Science Fiction Studies

#76 = Volume 25, Part 3 = November 1998




Ross Farnell

Posthuman Topologies: William Gibson’s "Architexture" in Virtual Light and Idoru

Abstract.-- The publication of William Gibson’s Idoru allows us to read the earlier Virtual Light as its intertextual precursor; it becomes possible to redress the critical silence previously surrounding both texts. This paper argues that the decline of cyberpunk and cyberspace into marketing device and hyperreality, required Gibson’s abandonment of digital tectonics for analog information structures—a device through which to explore the retrofuturistic "posthuman." By refiguring the Bridge community of Virtual Light as an organic hive-like entity, Gibson transposes metaphor into architextural meta-form, refurbishing the recurrent theme in his work of the effect of place, space and architecture on "posthuman" form and ontology. This new neo-tribal heterotopian space lays the foundation for the mediation of the posthuman coded as information topology in Idoru. The disruption of the subject/object dichotomy in Virtual Light prefigures the boundary transgressions of flesh, data, and biologic nanotechnology in Idoru, enabling the inversion of inner and outer through body, landscape, and cyborgian architexture. In the latter novel, the idoru Rei inverts the sf trope of transcendence—she escapes the binary digital confines of data for rhizomatic analog complexity—achieving a metaphorical symbiotic union with the corporeality of the rock star Rez. The iconic mapping of their converging data creates an unstable assemblage, an involution where differences are replaced by diffractions. For Gibson, then, the posthuman becomes an irruption within the human. This leads to the central conclusion of this paper: that the posthuman should be reconceived as the "human" under erasure.

Dominick M. Grace

The Handmaid’s Tale: "Historical Notes" and Documentary Subversion

Abstract.-- The "Historical Notes" appearing at the end of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale have been the subject of repeated critical scrutiny. Commentaries have suggested that the world of 2195 is far from an eutopian alternative to the dystopia of Gilead; indeed, commentators consistently note the sexism of Pieixoto and suggest that the conditions that led to the founding of Gilead in the first place still exist in the world of 2195. The world of 2195 is one in which women once again assume positions of authority and in which Native North American peoples are evidently part of the dominant culture. It might appear, therefore, an eutopian alternative to Gilead, and perhaps even to the world of today, if we can accept at face value that the sexist and racist assumptions prevalent in Gilead (and today) have been eradicated; but we cannot. Instead, we are forced by the inconsistencies and disjunctions created by Pieixoto’s deeply flawed anaylsis of Offred’s account to question the documentary method itself as a valid arbiter of truth.

Steffen Hantke

Surgical Strikes and Prosthetic Warriors: The Soldier’s Body in Contemporary Science Fiction

Abstract. -- In a series of science-fiction novels describing future warfare—Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (1959), Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War (1972), and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game (1985)—the technologically augmented body serves as a site of anxiety. Cultural and social fears about what it means specifically to be male or generally to be human are expressed and negotiated here. These fears are triggered by the complex realization that the promise of prosthetics to heal, integrate, and strengthen the body is accompanied by the further dissolution of the body and the radical challenge to human agency and autonomy. In a culture characterized by the discourse of the surgical strike and the prosthetic body, resolving these ambiguities and contradictions becomes the task not only for each author in the individual texts, but for readers as they determine their own subjectivity in relation to high-tech culture.

Donald Palumbo

The Monomyth as Fractal Pattern in Frank Herbert’s DUNE Novels

Abstract.-- Frank Herbert’s DUNE series mirrors its explicit ecological theme through its dynamical-systems plot structure, which echoes the fractal geometry image’s definitive quality of self-similarity across the same scale. It does so, among other ways, through the incorporation of the Monomyth as a principal structuring device in each of its six novels. This repetition of the Monomyth is but one instance of the series’ fractal iteration of numerous ancillary parallel plot structures and themes, but is of unique importance because it subsumes within it the reiteration in each of these six novels of the many interrelated elements that comprise the Monomyth, as defined by Joseph Campbell in The Hero With a Thousand Faces. This article analyzes the recurrence of this archetypal plot structure in each volume of the dune series, giving special attention to the specific pattern of variations and inversions introduced by Herbert, to further demonstrate the series’ pervasive fractal structure. Herbert’s aesthetic achievement in mirroring the dune series’ ecological theme in its recurring fractal structure through this recyclying of the Monomyth is wonderfully compounded, not only in that mirroring is itself the essential characteristic of any fractal structure, but also in that the Monomyth, as the single consciously-controlled pattern most widely exhibited in the world’s folk tales, myths, and religious fables, is already intrinsically fractal by definition.

Sylvie Romanowski

Cyrano de Bergerac’s Epistemological Bodies: "Pregnant with a Thousand Definitions"

Abstract.-- Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655) wrote imaginary voyages to the Moon and to the Sun, both often titled together L'Autre Monde. These fantastic voyages, filled with extremely diverse events and beings of various kinds, both human and non-human, enable the author to imagine non-traditional forms of society, physics, travel, language, sensory perception, and philosophy. Generally, Cyrano wishes to refute the traditional Christian, geocentric, and Aristotelian views of the universe, and in order to do so, he bases himself in two alternative sciences, or visions of the world, available to him in his day, the atomistic and the alchemical visions. Critics have generally tended to view Cyrano as either materialist or hermetic, but I consider him to be interested in both these systems of knowledge. The body is the particular entity where these two systems of knowledge meet and interact, for it is Cyrano’s view that the body is part of knowing—i.e., for him knowledge may be a matter of the spirit, but it is always embodied. Cyrano wants to imagine new ways of thinking about humanity and the universe: to this end, he uses reversals, an easy way to jolt and amuse the reader, but he also goes far beyond reversals to imagine, with great freedom, multiple possibilities for understanding the body, the mind, philosophy, and the universe.

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