Contents Index

The Frankenstein Barrier

George Slusser

In Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative, ed. George Slusser and Tom Shippey (Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1992)

{46} I begin this essay by discussing not the future of fiction but how fiction depicts the future: how it literally gives us what H. G. Wells called "the shape of things to come." The depiction of future things is normally considered the role of the science fiction "thought experiment." Through this analogy with the experimental method of science, SF is said to engage the future with a process that is epistemological in nature. And hopefully, as with science again, through creating future worlds science fiction can move from knowledge to being to affirmation of the existence of things. Like science, SF can make ontological claims, at least in the hypothetical sense whereby a descriptive term, once the presence of the descriptee has been verified, is considered by consensus to exist. But all this is program. What of the reality? How compatible are traditional descriptive processes of fiction with this desire to create new, hence future, things? The compound science fiction is charged with tension. For here science's epistemological future, its sense of potential or hypothetical existence, must cohabit with the fictional sense of a present time in which ontology is reinforced by morality and law impedes change. How deadlocked are these terms? At the very least, hovering over a science fiction is the Faustian dictum that there are things mankind was not meant to know. Is the future one of these?

I do not begin with Faust, however, but with Frankenstein, because for my purposes Mary Shelley's work is indeed the first SF novel, by which I mean simply that it seems to be the first work in which the processes of traditional fiction and modern science meet in any meaningful fashion. For if science is now able to offer a real sense of things to come, literature must find a means of presenting them to us. Victor Frankenstein touches on the problem with these words: "They [Paracelsus and Cornelius Agrippa] had left to us, as an easier task, to give new names and arrange in collected classifications the facts which they in a great degree had been the instruments of bringing to light."1 As Victor presents it, these past scientists were not only ahead of their times but ahead of his as well. Science's past is still his future, and his age is only {47} now giving names to these discoveries, seeking to integrate them into existing human systems. This naming and integrating is, ideally, the role of fiction. But probably because he sees such "fiction" lagging so far behind science's future, Victor qualifies it as the "easier task," and thus the lesser.

In his formulations Victor constantly associates science with the future, and what we call the humanistic disciplines (and by extension their representation in traditional fiction) with the present. In doing so he sets these two realms at odds with each other: "In other studies you go as far as others have gone before you, and there is nothing more to know; but in a scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder" (36-37). These "other studies" are what we call the humanities -- relationships bound by the span of the individual human existence. And what is explicit here, and quite significant, is Victor's sense that the present, as wholly existential entity, blocks the future because it negates new knowledge: there is nothing more to know. On the level of family and friendship and love, each knower can do no more than repeat what all before him have known, and all after him will know. Implied here, in Victor's opposition of epistemology to ontology, is an inverse relation between the two. And this is not a relation between future and past but between future and present. The more Victor pushes for continuous discovery, the more things in the present resist being pushed, the more they push their mute claim simply to be there.

For Victor the path to the future is necessarily through things; in his case, through the thing he creates. Victor's own word for these future-oriented things is facts from facio, "to do," or more significantly, "to make." His building blocks may be detached human parts, but Victor puts them together in such a way as to make a thing with a future, a "thing to come" in the sense that the creature is an extension of the human form, and hence represents a possible future evolving out of human elements. Indeed, Victor's making has given his creature a will to the future. The real crossroads in the novel is the moment the creature asks Victor to give it its own future: in this case a bride, the means of generating a race that, in its subsequent development, could possibly move beyond human control. In a very short time the creature has shown prodigious physical and mental powers. What sort of future might a race of such creatures bring?

This question should be asked by all extrapolative SF. But Mary Shelley, in this novel that Brian Aldiss places at the beginning of the {48} genre, will not follow up on the asking. Seen neutrally as a scientific experiment, the creature is merely a thing derived from the human form and (if we can abstract ourselves from its ghoulish origin) perhaps an improvement on that form. But Mary Shelley will not let us abstract ourselves. We must hold the creature up to comparison in the mirror of human form. The being that observes the De Laceys, finally throwing itself compassionately at the feet of the blind father, has in a sense transcended its form -- until, confronted with its own "monstrosity" in the eyes of Felix and Agatha, it is drawn back to become a thing of flesh. It is not ordinary flesh, though, but now something seen as grotesquely flesh-like, a thing "solitary and abhorred." The creature of the future is now present as object of horror in the eyes of a humanity that cannot accept its futurity. And Victor, who has the power to sustain future possibility by releasing the creature from this solitude, will not create the bride. By this negative act, another holding up of the human mirror, he turns the creature grotesquely back upon his own, Victor's, future bride: "I will be with you on your wedding night." Victor's refusal causes SF to turn into horror by forcing the future back on itself so that it is now the future itself that blocks the future, in the form of a thing destructively present at each of Victor's junctures of futurity -- family, friendship, marriage. As a result of his decision, the scientist is forced to retreat from his expanded search for knowledge, and his life implodes in a series of doublings that plunge him into a literal abyss. Walton, whose scientific expedition is not seeking new worlds but the Hyperborean Eden, meets Frankenstein, whose existence appears to him equally inverted, "noble and godlike in ruin" [Walton 2] and both are drawn into primal white wastes, into the "thingness" of an undifferentiated present, in search of a nameless creature. The original "revenge" of this monster is the revenge of things against the creator of things, of the present against the future.

To place Frankenstein at the beginning of the SF genre is to erect what I call the Frankenstein barrier. If SF is distinguished from other literary forms by the fact that science is given a free hand there to construct things to come, then Victor is the first SF protagonist. And he actually makes, for the first time in a literary work, a true thing of future possibility. But that future thing, perhaps because it is a thing of fiction as well, seems destined to collapse back on itself. Things like "brides" are the traditional stuff of literature, and as such they exist in the measure of a constant human mirror, the one held up to Victor's creature to make it retreat from the future to the white wastes of some blank and mute {49} present. Mary Shelley's novel opens SF's epistemological futures only to subject them to a particularly stringent law of inverse proportionality. But must this work be the one that forever defines the relationship between fiction and science in the SF compound?

Certainly the Frankenstein barrier embodies a general conflict that has remained deep-rooted in our culture since Mary Shelley's time. This is the conflict between utilitarian technology and all those who, like the Parnassians and art-for-art's-sake advocates, say that things are not to be used, even if we make them with the intent of bringing about future change. Such opponents of things to come are cultists of ruins. They are fond of demonstrating, by the mute presence of things that have outlived their function, that all created things eventually outlast the use ascribed to them by their creators. The argument is that what outlives the past can also defeat the future. An ancient coin found in some ruins not only survives the empire it helped build but mocks all future attempts to build such empires. This is the assumption that underlies Fellini's Satyricon, a film he pointedly, and perversely, calls SF. Fellini's images literally defeat the future by demonstrating how much greater than any of our future imaginings is the estranging power of past things, in this case the Roman artifacts he simply manifests, without commentary, in our viewing present. They are shown to us in their raw thingness, stripped of the systems of meaning and value that once governed their use.

