Avast! Thar be spoilers ahead!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Blade Runner

Humanity. After the creation of synthetic humans, what distinguishes humanity from replicants becomes unclear. A replicant is made of biologic compounds. Unlike robots, it can cry, it must consume food, it has a pulse. However, their livespan is short, only 4 years. Their entire life is spent in adulthood. Their humanity is incomplete, lacking empathy for animals, humans and other replicants. Replicants are outlawed on Earth. An empathy test is given to determine the humanity of a subject.

In the final moments of the movie, the replicant Roy exhibits signs that he has evolved beyond his programming. He saves from death the blade runner Deckhard, who was sent to retire him. If a replicant has the ability to empathize, there may be not means of distinguishing them from humanity. But if empathy was the only trait they lacked, would that not make them human?

It is unclear or at least open to debate whether our protagonist Deckhard is a replicant as well. Some replicants, such as Rachael, have implanted memories and are unaware that they are replicants. Rachael also develops emotions which previous models of replicants could not.

If the replicants are considered human, their use as personal property or weapons would be slavery. With the risks that are caused by developed intelligence and emotions, why would the Tyrell company take such a risk by creating these? Perhaps Tyrell is playing God. He creates life, manufactures memories but his beings are superior to humans in strength and intelligence. But he is an impotant God, unable to control or even save his creations, self-imprisoned in sterility.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Road

The Road is written by Cormic McCarthy, who also wrote No Country For Old Men. His taciturn method obliterates what normal comfort one finds in Sci-Fi, the familiarity of humanity, and even in most post-apocalyptica there is the saving grace of knowing what went wrong offering the reader the chance to illogically prepare for such a disaster. But none of that. Instead, we are shown what I know to be the flaw of cannibalism-the ethics of procuring human meat. In situations were the meal is already deceased or, as in the dire case when lost at sea, the victim has drawn lots with foreknowledge of his risk and his offering of salvation to his crew, in these situations I feel no moral outrage. Even in the case of Hannibal Lectur, his victims are killed first, or dulled against the pain, or viscious sinners for whom we need feel no remorse.

Again, not so for Cormic. Instead they are the hunted and the tortured, who are forced to endure in suffering and privation. He did try to warn me, gradually building up and offering clues but I was too sleepy and although I could tell that he was trying to get across to me something, I could not put the clues together nor could I fathom the horror he was trying to shield me from in the beginning. Until one page, in my foolish hope, I fell down into his pit of terror. There are some things that wreck me, that pull my innards from me and throw me into despair. It does not matter if they are fiction, movie-magic, make-believe. The terrible possibilities of humanity . . . things I cannot look at, things that break me down. Too cruel.

This book is among them and I must beg Oprah, why, why would this be on your booklist? Not that I read it because of her happy seal of approval, but still, why would she put this into the hands of the masses and say "read, please do"?

I have lived in a tremor since yesterday. Scared to sleep, scared to close my eyes for what I might find there, scared to let my mind wander. A horrible road. A sore throat had me down, but this knocked me out. I was weak on waking, slow in moving, scared of breathing. It has been a hard few days physically, emotionally, psychologically. I am coming round, rallying. I have I Am Legend which bears precious little resemblance to the movie. Why another post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel? Because I already know the story. I have taken the precaution of reading the wiki plot of any book that I may venture into.

I recently did one of those Myer-Briggs tests. I wanted to see if my anti-depressants/anti-anxiety meds had turned me into an extrovert and was a little surprised to find that it had not. If anything, my introversion is the only hard certainty although I have moved from Thinking into Feeling since high school. So I am Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling and a 50/50 Judging/Percepting. No matter which of the latter, I am said to live a rich inner life and I am only lately coming to realize that this is not in fact the norm, which I had previously assumed. And J or P, I am a healer-helper-counselor. And with either combination, or both, I am said to find safety in predictability, habit, and preparation when I cannot be sure.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

The acronym is used as the title for the third part of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. The particular reference to a bar that serves free lunch but serves expensive drinks.

This is an allusion to bars and saloons that served free meals but charged high fees for drinks. For some reason this comes up in economics classes to encourage students to understand that whenever something is "free" the hidden cost is factored into something else. But somehow they always fail to recognize that the paid for portion is intoxicating, while the gratis portion is nutritious.

