Coney’s Amorphs in "Mirror Image" as a Representation of both Human and Non-Human Characteristics

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2014 16 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature



1) Introduction

2) Definitions
2.1) Being Human Compared to the Amorphs
2.2) Non-Human Beings and Technology Compared to the Amorphs

3) Analysis of the Relationship between Humans and the Amorphs in Mirror Image

4) Conclusion

5) Works Cited

1) Introduction

This paper deals with the meanings of the terms ‘human’ and ‘non-human’ in comparison with the creatures appearing in Michael Coney’s novel Mirror Image (1975), the so-called ‘amorphs’. This is illustrated by comparing several literary essays and theories. Additionally, the amorphs can be compared to technology due to several similar features, for example the ‘Te-factor’. Thus technology in Mirror Image is represented by the amorphs which present ‘boon and bane’ for the colonists.

First, relations and differences between human and non-human beings are analysed using Darwin’s evolutionary theories; then, the Christian faith-based theory and the Intelligent Design Theory are used to approach the origin of human beings. Furthermore, the relationship and differences between non-human beings and technology is compared to the amorphs from the planet Marylin, where the novel takes place. Thereby, the features and functions of the amorphs are depicted shortly. Consequently, the findings of the theoretical explanations are connected to Michael Coney’s novel Mirror Image, which deals with colonists who move to the newly discovered planet Marylin with the task to inhabit and cultivate a colony. But the moment the supervisor Stordahl and his colonists become acquainted with the amorphs, they are confronted with a few problems. These defining approaches are followed by an analysis of the relationship between the humans and the amorphs in Mirror Image.

In addition, the advantages of technology, such as medical developments, and disadvantages, such as mankind using artificial intelligence and starting to lose their own skills, are demonstrated. Although technology makes humans’ lives easier, there are still various types of dangers caused by the development of technology. Amongst others, these dangers are presented with Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968).

Coney’s novel demonstrates that non-human forms, as well as technology, can serve as an advantage for the human race because the amorphs have essential abilities the humans do not. However, the amorphs also arouse negative elements in the novel, for example a war; therefore these creatures can also present dangers for human beings, just as technology on Earth. At the same time, the amorphs also exhibit humanlike traits, not only regarding their outward appearance, but also with regards to some characteristics. These characteristics can be used to define a person, such as the sense of self. Deductively amorphs can be seen as both, human and non-human.

2) Definitions

2.1) Being Human Compared to the Amorphs

Defining a human-being is complex, since there are many different ideas, each of which claims to present the correct definition.

One approach to define human-beings’ origin is within the discourse of Darwin’s evolutionary theory, which tries to answer the question, whether human beings derived from apes or other animals. Darwin claimed ‘that those [species] belonging to what are called the same genera are lineal descendants of some other and generally extinct species’ (Darwin 3), including humans: all human beings have the same descendants. Moreover, he was of the opinion that ‘species are multiplied and genera are formed’ (Darwin 60). Here, a connection to Coney’s novel can be drawn: Hetherington forms a new genus (90) out of the amorphs already existing on the planet Marylin (33). Even though, the amorphs settled in and incorporated into the colony ‘Alice’ (88-89), they are not yet accepted as human beings: they are still regarded as creatures and distinguished from humans (88).

Because species are a sub-category of genera, Coney’s characters imitate Darwin’s ascertainment: a new genus is formed which later on multiplies in the form of different species, for example there are amorphs that fight for Stordahl’s crew, which all have a different outward appearance and therefore illustrate individuality. But there are also the ones that fight against him; they all look alike and are influenced by Moses. Consequently, there is no individuality (137-139). The formation of the new genus starts with the creation of Moses.

In his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection Darwin wonders if ‘Nature’s productions [are] better adapted to the most complex conditions of life’ (Darwin 151) in comparison to productions of man. It seems obvious that the amorphs in Michael Coney’s novel are creatures that primarily have not been formed by humans and therefore are natural beings. Because the amorphs are able to change their appearance, they will always be able to adapt to their environment. In contrast, the colonists have several problems with living on Marylin. For example during the expedition in the desert, they cannot cope with the given subsoil (65-66). Moreover, some colonists discuss, whether the amorphs feature ‘the initial existence of life’ (31), which can be compared to Darwin’s thought of the ‘survival of the fittest’ (Darwin 144). Thus, the changeability and adaptability of the amorphs as natural beings gives them an advantage with regards to the environmental conditions on Marylin.

Another aspect of humanity is religion. In Mirror Image, a human infant is born through virgin birth by the female creature Katie (187), who is a so-called ‘amorph’. This passage at the end of the novel is parallel with Maria’s virgin birth of Jesus (Mt 1,23), which oftentimes is used to explain humans’ origin. Hetherington, the leader of the whole planet, could be understood as in God’s own likeness: they both did not only make a planet, moreover they are also able to create lives. Hetherington designs a genius amorph at which he declares that this ‘creature […] will be akin to God’ (91). Hetherington and the genius amorph can be seen as a representation of God and Jesus. Furthermore, the fact, that Hetherington ‘designs’ the amorph is important considering the ‘Intelligent Design Theory’. This theory avoids a direct reference to the Bible and is a new version of creationism; even though supporters accept the evolutionary development of creatures, they ascribe the formation of organisms to a ‘godly (intelligent) Designer’ (Kutschera 236, my translation).The theorists therewith try to explain the proof of God’s existence which could be projected onto Hetherington, because the planet Marylin is a creation and establishment by Hetherington (8). Besides, ‘intelligent design proponents have argued that the validity of evolution threatens belief in God’ (Plutzer and Berkmann 540-541).

