Monday, May 6, 2013

jkf;aldkfjasdl;jkl;asdfjkl; hello.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Week 12: Red Mars, part 2

Given the chance, would I choose to terraform Mars? Should the technology come available and I fell into a position where opportunity allowed me to go, would I do it? The fear of leaving a comfortable home put aside, the question is about the creation of a society, the restructuring of a planet, and the shaping of a new humanity. Robinson responded to this question on, ambiguously stating only that the reflection of this question is what drove him to write the trilogy and that he believes we should, in fact, terraform Mars (assuming there is no life there) if we would only leave the higher elevations in their natural state. His response is an environmental one, a comment on the ability to live in a place and not destroy its “sublime” qualities and “its own intrinsic worth,” he says. But the issue, certainly is much larger. The question reminds us of the early North American colonists who, in their own way, terraformed a new land. Of course, those early colonists disregarded the life—the societies and culture of the Native Americans—already existing in this new land, and reshaped a world for both democratic and financial prospects.

When Marian talks to John about the establishment of a Mars treaty under the rule of ‘dictators’ from Earth, John argues that the new Mars inhabitants have the right to frame their world in their own way. Referring to the American Revolution, he says “it may not be 1760, but we have some of the same advantages: we’re at a great distance and we’re in possession” (348). While a major driving force for the establishment of a new land in 1760 may have been for the freedom of religion, it is easy enough to argue that today, should we terraform a new planet and a society were to form, it would be less about religion and more about political, environmental, and moral ideologies. Distance may allow a people to separate themselves from the ideological traditions of the past, but that is a physical separation. When John then states “the important thing is not to fall into their way of thinking, into the same old violent mistakes,” he is raising a much more humanistic question about the nature of the human being. Would we really be able to distance ourselves from the violence and moral and ethical decline of a world fighting between capitalism and communism (and all the other social and political ideologies)?

Sure, with the right people, a generation or two may pass with a new perspective, but hasn’t history taught us that when large groups of people assemble together, governments form, laws are passed, and criminals, dictators and power mongers are born? What is it that a new place would offer? Perhaps, even if Robinson says he thinks we should terraform, we can learn from Red Mars that the grass isn’t always greener (on another planet). Part of the human struggle is battling through opposition that will unfailingly exist no matter where we choose to land. Red Mars shows that humanity, in all its attempts to improve is, after all, still humanity. And in that one very sure thing, nothing will ever change.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Week 11: Red Mars

I start by saying that Red Mars has been, by far, the most interesting and engaging read of the semester for me, primarily because I have a sort of weakness, I guess you could say, with imagination. I must find myself grounded in “the real” or “the possible.” Red Mars, in many ways, has made me engage in a very real set of political and hierarchical value systems that the other science fiction books have not been able to do. Plus, the characters seem tangible and realistic, which I feel should be at the heart of any well-written story. If an author can’t emotionally connect the reader to the characters, something very, very important is lost.

What I would like to discuss in this post is historical reverence—and perhaps arrogance—to the historicity of America’s hierarchical value system. As is the case with most organizations, unique respect and attention is given to the “firsts.” In America, we reverence people like Cristoforo Colombo, our revered explorer; the pilgrims who founded the first colonies; and the Forefathers who established the Constitution. Red Mars similarly establishes the lives of the first 100, who are shown in what is a future history of the colonization of Mars, those to later be recognized as the pilgrims of a new planet. Red Mars, however, functionally demonstrates and exploits character flaws within these first 100, flaws that are shaped by political history, language, and personality. While in recent years, perhaps, the character blemishes of persons Americans have worshipped now for over two centuries—like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Christopher Columbus—have come forth (about the way they treated slaves, their sex lives, and their political pitfalls), ignorance is preferred. When we make statements like “that’s unconstitutional!” we are falling into the hierarchical bandwagon that assumes a document created 230 years ago meets our current needs. The reverence we place on people and documents tends to be founded in a modern arrogance of the accomplishments of these historical persons. I believe Red Mars is able to effectively show the arrogance that is built from historical people and traditions. America, especially, is shown as the arrogant nation—one that has grown to see itself as the world leader, the archetype for all to adhere to. English is shown as the language used to “accommodate the Americans,” purportedly because Americans are unwilling to learn other languages. American characteristics are said to be “big, loud, maniacally energetic, confident, and restless.” In other words, bombastic. But, America is also presented as a country of sheep, followers who blindly—and egocentrically—follow the traditions of what has worked in the past. Even, for example, the “Puritan streak in Americans, that sense that sex was wrong and something that men had to trick women into.” Red Mars shows, I believe, an incredible perspective into the way which our future histories are written by the pilgrims of today.