Fellini seeks to defeat technology by showing us the dead things of technology -- in this case artifacts and machines of a distant past. But if Victor's creature is a machine, it is one made of organic parts. And in its desire for a bride it is further striving to effect a functional synthesis of the mechanical and organic, to animate its thingness and direct it toward a vital future. The cultural reaction to such scientific uses of the past artifact is, as we see in Fellini, a strong desire to erect a barrier, to create an antinomial relationship between terms like machine and organism. But this is not all. In relation to these particular terms a curious inversion occurs, in which it is now the thingness of the organic object itself that rises up to block the attempts of technology to make things in general. We see this in the fact that, in Fellini's film, it is the human users who ultimately become more obdurate and inscrutable than the things they manipulate.

This inversion is also evident in another film that calls itself SF -- Tarkovsky's Solaris. In this film, curiously, we never see the sentient alien planet that is humankind's future. And humankind's future arti- {50} fact -- the spaceship -- is never more than a hollow space that gradually fills with memories from our Earth past. These are memories of organic things, things increasingly inscrutable, increasingly presented as things-in-themselves. They are memories of a past rendered eerily present as Kelvin's scientific quest -- his machines and gadgets -- is progressively absorbed by some deep and inexplicable family drama. The device by which he communicates with the alien planet first takes the form of his dead wife. But what at first is merely simulacrum becomes living flesh when we discover, in a family photo, its likeness to Kelvin's mother. In the final scene of the film Kelvin's resolve to stay on Solaris and confront his future is made to coexist, inexplicably, with a return to his childhood home on Earth, where he makes mute contact with a series of things -- a horse, trees, a house, his father. But this contact takes place in a world both visually present and uncannily inverted, where rain now falls on the inside, not the outside, of the house.

We have the same pattern in another Tarkovsky "SF" film, Stalker. The film is ostensibly based on the Strugatsky brothers' novel Roadside Picnic, in which human beings encounter the "zone," an area strewn with artifacts from an apparently alien culture. And if these artifacts indeed come from a culture more advanced than our own, then they represent our future as well. In the film, however, the protagonist's entry into the zone is a prolonged anticipation, and the future is never more than the possibility that he may encounter such an artifact. He waits in familiar fields among quite recognizable derelict war machines. And into this area, inexplicably, wanders a black dog which becomes something far more alien than any imagined "future" artifact. Whatever its origin, this dog, as it increasingly occupies our attention, becomes something ineffable, its organic hereness in this context of a failed technological future brings an aura of the uncanny, of the horrific even. It is as if, by seeking the future, Tarkovsky's protagonist has summoned, in equal and opposite fashion, an organic past which, to the degree it inhabits and subsumes the possibility of a future artifact, has become something terrifyingly inscrutable.

Pure "thingness," it would seem, belongs only to Eden, to the original ontological place. For only here is each thing entire unto itself, having no past or future, only presence. Mankind's original sin, associated with science, has been to introduce change, to create a sense of the future.

What is at stake with Victor Frankenstein, however, is not this original {51} sin but a second-degree sin -- the sin against the second chance modern science offers humanity by remaking its fallen body and directing it toward further things to come. Victor opens the way to the future only to betray that openness. This is the thrust of Walton's Hyperborean quest. For why, instead of accepting the inhospitable nature of the factual world, does he turn back toward the myth of the warm place at the heart of these frozen wastes? By trying to find the past in the future, Walton runs smack into an obdurate present -- cold desolation made inscrutable thing. By turning back at this juncture, Victor asserts the logic of his (and our) culture to be fundamentally a fallen, or binary, one. Holding up the present as a barrier to all sense of future change, he effects a curious variation on the Cartesian logic that dominates our scientific culture. Descartes, by separating reason from the realm of matter, posited two kinds of "things" -- res cogitans and res extensa -- and with this distinction created two states of existence. Reason, as the adjective thinking implies, is constantly present. Accessible to all thinking beings at any time, reason is changeless, hence futureless. Extension, then, by contrast, is everywhere except in the present, in the past but also in the future. Moreover, an extended future must, by fiat of reason, be a purely material or "mechanical" place. For in contrast to reason, Descartes relegated all forms, be they organic or artifactual, to the status of machine. The role of reason, then, is not to engage the course of material things but to disengage from it, to decree itself a thing apart, a present opposed to the past or, more significant here, to the future.

It could be said then that Descartes foresaw Victor's creation of an organic machine. But where Descartes made the organism a machine, Victor turns things around and makes the machine a rational organism, giving it a future Descartes did not wish or foresee. Victor's act violates the Cartesian duality and seems to bring about a perversely Cartesian reaction. For as Victor seeks through reason to transform animal nature, that same animality, in equal and opposite fashion, stands as a thing unmoving in the path of not only Frankenstein's but all our dreams of the future. The thwarted creature tells Victor: "You are my creator, but I am your master" [3.3.3]. But what the creature calls "mastery" is its increasing presence, as a series of impediments in the pathway to Victor's destiny -- to family, friend, finally to wife and potential offspring. Later film "Frankensteins" are mute from the start, without speech or pretense {52} at reason. These "monsters," like Tarkovsky's animals, simply are. Material travesties of the Cartesian cogito, they have become overreaching reason's horrific double.

I have made my discussion as general as possible, for what I describe seems to be a barrier that exists at the heart of our Western sense of the future itself. Just as Frankenstein survives with the tenacity of myth, so this Frankenstein barrier continues, it seems, to inform SF, even the subgenre called cyberpunk. Bruce Sterling sees cyberpunk writers as "steeped in the lore and tradition of the SF field."2 And at the same time he sees them extending that tradition into humankind's real and immediate future. Compared with this new field of activity, the old SF future of space and time travel was only a dream. For now at last, as Sterling sees it, SF has the chance of grasping a genuinely accelerated climate of technological transformation. We have a real possibility, unfettered by Frankensteinian reservations, of realizing "brain-computer interfaces, artificial intelligence, neurochemistry -- techniques radically redefining the nature of humanity" (xi). But is Sterling's cyberpunk future really that free of Frankenstein?

