Term Paper: Masculinism in Science Fiction

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[. . .] First World culture as depicted in the novel is thoroughly corrupt and decadent, since 'jacking' technology allows people to live out the experiences of others, which often involve violent death, rape, orgies, warfare and car crashes. There are many stores that sell these experiences, which are called "feelies" for the benefit of those who can longer feel any emotions except through 'jacking' (Haldeman 56). Thanks to nanotechnology that allows the First World to produce any item on demand, its citizens no longer have to work unless they choose to earn extra money, while the Universal Welfare State provides for all their basic needs. If they earn extra money, they can buy drugs or male and female prostitutes, although "most people spent money on rational things -- things the government allowed you to have, but didn't allow you enough of" (Haldeman 55). Julian has a low opinion of this society and believes that "things are getting worse. I hate to sound like my old man. But things really were better when I was a boy." (Haldeman 55). None of the Second and Third World nations have access to this advanced nanotechnology even though the imperialist states are using up their raw materials for their own benefit, which is why they fight guerilla wars and launch terrorist operations against the First World, such as blowing up Atlanta with a nuclear device.

All the advanced 'jacking' technology that provides First World residents with their vicarious thrills and virtual realities is also used by the military against its enemies in the underdeveloped world. Indeed, Forever Peace spends a great deal of time on military technology and operations, described from a very masculine-militaristic viewpoint. Julian Class is only a part-time soldier, however, who fights the Ngumi War in Latin America ten days a month then spends the rest of his time as a university researcher on the Jupiter Project. Only later do he and Amelia come to realize that the supercollider being constructed around Jupiter will create another Big Bang and destroy the universe, which is a welcome prospect to a group of fundamentalists called the Enders. Julian is a draftee, as Haldeman was in Vietnam, and all of his novels feature male characters forced into wars against their wills. He also has the luxury of being a part-timer because the wars are also fought long-distance, using drones and robots. First World soldiers are all 'jacked' into the computers in underground bases so they never even come into direct contact with the enemies they are destroying, which is not very different from the type of drone attacks being used in Afghanistan and Pakistan today. They are not 100% secure since the enemy sometimes 'jacks' into them or the technology damages their brains. In fact, the "death and disability rate is higher than the regular infantry. It's not bullets that got us, though; it's our own brains and veins" (Haldeman 4). All of them describe themselves as 'mechanics', though, rather than soldiers since they simply sit in pods and operate the machinery through brain interfaces.

Haldeman opens the story with one of these military operations against targets in Costa Rica that are destroyed very graphically by the 'soldierboy' robots. In this type of remote-controlled killing that is also reminiscent of the Terminator movies, the machine "grasped the man's neck from behind and pulled his head off like an old blossom" (Haldeman 2). His ten-member platoon is not even one of the hunter/killer units but runs only Harassment and Interdiction missions. One of his colleagues named Scoville, who commands one of the killer platoons, congratulates him on these deaths and comments there are now "six fewer pedros in the world" (Haldeman 5). Like most First World people, Scoville is numb to death and violence and regards the Third World masses in purely racist terms. Although Julian is jacked into the other nine members of his platoon, which include men and women, who has learned to avoid any close personal or intimate relationships with them since his lover Carolyn died three years before, and also observes that "we could never bridge the gap between being combat-jacked and being civilians" (Haldeman 12).

As with many male-oriented science fiction stories, Julian believes that the world can be redeemed through technology, if only it can be widely shared. Not only to he and Amelia have to prevent the Jupiter Project from being completed, but they also intend to use 'jacking' to bring about world peace. In this they work with a group of reformed murders called the Twenty who intend to use the machines to end all war, racism and violence on earth, after which time the nanotechnology and replicators will be shared with everyone. As Julian comments, with the right type of 'jacking' "you couldn't think black people were inferior in you lived inside black skin, ten days a month" (Haldeman 71). In the end, they are successful in stopping the Jupiter Project and blocking the plans of the Enders, and with making the nanotechnology universally available. Julian opposes his own government and regards First World society as rotten, yet he nevertheless imagines that if this advanced technology is used in the right way then the earth will be saved. He has no sympathies with the radicals and revolutionaries in the Third World, however, and even regards them as irrational, so his solution for the problems of the planet is basically an elitist and technocratic one.

For a novel written so long ago, LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness was indeed an interesting departure from the normal type of science fiction themes, plots and characters, which are heavily masculine. It stands out as quite distinctive and unusual in this respect, even compared to novels written decades later like Forever Peace. Unlike masculine narrative that offer redemption through victory in war or more advanced technology, LeGuin's character Genly Ai is redeemed by learning to understand a very different culture on a planet that seems very 'backward' and underdeveloped compared to earth. In particularly, he is redeemed by his friendship with Estraven, particularly when he witnesses his (her) transformation into a woman. Only then is he truly able to comprehend this culture and successfully complete his mission. This entire subject would have been quite beyond the pale for Julian Class, the male hero of Forever Peace, and simply not part of his mental and emotional universe.

WORKS CITED

Haldeman, Joe.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Masculinism in Science Fiction.  (2011, November 16).  Retrieved April 24, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/masculinism-science-fiction/3940055

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"Masculinism in Science Fiction."  Essaytown.com.  November 16, 2011.  Accessed April 24, 2019.
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