Monday, August 4, 2014

Made Things in Stephen Baxter's Doctor Who The Wheel of Ice: A Brief Reflection

                Back in 2012 Stephen Baxter wrote a Doctor Who story. If you are a fan of Doctor Who and haven’t read The Wheel of Ice, I would recommend getting a copy and remedying that. I am not going to review the story or Baxter’s characterization of the Doctor and his companions or his approach to the science fiction genre, although all are excellent fodder. My main purpose is to highlight a theme that I found particularly interesting, and not one that I have often come across. (As always: Spoiler Alert.)
                Baxter describes three different characters (MMAC, Arkive, and First) as “made things.” MMAC and Arkive are both artificial intelligence designed with a specific purpose—a task to complete. First is made by Arkive to help her complete her task.
                MMAC was lied to by his human designers before being sent out in space alone to do his task. When the story begins, that task is complete and MMAC is obsolete, seemingly abandoned by his creators. At the end of the story he receives letters from his “mother,” though, which are very important to him.
                Arkive was designed for the “resilience, remembrance, and restoration” of her now extinct creators. However, after being damaged in the explosion of a super nova, she cannot fulfill her purpose. She decides to send herself back in time to them so she can apologize. This, of course, endangers the solar system and brings the Doctor. In the end, the Doctor begins to put a system in place in which Arkive can “write home” without crossing her own timeline and endangering others’ lives.
                First is a blue doll Arkive created—the first of hundreds—to help her in her quest. Arkive tells him, “You are a made thing of a made thing. You are less than zero, less than nothing. You have no purpose save your function” (Baxter 185). She is unintentionally cruel to First, simply speaking the facts as she understands them. It is made clear at the end of the book that First and the other Blue Dolls will not long out-live their function.
                This repetition of the created being’s struggle strikes me as surprising because typically characters of this nature rebel against their creators—they serve as an extension of the author’s own struggle with his existence and purpose. For most of the book I suspected MMAC simply because he had excellent motive in the form of a grudge, in spite of his claim to be at peace with the issue. However, all three of these characters without exception are fiercely loyal to their creators. MMAC even says, “They had the right….I am a made thing. They made me. They could do wha’ they like wi’ me” (Baxter 62). He implies that regardless of right or wrong—even if it seemed cruel—the creator had rights over the created. First supports that with his loyalty to Arkive, even when she cruelly tells him he is meaningless without his function and that, once his task is fulfilled, he will no longer be anything. Arkive’s desire to apologize to her creators takes this idea a step further to imply that the created has a responsibility to the creator.
                The only time that Baxter indicated that the creator also has a responsibility to the created was in MMAC’s letters from home, in which his makers apologize for deceiving him. The theme of responsibility to a creator is so rarely implied so tactfully, and I wanted to share my appreciation of Baxter’s work. It was otherwise fantastic, and I’d love to hear other’s opinions on both this and other subjects regarding the book!

C8lin


Baxter, Stephen. Doctor Who: The Wheel of Ice. ACE Books: New York, 2012. Print.