Hereford Humpff

Issue 8 * Spring 2002

Winner of the 2001 Foundling Theory Fund Award

In Henry Hoisells's cyber-epicurean masterpiece Ninette, we get the following: "Deep inside her cyber-soul, ticking at 1000 megahertz, there appeared a tiny something. A warm breath, a meaning beyond knowing. Here, Ninette herself was born" (48).

We know from this passage that we've hit upon a pretty much standard cyber-Genesis story: electro-biological being is created in the lab of mad scientist X; electro-biological being grows up, demonstrates super abilities, becomes human, falls in love, goes on a mass killing rampage sacrificing itself for its loved one in a selfless act proving its ultimate humanity. But here we see a little something different, modest as it is: "there appeared a tiny something" (emphasis added). With this, a nanotech theory may be applied to the character of Ninette and, by extension, to the novel itself.

It bears mentioning at this point that this nanotech theory may be applied across genres: the late invention of nanotech novels are obvious applications, but what is suggested here is a pan-Drexlerian model, superceding the basic nanotech novel or nano-driven plotline. The idea is to see within the text--any text--the molecular-level goings on of plot, setting, characterization. It's a very short leap indeed from this theory to a quantum application to literature, but this brief introduction will not allow for an exploration of that.

More specifically, and more to the point, nanotechnologies, according to Gary Stix, are those that "have at least one dimension of about one to 100 nanometers, they are designed through processes that exhibit fundamental control over the physical and chemical attributes of molecular-scale structures, and they can be combined to form larger structures" (34). We can see here that even within the brief passage quoted above, Ninette exhibits the qualities of a nanotheory character: this thing, this "tiny" thing inside of her, can be presumed, because of her already cybernetic nature, to be really, really small--smaller even than her normal detection circuitry would be capable of revealing. Otherwise, the novel reveals, Ninette would simply be aware of it, in the same way that a human is aware of a pain in his groin but unaware of the cellular damage that has taken place within the muscles themselves (Hoisell 442).

However, and in accordance with Stix's definition, Ninette is able to control these properties. As she becomes human, Ninette is offered the same power over her urges as all human beings. Without the constraints of adherence to strict programming, Ninette is now able to choose. Choice is implicitly control, whereas fulfilling predetermined directives is no more than that. Desire replaces the unthinking computer instinct of "garbage in, garbage out" (Hoisell 93). Ninette could not become a truly nanotheoretical character without free will.

Likewise, Ninette's nanotheoretical aspects control larger aspects of her existence; they are "combined to form other structures," in this case, the larger structures of personality--indeed larger aspects of "personhood." Hoisell writes: "At this point, Ninette could feel herself seething. How dare he call that wench Wendy instead of her? How dare he put his probing unit into Wendy, requiting her every lustful subroutine? It was Ninette Roscoe really loved: even a hyper-rationalistic cyborg could see that!" (492) Here Ninette's personality, begun and formed by a nano-scale bit of errant programming, is allowed to take over her entire body. The freewill aspects of love she allows to run like a prairie fire through all of her circuitry. She simultaneously discovers the pain of jealousy and the satisfaction of rage in one macro-scale rant of infernal self-coding.

Ninette's rage, in turn, leads her to massive destruction, turned, thankfully, into constructive destruction of the criminal element in M-Soft City:

The Pewter Punk gasped as Ninette punched her titanium fist through his ribcage and into his chest. She grasped his beating heart, squeezing it until it popped like a ripe zit. Her virtual memory recalled Roscoe's picture, and she imagined his heart as she imagined her own electromechanical fluid pump crushed and battered by his words. 'How can I love you?' he'd said, `You're just a machine!'

The Pewter Punk's blood oozed down her arm, warming her temperature receptors. She knew she'd regret it--that new feeling she had so quickly become familiar with-- but at this moment, infinitesimal in sidereal time, she enjoyed it. (992) (emphasis Hoisell's)

Ninette's emptiness at the end of her rampage shows the reader her full humanness: not even extreme, pointless violence can console a broken heart. Not even the satisfaction of demolishing M-Soft City's most dangerous Hacker Lords could bring her to let go of her lost longing (Hoisell 997)

Eventually, Ninette is put down by the Illegal Operations Force as they pop up in a window unexpectedly ("It's just our way") on their grey and red hyper-scooter (Hoisell 1012). Here, she commits the ultimate of human acts, self sacrifice. But Hoisell's conclusion is telling. As she dissolves into the street, blasted to bytes by the IOF, she "dissipates a strange, faint energy, which becomes (is it a particle? a wave?) out across the cosmos, a miniature scrap of the personhood that had corrupted her circuitry" (1032), a nanoself, flying into the realm "where quantum mechanics rules" (Stix 34). She exudes the basic building blocks of who we are.


Works Cited

Hoisell, Henry. Ninette. Newton: Phantom Books, 1981.

Stix, Gary. "Little Big Science" Scientific American Sept. 2001: 32-7.