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4 Sturgeon The most disreputable thing about science fiction is not its nuts and bolts side—its test tube and transistor aspect—nor even its much decried “bad writing” or “impoverished characterization.” They can always be dealt with as demands to regard the text at one degree of resolution rather than another. But what disconcerts a modern critic, leaves this one mumbling and that one mute, is science fiction’s unabashed mysticism. Ready to deal with the ordered (at whatever level of order we have been able to ascertain) utterances of an artist, suddenly we hear clanging from the rocks the brazen tones of the prophet. By having their feet more firmly planted in an understanding of modern science and technology than, say, the run of college English teachers, SF writers are forever using their understanding as a springboard into areas quite outside speculation on future scientific developments (where, despite the spate of college SF courses, most English teachers still expect them to go), into those arational areas about which, so critical philosophy suggests and positivist philosophy insists, nothing can be known—or at least talked about with any clarity. The preface to the first edition of Leon Brillouin’s Science and Information Theory is dated January 1956. A recent game theory bibliography includes both popular and technical works from 1953 and 1955. Norbert Wiener’s Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine was first published in 1948 (and Wiener’s own popularization of it, The Human Use of Human Beings, in 1954). And although the ingenious dance code by which one bee communicates the location of a pollen source to its fellows had not yet been discovered, the pages of Scientific American were frequently devoted to articles on various hive insects; wonder at their amazing organizational powers echoed from every paragraph, and even the most staid observer, back then, was willing to admit that insects seemed to possess something much like telepathy—whatever something like telepathy that wasn’t might have 36 starboard wine been. Technologically, this is what was in the air in those pre-Little Rock, pre-Sputnik days of the middle ’50s, just before Theodore Sturgeon ’s “To Marry Medusa,” and, a year later, its expanded version, The Cosmic Rape, were written. Indeed, both the white demonstrators against integration at the Arkansas high school and the Russian launching of the first satellite were to be announced in a single radio newscast one September afternoon in 1957, almost a year to the day before I stretched out on my bed with the slender Dell paperback of The Cosmic Rape, reading of Africa, Rome, and that unnamed though oddly Midwestern sounding city, home of Gurlick and Al and Charlotte and Dimity and Paul and Dr. Langley. And what we find on the surface of The Cosmic Rape (and its earlier novelette version, “To Marry Medusa”)1 is an image of that early ’50s concept of information (one paragraph, the last on page 114 of the novel and the last on page 193 of the novelette version, adumbrates the newer concept of information—information definable solely by means of difference—that has gradually swamped the earlier concept over the last twenty years), information composed of discrete data, quantifiable, locable, maximizable, each with its own value content, some of which values and locations, to achieve a given end, may even have to be sacrificed (exactly the term a strategist in a two-person, zero-sum game would use)—as vivid, as intense an image of a mechanistic, optimally ideal information field as any to be found in the range of ’50s fiction, science or mundane. (That image is almost the exact inverse of the one presented 130 years before in the cataclysmic final third of Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris, in which the various participants, in an equally complex pattern, are working at cross-purposes so absolute that almost any communication between any two parties would have avoided enormous amounts of death, destruction, and misery.) Yet as we are contemplating this beautiful, ordered, artfully designed image of the perfect carrying out of the perfect plan, of information maximized to an unimaginable efficacy against an unimaginably powerful menace, something happens: the brazen accents sound. Suddenly the subject is revealed to be what many of us must have suspected all along. This is not a story about information. It is a fable about knowing—about knowing 1. The novelette version, “To Marry Medusa,” was first published...


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