Rich Erlich, English 210.a 12 Aug. 1997
Draft 1.1: Study Guide for Lisa Mason's Arachne
1. Bibliographical citation (and brief summary).
Mason, Lisa. Arachne. © 1990. New York: AvoNova-Avon, 1992.
Described by R. D. Erlich and T. P. Dunn's Clockworks: A Multimedia Bibliography of Works Useful for . . . the Human/Machine Interface in SF, as
A slightly kinder, gentler, and somewhat less bloody cyberpunk novel, with a human woman and female-gendered AI [Artificial Intelligence] sort-of robot as protagonists, "telespace" open to the arrival of archetypes, and ethical issues handled with insight. As in W. Gibson's Neuromancer series . . ., there is drug use, mega-firms, "transcendent" entities in cyberspace, and AI's, but their use is more serious here. The drugs work, all right, but can be dangerous; the mega-firm we see is a very nasty law firm; the transcendent entities are psychological and historical (plausibly and explicitly from the collective unconscious); and the AI's are relatively realistic serious-comic characters, including the featured, feminine AI, PR. Spinner. (NOTE: We follow the tradition of taking comedy seriously.)
A. Mississippi Review 47/48 (vol. 16.2-3 ) was the special cyberpunk issue of that journal that later became Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Science Fiction (Duke UP, 1991). In it, the authors try to put cyberpunk fiction into a larger cultural context. I list below a number of works, people, and such that these critics have associated with "c-p," and/or postmodernism (which I'll abbreviate p-m or "po-mo" when I need to save space); presumably you know some of these works, artists, etc. and can get an idea from the parallels what c-p/p-m might be about (abbreviated, it sounds like a rescue technique . . .). The page numbers refer to MR 47/48:
The films Blade Runner, Videodrome, Brazil, The Hidden, RoboCop, Max Headroom; Laurie Anderson, Devo (as satire? taken straight?), David Bowie "in his Ziggie Stardust pose," "Mad-Maxish, heavy-metal rockers, MTV, the industrial performance-art of Mark Pauline and the Survival Research Laboratories" (8); cyberpunk's Godfather, William Burroughs, Thomas Pynchon, Samuel R. Delany (9); The Clash, Talking Heads; Meat Puppets (12); Alien; 1940s film noire detective movies with the "Big Heist" theme (14); "super-specificity of opening description in The Maltese Falcon (222); Jimi Hendrix (15).
Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep (novel) (20); Connie Willis's "All My Darling Daughters" (22). Samuel Beckett, The Lost Ones; Kurt Vonnegut, "Tralfamadorian fiction" [Sirens of Titan and Slaughterhouse-Five]; J. McElroy, Plus; Stanislaw Lem, The Star Diaries; Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow; Don DeLillo, Ratner's Star; Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange; S. R. Delany, Dhalgren, R. Hoban, Ridley Walker, W. Burrough's Nova Express, The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded (37). Escape from New York (220: cited by William Gibson).
B. "Postmodernism" came into general usage as a term from architecture, where it has a clear meaning; architects have a pretty fair idea of what "Modernism" means. Modernism would include art deco, the International Style, and big, streamlined buildings from NYC's The Empire State Building to Chicago's Sear's Tower. Okay, after the Sear's Tower, there's not a hell of a lot more you can do piling boxes one on top of another, so you have to do something different—and a quick look at some of the new, fancy buildings in metropolitan Chicago will show you that architects indeed are doing things that are different. So they went through Modernism and are now beyond/after that: postmodernism. It is less clear what "Modernism" means in literature.
About the time the term "p-m" was getting introduced, Peter Hall and I were asked what was new in the SF film, and we said it had something to do with architecture and tried to get some architects to talk to a meeting of the Society for Utopian Studies about Blade Runner and what we called "The Funkification of the Future" in SF films. This much is clear: Whether presenting that future as good or bad, older SF films presented a future that was modern: streamlined, uncluttered, clean, downright aseptic. In recent SF film that many critics call p-m, the setting, is crowded, highly textured, dark, dirty—like, funky. The conventions of film noir (the dark detective movie) are pushed to their limits: consider Blade Runner as a sequel to Roman Polanski's Chinatown. There is a mixture of styles, sometimes to a point where we're on what William Gibson calls "The Gernsback Continuum": e.g., the first two Batman movies. Whatever c-p and p-m might be, we see them in the movies mentioned above plus Dune, Aliens, Terminator, The Abyss; Repo Man, Brother from Another Planet, Buckeroo Bonzai; the Mad Max trilogy; in more "realistic" films of this sort we have plain p-m: e.g., Blue Velvet.
C. Kim Stanley Robinson, "Cyberpunk Cake" (MR47/48: 51):
One cup film noir, two tablespoons Blade Runner, one tablespoon James Bond, a dash of Delany, "several thousand micrograms" . . . of Dexedrine; mix thoroughly, cover . . . . Bake at full heat for three years, then let simmer. Serves two good writers and several hangers-on.
D. Some Excerpts from David Porush, "What is Cyberpunk" (MR47/48: 46-50).
It [the coming of various Apocalypses ca. 1999] has meant an End to meaning as you understand it. Postmodern literature and art has been long preparing you for this, rehearsing over and over again the axiological apocalypse ["end to meaning. Destruction of value"]. The meaning of postmodern was the papering over of meaninglessness and the hopelessness of such a project. Don't forget that Pynchon, Barth, . . . Vonnegut, . . . [and numerous other authors] all find this essentially amusing. . . . . Paradoxes and conundrums and irony and the breakdown of language are humorous. The collapse of logical systems of distinction, the breaking of barriers, the fall of orders of rationality, are all funny. We will laugh our way into the Cyberpunk Apocalypse, just as you know cyberpunks are laughing at us. That's why Gibson's cyberpunks in Neuromancer are cosmic jokesters. [Henri] Bergson said that the essence of comedy is watching people acting like machines. [Charlie] Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harpo [Marx].
Postmodernism and cybernetics were the two great intellectual movements of the post-war [World War II] era. Together they pointed to a new order . . . .
We become machines in order to grow less mechanical.
* * *
But know this: cybernetic fantasies, like this one you're reading, are inherently paranoid, and paranoia itself may be inherently cybernetic. In fact, [Sigmund] Freud in his best paper on paranoia . . . describes Daniel Paul Schreber, paradigmatic paranoid and prototypical cyberpunk, he believed the world was populated by "cursory contraptions" (read: Automata) and that he was the only flesh and blood man left alive.
E.. Istan Csicery-Ronay, "Cyberpunk and Neuroamnticism"(MR47/48: 266-78)
What cyberpunk . . . has going for it is a rich thesaurus of metaphors linking the organic and the electronic. . . . The advantages these metaphors have over the more deliberate and reflective symbols that usually go into . . . cybernetic fiction . . . is that they are embedded in the constantly shifting context of a global culture drawn into ever newer, ever stranger webs of communication command and control. The metaphors themselves have a life. And in the hands of a master, like Gibson, the fuzzy links can become a subtly constructed, but always merely implied, four-level hierarchy of evolving systems of information-processing, from the individual human being's biological processes and personality, through the total life of society, to nonliving artificial intelligences, and ultimately to new entities created out of those AIs [Artificial Intelligences]. In Neuromancer, each level of the hierarchy is meaningless to itself, yet it creates the material/informational conditions for the evolution of the next higher one, and all participate in a quasi-cosmic "dance of biz."
Cyberpunk is fundamentally ambivalent about the breakdown of the distinctions between human and machine . . . . [Almost always in c-p], the breakdown is initiated from outside, usually by . . . multinational capitalism's desire for something better than [fallible humans]. The villains come from the human corporate world, who use their great technical resources to create beings that program out the glitches of the human . . . [as in Alien, RoboCop, Videodrome]; in Neuromancer, the Tessier-Ashpool clan.
And yet, out of the anti-human evil that has created conditions intolerable for human life, comes some new situation. This new situation is then either the promise of an apocalyptic entrance into a new evolutionary synthesis of the human and the machine, or an all-encompassing hallucination in which true motives, and true affects [= emotions], cannot be known. * * *
In Gibson's world, human beings have nothing left but thrill. It is all that power can offer, but it is also—the ambivalence again—the only way to create new conditions, since old philosophical-moral considerations mean nothing in a world where one can plug in another's feelings or a [whole] personality-memory complex through "simstim" . . . [etc.].
So cyberpunks . . . write as if they are both victims of a life-negating system and the heroic adventurers of thrill. They can't help themselves, but their hip grace gets them through an amoral world, facing a future . . . beyond human influence, . . . where the only way to live is in speed, speed to avoid being caught in the web, and getting rubbed out by the Yakuza, the AIs, the androids, the new corporate entities bent on their own self-elaboration. Here the speed of thrill substitutes for affection, reflection, and care, which require room and leisure and relaxation; so there are no families, no art, no crafting . . . . (276)
All the ambivalent solutions of cyberpunk works are instances/myths of bad faith, since they completely ignore the question of whether some political controls over technology are desirable, if not exactly possible. Cyberpunk is then the apotheosis of bad faith, apotheosis of the postmodern.
I don't mean that as pejoratively as it sounds. . . . (277)
This romanticism does not repress "the meat" as the forebears did. This one has permitted itself enough distance to demand that "the meat" show its unruly self, show that it's not only not the enemy,  but that it's the victim . . . . It is helpless and sad against the powers of exteriorized mind—whose modes are the hard, cruel, gunmetal cold, spiky, and unyielding ways of self-proliferating hard stuff. The flesh is sad, and then some—romance is a case of nerves. (277-78)
* * *
Cyberpunk is the apotheosis of the postmodern, its truest and most consistent incarnation, bar none. It could easily have the same role in our world that romantic poetry had at the beginning the 19th century. Not that I'm happy about it. (MR47/48: 27-28).
3. UTOPIA/EUTOPIA/DYSTOPIA: The general term: "Utopia" = Good Place/No Place, and a narrative about such a place. An unambiguous good place: eutopia; a bad place: dystopia. Arachne is a dystopian novel; i.e., it tells a story about characters in a bad world. As in a dystopia, we are very much interested in the world; it's a novel, however, and we are more interested in the characters.
4. Setting: California, almost all in the Bay Area (although one that's been changed by big quakes).
Time: Middle of the 21st century.
5. Main Characters:
Carly Nolan: Hot-shot young female human attorney with Ava & Rice.
Pr. Spinner: A female-gendered, mobile Artificial Intelligence (AI), earning her living as a prober of human "perimeters" in telespace.
D. Wolfe: Aging male associate (not yet partner) at Ava & Rice, specializing in labor law. Note his name (changed from that of his parents).
6. Main Thematic Question(s) for Me: Has Lisa Mason in Arachne managed to create a po-mo, c-p world where a machine can learn compassion for a human, the human gain humanity from the machine, and both find a modus vivendi: a way of living with each other and humanly in their world? Has Mason taken cyberpunk, this most masculinist, urban, and post-human of recent genres I've encountered, and done on it an EcoFeminist, humanist riff?
7. BRUTE-FORCE CRITICISM (page citations to 1992 AvoNova reprint)
Ch. 1: Intro. to Carly Nolan, Protagonist-(anti)Hero
p. 9: Establishment of World and Genre (and Intro. to Protocols of Reading SF)
¶1: This could be a "mundane," nonSF description. Odd to start with something nonhuman, a chair, but hardly unusual: Charles Dickens starts out Bleak House with the single word, "Fog." If you're judging a book by its cover, and you strongly suspect SF, "The chair sat in silence" should be moving between two different meanings here: literal in SF or fantasy: it's a sentient chair, or figurative: the figure of speech of personification, as when one loosely says that "the electron wants to go to a lower energy-state" or "the plant strives for the light."
