Freedom of the Will

When I started thinking about the assignment tasked to us to compare The House of the Scorpion with one of our other science fiction readings we’ve had so far over the semester, I thought, “Yikes. This could be tough…”
But then my mind went straight to eejits. Eejit: “…a person or animal with an implant in its head” (81). Now there’s a motif that pops up quite often in science fiction: the alteration of the mind, the remodeling of the most important and perhaps most sacred of human organs. Eejits were programmed to do one specific task. Tam Lin explains: “Eejits can do only simple things. They pick fruit or sweep floors or, as you’ve seen, harvest opium” (82). As we soon learn, these once-human-androids will do exactly as they are programmed to do and nothing more, until commanded to do otherwise. In the book we see that one of them strays too far and dies of thirst, simply because he kept on working in the fields and didn’t hear the command to come and drink.

In essence, their freedom to make their own decisions was eradicated, thus they became inhuman.

One of the biggest examples that I saw this elsewhere was in Blade Runner.
I imagined that being a replicant on other planets provided a very similar experience at first: androids were created to serve the purposes of humans. In other words, they were slaves. As Batty puts it, living as this kind of slave was to live in fear, and even though Farmer does not specify whether eejits were able to feel emotion, the imagery provided is striking. As humans attempted to further these replicants’ minds to make them more like themselves, the replicants began to make their own decisions. They escaped, freed themselves, and in consequence needed to be destroyed, which as we see in the movie proved to be a difficult task.
Thus where I saw robots in Blade Runner gaining their humanity I saw humans in House of the Scorpion losing their humanity.
The connection: the mind.
It’s all in the mind; in the ability to choose, and to rationalize;
in the freedom of the will.

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I was never very good with words.
Of course I was only 8 years old at the time. Oh those were the days. Certainly not good ones, but I suppose today’s are not much better. At least we were friends then. Of course, so many things have happened since then, but it still feels like yesterday.
It was just the regular beating. The kids….they didn’t know any better. It was just the thing to do.
Nobody accepted me for who I was…who I am. My parents did. They believed in things…things now deemed to be ancient phony religion, only those from a century or more ago believed.
They told me they loved me exactly the way that I was. “God has made you perfect in his eyes, and you’re perfect in ours.”
Too bad that didn’t help me at school.
I’m glad I was smart enough to put my glasses away this time around. “I can handle this,” I thought…
It was just me, myself, and I by that time. No God (though I’d never tell my parents that). No friends. Nobody. I had lost Siri forever, and was never gonna get him back. We used to be everything to each other. Not anymore. I decided I didn’t really want to see him after the operation. I didn’t really want to to be his friend. Cause he was just the same as everybody else now. Or at least I thought. He was no less of an outcast than I was, but I didn’t see it at the time. He just seemed like one of them now.
Nope. It was just me, I thought…
And I paid the price for it.
Those kids really had it out for me this time. But maybe not. It was only Tuesday.
“You fucking retard!” I remember them saying. “Where are your glasses four-eyes!” “Ha! What a  They took turns punching me in the face, in the stomach, and wherever else they could (need I say more?). I thought “hey, maybe if I raised my arms it wouldn’t hurt so much…”
That didn’t help. The pain was excruciating. But I had to get through it. That’s the way I lived: one day at a time. I couldn’t see any farther.
It was at that moment when I fell over to the ground. The bullies had just about had their fun. And it was at that moment when a rock came flying in from nowhere.
And then a second.
And then a third. My God, they were as bloody as I was!
It was Siri.
I had gotten up by that point, and when I tried to touch him, in came another swing!
What the hell had just happened?
“Sorry,” he said.
“Oh shit…”
That’s all I could think of. Oh shit. That’s all I could say.
I think a part of me was scared of what the adults would say, what my parents would think.
But I think a much bigger part of me was scared of Siri.
What had happened to him? Where did he go?
I knew the answer to that.
I told it to him. I told him what I felt, even if he did deny me. I knew it was true.
Things were not the same. They were never the same again. He was different. Gone.
I think he realized that after that day…


I decided to rewrite the beginning scene of the prologue from the perspective of Robert Paglino. I thought when reading that considering that Siri as the narrator says that everything began with Pag, it would be interesting to redo this scene from Pag’s point of view. Furthermore, I did it in the narrative style very similar to what we actually see of Siri in Blindsight: that is, looking back and reflecting on what had happened. Thus, even though stylistically it is very similar, I tried to change the tone and feeling of what Robert Paglino would have been thinking if it was him telling the tale.

