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Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

Why YA books are different

I have read The House of the Scorpion before, so it was interesting to re-read from a more ‘classroom’ perspective. One of the things that stood out most to me, after having read so many other sci-fi novels this semester, is how much differently young adult novels tend to be constructed.

Don’t get me wrong; I adore the book. But everything in it seems to be leading up to the revelation of why Matt was created. It isn’t simply the fact that people treat clones differently. When Rosa treats Matt like a ‘chicken,’ keeping him in sawdust, it seems to be not only because he isn’t a “real human” but also because he is a copy of el patron, who all of the workers hate. When Tom takes Maria and Matt to see MacGregor’s clone, Maria freaks out not only because of how horrifying the brain-altered clone is, but also because she is reminded of what is going to happen to Matt; this is why she refuses to look at him.

In actuality, these are very nuanced things, and Farmer does a fabulous job of working the story together and making it feel real. All the same, the story is far simpler. The characters are not flat, and many of them (like Rosa and Wilum) have their own story lines that Matt observes without understanding. But the world isn’t as complex as the world of a story like Lilith’s Brood. Although Farmer created a world to tell her story, she isn’t so much telling the story of that world as she is just telling Matt’s story. A book for a young adult audience has to be less complicated, and more straightforward. It can have complexities and intrigues, and characters who are far more than black and white, but it starts at A and ends at B. It is carefully picked over and edited. We see Matt’s world through blinders; we are only given the details that we need to build up to the revelation of his life and its purpose.

That’s not to say that more grown-up books cannot be refined or pared down to their most essential details, but most of the other science fiction that we have read this semester seems to have a lot of emphasis and detail built upon the world surrounding the characters. Books like Neuromancer and Blindsight are incredibly complex and worlds of meaning and rest on a single sentence. The House of the Scorpion is written for an audience that could easily miss such levels of intricacy. It is more focused on the plot, where everything builds into itself instead of branching out and out to build an entire world.

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Blindsight 298-301

SHW HIM, the captain says. A lesson that cuts through years of living, cuts through genetic programming… but Siri isn’t fully human. No one here is. It is something he should be able to understand.

He stands in my chambers and watches the scramblers on the screen.

“Is this an execution? Is this a, a mercy killing?” he asks. I smile.

“No.” This is enjoyable. Inside I am trembling. My muscles long for use, to hunt, to fulfill their design.

“What, then?” Siri asks, and I point him back to the screen. When he turns, I slide a blade into his hand. Stupid to have not expected it. But I knew he would not. CNTRL URSELF, the captain says before, but it is not hard. Blood… the smell of it floods my senses, but I am not hungry, and something far more important is happening here. Siri is screaming. He pulls away and the knife splits his hand in two.

He flees me, into the hallway. There is no logic here. I can see his eyes wide, the tremors of his body; this is fear, and adrenaline. Nothing else. I am torn: wanting this to last, but needing Siri to learn. To wake up.

“Do you see the problem?” I ask, walking to him. “Conscious of pain, you’re distracted by pain. You’re fixated on it.” He does not understand. I can see he does not understand. I do not think he is even listening, not really. He is still overwhelmed by the threat of me. Droplets of blood float through the air, almost serenely. “Obsessed by the one threat, you miss the other… So much more aware, so much less perceptive. An automaton could do better. They could do better.”

He is trying to run, flailing. I raise my hands and he kicks out, hits his head, and scurries down a hatch. Blind fear: the prey response. He is not thinking. What difference will it make? He has forgotten that he cannot outrun me. Vampire and man. Cat and mouse. Wounded mouse.

James and Bates are yelling, protesting what I am doing. They are not important right now. They will only get in the way. This is Siri, and me. I knock Bates aside easily and follow Siri, grab his throat with my hand. He has to start thinking.

“Are you in there, Keeton?” I ask. His blood splatters across my face and I can feel my mouth salivating. “Are you listening? Can you see?

And then I have either won or I have lost him. His eyes go blank in fear or recognition. He stops fighting, he stops running. I can only hope he starts listening. I do what I can. Siri has time to think—whatever time Rorschach gives us. As for the others, they do not matter. They die.

We all die.


