Tuesday, April 14, 2009

For me, Michele Duval represents the most alienated of the first 100. This French semiotician is homesick as he is the only of the first settlers to arrive in Mars precisely because he anticipates the emotional and psychological adjustments necessary for the transition. Also, Duval who participates out of a sense of intellectual responsibility that clearly conflicts with his personal motives. In Duval's mind, he arrives on Mars to "ameliorate the potential social and psychological dysfunction created through the election process" (White 579). Duval's attempt to classify the first 100 according to "stucturalist alchemy" of humours seems to be an oversimplified attempt to explain the realities of [trans]globalization that seems to be the underlying theme in Red Mars (Robinson 391).

It is in this context that we see Frank Chalmers wheeling and dealing his way through the politics of Mars. Now that I've completed the novel I can better relate to the Nixon-Kennedy/ Chalmers-Boone comparison, especially when we see how the two men relate to the opposite sex. For Boone, every performance is a heroic one. Even when he is engaged in sexual intercourse he is simultaneously piloting an airplane (294). Way to multitask, Boone.

This is an interesting malthusian turn considering the "draconian birth reduction acts" in the industrialized back on planet Earth coupled by the booming birth rates in the underdeveloped nations of Earth due to the lack of access to reproductive technologies. Population control and the equitable distribution of resources becomes an issue of greater and greater concern as the terraformation process continues. Indeed, the browning of humanity becomes a matter of extraplanetary concern as the following passage reveals:

"And living with the Arabs sharpened his sense of how alien they were too. Oh, they were part of the twenty-first century humanity, no doubt about it; they were sophisticated scientists and technicians, cocooned like everyone else in a protective shell of technology at every moment of their lives, and busy making and watching their own life movies. And yet they prayed three to six times a day, bowing toward Earth when it was the morning or evening star. And the reason their techno-caravans gave them such great and obviouse pleasure was because the caravans were an outward manifestation of this bending of the modern world to their ancient goals."

This bending represents the same concern for Chalmers as it does for Henry Kissinger. Somehow, even in the setting of outerspace, Euro-earthlings cannot seem to conceive of a future in which they are not in charge or piloting the ship, so to speak. Even when Chalmers contemplates the desert-like landscape of Mars, he seems to harbor bit of a resentment towards the Arabs for being more acclimated to the dry, arid environment.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Week 11: Red Mars

Kim Stanley Robinson's "Red Mars" presents a utopian system that seems the most realistic among all the novels assigned. Considering the way Martian colony narratives play in the popular imagination, this is not surprising. Real scientific arguments exist about the possibility of pursuing the goal of space colonization. Indeed, it is not difficult to imagine a future scenario in which humanity may face the ethical dilemma of expanding our presence across outer spheres in the wake of environmental and/or diplomatic catastrophe. Such an outcome would represent such a tremendous failure by the whole of society, it would be understandable that many people would resist a project of that nature.

It is for these reasons that in the opening chapter where Frank Chalmers behaves tacitly critical of John Boone's public address, I am immediately drawn in and want to understand more about Frank, who we soon learn is implicated in Boone's assassination. What's so interesting about what is revealed through how one character serves as the perfect foil for the other one, is how Boone's optimistically, though troublingly hegemonic world view pulls the audience right into a deeper meditation on the purposes of power -- think, manifest destiny. Clearly, the first man on Mars is named after Daniel Boone to invoke this parrallel. What is also clear has to do with the motivations of those (especially those who follow the first 100) are so divergent, yet incredibly commonplace -- duty, romance, power, greed, intellectual curiosity. It's a familiar story that has been defamiliarized in the context of this parodoxically stock setting, though alien landscape.

