I became a bit unruly at a dinner party recently when my hostess asserted that science fiction was “license to just do anything you want, no rules”. I guess it’s a common enough bit of bigotry, and I’m not sure why it seems so particularly irritating just now. Disappointed expectations figure in, no doubt, along with a lingering admiration for a book I’d just finished a few days before, Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
The story, which I would call generally optimistic, involves a computer that achieves consciousness (need I add, male consciousness–although at one point, when it is “young,” there is a moment of flexibility on the gender issue). It seems a pity that such a book, that in some sense “proposes” the idea of an artificial consciousness, fleshing it out with rich implications, never enters into the same discussion with, say, Hayles’ How We Became Posthuman, where the possibility of disembodied consciousness is emphatically and persuasively rejected. In Heinlein’s work, in fact, the computer loses its consciousness at the same time one of the main human characters dies. So…maybe there always had been a connection that the narrator didn’t fully understand — even though Heinlein did. The computer only seemed to him to function independently. Maybe. The point, though, is that the “argument” by plausibility, by fictional adequacy satisfies hearts and minds that will never encounter Hayles.