Thursday, January 31, 2008

Further thoughts on why the Lunar revolution failed

Phil made a good point in class. The revolutionaries weren't looking to change anything about the people in Luna. Social relations would go on as they were and everything should have technically been fine. However, the lunar citizens did not keep to their libertarian ways. I think there a number of reasons for this.

People were not used to doing things without a central authority. Yes they managed to run things without courts or laws. But it’s important to remember that the Authority provided most essential functions and coordinated them with supercomputer efficiency. Everyone was used to controlling their own little plot, but no one dealt with anything outside of that realm. When the Lunar Authority was eliminated, the citizenry was not ready to replace the authority with something more in line with their beliefs. Rather they fell back on what they knew, a centralized entity that would run things for them. Instead of eliminating government altogether, they created a substitute government to take its place.

Secondly the Lunar spirit was not conducive to continuing a revolution. Its essential anti social nature made it so that most Loonies kept to themselves. They did not want to attend to matters of organization and social coordination. As a result, those interested in building social organization were the busy bodies, those most likely to build a bureaucratic state. Much like the Authority, Loonies would do their own thing and cheat the new state on their own. None of them would ever form associations to preempt regulations, as Loonie society is individualistic and reactionary. Not in the right wing reactionary sense, but in the sense that Loonies don't usually take proactive steps towards movement building. They wait for a law and then react to it. This puts them at an inherent disadvantage that they can never recover from.

The most important reason has to be the Lunar economy itself. Anarcho capitalism does not exist long term. Sooner or later commercial interests will gain enough strength and coalesce enough, that they can begin enforcing laws of their own. The rise of "big government" was partially to provide for the social democratic contract with labor. But big government is primarily a by product of big capitalism. As companies get larger and more powerful, they stamp out competition via market measures and governmental regulation. In order to stay profitable, big capitalism needs big government to provide it with infrastructure and welfare. A good example of this is the highway system. Corporations never paid a user fee to use the interstate system, but corporations are its greatest beneficiaries. The highway system facilitates cheap trucking based transport that makes companies like Wal-Mart possible.

Eventually the settlers on the moon would begin to be displaced from their farms to make way for industrial production and centralized agriculture. Similar to the enclosure movement in England, we would see the government and big business colluding to rid the farmers of their land, through a combination of market and government regulations. Dispossessed of their land, the lunar colonists would flock to new factories to provide labor at cut rate wages. Without their financial independence, the Loonies would put up little resistance as the state became even more powerful.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

THE Dinkum Thinkum

Mike presents an intriguing character as he functions both as an interesting experiment as the sole live computer mind and as a plot conceit to even begin to allow the type of revolution that occurred. First as a person (for person he is despite not being human), Mike shows tremendous growth as in the beginning, Mannie is often reminding him that the revolution is not a joke and must be taken seriously while towards the end it is Mike who is taking care of Mannie and who is putting more thought into the rebellion. (It is mentioned in the beginning that he has a love of intrigue for intrigues sake and towards he end, although he still loves the intrigue, he has a better concrete and emotional understanding of what his friends might go through.)

At one moment I was struck that he was calculating the probability
of the success of the rebellion, however, what does a successful rebellion consist of? One might say that it just the overthrow of the Authority, an extension he made was the immediate stability and acknowledgment of the rebellion. However, that the colony would have a useless government seemed to be what Prof wanted, however that was not necessarily what Whyo wanted. Ergo what did Mike truly calculate for? Or another way of putting it, when did Mike consider the revolution to be done? As much as I love the plot and intrigue of the story, the fluctuating probabilities and the reliance on these probabilities I feel take away from the sciency side of the story.

Unusual in science fiction stories was how there was only one computer who was alive, this presented a very ethical side to the issue. If a less honest man, someone with a large grudge, or simply someone with a criminal mind, had made friends with the only live computer then the results would have been worse and bad for society. With one live computer what should be done with it? Also the issue of what was to happen to Mike and how he would continue to shape society with the simple expedience of shutting him down and killing him.