I chose this scene because there was a lot of discussion before in the book about how afraid everyone was of Sarasti, and I thought it was interesting to see him ‘snap’ and act more like a predator. Also, the scene was so vividly different from Siri’s point of view than from Sarasti’s, since not only was Sarasti not trying to kill him, but also at the time nobody knew that Sarasti was under the control of Theseus. The action of the story all boils down to the realization that consciousness and intelligence are different things—that the scramblers work just as well when they are in pain. In many ways this scene is the climax of the book. In order to rewrite it, I kept all of the dialogue the same, but cut out what James and Bates said, since I thought Sarasti would be unconcerned with it, although still aware and processing. I tried to make him speak ‘outside’ of time, cutting out past tense. I didn’t want to make him seem emotional, but since he is a predator I thought he would be excited during the scene; in fact, in the book, he is smiling for most of it. The scene is somewhat hectic from Siri’s point of view, since he is panicking. I wanted it to be slower from Sarasti’s viewpoint, not only because he was in control but also because he operates so much more quickly than the other characters.

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Why Vampires?

I was surprised to find vampires in Blindsight. Watt’s writing is so scientific that there doesn’t seem to be room for human myths and old impossible fears. When I first started reading, I kept thinking that vampire had to be a term, or a creation, not that Watts was saying Vampires had actually once existed.

True, Watts provides explanations for the vampires. He tries to take out the myth and to make them scientific. But even with the ‘fantasy’ removed, vampires still give Blindsight a sense of the impossible. Many elements, from Heaven to Chelsea’s way of slightly changing personalities, are believable if not distant. They are rooted in the idea that science could take us to strange new places. But where science is used to explain and to bring back the vampires, the book still assumes that they ever existed to begin with.

Why would Watts do this? Couldn’t Sarasti’s character have been filled by someone else? His inhuman traits—the intelligence, the speed, all the things that made him a good leader—could have been explained by all of the genetic alterations other characters experienced. After all, having changing characters like the Gang or having the main character unable to emotionally connect to others would be no stranger than having a human with far increased mental capacities.

At first, I thought Watts used Sarasti because of the predator prey relationship that was established. The fact that he is a “monster” is one of the most dominant aspects of his personality. After Sarasti splits Siri’s hand, Siri even says “outside that shell was another, ruled by a monster” in reference to Sarasti (308). But does even that role have to be played by a predator? Couldn’t a human be just as vicious and just as frightening? There might not be instinct behind a brute, but plenty of people are not bothered by violence. In fact, a character who had lost the ability to empathize in a different way from Siri—someone who biologically could not be averse to causing pain, or who perhaps even enjoyed it—would have been as if not more terrifying.

On 353, after Siri asks whether Sarasti was Theseus all along, the ship says through Sarasti “U DISLIKE ORDRS FRM MCHNES. HAPPIER THS WAY.” If Sarasti’s character was following orders from the ship all along, his identity as a vampire seems even less necessary. Sure, the other characters could pin his decision making down to the difference in his brain, but in the end those differences of brain are barely even important when he is not making the decisions.

I’m not saying that I don’t understand the difference it makes to his character, or even that I disliked it; in fact, Sarasti was one of my favorite characters. But it seems like a high trade off in suspension of disbelief. A vampire is a much harder sell to make.

I think vampires could have been included for exactly that reason. Yes, they take away from the ‘hard science;’ yes, they add an element of the fantastical. But what story doesn’t benefit from a sense of wonder? There is a certain feeling added to the story by vampires, which are such an old human fear. It allows the world to seem bigger. In Blindsight, we don’t just have a distant future; we have an impossible past as well. The world isn’t simply expanding out into space, it’s broadening its own history, too: saying we still have things unsolved on Earth. We still have questions that we haven’t answered.

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

To my unborn son

It is difficult for me to say these things. I won’t lie, because one day you would know if I had. I wish that you were human. I wish that your only other parent was Joseph. But these decisions were not ones that I could make, and I will love you just as much all the same.

There is still much of humanity in you. I don’t know how much, but it will always be a part of you. Just as you will be unable to escape your Oankali genes, you will be unable to deny your human ones. Treasure them. There are few enough of us left, and I want you to continue our legacy, to remember your ancestors and the world that they came from, different as it is from the one I will bring you into. Honor that, and remember it.

The Oankali have much to teach you, too, and you will be very like them. Learn to accept differences. This is something that I suspect you will be good at, with the genes that you have; better than any human could be. It is a gift. Our worlds cannot be kept apart anymore. You, my son, will be proof of that. You are different, the first of your kind—a male construct, born to me, born to a human. You will be resented for not being entirely human, and you will be hated for being male when others have not had male children. But always remember that you are more than an experiment. You are my son. You are Joseph’s son, and Dichaan’s, and Ahajas’. Nikanj’s son, as well.

