, with the entire class finding it odd that the novel’s apparent protagonist was, for lack of a better word, insipid. The following passage, which was brought up in a previous discussion, captures this point well:

“In the irregular light the bounty hunter seemed a medium man, not impressive. Round face and hairless, smooth features; like a clerk in a bureaucratic office. Methodical but informal. Not demi-god in shape; not at all as Isidore had anticipated him.” (218)

Me too, J.R., me too. But I digress.

The android-hunting hero of Dick’s imagination evokes images of cubicles, 3/4 sleeves, and paperwork, not Harrison Ford’s chiseled jaw. Dick’s hero is trapped in a loveless marriage, not a freewheeling bachelor who walks shirtless around his apartment. Perhaps most stark in comparison to the film, Dick’s hero does not waltz into an exotic dancer’s dressing room only to find himself in a hot pursuit that ends in a public shooting and a copious amount of broken glass. In fact, in print, he winds up in handcuffs for being a creepy “sexual deviant,” a charge I find hard to believe would be pressed against Ford. Ultimately, he does not even retire the android himself. On the whole, Dick’s Deckard probably would not sell tickets or popcorn.

The scene in question creates several conflicts with the novel. While there are plenty of instances where Ford is less than heroic, such as when Leon nearly kills him and he has to be rescued by (gasp!) a woman (and an android woman at that), the sensationalizing of Deckard’s investigation of Zhora and his overall persona in the film distracts from one of the novel’s central messages. Deckard’s protagonist status is complicated, and his moon-faced appearance is intentional. The work he does is not heroic or exciting despite the laser tubes and fugitive androids; it is just a job with questionable ethics. The retiring of Luba Luft, more sympathetic as opera singer in the novel, at the hands of Phil Resch is an important turning point for Deckard, who is forced to recognize his appreciation of an android and rethink his world’s concept of empathy entirely. The film’s making of Deckard into a  hard-boiled, lone wolf beefcake is a distraction from Dick’s goal to challenge social perceptions of good and evil because it removes the possibility that Deckard is, perhaps, the immoral one.

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.

Photographs versus Visual Art

In order to articulate the problem of differentiating humans from androids, Blade Runner employs photographs to stand in for the memories that are implanted into the latest model of replicas. Photographs work well as a filmic device to represent memory, as they are meant to accurately portray an interior identity in an exterior and collective manner. However, considering that this film is filled with doctored photos, they are also an attempt to show the trouble of representing interior states and, in turn, the difficulty of retaining one’s interiority as a subject–whether human or android. For instance, Deckard is able to access Raechel’s interiority because her memories are actually just implanted ones from Tyrell’s human niece. He recites her own incredibly private memories, which reminds us that not only is Rachael denied a private self, but so was Tyrell’s niece, as her interiority is corporate property, liable to being implanted into androids (32:37). Thus, by using a motif as alterable and inconsistent as doctored photographs to stand in for memory, the film represents a very flimsy and easily compromised view of interiority and selfhood for both humans and androids.

Aside from forwarding a particular argument in the film itself, this device emphasizes a theme in Dick’s novel that I did not previously think too much about: visual art. Munch’s paintings, like Rachael’s doctored photographs, are another version of the attempt to represent interior states externally. (In fact, one could go ahead and define all art in this way.) Indeed, the comparison between photographs as memory and Luba Luft’s inexplicable attraction to Munch’s painting “Puberty,” one could conclude that Luba is drawn to the painting because it represents a memory that she was not granted, but one that she desires and identifies with nonetheless. Thus, the similar treatment of art and photographs begs the question of whether there is much to differentiate between the collective, shared experience of art and the highly individualized, singular experience of looking at family photographs when determining what makes someone “human” or what gives them an identity.

Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

Though the context of the conversation between Luba Luft and Deckerd in the dressing room scene of the movie is vastly different from that of the book, the tone of the scene seemed to be similar. In both instances, Luba is incredibly skeptical of Deckerd and doesn’t really seem to want to be bothered with anything that he is saying to her. Though in the book Deckerd comes right out in the open about his intentions with the Voigt-Kampff test and believing she is an android, Deckerd in the movie assumes an alias in order to get her alone. Though in the book Luba calls the police on Deckerd, not believing his word at being a member of the San Fransisco Police department, and Luba in the move attacks him and runs away, both versions of the scene involve her being completely untrusting of Deckerd and his intentions towards her.

Android or human?

In any given science fiction story, the roles of certain people are often clearly outlined. So it seems as well in Do Androids Dream: Rick is a human who kills androids. However, the novel often subverts what characters could be androids at any given time. For instance, in the beginning of the novel, Rick administers the Voigt-Kampff test to Rachel Rosen. It seems like they’re doing it because Rachel is a control: she is human, and if the test fails and says she’s an android then the characters know the Voigt-Kampff is outdated. Rachel does in fact fail the Voigt-Kampff test, but in the beginning this is written off as Rachel having a defect in her empathy (but she is still human). But later on, we learn that Rachel is undoubtably an android. Similarly, Phil Resch constantly wonders if he is an android, but once the test is administered to him he can rest easily. The slipperiness of “human” or “android” in the world of Do Androids Dream is a common occurrence, to the point that the “goodness” of Rick (the extent he could be known as a protagonist or a “good guy” fighting against the andies) is called into question multiple times even by himself, especially when he’s wondering if the “andies” he’s retired were actually human. This slipperiness really inserts me into this world, because I have no idea who’s an android and who isn’t. When even Rick Deckard is arrested for possibly being an andy, no one is safe.