“I don’t know how it was where you were, but. . .”

Working my way through the novel, I’ve been intrigued by the way Kathy’s direct address of us—the readers—functions in what Darling has described as “reticent world-building.” The “hints [which] appear in Kathy’s vocabulary” (Darling) are strengthened by this direct address. For instance, early on Kathy says, “If you’re one of them (i.e., an able carer who doesn’t get the credit they deserve), I can understand how you might get resentful” (4). Perhaps more than her opening explanation regarding the trajectory and imminent conclusion of her career as a carer, this use of the “you” presumes the reader understands the world she is describing. Kathy even goes so far as to assume that we’ve heard the standard privileged-Hailshamian-carer-with-the-great-record tale more than she has (4).

One of the more subtle uses of direct address happens at the beginning of chapter 2: “I don’t know how it was where you were, but at Hailsham we had to. . .” (13). This subtle combination of direct address and the memory does two things quite effectively. First, it interpellates the reader as someone who likely has a slightly different experience, but nevertheless has a shared understanding/memory of the way things were. Second, it increases our trust in Kathy’s—often fuzzy—narration of her memories.

By making these assumptions, strengthened through the use of direct address, Kathy draws us into her world, as Ishiguro quietly builds the novel’s world. These assumptions clear the way for us to focus on the specific memories and, more specifically, the objects of memory(i.e., Tommy’s favorite polo shirt, Ruth’s pencil case, and Kathy’s cassette) that drive the plot. I’m wondering how the use of direct address affects our trustworthiness of Kathy as the narrator? Does the more conversational tone make us more lenient towards the gaps in her memory? (Side note: Do Kathy’s numerous attempts to ensure us that Ruth and Tommy have recently corroborated and/or contested her memory enhance the conversational nature of the tone?)

The Negro and the Big City

In this paper, I examine the conception of “the Negro” (or “the ignorant African”) and “the Negro’s” relationship to the Big City in early SF. Specifically, I consider Wells’s The Time Machine, Wertenbaker’s “The Man from the Atom” and Du Bois’s “The Comet.” At pivotal moments in The Time Machine and “The Man from the Atom,” the narrator-protagonists imagine themselves as “Negroes” in London. In both cases, “the Negro” is conceptualized as non-knower and London is figuratively represented as “the Negro’s” unknown future. In “The Comet,” however, “the Negro” knows the operations of the Big City—New York—all too well. Moreover, “The Comet” temporarily suspends the color line, offering “the Negro” a brief opportunity to un-know these operations. In the end, I argue that these conceptions of “the Negro” provide valuable insight about the role of SF for “voices from within the veil” and voices outside of it.

The New Parable of the Sower Covers are 🔥🔥

What do we make of the creative decision to limit the cover art for the latest printing of Parable of the Sower and its graphic novel adaptation to a fiery color scheme? Perhaps this shared, yet narrow color palette might help us to think about two elements of Parable‘s reception: its “unreadability” and, relatedly, the increasing urgency of its nearly (if not already) realized vision.

Debbie Notkin’s review in Habakkuk, she concludes with what she sees as a guiding proverb among dystopian science fiction writers: “It’s not depressing; it’s cautionary.” She describes Parable as “the Pandora’s box myth come true, with the tiny Hope carefully stowed at the bottom of the chest of troubles” (8). But despite this final assessment of the novel, Notkin also says the “detailed realism” of Parable creates “an atmosphere so real it’s sometimes almost unreadable” (8).

Notkin is certainly not the only one who feels this way. Damian Duffy, one of the co-authors of Parable‘s graphic novel adaptation, explained that as he was making his way through Butler’s writings, he came to Parable but could not finish it because he was “frightened horribly” (19:14). In the same interview, Duffy explains that he read Kindred—a novel he classifies as “horror” due to its addressing of chattel slavery—in one sitting (41:00,19:00). In this context, as well as Notkin’s, what do we make of Parable of the Sower‘s perceived “unreadability”?

At one point in the interview Duffy and John Jennings (the other co-author of the graphic novel adaptation) talk about the prescience of the novel and the “added level of tension” of writing about wildfires in California and presidential infringement upon civil liberties while watching the news and certain Twitter feeds (56:11). Jennings even says that many of the color palettes for the graphic novel were drawn from simply driving around his Southern California residence and taking pictures (56:45). Does our temporal and circumstantial proximity to the world Butler constructs make the novel more or less readable?

