8 July 2015
Tech Teams: High and Low
Within the genre of science fiction are the scenarios of high and low techs which both appeal broadly to the genre’s followers but also uniquely to each sub-set of readers. This being said, certain narratives have the ability to include the contradictions of high and low tech scenarios by balancing the unreal with the real and, therefore, appeal to a much broader audience within science fiction. To compare and contrast high and low tech would lead us to scenarios that vary greatly; however, Burning Chrome, The Onion and I, Drapes and Folds and Cyberfiddle have combined the vastly different scenarios of high and low tech, often through the use of metaphor, creating a universal reading experience for the lovers of each sub-genre.
With a significant high tech appeal, William Gibson’s Burning Chrome takes Quine and Jack on a virtual journey to burn Chrome who is laundering dirty money. Taking place in the virtual world, the battle for the money is fought by way of cybernetics where the virtual identities of Jack and Quine can track and chase Chrome without leaving the loft constituting a high tech scenario. Though this narrative is extremely high tech throughout, Gibson uses metaphor to aid the high tech’s digestibility to low tech readers. In her 2013 final exam submission, Adria Weger acknowledged this phenomenon when she stated “while Gibson’s high-tech texts can become difficult to follow, his use of metaphor helps the reader to relate to and accept the bizarre.” Chrome also features the low tech appeals of friendship between Quine and Jack as well as the dynamic relationship between Quine, Jack and Rikki. A man’s unstated feelings for the girlfriend of his friend and roommate give the reader a sense of reality and familiarity giving way to a low tech scenario. Gibson’s use of metaphor throughout the narrative coupled with the inclusion of the messy, intimate relationship between the three characters successfully links high and low techs and therefore ensures the narrative’s appeal to readers of both sub-genres.
Caught between the high tech virtual world seen in Burning Chrome and the contrasting low tech raw, warm soil of the Earth, The Onion and I also brings together these two scenarios for universal appeal in the science fiction genre. Virtual reality seems to be the way the world is moving in this narrative, though father and mother seem to disagree on the importance of the two worlds. Void of personal belongings and systematically tracked by cybernetics, people interact with one another only in high tech virtual settings. Any needs they may have are provided within the virtual setting including personal items scanned into the program lending a sense of finality to the cold disconnect with the real world. To help his son continue to associate himself with the real world, the father uses the onions he used to grow as a metaphor for life and growth as well as human’s dependency on the Earth returning the narrative to a real world feel. Adria Weger made the same connection in her 2013 final submission, stating “Through working with his father exploring the properties of real onions, the boy learns about the virtual world they live in”. By using the low tech characteristics of a living onion, father helps son put the high tech world of virtual reality in perspective and bridges the gap between the two sub-genres of high and low tech for readers as well as the characters.
Centered on familial relationships as in The Onion and I, Drapes and Folds is set in a utopic, yet dystopic, world that affords readers such high tech developments as replacement wheel feet, mail-order robotic babies, brain sweeps and digitalized word ribbons. These technological advances, alongside the outlaw of fabrics, are the government’s attempts at prolonged and easier living through unification and the streamlining of society, though not everyone is buying in. This being said, past the futuristic setting and technological advances lies the heart of the story: family. In her 2013 final submission, Tina Le embodied this observation through her words when she stated “even though this story is high-tech with the half human half robots and inorganic creations, it has a low-tech quality to it.” This statement illustrates the agreement between Tina and me regarding the return to low tech through the kinship of the women in the narrative, especially Pearl’s desire to have Xera call her “Gran”. This desire, or humanness, of the character Pearl, in stark contrast to other high tech robotic characters, is the low tech appeal in Drapes and Folds that open its reading to a broader audience.
Much like Pearl in Drapes and Folds, Pryer in The Logical Legend of Heliopause and Cyberfiddle attempts a return to low tech reality from the high tech virtual world in which he has always existed when venturing out for wood to assemble a violin. It is on this trip to the “outside” that he encounters human kind who chose to resist the high tech virtual world in which Pryer has been living prompting him to question the unreal world of simhelms and virtual chats that he lives in and the importance of the more natural “outside” world of the Stayers. Once unplugged, Pryer discovers the low tech Stayers are not monsters, but rather “humans who do not live in Warren Beatty…they say all humans should live outside” (Goldstein 172). From this we see a division in the population along technological lines; there exists those living in the wireless virtual world and those who choose to reside outside in a more natural setting. Within this particular narrative, the combination of high and low tech has had devastating, apocalyptic consequences. In her 2013 final submission, Sera Perkins highlights the fallout when stating “the organic is overruled by technology” meaning that not only is the violin obsolete because of the technological advances, but the wood that would be used to make one is as well leaving the outside world in dystopic shambles. In this narrative, the low tech aspect of returning to a natural state of reality is appealing to low tech readers and even serves as a metaphor in the discourse of Earth’s destruction via high tech development and again unites the two sub-genres of focus.
The low tech scenario of science fiction writing has a warm feeling of reality that so many can associate with while high tech has a cold disconnection from the real world; however, in teaming these two contrasting scenarios solid literature emerges that captures the best of both sub-genres of science fiction. While there are narratives of strictly high tech or low tech appeal, combining the two creates a dynamic duo and encourages wider reading removing the narrative from sub-genre isolation. Low tech may have the appeal of being the here and now, but high tech is not all that far-fetched and bringing the two together prompts critical thinking and discussion about the possibilities and problems of the future while uniting the readers of science fiction.