Sunday, May 4, 2008

Looking To Windward: Pre-Class Reaction

Reading this book was different from others the world was so different from our reality: all the various alien cultures, the complex technologies and social practices, soul storing, etc. all these things combined created a very alien world. And I must admit in the begging it was hard to keep track of it all, because the usual presence of things we are used to was a lot less than in other works of fiction we have read. For example the names, titles and terms were hard to keep track of and conceptualize, but eventually I was able to sort things out and get used to Bank’s created world. Despite the initial confusion, I enjoyed what came out of Bank’s imagination, the different species and the interactions between their cultures were a curious read.

The idea that really stuck in my mind and I want to discuss in my post is the idea of 2 minds sharing one body. Huyler and Quil were able to hold conversations and influence each other’ decisions and were both contributors to the acts of one “physical’ being. They are obviously different personalities in the same body, so the idea that struck me the most is the pros and cons of having two personalities affecting the same act. The two act sometimes like a system of checks and balances. For example Quil often kept in check Huyler’s tendency to say heated things, but he also didn’t completely disregard Huyler and used some of his ideas. So the question that struck me is what would be more effective/efficient: just one person acting on their own, or in some cases is it better to have two (or more) personalities in one body so they can have instant interaction and use each other as recourses? And further, would two people working together, each in their own body be just as effective?

And to finish this post like others, I would like to thank all of you for the fun conversations and sharing your ideas. It’s been fun, and I do agree with Jen, we should keep in touch via this and the facebook group. Good luck and hope you all have a fun summer.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Look to Windward

This is one of my favorite books on the semester.

I believe this has probably the best writing of all of the books we read. I really felt like I was right there with the characters. I really think that this has potential to become a really good movie, notice I said potential, not a guarantee.

I also saw the original book cover and I feel like this one truly represents the sort of unknowing that this book really pushes.

One of the most interesting things in this was the whole idea of downloading the memories of a ships computer and saving it to create a clone so that the memories will continue. The narrative about the General Service Vehicle Lasting Damage that fought an entire enemy fleet and then when it was destroyed managed to save itself so that when it finally repaired itself there was the original and a clone which had a respect for eachother and in the end merged their memories so that each could continue. There is no other way I can think to describe that as COOL!

I don't really know what to say about this, I legitimately enjoyed reading this and I didn't really see a whole lot to criticize. Maybe I was just so happy to be reading a good novel after the last one I glossed over the problems but that will remain to be seen until Tuesday when we discuss it.

Well, it has been one heck of ride. As we close out this era of our sci-fi geekdom I wish you all well. Live long and prosper. I'll see you all in the Facebook group. This is Mercury Theatre signing off.

Class 4/22

I was glad to hear that I was not the only one who felt that the writing was far below the first book.

I also liked how several people brought up the fact that it seemed like Russell did not quite know how to explain certain events so she seemed to put forth a story that did not really fit with the information provided in the first book or even within the second.

To me I feel like the most prominent thing I took from the discussion was that the book was not quite as bad as I thought but I still don't like it. Granted I don't like the other book either but this at least makes the whole thing tolerable.

The whole discussion about the nature of the otherness in the alien societies was very interesting especially having watched Contact on Thursday. The nature of the difficulties of communication between one species and another is one of the most challenge to tackle in Sci-Fi.

We couldn't really agree on whether or not Russell managed to pull it off but I think we were able to establish that this was one of the lesser concerns within this book considering nobody has really gotten a solution that is failsafe.