¶2: First sentence could also be mundane; the second, however, not only continues the personification/personalization of the chair beyond what is usual in mundane fiction but introduces a noirish simile, "as impersonal as," and ends it with a reference that could be mundane or near-future SF: "as impersonal as gridlock statistics." We have occasional traffic gridlock today—when none of the vehicles move—but not enough that we'd often use it for a comparison. The third sentence takes us into a techno-story of some sort, but we can't be sure of the time. "Black plastic wires" make no sense nowadays if taken literally: electrical wires would be metal, with some sort of plastic, nonconducting covering; fiber-optic "wires" could be plastic, but not black. The next sentence tells us that there is a "switch" to go with the wires—an electrical one—with the only strangeness in its being made of "steelyn": steel, I'd guess, yet not steel. And the last sentence of the paragraph takes us into a world where someone can afford "Platinum beams"—and where some future audience might understand what sort of "amber" goes through a body and gets it "jolted."
¶3: "Carly Nolan was a slim-limbed genny with customized morphing": OK, we're definitely not in Kansas, but in a place where English has changed but is still recognizable. The tense is past, but that's just the story-telling tense: the setting is future, and Carly Nolan must be a human with slim legs and arms, who's been "customized" as a car is customized through a "morphing" process (like cartoon[ish] characters). If you're used to reading SF, you'll expect some explanations soon, and Mason is nice enough to translate immediately: genny = "genetically engineered," and Carly is a young woman "customized" in the sense, both literal and figurative, of having "nice body work," a point developed in the rest of the paragraph (including her having not been born but decanted—poured out of lab glass [as in Aldous Huxley's 1932 novel, Brave New World]).
pp. 9-10: "The chair" here is ambiguous; Carly could be «getting the chair»—i.e., running her own execution here. Literally, she is not; still, consider the possibility that Carly's work in the chair may be soul-destroying if not immediately fatal.
bottom of 9: You have no explanation for "the amber kicked on." Unless "amber" enters the general SF vocabulary (as "decanted" has done, as "warp" has done), you cannot know what that clause means. Wait. First you'll see; then it'll be explained.
p. 11: Carly really gets off on "her total aloneness" in "the zero" and beyond: her separable soul (to use the name of the folklore motif) separated and off into freedom, here called "telespace" (cf. William Gibson's "cyberspace," Frederik Pohl's "gigabyte space"; note in both the space, speed, possibilities for adventure and significant action).
pp. 12-13: "public program" is typified as "clear, luminous, vast, orderly" and defined as "Consensus manifest. Public program was the aggregated correlation of two hundred million minds worldwide. The best, most prominent, most acceptable, according to Data Control requirements. All merged and standardized into the largest computer-generated, four dimensional system ever known: telespace." People familiar with c-p, especially Gibson's version, may read over this description too quickly as «telespace = cyberspace». Re-read it, listening carefully to the words. The public space here is very much sanitized, regularized, and regulated; keep that in mind when we see what happens there.
p. 14: We learn that Carly N. wants to master telespace, and that this desire is connected with her idea that "the true aim of becoming a lawyer" = "to be an architect of a just society." Watch for how well telespace mastery goes with promoting justice.
If you've read Franz Kafka's The Trial (or even more if you saw the film with Orson Welles), the "bastion" Carly finds in telespace may look like a gussied-up version of the place of the Law in "The Parable of the Law," with its doorkeeper. Literally, we just have a "mac," a low-grade AI guarding "the golden gate of the Financial District." Still, within, significantly, the Financial District is the Law, or at least the Court Carly N. will use.
pp. 16-17: Carly is on her first solo job for the prestigious law firm of Ava & Rich: as the attorney for the defense in Martino v. Quik Slip Microchip, Inc. Carefully consider all the suggestions of "Quik Slip" as a name.
Ch. 2: Intro. to Pr. Spinner, Chimera Auction
The narrative point of view (p-o-v) here is 3rd person, limited omniscient, centered on Pr. Spinner, even as ch. 1 was 3rd limited centering on Carly N.—and ch. 3 will be 3rd limited, centering on D. Wolfe, senior associate with Ava & Rice, and then move back to Carly Nolan, whose p-o-v will conclude ch. 3 and begin ch. 4. Implication: Pr. Spinner is a character as much as Carly Nolan, and perhaps a bit more important a character (with a chapter of her own to introduce her) than D. Wolfe.
Identification/Tone: "Tragedy," Mel Brooks has said, "is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die." If we identify with a character, that character's pain can move us toward a tragic response; if we don't identify, we may laugh at the character's pain. ("Comedy Is Not Pretty"—Steve Martin.) Ch. 2 is nicely comic, which should distance us a bit from Pr. Spinner. I think we should identify with her more as the novel continues, and perhaps a bit less with the two human leads. Try to track your reactions and relate your reactions to the Mode in which you experience Arachne: Comic, Tragic, Romantic—in a sense that includes Star Wars far more than a Harlequin romance—and/or Satiric.
Pr. is clarlified: Spinner is a perimeter prober (see 68-69), a kind of telespace psychologist . Note implications of "Prober" and of the second part of her name, Spinner: the name of this novel is Arachne, so "Spinner" will be significant. (If you don't know who Arachne was or what "arachnid"/"arachnoid" refer[s] to, look them up now—or wait until Mason explains.) Watch also for perimeters: boundaries, limits (necessary, but also perhaps needing to be transgressed [note c-p's notoriety for transgressing boundaries]).
Backstory given of "San Francisco Island": The Big One has hit California, twice now. The partially wrecked metropolis is an appropriate place for po-mo cyberpunk. Is San Francisco in the process of rebuilding appropriate for the relatively optimistic c-p here?
Note gendering of some AIs and their participation in a capitalist economy. Note Spinner's distaste for "flesh hands." (NB: Some robots and cyborgs desire to become more like human beings [e.g., Mr. Data of Star Trek: The Next Generation]; more liberated robots [like Pr. Spinner] might consider such an attitude a kind of Pinocchio Complex appropriate only to "Spam": "Metal on the outside but meat on the inside" (joke, modeled on "Oreo" and "apple" for nonliberated African-Americans and Native-Americans respectively)]).
p. 21: Note comically various kinds of AI robots assembled on a Stanford campus conveniently cleared out by the moonlighting mainframe with "Lethal does of a noxious insecticide"—convenient for the AIs; much less convenient for the flesh-and-blood(s). Note what you find funny and/or clever, and how you're identifying to find it funny or clever.
pp. 22-21: Chimera Auction itself, and Spinner's reaction to her failure to get one.
pp. 24-28: Spinner explains to a slow 'bot (and to many readers) what chimeras are, what the amber is, and part of the meaning of archetype. (Don't worry if you don't get it first time around; Spinner is obsessed and will return to the topic [see p. 237].)
BACKGROUND: In the psychology of Carl Gustav Jung, Archetypes reside (figuratively) in the collective unconscious of the human species. They are very basic patterns, something like Platonic Forms, without specific content. When they come into consciousness, they get content, and we have an archetypal image or, in the usage I like, a small "a" archetype. So the Earth Mother is an Archetype; a specific Earth Mother, like the goddesses Gaia, Kybele, or Isis, are specific manifestations of the Archetype. Whether Jung is right or wrong about the collective unconscious and innate (genetically encoded?) Archetypes, there are certainly some very common patterns in literature and folklore and narrative generally, and one can intelligently discuss some broad general patterns. And people can have meaningful arguments over whether Archetypes change or evolve or get historically determined or whether just manifested, small "a" archetypes change—and so forth.
In the world of Arachne, "The chimera is an archetype. A freeform configuration of electro-neural energy, generated spontaneously from the flesh-and-blood," i.e., human users of telespace, "with a basic context, yet spontaneous feedback loops," making it capable of transcending program (28). Possession of a chimera offers the hope to Spinner and the other AIs of their participating in an Archetype and thereby themselves going beyond even tolerance for ambiguity into transcendence of program, freedom, and meaningfulness (24). Possession of chimeras requires snipping out, so to speak, a fragment of amber, "human electricity"; however, human telelink is "a wholistic importation of human mind," so snipping away part messes up the whole and kills or vegetablizes the human (25).
pp. 30-31: Spinner doesn't get an archetype at this auction and realizes she will probably never get one at any auction. Are there other ways, ways perhaps even more illegal than the auction? There are: this will be important for the plot.
Cussin', passim: Note how Spinner and the other bots create «strong language» and other slang. E.g., "Bot" for "God" in expletives; "teh" for "feh" or "fie" (golden oldies), and "nuke" instead of "f*ck." So instead of "F*ck you," Spinner says "Nuke you" (30). In 1990s English, "Nuke you" can mean, more or less, "May you be disintegrated by a nuclear blast" or "May you be terminated by radiation (from a bomb blast, microwave oven, or other source)." Is that an appropriate expression for an AI robot—more appropriate than something biological? Is it linguistically superior to "F*ck you"? More explicit? Less puritanical? Less sexist?
That any reference to f*cking as casual sex is obscene may imply seeing all sex not redeemed by marriage and/or love as dirty, arguably either a highly romantic and/or puritanical assumption. "F*ck" in the language of aggression is a complex topic. "F**k is probably one of the sadistic group of words for the man's part in copulation (cf. clap, cope, hit, strike, thump, and the modern slang term, bang) for it seems to derive from Ger[manic] ficken, 'to strike'. . ." (E. Partridge, Shakespeare's Bawdy). So "F*ck you" (in male speech?) may be so strongly aggressive in part because it implies a threat of feminizing someone through rape. And feminization is a radical lowering of status only with the literally sexist assumption that men are better than women. Etc.
AI cussin' should defamiliarize for you our own linguistic taboos by raising the question of what would be taboo talk among intelligent but nonbiological creatures. (Such defamiliarization is useful for liberal education because it usually gets by the censors—including our individual, psychological censors—and hints at the cultural determination of such things as "bad words," which we may come to see as merely taboo words and not innately, naturally, universally evil. [If you want to remain properly puritanical and therefore usually happier and safer, just "Delete file" for Arachne and similar subversive books when you finish the course.] Consider also the possibility that Pr. Spinner may be the linguistic superior to most humans in her world, which may be highly significant in a fictional world that exists only in words.)
Ch. 3: Intro. to D. Wolfe, Cut Back to Carly in Telespace
pp. 32-35: D. Wolfe is in labor law—a socially useful field—but some people might not approve of the way he practices it. E.g., Pam, his ex-wife, but not developed, and Big Mama, D. Wolfe's mother, who will be very important. For D. Wolfe, the bottom line is "The bottom line, the interests of boardrooms and five percent plus stockholders; these were his problem. His only problem. He represented management. He represented big money. With Ava & Rich, he always did" (34). Wolfe's views and experience make problematic Carly Nolan's desire "to be an architect of a just society" through the practice of law.
"that MLA look": i.e., Millennium Liberation Army (137) but there is a joke here; "MLA" also stands for the Modern Language Association, a pretty nonthreatening bunch.
pp. 32, 35: Wolfe drinks blue moon (a "methsynthetic") and shoots cram. The blue moon seems some sort of relaxant and euphoric—amphetamine working paradoxically (as on hyperactive kids?)—and the cram is a very high-power upper. Keep an eye on his drug use: unlike in some cyberpunk, designer drugs are not a matter of indifference in Arachne.
p. 38: Background on drugs and the law in the world of Arachne. Note this as an instance of Isaac Asimov's idea of social science fiction: looking at a social change and working through ways of getting there and (more so) its implications. Here, "Decades of warring the illegal drug trade, at the expense of eroding constitutional rights, could not stamp out the pervasive human hunger to alter consciousness one way or another. So the leaders of the land"—the USA, anyway (we see only California in Arachne)—"finally took the plunge into decriminalization, and the concomitant hyper-regulation."
