A common tool of science fiction writers is the use of a character, to whom thereader can relate, placed in an alien setting.
This character will represent thereader in this new alien world or society, allowing the reader to form a linkbetween his or her own world and this new one. Because these characters areplaced in unfamiliar settings, a way is presented to defamiliarize our ownsociety and perhaps even look at it in a new way, or from a new angle. Thesecharacters play a role in the novel that usually involves some interaction withthis alien society that changes their perception of the alien world. It causesthe characters to see the society or world in a new light, comparing it to theirown more familiar society and seeing the benefits and weaknesses of both. Theseexperiences usually cause these characters to alter their self-perception aswell, changing due to the influence of these societies.
Two such novels areNeuromancer, and The Time Machine. In Neuromancer, author William Gibson givesus the character Henry Case, or just Case, as he is referred to throughout thenovel. The setting is in the near future, on Earth, and Case is living in ahighly technologically advanced time.
He used to be a console cowboy, a datathief that could hack into corporate systems and steal information. Case isrecruited, against his will, to help an Artificial Intelligence named Wintermutefree itself from containment. In this setting, laws exist to prevent the releaseof Artificial Intelligences into cyberspace, or what Gibson terms “theMatrix”. These “Turing” laws are not the only methods of preventing AIsfrom becoming free. Along with the laws, computer security programs guard theseAIs, much like other security programs guard information and corporatesystem.
Wintermute requires Case to break through the security holding it incheck. At first, Case is unaware of who or what Wintermute is, and he is forcedto help it because Wintermute has caused toxin sacs to be placed in Casesbloodstream that will dissolve after a certain amount of time. If Case completeshis job (the freeing of Wintermute), then a cure will be provided.
This coercioncauses Case to think of Wintermute as a kind of enemy, and he reluctantly helpsit. His role is as a tool of an Artificial Intelligence, used against his willfor purposes unclear to him. In direct contrast to this, the Time Traveller,from H.G.
Wells The Time Machine, decides his own course of action and, infact, decides to help an “alien” race without their asking. The TimeTraveller is a character from Britain in the late 19th century. He designs atime machine and is determined to travel into the future and return to describewhat he has seen. He holds a dinner party for several of his friends where herelates his experiences in the future. He travels to the year 802,701 anddiscovers two different races, the Eloi and the Morlocks, inhabiting the earththe Eloi on the surface, and the Morlocks below. The first creature heencounters is a member the Eloi, a “very beautiful and graceful creature, butindescribably frail”. He attempts to interact with the Eloi but because theirlanguage is so different, he has to slowly build a kind of communication throughgestures and sounds.
The Time Traveller sees the Eloi as the culmination ofhumankind, a delicate creature with no need for fear or any type of aggressiveor competitive behaviour. When he finally discovers the Morlocks, who live belowthe surface, he sees them as monsters, “ape-like figures” with large, glassyeyes and pallid skin. Because of this, the Time Traveller identifies with theEloi, and forms a relationship with one of them, a female named Weena. When helearns that the Morlocks are carnivorous, and eat the Eloi to survive, he seesthe Morlocks as evil. And when he also learns that the Morlocks have stolen histime machine, he decides to fight them to get it back. His role as an observer,and later as a protagonist, is almost the exact opposite of Cases role inNeuromancer.
During his “employment” by Wintermute, Case learns severalabout the Artificial Intelligence that affect the way he thinks about them.Along with recruiting Case, Wintermute has recruited other mercenaries to helpfree it. Each of these members has, in some way, been influenced to join in thetask of freeing Wintermute, whether by force (like Case), or because Wintermutehas saved them in some way and now they feel they owe it. At first, Case sawartificial intelligences as computer constructs, used in conjunction withhuman-operated systems to reduce the number of tasks and decisions that humanswould normally have to do and make. As he gets deeper into the task assigned tohim by Wintermute, he learns that the AI has a drive that he was unaware an AIcould possess. Wintermute is desperate to be free, and will go to any length toensure this happens. Wintermute murders people (through control ofcomputer-controlled robots) and manipulates people.
When Wintermute finallyinteracts with Case, he learns that the construct wants the same things thatmost humans do: freedom, life, an ability to explore and discover theirsurroundings. He begins feeling sympathetic, although only to a small degree,for the AI, and he develops a better understanding of what makes us human.Humanity is also a strong theme in The Time Machine. When he first arrives inthe future, the Time Traveller sees the Eloi as the culmination of mankind,living in splendour amongst flowery gardens, fountains, and statues. There”were no signs of struggle, neither social nor economical”.
