Since these are all so different, and yet chosen to appeal particularly to American readers, I hope you’ll have plenty of comments.
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Russian & EE SF – Bakhnov, Gansovsky, Varshavsky
Once again I find myself struck by how prevalent the theme of man versus nature and the natural order of things is in these stories. This week’s readings have been perfect examples of the theme, so much so that I wish I had read them before I wrote my essay on the subject because they work even better than the readings I used. One interesting thing about these readings is that although each society that is featured seem to have a different political system (Highly bureaucratic world democracy in The 5th on the Left, much more disorganized international lawmaking collaboration in Vincent Van Gogh, libertarian government in No Alarming Symptoms) the opportunity arises to push individuals and groups to attempt to conquer nature. It goes to show how engrained this kind of desire is in human society, that no matter what the circumstances mankind always seeks mastery over natural forces. What’s even more interesting to me is that unlike some of the other readings we have had, these invariably end with the human scientists/technology wielders not only failing, but being humbled by the resiliency of nature and it’s ability to self correct the changes and mistakes of man. The removal of emotion from Clarence via medical operation is an attempt to essentially force evolution via technology, but emotions are forced back into the clean brain in the end, humbling it’s possessor. Time repairs itself no matter what Gansovsky’s time traveler meddles with, leaving him humbled by life and it’s beauty. Etcetera. It’s actually quite nice to see that human failure to beat nature is actually presented reassuringly. The message seems to consistently be, we can’t beat nature by meddling, best to focus on our own problems and happiness for ourselves, traditionally.
Other interesting things I noticed:
Bakhnov is a very clever writer, the bit about the rules becoming exceptions and the exceptions becoming rules was funny and served to convey how impossible it is to fully describe nature’s order with scientific notations. Also the bit about Controller AB C being a good sci fi writer was hilarious. Interesting that a society which has discovered interplanetary travel doesn’t recognize that it is possible that not all worlds will develop in the historical pattern that they experienced, or even that theirs might not be the best way.
That’s a crazy thing, isn’t it? That antagonism to nature theme. It’s been so consistent, too. I’ve been feeling different conclusions from you though, Justin. you said that human failure to ‘beat nature’ is presented reassuringly, and it’s sort of optimistically framed as a call to focus on our own problems. It feels like that’s not always the case in these books and stories. For instance, I really liked Varshansky’s “No Alarming Symptoms” which was certainly – at least in part – another reason why people shouldn’t meddle with nature (i.e. making people immortal). But I never made that connection to humility and renewed perspective. Clarence had little qualms about being a semi-human uber scientist with partial amnesia – only when he drove his wife to suicide, but the story ends with him sort of shrugging it off. That was troubling. It seemed the theme there was, “We can’t beat nature by meddling, but we’ll try…and then mess ourselves up.” And that’s that. Yeesh.
I got the same sense in Nesvadba’s Inventer of His Own Undoing. (Actually, that theme of futility against the great iron will of nature was in more or less all of the works of this semester) But Bauer….he was such a jerk. With a capital J. He stayed a jerk, even after losing his recognition, job, dreams, sense of purpose…he was still remorseless for Mracek’s death and more mopey than repentful. At least, that’s how I read it.
As I have mentioned in class before, I have a hard time figuring out what bothers these writers and everyone about the idea of imitating nature and taking over some of her responsibilities.
I think that the problems arise not from the act, but from problems within the scientists, which is why I’m still looking to find a story where the humans do everything right but still get cut down by nature. what I mean is, for example, that there is nothing wrong with immortality per se, the problem arose in the removal of human emotions, but that was an easily foreseeable issue and one that could have been modified. And again, it depends on what you want to get out of imortality, if you want a fulfilled society where those who have the most to offer are given the opportunity to give to society much longer than a natural life-span, why not?
When it comes to Far Rainbow, the problem was that the scientists thought that they could control nature and they couldn’t. That’s just overestimating your abilities. That has nothing to do with whether or not controling the waves is possible, or a good goal of the scientists and certainly nothing against transporting things instantly. What is says is that we shouldn’t have built schools on Rainbow because it was an unstable place. Sort of like building nuclear power plants on the ring of fire…
The Wave on Rainbow is an interesting phenomenon from this point of view. On the one hand the scientists think they can control nature without overly dire consequences. They also seem to underestimate how big an influence they can have on nature – is the Wave even part of nature, if it only seems to happen when they try the zero-transports? Do Lamandois and his team feel that the experiments they’re doing are risky enough to declare the planet off-limits to children and other non-essential personnel? (Apparently not, since we discover that he has two kids himself, “over there in the park.”) Would top-grade physics researchers agree to go and live on a planet where they couldn’t bring along their families, or (like Robert Sklyarov) make a move to found a family?
The shock the physicists seem to feel at having provoked this new kind of Wave makes me think (again) of the people who argued that the sees are bottomless and inexhaustible (and that fish schools and other marine life would barely be impacted by drift-net fishing and the like).
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