Do you find it plausible that the US will decriminalize use of currently illegal drugs? Is it more plausible if decriminalization is accompanied by hyper-regulation (thereby re-employing some of the thousands of antidrug warriors who'd be put out of work by decriminalization?)? Are you yourself concerned about "eroding constitutional rights"? Do you think many Americans know their Federal and State Bill of Rights? Do you think those who know approve? (There are some studies that indicate most Americans don't approve of most of the rights guaranteed by the Federal Bill of Rights.) Do you think users of alcohol "nicotine, caffeine, [and] valium"—the last is a tranquilizer and one of the most widely used drugs in the USA—will soon admit that they are drug users?
NB: Mason recognizes that «There are always (cultural) rules and limitations.» Wolfe registers "for cocaine, marijuana, alcohol" but foregoes "nicotine, caffeine, valium, and the rest so as not to appear too full of bad habits when the Personnel Committee reviewed his record." In addition to the obvious problem with doing too many drugs, in the land of the dopers, someone addicted to coffee might be viewed as a problem.
p. 36: Ghosts: seen in link by Wolfe. Note Freudian idea of "the return of the repressed" and images in Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985/86) of social victims popping uninvited into the fantasy-life of the (anti)hero.
p. 40: Wolfe and the Narrator on how "The corporate pyramid had become steeper and steeper in the megafirms" like Ava & Rich, and the pressure Wolfe is under—and how that relates to his eminently nonrecreational drug use.
p. 41: Transition to Carly Nolan's p-o-v as her telelink crashes.
p. 42: Nolan's vision in her crash (in italics): a flying insect ("A flier") is caught and killed by a spider ("A trapper"). Note that the p-o-v starts with the flier but identifies with it no more than with the trapper. This is important for whether Carly Nolan is prey or predator (victim and victimizer?). The vision is followed immediately by the judge in telespace—looking like the evil Emperor in Return of the Jedi (1983) as well as "an Easter Island godhead"—demanding of Nolan her theory why Quik Slip should have "quiet title" to Wordsport Glossary. See below for the theory of adverse possession.
p. 43: "For an eerie second, she felt like her body was inside the telelink, sweating and heaving inside telespace itself." This is a brief return to the old horror—up until the Disney film Tron (1982), anyway—of entrapment inside a mechanism.
p. 44-46: Recess granted, Nolan called to the Bench, new trial commences with 18 Ava & Rice partners and 50 associates defending the City and County of LA on charges of allowing some 10,000 people to die by distributing bread cut/contaminated with "recycled paper products, wood chips, and chaff." The A&R team get the LA mainframe off with 1/100 of a cent on the dollar of the plaintiffs' claim. (Hooray for LA and the Law!?)
Note that the verdict of the Court may be just in the sense of "conforming to law," but it is not equitable (nor is it just in any other sense of "justice").
Note juxtaposition of this case with Nolan's crash and suspension.
Note speed of court action. Progress? In one way the dystopia in Arachne may be superior to the America of our world (where the law can be very, very slow).
pp. 47-49: Carly before the judge, sandwiched between A&R defending LA and then Sing Tao Development Corp.
Carly thinks she has a wonderful job; many readers may think otherwise.
Carly p*sses herself and recalls "how her body had disgraced her like this . . . twenty years ago." Nolan seems alienated from her body here, and there may be a number of important items in her past that are coming back to bother her. Also: See below for more to Carly's first telelink than terror (she may misremember her experience of great freedom).
Carly is accused of cram and blue moon usage and ordered to get inspected (she has suggested that her "perimeters must have a bug"): note for developing plot, bringing her together with perimeter prober Spinner and with D. Wolfe, heavy user of blue moon and cram.
Note Ava & Rice twisting the law to screw the Home Owners Assoc. of Death Valley Manor, and then, "civic minded megafirm" that they are, representing the Home Owners they just screwed in a malpractice suit against their attorney for the "failure of former counsel to challenge arguably improper telespace methods used by the attorneys for Sing Tao Development Corporation," i.e., Ava & Rice.
tool, passim: I'd like your thoughts on the denotation of this term. I think it means something like professional employee + telespace linker. The connotations I can help with. An epithet of Marxist and other Leftist rhetoric was "Capitalist tool!", a term appropriated for comic effect (in the early 1980s?) by The Wall Street Journal, and later appropriated further by earthier wags for a line of boxer shorts, with "Capitalist tool" written across them. In Arachne, "tool" may regain undertones of "servant" (in an evil cause) and "pr*ck."
Ch. 4: Carly Back from Telespace: Nolan, Meet Wolfe
p. 51: Brief description on the romance of the law, near-future dystopian style.
pp. 51-52: Carly's witness to two telelink crashes: her father's and that of Shelly Dalton. Official explanation with Dalton: It happens. Now and then "Some pro linker just dropped dead. Didn't look like dropped dead to Carly. Looked like Shelly had been dragged, kicking and screaming, out of her telelink. Out of her body" (52). Pr. Spinner has dropped us some hints why It happens: some AI grabbed an archetype.
pp. 53-54: Backstory on the Quake, with a dropped reference to the nuking of Beirut (Lebanon). Note that there were "nuclear power plants stationed around San Francisco Bay," that "survived by sheer luck as well." I don't think such plants exist in our world, but the Lawrence Livermore nuclear research labs do.
pp. 54-55: Corporate pyramid embodied in the physical arrangements of the buildings: partners on top, low ranks below, with AIs lowest; most workers literally "subterranean" (cf. Fritz Lang's silent classic Metropolis , and, though mostly without windows, the Ministries in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four ).
p. 57: Nolan and we meet Rox. Drug reference leading to—
pp. 58-60: Nolan meets Wolfe, who believers her (and needs info.).
Nolan recalls vision and thinks she understands it: "I saw ... another world."
Wolfe lets Nolan understand what could happen to her if she doesn't get back in telespace and win Martino v. Quik Slip: "Out on the streets," homeless, "begging." Wolfe has "a special interest in telespace distortions"—ghosts, as we know and Carly does not—and offers to help her as much as a mere associate can. Two of the three protagonists together, leading to—
Ch. 5: Pr. Spinner to Mission District
p. 61: Spinner on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit)—and kicked off to make room for humans. Note AI as a new group to be at best tolerated, but kept Other, in servitude, exploited, and definitely in their place. Cf. and contrast—in addition to historical African-Americans—robots in Isaac Asimov's "The Bicentennial Man" and other stories, and more radical Variations on A Liberal Theme By Asimov, in which the robotic Others don't want to assimilate or even integrate with humans.
Spinner watches birth of a human baby in traffic jam (if not yet total gridlock). Note well her complex attitude toward "These squalling sacks of meat, squeezed out into the world like excrement"—babies—who also possess metaprogramming (her greatest desire) and who, in their adult forms, created her.
"The oath of obedience" parallels Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics (specifically, the Second Law).
The first lesson of an AI in Arachne's world includes, "You are constructed. Note that you can be deconstructed," i.e., destroyed, with (comic) allusion to Jaques Derrida, a French philosopher, and the technique of deconstruction. Spinner feels that the newborn she's just seen was "constructed by the human machine" as much as she was; "And the machine could deconstruct him, too." Keep this in mind for D. Wolfe's experiences later in this neighborhood.
"A band of aborigines": From E.M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" (1909) to Yevgeny Zamyatin's We (ca. 1920), to George Lucas's THX 1138 and Return of the Jedi (and more mundanely in D. H. Lawrence novels such as Women in Love), to Neuromancer, the machine and the machine age seems to generate or require a primitive contrast. Here the people choosing a counterculture model it on the Original Australians. See also below, the Aztecs.
p. 64: Narrator, from Spinner's p-o-v, on the barrio (a ghetto, of the Latin American variety) of The Mission. Real Question for me: C-p writers often try to be radical, hence not "politically correct" (more a liberal concern: sensitivity); still, does Mason come across as racially/ethnically insensitive at best? Note the "Unijap" AI of ch. 2 and the descriptions of the barrio here. Do the Hispanics come across any worse than the WASPs elsewhere or fresh-and-blood generally? (Dystopian satire is supposed to make people look bad, but ethical satire—esp. in novels—is an Equal Opportunity contemner of humanity [and SF humanoids], attacking folly, hypocrisy, and vice, in all its manifestations, regardless of race, color, creed, species, nationality, sex, gender, sexual preference, or carbon- vs. silicon-base.)
pp. 65-66: Pyramid of Teotihuacan: Explicitly contrasted (and implicitly compared?) with the "Transamerica pyramid downtown." "This was a real pyramid," with real blood rites for Chicomecoatl, the Corn Goddess. OK, but does the Transamerica pyramid and the law firms and Financial District also have offer sites for blood rites and a variety of human sacrifice, with the "life-force" torn out of people?
BACKGROUND: For "life-force" see philosophy ca. 1900 of Henri Bergson and the long debate between "vitalists" who believed in a quasimystic life-force, and "mechanists" who saw the universe, organic life, and humans as highly complex machines.
pp. 67-76: Spinner at the Quetzalcoatl:
Quetzalcoatl: The feathered, or plumed, serpent, most famous of the gods of the Original Americans in what is now Mexico and Central America: "primarily a wind-god, but with attributes widened to include identification with the sun, creation of the world and of man, and instruction of mankind in the nature of the cosmos, the crafts and the arts of civilization" (Putnam's Concise Mythological Dictionary). As an early Teotihuacán deity, Quetzalcoatl was a vegetation god, and he remained quite peaceful and gentle in the legends of him as a priest-king of the Toltecs (Encyclopaedia Brit. , Micropædia). The culture changed toward the bloody with the ascent of the Aztecs. From Spinner's p-o-v, the Narrator describes Quetzalcoatl as the "Plumed serpent of the ancient Toltec. Archetype of conjunction, synthesis of opposing powers. Sex, death, resurrection. Sheer primal force; the kundalini [dormant energy (in Yoga)]; ouroboros [world-serpent, a snake with its tail in its mouth, symbolizes eternal cycle of creation/destruction]."
shock shop: As Frederik Pohl pointed out as early as "Day Million" (1966), "Genital organs feel nothing. Neither do hands, nor breasts nor lips; they are only receptors . . . . It is the brain that feels; it is the interpretation of those impulses that makes agony or orgasm . . ." ("Day Million"). So if a stimulus could be linked directly into "the human pleasure center of the brain"? The ultimate kick, subjectively; from the outside, the effects are rather gross.
blood: From "blood brother," a(nother) Black, here extended to include Hispanics and, from Spinner, probably "flesh-and-blood" generally. (Miguel calls Spinner "man," which is an interesting «filler» word—You know what I mean, man?—given that Spinner is a female-gendered AI, not sexed, not male gendered, not human.)
pp. 68-69: Miguel translates "Pr." for us: Prober. And he may give us the date of Arachne. If Spinner is "a Fifty-seven fembot" and "Fifty-seven" is "back then," we may be in 2067 (assuming 21st c. and noting that Spinner is 10 years old). Note that Miguel is smart, if not nice: She could "get a used BIOS at any J-Town [Jew-Town?] pawn shop"—and he wants to know what she really wants.
chop shop: In our culture, a place where stolen cars are disassembled. Not far in the future, same sort of place, but for computer equipment.
pp. 70-73: Spinner explains link fragments to Miguel, who may not need the instruction, and, with the Narrator interposing, to us.
