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Saturday, April 6, 2013

A close reading of "Those Are Pearls That Were His Eyes" by Daniel Marcus

Originally appeared in Asimov's July 1996
Collected in Daniel Marcus's Binding Energy, story collection from Elastic Press
Now available freely online

SF readers often don't want their stories spoiled, but some stories actually improve once you know what has happened (studies have confirmed this.  Daniel Marcus' "Those Are Pearls That Were His Eyes" is one of those.  This story requires simultaneous reading protocols of SF and literary genres, which makes it challenging story, indeed.

The title could refer to either Shakespeare's play or T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland," The latter, in its discussion of modernity's slip into detachment from one another (perhaps exemplified in Eliot's own stylistic detachment), may fit the story's theme better.  Moreover, the events within the tale have their detachment.  While the events are not arbitrary, reordering would not change the thematic content definitively.

The key event occurs at what might be called the penultimate scene.  A silkpup is picked up by a Ken.  Silkpups immediately imprint on the first thing they encounter, but if deprived, they grow dejected and die:
"The Ken looked at Suki.  'Fascinating,' said the Speaker.  She replaced the pup in its nest, turned on her heel, and walked out the door."
The Ken (the Speaker speaks for the Ken), after the initial curiosity, has no regard for the damage she's done to the pup.   Suki has to kill it.

This mirrors what has happened to Suki and what Suki has done to others.  Yet can it be helped?  In some ways their detachment and unconcern about the lives of others is due to their technology.  Suki had a relationship with Tam, but she ceased being interested when he uploaded himself.  Likewise, she becomes infatuated with Roan, a Void Dancer, but his world runs in different circles, even though he showed some initial interest.

Fascinating study of how future technology may take us further down the road that Eliot feared.  Sadly, it is hard not to buy into Marcus's theme.

Curiously, both Marcus and Christopher Barzak opened with interesting yet challenging stories to their collection, perhaps signalling the kinds of readers they seek.

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