Man’s Best FriendsPosted by Sinnyo
While Innocence deals us a ‘man-machine’ conundrum by comparing humans with dolls, its prequel, Masaki Yamada’s After the Long Goodbye, looks instead to dogs. Animals are often overlooked in the cyberpunk dystopia, but some stories have dealt with them in a metaphor, either as a link back to nature or a reminder of how artificial the world has become. Pets in particular offer a wealthy topic for discussion, as their bonds to mankind lend us further thought on reality and the notion of souls.
By the time a technological dystopia has arrived, it seems common for cyberpunk animals to have been cloned or remade with robotics. Man makes animal, man makes robot; they’re both examples of our creation, and yet animals are not bound by manufacture in man’s own image. Does this make them less of a threat? More of an asset? How does this affect a cyberpunk character’s relationship with artificial life?
Cowboy Bebop, though not a cyberpunk work throughout, introduces us to a ‘data-dog’ named Ein. This genetically-engineered Welsh corgi displays an uncanny knack with computers, not least in an episode entitled Brain Scratch.
The Bebop’s chosen bounty is a man named Londes, whose transhumanist cult (“Scratch”) promises exodus to digital space through a commercially-available games console. It’s thought that Scratch have developed a means of plucking data out through this brain wave-controlled device, causing a slew of apparent brain-deaths. Jet and computer prodigy Edward attempt to track Londes down through his software, but Jet is almost ‘uploaded’ himself. Ein, sensing something awry in the data displayed to Edward’s computer, intervenes by biting Jet and bringing him back to his senses.
Ein goes on to systematically bludgeon this software faster than Ed or Jet might hope to, all because he has been genetically engineered to combine animal senses with an affinity for data. Ein isn’t the only animal to show a knack for cyber-warfare, either:
Pets and Prizes
Some stories leave animals well outside of cyberspace, or else suggest that they’re made extinct by man’s actions. Organically-grown animals are a rare treat in Blade Runner, for example; the Deckard of both book and film is intrigued by the authenticity of the animals people keep as pets. This cyberpunk (retro-)future propagates a culture of people devoted to animal husbandry, as evidenced by the ubiquitous publication of Sidney’s, an animal trading magazine. Each household is expected to keep one pet, and so the citizens keep well-thumbed copies of the latest Sidney’s catalogue in order to watch the market on animal trade, both organic and ‘electric’.
In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Deckard claims to have had a sheep, and so great was the pressure to keep up appearances that when his animal contracted tetanus and died, he had it quietly replaced with a cheaper, artificial sheep.
“To say, ‘Is your sheep genuine?’ would be a worse breach of manners than to inquire whether a citizen’s teeth, hair or internal organs would test out authentic.”
The book uses this theme as a metaphor for Deckard’s experiences, as a hunter of humanoid ‘replicants’. The world around him is awash in artificial life, from the androids waiting on the Outer Colonies to the electric animals used as stand-ins in rooftop gardens everywhere. The humanoid replicants are made illegal on Earth and so Deckard has a job in hunting them, but humanity’s guilty vice lays in its artificial animals; the man who hunts robots for a living keeps a mechanical sheep in his own garden. Far from being seen as dangerous, these electric animals are a social necessity.
“The tyranny of an object, he thought. [The sheep] doesn’t know I exist. Like the androids, it had no ability to appreciate the existence of another. [..] The electric animal, he pondered, could be considered a subform of the other, a kind of vastly inferior robot. Or, conversely, the android could be regarded as a highly developed, evolved version of the same ersatz animal.”
Returning to Innocence, we find Batou and his beloved basset hound, Gabriel. Creatures like her are not the same symbol of decadence as in Dick’s Do Androids Dream…, and nor have they been ‘cyberised’ like Ein and Jones. “Gabu” is instead an anchor for Batou’s sense of reality, and a reminder that even a full cyborg can engage with his natural heritage on some level.
After the Long Goodbye is a journey of self-realisation for Batou. When a car accident forces him to reboot almost his entire consciousness, Batou finds that his dog barely recognises him. She leaves his home in order to find his lost ‘ghost’, and the Section 9 detective’s subsequent search merges into a hunt for a known cyber-terrorist, “The Breeder”.
The book is filled with philosophical discussion on the topics of consciousness, ‘ghosts’, and the uniqueness of an animal who becomes loved as a pet. The case at the centre of all this activity asks if this is, in fact, a near-human attribute for the animal. When family pets are stolen and their ghosts are transferred into robot bodies, just as children are in the film, the machines are perceived as more loving and realistic as a result.
After the Long Goodbye could be said to pit cyborg Batou and his dog against Deckard and his electric sheep – partnerships entirely opposite to each other – and ask us to examine their contrasts and similarities. A blade runner has just as little business keeping a robotic pet as a cyborg does keeping a high-maintenance, organic dog – but each pet somehow manages to remind their owner of their place in a cyberpunk world.
Where do you stand on the line between real and artificial pets? If the technology to build such pets were in our grasp, would you consider the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of Blade Runner‘s citizenry to be a realistic outcome? What of the enhancements to animals like Ein and Jones? Simplifying the ethical argument somewhat, would you see that sort of change as abhorrent or necessary in a much-changed world?