When the Mind Is Realized, the Body is Free by Chuck Kallenbach II 10-15-04
You can read this week's story HERE!
Summary: Hotwire finds a broken Robot called Doc Six, fixes him, tries to find work, gets lectured a bunch, and then runs away with the robot and goes off to their next adventure together.
Its October 15th, 2004, and we're getting our first taste of Chuck Kallenbach II. From the original set of WARS fiction writers, three names stand out: Stackpole, Tuttle, and Kallenbach. While the other writers are certainly important, these three together make up the lions share of the WARS short stories, with Tuttle having the fewest, but also having the longest piece of WARS fiction we'll get till the Novellas to his name. But for now, we have Kallenbach, and his premiere story, and Kallenbach is someone we're going to be paying quite a bit of attention to, as his fiction will shape the future of WARS in very large ways.
The first thing that is noticeable is how the tone shifts in this story. Where the first six stories were firmly in the realm of Star Wars, at least in theory, this story is straight up Neuromancer, that is to say, its a work of Cyberpunk. For those not familiar with Cyberpunk, here is a quick refresher: its a style of Science Fiction story that blossomed from the late 80's to mid 90's that primarily focused on a grungy nasty future where corporations are king, and the plot is heavily focused around computer concepts. Body modification, moral ambiguity, hackers, femme fatales, and class divisions run wild, as does organized crime. So here we have a WARS story presenting us with just that, with all the cosmetic trappings of those stories here to: wacky future fashions, giant strange advertisements, dirty cities... But don't think this is a dystopia, that implies people thought that things were going to be good to begin with, no, this was never a good place, and everyone here knows it.
This is quite the inspirational change, as it takes WARS into a rather new territory. While we'd gotten a taste of the underworld in Stackpole's stories, the everyday function of Maverick life was still a bit of a mystery. That Mavericks end up being cyberpunks isn't unexpected at all, they did seem to fit the tropes after all, but it establishes that they are living in a fundamentally different type of story than their neighbors.
We've been introduced to the Universe of WARS through several different sets of eyes at this point, the stories we've been given often being more essays than tales, and this ones is no different. The heroes of this story spent a good darn chunk of it just listening to various people come by and tell them the history of the WARS Universe, something we've already heard if we've been reading any of the previous stories. By now, we need a word for this sort of story, so lets call it an explanarritive: a story written for the purpose of explaining facts you want the reader to know. In this case, we need to be very aware once again that WARS is the setting this card game is in and this is its history. Its strange we're being given it again though, couldn't we just look back a few stories and read up on everything?
The nature of this explanation is quite different though, as our perspective is through a Maverick and a robot. The Robot is keenly listening, having heard all of this before at one point, but also having lost its memory and being in swift need of new data to fill its harddrives. The Maverick on the other hand is so bored by the whole affair of being given multiple history lessons, she nearly falls asleep. The history lesson is not without tidbits of new information though: we learn about these events from a biased perspective, which is the most interesting way to glean them. After all, one can learn everything there is about the history of Gongen and Earth, but until one learns the way both sides think of it, that knowledge is hard to put into practice in reality. What we get of course, are two incomplete histories, one from Dooley the maverick bar owner, and one from the Gongen soldier. Both focus on radically different aspects of the tale, and we learn a lot about both of their cultures from what they focus on and omit.
Dooley delights in the technological innovation of history, and makes sure to note when pieces of technology were developed for different purposes, for him history is about what we can do with our future, and how we got here with what we had. Its a doctrine of technological triumph and innovation by the average guy. This world wouldn't be the way it was without all of the amazing devices created and tested all through time till now, and knowing the history of how it all came about helps to prepare us for the future.
The Gongen on the other hand frame history as a series of injustices and triumphs of political freedoms rather than technological ones. Gongen frames history around the escape of its people from the disaster on Earther, rather than the technological nature of the tragedy that led them there itself. It is a view of history that looks on the movement of beings to a freer and less oppressed state as the nature of history.
What we are of course missing is the Earther view, which while not seen in this story would probably posit that the biggest mark of history is the improvement of individuals. History to the Earthers would be a history of great men and women doing amazing things they could get their names written down for.
In all of this, we have a strange protagonist to be told all of this, because our protagonist is of course a robot. This droid is the mark of technological progression, while also being a victim overcoming its own damages and loss of functionality to create a better future not just for itself but for Hotwire the maverick as well. The robot fits into neither world totally, but is a part of both utterly, which makes the narrative history we are presented all the more interesting because of it.
This explanarrative has given us two choices of how to view the history of the universe, and ultimately decides you cant trust either, and its best to high tail it out of places where people try to give you a whole spiel about history you never really cared about when you have other things to do. Hotwire's life is a life of the present, while the robot's is a life of the past no matter how you get around it. But Doc Six's past, when realized, doesn't anchor him to the room the way people expect it to. Learning where he was from, who he was, and what the history of the Universe hidden from sight was didn't make Doc Six fall into either one of the ideologies presented in front of him. Instead, Doc Six chooses personal autonomy for himself and Hotwire over the ideological mush that had been ground up in two bowls for the to chose from. Doc Six in fact, shows us that the choice presented were not the only ones available. While technological innovation drove him to exist, it also didn't make him have two arms, and its the grit of survival that gave him another one, along with the co-operation of a friend. While his damage and rise back up may have been inconvenient, it also was no reason to risk his own life of that of Hotwire for the sake of petty revenge. Doc Six invents a new future, and in doing so reveals the hypocrisy that was floating all around everyone's intentions the whole time.
In short, we are told that the WARS Universe, despite all its lectures and long winded explanations isn't that at all, but is instead a living breathing places where people like Hotwire need to find work in order to feed themselves, and were disarming a foe to escape is better than killing him, especially if you're in a rush. This is further emphasized by Doc Six's annoyance with the entire atmosphere of the Rat's Nest bar, and his annoyance at the non-understanding droid he has to try to converse with while Hotwire is playing cards that doesn't seem to understand he wasn't built with a mouth.
So if WARS isn't the lectures, what exactly is it supposed to be? The answer is all around it: a mysterious droid found in an alley, and adventurous escape from captivity. WARS isn't about knowing every cryptic detail, its about having a universe where stories of people living in the grit and grime can be told without a hint of remorse, and where those same people can hop off to adventures without being wrong to do so. This is a golden age of rancor, rivalry, revolutions, and reconnaissance, and we are living in it for just a bit, ready to pop off on our own adventures as well.
This marks the beginning of the end of serialized WARS fiction in the original run though. We'll have one more story following this one, but alas that will be all she wrote. We don't get to follow this pair for long together, so at least we can treasure them while we still can.
Though speaking of this story and ones like it...