Thursday, 15 March 2007

Appealing, if not appealingly

Dear Dweebs,

I'm compiling a slender bibliography of science fiction texts - flicks or books, it don't matter which - that address questions of false memory, repressed memory, lost memory, [adjective of choice] memory, or epistemological angst in general. Any suggestions from those of you more au fait with the lit, I'd be most grateful to be receivin'. You'll get your reward in Galaxy 9. (I also perform private bagpipe recitals, where required.)

Yours beggily,

Lexicon.

26 comments:

"Like the drink" said...

I don't know if the following flicks "address (the) questions", but they certainly contain one or more subjects on your list as key themes:

The Matrix – epistemological angst in general
Dark City – false memory, lost memory
Total Recall – false memory, repressed memory
Cypher – false memory, repressed memory
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – lost memory (I think it counts as sci-fi, since I'm not aware of a successful existing implementation of the technology described/portrayed)

TimT said...

The last three books in the 'Life in the West' Quartet by Brian Aldiss:

Forgotten Life - actually a straightforward English novel, which if I *ahem* recall correctly is about a man coming to terms with the life of his older brother through letters, etc. Contains lots of subplots about miscarriage, repressed emotion, repressed love, and (shudder!) boarding school, which is where the 'forgotten life' bit comes in.

Remembrance Day - interlinked stories about people who are involved in an IRA bomb blast.

Somewhere East of Life - the main character has his memories of three years of his life stolen and he spends the rest of the novel wandering a war-torn Eastern Europe searching for them.

(In some of his more classic SF stories, Aldiss returns to the idea of 'racial' memory - ie, Jungian archetypes, etc - fairly frequently. It's the basis of the time travelling that takes part in 'Cryptozoic' (also called 'An Age'), where the characters travel back to various periods in human history.)

Or:

Time Out Of Joint, Philip K. Dick - for most of the novel, the main character thinks he is living in 1950s America, but comes to realise he is actually from the 21st century and is having his memories of that time repressed(!) (I can't remember how they pull this off, but it's a good 'un - first read it in my Dad's old copies of 'Astounding Science Fiction').

The Status Civilisation - (Robert Sheckley) A guy wakes up on a prison ship with absolutely no memory of his past - along with about a million other people on the same ship. In the second chapter they get told by the guards that they were exceedingly violent criminals on planet Earth, and that now they have a chance to redeem themselves by starting a new life on a new planet. By the third chapter, they're all dumped on this planet full of violent criminals... and the fun begins.
At the end of the book, the hero has a battle with his own subconscious mind in order to retrieve repressed memories (or similar) of his life on planet earth. Or something. Good stuff, though!

Mindswap (Sheckley again) - In this one, a tourist travelling to Mars swaps minds with a Martian, who turns out to be an intergalactic criminal. He is told by the Martian authorities that he has to vacate the body within a day, and for the rest of the novel he mindswaps his way across the galaxy. He retains his memories of Earth, but apparently he gains some memories along the way - the hero knows how to operate the bodies which he 'inhabits'. He does eventually get back to earth - in a sense. Jolly good stuff!

Ballard probably deals with it in his novels (I haven't read many of them). The best short-story example I can think of is 'The Man on the 99th Floor', about a guy who is climbing the stairs in a high-rise, but for some reason can't go past the last stair on the 99th floor. apparently it has something to do with him being hypnotised in the weeks before. He confronts these memories by the end of the story - or something.

... there has to be more. I'll get back to you.

Yours,
Monsier Dweeb

Karen said...

I'm not much of a sci-fi buff, but bumps on the head and epistemological angst of the historical/temporal variety feature prominently in The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling- which is worth reading just for the premise- an alternate universe in which Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace invent the computer in the 1850s, through the eyes of characters from Disraeli's Sybil.

Maria said...

Nor am I a real sci fi fan, but I'm going to tentatively suggest some and you might decide whether they fit the sci-fi category or not)

K-Pax - depends on whether you actually believe Robert Porter/prot is an alien, or is he a schizophrenic?

Brave New World - my instinct is that a futuristic book on a dystopian society where drugs are used to erase memories counts.

1984 - again, memory control through erasing history. It would be interesting to wonder whether this would be counted as "sci-fi" - it doesn't really have many qualities of it, but some of Orwell's projections and fantasies for a futuristic dystopian society would probably have been scientifically advanced if you consider the time in which he wrote the book, but are outdated now.

Karen said...

Brain wave. Naked Lunch, but just about anything by William Burroughs.

Karen said...

Also, if your trajectory is memory and technology (especially memory/desire and technology), one of my favourite novels:

Angela Carter- The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman

(These brain waves are becoming very distracting!)