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Perception of Reality

“There was a model of the world, and we didn’t look outward at all; our conscious selves saw only the simulation in our heads, an interpretation of reality, endlessly refreshed by input from the senses.” (193)
Reading through the density of Blindsight and having to pick a single most important sentence out the novel I first thought was going to be indeed a very difficult task. Yet instead of trying to capture an all-encompassing sentence that summarized the essence of the novel, I decided to hone in on a specific theme of the novel: that is, the loss of what is real and the element of humanity. I think that this sentence reflects on this overlying theme. In the novel what is known to be real, what is normal, are humans whose brains are genetically modified. Thus when looking at this sentence we can see the narrator’s perspective on the perception of reality. It doesn’t come from the outside, but rather from the self. And thus when these genetically modified humans view reality they see it only as their inward selves are programmed to see it, not necessarily as what is true “baseline” reality. As Watts says it is only a mere “interpretation,” a “simulation,” as depicted by their own inward minds. This stood out as one of the most important and reflective sentences in the novel.

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Journal Entry 112019

Poor kid. If only he knew.
No. It’s not his fault. Not at all.  To hell with those beasts. I hate them all.
At least some of us treat him with some respect. Galt did for a while at least. If only he knew!
We saved him from a life so disgusting yet to himself seemingly so normal.
Found out his name is Akin today. Don’t forget our original goal was to capture the most human looking construct. He looks quite a bit like us to be honest, but this couldn’t be further from reality. I couldn’t believe it when I first saw him: walking and talking like us…like an adult no less! and what is he less than 2 years old? What a bastard, in the true sense of the word.
Perhaps I’ll look on this in some future date and laugh, but I can’t help but be suspicious about this whole thing. I mean, what’s the point anymore?
Am I losing hope?
Am I losing my mind?
No. Them aliens can’t beat us. They can’t. Never.
But our time is running out…
better than ever being with those beasts.
And thus we go on.

Until next time.

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“‘Do you understand what now what happened to us?’
‘I’m aware of what happened. It’s…alien to me. Frighteningly alien'” (Butler 16).

As I dove right into Lilith’s Brood, I thought about what it means to be “alien,” particularly what it meant to those in the 1980’s world that Octavia Butler was writing in. There resides the obvious “extraterrestrial” of which we and undoubtedly Butler are all familiar with. But as I read about Lilith’s first encounter with an Oankali, this phrase struck me. Stripping it down to its element, to be “alien” to something means simply to be unfamiliar with it, to be estranged from it. So as I read Butler’s vivid description of Jdhaya, with his face with no eyes or ears and his many slug-like sensory tentacles, for some reason this did not at all seem alien to me. In one sense, I was even fully expecting it. But the statement above shocked me. Jdhaya attempts to explain to Lilith why they had come to Earth, and he says that upon coming and seeing the world in such a nuclear disaster, the Oankali originally suspected a consensus of suicide of the human race, but is surprised to find that this was not the case. When reading of Lilith’s first description of this “humanicide” (8), I’m sure almost every reader of the day knew exactly what Butler was describing: a Soviet-U.S. caused Nuclear Winter. Written in the dusk of the Cold War in 1987, this topic was still much discussed and much feared.
Thus to see the “Alien” in this novel describe this nuclear armageddon as something “Frighteningly alien” to him puts the entire concept of cognitive estrangement in reverse. The very familiar fear of mass genocide from a species that almost entirely views it as evil is to the extraterrestrial something that is completely unfamiliar and instead has to be learned.
To me this gave the novel a new perspective of what it means to be “alien.”

