Bas-Lag, Cyberspace, and the Metaverse

Kish.  Schruff.  Kishhhh.  Schruff.  Whoopfh!

Morgan Farlow sweat.  A lot.  The rivulets ran down over his face impeded only by the industrial grade goggles that shielded his eyes from the intense light of The Heart.  Working in one of the many subterranean layers beneath the city, Farlow shoveled coke into one of the countless sub-boilers.  The dig of his trusted shovel into the ubiquitous piles of partially cooked coal, the subsequent release, and the whoosh of the fires consuming provided a rhythmic backdrop for his thoughts.

The Heart was the hearth from which many if not all of the engines and other invisible luxuries in the city drew their power.  The city produced all of its own power independently.  But to do this, they needed meat to move around in the steam passages where constructs would prove too unwieldy.  One of countless other stokers, Farlow worked the swing shift, from 2 in the afternoon until 10 at night every day except Shunday.  Too poor to not work, and well enough provided for that no lending institution in New Crobuzan would touch him using a familiar and 10-foot-pole, Farlow had to beg the city to take him on for a research position or some other kind of related desk job in the Ornithological Engineering Department.  They gave him this instead.  And he had to smile and take their stivers so he could turn around and give ’em right back in taxes.  Not to mention the exorbitant prices his landlord called rent in this twisted burg.

It wasn’t all bad.  The work was easy, if physically taxing.  Only a few months ago he had been of slight build and in this tenure, the Heart had turned him into a dynamo of muscles, tendons, organs: as close to an automaton of labor as he could hope to be.  Reveling in the new-found strength, Farlow often let the rhythm of the labor hypnotize him into self-reflection.  It could be worse.  Of the few other human laborers that fit into the lower middle class that needed the work, Farlow had become acquainted with hired hands among whom were scores of cactacae, whose immense strength and constitutional resilience made them ideal forge laborers.  Morgan had also worked alongside a few of the recalcitrant khepri who also worked the boilers.  Their forms of wordless communication made them invaluable in the deafening conditions.

When they gave him the job, they gave him sound-canceling ear plugs made from a form of bio-thaumaturgical clay.  Morgan didn’t particularly want to know how they were made, or what they were formed from, but they fit perfectly and they worked better than a charm.  The bangs, flares, heat, and other assorted cacophony of the Heart was dulled to a constant dim roar in the inner recesses of his ears.  So beneath the city shielded by goggles, ear plugs, and a heavy leather apron, Morgan Farlow shoveled.

Sometimes when Plani, the foreman–a gruff cacatae with the long spines of age–needed work done in layers closer to the surface, he drafted the humans do the labor.  Gods forbid the administrators or financiers be confronted with the fact that their palace of higher knowledge is built on the sweat of countless xenians.  That’s a fact they’d rather consign to the depths and pretend that all of the work was done by good, upstanding humans pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

Working in the confines of the steam tunnels brought a sort of camaraderie if not an entente between Farlow and most of his fellow workers.  The time spent shoveling, shearing plate, pouring molten ore into molds, and debating which brands of arc light spanners performed best under the conditions of the Heart had dispelled the naive human-centric stereotypes Farlow had held in regards to all xenians.  Hadn’t all cacatae been a result of Mad Zur’s experiments in Adarkar? No, not the Wastes, it was in the Cacotopic Stain itself.  And didn’t all khepri practice ritual sacrifice of captured human children?  As it turns out, not so much.


So basically what I wanted to do was explore space in Perdido, Neuromancer, and Snow Crash.  They all deal with space that is not space, per se, and I really wanted to do something creative.  After hearing Chelsea lament that this was the last project of our undergrad, I decided to spurn my traditionalist notions of writing a paper.  I summarily decided to throw myself at something more creative with reckless abandon.

What I want to do is write from the perspective of people immersed in the same worlds as these three novels, and how see how ‘normal people’ interact with the space that is not space.  The only concrete idea I have this far is writng up a newspaper excerpt similar to Double R from Perdido Street Station.  The main idea is to write up a page from the paper, layout, drawn ads, heliotypes, etc in order to question the assumptions and hierarchies in Bas-Lag.

Ben Flex and Derkhan Blueday are the only characters to attempt literary change in New Crobuzan; they work outside the pale of legality, asking all the wrong questions to all the right people.  Their anonymous efforts at journalism let them occupy a space that is not space from which they sortie into the ‘real world.’  This effect is almost exactly like the behavior of Case and Hiro in their respective novels.  I had initially wanted to do an entire newspaper with several pages, print up copies and distribute them, but doing something of that magnitude for every portion of this seemed a little more than I could handle.

I have yet to figure out a way in which I will be engaging with Snow Crash and Neuromancer.  The theme of the course has been somewhat dated: Patchwork Girl, We, City and the Stars, Blade Runner, Metropolis.  And I had hoped that by using a newspaper excerpt for a portion of my project, I could further comment on the fact that newspapers are becoming even more dated everyday that goes by.  That’s as far as I have thought on the project, but I must be off to start working on the rest of it.