If Wishes Were Spaceships looks like a fairly simple science fiction story, but for those readers who want something to think about, there’s a subtext in the book about our relationship with technology. We all use technology, but most of us do not have an in-depth knowledge of every piece of tech we use. We know enough to use it, but we usually do not know enough to fix it if it breaks. This makes us vulnerable, but it’s a vulnerability that’s invisible to us until the moment when something goes wrong. We can backup data, but devices and systems don’t come with spare parts or techies.
On the surface, the book is about a power struggle, but if you look closely, you’ll see that the real power isn’t held by the humans (or the carnivorous plants). The people are all, to a great or lesser extent, dependent on technology and their lives are defined by their skills — or lack of skills — in dealing with technology, whether it be simple everyday technology like the food synthesizer, or more complex systems like the ship that Jazlyn made the emergency landing in.
Our dependence on — and understanding of –technology impacts us in ways we scarcely realize until the technology doesn’t work. Our dependence on smaller bits of tech such as kitchen appliances may not be things that we are aware of until some unusual circumstance brings it home to us, but big stuff, like when your spaceship (or car) malfunctions in the middle of nowhere…
The thread that’s woven through the book — the tech between the lines — is about how each of the characters interacts with technology. Jazlyn is extremely comfortable with the technology of her ship. It’s complex, but she knows how to operate the ship, run diagnostics, and make repairs on some of the systems. She has a high level of confidence in herself and her ability to cope with whatever happens. Blaine has a high level of technical competence with integrated systems, but he has inadvertently created a system which is working against him, and he’s lost confidence in his ability to extricate himself from the situation he’s in.
On the other hand, Sterneworth has no clue about about anything of a technical nature. He prefers simple user-friendly interfaces and is loathe to learn anything new — why should he when he’s one of the wealthiest people in the galaxy and there are lots of competent people to do things for him? He’s an arrogant bully who values power, but technology exercises power over how he lives his life…and yet he remains willfully ignorant of all but the user interface. You might even say that he views Blaine as a sort of interface between him and the technology he’s surrounded by.
This book is not a heavy meditation on our relationship with technology: it’s a fast action adventure tale about the conflicting desires of three people stuck on a planet with giant genetically engineered carnivorous plants. Jazlyn has a ship; it’s broken, but the ongoing repair effort is at the center of the conflict…and the implications of the complex system Blaine has created for Sterneworth exerts a pressure of its own between the lines.
Next week I’ll have a guest post of “My Favorite Bit” on Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog.
Previous posts in this series about If Wishes Were Spaceships here on my blog are:
If Wishes Were Spaceships: The Carnivorous Plants