350:379 Computers and Literature

3-5 Page Paper, Due Tuesday, Dec 2, 2003

It may be said that good science fiction always contains a an element of critical commentary on contemporary religion, politics, society, or culture. Thus the fiction of an imagined past, present, or future is understood to be an allegory or fable of current conditions barely concealing the author's message. In the early nineteenth century it was common for such serious issues to be addressed openly in a preface or introduction, and Frankenstein has both, one by Mary Shelley and another by Percy Shelley. But by the end of the 20th century, after a century of realism and naturalism, it was no longer the practice for authors to attach explanations to works of serious science fiction, perhaps assuming that substantial literary works spoke for themselves. In the process, of course, authors now run the risk of being misunderstood as writing pointless allegory or satire which becomes pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo.

Neither William Gibson in Neuromancer nor Neal Stephenson Snow Crash provided a preface, introduction, or official internal explanation of their intentions. Yet both works are full of passing comments which suggest the author's opinions or attitudes, his thoughts or feelings. To be sure, both books are full of descriptions of computer technology, online culture, artificial intelligence, corporate competition, and new biotechnology, and,.at the same time, are pointedly lacking in depictions of traditional governments, social agencies, humanistic institutions, family, and even personal relationships.

Do you see in these works a connection between the rise of these untraditional technologies and the decline of traditional cultures? Where do both authors comment about these developments? Exactly how do you read these works as allegories of the impact of future technologies on future culture, society, and personality? On the other hand, to what extent are Neuromancer and/or Snow Crash such failures of imagination, muscle-bound by their own images of technology, that no meaning emerges? Be sure to support your argument or point of view with specific evidence from the texts. Use actual very short quotations (a few words or phrases at most) to support your argument. Provide source citations inside parentheses -- pages for Neuromancer and pages plus chapter numbers for Snow Crash. Some hints follow.

1) Don't just summarize plots, biographies, critical commentaries, or class discussions.

2) Start immediately and get specific. Avoid vague introductions and general background.

3) Be sure to show the depth and quality of your reading.

4) Be sure to show the freshness and originality of your understanding of that reading.

5) Carefully revise your paper to sharpen your case, reduce repetition, eliminate matters of common knowledge, and correct errors of sentence, structure, grammar, and punctuation.

6) Rely on your own reading -- not on reviews, commentaries, and internet downloads.

7) Avoid excessive claims and generalizations not supported by your evidence.

8) Don't make general or universals claim which pretend that you have read more than you actually have.

9) First review your evidence and then decide on the viewpoint you can develop.