“He” vs.”It”- The House of the Scorpion

Even though I read the summary of The House of the Scorpion and I began reading the novel with the knowledge that Matt is a clone, I never saw him in that way. I saw him as an individual who needs love and care and attention. I immediately connected with him and his feelings of loneliness; “Matt was swept away with such an intense feeling of desolation, he thought he might die” (Farmer, pg 9). With the exception of the first chapter, the story is centered around Matt, his thoughts, emotions and daily life. The way the story is set up, I feel as though the narrator wants the reader to connect with Matt and later sympathize with him when he is treated badly by the Alacran family.

During chapters 2 and 3, I viewed Matt as a normal little boy who has the rotten luck of being quarantined and left alone for hours on end, every day. I totally forgot that he is a clone because there was nothing about him that stood out to me as “clone-like” behavior- there was nothing strikingly odd about him. The only thing that felt odd about the whole situation was the fact that he’s not allowed to leave the house or have anyone see him; “You must stay hidden in the nest like a good little mouse” (Farmer, pg 5).

I was startled toward the end of chapter 3 and in chapters 4 through 6 when different characters were calling Matt awful names, such as “little beast”, “creature”, “animal” and “monster”. They even refer to him as an “it.” I actually took offense to the namecalling and how they (Rosa, the “fierce man”, etc) were treating Matt. I found myself being on his side, thinking, “He’s just an innocent kid! He hasn’t done anything wrong!”

Which makes me wonder….is Matt really a “him”? or is he really an “it”? Is he not human simpy because he is a clone? He looks like any other human- he can think, feel and communicate. But he was “harvested” in a petri dish and his fragile body developed in the womb of a cow (gross, by the way). He is a product of someone else’s DNA. But does that make him “inhuman”? It makes me think of Frankenstein’s monster. He could think, feel, and communicate. He was made from body parts of dead humans and brought to life by his father’s scientific hand. Yet, he was not considered “human”. In reality Matt and Frankenstein’s monster are very humanlike- they were just not created in the normal way that humans are usually created. Once again, we see themes of what defines humanity in The House of the Scorpion, a theme we have been running into all semester.

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“To be utterly rational”- Blindsight

“And then I wonder what it would be like to feel nothing at all, to be utterly rational….” (Blindsight, pg. 362)

This is the line from Charybdis that struck me the most. I was amazed at how well this line not only captures the entire novel, but how it also speaks to very common threads in science fiction as a whole, especially in the novels we’ve read this semester.

Emotions often influence how we make decisions and react to situations. This can sometimes be a positive thing, but it can also be very negative. Emotions have the ability to cloud our judgment and can prevent us from looking at something from both sides, rationally. One example of this in Blindsight is in the prologue, when Pag freaks out after Siri defends Pag against bullies. Pag is in hysterics, asking Siri why he threw the rocks at the guys and Siri responds, “I was trying to help. (I didn’t understand why he couldn’t see that)” (pg 16). Pag insists that Siri isn’t the same anymore; “And now you’re different. It’s like, your mom and dad murdered you…” (pg. 16). If Pag had reacted without emotion and had taken a logical and reasonable approach to this situation, he would understand that Siri was just defending him. He would also acknowledge that Siri’s parents did what they thought was necessary and beneficial to their son by cutting out half of his brain to stop his epilepsy. But it is impossible to block out all of our emotions at all times- feelings are what make us human. Pag’s strong reaction and resistence to Siri was a completely normal human response. When Siri wonders “what it would be like to feel nothing at all”, he ponders the ability to make decisions without any emotional ties (obviously something that is very difficult to do). Perhaps if we were able to make choices without any regard to how we feel, we would ultimately make smarter choices that would have better outcomes (in several cases).

This provocative statement is also a theme that is explored in the other novels we’ve read this semester, such as Frankenstein and Lilith’s Brood. In Frankenstein, Victor reacts with horror and disgust when his creature comes to life. Based on these emotions, he rejects his creation and refuses to teach him or take care of him. If Victor had responded to his creation calmly and rationally, they would’ve had a much better relationship and the creature would not have turned out to be a killing machine. In Lilith’s Brood, Lilith has a very hard time overcoming her fear toward the Oankali in the beginning of Dawn. If she had relied on reason, she would’ve realized early on that there was no reason to fear the Oankali because they were not hurting her and not threatening her life.

Science fiction explores the notion of having no emotions and making every decision based fully on reason, but no matter what we do, we can never fully escape our natural emotional processes; they are part of who we are. What makes us human.

