I imagined Incorporation as a story about evolution.
I watched a documentary on an amazing guy by the name of Daniel Tammet a few months ago. Tammet is an autistic savant who can speed-memorize impossibly complex mathematical equations. For example, he publicly recited Pi to 22,000 digits from memory. What makes him nearly unique among autistic savants is that he is not crippled by his autism. He is able to fully communicate the way in which he can recall so much information and process it so accurately. It is an elaborate form of synaesthesia similar to the visions Jonathon experiences in Incorporation. Synaesthesia is a linking of the senses to the extent that perceiving one sense triggers another sense. In the case of Tammet he sees equations and numbers as having sizes, color and shapes. When performing equations Tammet navigates a landscape much like Jonathon does in the story.
With Incorporation I tried to emphasize the idea that mankind had overgrown the natural landscape of the earth (and would so even more in the future) with our technology. Our buildings and our constructs were the forests and trees of that future. In doing this I tried to subvert the usual man versus nature story by assuming that our machines were the new nature. Within that artificial landscape, man’s evolutionary course is to develop better ways of dealing with all of the information he is creating. An environment such as the one portrayed in Incorporation would likely allow high-functioning autistic savants to flourish and spread the genetic vulnerability to autism.
I also wanted to portray the artificial natural world of the story as a cruel selector. It has the blind authority to decide who lives and who dies and it wants to eliminate autistic savants, among others, because they threaten its natural order. It didn’t notice Jonathon Fortune as an individual, but it detected his effects within the web of data when he interpreted the forecasts better than the failed satellite. In the end, nature wins over man and the bitter irony for Jonathon is that man created nature.
Within the context of the story I think Jonathon did a fairly good job of explaining the symbolism of the strangler fig. Although he was somewhat wrong in his initial interpretation he realizes the truth by the end of the story. The titular captive wasp of the second installment is a reference to Agaonidae, a family of wasp that has evolved solely to pollinate figs.
The strangler fig and the fig wasp have developed to a level of symbiosis that approaches the sort of thing you normally find with bacteria living inside of a larger organism. The fig actually evolved a syconium specifically to be fertilized by the fig wasps. It protects and houses the male and female wasps. Within the fig’s syconium, the wasps pollinate tiny flowers. The males eventually chew holes in the wall of the organ for the female wasps to escape. The females pollinate more traditional fig flowers, lay their eggs in one of the fig’s syconium and die. Which came first, the fig’s syconium prison or the wasps willing to inhabit it? They built each other, gradually, over millions of years.
Mankind has become kept pets of the satellites just as the fig wasps are the pets of the strangler fig. But, like the fig wasp and the fig tree, the satellites would not exist without us and they need us to spread their sensors and provide them with information. There is no compelling reason for a fig tree to exist other than to create more fig trees, no reason for a fig wasp other than to create more wasps and pollinate the fig. That is the way of the satellites in the story and we exist to pollinate their flowers.
It took a lot of work to put this one together so you probably won't see this sort of thing very often. That's a good thing, because too much of it would be bad for your funnybone, but I hope you enjoyed the offering this time around.
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