In the twelfth chapter of The Subtle Knife, Dr. Malone tries to convince her colleague that the dark matter project is worth continuing, but soon learns of outside forces that aim to wrestle control from her. When she decides to take matters into her own hands, she learns what dark matter actually is. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Subtle Knife.
CHAPTER TWELVE: SCREEN LANGUAGE
I love when both fantasy and science fiction both aim to use real-world science in their narratives. I’ve never been one to be particularly picky about just how accurate the science is. (Unless, of course, it’s Stephenie Meyer using essentialist readings of biology to explain genetics to us, or ignoring the fact that semen is a bodily fluid. Sorry for that bit of info if you’d chosen not to know anything about that series.) It’s why I enjoyed LOST so much and it’s why Doctor Who can be so terribly enjoying. And both those shows certainly took liberties with science, and I’m ok with that. I think Pullman takes his own liberties here, and now I’m starting to see not only a fuller picture, but how this trilogy is shaping up to be a sort of anti-Paradise Lost. (I’ve long heard that this series is an inversion of that story, but couldn’t figure out why until this chapter.)
Because of this, I think the one side plot I’ve been anxiously awaiting is Dr. Malone’s. I loved how shocked and open she was towards Lyra, and I’m even more impressed that Pullman had an eleven-year-old girl waltz into her life and rejuvenate her work in the way that she did. Of course, this inherently presents a fairly huge problem: With Lyra nowhere around, how on earth is she supposed to convince both her colleague and the ones in charge of her funding that what she’s doing is worth every dollar they can send her way?
I found it funny (and realistic) that Dr. Malone speaks to her colleague, Dr. Oliver Payne, with such a rush of excitement that Dr. Payne can’t even seem to keep up with the very concept of what she is saying. For us, though, things are becoming a lot clearer. Dr. Malone’s ecstatic rambling is putting the pieces together in a much more manageable way for me, at least: Now we know that something happened 35,000 years prior that made the human brain “the ideal vehicle” for a process that amplified dark matter, which Dr. Malone believes is conscious due to Lyra’s display for her. We learn the people seeking out Will and Lyra do indeed work for the government, but in a branch that deals with “terrorism, subversion, intelligence…,” suggesting that we’re about to see more talk of national security. For Dr. Payne, though, this is not only too much; he tells Mary that this is his last day working on the project. When she tries to convince him otherwise, a new guest arrives, making matters even worse:
Sir Charles Latrom.
Is it ok to hiss at the pages of this book? I want to every time this slimebag steps into a scene. There’s literally nothing good that can happen when he’s around, and I’m quickly proven right. As Sir Charles starts talking about being able to save Dr. Malone’s project (because he knows the right people), it was clear as day to me that this was heading to an ultimatum: If you do as I say, I will fund your experiment. He tries to use the fact that the grant will not be renewed otherwise as a sort of emotional bargaining chip, but this is when Dr. Malone demonstrates what a fierce, independent person she is. As soon as Sir Charles mentions that there’s a “direction” he’d like the research to take, she shuts him down. Immediately. This is a woman who is principled in her use of science, and I’m glad that we have a positive side to scientific research after Pullman demonstrated how wrong the pursuit of knowledge can be at the end of The Golden Compass. It gives this series a nice balance, especially as Sir Charles represents science being used as the means to an end. (Well, and Lord Asriel, to an extent.)
Dr. Malone points it out later, but it raised a huge red flag to me, too, when he asks her to concentrate the project on “the manipulation of consciousness.” It already seems apparent that he has no desire to simply find out what dark matter is; he’s already planning on finding ways to control it. On top of that, he tries to woo Dr. Malone’s interest by bragging about the possibility of defense funding. To me, that’s a clear sign that this is a statement of weaponization. The state is to own and use dark matter? Ok, this will certainly be a disaster. The worst of it all, though, is Sir Charles strongly suggesting that Dr. Malone tell him about Lyra and Will, and their possible whereabouts privately, so the matter might be dealt with in a manner that keeps the issue out of the news. I mean, seriously dude, why don’t you just say, “I’ll probably have them murdered and thrown into the sea,” or something?
Bravo, then, for Dr. Malone not believing one second of this man’s bullshit. Well, I suppose that Dr. Payne also recognizes the inherent creepiness of what this man tells them, but he chooses to act in self-interest: It’s best to have the money and the project than to keep any moral sense of his alive. He even spells it out for her: If she doesn’t accept Sir Charles’s offer, he will certainly do it himself. I was worried that, as she made it very clear that she wanted nothing to do with this, Pullman would switch to someone else’s perspective mid-chapter, and we’d hear nothing more of her story. But she’s far too tenacious of a character to give up that easily. Considering what she witnessed with Lyra and knowing now how important her research is to the government, it’s only sensical that a character like Dr. Malone would sneak back into her own lab that night to see what she can salvage before she’s done with this all forever. It’s frightening how quick the turnover is, though: There are already security guards in the building, and she nearly gets stuck outside her own lab because of one.