Response to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

In his book The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Robert Heinlen puts forth his own objectivist vision for what he calls a “rational anarchist” society. Rational Anarchy is the prevalent though of Professor Bernard de la Paz, but seeing how he is the architect of the government that forms on the moon once they free themselves and then when they are diplomatically recognized, it is say to say that he is the one shaping the type of government that will be instituted. What is problematic to me about the professor and his views are his moral beliefs, and the way his personal moral beliefs will come to shape those of the society on the moon. His view that all action stems from individuals and that these individuals must be ultimately accountable to their decisions. While I have read some existentialist writings and do believe in some aspect of what Sartre calls authenticity I do not believe that this is the basis for the professor’s moral code. Instead his morality is one where the dynamics of power and the systems in place play no role in influencing people’s decision making. I think this is problematic in that their clearly are rules in the society on the moon which shape behavior. One such example is the way the men protect the women from unwanted advances in the least or seek out retribution in instances of sexual assault or violence. In this way these men are not acting as singular moral agents choosing their decision, instead they are part of a collective following well established norms and behaviors that stem from a historical context. In this way I think the professor in being responsible for constructing the new government will have to either reshape society in his own image, or will have to adapt his moral code. And the book never really explains which of these happens.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Response post

An interesting point made in Riske's post was that the Time Machine does not have the same effect in terms of its message because of the large gap in time from when it is written to when we read it for class. It is hard for a book to translate over 100 years after it was written. The message of the Time Machine is not strong enough to be relatable for both Well's audience at the time and modern day readers. Our fears, concerns and thoughts about what the future holds for the human race has changed a great deal sine 1895, as well as our technological advancements. I agree with Rinske's main point that time and context has a large effect on us as we read the book, i would take her point even further to say that Well's book, while it can be considered entertaining, does not serve very well as a warning or message about the future.

Heinlen's Wet Dream, Your Worst Nightmare.

This will be the first of a series of posts (i.e. meandering ramblings) on Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I loved the book, thought it was faaaaaar better than anything in the Time Machine. However, I have got some issues with this libertarian paradise. No I’m not a big government type; in fact, I have a fraternal feeling towards all those who virulently detest government. But I’ve got some problems when that liberty coalesces into anarcho capitalism, and that’s basically what Heinlein wants. He makes it sound like his anarchic world is all hunky dory, but what Heinlein, as all anarcho capitalists, fail to realize is that power does not only come bureaucrats and soldiers but from accumulations of capital.

The society that Heinlein produces on the moon is essentially that of the yeoman farmer in colonial America. Through familial cooperation, good manners and a fighting spirit Luna operates all well and good. But Heinlein never takes into account the danger of large corporations. The bank of Hong Kong is perfectly fine under Authority supervision. It can’t tinker with the economy because such would invite h-bombs. But without government authority to regulate Hong Kong bank you have essentially given over the economy to one banking guild. The real danger here is that you get a new state based upon material accumulation, a sort of corporate feudalism, that we see the inklings of today. And it shouldn’t surprise us; the agrarian paradise envisioned by Jefferson was snuffed out in a generation by the corporate mercantilism of Alexander Hamilton. Eventually the railroads owned more farms than the bloody farmers.

The obvious answer is that these corporations need regulation, and thus you need a government. I hate obvious answers so let’s go with something else. Why not construct a truly libertarian society, one in which the individual is not ruled by political coercion or by threat of starvation. A self managed society based on the principles of a free Luna, just augmented a bit more towards solidarity and cooperation and away from summary elimination and the all too dangerous “not with my money” libertarianism. There’s nothing worse than that, because the people giving the lecture about responsibility are always privileged dips anyway. Why not a Luna of freely federated farms, workers cooperatives, and collectives? Why must we ossify human society under Lockean natural law? Luna need not become a backwater of increasingly complex customs. Luna could be some much more than what comes “naturally.”

