Science Fiction Studies


#71 = Volume 24, Part 1 = March 1997

Gwyneth Jones

Metempsychosis of the Machine: Science Fiction in the Halls of Karma

The Mills Of God. In the Museum of Mankind near Piccadilly Circus, London, the textiles exhibit includes a display of cotton robes, embroidered in vivid geometric patterns by nineteenth-century Ethiopian noblewomen. One of the robes has the Manchester mill mark clearly visible, printed across one shoulder: most likely, reads the placard, deliberately on show to affirm the fine quality and high price of the material. I was born in Manchester. My grandmother, left alone with three little boys under four years old in 1914, spent her life in the mills. Conditions were not so terrible then as in the previous century, but she and my father and his brothers were just about as poor as you can be without dying of it. I know something of what happened to the slaves of King Cotton. Still I feel an irrational tug of pride as I read the card: to think that some noblewoman, living in alien luxury so far from my home she might as well have been on another planet, regarded Manchester cotton—my people's goods—as a status-symbol; exotic treasure.

In Foumban, where the forest-covered mountains and sweaty river plains of coastal Cameroon give way to the red, rolling cattle country, the local ruling dynasty counts back sixteen generations. The compounds of the nobility have ancient, elaborately carved gateways. There's also a palace, built in 1911 in heavy imitation of a German style of grandeur; but we'd come to see the famous cloth market. We found booths upon booths piled with bolts of earthy and brilliant colour, inventive energetic patterns; the air of the market impregnated with the sweet, dusty smell of fresh cotton. But it was all Dutch material, printed in the Netherlands. The tourists turn away disappointed—and besides, it's all so expensive, same price as it would be at home; if not more. We don't want the empire back, absolutely not. But still, when we come to Africa we expect to make some kind of a killing. . . . In Bafoussam, the city where you catch the bush taxi to picturesque Foumban, the main roads are paved. The banks are shining monolithic shrines to capitalism (I've seen them before, these majestic shrines. In my city, the style is Victorian Gothic). The secondary streets are red raw dirt and stones. The people who have crowded into them from miles around, hungry for betterment and dreaming of freezer cabinets, air-conditioning, glossy new cars, are living in shacks and bothies and tents and holes in the ground: scrabbling lumps of flesh drawn into the maw of a terrible churning vortex. Except for the temperature (and the snarling of hideously decayed motor transport), it could be a scene from Mary Barton.1 From north to south, economic expansion has passed on. Manchester is quiet now. The eater of souls has moved here.

Pirates of the Universe. Science fiction is in the export business. Differences within the genre—between paranoia and good will, militarism and evangelical fervour; between the melancholy of European scientific romance and the brash rocketship-heroes optimism of the USA—fade as history changes our perspective on the futures of the past. The primary objective becomes more clear—a sending outwards, a projection of "our own" technophilia, our own social and political ideation, into other realms and other times. The search for new worlds is secondary. We need them because the market stall must have a place to stand. But commercial empire building, as we know, can never be a "pure-ly" economic activity. There must be go-downs lining the jungle rivers, their traffic muddying the virgin waters of local price structure. Native clerks must be trained and thereby alienated from their kin. Soon guilt-tripping missions must be launched to improve the lot of the exploited. Before long we find we've had to take over a whole country, in order to keep those wheels a'turn-ing back at home. The tiresome necessity becomes a purpose in itself. Everything is reversed. We came to sell our goods, we end up taking possession of our customers. . . .

