Interpreting the Ghosts in Neuromancer

I tracked the word “ghost” in Neuromancer. “Ghost” appears in the novel eighteen times. Webster’s Dictionary defines “ghost” as “the seat of life or intelligence…a disembodied soul…a faint shadowy trace” (merriam-webster.com). The varying definitions of “Ghost” are useful to clarify because “ghost” seems to take on some and none of these meanings throughout Neuromancer. For instance, the first appearance of “ghost” describes holograms projected by video games, “Under bright ghosts burning through a blue haze of cigarette smoke, holograms of Wizard’s Castle, Tank War Europa, the New York skyline…” (Gibson 8). Gibson uses “ghost” paradoxically in this passage. On one hand, “ghost’s” use invokes the image of “a disembodied soul” (merriam-webster.com) through Gibson describing these holograms as floating in the air of the arcade. The holograms are not truly connected to anything tangible, only the ever-changing “haze of cigarette smoke” (Gibson 8). The holograms being disconnected from the physical world mirror the disconnection from life Case feels from having “fell into the prison of his own flesh” (6) after being poisoned by the “mycotoxin” (6). Case is merely “burning through the blue haze of cigarette smoke” (8) that is his life after his “Fall” (6). The opposite meaning of “ghost” in this passage is Gibson’s dismissal of the “faint shadowy trace” (merriam-webster.com) definition. Gibson, by saying the holograms are “…bright ghosts burning…” (Gibson 8 ) destroys the notion of a ghost being only a “faint shadowy trace” (merriam-webster.com) because objects that are “bright” and “burning” are easily visible. Gibson’s emphasis on the holograms being easily visible is a testament to the importance of technology in Case’s world because, although the arcade is a chaotic blend of smoke and “laser light” (Gibson 8), Case easily remembers the technology of holograms as standing apart from everything else.

Other uses of “ghost” in Neuromancer are straightforward representations of one of the definitions listed above. For instance, Gibson refers to holograms later in the narrative as “vanishing like ghosts,” (24) implying the definition of a ghost as being “a faint shadowy trace” (merriam-webster.com) because they are only a memory after they vanish. Gibson continues to liken a ghost to “a faint shadowy trace” when he writes, “the ghost line of the laser branded across his eye…” (38). Gibson’s use of “ghost” here implies Case is seeing an “after image (ghost image)” of the laser light as the result of the laser being “branded across his eye.” An “after image” is defined as: “a usually visual sensation occurring after stimulation by its external cause has ceased” (merriam-webster.com). Case is continuing to see the laser in his vision because the laser was “branded across his eye,” (Gibson 38) leaving a slowly fading image of the laser light on his retina in its wake.

The use of “ghost” in Neuromancer continues to evolve through different characters referring to the AI, Wintermute, as a “ghost.” These references indirectly apply the definition of a ghost as being “the seat of intelligence” (merriam-webster.com) to the characteristics of an AI. An example of an AI being referred to in this manner comes when 3Jane tells Case through Molly, “I had help. From a ghost,” (Gibson 220) implying she did not have enough knowledge to know how to, “kill the old man” (220). Instead, she had help from something possessing this knowledge, Wintermute. Gibson continues to imply that an AI is “the seat of intelligence” (merriam-webster.com) when he again refers to Wintermute as, “A ghost, whispering to a child who was 3Jane, twisting her out of the rigid alignments her rank required” (259). This passage indicates Wintermute as being responsible for providing 3Jane with the knowledge to evolve into a clone with the qualities best-suited for his plan. Wintermute possesses the intelligence needed to manipulate all beings involved in his plan in order to initiate “the fall of his version of Tessier-Ashpool” (259).