I will post more in the following hours, days, and week on this subject.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Neuromancer (3rd post)

Because of all the reasons I outlined in my previous Neuromancer posts, I want to add that I'm aware of Kevin Concannon's attempt to juxtapose Gibson's fractal/aural world with Gloria AnzaldĂșa's borderland location. I think Concannon does so out of a distinct world view (or perhaps even, hope) that casts cultural studies, which was predominant in 1998, as a trend that would soon pass. I think this article represents one of the earliest attempts to coopt cultural studies into digital studies because through his summary of Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza (among my personal favorite tomes), Concannon demonstrates a cursory understanding of AnzaldĂșa. And in so doing, he shows that he has not immersed himself in the epistemology of women of color as a more general category. He wants to over-particularize the idea of hybridity and cast it against future oriented thinking. I think Concannon wishes to reassert hegemony by dismissing real life borderlands for a mutually agreed upon aural space.

Thankfully, Donna Haraway comes along with "A Manifesto for Cyborgs" and shows she knows how to play with the boys, thus theoretically outshining Concannon, though still ideologically in his shadow. Mixed metaphors, not withstanding, Haraway is so successful in her linking of cyberspace to "woman of color" epistemology. And in her mapping of a diaspora (digital, perhaps?) she brings cultural studies and digital culture together.

Neuromancer (2nd post)

I thought about it further and here's a good example of one of the staccato Neuromancer passages that drives me up the wall:

"No problem, mon." The Zionite executed a high forward somersault and rummaged through the contents of a zippered mesh bag, coming up with a coil of transparent tubing and something else, something scaled in a sterile bubble pack.
He called it a Texas catheter, and Case didn't like it at all.
He slotted the Chines virus, paused, then drove it home.
"Okay," he said, "we're on. Listen, Maelcrum lit a fresh joint.
"And trun the scrubber up. I don't want that shit tangling with my neurotransmitters. I got a bad hangover as it is."
Mauelcum grinned.
Case jacked byack in.
"Christ on a crutch," the Flatline said, "take a look at this."
The Chinese vurys was unfolding around them. Polychrome, shadow, countless translucent layers shifting and recombinding. Protean, enorous, it towered above them, blotting out the void.
"Big mother," the Flatline sadi.
"I'm gonna check Molly," Case said, tapping the stimstim switch. (Gibson 168)

At this point, I couldn't care less about Molly because I'm sure she's somewhere being a bad-A, sexy cyborg and I'm already distracted by the visuals that I've seen before in some Hollywood blockbuster. When Case catches up next with Molly, she's climbing out of a wreckage with a sex appeal that reminds me of something else I've already seen: The cover of a Blondie album, I'm sure. It's just that I don't think the genre really holds up considering all the images that are out in the popular culture. I'm sure had I been hip enough to have read this book in 1984, this would have blown my mind, but in 2009 it just feels like your run-of-the-mill fanboy lit.

Monday, March 23, 2009


I'll be honest. I did not enjoy reading Neuromancer. And admittedly, the same can be said about Phillip K. Dick's Dr. Bloodmoney. For me, the cyberpunk genre reads with a rhythm that is a bit too staccato. The action happens too rapid fire for my taste. It feels like a comic book, only without the pictures. Much like the music itself. I prefer novels with language that reads much more lyrically. I prefer literature that sounds beautiful to my ear. Call me a belletrist. I'll accept the label.

Conceptually I see what William Gibson is conveying but in 2009, who hasn't? What I mean by this is that it's hard to be blown away by Gibson's admittedly groundbreaking ideas and holographic depictions because, quite frankly, I've seen it all by now. This is only true because of the fact that the images conjured through the cyberpunk genre translate so well into film. In my opinion, it's difficult to be impressed when reading (in not so flowing prose) what I've seen at the movies or on cable for what feels like the thousanth time already. Films that come to mind are The Matrix, Minority Report, and the Rosanna Arquette character from David Soderberg's Crash. Perhaps I've been visually jaded. But maybe a verbal conceptualization of aural spacial arrangements just doesn't come across as sexily as it probably did in the 80s when cyberpunk first burst onto the scene. I will add another post when I wake up in the morning. This is something I want to sleep on and wake up refreshed to. I'll have plenty more to say about the novel in particular.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


The short stories by James Tiptree create dystopic moments in which the norms of sex and gender are called into question. Each of the stories involve characters struggling with identity and a desire for wholeness in the face of larger structural forces beyond their control. I couldn't help but recall Foucault's analysis of sexuality and power while reading the stories of Dr. Alice B. Sheldon. Moreover, the themes in Tiptree easily resonates with issues taken up by Phillip K. Dick and others when it comes to the ideas she presents on surveillance and human perception.

