Study Questions for Mirrorshades  Short Stories
"The Gernsback Continuum"  by William Gibson:
Ultimately, this story is about how the 1930s desire for a futuristic utopia sustained by technology and contained partially within streamlined modern design somehow is driven by the same desires that drove Hitler's Nazi Germany. That is, one kind of belief in perfection contains, for Gibson, the seeds of the other--the belief in the perfect race. As a result, Gibson views utopian desires with suspicion, suggesting that these desires might have a racist or fascist underside. Consider the following issues while reading the story:
How do the protagonist's "semiotic ghosts" and their connection to Carl Jung's notion of a collective unconscious [See the Jung reference on page 6.] critique both the idea of utopian desire and the romance mode notion of wish-fulfillment as central to science fictions?
How do the dream Tuscon and the futuristic couple seen in the Arizona desert [pages 8-9] further the story's critique of utopian desire?
What does Merv Kihn say the protagonist must do to exorcise his semiotic ghosts and how does this solution identify the terms of Gibson's social critique?
"Rock On"  by Pat Cadigan:
Cadigan's critique seems to be grounded more in specific aspects of a developing commercial culture--especially the effects of commercial enterprises on the rock subculture--than in broader cultural desires like those addressed in Gibson's story. Her combination of "sinner" and "synthesizer" to produce Gina as a "synner" clearly establishes this focus, as do the events of the story. As you read "Rock On," consider the following issues:
How many references to particular rock musicians or songs can you identify? Identify the passages, musicians, and songs, and be prepared to note them during our discussion.
Do your best to translate the jargon of the story. For example, "blueboys," "b&e," "c'muters," "shot my retinas," "bring along," etc...Do you find this language effective in establishing verisimilitude--a realistic setting and tone--or does it prohibit your full engagement with the story?
What is the basis of the social critique that sustains this story? In other words, how would you answer the question, "What killed rock n roll and broke Gina's heart?
Mozart in Mirrorshades"  by Bruce Sterling and Lewis Shiner:
Sterling and Shiner, like Cadigan, immerse us in a near future science fiction without explanation, requiring us to piece together the context as we read. This, then, is classic sf, situating us in an alien environment and asking us to react and re-orient ourselves to the imagined world. As I mentioned in class, theirs is an immediately post-Vietnam story enacting a cultural critique that turns the practices of colonial imperialism against the colonizers. That is, the very cultures that historically have sustained themselves through exploitative imperialist actions in our reality are similarly exploited in "Mozart in Mirrorshades." Consider the following issues as your read the story:
Exactly how do the authors alter the conventional sf time travel tradition here? That is, how does time work in the story?
Can you connect the situation of this story to the American experience in Vietnam?
How do the historical figures represented in the story [Thomas Jefferson, Marie Antoinette, Jebe Noyan, Mozart, etc...] develop the political critique that drives the story?
Midway through the story, Rice, while expressing his love for Marie Antoinette, is described as "drunk on history out of control, careening under him like some black motorcycle of the imagination" . How does this image to some extent capture the tone and mood of the entire story? How does it function as an implicit critique of the prideful protagonist, whose hubris clearly is setting him up for a fall?
Finally, how does Rice's comment near the end of the story--"You can't just use people like that!" --ironically encapsulate the story's broad point?
"Snake Eyes"  by Tom Maddox:
Like the previous stories, this one drops us in the middle of things, expecting us to recover our balance as we move through the story accumulating details defining the specific situation and context. Like "Mozart in Mirrorshades," "Snake Eyes" enacts a cultural critique grounded in the events of post-Vietnam America. While the story does in fact engage the plight of a returning veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress and unable to adjust to life in the culture, however, it also raises larger economic and political themes involving multinational corporate power and technology developing consciousness. In essence, it asks the question, "Who or what is in charge?" Consider the following issues:
Why does SenTrax, Inc. recruit people like George and Lizzie? What is their ultimate goal?
What is the "snake" and how does the snake--and the author's uses of the motif of "snake eyes"--expose thematic concerns fundamental to the idea of the story? By the story's end, we realize that the "snake" is not simply the EHIT but something more abstract, more fundamental to human nature. What is really being labeled by the notions of a "snake" and of "snake eyes"?
How does this story aggressively address the idea of evolution? In what ways does Maddox's "Snake Eyes" contrast biological evolution to the EHIT inspired evolution that forms the basis of the story? How does the line, "unlike any previous organism, this one had an overseer" , provoke conflict between scientific and spiritual beliefs?
Who is in charge of SenTrax, Inc., of the project on the orbiting station, and of the process of evolution?