Set in the future,
A shiny cyborg loves a
“Day Million” is a love story between a boy and a girl set in the futuristic world. It features a 187 year old partial bronzed cyborg named Don, and his lover, a “girl” named Dora who is genetically male but became somatically female. At this point, it is quite confusing because (1) a 187 year old can still be classified as a “boy” (isn’t it more fit to call him a man instead?) and (2) exactly what is Dora’s gender identity? Are we reading about a pair of queers?
Well, not exactly. In Day Million, humans have been biologically modified such that they display radically altered physical states. Don is a tall, muscular, bronze cyborg who puts on a coppery radiation shield over his body to protect him while travelling in interstellar spaceships. Dora is a more peculiar organism than Don—she is a part-human creature with tail, gills behind her ears and such characteristics were somatically altered to help her live underwater. This demonstrates how the world has transformed whereby it is considered normal to biologically alter an individual’s physical trait at will. Thus, Dora can be a male and female both genetically and physically, without being judged which he/she might be subjected to in today’s society. Evidently, given this futuristic world set by Frederik Pohl, the love story between Don and Dora is hardly a conventional one and is designed to make us feel uncomfortable about the way of life of these living things by drawing our ever-present discrimination against gender identity, sexual orientation, age gap etc. For instance, he assumed that we would be revolted at the idea of reading about a pair of queers which points out our prejudicial views on homosexuality. He did that again when describing Dora’s appearance because we would find it hard to see her as a human female with the extra attributes added to her somatically. Thus, Pohl is pointing out our prejudices on what we define as “normal”, suggesting that we are close-minded to the attitudes and notions of the future.
When Pohl “speaks” to the readers, his words were often laced with contempt, as if he was taunting us over our outmoded way of thinking. For instance he adopted such mockery tone, “…you eaters of charcoal-broiled steak, scratching an incipient bunion with one hand and holding this story with the other…You don’t believe a word of it, do you? People wouldn’t live like that, you say with an irritated and not amused grunt…” When he put it this way, it makes one ponder about the things that makes us humans. Pohl showed that humans could not be simply defined by having a set of physical traits—gender, having “normal” ears and lungs, etc. He deconstructed them in Don and Dora and later portrayed a love story without these physical attributes. This seemingly suggests that the continuity of our race is ensured nevertheless; they are unnecessary in developing our species. In fact, if the highly evolved beings were to compare the presence of these quantities to the human earliest ancestors, they would find them primitive and uncivilised. As Pohl puts it, “Dora is farther removed from you than you are from the australopithecines of five thousand centuries ago.” Thus, it shows that when we have removed our preconceptions of what we identify as “physically normal” to be considered as humans, the most important qualities would then be mental or emotional qualities which are prominently depicted in this futuristic world.
The main theme in “Day Million” revolves around the concept of transhumanism which, according to Google, is defined as “the belief that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology.” Basically, we as a human race, is said to be still undergoing evolution, but with the involvement of advanced technology for the perfectibility of the human kind.
The idea of evolving towards Pohl’s version of the futuristic world is appealing in the sense that the future human race is able to improve intellectually and physically and paints technological advancement in a new light that liberates us from biological preconceptions of humanity. However, is that the right direction that we should evolve to? Because isn’t that a little too humanoid? From the way I see it, humans are social creatures that naturally seek out companionships. But in Pohl’s futuristic world, there is little interaction between these people, which is best demonstrated when Don and Dora’s first exchange was a question “Will you marry me?” and then parted ways after their marriage before exchanging mathematical formula that allows them to experience sex. This type of social construct in Day Million is plain weird. It sort of symbolises that if evolution indeed happen the way as envisioned by Pohl, the evolutionary betterment is only seen in individual entities (like the ability to swim in strong currents, wastes are hemodialyzed out of bloodstream, etc.) but the social construct would eventually be in ruins. If the definition of human race is partly dependent on this social interaction and construct, then whatever Don and Dora is can hardly be called the advanced/evolved form of humans, but is more fitting to be labeled as another species that has undergone divergent evolution from the human race since they are inherently different from us besides a few shared characteristics.
In conclusion, “Day Million” created a theme of transhumanism that contrasts the present day and the future by challenging our modern day prejudices. He makes us realize the smallness of our modern world in which we are being called close-minded as compared to the people in Don and Dora’s world.