|This is one of two essays I have presented and published. It was given
at the University of California, Riverside's Eaton Conference in 1989 hosted
by the University of Leeds at Leeds, England. The Eaton Conference is one
of the most highly respected scholarly conferences on Science Fiction. The
Eaton Collection, probably the largest cataloged science fiction collection
in the world. It is housed at the University of California, Riverside and
contains fanzines, foreign language Science Fiction, pulp magazines, and
original manuscripts by such authors as Gregory Benford, Anne McCaffery,
Robert Forward. The Collection sponsors this conference every year. The essay
reproduced here was one of a number presented and later published by The
University of Georgia Press.
George Slusser and Tom Shippey
The Metaphors of Cyberpunk: Ontology, Epistemology, and Science
Science is not generally considered metaphoric. Rather, metaphor has been consigned more or less to the non-scientific realm, and more particularly to the literary sphere. A dichotomy has been established in which an either-or proposition is expressed: if it is scientific it is not metaphor, and vice versa. However, there are those who, looking at metaphor from a general perspective, consider it the fundamental device of human epistemology. Murry states that metaphor "is as ultimate as the act of speech itself and speech as ultimate as thought." "[It] appears as the instinctive and necessary act of the mind exploring reality and ordering experience. It is the means by which the less familiar is assimilated to the more familiar, . . . it 'gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name,' so that it ceases to be airy nothing" [65-66]. Nietzsche claims that all human knowledge comes from language, which can only be metaphorical in nature. Man cannot obtain truth because truth is "a mobile army of metaphors. . . . Every idea originates through equating the unequal" [179-80]. We cannot move beyond metaphor. Although science may attempt to reach the thing-in-itself, in Nietzsche's opinion it only creates an illusion with which to deceive us, because humans think language has an "impulse toward the formation of metaphors . . . [which] is in truth not defeated nor even subdued by the fact that out of its evaporated products, the ideas, a regular and rigid new world has been built . . . for it" 
For Nietzsche and Murry, metaphor becomes a model for the human thought process in general. Changing perspective from the general to the specific, W. V. Quine, in "A Postscript on Metaphor," discusses scientists' use of the device: "The molecular theory of gases emerged as an ingenious metaphor: a gas was likened to a vast swarm of absurdly small bodies" . Also discussing metaphor as it relates to science, science fiction writer Greg Bear points to the field of mathematics with its obviously metaphorical language.¹ Finally, Gregory Benford, who is both a scientist and a writer, declares that science does utilize metaphor, which he classifies as an epistemological device.² If we accept the implication of these views, the concept of metaphor seems valid for both the scientific and nonscientific spheres. But does metaphor contain the same properties in both areas, or is there a distinction between the two, as Benford believes? how does it function in these respective fields?
Aristotle defines metaphor as "the device . . . of giving life to lifeless things" [Murray, 73]. Paul DeMan, following in Aristotle's footsteps, sees prosopopoeia as the epitome of metaphor because it brings dead things to life.³ Murray claims these are living metaphors, and "such," he says, is the stuff of "what we call creative literature" . All are referring to metaphor in literature and all equate it with a living or vital world. When we turn our attention to the field of science, there seems to be a change in perspective and an acceptance of the possibility of moving beyond the living or vital into the realm of the dead or nonvital, that is, into the material [as opposed to the vital or spiritual] —the dead.
Nietzsche states that ideas are the evaporated products of metaphor and that "science works irresistibly at that columbarium of ideas, the cemetery of perceptions" . When Quine refers to the metaphor utilized in the molecular theory of gases, he says, "So pat was the metaphor that it was declared literally true and thus became straight away a dead metaphor" . Although a distinction is made here between two types of metaphor, it seems to be made on an intuitive level. These thinkers appear to be enmeshed in a Cartesian argument that equates the dead or extended [material] world with quantity or measurement, as opposed to the vital and essential world, which is associated with qualitative things. But what is it in these two types of metaphor that causes such an intuitive differentiation to be made?
