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From: "Roy C. Lackey" 
Subject: (urth) Bio bias
Date: Sat, 5 Oct 2002 00:59:47 -0500

Unfortunately, I must revisit the question of bias by bios against
chems. I won't repeat what I've posted before, but bear it in mind; the
subject is germane.

As I wrote in my original chem post, there are two types of chem. Beyond
"male" and "female", the chems can be classified as military (soldiers)
and civilian (servants). These two groupings are based on Marble's
memories of the day she was picked up on Urth to be taken to the

        "Enormous darkness high overhead, blotting the sun-drenched
field, the straggling line of servants in which she had stood, and the
soldiers' precise column." (LS3, ch. 8)

When Kypris-in-Chenille was trying to explain possession to Silk (LS2,
5), she told him:

        "The mechanical woman? Marble? Somebody too clever learned he
could do it to them. Change programs in little ways. People made
machines. Just to do that. So that people like Maytera Marble would work
for them instead of for the State."

It's beyond dispute that all the "soldiers" worked for the State. The
above quote implies that, among other things, _all_ chems originally
worked for the State. As Marble told Quetzal: "I was the maid, the
sibyls' maid, when the first bios moved into the city. I got our cenoby
ready for them . . ." (LS4, 231) The servants group, of which Marble was
a member, did most of the work that needed to be done for the early
bios -- mostly growing food, making tools and clothes and mud bricks to
build more buildings where they hadn't been ready-made by Pas, as well
as domestic duties for the high and mighty. This is affirmed by
Hammerstone, who told Silk (LS2, 9):

        "Like I was saying, back three hundred years ago there wasn't
all that many bios. A lot of the work was done by chems. Us soldiers did
some, but mostly it was civilians. Maybe you know some. They don't have
armor and they've got different software."
        "They're largely gone now, I'm sorry to say," Silk told him.

And so they are. Marble was ready for the scrap heap before she got some
new-to-her parts from Rose. Individual soldiers lasted much longer
because they were regularly deactivated for decades at a time; they
didn't wear out like the servants, who didn't "sleep". Silk also said,
elsewhere, that there had been more chems around when he was a boy.
Things on the _Whorl_ have been breaking down at an alarming rate in
recent decades.

It has been maintained on this list that chems enjoyed equal status with
humans. I think not. Urth-born bios regard chems as machines. The fact
that there were only two groups of chems--soldiers and servants--when
the _Whorl_ left Urth, indicates that they were intended as tools, not
people. Chems were autonomous beings to the extent necessary to perform
their function without human direction. _If_ human attitudes towards
chems changed over the course of three hundred years, so that in Silk's
day the surviving remnants were treated as people, then that change was
a process of social evolution. With each generation that passed on the
_Whorl_, as people lost sight of the original objective, the masses
became increasingly ignorant; by Silk's time few even realized they were
living inside an artificial world, a giant spaceship. Scientific thought
was all but extinct. A long glowing thing in the "sky" came to be
accepted as natural. So also with the chems. After a few generations,
there were few humans left alive who knew that chems were just machines,
particularly those that looked human. They had just always been there,
like the long sun.

Look at the three examples we have of the servant class. The valet and
porter mentioned by Incus had been tinkered with by humans--their
hardware and software modified by the black mechanics for their own
ends. At least two of those black mechanics were augurs. The holy men
had no moral concerns for the sanctity of chems--they were just
machines. Marble's admission to the Chapter was a unique event, so far
as I know. A shortage of teachers occasioned by a shortage of sibyls
resulted in Marble being drafted as a teacher. Some parents of the
school children complained, so she was made a sibyl, also. Being made a
sibyl did not change her status as a maid. She continued to do the
cooking and cleaning; neither Rose nor Mint are ever shown doing
anything other than teaching and ceremonial duties. It was when Marble
became a sibyl that she "got new clothes", that is, she stopped wearing
the maid outfit and donned a habit. The official position of the Chapter
is (or came to be) that chems and tali have spirits, but they are still
not equal to humans because a chem can't become, according to Silk, an
augur. The mere fact that, as Silk put it, "a talus is a person, both in
law and in fact", indicates that it was necessary to enact legislation
to establish a talus (and presumably a chem) as a person. Had a talus or
chem been naturally regarded as a person, such a law would have been

Further evidence of bio bias: Rose-in-Marble told Silk (LS3, 10):

        "But we were much more alike than you realized, not that I ever
cared, myself, for machines like this. I never thought they could be
people, really, no matter how many times they said they were. Now I'm
just a message written on those teeny gold doodads you see in cards. But
I'm still me, a person, because I always was."