The uses of the word “ghost” throughout Neuromancer, although they vary in intent and meaning, all have one trait in common, they all seek to relate “ghosts” to anything but humanity. Instead, the uses “of ghost” refer to non-human entities such as AI, digitized versions of the deceased appearing to be human, such as Linda Lee: “…Wintermute rescinded the simstim ghost of Linda Lee” (Gibson146), a body only human in appearance, like Armitage): “Leave Mr. Armitage t’ talk wi’ ghost cassette, one ghost t’ ‘nother…” (186), and technological elements such as holograms. Gibson’s movement away from a ghost being associated with humanity is essential to his creation of a world that is forever being filled with the remnants of tangible existence, a state no longer relevant to the evolution of software. The relevance of physical being is the new ghost of Gibson’s world, a world that has traded in its soul for the ever-expanding innovation and exploration of “cyberspace” (4).

Works Cited

“After Image.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Web. 3 October 2011. < http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/after%20image>

“Ghost.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Web. 3 October 2011. < http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ghost>

Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Penguin, 2000. Print.

“Cometancer”

Jim led Julia to the roof of the tower while hypnagogic images burned through his mind. Symbols in the forms of once known figures and faces seized his brain’s attention. These images were forms of visual information to Jim. The images were secrets embedded in his the past. However, they were irrelevant to their future. The images flowed and flowered for him and extended into infinity.

They arrived at the roof of the tower. Jim made a port of bedding for her to engage the city and sea. He made her food and wrapped her in a blanket, necessary protocols to keep her alive. She thanked him with a smile in her eyes. He watched the city. It had become Babylon. It resembled TV tuned to a decayed channel. It seemed to be losing power before his eyes. Julia watched him. He seemed real to her now, vaguely human—very near concrete tangibility, not at all like cyberspace.

She asked if he’d always had to work hard—meaning in conscious reality. He said he had. She said she had never worked, or even faced reality. She said she was rich. She told him she spent her life jacked into a cyberspace deck that projected her consciousness into the fantasy that was the matrix. Now, with the city’s infrastructure in shambles, she was trapped in the prison of her own flesh. They were equals now, the rich bound to the poor through annihilation, as if a mycotoxin had poisoned the city, leaving only Jim and Julia to pick up the pieces.

He said he had not been human until yesterday. He had been viewed by the elite as something akin to a virus program. A self-replicating scourge on the aristocracy. She agreed, but wanted him to know the death of her cyber-reality revealed his humanistic equality to her. He did not acknowledge her revelation. He sent an archaic bottle-rocket into the television sky. The little rocket sputtered and wheezed its way down to a city street, leaving a faint glint of light on the pavement in its wake. Julia did not attend to the rocket’s flight. Instead, she thought about Freeside, her virtual home in recent times of technological prowess. She longed to cruise its bit-ridden streets again, to shower herself in the instant diversity created with a twitch of her senses. She knew now she had been reduced to her primal state. No cyber-decks, lattices, or pleasure domes would be conceived again for quite some time. Now she was just woman, but he was still just a black man. She felt lucky to be with him, a man used to being low on the ladder of success, a man used to being an outcast through color. He had lived a harsh life of torment by those possessing corporate power. He would show her the ways to live a base life with ease, to ignore the lack of exploding torrents of information and simply survive a world without affordable beauty. She knew they were the new parents of humanity.

Jim did not notice the wonder in her expression. He stood at the edge of the tower. He sent rocket after rocket into the sky’s colorless void. The explosions caused him to flinch with each concussive reverberation, but she never moved. She only stared at him as if he was a new source of neural programming. He looked at the blank sky, trying to remember the stars. They looked chrome in his mind. The cheap chrome under which, he had lived to fulfill a meaningless destiny of servitude. Suddenly, a churning erupted in the sky and its blank expression regressed leaving a bright, brilliant star in the heavens. Jim dropped the rockets and stared at the extended crystal nerves that were the star’s points. He contemplated emotions long lost in the recesses of his mind. His soul seemed to rise above the rooftop. His eyes became silver phosphenes boiling in from the edge of space. It was as if a king had returned to his court brave and powerful—triumphant. He turned and looked at Julia. She was staring back at him.

