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Lindsay is a young human in a Mechanist circumlunar colony. Before the novel he was trained as a diplomat by the Shapers. As the novel opens, he is watching his friend and lover Vera fly through the sky on a glider. She then commits suicide by crashing into the ground. All of this is part of a plan that Lindsay has concocted with several of his political allies, and he is subsequently supposed to kill himself as well. He hesitates and does not kill himself, causing his uncle to get killed by a flock of deadly white moths sent by Constantine, one of Lindsay's "allies". The moths were sent to kill Lindsay. This raises an important question to the story: if a person wishes to kill themselves and they are of sound mind don't they have the right to do it?
Lindsay is exiled to a colony named Zaibatsu. He plays two factions, the Black Medicals and the Geisha Bank, against each other by creating an elaborate scam. He creates a fictitious theatrical company called "Kabuki Intersolar". Lindsay Later meets the secret head of the Geisha Bank. Kitsune,a shaper, controls the Geisha Bank via a puppet. At the premiere of his play, he meets an assassin who looks like him. Lindsay kills the puppet of Kitsune, frames the assassin, and escapes with a band of pirates.
Lindsay joins the Red Consensus, a ship that doubles as the home of the Fortuna Miners' Democracy, a group of pirates who technically still a nation. During this time, Lindsay meets Nora Mavrides, a fellow Shaper diplomat who believes deeply in the Shaper cause. Together they attempt to promote peace between the Shaper militants and the Mechanist pirates, but are ultimately unsuccessful.
Nora and Lindsay marry and Lindsay gets a job at a University as a specialist on Investors. He however fears detection by Constantine and eventually flees to another planet.
Lindsay (Lin Dze): The main protagonist of this novel, Lindsay, is an aristocrat and failed Shaper diplomat. Lindsay’s family, which is of a Mechanist ideology, sent Lindsay to undergo ten years of Shaper diplomatic training. He is exiled from his home, and is sent to The Mare Tranquillitatis People's Circumlunar Zaibatsu. His former lover, Vera, committed suicide in an attempt for social change.
Nora: Shaper woman from ESAIRS XII who becomes Lindsay's lover. She really believes in the Shaper cause and therefor chooses to fight the Mechanists.
Ryumin: An old and blind Mechanist journalist who uses technology to see the world around him. He is important to Lindsay's survival on the Zaibatsu near the beginning of the novel.
Kitsune: Leader of the Geisha Bank. She has been modified to be the perfect sexual partner. Later becomes the support system for a colony.
Vera: Lindsay's former "lover" who committed suicide. Vera also refers to Constantine's daughter. She was created from the original Vera's DNA.
Constantine: Lindsay's "cousin" and former best friend.
Alexandrina: Lindsay's first and eighty year-old wife.
Analysis of the Cyberpunks themes in Schismatrix
1. Which group, the Shapers or the Mechanists, have used technology to "exceed the limits of their bodies" on a greater scale? (This question should be recycled towards the end of the novel as well and responses could be compared)
Though it is easy to see that both parties use extensive modifications to "exceed the limits on their bodies," it is very difficult to decipher whether it is the Shapers or the Mechanics that have altered their bodies the most. The question should be angled more towards looking more to how these two groups and ideologies differ in their methods of body modification. Only then one can begin to answer the question to who has been able to “exceeded the limits on their bodies” the most.
The Shapers focus on the mind and are more concerned to push the limits of the human body through biological methods such as genetic modification and psychological training. These methods of body modification can be argued to be reflected in their name as they are “shaping” their minds and bodies (it would be safe to assume that this is a possible origin for the name). The Mechanists, however focus more on the physical appearance and use a more technological approach when it comes to their methods of body modifications, such as employing computer software, drugs and replacing body parts with mechanical ones.
Shapers in theory should have a more stable physical configuration given that their physical bodies remain unaltered. According to Darwinism, biological human evolution is a random genetic modification process which promotes the traits of dominating species. The only difference in the Shapers' situation is that these traits are specially hand-picked thus allowing for more control of decision making. The Mechanists have the benefit of being a bit more versatile given that they can upgrade their bodies, whereas Shapers cannot. However, they can use alternatives to improve their mental abilities like Lindsay does. In terms of survival, the Mechanists are less affected by the physical harshness; however, after long term evolution, the Shapers would use their "wisdom" to exceed the Mechanists in most aspects.
The term "Shapers" seems to imply that the Shapers are working with their body and working within the rules of biology. They are shaping their bodies like clay. The name "Mechanists" implies that the Mechanists fond of mechanical (and electronic) technology. They have no problem replacing biology with hardware and they do it quite often to exceed their human bodies wherever they feel they're lacking. Both groups have very similar philosophies but it is in their subtle difference that they war with each other. The Shapers believe biology to be king and the Mechanists believe technology to be king.
Since no significant Mechanists have been introduced, apart from Ryumin who depends on his eye sensors to visualize the world around him. It is not easy to determine the consequences of mechanical manipulation or the implications on the human body and on mechanist society. However, one common characteristic that Shapers share is exemplified by Lindsay, Constantine, and Kitsune. It is a kind of psychological effect on their personal characters. Lindsay is cunning and calculing with manipulative charisma. Constantine is cunning as well but more determinant and overbearing than Lindsay. Kitsune is down-right confusing. She is a "...distorted parody of sainthood" and finds essential personal emotions (generally driving forces of expression) like shame, pride, guild and love as mere dim shadows. She is able to have human feelings, but she sees them as unimportant or too mild for her to feel much of anything from them. She views things logically and does not need feelings to make decisions. These factors are most likely due to Shaper training, but none the less a factor worthy of accounting for when comparing Shapers with Mechanists. It is only in the human psyche -- as well as possibly, the emotional and mental welfare of the person in question -- that has been put to the test of extremity. If the two factions are to be considered through a variable of time, then perhaps Mechanists would win by simply the raw desire humans have to live and flee from death whereas Shapers -- at least the Preservationists -- welcome death openly, e.g. when Vera commits suicide in the name of Preservationism. Nonetheless, the real questions of technological extension upon humanity would be: What does it mean to be human? Is it a matter of species or character?
The Shapers use technology to "exceed the limits of their bodies" in a slightly different way by focusing more on the mind and through biological means such as genetic modification. Mechanists tend to focus on using technological means to modify bodies, employing computer software, and more. However, it is clear that both groups believe that unmodified humans are inferior.
It's a rather difficult job to assess where exactly the shapers have come from in terms of technology advancement. As readers, we don't necessarily see a point where the shapers are without this sort of technology that is embeded within the fibers of their own genes. It seems that they have genentically inherited these abilities to morph objects around them, a skill that some of us could easily label as technology. The Mechs on the other hand have a much more "human" approach to technology and implement it in a way that we see ourselves doing in the distant future. They tend to use less genetic modifications and more electronicly built gadgets and systems. The mechs are much more physical and industrial when it comes to their technology while the shapers, (a different race entierly) are much more organic and natural with their advancement as a race. The difference between the two ideologies has a natural tendency to create conflict which we can see has been present for a while.
Ultimately, the question is not so simple as "which group modifies themselves more," but rather "how do the two groups modify themselves differently." After all, arguments could be made that the Mechanists alter their bodies much more drastically and are for that reason exceeding the limits of their bodies to a greater extent. On the other hand, it could be argued that the mind is sacred. While the body can be propped up with prosthetics, it is ultimately the mind that defines a human, and tampering with it truly expands the limits of your body. For these reasons, it is quite conceivable to conclude that maybe the author is trying to point out here that any alteration to your body, mental or physical, is a significant one.
2. The book builds a bridge that joins the politics and grand scale of space opera with the technological and post-humanist themes of cyberpunk --themes such as a main anti-hero protagonist. How have these traits of cyberpunk culture (such as "high tech low life") and cyberpunk literature (hacker based setting with futuristic societies) manifested themselves in the various philosophies of different races or people thus far presented in the book?
One obvious reason that this fits the themes of cyberculture are in the Black Medicals, Geisha Bank and the other pirate gangs that are introduced during Lindsay's exile. These are all individuals who have changed themselves, to some extent, with some technology and become more than a normal human. These modifications to their physical bodies makes them more than human, it makes them cyborgs. A common setting in cyberpunk fiction is a futuristic society that has technology that we would view as futuristic. However there is a juxtaposition between high technology and a setting that occurs generally in the slums. Today we view the poor as having very limited access to technology but in a cyberpunk novel such as this the poor have great access to technology. However they are still unable to move up in society in live in filth. This is the most obvious example of "high tech low life."
3. From the very beginning of Schismatrix, the setting and surroundings are extremely different from those found in Neuromancer. How do these differences in setting predict differences in the societies found in the two novels?
The three main factions in the book (Shapers, Mechanists and Geisha bank) all seem to despise each other for one reason or another. The initial impression of the Mechanists brings the image of the cyborg to mind by replacing their body parts with mechanical pieces. It seems that the Shapers despise the Mechanists because the mechanical alterations are clunky and obscene somehow. Many of them are at least over one hundred years old and aristocratic lineage going back a long way, making the Mechanists one of the older factions in the novel.
The Shapers we still do not know too much about. The Mechanists seem to believe that the Shapers are slippery, and distasteful. We know Lindsay has received training from them involving drugs, and changing ones personality. They also modified his body so he does not become sick. There are some elements of the Mechanist's despise for the Shapers that can be attributed to the Mechanist's tendency to feel that the Shapers are not entirely human, having had their brains extensively alter to change their thought process, turning the Shapers into an alien in a human body.
Both of these factions seem ambivalent to the Geisha Bank, who looks down on all of the factions in a dispassionate, professional manner. The Geisha seems to be the black market in the Schismatrix world. The biggest duty seems to be acting like banks. They provide the numerous underground currencies in which black market trade may occur. The Geisha bank believes in the power of money. Other than that, they don't have much to believe in. They look down on the Shapers' and Mechanists' idealistic struggles as petty and insignificant. The conflict between these factions will probably arise from these differences.
