Monday, September 1, 2008

The Turning Wheel

Having not read any of Philip K. Dick's short stories before, Fair Game was a fun introduction to this sci-fi author. Of the ten stories that I've read so far, it was my favorite - a mixture of tense moments with a light, yet morbid touch at the end. I found myself pulling for Professor Douglas, anxious for what was to happen. With what little I had read about Dick's writing style, I knew to keep my hand over the last couple lines of the story to avoid accidentally experiencing the Aha! moment even a paragraph early. I wasn't disappointed.

photo by Michel Filion

In contrast, while reading The Turning Wheel, I found myself disliking the protagonist Bard Sung-wu, yet finding much more deep meaning in his story. His inability to comprehend those who lived in different circumstances with supposedly less access to education bothered me. I couldn't wait for him to find out that the Bards were really the fanatic cult and not the Technos. As Sung-wu rants and raves both aloud and in his own thoughts about the terrible state of things and the possibility of the classes mingling or even marrying, I thought of a former professor of mine from India telling us about the caste system there and its purpose to keep the ruling party in power and keep the peasants under control. That is, this kind of thing is happening today.

Sung-wu continues his annoying display of superiority over all he meets until he ironically finds himself being taken care of in a household of the lowest class. When he realizes the power they have over his life, he breaks down and confesses his fear of dying before he has a chance to make amends for his sins. It is interesting that he does this right in the middle of a philosophical discussion with an eloquent Techno, who points out that using technology to improve the world around you is not necessarily out of line with divine processes. Sung-wu, as part of the highest and most enlightened Bard class, has been taught (and teaches) that we must accept everything as it is, yet the lowest class of society is more technologically advanced due to their willingness to fix those elements around them that are broken and to try new things. He completely misses this point that Ben explains to him, as he is worried about his own future, but then he experiences it himself by accepting technology which will save his life. In exchange for saving his life, the Technos save themselves from further scrutiny by the goverment with Sung-wu's dismissive report about the extent of their activities, thus allowing them to continue to covertly work towards re-inventing technology that has been lost because of the repressive governing class.

In the end, sharing technology contributed to the survival of all those involved, whereas artificially suppressing the dissemination of technology through legal and cultural means caused an entire society to lose what it did have at one point.

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