Alongside these ideas I must say that I am struck by how often the authors we're studying-- Huxley, Piercy, and now Tiptree/Sheldon in "The Women That Men Don't See" -- turn to Native American cultural motifs as answers to the possibility of utopia. I must say, however, that I'm concerned with how the sypmbolic meaning and appropriation of native cultures is used by these authors because, despite the best intentions, a definite residue of cultural exoticism and the racialist trope of the noble savage abounds. I'm not sure that this is a problem about which the authors are fully aware, thus making their display of the general attitude all the more disconcerting.
Sadly, although the writers we have (for the most part) demonstrated their progressiveness in the area of gender and sexuality, they are clearly, hopelessly conventional as far as their ideas on race go.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy is, by far, my favorite book we've read yet. Connie is a woman who is at the absolute bottom of the social caste in this system's hierarchical structure -- brown, overweight, female, poor, and mentally unstable to boot. However, Connie is considered to be extraordinarily developed by Luciente, the man from 2137 who recruits her to help save the world. In this new, future world, Connie who is ordinarily on the low end of the power scale, finds herself positioned in such a way that she communicates with cops effectively and powerfully. Of course, this would never happen in the New York City of the 70s from whence she comes. In fact, she finds the skills she learned as a welfare recipient and mental patient to be advantageous as she pursues her time traveling mission.

In Mattapoisett Connie comes to appreciate the things about being a woman of color that she has been taught to despise in the "real" world. For instance, she is shocked to learn the role of breastfeeding has been usurped from women and finds a sexless way of accomplishing the same work. Here we can see the workings of womanist epistemology (I don't think the term "feminism" suits what I'm talking about here) when Connie describes the feeling of ancient empowerment that goes along with lactating. It is in this section of the book that Marge Piercy makes a brief, critical observation about Disney characters on plastic diapers, which I think is more interesting proof to consider regarding how largely the brand looms in our imagination when we think of utopic futures.

As noted by Frances Bartowski, whenever the issue of utopia is broached, the author must necessarily consider the family (65). For Connie, this is more than a notion. Her own here and now family is horribly dysfunctional and she can only function negatively and violently in return. In the there and then world of Mattapoisett of 2137, she sees how family issues have largely been resolved, but not without its trade-offs.

Right now there are some interesting bits of datum in the popular field concerning poor women of color or like questionably pure white lineage. As I post this updated blog and explore the issues presented by Piercy -- Barbara Walters is talking about the "Octomom" and Sherry can't stop raving about the "Weave Headed Bullet-Stopping black woman." I'm tempted to capitalize the "b" and the "w" -- like on my drivers license where I am classified as BF. Nevermind the fact that this woman is obviously the victim of an incredible case of domestic violence, which just so happens to be the factor that has been shamefully elided from this entire conversation.

In other words, the media coverage of poor women of color frequently cast them (us?) as the alien other. Even when a women of color seems somewhat normal or relateable, she is viewed as the anomoly -- think Michelle Obama who is pretty and chocolate. Her daughters? More cafe au laite. Thinking futures? How will the Obama girls be cast in the future. I hear rumors of a Hannah Montana appearance. Maybe they can record a new version of "Best of Both Worlds."