No matter what others, humans, may say to you or think about you, remember that their opinions do not matter. Never let hatred and judgment cloud you.  It has been a part of my life, but I am human. And you are not. In the face of this unavoidable fact, I want only the best for you. If you can be better than what I was made to be, then do. Go. Shine. Be the best that you can. Be loving and caring, be understanding and innovative, be empathetic and wise. And know that no matter what feelings might conflict me, no matter what resentments and fear might hold me back, I do love you. You are my son and you will always be my son.

I wish that you could meet your father—Joseph. He was a kind man, and although he was thoroughly human and would have wished to preserve humanity, I know, too, that he would be proud of you, no matter what you become, or who you become. I know that he will always be with you, as will I.


With love, your mother.

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

Pets, slaves… they’re all human

In Lilith’s Brood, there is a large divide between how much freedom the humans have and how much free will they can actually exert. They are treated like slaves or pets, although the Oankali let them believe that they still have choices.

Often this is expressed through the Oankali anticipating human actions, and allowing them to happen. “’We won’t try to stop it,’” Nikanj says, when a group tries to escape the training room. “’Let them row their boats to the walls and back’” (200).  This allows the humans to remain ‘unbroken,’ and also keeps them from rebelling more intensely against the Oankali rule. If they believe they still have some freedoms, they may be satisfied temporarily; animals backed into a corner are generally considered to be more dangerous. Humans are no different.

Still, when it suits them the Oankali make no pretense of giving their captives freedoms. Human will is often overridden, sometimes shockingly so. When Lilith begs Nikanj to make Joseph stronger, Joseph says “I don’t know. Maybe I don’t want you to change me” (158). Despite this lack of consent, Nikanj then proceeds to drug and genetically alter him. Even worse, Nikanj then invites Lilith to join them on the bed, without Joseph having been so much as asked for his consent. Given that he had recently been struggling to so much as touch Nikanj for the first time, this is an incredible broach of comfort and trust.

Honestly, I’m surprised that it took Joseph so long to turn against the Oankali and leave the training camp, regardless of his relationship with Lilith. He had been extremely abused. One only has to remember that Nikanj gave him no choice in a second ‘mating,’ either: “He struggled violently for several seconds, then stopped. ‘Why are you doing this?’ he demanded” (189). There was clearly no consent, but to Nikanj, the fact that Joseph would enjoy it was reason enough to continue. This was one of the things that made humans seem almost like pets rather than slaves: the Oankali seem to want the best for them; they want them to live and be happy. But they want to choose what that means. They have put themselves in a position of superiority over the human characters, meaning that they are able to overrule all desires, fears, and wants. I was almost surprised that the humans didn’t have to be drugged for longer than they were. Any illusions of freedom they had were either gestures of kindness from their keepers, or simply that: illusions.

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Pet preference

Page 29 contains very significant color symbolism. The difference between the red lights of the secret facility and the cool outdoor setting makes the facility seem womb-like. WE3 are being born from this place; they have been recreated and built. They leave the facility with different minds and bodies than when they first entered it. We can see this clearly when Bandit finds out his name, or when he discovers that the suits are ‘coats’ and not skin.

It seems ironic that the womb would be considered someplace safe, since had they stayed the animals would have been decommissioned. However, perhaps this is reminiscent instead of birth: they have come to a point where they must leave and find their own way in the world—be born again into the ‘regular’ animals adopted at the end by the man.


The dialogue on this page raises issues for me. There is a lot of stress throughout the story on the animals being pets. The truck which brings them back from their mission says “pet supplies,” and all three animals have missing posters from their owners.

The main speaker on 29 says “I don’t hate animals./ I have two dogs of my own…” as if owning pets means one cares about animals. What about animals not generally domesticated? Would he care for them? His statement makes me think of the old argument: “I’m not racist/sexist/etc.! I have friends who are insert minority here!” It isn’t that he shouldn’t place human lives above animals. In fact, I can see how replacing human soldiers could seem like a moral thing to do. It’s the fact that he- or even, the whole book- seems to value animals as pets, as companions; that they are valuable only in their relationship to humans.

“I want animals bred for the job,” he says in the next panel. What difference would this make? Using lost pets hurts the owners, but what about using strays, or shelter animals? The implication to me is that animals with the potential to be pets deserve our emotional investment, whereas others do not. The truth is, however, that either animal would have as complex emotions, desires, and fears as the other. Their ability or experience interacting with humans seems irrelevant to their worth, but in WE3, it very nearly defines it.

