On “Divided by Infinity,” and on where are the kids in SF?

Here are some excellent questions from Katerina, first about “Divided by Infinity,” which explores an old favourite of SF–the double-edged sword of immortality, first explored in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. The second part goes back to some of our earlier readings, but offers a great synopsis of larger issues in SF.

Katerina: “Is anyone truly important in a universe like the one described in “Divided By Infinity”? The arguments made in “You Will Never Die” would imply that anyone – and everyone – could be the being awoken by these futuristic aliens. Therefore, can any achievement or individual be considered valuable in such a universe? Is ANYTHING valuable in such a universe? Or does that mean that EVERYTHING/EVERYONE is significant?

Is the immortality depicted in “Divided By Infinity” really immortality? Numerous times throughout the story, Bill states that “it’s not me” about alternate versions of himself. So is the immortality described in “You Will Never Die” really immortality at all? Wouldn’t it require him being conscious of the transfer to truly be the “me” he’s describing continuing on, which does not seem to be what the story is describing?

Is immortality an improvement? We see Bill awaken 10,000 years in the future to a life with no other humans or beings that interact with him, and his best bet is to be eaten alive. He is clearly lonely and seems less happy than he would have been dead. And frankly, it seems that this would be the fate of any individual who lived infinitely long. Was Deirdre right when she said the theories in “You Will Never Die” are a horror show? Could the book be arguing against the value of the afterlife, the soul, or even God? It seems to be, as Bill is “punished” in his immortality and left alone in this ever stranger and stranger world.

What is the meaning behind science fiction characters not having children? I only realized this for the first time while reading “Divided By Infinity”. Bill and Deirdre are said to not have children, Lenny explicitly says he never had children, Mary/Selena in Galapagos never have children, and the entire society featured in Brave New World does not reproduce. It seems that the characters who affect the most change in their stories are child-free. I tried to do a simple Google search to find any relevant articles, but all I found was a transcript of a panel discussion between science fiction authors (http://www.lysator.liu.se/lsff/mb-nr19/Children_in_Science_Fiction.htm) discussing the subject. How would it affect the story to include the protagonists having children? What is the significance of children characters? 

What is the significance of literature in science fiction? Bill is stated to have an interest in reading/learning, and characters across most works we read this semester are similar in this regard (John the Savage, Lenny, Victor/Henry, Mary Hepburn, etc). Are writers simply writing about what they know? Is science fiction meant to be more “intelligent” and complex and therefore, the characters have to be intelligent? Is there a deeper meaning?

What is the significance of suicide in science fiction? Many characters across the works we have studied this semester commit or desire to commit suicide. Bill attempts several times, and Selena/Hisako and John the Savage all commit suicide over the course of their stories. The Monster at the end of Frankenstein even implies that he will. Suicide seems to relate to characters whose lives or societies have drastically changed. Is suicide thus meant to demonstrate how badly people adapt to new situations/societies? Is it meant to show how vulnerable and unexceptional humans are, compared to other more adaptable species? Or does it suggest that we bear greater burdens because we are such an exceptional species?​
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to On “Divided by Infinity,” and on where are the kids in SF?

  1. Terry says:

    Hi Katerina, these are interesting points. I’ll respond to the one about children in science fiction.

    In literature, as in life, when someone has children they become the centre of your life and then you don’t have time to have science fiction adventures. So I guess leaving kids out of science fiction stories allows the main characters to be able to go off and have those adventures.

    There are however many science fiction stories with characters who do have kids, here are a few of the top of my head: Isaac Asimov’s detective Elijah Bailey has kids, Robert Heinlein’s juveniles are all about kids with parents (Time for the Stars is a great one that is particularly about twins).

    A lot of the time when a science fiction story has kids in it, they become the whole point of the story like in:

    Darwin’s Radio, by Greg Bear has kids who are the next stage in evolution.
    Childhood’s End, children are the next stage of evolution.
    Midwich Cuckoos, pregnancies in a village by xenogenesis,
    and Ender’s Game.

    You’re right though, unlike realism the point is rarely primarily about domestic relationships between parents and kids, although it’s not completely unheard of. I think that’s part of the reason why I like the genre. It gets past the everyday events of our lives, or at least adds an element of the epic to to them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s