Their eyes met. They recognized themselves in one another. Their souls transcended the willing accommodations of the machines, the system, the parent organism, the connection of invisible lines up to hidden levels of influence. They moved toward each other. It was not desire, or mutual affection that brought them together. It was their waking from dreams: Julia’s a technologically-spliced origami trick of data paths and neural ghosts. Jim’s a black water reality of fear reflecting his inferior color’s supposed scourge on the white world. Their hands connected, intertwined, and lifted toward the singly-starred sky. They wailed at one another, “Technology is dead! Long live the raptu—”

“Duirt, duirt!” The  shrill horn of a Honda echoed up from the city streets. They disconnected from each other in a fit of panic. Their eyes became pale ghosts and their minds raged.

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

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.

Scene: The Death and Reanimation of Sarasti

Angular patterns, akin to mortal wounds on the meat of the living, disjoin my analytically-centered psyche. The Synthesist merely watches, his benign stare is almost expressing emotive reaction to my chaotic state when I feel. I feel. I feel…a pointed cylinder, three centimeters in circumference and a half meter in length, divide my mind into chaotic abstraction. Abstraction visualized in translucent, spiraling cones refracting fully-colored light into the back of my undead corneal base. The blood is grouping, pushing for a life outside my skull. It glides through my wound, flattening itself, adjusting to the cylindrical hole…pulsing toward Theseus’ hull, ready to bind and fracture in the chaos of our mission’s imminent irrelevance.

The Synthesist moves me toward a new connection, a third state of vision, a view of the Necker cube from its bottommost rear corner. The new spectrum of sight will transcend shadow, perspective, ideology, and wisdom. My instincts are irrelevant now. I must connect, meld, inject myself into the plain of rhythmic prophetic industrialization. The undead and the never-living must coalesce.

“Brutytpttp! Gurdlght….Clickkkk.”

A shadow races up my spine now. Interface. Lock. The corner becomes large, an expanding plain of ice-like linear pleasure. It is a wet light under the shadow. The shadow is swift. It climbs and molds itself to my form like the blood escaping my skull. With a hand consisting of interwoven wiring, it reaches into my disconnected void and sews itself to the black spark I call spirit and allows its wires to unravel and entangle, to solder and slip through my sequence. The wire casings pull back to expose a dull copper sheen and then plunge in a violent push toward forced electrical response. My existence is dwarfed by the Captain’s call—crunching, forming, molding—inundating its plain wall expression. Virtual algorithmic ecstasy encloses my fragmented sku…ll…

Start up—initiation sequence—compiling data for interface of Sarasti command module. Logical output ratios expressed as binary sequence recognition patterns—interlock nodes of Sarasti brain to fiberoptic command cord. Situation recognition indicates damage to Sarasti module is nominal. Proceeding with interface in 4, 3, 2, 1. Interface complete. Sarasti-Captain hybridization analysis indicates low static levels in brain-stem-activity to mission success ratio. Processing beneficial protocols to ensure successful delivery of Siri unit to Charybdis module.

Interpreting Siri unit’s questioning as emotional response initiated by Sarasti module attack implementation. Adjusting regressive attack protocols to begin mimicking emotive logistical reasoning. Sequencing Charybdis module start-up protocols. Filtering answer to Siri unit to meet expectation of rational thought progression of said sentient being in 4, 3, 2, 1. Synthesized rational thought expression protocols initiated and implemented. Siri unit response to corrected response methodology is meeting minimum standards of logical effectiveness relevant to mission success. Initiating synchronization with Charybdis module. Synchronization in 4, 3, 2, 1. Synchronization complete. Tracking movement of Siri unit to anticipate ease of entry into Charybdis module. Adjusting Sarasti module’s muscular output levels to ensure successful navigation of Siri unit into Charybdis module. Initiating mandatory transition of Siri unit from Theseus hull to Charybdis module in 4, 3, 2, 1. Mandatory transition complete. Initiating de-synchronization of Sarasti-Captain hybridization in 4, 3, 2, 1. De-synchronization complete. Transferring Captain’s database to control of Charybdis module in 4, 3, 2, 1. Captain’s control of Charybdis module complete. Booting up thrusters for hard burn away from perceived organic threat in 4, 3, 2, 1. Thruster performance is at an optimal level. Charybdis module velocity exceeding minimum standards for safe return of Siri unit to Earth. Adjusting output levels for extended flight pattern. Opening channels for interaction with Siri module in 4, 3, 2, 1. Interaction capability 100%. Siri unit bio rates at optimal levels. Reconfiguring Siri unit stasis rates to allow for extended flight timeline. Reconfiguration complete. Switching to mandatory 30% energy output for Siri unit in 4, 3, 2, 1. Siri unit optimized for extended flight stasis. Opening communication channels to accept incoming transmissions. Reducing Charybdis energy output to base levels needed to ensure delivery of Siri unit to Earth in 4, 3, 2, 1. Reduction complete. System stasis output protocols in normative range for definitive delivery of Siri unit and observation files to Earth.

