Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Interstellar Taxes Shall be Based on the Total Number of Humans and 3/5ths all other Sentient Beings

Keywords: Memory/Reality, Duty/Love, Racial Superiority, Dying World

As of writing this I’ve watched Total Recall, and read “A Rose for Ecclesiastes,” “We Can Remember it for you Wholesale,” and Freedman’s essay on Schwarzenegger in Science Fiction.

The largest theme between them all is the importance of memory, both individual and cultural, and how much memory of either kind effects who we are as individuals. With the Quaid/Houser character in Recall and “Wholesale” memory becomes reality. In fact, even knowing that his current existence is a fabrication, Quaid displays a typical survival instinct at the end of Recall, choosing not to go back to his “real” life in order to preserve the one he is currently living. While one could argue that this advocates “living a lie” the more interesting question revolves around the idea of perception equating to reality.

In “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” the protagonist Gallinger is a genius linguist and poet, who places a huge value on the strength of words and their ability to capture emotions and historical fact. The moment where he finally gains access to the Martian city and their archives of lore going back millennia brings to mind the image of a person deprived of oxygen being allowed to finally breathe again. Rather than the focus on individual memory we have in “Wholesale,” Zelazny focuses on the strength of cultural memory and of the power of prophetic writings. It is only through his understanding of their history that Gallinger eventually saves the Martian people from themselves.

Both works also share an examination of the ramifications of faking love in the name of duty with Quaid’s wife and Gallinger’s Blaxa. Although Blaxa's is a more relatable decision in order to save her species that coldness with which both characters turn "off" their faked emotion is striking. This again brought me back to the idea of memory/reality versus illusion. Quaid knew he was living a lie but because he had memories of it, it was "real." Kind of the idea that you ultimately cannot really fool yourself into believing something that you know to be false, but an outside force can easily shape your perception of yourself.

Also worth mentioning is that in all of these works, and in other Martian fiction I've read, Mars is almost always imagined as a dead and/or dying world. Perhaps it is because it is an angry Red color, or because Mars was the Roman name for their God of war; either way most human imagining of a Martian civilization imagine one long since extinct, or working it's way into the grave. Yet despite almost universally accepted technological inferiority, mankind always has something to teach the Martians, some way to revitalize their civilization, or the bravery to make a choice they were afraid to make. This speaks strongly to the idea that "humanity" as just 1 race among countless imagined others is morally (and in many other ways) superior to the other races of the stars. As Freedman writes, these portrayals suggest that "all problems are soluble through human effort, and human effort of an essentially modest and mundane sort." Martian effort, however, is much less effective.


Post a Comment