THE VIRTUAL HISTORY OF ARTIFICIAL BEINGS
bad one?) but its artificial creature is a landmark.Although the possi- bility of Rotwang’s robots supplanting human workers seems not to have been developed in all versions of the film, the weirdly alluring female robot that becomes the debased double of a human is a fantas- tic intersection of human and machine, with powerful emotional un- derpinnings.
For all the impact of the robotic Maria, however, few female arti- ficial beings appeared in the 1930s and 1940s. One exception was in the 1935 film Bride of Frankenstein (the first of the spate of Franken- stein films that followed the original 1931 film, continuing up to contemporary film and television productions made as recently as 1998). But a relatively unknown story from the 1940s presents a dif- ferent image of a female artificial creature, and of cyborg aesthetics.
In the 1944 short story, “No Woman Born,” C.L. (Catherine Lucille) Moore, who wrote science fiction and fantasy when few women did so, created a female cyborg. Deirdre is a beautiful, interna- tionally famous dancer and singer.When she is terribly burned in a fire, the world mourns. Her brain, however, is undamaged, and the decision is made to house it in a new body. But what kind of body? Rather than reproduce her old form, the scientist Maltzer works with a team of other scientists and artists to devise an audacious alterna- tive—a body that suggests female humanity but does not copy it.
The cyborg is made of golden metal that hints at Deirdre’s human skin tones, and sees through a masklike crescent colored the aquama- rine of her original eyes. Otherwise, the head is featureless, a “smooth, delicately modeled ovoid . . . [with] the most delicate suggestion of cheekbones. . . . Brancusi himself had never made anything more simple or more subtle.” Her limbs are made of bracelets that taper in diameter to fit one inside the other, giving a supple grace.The brace- lets are linked by neural currents, and so when Deirdre’s brain ages, she will die a clean and somehow enviable death as she dissolves “in a shower of tinkling and clashing rings.” Her voice, also under neural control, is the old Deirdre’s; along with the body, it is compelling.
Although Deirdre lacks touch, smell, and taste, and has trouble adapting to her new body, she seems to weather the experience well.