That’s where I think Heinlein goes most wrong. He views revolution in an improper lens. He sees it as seizing a moment in history with enough force to carry the day. That’s not a revolution, that’s a palace coup with a protest banner. Real revolutions involve a sort of displacement of how you view the world and how you act within that world. But this one doesn’t seek that. Real revolutions are things that fundamentally change the way we act and behave. For example, after Lenin came to power in Russia what happened? Well Lenin became a new czar, and after a little complaining and gulags for the complainers, all was well, for the czars. You see, the people of Russia had not built up for the revolution. They had lived their lives and then suddenly overthrew a government. But they were not prepared for a new government, for a new way of doing things. They were inculcated from birth to be good little followers, and sooner or later that training kicked in, but under a red flag. Genuine revolutions requires decades of organizing and has to permeate every nock and cranny of the underclass. People have to begin to take their destiny into their own hands in little steps and then great bounds. They do this by organizing in their community, and in their workplace. Only through popular democratically organized struggle do people begin to see things differently. They “carry a new world in their hearts” and start thinking of new ways to go about living. Only then do you have a revolution, otherwise its just so much silliness.

For another, example I turn to Barcelona 1936, where the workers of Cataluña responded to the Falangist uprising with readiness, accuracy and ferocity. They seized factories and reorganized an advanced industrial region into an anarcho syndicalist society. Women and men fought together in worker’s militias, farms were collectivized and factories run by the workers who worked them. Schools became places of cooperation and respect, rather than sites for state propaganda. The revolution succeeded because the people of Spain had been striking, organizing, fighting, and educating themselves for 70 years. They had become the society they wished to see. Sadly, they made the error of trusting the communists and were soon betrayed, fighting a two front war between the fascists and the Stalinists. Though their example still remains an inspiring example, and from now on I’ll make sure to that no one ever trusts the Stalinists.

Now when applied to Heinlein’s wet dream we see a problem, namely that his revolution is a cabal affair. It is a top down conspiracy organized to solely bring about lunar independence. They may create an “educational program” to help the Loonies catch up, but it’s all moot. Throughout the novel Prof talks about manipulating masses like any Machiavellian figure would. This is a major problem. You can’t have a revolution to free humanity if the revolution is run by a secretive guerilla army. That doesn’t change how people interact and how people work together. It only reinforces the behavior to follow and obey. Plus it is a clear violation of Prof’s views, that all individuals are sovereign. His desire for no government is clearly at odds with his creation of a de facto oligarchy. You only have to look at the Ad Hoc congress to see my point. Manuel explains the Ad Hoc Congress was nothing but a bunch of yammering fools trying to ban this or that. Only after the election has been fixed with the party clandestinely in control can they properly wrangle the society to their needs. Nothing has changed. The new boss is same as the old boss, but by 2076 Pete Townsend’s dead so you can’t sing a song about it. So Surprise! Your liberators are now your vote riggers. Come to the next "Sons of Liberty" Meeting. Free Luna and have a nice day!

This concludes part one. Stayed tuned for more word vomit!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Other Possibilities

As science fiction, as we have discussed in class, is a reflection of the time and society it was written in. However, how someone reads or interprets the piece in another time can say many things and give the piece a new relevance. The largest complaint about the book seemed to be based on the displacement from the time and society Wells was writing in. For these reasons it seems appropriate to examine how one might have thought that the society of the future was shaped if the Time Traveler had not been advocating his belief. It is also interesting to think about how else this society might have been created. For example, as to the meat on the Morlocks table, the Morlocks may have been raising a cattle equivalent underground which feed more on fungi then plants or a larger eco-system underground. One way the separation between the Eloi and Morlocks could have occurred was that there was an large and long threat of a nuclear attack, so many of the more cautious people moved their city underground as they felt that it would be safer (more easily separated fro radioactive air) and they had the technology and after a few generations liked their underground world. While those who later evolved into the Eloi were either more optimistic or less aware of the danger. I'm not trying to say that this is what happened in the Eloi timeline, but having a larger tradition to draw on and sitting at a different point in history we extrapolate, even when the same outcome is looked for, along very different lines.

One comment however, relating to a point in Jen's post concerning the fact that the Time Traveler does not go back for Weena. We must recall this is the first use of a time machine in science fiction, and although now the grandfather pardox (you go back and kill your grandfather before he meets your grandmother, hence you are never born, hence you didn't go back in time and kill him) is seen as an obvious question and authors dealing with time travel (or even Precognisance) is expected to at least have an idea on what form time is in in their world. So for a Victorian man, such as the Time Traveler, maybe even the idea that he could go back and be in two places at the same time was simply mind boggling.