The miners are different in a way that they give each other almost meaningless positions, like secretary, speaker of the house, president, etc. This really portrays how absurdly important politics is in this novel, and these identifiers blatantly introduce this idea. It is probably a metaphor for the politics of the Cold War. While the miners are, in reality, pirates, they are able to play with the rules of politics to give they much greater influence than they should have. Lindsay is trained in negotiating, and that is how he gets groups to trust him. Lindsay becomes an integral member of the group for his purposes, and he is easily able to gain their trust by acting. The reiteration of politics and negotiation is presented all throughout the story.
The differences in setting suggest that positions in society depend on the choices on technology made. Furthermore, it shows how the law prevents bad things happening while also regulating society overall.
The settings in Schismatrix provide a different type of society from the one seen in Neuromancer. In Chiba city in Neuromancer, there is no law to prevent “bad” things happen; however, there are certain laws to regulate the society from erosion in Schismatrix. Instead of human versus AI in Neuromancer, Schismatrix provides the setting of war between Mechanists and Shapers.
4. The multitude of political factions, societal alliances, space colonies, and untold other groups of people found in Schismatrix present a complex and multifaceted world with no "good" or "bad" guys. Describe the initial impressions given of several of the commonly referenced factions, such as the Shapers, Mechanics, and Geisha Bank, and how these factions work/fight with each other.
The world in Schismatrix is slightly different than the world shown in Neuromancer. After being introduced to Lindsay's character, we see the world as being very structured and under the government's control. There are many rules and punishments for lawbreakers in this society. This is not so much the case when dealing with the society in Neuromancer. However, there are similarities. For example, both worlds have "cliques" or social groups that seem to compete against one another.
The world in Schismatrix hardly differs compared to the world set in Neuromancer because both places possess criminal groups with unique niches. In Schismatrix we quickly learn about three or four groups that exist and compete against one another in the world of Zaibatsu. In comparison, the world in Neuromancer also has groups of hackers such as the Panther Moderns and the group that Case associates with. All of these cults in both novels appear to be fruitlessly fighting for almost petty ideals, foreshadowing that these groups will gain very little in the end. The world in the Schismatrix seems to have a foul aura. "The smell was vile. Each of the ten circumlunar world had its own smell...the air seemed foul enough to kill." The environment seems more dangerous than the one in Chiba city in Neuromancer. Also the environment seems empty compared to Neuromancer. The environments in these worlds are unable to hold life, especially with the high radiation levels mentioned in the first chapter. The environment has brought argument and separation amongst the people.
The setting of Schismatrix gives us a view of a different type of society than the society seen in Neuromancer. The prologue shows us that Lindsay is in custody of his uncle, who is limiting his freedom because Lindsay is under house arrest. We learn that the society is very controlled and that Lindsay is under house arrest because he rejects the government control. As he is moved to his containment area, we envision fields and open spaces, which represent a strong contrast to the urban setting of Neuromancer. Furthermore, we see how much more controlled the society is in Schismatrix than in Neuromancer by seeing the consequences for any action disapproved of by the rulers of the society.
Schismatrix is set in a significantly more bleak background than in Neuromancer. In Neuromancer the slums of cyberpunks are much more limited in numbers and space. Case's story is set against a fairly ordinary technological world. Schismatrix is much darker in the setting, with the majority of the prologue and first two chapters set in turmoil and anarchy. There is the Mech-Shaper conflict that starts from the prologue, and the multitude of factions in the exile colony. In the colony, factions can be quite vicious and desperate. Scavenging wreckages and harvesting dead bodies occupy many of the factions. Sterling seems to want to show the dark and dangerous side that technology can lead us to, but his purpose is still unclear.
The settings found in Schismatrix reflect differing societies from those found in Neuromancer. Neuromancer's Chiba City and BAMA show an utter lack of natural flora and fauna, while Schismatrix has many areas that still show signs of natural (and unnatural) life. The molds and bacteria that have taken over some world's surfaces, such as the Zaibatsu's thick ground, are mutations of previous organisms, but they still represent origination from the world. Many other places still have other kinds of natural life (so it is said at this point), while the main place that has any form of green space in Neuromancer is FreeSide.
The setting in Schismatrix reflect on contrasting societies from that of Neuromancer. Chiba City lacks signs of natural life however the setting in Schismatrix does show somes signs of natural life.
5. In Chapter 1, Lindsay considers emotions to be a weakness: "As always, in this second state, he felt contempt for his former weakness. This was his true self: pragmatic, fast-moving, free of emotional freight" What does this say about how the people in that society use technology to escape the limits of the body? What does this say about the definition of humanity in this society?
Lindsay's contempt for his "true self" indicates that technology in Schismatrix has led to the emergence of the transhuman. Technology, ranging from genetic manipulation to chemicals to implants, has allowed people to overcome natural human limitations, such as old age and forgetfulness. However, Sterling indicates that this has been accomplished across a distinct border: the Shaper approach and the Mechanist approach. The Mechanists' beliefs are more similar to the ideals engendered in Neuromancer, in which the post human was an individual liberated from his physical body and made free to roam in the ethereal realm of cyberspace. Gibson's posthuman used surrounding technology and data infrastructure to become more aware and intelligent. For example, Molly possessed a time circuit in her eye grafts. In Schismatrix, the Mechanists are using available technology to escape their humanity. The Shapers on the other hand, portray the posthuman as one who has deviated from humanity by becoming an entity that is more physical, more human. Shapers like Lindsay have been psychologically trained to become the ultimate diplomats who are not only able to manipulate other people but also able to control their own bodies. As Sterling described it, "...for ten years the psychotechs has poured training into him," the use of words such as "psychotech" and "poured" evoke imagery of intense mental conditioning rather than physical modification. Also, the handful of drugs offered by the Black Medicals and occasionally consumed by Lindsay -- vasopressin, for instance, and the allusion to a routine "shot" -- were tools of the Shapers to more fully exploit the potential of their human bodies. Humanity in Schismatrix, then, has begun teetering on the cusp of transhumanism, propelled by two separate forces: the Mechanists, who look outside the body for improvement, and the Shapers, who look inside the body for improvement.
Given such questions, perhaps Lindsay is seeking the answer by going back to the beginning with Shakespeare, but as the old journalist commented on Lindsay's draft, the piece was considered boring. If humanity could be defined as the ability to express "human" emotions, would that mean technology is just another form of human expression? Technology physically expresses the Mechanists' desire to live while portraying the Shapers' constant emotional battle of fearing what the future held for them (i.e. what the Shapers would become and essentially everything in the long run). Also through the play, technology still leads to the "human" emotions that often define the difference between humans and robots and other AI. Again however, the main concern becomes what it means to be human.
The emotional detachment that technology has wrought upon many of the characters is perhaps key to determining the state of humanity in this society. Lindsay's Shaper training has left him with the abilities to mimic emotion at an extraordinary level, but it's just that - mimicking. However, Lindsay is an earlier Shaper and therefore he's still incredibly human in comparison to later Shapers. He still has many human emotions, even though emotions tend to be looked down upon by Shaper society. Lindsay shows contempt for many emotions such as fear or worry, and embraces his second personality because it offers him complete confidence without distraction from such mundane things as emotions. When commentating on the state of humanity however, it must be said that Lindsay has access to powerful training that most people in this setting probably do not. Disclaimer aside, characters like Ryumin and Lindsay do lead one to believe that the heavy influence of technology in this society has led many humans to become disconnected with many concepts that we would consider essential to humanity.
Sterling goes on, however, to introduce human emotion as something unachievable for Kitsune, further strengthening the notion that humanity can be defined in some way by the presence of compassion, shame, and imperfection. Yet, these are implied by Sterling to be considered a "handicap" by the society of Schismatrix. It isn't fully clear, at least not yet, whether Sterling himself seems to believe that emotions are what holds back humanity it if it makes humanity what it is.
The advent of new body altering technology has led to a complete shift in the sense of humanity of this society. Humanity now no longer references appearance or body composition, but rather the expression of one's true feelings and emotions. For Lindsay, this means that he is able to give off his calm and confident air, without interference from his emotions. The alterations that each character possesses is to reach further within themselves to exemplify the person that they truly are within.
People in the society uses technology to escape the limits of the body in expressing their inner human emotions thus making technology a part of their human expression. This makes the definition of humanity in society very closely related to technology and the decisions used by it.
6. In Chapter 2, Lindsay says: "These plays that hold everything worth preserving in human life. . . . Our heritage, before the Mechanists, before the Shapers. Humanity, morality, a life not tampered with." What does Lindsay mean when he says this, and what does that suggest about what technology has done to this society?
In Chapter 2, Lindsay speaks about how plays hold everything worth preserving in human life before all the changes occurred. He is suggesting that the changes to society and the creation of the Mechanists and Shapers have taken away from the heritage of human life. The things worth preserving have been taken away through advancing technology, and it is important to hold onto humanity's original heritage. When Lindsay says that the plays he intends for his puppet troupe to perform are those that "preserve" human life and express "a life not tampered with," he is conveying that much of the cultural traditions of humankind, such as literature, have faded away due to the influence of technology. From the beginning of the novel, Lindsay refers to the Preservationist movement of which he is a part; it is implied this coalition is striving for the retention of historically human material in an increasingly technological -- an increasingly "inhuman" -- society. As a way to spend time under house arrest in the Republic, for instance, Lindsay translates Shakespeare's works into "modern circumsolar English." The fact that such a social movement exists and that works as iconic as Shakespeare's were not yet translated into common languages of the Republic suggests that much of Earth's heritage had been sloughed off as humans migrated into space, and that some people see this as a weakness of society in Schismatrix. Also, shortly after Lindsay meets Ryumin, it is revealed that Ryumin cannot read and simply uses a machine to decipher text; ironically, Ryumin explains that he is a journalist by trade. Through this contrast, Sterling is perhaps trying to not only disgust the reader with a blatant example of the replacement of human skill with technology -- and thus directly indicate that human cultural tradition has been overwritten by technology -- but also challenge the modern understanding of how humans should interact with information. Today, it is assumed that literacy is a human trait that everyone should possess so as to shed ignorance; in Schismatrix, Sterling may be suggesting that technology can fulfill the role of literacy by acting as a "middle man" between information and an individual's mind, and that this is also an adequate means of becoming cultured.