Think about “GUD DOG” after saving a man on 66, and “bad dog” after killing a man on 73. I understand the important role this plays to the graphic novel: it shows us a compassionate and emotional side to 1, and shows that he is not a character who would be inclined to murder or killing; that he desires, instead, companionship, and is capable of feeling guilt.

But then think about this: we are made to feel that he must be okay, because he wants to be friends with people. What about animals who don’t? What if he didn’t? Would his life be any less worthwhile, or the experiments any less disturbing, if the animals chosen were ones who hadn’t shared their lives with humans?

Thursday, September 29th, 2011


One of the challenges for me in reading Neuromancer is in trying to understand the culture that the characters are living in. Although it’s vividly portrayed, because Gibson doesn’t spend too much time explaining what things are (and because, although I enjoy science fiction, I’m not really that ‘technologically minded’) I have a hard time placing the characters and getting a grip on their world.

Something that has really stuck out to me is how drug-oriented Chase and the entire culture seems to be—in fact, the second sentence of the whole book is about drugs, and addiction. Drugs have been present through most all of human history, but they seem extremely prevalent in Neuromancer.

Of course, Chase can’t, by this point, use most of the drugs that he’s used to; he can’t even receive the effects of what he is given to prevent SAS. But there are two notable ‘drugs’ that he makes use of in 7-12. Apart from all of his cigarettes, he uses Betaphenethylamine twice. To me it says a lot about his character that he is willing to do this before a formal dinner with Armitage; though he says he hadn’t been expecting side effects it was irresponsible and unprofessional to not look into possible side effects, especially when he was worried that Armitage could be a dangerous man (or… AI.). When he says on page 129 “I’m a drug addict, Cath,” it’s apparently true.

More interesting, though, was when he seemed to refer to his cowboy work as a drug. When Molly asks why Case isn’t particularly interested in AIs, he responds:

“’I dunno, it just isn’t part of the trip.’

‘Jockeys all the same,’ she said. ‘No imagination’” (91).

Removed from the context, my only possible conclusion would have been that he was discussing a drug. This fits in with how Case was acting in the beginning of the book, before Armitage got him medical service; he was certainly itching for something.

Is jacking in actually like a drug to him, or is it just an addiction, a part of himself that he can’t deny? We saw how poorly Chase was making it before he regained his ability to jack in, but what was he like before that? Could he not function so well without jacking in because he physically needed to, or did he just let himself slump because he was depressed about not being able to do something that he loved?

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

Secret Monsters

(Sorry this is long… as it was I couldn’t fit everything in! Too much evidence!)

When I first finished the story I thought the humans had discovered all of the monsters… but then, I re-read the last page. “Beyond the stars is the answer,” McReady says , “From a hotter planet that circled a brighter, bluer sun they came…

“Because They came from another sun, a star beyond the stars. They came from a world with a bluer sun” (33).

How could McReady possibly know where the monster came from? The characters had wondered whether it was from our own solar system, maybe from Mars. They had since learned that Blair’s habitat was 120˚, which doesn’t necessarily indicate a hotter sun, or a bluer one. I went back to the beginning of the story and tried to find evidence that would point to who- or rather what- McReady was.

McReady was one of the characters who, like Blair, had dreams of the creature. The characters who didn’t have the dreams, like Barclay and Copper, turned out to be human… though, admittedly, Norris says he’s had the dreams too.

McReady makes very informed statements.  On page 33 he says the ship landed on “sheer accident.” When Kinner is wondering whether or not he’d know if he were a monster, McReady just says “You’d know” (22).

On page 24, McReady says “it doesn’t fight. I don’t think it ever fights. It must be a peaceable thing, in it’s own—inimitable—way. It never had to, because it always gained its end – otherwise.” At this point, the monster had already fought the dogs. It seems to me that a human in McReady’s position wouldn’t conclude it was a peaceful creature. On page 32, he tells Barclay “it had other things to think about.” He talks as though he as insight to the creature’s feelings, and says things like “It cannot animate a dead body… it is just waiting—waiting until the best opportunities come.” (22).

It seemed likely to me that McReady’s fear could have been the monster’s fear, worried about being killed and trying to get past the humans. After all, it’s a life-or-death situation for the monster, too. Imitation is its form of defense. McReady feels fear when Copper starts crying after conducting a test; Garry has been found out. If it’s all one creature, Garry being found out is McReady being found out, too.

McReady never says anything about the creatures being from hell, and he pauses before using the word ‘monsters’ on page 19.

