The Irrelevance of Technology and Time in Nancy Farmer’s ‘The House of the Scorpion’

Posted by on November 28, 2011 
Filed under ENGH 451-Science Fiction

After reading the first fourteen chapters of Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion I noticed two elements in this text that make The House of the Scorpion unique to the other science fiction texts we have read this semester. The first unique element in the novel is that the technological advancements in the narrative seem incidental to Farmer’s development of Matt as a deeply conflicted clone. It is almost as if Farmer is intentionally being vague about the state of technological advancement in the narrative, but why would she do this? Isn’t this a science fiction novel? Aren’t science fiction novels supposed to showcase theoretical advancements in technology in some way?

Yes, I believe The House of the Scorpion is a science fiction novel, but I also believe The House of the Scorpion is quite unique to the science fiction genre in that the technologies introduced in the narrative are afterthoughts that are only introduced as a means for justifying the current cultural state of the Alacrán’s world. For instance, during Matt’s first picnic with Tam Lin, the “Safe Horse” technology is introduced to the reader, but this technology’s introduction seems to merely be an ironic tool used for Matt to begin to realize that the Alacrán Estate is not the omnipotent center of the world. In other words, the “Safe Horse” technology showcases El Patrón’s power to control his as well as the other inhabitant’s environment, but the Safe Horse is responsible for depositing Matt in a situation wherein he must abandon the Safe Horse and trust/follow Tam Lin to an oasis untouched by the destructive Alacráns. Tam Lin guides Matt to the oasis because “The Alacráns don’t know about it. If they did, they’d run a pipe in here and take out all the water” (Farmer 79). This statement by Tam Lin is important because he is cryptically relaying to Matt that the Alacráns do not control the whole world, just their little part of it. This statement also relays the Alacrán’s destructive nature to Matt in that Matt is able to perceive the oasis’ beauty being found not only in its aesthetic beauty, but in its safe, secretive seclusion from the Alacrán estate as well. The Safe Horse, while being an interesting technological advancement, is merely a vehicle for Matt to realize the world’s potential away from the Alacrán environment.

The second unique element to The House of the Scorpion is that it feels as though Farmer is striving to bring a vision of timelessness to Matt’s world instead of the usual science fiction world of a future that is starkly strange, yet strangely recognizable. Framer seems to be writing a world in which the time period is irrelevant when compared to the social tensions embedded in the text. These social tensions include racism (the brutal treatment and view of clones), class struggles (the eejits being made from lower class’ forced participation), and cultural identification (Matt struggling to realize his place in the world). These social tensions feel like they could happen anywhere at any time and Farmer’s decision to keep the mentioning of technology to a minimum while also stressing the simplicity in which Matt views the world with statements such as “If only he could see something interesting outside of the window” (38) keep the narrative tone calm and unrushed. The previous statement by Matt keeps the narrative calm and unrushed in that it comments on Matt’s ability to stay calm in a situation in which others would typically become emotionally unhinged. Matt has just been imprisoned, but his concentration in his cell is simply focused on being able to see more of the environment around him. As I read this I became calm because Matt seemed to be remaining calm in his plight. This calmness feels balanced with Matt’s slow learning about the world around him. This balance creates a timeless feeling in that the narrative seems to parallel Matt’s slow self-discovery.

While most science fiction we have read this semester immediately threw us into a new and strange world already sure of its advances and limitations, Farmer’s text appears to be on a journey of self-discovery with Matt that feels as if it could be happening to any one of us at any time and in any place by way of Farmer’s use of universal social tensions and infrequent use of technological flourishes to bind her readers’ social struggles to Matt’s own alienation from society’s embrace. Essentially, the reader is on the same journey as Matt, a journey that includes discovering the parameters of the world Farmer has created. Anyone can relate to discovering the world’s parameters because we have all had to do this from the time we were born and through our adult lives. This connection is essential to Farmer’s narrative feeling as though it could be about any one of us, at any time, in any place. While most science fiction we have read has asked us to simply accept the world written for us to explore, Farmer is allowing us to discover the world at the same pace as Matt. This convergence of reader with character allows the world of The House of the Scorpion to feel familiar to its reader because it is a world painted with broad brush strokes—brush strokes designed to be universally  familiar in one way or another to anyone, at any time, in any place.

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