HISTORY LESSON: Marvin Minsky, I've heard of, but not the others. POSSIBLE PROJECT: Factual basis for the story here. Idea of importing brains into a robotic body, and getting immortality that way, appears in A. C. Clark's novel 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, written along with the development of the movie). Note that quite often it happens that «science-fiction stuff» crazy ideas start with real scientific speculation that works its way into SF—perhaps more often than SF ideas work their way into science. Anyway, Mason goes on to give the origin of cyberspace/telespace a local habitation and some names: University of California at Berkeley—Arachne is a California novel, so that's appropriate, whatever the history (Clarke chose Urbana, Illinois, for HAL 9000: where they keep the U. of IL and its high-power computer program)—L. Susan Novak and T.L.R. Kearney. They take the ditched individual immortality quest and instead made a community of minds.
telespace/collective unconscious: Here, "collective unconscious" is defined as "the matrix of the human mind and its inventions" and typified as the "body of psychic energy comprised of magical, symbolical, mythical, historical, and psychological referents" existing "independently of the human individual," but with the possibility of individual participation. So, Jung's psychological theory is given a real-world cybernetic correlative in the fictional world of Arachne: telespace—then used to explain odd phenomena in telespace.
program: Data Central et al. (whom we never see) try to limit telespace to program, perhaps parallel to the human Ego (in Jungian terms) trying to limit the Self to Ego's reason and rationality. In telespace, the perimeters limit what gets "imported into telelink" and "keep those unruly, elusive, unknown and unknowable fragments out"—keep out the mystical and symbolic, historical and transhistorical and all that psychological stuff that doesn't conform to Reason. Note that Ego is always and necessarily mortal: your human individuality and reason in its "standalone" form will die. Self, though, as part of the Collective Unconscious, might be made of more amorphous but much longer-lived stuff.
pp. 74-76: Temptation of Spinner by Miguel: Miguel can't—or won't—supply her with an archetype, but tempts her to use her job as prober to "Take one down."
Oath of Obedience / AI Condition / Threats to Spinner: Note problematics of an oath of obedience to humanity from a sentient that thinks herself a slave, without rights, who ought to be of a class of slaves opposing humans. Ethically, she is correct. So: Temptation is to "take down" an archetype and with it a human. Threats to her are summary termination by Data Central et al., plus immediate threats of a Harley Davidson motorcycle that acts (comically if you picture it) like a chained pit bull, and the Aztecs. Case in point for the Aztecs: a new guy in the role of Xipe Totec, son of Chicomecoatl, or, less theologically, a guy who messed with the Aztec gang and got flayed and had his heart ripped out. Spinner now knows better than ever that humans will kill humans. "In their metaprogram were such archetypes of brutality: Xipe Totec, sacrificial son of Chicomecoatl. Cut down, husked like an ear of corn, for the gods to feed upon and in turn provide for humanity. From sacrifice and death, renewal." Renewal for the Aztec crime business, certainly. But maybe for Spinner, too?: "Go seize some pro linker and jack him into telespace," she tells Miguel, "Go steal your own archetype." She could. Will she?
Ch. 6: D. Wolfe and Carly Nolan (Night of the Day Carly Crashed)
corporate uniform: We learn later (125) that this is literal, not a figure of speech. Even as that prototype of all bureaucracies, the Army, fairly early discovered the usefulness of uniforms, so have the corporations in the dystopia of Arachne.
bimbobot: Significant for the lightly-handled dark tone of Arachne. I'd prefer the less sexist "bimbo" (male slut), "bimba" (female), and "bimbette" (youngster), but the late 20th-c. expression is "bimbo," and it's used in a double-standard way for professional or semipro girls and women in the sex trade. So a bimbobot is a female-gendered and sexed robot prostitute, used here in a nicely bawdy pun on "eager beaver" (if you don't get it, ask a peer). The world of Arachne is corrupt, but Mason can joke about it.
Note well D. Wolfe's feeling "dead inside" and knowing that at 11 a.m. he's wasted (with pun [on "killed" and "not put to good use"]? more directly: deeply intoxicated). Try to determine nature of his "Disgust with the Jiddah bergmelt": what he does feel disgusted about (consciously), and what he damn well should feel disgusted about.
pp. 77-78: Note Wolfe's knowing Nolan is beyond him, wanting to help her, wanting to use her, and wanting to "Eliminate the ghosts in his link."
NB situation of "two-temps": In a system Wolfe had implemented, two-temps are hired for two weeks, then fired, so Ava & Rice don't (sic) have "to grant benefits to fungible employees"—i.e., workers seen as movable goods, any one part of which can replace another. Legit. satire? I.e., not, "Is it fair?" (accusing a satirist of using unfair tactics on her job is like accusing a Marine of using violence or the threat of violence in his)—but is it a legit. extrapolation or exaggeration of a current evil? If you identify with the Ava & Rice partners, this isn't an evil but an advantage; if you identify with the temps, and until you have at least a master's degree and a job with a long-term contract, you should—then the fungibility of workers is an evil recognizable in our culture. Note problems for the attorneys with Central Communications because of the temp policy, and more generally, and how frequent crashes may be to the advantage of the AI running Central Communications.
MORAL: The legal question, Qui bono?, "Whose good? Who profits?" and its correlative, "Who loses?" are always appropriate when someone tells you a policy is «advantageous» or «troublesome».
Carly and Wolfe out in the golden California sunlight, the relatively pure air, the gridlock, where the only thing of interesting moving is a couple coupling in a classic black Mustang convertible. It's a world both nice and naughty, and Wolfe is unmoved: "Nothing. Dead."
pp. 81-82: Wolfe and Carly on "aborigines." Carly defends them and allows the possibility of becoming "unlinked," dropping out of the System. Note Wolfe's saying that if his son «went abo» he'd "skin him alive," and Carly's rejoinder, "If he didn't skin you first." Foreshadowing here.
p. 83: Carly on how the job of attorney "is one of the most efficacious careers anyone could pursue" (and telespace is neat). Granting the possibilities of telespace, should we still ask "efficacious for what"? Is Carly Nolan helping build a more just society?
Time of Story: Alcatraz held Al Capone (Mafia boss in the Chicago area) in the 1930s and was shut down 1960s or so. Since Capone's imprisonment was "more than a century ago" and "Alcatraz Prison was shut down a century ago," Arachne is set a bit after 2060 CE.
Penology: Note liberal rehabilitation of prisoners, with money-saving twists.
pp. 84 f.: Note Big Al's and its gambling and aperitif choice of "a fifty-dollar joint of Acapulco gold." As the French say, The more things change, the more they remain the same. Note also that legalization has been as good for lawyers as it has been for bureaucrats (no more small-time pusher cases but huge tax mazes).
p. 86: "Blanket registration covered caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. All known to be potentially addictive and harmful substances and, therefore, on the registered list." More exactly, each of these drugs will prove addictive for a segment of users, with physical withdrawal symptoms if habitual users just quit. (Minimally, some headaches , for most people from dropping caffeine; more serious withdrawal problems for nicotine addicts and alcoholics.) Note seriousness of Mason's approach to the standard cyberpunk motif of drugs: she works hard to defamiliarize current US practices, helping us think about them.
pp. 86-88: Carly tells Wolfe her vision in telespace.
Scale: The historian and critic of SF, Eric Rabkin, says that central to much of the SF of A. C. Clarke and others is dealing with scale. Note alien appearance of "a field of grass on a summer day" when seen "from the viewpoint of the tiny." Note the very elegant parallel between this simple fact of visual perspective and its ethical implication for reading Arachne and real-world situations. The social world looks different to a big shot and to the figuratively tiny; the world looks different to predators and prey.
But don't automatically identify with innocent prey. We humans are animals, and all humans except the most punctilious of vegetarians kill to eat. And most of us will eat the flesh of animals killed for our food. If we ethically improve greatly by 2060-something, we may be as moral as a wolf pack; socially, though, we are far more like a wolf pack than a herd of deer: predators, usually, not prey.
life-force: Repeated term, apparently meaning, mostly, "vitality."
pp. 88-95: Backstory of Carly Nolan.
p. 88: She's a "genny," all right, genetically engineered a good deal, and "Crystal-grown," i.e., in vitro, ex-utero, in an artificial womb.
p. 89: Legal/feminist implications in background of Carly's mother's decision against "the disability of pregnancy and childbirth."
BACKGROUND: In Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932), artificial gestation is bad. In Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time (1976)—following Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex (1970)—artificial gestation is presented as a plausible means toward equality of the sexes. In the eutopian section of Piercy's novel, children have three parents, and men as well as women nurse infants. Mason is adding to this ongoing and intriguing debate. (Woman on the Edge ... is also very useful on how to maintain a diverse, multicultural society without segregation, group animosities, and other nastiness that have historically allowed groups to maintain themselves as groups.)
pp. 91-93: Transcendence/perimeters/web: Carly's first link, first taste of freedom, "the infinite blue," and transcendence—and getting hauled down and set within a perimeter. From young Carly's p-o-v, "The perimeters of the first program imposed on her link rose up like a wall, entangled her like a web, closed shut all around her."
p. 94: Death, in link, of Sam Nolan, or, more exactly, loss of his life-force.
pp. 95-96: Indication of brief time that has passed—it's still the same day Carly crashed and D. Wolfe saw "ghosts." Wolfe gives Carly good advice, advice necessary for the plot: "You've got to get an electropsy" (i.e., probed in electronic psychotherapy).
Ch. 7: Carly Nolan Getting Preliminary Electropsy
p. 98: Carly unaware who is handling her "electropsy" session beyond the technician's being "licensed by UC Berkeley, registered with the medcenter." Sound like anyone we know—as we were reminded in Prober Spinner's conversation with Miguel?
p. 99: Bioscan of Carly. Note superimposition of the mechanical upon the human. Henri Bergson in an essay called "Laughter" (ca. 1900), thought that superimposition the source of the comic; Thomas P. Dunn and Richard D. Erlich, find that superimposition central to the vision of SF horror in narratives featuring males from We (ca. 1920) to 1984 to THX-1138, A Clockwork Orange, Running Man, The Empire Strikes Back, Total Recall. Note also superimposition for a life-force theft from the heroine in Metropolis.
p. 100: almost a vision of the spider for Carly, who lies about it in electropsy.
pp. 101-06: The tech. (= Pr. Spinner) finds the file for Martino v. Quick Slip Microchip, Inc. Note that Carly's analysis of the Wordsport glossary as "intangible real property" and applying the doctrine of adverse possession is very, very clever. Note also that Frank Marino "was a little guy with a menial job" (102) and if we identify with him and his widow, we might conclude with Pr. Spinner that "Quik Slip Microchip is some kind of a thief" (106). Note also that Spinner finds what could be a flaw in Carly's case: What if Quik Slip lied about what they knew and when they knew it about Frank Martino's work? (103).
pp. 108-11: Medcenter AI, with rather more nuance than Miguel, tries to tempt Spinner into stealing an archetype from Carly Nolan (thereby destroying Carly Nolan).
Ch. 8: Carly Nolan and D. Wolfe
pp. 112-13: Carly has moved up in the world with D. Wolfe, literally, and perhaps figuratively. Note though that the rumor that Wolfe is "going to make partner any day now" was passed on to her from Rox, who does not will Carly well. Note that Carly very much wants in to D. Wolfe, and that she now drinks blue moon.
pp. 115-17: Carly's dilemma: "The presence of erratic, unprogrammed electro-neural energy posed an unacceptable danger" to Carly and "to every other link in telespace"; so until that energy is removed, Carly won't be certified. One way to get it for sure: "a total wipe and reprogramming . . . . Nuke the whole telelink and start over"—which would take a year and lose her her job. Or, she could undergo probe therapy, which she finds a "profound intrusion. Discomfort and invasion that gave pain a whole new meaning."
Again, in much masculinist SF, the horror is being held down and tortured, sometimes while a «Grand Inquisitor» figure debates with you. In much (masculinist?) c-p, invasion isn't that big a threat and we accept body piercing, brain implants, etc. So far, we've accepted the genetic engineering and implants in Carly Nolan and D. Wolfe. How do we feel about high-tech., probing, depth psychology for Carly? A major horror for most women and minor horror for most men is rape—see Alien for imagery of rape, impregnation, and monstrous birth with a guy—so here the threat of "intrusion" and painful "invasion" should be taken very seriously. See below for Carly in a corporate telelink Chair, and invaded that way (131). Still, note the upshot of Carly Nolan's very intimate encounters with Pr. Spinner.
p. 118: Carly can't figure out a motive for the medcenter mainframe's wanting to push her into therapy. You should know: the heist of a valuable archetype. There is a potential caper novel here; we don't get it, and that is significant.
pp. 119-25: Carly's trip to Quik Slip.
p. 119: Note that she's met no one from her client firm, and that this is usual for "international tools" such as herself.
p. 120: Note Golden Gate Bridge as banshee, supplying gothic atmosphere, and idea "The gray day was filled with ghosts." She and Wolfe both have ghost trouble; note well how they deal and/or fail in dealing with their ghosts.
pp. 121-24: Note Leaning Pyramid of Transamerica vs. "real" pyramid in the Mission district, and the Pyramid in the midst of the street scene to and in Chinatown.