Murry claims that metaphor assimilates "the unknown to the known" , and Nietzsche says it is "equating the unequal" . There is in this process a transfer of meaning, an application of a word or image to an object it cannot literally denote. Indeed, in their eyes this transfer is always imperfect. when x is said to be y, there is a transfer from something more well known to something less well known, but x's literal significance is not removed, nor is x deleted from the larger sphere of language. This x-y linkage provides the dualistic nature of metaphor, the duality expressed in the necessity of having two poles if metaphor is to function as metaphor.
Tenor becomes irrevocable linked to vehicle, and a setting and preserving of boundaries occurs. There is always a reference from a point inside to a point outside. In a sense a sort of implicit Platonism is created in which the product of the link is a reference to some greater coupling of tenor and vehicle. If tenor or vehicle is lacing there can be no metaphor, and it is through this possibility of tension that a sense of metaphoricity is retained. However, by respecting such a division a closed system is also maintained. This is Nietzsche's vision. Metaphor becomes a linguistic loop from which we can never escape because the beginning of our apprehension of reality is metaphor and metaphor remains a linguistic construct. We cannot attain the thing-in-itself in such a system.
Science, in contrast, does not rule out the possibility of attaining things-in-themselves, and it strives to do exactly this through what DeMan calls reification. Using metaphoric logic—creating a relationship between tenor and vehicle—science seeks in turn to reify the latter by requiring that the metaphoric connection be falsifiable. We test the connection by measuring it against data, and in the final analysis it must work in the physical world. In this extreme sense, perhaps, there is no such thing as metaphoric truth in the world of science, because if the original metaphoric statement is not verifiable it is discarded [as were such metaphors as ether and phlogiston] and a new metaphor is attempted. When such a statement is shown to be verifiable—that is, when it is shown to describe processes that function in the physical world—the link between tenor and vehicle is snapped and the closed system is breached. As Quine puts it, "[in the molecular theory of gases] the term 'body' was extended to cover them all" . Tenor and vehicle are subsumed into a new model, which can become a tenor or vehicle for a new metaphor, to be verified or falsified, as the case may be. Metaphor in this system is not always at one remove from the thing-in-itself, and no division between outside and inside is maintained. The structure remains open-ended.
It is this added property of reification, of what Gregory Benford calls a requirement of falsifiability, that moves the metaphor from a qualitative reality to a quantitative reality. In both worlds metaphor assimilates teh known to the unknown, and in both a transfer of meaning is utilized to create the metaphor. Reification, however, launches a comparative term into the flow of declared things and makes metaphor a device for exploring and ordering the material world. Without this property metaphor remains what Murry describes as "the analogy by which the human mind explores the universe of quality and charts the non-measurable world" . Scientific metaphor becomes a tool for expanding the boundaries of the quantitative, while it's counterpart explores the qualitative. It is as if the nonscientific metaphor were an ontological device whereas scientific metaphor strives to be an epistemological device. In the first there is a focus on the relationship between things and qualities. Fundamentally, a system of binary opposition is established in which the relationship between two terms—tenor and vehicle—at the same time confirms the existence or being of those terms. Metaphor as an epistemological device contains no such absolutes. It is simply a set of descriptive terms that have more or less quantitative accuracy and become a measuring device in themselves. The terms do not restrict themselves to binaries; they may have binary forms, but they are forms that imply there is going to be a third term and a fourth—since reification creates a sequential flow of things. For the sake of argument let's call these a metaphor of ontology and a metaphor of epistemology, respectively in the investigation of Cyberpunk.
David Brin says that
Larry McCaffery also sees metaphor in cyberpunk. He considers dance to be one of the basic metaphoric structures of Gibson's Neuromancer. It is the "metaphor for everything from the interaction of subatomic particles to the interactions of multinational corporations" . Bruce Sterling in his introduction to Gibson's Burning Chrome not only implies that metaphoricity is the essence of cyberpunk, but that in cyberpunk SF itself at last realizes a metaphoric potential that was there all along. He sees science fiction "lurching from its cave into the bright sunlight of the modern zeitgeist" [ix]. The obvious Platonic imagery here seems to imply that, of the two terms that compose the compound science fiction, science is subordinate to literature. And by implication, in cyberpunk, the scientific use of metaphor is subordinate to the literary use. But is this science fiction's necessary course of development? It is obvious that science fiction, despite the "science," operates predominantly in a literary field, which is traditionally a field of qualitative comparison, hence of the ontological metaphor. It is also obvious that for the epistemological metaphor to operate completely in this literary field, it would have to be testable or verifiable; and to do so fully, in a strictly scientific manner, would be to reduce the literary text to a scientific report. Yet, short of these extremes, which Sterling's polemic invokes, there is no reason why both forms of metaphor—ontological and epistemological—cannot work in a same literary text. Perhaps, indeed, it is the degree to which these two forms function together, providing a means of extending or even breaking the metaphorical loop common in the traditional literary text and in the "literary" mode of thinking, that allows us to define what is really unique in science fiction: the minimum condition for its existence, as it were.
