Recurring Sci-fi themes in House of the Scorpion

In opposition to the earlier blogging groups who talked about the differences between House of the Scorpion and the other science fiction novels we’ve been reading this semester, I’m talking about the similarities therein.

The most prominent factor to be considered is the humanizing of something “inhuman” and the dehumanization everyone else.  In House of the Scorpion, clones (of which Matteo is one) are generally regarded as lower than the dirtiest animal.  When it is revealed that Matteo is a clone, all of the children turn on him in an instant (except Maria, but that’s a different story).  When readers compare the content of Matt’s character against the “pure” humans like Tom and Rosa, the absolute contrast is is just jarring.

We saw this theme resurging in Bladerunner where the Replicant, Roy Batty, shows more ‘humanity’ and zeal for life than his human counterpart Deckard (I stand by that Deckard is a human).  The theme returns in We3 as the weapons themselves have more redeeming qualities (loyalty to each other, etc.) than the human characters, who sometimes don’t even merit eyes.  And even in Frankenstein we see a macabre assembly of dead flesh given life has more culture and eloquence than Viktor Frankenstein, who is madness and melancholy.

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Doesn’t everybody wish it could all be Rum and Leather? (p. 155)

Of course Sarasti gets to stay behind.  Of course the expendables get to go into the horrific electromagnetic deathtrap that is Rorschach.  We’re all crammed into the shuttle looking like fat people trying on too-small sweaters, but at least we were moderately shielded, like a turkey wrapped in tin foil that was about to go into the oven.  Outside, I could ‘hear’ the photons race by, making a low humming.  I smelled the burnt formaldehyde of Rorschach’s electromagnetic field before my head started feeling it.  I could feel the waves of EM massaging my brain, eyeballs, everything.  As we drew closer, I started to taste the minty molded cheese of the ship’s radiation, just swimming up to meet us.

Sometimes having mixed up senses the way I do—tasting UV, smelling supersonic, et cetra—was more of a curse than a blessing.  You don’t have to have extra senses to know that Rorschach was a minefield that was going to serve you up cooked and scrambled, courtesy of the chefs radiation and electromagnetism.  Robots can tell you that much, and robots don’t have to taste it.  That was another fallback to the program.  It would be one thing if radiation tasted like rum and the EM smelled like peanut butter or maybe leather, but no.  The brain has the funny little quirk where it makes bad things unpleasant.

As we drew closer and the magnetic field intensified, a wave of black and white checkerboard started to wash into our little entry plug.  It was like we’d sprung a leak and were being sunk by static space.  With things like sight and sound, the extra made It tough to tell what I was actually seeing and what would make me seem like a nut if I reacted to it.

Keeton and the Gang were chatting about something, but the ocean of photons outside made it impossible to tell what about.  Bates slid the inner door open and commanded us to duck.  I wanted to laugh at the uncoordinated display, like infants being asked to do gymnastics.  The drones scuttled by and moved into Rorschach, and what came next was a series of stills from the cameras.  Mostly of Bates scanning ahead to make sure there were no whooping squid-monsters waiting around the corner for us.  Ultimately, she deemed it “safe”.  It was time to go.

“Oh…okay, come on…down…” she said.

“Not to fast,” something was off, she seemed almost out of breath.  Or maybe it was the EM cutting our signal.  “how are you feeling?”  Better safe than sorry, I guess.

“Fine.  A bit—odd, but…”

“Odd how?” Keeton probed.

“Mild disorientation.  It’s a bit spooky in here,” major understatement.  A little spooky would be finding a ship adrift, beaming out a distress signal, that you can’t seem to establish comm. with, and when you finally manage to board there are no signs of life.  And that’s a human ship.  That would be a little spooky.  “Must be Grey syndrome.  It’s tolerable.”  She continued.

Keeton looked at the Gang, the Gang looked at me.  I just shrugged.  What was I supposed to say?  Let’s go get ‘em team!?

“It’s not gonna get any better, the clock is…clock is ticking, people.  Get down here.”

We got.