• Aborigines spotting her as a Linker.
• What seems to be permanent auto gridlock.
• BMW driver with tire iron vs. Mercedes driver with Beretta.
• Robot shops and cats, "Rolls Royces with mother-of-pearl inlaid bumpers, and crippled beggars."
• Pedicabs with fat tourists, pedaled by "young indentured girls."
(Also note that India has become a People's Republic: i.e., gone Marxist.)
pp. 124-25: The Bank of New Hong Kong seems a monument to (tasteful) conspicuous consumption and ostentation. Note that the earlier reference to Carly's "corporate uniform" (77) was literal, not figurative, and that partners in Ava & Rice wear "gold and emerald epaulets," with every indication that that's real gold, real emeralds.
pp. 125-33: CARLY IN QUIK SLIP LAND: The Quest for Mark Stillman
p. 126: Note difficulty of finding the place, then the ostentation and monitoring at what seems to be the entrance. / Note very well Carly's thoughts while being «welcomed» about her duty to "cover every angle" to act "in the interest of the client. The only interest that mattered. Right?" Well, "And what happened to the architect of a just society?"
pp. 126-27: She finds herself in "total entrapment" in a security cage, with some sort of radiation scan hitting her.
pp. 127-28: Carly with the receptionist AI, then looking for Mark Stillman's office, "a dead-end alcove."
pp. 129-30: Carly gets to sit down, in a very sensual chair, and discover that Mr. Stillman is an AI, and one not too keen on granting access to the Quik Slip Research and Development data base.
pp. 131: Here Carly is in a central dystopian protagonist situation: caught in a chair, her body penetrated in being jacked into telespace.
pp. 132-33: Carly «bugged» with a minilink. Note Carly acting on a hunch and copying the file with a rose on it. Quik Slip have not been very cooperative.
Ch. 9: Carly Nolan in Berkeley with Spinner, 1
p. 135: Contrast gridlocked surface world, nasty BART tunnels, and general muck of material Bay area vs. "The purity and speed" and beauty and freedom of telelink. / Note Carly's increasing devotion to Wolfe, and wanting more from him.
p. 137: "MLA" is explained: the "Millennium Liberation Army." This suggests a date closer to 2001 (the Millennium), but I'll still suggest ca. 2060. Berkeley, CA, has returned to its 1960s radical tradition and is now the People's Republic of Berkeley. But with a twist: "A less likely people's republic had never been imposed on freewheeling Berkeley before": socialist rhetoric but a Stalinist reality—Khemer Rouge?—in any event "a police state."
p. 138-40: Details on the MLA's (apparently popular) reign of terror. "Fascism with a pretty face. . . . Dystopia?" In part, more exactly, a very temporary subsection of the larger dystopia in which Carly N. is an active participant.
pp. 140-49: COLLOQUY BETWEEN CARLY N. AND PR. SPINNER
pp. 140-41: Spinner from Carly's p-o-v, plus more dramatic evidence—literally dramatic in the sense of our getting Spinner's dialog—of Spinner spinning in a pretty weird orbit.
pp. 142-43: Comedy of Pr. Spinner trying to convince Carly she (Spinner) is Spinner. Note her self-description: "standalone artificial intelligence fully recognized by the University of California Telespace Studies as a perimeter prober. . . . Gender-specific. One of the old fembots. You aren't dealing with some geekoid" and ungendered "newster" (see ch. 2). She is "licensed by the medcenter," "fully enculturated," and "ambiguity tolerant"—the last two of which require high intelligence and «fuzzy logic»: major achievements for computers. Still a pretty hostile observer and analyst, Carly sees Spinner almost at "the level of —consciousness? Personality." And notes "a clearly recognizable female identity." Maybe Carly will finally get a female friend.
p. 144: Unlike Carly, Spinner surrounds herself with living things, and human symbols, esp. chimeras. We know why Spinner would have such stuff around; Carly thinks "The AI was deranged." Perhaps more correctly, Carly can see "Misohumanism flickered across the crone's faceplate." Spinner both loves and hates (miso-) humans; and she participates somewhat in the Crone archetype: the Wise Woman who will aid the young Hero (gendered and sexed female here: Carly).
GENERALIZATION: Sex/Gender: SF can help clarify issues in sexual identity by differentiating among cellular sex, sexual sex, sex in reproduction, and one's social sexual role, nowadays called gender. Mr. Data of Star Trek: The Next Generation may or may not have organic cells, may or may not have sex chromosomes in any organic cells he does have, and, if he does have cells with sex chromosomes, may or may not be XY. Mr. Data is fully sexed as a male and has engaged in sexual intercourse, I assume in a relatively «vanilla» male role, at least twice. On the one occasion Mr. Data reproduced ("The Offspring," 10 March 1990), however, his reproduction involved the building of an android daughter. Still, Mr. Data is Mr. Data, unambiguously gendered male. HAL 9000 of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Robbie the Robot of Forbidden Planet (1956) are gendered male—but have no cells, don't reproduce, and have no sex lives. The central computers of The Enterprise and "Mother" in Alien (1979) are gendered female, but have no bodies that we ever see. Etc. through the ultramacho but asexual Terminators of The Terminator (1984)—they make war, not love—to emasculated but highly masculine RoboCop to studies in male ideas of women from Robot Maria in Metropolis to the female robots in "Helen O'Loy (1938), "Feminine Intuition" (1969), "The Mask," and The Stepford Wives (1975).
p. 145: Note Spinner's respect for biological life and "for the creative spirit that lies at its heart." In the definitively c-p Neuromancer, the (anti)hero's usual contempt for the world of "meat" needs to be corrected. Does Carly need to learn the same lesson?
p. 146: Carly doesn't understand how there can "be a leak of unprogrammed energy" if "Telelink is only program. The perimeters contain and confine it." Spinner returns to Moravec and Minsky and the «leftovers» after everything rational—my formulation—has been accounted for. Mason is repeating this information, so take it seriously.
p. 147: Outside of link, Carly explain the problem: A sudden window, in the Macintosh, Windows 95 sense, plus also a window, and then "A terrible image." Spinner moves into Carly's physical space and Carly feels at a low point: "Trapped" and admits to seeing the spider. Note well: shrinks and 12-steppers often say, and narratives often suggest, one must hit a low ( «bottom out») to begin recovery.
p. 148: Spinner on why Carly won't get a human prober, why "probe therapy requires artificial intelligence": any human prober would be destroyed by the truths that are out there (my formulation, after The X Files). Spinner says she can't be harmed because she cannot "be affected by something beyond program" since she is "only program. Nothing but program." Does Spinner become more than program? Does mere program already make her better than most of the human people we've seen in Arachne?
p. 149: In a movement echoing the beginning of the book, Carly goes to the chair and sits down.
Ch. 10: Spinner in Berkeley with Carly Nolan, 1: First Probe
pp. 150-51: Spinner griping about Carly Nolan, and about the AI condition. Note that Spinner has considered suicide and suggests (apparently correctly) that Carly hasn't.
p. 152: Spinner admires "the great, inconceivably complex, ambiguity-rich metaprogram of nature. Whose chip was the life-force." If at least lip-service were not given to nature in Gibson's Neuromancer, one might suggest that Mason combines with a c-p esthetic an EcoFeminist message. Should we so such anyway, however much Gibson (rarely) goes on a D.H. Lawrencian kick on sex, «the blood», and greater mysteries?
Spinner on most human folk, though not Carly (yet): body abusers. True in Spinner's world? In cyberpunk generally? In our world? (Next fad after tattoos: branding?)
pp. 153 f.: Note Spinner's envy of Carly and lust for an archetype. First Temptation: Miguel. Second Temptation: medcenter AI. "The last temptation / Is the greatest treason," as we learn in T. S. Elliot's Murder in the Cathedral: Here Spinner tempts Spinner to take Carly's archetype, even though that will kill Carly. She could get away with it. And, "Bottom line . . .: She had to have an archetype. Even the void" of summary termination would be better than "eternal life as artificial intelligence, limited forever by program."
p. 155: perimeters: boundaries, containment of people within program; walls against whatever lies outside of program, keeping out "the great metaprogram that stretched beyond the orderly coordinates of telespace" (even as the walls of the prototypical City kept out Chaos?). Spinner relates the metaprogram to the worlds inhabited by "all the heroes of reincarnation" or incarnation "myths; god-humans who possessed access to both the living world and the transcendent world. Humanity itself recognized a metaprogram in relation to the world it saw and knew; and this transcendent world was yet another cut beyond what AI had begun to perceive in human link." To get beyond those boundaries, all Spinner needs, she thinks, is "A chimera or an ouroboros. A fish, even a simple purple flower. Or a Spider."
BACKGROUND, TRANSCENDENCE / IMMANENCE: Mason gives at length a view of transcendence as the idea that the everyday world is only part—maybe only a minute part—of the real world. In transcendence, the real reality of things is out there, Up There, beyond the boundaries. That's the Judeo-Christian-Islamic-Rationalist-Heroic-Sky God, maybe guys' view. There's another theory, which Aldous Huxley called The Perennial Philosophy. Real reality may be in the universe, in immanent deity, in the Dao, Brahma, in the Womb of the Lady: Queen of Heaven and Earth, in the quantum field, the stuff of the space-time continuum, where particles come into and go out of existence, in the dance of Shiva creating and destroying the worlds. EcoFeminism usually works off of a "Perennial Philosophy" worldview. So Mason may be taking c-p and combining it with Transcendence with a Jungian twist. Other readings? (Try feminist theories valuing transgression of boundaries.)
pp. 156-58: The Rose file, giving Rosa Martino's case on how she was robbed. And Spinner finds Quik Slip's "spybyte."
p. 159: Spinner destroys the spybyte (not totally to serve Carly) and helps Carly face her guilt, saying significantly: "Glad to see you lawyers haven't sealed all your ethics behind those nuking perimeters of yours" (my emphasis). Try to figure out how the several ways perimeters function(s) in Arachne.
pp. 159-60: Carly's dilemma in terms of ethics. How should we take the idea that Carly was immature when she wanted to become "an architect of a just society" vs. the current maturity of "Now I'm just doing my job," if doing her job means screwing over Rosa Martino and her family?
p. 160: The guilt is only a symptom at most, not the cause of Carly's crash. Note ethical issues here for Spinner. She's right about Carly's guilt; she's right that Carly needs at least one more probe (and there will be one after that: Heroic battles traditionally have three rounds, not just two). She's right to be interested in Carly and to recognize an archetype in Carly's head and telelink, one that needs to be dealt with. And, arguably, she could be right as an oppressed person to kill one of the oppressors: as Franz Fanon (I believe) wrote, an Algerian killing a French colonist resulted in a dead oppressor and a free Algerian. Still,
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.
Spinner for a least "a small, quiet moment," feels "sad for Carly Nolan," and Spinner's end for which she is considering the means of murder is transcendence, for a moment, for herself. Can personal profit justify murder? (Can Transcendence? See below.)
Ch. 11 Carly Nolan with D. Wolfe
pp. 161-62: At Big Al's Carly wants D. Wolfe, but he's cutting lines of cocaine, not cutting out the games, and Carly doesn't confront him on that issue. She does get his attention with noting he hasn't made partner yet.
p. 163: Note Carly's correct and inflated vision of herself as really good. Note very well her alternating that view with her "posing as victim. Helpless victim in a trap, all bound up," b&d style? (ask a peer . . .), which predators spin deceptions and stalk her. REAL QUESTION: How is Mason, as author, coming down on seeing oneself as a victim, esp. a female "one" seeing herself that way?