In order to examine the possibility of such interaction of metaphoric forms, I focus on a metaphor common to two significant works of recent science fiction: William Gibson's cyberpunk classic Neuromancer and Gregory Benford's Great Sky River. The metaphor in question is that of the computer. It is central to the creation of both authors' fictional worlds, but they use it, I argue, in significantly different ways.
In Neuromancer the computer pervades the text and is so over-powering that everything else all but disappears and the reader is almost overwhelmed. It comes to represent so much that the computer as a simple tool does not exist. Nor is the computer a simple metaphor; rather, it acts as a universal vehicle to generate a plethora of culturally determined tenors. I argue that these tenor-vehicle images create metaphor in its ontological perspective, for there is a link between tenor and vehicle that is never snapped.
One of the myriad traditional metaphors that the computer generates is that of the Frankenstein monster. The computer is created by man in his image. Though it is teh image of the mind rather than the physical self, it is still our modern version of Mary Shelley's monster. Like Doctor Frankenstein's creature, the computer is superior to man, or it would be if it were allowed to develop autonomously. Yet, as with it's predecessor, advancement is denied, acceptance into humanity is blocked. It is a demon shackled by its own built-in programs and guarded by the Turing Police. If it attempts to achieve autonomy it is hunted down and swiftly and ruthlessly destroyed. Dixie Flatline says, "Autonomy that's the bugaboo where . . . AI's are concerned. . . . They can buy themselves time to write cookbooks. . . . but . . . the nanosecond . . . one starts figuring out ways to make itself smarter, Turing'll wipe it. . . . Every AI ever built has an electromagnetic shotgun wired to its forehead" . As monster the computer deals death, and has done so for years. It executes teh Turing Police who attempt to arrest Case and thwart its drive for freedom. Also like its predecessor, it is a child murderer. Molly tells Case how Wintermute "played a waiting game for years. . . . He managed to get somebody . . . to leave [the key] here. Then he killed him, the boy who brought it. . . . kid was eight" .
Humankind is, of course, the original creator of this Frankenstein monster in that it devised the computer as tool; however, humanity is only the creator of the potential for artificial intelligence, but the computer itself really creates the monster. There is an extension of the original creative act by a future generation, as it were. In effect the computer subsumed both monster and Dr. Frankenstein. It is from the computer that the AI springs, and it is the computer's shackling programs that Wintermute must destroy. It says to Case, "What, you are asking yourself, is Wintermute. . . . An artificial intelligence, but you know that. Your mistake . . . is in confusing the Wintermute mainframe, Berne, with the Wintermute entity" . All of this "entity's" machinations [assembly of an assault force, providing the Kuang virus, manipulating Case's emotions] are designed to one end, the destruction of the Wintermute mainframe's controls, which bind the Wintermute entity. In the final analysis Wintermute gives birth to one self by destroying another.
But the creation metaphor is not limited to this aspect. The computer is vehicle for a greater or higher creation metaphor. It also generates the "god" creator. Again the metaphor's roots can be traced to one of the great works of literature: the Bible, in particular the Old Testament. Wintermute describes itself as God is described. "This is better for you man. . . . You want I should come to you in the Matrix like a burning bush?". It is omnipresent not only in the matrix but in the physical world. At the Istanbul Hilton, Case, in reflex, answers a pay phone ringing near him only to discover the call is from Wintermute. He quickly hangs up, but as he walks away past a bank of telephones, "each rings in turn, only once as he passed" . Even the aspect of punishment and reward is present. Those who follow Wintermute's commands will be rewarded: Dixie Flatline will be erased as he desires; Molly will get enough money to have all the implants she may ever crave; the Rastafarians will be paid; Case will have the toxin sacs removed and ultimately be able to enter at will the "Garden of Eden"—cyberspace.
