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?
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