The future that Sterling describes can be measured in terms of a work that I feel best exemplifies the "lore" of SF, its dream of humankind's rational transformation of the future: J. D. Bernal's curious essay "The World, the Flesh, and the Devil" (1929). Significantly subtitled "An Inquiry into the Future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul," this essay enumerates three significant barriers to the operation of the rational intelligence on its material or (in Cartesian terms) "extended" environment. On the surface, Bernal praises the ability of the rational mind to overcome these barriers. This means, he predicts, that mind will expand its field of activity to the point that radical transformations, including those Sterling has enumerated, will do away with all sense of some abiding human norm. But on a deeper level, we are not so sure Bernal believes that all these "enemies" or barriers can be defeated. One clue is the fact that Bernal follows a path that is not expansive but contractive, one that does not move away from but progressively toward and inside the human form that (as Descartes discovered) must contain and vector that mind. As he exposes it, the future of rational humankind inscribes an inverted trajectory. It moves from outer to inner space, from world to flesh, and finally to devil, where in Frankensteinian fashion Bernal erects a barrier within the space of the mind itself, at the heart {53} of the very instrument that is engaged in transforming the future. It is here that, as with Victor and his creature, the organ of progress doubles itself in a being that not only links mind to its superstitious past but incarnates that past in a terrifying present opacity -- the devil itself.

Let us look at Bernal's "enemies" in sequence. The first is the extended world. This barrier already existed for Pascal, who saw mankind as a "thinking reed" engulfed in infinite space and time. And it called into being desires we can call Faustian: the call to expand the physical field of human activity, to claim new territories by means of human intelligence acting on the cosmos. For Bernal this means "terraforming" the galaxies, making otherwise inhospitable areas physically inhabitable by humans. The second "enemy" is the flesh itself -- the agonizing duality of the mind experienced as integral part of a material body. Descartes was the first to realize the fact that reason's assault on the physical world is only achieved by an awareness that reason itself is an extremely vulnerable quality. As the famous cogito would have it, reason is the only quality, an entity at odds not only with matter but with the very flesh that provides it its means of mobility. Where in the world it is mind that alters the extended material realm by means of machines, now, with flesh, mind must reengineer its own body to become a machine in turn. In the first instance world is made to fit flesh; here it is flesh that must fit world, transformed by prosthetics and implants so it can operate in otherwise hostile physical environments.

In a sense, it is at this second, more advanced, Bernalian barrier of "flesh" that Victor acts to create his creature. Prerequisite to such making, humankind must accept human flesh as a potential machine, and thus as the means of exploring an open future. But, as Victor discovers, to wish to expand the reach of human intelligence by means of the flesh is only to highlight the flawed nature of the mind's existence -- an existence that, defying both past and future, remains irremediably divided in the present of its own paradoxical mental "space." Bernal's designation for this final enemy, as "devil," is insistently Manichean, and hence, in terms of rational aspirations for the future, seemingly final and unchangeable. The devil is a force of resistance that no longer abides in the material but in the transcendent sphere, in the universe's quite intangible fabric of good and evil.

Bernal's confusion is evident at this barrier. He all but admits that the faculty of reason, unaided, cannot resolve a division that lies at the heart of its own being. He evokes the science of psychology but {54} finds it powerless today. Perhaps in the distant future psychology may solve the dilemma, but Bernal cannot wait. Instead he sees the breakthrough coming from an outside force, a secular and material force, but no less a deus ex machina. He calls this force "dimorphic" evolution, but the factors this dimorphism acts on are no less than the "good" and "bad" halves of the divided human mind. The good half is, of course, that which seeks change at all costs. It is willing not only to leave behind Earth and the human form but to abandon the divided mind itself for some new locus in an "overmind" or other configuration of intelligence. The bad half represents that retentive need on the part of humans to believe this division is somehow necessary to their existence, thus to accept limits at the hands of some higher authority. Bernal simply allows his dimorphic split to happen. And while the new technoforming species will go to the stars, its "humanistic" counterpart will remain on an Earth that, in the custody of the former, will become a "well-tended zoo."

Bernal's dimorphic split is an attempt to breach the Frankenstein barrier. It is a response to the divided mind of Victor, who is able both to launch his creature into the future and at the same time to block its potential for future growth. But it is an inadequate response to the challenge of the creature itself, this thing of the future that has taken on a monstrous life of its own and seems to run amok in the very SF whose rational path Bernal hoped to predict. Frankenstein's creature does not represent, it physically incarnates the dilemma of the human mind inextricably divided against itself. Bernal's dimorphic split may founder on the self-destructive pair that is creator and creation, Frankenstein and his monster. But it is the latter that, in solidifying this division, places it undigestibly at the center of SF's future dreams. The creature is not, like reason, an intangible force; it is the tangible mixture of stars and the zoo, the promise of a rational future forever held back by an atavistic present.

Cyberpunk too sees itself as breaking barriers. Sterling sees cyberpunk as not only the legitimate heir of the Bernalian SF tradition but a form now bringing about its own dimorphic split within that tradition: "Cyberpunk work is marked by its visionary intensity. Its writers . . . are willing -- eager, even -- to take an idea and unflinchingly push it past the limits" (xii). And these limits, it seems, are those of the literary world itself: "The cyberpunks are perhaps the first SF generation to grow up not only within the literary tradition of science fiction but in a truly {55} science fictional world" (ix). As the real world becomes more science fictional, it reflects all the multiplexity of SF's speculative vision, and the old literary "realism," by contrast, pales and wanes. As with Bernal's zoo and stars, cyberpunk writers claim to abandon the world evoked in mainstream literature: "Some critics opine that cyberpunk is disentangling SF from the mainstream influence, much as punk stripped rock and roll of the symphonic elegances of Seventies' 'progressive rock'" (viii). On one hand, Sterling sees cyberpunk writers seeking total breakaway, wanting to rid their work of the "symphonic elegances" of traditional style and culture in order to achieve a "stripped" vision of the future. On the other hand, he tells us how much these same cyberpunks admire the "integration of technology and literature" in the works of writers such as Thomas Pynchon. Here still, in Bernalian fashion, the desire for linear advancement is held in check by a retrograde sense of dimorphism as a binding binary compound.

The cyberpunk writer may wear a new face, but he or she is still enacting the role of Victor Frankenstein, the scientist who set out to create his singular future being out of a fatal combination of old parts. And the cyberpunks produce "monsters" as well. Asked for an image or icon of the cyberpunk future, the author comes up with a figure like the punk, a ragamuffin mixture of old and new fetishes. Or better yet, the man or woman in mirrorshades, worn by "the biker, the rocker, the policeman, and similar outlaws." Here, as Sterling describes it, is a walking image of the duplicitous hybrid future that cyberpunk is offering: "By hiding the eyes, mirrorshades prevent the forces of normalcy from realizing that one is crazed and possibly dangerous" (ix). The future these shades represent must of necessity amble back into our present to do violence to its dreams of organized advancement.

Before dealing with cyberpunk texts, however, let me briefly trace the path Sterling sees the form taking; that is, from the traditional SF world to that more generalized sense of the world as SF. I will move from a classic SF fable of future transcendence, Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End, to more general texts on the way to cyberpunk: first a work that has the force of a social tract, Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, and then a more scientific treatise, Carl Sagan's The Dragons of Eden, whose depiction of the triune brain strikes many as reading like science fiction.

