CSCL 3461: Monsters, Robots, Cyborgs
14 December 2010
Scanners Live in Vain
Years before Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline first coined the term cyborg, many authors had described such beings in their work. A cyborg by definition is part man and part machine, but not entirely either. In the short story “Scanners Live in Vain,” Cordwainer Smith embodies the cyborg in a unique being called scanners. Scanners live in the form of men they once were with mechanical and computer modifications surgically inserted into their bodies. The modifications allow nonhuman capabilities to be achieved, but sacrifices human capabilities such as emotion, and all senses other than sight. Scanners live for one purpose and will take any measure to preserve their order.
Scanners are fundamentally cyborgs. They are men that have volunteered their service and daily life to an order to preserve life in space. These men must undergo a procedure to become part machine in order to defeat the “Great Pain of Space” which affects normal humans. Each Scanner is allowed to monitor their health and those around it with the machines making up part of its body. The actual job of scanners is to watch over the work of “Haberman.” Haberman are criminals who have gone under the same procedure as Scanners but lack the ability to scan their health and are indebted to labor on space flights. To become a Haberman or Scanner and avoid the pain of space, a procedure that cuts the brain off from sensory input other than sight must be made. Haberman must exist in this state at all times, but Scanners are allowed the liberty to undergo what they call cranching, a reconnection of the neural sensors. This allows a short period of relative humanity with all sense and emotional capability. Scanners exist in a mechanical state obedient to an elitist confraternity that demands order and obedience, only being human while “under the wire” of cranching.
As a Scanner,...