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Arrested Development

Entry updated 9 April 2015. Tagged: Theme.

Term used in this encyclopedia for the not uncommon scenario whereby humanity's perceived failure to realize its potential – assumed by John W Campbell Jr and others to be boundless – results from externally imposed shackles whose recognition can amply justify Paranoia. Removal of these constraints is likely to trigger a more or less traumatic Conceptual Breakthrough. Though Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884-1980) wrote that "the secret of eternal youth is arrested development", this encyclopedia's use of the term is unrelated to either psychological impairment or Immortality.

The classic sf example is the Intelligence-inhibiting spatial field from which Earth emerges in Poul Anderson's Brain Wave (1954), leading to rapid progress towards potential Transcendence. Some aspect of Earthly existence, perhaps Gravity or the Sun, has the same inhibiting effect in James White's "The Conspirators" (June 1954 New Worlds), where interstellar voyagers (including animals) find their intelligence rising. Similarly, in the universe of Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep (1992), Earth lies in the galaxy's "Slow Zone" where the nature of space forbids Faster Than Light travel and true AI – both attainable further out in the "Beyond", while even our present level of intellect is impossible in the "Unthinking Depths" of the galactic core. Daniel F Galouye's The Lost Perception (1966; vt A Scourge of Screamers 1968) posits a valuable additional sense which has atrophied because Earth has long been cut off from the central galactic source of "rault", the radiation which is to this Perception as light is to the sense of sight. A subtler accident of Evolution appears in Theodore Sturgeon's "To Marry Medusa" (August 1958 Galaxy; exp vt The Cosmic Rape 1958), where humanity is notionally crippled by inability to link into a Hive Mind: with this obstacle overcome, the galaxy-wide hive which intended to absorb us is itself absorbed. In R A Lafferty's "Slow Tuesday Night" (April 1965 Galaxy), curing a "block" in the human mind allows hugely richer and more eventful lives, with new artistic movements and financial empires rising and falling in mere hours (see Time Distortion).

Less natural constraints are found in Sinister Barrier (March 1939 Unknown; 1943; rev 1948) by Eric Frank Russell, where humans are preyed upon by the invisible Vitons who feed on emotions and foment War to maximize our tasty anguish (see Parasitism and Symbiosis). Colin Wilson imagines an Inner Space equivalent of Vitons in The Mind Parasites (1967), whose eponymous mental cancers – analogous to the engrams of Dianetics – are at the same time semi-sentient parasites and metaphors for laziness, distraction and suchlike hindrances to intellectual advancement. Philip E High makes repeated use of the arrested-development theme, with visiting Aliens very often responsible for hampering humanity – as in the significantly titled Blindfold from the Stars (1979) – although the chief culprit in his first novel The Prodigal Sun (1964) proves to be debilitating radiation from our supposedly abnormal Sun. Malign Aliens in The Margarets (2007) by Sheri S Tepper inflict a kind of anti-Uplift on prehistoric humanity, taking away the gift of racial memory which warned against Overpopulation and over-exploitation of resources (see Ecology).

Larry Niven revaluates the wish-fulfilment aspects of this theme in Protector (June 1967 Galaxy as "The Adults"; exp 1973), which presents humanity as a neotenous species – one retaining juvenile characteristics in apparent maturity. Here, chemical cues unavailable on Earth bring metamorphosis to our forgotten "adult" form, which though exceedingly capable and competent is not only disturbingly Alien in appearance but also significantly more constrained by instinctive drives.

It is not surprising that the associated topoi of arrested development, Uplift and Transcendence are often found to have intermingled, at times stressfully, in American Genre SF, where an underlying tendency to Paranoia can readily focus on the melodrama of escaping the forces that keep men in chains. Remarkably, one of the very early texts to incorporate all three – Clifford D Simak's City (coll of linked stories 1952) – does so without animus. As for arrested development itself, the chapter originally published as "Paradise" (June 1946 Astounding), which is set on Jupiter, dramatizes the realization of a human consciousness whose body has been transformed into a native lifeform that it is nothing more than the mortal limitations of the human body itself that block the "clarity of mind and the understanding – the ability to use one's brain down to the ultimate cell". Nothing for Simak arrests us but ourselves.

A number of nineteenth-century feminist Utopias portray the initial state of women in a male-centred world as a form of arrested development, awaiting self-initiated release; one such example is Henrietta Dugdale's A Few Hours in a Far-Off Age (1883) as Mrs H A Dugdale. [DRL/JC]

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