So, I chose to do the original entry scene from the point of view of Szpindel.  I chose to use his character because he was my favorite and I was always fascinated with his extra senses thing and the fact that they weren’t just “I sense radiation, check my Wuju meditation, it helps me sense”.  I loved the fact that his brain could only interpret his extra senses in the frame of the normal five.  I also enjoyed that the scene wasn’t too bogged down in dialogue, so I didn’t have to copy it down.  This scene was also great because it didn’t focus on Szpindel too much (an intriguing thought when it occurred to me) because that gave me more license to do what I wanted with him.

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Among those who remembered the take, alter was codespeak for betrayal and human sacrifice. Alter meant cannon fodder (p 154)

This line came at the end of a long paragraph talking about the history of Multiple Personality Disorder, now known as Multiple Core Complex, and what “ancient” (modern day) scientists believed was the stem of the problem.  I really enjoyed the “witch doctor” motif that Watts took when describing “modern medicine”.  Watts has an interesting method of imposing Siri’s viewpoints onto the reader.  I know that I started feeling that modern medicine was primitive and akin to fumbling in the dark.  But I digress.

What’s important about this line for me?  I think this line was particularly evocative because while I was reaching the end of the paragraph, the meaning of alter dawned on me before the book told me.  The paragraph about Multiple Personality Disorder (in the past tense, that is), it talked about how personalities emerged in response to heavy trauma- “fragmentary personae offered up to suffer rapes and beatings while the child behind took some unkowable sanctuary in the folds of the brain”.  And I started thinking.

And altar is something that you make sacrifices on.  I think that Watts explained this more eloquently when he said that the word meant “human sacrifice”.  My point: this line evoked a real epiphany within me, which isn’t something that typically happens.  Reading science fiction makes me think, don’t get me wrong, but usually it says something to me and I think “yeah, that makes perfect sense”, but never before have I come to the answer on my own and the book agrees with me.  Feels good man.

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What the hell is this thing?  It looks like some sort of half-breed between us and the squids.  And it talks like its my age…and that is not something a little baby should be doing.  I’m used to the squids, but this thing is…just weird.  It’s got eyes and other normal features, but it’s still unmistakably squid.  I don’t trust it.

The boss says it’s here to help us, and that its a boy.  Says its some kinda human-born cross and that its apparently on our side.  I dunno.  I’ll be sleeping with my gun, that’s for sure.

The kid saved my life today.  I was about to start work on a building when the kid came up behind me and warned me about some kind of accident, like he was clairvoyant or something.  Thought nothing of it, but kept careful, just in case.  Sure enough, as the day wore on, that carefulness saved me a broken neck.  Gotta hand it to Akin, it…he, is a good egg, half-squid or no

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I keep wanting to say Broodwich

Is it just me, or did everyone else miss the part of Lilith’s Brood where they explain just what the hell is going on?  I’m more than 20 pages in and I only have a loose understanding of what all is happening.  I know that a lot of people are dead and there’s some group of aliens called the ooloi…or maybe they’re Oankali that are really trying to get humanity to learn, understand and accept their language and ways.  All in all, though, the book seems like I’ve been dropped into something that doesn’t even bother to explain itself.

Imagine signing up for a class and showing up on the first day of class only to find out that the class, and even the teacher are all made up of a close-knit group of friends and they’re all using in-group jargon and inside jokes and nobody bothers to explain any of it to you.  That’s kind of how I feel about Lilith’s Brood.  And now for the academic part of this,

Compare this to Neuromancer.  That book also had its own language and jargon that they didn’t bother to explain (apparently a trope of sci-fi is to treat the world as if you’re already a part of it.  Some people are into that), but the context clues were such that it was really easy to pick up on the meaning.  I heard that Lilith’s Brood is an easier read and is less dense than Neuromancer.  Strangely, I found this to be true despite the fact that half the words make zero amount of sense whereas Neuromancer cleverly filled me in…

Is anyone else having trouble understanding Lilith’s Brood?  Or is it just me?