"A life not tampered with" seems to describe a nostalgic impression of the past. The word "tampered" usually has negative connotations, and this statement by Lindsay offers some insight into his perspective of current society. The novel describes the Shapers and Mechs being two groups who modify the human body where the Shapers have biological and genetic means while the Mechs have prosthetic and artificial means. These modifications have changed how humanity is defined. (Which is, of course, very different from how we define it today.) Lindsay is a very nostalgic man, thinking constantly of history specifically from before humanity radically altered itself. Part of the culture of that time was theater which serves Lindsay line "hold everything worth preserving in human life."
It is mentioned that Kitsune's music is perfect. This perfection is actually described as painfully flawless, and it is written that other instruments that attempt to mimic this perfection fall short, retaining their humanity. The idea of a posthuman that is perfect, idealized in every way presents a feeling of uneasiness towards the reader. The depiction of the modern human as a flawed creature is both reasonable and accurate, but the standards by which Sterling compares the modern human and posthuman are extremely subjective and negative in tone. Sterling's diction of "broken hopes" and "flawed world" used to describe the modern human in no way casts a positive light. However, it is assumed that the reader will still see that even though Kitsune is almost "perfect" she is not enviable at all. In her perfection she is imperfect by our definitions of what makes humanity human. Sterling relates perfection, as seemingly obtained by Kitsune, to the unnatural, unachievable, yet superior.
Lindsay is saying that the plays are a window into the culture and society of mankind before mankind started to change itself and thus start changing its culture and society to reflect its ability to change itself. Basically the plays represent humanity at its "purest" unchanged by humanities own hands to attempt to seek perfection physically and mentally.
This quote about plays and their representation of human heritage and culture suggests that the society of Schismatrix has moved far away from having a rich developed variety of cultures that we see in the world today. Rather than having less diversity in culture, it seems more likely that the entire world of Schismatrix is somewhat “decultured” (as opposed to uncultured) existing with minimal depth to the cultures that are even discernible. There appears to be no predominant religion, minimal written language, and no art. The idea of Lindsay hosting a play seems to be an extremely rare occurrence, as Ryumin had to look up what the word even meant. It is certainly logical to suggest that technology is a primary culprit in the universe’s deculturizing as it has shifted society’s focus in culture, entertainment, social relationships, merely to surviving and living longer or maybe a focus on the outcome of the war between the Shapers and Mechanists.
Lindsay means that the plays represent a time when all humans were completely human and lacked attachments and implants. They showed a time before quarrels arose due to a person's choice of body augmentations. Through this quote, Lindsay suggests that these new technologies have eaten away at what used to be true humanity, and transformed it into a completely new monster.
The quote from Lindsay delivers the information such that the culture and society developed by Mechanists and Shapers are distorted, especially compared with our real world. The humanity worth to preserve has been throwing away by technology that Mechanists and Shapers developed. Although we could find the down side part from Lindsay quote, there are still someone like Lindsay exist under this society.
It means that culture and society are distorted among the Mechanists and Shapers. Also, it suggests that new technologies have transformed what used to be humanity into a new creation in society consuming its original thoughts and views.
There seems to be an implication that even though society seems to believe it is right for wanting to exceed its humanity that in the end it is wrong. Shapers, for example, although "perfect" are not relatable and cunning. They don't have the standard set of morals that most people today would agree with. Mechanists seem to be portrayed as "not beautiful" and while this is a concept that Mechanists and perhaps Shapers don't understand, readers do understand. Readers understand the importance of beauty and that it is seemingly lost from Schismatrix. Because it seems that beauty is lost and the Mechanists and Shapers are almost impossible to relate to we can understand both factions have done something essentially wrong.
1. Large-scale weapons are strongly taboo in Schismatrix, even among pirates. How does this parallel counter-cultural views from the twentieth century to which Sterling was exposed? What does it reveal about the view of destruction, and specifically mutually-assured destruction, in Schismatrix? How does this relate to Baudrillard's discussion of nuclear weapons in Simulacra and Simulation?
It is emphasized throughout Schismatrix that large-scale weapons are taboo, even among pirates. The large cannon that the pirates own is used only as an initiation for potential government members. When Lindsay is told to fire the cannon, he has a moral dilemma. Even though he was firing the cannon into oblivion rather than at somebody or something, he held fast to his beliefs and suffered the consequences. He made his arm cramp so that he couldn't fire the gun. Because of this, the pirates injected him with a formula that made him convulse and lose feeling in most of his right arm. This emphasizes just how significant the taboo against large scale weapons is in the novel. The taboo of these weapons also shows how much life means to these people in the book. A weapon that takes so much life is forbidden even among pirates who in our society are depicted as ruthless.
Some would argue though that the word taboo is probably not the correct term for the various societies’ view of weapons of mass destruction. Taboo is “a strong social prohibition (or ban) relating to any area of a human activity or social custom that is sacred and forbidden based on moral judgment.” [n] However this widespread understanding of MAD (mutually assured destruction) among the peoples of Schismatrix is certainly a reflection of Sterling view on the outcome of the Cold War. As the novel was published is copyrighted in 1985, the Cold War was drawing to its end (if not over but some standards), and the general understanding of MAD across most nations in the earth was mostly complete. Sterling has taken this perspective and projected it from the MAD of the earth to the MAD of the universe in Schismatrix. The general understanding of MAD by all people in the world of Schismatrix does not lend itself to the use of the word “taboo.” Rather it is an innate drive of survival or perhaps a mutual respect by all people that the use of any one weapon of mass destruction would result in the death of all. Society is not prohibiting a social custom or activity, rather they are respecting one another’s right to live, and in doing so they are preserving their own right to live. The fact that people generally avoid discussion of the weapons still does not insinuate taboo, rather it supports that everyone respects one another’s ability with the weapons, and talking about it does not change anything. However, Lindsay’s absolute disgust of test-firing the weapons gives us a little further insight into his character. It depicts how Sterling injected a common Cold War fear and made it a central view of society.
This aversion to large scale weapons reflects the counter-cultural views from the twentieth century. The novel was written around the time of the Cold War during which the threat of nuclear war was very real. Both the United States and the Soviet Union knew that nuclear war would mean mutually assured destruction, the one fear that kept them from blasting the planet literally to pieces. Sterling expresses this fear by creating a universe where the destruction of large-scale weapons is so great that it causes knee-jerk responses in people. In the Cold War, although people had this fear, there was not such a fear. Every group in the novel seems to acknowledge the degree of damage such weapons are capable of inflicting. During Sterling's time period, there were many counterculture groups that opposed war and conflict in general. An example of such a group is the counter-cultural group we now call hippies, who emphasized 'peace' and 'love'.
2. How do Shapers like the Mavrides view normal humans, the "unshaped"? How is this embodied by the differences between ESAIRS XII and the Red Consensus? How do the Mavrides view Lindsay?
Lindsay was forced to hide his true role as a Shaper from the FMD, who are all Mechanists. Nora recognizes that Lindsay is a Shaper by training, but also that he is unclean because he has lived in the bacterial worlds, while the Mavrides have lived in an antiseptic world for the entirety of their lives.
The Mavrides do not consider Lindsay as a Shaper. However, they are fully willing to accept him back into their society. Nora even offers to sponsor him and basically 'save' him by showing him how life is better from the Shaper point of view.
3. What role do the aliens play in the Shaper-Mechanist feud? What larger message is Sterling using them for thus far?
The aliens are seen as saviors, and their arrival signifies the end of the Shaper-Mechanist feud. It seems that both sides are just looking for a common signal to end the war as the aliens did not actually do anything to encourage peace between the two sides. This could be seen as Sterling's message to the world powers at the time. That is to say, Sterling may have been trying to point out to the world's superpowers that the advancement of the human race is too important and pressing to waste time in civil war. He may also be suggesting that both sides are just looking for common ground to end their disputes. The aliens are described as being business-like. When Nora sees that the aliens have arrived, she calls an end to the brawl that the Mavrides and the Republic are having. The alien signifies a distraction to the current feud. It gives the Mechanists and Shapers something to keep their minds busy to interpret the current situation of their new arrivals. The alien could signify temporary peace or lasting peace, but it is yet to be determined. It is inconclusive whether or not the aliens can be viewed as allies or enemies because of their business-like mentality. By dissolving the feud as a race, Shapers and Mechanists make it possible to reform divisions in humanity or possibly strengthen either side if the feud was to continue at a later date.
4. How does the atmosphere (mood wise) of the the Red Consensus compare to the atmosphere that is created in the other settings that Lindsay has found himself in?
Considering the various locales that Lindsay has found himself in, the atmosphere of the Red Consensus is most similar to that of the Zaibatsu. Both are described as being in a chaotic state of disrepair, the Zaibatsu as a result of soil rot and the FMD's vessel as a result of old age. Lindsay also consistently mentions the odors of the places he visits and at various points notes the stench of the Zaibatsu and certain inhabitants of the Red Consensus. This gives both places a gritty, survivalist mood, as though both had been corrupted and were only designed for survival from then on. Likewise, both locations are subjected to a pseudo-authoritarian rule: in the Zaibatsu, the drones would kill a person if they arbitrarily judged that individual's actions to be unacceptable; in the FMD's ship, the President could do whatever he pleased with a prospective Fortunan since he is both head of state and chief of the military. For example, the President broke Lindsay's arm on a whim, the only reaction from the Second Justice being, "I see he showed you the old number three." The vulnerability that this instills in the inhabitants of both locations, then, produces an atmosphere of uncertainty and oppression as if at any moment Lindsay could be impeached, tried for treason, or executed.
5. Drugs play a large role in the story for both the pirates and the Shapers. In what ways do drugs allow the characters to exceed the limits of their bodies as well as their minds?
