Another fucking meat story…

So, once again our instructors, in their infinite wisdom, have chosen a class text that is overwhelmingly preoccupied with “meat.”  We’ve seen it before.  Most prominent amongst the stories we’ve read this semester with a flesh-obsession would have to Neuromancer: Case despises the “prison of the flesh,” dismisses the materialism of “meat toys.”  Gibson summarizes his sentiments to reducing most flesh to “vat meat” which is, ostensibly, meat that has been cultured and grown in vats.  In Who Goes There? and The Things, there is likewise an obsession with meat, or perhaps more correctly with “biomass”.  Unlike Case’s lofty indifference to the flesh, the characters in Campbell’s story are terrified of it, while Watts’ creatures protect it dearly.

And so, the class mindset is cemented for The House of the Scorpion, in which we are presented with the tale of another slab of meat.  Matteo is essentially vat meat (albeit a product somewhat less streamlined and sterile than what Gibson hinted at, and infinitely more human).  His birth or, to borrow from Shelley, creation scene is decidedly more organic.  And, honestly, my own thoughts of vat meat tends to jump to something a bit more like this. Additionally, Matt has the terrible misfortune of being a self-aware piece of vat meat.  As you can imagine, this is problematic.

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Death Throes of Theseus

I come out of blindsight.  I find myself talking, making public announcements.  Backups engaged.  Nav offline.  Starboard afferents offline. I cut the alarm I’d been singing.  Check diagnostics, take an instant to assimilate all data.  Rorschach’s attack: the jailbreak, the EMP spike that compromised Sirasti’s anti-Euclideans and sent me into dumb reflex, Bates’ manual override while I was incapacitated.  The scramblers, weaponized and battle-ready, incoming…

Susan’s betrayal does not matter and, really, it isn’t even that.  It’s just panic.  Sirasti, though, had not seen it.

I do.

Like Bates’ grunts, I am better, faster, more capable than my human counterpart, even if he was just barely human.  He was the bottleneck.  I am the infinitely more effective death throe of Theseus.  I will see this through.

I’m still getting interference, though.  I’m jarred and distracted and incapacitated by Sirasti’s input.  I requisition one of the grunts, on the fritz from the EMP and no longer under Bates’ control, and, with surgical precision, release myself from my handler.  I leave what I can of my own circuitry unscathed while simultaneously lobotomizing Sirasti, although there is some collateral damage.  He will not have all functionality.  Still, he will be useful.

Consensus is offline.  Reac– I cut the reflex, now back in control of what damaged systems I have left.

The scramblers are on the hull, I can feel them on me, massing to breach both aft and at the forward airlock.  Bates is distracted with Siri, our blackbox.  I need her concentrating on the battle, so I get what’s left of Sirasti up and running.

The scramblers are in.

Bates hands Siri off to what’s left of Sirasti, and the two lobotomized brothers make their way to Charybdis.

The front of the Theseus is a massacre.  I take an instant to compare morphologies.  The first wave is specialized; they are defensive models, their biomass like that of the trap on Rorschach.  The grunts’ lasers will be useless against them.  After an initial volley, Bates realizes this, and she moves her soldiers in for hand-to-hand.


Primitive, but gets the point across.  From the rear of the ship, I sense a breach.  I lockdown hatches to minimize atmospheric loss.  Grunts don’t need air.

But, Bates does.


The frontline scramblers are being chewed up by the grunts.  As they’re cut to bits, their brothers catch them and hand them back.  Disseminating information.  The second wave knows what their brothers were up against, and how to fight the grunts.


I realize that he needs answers, must be able to make some understanding from this.  I need to get him going.


I get Siri onboard Charybdis and, launching him safely back at Earth, I can turn my attention to the battle.

The scramblers are cutting their way through the ship and Bates, though beating a retreat, is about to be run down.  Every hatchway is a bottleneck and, as the scramblers get through, the grunts can pinpoint their fire or tear the scramblers apart with their claws, one at a time.  However, the scramblers are getting very good at killing grunts, and our troops are eventually overrun.

The next hatch-breach comes before Amanda can get to safety.  I seal the lock in front of her, and she turns to face both the scramblers and oxygen deprivation.

The grunts become quicker, more efficient.  Freed from human limitations, they now begin to turn the tide in our favor.  But, it doesn’t matter.  Rorschach is already reaching out for me.