Jan 22 Reflection

What I found interesting about class yesterday was our total lack of admiration for the Time Machine. I assumed that because it is a piece of literature it would have this hegemonic sway over people. I was pleasantly surprised that we all seemed to hit upon the same literal shortcomings. The work was bustling with ideas, but the ideas were just not very well developed. The whole novel you felt you were groping around in the dark finding little spots of light here or there.

I think Kaitlin hit on something when she mentioned that it was originally written as a short story and then as a serialized novel. Short stories don’t work very well as in-depth think pieces, nor do serialized novels. It tends to lead to very episodic almost melodramatic writing. So instead of a very deep investigation of the future, Wells gives us a pretty blurry image of a future.

I also had one last thought on the Garrison state. It seems to me that the garrison state is no longer a major threat. Orwell did such a superb job of warning us about it that the danger of state fascism is minuscule. However I think the danger of a corporate garrison state, one predicated on mass consumerism and private espionage, is looming. The greatest danger to our liberty has become the corporate entity. The rise of mercenaries, the market of private information and neoliberalism all point as markers to it. I think a novel for this new Garrison state needs to be written. Morgan has tried with Market Forces, but it’s not the caliber of a 1984.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Time Machine reflection

If the Time Machine was suppossed to carry some sort of warning or prediction for the future of the human race, it was very difficult for me as the reader to pinpoint exactly what that was. As I was reading I kept being reminded of a comment made during our first class when we discussed what made science fiction true science fiction and differentiated it from other genres. Science fiction has to be unbelievable but believable at the same time. It cannot be so "out there" that the reader can no longer identify with it because then whatever social message the author wants to get across is lost in translation. This, I feel, holds true to some extent with the Time Machine. The future world of the Eloi and the Morlocks and the way the world is described by the Time Traveler is too unbelievable, to improbable to the reader that Well's message about society can be somewhat hard to relate too. It seemed that the human race had not only reached perfection but had started to devolve into a lesser species. While it seems that Wells is warning us against that fate, it is unclear what he wants us to do about it. It is too unrelatable to the reader. On the other hand Lasswells, "The Garrison State" serves as a much better warning to a reader because, as you read it, you can see evidence of what he is talking about in modern day society. It is not a far fetched as humans devolving into crabs, evidence and elements of the "garrison state" can be identifyed, which helps it to serve as a better and more realistic warning to the reader.

Biological Determinism Run Amok

Well, the Time Machine certainly was a big deal back in its time. Wells really makes you believe that time travel is plausible and possible. That whole bit about time travel being mere movement through another dimension, utter perfection. It was like reading Descartes ontological proof of God, you know its wrong but you can’t put your finger on it. It’s like some sort of logical magic trick. Yet, while Wells described some of the things in great depth, he suffered from a chronic lack of pages. The novel introduces all of these great new concepts. Morlocks, Eloi, cannibalism…awesome! He doesn’t examine these things enough. We are given this expansive view of future and we are left with a very shallow picture. We know nothing of the Morlocks except that they probably eat the Eloi and probably make things for them. Even with the Eloi we get a mild treatment. Oh yes, there are also giant crabs, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

As Rinske points out, Wells uses an itemistic projection into the future. He took the division of labor and class and shot it out eight hundred thousand years. However, one would think that by focusing only on one or two things, that the analysis therein would be detailed and very specific. Instead we’re given a weak and tangential discussion of this or that bit of evolution and class division. If Wells wanted to convincingly comment on the dangers of class exploitation and the horrid end result it could produce, then he should have spent more time examining things. 120 pages are not enough to indict industrial capitalism via allegory.

Despite its thinness I think that Wells provides two views that are worth further examination. First he intimates that the working class is stupid. They simply cannot realize that they can go beyond what technology it was bestowed prior to their owners going Pre-k. I’m sorry, but I find it rather silly to insulate that the Morlocks would just sit there and languish like a bunch of machine maintenance monkeys. You’d think that even as the Eloi descended into a Huxleyesc “Orgy Porgy” that the Morlocks would do something. These are the people that run the machines, know how to make stuff, understand basic scientific principles. Don’t tell me they wouldn’t build a technologically advanced, self managed worker’s society.