Academic study of the genre, perceiving sf as a naive yet fascinating puppet theatre of confrontation between self and not-self, machine and flesh, master and slave, tends to brush aside the travelogue element—all those strange suns and skies—as trivial. It's true that, as in real life, the new civilisation pasted up around the market stall is often a flimsy pretence, not seriously intended to deceive the expected audience.2 But without forcing the connection back to seventeenth- and sixteenth-century European forays into Africa and Asia and the New World, or citing Cyrano de Bergerac or Kepler's space-exploration fantasies, it is entirely reasonable to call sf the fiction of economic expansion; and to see its essential story in those terms. (Time smooths over the cracks here as well, brushing away the great divide between East and West and reconstituting the unity of the mass-market era. Ideology is also a product, for which markets must be found or created). In this view of science fiction the other place is no longer mere decor, nor yet valuable only as a metaphor for the receptive, the female, the void into which "we" must thrust "ourselves." It is of vital importance. And the connections between the other place of sf and real-world economic empire are redoubled, by the nature of the relationship between world-building fiction and the world from which all fictional worlds are built. Inevitably, the cultures and landscapes annexed in imagination have been largely identical with the cultures and landscapes of those annexed, exploited territories known until recently as the Third World.

It is hard to make bricks without straw. The most popular or the most rarefied sf text has to give the reader some viewpoint that translates the unknown into story. We so often need to signal that a society we're writing about is different from "our own": which means different from the dominant cultures of the mass-market era. How much simpler and more sensible to appropriate a set of differences (customs, costumes, rituals, beliefs, scraps of language, artifacts, kinship patterns) that we know to be functional (Inuit? Hindu?) than to trust in our pitifully inadequate powers of invention. If we were not forced to cannibalize the Third World by the logical necessity of our outward drive, we would still need it for copy. It's a habit that we can't seem to give up, no matter how the status of the target cultures changes. Indeed sf's re-presentation of the Third World has been weirdly reminiscent of the real world's enthusiastic translation of defeated "native peoples" into mass entertainment. In the beginning there were the Wild West spectacles of the late nineteenth-century US, and lavish, frankly triumphant exhibitions of tropical trophies in London and Paris. Lately the trophies, so as not to be recognized as stolen property, have had to become ethnographical exhibits;3 and the Red Man freak shows have had to be sanitized by Hollywood.4 But however apologetically, science fiction must export: and therefore must control the economy of the other place by any means necessary.

The Politics of Appropriation. In contrast to sf's characteristic radical-conservative line on home politics, attitudes to the fictional colonies have been, on the face of it, remarkably liberal. Stories involving human exploitation of newly discovered planets have often sided with the natives. Only aggressive, technologically competitive aliens have been demonized. Sf has been used as a vehicle for protest against real-world military or commercial depredations in the colonies or ex-colonies of the White North. The First World monoculture view of the human future has been inclusive, not exclusive. It's been assumed that everybody has to join, but at least everybody's been welcome. Perhaps the worst offence has been the persistent suggestion, implicit in too many simple-life affirming novels and stories, that "they" (the people who have no freezer cabinets or glossy new cars) were much better off: and all of us rich urban, technophile wordsmiths would really far prefer to be illiterate ersatz yak-drivers on planet New Tibet.

