Slow and Steady Always Wins the Race

“…during the Thaw no form of transport is reliable; so much freight traffic goes with a rush, come summer…It all moves along, however crowded, quite steadily at the rate of 25 miles per hour (Terran). Gethenians could make their vehicles go faster, but they do not. If asked why not, they answer ‘Why?’ Like asking Terrans why all our vehicles must go so fast; we answer ‘Why not?’ No disputing tastes. Terrans tend to feel they’ve got to get ahead, make progress. The people of Winter, who always live in the Year One, feel that progress is less important than presence” (Le Guin 50).

In the fantastic article Le Guin pens, she points out this implied association of the Gethenians’ super slow development of technology with this idea of the “female principle”. The “female principle”, which is synonymous with “the valuing of patience, ripeness, practicality, livableness” (Le Guin 166), means that the Gethenians are showing feminine characteristics by taking their technological advancement slow. They want to practically use the technology they have so far and wait for it to ripen before moving on to something new and possibly better. It is a great juxtaposition then to have Ai Genly comment on this Gethenian reality. We, as citizens of the current society, identify with Ai Genly because he comes from a culture very similar (if not the same) to ours. Genly does not really understand why the Gethenians do not just keep developing better technology at a faster pace. He accepts it but he is not convinced. Intrinsically, we agree with Genly. We ask ourselves, “why don’t they just develop faster?”, but we are a society that is always in a hurry and is caught up in a race for progress. Every year two new Iphone models come out even though people still have not completely discovered the features of the models that came out two years ago. Why do we not take the time to appreciate and properly use our technology before we throw it away for the newer and possibly (or possibly not) better model? This “pushing forward to the limit” (Le Guin 165) is a masculine quality that Terra seems to also have. Since the Gethenians are not plagued by this masculine principle but adhere to the feminine principle, they see the value in holding on to their technology until it is exhausted, which is exactly what they do.

 

Starring Greta as Comic Relief to Soldiers Across Time and Space (and even out of it!)

“‘Because we get cold feet sometimes.  At least I do.  Got Mittens, as I say.’ A sickly light dawned in his Prussian puss.  He muttered, ‘Got mittens… Gott mit uns... God with us,’ and roared softly, ‘Greta, I don’t know how I put up with you, the way you murder a great language for cheap laughs.’  ‘You’ve got to take me as I am,’ I told him, ‘mittens and all, thank the Bonny Dew–‘ and hastily explained, ‘That’s French–le bon Dieu–the good God–don’t hit me.  I’m not going to tell you any more of my secrets.'” (Leiber 16).

It seems to me that Greta is the only one, aside from Sid, who ever tries to crack jokes.  There is not much else that is remotely funny to me in this story other than Greta and her wise cracks.  This particular wise crack I found really funny because they are all in this impossible situation–a time war–and yet Greta finds a way to poke fun at the idea that they are petty much trapped in that life.  It honeslty would not matter if she got cold feet or not; she is not going anywhere.  Cosmic vacations are not granted anymore and there really is no where to run to, seeing as they are outside time and space, and also technically dead.  “Got Mittens” is a funny phrase that Greta made up by taking something the German soldiers must say a lot.  In a war setting, “Gott mit uns” really matters because they are calling out to God to help them through this situation.  Greta is able to take something so heavy and make it up lifting– she has her mittens so she must be okay.  We also have to keep in mind the fact Greta is a “nurse” or entertainer to these beaten soldiers.  Because of her “job”, she has to be upbeat and make wise cracks.  From this passage, we can tell that not everyone appreciates her humor but at the very least, there is a comfort in the fact that Greta still has some life in her.  She can still crack jokes.

Scifi Genre Signals: Single Men with a Death Wish

Both H.G Well’s The Time Machine and The Man from the Atom by G. Peyton Wertenbaker utilize a specific genre signal—a single man who goes on a faraway dangerous adventure for the sake of science–which I think is very interesting.  Both the Time Traveler and Kirby are undoubedly single men, as there has never been any mention of the Time Traveler having an attachment to anyone in his house or otherwise and Kirby specifically mentions always being “ready for these experiments” (Wertenbaker 64).  Likewise, both of these men are going on really dangerous journeys—the Time Traveler is going to the far future and he has no clue what he is getting himself into.  In fact, the Time Traveler does not even know if the Earth would exist at that point and as the story progresses we see that it was indeed a dangerous journey that he was not prepared for.  Kirby as well jumped on board with the professor’s experiment without much thought—even though the professor explicitly warned him by saying, “’You must realize, of course, that there are a multitude of unknown dangers. I know nothing of the complete effects of the machine.  But my experiments on inanimate objects have seemed satisfactory’” (Wertenbaker 63).  Any sane person would at least hesitate when the professor who built the machine says he does not know all there is to know about said machine yet.  Obviously these men have motivations that guide their actions, most likely for the sake of science, but I see this as a signal of the Science Fiction genre.

Originality: the Inherent Inequality of Man

“She was wearing an old-fashioned dress, short, bright yellow, and had on a black hat and black stockings.  The dress was made of a very thin silk–I could clearly see that the stockings were long and came way above her knees.  And the neck was cut very low, with the shadow between her…

‘Listen,’ I said, ‘it’s clear that you want to show off your originality, but do you really have to..’

‘It’s clear,’ she broke in, ‘that to be original means to distinguish yourself from others.  It follows that to be original is to violate the principle of equality.  And what the ancients called, in their idiotic language, ‘being banal’ is what we call ‘just doing your duty’. Because…'”–(Zamyatin 30).

It is unacceptable to be original in this society because originality–the concept of being unique–is inherently difference and that clashes with the idea of a utopia (or in this case, a dystopia) where people are all meant to be similar and equal.  Of course the idea of equality to the fullest measure is impossible!  There is no natural way of making everyone the same, both physically and mentally.  In this scene, I-303 comes out in this dress which is very different from what everyone is made to wear in this society.  D-503 looks at her and immediately gets angry to the point where he accuses her, “do you really have to…”.

The values that we think important in our society is totally flipped on its head in this dystopia because emotion and difference are made to be non-existent. Most people love their originality but here, the Numbers take pride in the fact that they are the same.  In fact, when D-503 notices any difference, like his monkey hands, he immediately is ashamed because it makes him stand out from the other Numbers. This, in his perspective within the context of this society, is both unacceptable and not to be tolerated.

The Infamous Two-Column Format

The experience of reading The Time Machine out of a magazine was completely different from the experience of reading it out of my Dover Thrift edition.  Right off the bat, I have to contribute this different experience to the format of the story.  In the National Observer version, the story is written in two columns side by side. This format, in my opinion, screams magazine.  I immediately associate the story with that kind of short story that gets published in a magazine and then forgotten forever.  In my mind, a story is crystalized when it is published in a book, but if it is in a magazine, it could easily be forgotten or lost because it is not easily accessible.  The magazine will eventually stop printing that issue that holds the story and thus, there will only be a limited amount of copies of the story in circulation.  While books are not necessarily immune to going out of print, they certainly do not go out of print as fast as a magazine issue and they are hard copies, as in not pieces of paper stabled together.  In book format, it can reach more readers and stay alive.  This feeling of impermanence is triggered by this format of two side-by-side columns.