The Stone Canal

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Plot Summary


The novel opens with a scene in which the main protagonist, John Wilde, is resurrected by a mysterious robot, Jay Dub. Utilizing many frames of reference, and alternating between the current time on New Mars and that of Old Earth, the story follows John's new found life and retells the scenario that brought him to this point. Shortly thereafter, in action film imagined pursuit an unknown non-human, Dee Model, is introduced being chased by several repo men who are evaded with the help of the abolitionist Tamara. Escorted by Tamara, they flee to the hidden circle square, an imagined anarchist center for the abolitionists. As the novel progresses the story branches off into two distinct portions, the past and the present.

The Past

The back story of New Mars, portrayed every other chapter in the book, slowly fills the reader in on how Reidd and Wilde came to be in another part of the universe and an understanding of the forces at play there. Shortly after being revived, John Wilde quickly learns that many blame him for the "loss" of WW3 and these chapters serve to show how the political muse he was ascends to being a prominent figure in the world. Chiefly these chapters focus on the competitive struggle that creates much tension between Reidd and Wilde and how their desire for Annette leads to a deep seated conflict between them. After securing Annette, Wilde lives a period of relative insignificance in which he dabbles in space technology trade that for a long time proceeds no where, until world events put him in a position (supplied by Reidd) to change history. Further chapters reveal his role in the growing business in Nuclear Securities, his development as an anarcho-capitalist community leader (ironic a bit), and his involvement in the Space Defense that made him very wealthy. It draws quickly to a close as after a brief encounter with Myra there is a border enforcement incident in which he is killed.

Jay Dub's Excursion

Near the end of the novel, though in the middle of the time line, the history of the mysterious Jay Dub is revealed. Here it is shown how Jay Dub is a robotic recreation of Wilde's intelligence and his part in the construction of the wormhole. Chiefly this shows how Reid positioned himself to be the "leader" of the New Mars colony. Interesting though, is the portrayal of the semi-robotic laborers as slaves that are kept happy through complex virtual realities (and there own personal mistresses). Two topics are dealt with here that were largely unanswered questions at the start of the novel:

  • The Fast Folk
This excursion into Jay Dub's history reveals who the Fast Folk were, that they were initially human consciousnesses uploaded to a new entity. However, as they became smarter and smarter the began to be able to slow time around them and their civilizations began to progress at an enormous pace relative to outside time. Gradually, they lost interest (as their intelligences expanded) in the "mortal world" and left the construction of the wormhole and reality behind as they journeyed to the end of the universe. This outcome, and its possible disastrous implications clarify the populous' negative view on the Fast Folk in the beginning of the novel.
  • Jay Dub's Awakening
It also served to illustrate how Jay Dub went from being a mindless robot to the smart and cunning intelligence he is portrayed as in the rest of the novel. Interestingly enough, it is the result of the succubus' power to become anything their "other" desires that allows Jay Dub to transcend his barriers. By requesting Meg to simply be smarter, they find a way to work around the system that was implemented to keep their consciousness and freedoms in check.

Tropes and Trope Intersections Appearing in this Work

Men's Work vs Women's Work

  • There seems to be distinct differences between the work men do and the work women do. In the first Chapter we see evidence of this: "They're expecting Secretary, and Sex, and Self..."(Macleod 351), where the character Dee is referring to the programs that were originally loaded onto 'her'. 'Her' is used because Dee is a female-typed cyborg. If the society gives most/all 'female' cyborgs these preloaded programs it says a lot about how women are treated as a whole. "In our division of domestic labour, shopping was down to Annette." (Macleod 556), This suggests that dividing women's work from men's work, women gets the stereotypical shopping, cleaning etc. However, Men do seem to share the responsibility of cooking. Later on in the book, Tamara, Myra, and sometimes Annette have a more prominent role where they are actively involved with the occurring politics and war. Yet the women's role is still not as large as men's.

Machine Labor

  • Many of the characters in the story are cyborgs, including Dee, practically David Reid's sex slave, and Jay Dub, a stimulation of Jon Wilde used for Reid's companionship. Reid describes Jay Dub as having "a greater mind than yours or mine, Jon..." Jay Dub's human characteristics were unable to overcome his machine tendencies. There are also machines that are not human equivalent and are only programmed to be knowledgeable to certain areas.
  • The city in New Mars where the main characters live have 5 sections. Like a Starfish, where each arm is independent of the other. Four of them consists of machines who thrive and work without human control. This shows that these machines are self aware and do not need humans to live, while humans on New Mars depend on machines to live. This also shows that each arm acts independently and will not fail to survive if the other four are destroyed and cease to function.