I think it has something to do with Well’s background. The man was a Fabian socialist, something of a social democrat in today’s standards. He was concerned about the toiling masses, but didn’t really understand them. He and his other Fabians felt that the working class needed the political leadership of an intellectual elite. Clearly they would never be able to do anything by themselves, because they were um…too drunk? It’s rather reminiscent of Metropolis where the workers forget their children.

I think this leads into Well’s other premise, that we are all victims of our own biology. In his social-darwinistic view we’re all doomed to follow the great clock of biological evolution. By achieving sentience we haven’t bootstrapped past the frivolity of evolutionary demands but merely forestalled an inevitable decline. Of course the workers will never do anything to move society forward. They have been biologically conditioned to do the same work and nothing else.

Thus whether we have perfect communism or perfect capitalism the end result is the same. So long as humanity has eliminated the material drive to solve problems we are doomed to fall into a flat malaise. I hope this is not the case, though I doubt it so. Even in an age of material abundance we are still faced with the myriad of problems associated with justifying our own existence. I think the Culture novels present a glimpse into this sort of world; a perfect utopia where the characters go to war with religious crusaders to justify their own hedonism. Wells simply ignores this existential drive to provide meaning. Instead he dwells endlessly on mere natural selection.

What is Sci Fi?

I thought that the discussion in class was interesting, though ultimately fruitless in finding a proper definition of science fiction. Sci Fi is typically the end result of "systematic" exploration of some technological change or some encounter with the other. I think an important element that we left out was the active discovery of the effects of technology, aliens etc. Whenever I read a science fiction novel, the most important part of reading the novel is the discovery of the unknown. We are suddenly thrown into some strange world with peculiar machines, odd jargon, and confusing institutions. The reader is faced with the challenge to make sense of this dizzying new reality. Unlike most other genres, where we focus on the characters or some mystery, in Sci Fi we care first about the world around us. The plot could be a murder mystery, and the characters could be complex and multifaceted, but the main preoccupation is always on the affects of change.

For example, in Richard K Morgan’s Altered Carbon, the main character is a conflicted, rough hewn, anti hero, sent to solve a confounding murder. However, what makes the novel remarkable is not the characters or the plot. It’s the fact that in the 26th century humans carry around a microchip that acts as a back up. If your body is killed the chip can be “re-sleeved” and you can live again. This is why sci fi is so great. You read the novels to figure out what the hell happened and where it’s taking you. Yeah sure it might be nice to find out if the alcoholic private eye with a cybernetic implant gets the girl, but I’m more interested in what a world of cyborgs looks like. How it functions, and what’s changed. Then and only then will I give a crap about that PI’s love-hate relationship with Bourbon and coke, a personal favorite of mine

On "The Garrison State"

In his piece "The Garrison State" Harold D. Lasswell touches on several key concepts that are indicative of many pieces of Science Fiction, especially the strains of Utopias and Dystopias. The first of these ideas is his understanding of the monopolizing of violence in warfare. Lasswell talks about the expansion of air warfare. Writing when he is this is certainly true, but is even more indicative with the advent of nuclear war. This has become a prevalent worry in the minds of science and science fiction. As we discussed in class, science is progressing at a rate where the understanding of technological development is occurring without the theoretical and ethical understanding of what these sorts of developments mean and how they will affect humanity, a central point to our class’s rough definition of what Science Fiction is. Further, Lasswell does appear to be concerned with what this expansion of violence will mean for society and puts forth his prediction at how it will restructure society. This prediction is a society, “The Garrison State,” focused around the specialization and supremacy of violence. Another key component of Lasswell’s “Garrison State” is the continued development of technology specifically as it relates to military improvement, while also having the condition of cutting of consumer goods from technological innovation. These are just some of the more relevant aspects of Lasswell’s new society that are particularly relevant to Science Fiction.

