Trouble and Her Friends

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Scott, Melissa. Trouble and Her Friends. New York, NY: Tor, 1994. For reprints, honors, and reviews, see Internet Speculative Fiction Database at following link.[1]

Important book for a variation on the cyberpunk theme of «meat» in the "realworld" of matter vs. «spirit/separable soul»/ (our terms) in cyberspace, where, in Trouble, embodiment and social contexts in the realworld still have their effects. Cf. and contrast e.g., W. Gibson's Neuromancer and his Sprawl series more generally, and the older, slow-motion debate over the question William Schuyler formulated as, "When Am I Still Me?" — after prosthetics, implants and other augmentations/changes, e.g., in such stories as "No Woman Born" and "Masks," which see. In Trouble one may figuratively fly through the VR of cyberspace, but the wired-in body still counts; and on the "nets," in cyberspace, some walk and the two central characters can end up crawling, with bodily senses confused. Most of the time, though, bodily sensation in cyberspace is positive: With a "brainworm" connecting one to the nets, cyberspace can be perceived through all the senses, sensuously and, in some circumstances, sensually. Significantly, being directly wired-in to the world of the net is presented as less «mechanical» (our term) than older interfacing without a "wire" and portal and implants.

 {For a brainworm-mediated sex scene, see pp. 236 f. Spoiler alert, Caution, and Discussion Opportunity: One of the participants in the sex scene is under-age and presenting on the net in a sex/gender not the person's realworld own. If pornography is to be prohibited primarily because of the illicit pleasure it gives as opposed to potential harm for the participants and/or society, the scene may be child-pornography, even though a VR scene within a realworld where that scene has (pleasurable) effects, but is fictional. In the fiction that is Trouble, a teenage boy [with a possible background of VR-sex as a man] presents as an adult woman for a VR scene of lesbian sex: outdoing Shakespeare for gender-bending and perhaps stressing if not breaking the law in some jurisdictions and "inappropriate" by some ethical/ideological standards.}

Scott can use "machines" for cybernetic devices — still with electromechanical drives in this 1994 novel — and this yields suggestive lines such as those quoted below, many involving (minor Spoiler) the villain of the novel, "the Mayor" of Seahaven, who is not wired with a brainworm. Also, there can be "tight" defenses on the nets, and a layer of cybernetic defense beyond IC(E) — like Gibson's ICE — of a wall, with interesting images of confinement and constriction.

(Literary note: Walls in the material world and cyberspace are a motif, and notably significant in the fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin, as in the opening of The Dispossessed [1974]. / Historical note, and very deep background: According to Karen Armstrong in Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence [2014], constraint and confinement were experienced and recorded by the Aryans of antiquity in the Punjab, for an intriguing parallel — we assume coincidental but which we will mention as more, if barely, possibly relevant — with the usage in Torah of "Mitzrayam" for Egypt: literally "constriction," escaped, as the Book of Exodus tells the story, in the Exodus. Constriction and constraint are, then, literally ancient tropes. In SF, cf. and contrast the cell in the opening of E. M. Foster's "The Machine Stops." Note also the theme in US history and art of the western Frontier, and the closing thereof: related to constraint and freedom and used in Trouble and Her Friends. // Format/Grammar note: scenes set on the "nets" [cyberspace, the metaverse] appear in italics in the 1994 Tor edition, and are narrated in present tense.)

[Trouble and her lover Cerise "walk the nets" on their way to infiltrate virtual Seahaven:] The IC(E) is tight here [...]. Not that I couldn't break it, Trouble thinks, even so deep in it, I could break free, but it wouldn't be easy, and it wouldn't be elegant. And, most of all, it would be more than obvious. ¶ They are inside a preliminary wall, she realizes, at the edge of a major system. (p. [317], also p. 318; opening ch. 12])

She [Trouble] studies it [... and] The pattern of the thorn wall shifts and shimmers, writhing as though alive [...] and then, quite suddenly, she sees it, sees the key. [...] The wall of IC(E) vanishes as though it had never been. ¶ She stands at the edge of a space so mundane that it must mirror reality [...]. [...] The Mayor stands in the center of that space, frozen in the heart of his machines, at one with his machines [...]. (p. 347) [...] [The Mayor makes his escape, leaving Trouble] standing on the edge of nothing, an absence of virtuality [...]. [* * *] Trouble sat up abruptly [...] reached angrily for the data cord and jerked it out of her dollie-slot. Cerise copied her [...]. She [probably Cerise] freed herself from the machine [...]. (p. 348) [* * *] [To locate his realworld location, imitated in VR, Trouble tries to remember her encounter on the nets with the Mayor.] She closed her eyes, calling up the memory of the Mayor's virtuality, spaces within spaces, the western [movie] town and the Aztec temple [...]. She could almost see it now, the machines and the Mayor merged, and the dull room that contained them [...]. (p. 350) [* * *]

The Mayor was standing exactly as she'd seen him last, frozen in the heart of his machines, hands splayed wide over the control surfaces, wires and chip boards wreathing him. (p. 366)

See also Scott's Burning Bright (1993).

RDE, finishing, 14-18Jan22