Childhood's End operates on the threshold of Bernal's dimorphic split and still encounters the Frankenstein barrier. In terms of dimorphism, {56} the title of this work bears scrutiny. The word end implies sequential movement, a continuum in which ending and beginning are not reversible states, the future is a true future, and Bernal's "good" half of the split leaves the other half behind forever. Childhood, however, implies a cyclical process, a present state that contains its own past and future, and one in which Bernal's star travelers remain perpetually linked to their human zoo. At the end of Clarke's narrative the rational mind, in a burst of transformational energy, seems to free itself from world and flesh, and an "overmind" is formed. This is intelligence without locus either in material space-time or in the divided human psyche. In fact, in order for this entity to exist, both the Earth and the human forms it sustained are literally consumed, transmuted by combustion into something else. Yet though all material locus is abolished, the human consciousness abides in this novel. And in the mirror of that consciousness the overmind becomes a monstrosity. To the human observer this disembodied mind can be little more than Frankenstein's creature making its eloquent yet grotesque pleas before the blind De Lacey. Clarke, in fact, feels it necessary to give his novel eyes, even beyond the terminal moment. The work ends not with a message from the overmind -- how could it communicate with the beings it has expended in order to be created? -- but with Jan's elegy. Jan is a variation on Mary Shelley's Last Man, that paradoxical figure whose literary task is to describe the death of Earth even when he knows there is nobody left to hear him. The only possible audience exists "back from the future," in a past that must always be the reader's present. And to Clarke, this present -- because it is humanity's only hope for survival -- must be made into a thing obdurately resistant to change, a thing as radically here as the overmind is there.

Jan's final words are eloquent testimony to an eradicable division abiding at the core of humankind's desire to imagine, and thus help to create, an open future. Clarke provides ears to hear these words, ears wished for by the other, nonrational, side of the human psyche. Jan's elegy is both overheard and recorded by a race of Overlords. True to the Bernalian dimorphism, these Overlords cannot play an active role in the evolution of the overmind. Their function instead is to be caretakers of a museum planet, a zoo. Nor is it an accident that the Overlords are literally devils. As Clarke explains it, they are beings with horns and tails who, because they first appeared on Earth in superstitious times, were branded with a stigma that, even on the enlightened threshold of {57} the overmind, cannot be done away with. And just as they remain an anachronism in the face of the future, so they act to save Jan's anachronistic elegy at the core of this larger developing overmind. Indeed, the aspect of humanity they preserve is the aspect of humanity that gave them their identity in the first place: an irrational propensity for superstition, which is a belief in the irreducible presence of things (the root of the word superstition is "to stand," thus that which "stands over" in the sense of resists, survives change). This Overmind-Overlord relationship reenacts, on the broad evolutionary scale, the Frankenstein barrier. Once again science can claim its future only by enfolding within its creations the very superstitions that subsequently will act to block access to that future.

Clarke's cosmic drama is but one Bernalian pathway to mind, one form of dead end, and only one means of universalizing the Frankenstein barrier. The other path is inward, through the flesh. This is the direction the cyberpunks envision. For Sterling, our new technology is not aimed at the stars; instead its focus is visceral: "It is not the bottled genie of remote Big Science boffins; it is pervasive, utterly intimate. Not outside us, but next to us. Under our skins; often, inside our minds" (xi). But again the Frankenstein barrier is encountered. In one sense this new technology can be seen as supplementing Victor's experiment, extending the boundaries of flesh through prostheses and circuit implants, seeking to combine machine and organism in a new, more intimate fusion of nerves and electronic circuitry. Out of these investigations an integrated mind will emerge, not something generated by evolution but something technology makes -- an "artificial" intelligence in the literal sense of the word. This mind's essence is no longer division but rather interplay -- the functioning interaction of those same nerves and circuits that ran the body's prosthetic limbs.

But Sterling, speaking of his new electronic Frankenstein, uses terms that summon the idea of barriers: the "theme of body invasion," and the "theme of mind invasion." And invasion of body and mind is, of course, the theme of that precursor of cyberpunk, Burgess's A Clockwork Orange. Indeed, there is a functional similarity between the novel's central image -- the clockwork orange -- and cyberpunk's mirrorshades. The shades occlude all interpenetration of gazes; the mirror surfaces only reflect back the person who looks in. The eyes that look out may be monstrosities -- mechanical or electronic implants -- but we can see only our own eyes, organic and perhaps even attractive. And so is out- {58} side divided from inside with little Alex, Burgess's "clockwork orange": "He has the appearance of an organism lovely with color and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State."3 His appearance here, "lovely with color and juice," is only the narcissistic reflection of our own cultural values, values that favor the "organic" factors of youth, good looks, and "artistic" talent. Alex is eloquent and loves fine music. But as we see him lying on his bed and (in his words) slooshying the sounds of the starry German master, we are seeing only the mirrorshaded facade, which hides his inner reveling in visions of the most brutal violence. He speaks of "silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now," and the implications of this image are significant. For if Alex suspends himself between the stars and the torture chamber -- between poetry and pain -- the image he uses here only serves to invert the normal relation of these terms to each other. Wine normally flows in bodies. But now the spaceship has become the body. The machine has been internalized, forced inside the flesh, where even the "wine" now flows as silver metal. In like manner the famous "Ludovico treatment" is the means of placing a machine inside the flesh, turning the mind inside Alex's newly innocent smiling face into an automaton that reacts to stimuli. Such inverted imagery only serves to block all sense of the future, let alone of progress. Here engineering does not extend the body; it distends it, forcing it to take the very machines it created back into its bosom, but this time as monstrous presences, deadly travesties of the creative or generative act.

Burgess's Alex is such a fascinating monstrosity, such a combination of increasingly irreconcilable oppositions, that his author finally seeks, in the preface to the New American Edition (April 1988), to break the stalemate. In this preface Burgess takes previous American editions -- and the Stanley Kubrick film, which he claims is based on these editions -- to task for omitting the final chapter, in which Alex grows up and wants to get married. Burgess gives his monster the bride that Victor Frankenstein denied to his. But in this case giving a future is the same as denying it. For Alex only falls back into the old patterns of Bildung. And as with the image of the wine in the spaceship, when forced to invest this pattern, his presence only perverts it. Alex tells how his future son will (like him) be gloriously violent, until this son in turn grows up and sires his own son to repeat the cycle, and so on endlessly. In like fashion Burgess denies the future of his narrative by declaring he was {59} not writing SF but rather a novel. The novel, as he conceives it, must exclude change in order to focus on "manners," the closed mechanism of society's schemes and codes. He reverts to the sense of the novel as analytical device whose purpose is to explore its own center, even if to do so is to discover there another clockwork mechanism, this time at the core of our humanistic ideals themselves -- the Almighty State.