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The specific page and column that I chose in the graphic novel We3 is found on pg. 93, specifically on the right column, top two pictures (can be viewed here). To me this is one of the most powerful images and dialogue scenes in the entire novel, right before Dr. Roseanne takes a bullet and dies for Bandit. One of the first things I noticed about this sequence is that in the first picture, Bandit appears to be crying as he approaches Dr. Roseanne, perhaps after he hears her say “Oh, I’m so sorry.” This may indeed be his response to her reaction of seeing him. But it may instead be a gasping breath of relief, as he has finally, after venturing such a long journey, come home. Instead of a response, it’s more of a “tears of rain” moment, where Bandit, after living his life, part of it sucked out of him literally by machine, can take one breath. This is reinforced by the dialogue in the next picture down, where Bandit finally feels he is at home in her arms. This to me is one of the most important images in the book. Here we see the lasers from the guns above pointed to Bandit’s head, signifying that he is about to be shot dead. Furthermore we can see the machinery firmly implanted on his head, showing the abuse he has taken by man. Lastly and most importantly we see that Bandit is at his moment of peace in this image, and places his utmost trust with her. “Home now,” he says. And considering that in the next sequence it is Dr. Roseanne who takes the bullet for him, it speaks of Dr. Roseanne’s connection to the animals. So whether the first shot is a response to her crying, or whether it’s a cry of relief, these two shots present extremely powerful imagery to us as readers of what it means to be “Home.”

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Departing from the norm…

After hearing and reading a bit about William Gibson and his influence on the science fiction genre, I was pretty excited to begin reading Neuromancer. I for one wasn’t expecting what was prepared for me. Granted, when seeing the prompt, “Why is Neuromancer difficult?” I thought, “Well at least it is assumed that the novel is difficult!”

To be frank, the first few chapters of the novel are extremely disorienting. The language presented in even the first chapter proves extremely hard to follow, as it drips with multiple scientific terms, leaving me scrambling for a dictionary and Googling such terms such as “black clinics” (pg. 4), “quartz-halogen,” (pg. 6), “mycotoxin,” (pg. 6) and “mutagen” (pg. 11), etc. At one point I put myself in the shoes of one reading this when it was first published in 1984, and imagined the sort of further confusion I would have felt upon coming across now-well-known terms such as “cyberspace” and “matrix.” Furthermore, the fact that the novel is set in Japan provides another web to fight through; perhaps if Gibson had taken to time to establish this setting in detail it would have been a little more clear off the bat. But looking at the first paragraph, we see that this kind of language is assumed by Gibson:

“‘It’s not like I’m using,’ Case heard someone say, as he shouldered his way through the crowd around the door of the Chat. ‘It’s like my body’s developed this massive drug deficiency.’ It was a Sprawl voice and a Sprawl joke. The Chatsubo was a bar for professional expatriates; you could drink there for a week and never hear two words in Japanese.” (pg. 3)

In a sense, Gibson is throwing us into the deep end of a pool and saying, ‘Swim!’ His lack of setting establishment as well as character development in the first chapters of the novel make it to be a wrestle for understanding what exactly is going on. Characters such as Molly, Armitage, and even Case himself are thrown in rather suddenly. Thinking about science fiction as “the literature of cognitive estrangement,” I wondered how this novel began to fit the model, when I realized that it didn’t at all. I think in this brash kind of introduction to the novel where Gibson appears to be assuming us to know many of these terms without explanation, he departs from the traditional form of science fiction to a new, modern genre known as “Cyberpunk.” Thus instead of forming a reality from one we already know to be real, he puts us in a disorienting spot and moves from there. Furthermore the characters he creates not only are outcasts in the novel itself, but in one way are outcasts to us as well, giving the novel its own life that we are attempting to view from an outsider perspective. This is one big reason why I think Neuromancer is so difficult: style and tone, rather than plot and characterization, are what (at least so far) have come forward as priorities (not that there is not any of the latter though).
My questions are, as I continue to read through the novel, will Gibson continue to provide intricate details that will leave me wondering and disoriented? Or will he begin to hone in on the characters and plot of the novel in further detail? Or perhaps both? Lastly, how will he be using this new style to create a story that leaves (if at all) a lasting impression? Or will I end up just being disoriented and mind-blown the entire time?

