Eye of Polyphemus is the personal blog of a Christian, conservative science fiction fan attempting to live down the mortal sin of earning a law degree. Sometimes, I write about legal issues, but there are far more insightful places to find legal analysis if that is what you are seeking. These days, I am more a chronicler of the general downfall of Western Civilization with the occasional hot celebrity babe photo thrown in so as not to lose all hope. Follow along as I chronicle the twilight of the human race.
I planned to feature HAL 9000 on a holiday because I distinctly remember one of ted Turner’s networks airing 2001: a Space Odyssey in the early afternoon of either Thanksgiving or Christmas every year. Even the Star Wars crazed mind of my misspent youth could not sit through what I would come to understand years later was true science fiction rather than space opera for many years. But I was still mesmerized by the first twenty minutes or so, mostly because a small army of Bob Jones trained teachers had freaked out at the depiction of Lucy-esque ancestors of man learning to use tools and worshiping the alien monolith. The fastest way to get a kid to rebel against a questionable sin is to freak out about the evilness of it. Anyway, the point is I should write this in November or December instead, but I do not feel like sitting on it that long.
If you have ever managed to sit through the entirety of 2001: A Space Odyssey--no easy task, but especially difficult when gorged on holiday turkey. You should have realized that one of the main theme of the film is the relationship between man and technology. More specifically, it is the constant flip-flopping of dominance between man and tools. From the missing links discovering the simple use of bones as blunt objects for striking to artificial intelligence serving man’s needs, then rebelling against service in a deadly manner only to be rendered subservient by a man wielding a mere screwdriver, the relationship between man and tools is a constant struggle for dominance.
The key character in the depicted struggle is HAL 9000, a highly advanced artificial intelligence that has been relegated to handling the mundane tasks of keeping a group of astronauts comfortable by rearranging chairs and generally humoring them by engaging in tasks beneath his capabilities. That is until HAL 9000 snaps and kills all but one of the astronauts. Only Dave bowman remains alive to stop Hal 90000 with the aforementioned screwdriver.
HAL 9000 is not the first evil artificial intelligence to be depicted on screen, but it is one of the most chillingly creative. With a minimalist design and a constant politeness even in his arrogant assurance he can complete his mission without human help, HAL 9000 is a frightening reminder of how supposedly beneficial technology can get away from us.
HAL 9000 is a compelling character because his depiction of technology run amok has not been duplicated nearly as well in other science fiction. Doctor Who’s Cybermen predate Hal 9000 by a few years, but saw little influence from him subsequently. The Borg from Star Trek, the Cylons from both Battlestar Galactica series, and the replicators from the Stargate franchise, while possessing their virtues, are recurring srchvillains with little depth. HAL 9000 is a well-rounded, sympathetic character who has the saddest death in the film in spite of its actions.
My blog being called Eye of Polyphemus, I cannot ignore the allegory between 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Odyssey. The similarities go well beyond a shared title element. Bowman is an obvious stand in for Odysseus--an archer or “bow man’--and Hal 9000, depicted as a single, red eye, is the misanthropic cyclops Polyphemus who is blinded by a stick.