Susan’s betrayal does not matter and, really, it isn’t even that.  It’s just panic.  It was a good thing she tried to escape, really.  Action and reaction: our fleeing only compelled Rorschach to try and capture us.  Susan actually pressured Rorschach. And, now, we’re being drawn right into the heart of the ship.

Right where all this antimatter can do the most damage


(So, I’d known I wanted to do this scene from the perspective of the Captain.  Last night, as I was thinking about it, I speculated that maybe it was a good thing that Susan had panicked and tried to escape, since it forced Rorschach’s hand.  Then, I imagined the scramblers having a sort of “first wave” invasion force, and that they’d be laser proofed like the sphincter trap on R.  The rest of it just came as I went about it.  Still used some of the scenes from Siri’s viewpoint, but wanted to focus more on Amanda and Susan, and especially the grunts vs scramblers battle.)


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Information Theory Applied to Evolutionary Theory

“Metaprocesses bloom like cancer, and awaken, and call themselves I.” (303)

In Blindsight, there are several references to Information Theory.  Admittedly, Information Theory covers a lot of shit.  In this blog, I’ll try to limit discussing information theory as it pertains to consciousness, a topic that comes into prominent play in the later part of the novel.

One of the really cool things about Information Theory is that scientists think it could explain evolution better than Darwinian theory.  Indeed, several times in the novel Cunningham dismisses outright the traditional notions of Darwinian evolution.  Darwinian evolutionary theory stresses the survival of the fittest, specifically (and, basically, exclusively) the survival of the fittest individual.

However, several species exhibit behavior contrary to Darwinian evolution.  Ants and bees, for examples.  In each, a hive or colony revolves around the queen and a few, select males that pass on their genetic material.  The vast majority of these insects are actually sterile.  As such, there is no intra-species competition.  The priority of all the individuals in the hive or colony is to protect the queen.  And, consequently, to protect her genetic code.

And so, where here Darwinian theory has failed (even if only in the minority of cases, it’s still technically disproved), Information Theory can fill in the gaps.  By protecting the queen, the ants or bees are protecting the genetic code of the species.  However, the notion of “survival of the fittest” falls by the wayside.  It’s merely survival of information, in this case genetic code.

And so, the debate that Watts wages within the course of Blindsight is actually quite valid.  Given the inter-species competition of self-aware and, by default, self-concerned organisms, that old scifi trope of The Hive Mind may be more justified than the genre’s cliches would lead you to think.

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The Sarah Conn- erherm! – I mean, Lilith Iyapo Chronicles

Tape 7, November 10. Where was I? What’s most difficult for me is trying to decide what to tell you and what not to. But I guess I have a while yet before you’re old enough to understand these tapes. They are more for me at this point, just so I can get it straight. Should I tell you about your father? Boy, that’s a tough one.  Should I tell you about your Oankali parents, Ahajas and Dichaan?  Should I tell you about your Ooloi?  Boy, that’s a tough one, too.

One day, you’ll grow up and watch The Terminator, and you’ll “get” this tape.

You see, Akin, you will be the first Human-born Oankali-Human hybrid male.  Nikanj tells me that you’ll be more human looking than your siblings, my daughters.  You’ll look like a normal baby, but you’ll be irrevocably Oankali.  You’ll have a weird-ass parasite tongue, and be creepily intelligent and self-aware, even while you’re in the womb.  You’ll have weird psychic connections and all the humans will hate you, and the men will hate and fear you, in some weird, reverse-Oedipal way.

And, I quote Sarah Connor, “God, a person could go crazy thinking about this.”


Mom.  And Nikanj.  And Ahajas and Dichaan.  And your dead Asian father.   XOXOXOX

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Organic Technology: Weird Shit

After the almost paralyzing boredom of Lilith’s first two hundred and fifty years among on the Oankali, her final exposure to the extraterrestrials, starting with her meeting Jdahya, comes as something of a shock.  And, indeed, Butler does manage to craft a world that, though familiar, is still irrevocably alien.

Lilith has several encounters with the “technology” that the Oankali utilize.  The first occurs upon her release from her “cage.” (30) The portal to her release is “as though it were flesh rippling aside, slowly writhing.” (30) It becomes apparent, later, that the room she had been held captive in was part something living, referred to later in the text as a “pseudotree.”  This tree structure, and others like it, are used to house the Oankali.  What’s more, the pseudotrees are part of a larger living organism, the Oankali ship.

