I was hunting around for more information on a book I read ages ago called Limbo by Bernard Wolfe. The novel is about a post-apocalyptic America that exalts voluntary amputation, and it’s not a novel I’d recommend (even at 16, when I had a high tolerance for bad sci-fi, it stretched my patience). But I did find this A.V. Club review (55 years after publication) that excerpts an author’s note that seemed relevant to the whole “function/promise of sci fi” question:
Anybody who “paints a picture” of some coming year is kidding–he’s only fancying up something in the present or past, not blueprinting the future. All such writing is essentially satiric (today-centered), not utopic (tomorrow-centered). This book, then, is a rather bilious rib on 1950–on what 1950 might have been like if it had been allowed to fulfill itself, if it had gone on being 1950, only more and more so, for four more decades. But no year ever fulfills itself: The cowpath of History is littered with the corpses of years, their throats slit from ear to ear by the improbable.
Can we write anything but extrapolations? Can we honestly expect them to hold up?
“My body is not mine,” she told him, her voice flat when he asked about the performances. “The men who designed me, they make me do things I cannot control.” As if their hands are inside me. Like a puppet, yes?” Her fists clenched, opening and closing unconsciously, but her voice remained subdued. “They made me obedient, in all ways.”
And then she had smiled prettily and flowed into his arms, as if she had made no complaint at all.
She is an animal. Servile as a dog. And yet if he is careful to make no demands, to leave the air between them open, another version of the windup girl emerges. As precious and rare as a living bo tree. Her soul, emerging from within the strangling strands of her engineered DNA. (183-184)
How is she different from non-engineered creatures, aren’t we too bound by our DNA?
The cheshire’s yowl again as Somchai watches. “I’ve killed thousands of them. Thousands. I’ve killed six men in my life and never regretted any of them, but I’ve killed thousands of cheshire’s and have never felt at ease.” He pauses, scratches behind his ear at a bloom of arrested fa’ gan fringe. “I sometimes wonder if my family’s cibiscosis was karmic retribution for all those cheshire’s.”
“It couldn’t be. They’re not natural.”
Somchai shrugs. “They breed. They eat. They live. They breathe.” He smiles slightly. “If you pet them, they will purr.”
Jaidee makes a face of disgust.
“It’s true. I have touched them. They are real. As much as you or I.”
“They’re just empty vessels. No soul fills them.”
Somchai shrugs. “Maybe even the worst monstrosities of the Japanese live in some way. I worry that Noi and Chart and Malee and Prem have been reborn in windup bodies. Not all of us are good enough to become Contraction phii. Mayve some of us become windups, in Japanese factories, working working working, you know? We’re so few in comparison to the past, where did all the souls go? Maybe the Japanese? Maybe into windups?”
Jaidee masks his uneasiness at the direction of Somchai’s words. “It’s impossible.”
Somchai shrugs again. “Still. I could not bear to hunt a cheshire again.” (173-174)
“The ecosystem unravelled when man first went a-seafaring. When we first lit fires on the broad savannas of Africa. We have only accelerated the phenomenon. The food web you talk about is nostalgia, nothing more. Nature… We are nature. Our every tinkering is nature, our every biological striving. We are what we are, and the world is ours. We are its gods. Your only difficulty is your unwillingness to unleash your potential fully upon it.” (243)
“We have released demons upon the world, and your walls are only as good as my intellect. Nature has become something new. It is ours now, truly. And if our creation devours us, how poetic will that be?” (247)
This reminds me of Tim Morton on “nature”—how the term and the human/nature distinction have been skunked, rendered meaningless by fuzzy polemics, on the one hand, and by the very technologies that allow us to challenge any position anterior to human manipulation.
Can’t wait for the sequel…
A small company is trying to bring to market a genetically engineered apple that does not turn brown when sliced or bruised. But it has much of the rest of the apple industry seeing red.
The company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, says the nonbrowning apple will prove popular with consumers and food service companies and help increase sales of apples, in part by making sliced apples more attractive to serve or sell.
While Americans have been eating genetically engineered foods since the 1990s, those have been mainly processed foods. The Arctic Apple, as it is being called, could become one of the first genetically engineered versions of a fruit that people directly bite into.
Read about it in The NY Times.
This month’s Wired magazine has a pitch by author Rudy Rucker to write a purely hypothetical book on commission for the National Zoo. It’s about synthetic life overrunning the planet (http://www.wired.com/underwire/2012/06/beltway-sci-fi/):
By Rudy Rucker
» For The National Zoo
With the coming of biotech, the planet is flooded with wetware-engineered plants and animals. The government wishes to archive a living sample of each of the new lifeforms being made. So a so-called NonZoo is set up as an offshoot of the National Zoo.
The former chamber of the House of Representatives is cleared out to provide quarters for the amazing NonZoo collection, which can be visited only with elaborate decontamination routines at the entrance and exit. Within the NonZoo, we find the original alpha versions of the squidskin wallskin display, the housetree, the slugsled, the snap-on angel-wings, the dragonfly camera, the fungus rug, the please-plant, the floor-tongue, the soft chair, the fly-dino, and a myriad of other biotweaked organisms.
The crisis occurs when our hero, a fanatical New Adamite, signs on as a keeper at the NonZoo and manages to create a chimerical creature that is a fusion of each and every one of the wetware-tweaked species. His so-called universal life form or everycritter breaks out and, in one frantic twenty-four span, the nimble and uncannily mobile everycritter has sex with – and impregnates – every female animal of any kind to be found on Earth.
The despondent males of the planet agree to eliminate each other in a gargantuan Superbowl death-match – leaving our New Adamite as the sole survivor. Calmly aging, he looks on as the everycritters settle into an eons-long domination of his world.
I can’t believe Kitum only got three stars on Tripadvisor! Richard Preston says it’s to die for.