Drugs play a prominent role in Schismatrix by every faction. Unlike Neuromancer, however, drugs are used for more than just pleasure in this book. From the Shapers' vast array of medicines to the optional medicinal procedures performed throughout the book, drugs are routinely used to extend the limits of the human body just as a program extends a coding language. Drugs are used for everything from relaxing, to focusing, to pleasure and to mental training. Aboard the Red Consensus, Lindsay was given drugs all the time to aid in his recovery--sometimes a bit too much. Lindsay also used drugs to appear more macho in front of the President of the FMD. He consistently uses steroids to exceed his body's natural ability to build muscle and increase his build so that the President will think he's a "natural". He and Nora also use drugs to experience a high while engaging in Carnaval. Nora was unable to experience the pleasures of intimacy, and Lindsay wanted to help her do so. For this reason, he provided her with an out-of-body experience. (Without the drugs, she would normally not have been able to feel what she did.) Lindsay's near-constant use of the drug vasopressin allows him to bypass mnemonic barriers and gives him access to a much greater range of skills than he has in his baseline state. Not only are drugs used by many characters of their own volition, but any individual entering one of the numerous planets, faction headquarters, or settlements throughout the galaxy are legally required to have a stomach full of that place's standard bacteria. From this we see that drugs are not only available in Schismatrix but actually required. Drugs have become a standard enhancement of the human body, just as tetanus shots have become standard for people in our society.
6. Why does the FMD insist on maintaining the customs of a much larger nation even though they're no more than a dwindling band of refugees? And why does Lindsay play along, does he not recognize the absurdity?
The FMD insist on keeping all of the titles, roles, and customs that would be expected of a larger nation even though their nation consists of a rag-tag band of pirates and a single vessel. Part of their insistence on maintaining these roles is because society in the world of Schismatrix has evolved from what we expect today. Certain things, like an unnatural fear of fire and weapons, seem commonplace, but these things are used regularly throughout the book. In much the same way, certain aspects of society have become symbolic and are maintained mostly because it's now customary rather than functional. Lindsay clearly does this in order to stay alive. The pirates take their customs very seriously. As a diplomat, Lindsay recognizes this and does his best to follow them. As Nora points out in her description of Lindsay, Lindsay strives to live through any obstacle. In this manner, Lindsay is perhaps the sole character symbolizing mankind's unwavering determination to survive albeit natural disasters or mankind's own self-destruction.
The FMD insistence on keeping the customs of a large nation is more for formality and for practicality. Maintaining social order and structure are important for a society, no matter the size. Though it may seem ridiculous for such a small group to hold on to these formalities, it is a way for them to exert their importance and legitimacy. Without their status as a "nation" they would be nothing and forced to live by everyone else's rules. Lindsay plays along because, as a diplomat, he recognizes that you need to respect what is important to others (for your own sake as well as theirs). It would not be very wise to antagonize your hosts by questioning their decisions or their way of life.
What does this have to do with anything?
Technology has created a scenario in which humans are capable of exceptional activities, but it has also created a fragile environment for these people to live in. The narrator describes the spacecraft that Lindsay resides in as "falling apart" and something that could "be lost at any time". This is an interesting comparison because we see technology's advancing humans in one sense, and making life more volatile in another. This is comparable to modern day technology, which is capable of advancing human understanding and ability, but at the same time is also capable of destroying life (nuclear weapons, propaganda, and controversial medical practice). Technology in Schismatrix is seen as a double edged sword because it has such contrasting effects. (Both of advancing and destroying life.)
*NOTE: This section contains questions and/or prompts that still need responses.
1. Why do you think the aliens, having complete power to "shatter a narrow world a hundred times over" are the easiest to get along with - being the easy going investors? Have they perhaps advanced beyond the need for warfare? What does this say about the relationship between conflict and intelligence?
The aliens, having immense power, are the easiest to get along with for many possible reasons.
One such possible reason is that they are more advanced than humans. They are not only more technologically advanced, indicated by the fact they could destroy the world if they wanted to, but they are also socially more advanced. They realize that starting a war would not be a good idea because it uses resources that otherwise don't need to be used, which ultimately is en economic waste. They instead decide to peacefully invest and trade, using less resources then they would by destroying the world. This indicates a relationship between conflict and intelligence, suggesting that the more intelligent a social group is, the less they will create conflict with other persons.
However, their likability does not necessarily mean that they are more advanced as a society. They have simply found a way to most efficiently use their resources, which in this case are the economies of other societies. Unlike the Mechanists and the Shapers, the aliens are not concerned with bodily modifications. Instead they have perfected the skill of economic tactics and manipulation.
Another reason as to why they are easy to get along with simply because they have the weapons to completely destroy the worlds of the life forms they interact with. These life forms know this, and through fear, are forced into a friendly existence with the aliens. The aliens exist peacefully simply because they do so through fear rather than through diplomacy and friendship. In a way, they could be compared to the pirate society of the Red Consensus. The pirates approach other societies and force them to integrate the pirates into their economies in a way that benefits the pirates. If these societies do not agree, then the pirates destroy them. The aliens operate in a similar fashion. They approach other societies and make economic arrangements so that all parties benefit, including the aliens themselves. If the societies somehow upset the aliens, then they have the power to destroy them a thousand times over. The only noticeable difference between the pirates and the aliens is that the societies seem to want the aliens to arrive and take over.
On another note, the aliens' benign exterior presents an interesting symbolism. It is possible that Sterling was trying to make a point by making these clearly superior beings favor peace. in emphasizing the benign, peaceful characteristics of the investors, he is contrasting the alien race with the human race's tendency towards violence, war, imperialism, and domination. Given the author's clear descriptions on the jaw-dropping age of the investors, combined with their ability to destroy whatever they please; it is quite possible that these aliens have discovered that destroying other races does not give them anything they want. There is no inherent pleasure in destruction, nor is there any inherent gain in unmaking something. In many other science fiction stories involving aliens, the extraterrestrials are often quite the opposite of the investors, and possess qualities of violence, dominance, and tendencies towards enslavement. The aliens, having learned this, have no desire to destroy humanity. It doesn't advance their causes. This older, more mature perspective may have been Sterling's attempt to send a message to the governments of the paranoia-driven world of his time. Furthermore, after highlighting the nature of the Investors, Sterling proceeds to explain how young humans are rash. By doing so he implies their unwise tendencies towards war and conflict.
2. Do you think Constantine is right when he says that "... [Mechanists] will be cut off. They'll be cybernetic, not living flesh. That's dead end, because there's no will behind it. No imperatives. Only programming. No imagination."
Constantine is correct in saying that "[Mechanists] will be cut off. They'll be cybernetic, not living flesh" because Mechanists care little for their biological body. Presumably, Mechanists believe their bodies are flawed, which is why they create machinery to replace their "useless" human parts. This brings us back to the mind vs. body argument. Like how in The Girl Who Was Plugged In it was debatable if Delphi was still P. Burke, it could be argued that the Mechanists will not be "cut off" until they find a way to replace their minds. When this happens, they will only be running on programmed algorithms. Evidently, Mechanists enjoy exceeding the limits of the human body. Constantine's other comment was that programming requires little imagination. This statement is false because programming is a difficult task and the whole idea of programming is based off an inventor's imagination. Imagination is necessary when pondering what machines to create
When Constantine opines that the Mechanists are "only programming...no imagination" he may not have been suggesting that programming requires no imagination, but that a program itself lacks imagination. By definition, an object that is programmed is bound to behave according to the instructions programmed into it, and is therefore contained by its programming. Constantine may have been predicting that the way in which Mechanists allow themselves to be hemmed in by their own technological parts (that is, programmed by them) will lead them to be constrained by those parts. In effect, they will no longer have any imagination, because the limits of their mechanical grafts will have limited their behavior and thinking.
Constantine was completely right when he said that the Mechanists would be cut off. By gradually replacing their natural flesh with machinery, nothing could be left for them but to become the machinery itself, similar to Lise in The Winter Market. In doing this, they essentially become nothing more than software in a system. Thus, they are programmed to behave in certain ways, leaving very little, if anything, in the way of imagination.
3. At the beginning we see that solar humanity has radically altered itself politically, socially, and economically due to the presence of the Investors. What do you think Sterling might be saying about humanity with this change in behavior (at least on the surface)? Should we as readers be questioning the motivation behind this sudden change? What do you think the motivation might actually be?
With the change in human behavior due to the Investors, Sterling may be trying to emphasize the inherent selfishness of humans. The cease of major hostilities between Shapers and Mechanists upon the arrival of the "Investors" was motivated primarily due to specific fears held by humanity concerning the aliens. One of these fears may have been military: what if the Investors were intent on dominion over of the Solar System? Clearly, as Sterling points out throughout the novel, the Investors possess technology that could allow them to easily conquer humankind; as narrated in the fifth chapter, even small technological trinkets from an Investor ship were enough to expand entire human industries. Because of this, the military inferiority felt by humans drove them to drastically restructure their relationships. Another fear that may have contributed to this behavior was that of exclusion: what if the barbarity of humans convinced Investors to deny them advanced scientific insight? If the Investors deemed humanity unfit for "enlightenment," then any possible technological advancements and philosophical breakthroughs that could improve humanity would be held out of reach. In easing Shaper-Mechanist tensions, humanity was effecting the guise of a peaceful solar civilization with the hope of being given access to Investor wisdom. Interestingly, these dramatic changes in humankind slowly unravel throughout the novel as these fears are allayed. Sterling notes in Schismatrix that the Investors are not particularly intelligent themselves and are concerned largely with economic expansion, and that some theorized that their technology was largely culled from others. In observing this, the portrait of Investors as potentially hostile or wise is erased, and likewise displays of aggression between Shapers and Mechanists are no longer hushed. This eventually leads to military figures like Constantine seizing control of Shaper society. Maybe the aliens see that gaining profit is more important than waging war with other colonies or planets. Since they already know that their technology is far more advanced than many other planets', and that their technology can drastically alter another planets' society, others are more willing to partake in trading and economic business.
4. During the wedding party, Pongpianskul says "Politics pulls things together; technology blows them apart." (pg. 119) Do you agree with this opinion? How do you see evidence of your opinion in both the book and our world today?
