Author Archives: Jonathan Lee

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.

Representation and Memory

So, peep this,

I was ruminating on these pictures after Monday’s heated discussion, and I was reminded of a visual art lecture I attended that was about representation.  The main point was that a representation of a certain thing be it a 1) picture 2) painting 3) blog 4) insert your own representational item here, or turn to page 8 to see what happens with the sharks!

Perhaps the most famous manifestation of representation versus reality was the Magritte painting, The Treachery of Images, in which a painting of tobacco pipe is accompanied by lettering that tells the reader, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” or, “This is not a pipe.”  Truly, it is not a pipe because we can’t use it to smoke.  I wanted to insert a link here, but the tubes will not obey my will today.

Other than that observation, I just wanted to see if anyone has read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  Not super important, but there is a section near the middle where the narrator is waxing all poetical and shit, and he wonders why it is that we remember what we want to forget (trauma) and forget what we want to remember (names, faces, etc).  I thought that vaguely related to The Ebb of Memory, and the camouflage class concept that so amused us on Monday.


critical response 1

Well…all right.  As usual I am writing this the night before it is due, with no real idea as to what I really want to say.  All I know is that I couldn’t decide which piece with which I wanted to study ‘critcally.’  Whatever that means.

Finally in the last moments it came to me.  Or rather it appeared on my screen through the intra-blarg.  I really prefer to write as I speak, in case that hasn’t become clear, but you are all bright eyed and sharp as tacks, so I am sure you saw through my pretentious throw-away comments.

So considering that I like to keep my funky fresh flows as informal as possible, and we are writing for a blog, and Dick’s speech is very anecdotal I figured I would engage with a few of his ideas.  He certainly puts forth more than a few novel concepts in this piece, and I could probably spend countless hours trying to dissect his ‘drug-addled ramblings’ as Hung Te called them.  Also, we briefly touched on this in class, so please forgive any rote repetition for those not present.  Very early in the speech, he says this:

“The old, the ossified, must always give way to new life and the birth of new things. Before the new things can be born the old must perish…What I am saying is that objects, customs, habits, and ways of life must perish so that the authentic human being can live”

So what Dick seems to be saying is that traditions–which normally are the foundation of any culture–must be exorcised to make way for new practices.  This implies that the new things take nothing from their ancestors, and old things die out withour propagating.  But without old practices upon which to base new evolutions where is this progress coming from?

Alas, later in his speech, Dick invokes one of the oldest institutions–the Church–in order to legitimize his bid for the supernatural.  He claims to have channeled the essence of the Holy Spirit in order to have predicted the events that happened to him later in life.  I find it hard to reconcile that a man of such fantastic imagination would also believe that God’s thoughts and God’s plan were the ultimate causation for all things.

Again, I apologize for the repetition, but I need to set the stage for my next two Dick-inspired (hahahahaha…get those dick laughs out now) anecdotal jumps.  In the first part, I was raised Catholic.  I went to private school all my life, and while that is not all that special, I went to an all-male Catholic prep school.  Yep.  Pressed shirt, tie, blazer with a crest, pleated slacks…the whole shebang-a-bang.  Picture that for a moment if you will.  I would link pictures, but I might die of embarassment.

So!  In short, I was taught by a selection of religious brothers over the years and intelligent design was the rule.  Basically, God planned every step of the way, from evolving from apes to waking up this morning with clutches of yesterday still clinging to you.  Yep, that was all God, the Holy Ghost (which is a fucking terrifying concept when you are 8), and J.C.

But the best way to get someone to reject a religion is force them to practice it for 12 years.  Yeah, I was an altar server, and I am convinced my parents will one day try and blackmail me with the pictures.  So it would be safe to say that I have effectively rejected most of the dogmas of Catholicism.  I mean, it’s pretty tough to toss out the things like don’t kill, don’t steal.  Those are tenets of basically any religion or code of conduct.  Everyone should live like that, right?

So when I see Dick riposte by saying–in so many words–that intelligent design is kosher as Christmas and he writes by chanelling the Holy Ghost, the alarm bells start going off.  Later in the address, Dick says this, “my two preoccupations in my writing are “What is reality?” and “What is the authentic human?”  So then I started thinking about this part of his argument in terms of Clarke’s City and the Stars.

Diaspar is a city that ultimately turns in upon itself, relying on traditions to maintaint itself.  But what kind of existence doe sit have?  It’s a paltry half-life.  They sit in stasis.  There is no variety, no adventure, nothing new.  All it takes is one free-thinking man to break the cycle though.  These ossified traditions do need to be excised so that new ones may develop.  They have led an ingenuine humanity to a place where there is no such thing as progress and truly in order to go forward we must go backwards.

End of line.