These are the notes from my inaugural Google+ outing as part of a book chat with fellow English major college alums concerning Ryan Boudinot’s Blueprints of the Afterlife.
What I miss the most about undergrad is the ability of group discussions with other ultra-nerdy people, not really to hear their ideas, but because somehow, in the most egotistical of ways, they make me realize new things and think new ideas that I immediately latch onto as being absolute genius and probably directly Heaven-sent. I end up tripping over my words and cutting other people off with “Yeah, me too! I kind of thought that. But also I thought this way cooler thing and now it is the only thing I can think of and you should too!” (Oh man, and now I am cracking myself up with my self-deprecating humor on how much of an egomaniac I am. THIS IS SO META.)
But in all seriousness, that is not easy to do when you write a solitary blog post about what you read, which is why so many of my posts read something along the lines of “I read this! This is what happened! It was pretty cool, I guess! Now I am going to read something else!”
Our discussion of Blueprints of the Afterlife took literally 2 hours, with only minor awkward pause incidents. I think our end conclusions can best be summed up by one girl’s comment: “On Goodreads, there are all these comments saying, ‘If you read it again, it makes more sense.’” Cheers!
(I am not going to be hide these comments behind a cut, since I don’t think they really count as spoilers. If you haven’t read the book, this will really make no sense, but also even if you have, it still probably won’t. Such is the nature of the beast.)
What I took most from our BotA discussion was Boudinot’s relentless commitment to blurring the lines between natural and artificial, in almost every sense of those words. Two examples:
- In the BotA future, technology has reached a stage where everyone has chips planted in their brain that connect to the Bionet. A lot of the time, this is good: You can download antibodies when you’re sick, or alert someone of your location if you’re lost or incapacitated. However, there are also people called DJs, who can hack into your Bionet chip and essentially control you. (There are a few instances in the plot of DJ clubs, which are kind of like a massive drug trip where you just give yourself over to someone else’s control.) Sometimes the immediate outcome of this DJ-hack (called an embodiment)—a good DJ can take a relative loser and, by controlling his speeches and actions, get him a promotion. A girlfriend. A more successful life. The problem is, though, that this technology is still controlled by humans, who are flawed. A DJ can accidentally die, or be arrested, or simply lose interest, and the embodiment is stuck in the same path forever. With no new code being written but also nothing to disconnect their Bionet from the DJ, they perform the same actions over and over, unable to exert any free will.
- The book also talks about a machine of deconstruction, one that with a simple push of a button will take itself apart until no functional piece remains. In another instance, a newman (human-like robot), overcome with grief, begins picking at herself, pulling off bits of machinery, until there is nothing left of her but a pile of useless mechanics.
What we discussed is that currently, there is a definite social distinction between life and technology. Parents still tell their kids to get off the computer and stop watching television, and go run around outside instead. There is still a stigma attached to meeting someone online, because it isn’t “real.” Boudinot pushes the limits of this distinction in a similar way to what Amber Case, a cyborg anthropologist, described when she spoke at my work and also on her TED talk. (Did you like how I really subtley referred to the coolest thing ever to happen at my job? I did.) Increasingly, we are moving toward a lack of separation between those entities. In BotA, we have arrived at virtually no separation. As one character puts it (I just spent 10 minutes searching for the passage and cannot find it for the life of me), technology is still a part of nature since it is created by humans. I remember learning in a (non-majors) science class that artificial flavoring is made up of the same chemical compounds as the “real” flavor—the only difference is that one is man-made. In the two examples I cited, Boudinot emphasizes that 1) depending on technology is no different than depending on a naturally-flawed human, and 2) human-built technology still reflects very human emotions and needs. Very interesting!
I had a lot more to say about our discussion, but I just spent so long re-delving into that point that I can’t remember any other ones. I will leave you with this: At the end of our discussion, we touched briefly on the humor in the book. I, for one, laughed outloud five pages in, when a character named Woo-jin has just come across an abandoned body lying in a field.
Woo-jin stumbled west toward the frontage road feeling—what’s the best word—probably bad.
P.S. If you are tired of my ramblings and want to read a really good review of what we actually talked about, my good friend has graciously provided one here.