TimT said...

A Scanner Darkly Phillip K Dick - The main character in this is a detective who has to surreptitiously observe a group of Narcs. To do this, he has to become a Narc himself - he subsequently leads a double life, and he's unaware in either of his identities of his other 'self'. The police essentially make him take out surveillance on himself!

Rendezvous with Rama - Arthur C. Clarke. A group of astronauts go to explore a large metal interstellar object. It turns out to be a kind of museum for an alien civilisation, which is activated automatically when it comes within a certain distance of the sun. It's not clear by the end of the novel if this museum is a relic of a vanished civilisation - Clarke hints that it's actually a conscious attempt of the alien civilisation to communicate with humans.

Aeon Flux (the movie) - Racial memories/'reincarnation' plays a part in the unfolding off the plot.

The Brothel in Rosenstrasse - Most of Mike Moorcock's novels have memory play a part - usually the hero discovers he is an incarnation of the 'eternal champion', part of an ongoing war between 'Law and Chaos'. Frabjuous but entertaining stuff that draws on Hindu mythology and existentialism, amongst others. 'The Brothel' is much more subtle and fulfilling - it's not quite SF, but not quite 'normal' fiction, either. It's set in a fictional city-state (Rosenstrasse) at a time of siege. (1st World War). A set of effete European aristocrats are holed up in a brothel with not much food and a hell of a lot of cocaine. The book is written as a series of reminiscences by Rickart von Bekk (I think that's his name), partly in mourning for his lost lover (Alexandra/Alexandrina). Who, rather fabulously, is lifted out of the city by means of a hot-air balloon! It's both personal reminiscence (for lost lovers/friends) and political/historical (for lost ways of life/lost civilisation).

Karen said...

The Brothel in Rosenstrasse sounds very similar to Infernal Desire Machines, although perhaps a little lighter on the Foucault! In fact, it sounds so much like the sort of thing that amuses me that I will have to track it down myself when I have time.

If you go down the lost way of life/organicism thread, Raymond Williams on Sci-fi would be a good critical jumping off point.

TimT said...

What is organicism?

alexis said...

You people, you're marvellous, the lot of you. Thank you so much for all this. I knew you could do it. (Did briefly worry that the address to "dear dweebs" might put you off, you being so resolutely cool and all, but you seem to have embraced the possibilities of dweebulence with open arms.) The powers of your bloggy minds are phenomenal.

No one mentions Blade Runner, or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? -- but obviously no need, because I happened to have that one up my sleeve already.

As for what gets to count as science fiction, I suppose it depends how broadly you define science. Someone suggested the other day that the Clan of the Cave Bear series (potboilers set in an age of neolithic free love) count as science fiction because their palaeological speculations count as scientific speculations.

Anyway, keep 'em coming, if there are any more to come.

I toast you, one and all.

Karen said...

Sorry, I was talking in academic shorthand because I knew Alexis, as a Victorianist, would know what I mean. It's the literary tradition Raymond Williams traces in Culture and Society. It's how Romanticism feeds into the way British socialism develops, especially through someone like William Morris (with whom I am hopelessly in love). Think lost pre-lapsarian/pre-Oedipal state.

Got to hop on a train now, but will let you know, Alexis, if I have any more brain waves when I get home. I define sci-fi broadly, yes.

"Like the drink" said...

Come to think of it, David Cronenberg's Videodrome probably counts, in that the perceived experiences of people tuned into Videodrome aren't real, so in time they become false memories.

Oh, and then there's the forgettable movie The Forgotten, which is about aliens erasing memories in their human test subjects.

Mark said...

I second the Philip K. Dick novels/films. He spent many pages blurring memory and identity in A Scanner Darkly, We'll Remember It For You Wholesale/Total Recall and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?/Blade Runner.

As you might guess from its title Jonathan Lethem's Amnesia Moon has quite a bit to do with forgotten and misremembered memories in a post-apocalyptic America. It's fabulously strange and doesn't even come close to resolving itself.

I've only seen the 2002 version of Solaris but I hear the original 1970's Russian version and the Stanislaw Lem novel they were both based on are great too. The theme there is visceral memory - the crew on a spacecraft have their memories come to life thanks to a strange planet.

Wong Kar-wai's gorgeous 2046 has a science-fiction subplot that is a novel written by one of the main characters. It touches on the ideas of false and idealised memory.

The anime Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence has an absolutely mind-bending scene involving two detectives having their brains "hacked" ad false memories implanted.