Visions of the Future, Courtesy of Banks

I want to begin with a comment on Kabe and Ziller's discussion on 72-73. Particularly the discussion about humans and aliens, "We help to define them. They like that."
"Define them? Is that all?"
"...But we give them an alien standard to calibrate themselves against."
I think this speaks to this latter part of our class rather well (sly move, Professor Jackson). We've used other humans to define and refine humanity in the first part and now we've looked at aliens to continue this refinement. The entire set up of the Culture (what an odd name for an empire, by the way) sort of mirrors Star Trek in that it seems to be a conglomeration of different species and ways of life mashed together in a kind of utopia. I'm not quite sure how to describe it yet, though Quilan sort of does (82-83).
The preponderance of technology is also interesting in this book. Being used to Universal Translators (Star Trek) or sentient machines (the TARDIS, Doctor Who) the technology at first threw me for a loop, so to speak. Communication devices as jewelry (Kabe's nose ring), that can be activated with a mere word seems to make sure no one is ever really alone. Machines having personalities when they aren't made to look like a human, so non-androids like the Contact drone, is also new to our discussion. The drone seems to show emotions through color changes and has a name. Granted, R2-D2 has a name and he and C-3PO have personalities but they aren't common in the Star Wars universe whereas Tersono seems to be, in that Luke's decision not to have his droids' minds wiped isn't a common practice. The ship Minds were also different and seemed akin to the TARDIS, in a way, because they are sentient. However, in contrast to the TARDIS, they also seem to be able to do things on their own and Ziller talks about them being able to compose. A ship that can write music. Not your average machine, is it?
The whole soul thing was also new and different. Brings the mind-body problem in philosophy to a whole new level, really. Your personality and memories can be downloaded and transfered into anything it seems that has the right storage space or connection. Unless you really like your body, death doesn't seem to matter as much any more because if your personality and mind is stored then you can live forever. Disposables, like Feli, don't follow this practice, however, and are seen as strange by the Culture inhabitants. I'm not sure what I would do if given the opportunity to have the process done. I've got a healthy, in my own opinion, fear of death but I'm not sure I'd want to be detached from my body in that way. Then again, it has been done in sci-fi before. Doctor Who and Star Trek Deep Space Nine's Dax seem to be okay with it, though it takes on new dimensions in Star Trek. Not just one person in multiple forms like Doctor Who but one person saddled with about nine other people's memories thanks to, essentially, a worm-like parasite.
I suppose this will have to do for my points on the book, there's just too much in it, as usual. Again, though, the Prime Directive looks like a really good idea and a general respect for the sovereignty of a civilization could have helped matters a bit. Though, I too found the Hub to be interesting, Mike.
This class has been a blast and thanks to the syllabus I have reading material for months. :) Perhaps we could keep this blog going, making contributions when we come across something particularly good novel or film-wise or something comes up that related to the class. Thank you all for enhancing the experience.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Looking to the ward side of the wind

Good morning everyone:

There were two parts in the book that I wanted to bring up, and see what other people thought. The first part that really struck me was around page 200 or so, when the process by which Subliming was explored is described by a narrator of some sort. The specific part I refer to is near the bottom of page 200 itself, where sporting events are lumped in with religious sites, and then further delineated with a parenthetical. The fact that the bank of dead Chelgarians would interfere in multiple different ways to the get the attention of the living seems like it could be the case, but I find the methods they use to do so fascinating. I feel as though "personality" isn't the right word for a large electronic bank of amalgamated souls of the deceased, but for the sake of writing here, I find the personality of Chel-Puen to be highlighted here in a way that foreshadows the rest of the plot (except for the very last turnaround, which I didn't see coming). If these/this being(s) interfered and interacted with people at religious sites, in government, to find artifacts, and apparently at sporting events (...) in order to get the people to streamline the process of admitting souls into the Chel-Puen, they probably mean business. In fact, this level of work and preparation they put into making the souls able to enter almost seems to be their own guiding bit of "morality" (as much as such a being can have morality), and this is how it foreshadows the rest of the story. Not really caring who or what they influence, as long as the souls keep coming in.... its almost like Walmart, really (doesn't matter how many mom and pop stores shut down, doesn't matter how poorly they treat their suppliers, as long as they keep profiting).