While discussing the constitution of a human being, the term ’person’ is also important and offers yet another way of defining human beings. Among other things this means knowing and understanding that one is a living being, to be able to realise this and therefore not to speak about oneself as ‘it’, but as ‘I’ (Cock 47), which is closely connected to the sense of self. The amorphs in Mirror Image feature this sense of self. This, for example, is noticeable during a conversation between Stordahl, Arnott and his wife Katie, who is an amorph. Katie explains: ‘Arnott and I decided to make the most of the time we had together’ (63). This statement illustrates the amorph’s ability to make decisions, as well as it presents the sense of self. Furthermore, Katie can be considered a person due to the fact that she has the ability to express her own thoughts and feelings (62), which is also connected to the sense of self. At the same time, they are in the possession of several different selves due to their transformability (15-16): the amorphs are also able to appear non-human.

But one does not have to be ‘human’ to be a person, ‘a being with moral status; ‘personhood is [rather] a psychological concept, [than] a biological one’ (Adami 275 ff.). The character Spike in Jeanette Winterson’s Stone Gods is created with the help of silicon, for example. Consequently ‘she is not biologically human’ (Adami 275), however Spike exhibits ‘a moral status’ (Adami 278). Furthermore, Darwin claims that ‘of all the differences between man and the lower animals the moral sense […] is by far the most important’ (Ayala 9015). Therewith Darwin states, that if animals were to develop an ‘advanced intelligence’ they would also be able to develop a moral sense (Ayala 9016). Morality is a human property, but still differs in several cultures; despite, moral codes like ‘not to steal [and] not to kill […] are widespread’ (Ayala 9016). Nonetheless, ‘the concept of person cannot presuppose biological membership in a [human being].’ (Adami 276).

All in all, it is difficult to explain humans’ origin accurately due to the aforementioned considerations. There are several distinctions to be made between the amorphs and human beings, yet there are also parallels depicted between them. The creatures in Mirror Image have some human-like features, whereas humans lack some of the amorphs’ mechanisms. However, mankind is generally characterised by awareness, its anatomy, the capability to be autonomous and independent, to reflect on the self and to be able to decide on his or her own will, and exhibiting innate apprehension, which goes hand-in-hand with morality. Furthermore, there is a parallel between the amorphs and the Intelligence Design Theory in religion.

2.2) Non-Human Beings and Technology Compared to the Amorphs

The term ‘non-human’ can describe many different things, such as animals, nature or technology. This part focuses on the latter, technology and the parallels between the amorphs in the novel and technology in real life.

Technology, which is made by humans, but not integrated into their bodies, such laptops, smartphones or tablets, is considered as ‘non-human’. Humans cannot imagine life without these assistants: they depend on their technological every-day companion. Yet there are humans who already have technology implanted into their bodies, for example a pacemaker. People, who are addicted to ‘non-human’ technology, might transform into a form of a cyborg: they stop using their natural intelligence. These technological devices ease humans’ lives in many senses. However, humanity may also become mindless by using artificial intelligence. Technology is able to build robots, following principles of the natural evolution that are in the position to resolve tasks (Lenzen 104), so why should mankind be used to fulfil problems, if there is something ‘othering’ (OED) that can do it?

In Mirror Image the amorphs can be seen as a form of technology that has a helping function. Hetherington seems to have considered this, as he sends several amorphs (and Stordahl for punishment) back to the delta where colonists lost their lives earlier due to the piranavas (158-160), an exotic and alien form of piranhas.

Furthermore, an approach can be made with a direct differentiation between a human body and non-human corpus. In contrast to a cyborg or any ‘living’ machine a human normally does not have to get any organs implanted. Robots ‘[are] not made of organic material and [do] not display human bodily functions’ (Adami 280). It is crucial to debate about robots in combination with self-dependence, because robots have their functions and their will implanted. Consequently, contrary to humans, they cannot be autonomous. Eventhough the amorph Moses is able to act autonomously (124-127), it also gets its functions from Hetherington and the four experts (96).Although he tries to act independently towards the end of the novel, he can never be independent, because he acts like a robot for his creator.

In his essay ‘The Dangers of Individualism and the Human Relationship to Technology in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ Christopher A. Sims asks ‘what does it mean to be a natural being chained to an unnatural enterprise?’ (Sims 68). Humans today could ask ‘what does it mean to be a natural being [turning into an unnatural human with an artificial intelligence] chained to a [seemingly natural] enterprise?’ (Sims 68). This demonstrates the ongoing alterations provoked by technology. These alterations can be connected to the amorphs as they are able to change their appearance depending on someone’s Te-factor (68). Amorphs change into humans’ ‘Te factor’ (68), which is ‘related to love’, but is not presented outright (68). Humans are able to sense this Te factor, but the beloved person ‘only knows what [is] told’ (68). This phenomenon can be compared to ‘compatibility’, which is why ‘[humans] discover [themselves] through the amorph’ (69). This Te-factor can be equated with technology, as it influences not only changes in humans’ lives on earth, but also the entity of the amorphs. Besides, the ‘Te’ could even stand for ‘Technology’, thus the amorphs have a specific technology according to which they function.

Another danger of technology is, that ‘the more [developed it] becomes the more serious the consequences [might] become for misusing [it]’ (Sims 69). One example are weapons of mass destruction, which can be seen as both, a new height of technology development and the biggest threat to humanity. In Coney’s novel Moses can be seen as a representation of technology. Hetherington designs Moses (90), without knowing that this creature is able to be insidious (104-105) and to pursue an independent policy (125-131); he becomes ‘a monster [they] could [not] control’ (118), which turns against its master and is even in the position that others obey him (122-123).



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University of Frankfurt (Main) – Institute for English and American Studies
Technology Darwin Dick Coney Human and Non-Human Mirror Image



Title: Coney’s Amorphs in "Mirror Image" as a Representation of both Human and Non-Human Characteristics