Science fiction is never ahistorical. The respectful and positive attitude to alien cultures expressed in the liberal sf I read when I was growing up in the sixties, the fiction of Ursula Le Guin, James Tiptree, Arthur C. Clarke, Roger Zelazny, Robert Heinlein (among others) reflected the real world situation— hopes for the future of newly independent colonies; fears for the control of vital raw materials; consciousness of the value of Third World alignment in the Superpowers' shifting balance of terror; and among US writers without doubt a conviction that the USA could never repeat the mistakes of European Imperialists. However, a wholesale annexation was still going on, under all the good will. Sf's imperialism by stealth can be observed in the sixties genre classic, Frank Herbert's Dune (1965). In this highly entertaining story, members of the dominant echelon of spacefaring civilisation arrive on the desert planet Arrakis, popularly known as "Dune." Arrakis is the source of an extremely important commodity, the "Spice" which keeps old age at bay and facilitates faster-than-light navigation; and the homeworld of a Bedouin-oid native race called the "Fremen." A young boy called Paul Atreides, heir of one of the dominant echelon's great families, is cast adrift in the desert. He becomes the Fremen mystic and prophet Muad'dib; and the leader of an immensely powerful religious and political movement. Herbert's attitude to the natives of Arrakis is exemplary. It is the desert people who teach, and the (economic imperialist) outsiders who learn. Desert-inspired mysticism is not only spiritually superior to the (economic imperialist) esoteric discipline in which the proto "Muad'dib" was originally trained, it also turns out to be the mechanism that to some degree restores control of Arrakis's valuable raw materials to the local population. . . . But such benevolent patronage has a price. Though it is presumably possible to read Dune as a work of pure, colorful invention (the splendid tribesfolk with their picturesque flowing robes and seductive blue-on-blue eyes; the monstrous sandworms; the harsh beauty of the endless dunes; the rich detail of an obsessively water-conserving culture), most readers would be aware of real world sources for this situation, this landscape, this culture. What happens in Dune (amidst a wealth of future-Byzantine court intrigue) is that a rich white boy in a clearly recognisable fictional Middle East is adopted by some quasi-Islamic tribesfolk and becomes a version of Mohammed. What happens in the appendices (which are voluminous, in the style of those days) is that Fremen culture and religion are traced not to an Arab interplanetary venture, but to "SPACE TRAVEL!" itself.5 The Fremen have distant connections with Islamic tradition, but they themselves belong to the single, dominant economy that put the rockets into space. . . . Third World peoples, it appears, are welcome to become citizens of the future. They may retain their traditions, costume and language. But they must accept that all trace of their independent origins must vanish. And it seemed perfectly natural at the time, a very reasonable way of looking at the human future. The spacefaring culture at the back of the story is clearly that of the United States, in origin, traits, assumptions—and therefore not mine. I don't remember if I noticed this when I first read Dune: if I did I didn't care. "We" were gladly going to put all that sort of thing behind us.

Through the seventies and eighties alien-world travelogue fell into disfavor. One could cite many reasons for this eclipse—the deadly fat-volumes series-syndrome, of which Dune was an early victim; US defeat in Vietnam, which gave imaginary versions of the Third World a very different status; the depressingly limited actuality of real space travel; the emergence of a new generation of writers, asserting themselves on the mean streets of earth, because the rest of the galaxy had been carved up long ago.6 But the global situation was also changing. The Third World of the dispossessed was vanishing from its traditional territories, to reappear in threatening enclaves deep within the First World. The newly emerged Developing World offered fewer and fewer gentle backwaters, where colorful mediaeval peasants sans standard consumer durables could be admired for their immemorial calm. Recently, finding near-future realism inadequate for the mood of the nineties, science-fiction writers have returned in droves to the fantasy diaspora. More devious explanations for period costume and historical re-enactment on distant planets are in vogue:7 trophies have become conservation projects. In the epidemic insecurity of the fin de siecle, it isn't all that absurd to propose that whole planetary communities might set themselves up as theme-park exhibits:8 there is no shortage of evidence that human groups can and will cling to the past with insane passion. But in John Barnes's A Million Open Doors (1993), reference to the particular anxieties of the old dominant economies seems very clear. After a lengthy period of political breakdown, the "thousand cultures" of the ethnic-recreation diaspora must accept the return of central government: they must open up their local markets to the commercial might of the monoculture. In an earlier, more innocent science fiction the colonists would have been the heroes in this situation. They would have triumphed, like the Fremen. The plot has changed. For John Barnes economic submission is essential. Not one of those thousand customers can be allowed to resist the (re)appearance of MacDonalds on their High Streets. The time when we could pretend (even in fantasy) that "we" don't need "them," that we're distributing civilization out of the kindness of our hearts, has passed away.

Lord of Light. My own entry into science fiction (as a writer) came midway, spiritually and chronologically, between Herbert and Barnes. I had just had my first children's novel published, when the historical situation of post-economic imperialism (the time when we export our usefully-educated selves, having nothing else left) dispatched me to Singapore, where my husband had a teaching job. We spent some time traveling, during our stay, in Java, Sumatra, Bali, Malaysia, and Thailand. I became fascinated by the culture of the region. A story that I had begun writing years before—about a robot girl, her cynical cat-companion; and their search for the humans they were bound to serve— began to grow into a far-future romance.9 Nearly twenty years on, I know that my fiction has been permanently shaped by those three years in the tropics, and by contact with those cultures. At the time I felt I was simply using the materials that came to hand, in a conventional genre tale. My character Cho, the metagenetic gynoid, was built in Beijing, at the Tumbling Dice Toy Factory, but she came from Asimov's robot stories. My borrowing of Third World culture (in this case Malaysian and Indonesian) was inspired by Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light.