The statement made in Schismatrix that "politics pulls things together; technology blows them apart" cannot be viewed from the perspective of modern society in a way meaningful to the denizens of Schismatrix. In the novel, the concept of technology is much different than the understanding of it today. In particular, technology in Schismatrix has become closely linked with identity and humanity because the most pervasive applications of technology are in the modifications that identify one as a Shaper or a Mechanist. Today, however, technology may have a significant social impact in developed nations but it has not fundamentally altered the definition of humankind. The role of technology in civilization is therefore incomparable between the modern world and Schismatrix. To provide an opinion on the veracity of Pongpianskul's statement, then, would be to do so with bias. However, one may argue that the same is not true for politics, since politics itself is a social construct and thus is tied with zeitgeist, not an era's definition of humanity. Politics in Schismatrix, however, do not seem to pull things together as Pongpianskul suggests, but instead seem to be used as a pawn in the Shaper-Mechanist struggle. Constantine, for instance, was allied neither with the Shapers or Mechanists exclusively, but instead used political maneuvering to feed the hate of Shapers and Mechanists for one another, and in doing so gain power for himself. As Lindsay bluntly tells Constantine before their competition in the Arena, "You're no Shaper. Not only are you unplanned, but your use of Mechanist techniques is notorious. You're a living demonstration of the power of detente. You seize advantage wherever you find it but deny it to anyone else." As Lindsay implies here, detente was a political result, and although it temporarily unified humanity into the Schismatrix, the resulting falling out further fractured humanity. One such fracture, as Lindsay scathingly points out, was Constantine's rise to power.
Technology does not serve only to separate people. Although both technology and politics have the capability to unify and separate people, the novel shows that both hold strong forces that separate people. It is only common goals that bring people together, such as getting along with the aliens. Because of technology in the form of rejuvenation, Lindsay loses his near-infinite patience, which was a trait Nora relied on through their struggles and future struggles, and takes the final act to leave Nora with the war in favor of living. Also due to politics, Nora refused to put much thought into leaving with Lindsay before his aging procedure for she had her own group of politicians (the Clique?).
Technology and politics have both the power to separate people and the power to bring them together. A present day example of the unifying power of technology is Facebook and other social utilities that allow people to communicate with each other. Millions of people across the world are able to instantly update their friends on recent events, and upload pictures and videos of their daily lives, however insignificant. On the other hand, an example of the dividing force of technology is the Mac vs. PC dispute. Consumers are divided between the two operating systems for one reason or another, and each group seems to be very loyal to their group.
Sterling makes an interesting comment in this section via his character Pangpianskul, pointing out that "politics pull things together," and that "technology blows them apart." This can be seen both in the book and in our world, but you have to look no farther than the words themselves to see that they are true. That is to say that even in the absence of sample cases, it is an intuitive tautology. Politics, by definition, are all about getting things under control. Politics is the game people play when trying to organize themselves into a hierarchy, which is inherently "pulling things together." Technology, by definition is expansion. It is not concerned with fairness, and it is not concerned with politics. It expands the abilities of the human race, which undoes some of the work done by politics.
5. What is Sterling trying to say about progress and generations when he says "Not knowing the consequences of his [Wells] actions, or even caring; simply too young to live a lie?" Is Sterling suggesting that life in Schismatrix and life in reality is a lie?
When Sterling notes that Wells is "simply too young to live a lie," he is most likely not questioning the reality of life in the Schismatrix, but merely pointing out that youth can cause one to be rash. Sterling is suggesting that when one is young, one's natural optimism and faith in humanity can persuade them to live as "real" as possible. That is, one will try to avoid the pacifying ideologies and bureaucracies of society that obscure reality in favor of living "purely" and "cleanly." What a youth may not realize is that these ideologies and bureaucracies are inevitable.
6. A major theme of Chapter 5, that was present throughout the book, was the concept of aging and the struggle against it. What do you think these shows about solar humanity and/or characters in the story.
In Chapter Five, Lindsay and Nora fight because of Lindsay’s age. The difference between their two points of view on the subject clearly describes each character. For Lindsay, his mortality reminds him of his past, and he does not want to try the rejuvenating program he is offered. Nora sees the other point of view. That is, if he wants to keep his past alive, he should stay young. Lindsay also thinks that their love is stronger because of his aging. They would not be the same without it, and he thinks they should be grateful for that. He sees aging as a gift that one should be proud of and not something that should be changed or fixed.
Since the beginning of the novel, Lindsay has aged greatly. His views as he aged have gone from very independent and ideological to conservative. A major change that has swept through Lindsay is that he has begun to understand the truths behind life. In his youth, he wanted to change the world and prevent Shaper dominance. What resulted, however, was a realization that he could not be the catalyst for such a huge change. Lindsay then brought his goals closer to himself and to those around him in order to make them achievable.
7. What does the tape's reproduction of the Investor Commander's event with the egg suggest about the Investors?
The reproduction of the scene recorded by the tape supports the notions that the Investors are not as intellectual as initially thought. The tape reveals information on the Investors that was previously unknown, shedding more light as to the nature of the species. The portrayal of the primitive and savage actions gives off an undesirable aspect of the Investors and is used to blackmail them later on in the story.
8. As Lindsay is being arrested, Greta says "The Shapers, the Mechanists - those aren't philosophies, they're technologies made into politics." (page 151). Does what we've read so far reflect that statement?
9. How does Zen Serotonin contrast to the physical modifications we've read about in the book thus far?
Zen Serotonin appears to be a monk-like cult which focuses on passivity (they are described as the "Nonmovement") and strives to stop the progression of technology because according to one of their nuns, Greta, "science tore the human race to bits." In contrast, Shapers and Mechanists aggressively pursue and use new forms of technology constantly in order to unnaturally prolong life.
10. In what ways is Lindsay's interaction with the Pongpianskul construct similar/different to Carol in Flesh Made Word?
Like the constructs in "Flesh Made Word," the construct of Pongpianskul was able to carry out a normal, life-like conversation with astonishing accuracy, as well as simulate emotion. However, it also has its own fallacies, shown by the flickering of the persona for a "second's fraction" when Lindsay "confused" it by mentioning Alexandrina, a person who was probably not in the construct's database.
11. In Schismatrix, there is the continuing question of what defines humanity. Some see humanity as all human-like creatures that came from earth. Wells states that there is no humanity, only sub-species. We are also confronted with the depictions of Ryumin and Kitsune in Chapter 6. What do you think this says about humanity and human nature??
12. How do the technologies present in the book affect the characters' perception of time? How does this perception affect their actions?
By artifically extending their lifespans, time becomes practically irrelevant. For example, Ryumin's transformation into essentially a computer program places him practically beyond time. He no longer possesses a body or needs to eat or sleep anymore. Even Lindsay has aged significantly, yet his body still functions at an incredible rate. One result of these elongated life spans is the introduction of contractual marriages. Because humans are able to live for so long, it is more convenient to set up a contract for a certain number of years, rather than to simply stay married.
By living longer, people are able to tackle larger problems than they can with short lifespans like ours. In our time, people live for a maximum of around 100 years, so they mainly concentrate on problems relevent to their short time on this world. In contrast, the people in Ryumin's time can focus on larger issues about maintaining the governments, and larger social and physical constructs than their own personal issues.
Lindsey starts to notice that he is living on the edge of an exponential technologic burst. He finds that in the span of only a few years, the ideologies and technologies around him morph in new ways he hasn't seen. But the most important change that is occuring around him is the expanding longevity of human life brought about by the sciences. He realizes that because humans will now live many many more years than they ordinarily used to, that people carry their own knowlege and expertise longer. Having this occur, means that less emphesis needs to be placed upon teaching the newer generations the tricks and discoveries of the current and old, and more experimenting and continuation of developing new technologies. Lindsay also has a revelation when he looks at the youth and realizes that by the end of their life, radical changes to all societies will be made, all because of the advancement of the health and sciences, along with technology as a whole.
On a more negative tone, the distortion of time removes the demand of death from the characters' actions. In order to combat death, Shapers can simply undergo rejuvinations, while Mechanists can replace failing organs. Thus, the sense of not having enough time to fulfill one's purpose in time is completely absent from the characters' minds especially those of the older ones. Obligations are nonchalantly postponed, and the adrenaline rush one usually gets as a deadline slowly approaches is absent. As Pongpiangskul suggested, " that's [their] curse, there's always time for everything."
The characters in Schismatrix begin to think of more long-term goals and ideas as they age. Because they have been alive for so long due to the technology that can alter their bodies, they do not consider a long time to be significant. Five or ten years becomes just a short amount of time that doesn't matter in the big picture to them. The characters become wiser and plan things more thoroughly as they age.
13. In what ways are the Investors different from the humans culturally and socially? How does this affect their interactions with the humans?
The Investors are not interested in anything other than wealth. They do not care about technology in the way that the humans do. Also, they do not try to compete with each other. They attempt to gain wealth from other races, not from within their own race. The Investors are interested in long-term consequences while the humans are more interested in short-term gain. Because of these differences, the Investors are able to gain a lot of wealth from the humans without the majority of them even realizing it.
The investors are radically different from the mechs and the shapers. Their whole entire biology and train of thought seem to be different. The way they organize themselves and the mulitude of what they've accomplished is astronomical compared to what the mechs and shapers have. The investors are a green driven race that lives off of the resources of other planets that it finds. In their vary nature, they are able to survive because the only thing they focus on is hoarding resources from all around them. It makes you wonder though, how a race that is driven by the accumulation of wealth was able to evolve over time and invent the technologies that they have. For example, they have been able to travel the galaxy and obviously defend themselves against other races that may have had conflicting goals. They have had spend time inventing and reaserching rather than accumulate resources, to invent these ships in which they travel and the technology to communicate with other races.
14. In the first six chapters, Lindsay has already become an old man by human standards, and seen and lived in many different places and eras. How has this lifestyle altered Lindsay's views since the start of the book? Is he more wise? Or less?