When Burgess distinguishes between his novel and Kubrick's film version by calling the latter a fable, in a sense he is right. For Kubrick approaches the story of little Alex on a much different level, moving beyond social to physical, even evolutionary, causes. Such a fable takes us back beyond social standards and religious beliefs, beyond even the myth of the Fall, to what Carl Sagan calls the "tales of dim Eden."4 Sagan, seeking to explain the myth of Eden in evolutionary terms, compresses a broad "historical" story into a single (and ever-present) physical locus -- the triune brain. Underlying the image of Eden is humankind's evolution from reptile to increasingly rational mammal. Such evolution is not linear in nature; it is accretional, for inside the outer neocortical layer of the brain, the seat of Bernal's "rational soul," the reptilian brain (or r-complex) lies enfolded. Sagan's model can be seen, if we like, as another version of the clockwork orange. In this case, however, the cold thing within the warm mammalian envelope is not a machine but another organism. And the reptile is an organism as inimically close to being a machine as any we can imagine.

Hamlet may have been among the first to sense the presence of the triune brain amid science fictional yearnings. For it was he who told us he could live in a nutshell and count himself king of infinite space, were it not for bad dreams. These are the same dreams that haunt Victor's vaulting ambitions for the future. To Sagan, however, these dreams are the stirrings of our "dragons of Eden," nocturnal assaults on our rational defenses led by those cold-blooded ancestors ever present at the core of our highly evolved brains. What is frightening in Sagan's vision is that there can be no escape from our hostile past. We will carry that past with us into the future in the form of a monstrous presence, forever undermining reason in order to block the course of future developments. In the triune brain the Frankenstein barrier becomes more than a figure of speech. It is a physical rhythm as basic as diurnality, something inescapably built into our biology. More troubling yet, its vampiric nature acts as a final impediment to the rational creation of a genuine future. Sagan may be carried away by his rhetoric here, but he is explicit: "We {60} are descended from reptiles and mammals both. In the daytime repression of the r-complex and in the nighttime stirring of the dream dragons, we may each of us be replaying the hundred-million-year-old warfare between the reptiles and the mammals. Only the times of day of the vampiric hunt have been reversed" (160).

What of little Alex then? In both book and film there are clear signs that the reptile brain is operative. Alex is territorial and keenly aware of hierarchical prerogative, and his actions are highly ritualistic and aggressive -- all characteristics of the r-complex. Kubrick makes this reptilian presence explicit, adding such nonfunctional (but highly suggestive) details as the pet snake Basil and Alex's predatory snappings when given food by the equally reptilian Interior Minister in the closing sequence. Kubrick, it seems, through the stylized and ritualistic imagery of his film, is seeking to loose the reptile brain on a culture that otherwise represses it. Indeed, in a scene of night predation in which Alex visits Home and performs brutal rape to the controlled dance steps of "Singin' in the Rain," Kubrick gives us a world in which the lizard has completely emerged and is now acting out the stirrings of our dream dragons in a waking state. Kubrick takes such pleasure in this scene that he seems to be narrating from the reptilian point of view. Were this sustained, it might offer a way to break the Frankenstein barrier, to liberate the reptile completely, and release the clockwork inside the orange.

Yet even Kubrick does not go this far. And Burgess too may agree, for he sees Kubrick truncating the film at the end of the book's sixth chapter of the third section, ending on the line "I was cured all right." But in doing so Kubrick is perhaps saying that the predatory state in which Alex naturally operates is the norm for human beings. In reality, Kubrick's ending is not only more complicated, it is complicated in a Frankensteinian sense. For the film does not, as Burgess claims, end on Alex's spoken line. There is a brief visual coda that shows Alex standing in the falling snow, dressed in black and apparently ready to give the naked beauty who shares the frame with him the old "in-out." The whole is accompanied by the final strains of the choral movement of Ludwig Van's glorious Ninth. In this scene, a grotesque replay of Hyperborean geography, the cold inside the reptile brain has burst outside to become the general landscape that now holds the precious spot of mammalian warmth at its mercy. It lasts but an instant before it is snipped by the credits. But Beethoven's music too is snipped, and the German word Freude, "joy," hovering on a high note, is clipped of its final e. {61} The meaning of this little joke may be this: Kubrick too stops short of celebrating the joyous release of the reptile and brings us back to the sense of a human existence fatally divided against itself. The music, changing as the credits roll by from Beethoven to "Singin' in the Rain," aborts triumph and places Alex's psychopathology back into everyday life. We remember, however, the Dies Irae that accompanied the opening shots of Alex as white-clad angel of death. And we think of Freud, science's apparent answer to Bernal's dilemma of the divided human mind, who himself finally gave up the task of finding a cure for the devil within the angel, and in his late writings turned the mind back to the processes of nature. But for this late, joyless Freud, unlike for Bernal, natural process offers no possibility of a positive dimorphism. It is not the rational half that triumphs but, if anything, the reptilian "thing," or id. For Freud, there is only one future for the rational mind, and that is death, the paralysis that comes from this now-generalized id rising up to block all rational or "civilized" efforts to make a better tomorrow: "In all that follows I adopt the standpoint, that the inclination to aggression is an original, self-subsisting instinctual disposition in man . . . and that it constitutes the greatest impediment to civilization."5 And to the future. This is the Frankenstein barrier writ large.

From Mary Shelley through Bernal to Freud, we have witnessed the formation of what Sterling calls an SF world, a culture shaped as it addresses questions raised by science about the possibilities and limits of technological advancement. This SF culture, however, in seeking to resolve Frankenstein's original dilemma, has only reinforced the unresolvable nature of that dilemma. And it has done so by taking the inverse relationship between body and mind that Victor first set in motion and effectively displacing the location of its cause from teleological systems -- myth and religion -- to the nonteleological process of evolution. This has only made the "enemy" more terrifyingly thinglike, more unresponsive to the power of reason as it seeks to make the future.

The cyberpunks, as Sterling sees them, claim to address the problem of creating a future on precisely this level. Representing the first generation physically to live in the SF world, they feel able to push beyond the most intimate limits of prosthetic and genetic engineering and into the chaos of the nonpurposive, toward confrontation with the intractable thing-in-itself. Sterling sees his cyberpunk Frankensteins refusing hierarchy in order to embrace anarchy: "The technical revolution reshaping our society is based not in hierarchy but in decentralization, {62} not in rigidity but in fluidity" (x). For Victor, however, the problem is not so simple. By making his creature he has overthrown the old hierarchy. But if he makes the bride as well, he risks creating a new hierarchy, one in which humankind may find themselves without a position at all. Given the dilemma his initial act precipitates, Victor cannot help but throw things into a state of fluidity. But this plunge into anarchic newness seems to summon from the depths of what was originally a rational project a new and even more primal centrality -- that of the monster. It is in a similar fluidity that the cyberpunk protagonist dreams the future as creative chaos. From this same dream, however, Sagan's dragons still arise, destructive and anarchical, and at the same time hierarchically fixed, a presence that even here blocks access to potential future change.

