Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mighty Good Curse

Recently I finished reading Melissa Scott's 1990 novel Mighty Good Road, set in an unspecified future where colonized space is linked together by a network of space warps around which are built titanic space stations known as the Exchange Points. They're tied together in a network called the Loop - which meant I had to make a lot of effort not to just think of it as Chicago IN SPACE! - and the railway metaphors are wholeheartedly indulged. What got my attention, and got me thinking, was that Scott didn't seem to just take inspiration from the great age of railways in terms of getting from point to point.

Victorian culture was notoriously modest and proper, and that's been carried into the culture of the setting. To quote an inquiry console in the latter half of the novel, "immodest language is not permitted within the Loop. Visitors are advised to remember local custom." What this means is that if anyone swears or curses within these stations, they're immediately assessed a fine. Unlike the 1993 film Demolition Man, where the similar Verbal Morality Statute is meant as yet another indicator of the tightly controlled nature of San Angeles, Mighty Good Road's use of it seems to be nothing more than background detail.

Nevertheless, it made me think. Space, like no other environment on Earth, is dangerous. Few mistakes are forgiven there, and while there are grand opportunities in its vastness it's not for the timid. Extended time in space, particularly beyond the low-orbit laboratories that have been the sole dominions of our astronauts for the last forty years, is stressful. Life on a space station would likewise test the body and mind. Things have to be done well and done right the first time. Does it really make sense to make a method of even mild stress relief into a legal infraction, just so some busybody's virgin ears don't have to be offended?

I suppose the real issue here is that people not only don't make sense and never have, but frequently impose rules that go against sense - or, at least, that is a general feeling. To my mind, forcing someone to constantly watch what they say under penalty of fining will only lead to mental stress, both from the effort needed to keep rogue words from slipping out and from anger when rogue words do slip out. Stress may be intrinsic to life in space - I think enough so that people don't need to go looking for other reasons to stress their fellows out.

After all, one of the best anaesthetics after walking full-speed into a closed door is a simple, hearty swear.

No comments:

Post a Comment