Monday, October 02, 2006

Through a Mirror Shade Darkly: The Subtle Sublime of Cyberpunk Part 03

Speaking from orbit, Yuri Gagarin, the first human to travel into space was reported to have said, “I don’t see any god up here”. On first glance, the characters of cyberpunk seem to be saying the same thing, albeit from the vantage point of seeing a “perfectly detailed rendition of Planet Earth” in Stephenson’s Metaverse (106). William Gibson “openly and methodically mocks organized religion…implying that it is potentially crazed and possibly even hazardous to one’s mental and physical well being” (Olsen, 281), and portrays a couple of urban missionaries as predators “edging toward a trio of young office techs” who stand “like tall exotic grazing animals” (Gibson, 1984: 77).

Neal Stephenson’s portrayal of the Pentecostal L. Bob Rife in Snow Crash as good-old-boy-turned-megalomaniac seems to make his comparison of televangelists with “polluted rivers, greenhouse effect…and serial killers” (293) superfluous, but the injury has already been added to insult to organized religion. When Y.T. visits “the Reverend Wayne’s Pearly Gates #1106”, transcendent language is used to describe the Visa transaction necessary to enter the interior of the chapel, the swiping of the card as a “sacrament…as though tearing back a veil” after which “it just remains for a Word from on High”, namely for the charge card to be verified (195).

Yet despite this “fashionable condescension toward religion” (Olsen, 281), cyberpunk maintains a sort of ambivalence toward religious imagery and metaphor. Greg Bear’s “Petra” is thick with it. The setting is a Cathedral, wherein live animated gargoyles, stone saints, fornicating nuns and a patriarchal bishop. God is dead, and the Stone Christ in the Cathedral proves a poor replacement, “only as good as He does” which in the end is nothing and therefore “there is no salvation in Him” (115). He contains “barely…enough power to keep myself together, to heal myself, much less minister to those out there” (121). In the end, it is up to the collected minds of the newly enlightened dwellers of the Cathedral to hold reality together in a consensual creation.

Tom Maddox attempts a similar theme in “Snake Eyes” where the religious imagery takes on the form of the cerebrally implanted wire-snake which has clear diabolical overtones, described as an “incubus that wants to take possession of my soul” (13). Maddox would like his reader to conclude that George and Lizzie are “Adam and Eve under the flaming sword, thrown out of Eden, fucking under the eyes of God and his angel, more beautiful than they can ever be” (33), and by implication, so are we all; outside paradise, having to make our own way. However, despite the statement that there’s “no place to go, no Eden” (28), it is ultimately the mysterious and somewhat omniscient artificial intelligence of Aleph, who precipitates victory over George’s “uncivilized, uncontrolled nature” (22) by urging George toward his attempted suicide, thereby defeating the snake. This Aleph, named for the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and by extension related to the Hebrew name for God given to Moses in Exodus 3:14, observes the personnel of Athena Station with a certain omniscience, and is said to love humanity (32), attributing godlike qualities to the AI.

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