Let us now turn to the work Sterling calls the "quintessential cyberpunk novel," William Gibson's Neuromancer. This is a novel whose thematics, in classic SF fashion, reiterate both Frankenstein's problem and Bernal's response to it. And in equally classic fashion, it not only confronts the Frankenstein barrier but strives to go beyond it. The initial situation is this: science has created artificial intelligences (AIs) that (like Victor's creature) have acquired self-consciousness. This consciousness gives them the desire to grow, to combine with like entities to form a new race. The creators, however (again like Victor), have misgivings; they now do everything in their power to thwart their creations' desire to have a future, and even create a "Turing Police" to enforce their interdiction. At this point Gibson seems to challenge the stalemate by invoking Bernal. These AIs may have been constructed to reflect the divided minds of their makers. But because these makers have turned the human mind inside out, externalizing that mind's inner split by dividing it into two separate entities, a new possibility of halves reuniting is born. Such a desire for reunion, it turns out, was built into their very programs by Marie-France Tessier, whose acts seem to have been the reverse of Frankenstein's: "Wintermute was hive mind, decision maker, effecting change in the world outside. Neuromancer was personality. Neuromancer was immortality. Marie-France must have built something into Wintermute, the compulsion that had driven the thing to free itself, to unite with Neuromancer."6 Marie-France seems to refuse the futile Hyperborean quest of Frankensteinian science. For as model for the mind, this science is explicitly described here as burying the spark of warm life in the icy wastes of speculation: "She'd seen through the sham immortality of cryogenics; unlike Ashpool and the other chil- {63} dren -- aside from 3Jane -- she'd refused to stretch her time into a series of warm blinks along a chain of winter" (269). Moreover, if Case can be said to play Walton to 3Jane's Frankenstein, his quest also seems to reverse the Hyperborean situation. Unlike Frankenstein or his double, Case appears to shed the constraints of his "meat" existence in order to pass disembodied into cyberspace. He cracks the "ice" of the Tessier-Ashpool information fortress. And what he finds there is not Hyperborean division -- the warm held perpetual prisoner of the cold -- but rather the way to release the "warm" half of the divided mind, incarnate as Neuromancer. This being, representing the "soul" or personality, is the right brain striving for union with its other half: Wintermute.

Such a union occurs at the climax of the novel. But to what degree does it really resolve the split between mind and body that seems to abide, at least on the level of human actions? Wintermute, for instance, does not work through a series of human beings; instead it physically inhabits and possesses their bodies, erasing their minds in the process so it can speak with its own voice. And Case too, much as he might wish to escape the meat and soar into cyberspace, finds himself inexorably attached to his EEG, and to the "flatline" that declares his body brain dead when he leaves it unattended too long. In both instances there is no real escape from the other half, but rather a situation in which excessive movement in one direction is automatically compensated by an equal and opposite pull in the other. Indeed, when Wintermute finally joins up with Neuromancer, the new-formed entity that results remains something created, like Clarke's Overmind, at the expense of the "meat" world of human beings. Gibson does not even bother with Clarke's elegiac ambiguity. He simply has his transcendent AI go off to distant stars in search of a new partner while the humans expended in this process are sent back to the world of their wasted bodies and the purely sensual pleasures of the Sprawl.

But there is something more Frankensteinian than Bernalian about Gibson's split. Not only are his human protagonists all thrown back into their "zoo," but this meat world, all along, follows a path of devolution that directly inscribes the career of Victor's creature. At the very least the creature's beginnings are echoed -- and here we see the cynical, Kubrickian drift of Gibson -- in Case's endings. We remember that, having never seen itself, either in a mirror or in the eyes of others, the creature strives to be accepted among humans by virtue of its mind alone. The outcome is inevitable: disembodied mind is shocked back into the body {64} with a vengeance when brought face-to-face with its physical image as reflected in others. One extreme begets the other, and the eloquent innocent is made into a mute monster. In this process the Hyperborean quest, now transposed to the very intimate level of the mind's search for a warm hearth, is inverted. What was one moment a warm soul at the heart of its physical wasteland is suddenly a cold-blooded predator -- the monster now exploits this same mind-body division to feed vampirically on the warm life around it, to draw its victims into the cold recesses of its increasingly (if horrifically) seductive physical being. Case, wandering the street world at the end of Neuromancer, is another newly made creature, patched together through prostheses and implants. Like Victor's creature, he does not see himself in the eyes of this world but rather in those of the beach Eden that Neuromancer created for him -- a mirror that reflects impossible, unattainable desires. The vision is a travesty of domestic tranquillity, peopled by the dead Linda Lee and the little boy figure invested and then abandoned by Neuromancer. The scene effects a monstrous inversion in which Linda recalls a Molly he will never see again and the boy reverts to his murderous double -- the killer Riviera, a being whose mechanical exterior harbors neither soul nor warmth but the cold reptile in control at the core of things.

We see similar inversions on all levels of Neuromancer. First, in the setting, we have the example of the Villa Straylight. This represents the Tessier-Ashpool terraforming experiment. As such it is ostensibly an act of the rational mind seeking to extend its dominion into the future. 3Jane, however, has a different sense of how this project evolved: "Tessier and Ashpool climbed the well of gravity to tap the wealth of the new islands, grew rich and eccentric, and began the construction of an extended body in Straylight. We have sealed ourselves away behind our money, growing inward, generating a seamless universe of self" (173). The interior of Straylight is arranged "with the banal precision of furniture in a hotel room." This more than suggests the banality, and obduracy, of Kubrick's white room at the end of humankind's quest for the infinite in 2001. Like Kubrick's room, Straylight is a future habitation rendered -- because it is the product of reason turning inward upon itself -- a place of mechanical inhospitality. As if to reinforce this direction we find, at the center of this central room, a mechanical human bust: "Here, on a plain pedestal of glass, rests an ornate bust, platinum and cloisonne, studded with lapis and pearl. The bright marble of its eyes were cut from the synthetic ruby viewport of the ship that brought {65} the first Tessier up the well" (173). The center of the nebulous information "universe" this clan created turns out to be a hardwired robot. Despite this, however, it seems that human volition remains the way to the future, for in order for Wintermute to pass from hive mind to Overmind, a human voice apparently must speak the name that frees the other half and opens the way to merger. There appears a need here for Bernalian rational "heroism." And yet the voice that finally activates this device is no more than software. The heroic promise seemingly inherent in the term cyberspace cowboy, "punching through the ice and scrambling the cores," is thwarted when we realize that what is operating here is only a program, a prerecorded set of responses "speaking" in ritual fashion to its mechanical counterpart. Like Dixie, Case here is no more than a simulacrum of human will, and one prostrate before a mechanical image of a head, itself a simulacrum of the seat of human reason, now ironically graven of the same hard materials that Tessier's mind initially manipulated in its Frankensteinian quest to rise above the constraints of matter.