Even though she was born two centuries after the _Whorl_ left Urth, Rose
still thought of chems as just machines, not people. Likewise, Mint, on
the first page of LS4, uttered a comment Remora considered bordering on
blasphemy. He had said something about augurs dispatching the spirits of
dead tali (the plural he uses on p. 18 of the hardback) to Mainframe.
She said, of their spirits, "Or they really haven't any".

There are more hints along this line in the exchange Marble had with
Mint when Marble was fixing breakfast the morning Rose was found dead,
but it's too much to quote. Mint said that she would do whatever Marble
told her to do, because Marble was her senior sib, but that was just
meek, mild Mint, who either didn't know any better, or didn't care.
Marble is clearly uncomfortable with it, and tells Mint "You don't have
to obey me, sib." (LS2, 11)

The director of the talus factory, Swallow, knows that a talus lacks the
discernment of a bio, pointing out that "Suppose you had taluses
patrolling the streets instead of troopers, Calde. You'd have a dozen
people shot every night, instead of one or two a week." The soldiers in
the tunnels were also trigger happy and indifferent, at best, to the
welfare of bios.

Swallow wanted to use Marble as a practical example of the principle he
had just explained regarding a talus the factory had given a partial
refund for, but Chenille and Oreb objected. The refund was given for the
sake of public relations, not because the talus was defective. The talus
had been "abused". That is, it had been set to "piling bricks, which
isn't natural". (124) The proper function of a talus was, in essence, as
a "watchdog". Swallow wanted to know what kind of clothes Marble had
been given when she first "woke", and Marble described her maid outfit.

        "Swallow nodded again. 'You see, Calde, each of us is born to do
certain things. Maytera was born to sweep and dust, and wash walls and
floors, and she's still doing it. Did you have to urge her to?'
        "Silk shook his head.
        "'I would have been surprised if you'd said you did, and it
shows the important principle I want to explain. When you're born to do
a thing, and somebody gives you a chance to do it, that's all it takes.
Everybody else is afraid I'll embarrass her, so let's talk about your

And how was he going to embarrass her? By pointing out that the sibyl's
habit she was then wearing was not the clothing she had been "born" to
wear. It wasn't "natural".

BTW, chems are also biased.

"Sand said almost gently, 'He's just a bio, Patera. You get built inside
each other, so there's millions of you. One more or less doesn't
matter.'" (LS2, 8)

Marble thinking, as she approached Blood's house: "Through it [the door]
she saw soldiers, and bios in silvered armor. (Bios got up like chems,
as she put it to herself, because chems were braver.)" (LS3, 10) Well,
duh! Maybe this sort of thinking is why chems can't hold positions of
real authority over humans; they are incapable of appreciating the
frailties of the flesh.

Marble also looks down on tali: "We chems aren't really like taluses. We
were made in the Short Sun Whorl, and we can think and see a great deal
better, and we don't burn fish oil . . ." It seems that being built on
Urth is better than being built on the _Whorl_. (EXODUS, 53)

Marble spent two-and-a-half centuries as a maid. Even if she received
only a peasant's wages, after all that time her piggy bank should have
been overflowing. But the fact of the matter is that she was so poor she
couldn't have made a down payment on a free lunch. A talus is born--er,
created--in debt. It owes its creator for the mere fact of its creation.
If it lives long enough it can, in theory, work off its debt. What
happens then, the text pointedly does not say. Chenille had the temerity
to ask what a talus would do with money. Marble ventured, "The same
things that you or I would, I suppose, dear." (126) That has to be the
Rose part of Marble talking. Swallow carefully ignored the question.
What would Marble do with money if she had it? Spend it on beer and
pizza, pillows for her weary head? The same for the soldiers. Chems
were, de facto, slaves, whether they received any wages or not. Money
could not buy for them the creature comforts that money provided for
bios, which is, ultimately, all it's good for. (BTW, what did the
original Cargo use for money? Surely not cards.) But even to call them
slaves is to grant them a status their creators never intended--you
don't pay a machine.

I've said it before and I'll say it again; yes, Wolfe clearly intended
chems to be thought of as people in some sense, just as he has other
automatons in other works. I have no idea whether or not he believes
they have "souls" but, it seems to me, even for Wolfe there is a line
that may be approached but that Man's creations may not pass, one that
separates the created from the Creator, just as surely as in _Genesis_.



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