VLADIMIR SAVCHENKO. SELF-DISCOVERY
Translated from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouis
Introduction by Theodore Sturgeon
MACMILLAN PUBLISHING CO., INC. NEW YORK
COLLIER MACMILLAN PUBLISHERS LONDON
Copyright (c) 1979 by Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.
Translation of Otkrytie sebia.
PART ONE: Footsteps from Behind
PART TWO: Self-Discovery
PART THREE: Awakening
Are you one self or many selves?
Robert Anton Wilson, in his Cosmic Trigger, describes his reactions to various events as those of The Author, The Skeptic, The Sage, The Neurologician, The Shaman, and other personae - all Wilson himself, of course, and by no means the "multiple personality" image first made popular by Dr. Morton Prince in the early years of this century; facets, rather, of any whole human being, and not a host of separate entities.
Who, inside yourself, calmly watches you flying into a rage or drifting in ecstasy or capturing an audience? Do you, as so many do, refer to "a little person who watches" or "the part of myself that always observes, never participates"?
(And why do so many of us describe the watcher as a little person? Sometimes I suspect that mine is big-maybe bigger than I.)
These are the questions-the kinds of questions, of provocations -evoked by Vladimir Savchenko and his astonishing novel, for at the heart of his story is the problem of self and personal identity. Krivoshein, the brilliant young experimenter in cybernetics who is the hero of the novel, discovers a way to duplicate human beings and, working secretly, brings into the world many versions of himself.
So you will encounter many Krivosheins here; but in no way are they identical. This is not cloning, nor is it the kind of duplication described by Eric Temple Bell in The Four-sided Triangle, nor the rather unbelievable one I used in When You Care, When You Love. This is something quite different and, as far as I know, unique. It's a computer-controlled biological matrix, an intelligent fluid, if you like, capable of organizing, balancing, integrating organic substances. Add such new concepts as a holographic model as applied to brain function-wherein each cell of a section seems to contain all functions of that section, just as each segment of a holograph contains all parts of its picture-and you come close to an understanding of Krivoshein's scientific accomplishment. Fascinating, and described with such realism that one is tempted to apply for a grant, build it, check it out.
Apply for a grant. . . Savchenko has woven into his narrative a devastating and delicious analysis of the internal politics of a great research center doing erudite science which politicians cannot hope to comprehend, but to whom the scientific community must turn for funding. Then follows the same dreadful situation so brilliantly described-decried? - by Leo Szilard, which takes the best scientists out of the laboratory and puts them in administration, where they must work shoulder to shoulder with administrators who would be hopeless in a lab. Millions of words have been written about the differences in customs, cultures, political systems, philosophies; how amazing it is to see how very similar are the symptoms of this plague wherever it strikes! Ignorance is ignorance, pomposity is pomposity, and self-aggrandizement is the same in any language, common as frustration. Whoever reads this and does not recognize the administrator Harry Hilobok, for example, or the outwardly grumpy, inwardly sensitive Androsiashvili, has never been exposed to the internal workings of large research centers anywhere.
It has been observed that a writer says, basically, one thing, and says it over and over, no matter how wide his spectrum or in how many different ways he may say it. I am, regretfully, unfamiliar with Savchenko's other works, but his thrust is clear here. Let me give you some of it by quoting:
"Man is the most complex and most highly organized system known. I want to figure it out completely-how things are constructed in the human organism, what influences it....
"You see ... it wasn't always like this. Once man was up against heat and frost; exertion from a hunt or from running away from danger; hunger, or rough, unsanitary food like raw meat; heavy mechanical overloads in work; fights which tested the durability of the skull with an oak staff-in a word, once upon a time the physical environment made the same demands on man that-well, that today's military customers make on rockets.... That environment over the millennia formed homo sapiens-the reasoning vertebrate mammal. But in the last two hundred years, if you start from the invention of the steam engine, everything changed. We created an artificial environment out of electric motors, explosives, pharmaceuticals, conveyors, communal service systems, computers, immunization, transport, increased radiation in the atmosphere, paved roads, carbon monoxide, narrow specialization in work-you know: contemporary life. As an engineer, I with others am furthering this artificial environment that determines ninety percent of the life of homo sapiens and soon will determine it one hundred percent. Nature will exist only for Sunday outings. But as a human being, I am somewhat uneasy....
"This artificial environment frees man of many of the qualities and functions he developed in ancient evolution. Strength, agility, and endurance are now cultivated only in sports, while logical thought, the pride of the Greeks, has been taken over by machines. But man is not developing any new qualities-the environment is changing too fast and biological organisms can't keep up. Technological progress is accompanied by soothing, but poorly substantiated babble that man will always be on top. Nevertheless-if you talk not about man, but about people, the many and the varied-then that is not true even now, and it will only get worse. Many, many do not have the inherent capabilities to be masters of contemporary life: to know a lot, know how to do a lot, learn new things quickly, to work creatively, and structure one's behavior optimally....
