Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Ship Who Sang: AT in SF

I wrote about John Scalzi's assisted tech series, Lock In and Head On. It's an interesting series from a disability culture series in many ways, but especially because there's so little sci-fi really focused on assistive tech as a major plot issue. There's lots of assistive tech around sci-fi, but not as a central point. I wrote about an old favorite from when I was a kid:
While many works of science fiction explore the transhumanist potential of separating the mind from the body, I struggle to think of many that engage such premises through the lens of assistive technology. Anne McCaffery, one of the most famous speculative fiction authors of the 20th century, did so in her Ship Who Sang series. In McCaffery's universe, physically disabled babies are euthanized unless their minds are sufficiently exceptional. The brains of those lucky few are implanted into life-supporting shells to become organic computers, and some of them get to become spaceships and roam the universe. Those novels were published in the 1960s. I read them in the 1980s, as a teenager, and thought them marvelous. Today, I shudder. I'm not alone. In an essay titled "The Future Imperfect," Sarah Einstein explains why that universe feels so grim to contemporary readers: "In McCaffrey's world, disability is so depersonalizing that the very promising are rewarded with slavery and disembodiment; those who don't pass the test for these rewards are put to death." The problem is that McCaffery—like me as a teenage reader—didn't really understand that The Ship Who Sang isn't a tale of liberation; it's a horror story.
Got any others? The VISOR in Star Trek: The Next Generation had its plot moments (and was inconsistently written). Others?

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