Wednesday, March 23, 2011

There will be Carpet

Delany imagines a future where strife, discord and discontent are solely the province of the super-rich heirs of intergalactic corporations. Man has developed a stunning array of technologies liberating him from contagion, disease and, for the most part, death. Travel between solar systems is quotidian, virtual reality is the main mode of entertainment and barren moonscapes are terraformed into thriving megacities. In his bewildering vision of the future there is also lots of beige carpet. Creating an entirely new universe of experience is a difficult project and I don’t look to belittle Delany’s project so much as point out the function of the science fiction novel.

Delany’s project looks to problematize or remedy the major constraints and deficits of our current period – objects and issues which don’t strike the author as possible causes of tension are left intact. Katin serves as our guide through the historical developments which have led to the current conditions of the 31st century and often explains, somewhat pedantically, how major issues of conflict were resolved. Katin lectures about the end of contagion, the end of alienation vis-à-vis mechanization, and the collapse of great distance by interstellar travel. Throughout the novel Delany hints that education is largely a process of downloading information, travelling many times the speed of light on “bliss” is common and resurrection is possible. These scenes highlight a resolution of problems which plague 20th century man. What I found most interesting are the issues and problems which are not mentioned.

Race, as a discourse, is largely absent in Delany’s work. His cast is a multicolored, from different parts of the galaxy and the greatest differences between them are wealth and dialect. Even the difference between being a citizen of Draco or Pleiades seems to matter only to Prince and Lorq; two elite playboys for whom adventure and conquest are polite games and the massive redistribution of wealth and peoples is a minor inconvenience. Save for Lorq’s scar, Katin’s height and the ebony and ivory twins we receive little information about what, exactly, the characters look like. They largely exist outside of, or perhaps beyond, the staid racial categories of the 21st century. Whereas race is one of the defining characteristics of mobility and labor choice Delany’s future suggests that labor movement and resettlement is totally disconnected from race. Rather, powerful families and corporations control the means and modes of production and care little about race. Delany suggests that without physical markers of difference to separate people, they exist peacefully, without war.


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