Lord of Light (1967), like Dune, is a fantasy adventure in which a highly advanced technological community confronts its relationship with its subject peoples. In Dune, the monoculture comes to Arrakis and finds the mediaeval tribesfolk already in place. In Lord of Light we learn through inference and reminiscence that Hindu culture was salvaged from the archives of a long-ago starship, and imposed as a tool of social control. The original explorers of this alien planet have developed powers as near to divine as makes no difference. They re-enact the Hindu Pantheon, while their descendants populate the world below in helpless, caste-ridden ignorance.10 Sam, the renegade immortal, sets out to destroy the gods so that the masses will be free "to have can openers and cans to open again." He recreates the life of the Buddha, in order to loosen the shackles of theocracy. His fake mission throws up a genuine Bodhisattva, and in spite of the cunning priests—who swiftly incorporate Buddhism into their power structure—the new religion takes hold. However, after some highly colored and long-winded battle sequences (entirely justified by the original tradition) the gods are defeated not by Sam's "Accelerationism" but through the turning of the Great Wheel. Intervention is not enough. The gods can only be displaced by time, internal conflict, and unwise recruitment.

Roger Zelazny, according to admirers better qualified to judge than I am, did most of his best work in shorter forms.11 But Lord of Light is a science fiction that endures with more dignity than Dune, in my opinion, because of Zelazny's decision to address the identity between the myths he uses and his own re-telling. He blows away the sf delusion that there is something inherently, morally superior about power derived from "science" and machines— as opposed to the primitive, despicable dominion of magic-makers and theocrats. Magic is power and power is magic. In the brilliant stroke of presenting the Hindu pantheon as comic-book superheroes, Costumed Clowns with Cosmic Powers, he leaps the gap between the technophilic worshippers of USA consumerism and every other population of dazzled, adoring peasants. Nothing else in the book is so memorable, not even the Rakasha (demons in the form of energy-entity aborigines) or Sam's dashing, wisecracking progress to genuine Enlightenment. Much of the novel isn't a great deal different from anything in Zelazny's prolific fantasy output. But the final fate of Accelerationism is telling. At the end of the story, when the Promethean gift has been delivered, Sam simply vanishes, indistinguishable from the human crowd. Liberal sf, well supplied with post-holocaust, post-diaspora reiterations where the export-drive story can be told all over again, can imagine the end of economic imperialism: the moment when power has passed—surrendered, stolen, copied, reinvented, replicated—into other hands. But no further. The anxiety in John Barnes's A Million Open Doors is foreshadowed. Can we survive without our subjects?

The Halls Of Karma. We write about "our own" present, other people's pasts. When we read about the alien world where Hindu culture has been deliberately recreated, or the far future empire where a neo-Byzantine society has been thrown up by convergent evolution, our viewpoint is that of the economically dominant cultures of the twentieth century, and we will find that viewpoint embedded somewhere in the narrative. But science fiction's alien societies are always situated in a frozen past of their real world counterparts. The Hindus or the Arab tribesfolk, the magical animists of the world called Forest, dress in ethnic uniformity. They may have special futuristic versions of their traditional artifacts and costumes: they don't have fashion. Their diction, even when they aren't quoting anything, is archaic. Their cities, houses, furniture, means of transport are fixed in stasis, until the science- fiction plot arrives. My own treatment of the Promethean story, in Divine Endurance, belongs to this school. It has some realism, some use of the dynamic and volatile situation in the ASEAN region in the late seventies. But I wanted dreamy, exotic local color: sarongs and gamelans, the Ramayana Ballet by moonlight, the scent of a grove of frangipani trees. Essentially I was looking to recreate Zelazny's effects: "Near the city of Alundil there was a rich grove of blue-barked trees, having purple foliage like feathers. It was famous for its beauty and the shrinelike peace of its shade...."

