The word for the week is continuity.
Each of the four stories that we read, “Twilight,” “Helen O’Loy,” “The Cold Equations,” and “No Woman Born,” offer a different take on an element of continuity. Foremost for these is the simple matter of including recognizable elements from our experience into the frame of each story. Campbell’s “Twilight,” is about a hitchhiker; “Helen O’Loy” is narrated by a doctor; one of the central characters in “The Cold Equations” is a teenage girl away from home for the first time; and Moore’s “No Woman Born” features a star of stage and screen. These elements provide a basis of recognizable continuity between the fictional settings and those we know to be real, which, in turn, provides evidence to support the acceptance of elements not reflected in present reality. In doing so, they imply a further continuity, from past to present to future.
Rieder’s Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction dwells heavily on the importance of this sense of continuity in the origins of science Fiction. With nineteenth century adventure fiction already invested in the creation of space (with its ancillary, function of projecting the people of the present into another time, by putting them into a primitive setting), the development of science fiction, which created new spaces by setting them in the future, is a logical extension. As an extension, it takes part in the cultural assumptions from which it was born, providing yet another continuity, one which projects the colonial shadings of the period. Central to this is the need within newly discovered spaces to locate some version of humanity by which to judge ourselves. Rieder describes the hunger for the exotic as “a means of gratifying familiar appetites and as a challenge to one’s sense of the proper and natural” (4).
“Twilight,” supposes the development of humanity as a linear progression, beginning in a murky past, but definable on the literal time-line experienced by Ares Sen Kenlin, stretching from the contemporary to seven million years in the future. In that future, he finds the race dying out, having lost its quintessential trait, curiosity. Set within the future, both “Helen O’Loy” and “No Woman Born,” continue in this species-centric vein, looking to establish continuities between traits that we recognize as human and the definition of humanity. “The Cold Equations” centers its conflict around an instance when the quality of humanity is outweighed by supposed necessity. Each case is based on a need for the characters to define the line between themselves and others, a tendency which Rieder traces back to the racist roots of colonialism. Of the stories, “The Cold Equation” is probably the most striking example for this purpose, though each may serve. The line established by the pilot, Barton, is between those that live on the frontier and those that do not, those that understand the black and white choices that mean life and death and those that cannot. The reality of the readership must fall in line with those that do not live in such a stark, dangerous place and time, and so while empathy naturally falls to Marilyn, this establishes Barton as the other to the reader. His adherence to necessity may not make him heroic, but it makes him terrible in the sense of sublime. Barton becomes a significant yardstick to measure yourself against, and to weigh the price of such progress.
My, how we do like looking at ourselves in the mirror.