Postmodern SF: "Adrift in the Noösphere" by Damien Broderick
The Noöpshere as metaphore for SF.
Information domains. We have several for all tastes and preferences: Noösphere, infosphere, cyberspace. Generally speaking what differentiates them? They are all about information, and they aim to reflect the different kinds of technological and organizational developments we aim to achieve. Are they just different takes on the same thing? Nope. Cyberspace is the most technological. Noösphere is the most ideal, in the sense that we don’t have it yet. About cyberspace nothing new to be said. I’ve said plenty in my reviews for the past few years. Infosphere is an extension of the Cyberspace, ie, it comprises the latter, plus Information Systems that are not part of the Internet, eg, media, non-electronic libraries, etc.
What about the Noösphere (I’m using Broderick’s term with the umlaut)? It’s the most abstract. It comes from the Greek word “noos”, which means “mind”. Vernadsky/De Chardin first coined it in 1925 (I know, I looked it up). In his view, the world first evolved as a geosphere, and next a biosphere. What we now have is a global communication circuit, which is really a global-circling domain of the “mind”, giving rise to a sort of planetary consciousness. If I wanted to use an Huxley term I’d say the Noösphere is some sort of “living thought”. The Noösphere is thus the last stage of the informational domains: Cyberspace -> Infosphere -> Noösphere. The Noösphere can then be interpreted as being the total sum of all human thought, knowledge, and culture, or as Broderick says in his introduction, “Noösphere is today given literal expression in the global skein of billions of messages flung through space, wires, and cables, tying humankind into a kind of emerging hive mind.” This idea is teeming with SF concepts, because it resonates with a lot of things in SF, namely its underlying “sense of wonder”, which Broderick explores to the hilt here. Each and every one of the stories is embedded with this kind of wonder. For me SF is about the endless, ever-evolving search for transcendence: “We’re adrift, like voyagers on a raft, carried into strange seas by currents we can barely identify – adrift, indeed, in the Noösphere!” There’s no better way to define SF, if such a thing is possible.
First let me tell that I’m pretty biased towards Broderick’s work, starting with the “The White Abacus”. I love the way he uses allusiveness when creating new things. “The White Abacus” is just one hell of an example of that (a SFional version of Hamlet). It’s always a tight rope working like this: how much can be hinted at, how much can be openly said, how much can the writer assume from the part of the reader to understand the allusions? Broderick’s best work can be seen as having a dual behaviour, ie, both as a successful story on its own terms and at the same time deepening our understanding of past works (be it SF or otherwise).
This collection is a prime example of that, albeit in short form. It gives a glimpse of how Broderick has evolved over the years. Almost all of the short-stories are top-notch (even Broderick’s first story “The Sea’s Furthest End” is quite good). The best stories here are “Walls of Flesh, Bars of Bone” (written with Barbara Lamar; it’s also where I first encountered the word “teabagging”, which I wasn’t familiar with... The story is beautifully written, with the closing stages shifting underneath the protagonist’s feet. It’s one the best short stories ever written. Period) and “Under the Moons of Jupiter” (the solar system rewritten by Singularity-grade entities…).
I’ve read only two short-story collections this year: “After the Apocalypse” by Maureen F. McHugh and now this one. Both are superb works of fiction.
SF = Speculative Fiction