Thought this might also be a useful footnote for anyone working on a disabilities angle for their final project. Otherwise, just interesting.
Excuse the supremely long title, I actually have two, smallish things that I wish to discuss and I wanted to cram them both into the title. Because obviously that works.
First, I want to allude all the way back to my first blog post, which was one of the first posts of the semester, in which I proclaimed that Bellamy’s future was filled with fountains. I did this mostly as a jest, because I like to write/say/do things that I perceive as funny, damn the consequences. However, now I wish to revisit that claim and add to it a similar claim that draws upon Neuromancer and, to a lesser extent, Stars in My Pocket and Left Hand of Darkness (I think). The observation I wish to make in regards to these works is that the future is not, in fact, filled with fountains, but instead seems to be filled with tapes.
Okay, filled my be a little bit of an overexaggeration, but I’m making a point here. In Neuromancer, we have a world of extremely high technology, far beyond what we even have managed today, several decades later. Sure, we have the net, which is sort of/not really similar to cyberspace (I’m not currently riding my console through TRON-world, sadly), but otherwise, Gibson’s future is, well, futuristic. Yet despite that, we see several instances were the characters mention tapes. Usually it’s in passing, with the tapes being knocked aside or possibly used as an afterthought, but that’s almost my point. It goes with the idea that these works are writing the present as much as they are writing the future.
For, you see, in the present world of these works, tapes exist, and they’re pretty much everywhere. The writers knew tapes, they knew how they worked and what they did. They could not, to some degree, picture a world in which tapes did not store data in some form or fashion. Again, I believe this shows even in Delany and Le Guin’s work, but I wasn’t really looking for tapes at the time. For Gibson, however, he sees the technology and attempts to project, but seems to take part of his present with him when he does. In some ways, this small inclusion, the idea of tapes or something akin to it, acts as something of a grounding point for readers. The technology is out there, seems impossible, but hey: they’re still using tapes! It’s there in many ways for the same reason Bellamy filled the future with fountains: it’s a familiar working point for the audience to see and to start picturing. It acts in many ways as a technological spur to head onward.
Which might work a little with the second idea I wanted to discuss, which I have clumsily called the Jon Carter effect. For those who don’t know, Jon Carter was the title and the main character of a Disney sci-fi film released last year. The film itself is based off a book written by Edgar Rice Burroughs (the Tarzan guy), and the book series is one of the grounding works of the sci-fi pantheon, especially in many ways, pulp sci-fi. People have been basing their works off the concepts presented in Burroughs’ series for some time. I mention this first to let you understand what a lot of audiences struggled with in regards to Jon Carter the modern film:
They’d seen it all before.
The story, the technology, it all felt as though it was rehashing Star Wars, Tarzan, and millions of other films and important stories. People felt that this story was just trodding on familiar ground. There was nothing new here. What most didn’t realize is that Jon Carter actually started a lot of those tropes and ideas, or at least was one of the founding members. It is the society’s background that poisons the work.
Hopefully you can guess where I’m heading with this: my experience of Neuromancer was in many ways spoiled in a very similar manner. I can’t help but feel like there was nothing new in the book. We’ve seen the cyberspace idea done over and over again. We’ve had ideas about street samurai and shady dark allies. If you’re an anime fan at all, you’ve probably had so many of these ideas that they seem cliche. Which describes my initial reaction to Gibson’s work: been there, done that, not interested. However, what this forces me to do is to realize that, in fact, Gibson did a lot of this stuff first. The interview with Delany serves to solidify that idea and force me, at least, to think about that experience. It’s something that I think we all struggle with as readers from time to time.
In “Aye, And Gomorrah,” Samuel Delany continues his experimentation with the issue of sexuality. Here, he comes with an entirely novel context. And I think that the construction of that context in such a short story reveals Delany’s genius.
The story is spun around encounters between “spacers” and “frelks,” two types of creatures with specific sexual perversions. The abnormality is not understood in the beginning, but as we go on reading, the backstory gradually unfolds itself. Spacers are people who have undergone a process of “alteration.” They are understandably prepared to undertake the mission of setting up and maintaining the infrastructure on the moon, Mars and the satellites of Jupiter, building water conservation units, programming mining computers, etc. The aim of this neutering is enabling them to endure the huge amount of radiation beyond the ionosphere. Their equipment for that mission has required that they were neutralized at a very early age, when they are still children. We learn that the whole business was unjust and sad. It was a process of exploitation. They are chosen from children whose sexual responses are retarded at puberty. No idea is given how they are sorted in the first place—tests were made, maybe? They were changed into spacers because, we are told, the authorities wanted to “cut down the kids back then—especially the deformed ones” as a solution to the Population Explosion crisis.
An unnamed spacer gives an account of a handful visits he and his fellow spacers—the “platoon”—make to some cities, mostly European and American. We are not given any clue of how these creatures move from one place to another. But we become aware that it is a swift and delicate movement. They just “come down” in a city, and then “go up.” Only once or twice do we know that they take, when on earth, the bus or the monoline. That is not the issue, anyway. And it is hard to say that their descending may be because they are looking for fulfilling their pseudo-sexual desire. Nevertheless, their contacts center mainly on this issue. It is worth mentioning here that their descending is depressing. Whenever they are met by people, spacers feel that they are unwanted. “Don’t you think that you … people should leave?” they are told. They are supposed to be up, doing “that good work for the government.” While on earth, spacers are known by their blue uniforms, a fact that even some people make use in disguise to hunt for frelks.
As a result of their sterilization, spacers are dispossessed of the capability to have sex. That is the essence of their plight. They are neither males nor females. Their sex is not known to people, since their puberty was prevented from occurring when neutered. The invention of the spacers has entailed the emergence of another “type” of people, namely frelks. Frelks are the only people who find sexual attraction in spacers. They are also described as people with “free-fall-sexual-displacement complex.” Their existence depends on that of spacers. Their desire for sexual contact with spacers constitutes the realm of conflict in the story. Spacers, the sexually abnormal, are objectified by the way frelks look at them, even though frelks show empathy; they are the only people who talk about the alteration with regret. The encounter of the two is characterized by immense disappointment and dissatisfaction. “I want something,” says a frelk girl to the unnamed spacer, “But, you are not the one who will give it to me.” The complicated nature of the encounter continues until the end. A resolution is never suggested, and the spacers have to go up.