Tuesday, September 01, 2020

SF8: Joan's Galaxy

The year is 2046, and the ghost of Wong Kar-wai is hovering over this little story.

In the near future the worlds is wrapped in a shroud of fine dust. I call it October in my city, but it looks like a dense fog. To counteract this, there is a vaccine given to the kids within the first half of their life - to boost their antibodies, dealing with the response towards the aftermath of the fine dust. However, not everyone is given the life-changing vaccine. The humanity is divided into two groups: Cs and Ns. C stands for Clear - they are the hereditary elite, they are given the vaccine. Ns however are the expendables, the pavement the Cs are walking on not even seeing them. Because of the vaccine, the life expectancy between two groups is huge - Cs can live up to the 100 years old, but Ns, exposed to the toxic elements of the air, often develop tumors and die at one third of the C's lifespan.

Now, I would very much love to see the origins story - who, how and why thought the dystopian dividing of the society was justified. Because the society divide into the categories isn't anything new in the realm of sci-fi: Brave New World did that in probably the most terrifying way, but there are different classes of people also in Hunger Games, Snowpiercer, Divergent, Elysium (to which there are lots of parallels - alienation of the Cs, polarization, health care, etc.), Gattaca, or even Mad Max: Fury Road to some extent. This pervasive motif just proves how deeply embedded is class system in our thought framework. Even in the works depicting seemingly egalitarian society of the future, there is a moment when we see it's just a façade, and through the cracks the weeds of inequality spring back to life. The transgression is probably what fascinates us so. Breaking the class walls and venturing into the unknown, or even hostile territory.

But instead of that, we just have to roll with the story - or rather a loose musings on life expectations, on hope, on perseverance. We have two girls - Joan from the Ns and Yio from the Cs who form a tentative friendship bordering on sensual attraction. Joan, fascinated by the Universe and applying for a research lab, immediately notices the other girl's name, which sound just like Io, the mythological lover of Zeus and - what is more important to her - like the name of one of Jupiter's moons (the innermost of the Galilean moons).

We learn that through a hospital's mistake, Yio wasn't given the vaccine after birth, but some other infant received it. The story is a journey to track down the person who received it, just to see how that person is doing and what is doing with the gift they were given. At one point, both ladies zero on one possible man, who was supposed to be the one - but they learn he died in an accident. And here the first uncomfortable feel settles in. Because with human's age long quest to find immortality, we never paused to ask for indestructibility. Because, so what if we are immortals because the old age won't kill us - if the falling rock may. It's exactly what Selene did asking for Endymion's immortality, but she forgot to ask also about the youth, so the poor sleeping man was aging and aging, and with age came illness, until the existence was no more bearable than it was for Gollum or even Bilbo in Lord of the Rings. Life has taste because it ends.That's why in many fictional works we have immortal races who are bored, exhausted, nihilistic or decadent. They've tried everything and life has no more thrills.

Yio, learning from Gyeong who that lucky person was who was given the shot, refuses to inform her. Because - yes, it's Joan. She knows that Joan is who she is, a brave, bright, intelligent, and stubborn young lady precisely because she expects to die, so every moment is worth celebrating. Through her, Yio, whose time is running out irreversibly, even though she wears a power suit that gives her extra oxygen, experiences freedom, carelessness and living while looking at Death defiantly. She dances in the rain, she wears dresses exposing her skin to the toxic air, she enjoys the busking concert in the depths of the city where Ns live. Even though that breaks her mother's heart, because she knows her daughter is dying.

There is also a subtle anthropological touch to the way of presenting the story. Yio watches the society of Ns almost from the point of an anthropologist who is a faithful adherent to the immersive observation methodology - she participates in the said society's rites and ceremonies. 
We are left with two certainties - Jane got accepted into her dream research institute and Yio's tumor was cured, but here the shadow creeps in - we can't say for how long. But she's happy for Jane's achievement and bright spark.