I had figured that she’d be returning to her lab to grab something, and then be on her way, but I was pleasantly surprised when she sat down at the Cave, attached the electrodes to her head, and began to attempt to communicate with dark matter. Just like that. In a second, it’s clear she’s on to something, as she begins to type in the computer and a sensation passes through her: the building she is in feels alive.
But nothing could have ever prepared me for what Pullman does here. An unsure Dr. Malone types into the computer, and before she can even finish her sentence, the right screen displays a message to her:
ASK A QUESTION.
Oh, Pullman. You devil. What happens here is so direct and ridiculous that it still gives me goosebumps over my body when I read it. I’m sure Pullman was aware of the fact that people reading this book were aching to find out exactly what dark matter / Dust was, and that he’d been stringing us along for one and three-quarters worth of a book. So, he uses Dr. Malone in a capacity that almost feels meta, as if these are the very questions we, as the reader, would ask dark matter if we could. And we learn that Dust, Shadows, dark matter…they’re all the same, they’re conscious, and they did indeed appear after a specific event 35,000 years ago. Oh, and Dust then orders Dr. Malone to ask more questions. Oh my god, this is so ridiculous and I love every second of it.
So she asks if the mind answering these questions is human:
NO. BUT HUMANS HAVE ALWAYS KNOWN US.
Well, okay. What the hell does that mean? She asks if there is more than one being answering her:
Well, what the hell? What the hell are you???
ARE YOU SERIOUS???!?!?! OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD IT IS ALL MAKING SENSE OH MY GOD ASLKDFJ;ASLDKJF
AS;DLKFJAS;KDF DFS@#!@ 1234@!# @!$1453 %354
As my brain tried to process this unbelievable (AND AMAZING) revelation, I continued to read on. How could I not? I can’t say I fully understand the idea that angels are both matter and spirit at the same time, but I imagine this will be important later. Dr. Malone asks if the “angels” did indeed intervene in human evolution, to which they confirm. Of course, she asks why, and they give the best one word answer I could ever imagine:
THESE ARE THE ANGELS WHO LOST THE WAR OF THE HEAVENS. THEY INTERVENED IN HUMAN EVOLUTION TO GET BACK AT GOD. This…this is just spectacular. It puts Lord Asriel’s actions in a new light. Oh god, and Ruta is WITH ANGELS RIGHT NOW, heading to that fortress and THIS IS AMAZING.
When Dr. Malone tries to get confirmation about whether that alleged war was actualy a real thing, the angels tell her she needs to find Will and Lyra; when she asks why, my brain is again thrown into chaos:
YOU MUST PLAY THE SERPENT.
i don’t even WHAT IS THIS. The serpent? From the story of Adam and Eve? Are Will and Lyra supposed to be Adam and Even again? This makes NO SENSE TO ME AT ALL but oh my god, I am so excited right now.
Dr. Malone receives her final instructions from the angels: She is to prepare for a long journey, enter a tent off of Sunderland Avenue, and deceive the “guardian” in order to “go through.” Before she does, she must destroy the equipment in her lab in order to prevent others from “taking control of it.” So she sets about her work, in a daze of excitement and confusion, destroying her life’s work in order to obey what the angels told her. (Out of context, that is a hell of an absurd sentence, isn’t it?) Plus, what else could she do? She just abandoned her job anyway, and she knows that there’s no way this is a prank or a miscalculation. What else is there to believe?
As soon as Dr. Malone made it out to Sunderland Street, it was immediately apparent where she was: the location of the window to the world of Cittágazze. Of course that’s what’s in the tent. That’s why she needed to deceive the “guardian” in order to go through. The angels were instructing her to go through to the next world. But what about the Specters? How was she to deal with that?
Well, first things first, I suppose: the deception has to occur. And of course Dr. Malone is just brilliant at doing so, using an expired lab card and some clever cutting and pasting to successfully get by the policeman standing guard. (On a side note, how chilling is it when he asks her if she knows what is on the other side of the tent? Could you imagine having the job to protect a window to a parallel universe?)
The chapter ends with Dr. Mary Malone, the future “serpent,” stepping through from our world to Cittágazze, and I could not be more excited for what’s to come.
As a note, dear Readers, if you hadn’t read about this on Twitter or my new Mark Does Stuff fan page on Facebook, I have released Mark Reads New Moon on all three available formats for readers: PDF, Kindle, and ePub. Merch is being worked on and I’ll most likely have that next before I release the third ebook in that series.
Additionally, for you Harry Potter fans, I will post my review of Deathly Hallows over on Mark Watches at 1:00pm PDT as I normally do over yonder. And, as a final reminder, my panel at LeakyCon is on Friday, July 15th, at 12:00pm in Pacifica Ballroom 8 – 12. Come watch me make a fool of myself!