As he has accumulated a significant amount of experience, Lindsay has certainly become more wise in his decisions. However, due to certain time-bending alterations to his body such as multiple rejuvinations, his lifestyle and mindset fluctuates from young to old and young again. One such example is when he is forcefully subjected to an experimental rejuvinating process by the Cataclysts. Because he is young again, an argument with Vera at the eve of Goldreich-Treimane's fall reveals that "under the influence of the treatment, his hard-won patience had vanished in a blaze of false youth."
15. What do the Cataclysts believe? How is this movement shaped by the Investor Peace that came before? Could it happen under other circumstances?
The ideology of Cataclysm was first promulgated by the Superbrights. It demanded an end to artificial social controls and destruction of authority. Eventually devolved into terrorism and resulted in lingering animosity towards the Superbrights. This could happen under many kinds of circumstances, the time just must be right. There must be a group of people who wish to break free from some of the constraints formed by those in charge, and they must be willing to sacrifec everything they have in order to achieve this goal. This is what Cataclysam was built from, and when this is achieved, Cataclysam will be created.
*NOTE: This section contains questions and/or prompts that still need responses.
1. Lindsay is asleep for five years. What does this mean for our discussion of time and how the Shapers perceive it. And is there a different perception of time between other groups?
Lindsay has been recovering from the PDKL 95 for five years, and during that time he was unconscious. By this time he is 106 years old. The whole thought of being out of the world for five years does not seem to bother him at all. Lindsay does not seem very worried about what has happened in the world. He does not even seem too worried about the loss of all his training and his kinesics. It seems that Shapers don't seem very attached to time, i.e. that he could care less about time. Perhaps this is true because of their physical changes that he underwent with medicines and potions.
The relevance of Lindsay being in a coma for five years for discussing the theme time is minimal; however, the perception of time does seem to be different in the story when compared to reality. The perception of time does not differ between groups, as everybody has the ability to live longer. Throughout the story one gains the feeling that time is not as precious as in the modern world. Lindsay always seems to take things slowly even though it may span several years.
2. Lindsay when he wakes up has lost his Shaper powers. What does this mean for him, and how does this situation change him as a person?
When Lindsay first awakens and finds that his diplomatic abilities given him by the Shapers are gone, he seems less shocked than one might expect. Rather, he seems to accept his situation with equanimity. Throughout the events following his awakening, Lindsay can be seen resolving to even try to do the things he was once a master of doing. Similar to the alien's inspiring peace indirectly simply by being there, Lindsay changes his life at this point, simply because this event is as good a turning point as any other.
The loss of Lindsay's Shaper abilities, namely his dual levels of consciousness and persuasive, diplomatic speech skills, has caused him to be a much more passive person. Prior to the damage caused by the PDKL trip, he was actively using his diplomatic and tactical training and was much more energetic in his dealings with people. After the five year recovery, however, he seems to have aged and grown wiser by seeing that it is not always necessary to behave in a superior manner. This is not an immediate change in Lindsay, and there are certainly examples in which he tries to call on his training, and realizes it is not there. Eventually, however, he comes to terms with his current condition,which really shows that he has matured, and realizes his former abilities' insignificance. This change in Lindsay is not limited only to his dialog and dealings with others, but is extended to his ideologies and outlook on life. He no longer pursues his goals and dreams with the same urgency and directness. Rather, though he still has dreams and goals, he pursues them with a calmness marked by his acceptance of the longevity of post humans, and the acceptance of his inhumanity. However, while he may now be passive when dealing with other people, he is very aggressive in trying to make a mark on the world. By joining the terraforming movement, Lindsay is taking a stand to change an entire world to his liking. This isn't a task of someone passively reacting to his environment, but one of someone fighting back.
Lindsay is a Shaper, and has lost is human characteristics. He has exceeded the limitations of humanity in certain ways, and therefore he is something other than human. Throughout the book, Sterling hits this idea repeatedly. People lose one of their aspects of humanity when they lose their ability to die. Death is a part of the cycle of life. Shapers live an extended life based on genetic manipulations, whereas Mechanists use robotic parts to extend their lives. They have both lost the thing that makes us most human, our mortality. He is now more human and mortal in a sense, without superhuman powers. He must now look at how he can change his way of life, possibly finding a new occupation since he may not be as good at his old job anymore. Lindsay losing his Shaper powers changes how he has to live his life. He can no longer use his mind the same way he did when he was a diplomat, storing information to become elite at discussions and arguing.
In contrast, mortality, while a major part of humanity, is not all there is to being human. Mortality is relative - if scientific advances eliminate death, or postpones it nearly indefinitely, the concept of mortality holds less weight in identifying humanity. Mortality is something expressed in all living things. A tree can die, or an ant can die, but we do not view these organisms in the same light as we do our fellow humans. Emotions are a large part of what it means to be human. Sterling defines this early on for the reader by describing the unattainable, disturbing perfection of Kitsune. She can not feel human emotions in the way they are meant to be felt. They are meant to guide each individual in his or her life, and not serve as a distraction as Kitsune feels. Kitsune accordingly finds a distinct separation between her, Lindsay, and the rest of humanity.
If humanity is defined by mortality, then many of the people described in Schismatrix are no longer human, having used technology to exceed bodily limitations and extend life. However, when Lindsay loses his Shaper powers, he becomes more human. Though it seems that Sterling is in support of mortality in the mortality-is-humanity argument, it is impossible to define humanity with just one factor. Humanity is multi-faceted. Simply looking at one factor-in Sterling's case, at life versus death-is not enough to gain a comprehensive view of humanity.
When Lindsay lost his Shaper alterations, he had lost the only skill he knew he could rely on throughout the earlier sections of the book. He made his way through solar humanity with the use of the training he had received, and now is basically helpless. He lost many important skills to cope with new or uncomfortable situations. These skills are not necessarily lost, but the alterations that made them easy to do had been reversed. He must now make his way in the world coping like most other members of solar humanity, without the aid of the specialized personality training.
Lindsay's loss of his Shaper powers is detrimental to how he views himself as a person. His unique skill set as a Shaper defined who he was as a person, and initially, he feels like he is no longer a single entity but one with the entire universe. By describing Lindsay's sense of self in this way, Sterling raises the argument of what it means to be oneself and what defines someone as being an original copy of oneself. Lindsay's situation is slightly different than anything that could happen in present day in that he is so integrated with technology that he can no longer define what is natural human ability and what is abnormal human ability (Shaper skills and training). His sense of incompleteness after losing his Shaper abilities proves that he identifies himself as someone who is integrated with technology.
3. How do Abelard Gomez and Lindsay differ on the concept of happiness? How have time and experience influenced these opinions?
Abelard Gomez and Lindsay differ on the concept of happiness in that Gomez is only satisfied with the pursuit of goals larger than can be accommodated by the traditional notion of human life, whereas Lindsay used to be like Abelard but has matured from what Abelard wants. Having grown up with the advances in technology that Juliano mentioned, Gomez takes for granted that he will live for several centuries, and thus his youthful fantasies of "changing things" have expanded to fill a superhuman existence. Specifically, Gomez seeks a life of "life-spreading," "planet-ripping," "world-building," and terraforming. Gomez seems to hold onto this idea that he will live forever. These tasks would naturally take a generational effort, if they were achievable at all. This contrasts noticeably with Lindsay's view of happiness, in which his acquiescence with curtailed existence (one not spanning centuries) lead him to relish ephemeral pleasures of security, comfort, and love. When he was established in Goldreich-Tremaine with Nora, for instance, Lindsay was amazed with how much he had improved his life from his days as a sundog, implying that the conditions he was living in at the moment were a source of happiness. In essence, Lindsay's acceptance of a narrow life has given him a narrow definition of happiness, while Gomez' implicit acceptance of an expansive life has given him an accompanying expansive definition of happiness.
This reading section revolves around the idea of how time determines our pursuit to "happiness" -- be it personal dreams or dreams that'll make them in history. It is every human's desire to be remembered but to what extend differs by person. Lindsay constantly fled for the sake or survival, which has always been man's challenge with nature. However with technology and the realization how significant he is even in society, Lindsay no longer passively participate in life's work but actively seeks and manipulates it; he does so to make a maybe not a mark in history -- seeing how he already does -- but for the posterity, the wielders of humanity's preservation or inevitable destruction. Such a goal is visible when he personally asks The Warden to take Gomez from the Republic and towards C-K for the sake of preventing the fate that had befallen perhaps Constantine or himself, Lindsay.
4. How has the Republic changed since the beginning of the novel? Has the Preservationist movement truly taken root?
The Preservationist movement has not taken root in the Republic, despite the initial impressions given by Alexandrina. The goal of Preservationism was to capture the culture of past humanity so as to maintain an image of mankind before the influence of Shapers and Mechanists. However, as Alexandrina leads Lindsay through the manor-turned-museum, Sterling describes artifacts originating from a period in which the politics of Shaper-Mechanist relations were significant. For example, "an antique pedal-driven ultralight" and "crude assembly tools from the circumlunar's construction" are both cultural items reigning from Lindsay's own life. Likewise, much of the Republic has been "restored" in the name of Preservation, but only through modern technology and interaction with Shaper-Mechanist culture. Pongpianskul notes that wild mice had to be resurrected from the laboratory stock they had been transformed into, in the name of giving the Republic authenticity. Pongpianskul previously had noted that much of the restoration is done to stimulate tourism, since "those Ring Council types eat it up with a spoon;" in this sense, then, Preservationism has been twisted into an industry that reaps profit from Shapers who come to view the quaintness of the Republic. Instead of preserving humanity, the Republic has propped up a meticulously constructed replica for the purpose of entertainment, and arguably, they haven't even replicated humanity, as the throwback to Lindsay's youth was already to far from humanity for the Preservationists at the beginning of the book. Though the rebuilt Republic is certainly closer to humanity than the greater environment of the book, it is still far from the humanity that Lindsay attempted to preserve.
Furthermore, the youth of the Republic does not embrace Preservation. When Lindsay converses with Abelard Gomez, Gomez assures Lindsay that he is lucky to not have read the works of Shakespeare (that Lindsay himself translated), since they featured people who were "all burnt up and cramped and sick," making it depressing. Sterling soon follows this exchange with the Lindsay's internal comment, "Things had come full circle." As Sterling is expressing here and as Gomez' statements make clear, Preservationism has successfully exposed the new generation of the Republic to human culture, but that generation has found it disgusting. In this way, Preservationism as Lindsay intended it has been completely undermined.
