From: "Roy C. Lackey"
Subject: (urth) Those chems Date: Tue, 3 Sep 2002 00:26:35 -0500 The subject of chems having been brought up lately, I want to say a few things about them in general, some of which may bear on recent discussion. First is the silly anthropomorphic notion of gender in machines: they don't have any. Gender outside of biological life forms is devoid of meaning. Yeah, Wolfe has consistently given us such characters in his fiction, but that doesn't make it true. I can, for the sake of a story, accept sentient automatons, just as I do FTL ships, time travel, and ghosts, but logic can't be left entirely on this side of the looking glass. Chems were built on Urth, not the _Whorl_, to the evil madman Typhon's specifications. Lest the chems wear out, like Marble, or otherwise be lost to his plan, he made provision for replacements. For some reason he decided that individual machines should not replicate themselves alone, so each machine was programmed with only half the data needed to build a replacement. It was a stupid idea, as subsequent events proved, and gave rise to the notion of gender, based on the obvious and convenient human analogy. Chem is a term coined on the _Whorl_. Both Urth-born Kypris and Mamelta give them no more regard as sentient beings than I do my car or computer, each calling them by some variation of "robot" and "machine", which is what they are. The chems are "its", not "hes" and "shes". They have no instincts beyond their "standing orders", which can be subverted, as Incus demonstrated, by a little rewiring and reprogramming. They do not have glands or hormones to influence behavior. The gamut of human emotions attributed to the head movements and body language of Marble exist only in the eye of the beholder; they are learned associations or fanciful projections with no more (probably less) real-world meaning than those my wife assigns to one of our cats. I'm a little over half through my nth reading of the LS series. From all I've been able to determine, there are two basic models of chems. One is the tall (two heads taller than Silk), heavy model used primarily, if not exclusively, as "soldiers", such as Hammerstone. These machines are, according to Hammerstone, basically identical in terms of hardware; the differences, such as military rank, are in the programming they were given and a certain ability to "learn" from experience. These tall chems are, so far as I can tell, designated exclusively as "male". The other model is smaller (nearer normal human size) and lighter, though still heavier than a same-sized human. These shorter chems seem to be all "female". The only differences between what are termed "male" and "female" chems is a matter of programming and relative size. Many of their inner components were probably interchangeable. None of those components can be identified as male or female. Marble's modesty in entirely an affectation; she has no female features to hide beneath a habit, no more than the soldiers have male features. In fact, the soldiers wear only different colors of paint to indicate their function. Hammerstone might just as well have been programmed as "female" and spent "her" waking hours sewing nighties for Orchid's girls and empathizing with their monthly courses; but no, its fingers were too big for fine work. But it makes just as much sense as wandering around on patrol in the tunnels, talking Silk's ears off with stereotypical army gripes, pining over lost love, and bitching about the shortage of chem nookie--or whatever equivalent non-biological itch Hammerstone was programmed to scratch. -Roy --