In 1996 it will seem strange to think of Singapore as a locale of "shrinelike peace and beauty," but this was a long time ago. I remember the extraordinary weight and softness of the air as we stepped off the plane, I remember a wall of grass-green creepers hung with vivid blue flowers. When I started to write Divine Endurance I wanted, naively, to capture an enchantment, even if it was only a false-colored shadow; as unreal as those pictures of the moons of Jupiter they show us on the tv. But though like Zelazny I had my metaphysical agenda, and a serious use for the region's culture, the book belonged to my viewpoint, not to the locals'. While I was living in Singapore the brutal annexation of East Timor had begun. When I traveled in Java and Sumatra I heard grim stories about the Jakarta government. But I did not incorporate the rising ferocity of the Indonesian Empire into my fiction. In my liberal sf account, the bad guys had to be the big, white, mechanized colonialists.12 The little brown natives, though they could have some internal divisions and dirty politics, had to be the goodies. (Arguably, colonialism is finally responsible for the evils of all post-colonial regimes: it's still true that I dragged my "Rulers" into the plot because I couldn't imagine a world without them). My story was as much bound by convention as the Ramayana Ballet itself. It ended in the traditional way. The Nuclear Weapon, symbolizing my culture's evil infatuation with life-destroying technological power, was brought onto the stage.13 The ultimate threat was displayed, and then disarmed at the last possible moment by Cho the gynoid—the ultimate achievement of corrupt technophile civilization. Thus guilt was expiated, and power (in an internalized, life-enhancing form) passed into the hands of the coming race. Whereupon Cho vanished, like Zelazny's Sam, into a world I could not describe.

For a respectable length of time, at least since Arthur C. Clarke's famous reproof to the government of Azania over the treatment of their country's struggling white minority,14 sf has been reading the demographic writing on the wall. Once it was brave and noble to suggest such a thing. Nowadays, though you don't have to be black (or Hispanic, or Asian) to be a starship captain, it certainly helps. Futuristic novelists lace their pages with African, Asian, and Hispanic detail not to provide picturesque scenery on another planet but to demonstrate their grasp of the way things are going on earth. The radical-conservative mainstream has adopted the celebration of multiethnic "traditional lifestyles," while the world's poor can be demonized without a murmur of protest from the public.15 Meanwhile liberals embrace the depoliticized future-monoculture for which they used to feel such distaste. Like so many unjust stewards, bent on pragmatic alliances ahead of an awkward reckoning, sf writers are trying—in whatever way seems best—to cook the books. But to date, neither the Karmic wheel nor those slow grinding mills seem impressed. Sf has yet to establish a viable relationship with the world beyond post-imperialism.

Talking Furniture. Divine Endurance is a feminist novel. The topic of women's human rights gave me the advantage, unavailable to Roger Zelazny, of an authentically futuristic subject (besides magical tech).16 Feminist science fiction has its problems—plenty of internal conflict to make the good guys more interesting—but at least I had a novel product for my market stall: something to discuss that was interesting to an audience without historical or ethnic boundaries.17 But the phenomenon of feminist science fiction—and the separate but by no means unconnected phenomenon of the substantial commercial and critical success of women writing sf in recent decades—raises the question: why hasn't the same thing happened with "The Third World"? Female characters have frequently been treated like so much talking furniture; much of classic sf is openly, ingenuously misogynist. Yet women writers and editors have maintained a significant minor presence and power-base within the genre, through all the shifts in sexual-political climate. Science fiction's attitude to non-white characters and cultures over the years has been consistently, remarkably sympathetic. So why are there still so few Black, Hispanic, or Asian sf writers in the USA, never mind in the world in general? Perhaps this is a stupid question. Dedication is rare, and you have to be pretty dedicated to devote yourself to scribbling futuristic fantasy if you have a pile of other troubles to deal with. Maybe if we factored out all the commercial pap, all the dumb, it's a living filler that gets onto the bookshop stacks, the racial disproportion would be less striking. But there is also a question of allegiance. Women (white women, anyway) have had a historical stake in the technophile export business. The housewife who packed the lunchbox, who lusted and nagged after the new fridge-freezer, was also working for the company: and in some sense she knew it. Science fiction did not have to change its basic charter before women wanted to get involved. All they asked was a bigger piece of the action. Perhaps the resistance of those people who were the action is bound to be more stubborn.