5. When Lindsay is talking to Abelard Gomez, Gomez says "Burn their wars and ideologies. Post Humanity is bigger than that" Why does Gomez say this? How has the theme changed from the beginning of the story to now?
Gomez's expansive statement provide an interesting contrast between youthful and elderly perspectives. When Gomez makes sweeping statements about what ought to be important to humanity, it illustrates his naive assumption that he is more significant than he is. Lindsay's reaction to these youthful statements provides and excellent window into the perspective of the superhuman elderly. (Superhuman because of the rejuvenation technologies available to the citizenry of Schizmatrix.) This elderly perspective seems to be filled with a better sense of scale, that the individual is less significant than a youth might think.
6. What is the significance of Lindsay's arm becoming mechanical, and does this show any change in the Shaper community, because they don't agree with the mechanical aspect and are more concerned about flesh?
The metal arm of Abelard Lindsay is a huge testament to how much he's changed since the beginning of the novel. In the beginning, Lindsay would have most likely gone armless before accepting a prosthetic that could make someone mistake him for a Mechanist. By this point in the novel, however, Lindsay is profoundly uninterested to which faction he belongs. As he's aged, he's realized that factions and sides are petty things that time will inevitably erase. At this point, Lindsay is concerned only with life and living, and the fact that he has a metal arm is a testament to his new perspective.
7. Lindsay is a human, how does this change his perception, his dreams, and his goals?
This means that Lindsay is back to "normal." Like Margaret says, "You have yourself back. What more do you want?" And this is true. Although technology changed him first, technology helps him now to be himself again. In reference to the third question, Lindsay's point of view of happiness has changed because of the time he was out. This new him after all that time sleeping wants to have another life, another opportunity. With a new life pouring through him, he knew his choice was to dream and be happy.
8. Why is Lindsay so interested in taking Abelard Gomez with him to CK?
Lindsay is desperate to take Abelard Gomez with him to CK because Gomez represents everything youthful. After coming out of his coma, Lindsay has a much broader perspective on the universe, and his place in it. This sobering dose of reality, combined with his loss of Shaper abilities, have done much to dampen his passion for life. He is not unhappy with life per say, but he has a hard time being motivated to do anything now that he understands how insignificant he is in comparison with the universe. Taking Gomez with him ensures that he will be able to vicariously enjoy the passion of youth once more.
When Linday has his revelation about the enourmous change that could potentially, if not certainly, occur during a full lifetime (in his time), he notices a great potential in Gomez simply due to his lifespan. Lindsay wants to harness this power that lies within the young, and set it in certain direction. In simple terms, Lindsay wants to be his mentor because he understand that Gomez, over time, will have a much greater impact on society in the future than he had.
9. Lindsay loses his Shaper powers, and how is this similar to Case not having power and having to gain it in the Neuromancer? Does this situation compare to any other stories we have read?
Lindsay and Case provide a good contrast on technology affects people's lives. For Case, the return to the matrix is rejuvenating and eventually enlightens him on what is worthwhile in real life. This leads him to leave behind his old criminal low-life. For Lindsay, the exact opposite occurs; he loses his Shaper training. At first this disillusions him, but the disillusionment eventually leads to his enlightenment on what is worth spending his effort on. This leads him to leave behind all of his success and start over.
One interesting thing is that Schismatrix seems to support a similar message to The Girl Who Was Plugged In. In TGWWPI, it talks about how history moves in cycles because people keep overreacting to new stuff. In Schismatrix, this is even more clear because of the timescale. In the last few chapters alone, we went from Detente to War and back to Detente. There are tons of new movements and factions arising all over the place but nothing ever really changes.
10. Constantine is considered to be dead because he “forgot himself to pieces” (pg 184); how does his loss of personality equate to his death?
It would be sufficient to say that Constantine is dead as a human, if not dead in the physical sense. To many, the death of the mind equates to the death of the human. Many judge the existence of a person based not by their physical appearance, but by their personality. Constantine's body is now in a persistent vegetative state in which it lacks awareness and cognitive ability. Since the body of Constantine now lacks a personality, it can not be considered Constantine at all.
11. How do Shaper, Mechanist, and Zen Serotonin ideologies differ?
1. Which group, the Shapers or the Mechanists, have used technology to "exceed the limits of their bodies" on a greater scale? (This question should be recycled towards the end of the novel as well and responses could be compared)
If the body is separated from the mind in this argument, then it is clear that the Mechanists have more thoroughly changed their bodies. Even at the end of the novel, the Shapers are changing their minds more than their bodies. Shapers are changed on the genetic and psychological level, while Mechanists are changed on a more physical level. . While we see Mechanists with built in life support systems, life support drones following them around, mechanical modifications made to failing body parts, or cameras being used for eyes, Shapers only focus on altering genetic code and improving cognitive functions in order to make their minds sharper. While Shaper modifications are limited to improving material already present (DNA, brain, etc.), the Mechanists' opportunity to change is infinite; they can add an infinite amount of machines to their bodies.
Inversely, if meaning of “greater scale” was taken in context to the technology’s level of sophistication, then the Shapers have changed their bodies to a greater extent. For example, current technology has some capability to create artificial limbs, body parts, etc., but altering our own DNA beyond very simple means is far out of reach.
In another perspective, this contest might be irrelevant. It cannot really be said that the Shapers or the Mechanists exceed the limits of humanity more than each other. The characters Ryumin and Kitsune, who are respectively Mechanist and Shaper, both use their ideological methods to exceed their original human bodies regardless of their faction. Ryumin's brain is wired up and he exists as only a brain, a being of pure thought and perception. Kitsune grows to become a large complex that people live in.
By the end of the book, Shapers and Mechanists no longer exist as distinct philosophies. It doesn't really make much sense to say that one used technology to exceed the limits of a body more than the other, as they ended up in the same place anyway. In the later periods of the story, we can see Shaper and Mechanist influences combined and ubiquitous in humanity. This can be clearly seen at the end of the novel when Abelard thinks nothing of using a robot "nurse" attached to his lower body, simultaneously contemplating a complete genetic transformation. In the end, they both exceeded the limits of their bodies. Beyond those limits, there was no longer any distinction between the two.
I find that the Mechanists have exceeded their bodies limits more. The Shapers achieve their goals by manipulating the genes. In other words one could say they are unlocking the bodies true potential. The Mechanists on the other hand are extensively changing their bodies to something non human like. Also it is the Mechanists that evolve into digital life forms which are the definitions of exceeding the bodies limits.
Towards the end of Schismatrix, we see Lindsay, having attained an incredible age, sharing his wisdom. He no longer seems to see a large difference between Shapers and Mechanists. In truth, there is little. Whether you are altering your gray matter, or your muscular manner, it all matters about the same. That is, to alter the way your brain processes chemicals is no different than adding an arm. You're still altering the meat. No technological intervention can alter the soul.
2. How has the Schismatrix changed from the beginning of the story?
The Schismatrix has changed dramatically from the beginning of the story. After the arrival of the Investors, the Schismatrix was born as a tense coexistence between the clearly bifurcated Shapers and Mechanists. By the end of the story, however, the dividing line separating the Shapers and Mechanists has become much fuzzier, and as a result the Schismatrix can no longer be identified as simply a Shaper-Mechanist struggle. As Sterling mentions at various points during the final chapters of the novel, many semi-human "cults" have emerged on the fringes of society, such as the "Blood Bathers," "Patternists," and "Lobsters." These posthumans have no place in the infancy of the Schismatrix when the limits of humanity are being probed but have not been firmly transgressed. Kitsune, for example, had started as a Shaper in the Zaibatsu and thus she fits neatly into the Schismatrix. By the end of the novel, however, she has grown into an asteroid-filling organic monstrosity that can only be called human-let alone Shaper or Mechanist-by a significant stretch of its definition. Similarly, Sterling notes at one point that the cutting edge of genetic enhancement no longer belongs to Shaper researchers, but instead is becoming the domain of shadier elements of the Schismatrix like the Black Medicals. Since the Schismatrix is largely an equilibrium between the forces of Shaperism and Mechanism, the fact that the technical ideologies behind one of these core factions has been usurped by various smaller groups reflects the breakdown of the Schismatrix into less definite terms.
In the beginning of the novel, before the Investors appear, Shapers and Mechanists were the only forms of humanity that existed. At the end this has changed. Shapers and Mechanists are not the only forms of humans. There are a multitude of new beings on many different planets, and many of them have changed their bodies to a greater extent than the Shapers or Mechanists ever did.
Although the Schismatrix had changed significantly by the end of the novel, the only place in it, or at least the place where it was most evident, where "life moved in clades" was at the grassroots of mankind. Earth. As Lindsay described, the Earth population had, unlike the Shapers, Mechanists, and other various outer space cultures, abandoned liberal technological pursuit for stability.
In the beginning of the story, there is a huge conflict between Mechanists and Shapers. However, towards the end of the story, the conflict is blurred. They live in the same place with even outer space creatures who were seeking for stability.
3. How does age influences relationships? For example, the relationship between Lindsay and Kitsune.
Age seems to affect the characters in Schismatrix the same way that it does in our world. The only difference is that it happens at later point in life, due to the ability of technology to prolong their lives. Lindsay himself says he is old and talks about things that only old men would talk about. He is also no longer interested in having sex.
When dealing with age, the difference between two people who are much younger and older is more than just a physical limitaion on both parties. Yes, the elderly might have endured many hardships resulting in a deterioration of the flesh, but the much larger divide lies within their personality and interests. Due to this difference, and exactly how dramatic the age difference is, the relationship might be almost impossible to achieve on more than just a simple agreement of acceptance. Both people could theoretically be living in different worlds, yet still within close proximity of each other, and because of this, their communication has no driving force behind it that unites them and sets them on a common goal other than to simply survive.
