Detail of the cover art of Miéville’s The City & the City.
After quickly reading China Miéville’s Embassytown
(2011), I picked up Miéville’s The City & the City
(2009), and read that one just as fast. I’ve noticed that both novels include tension caused by rules that seem to be impossible to transgress. In Embassytown
, the Ariekei are unable to speak in certain ways, and in The City & the City
locals of the city of Besźel and the city of Ul Qoma are—to the surprise of distant foreigners—unable to cross the border separating the two cities, even in places where the cities share parts of the same street.
In the acknowledgements section of The City & the City, Miéville mentions his indebtedness to the works of Raymond Chandler and Franz Kafka, among other authors. And on the cover of the book, a review from the Los Angeles Times mentions Philip K. Dick as a reference point in the novel’s style. While I haven’t read any Raymond Chandler yet, I’m familiar with the work of Philip K. Dick and Franz Kafka—both of which exhibit a dreadful paranoid about the mysterious workings of the world.
Another similarity between these two novels by Miéville is that both include important parts of their respective worlds which lay some sort of foundation for the main storyline. In Embassytown, the fascinating realm of “the immer”, with which space travel of great distances is made possible, is only given a cursory—though good—description. In The City & the City, the “cleaving” of the cities that happened at some point in the past, leaving behind ambiguous, confusing archeological evidence, is the other mysterious foundation.
Still from Ghost in the Shell (1995). Major Motoko Kusanagi swims in the bay.
Ghost in the Shell—a child of William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982)—continues to mine the cyberpunk genre, yielding thought-provoking content. While the various films and the television series still have some of the pitfalls of anime, such as unnecessary silliness, or perhaps also its penchant for action, it seems that Ghost in the Shell still offers something worthwhile. The original film, which came out in 1995, and its sequel Innocence (2004)—both directed by Mamoru Oshii—are the gems of the series. When the opening scene of the first film includes an intense shootout, it feels like it might just be another action floc, but instead, the film ends up dwelling on moments of contemplative and anxious stillness.
Risking sinking to the bottom of the bay given her outrageously heavy mechanical body, the main character—Major Motoko Kusanagi—finds peace scuba-diving, as if the presence of death assures her of her own subjectivity. In fact, it is this anxiety about subjectivity and existence that drives her through the story. The Major’s yearning for self-understanding pushes her to challenge the increasingly frail divide between living and machine.
Still from Innocence. A lifeless shell sits in a lab.
The sequel, Innocence, finds the Major’s former partner Batou dealing with the Major’s exit as well as his own concerns about contemporary life. In one striking scene, Batou stares into the face of a plastic-wrapped android in a forensics laboratory. We learn of the Major’s transformation into a new, larger consciousness transcending individual physical bodies. Her consciousness now exists within the internet, capable of new levels of mental capacity.
It will be interesting to see what the upcoming Ghost in the Shell: Arise has to offer.
I just finished Philip K. Dick’s novel Dr. Bloodmoney. Before this, the only other book I had ready by him was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. With both stories there is a weird sense of the narrative pushing along with an undertone of dread—the kafkaesque twists of Androids, the characters’ surreal perception of their crumbling worlds, and solipsistic insanity crawling into their minds.
The character Hoppy in Dr. Bloodmoney has to have been an inspiration for some of the characters in Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love: there’s telekenesis, his body’s limitations, his cult-like leadership of a community, and his creepy sense of control.
A conference at TU Dortmund University in Germany, entitled “Worlds Out of Joint: Re-Imagining Philip K. Dick” just ended yesterday. Although I’ve only read one of his novels (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), this would have been an interesting conference to attend. It looks like the papers are in English, which is a bit surprising, but I suppose it might have drawn less international visitors if German were prioritized. I’m also assuming that English is well known there, given its ubiquity.