The Shallowness of Memories

Ruiyan Xu

-- the smell of the ocean after the rain.

-- alcohol, burning its way down your throat until it settles comfortably in the pit of your stomach.

-- the sound of someone else breathing/snoring as you wake up wrapped in their arms.

Memories. Little pieces. Scraps. Sensations. The recollections which make us human?

The idea of memories constituting the identity has been brought up in several of the cyberpunk sci-fi that we've read/seen. Especially apparent in BladeRunner and Rucker's -Ware Trilogy . In both cases, cyborgs absorb human memories in order to make them act, react and in BladeRunner, feel like human beings. However, it is in their self-awareness of the status of their memories which differentiates them.

A number of us have already vocalized our displeasure with Rucker in his writing style, racist/homophobic attitudes and the sheer shallowness of the content. It is this shallowness, an unwillingness to explore the ideas that he has dug up, which I take issue with. Perhaps if Rucker had preceded Stephenson, Gibson and BladeRunner in our syllabus, I wouldn't find it nearly as unsatisfying as it has become to me, but though he touches upon a number of ideas in his novels, there is never a time when he explores one deeply enough to produce anything original and enlightening. It's a terribly superficial treatment of a futuristic universe, Rucker's works, it never probes, or burrows, or makes you wrap your mind around some concept as the author takes you down deeper and deeper into the heart of the matter.

The idea of memories, then, of memories that compose a large part of the software which is not tied to any physical hardware, is an idea that Rucker never does anything with. The most interesting moment in Software, for me, came when Ralph Numbers lost a permanent consciousness - the period in between the time that a backed up copy of his software was made and the time that his software "died". Those minutes are lost forever despite the fact that the later Ralph knows that he has lost them; that he is essentially different from the other version of himself that had died because of that extra time the latter experienced. At this point, it is as if Rucker said "hmmm, interesting, but oh well, let's move on" because besides some slight wondering on the part of the new/old/alive Ralph about what he didn't experience and couldn't remember, this concept is never approached again. But of course, the two versions of Ralph are essentially different -- and in the fact that Ralph II (or whatever number he may be) was aware of his own lack (of that particular experience), his identity is changed by the memories which he is/is not in possession of. This brings up a fascinating question of fragmented identities of an individual -- that we are all a product of the moments of time and the bits and pieces of experiences which solidify into memories and create who we are. As result, if the two Ralph Numbers before and after his "death" are different, then it would be possible to freeze anyone at any moment in their lives and preserve their identities at that time. Or, to explore the ever present "nature vs. nurture" debate, to preserve one's identity at a particular time and lead multiple copies onto different paths - and watch the end result of their identities -- how it is shaped by their experiences and how it is not.

In BladeRunner, it is a traumatic moment when Rachel finds out that all her memories of her past and childhood are false and implanted - they make up who she is, but she (physically) hadn't lived them. In SoftWare, Rucker simply brushes it asides, perhaps because he has pretty much made the split between body and soul, hardware and software. Is that why all the reproductions seem non-plussed by the constant changes in their bodily shelters and even blasť about the gaps in their softwares which set them apart from their former selves?


[To other discussions of Rudy Rucker's -- Ware trilogy (Software, Wetware, and Freeware) by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]