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in We3, it might be better not to have a face at all

We3 gets into that debate that has been popping up persistently throughout the semester: what does it mean to be human?  Something that really caught my interest after reading We3 was just how much more relatable the We3 (is that how you address them? I’m pretty sure that’s what the team is called) are in comparison to their human counterparts.  For example, when Doctor Trendle is explaining to biorgs to the senators, none of the humans are given faces.  Even when there’s a wide angle shot of them all standing over a turbine, the humans are all cut out of the frame above their mouths, while readers have no shortage of excuses to look into the eyes of the different animal characters (even the rabbits in the very beginning of the second volume have more faces than the humans). In fact, the only humans to get faces are the ones that side (more or less) with the We3.  Rosanne Berry gets some of the most ‘face-time’ as she is the intermediary between humans and the We3.  Doctor Trendle also has a face, but his role seems to shift throughout the story.

As I said, Dr. Trendle’s role in the story of We3 is an incredibly interesting topic for me.  At first, I thought that the scientist who made the rat drill the other rat’s face off in the beginning was some kind of crazy person, and the scientist with the glasses is reluctantly assigned to bring the We3 back.  It really does seem as though there are two different characters inside of him.  Sometimes he seems almost compassionate to the We3 (especially in the end), but then he turns around, get’s a grin-frame (one of those frames with only his sickly grinning teeth) and he acts like a crazy person (Vol. 2, page 8).  Maybe this could be a long-shot allusion to Dr. Frankenstein’s wild obsession?  That his creation controls him?  I don’t really know, but I DO know that Dr. Trendle is a very complex character for me.  Am I crazy for thinking that?

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Mahjong den vs. Gambling den

I don’t know why, but I feel really like Neuromancer is very at home in Japan.  It could be that since modern day Japan is constantly on the forefront of technology ( and as the technology evolves into neuron splicing and Matrix-esque internet delving, Japan would presumably evolve along with it and keep on that forefront, making it the hot spot for the cutting edge of that technology as well as the black market.


On the flip side, I was wondering if anyone else feels like there might be other reasons for Japan being the setting?  I recall there being heavy Japanese themes in Firefly and not-to-heavy ones in Star Wars (don’t judge me, Professor Sample) and I was wondering if anyone else can think of any other examples of Japanese elements in science fiction or a different reason why Neuromancer feels like it belongs in Japan, or why not

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Like father like son

I just finished Frankenstein and it hit me like a blow to the head how the monster’s creation and Victor Frankenstein’s death play against each other in a really striking way.

Looking at the original “birth” or creation of the beast, Victor is consumed with this obsession that drives him beyond the brink of madness to ‘boldly go’ and endow life on inanimate flesh.  The scene is utterly silent and all of Frankenstein’s previous ardor is immediately sapped from his body and his is filled with contempt and disgust at what he has done.

Now let’s look at Victor’s death.  The creature is consumed with his wild obsession fueled by rage and his own misery to pursue Victor and destroy everything that he holds dear.  In his “confession” the creature says that he regretted every life he took, but still he continued (sounds like obsession pushing him beyond the brink of madness to me) against his better judgment.  And at the very end of the book, when he has removed life from the already living all of his previous ardor is immediately sapped from him and he is filled with contempt for himself and remorse for what he has done (or so he claims, can we trust him?  Victor did warn against his eloquence).

I was wondering if anyone else thought that this parallel was designed by Shelley, mere coincidence, or if I’m reading too much into it?

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Rediscovering Frankenstein

So, i had certain expectations getting into Frankenstein.  The first thing I expected was a lot more lightning bolts.  I had the classic image of a dungeon turned laboratory so cemented in my head from years of the movies and the spinoffs of the movies and the references to these movies in other tv, that it shocked me to the core to find the birth of Frankenstein’s monster happening in the dead silence of Victor’s apartment.  The affair was an utterly muted event, there was no excitement, no ravings of “IT’S ALIVE!” and certainly no lightning bolts.  I felt almost as if this was a reimagining, a new interpretation of the classic; that’s how conditioned I was to the Frankenstein scene from the movies.  I also really expected the whole thing to be driven by some kind of tragedy in Victor’s life, like the loss of a loved one driving him over the edge of madness into an obessive fervor that leads to his giant mistake.  But no, Shelley’s idea was much simpler, as if Victor was just sitting around and then a lightbulb came on, and he just decided to give life to the unliving for the simple reason that he could do it.

I guess that point I’m trying to make is that I was really surprised to find the original story to be so different that what I grew up with, and I was wondering if anyone else noticed any similar differences between the actual book and the portrayal we got through media?

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