Connecting with High Tech and Low Tech Fiction
With my midterm I wrote about the differences between high and low tech and why these two styles are both held under the science fiction umbrella and how they both deal heavily with change. By recognizing that change is a large part of what science fiction is trying to convey, I feel that I am better able to connect with some of the literature that at first simply confused me, namely high tech fiction. One thing I have noticed specifically about high tech literature, is that when high tech work focuses more on emotions or ideas and less on the technology I am better able to get past moments of high tech lingo overload. The low tech fiction I connected best with also focused on characters and their actions to display ideas rather than just talk about ideas the way that “Chocco” did.
Within any genre there will be authors who are very good at connecting with their audience and those authors who the average reader will have trouble with. In my experience most authors fit either one or the other category only, but William Gibson has defied this idea of mine because some of his works were relatable while others were completely alien to me. Sera Perkins in her 2013 final exam wrote about Gibson’s use of metaphor and how it made his works like “Burning Chrome” more relatable. While I agree that Gibson’s use of metaphor can be very helpful in regards to clarifying some of the high tech elements in works like “Hinterlands”, his comparison of the futuristic space travel with airports and other forms of today’s travel for example, but metaphors can only get Gibson so far.
“Readers evaluate, compare, and relate to the characters in stories. When more than one person connects to a story, then discussion happens. That makes them even better for using in a classroom” (Rachel Jungklaus, final exam essay 2013). Rachel Jungklaus wrote in her final exam about the importance of connecting with what you are reading, and when it comes to Gibson and his works, I found “Hinterlands” to be the easiest to understand. This could be because I have at least some idea of what space travel could look like and am thus familiar enough with the basic concept that I can focus on something other than the technology. Gibson’s story of “Johnny Mnemonic” was harder to follow, but Gibson often compares the high tech world that Johnny is living in to more relatable ideas such as Johnny’s gun which is less high tech than the world around him. No amount of metaphors would have been able to get me through Gibson’s “Burning Chrome” without confusion. This particular story showcased how much prior knowledge you can need to connect with science fiction, and as someone with little to no experience with computer hacking or programing I was left behind.
This is not to say that Gibson had the absolutely most confusing work of the semester however, as I was left completely confused by Goldstein’s “Cyberfiddle” which was not always very clear for those of us less technology inclined. In comparison Ferber’s “Drapes and Folds” which focused more on relationships, in particular the relationship of Pearl and Xera, the overall story and idea was not difficult to comprehend while still holding true to the high tech style. “Drapes and Folds” is a perfect example of how high tech literature can still be made assessable by shifting the focus from the high tech and emphasizing the real relationships of those characters within the story. Gibson’s “Hinterlands” does this to some degree by focusing on the Toby and his feelings about Leni Hofmannstahl’s death and his relationship with Charmian, along with his desire to make contact despite the risks and his previous failure to be chosen rather than simply focusing on all of the technology within the ships.
Low tech works can have an advantage over high tech works when it comes to their relatability. You don’t need to know anything about space or higher mathematics and you don’t need specialized computer training/experience to connect in some way to most low tech works the way that high tech works can require. Low tech works also tend to focus more on relationships and are less likely to have the cold feeling that is sometimes associated with high tech literature. When it comes to low tech science fiction Octavia Butler really stands out. Octavia Butler was by far the most well-received author we read this semester and I believe it has to do with her ability to create real emotions for those who read her works. She also has a great way of writing her characters into situations that make you rethink your entire world without you noticing that she is trying to make you think. “Speech Sounds” is a great example of how low tech works fit into literature of the future as literature about ideas and once again Butler shows how good she is at writing relatable characters. Butler is not just a great writer because she makes you think, she is great because she does not target any particular part of the community when writing. While her works are most likely to be read by women, what I enjoy most about her works, both that we read in class and what I have read of her before, is that women of all race, age and education can find something that they can connect within her works. “Speech Sounds” in particular is Butler at her best because as we discussed in class, until at least half way through the short story, everyone had different ideas on what Rye looked like and how old she was making Rye more universally appealing to both reluctant and avid readers. Butler also does not sacrifice the quality of her story telling by not focusing on such details, the same way that the most relatable high tech works don’t have to sacrifice their futuristic elements to remain readable for those less educated in regards to technology.
In her 2013 final exam Adria Weger wrote about the narrator of “House of Bones” and how the “gap between the low-tech and high-tech separates the narrator from the people of this time.” (Adria Weger, final exam essay 2013). While the narrator eventually is able to connect with the ancient people he now lives with, he struggles even when fully amerced within their culture and requires an epiphany, that they are not savage or monstrous killers of those who are different (the Neanderthals). This concept of being separated by technology and their understanding of technology can also be seen as an example of how writers of high tech literature and those uninitiated into the high tech culture are separated.
While not as extreme as hunter gatherers compared to modern man, some high tech fiction for those unused to the ideas high tech stories focus on, can leave the reader as lost as the tribe would have felt if the narrator had tried to explain modern technology. That’s why high tech writers that can be enjoyed by their low tech readers tend to have elements of humor or human emotions which can make an otherwise alien world more comprehensive and less intimidating the way that low tech fiction tends to be naturally. This is important within the literature of the future genre, because it is only when someone can connect with what they are reading that they can truly learn and build on ideas. Within a genre that relies so heavily on ideas, comprehension and feeling confident that you can understand at least the majority of the story are necessary to create discussion which is part of why literature of ideas exists in the first place.