Zero History was influenced by...

George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four???

I wonder if Mr Gibson took any subconscious influence from the great novel?

...Newspeak, Doublethink, the Thought Police, Ingsoc, Crimestop and ultimately Big Brother?

X-post from the Random Thoughts reading thread...



Finished Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell in just a few days.

I found it started at quite a slow pace, before building to fever pitch then subsiding towards the inevitable conclusion, all-in-all perfectly attune to the three segments of the storyline.

I can only hazard a guess at the complexity and train of thought of the novelist. It was bleak, brutal and warm in so many ways. The contrast was a main theme for me. A classic, that I really should have read quite some time ago. I've never watched the film and don't think I'll soil my experience doing so in the near future. So very ahead of its time and a dark prophecy of where we're headed!

Easy to see just how many books and films have been influenced by this novel. Whilst reading it I wondered just how much it may have influenced the upcoming Zero History.

An excellent read.

"An oblong slip of newspaper had appeared between O'Brien's fingers. For perhaps five seconds it was within the angle of Winston's vision. It was a photograph, and there was no question of its identity. It was the photograph. It was another copy of the photograph of Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford at the party function in New York, which he had chanced upon eleven years ago and promptly destroyed. For only an instant it was before his eyes, then it was out of sight again. But he had seen it, unquestionably he had seen it! He made a desperate, agonizing effort to wrench the top half of his body free. It was impossible to move so much as a centimetre in any direction. For the moment he had even forgotten the dial. All he wanted was to hold the photograph in his fingers again, or at least to see it.

'It exists!' he cried.

'No,' said O'Brien.



He stepped across the room. There was a memory hole in the opposite wall. O'Brien lifted the grating. Unseen, the frail slip of paper was whirling away on the current of warm air; it was vanishing in a flash of flame. O'Brien turned away from the wall.

'Ashes,' he said. 'Not even identifiable ashes. Dust. It does not exist. It never existed.'

'But it did exist! It does exist! It exists in memory. I remember it. You remember it.'

'I do not remember it,' said O'Brien.

Winston's heart sank. That was doublethink. He had a feeling of deadly helplessness. If he could have been certain that O'Brien was lying, it would not have seemed to matter. But it was perfectly possible that O'Brien had really forgotten the photograph. And if so, then already he would have forgotten his denial of remembering it, and forgotten the act of forgetting. How could one be sure that it was simple trickery? Perhaps that lunatic dislocation in the mind could really happen: that was the thought that defeated him.

O'Brien was looking down at him speculatively. More than ever he had the air of a teacher taking pains with a wayward but promising child.

'There is a Party slogan dealing with the control of the past,' he said. 'Repeat it, if you please.'

'"Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past,"' repeated Winston obediently.

'"Who controls the present controls the past,"' said O'Brien, nodding his head with slow approval. 'Is it your opinion, Winston, that the past has real existence?'

Again the feeling of helplessness descended upon Winston. His eyes flitted towards the dial. He not only did not know whether 'yes' or 'no' was the answer that would save him from pain; he did not even know which answer he believed to be the true one.

O'Brien smiled faintly. 'You are no metaphysician, Winston,' he said. 'Until this moment you had never considered what is meant by existence. I will put it more precisely. Does the past exist concretely, in space? Is there somewhere or other a place, a world of solid objects, where the past is still happening?'

'No.'

'Then where does the past exist, if at all?'

'In records. It is written down.'

'In records. And --?'

'In the mind. In human memories.'

'In memory. Very well, then. We, the Party, control all records, and we control all memories. Then we control the past, do we not?'

'But how can you stop people remembering things?' cried Winston again momentarily forgetting the dial. 'It is involuntary. It is outside oneself. How can you control memory? You have not controlled mine!'

O'Brien's manner grew stern again. He laid his hand on the dial.

'On the contrary,' he said, 'you have not controlled it. That is what has brought you here. You are here because you have failed in humility, in self-discipline. You would not make the act of submission which is the price of sanity. You preferred to be a lunatic, a minority of one. Only the disciplined mind can see reality, Winston. You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right. You also believe that the nature of reality is self-evident. When you delude yourself into thinking that you see something, you assume that everyone else sees the same thing as you. But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. That is the fact that you have got to relearn, Winston. It needs an act of self-destruction, an effort of the will. You must humble yourself before you can become sane.' "
 
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I think it is a very safe bet to say that Gibson is influenced by Orwell. Orwell is even mentioned explicitly in Zero History:

“I did not come to this country for the terror from paramilitary," declared Voytek, hoarsely. "I did not come to this country for motherfucker. But motherfucker is waiting. Always. Is carceral state, surveillance state. Orwell. You have read Orwell?”