"I would like to study the question of the untapped resources of man's organism. For example, the obsolescent functions, like our common ancestor's ability to leap from tree to tree or to sleep in the branches. Now that is no longer necessary, but the cells are still there. Or take the "goosebump" phenomenon-it happens on skin that has almost no hair now. It is created by a vast nervous network. Perhaps these old reflexes can be restructured, re-programmed to meet new needs?"
What an astonishing, what an exciting concept! The pursuit of the "optimum man" is certainly not original with Savchenko; it has thrived for years in science fiction as well in what is termed the mainstream, and it powers the current flurry of self-realization, self-actualization movements; it exists in Shakespeare and Steinbeck, whether by exemplifications of nobility or by stark representations of flawed and faulted people. What is arresting in Savchenko is his idea of retrieving and reprogramming that in mankind which is present but truly obsolete, rather than that which could be functional but is merely inactive.
And he resists the reductio ad absurdum; witness this whimsical interchange:
"So! You dream of modernizing and rationalizing man? Instead of homo sapiens we'll have homo modernus rationalis, hm? Don't you think, my dear systemology technologist, that a rational path might lead to a man who is no more than a suitcase with a single appendage to push buttons? You could probably manage without that appended arm, if you use brain waves."
"If you want to be truly rational, you can manage without the suitcase," Krivoshein noted.
Krivoshein-and Savchenko-are far too enamored of humanity to go for that.
Science fiction has been termed a medicine for future shock. Future shock is that sense of disorientation brought about by the rush of invention, the impact of technical events evolving infinitely faster than the bodies and minds of the common man. One wonders if Savchenko has read Alvin Toffler (who invented the term) while realizing that he need not have; the phenomenon and its effects are quite evident to anyone who cares to look. Science fiction writers and their proliferating and increasingly addicted readers are, and have been all along, the people who care to look. They look with practiced eyes, not only at what is and what will be, but at that entrancing infinity of what might be: alternate worlds, alternate cultures and mores, extrapolations of the known, be it space flight, organ transplants, social security, ecological awareness, or any other current, idea, or force in a perpetually moving universe: if this goes on, where will it go? For stasis, and stasis alone, is unnatural and unachievable and has failed every time mankind has been tempted to try it. The very nature of science fiction is to be aware of this and to recognize that the only security lies in dynamic equilibrium, like that of the gull in flight, the planet in orbit, the balanced churning of the galaxies themselves ... and of course, the demonstrable fact that the cells of your body and the molecules which compose them are not at all what they were when you picked up this book. The future can shock only those who are wedded to stasis.
(Parenthetically, science fiction writers are not immune to future shock, though it may take the form of an overpowering urge to kick themselves. Example: up until very recently there was-as far as I know-not one single science fiction story which included a device like the wristwatch my wife wears, which delivers the time, day, date, adjusts itself for months of varying lengths, is a stopwatch and elapsed-time recorder, and has a solar panel which gulps down any available light and recharges its battery. The development of these microelectronic devices, now quite common and inexpensive, was simply unthought of by science fiction professionals, and is by no means the only example of technological quantum leaps which season our arrogance. It is beneficial to all concerned when our dignitaries are observed, from time to time, to slip and sit down in mud puddles.)
Mud puddles, or their narrative equivalent, are far from absent in this book, for Savchenko has a delicious sense of humor and a lovely appreciation of the outrageous. Let us posit, for example, that you are a brilliant but not particularly attractive man with little concern for the more gracious amenities, who happens to be loved by a beautiful and forgiving lady. In the course of your work you produce a living, breathing version of yourself who is a physical Adonis and who, further, has a clear recollection of every word, every intimacy, that has ever passed between you and the woman.
And they meet, and she likes him.
How do you feel?
And then there's Onisimov-poor, devoted, duty-bound Onisimov-a detective in whose veins runs the essence of the Keystone Kop, up against a case with a perfectly rational solution which he is utterly unequipped to solve-not at all because he is unable to understand it, but because he simply cannot believe it.
Then there's the offensive Hilobok, unfortunately (as mentioned above) not quite a parody, but the object of not a few instances of Krivoshein/Savchenko's irrepressible puckishness, and a gatekeeper who is certainly Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern rolled into one, and a fine sprinkling of smiles amid the cascades of heavy ideation.
Over and above everything else, however-the mind-bending ideation, the unexpected narrative turns, the wide spectrum of characterization, the humor, the suspense-shines the author's love for and faith in the species. As he says through his protagonist, he talks not about man, but about people. And at the end, the very last words of the novel bespeak this faith and this optimism.
There's no point in looking at those last words now, by the way. They will carry no freight until you put it there by reading the novel.
FOOTSTEPS FROM BEHIND * PART ONE
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VLADIMIR SAVCHENKO. SELF-DISCOVERY
FOOTSTEPS FROM BEHIND