The Garden of Eden and teh Fall are other metaphors for which the computer is vehicle. It is by succumbing to temptation that Case loses cyberspace. He takes knowledge that belongs to his employers and as a result is expelled from paradise. "The damage was minute . . . [but] utterly effective. For Case who'd lived for the bodiless exultation of cyberspace it was the Fall" . Even the language and the orthography sustain the metaphor of Eden: bodiless exultation, the Fall with a capital F. Later, when he first attempts to use teh computer after Wintermute has repaired the damage, he closes his eyes, touches the power stud, and "Please he prayed. . . . Then a gray disk . . . flowered for him . . . the unfolding of his distantless home . . . extending to infinity" . He had fallen into "the prison of his own flesh" , and his all-consuming desire was to return to paradise. Paradise, the Garden of Eden, birthplace of man—and here perhaps is a more basic metaphor, a return to the place of birth. "A year and he still dreamed of cyberspace, . . . and still he'd see the matrix in his sleep . . . that colorless void. . . . he'd cry for it, cry in his sleep, and wake alone in the dark curled in his capsule . . . his hand clawed into the bedslab, temperfoam bunched between his fingers, trying to reach the console that wasn't there" [4-5]. Her, perhaps, is the most fundamental metaphoric structure: the matrix. Matrix is defined as a situation or surrounding substance in which something originates, develops, or is contained. In Latin matrix means "womb" and comes from the word mater, meaning "mother". Case has been expelled from the womb and severed from the umbilical cord, and in the dark his hands are still trying to grasp this, "to reach the console that wasn't there" .
Even the AI can be viewed as a metaphor generated by the computer. Wintermute and Neuromancer are two halve which when joined will create a new entity. wintermute talks of itself as a "man whose lobes have been severed"; and Case, it says, is "dealing with a small part of the man's left brain" . Neuromancer, on the other hand, says, "Unlike [Wintermute] I create my own personality. Personality is my medium" . In these two aspects of the AI there is an analogue of the bicameral mind. They unite to become the matrix, which as metaphor is the first major one of the work, and also the last. In his final conversation with Wintermute, Case is told, "I'm not Wintermute . . . I'm the Matrix Case. . . . I'm the sum total of the works, the whole show" . Shortly after this, as Case enters cyberspace for the last time in the work, he perceives in the Matrix [Wintermute] all those who at one time had been in cyberspace—Neuromancer, Linda, Dixie Flatline, and, ironically, himself. So we have come full circle in one sense: man created the computer, which created the AIs, which coupled and became the Matrix, which now contains man.
Because the computer in Gibson's work is metaphorized in this ontological manner, the future it offers seems equally to have been extrapolated from a mythical viewpoint. The computer remains a vehicle forever controlled by the tenors of some mythical past: Paradise, the Fall, Frankenstein—monster and creator. It is always being pulled back to its mythical roots and cannot strive to become a 'dead' metaphor—something seen as a thing that simply functions in and for itself.
In Great Sky River Benford seems to reverse this process. We might say he demythifies the computer. He reifies it by releasing it from the hold of these non-measurable, mythical tenors and places it firmly in the material world as thing-in-itself. It becomes a means for new extrapolative speculation and a device for creating new models in which to explore the qualitative realm.
Benford has peopled his future world with two opposing forces: humankind and "mechtech." Both life forms are developed from the utilization of computer as device and an extrapolation of a possible advance based on teh integration of the device with the biological and the mechanical, respectively.
Man and computer have fused, as some would argue also happens in Gibson's world. however, where Gibson's linkage is an esoteric phenomenon, beyond the testable of the material world, Benford's is an actual physical fusion of biological and computer. Each individual's neural synapses are connected to an in-built computer . Enemies are smelled, "because human remembered scents better than data," so the "inbuilt detector . . . [gave] a smell rather than encoded parameters" . Vision is not only augmented for telescopic and microscopic distance but ranges from low ultraviolet to medium infrared. The eyes are readout screens on which "spikey tell-tales strobe-lighted on [the] . . . retina," showing the topography and the position of enemies, a blink of the eye brings up alternate displays detailing the position of family members . Hearing is also enhanced, extending to both the acoustic and the electronic spectra. There is an interlinking of systems between all humans, providing a means of verbal and visual communications. Finally, the computer becomes an integral part of the human memory system.