Mental Labor

  • Much of the work present in the story is mental labor. Physical labor is rarely, if ever, seen. Wilde, Reid, Myra and Annette never strain themselves with physical work. They instead, for the most part, discuss politics. Wilde demonstrates mental labor when deciding with Myra whether or not to sell Germany nuclear warfare. He is forced to make a choice concerning his business with the knowledge he possesses.


  • Property can also be discussed in the Stone Canal. Reid is said to own Dee model. But what gives him the right to own a machines who is self aware? During the case of Reid vs. Wilde and Tamara, Judge Talgarth claims that "[Dee Model] ... has beeb constructed by the resources and efforts of David Reid, and remains his property until he decides otherwise." (Macleod 546) Even though Dee is a sentient being, Reid created her, and that is all that counts to establish ownership.

Human vs. Machine

  • In this novel, the line between Human and Machine is very blurred and the question whether something is a human or a machine comes up a lot. Humans can be brought back to life by replicating their body and copying their mind. However, human minds can also be copied over to a "robot body" or stored in a macro (and connect to a virtual reality). This connects to the larger theme of fake vs real. We have to ask ourselves at what point do we no longer consider ourselves human.


  • Ring Canal: The Ring Canal on New Mars is a nod to the Ringstrasse in Vienna. The Ringstrasse is a ring street in Vienna that was built in the mid 1800's. It became a hotbed of cultural and political ideas in the Hapsburg Empire. [1] Like the Ringstrasse, the Ring Canal is a region known for its liberal politics and unique culture.
  • COBOL: In chapter one of the book, Stras Cobol is mentioned as the name of a place. In chapter two, (time previous to chapter one) Reid suggests it as a name for a future city. COBOL is one of the oldest computer programming languages dating back to 1959 when it was first imagined.[2] COBOL stands for Common Business-Oriented Language.[3]
  • Invisible Hand Legal Services This is an allusion to Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations and the Invisible Hand that Smith says controls the market systems of capitalist societies. The control that the Invisible Hand Legal System has shown in the Ring Canal region is very reminiscent of the type of control that Smith describes in his Invisible Hand. The Invisible Hand Legal System reacts to cues, i.e. cries for help, and then adjusts its response to the situation in much the same way that Smith's helps to bring markets to equilibrium.
  • Cold Death: The cold death deals with one possible scenario for the end of the universe. As the second law of thermodynamics tells us, the entropy (disorder) of the universe is constantly increasing. Thus as time goes on the disorder of the universe will increase to a point where there is no longer any energy available to do work. Therein the universe will be a cold place in perfect equilibrium in which nothing is changing. It will simply sit there as a dead mass in space for all time.
  • The Crush: This alternative scenario of the universes death deals with the possible implications of gravitational effects. Here it is thought that the universe will eventually stop expanding due to gravitational attraction between galaxies and their mutual attraction will pull them towards each other. They will eventually collide into a super-dense mass state and recreate a new Big Bang and hte universe will start over again.

Relation to Other Class Materials

Blade Runner

  • The Repo men seem to be strangely similar to the blade runners themselves. They are sent after these 'rogue robots' in an attempt to capture them and bring them back to their 'owners'. The main difference being that instead of 'retiring' the robot, they are required to bring them back. While they do not play as large a role in this story as the Blade Runners do in the movie, it is still an interesting connecting. It could also suggest that thee robots would still not be completely autonomous as recapture would give the impression they can be reprogrammed to serve again. The replicates in Blade Runner would therefore seem more independent as they would not revert back to their subservient selves.

The Dispossessed

  • Le Guin's anarchy is rooted in equality, with all citizens living in equality, and social norms governing individual behavior. Macleod's anarchy is very different from this. Society is governed moreso by social contracts than by social norms. Equality is also not preserved on New Mars as it is on Annares - there are rich people, poor people, political factions, intelligent machines, unintelligent machines, and many other different groups of people. Finally, the economy is very capitalist, and allows for possessions, exchange of money, property rights, and a court system. While Annaresti citizens gained power through sameness, the differences between New Mars and Annares show that New Mars grants power through differences.
  • While LeGuin seemed to have anarchy for anarchy sake, Macleod's story is grounded in a semblance of reality. His characters have more knowledge of how the world really works, and how their political ideals fit in with this world. The Stone Canal presents all points of view through various characters, letting the reader decide what they stand for, whereas The Dispossessed was based on swaying the reader towards anarchy without many contras to the idea presented by only one pro-anarchy character.
  • Another similarity is in the alternating present and past chapters. In the Dispossessed, the switch back and forth was rough, and often times distracted from the overall story. In The Stone Canal, however, the book flows from chapter to chapter, present to past, like it was meant to be written that way.
  • The protagonists in both stories receive criticism for their ideas and revolutions. Shevek gets harassed when leaving Annares, as does his daughter at school, for his acceptance of Urras and his visit there. Wilde must come face to face with Judge Eon Talgarth who openly views him as an oppurtunist. He's also called a nuclear terrorist on the news.