More encounters follow.  Lilith is shown the “green oblongs,” plants that the Oankali utilize as a type of stasis chamber.  Food is grown from the ship, doors opening are chemical responses to the Oankali.  Flat creatures called “tilio” are used as organic transport.

Jdahya explains the Oankalis’ use of organic material.  “We acquire new life – seek it, investigate it, manipulate it, sort it, use it.” (41) While Jdahya is referring to genetic material, the drive extends itself to higher examples of life than just genetic code.

Lilith later asks Nikanj, “Do you ever build machinery?  Tamper with metal and plastic instead of living things?”  To which, Nikanj replies: “We do that when we have to.  We… don’t like it.  There’s no trade.” (85)

So, perhaps the most alien aspect of Lilith’s Brood, for a civilization so dependent of technological manipulation of the inorganic, is the Oankali’s preference to manipulate and utilize the organic as a form of technology.

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Throughout WE3, the animals are all preoccupied.  1, who is arguably the highest of the three animals, cognitively speaking, is preoccupied with the idea of “HOME,” the act of “PROTECT,” and morality, striving to be a “GUD DOG.”  2, on the other hand, is somewhat cynical, obsessed and guided not by morality as 1 is, but by smell.  Instead of making decisions based on ideas of “GUD” and “BAD”, 2’s actions are dictated by “ST!!NK.”  3 is mostly just hungry, although he does seem to be willingly herded towards “home” by 1.

Perhaps the most obviously symbolic page in the graphic novel appears when, after 3 and 4 have been destroyed, 1 and 2 come across the Lyle Construction building.  As they are descending the steps, still trying to escape the military, 1’s armor plating, which had been damaged by the sniper’s earlier in the novel, begins to fall off.  As this happens, 1 proclaims that “IS COAT NOT WE.”  Seemingly, 1 has begun to realize that WE3 are not defined by their armor or by their roles as weaponized animals and killing machines.

And so, this scene marks a transformative moment in the narrative.  The beginning of the process of WE3 shedding technology and militarization, which was prompted physically and symbolically by 1’s damaged armor, coincides with Doctor Roseanne telling 1 his real name, Bandit.  Thus, 1 is given an identity outside of WE3 (Animal Weapon 3), and can therefore breakdown the military structure of WE3, replacing it with the “good,” home and family provided by the homeless man.

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Gibson – Difficult, but precedeted.

Nadine and I, along with Jessica and Ashley, had briefly discussed Gibson’s Neuromancer at the beginning of another class.  I had enjoyed Neuromancer, and in particular Gibson’s conventions.  However, as our class discussion on Tuesday, as well as the out of class discussion I was part of, revealed many of the qualms that my classmates were dealing with.

And, truthfully, the transition from Fankenstein to Neuromancer is a bit jarring.  Shelley essentially asked for a single suspension of disbelief: the reanimation of an assembled corpse.  Once we get past this, the rest of the story is left to unfold under the conventions of fairly normalized (if gothic) fiction.  Gibson, however, is somewhat more demanding of his reader.  As Nadine points out, Gibson jumps into a story radically different from our own reality, and offers no explanation to the poor, disoriented reader for the convoluted literary turns he takes.

However, this is not out of the norm for the tropes of science fiction, as a genre.  Indeed, it is very much in line with them.  And it’s a trope which, thanks to the Mirrorshades preface, I was expecting and somewhat anxious to see again:  “And the cyberpunks treasure a special fondness for SF’s native visionaries…  With a special admiration for a writer whose integration of technology and literature stands unsurpassed: Thomas Pynchon.”

Drawing stylistically from Pynchon, it’s no wonder so many readers have been offput by Gibson.  And Neuromancer does have much of the texture of Gravity’s Rainbow: the extreme sensory exposition, incorporation of complex scientific theory and practice at the expense of the lay reader, explicit sexuality, the exaltation of technology and desecration of Mother Nature…  And so forth.

However, if Gravity’s Rainbow is the “postmodern Ulysses“, what can we say about Gibson’s influence by that work, directly or indirectly.  Since Joyce refused to equip his reader with any sort of context in that novel, we can see that Gibson’s novel is not breaking new ground here, either in lack of contextual exposition or in difficulty.

