Re: The hazards of writing fiction about post-humans

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Tue May 03 2005 - 13:56:31 MDT

At 01:24 PM 5/3/2005 -0500, I wrote:

>>Rationality is not about emotionlessness, and neither is intelligence
>Indeed; I've made the same point many times. I think the reviewers'
>problem is not with a lack of portrayed emotion, because as far as I can
>see the characters are frequently emotional.

I hope this is not too off topic. But I'll offer a couple of quotes from
the novel that seemed to me to refute the SF Weekly reviewer's suggestion.
Here's one:


Two men in some sort of emergency garb seized an obese woman dressed like a
gaudy bird, helped her to an ambulance. Lune ran to them.
           "Do you need help?"
           "You a trained nurse?" one of them shouted back. The uproar, she
understood, was enormous, and against the racket of sirens and voices her
own voice was nearly lost.
           "No, but--'
           "You need to get clear of the area if you're not medical or part
of a firefighting crew." You don't have to yell at me, Lune found herself
thinking, angry. A woman limped away from the buildings, in obvious pain.
           "Let me give you a hand." Lune offered her arm, and the woman
leaned heavily against her shoulder. Her shoes were missing, her brown feet
blackened, the geometric designs of her short sleeved huipil stained. A
pretty receptionist, perhaps, made ugly by soot and the morning's mad cruelty.
           "I need to find a phone," the woman was saying. "I have to call
and let my husband know I'm okay."
           "We'll find you a phone. That store up ahead, they'll let you
use their phone." The manager, wringing his hands, stern face grey under
its paint, let the woman sit down but said the phone service was knocked
out. Lune went back outside, started again for the ziggurat. At the curb,
about to cross, she heard a roaring overhead. A fourth ballistic? She
readied herself to open a threshold, peering up at the sky. The hot sun was
high overhead. No. One entire side of the structure closest to her was
peeling inward; shattering like a dream. She turned and ran as fast as she
could, for a block, stopped and looked back. A mound of rubble and foul
dusty smoke. The great pyramid had simply--disappeared.
           Once, great woodlands filled with beasts and birds and a few
humans covered this place, or places like it, she thought; in many worlds
they still do so. Pristine creeks and sheltering forests. Cultures capable
of living in unity with the natural order, whatever that was, whatever its
source, however perverse its roots. White noise singing in her ears.
Someone dragged her, with a jolt, under an awning. Dust and debris poured
down. Coughing, she pulled her huipil blouse up over her mouth and nose to
keep out the dust and smoke. This is what the deformist K-machines are
doing, she told herself, crouched against the relative safety of the wall
at her back. Someone or some thing deliberately flew semi-ballistics into
that human-crowded building, struck them in just the right way to bring
them down, and in the great cascade of shockwaves that would flow outward
from this moment perhaps bring down the whole industrial civilization of a
world, a sheaf of worlds. And they did it for the hot joy of the deed, the
emotional excitement. It was a key part of the method of the Players and
their adversaries, she knew that, and the knowledge was sourness in her
mouth. Pick just the right fulcrum, the most vulnerable entry point for
your chisel, and the damage you do will spread like fire. Growing,
harvesting, building is hard work, sometimes bitterly effortful, but
ruination is easy. You can make it all disappear. One person with the exact
lever can destroy a reality.
           Stumbling, amid the sirens and the sobs, Lune returned to the
cafe. Soiled plates and half-empty glasses remained on the tables. Her
Ensemble had left. Drawing a wrenching breath, she opened a Schwelle and
followed them.


Here's a quite different sort:

I stepped into a place of scintillating light. Two men stood loosely
wrapped in bedsheets, gazing out with blinded rapture through an immense
blister window at the grandeur of the new-born Angels at sport.
           "Decius," I called, voice breaking with emotion.
           One man turned his head slowly, like a man in a dream. My brother.
           "Aren't they lovely?" he said.
           We looked for a timeless time on the Omega godthings, shaken by
their music and their dance. Somehow I held to some thread of my grief and
           "Decius, can you speak to them?"
           "May I, that's the question." His tone was low-pitched and slow,
clotted with a kind of worshipful dread. "I can call spirits from the vasty
deep, but will they come when I do call for them?"
           He was drunk, I saw. And from no grape.
           "Decius, take command of yourself, sir. Our parents are dead."
           "Ah, so you are the lost brother, eh? No matter. They died long
ago, boy. Doomsday comes to us all, soon enough, consult with brother Jules
if you doubt it. In this place, if the Angels wish it, they shall live again."
           I took him angrily by the arm. His companion turned his head,
looked at my passionate face with mild rebuke, swung back again to
contemplation of the light-shot plenum.
           "They were not dead. Dramen and Angelica withdrew into
concealment. Now they are dead in truth, and our brothers Marchmain and
Toby with them." My voice broke. "And one other."
           "Ah, these are so beautiful! I have no parents. Hush, now."
           "I am the child of their retreat. I love them, and I love Lune
the more, you god-smitten imbecile," I raged, weeping, "and you will
recover them for me!"
           I drew back my arm and slapped his face, hard. Beyond the
blister, aeons were passing, worlds beyond worlds beyond worlds built in
calculated simulation and recollection, histories re-run and devised from
whole cloth. Somehow I knew all this, took instruction from the fringes of
omniscient shadow that crossed Yggdrasil Station like currents in a great
ocean tide at the shoreline of some insignificant atoll. Here, in this
place, this closed space and time, the majesty and brutality of all the
Tegmark levels was being rehearsed in infinite miniature, like half the sky
captured perfectly in a single red droplet of wine at the bottom of a
drained glass. I could have her here, in simulation, if I sought entry from
the Angels. That was not what I desired. Let her live!
           "Get her back for me," I told Decius and his companion,
compelling them with my ardor, my steel-edged insistence. The Vorpal force
in me blazed even in this radiant, numinous place. "It is not too much to ask."
           "Very well," the man said, and closed his eyes.
           An Omega Angel entered the blister.


Of course this is not the emotionality of a Jane Austen or even a Don De
Lillo novel, but I find it extraordinary to see such characters dismissed
as "soulless automatons without a shred of humanity". But maybe that's
exactly the hazard of such writing; that without the comforting orientation
grid references to our daily lives (although dog knows the first extract is
fairly blatant in providing one, by analogy), many readers are lost. Since
I'm not especially eager to lose readers, I need to take all this under

Damien Broderick

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