The society that Lasswell predicts will arise, while not exactly copied in any science fiction I know shares traits with several, I am familiar with, including but not limited to Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Dune, and others. One point Lasswell points to is the increased development of pharmacology. He sees the uses of pharmaceutical development as twofold in his new society; one is as a stimulant for soldiers, which while not perfectly mirrored in Dune, does seem to compare to the use of “the spice” by the Guild pilots. Pharmacology will also as being used to develop drugs which could be used to keep the population of this new society docile, just as Aldous Huxley predicts the use of Soma in Brave New World. However of all of the examples of Science Fiction I am familiar with Lasswell’s “Garrison State” is Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The many comparisons and parallels between “the Garrison State” and 1984 are numerous and cause me to wonder if this was a piece that Orwell may have read prior to writing his book. The aspect of Orwell’s society similar to Garrison’s include his focus on the fear of violence becoming an aspect of everyday life, the equalizing of financial difference across the mass of society with an elite upper-class at the top who are financially and materially wealthy, the reduction or elimination of consumer goods, the development of a centralized, integrated and dictatorial government, and the development of a way to suppress original or variances in thought, except by those in power. These are some of the many parallels between Orwell and Lasswell and their respective visions of the future.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Lasswell's methods applied within Science Fiction

Harold Lasswell in his article “The Garrison State” uses a totalistic carefully examined method of projecting his idea of the common trends into the future. The method that H.G. Wells used to construct the world in The Time Machine is what Lasswell referred to is “itemistic.” Meaning that he took simply one or two features in his own society and projected them forward, in his case this was a class and work separation. Although, as Kaitlin points out in her blog, this does allow him to explore the very fine line between a Utopia and a Dystopia. As a first look into science fiction, he presents an intriguing result of his society, but really the only other element he uses besides a class differences is that the Morlocks retain their intelligence longer due to the fact that they actually do some work. He is completely disregarding the fact, which Lasswell highlights, that intelligence of some inventors would remain to continue to change the Morlocks environment or to invent and play with new things.

Lasswell’s point in writing his article was statedly not purely to promote the future becoming a world of garrison states as to make a point of how you conduct an analysis into possible futures. Although his analysis is meant strictly for social scientists, it handily lines out a method for science fiction writers as well through the critical observations.


Hello all,
A few notes for our blog upkeeping:
  • We are supposed to label all our blogs both with our name and what type it is (substantive, reflection)
  • If anyone wants to make edits on the blog set-up, or add a description, they are welcome to do so
  • By this Tuesday class we should all have up at least one substantive, one reflective and a comment
Hope you had a great MLK Day!

Thoughts on The Time Machine

There were several ideas that I continued pondering just after reading The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. The composed plausibility of time travel presented, the timeless nature of Wells' plot, and the social issues of the 19th century that surface amid incredible occurences. It seemed appropriate that in reading one of the founders of the genre, the first things I noticed were elements that evolved as being crucial to a good work of science fiction. More in line with our subject of Utopias and Dystopias, I believe Wells created both. For the beginning of his stay in the future, the Time Traveler at least thinks he has discovered the idealized human world, carefree and beautiful. It is only after a period of enjoying this utopia that he discovers a simple second half of this world that annihilates his theory and lays bare the opposite reality of a dystopia. Allowing both realities to exist for a time is the perfect mechanism to point out how acutely humankind's flaws have affected them while also allowing the audience to entertain the possibility of several eventual outcomes.
Wells' idea of time travel also has enough specifics to convey his idea and propel his plot, but remains vague enough to leave part of it to his audience. The detailed explanation of how time is merely a fourth dimension that one can move along is believable. The machine that is constructed to move through time is constructed of ordinary materials such as quartz and ivory and resembles nothing inhuman or unimaginable. Once this is established, Wells ignores any possible complications, such as how the direction of time traveled in is controlled, or how the dials showing the year and time function. By at least touching on and giving an explanation for part of Wells' idea of time travel, the rest can be assumed and doesn't interfere with the development of the plot.
The plot of The Time Machine is essentially timeless. This could be attributed to the fact that the adventure happens so far in the future that we can never know whether or not it really happens, but that explanation is too simple. The 19th Century social themes that are raised do place a time period on the story, but this fails to make the voyage unrelatable to a modern audience. Though he may have been the first to label and publish the concept, time travel and curiosity of what will become of humanity in any eventuality is a theme with infinite possibilities. I would like to think it is because Wells succeeded in sculpting so close to an inherent human curiosity that his story fails to lose meaning as distance is put between when the plot occurs and whatever time period the reader may be in.
Along the same line of thought, Wells does at least reference multiple social issues of his time, but they fail to interfere with his message. It reminded me of how he merely outlined the workings of the actual time traveling. Rather than a detailed social analysis of his time and the social classes of the late 1800s, Wells makes a few references to social class specifics of the time, fears of socialism, well known locations like Battersea, and even a brief reference to the empire of the "Carlovingian Kings". These elements of reality sprinkled through his tale of seemingly impossible time travel leave at least enough impression of reality for the novel to also make a commentary on society without becoming a lecture. His fear that the importance of knowledge and discovery will be lost, as embodied in the Eloi race, seems to be becoming a more possible concern as life becomes more mechanized and at least in some aspects, new learning is less necessary.
I am left with only two random thoughts. The first is my curiosity about what would have happened had the Time Traveler succeeded in bringing Weena back to his time. Did he honestly think transporting such an innocent mind through time to such an unforgiving and skeptical reception was a good idea?
And second, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Philosophical Transactions, to which Wells referred in his mourning for the pointlessness of knowledge acquisition if it all eventually is lost again, are actually still being published, though whether they'll be around for another 800,000 years or so is a mystery to me.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Model of Sci-Fi