World Music. When I found out I was going to live in Singapore, I had to look it up in an atlas. Now the electronic island is famous. All the changes I made in my nineties, revisionist Divine Endurance story, Flowerdust, were in the direction of recognising the other place as part of my own world. The monoculture has come closer since I started to write, but its genesis is more painful and more costly than liberal sf ever imagined, in the days when wealth creation was supposed to be unlimited, and more for them never had to mean less for us. We are reaching, they say, some very profound limits. In many of our probable futures Accelerationism seems likely to be replaced by futile attempts to keep the precious secrets of "technology" locked up (probably in the vaults of the Pentagon, along with the Ark of the Covenant, the frozen alien embryos, and all that other fancy stuff). Science fiction is already recording the spasms of isolationist paranoia that will convulse the territories formerly known as "The First World." . . . Meanwhile, the genre itself has recently been opened up for exploitation by post-modern academics. Possibly it was the poetic justice of this latter development that started me thinking about the subject of this essay. There was also a panel at the Worldcon in Glasgow in 1995, when we asked the question "Where are all the African, Asian, South American writers of the future?" There is science fiction in the USA, of course. There is science fiction in Japan, in Canada, in Britain, in Continental Europe both East and West; there is science fiction in China. But what about the rest: and why are there so few non-white faces here in this hall? We were sure there must be enclaves of sf writers and readers everywhere, but we couldn't prove it. Someone dredged up a memory of a little boy in an African town running around in a Superman tee-shirt. I didn't find this image reassuring. I dismissed Superman as a form of Coca-Cola, mere White North merchandising, and then I wondered: has science fiction ever been anything else?

Perhaps these anxieties are absurd—the pedantry of the idiot-savante subspecies of the fantastic that perversely longs to be taken literally. We've been talking from the start about "World Government," "Earth's Starfleet," now we want to make good our claim to speak for the whole race, and we get twitchy if there are any voices missing from the chorus. And perhaps I should change my mind about that tee-shirt. Perhaps the best thing that can happen to science fiction—now that there is only one world—is that its images should be subsumed into global folklore: Costumed Clowns with Cosmic Powers, alien invasion movies with Big Explosions, Star Trek reruns and Asimov reprints. And yet, though I try to be positive, I see few signs that the Economic Expansion Machine, the eater of souls, has achieved enlightenment in its juggernaut progress from North to South. I predict that the story of the Machine—all those impractical social engineering projects and fantasies of infinite instrumentality, all those complicated dreams—will be born again, many times, in the minds of future human generations.


1. Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (nee Stevenson), the biographer of Charlotte Bronte, wrote several novels and stories of Manchester life in the mid-nineteenth century. The best known may be North and South; Mary Barton (1848) was the first. Her sympathy for the sufferings of the "hands" in the industrial and commercial upheavals of those decades was compromised by political timidity. But on re-reading Mary Barton recently, what struck me most was her evocation of the newly urbanized landscape—the proximity of immemorial green fields to the raw ugliness of the factory workers' packed hovels, demonstrating the violence and abruptness of the historical change.

2. "Later I read the Strugatskys and realized that the cultural background of their books, which I found so weird, the uninvented stage on which the science fiction happens, was Soviet Russia. It dawned on me that the other unknown land was real too. It was the country that I knew from tv and from Hollywood films as "America" —impenetrably disguised (I was a gullible child) by its avowed intention to represent somewhere else: the distant future, a distant planet...."—Gwyneth Jones, from a book review, Foundation #57:103, Spring 1993.