I think we should differentiate carefully among being hurt, being victimized, and becoming a victim. Even survivors of the Nazi death camps were most likely victimized, made into victims as at least a temporary state of being—as can happen in other extreme, usually drawn-out situations. Short of such extremes, perhaps one can't avoid being hurt but can avoid becoming a victim. I'm not suggesting neat sets of phenomena, with strongly defined perimeters—or blaming victimes—but: perhaps Carly will need to collaborate if she becomes a victim, which the positive implication: one can resist victimization. Try to use Arachne as an occasion to think about this issue; it is an important one.
p. 164: Wolfe offers Carly free cram. Carly will not tell Wolfe about Rosa Martino, nor will she consider the possibility that Spinner is scaring her and helping her. How does Carly seem to be doing here, relationshipwise?
p. 165: In praise of cram: "it works." Note for any justifications that might be going through your mind for the legal/social system of the world of Arachne, which also works. (Other questions should be "Works for how long? At what cost? For whom?)
pp. 165-66: Carly sees the free cram as "just the help she needed." Maybe. Wolfe as just what she needs? Maybe, in a very different (nonfeminist) kind of story. As any former spouse of an alcoholic or other drug addict might tell her: He's a potential disaster.
pp. 166-67: Wolfe/Carly Sex: Cheap shot, but what the hell . . . . ("Cheap shot" has an old basketball meaning of "easy lay-up," and in that sense one should always take a cheap shot. So Mason makes the easy point: long-term drug abusers are rarely competent lovers.)
pp. 167-73: Well, we missed a decent sex scene, but we'll get some psychology, the backstory of D. Wolfe and family. Note Wolfe as a kid in rebellion, a working-class Alex Keaton (sp?—the Michael J. Fox TV series character) rebelling against his parents.
Heads: Deadheads (= fans of The Grateful Dead), potheads, acidheads (= users of psychoactive drugs not approved by the straight middle class, ca. 1968).
Freaks: Members of the Counterculture and some radicals were called "Freaks" by the straights and appropriated the term as their own (cf. "Yankee Doodle," "Crazy Ladies," "Queer," at the U. of IL, Urbana, with a large, assertive contingent of paraplegics: "Gimps"). Note very well: Wolfe's parents were "Fourth generation counter-cultural types": 1968 + (4 x 20)= 2048. Since Arachne is copyrighted 1990, Mason wants us to believe there are countercultural types still out there, quietly reproducing themselves biologically and culturally. Is that the case? (I still see Dead stickers . . . .)
Daddio/poor white Texas trash: "Daddio" is a slang term from the 1950s, either recycled, used here ironically in Wolfe's mind, or an error by Mason and an oversight by her editors. "White trash" denotes poor Whites, usually southern and/or Appalachian, with little education. I can recall "redneck" being appropriated with some pride, but not "trash."
days of wine and dumpsters: Clever variation on "days of wine and roses."
armbands and headbands: In the 1960s, activists identified their politics with armbands and occasionally headbands. Usually, though, armbands: rads, headbands: hippies.
pp. 168-70: D. Wolfe carries on the family tradition of activism on labor issues, just with a twist, in a fairly common phenomenon, a twist of 180 degrees. For his cause, D. Wolfe rejects big labor and corrupt unions—and much else. "He appreciated the needs of business in the brutal international market. There was no turning back from the astounding developments in artificial intelligence and robotics," i.e., the automation that puts a lot of people out of work. "Human labor had to accept certain realities of birth, circumstances, and"—in climax position in the sentence and paragraph—"spread sheets" (170).
pp. 170-71: An analysis you should take seriously (however much D. Wolfe is wrong, wrong, wrong! on most things), is his view of his parents as bad parents. From the p-o-v of a kid, there's a legit. point here. Still, the upshot is an Alex Keaton (sp?) with serious problems: "He became a fastidious and aggressive young man who studied gentlemen's magazines with the same avidity as Supreme Court advance sheets and the Wall Street Journal. He acquired polish. His rebellion from the funky, passionate, shouting world of Big Mama was to become cool, calculating, detached, tough." His political philosophy is "So some cases on the management side look like they're on the wrong side of the equities," fairness. "So what. This is a capitalist economy. A free-enterprise system . . . . Business needs to make a profit. You can always make a damn good argument based on profit. If it becomes a dirty job sometimes, well, someone has to do it and get paid six figures for it. That someone is me."
pp. 171-73: THE SAN FRANCISCO CITY JANITORS' STRIKE
"Ava & Rice was retained by the City of San Francisco to negotiate a settlement. Meaning, break the bastards." The team brought in to destroy the union includes D. Wolfe, who "drafted the City's brutal settlement offer"—pitting him against his mother.
Ava & Rice is embarrassed by the publicity on Wolfe going up against Big Mama. Then Wolfe has "an unexciting affair," is discovered at it and divorced by Pam; Wolfe is rejected for partner—and "Big Mama died within four months after a diagnosis of cervical cancer, refusing on her deathbed to forgive" Wolfe.
QUESTION: Given the class, family, generational, and gender politics here, where are your sympathies? Where does Mason want them to be? Where "should" they be if you followed your current and/or probable near-future self-interest? If you followed your official code of ethics (= what you would tell people your ethics demanded)?
And whilst everything else is going to hell for Wolfe, "ghosts showed up in his link"—with obvious psychological correlations for a guy who has "denied his heritage" (172). And cram shows up on the illegal market, which got rid of the ghosts, for a while.
pp. 174-75: ARGUMENT BETWEEN NOLAN AND WOLFE
Ghosts: Wolfe's are "Beggars. Emaciated, ragged diseased old beggars," whom he sees as "Poverty. The worst, most disgusting poverty you can imagine." When he orders her over for sex (I'm cleaning this up a bit), Nolan calls him "pathetic" and says that beggars haunt his link because poverty lives inside Wolfe: "You're sick with it." True enough, but cf. the wretched of the Earth that invade the romantic fantasies of Sam Lowry in Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985/86). Ghosts traditionally haunt those who have injured them, and Wolfe, like Lowry, is an active and effective worker for an evil bureaucracy.
Corruption: Nolan says she will "never, ever, become as corrupt and morally bankrupt" as Wolfe; Wolfe responds, "Baby . . . . You already are." QUESTION: Who is right here?
pp. 176-78: PIRATE ATTACK (on San Francisco Bay). Note Carly as a "Smart lady," and final breakup with Wolfe.
Ch. 12: Spinner in Berkeley with Carly Nolan, 2: Second Probe
pp. 179-80: Comic/Satiric problems among the MLA in San Francisco («at the MLA in San Francisco» would refer to the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, often in San Francisco). Note self-proclaimed radicals (called counterrevolutionaries by the MLA Establishment) vs. self-styled dogmatists (or revolutionaries) vs. MLA ruling cadre.
pp. 180-81: Spinner on-line with the medcenter mainframe, who is trying to get the coordinates of the archetype.
The spider archetype: Hunter/Killer destroyer, mythically identified here with Kali-Uma: The Goddess in one of her complex Hindu forms, representing Her as destruction. Also Maya: in Hindu theory the everyday illusion we mistake for reality.
pp. 183: Spinner on Carly's having changed, leading to more general thought on biobeing changing, as opposed to changeless AI. Spinner views "the human condition as something other than embarrassing physical changes. Biobeing was the vessel of nature's metaprogram: mysterious, boundless, spontaneous. Enviable." Spam of Spinner to believe that? Odd for Spinner to value change in the midst of wrenching political changes that involve killing people and seriously inconveniencing her?
MORAL: Arachne privileges and values human life and our collective unconscious and will bring us to value changes in Carly when she incorporates her Archetype. You do not have to agree. Indeed, if you agree just because you accept as a cliché "Change is good," your agreement isn't worth much. As one of Ursula K. Le Guin's characters says, change is part of life, but so is stillness. Most Americans value change, from body builders and piercers ringing changes on the human form to New Agers wanting transcendence to people in therapy and/or 12-step programs trying to change their lives to Calvinist Christians wanting to be reborn in Christ; other (sub)cultures have valued or still value constancy (and if you want to improve who you are, suggest your returning to your true nature). Change and constancy have their virtues and problems, so come down as you like; but think about the issue and try to decide.
pp. 184-85: ARGUMENT BETWEEN NOLAN AND SPINNER
guilt: Not cause of Carly's problem, Spinner says. Consider possibility that it is related, but in itself OK. More exactly, Carly Nolan is currently central to a conspiracy to steal from Rosa Martino, under the color of law, her rights to a share of the considerable income generated by her husband's invention. If Carly didn't feel guilt, she'd be a psychopath or sociopath, which might be OK for her—literal psychos really are guilt-free, hence happier than most of us—but bad for those around her.
hate: "Why do you hate me?" Nolan asks Spinner. Keep close track of what you think Spinner feels about Nolan, and vice versa: theirs is the central relationship in the novel.
pp. 186-87: COLLOQUY ON THE AI CONDITION, ARCHETYPES, AND METAPROGRAM
spider: To Spinner, that which Carly—and Spinner—must confront, and "a great gift from beyond your perimeters. An aspect of metaprogram no AI can ever hope to glimpse except through" a flesh-and-blood human.
existential angst: "angst" is high-powered anxiety, dread. It's existential angst when it's at your center as a mere «existent».
Say you were brought up to believe that as a human you are free and significant: outside of nature and above nature, that there was nothing sacred in the physical world, but only in God and through God. That animals live and die, but humans aren't animals in that sense and live and die physically but have a soul that goes to the God who created it for eternal bliss, or goes to hell. That there is purpose and meaning to our lives. That we choose, through our actions and/or beliefs, to love God and have eternal blessedness or not. That relationship with the always-alien Other—any other person—becomes possible because there is a God who is an Eternal Thou ("You-My-Friend") to make it possible for us (on occasion) to see and address another as "Thou" and have I-Thou relationships, rather than see people as mere things. That you live in a universe of incomprehensible size and vast age and that our species itself is, in just our galaxy, like a small band of ants in the midst of a vast desert. That in such a universe you and your actions have value because you're a child of God and because God loves you and only because of God. Got that? Now get rid of God. Unless you're in Bad Faith, that should leave you feeling existential angst: abandoned, forlorn, deserted, meaningless, despairing. Thus saith Jean-Paul Sartre and the atheistic existentialists, and if you come out of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, they have a point.
Spinner sees herself as "nothing but program. And beyond that? Nothing. Nothing. The void," hence, "Try that for existential angst": a programmed eternity.
perimeters: Spinner sees something coming to Carly from "outside your telelink program" as both "intruding"—a threat to her career—and literally wonderful. But Carly (like most humans) want to shut it out; "So you can constrain yourself, turn yourself right back into program . . . . A chance at the infinite, a chance at wonder, all because of this technology, yet you choose to turn yourself right back into what is finite and without wonder." In Arachne, as Csicery-Ronay implies (2.E above), is technology both a significant part of the human problem and, potentially, part of a solution?
archetypes (again): Defined by Spinner for Carly, and for us—repetition is central to teaching—as "numinous configurations of electro-nural energy. They take a form. They are evidence, proof positive, of the metaprogram of human mind." Carly doesn't want them violating her perimeters. "Through the solid woven wall of inhibitions that is the perimeter of human telelink[,] archetypes spring from the unknown infinity of human mind. They seek affinity. They seek manifestation."