The question is then, of course, raised: who are the pilgrims, the metaphorical colonizers of today? Who is it that Americans will be calling the “first 100” 100 years from now? Certainly, the forefathers fall into that description, but I’m talking about modern political, economic, and social figures—people like Obama—that are perhaps, in their own way, shaping the way we will perceive the shaping of a country, a people, and a planet that people will revere years down the road. What are their flaws and what will they lead us into? What have people like Henry Ford done, after all, in this past century and what might be different if they were shaped by different “first 100s” of their time?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Week 10: A Door Into Ocean

A Door into Ocean is a book about culture and, more specifically, the dichotomies that divide cultures from one another. On the flip side, it is about finding the bridge between the dichotomies to mold cultures together. More so than any of the feminist books we have read so far, I felt that Ocean was really about understanding and coming to terms with perhaps traditionally polarizing traits—rather than, like so many others, showing primarily the differences. On Slonczewski’s (how do you pronounce that name, by way!?) website (, she gives a chart of the book’s polarities as described between the Sharer and Valan worlds—male-female, organic-inorganic, natural science-physical science, healthy-sick, weak-strong, and finally, subject-object. One that she strangely fails to mention, and it is one that I tend to always pick up on (apparently I have a fetish with it) is the capitalism-sharing polarity. And I do see this as a polarity. Early in the book, Spinel is pressured into finding a sponsor. His mother, mistakingly thinking that he is about to announce his new sponsor (when he is, in reality, about to announce leaving for the Ocean Moon) asks him if he is going to a gem manufacturing firm—apparently a desirable occupation. Much like in the world of capitalism, the pressure to obtain recognition, sponsors, and “stonesigns” seems to forget to recognize the human desire to also be altruistic. The sharers, however, live by a system—and through a language—that doesn’t comprehend outdoing someone else for gain, power, or money. Interestingly, it is their language—this subject object phenomenon where both object and subject “share” the same action—that bridges the polarities back together. The idea of such a small language difference that completely alters the way a society views itself and others makes for very important multicultural communication barriers and other considerations.

Slonzcewski convincingly argues for a consideration of what the breakdown of such a language barrier might mean. Again on her website, she notes that

profound insights…may be reached when one dissolves the subject-object distinction. For example, when an unborn child exists within a mother, "the mother exists within the child." This is literally true; much of the mother’s substance forms the substance of the child, and this understanding is fundamental to prenatal medicine. Women who smoke or consume unhealthy substances fail to appreciate this phenomenon.

Such a small, yet profound perspective, can make a considerable difference in the way humans act with each other and with nature. A Door into Ocean really is all about this—breaking down a traditional mindset of subject and object that has for long controlled the way in which human “nature” is constructed. Perhaps something as small as a change in language could alter the way in which we view power, government, and economic systems. It makes me wonder: if the subject-object relation is so polarizing and in effect so detrimental, what might the subject-predicate relationship alter if changed?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Week 8: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

Wikipedia generously gave me this quote from Tiptree: “A male name seemed like good camouflage. I had the feeling that a man would slip by less observed. I've had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damned occupation.” I’m trying to figure this author out. Yes, she had a PhD. Yes, she was in the military. But what makes her think she was the first in these occupations, and why use the word “damned”?

