GABBLER RECOMMENDS: Hugh Howey’s Like Unto Children

“Terminator, The Matrix, Ex Machina, Robocop, I, Robot, 2001, A Space Odyssey. They all follow the formula of: Man makes machine, machine destroys man. It’s a sci-fi trope. But what if we’re wrong about how we will feel about our creations? I have a feeling it might go much differently. I think mankind will one day go extinct, but that we won’t mind.

Heresy, right? Millions of years of evolution have created an intense drive for self-preservation. The idea that we might willingly be replaced — even replace ourselves — is unthinkable. Except that we do it on a smaller scale every generation. We have children, invest in their upbringing, marvel at all they do and accomplish, all the ways that they are more incredible than we were, and then we move off and leave room for them.

Only because of our infernal mortality, you might say. Well, I don’t think immortality is something we’ve thought through very well. Medical science might provide individual immortality one day, but it will only be immortality against disease and age. Accidents can and will still happen. In this scenario, I see the immortal living lives of pure abject terror, afraid of venturing out. We wager according to what we can afford to lose. I take chances with my remaining 40 years on Earth that I might not take if I had 4,000 or 40,000 years to live. I haven’t seen this conundrum raised before, but the effects will be very real. As our lives are extended, we will hold them more dear, and so live them less fully.

There’s more to consider: Is there truly a difference between making room for progeny and living 400,000 or 4,000,000 years? What about four BILLION years? We can’t call it immortality without thinking about truly large numbers. Imagine a life lived over 4,000 years. Are you really the same person? Every cell in your body will have turned over several times, and memories of anything that happened thousands of years ago will be crowded out by the more recent. Now imagine 40,000 years of this life. 400,000. At some point, the reflex to NOT DIE runs up against the reality of very large numbers. Every day might be a sane decision to carry on, but the idea that this is a unified life is challenged by the ability to remember such a life, or be a consistent actor through it.

It may require us attempting these things to learn the truth of them. Or more likely: We may understand the philosophical insanity of immortality long before we acquire the means. Living healthy lives for a century or two seems doable. Being around for billions or trillions of years is either a hellish torture, or just a series of loosely disjointed lives that only have in common a name and a distant past. Which is what generations of people already accomplish.

I think what will change our calculations is the advent of machines who earn our full empathy. I think they will be like unto children for us. In science fiction, we explore with robots something that happens naturally, and that’s the terrifying and awe-inspiring moment when the next generation becomes more powerful than we ever were. They throw a spear further and with more power than we could. They run and jump higher. They raise their kids more beautifully than we did. They do things with fire, and arrowheads, and pottery, and tapestries that we couldn’t imagine.

I’ve watched parents watch their kids with a mix of confusion, awe, and horror. It’s the way a three-year-old navigates a phone more adroitly than her parent. Or how easily a toddler interfaces with a tablet. It was how my father gave birth to someone who could program his VCR just by fiddling with it. Brute force gives way to intuition, gives way to fluency.



[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]

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On Interstellar: You know who else wanted to explore with the intent of inhabiting new land and using its resources? Conquistadors.

We just saw Christopher Nolan’s new film. It was a good film, though not his greatest. We were never bored. The story itself was good, though our assumptions about the film’s foundations were sadly correct – even more than correct. They spot-on celebrate everything we find wrong with the post-apocalyptic genre. The pro-natalist leanings are the movie’s downfall and are what kept me from really caring what happened to this version of the human race in general.

Interstellar wasn’t just about saving the humans – it was also about starting it over if necessary. Starting us over.

Some of the humans in the film are prepared to go off and leave everyone on earth and just start over with an “ark” of human eggs and sperm. This plot point was somewhat pathetic (on the characters’ part) but necessary to show the multiple levels of human thinking. It asks the question: What is more important, those already living and suffering or the thought of no humans existing at all?

The other issue we had was the main point to the film – of finding another planet to colonize. If we couldn’t take care of the last one then how dare we feel entitled to another one? Not to mention the fact Nolan conveniently didn’t acknowledge other life on those planets (that I can remember) – only if they did or didn’t support human life.

Another bone we have to pick  was on a topic Nolan could have explored more. One of the characters has and loses a child on earth to a sickness the dust storms cause (affecting the lungs). Why the hell would you be having babies when you knew your world was dying? Not only is everyone starving, but they can’t breathe and you think it’s a good idea to bring another oxygen-needing, food-needing human into the world? Huh?

Jessica Chastian’s character asks of her then-in-space dad at one point “Did you leave us here to die?” What it really should have been was, “Why the hell did you bring me into this world, dad?”

But back to the main point. Nolan seems to be very anti-earth in this film, though I don’t know if he meant to be. He likens the struggling farmers trying to feed the population as “caretakers” who are pathetic and without dreams – as if going into space and leaving the human mess behind is the only way to have hope.

Sorry, but no. It is that very escapist outlook that many of the European colonizers had (escape Europe, start over, be in charge of a colony! Never mind the Native Americans who already live here). Leaving earth won’t solve humanity’s problem. It will leave them going from planet to planet like locust, continually throwing things off balance.

I would much rather be a caretaking steward of the earth we do have than have my species blamed for killing off every other species (plant and animal – oh, and not a single animal was seen in the film, by the way. Hm, I WONDER WHY). I would much rather our species be able to fix problems rather than escape them the way Nolan suggests in this film.

Let me give you an example: Instead of leaving a planet that was losing its oxygen, why not have scientists mutate the human body to have them better withstand the nitrogen that was taking over in the film? Why not genetically modify humans to withstand the climate they created? That’s adapting.

Don’t like that one? Well, I have a bunch of hella awesome ideas for the human race in my previous rant.

My point is: There has to be a better way than leaving our mess behind. Leaving is only a temporary solution. We will always have to come back and face our “ghosts” eventually. I don’t want to be a scary ghost. [Spoilers] After all, even in the film, the human race (which now knows more about 5th dimensions and gravity and time and space and is perhaps more evolved (?)) comes “back” to make sure things go right for the human race. Why can’t we just work toward being good ghosts from the beginning? [End Spoilers]

However, I think people will be talking about the topics this film raised for a long time to come. I know we will be.


“Don’t go down so gently…I’m just waiting on you to breathe without permission”

 UPDATE 1/18/16: Someone else agrees with me


[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]

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