McReady passes the blood-test, but since he was the one conducting it, perhaps he found some way of getting around it.

This is getting too long, but I found a number of other little details, none of which prove anything, but all of which further the possibility. Garry chose McReady to take over, and Garry was a ‘monster.’ McReady almost ‘forgot’ about Blair, and had Blair had just a little longer he would have gotten away. On page 24 after he sees horror and fear in Clark’s eyes, he “knew at the same instant it was in his own,” but it doesn’t say he actually felt horrified. It could have been imitation.

I suggest re-reading the story with the assumption that McReady is a monster almost the entire time; even if it might not be true, it certainly made for an interesting read.

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Who’s the villain?

When Frankenstein dies, he says that his creation:

“Shewed unparalleled malignity and selfishness, in evil: he destroyed my friends; he devoted to destruction beings who possessed exquisite sensations, happiness, and wisdom” (239).

But didn’t the creature posses ‘exquisite sensations’ and wisdom as well? In two years of self-education he was able to master eloquent speech and learn to read. He possessed a full range of emotions, as well as empathy; when he first tells his story to Frankenstein the creature says that his emotions fluctuated based on the conditions of the cottage-dwellers he was watching.

If these offenses are enough to condemn the monster, they must be enough to condemn Frankenstein as well, who created the creature only to abandon him. As a creator, he should have the same responsibilities as a parent, and yet Frankenstein ignored the creature’s education, upbringing, and emotions. Even before the creature had thought to kill, Frankenstein abandoned him. Yes, he was initially afraid, but he never afterwards attempted to find the creature—not until Frankenstein was trying to kill him.

Frankenstein’s evils go far beyond his treatment of the creature. He allowed a girl he knew to be innocent to be executed in place of his creation. He let Justine take the blame for a ‘murderer’ he crafted simply because he thought he would be perceived as mad. He didn’t so much as explain the monster to Clerval or Elizabeth, but let his family try endlessly to assuage his misery, only to have them die with no idea of what strange beast was killing them or why.

Now add to this that Frankenstein refused to create a second monster (which would have saved many lives) because it would ‘be wrong.’ But how can he use morality to justify this, after already proving himself to be immoral? When he says that his “duties towards my fellow creatures had greater claims to my attention” what could be possibly mean (238)? Did he have no duty to Justine? Or what about to Elizabeth, who he married and placed in danger without so much as telling her that there was a creature intent on killing him and his friends?

After all this, when Frankenstein dies the ‘monster’ visits his body and says:

“Oh, Frankenstein! Generous and self-devoted being! What does it avail that I now ask thee to pardon me? I, who irretrievably destroyed thee by destroying all though lovedst” (240).

Frankenstein and the creature have both harmed each other unto the point of death, but the creature is the only one who feels remorse. Frankenstein may have been telling the story, but he is far more the villain than the hero.

Monday, September 5th, 2011

Nature vs. Fantasy

In Frankenstein, the impossibilities of fantasy are overshadowed by the power and reality of science. By its publication in 1818, electric batteries, steamboats, and locomotives were all recent developments. Dalton had just published his atomic theory, and the first asteroids had been discovered. Science was growing to replace fantasy with evidenced rational, but it was the beginning of a long process.


Frankenstein even begins his life with a less realistic worldview, reading authors like Agrippa and Albertus Magnus. Once at Ingolstadt, he is “required to exchange chimeras of boundless grandeur for realities of little worth” (75). The fantasies he had dreamed of eternal youth and power seemed impossible put next to the realities of his modern world. The magic and mystery of the unknown were more exciting to him than the limits of their modern science.


This all changes for Frankenstein with M. Waldman’s speech at the end of chapter two: no, science has not yet achieved the impossibility of our fantasies, but they have still, Waldman says, “preformed miracles” (76). From this point forwards in the first section, the natural world and sciences are the most powerful forces. Not only is Frankenstein able to bestow life upon his creation; his own life is governed by natural forces around him. He is revived from his fear at returning home by mountains and lakes of Lausanne, the “calm and heavenly scene” (101). There is power in the natural world.


It is a power that science seeks to harness. When, hearing that the murderer of his brother had been captured, Frankenstein (thinking of his creation) exclaims “You might as well try to overtake the winds, or confine a mountain-stream with a straw” (105). For me, this moment works as the birth of science fiction: the abilities of fantasy are no more impressive than those of science, and what we cannot achieve ‘naturally,’ we may still have the possibility to achieve.