This immediacy of the world Butler constructs in Parable led John Warner to this conclusion in his 2018 review of Parable of the Sower: “I would like to still be able to read Parable of the Sower as a cautionary tale, but that time has passed. Now it’s a requiem.” And while it’s tempting to focus on the prescience of Butler’s vision in Parable, Warner argues, “Butler wasn’t clairvoyant. She merely saw the present more acutely than most.”

Given the various accounts of science fiction’s relationship to the future (e.g., Gernsback, Bova) and whether such a relationship is an essential part of (the) science fiction (author’s work), what do we make of Warner’s comments about Butler and the present?

Finally, since it’s not nice to talk about race, religion or the end of the world at parties, does Butler’s “Genius” way of scientifictioning provide a potential example of how one might snag and snub cultural capital?

Habakkuk 3:3: http://www.fanac.org/fanzines/Habakkuk/Habakkuk0303.pdf

Interview with Damian Duffy and John Jennings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gk_ez3DMO6U

Warner’s review: https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/books/ct-books-biblioracle-1021-story.html

Coach Delany

Delany’s meticulous (and corrective) exegesis of The Dispossessed came across like a demanding coach reviewing a film breakdown of a once-in-a-lifetime sports play. The outcome of the play was great and worthy of an eternal highlight reel, but Coach Delany reserves praise for the end, after detailing the sloppiness of its development. And all of this coming from a deep love of the player (Le Guin) and the game (SF).

Right out of the gate, Delany made his high expectations known, expectations specifically tied to science fiction as a genre. After reading Delany’s discussion of the first paragraph of The Dispossessed, I was left wondering: would most science fiction critics—published or otherwise—place this much weight on a single adjective like “uncut” (109)? I’ll take Delany at his word when he says that “[t]he weaving through various textual moments of the image ‘stone’. . .gives a fihe novelistic density,” but I am curious as to how such weaving makes for good science fiction (112)?

On another (soon-to-be-ralated) note, does the “problem of jealousy” sneak up on us, not through the “copulation triangle” of Shevek, Bedap and Takver but via Takver’s “uneasiness” about Shevek’s relationship to his work (120)? Before Takver’s “jealousy” is made known, we are presented with this intimate scene: “Gradually the sunlight entered, shifted across the papers on the table, across his hands on the papers, and filled the room with radiance. And he worked” (187). And while the gender-reversed parallel of Takver to Odo’s husband sharpens this note of jealousy, Le Guin’s description of the way Shevek and Odo relate to their work is much more interesting and, in my view, very much in the “spirit” science fiction: “The usage the creator spirit gives its vessels is rough, it wears them out, discards them, gets a new model” (188).

Do we think Le Guin’s use of images such as “vessel” and “model” work for science fiction? Do these images “call up something real and important about the ironies, cruelties, and frailties of the human machine?” (Delany 145). I hope so, because I want her to win a few more points.

Minding the Gap

While admitting to learning little about the “conveniences” of the “real future,” The Time Traveller (for so it will be polite to speak of him) makes an odd request of his captive audience: “Conceive the tale of London which a negro, fresh from Central Africa, would take back to his tribe!” Is this the role the Time Traveller has taken up in his recounting of this “fantastic and incredible” story? What interests me more, however, is the way the Time Traveller conceives the relation “between a negro and a white man.” While the Time Traveller describes the separation between himself and “those of the Golden Age” using terms that connote time (“wide interval”), the separation between “a negro and a white man” is described more ambiguously as a “narrow gap.”

Even if this supposed gap were infinitesimal, what constitutes it? Does “a negro tribe” in Central Africa not share time, so to speak, with white men in London? Is it possible for “a negro and a white man” to be contemporaries? Or is the suggestion of such contemporaneity a fantastic “interposition of [an] anti-cognitive law into the empirical environment” of a racialized world, making such a suggestion a disqualifier from the SF as a genre (Suvin 375)? Or to put it more bluntly, which is more conceivable a gapless existence between “a negro and a white man” or time travel?

Relatedly, in the Time Traveller’s attempt to explain the difference between Morlocks and Eloi by “proceeding from the problems of our own age,” I did not—contrary to his confidence—”anticipate the shape of [his] theory.” Fully expecting a (more explicitly) racialized understanding of these two groups, I was shocked to hear the Time Traveller theorize their relation as the “social difference between the Capitalist and the Laborer.” This was the “key to [his] whole position.” And while the Time Traveller sees things such as inter-marriage in London as slowing the inevitable gulf between Haves and Have-nots, I am left wondering: what, if anything, can close the gap between “a negro and a white man”?