Honestly, her stories were hard for me to stomach. There are authors/writers who are offensive, but they make a good point, a thought-provoking catalyst into a much needed discussion. Then, there seems to be a post-modern approach to being offensive just for the sake of being offensive—a shock-and-awe sort of phenomenon that I have come to loathe. These kinds of artists make a stir, gather a crowd, and raise questions within the field—these are people like Damien Hirst. But there is a third category: offensive because you are sedistic or perhaps unstable. It seems as though Tiptree falls into this category.

This post isn’t a good literature analysis. Tiptree hasn’t put me in that kind of mood. She has made my stomach churn. My questions this week are about an author’s ability to make such hostile arguments and sound legit. How is her making cruel stabs at masculenity, claiming them to be natural rapists and violent animals, any different than racistly generalizing an entire minority and claiming them to be seditious, sex-driven maniacs? Her biggest offense, other than being blatantly graphic, of course, is that she pretends women (all of them) are naturally the opposite—good, wholesome, pure—and that men (all of them) at the root have evil brooding to emerge and explode. She offers no apologies and no rebuttal to this argument, at least not in “Houston.” Perhaps God, though, is used as a scapegoat. I don’t expect everyone to be religious, but her agnoticism (perhaps even making a joke of God) in “Houston” and her it’s-God’s-fault scapegoat argument in “Screwfly” don’t do much for me either. They are weak, unsettling, and superficial finger-pointing statements. All men are evil, raping, killing machines—must be no God. All men are evil, raping, killing machines—uh, God did it, his fault. Seriously?

Perhaps the exclamation to Tiptree’s offensiveness is that she feels impelled to use a pseudonym under which to hide her character. I understand the difficulty women had of being recognized and appreciated in the early ‘70s. I do. And I can see why many felt the need to label their writing under a man’s name to get attention, to be published and read. But if you’re going to be this offensive, then stand up and take the criticism. But the fact is, for stories like “Houston” and “Screwfly,” she had no argument. At least not in her stories. So what I am hoping here is that some light will be shed about her life in the presentation in class. I can only, in the kindness of my heart, give her the benefit of the doubt that her anger has grown from a seed of unfortunate abuse in her life. She obviously has a serious, deep-rooted and vindictive bone to pick with men and I can only assume that she has lost her trust through abusive childhood and marital relationships. What else would cause such sickening writing to be spilt?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Week 7: Woman on the Edge of Time

Woman on the Edge of Time is a blunt and brutal attempt to reflect and foreshadow humankind’s—particularly America’s—ailing social condition. Utopian science fiction often does this sort of thing, but (and I say this with my very limited experience reading science fiction) few so blatantly evoke a sentiment of such fierce anger towards a degenerating society. The culprits blamed are many: sexism, racism, environmental ignorance, capitalism, even the family unit. Separating this book from similar utopian science fiction novels, however, Piercy argues for violent insurgence to invoke a shift in societal change. Her protagonist, Connie Ramos, is a complicated and sometimes awkward—though effectively intriguing—central figure to the novel that many (myself included) would have a hard time cheering for. The perplexing nature of her psyche and the ambiguousness of her mental stability make the reader even question if this is a science fiction novel at all, or simply a psychological thriller grounded in social insurrection.

