A Review by Erik Shonstrom
This letter was passed on to us by a
film maker in
Hollywood who is considering movie rights to PDU-1.
Where to begin? At what point in PDU-1 do we find the essence of itself, its boiled down and cleanly etched mission statement? For instance, a friend once summed up the idea of Old Man and the Sea for me as, "shit happens, keep on trucking," and I must admit that even in a culture saturated with the simplicity of movie one liners and photo captions, it's not a half-bad way to describe that particular book. The nice thing about PDU-1 is that it refuses to be trapped within such confines.
It is impossible to escape our inherent animal nature. We are undeniably animal in our composition, we have basic needs and wants and mechanisms that cannot be denied. Take for instance the story I read recently dealing with the hardships a colony in Virginia faced in the early 17th century. A man was so starved that he ate his own wife, all except for her head. In the face of a biological necessity like hunger a man went against all cultural rules and his own love of humanity, ignored the closeness he must have felt with his wife, and responded not to some higher ethical voice, but to the insistent, gnawing voice of hunger. An extreme case, no doubt. But unalterably human, totally animal. We are our animal desires, no matter how we try to cloak them in the garb of civility. This idea brings about the question for me of flesh and its absolute lock on our psyche. Our desire of it for food, for contact; it is our walking, moving reality, the most concrete proof of our being. 'I think, therefore I am...' not quite. I eat, starve, shit and sleep, therefore I am. Okay, so maybe not so pleasant for the ear, but much more understandable for the 'general public,' as ol' Bill B. calls them in the excerpt from Potts' letter you let me read.
What gets me about PDU-1 is Potts' ability to make me sympathize with a creature not of flesh and bone, but of binary code. Me? Love this idea? I am the last Luddite. I revere Ned Ludd and his iron bars, I love the absolute non-technical things in life. I love the work of the hand and mind and abhor the 'virtual' activities of cyberspace. In the face of all this, I am utterly fascinated and enthralled by PDU-1 and 'hungry' for more.
Is she human? Our Donda warrior princess? She writes herself across the page in a way that would make me believe she is real, and human, and yet in the next paragraph I am told she is a code, an encrypted bit of information in a super computer. This does two things for me. It makes me wonder why I should care, if she is just encoded information on a chip, why should I continue reading? Secondly, it makes me wonder ahead. Will she ever become real in the bloody sense? Will her breath ever frost a pane of glass in the cold arctic she comes from? I want it to, badly, as a reader. But I am told she is nothing but information floating in space, and so, to be honest, I lost interest a bit. I don't know whether or not this was Potts' intent, to draw a reader like me in, but here's what happened: I began to wonder, as I let what I had read sink in, whether it mattered or not if she was real, in the sense that one could hold her and touch her, or if she lived a life of electronic pulses that had no real 'place' in the world with the exception of its life within a computer. What gradually dawned on me was that the very act of literature places us in worlds that don't exist. Tolkien's Middle Earth is nowhere near Ohio because it doesn't exist. Robbins story of woodpeckers that takes place within a pack of cigarettes couldn't really happen in a pack of cigarettes. (I know I'm being obvious here, but bear with me.) So isn't the very nature of literature to create a world wherein the story that we are reading is possible? To give us the 'other' whether it be the fantastic phantasmagoric or otherwise? What PDU-1 did for me was allow me to let go of one of my stronger held convictions, which was anything that happens in cyberspace or in a virtual plane or within a program was false, unworthy of my attention or my patience. But if that virtual space is taken into the world of literature, which is itself already a place with no 'placeness,' as it were, then, and only then does it become possible for me to love the characters, to believe their tale, to invest myself in their lives.
I am so sorry my commentary on what is such an important book is so brief, but I'm writing this in the middle of the school week and am short on time. There's so much to be discussed within the pages of PDU-1. It is an interesting book, and its hold on both the creative imagination and its ability to make you question the definition of self and selfness (I'm encoded therefore I am?...maybe...) makes me wonder: if they've 'decoded' the human genome, then is PDU-1 really more of a modern parable, a contemporary commentary on what I'll unsatisfactorily call the human structure, or is it something even deeper, a message about what it takes for us to love, for if we can love a book, an idea, what about a book about the idea of a person, or the idea of an image of a person?
Finally a science fiction novel worth thinking about. I hunger like a Virginian for the next installment.
[This review of PDU-1
copyright © 2000
by Erik Shonstrom, all rights reserved. Used