Gibson wrote the following tribute for the Orwell Centenary in 2003:

Road to Oceana

As Gibson says, Orwell wrote *the* modernist dystopia "I've seen it said that because he chose to go there, as rigorously and fearlessly as he did, we don't have to"

Gibson's Sprawl series, in my estimation is *the* post-modern dystopia in the same tradition as Orwell. Throughout his works he explores the nature of consciousness, memory and history heavily. However I think he takes it to a whole new meta-level in the Bridge series. I believe Gibson's biggest tribute to Orwell was Virtual Light. Arguably VL is all about Orwell's 1984, and by extension the nature of science fiction itself and its role in history (or the collective conscious memespace). Where transhumanists see science fiction as a means to realizing a post-human "manifest destiny" by assimilating us into the borg, I think Gibson sees the transhumanists as sharing the same totalitarian pedigree as Ing Soc ("IntenSecure" ) and wrote VL to cut Transhumanist ICE in memespace. In this way VL is a sort of Godel sentence in the science fiction domain - a sort of Shapely anti-virus. I comment a little more about this here:

Metafiction
 
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It is exciting to contrast the opening chapters of Virtual Light and 1984.

The courier is in Mexico - the dystopian future. He does not live here - he is only visiting. Looking out the window of his hotel he sees helicopters, bombs have gone off - it is almost as if he is experiencing the "war flicks" in Winston Smith's opening journal entry first hand. The courier wishes he was in Tokyo - an alternative future - but no, he is in Mexico. But he drinks "Come Back Salmon" Japanese vodka - the name almost as irritating as "Victory Gin" but somehow easier to swallow. And he watches television. He does not have to fear the television the way Winston fears the telescreen - no, the thought police in this dystopian future have a far more subtle mechanism of control. It is insidious, reflecting his own experiences and memories so it seems like the memes are his own thoughts and desires. And it is seductive - mysterious, sexy, exciting, addictive. It is more real than real because it is behind his eyes. And it filters everything he sees.

The nameless courier ventures out into the Mexico night only to find El Coche, "the Car". The Vehicle. He is terrified - who could possibly be the driver of this relic polluting the air? I think the courier is horrified by his own reflection in its mirrored surface. He is haunted by the thought that he himself could be the driver....

I find it fascinating that the courier is nameless. Winston Smith is left fairly empty (which makes him a good vehicle), but at least he has a name, both heroic and ordinary. (Almost like "Chevette Washington.")

I wonder if the courier is one of the author's avatars in the novel - depicting the author's shock of self-recognition, and revulsion in realizing that through his 10 year romance with the erotic simstim of cyberpunk fiction he may have been an unwitting vehicle of his worst nightmares....*

It is also interesting that we do not see him acquire the Sunflower VL glasses - they just sort of emerge when he is "carrying" them in a later chapter "the data becomes a physical thing"...

1984 opens with Winston's ultimate act of subversion - he starts to write a diary of his own memories, his own account of history. I think VL is Gibson's equivalent of Winston's diary, Gibson's subversion is in writing his own account of fiction.**

*Edit: Mulling this idea a little further I realize the courier is not the author's avatar, but rather a symbol of hard sf prior to the advent of cyberpunk - obsessed with the same old tropes, churning them over and over again. The more I think about it, the Courier is viscerally disturbed by El Coche but is not aware of "why" - he does not really recognize what it is or what it means consciously... that he is looking in a fractal mirror...

** Edit 2* Interesting line in the Wiki entry on WG: "After considering pursuing a master's degree on the topic of hard science fiction novels as fascist literature Gibson discontinued writing in the year that followed graduation and, as one critic put it, expanded his collection of punk records." Fascinating. In my estimation Virtual Light is Gibson's thesis in the form of a punk-rock record (albeit a surreal record, in the manner of Magritte's "The Treason of Images" or "ceci n'est pas un roman de science-fiction")
 
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we could crank it out before sunrise
a marathon
 
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do any of you want to help me write a book?
 
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we have plenty of time
if any of you want to write
send me my shadow in the first google images page
 
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Pardon me.

I seem to have dropped my pen.

Have you seen it?

 
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