From our class discussion, I believe the most significant characteristic of science fiction is how it creates a model of a future or alternative world which is inherently meant to have unrealistic components. Unlike economic models and models of political thought whose successfulness is based on accurately predict outcomes, the point of science fiction’s unrealistic models are not necessarily based on an ability to forecast, but rather the intrigue of the possibility the author has highlighted. The model created in most sci-fi stories takes a possible outcome if a new factor was added (such as another life form, or a technological advancement). Most often, they are meant to explore a possibility through their thought experiment, and by introducing their characters it becomes an engaging world that we can see through the eyes of someone we could relate to so that no mater how different the world is, we often have these characters to relate to and through them see the world and its changes.

Another advantage of science fiction is that the stories (or the science) do not have to be possible. They can be incorrect on certain facts, as long as the story remains plausible. Unlike other generas where a large degree of possibility must be met, science fiction only needs plausibility. So if these one or two things were true, then the rest could very easily follow; we brought up this notion in class of internal consistency which allows us to accept what otherwise might otherwise be seen as simply wrong).

Friday, January 18, 2008

January 15 Reflective

15 January: Science Fiction is

After paring down our list of what science fiction is composed of during our first class, I thought we had hit on some key elements that are nearly always found within science fiction, but that didn't necessarily define the genre. However these points too are crucial to understanding what science fiction is. Arguments that science fiction contains technological components, takes the audience out of their ordinary context, discovers the new, deals with alien relations, and is internally consistent are crucial and reflected in nearly all science fiction that I have come upon thus far. Looking over this list later I realized that we had left out what I feel is most imperative to a good work of science fiction. Our ideas didn't seem to me to adequately describe how much of a social experiment science fiction is.

Because science fiction must be plausible enough that it is conceivable, as well as its nearly required propensity to contain exploration or discovery, it developed as the ideal mechanism for projecting social and technological issues without offending an audience. A few examples that come to mind include the mention of Ursula K. Leguin's exploration of gender roles in society with her creation of a genderless society in The Left Hand of Darkness, Margaret Atwood's dystopian society of women in subjugation in The Handmaid's Tale, and the possibility of evolution and decline of human social classes magnified through time travel by H.G. Wells in The Time Machine. This point did enter our discussion with the tangent that many points of Star Trek that would have ordinarily been screened out for public broadcast, such as the first interracial kiss, were allowed, simply because the show was in the science fiction genre and therefore unreal. I think it is this allowance to extrapolate new ideas because they are presented in an often inhuman or alternate reality form is what I've come to hold as being one of the most important characteristics of science fiction.