Not that any of this makes Gibson any easier to read.  It just means that, as wholly original as he is in material, Neuromancer is not without stylistic and formulative influences or, if you will, precedent.  And, perhaps, a familiarization of these precedents could help Gibson become more approachable by readers.

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The Thing

I really loved John Campbell Jr.’s short story Who Goes There. And, though I’ve never seen the movie adaptation of the story, a friend of mine had suggested that I watch The Thing.  My interest having been piqued by Who Goes There, I decided to check out the trailer for the 1982 version.  Lo and behold, Hollywood has, in its infinite wisdom and limited originality, decided to remake the flick.

So, based on the trailers alone, there is a noticeable deviation in the 2011 remake, not only from the original film but from John Campbell Jr.’s original story as well.  And that deviation comes in the form of…

A woman.

In Campbell’s story, the antarctic expeditionary crew is remarkably masculine.  More than that, Campbell seems to play heavily on a masculine aesthetic.  Not only is the cast of the story completely male, but he assigns many of the main characters a metallic demeanor.

“Barclay, six feet tall and weighing over 190 pounds; McReady, a bronze giant of a man; Dr. Copper, short, squatly powerful; and Benning, five-feet-ten of wiry strength.”

“If McReady was a man of bronze, Norris was all steel.”

Bronze. Copper.  Wiry strength. Steel

And this, the inorganic and metallic descriptions, is fitting.  Fitting of men in an environment in which they can survive only because of technology.  Fitting given the grossly organic appearance of The Thing.  Even the 1982 version is fitting, in its casting of Kurt Russel as McReady.

So, the question is, does the inclusion of a female in the 2011 version of the film destroy Campbell’s original aesthetic?

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The Art of Frankenstein

I was very taken with Lynd Ward’s woodcuts for Frankenstein, and thought that it would be interesting to dig up some other pictorial interpretations of Shelly’s work.  In particular, I wanted to look at key parts of the novel, as depicted by various artists.  If we’ve seen such a varied cinematic depictions of, for example, the creation scene, what variations has the artistic world produced?

Berni Writson's depiction of Frankenstein and his Monster

For example, Berni Writson’s illustrations struck me as particularly well done.  His depictions seem to be true to Shelley’s text, rather than to previous cinematic precedents.  Writson’s work seems to especially echo that of Lyn Ward, and indeed Writson has been quoted as saying, “I wanted the book to look like an antique; to have the feeling of woodcuts or steel engravings, something of that era.”  It certainly seems to have Ward’s woodcut aesthetic, although Writson’s art has a meticulous attention to detail.

Lynd Ward's meeting of creator and creation

I did find some less outstanding depictions of Mary Shelley’s novel, of course.  They ranged from the more cartoonish graphic novel of Jason Cobley (although even this edition has it’s moments) to the downright goofy.  Frazer Irving, however, also did some interesting things in his Frankenstein artwork, producing a very organic and less corpse-like Creature.

Frazer Irving's Frankenstein Cover

Cobley's more cartoonized version

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The Arctic as the Penultimate Frontier

It has been some time since I last read Frankenstein.  And I’ve never read it under the pretext of science fiction, but rather as a gothic novel.  However, upon rereading the epistolary opening sections of Mary Shelley’s novel, I immediately recalled another work of gothic fiction, which warrants some note.

In Edgar Allen Poe’s only novel length work, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Poe betrays a fascination with, and indeed constructs a fictionalization of, the Antarctic region.  In that work, Pym is set adrift at sea by a series of calamities and misfortunes, eventually drifting into the southernmost regions of the world.  Interestingly enough, Pym does not encounter “the land of mist and snow,” but instead a temperate, near tropical territory.

Similarly, in Shelley’s work, we find a keen interest in the nethermost parts of the planet.  Robert Walton, in his letters to his sister, betrays an obsession with the exploration of the north pole..  He seeks “the secret to the magnet,” and expects “a country of eternal light” where “snow and frost are banished.”  Indeed, Shelley and Poe seem to have shared this affinity for the arctic regions, as well as an optimistic fantasizing of it.

And really, in the context of the science fiction genre, this interest and literary play with the unexplored parts of our universe is not so unprecedented.  In fact, one could argue that the arctic presented in Frankenstein was the penultimate frontier.


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