Due to the unnatural old age that Lindsay and Constantine were able to achieve due to Shaper and Mechanist modifications, Constantine describes the extent of their relationship as "too far for words like 'friend' or 'enemy'."
4. How does the Schismatrix's application of trust differ in comparison to trust in Neuromancer? Specifically in regards to the Presence and AI's (Wintermute and Neuromancer)
Trust in Schismatrix is treated differently than trust in Neuromancer. In the former novel, Lindsay had seen huge strides in technology during his posthuman lifespan, yet at no point does he simply reject it as something "inhuman" or "unreal." For example, Lindsay gradually adopts more and more of Shaper and Mechanist technologies as a part of himself throughout the story. This culminates at the end of the novel in Lindsay relying on a mechanical cuirass to regulate the functioning of his organs. Furthermore, when Sterling describes the interaction between the grotesquely cloistered Pilot and Lindsay, he treats Pilot's posthuman immersion in technology as a curiosity, not a point of repugnance. In this way, Sterling is depicting a culture in which technology is fully trusted, even to the point of creating and accepting what the reader would view as posthuman monsters. In addition, Sterling seems to regard the technologies as a sort of evolution, natural in the same way that random genetic mutations are. He regards technology much more openly than others. In Neuromancer, conversely, technology seems to be treated with a level of distrust, and in particular artifical intelligence is regarded with suspicion. The existence of the Turing Police alone demonstrates the distrust Gibson's world has for certain technologies.
The trust that Lindsay has in the Presence at the finale of Schismatrix represents Lindsay's trust in the unknown and the unexplored, while characters in Neuromancer display a firm distrust in the unknown. The reason that artifical intelligences were so heavily regulated in Gibson's story was the cultural fear of what an artificial intelligence would do if it were not restricted. Whereas constructs like the Dixie Flatline were self-contained pieces of ROM whose actions were predictable, entities like Wintermute and Neuromancer were artifical digital creations that could stretch their ethereal fingers beyond their creators' design. This made them unpredictable, and thus agents of the unknown. Trust is based on experience. Knowing the capabilities of a certain technology allows one to understand the capacity of a technology. Understanding this capacity makes it easier to "trust" a certain technology. For example, a soldier will be much more trusting in a firearm than an average citizen will be. Additionally, the Presence and artifical intelligences both represented means of enlightenment: the Presence offered to show Lindsay the Universe, and Wintermute/Neuromancer provided the resources of a super intelligence to guide humanity. In this way, Sterling's Presence and Gibson's Wintermute and Neuromancer were both elements of the unfamiliar and unfathomable, and the authors approached them oppositely.
An argument could also be made that trust in technology is more prevalent in Neuromancer than in Schismatrix. In Neurmancer Case and Molly allow Wintermute to give them orders, trusting that it will keep them safe. Also, each time a character "jacks in" in Neuromancer they trust that the matrix will respond in ways that the characters expect it to.
5. Upon returning to Earth, Lindsay comments how "[the Terrans] didn't want technology to break them into pieces [and] blamed technology for the disasters." How does Lindsay's comment affect previous discussions about technology determinism and politics versus technological advancement (technology)?
The Terrans' scorn for technology lies in stark contrast with the Shapers' and Mechanists' liberal use. Whereas both of those factions can be seen as technologically deterministic because of how technology advances their culture, the Earth-dwellers are definitively against letting their lives become overly influenced by machinery and genetic engineering. They actively oppose technological determinism, much like the Preservationists of outer-space who strive back towards Earth.
Happiness in Schismatrix
In an article from our previous wiki, Working Tropes, there is a section about the meaning of happiness, and its curious lack of relationship between what we would normally consider its causes. The author explains this by telling us that the justification for this trope comes in the scientific view of what a person looks for in their life. The scientific conclusion is that we deeply overestimate what we exactly need in life. And by these miscalculations, we often work towards achievements that make us feel no more fulfilled then when we first started. The reason: our brains adapt psychologically to our circumstances. This especially applies to Lindsay, as he is constantly required to adapt. (Not only to details, but to entire lifestyles!) He goes from political exile, to criminal scam artist, to pirate, all in the span of a couple of chapters!
In line with human psychology, your new BMW will only make you feel happy for so long before you psychologically adapt to its worth and then downplay it. Then you have to embark on that new quest to find out what will give you that level of satisfaction you want, thus enslaving yourself in a vicious cycle. This sort of boredom with the given reality is evidenced by Lindsay becoming careless in the floating theater, taking his safety from the Shapers as a given, when he should have been vigilant. He adapted to his safety, and downplayed its significance.
To break out of the cycle, we have to fundamentally analyze what makes us happy. That is our friends, family and our own personal level of success. All too often, most people equate money with success. Success is accomplishing what an individual sets out to accomplish. Since an individual's success can be only understood by themselves, we often construct ideas such as wealth and fortune to help us conceptualize what success is. We forget that these are mere tools, constructs, ways to gauge the idea of success. They are not what we are trying to measure. If we define our happiness as the length of a measuring stick, then we will always be trying to get a bigger measuring stick.
For example: When he was young, Lindsay was rebellious. His key to happiness was to attempt to change the world. As he grows older and meets Nora, he realizes that he wants to be with her. Happiness in the middle stage of his life is to escape to an isolated place with his love. However, near the end of his life, he chooses to leave her and leaves his body. At this final stage of his life, Lindsay realizes happiness is something he cannot achieve in his body. Rather, he must find happiness in his mind, so he sets off to traverse the universe.
Biology vs. Technology
(see also Biology vs Technology Discussion)
Looking at evolution from the biological standpoint and with Darwin's theory of natural selection, these technological advancements to exceed human limits isn't considered evolution. Natural selection is the theory that the strong end up surviving and the weak end up dying based on biological and genetic functions. The limitations that the Shapers and the Mechanists are trying to exceed is purely through the use of technology. By attempting to evolve further and be the survivors of natural selection with technology covering up our limitations, we suppress the potential biological growth evolution had in store for us to rid those limitations. As a result, technology, possibly being unable to last forever, would leave us exceedingly weaker if it was to disappear (like in Lindsay's case). As a result, we may be the ones to die off during the next natural selections circle without the necessary biological evolution to fix our limitations.
Transcending the Human Form
Both the Shapers and Mechanists are intent on transcending what they see as limitations of the human form (both physically and intellectually). Schismatrix makes bold statements on the nature of humanity and its limits, as exemplified by the factions below.
The Shaper seemed to have altered their physical and mental state of being to escape human limitation. A quick example would be Lindsay's extreme diplomatic smoothness, which his first wife describes as "scary" near the beginning of the novel. In these altered states of consciousness (possibly higher levels of consciousness?) "primitive" emotions are relegated to the back of the mind and essentially not present, resulting in a cool thought processes.
Shapers are not limited by the genes they inherit, and instead take their gene line into their own hands. They clone and alter their DNA in order to achieve a desired effect, such as a longer lifespan, greater intelligence, and the ability to manipulate others. They do not rely on mechanical modes of transcending the human form, like the Mechanists do. While it can be argued that these alterations to the human gene pool are not natural, it is, unlike the Mechanists' technology, entirely biological.
The Mechanists, in contrast to the Shapers, use mechanical augmentations to surpass the classical human form's abilities. Prosthetic limbs, artificial organs, and even fully integrating their selves with their information networks (such as Ryumin) are used to obtain extreme longevity, even immortality. Ryumin's integration of himself into his information network as Kitsune's transformation (literally becoming the world she controls) also pose questions as to whether or not one is still fully "human" when all the parts have been replaced (This is Ship of Theseus paradox, but applied to humanity).
Many people consider humanity to be dependent upon biological components. The Mechanists challenge this ideology by implanting their body with mechanical components, in some cases to extreme extents, in order to enhance their own biology. The philosophical problem with this is that it's difficult to draw a line in the sand about whether something is human or not based upon the percentage of biological components to non-biological matter. By enhancing themselves in these ways, they are able to transcend the normal bounds of humanity; a common theme throughout our readings. They also serve as the strongest counterpoint to the Shapers biological modelling.
TODO: expand upon this discussion
The Posthumans attempt to live life without the technologies that the Shapers and Mechanists so heavily depend on to increase their lifespan. They were inspired by Lindsay to pursue this way of life, although it is clear Lindsay relies on both Shaper and Mechanist technologies. Although the Posthumans claim that they do not make use of life-extension technology, once they reach a certain age, they leave the Republic to find a place where their lives may be extended without social consequences.
Over-Dependence on Technology
A caveat to transcending the human form is the method by which it is done. Using technology to transcend a human form suggests that without technology this new human form is unstable. Both the Shapers and the Mechanists would find themselves in dire straits if their access to technology was restricted. The limitations of the human body can never be truly exceeded by any force other than evolution. Depending upon technology to extend certain limitations really only further weakens these limitations. Lindsay's experience with losing his Shaper abilities is evidence that suggests technology is too much a part of this society's life. Lindsay's entire mind and outlook on life is changed when he loses the abilities technology granted him - he is arguably not even the same person anymore.
Lindsay, The Anti-Hero
(see also The Anti-Hero)
While Lindsay is most surely Schismatrix's protagonist, he is most certainly not a hero in the conventional sense. Much as the character Case in Neuromancer, Lindsay exhibits the characteristics of the Anti-Hero Archetype. Throughout the course of the novel, Lindsay's primary concern is over his own welfare. Even though he started by fighting for the Shaper cause, Lindsay became focused on surviving and breaking down the boundaries of the Human form after Constantine's betrayal, be it through his shaper training, genetic engineering or mechanical augmentation.
Lindsay does not fit the bill of a typical "hero"-- he is clearly out for his own gain, and is not worried about any long-standing sense of morality. His primary concern is for his own hide. Instead of trying to follow society's guidelines, he makes his own, adapting the world around him to suit his own purposes. This is a classic anti-hero role-- because while he is by no means a villain, he can't be considered a saint by any stretch of the imagination.
- Sterling, Bruce. Schismatrix Plus. Ace trade edition. New York City: The Berkley Publishing Group, 1996. Print.