This novel demonstrates a clear beef that Piercy has for social subjugation, a fury for oppression that not-so-subtly pervades every shadow of American culture. Through Connie, and the representatively gay figure Luciente, Piercy unashamedly argues that a white-dominated, sexually focused, patriarchal capitalism has spun us into a tailspin that will inevitably produce nothing but social ruin and that currently engenders a loss of humanism and respect for the human being. Social class systems where race divides the poor from the rich, the healthy from the sick, the educated from the ignorant are unacceptable. Oppression is observed under patriarchy where women and gays are marginalized and under capitalism where the socially weak acquiesce to those in greater position. One of the most persistent attacks Piercy makes on society’s course is that of familial relationships. A dichotomy is introduced that polarizes the family into two extremes: on the one hand, families run by men in patriarchal units lead to broken homes, abuse, female submissiveness, heartache, and bitter mental turmoil. On the other, families raised in non-traditional, sexually-equal parenting situations offers what appears to be superficial love but structured and nonetheless happy. Piercy seems to suggest here that the oppression that marginalized communities experience is in part routed in the idea that the family unit—the nuclear family structure—is unnatural an ineffective. Or, even if it is natural, isn’t justified.

While her arguments are interesting and Women on the Edge of Time is a compelling and engaging fiction, it still is very much a fiction. Admittedly coming from a conservative, religious, and “practical” perspective, I confess that I find her arguments less persuasive than a mere rant. And I have had this issue with all the stories we have read so far. Piercy has an incredible ability to show the oppressive nature of the human being through Connie’s struggle with Geraldo, Dolly, Angelina, the various mental institutions, and her relationship with Luciente. The arguments here are powerful, engaging, and real. But I am left to wonder about the overtly socialist, feminist, environmentalist, and “anti”-racists perspectives of her alternate futures. Like much of the problems I find myself having with science fiction, I ask myself again here: why make it a fiction? At least, why make it unrealistic? If the issues are as she says they are and there is, in fact, something we can do about it, why not keep us on the ground, talking about the issues, rather than floating around in time and space? This is where she loses me and where I begin to lose faith in her tirade.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Week 6: The Dispossessed

The Dispossessed is in so many ways a fascinating novel of the complexities of human interests, desires, passions, and relationships. While many science fiction novels are able to pinpoint and effectively critique mechanisms of modern societies, this is the first we have read this semester, I believe, that effectively portrays the myriad dichotomous relationships that define who we have become (and are becoming). While there is so much that could be said of this book—including discussions about religion, anarchy, capitalism (once again), feminism, and so forth—the separation of societies is something I would like to touch on. The Dispossessed shows the awkward separation of two societies that have for so long chosen not to associate much with each other. Within these two societies, though, exist other dialectical associations—relationships between men and women, between countries (A-Io and Thu), and between children and parents. Such relationships often show a disconnect between the way we choose to interact. Motivation is an interesting concept here as we see anything from animalistic sex drive to politics to consumerism as a source of desire that drives the human will. What is it, though, that forces us to make separations from each other? Why, since the beginning of man, must there always be a power struggle—an opposite to which organizations must compare themselves?

I see this phenomenon happening in nearly every aspect of our lives. Where there is a sports team, there is almost always a heated rival between another team. In the military, we see ideological schisms between the Army and Navy. Countries typically have a number one foe on their hit list. Religions find their counterparts and pursue heated and even violent debates. The Dispossessed shows the estrangement between two very different societies—Annares and Urras—where the latter exiled the former to a desolate land. I couldn’t help but make the association between the early American settlers and the American Indians. Mankind has a unique trait that searches for a reason to dominate, to control. Such is also represented with the men over the women in Urras. This book effectively shows these relationships and their complex and recurring-ness in daily human life. One very important reason for this, as LeGuin shows early on in the book, is a difference in language.

As one who studies communication, the separation of ideologies because of language is interesting. Shevek and his planet (moon) struggle with the notion of ownership in great part because their language doesn’t allow for it. Instead of saying “you can borrow my shirt,” Anarresti are forced to say “you can use the shirt I wear,” effectively removing ownership from the sentence. This very subtle difference in language mechanics can shift an entire ideology. Thus, is it fair to say that language shapes us rather than the way around? Certainly. The way we think and react is contingent upon the way our language works. And there are so many things we can’t say simply because out language doesn’t allow for it. In the world how much of our struggles and our polarized relationships develop as a direct or indirect cause of our language?