DAY MILLION: language, singularities, affects, and encounters (not to mention “love”)

DAY MILLION (first published in 1966) by Frederik Pohl is a great love story, jam-packed, chockfull and tiptop-crammed with laughter, tears and poignant sentiment”, except that there is virtually no story and the “love” both in the story and that we feel for the story is almost purely intellectual.

The affects expressed and felt are not so much at the events as at the style and skill of the writer. The “laugh” is on the reader, projected as a normal baseline human of the sixties and the tears are perhaps to mourn “humanity”, its passing into something else.

The “poignant sentiment” that we may feel is a mixture of the sad and joyful affects with the defining characteristics of science fiction: the sense of wonder and the sentiment of estrangement.

In just over 2,200 words the story is chockfull of wonder and estrangement.

The “story” is told in natural language, giving us a pre-Singularity description of what is possibly a post-Singularity situation, where ordinary human predicates do not apply. The digital nature of their love is a measure of the nature of their society.

Very few things escape algorithmic calculation, the only “clinamen” is an unplanned and seemingly unlikely encounter, the genetically engineered girl tumbling into the cyborg male’s arms.

This “cute” meet gives us another sense of singularity than the grandiloquent capitalised Singularity of the post-humanists, the sense of a bifurcation, of branching into another direction. This hyperbolic extrapolation of today’s accelerating curves of change will not lead to a world of total control, where nothing new can happen.

This is the reassuring aspect of a text that reads like a requiem for mankind. It does not predict the death of sex, as sex is already more noetic than physical:

most of the things we call “sexy” are symbolic

More importantly, it does not predict the death of love, although its circumstances are (or will be) radically different from today’s. The encounter will still be possible.

Omicron-Dibase seven-group-totter-oot S. Doradus 5314  interfaces with […………] Adonis 2592 (we only know the “personal” part of his name), but ordinary language can always recount Dora meets Don, if that helps.

In an editorial entitled “The Day After Tomorrow” published in GALAXY in 1965, just one year before DAY MILLION, Pohl comments on what is perhaps the basic lesson of science fiction in general, and of this story in particular: change, difference, and relativity.

“With negligible exceptions (Wells, Stapledon and who?), nearly every science-fiction writer up to a very few years ago made one very hidden — and indefensible — assumption. They assumed that science changed; that the world changed; that everything you could imagine changed, except one thing. They assumed that the human race did not change at all” (Galaxy Science Fiction v24 n01October 1965, p6).

We are already a very symbolic animal, most of our life being lived through the virtual worlds of fantasy and its projections. The phenomenon of exponential change can lead to us wondering just how much of the animal, just how much “flesh” do we need to remain recognizably human?

Frederik Pohl’s answer to this question in DAY MILLION is “not much”. His wager is that despite the hyperbolic extrapolations of exponential change we can still validly describe the encounter of Dora and Don, their marriage and digital love-making as the episodes of a love story.

Other terms such as “boy” and “girl” do not survive unchanged, a little more explanation is needed, but not much more than is needed to read Chaucer and perhaps less than for us to understand BEOWULF, composed over a thousand years ago. DAY MILLION is only a little less than one thousand years in our future.

The “circumstances” will have changed enormously, and much of our language will have become obsolete. Experience is mutable too. It will have been transformed by the use of the “symbol-manipulator” into cerebral “analogues” of the sort of experiences we have.

In like fashion, our own speculative literature must create analogues of alien, future, or otherwise strange situations, circumstances, and experiences. Familiar language must be twisted, broken, and transformed to allow us to describe the other with enough normal points that the abnormal points, the singularities (small “s”) can be comprehended or at least related to by the reader of today, Day Seven Hundred Thousand.

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