 

A Third Sex? Inconceivable!

Dawn, the 1st novel in the Lilith’s Brood trilogy by Octavia E. Butler, is set in an intensely alien world, where almost nothing is familiar. The single most unfamiliar, and unimaginable component of this foreign environment is the ooloi.

The ooloi is the third sex in the Oankali race. The human race only has two sexes (male and female). The idea of a third sex existing in humanity is uncomprehensible. What would a third sex look like? Sound like? What would be their role in society? Would they participate in reproductive processes? What would their personalities be like? I can’t even wrap my head around the notion of a third sex. Humans come from male and female DNA and as we spend our lives on Earth, we are surrounded by males and females. It is the most natural thing to us; one of the core components of who we are as people and as a species.

Reading about the ooloi in the book fascinates and frustrates me at the same time. Since a third sex does not exist in the human world, it is nearly impossible to imagine what a third sex would be like, even in an alien race (something that is already hard to understand). When Jdahya first explains to Lilith what the ooloi are, he attaches the pronoun “it”. This makes the ooloi seem even more “other” than they already are because we usually attach “it” to inanimate objects- to things that are not alive. In human standards, “It” has connotations of lacking an identity or importance. We see Lilith react according to the normative human social structure of “it”; “some things deserve to be called ‘it'”(pg 49). This construction does not exist in the Oankali; the ooloi not only has a unique identity, but they are also the most important and influential sex in the species. I guess “it” is not an insult to them.

It is very clear that the ooloi is neither male nor female, but Paul Titus feels that “the ooloi acted like men and women” (pg 89). He goes on to ask Lilith, “Doesn’t yours seem male to you?” (pg 89), referring to Nikanj. When he said this, I was startled because I had been thinking the same thing while reading. Nikanj does seem male to me, but I can’t explain why. This may just be my natural attempt to humanize this alien- to give it a human sex just so that I can understand it better. But even beyond that, I cannot explain why I see Nikanj as male (as opposed to female).

We3 Had Me Going WTF

I did not have any expectations before I started reading We3. The cover piqued my interest because I was trying to figure out why domestic animals were strapped into robotic war gear. After reading and examining all 116 pages of the book, half of which contain graphic images of violence and gore, I couldn’t shake the one page that impacted me the most: 73. Page 73 illustrates the dog (Bandit) and the rabbit (Pirate) sitting next to each other on a hill, facing a dreary, lonely-looking scene below. Bandit sits with his head down, eyes closed; a miserable dog, indeed. He repeats “bad dog” four times, referring to himself and his actions. The misery, sadness and remorse seen in Bandit on this page really impacted me because we see the conflict between what the animals were trained to do and who they really are. Their violent, destructive behavior is not natural- especially because they are domesticated animals. And it’s not just Bandit who is looking forlorn; Pirate does not appear to be in high spirits either. The corners of his mouth are turned downward, his lips slightly parted and eyes reflecting a sense of loss or being lost. The cat stands behind them, saying “Home?” The entire page is uses a murky gray to color the setting, with twinges of tan-ish brown and dull green. The colors aren’t too dark, because think the illustrator wanted to show these animals stuck in a limbo between light and darkness, foreshadowing that the story could go either way (positive or negative ending). These themes of “home” and “bad dog” and the tone of sadness shown on this one page illustrate the overall theme of the story: that these animals are not where they belong and they are not performing the roles they should be performing. Their warrior personas go against nature, and the effects expand to the animals themselves but also to the environment and people around these animals.

Neuromancer: A Mishmash of Science/Religion & New/Old

As I continue to read Gibson’s ground-breaking novel, I am beginning to notice certain patterns and consistencies…and the discovery is startling, fascinating and perplexing all at the same time.

I noticed that starting in chapter 8, there are several mentions of “Babylon” and “Zion.” These are both locations in the Bible; Zion being a synonym for Jerusalem and Babylon an ancient city located in modern day Iraq. In one scene, the Rastafarian-like character Aerol hooks himself to trobes and gets a shock. Case asks him what he saw and Aerol responds, “Babylon” (pg. 105). There are also several mentions of “Zionites”, but they are not the kind of “Zionites” you would find in our real world. In fact, I’m not really sure who they are supposed to be. It seems that they are people who practice the Rastafarian-like beliefs and rituals (an inference made based on scenes in chapter 8). There are also Biblical references throughout this book, such as on pg 108; “If these are the Final Days…we must expect false prophets” and on pg 92; “He’s kind of a compulsive Judas”. Also, aspects of other religions are mentioned in the texts at different points. It’s hard to understand why Gibson would include so many elements of religion in a science fiction novel. Perhaps he wanted to make a distinct connection between science and religion. What that connection is, I have no idea. It’s also interesting how he blends new ideas (the Matrix, dub music, cyberspace) with old concepts (Christianity, religion, etc). It’s as if he’s saying that all things exist together and that we cannot have the new without the presence of the old.