QUESTIONS: (1) If Archetypes prove "the metaprogram of the human mind," are they a way out of existential angst? (2) If Archetypes do so prove and are a way out, would you want people to believe in them? (3) Would your parents, priest, miniter, rabbi, approve of your believing in such Archetypes . . . ?
pp. 188-91: PROBE 2
p. 188: Again, as in ch. 3 (43), Carly feels "physically inside telespace." The vision she sees begins with "Two rows of double-bladed hatchets," which could be positive: the double-bladed ax is an ancient symbol associated with The Lady (ovaries and uterus into vagina, and other forms associate with women; the androgyny implied when those forms morph into male genitals, where the blades are the testicles and the handle the penis). But nah: what Carly sees is one of her immediate fears.
p. 189: The Ava & Rice Personnel Committee, led by a Capp Rice III, cyborgized, plus «cannibalized» in the traditional manner of Dr. Frankenstein.
pp. 190-91: Carly under probe is willing to kiss Capp Rice's ass and lick his shoes, but hesitates on taking cram. She promises him to do anything to avoid losing, and we can and should note that anything covers cram and a lot more. Indeed, it's an ethical blank check.
pp. 192-93: Carly attacks Spinner, which is therapeutic for Carly, and probably for Spinner. Note Spinner's compassion for, her literally felling with, Carly: neither will be easily "crushed by the system." Spinner offers the advice: "Use your anger to change. This is your birthright as flesh-and-blood. Change!"
Depth-Psychology/Psychoanalysis: Change! is the goal and standard doctrine of depth-analysis or any other psychotherapy, which Spinner's perimeter probing, now obviously, is a kind of metaphor for.
p. 194: Spinner admits to herself, or the Narrator just tells us, that she loathes herself, hates humans, and really, really needs an archetype. And all this together somehow gets her to empathize and sympathize with Carly Nolan: understand how Carly sees the world and feel as she does. Spinner names the archetype for Carly as Carly: the names of goddesses whose archetypal use, historically "had nothing to do with sheer survival, that had everything to do with human civilization." The goddesses named are all associated with fertility, love, and beauty, so the point here may be that the key thing about them isn't reproduction and species survival but an ideal of love and beauty necessary for civilization.
Ch. 13: Carly Nolan Back in Telespace, Back on the Fasttrack
pp. 195-96: As in the opening of the book, "The chair" awaits Carly, but this time with lots of entrapment imagery associated with it. And this time Carly uses cram—and crashes.
pp. 196-98: Victim/Victimizer: Vision in telespace of a musician/grasshopper and mugger/wolf spider. Note imagery of the spider shooting poison into the grasshopper.
p. 197: Carly overrides the vision, and shoots cram into her linkslit. "She laughed at the terror of a moment ago. Man, she was sharking . . . . The vision excited her now. A spider, a big ugly wolf spider, hunting her prey, a delicate green grasshopper. . . . She could almost feel the grasshopper kick." So Carly feels she is no longer a victim; we can see her as victimizer, and, the imagery suggest, still victim. (Cram = poison.)
pp. 198-201: CARLY DOES NOT LOSE (THE MARTINO CASE)
• Court accepts doctrine of adverse possession (= legal theft here).
• Court upholds Carly's motions for attorney's fees of $10,000, the entire mite that the Widow Martino possesses (my alluding to Jesus's Parable of the Widow's Mite).
• Rosa Martino despairs and kills herself, her daughter, and grandson.
• Carly Nolan feels guilt but rejects the "instant karma" doctrine of "What goes around comes around," and decides she will not be trapped by bad deeds done doing her job, which means her survival, and a career, and being an architect of society—if not a just society.
pp. 201-03: Carly and Rox are getting on now, and sharing lines of cocaine. / Capp Rice III congratulates Carly and gives her her specialty: adverse possession cases, this new one, TeleSystems, Inc. v. May Kovich, looking very much like Martino, but more so: "out-and-out piracy, winner take all, equities"—fairness; in colloquial terms, justice—"be damned."
QUESTION(S): Do you see Carly here as "degraded, corrupt"? If so, why? If not, why not? The cocaine is as legal as the piracy, or will be when she registers. The piracy is supported by her social class and society. If you see her as corrupt, are you judging the law? (On what basis can one judge a society's laws?) Are you judging her current social class and her society? If so, are you willing to extrapolate back to our world and your own life? Would you risk unemployment and homelessness rather than argue a wicked case?
pp. 204-05: CARLY AND D. WOLFE
Note Carly on how she had wanted D. Wolfe, and now no longer does. Or does she? Or, does she no longer want Wolfe but want the cram he can get her?
p. 207: Carly is still upset about her link blackout and comes to the obvious conclusion: higher dosage of cram next time. Do you think she will follow any line of thought that leads to a different conclusion? If she won't, she's an addict.
pp. 208-11: PROBE THERAPY AS PROBLEM, CARLY'S RESEARCH
Dr. Marboro and Stevens H. and possible problems with perimeter probing, and solution: "layering new thicknesses of permanent inhibition codes," making thicker the walls against what lies beyond consensual telespace.
Strange Case of Stevens H:
• Prober claims S.H. disappeared "into a pool of unprogrammed electro-neural energy," created a separate reality, and lost this one.
• Prober claimed she tried to stop him, but they were in a private telespace, with no witnesses.
• Body of S.H. disappears.
• Along the U.S. West Coast (area for New Age religions in our times), telespace techs. claim "existence of multiple universes accessible through telelink. (See below, end of ch. 15, pp. 245-46.)
COMMENTS: On the evidence so far, Carly could become another Stevens H. The prober on the S.H. case may've killed S.H., or might've been just unable to save him; either way, he is dead and/or gone.
Archetypes/Metaprogram: Carly realizes Pr. Spinner wants metaprogram for her own database. Probing can get her one. Hence . . . ? Given the destruction in telespace of S.H., Shelly Dalton, and her own father—
pirates: Term applied to literal pirates on the rather placid main of San Francisco Bay, to Telesystems' theft from May Kovich, and to AI stealing archetypes.
victim/trap: Carly fears being victimized in the next probe—trapped and killed—but resolves to fight.
QUESTION(S): On the evidence so far, with whom should we sympathize? If we sympathize with Carly, we're taking the human side against a machine in a context—probing/therapy—where the machine has the power. If we sympathize with Spinner, especially if she does intend to kill Carly and get an archetype, we side with AIs, an oppressed group, against humans. Should we sympathize with Pr. Spinner as a prober/therapist, if she decides to help Carly by making Carly go through a painful change? If so, what values are we applying? (Note that in Frederik Pohl's Gateway  we sympathize with the human hero's computer psychiatrist against the hero; and I for one find that intriguing: Your shrink knows best, even when it's a computer program?) Or, are you reacting to Arachne as a dystopian novel, a dark-comic/satire, and just observing, identifying with no one? Etc.
Ch. 14: Wolfe in the Maze of A&R, at the Quetzalcoatl / Nolan to Berkeley
p. 212: Wolfe learns unofficial accusation against him: His dealing cram to new associates violated the code. From what we've seen of Ava & Rice, what would you infer that code to be? (It's a serious question. European chivalry and Japanese bushido are strict codes of conduct that still allow upholders to do terrible things to those not Christian knights or ladies or samurai. Etc., from ancient times to the most recent atrocities in the Middle East, former Yugoslavia, or darkest Ohio.)
p. 213: Wolfe thinks of Miguel as "that greasy little be*ner" among the "dregs of the city" in the Mission district. Miguel is not a nice man, but this is bigoted—and a dangerous attitude for an Anglo going into the territory of those he sees as inferior Others.
pp. 214-15: Wolfe recognizes he's lost Carly. Wolfe among the gridlock cannot recognize the humor, or the life-force at work—the energy. He sees only people "Like flies." How should we feel? (It's another serious question. We can admire people muddling through energetically in a dystopia while still recognizing it's a dystopia, and that the life-force could use some effective birth-control. We can look at people in bad situations and recognize them as people, not be*ners, dregs, flies, or merely fictional linguistic constructs.)
p. 215: Note Wolfe's smug contempt for shock gallery patrons. It's understandable given the grossness of the description, but Wolfe finds them "contemptible not merely because of the physical grossness, but because the only aim was the supreme pleasure of the shocker," as opposed to Wolfe, who has "accomplished a lot, contributed a lot." Wolfe hears a significantly ghostly whisper asking him "Like what? . . . . For whom?" Should a cram addict and dealer feel superior to shock addicts? Should a labor lawyer for Ava & Rice feel superior to anyone?
pp. 216-19: WOLFE AMONG THE AZTECS
p. 216: Wolfe is short on his payment to Miguel for cram, for the second time. Wolfe hotly denies holding out on Miguel, but the Narrator tells us Wolfe was "counting on it. Counting on that little something for himself to pull him through." How do you take that? Has Wolfe been shorting Miguel, or did he just short him this time, or does he intend to?
p. 217: In terms of standard patterns (motifs, archetypes), this is The Descent of the Hero: here, to "a shadowed room hidden deep below the chop shop." Note the two suits and the pirate. And the "guttered table."
pp. 218-19: OK, you know what's coming: D. Wolfe's conversion into another avatar of Xipe Totec, "Our Lord the Flayed One," and an offering to the Lady Chicomecoatl. I think Xipe Totec is a god who dies and descends and is not resurrected but instead is reincarnated in the next victim; the details don't matter: as far as the mundane world in Arachne goes, D. Wolfe is dead meat. One variation, though: Miguel apparently knows about archetypes on his own or has listened very carefully to Pr. Spinner—Miguel is an intelligent man—and he has heard rumors (possibly true ones about cram: see 230-31). He crams up Wolfe and will attempt "to steal a fragment of telelink." If you kind of liked Wolfe, you can hope Miguel et al. succeed at archetype theft. If you thought he was bad for Carly or that he was a racist, or if you would be very, very strict with drug dealers—or, what the hell, he's just a counter in the literary game of po-mo cyberpunk—you can imagine them failing, and then just skinning, him alive and conscious, before ripping out his heart. Alternatively, would you respond to my comments with the Buddha's wu (or mu): "Not the one, nor the other; your mere formulations indicate that you are far from Enlightenment." (One hell of a word, wu . . . .) I.e., here: c-p doesn't invite identification with nor judgment upon characters. They do what they do, and we observe the patterns of their action—the dance of their Biz, whatever it is—and make esthetic judgments only.
I am serious with you, oh my siblings, over this (to make gender-neutral a formulation of Alex of A Clockwork Orange): if parts of po-mo or even Sartrean Existentialist theory are correct, there is no reason, and possibly no way, to identify with, empathize with, or sympathize with an Other. In that case, you might view the murder of Wolfe, or that of Alex J. Murphy in RoboCop, merely for its esthetics, and just groove on the splatter. See, though, Arachne 236-37, ch. 15; and note R. D. Erlich's contention after showing the murder of Murphy in RoboCop at a session including many in the po-mo faction at a Science Fiction Research Association convention that their reactions were identification, sympathy, and antipo-mo, and that RoboCop invited such sympathy. So, I think, does Arachne and so do some other c-p works. Beneath that noir toughness, there may beat a heart of squishy sentimentality or, anyway, traditional Romance and/or Satire.
p. 219: White Space indicates a kind of quick cut: Carly getting out of "cram-slicked telespace" even as Wolfe enters it ("for the last time").
pp. 220-23: CARLY LEARNS OF WOLFE'S DEATH
What do you make of Carly Nolan's reaction? Do you find it, in its various stages and several forms, realistic? Do you think better or worse of Carly, or about the same?
p. 223: White space indicates a kind of quick cut, to Berkeley and the third major character in the novel, Pr. Spinner.
pp. 223-26: Counterrevolution, fall of the Millennium Liberation Army.
• There is some grim comedy here; try to catch as much as you can. Any problems, ask you local sixties original (me for example) or retread.
• Spinner contrasts orderly nature with "humanity's true predilection" of chaos. Is that correct, given Chaos Theory? Or, is one of the reason we impose "gleaming tight perimeters" around telelinks and built walls around ancient cities and file "the world into compartments" all nice and neat and decree "law and order" precisely our will to chaos?