3. Fair exchange is no robbery. Without doubt many "ethnographical" and "classical" exhibits now in European museums were more or less honestly bought and sold, and don't require to be returned to their homeland any more than my son's miniature basemetal model of the Empire State Building. But the Greeks still haven't got their marbles back!

4. A process anatomised in the film Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson, Dir. Robert Altman, 1976, US.

5. Dune, Appendix II, Herbert's capitals. The novel is dedicated rather vaguely "To the people whose labors go beyond ideas into the realm of `real materials'—to the dry-land ecologists, wherever they may be, in whatever time they work...." Islam and the Koran are mentioned in passing, but Fremen religion is described as deriving equally from a post-spacefaring pan-ecumenical movement based on Catholicism and Judaism.

6. It could be argued that the "social realist" cyberpunk writers themselves only offer a different tourist itinerary, exploiting colorful natives and weird rituals closer to home. Notoriously, some critics have read the use of "voodoo" lore in Gibson in this way. Gibson's Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988), meanwhile, has some of the most dreadful "ethnic" dialogue, for the British secondary cast, that I've ever seen.

7. Magical science can explain anything: in Nicola Griffith's Ammonite (1993) a virus causes human settlers on a distant planet to revert to Celtic tribal matriarchy.

8. In Orson Scott Card's Xenocide novels one can visit a "traditional Japan" planet (complete with "corrupt politicians"!); and a "traditional Polynesia" planet, with grass skirts (Children of the Mind, 1996). Sheri Tapper's Arbai series features the same kind of deliberate old-earth pastiche set up for highly questionable motives (Sideshow, 1992).

9. I started writing in 1978; Divine Endurance was first published in 1984. The original story of Cho is much older, dating back to about 1970.

10. Occasionally the Hindu re-creation seems to falter. There's a passage in which a citizen, having heard that modern plumbing is in the pipeline, keeps buckets of faeces in a back room so as to be instantly ready to avail himself of the new technology. This sounds unlikely, considering the Subcontinent's enduring popular resistance to the disgusting Western practice of having people emptying their bowels anywhere inside a dwelling place.

11. E.g., David Hartwell, "Home is the Hunter," New York Review of Science Fiction 97:21-22, Sept 1996.

12. My "Rulers," a powerful remnant of the technological past, were said to have come from a great island continent in the Southern Ocean. Many US readers took this "island" to be North America, but my geography isn't that bad. Schematically, perhaps those readers had a point.

13. A startlingly robust device, this. See the concluding passages of Bruce Sterling's Islands in the Net; and of Will Baker's 1996 "Green Rage" polemic Star Beast, two novels very different in intent and in period. Among others. If science fiction survives (as a traditional art form) I expect the Nuclear Weapon scene (We Lay Down Our Arms) will be in the script a thousand years from now.

14. Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke, 1953: Even today, Clarke remains an unashamed global monoculturist.

15. See Neal Stephenson's invocation (in Snow Crash, 1992) of a vast raftload of Asian "Refus" as the latest ultimate threat to Civilization.

16. I have a paper written by an Italian academic about Divine Endurance that speculates on the relationship between Cho, the metagenetic gynoid, and Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto. I freely confess that in 1978 I had never heard of Donna Haraway. Perhaps Cho's cyborg nature would bear investigation: but that's another story.

17. At the outset, my feminist-sf plot was conventional. Cho, with my female rebel leader, Derveet, and their allies, would struggle against the patriarchal oppression entrenched in Derveet's society, and in the society of the foreign Rulers. My first draft of Divine Endurance employed the word Betina for the female quarters of a household. The Indonesian student who read it for me objected to this usage. She said it was undignified and unpleasant, this term would only be used for a female animal. I knew this: I had intended the term to be insulting. But I accepted her judgment and started to use the word dapur, the hearth, instead: which made a dramatic change to the nature of Peninsulan society, and my whole perception of the social role of the "veiled woman."


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