Monday, August 20, 2007

Brain downloads and death

Posted by goatchurch at 11:25 PM
Another good source of podcasts to get you through those sleepless nights and long train journeys in case aviation gets abolished (subtitle: "We are armed... only with peer-reviewed science") before our planetary life-support system collapses is IT Conversations.

From the 2007-08-16 podcast:
"This is Doug Kay from GigaVox Media, and today I am excited to bring you another edition of Tech Nation with Dr Moira Gunn... And here's your host, Dr Moira Gunn... From San Francisco, I'm Moira Gunn. And this is Tech Nation. Today we'll look at life will be like after a hundred years of biotech."
Actually the program is about nothing of the sort. It's just an interview with science fiction writer Richard Morgan and his new book called "Black Man" or "Thirteen", depending on where you are.

It's a book set about a hundred years in the future. If anyone has time to read it, please send a review. The interview points squarely in the direction of Mundane-SF, although he doesn't know it. I've transcribed it extensively because it pretty much says it all in relation to this particular banned trope.

Here is Morgan placing this novel in relation to his earlier books about a character called Kovacs:
Morgan: The Kovacs books dealt with a universe in which you could swap your body, or you could be dumped onto a mainframe and be run as a simulation. And so Kovacs doesn't really have any ties to a particular body. In a sense, that's one of the things that's scary about him. He is almost like a demonic presence. He just pops up and creates mayhem.

The point about this book, Thirteen or Black Man as it's called in the UK, is that you're tied to your skin. You are the person you are born as. The physicality that you've got is the physicality that's going to stay with you. And mortality is unavoidable.

These are things I couldn't really deal with in the Kovacs universe, because for Kovacs and for people like him mortality is avoidable: you just skip into a new body. Issues of race, gender, the kind of physicality that you exist in are also not really issues for Kovacs because he can pop out of a body and into another one at any time. Clearly a society where that's possible is pretty soon going to shed any concern about physicality because you don't know who you're talking to...

So I couldn't explore what I wanted to explore in the Kovacs universe. This is one of the reasons I ducked out and produced a stand-alone [novel]. This book is about physicality and the constraints of physicality and the fact that you are locked into who you are and there's not a whole lot you can do about that. Not only at the level of what colour your skin is or whether you're a man or a woman, but also in the sense of what kind of personality you are.
Then from the end of the interview after being side-tracked into why the book has two different titles:
Gunn: We started on this when we were comparing this character to characters in your earlier novels and that the consideration of what death means is really important. A lot of people think that with bio-tech you're living another ten, twenty or thirty years, but what it really means when you start to live that long is that while you may see your great-great-grandchildren, you will witness a lot more death through your family line...

[In the past before medical science] many children never made it out of childhood, mothers died in childbirth, people were dying for all kinds of reasons, and death was much closer to humanity. And it will become more close in the century we're going into, even though we're depicting it as life extension. You really gripped that idea of death and what that means.

Morgan: I think that mortality is an important thing to deal with. I lost my mother last year to a stroke. And that's really the first time I've had death affect me closely... It does make you think. And, yeah, I'm not getting any younger either... At some point I'm going to lose my father as well, and then it will be me... As you get older this does concentrate the mind...

In a way the Kovacs books are quite young. They do sidestep that whole issue. They're quite unpleasant because of the way they do it is pretty traumatic, but fundamentally there is the sense that dying is no big deal. And so I wanted a book where dying is a pretty big deal, because that's your lot.


Blogger Damon said...

Yes, BLACK MAN, or THIRTEEN in the States, is indeed mundane. Basic genetic engineering, adding back in the primal male instincts to kill, kill, kill, and be really good at it.

I enjoyed the Kovacs novels a bit more. Although, I think MARKET FORCES was his best (also mundane).

8/21/2007 05:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Djibril said...

Well, I don't know if you all would really agree that Black Man is Mundane: it includes interplanetary travel, colonisation of Mars, space elevators, and AI (although all are pretty believable and hard-SF in execution, and none is used as a convenient escape pod for a plot difficulty). The genetic engineering is if anything more Mundane than you would expect for a story set 100 years in the future. So yes and no, depending on how dogmatic you want to be.

8/22/2007 02:58:00 PM  
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