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The Living Shadow (Monsterbus p.397)

Another Kirby classic, with no evidence of Lee's editing down. Hurrah!

Kirby the prophet: 

Prophets are people who see trends and dangers and principles that others do not. They warn us so we can have a better future: if we ignore them we face disaster. This story is no exception. Look at what it is saying:
  1. An idea we dismiss as silly could actually destroy us all.
  2. The danger is in our shadows: something we think we control.
Throughout the monster stories, Kirby's theme is that scientists can inadvertently create something more intelligent and powerful than ourselves. Kirby the prophet warns that it is the nature of power to enslave. We will be enslaved!!!  This theme was developed further in OMAC and The Eternals. These two dimensional creatures are a perfect metaphor for how this happens:

  1. They begin as something that is fundamentally unable to harm us: how can two dimensions harm three? 
  2. But they gain the ability morph and fold, and finally influence the third dimension. 
  3. They then follow us as shadows: we think we control them, but we do not.
  4. They infiltrate every aspect of life until they are so ubiquitous that we cannot stop them.
This is happening today. The prophecy came true. As I have discussed many times, all these stories work as a metaphor for information technology. (There is no evidence that Kirby saw information technology as the particular threat, but what he taught applies to ALL man-made threats. )
  1. How can one dimensional bits control our three dimensional species? It seems absurd!
  2. Those bits are morphed and folded into everything we do: not just communication but industry, transport, medicine, everything.
  3. They are everywhere. We all become utterly dependent on the network.
  4. Eventually it gets everywhere. 
The missing element is how an information network can be a danger. That is covered in the other Kirby stories: it is the nature of all complex systems to evolve, and thus to put their own survival first. To help us to understand, Kirby often gives them human voices and human-like consciousness. But in reality they don't need to speak or think like us at all. They just need to evolve, to put their own survival before anything else. And that is what systems do.

How to defeat the aliens   

Kirby the prophet shows us how to survive:
  1. Pay attention, and use logic. In the story there are many witnesses to flying saucers, yet no witnesses to their occupants. Given that evidence, the hero concludes that the saucers are real, but the inhabitants are somehow hidden. 
  2. Read good fiction. The sci fi writer is able to think of the possibilities, but the TV viewer is unable to.
  3. Look for hard evidence. A theory is not enough!
  4. Test it scientifically. The conducts an experiment at the UN (by turning off the lights) and this provides final proof.
We can do the same today.
  1. Pay attention: information technology is taking over. Use logic: networks evolve.
  2. Read good fiction: realise that humans are just networks. If we create a more complex network then we should expect it to control us. This already happened thousands of years ago with nation states: we created them, and then they controlled us. Information technology merely provides tools for them to be less reliant on humans.
  3. Look for hard evidence. Yes, networks do evolve. Technology evolves: technologies compete with each other and grow stronger. Yes, they do put their own survival first. Does anybody really think that nations and businesses would sacrifice themselves for individual humans? No, it works the other way round.
  4. Test it scientifically. Turn off the lights: see if technology just disappears. No, it will force its way back, as we cannot live without it. 

Ned Ludd? No! Tesla!

This is not an argument for not using technology!!! As numerous other stories show, Kirby considers scientists to be the best people of all. But he argues for priorities: they should focus on the foundations, like energy for all (think Tesla, think space ships with unlimited engines).

Kirby's heroes focus in the bigger picture, on social science issues like justice and opportunity and power structures. When myopic scientists create evolving networks, they should stop and ask what an evolving network does? Answer: it survives at any cost. Mad scientists of the world, stop and think!

Technology is our "living shadow"  

In short, Kirby understands power. He understands the big picture. Technology is our "living shadow".We think it is merely a sign of our human triumph. No, it evolves independently. Just examine how technology evolves. Then examine how a biological species evolves. The only difference is that, for technology, humans are the natural resources.

So many new ideas 

There is nothing new under the sun, so inevitably some previous author will have written something similar, but Kirby does it better. The excellent Jack Davis came up with a story about two dimensional beings in 1959: they were called "The Ten Uous" and featured in Tales to Astonish issue 1. It was a good story, but merely strung out a single idea (that flat people could hide in plain sight). In contrast, Kirby thinks it through and adds many new ideas:
  1. How a 2D planet could exist within our solar system, on the other side of the sun, Obviously we would not detect such a planet because it would not significantly affect gravity
  2. A method for 2D creatures extending their bodies and then going further, into the 3D world!
  3. How they could follow humans undetected - as shadows!
  4. Kirby saws the endless potential in the idea, so he wanted to create a continuing series: the leader escaped and promised to return. Kirby's desire for a continuous series would eventually lead to the Marvel Universe.
Kirby packs so much into so few pages, yet it's easy to follow and never feels rushed. This is why I love his work.