Monday, May 21, 2007

"Perhaps, unlike the Institute's gamma lasers, the glove did change who you were. He certainly did not feel like the same person he'd been... three minutes ago? Years and monsters and ages and cultures and kilometers and feelings ago? 'I read Sand and The Sands and Lyrikz...' and when he'd recited a dosen titles, she stopped him with a laugh." (Delany, 44)

In this part of the novel, Rat Korga is educated through the technology of the glove, which allows him to read whole books in a few seconds. I personally found this section of the novel to be one of the most touching and engaging parts of the whole novel. It seems to me that this few pages are Delany's way of expressing his love for literature, and his feelings about his own education. Rat Korga's eyes are opened by the literature. In a few minutes he learns history and philosophy and a love for his own planet, things he was never able to think about before. Not only does the glove seem to make up for the RAT process, it actually compensates for Rat's mental weaknesses, which was what made him unhappy in the first place.

The glove changes Rat, and when it is taken away, he is left dissatisfied, an emotion he is not supposed to feel. Later in the novel it says that Rat begins wearing one work glove, as if in his diminished state he is trying to reach again for the knowledge. It is the knowledge that makes Rat human, and able to function and understand the world around him. I think that this part of the novel is also Delany's commentary on the importance of knowledge, especially to black americans. It seems that Delany is playing off of WEB Dubois' argument that blacks need to seek out a higher education, so that they will be able to challenge whites on every issue.This part of the novel also reminds me of the traditional slave narrative, in which a slave is somehow taught to read and write, and how that only awakes feelings of dissatisfaction and a need to challenge authority. It seems that by keeping the RATs uneducated and in essence stupid (although we are led to believe that Rat Korga is one of the stupidest) they are also being kept under control.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Sci-Fi Slave Narratives

Derrick Bell’s short story “The Space Traders” and the film “The Brother from Another Planet” are both science fiction versions of traditional slave narratives, but they are very dissimilar in tone.

In Bell’s story, an alien race has come to America and promises solutions to all of the country’s economic and ecological problems in exchange for all of the black US citizens. In the story, America’s other races eagerly sell their black neighbors. The whites justify the trade by saying that the few must sacrifice for the many, and they ease their guilt by claiming that the other world may not be so bad. As The Secretary of the Interior claims; “Perhaps they have selected them to inhabit some interplanetary version of the biblical land of milk and honey.” The other minorities, the Hispanics, Asians, and Jews, are all unwilling to sell the blacks, but for the wrong reasons. “In the absence of blacks, Jews could become the scapegoats for a system so reliant on an identifiable group on whose heads less-well-off whites can discharge their hate and frustrations.” Each of those groups fears that with the blacks gone they will become the new scapegoat, the new target for racial oppression. In the end, the blacks are taken away in chains, and it becomes clear that the alien race are in fact slave traders, and that America has made no progress in the past 200 years.

The film “The Brother from Another Planet” seems to take a much more cheerful outlook on America’s race relations. The basic plot is that the brother is a runaway slave from another world, who is being pursued by two “men in black” types, who are presumably his slavers. The brother crash lands in Harlem, and makes a new life for himself there, eventually avoiding his slavers with a little help from a sort of intergalactic underground railroad. This narrative of the underground railroad is spelled out even more clearly through images of the New York City subway. The brother is mute, but despite this he is able to make friends easily, and finds many people who help him along his way including the white woman who takes him in as a border and the Hispanic man from work. In contrast to Bell’s story, this film shows America as a welcoming place, where there is some ethnic tension and discrimination, but where people are on the whole friendly and at least willing to help someone in need. True, there are some examples of white oppression in the film, for example the wealthy white drug lord the brother tracks down at the end of the film, but overall the outlook of this movie is much more hopeful that “Space Traders.” After all, none of the brother’s friends are willing to give him to his pursuers.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

"Renovating the Massa's House"

Nisi Shawl's "Deep End" is a tale of colonization. In the story Wayna and the others are being sent to colonize a new planet- Amends. In some ways, this is a traditional European story- not unlike that of the pilgrims. They are setting out to settle their own "New World". Nissi Shawl messes with this european story by making all of the future colonizers convicts, who are settling this new world as a part of their "rehabilitation". By doing this, the story becomes less like that of the early american pilgrims and it begins to have more in common with the traditional story of Australia's beginnings. Amends will be a colony inhabited by ex-cons- who have chosen this in hope of starting a new life (many chose to stay in the computer program instead.)

But Shawl goes even further- she makes her characters people of color, who have been forced into new white bodies, so that they are a group of people with black identities, but who will bear white children and create a new white world. Dr. Ops, the AI which supervises them, represents an overseer or a slave trader. This story of colonization is converted into a story of abduction and slavery. Even Wayna's physical reaction to the change is tied to the idea of slavery. "Then the pain hit. White! Heat! There then gone- the lash of a whip."

Eventually, in a way that mimics the traditional slave narrative, Wayna comes to accept her new place- she learns a trade and gives up her old friends. She starts to accept Dr. Ops instructions. She becomes accustomed to her new white body and white way of life.