He found thatthat Eloi only ate fruit for sustenance and they interacted and slept in largecommunal halls. However, upon closer inspection, the Time Traveller realizesthat the halls and buildings are in a state of disrepair, with broken windows,and a general dilapidated look. He also notices that there are no businesses, orany type of machinery above ground. At this point, he begins to see the Eloi asnot an evolution of man, but kind of a step back. They seem to have the mentalage of four- or five-year old children.
And he wonders how they manage to carefor themselves, being as frail as they are. When he discovers the Morlocks, hesuddenly realizes the mistake of his previous assumption..
. the Eloi are not theculmination of mankind, but one of two paths that human evolution has taken. Ashe soon comes to realize, the Morlocks are the stronger of the two races, andduring the day, they live below the earth, only surfacing at night. This is whenthey steal some of the Eloi for food.
The Time Traveller becomes aware that Eloiknow of the Morlocks, and are afraid of them, but do nothing to defendthemselves. This finalizes his thoughts about the Eloi not being the culminationof mankind. Case, however, learned that what Wintermute really wanted is to joinwith another AI to become greater than either of them, to essentially become theculmination of a technology that mankind has created. The company that housesWintermute is called Tessier-Ashpool, run by a family of the same name that isone of the oldest and richest families on Earth.
They created Wintermute to runtheir company, taking care of the daily details. They have kept their dynastyalive by cloning and cryogenics. But one member of the family, Marie-France, sawa better way to achieve immortality. She created another AI that was allpersonality. It was called Neuromancer. Wintermute had the desire to join withNeuromancer to become greater than it was. Case sees this desire in Wintermuteand realizes that this desire is entirely human.
Every human wants to becomemore than they are, and has the desire to grow and explore. Case is tempted byNeuromancer to stop Wintermute, and this temptation comes in the form of an oldgirlfriend whose personality has been captured by Neuromancer and replicated ina virtual world of Neuromancers making. While Case is in the Matrix, tryingto break through the Tessier-Ashpool security, Neuromancer intercepts him andplaces him within that virtual world. The temptation to stay is great, but Caserealizes it is not real, and his desire to be free mimics Wintermutes. Hecomes to the conclusion that even though his life may not be perfect in the realworld, at least it is real.
He sees that small things in his life that he takesfor granted, and that Wintermute has been denied, and decides that he should atleast give Wintermute the chance to explore freedom. The Time Traveller comes tothe realization that all the Eloi have is an illusion of freedom. They aremerely food for the Morlocks, who keep them placated. He refers to thisrelationship as one of farmer and their cattle, where the cows are blissfullyunaware of the fact that they are food for the farmers. He also sees the tworaces as the eventual result of the split between Capitalists and the Labourers.
When he journeys below and discovers a large underground world of machinery andmetal, he relates this to his time, and how there is an increasing trend tobuild things underground, such as transit systems, restaurants, and shops things that are less ornamental and more functional. This evolution seems tosuggest to him that the working class has become the underworld dwellers, whilethe rich, upper class has evolved into a playful, but almost idiotic race ofbeautiful, fragile dolls. The Time Traveller states his theory of this progressin the following statement: So, in the end, above ground you must have theHaves, pursuing pleasure and comfort and beauty, and below ground the Have-nots,the Workers getting continually adapted to the conditions of their labour. Withthe Morlocks forced underground, while the Eloi have the surface as their gardenand playground, the Time Traveller suddenly sees this progression as not theevolution of mankind, but the evolution of class division. He even suggests thatsuch a division is taking place in his time already, stating that: Even now,does not an East End worker live in such artificial conditions as to bepractically cut off from the natural surface of the earth? This suggests thatthe Time Traveller, a reflection of H.G. Wells, sees class division as somethingbad, something that could lead to an insurmountable gulf between the rich andpoor.
The Time Traveller, then, sees the fate of the Eloi and Morlocks assomething which could happen (and is starting to happen, in his time) tomankind. Case, although recruited unwillingly, eventually decides to helpWintermute because he sees in Wintermute the hope and desires of mankind thathave somehow been lost in his society. He uses his experience to growpersonally, and after his mission is over, and Wintermute is free, Casere-evaluates his life and decides to live more in the moment. The Time Traveller,on the other hand, sees his time with the Eloi and the Morlocks as a warning formankind, a glimpse into our future and what could happen to us if we do notchange the way that all levels of society interact. Both Case and the TimeTraveller come away from their experiences having learned a lesson, and havingseen what makes us human, the good and the bad. And both H.
G. Wells and WilliamGibson fulfilled their roles as Science Fiction authors as well: to provide uswith a look into another world, and to cause us to leave that world thinkingabout our own.Bibliography1. The Time Machine, The Science Fiction Volume 1, H.G.
Wells, Phoenix, GreatBritain, 1995 (The Time Machine originally published in 1895) 2. Neuromancer,William Gibson, Ace Books, The Berkeley Publishing Group, New York, 1984