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.