Preparation and Study Questions for Glenn Grant's "Burning Day" [2004]

Glenn Grant, a Canadian author living in Montreal, is perhaps best known for his Memetic Lexicon, an alphabetized dictionary of terms related to Memetics, "the study of  ideas and concepts viewed as living organisms."  The notions of mimetics and the transhuman are central to Grant's SF and especially to "Burning Day."  View the links for the lexicon, mimetics, and the transhuman for background on these issues and their relation to both Grant's fiction and current posthuman issues in SF.

"Burning Day," like P.K. Dick's Do Androids Dream, incorporates elements of SF and detective fiction while investigating the relation of the human to the artificial, extending the issue beyond Dick's organic androids to contemporary notions of the posthuman through Grant's cogents, cybrids, and cephalines.  The result is a complex futuristic detective fiction that reads like a print medium film noir.  The story challenges us to manage unfamiliar terminology and situations by dropping us in the middle of things and only gradually revealing term definitions and cultural contexts as we--along with Detective Gene Engine Mohad; his Detective partner, Daniel Aramaki; and his lover, Detective-Sergeant Gondwanaland Moon--attempt to solve the "murder" of  four cogents during an upgrade ceremony.  Below, I provide definitions of a few terms and descriptions of some of the players in the story to help you follow the plot.

Study Questions

  1. How do cogent society and the discrimination against cogents derive from issues in 20th century American culture?  That is, how does Grant's presentation of cogents and the social and political issues that affect them enact a social criticism?
  2. Which specific events and characters provide examples of Grant's address to patterns of racism and discrimination in culture?  How, for example, does Xu Kelly provide subtle evidence of continuing discrimination in the police force?

  3. When Aramaki calls Mohad "Gene-baby," what is the basis of the joke?  How is this parallel to Mohad's calling Aramaki "monkey boy"?

  4. Why do cogents take names like Severe Commie Skeptic, Deep Field Scanner, or Chronic Flesh Nebula?  How is Gene Engine Mohad different than these other cogent names?

  5. The narrator of “Burning Day” is Gene Engine Mohad.  Who and what is he? Since his true nature is only revealed to us over the course of the story, it is important to pay careful attention both to his relationship with Sgt. Gondwanaland and to those details that cause us to question whether or not he is truly a cogent.

  6. How are the following characters central to the unraveling of the motives behind the murders and theft of the blank cogent brain:  Richard Kindred, Theodore Henry, Marvin Saks?