Monthly Archives: November 2011

House of Scorpion

Before I go into the difference in House of Scorpions, I wanted to note a couple of things. This book is fairytale-ish, yet it tackles the very thorny social issue of cloning. The names of the characters are particularly interesting because of their actual meanings compared to the meanings in the text/context: Matteo – gift of God; mi vida – my life; El Patrón – patron, someone who is charitable, philanthropic; Felicia – happy; Benito – blessed; Fani – free; Esperanza – hope; Fidelito – little loyal one; and Celia – blind (to name a few). It is ironic that Maria, the one who seeks to save every animal and person, is the same name as La Llorona. There is a LOT of play on names in this book (maybe for another blog – you can look up the names on just about any baby name website).

What is notably absent is the overt technology (which we will later see towards the end of the book) and sometimes overbearing degree of social commentary. It’s somewhat disorienting to have biomedical advances such as cloning and implants in a place where residents live like their ancestors some 100 years ago. The setting is very rural, with the eejits (slaves) tending the fields, a southern-like dysfunctional extended family creating havoc in what feels like a horrendously humid house (only the computers get constant AC and for parties). One of the first scenes I found jarring was when Matt and Tam ride the safe horse instead of some hovercraft (like they do later in the book). Another scene I found particularly striking is the “birds and the bees scene” between Matt and Tam when Matt first asks if he is a “machine” (80) then later asks where he came from (80). Tam’s responds that he is not a machine, but at the same time, he’s not real either (80). Instead of “machines” working the fields, eejits work the field but they are, in essence, machines, they have no awareness of themselves or others and are incapable of following anything more than a simple script of actions; Matt and Tam find a dead eejit in the field (77). It is here that Matt begins to really learn what an eejit is, “human” and animal (both must be told to drink). What I find rather unsettling is people, like the Alacrans look at clones as animals, yet use them like machines. At the same time there is this realization, perhaps on a more subconscious level, that the clones need to be turned into eejits by being “injected with a kind of drug. It turns them into idiots” 125). Later Mr. Alacran explains why El Viejo seems older than his grandfather, because El Viejo believes “implants were immoral” (106). As the book progresses, it seems that El Patrón has kept Opium in a pre-industrialized state to a large degree (not even pre-technology!).  I’m not sure why Farmer decides to have Opium in this time-state, except to maybe focus on the social issue of clones. But what I find different, very different, is I don’t feel like it needs to be set in some bleak (or shiny) futuristic place of flying vehicles and floating buildings to be science fiction. While there are hints throughout the book about a more advanced yet degraded (e.g., deadly Colorado River) society that appears late in the book and satisfy the reader’s need for this futuristic world, I don’t find myself missing it, or taking away from the book.


Sarasti on Blindsight (192)

There is more, a whole catalogue of finely-tuned dysfunctions that Rorschach will inflict on them. Somnambulism. Agnosias. Hemineglect. ConSensus serves up a freak show to make any mind reel at its own fragility: a woman dying of thirst within easy reach of water, not because she can’t see the faucet but because she can’t recognize it. A man for whom the left side of the universe does not exist, who can neither perceive nor conceive of the left side of his body, of a room, of a line of text. A man for whom the very concept of leftness becomes literally unthinkable. They know this, but they don’t know they know this. They are blind to what cannot, should not be considered.

     Sometimes they can conceive of things and still not see them, although they stand right before them. Skyscrapers appear out of thin air, the person talking to them changes into someone else during a momentary distraction – and they don’t notice. It isn’t magic. It’s not even misdirection. I call it intentional blindness: a tendency for the human eye to simply not notice things that evolutionary experience classifies as unlikely. Humans, particularly baselines, are incapable of seeing multiple world views. Seeing multiple world views simultaneously is simply beyond their comprehension. They feel the need to choose the right answer, that only one world view can be correct. Perhaps, that is what gives them this emotion they call hope.

I find it much like Szpindel’s blindsight, a malady not in which the sighted believe they are blind but one in which the blind insist they can see. The sighted never believe they are blind, never believe there is any other perspective than their own. The sighted deem sight as infallible, inscrutable, and, most of all shared. Humans believe, or want to believe, that everyone sees the same image, shares their world view. A baseline human being is primitive to them, incapable of seeing, perceiving. There is a prejudice to their natural state. They think enhancements make them super human; their enhancements dehumanize them. They think anything different is unacceptable, anything unlikely is unthinkable. It’s all about acceptance for humans; they want to be accepted and to be able to accept.