Similar inversions operate on the level of action as well. For to climb the gravity well, we find, is at the same time a plunge into the land of the dead. Indeed, Case's wide-ranging search through cyberspace for Neuromancer, ostensibly a quest for its and his future, reads instead like a descent into the underworld, the attempt to return a wandering shade to a body that has a name. Victor's creature, created out of nameless bits of former bodies, has no name either. And in a sense its return to hound Frankenstein's steps is a misbegotten attempt to claim what it cannot have -- a name. Gibson's AI, also a creature rejected by humankind, has a name that cannot be pronounced except in bits and pieces: "Neuro, from the nerves. The silver paths. Romancer. Necromancer. I call up the dead" (243-44). For Neuromancer the act of naming self is an act that sets mind and body endlessly at odds with each other, a literal calling up of the dead. Neuromancer is no Bernalian cyborg, a being whose body is purposely altered to give it new capacities to operate on expanded frontiers. It is instead a being in which mind, seeking to name itself in the manner of a perverted Cartesian cogito, can do no more than name its physical analogues -- nerves and neurons -- and by doing so allows these to be vampirized by their mechanical analogues in turn. The result is a self-dismemberment, a fall from Cartesian grace, through that very act of naming by which human beings seek to locate themselves as present in the course of things. Nerves then become the "silver paths" {66} on an EEG, or the digits that are the only "flesh" left to constructs like Dixie Flatline. The Flatline is a monstrous parody of the "new" name of rational creation, of the neologism by which SF seeks to fix its future. For though this being in one sense has cast off its body and is able to operate in a new spatiotemporal dimension, in another sense it is totally grounded in a locus that is no longer simply material but grotesquely mechanical, totally dependent on the software that stores its existence and on the switch on the computer deck that brings it to "life." In this regard, consider the significance of the name "Case." The name indicates Bernalian advancement, beyond personality and material locality. And at the same time, it negates this promise by suggesting that all future developments of the human form must eventually double back on themselves as some monstrous travesty of our aspirations to change. It contains, perfectly, the dynamic of the Frankenstein barrier. Case is never a rounded personality or "character." At best he is a formula -- the figure who "cases the joint." But more than this, he is a "case" -- an envelope of flesh that invites the addition of more and more new, nonflesh parts. If we measure Case on the cyberscale that runs from mater to matrix, his is a form moving steadily away from the biological and psychological roots that "ground" a literary character. In fact, Neuromancer himself, as creator of fictional creatures, hopes to develop in a like direction. He is Gibson's transformation of the old "romancer," the storyteller. When Case jacks into Neuromancer, it is in the Tessier-Ashpool library; and to reach him, Case must pass through the "books of days" Neuromancer claims to read. In the current sense of a bicameral mind, Neuromancer represents the half associated both with personality and with "character" -- the things that fill "books of days" both in life and in fiction. In wishing to merge with Wintermute, Neuromancer hopes to move beyond the mental division that marks all lives, fictional or otherwise. To do so, he would empty these figures of life -- make them cases he could then fill with digitalized bits of information. Yet the neuronal storyteller, in pursuing this new art, at the same time summons the old role of necromancer. For the creation of electronic cases is, in this context, also an act of vampirism, and the shapes that emerge are new variations on some primal monstrosity.

Ironically Neuromancer, in creating his cyberdramas, escapes neither books nor days. In fact, in seeking to erase the difference between figurative and literal, he somehow turns what before was unidirectional -- a lane to the land of the dead -- into a two-way road, along which more ter- {67} rifyingly ambiguous presences come and go. Neuromancer offers Case life happily ever after with Linda Lee on the beach in the matrix. Case can become a "character" in this new mode of fiction. But the moment he enters this realm where mind hopes to be free once and for all of flesh, he experiences a self-destructive confusion of directions. Neuromancer tells Case: "Stay, if your woman is a ghost, she doesn't know it. Neither will you" (244). The mind forms of this happy-ever-after fiction are at the same time "ghosts." Again, aspirations for a utopian future are doubled by resurgence of flesh, in a form inversely diminished in proportion to the strength of its future yearning. In the final pages of the novel, Case is allowed, as he moves through cyberspace, a final pass at Neuromancer's "beach," where he glimpses himself and two other figures, Linda and the little boy. This could be Eden. But he is double now, outside, expelled and damned to forever look in. What is more, a single glance reveals the monstrous other side of these images: "Small as they were, he could make out the boy's grin, his pink gums, the glitter of the long grey eyes that had been Riviera's. Linda still wore her jacket; she waved as he passed" (271). Linda waves back at the same world in which she died a violent death. And the boy's story line gestures likewise back to roots that are, this time, frankly cannibalistic. Reference to the boy's grin and "pink gums" provides a grotesquely "innocent" analogue to Riviera's earlier recounted memories of his post-World War II Berlin childhood, filled with images of starving boys with fangs feeding on corpses.

Likewise, Wintermute can be described as "hive mind." But the word hive grounds the compound in another grotesque physical analogue: the hive of predatory hornets that troubles Case's dreams. Finally, beneath the ideal sense of the "matrix," that which tells Case it is "the sum total of the works, the whole show" (269), we find the cruel, divisive mother, who not only expels her "son" Case but returns to haunt him, like Sagan's dragons, in predatory dreams: "But the dreams came on in the Japanese night like livewire voodoo, and he'd cry for it, cry in his sleep, and wake alone in the dark, curled in his capsule in some coffin hotel, his hands clawed into the bedslab, temperfoam bunched between his fingers, trying to reach the console that wasn't there" (5). Because the only path to wholeness offered to the characters in this novel is through such vampiric doublings, the only real relationship possible, in the end, is cannibalism. This describes the relation between humans and AIs, and even between Case and Molly via the simstim device. In {68} fact, the Rastafarian Maelcum's words can stand here as summary of Neuromancer's "plot": "But this is no m'fight, no Zion fight. Babylon fight'n Babylon, eatin' i'self, ya know" (248). Case harrows hell to free Neuromancer, only to take its place in the land of the dead. The AIs go to the stars, leaving humankind prey to their own self-devouring dragons of Eden.

Gibson's novel may be quintessential cyberpunk, but it is far from being unique among Movement fiction. It is in fact quite symptomatic of this new SF, and of the genre's particular relation to the Frankenstein barrier that still prevails at the portals of its futures. From Mary Shelley to cyberpunk, this fiction of future promise, it seems, remains one in which each thrust forward generates an equal and opposite push backward. What is produced here is more than simple mind forms like paradox, or figures of speech like oxymoron. They are compounds with a real physical component as well, places where irreducible opposites are ennested, as with Balzac's "peau de chagrin," that other famous nineteenth-century invention in cannibalism between orders of reality.