Ghost in the Shell and The Secret Sharer

  • In all of these stories (including the Stone Canal), the human body can be altered - recycled, modified, duplicated, etc. In The Secret Sharer humans had the choice to "download" and "upload" their minds into many devices. For example, Vox uploaded her mind into a matrix in which it would be stored for a length of the interstellar trip. Then here "data" could be downloaded into another human body when they reached their destination. In Ghost in the Shell the human body can be modified to improve physical and mental performance. For example, Major's body is modified so that she can be invisible and her mind is modified to perform faster (among other things). Finally, in the Stone Canal, people can be duplicated or brought back from death. For example Wilde and Dee have been turned into a duplicate and a gynoid, respectively.


  • Dee Model is expressing that, even as a creation, she is sufficiently advanced to be entitled to the basic human right of liberty. She is willing to fight for her rights, both while escaping custody, and later in a legal battle. Frankenstein's creature demands a similar sort of human right. It too manages to escape and flee, and notices that, while technically free, it does not have the ability to integrate into any known society, and therefore cannot seek out what would make him happy, companionship. Pursuit of happiness is another basic human right and he returns to Frankenstein and demands to be given it.
  • Another similarity is in how the narrative is structured. With the Antarctic timeline being in the present and the creation, escape, and rampage of Frankenstein's creature being woven through flashbacks. This is similar to the dual timeline of The Stone Canal; although the futuristic technology and progressive writing style allows the gap to be longer, the main characters do exist in both timelines, and they have changed significantly in both stories over that time.

The Animatrix and The Matrix

  • The Matrix is a complex virtual reality made for the humans' minds as their bodies are gathered as an energy source for the machines. The humans are not aware for this existence and are made to believe that the VR is the actual reality. This is similar to the state Wilde wakes up in. He believes he is in a large space craft and was simply revived. Once Meg became "as smart as she could become" she explained the virtual reality state. This is similar to the Matrix because the characters think they are in reality but soon realize their existence has been a virtual reality for some time.

Relation to current class texts

He, She and It

  • He, She and It is the most glaring similarity right off the bat because during that novel they are trying to simulate a person within a cyborg. In this novel we see that they are not just trying to simulate a person in a cyborg, they actually put a person's mind inside of the cyborg.

Neuromancer & Schismatrix

  • In both of these novels people are constantly modifying themselves. In Gibson's Neuromancer, Molly has extreme modifications. In Schismatrix, the Mechanists also heavily modify their bodies by means of mechanical parts. The shapers in this novel also modify themselves, however it is with genetic modifications and not machinery.

Relations to Other Media

12 Monkeys

Much like John Wilde, the main character James Cole is living in two distant times run by two very different governments. The effects of the past can be seen throughout the film much like they are seen in The Stone Canal. Both characters are placed in very different societies from their own but must continue their work while trying to adapt. See page for more insight.

Historical Influences

The Communist Manifesto

  • Many of the characters in the background chapters of the story (the even numbered chapters) are life long leftists, be they communists, socialists, or some other sect. Many of these characters have their ideas influenced by Marx's work. New Mars is a society without a government this is exactly what Marx wanted to happen after the overthrow of the bourgeois.
  • The overthrown of the UN/US government or the Fall Revolution is what Marx would have wanted to happen. Marx saw that eventually the society will become an anarchy. This is exactly what happens on New Mars and this Fall Revolution.

Wealth of Nations

  • After the Revolution, the prices of all goods went up. Wilde figured the chaos has created a power struggle and many saw this as a chance of getting wealthy. Wilde was one of the ones that profited from this. Wilde is an advocate for free market. The invisible hand system on New Mars is a allusion to this work. The people of New Mars are only concerned about profits and money this suggests that they are influenced by Smith's work.

Political Ideologies


  • A system without government or organization.


  • A system based on limited government and the idea that individuals are best suited to make decisions for themselves.


  • A system with large government built on equality regardless of individuals.


  • A system without government, but driven by a free market.


  1. Lundberg, Arron. The Ringstrasse Era and Beyond. Retrieved March 16, 2010 from
  2. COBOL (16 March 2010). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved March 17th, 2010, from
  3. COBOL (16 March 2010). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved March 17th, 2010, from
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