 Even Siri. But he too is human, more human than he cares to admit. He pretends to have no feelings, but he has more feelings than any of them. Yet, he is a lot like me; he knows there are other world views but fails to understand them, embrace them. He is incapable of juggling world views. For him, every world view only exists in its respective compartment. Competing world view cannot coexist. Humans exist within a self-imposed binary. For them, competing world views occupy this thing they call the future. For me, it’s just an inevitable consequence. For them, time is linear, hence why competing world views cannot coexist. For me, time is multidimensional, allowing for infinite combinations.

     Rorschach challenges their ability to see and comprehend. It makes the unlikely likely to the affected human, yet the other humans still see it as unlikely. They cannot comprehend the multiple world views that Rorschach throws at them. Rorschach knows this. I know Rorschach.

     They never had a chance.

(excerpted and modified from page 192)

 I chose to examine the definition of blindsight from Sarasti’s view point because prior to this, all definitions were from humans, albeit some were more baseline than others. Sarasti’s world views are unique in that he can hold them simultaneously and his perception of time is multidimensional, hence why he always talks in present tense. I would have like to have seen Sarasti’s character developed more fully, instead of being just a vampire.

     Original text is in black, new text is in red (for vampire!). Some of the changes are verb tenses, but other changes are Sarasti’s way of thinking, of explaining what blindsight is. Since he is basically the only one who can hold simultaneous world views, it’s appropriate to get his view on blindsight. Siri has the awareness but struggles with holding a world view, much less trying to comprehend simultaneous world views. I think it is legitimate to explore and examine, imagine how Sarasti comes to try to understand Siri, othewise what was the point of saving him at the end? While there is lack of feelings, I think Sarasti’s motivation is because he can hold multiple world views simultaneous and understands what needs to be done. I also think Sarasti understands humans far more than humans would care for him, or any vampire to. 

“Oh God, how I treasure it. I treasure every word.” (359)

It’s ironic that Sarasti returns Siri to a more human state, that the predator “saves” the prey in the face of his own (Sarasti’s) extinction. Siri spends his life with little to no emotional affect. Where Helen fails to humanize Siri, Chelsea begins to bring out the “human” in him, and finally Sarasti brings it out of him, albeit very traumatically. More importantly is Siri’s recognition and awareness of his human-ness. He realizes he is “as blind now as any baseline” (359) and later acknowledges Sarasti humanized him (361). Yet, the critical moment is his moment of self-awareness about his human-ness, when he says, “Oh God, how I treasure it. I treasure every word” (359). He has yet to understand as he ponders, “So much power my father must have had, to be able to broadcast and yet waste so much of it on feeling” (358).

In retrospect, Helen’s manipulations were doomed to fail because she was unable to see beyond her own world and motivations, particularly to pit Siri against his father (Why are familial relationships always strained in Sci-Fi?). Chelsea was very much like Helen in this regard, although her motivations though selfish were to be with Siri. Neither woman could truly understand Siri, his general lack of emotional affect. I did find it odd that Siri wanted to please her – was it more “propaganda” like when he went to Pag’s defense? Sarasti seems like the only plausible person to be able to shake Siri up, partly because he is capable of holding “simultaneous multiple worldview” (61), and partly because there is something remotely and truly human about Sarasti.

Sarasti also seems to be the only one not afflicted by blindsight, the inability to see the unlikely (192).  I don’t necessarily agree with the assessment that he (vampires) are sociopaths (or even apathetic) because that is perspective-bound, but instead I find his lack of emotional affect, much like Siri’s, to be a result of circumstances – Sarasti’s inherent vampire rait and Siri’s half-brain surgery. Sarasti’s human-like traits, his motivation to act as he did to Siri, seemed to be part of some collective memory, genetically embedded, deeply so, whereas Siri’s human-like traits seem to be directly hereditary, from his mother and father (who we later find out from inference is a feeling person).

I find the quote (from the title) particularly striking because for much of the book, Siri and his shipmates try to asses and analyze evolving situations with little regard for human needs; they are enhanced for specific functions, of which first person sex is not one of them. I followed Siri’s struggle with his relationship with Chelsea. I think he genuinely cared for her, loved her even but was stymied as how to express himself emotionally and, ultimately, tries to meet her expectations (which we all know ends badly, as any relationship does where one person has to give the sense of self); the Chelsea death scene is particularly wrenching as we watch Siri struggle.  I find it interesting that he said “it” and not “him” (his father) and every and not his (his father’s) words, as if to suggest there is awareness and realization but lack of understanding. The whole book revolves around the notion of human-ness and perspectives. I find it interesting the most human people are the ones that are able to understand multiple perspectives, and those who are unable to are blindsighted not only to what they don’t want to see or is unlikely, but to things they refuse to see.  I think it’s ironic that he treasures something he was blindsighted to before – feelings. It is somewhat unfortunate he is too late for Chelsea or his father.