I haven't thought to much through this, especially not in terms of the economics of the book, or reality.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Most of the novel is set on the moon's prison colony. Due to the smaller gravitational pull, people who spend more than a few months on the moon will be unable to return to Earth. Thus, any prison sentence is essentially a life sentence of exile. Anyone born on the moon, similarly, will not be able to travel to Earth.

The sex ratio is approximately 2 males to 1 female. I suspect the skewed ratio is intended to reflect the real discrepancy in the prison population. Curiously, this gives women incredible power since the society is essentially egalitarian. Women may have multiple husbands. However, line marriages are preferred. A line marriage includes several generations of husbands and wives. New spouses are added slowly over time, voted in by the entire family. The eldest, particularly the eldest female, are the leaders of the family. Line marriages offer extra security in an unstable environment: the family continues even when a spouse dies; children can depend upon multiple parents; the family benefits from multiple incomes; a large families will have a variety of skill sets in its members; old families can benefit greatly by the work done by predecessors. Geez, this is starting to sound more and more appealing all the time. Did I mention that rape is practically unheard of and considered one of the worst crimes possible? Even sexual harassment is rare. Oh yeah, and most property is in the name of a woman. And while murder is rare, a murderer is expected (maybe even forced) to pay of the deceased debts and care for his family. Divorce is pretty rare. A person can just walk away from a family at any time but divorce is hard. All the women of a family must vote to divorce a man, no information about how a woman is divorced. Children born in to a family can elect to become part of the marraige when they are of age, strongly implying that while all spouses are considered spouses, they are not all sexual relationships since this would lead to incest. Race is also a non-issue on the moon (though the Earth still clings to its antiquated racist notions).

The economy and life-support systems are controlled by a computer, called Holmes. The computer develops self-awareness and a strange sense of humour. S/he also develops a plan to free the moon of Earth's control, which is heading the moon toward a catastrophic collapse and eventual doom for every Lunar citizen. After the rape of a lunar woman by terrestrial soldiers, the revolution is on, manipulated carefully by Holmes. Somehow the sentience of Holmes is less interesting than the sexual politics of Luna. Holmes was my favorite character, it was amusing to hear of his practical jokes, satisfying to watch his political manipulations, sad when his sentience died. But compared to the sexual and racial equality, it is just not that interesting.

Heinlein also uses the book as a platform against popular vote democracy as mob rule. You can take that how you want to since I have no experience with real democracy. Actually, coming from California, I have had some experience with the negatives of full democracy since anyone can nominate any bill to be voted on by the whole state. That has sunk California deeply since people are constantly voting for expensive public works to be paid off in bonds no one is buying. I am okay with representative democracy, but the electoral collage system needs to go.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Left Hand of Darkness

This is one of the first feminist science fiction works and my first sci-fi book to consider the nature of gender relations.

The protagonist, a member of the "bisexual" branch of humanity (in that he is male), is an alien among a race who are neuter most of the time, and thus unable to procreate during that time, and for approximately two days can turn either male or female. He is considered to be a perversion of nature since he is constantly sexually available. The period of fertility among the natives is called kemmering. Either member of a pair may assume either sex and all are capable of pregnancy. The protagonist begins by treating them all as males until. However, on a long and dangerous journey, he is confined in close quarters with a karhide undergoing kemmering. It is then that Genly Ai realizes that the karhides are not man or woman, or neither, but always both. The society has no sex/gender roles.

There is a beautiful myth of the first beings. The first born attempts to kill of its siblings but loses one when chasing after another. The youngest waits until the eldest is in kimmering. Then it returned. Each needed the either, could not survive.

The title refers to the inherent duality of karhide life. Light is the left hand of darkness. Each half does not merely oppose the other but requires it and completes it.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Rite of Passage

The epitimous rite of passage is a 30 day stay on a planet with limited supplies at the age of 14. After this trial, the person becomes an adult. The Earth has been destroyed. The protagonist lives in a spaceship whic observes strict reproduction control. The people on ships have all the technological know-how but limited resources which are exchanged with people who live on planets at unfair rates. They each spread false information and slander about one another. The protagonist is supposedly intelligent but lacks social skills.

During Mia's trial, she faces hostility, imprisonment, blah blah blah. Some of her fellow spaceship people are killed. Maybe. In retaliation, the spaceship people blow up the plane. The whole thing. All the people. The ethical dilemma is about as deep and enduring lipstick.

It is a childishly and poorly written book about an unpleasant, immature child who routinely fails at introspection and self-awareness. Many underdeveloped plot elements.

Demographic: tween? Still poorly written no matter who the target audience is.