More psychological thriller than sci-fi but the anime Perfect Blue also deals with amnesia and false memory. It's quite suspenseful and disturbing in places but well worth a look.

"Like the drink" said...

What about the short story Johnny Mnemonic by William Gibson? The 'repressed' memory in the story isn't that of normal human experiences, but sensitive data that has been directly uploaded into the title character's brain implant. Without knowing what your intent is for compiling the list, Alexis, this may or may not fit the bill.

Maria said...

I was tentative about the classification of sci-fi, not being a connoisseur of the genre. Almost anyone is more qualified to blog about the topic than I am - but that hasn't stopped me from posting - this is my second time, isn't it?

I once was asked by a friend if I had heard of Neil Gaiman. I replied blithely "Of Course!"; I had misheard him, I thought he had referred to Neil Diamond and I became confused when I was dragged into the nearest sci-fi bookstore. I attempted to keep up the guise of being a Gaiman fan for the rest of the afternoon, but it became more and more difficult as the day wore on.

Which is why I'm being out and out honest here and admitting to knowing nothing. Zilch. Don't take my word for it. (I also don't have much of a clue about Neil Diamond, either.)

alexis said...

Again, thank you good people all. I'm somewhat stunned by your collective knowledge - nay, even by your singular knowledge (except for yours, Maria, but obviously you - and I - have other strengths).

And now for my next request ... plays that allude to or feature dung beetles! (Ha. Ha. Ug.)

TimT said...

Pardon me while I take your comment in an ludicrously over-literal manner...

'Peace', Aristophanes - opens with two slaves shovelling bucketloads of crap for a gigantic dung beetle.

'Lost Highway', David Lynch - I believe there's a scene in this film where two characters watch a documentary about dung beetles on television?

alexis said...

They should replace the Dewey decimal system with you, Tim. You're a walking catalogue of western literature.

wool spaniel said...

Alexis, surely the huge response was not because of the threat of a private bagpipe (begpipe?) recital?? Love, WS.

Meanwhile, a couple more suggestions:

Dream Thief by Stephen Lawhead. Sleep scientist Dr. Spence Reston is having trouble sleeping. His experiments are giving him dreams that haunt his waking hours. He has long periods for which he has no memory. Suicide is beginning to seem like a good idea. Is he losing his mind? Or is there another altogether more frightening explanation? Thus begins a battle for the future of the universe, in which the fate of humankind hangs on the fragile sanity of one man. (At least, that's waht the publisher says, and I seem to recall it was an entertaining read at the time.)

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle features the nasty disembodied brain IT taking over the universe and possessing people.

Timt, I enjoyed your Two Out of Three story the other day! Heh heh heh.

TimT said...

Well thankee Wool Spaniel.

I don't know about catalogues of literature, but I have a thing about the literature of catalogues. Give me a Borges bibliography anyday over a bibliography of Borges' works.

TimT said...

Ooh! Speaking of Borges, one can hardly go past his work 'Funes the Memorius', about that chap with the photographic memory.

lucy tartan said...

'We Can Remember it For You Wholesale', pkd.

alexis said...

Thanks a bunch, Lucy T. PKD seems to be everyone's fave.

Mark Johnston said...

PKD is the go-to guy for epistemological angst, but no-one so far has mentioned VALIS, which is the book where he really, finally lets the epistemological angst all hang out. There's a disappearing bishop; a pink beam of light bearing the gnosis; an original, sort-of-Manichean cosmology; counterfeit time; a miraculously unsuccessful suicide attempt; an Empire that never ended; a dead cat that embodies the problem of evil; fistfuls of speed; kinetic psychotherapy; shifting confusion of identity between the protagonist, the narrator and the author; the FBI and Nixon. It's his most interesting and moving book IMO, partly because it's his most autobiographical one. Whether it should be classified as science fiction is questionable, being more about madness and obsessive religious vision with the science fiction elements being part of the fractured experience of reality of the author/narrator/protagonist. Nevertheless, it is an important inroad into understanding PKD's science fiction, as well as being a truly extra-ordinary read. It's a fascinatingly unclassifiable, strange and potent book, and it deserves more attention than it has received.

Greg Egan is a fine Australian SF writer, whose short story "Learning to Be Me" is a very good philosophical freak out about identity with a classic short story twist at the end. There's this guy who lives in a world where in order to be immortal everyone has their brain replaced by a machine that perfectly replicates the functioning of their brain. He is surrounded by people who act exactly the same after the operation as before and claim to have experienced a seemless continuation of consciousness. He is about due to have the operation, but he's hesitating...

TimT said...

Well, that's it, then. Philip K. Dick is officially starting to p*ss me off.

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