Will the REAL monster of Frankenstein, please stand up?

“But it is true that I am a wretch. I have murdered the lovely and the helpless; I have strangled the innocent as they slept, and grasped to death his throat who never injured me or any other living thing.”- Frankenstein’s creature, pg. 243

“Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil, as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave, or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay?” Victor Frankenstein, pg. 82

During our study of Frankenstein, we have examined Victor Frankenstein and his creature. As readers, we have been submitted to Victor’s point of view throughout the entire story. We know exactly how he feels about his creation; on my occasions, he Victor has referred to him as a “demon”, “wretch”, “beast”, etc. However, just because we are told these things about the creature, doesn’t make these titles true. Which leads me to wonder…

Who is the real “monster” of Mary Shelley’s famous novel?

The first way to start answering this complicated question is to give the term “monster” a definition. Dictionary.com gives a few definitions, the most useful being 3-“Monster”; any animal or human grotesquely deviating from the normal shape, behavior, or character; and 4- “Monster”; a person who excites horror by wickedness, cruelty, etc.

Based on these definitions alone, we could say that both Frankenstein and his creation are monsters. The creature is a “monster” based on his grotesque and terrifying physical appearance. Victor is a “monster” based on his rejection and cruelty directed toward his creation.

We are told continuously by Victor that the creature is a monster….but is he really? Yes, he has wretched looks and commits gruesome murders. However, this creature is a product of his environment. He was not “born” from love; he came to life as a result of Victor’s consuming dark obssession with “playing God”. As soon as the creature was alive and breathing, Victor was horrified and disgusted with him and rejected him immediately. This is quite the opposite of what happens when babies are born to happy and excited parents. Instead of receiving love and acceptance, the creature is regarded as the devil and shut out from Victor’s life; “But when I discovered that he, the author at once of my exsistence and of its unspeakable torments…that while he accumulated wretchedness and despair upon me…” (Frankenstein’s creature, pg. 241). The creature is sensitive and emotional; his main goal in life to share it with someone who is similiar to himself. I felt compassion for him because he was pushed away and negatively labeled, even before he did anything wrong (like murdering William). It’s not the creature’s fault that he was created, and not his fault that he was abandoned by his creator.

Victor Frankenstein may not be hideous or look other-wordly, but he possesses devilish characteristics. What kind of twisted person devotes several years of their life robbing graveyards and constructing a human body out of decomposing human body parts? Frankenstein admits, “I seemed to have lost all soul and sensation but for this one pursuit” (pg 82). Once his creation is alive. he immediately rejects him and treats him like a demon, when the creature had done nothing wrong. What can you say about a person who makes “monsters” and then punishes them? In my opinion, Victor Frankenstein is the true “monster” of the story.

Vol. 1- Frankenstein

I first read Mary Shelley’s classic novel, Frankenstein, when I was in high school. At the time, I was far more concerned with the television show Gossip Girl and the hot guy I was crushing on then I was with engrossing myself in Mary Shelley’s timeless work. However, as I opened Frankenstein a second time this afternoon, I found myself getting pulled into the story and looking upon the pages with a new appreciation and perspective.

The first volume of Frankenstein, although it can be a bit slow in some sections, is quite beautiful and well approached. We follow Victor Frankenstein’s intellectual journey as he starts a new life for himself in Ingolstadt. Back in high school, I was immediately bored by all of the backstory, descriptions of his family life, voyage to Ingolstadt and so forth. Now, I understand and can appreciate this thorough and thoughtful style of story telling. Every project has a beginning; volume one is the beginning of Victor’s infamous monster venture. The process of his self discovery and documented recollection of his inspiration is relatable. I am a fiction writer; I can relate to having moments of inspiration and enthusiastically soaking in knowledge from various experiences, college courses and professors.

Volume one also demonstrates Shelley’s exceptional talent as a writer. She knows that the best and most successful works of fiction have highly developed characters, people in which readers can connect to, sympathize with and root for. She develops various characters, such as Victor and Elizabeth, so that the story will not be appealing solely on the plot content. She understands the importance of engaging her audience in all areas of fiction writing; plot, characterization, setting and theme.