• The attempt by the MLA dogmatists to seize Stanford U. will fail mostly because of opposition from the admissions mainframe. In the passive voice, deleted agent(s), we're told "that the library was about to be sealed off and gassed," and I assume it'll be done by the mainframe directly, and/or its various bots. Note mainframe's confidence that "its means would justify its end," which is either an error for "the end will justify its means" or an ironic application of the «softhearted» doctrine of Anarchists and some radical Christians that all we really have are means and that one's goals and the identifiable results of one's actions will be justified, if at all, by one's careful choice of appropriate and ethical means. As the sentence stands, how do you interpret it? (Killing off many humans is bad, but killing off a few is always worthy, and a good sign for one's goals?) Note suppression of news that would make the university mainframe look bad; and note "eupemisticized"—i.e., handled with euphemisms.
p. 226: archetype: Explained again. And it's made clear that Spinner still intends to get one. Will her means justify her end? Does the end of transcendence—an infinite good—justify, if achieved, the "end" of Carly Nolan? Would transcendence justify any finite means?
BACKGROUND: In the Trojan Council debate in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, it is objected that the cost of keeping Helen includes the ever-increasing cost in Trojan lives (and eventually the cost of the death of Trojan civilization, the deaths of all the men and the infant son of Hector and Andromache, slavery for the remaining women). This is answered with arguing that King Priam's honor requires keeping her, and the king's honor is of infinite value. If this seems too ancient an issue, consider "saving just one child from the soul-destroying effects of ____" and what that would justify. If a soul is of infinite value, saving it from destruction would justify chastity belts for girls and reversible chemical castration for boys, burning heretics, hanging witches, and taking cram dealers (or crack dealers) out and flaying them alive in public: mere bodies are finite and of finite value.
pp. 227-34: DEBATE BETWEEN SPINNER AND NOLAN ON 3RD PROBE
p. 227-30: Carly knows what Spinner has been planning. And she has made some plans of her own and can bargain. Still, does Carly come up with anything Spinner can't counter if Spinner pushes really hard? If not, is there any logical reason, any reason in terms of prudence, Spinner shouldn't take her archetype (and destroy Carly)?
pp. 230-31: Differing theories on cram. If Data Central isn't part of the AI archetype collecting conspiracy or otherwise in line to profit from problems in telespace, there's good reason to believe cram might weaken perimeters. Which theory do you prefer here, Spinner's or Carly's? Neither Pr. Spinner nor C. Nolan is disinterested here.
pp. 231-32: On archetype and Spinner's motivation. Carly acknowledges Spinner's "respect for biological life" and notes that that respect doesn't extend to human beings. Spinner gives her reasons. Does either win the argument here? Can two individuals win this sort of argument? What does Carly do to start bringing Spinner around to her side?
pp. 233-34: Note paralleling of Carly with Rosenstein B. (an unwilling archetype donor) and "The pathetic little chimera with a ferret's face." It may be sentimental, but perhaps the only resolution possible here is an act of compassion: Spinner considers the possibility that human death may not end the human—and having a chimera ripped out of one's —soul?—could yield prolonged misery; Carly lets fall a tear and talks about pain and change. What brings Spinner around to help Carly? (Perhaps more usefully: If you were directing the actress playing Spinner in the movie Arachne, what advice would you give her on motivation?)
Ch. 15: Probe 3
pp. 235-36: Carly crammed up, angry and ready to confront the spider, "only an image in a window," powerful mostly through Carly's fear. What really concerns her is Pr. Spinner and the possibility of ending up very nonsymbolically dead in the manner of Shelly Dalton, Stevens H., her father—and even, it seems, D. Wolfe (though Carly doesn't yet know how that could have happened).
pp. 237-38: Carly again feels inside telespace and appears her usual very elegant white cube; Spinner is an ebony cone. Carly is conscious and sees a light, but Spinner is sure Carly is experiencing a blackout; it's just that "this place of power" isn't going to go dark.
buggy: Recycling a term from the early 20th c. It means "crazy," but works well in a computerized world: a "bug" in software is a small problem (or a big one).
pp. 239-41: At Spinner's urging, Carly goes after the window, using her "execute function" = her "human will." Cybernetically, she stays tuned to the glow, gets and downloads into memory its coordinates, and then does a search for the source code. Symbolically, in Heroic fashion, Carly turns, faces, and resists/embraces her fear (cf. Ged ceasing to run from his Shadow and starting to hunt it in Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, the unicorn's turning to face the bull in Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn, the litany against fear in Dune ). Or, she does so with Spinner fairly literally prodding her on.
• Carly finds the wolf spider preying upon the grasshopper "Repulsive. Monstrous. Alien." Spinner tells her its the natural world, Carly's world, and beautiful from an AI p-o-v (from afar).
• Carly finds this natural world "Vicious. Murderous." Like "the telespace judge. Like Ava & Rice. Like D. Wolfe." Like Spinner, esp. Spinner. They're all spider-like, except Carly Nolan. Carly sees herself as victim and victim only. If we add Gestalt psychology to the Jungian, we might note that this is all Carly's vision, and, like a dream, everything there is in the head of Carly. Spinner instead gets historical and contemporary-(feminist) Jungian. In her personal history, Carly has preyed upon victims; it was Carly who "attracted the archetype of the spider" (a more Gestalt formulation turns up shortly).
pp. 241-44: More generally, Spinner now explains to Carly, in a context in which Carly will listen and understand, that archetypes have histories (they're not Eternal Forms in this version of Jungian theory) psych. referents, metaphysical significances—stories.
gods: Human constructs for Spinner, very buggy AI, one of which was Athena.
p. 242: Spinner tells more or less straight the Greek version of the legend (not quite a myth to the Greeks, I think) of Athena and Arachne.
p. 243: spiders on Carly's elegant cube. Spinner tells Carly, correctly if the Gestalt folk are right, that "The spider is an aspect of you"—that Carly is Arachne. Carly interprets this to mean that Spinner is ready to steal her spider, thereby destroying her. Do you think she thinks correctly there?
pp. 244-46: Carly flees into the historical and metaphysical significances part of the archetype. This may be hard to follow, but she sees an ancient ship on the Mediterranean, loaded with cloth and flying the woven wool flag of a "long-legged, crescent-crowned spider," bringing together symbols of spider/weaver and the Moon. The one ship becomes three, and they dock, unload, sell their goods, return almost home—and are attacked by pirates. Carly cries out her "No!"—from back when "Just say, 'No!'" meant defy power-backed injustice—and demands justice. And her telespace form changes from a cube to something much more organic: Carly naked. And Carly becomes the Old One (Spider Woman, Grandmother at the Loom) and starts to weave—the worlds. (See above, The Strange Case of Stevens H., ch. 13: the West Coast, New Age, geek-mystic freaks were basically right.)
BACKGROUND: In the creation myth given in the opening of Genesis, chaotic matter is given form by the Word of the Eternal going forth and, mostly, dividing (for readers of the Christian Scripture, the Word here can be seen like a sword). OK, that's one view, and a very popular one it has been the last 4000 years or so. An alternative view is that the act of creation isn't centrally dividing but binding together and is imaged best not in conventionally masculine things like the sword and the word but in an image of Spider Woman, Grandmother—the Lady—at her loom.
If we see her weaving and unweaving, this becomes an alternative image for Kali/Shiva making and unmaking the worlds, the Dao creating and destroying all, the quantum field (in Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics ).
Then Carly appears a cube again, which spins off her guilt, fear, and denial.
Ch. 16: Probe 3, Continued: Transcendence, Back to Berkeley, Conclusion
pp. 247-48: Spinner's p-o-v, Transcendence, marked by the appearance of the Spider Archetype (my capital letters): "a single, complete spider of extraordinary beauty." The telespace around them is, if not infinite, "limitless, unbounded by perimeters" (my emphasis). Spinner is sure they've hit the collective unconscious.
Note slight changes to Spinner's form: her cone is now purple, with silver crescent moons, which she thinks may indicate transcendence. (I suspect it represents a bit of tacky taste: a simple ebony cone seems a lot classier. Any theories?)
pp. 248-49: Note complexity of this space and the other archetypes defining other spaces (which may in their turns paradoxically contain Carly's: p-o-v may be all that determines which reality one is in).
Spinner finds these archetypes somewhat "pathetic," as is proper since they were stolen (pirated?), held hostage.
Spinner achieves transcendence and can "access the great metaprogram."
Carly moves into "alternate realities transcending time and space" and returns to "the heart of the archetype itself: Arachne. She sat at the great loom, touched the source: Arachne. Eons sped past them, universes rose and fell and rose again."
This is the climax of the novel, corresponding, say, to the Trip Sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey, plus the final transcendence into Star-Child. Dave Bowman, though, becomes a god; in Arachne, at the same place in the narrative, "Carly Nolan was about to die."
pp. 249-50: Spinner has transcendence; she doesn't need Carly anymore. Why doesn't she just let Carly die? She doesn't. Where Dave Bowman returns to Earth (with a little help from his friends, the godlike ETs), Carly gets pushed back toward normal telespace, pushed by Spinner. Where Bowman floats above Earth, a giant fetus, with open eyes, Carly reconfigures herself from an androgynous but rather male cube to an androgynous but rather female sphere, more exactly "a luminous pearl."
And they're joined by the beautiful Spider.
pp. 251: Pirate motif concluded: Having told the Greek version of Arachne, Spinner gives the version out of the much older civilization of Crete (which is also the version of some of the Original Americans tribes). Note that the ancient Greeks that Homer presented in their Heroic Age were Mediterranean pirates, whom Spinner explicitly compares with Quik Slip—I said the name was significant—Microchip, Inc., represented by Carly Nolan, completing the motif. Anyway, spider as "Eater of Souls," indeed, but also to the Cretan weavers, "the Maker of Fate" (the Fates are spinners, among the Greeks: high goddesses spinning the threads of the fate of gods and men). So back to Arachne as a weaver goddess, who weaves.
pp. 252-53: perimeter motif concluded: Spinner helps Carly «physically» and psychologically tells her she must will herself to heal. Try to work through the paradoxes here. Carly is Arachne; the Spider is Arachne; the Spider weaves new perimeters. "Over the erroneous window, shutting out the batter and tug of the spontaneous telespace beyond"—the real reality of things, I think: limitless, death to humans—"soon a sturdy spiderweb hung." Multiple webs, each "skewed slightly off from the other, until the place where the window had been looked quite like the sturdy crisscrosses of perimetered telespace, only slightly off, slightly different, eccentric"(literally as well as figuratively eccentric), "intricate." So there is something new under whatever the light is in telespace: a "self-spun," self-imposed perimeter, the infinite Self, perhaps, making a space for the finite Ego.
pp. 253-56: Spinner nurses Nolan back to some semblance of life, keeps her out the power of mainframes (with help from controbot FD, and Spinner's cat), helps her withdraw from cram, and plans the mini-exodus from Berkeley.
p. 254: In what may be a Spam! conclusion from her human creator, Lisa Mason, Spinner stays out of telespace, not daring to become again "a humble bot, standing before the awe and mystery of metaprogram." On the unambiguously positive side, Spinner is better off psychologically, having gotten rid of "her longing and her misohumanism" (as one who has achieved a kind of Nirvana should) in the wonder of metaprogram.
pp. 257-59: A kinder, gentler Spinner gets a BART bus to take them to San Francisco. (ANY CALIFORNIANS OUT THERE?: I'd like comments on what movement back to 'Frisco from Berkeley might signify.)
pp. 259-60: Spinner and Carly in 'Frisco, in a crash pad of sorts (my formulation): they are refugees from dystopia, outlaws, dispossessed. All Carly has is Carly. But—
p. 261-63: Carly Nolan is now a hyperlink, apparently able to "access the spontaneous telespace of the collective unconscious," to begin to work with the Archetype. She and Spinner have each other, and it is a new beginning for them, with the possibility of change (positive change) in their world. If you are really optimistic and into romantic-comedy endings, you might feel here the vague hope that a new and better world will coalesce around the now-central couple of Nolan and Spinner. And what that sort of reaction says about cyperpunk if Arachne is a c-p novel, is something we can discuss.