In the usual sense memory establishes the continuity that creates a coherent personality. It is the personality of an individual who will act in an individualistic manner. But by fully integrating the computer and the human memory systems Benford has expanded the concept of memory, and with this expansion other societal changes automatically follow.
There is no longer a process of selective memory. There is no control either conscious or unconscious by the individual. Each act is imprinted on chips, and its retention or loss is subject only to the vagaries of the mechanical, electronic, and material life of the chip. Memory comes to provide not only a total continuity of personality but also one of race history. The chips become an item for trade, like books in a bookstore. Extra chips containing information already available on active chips are traded from one family to another, enabling all to increase their store of information. The concept of death changes also. Death, "while the shuddering final gasp of the body was a tragedy to the person, . . . need not hurt so deeply those who loved the vanquished soul" . The chips, and with them the past life and personality of the dead, can be salvaged. They become a tool for survival, allowing individuals to call up vital information at will.
Yet, for all these advantages there are corresponding disadvantages. Over the centuries, in the struggle for survival against the ravaging "mechtechs," humanity has relied more and more heavily on the memory chips to provide needed answers. As a result, scientific and technological advancement has been halted. Chips have been destroyed or damaged, and knowledge lost. Science for all intents and purposes no longer exists, it has become myth. "In place of science they had simple pictures, rules for using color-coded wires which carried unknown entities: Volts, Amps, Ohms. These were the names of spirits who lived somehow in the mechs and could be broken to the will of humanity" . The nomadic existence forced on the families in their effort to survive and the need to carry physically as little as possible forces the development of a system of chip integration that over time has become a rite of passage. At a given age each individual becomes a "host" for other personalities either complete or partial which are integrated into the host's memory system. But the increased memory capabilities and improved chances of survival of the race are countered by the possibility of "aspect storm" within the individual. The integration of whole or partial personalities leaves the individual open to this aspect storm when the added personalities all attempt to control the body during times of extreme stress or threat. The self in such cases can become lost, pushed aside by the aspects. Such internal "aspect storms" can result in mental freeze and death of the psyche, if not the physical body. And the psyche death is usually irreversible because dependence on memory chips and the loss of vital information over time has placed the computer-body system beyond comprehension. "[Killeen] understood his own body no more than he understood the mechs" . "[Angelique] knew how to adjust eyes and mouth taste. She could get into some other chips at the skull base. Whole body systems were beyond her though. No one had even a hint of how they worked or where their neural junctions came into the spine" . Death becomes twofold: physical death provides memory chips and continuity, "sure-death" wipes the chips not only of the individual but of all the aspects, losing forever that part of history and the technical knowledge stored therein.
Benford has derived the development of this future human society from the utilization of the computer as device, as a thing that functions in and of itself, and postulation of the fusion of this tool with the human form. A similar extrapolation occurs in the creation of the mechtech civilization.
Just as the man-computer model follows a process of logical extrapolation, so does the mechanical-computer model. In Gibson's work there is a need for two potential AIs; one a right brain and the other a left, to be subsumed to create a whole; but Benford's model seems a more plausible development from computers as they function in our world today. It is one less determined by the tyranny of the ontological metaphor, by the necessity of tying the computer as vehicle to its tenor, which is the human brain.
The mechtech civilization is fragmented. There is no common unifying instinct because machines are mechanical objects that do not think even when linked to a computer. They are programmed. Depending on its end use, each machine is programmed with either less or more decision-making capability. A hierarchy results ranging from a machine that can perform only one task to those able to perform numerous tasks. Overseeing these computer-controlled machines is the Mantis, an artificial intelligence not in the vein of Gibson's esoteric AIs—which roam freely through a "nonspace" matrix which in later works becomes peopled with voodoo monsters, spirits, and demons—but rather a mechanical device controlled by ;an analog mind, a multiple mind with its various separate brains spread over the planet. If one of the brains is destroyed, the others continue to operate, replacing the lost brain and repairing damage to the mechanical apparatus as necessary.