And, the other part of the book that stood out at me was the speech by the avatar of Hub to Ziller, around page 376 (both before and after that page, as well) - the portion where Hub talks about its role in the massive killing of Idirian civilians during the war. The entire book, I'm picturing this nice computer that watches over everyone and makes everything run smoothly (something like Mike, actually), and then it turns out the computer is like the combination of Rambo and the Terminator, with a bit of housekeeping subroutines programmed in. Thats a fairly noticeable change in perceived character, and I was surprised at the mostly calm reaction of Ziller. And then at the end of the book, it commits suicide and takes Quilian with it, which also surprised me a whole bunch - how many computers commit suicide? I say this acknowledging the fact that this specific bit of AI recorded the deaths of all the people it killed individually, and then studied them all the time, and felt kind of bad, but still - thats some level of programming that implies "this isn't science fiction AI, this is thematic point/a disguised difficult-to-grapple-with question as a computer." I'm curious to hear what other people thought of the Hub.

It has been a pleasure taking this course with all of you; to thee I say Adieu


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Children of God: Post-class Reaction

I think the topic that was most interesting to me in our class discussion is how one tends to impose their own concepts on the other: one tend to view them as something from history (past) or something else that is current and one is familiar with. We saw this in Russell’s second book, especially in Sofia’s character who, in agreement with Jen, I didn’t like much. Over all like most, I preferred The Sparrow, and in large part that is due to the characters there. I thought The Sparrow had more interesting characters and better humor. Also in agreement with a number of people in class I believe her attempting to resolve the religious dilemma she left us with in the first book was unnecessary. I enjoyed reading about the other side of the story for example Supaari’s point of view in his interaction with the foreigners during the first mission, but the turn her theme took with religion left me unhappy. I had a few moments of “you got to be kidding me” in this book…especially when Isaac sounded like God’s messenger bringing God’s music and Emilio’s reaction. I don’t know why but I have developed something that I can almost call aversion to organized religion in the past few years, so reading about people who blindly give themselves to faith is a little disturbing to me, so Emilio again starting to lean towards that mindset really disturbed me (I am not saying he embraced God again, but there was still some small references to him coming to terms with religion and God). I guess the most I took away from this book is the cultural interaction aspect of it, and the damage something foreign can do to a system. We see this in Sparrow with radical change in Runa behavior due to the foreigners and in large part Sofia. And we see this in Todorov with the arrival of the Spaniards. This makes me wonder if it is possible for someone to arrive into a different cultural setting and be strictly an observer and not impact that culture, or be a catalyst for radical change. Personally, I think it is impossible, so then the question is what can one do to minimize the affect they have on society because as we have seen, more often than not many latent and negative affects arise even if the intentions are good. So I guess the big question that was in my mind at the end of the class was what is it that makes a foreign entity such a big catalyst? And does anyone have the right to impose their own values on another culture and try and change it, and if yes in which cases is it ok and in which cases is it not?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Reflection, Class 13

Well, unlike most of the class it seems, I still don't have the same complaints about the writing. Perhaps I suspended some disbelief.
I wanted to comment on the discussion we had about alienness and whether the Jana'ata and Runa qualified as significantly "other" enough aliens. I still think it is next to impossible to truly depict absolute otherness. We simply wouldn't have a frame of reference to describe them much less interact. We'd probably blame the author for poor characterization or scoff at the descriptions. Therefore, the aliens in The Sparrow and Children of God I think were alien enough for the purposes of the books. God's other children would theoretically share resemblances to his known children. Each species had differences from each other and those on Rakhat shared some similarities that would come from evolving on the same planet. They had tails, different facial features, different body features, and different dominant senses. The cultures were different as well, though they did share common aspects with Earth history or societies. But again, I don't think that's necessarily bad. Depiction of an other that has no basis of comparison would make for a rather complicated first contact, don't you think? With absolutely no common points how would it be attempted? Luckily for the first Jesuit mission they had Emilio to pick up on the language parts quickly and act as a communicator.
I still don't really like Sofia in Children of God. Yes, she had a rather amazing life but she had some rather pointed blinders that affected her whole life and the life of her son. Perhaps he still would have gone off and she couldn't have prevented it even if they were closer, only two of their kind on the planet after all, but I think a lot of the excess violence against the Jana'ata that didn't want to fight anymore could have been avoided.