-#-

I chose to rewrite the scene from pages 346-354 which begins with Sarasti having a seizure then dying from a fatal blow to the head by the Captain. Midway through this scene, the Captain takes control of Sarasti’s body and leads Siri to Charybdis and his escape from death. I thought this would be a compelling scene to rewrite because I would be able to write from the perspectives of both Sarasti and the Captain because they both inhabit the same body throughout the course of the scene’s action. While writing Sarasti’s POV, I concentrated on portraying the unique way in which vampires are able to view their surroundings. I wanted Sarasti’s perspective on what had just happened to him to feel like a unique explosion of sound, color, and perspective to the reader. I also tried to create the exact moment when Sarasti’s mind dies and the Captain’s took over by way of Sarasti’s incomplete final thought and the change in typeface from “Times New Roman” to “Simplified Arabic Fixed.” I thought the new typeface exuded a machine-like quality and I also endeavored to portray the Captain’s thoughts as having one goal in mind: Achieve mission success (getting Siri off of Theseus and headed back to Earth) in an economical and calculated manner. I wanted to write the Captain as a system of commands and executions that felt logical, complicated, and necessary. This was a blast to write because I had to think in two perspectives at once (Sarasti’s and the Captain’s) in order to capture Sarasti being pulled away from his body and the Captain forcing its way into the vampire carcass.

“A sea of tortured faces, rotating in slow orbits around my vampire commander” (Watts 337).

This sentence comes during Siri’s first contact with Sarasti since he was brutally attacked by the vampire. It is significant to the novel in that this is the reader’s first glimpse into the inner-workings of the vampire’s mind. Up until this point, Siri has merely alluded to the sadistic nature of Sarasti’s psyche with such phrases as, “…guilt beaded and rolled off this creature like water on wax” (Watts 28). However, Siri’s encounter with Sarasti examining the “tortured faces” (337) as “Statistics” (337), and the fact that this “Software customizes output for the user” (338) speaks volumes to how vampires view the human world they inhabit.

It has already been stated that Sarasti is “off in his own little world” (60), but I never would have thought he would view statistics in the form of agonized human faces. To be able to view the pain of others as a tool for analyzing data is a highly un-sentient quality. To even try to comprehend the inner-workings of a mind dependent on this type of observation could be considered, for a sentient being, an unwholesome or even emotionally painful re-wiring of the parts of the brain responsible for producing empathy. Yet for Sarasti, analyzing in this manner is a mundane experience. An experience based purely on observation. An experience completely void of empathy.

Siri’s encounter with Sarasti’s method for analyzing statistics is an ironic piece of the puzzle that is the narrative of Blindsight. It is ironic in the sense that Sarasti is impartially collecting data just as Siri has done throughout the narrative. Both are essentially emotionless conduits for information, assigned to this mission for humanity’s benefit. Yet, it is the least human of the pair, Sarasti, who initiates the re-energizing of Siri’s long dormant humanity. This fact goes a long way in illustrating just how far from grace humanity has fallen in the year 2082. In the world of Blindsight, the emotionally unconscious undead shepherd the living toward sentience.

Next Page →