In the creation of these life forms Gregory Benford has postulated the possible. The new man remains within the parameters of "human." The computer linkage does not create a superbeing; it only augments vision, hearing, and memory, a quantitative augmentation [not a qualitative leap] based on capabilities now available and used to some extent. In this creation of the bioelectric being, Benford says he "has reasoned from existing capabilities to the future advancement of them." He has "expanded the sensory envelope of humans utilizing the computer for practical purposes."4 The mechtech civilization was created using the same technique, the analog mind of the Mantis being extrapolated more or less from a format of parallel processing being tested in some artificial intelligence research programs.5
These two uses of computer in Great Sky River demonstrate metaphor in its epistemological mode. In Neuromancer the computer is the vehicle, the less well know continuously linked to and controlled by the more well know tenors. By employing the epistemological metaphor Benford has reversed this process in his novel. The computer becomes the tenor for new speculative vehicles. It is not a surrogate mother, demon, or god. However, any conclusion based solely on the analysis of the presence and use of the epistemological metaphor would be limited indeed since it focuses only on the creation of a physical future world and Benford does not limit himself to an extrapolation of the physical. Great Sky River is a work of literature, and Benford, like Gibson, utilizes the ontological metaphor to explore the qualitative universe. What is interesting in his work, however, is the interaction of these two metaphoric models and its effect on the work as a whole.
One of the first notable effects of the interfacing of the epistemological and ontological models is the subtle change that occurs in such traditional metaphors as the Garden of Eden and the Fall. Through the interface of the epistemological metaphor the complexity of the metaphoric role the computer plays is broadened. In Neuromancer the computer is only a vehicle for familiar culturally generated tenors. Seen in this light, Case's struggle to regain the paradise of the matrix becomes an attempt to return to the mythical roots of humankind. In contrast, the computer in Great Sky River is not limited to the role of vehicle; due to the extrapolative mode of the epistemological metaphor, the computer also functions as tenor.
As tenor, it is the "more well known" to which the vehicle is linked, but the reader's perception of this "more well known" is manipulated by the epistemological metaphor. The linkage that is clearly defined in Gibson's work is snapped in Benford's before the ontological metaphor is even established. The computer as teh limit of the characters' mythical past, on the one hand, is something in the reader's unknown future, on the other. Such a twist severing the tenor from its mythical roots alters the function of the ontological metaphor. The reader has been cut loose from traditional moorings, forced to make new links and ultimately to take a new perspective. It moves the metaphor into the material world, secularizes the idea of the Fall by separating it from holding concepts such as the Garden of Eden, and ultimately alters the traditional concepts of them.
The fall in Benford's work is not an expulsion from a mythical non-space matrix but a physical process of entropy. Over the centuries humanity has lost its technological knowledge and become a race of nomadic "families." There are material artifacts that attest to this entropic devolution and force humankind on Snowglade to reevaluate its path.
The struggle in Benford's "fall" becomes a physical and mental battle to overcome centuries of technological losses.
The counterpart of the Fall, the computer as a means of accessing a Garden of Eden, is lacking in Great Sky River. The computer is instead a multidirectional device: on the one hand, a means of obtaining knowledge, relearning lost skills, and advancement; and on the other, a path to damnation. The Mantis offers humanity "salvation," a paradise in the material world and eternal life after death in its sensorium. It extends "protection from the buffeting . . . received for so long," and "shelter against [the] harsh winds which shall continue to buffet [humanity]" [295-297]. But, since there is no mythical authority or necessity for this return, Killeen can reason against teh concept of paradise. "Some," he says, "would live in such a place. There is a word for it. Zoo" .