Monday, February 16, 2009


Of all the characters in Le Guin's Dispossessed, I'd have to say Shevek is by far the most fascinating and well thought out one. I'm continually fascinated by the notion of unrealized ambition despite evidence of natural talent and drive. Unfortunately, this is the way of the world -- both this one and those of a fictional variety. As has been pointed out in previous posts, the fictional world parallels the one we actually inhabit. Consequently, readers can tap into the power of recognition when we encounter the logic that Le Guin to point us toward.
For instance, Le Guin's concerns about the presence and functions of power seem to be a constant theme actoss the SF genre when we consider the possibility of topics.

Can we really live in a world without government? It seems most difficult to imagine. Some may argue that we are moving towards this self-governing, anarchic frame through virtual worlds. This mirroring of worlds in the case of Annares, establishes limits within themselves -- limits that have been set up by the Other -- Urras. One can only know the other through the exclusion of what is defined as opposite. This is an illusion, though, since they live a shared history that is radically suppressed. Hence Vea's fascination with the Odonians: "The same old hypocrisy. Life is a fight, and the strongest wins. All civilization does is hide the blood and cover up the hate with pretty words" (Le Guin 176). This passage highlights the view that despite the utopic intentions of Annares, social flaws persist.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sheeple Look Up

The world Brunner devises gives me an insight into race and space that I had never considered in quite so interesting a way. It never occurred to me that SF must cling to racialized paradigms, if the genre accepts or chooses, as Michael Stern sees it, "the subject matter historically available" (117). Although somewhat positivists in its plot trajectories, novels of this sort, as in The Sheep Look Up, develops protagonists that are sociologist or pessimistic marxians. And since SLU is the third installment to an unofficial SF trilogy, the reader arrives in a world where "thoughts of good coming out of corporate evil are out of the question" (Stern 120).

This is interesting in this time of economic downturn and the first African American presidency. This is especially true when one considers the fact that the first book, Stand on Zanzibar, in Brunner's irredemably capitalist and ecocidal world features an African American character who is excelling in corporate America. Actually, in the early to mid 70s when these books were first published, the notion of a black man "winning" the corporate game would have indeed been the stuff of science fiction.

Of course with all that's occurring today, I think we should not necessarily be overly-comforted by the fact that a black man is the chief executive of the entire United States system, which is ultimately corporate in nature. So in the eyes of Brunner, a black president is just another creative, method of coopting and observing what seems alternative just for the sake of keeping this global capitalistic mega-mechanism going on ad finitum.

Moreove, the fact of a black American head of state is paradigmatically startling only insofar as one subscribes to essentialist notions of race. I think Brunner and the scholars who wrote about his work fall into this category, and so do we as an audience as long as we are complicit to the behavioral and social procedures that give rice to the separations between race that have already, long ago been established.

Reading the trilogy in reverse order, in fact, it's likely that the books seem less and less SF and more and more realistic.
Sorry, Barack.

Saturday, January 31, 2009


It's no coincidence that the specter of drug use looms throughout both Brave New World and Dr. Bloodmoney. As has been pointed out, the supposedly separate [in]formalized pharmacological and illicit drug industries remain potent expressions and realities of late capitalism in the 21st century. The influence of drugs on the human subject is the most explicit example of how the twin vehicles (body and brain) through which we experience and process our everyday lives, are violently impacted by machines and institutions. Through drugs, this occurs at the most intimate physiological and pychological levels.

As in BNW, Dr. Bloodmoney depicts this confluence of media technologies and psychic manipulation into an altered state of consciousness that pervades the social landscape. No one has to think too hard to recall the seemingly endless loop of lunestra, viagara, nuvaring, cialis, clariten, adderol, ad nauseum commercials without seeing the similarities between dys/utopias and the world we actually inhabit. Indeed, hegemonic structures and institutions driven by market forces acting visciously and against the person. And I think it's worth noting. Anaphorically, if necessary.

