Thursday, March 28, 2013

Delaney's Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand

The longer  I stay in graduate school, the more I feel I have to give a disclaimer before saying . . . well, anything. Today’s disclaimer is that I write this having yet to finish Delaney’s tome. In other words, if the novel later contradicts what I’m talking about, well . . . that’s why.

Having disclaimed myself, I’m going to blog about something completely outside the world of linear plot: the presence of technology in Delaney’s novel. It might seem like this is a tertiary part of the novel, given the density of other themes. However, as this is science fiction, there needs to be at least one plug at the presence and influence of technology.

Chapter 3 of Luckhurst considers (at length) the relationship between technology and humanity—the glorification of the engineer because of technological daring-do (I paraphrase). Here in Stars, we see something we have never seen before in class: a universe completely SATURATED with technology. (Granted, the case could be made that Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness is a universe saturated with technology, but in the scope of that single narrative, the technology is limited to the world of Gethern/Winter. Genly has an ansible, but that’s about it in terms of technology existing outside our current, historical understanding. Although THAT statement also is problematic, as our 2013 technology (Google Glass, anyone?) marches onward and upward, leaving Stars’ 1984 (historical, not the novel) far in the dust. I digress.) I suppose Luckhurst would be further problematized by the presence of a host of non-human entities in Stars. How do we measure the impact of technology upon humanity when so little is actually human? (Again, this can be refuted by the near-universality of human figures and behaviors, so much so that interspecies relationships can take place.)

                                               (Google Glass Promo Video)

Back to the idea of a universe saturated with technology.

Let’s look at just one major example, as we very well couldn’t look at all of them.

First and foremost, (and only, I suppose) is General Information (GI). This tech offers information on almost any subject to the user—pretty instantaneously. The information banks are, at least in some instances, available as a planet by planet basis. They are also corruptible—as shown by the tampering loop created to hide the cultural fugue around planet Rhyonon. GI, as amazing as it is, does not shock me in the least—it’s essentially a glorified, instant and wireless, spoken version of Wikipedia, is it not? All we would need is Siri in our ears to read us Wikipedia pages and we’ve got GI.

But from the scale of universality, instructing and giving guidance to countless billions, how does something like GI change the face of “humanity?” In the instance of Korga (the as-yet-unnamed Rat Korga) in the prologue, the GI-like glove device drastically changes his life. In this case, though, Korga already functions on a drastically changed level—the RAT process has stripped him of much of his humanity, hasn’t it? How has near/instant-information changed the way we (in 2013) think about the world? About each other? A smartphone gives pocket-sized access to an impossible wealth of information, popular culture, news, gossip, entertainment, distraction, advice, celebrity, history, and so on ad nauseum. Asking how GI has changed the humanity of Stars is, essentially, asking the same question of ourselves and our internet obsession.

There are also numerous predictions involving GI and cultural fugue (although if Dyeth and Korga’s relationship brings a world close to cultural fugue, I don’t know the extent the connection  GI, in and of itself, has to CF), perhaps implying such information brings about the “extra-human” judgment of other-worldly beings? (The Xlv, as one of the only Other completely otherized by its physical apartness and lack of knowledge/understanding, acts in many ways as a supernatural harbinger of doom.)
I’m reminded of the Bing commercials, the search overload ones. As ridiculous (and entertaining as they are), there’s a lot of truth in them. Here’s a reminder, if you don’t remember them:

If we’ve come this far with our own GI, how far are we away from Cultural Fugue?

Just saying.