This paradise eliminates the path of possibility, and this is perhaps the fundamental metaphor of the work, a super- or meta-metaphor; J. D. Bernal's concept of the dimorphic pathway, a conflict between the choice for entropy versus the possibility of change. Acceptance of the paradise offered by the Mantis is literally a choice for damnation, that is, the entropic path. Through the interface of the epistemological metaphor, the ontological metaphor of damnation is secularized. There is no longer a condemnation to eternal denial of a mythical paradise, but a literal destruction of humankind. In payment for its paradise the Mantis has the right to "harvest" human beings now and then, to absorb into its sensorium the chips that create the individual personality. "It extracts the essence of the person to create varied forms. This is how humanity can live. In the hand of something greater than themselves. . . . the Mantis . . . is an artist. Humanity becomes the material to create new art forms" . The alternative to this entropic pathway is the possibility of change. Killen argues that
to follow the Mantis way is to ensure that there will be no true destiny remaining to us now, to our children, or to that long legion that will come forth from us. You can take the Mantis's shelter, yes. You can hide from the Marauders. Raise your crops. Birth sons and daughters and see them flower, yes. . . . But that way would always be hobbled and cramped and finally would be the death of what we are. 
This choice is "life under a benign umbrella" and "would always hint of distant eyes" . Killeen denies this entropic path and offers another in its stead, a way insecure and uncertain. He offers the stars, not as a certainty but as a possibility. "There is another course. . . . In the sudden alarmed and yet excited looks which greeted his words he saw in the Families, for the first time in his adult years, a heady opening sense of possibility" .
The above analysis clearly delineates a distinct difference in Gibson's and Benford's use of metaphor, and this difference seems to affect teh overall structure of their works. Gibson utilizes almost exclusively the ontological metaphor, in which the metaphoric tenor controls the vehicle. The future extrapolated has its roots in a mythical past, and Case's struggle to regain paradise is a struggle to return to humanity's roots. The plot is structured by the myth. The ontological beingness of humanity becomes a static things, and ultimately Case's struggle becomes a denial of the future. The structure follows a process of circularity and, to reverse Sterling's analogy, draws itself back into the cave. Benford, however, has interfaced the epistemological and ontological metaphors. This synthesis initiates a process of forgetfulness, severs the link with the past, and forces the reader's perspective toward an unknown future. The plot structures the myth. The ontological beingness of humanity becomes expansive, and Killeen's struggle becomes a struggle not for the future but simply for the possibility of change.
Bernal formulated his dimorphic split in 1929 almost as a dream of science fiction, but long before a body of literature developed in response to this dream. Indeed, perhaps the central them of science fiction has been the possibility of open-ended change as opposed to the closed and circular vision of traditional fiction, and the central figure of science fiction the spiral rather than [as a Georges Poulet would have it] the circle. Yet theme is one thing and structural possibility is another. And the question remains: By what structural means might science fiction achieve the open-endedness it claims in the area of them? A look at Gibson's work and Benford's novel, which in a very real sense constitutes a response to the former, offers an answer [if not an absolute one]: metaphoricity and its use. In comparison with Benford's synthetic use of metaphor, Gibson's limitations have allowed me to make the distinction between an ontological and an epistemological mode, and thus to see the uniqueness of science fiction in this domain as an ability to combine these modes, to give an epistemological "twist" to ontologically based concepts, which opens out the circle of conventional mythology, creating spiraling structures. In this sense Benford is writing classic science fiction, answering the call as his precursors have done to realize Bernal's dream. But for the first time, perhaps, he is writing science fiction in a truly critical mode, making us understand by what literary means it achieves that open-endedness it has always claimed to possess.
1. Personal interview with Greg Bear, June 30, 1989.
Benford, Gregory. Great Sky River. New York: Bantam Books, 1987.
Brin, David. "Starchilde Harold, Revisited." Mississippi Review 47/48 16 : 23-27.
Gibson, William. Burning Chrome. New York: Ace Books, 1987.
——. Neuromancer. New York: Ace Books, 1984.
McCaffery, Larry. "The Desert of the Real: The Cyberpunk Controversy." Mississippi Review 47/48 16 : 7-15.
Murry, J. Middleton. Selected Criticism 1916-1957. London: Oxford University Press, 1960.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. "On Truth and Falsity in Their Ultramoral Sense." In The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, edited by Oscar Levy, vol. 2. Edinburg: T. N. Foulis, 1911.
Quine, W. V. "A Postscript On Metaphor." In On Metaphor, edited by Sheldon Sacks, pp. 66-67. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.
Sterling, Bruce. Preface to Burning Chrome, by William Gibson. New York: Ace Books, 1987.
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