I'm reminded of Curtis' post last week where he states that capitalism is taking a beating. I would agree. However, I believe it's about time. In fact, capitalism (and its "invisible" market forces) have been distributing its own brand of punishment for centuries now. I believe this is a criticism that both Huxley and Dick share. At another point (forgive me, Curtis, for fixating on your post so heavily),the lack of stories where capitalism saves the day is lamented. I think it should be noted that those stories already exist. They're called the "protestant work ethic" and "social Darwinism" for starters. I would echo the thoughts of Jameson in my opinion that there's no need to make SF on a theme that is so hegemonic as there is nothing phantasmagorical about such a frame. SF also exists to detonate existing paradigms, not merely to underwrite them. Disagreements not withstanding, I have to say Curtis provides food for thought in terms of his pragmatic stance, though I question the characterization of marxian (small "m") critiques as "high society" or "elitist." There's nothing elite about having one's eyes open to material realities. When we make leaps of faith way in advance and to the abandonment of dialogical engagement, we give in to mystifications and rationalizations that have no explanatory power whatsoever. At that point, as Marx (big "M") reminds us -- you choose an opiate of mass appeal.

Which brings me back to drugs as 1) mind control, 2) s[ti]mulated experience, and 3) escapism, i.e. Walt Dangerfield. Walt Disney. Disney World. Dizzy Whirl.

But you know me. When I'm not being salty about my African Americaness, I'm dogging out the magical marketplace. ;-)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Jameson’s contribution to Utopian theory prompts us to look at the fictional world presented to us as a rhetorical praxis to neutralize the real. Through Gilman’s constructed world the reader is invited to see the contradictions of existing paradigms. Chief among the social frames examined in Herland have to do with everything from familial relations and gender rules, to the economic exchange system. In fact through Gilman’s narrator, Van, the intersections and contradictions among these frames are shown to emerge from the same will to power. In other words, there is a point at which patriarchy, zero-sum competition, and violence dovetail.

Herland suggests a feminist socialism that, at the time of its 1915 publication, could only ever be the stuff of fiction, not at all in the real world. (It can be argued however that some of the governments of the EU, though not in the least bit Utopic, have begun to institutionalize social feminist values -- as in the cases of the Netherlands and Scandinavia, for instance.) This brings into question certain cultural values that Gilman easily injects with the type of face value expected from a late Victorian.

These cultural values are indeed racial. Evidence of Gilman’s racial sensibilities appears throughout the novel as the author -- through the voice of Van’s “scientifically objective “ narrative, injects an implicit form of white supremacist ideology. Although Gilman takes great pains to appeal to intellectual plausibility by figuring a “highly civilized” country that is insistently white, according to Libby Falk Jones, it is a mark of Gilman’s Utopia to “create meaning within a traditional utopian structure dominated by overtly rhetorical ends” (116). In chapter 5, Gilman explicitly puts it:

"As to the geography -- at about the time of the Christian era this land had a free passage to the sea. I’m not saying where, for good reasons. But there was a fairly easy pass through that wall of mountains behind us, and there is no doubt in my mind that these people were of Aryan stock, and were once in contacts with the best civilizations of the old world. They were 'white,' but somewhat darker than our northern races because of their constant exposure to sun and air" (Gilman 55).

Victoriana not withstanding, the above passage describes racial terms in the most explicit and overt terms possible, which makes Gilman’s elision of female sexuality (and contrasting emphasis on the virtues of motherhood) all the more ironic. In other works the audience is expected to suspend literary belief at the idea of a same-sex race capable of spontaneous generation with the least hint at specific mechanisms, insofar as one unequivocally understands said same-sex race as white – save a healthy tan.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

First Topias Posting

I'm looking forward to reading in the science fiction genre this semester. Thus far, the only sf novels I've ever read have been Black No More by George Schuyler and Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Sam Delaney. This I owe to my background in Af Am lit, of course. (Though I've never read Octavia Butler, believe it or not.) I'm very interested in the notion of Topias as a concept and am especially intrigued by the feminist focus on theory. As far as topics and inventions go, I'm curious about it's relationship to base and super structure and hope the readings on Jameson could help shed some light on that for me.