“Appearance is very different from reality; or is it another form of reality?
It often seems that science fiction that doesn’t focus on the ‘harder’ aspect (the more technological and focused on the machine) loses some of its essence by concentrating on history and forgetting about the sciences, but also gains in thematic depth and sensitivity. The same sense of loss, of alienation from mainstream science fiction, occurs when the text is written in a Latin American environment, far from sf written in English. Yet Argentinean author Adolfo Bioy Casares’s The Invention of Morel has more metaphysical overtones that go beyond both the simple science fiction story and the latinoamerican one.
In the novel, a scientist named Morel creates a prodigious machine on a deserted island which replicates not only the shape and sound of objects, but volume, touch, and smell. With this machine the creator records a delightful week with his friends enjoying the paradisaical island. These images, with volume and form, are then repeated in an endless cycle and the island is filled by ghostly holograms.
Years later (but much earlier in the novel) the protagonist arrives on the same island fleeing from justice. There he meets the men and women projected by the machine who don’t notice his presence. The simulation of reality is so powerful that without knowing that he is just facing an image, a hologram, he falls in love with Faustina, a beautiful gypsy woman.
The narrator does not suspect that he is deceived by this machine, and he begins to believe that he is invisible or crazy. This makes him feel that he is less real than what the machine has created. Because of errors and malfunctions in the machine, the island starts having multiple suns in the sky at once, people go suddenly absent, and these phenomena urge him to discover the truth.
The central element in this story is not the improbable machine or how it works, or the fantastic elements, but the exploration of the individual, the simulacrum of real life and the implications of becoming a copy of oneself. This is closer to Philip K. Dick’s fiction than to the work of other latinoamerican authors.
One topic that intrigues me in this work is the immortality born of an image. The person is not immortal, but his image continues to act and live forever in a continuous loop, in a reflection of the real thing that becomes the thing. This is probably the topic most related to science fiction. If we could copy with total fidelity an object, is it just a copy or does it become the real one?
But at the same time that this duplicity creates a sort of immortality, death can be also caused by the act of copying, as some tribes believed that photographs steal your soul. The island is then inhabited by its own ghost, by the images that the machine creates not just of the people, but the island itself. The reality has becomes less real than fiction: a simulacrum of a simulacrum. Gilles Deleuze said, “What is essential is that we find in these systems no prior identity, no internal resemblance.”
In the end, the science-fiction device inspires a question of what is truly real, and we end seeing our own lives as if they were recordings that will one day stop, and will begin again in an eternal loop.