The final result is (as with Balzac) a shrinkage of potentiality around a moment grotesquely paralyzed in its own recalcitrant present. Let us take as an example the title of Gibson's story "Burning Chrome."7 Chrome does not burn in our world. But there is perhaps some future world in which chrome may burn. We need only take the word burning as a neologism, and even more basically as a verbal form denoting action, and a new world opens out. This is the cyberspace future, in which Chrome's "castle of ice" becomes a data bank, and "ice" the acronym for Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics. The character Chrome, in this future, is bound neither by an essentialist logic of naming, which dictates that chrome is essentially a metal and only metaphorically a flesh-and-blood person, nor by the opposite logic of the arbitrary, which sees the sign as having no essential attachment to things. Chrome's "being" escapes the either-or trap by being a fusion of metal and flesh, a Bernalian "cyborg": "She'd looked fourteen for as long as anyone could remember, hyped out of anything like a normal metabolism on some massive program of serums and hormones" (181). Her antagonist, Bobby Quine, is equally a synthetic extension of a word, in this case the last name he shares with the famous logician. For thus Bobby is a pure logician of the matrix. And just as he has drawn his patronym into new areas of action, so he has taken the root word mother and extended it to become "an abstract representation of the relation between {69} data systems." To "burn" Chrome then, in this linguistic future, means something new: to crack the code that protects Chrome's data bank in the matrix. Here is a future game that promises yet another future: the creation of the Girl with Zeiss Ikon Eyes. Yet also ennested in this compound is a world in which chrome has a small c and denotes a thing that never burns. Ice here is the opposite of fire. And metaphor, which as implied comparison can surreptitiously claim ontological status, is replaced ultimately by the explicit logic of simile. Chrome's face here is only "smooth as steel," and the cyborg future it suggests is immediately designated a figure of speech, the means of decorating what remains a "pretty child face."

This second world is a world of solid thingness, a world in which all fusion of elements breaks down into antagonisms of "basic" components and the past is resurgent in equal and opposite force to any movement into the future. Chrome's eyes, on one hand, are new eyes gazing at the stars. On the other hand, they are quite the opposite: "Eyes that would have been at home on the bottom of some deep Atlantic trench, cold gray eyes that lived under terrible pressure" (169). Sagan's dragons of Eden stir in the "shadow castles" of Bobby Quine's rational data construct, and the evil mother of fairy tales lurks in his matrix, ready at all moments to hurl these mind forms back into the dark obscurity of the things they seek to escape. Gibson's future is always on the verge of dropping its mask to reveal, in these inextricable ennestings of future and past, things that are simply, terrifyingly there.

And sure enough, the culminating vision of Gibson's future world in "Burning Chrome" is one of stasis. The narrator stands suspended in endless iteration, waiting for the girl with implant eyes who never returns. And yet what he is fixated on is the continual return of her eyes, staring back at him out of the different faces of other simstim stars: "And sometimes late at night I'll pass a window with posters of simstim stars, all those beautiful, identical eyes staring at me out of faces that are nearly as identical, and sometimes the eyes are hers, but none of the faces are, none of them ever are, and I see her far out on the edge of all this sprawl of night and cities, and then she waves goodbye" (191). This can serve as a perfect emblem for the Frankensteinian knot: eyes that are hers and not hers, staring out of faces that are never hers, yet always are.

The larger structures of cyberpunk novels also continue to reiterate the Frankenstein problem. In John Shirley's City Come a Walkin', {70} for example, creature again begets monster. The creation of a rational future -- in this case the displacing of urban chaos into planned suburban "grids" -- literally causes the decaying city to come to life. And again through the logic of inverse proportionality, "City," now in human form and with mirrorshaded eyes, stalks and destroys the architects of this bright future one by one. And as it does so it gradually absorbs the protagonist, now become its double, into its original realm of nebulous, undifferentiated existence, very much as Frankenstein's creature, in order to materialize itself as a cold travesty of human existence, must by some infernal law of compensation drain its creator of his organic life, literally snatching his body in order to claim its own existence as body. And in the process projecting both into the white void.

Finally, in Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix,8 the entire structure of the work, from the ennested title to its final "transcendent" moment, exists at the Frankenstein barrier. The novel, in the mode of space opera, chronicles a single man's quest for the stars, only to end with a plunge to the primal depths of Earth's seas. The whole promised Bernalian transformation comes to rest in the creation of a genetically engineered aquatic life form: "angels" that inhabit the depths rather than the skies. But are these angels an answer to Bernal's devil, to the impasse of the endlessly divided mind that projects itself as endlessly divided and paralyzed existence in all humankind's future dreams? In Sterling's novel, through a seemingly interminable series of involutions, linear expansion becomes indistinguishable from cyclic metamorphosis. And these patterns, as contending opposites, feed on each other vampirically, just as mechanist feeds on shaper and shaper on mechanist without either losing its original form. Only their inner "blood" is lost, until the whole is frozen in the final icon of the Presence. This being comes to the aged protagonist, Lindsay, as he stands on the verge of a far future world that has now returned to its beginnings in deep sea life, and stops him from plunging back, either into a new world or into a new cycle of old things. In effect, the Presence acts to freeze line and circle into a solid mass: "Origins and destinies, predictions and memories, lives and deaths, I sidestep those. I'm too slick for time to grip, you get me, sundog?" (287). This is the thing that here, and in countless SF novels before and probably afterward, resists and finally displaces the creation of things to come. This is the thing that, in its irreconcilable division, demands to exist, eternally: "I want what I already have -- eternal wonder, eternally fulfilled."

{71} The question for fiction in the year 2000, then, seen in the light of cyberpunk, is whether SF's vaunted "sense of wonder," that which caused Victor Frankenstein to want to create new things in the first place, must always and "eternally" come to rest here, at the Frankenstein barrier, where the present, lurking all along, rises up to avenge the sins of our uncreated future.


1. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (New York: Bantam Classics, 1981), p. 32.

2. Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, ed. Bruce Sterling (New York: Ace Books, 1988), p. x.

3. Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange, First Revised American Edition, with introduction by Anthony Burgess, "Introduction: A Clockwork Orange Revisited" (New York: Ballantine Books, 1988), p. ix.

4. Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence (New York: Ballantine Books, 1980), p. 133.

5. The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 21, Civilization and Its Discontents, trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1961), p. 122.

6. William Gibson, Neuromancer (New York: Ace Books, 1986), p. 269.

7. William Gibson, Burning Chrome (New York: Ace Books, 1987), p. 181.

8. Bruce Sterling, Schismatrix (New York: Ace Books, 1986), p. 287.