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Replacement and Revenge

Reading through part II & III of Frankenstein proved to be quite enjoyable for me. One phrase stood out to be perhaps one of the most important of the entire novel. It’s a phrase that helps define the monster’s motive for the murder and vengeance of his creator. As Frankenstein describes, “The monster saw the determination in my face , and gnashed his teeth in the impotence of his anger. ‘Shall each man,’ cried he, ‘find a wife for his bosom, and each beast have his mate, and I be alone? I had feelings of affection, and they were requited by detestation and scorn. Man, you may hate; but beware!….It is well. I go; but remember, I shall be with you on your wedding-night‘” (140). My first response upon reading this phrase was strictly plot-based. Frankenstein’s monster later comes back on his wedding night to murder Elizabeth, much to Frankenstein’s surprise. This initial phrase is a warning by the monster to watch out. Yet on return to it, I figured this assessment only scratches upon the surface. To dig deeper, the monster essentially sums up his entire motive for revenge. Initially, Frankenstein believes that the monster is going to murder him, and can’t bear to imagine his soon-to-be wife going through such pain. But the monster’s motive is to make Frankenstein himself miserable, to long to die, living as a curse. To do this he aims to kill Elizabeth. Yet furthermore, looking back we see that Frankenstein abandoned his monster. From the monster’s point of view, one of the first things he encounters upon opening his eyes is Frankenstein running out of the room. In fact, the entirety of his life, the only thing he experienced is abandonment. I believe it is quite possible that the monster, instead of purely trying to gain vengeance on Frankenstein, tries to replace himself into Frankenstein’s life. This could be an alternative meaning to this phrase to be with Frankenstein on his wedding night. What do you all think? Is it possible that he is trying to replace Elizabeth and not just take her away from Frankenstein?

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‘the modern prometheus’

As I sat down to read Frankenstein for the ‘nth’ time (this is not the first time I’ve read it, nor is it the first time I’ve studied it at Mason either), I thought about it in a different lens as I normally would have otherwise: from a science fiction point of view. One of the most fascinating aspects of Frankenstein is that it can be viewed in so many different angles. Thus as I thought about it relating to Darko Suvin’s article, “On the Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre,” I couldn’t help but go back to the title of the novel itself: Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus. What exactly did Mary Shelley mean when she subtitled it “The Modern Prometheus?” Where was she going with this?

As you read the novel, whether for the first time or the thousandth time, you soon realize exactly what this is referring to, namely Victor Frankenstein’s creation of another living being, the monster that we are all familiar with. But what better of a way to view Suvin’s definition of science fiction as “the literature of cognitive estrangement” than by looking at the title itself. Greek mythology describes Prometheus as a Titan who was granted by the great god Zeus to create mankind. This notion of a human creator has been around since the beginning of human history, going back even to biblical times when the idea of God as creator was not only prevalent but essential to believe in.

Humans have always wrestled with or at least have been familiar with this idea, and it is at this point where Shelley bases her novel: to summarize, it is indeed a “cognitive” starting point. Yet she uses this very familiar idea and takes it to a new and unfamiliar place: the idea of a man, Frankenstein, creating another man through science, the “estrangement” of Suvin’s definition. This idea is not only explained by Frankenstein in the early parts of the novel, but captivates him into an obsessive nature, where the idea, “the dream,” is in control. And thus it is only after he finishes his work where Frankenstein realizes the gravity of this idea. He sees “the beauty of the dream vanished” (39). Thus as we progress through the novel we find this very familiar idea of creation taken to a new and unfamiliar level, where the creation is not “the dream” which Frankenstein envisioned, but in fact a terror. Thus reading this through the lens of science fiction I found that the novel thus far, and specifically its title, truly describe the essence of what science fiction writers attempt to grasp: a journey from something familiar into the unknown.

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