Here is the link to our article, The Cringing Arghh!" from our wonderful friends at the emagazine Eerie Digest: http://www.eeriedigest.com/wordpress/2012/09/the-cringing-aarghh-by-guest-authors-james-f-john-m-gaines/
It deals with the way sci fi movies have treated the reaction of terror and speaks, among other films, of this early Peter Graves/Bert I. Gordon product, "The Beginning of the End." It is certainly not the only sci fi film to feature the "giant bugs" that Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) bemoans in "Ed Wood," but it is the only one we can cite off-hand where the culprits are grasshoppers and the apocalyptic battle takes place on a postcard of Chicago's Wrigley Building. None of the grasshoppers in the film are armed with the teeth you see in the poster, but instead sport their natural, very active mouth parts. MST3000 provides a wonderful rifftrack that fails to hide some of the Minneapolis-based MST staff's pet peeves about the Windy City. In most ways the film is short on science and everything else except sheer fun, but it does cause us to speculate about how the constantly present and constantly stifled nuclear terrors of the 50's and 60's may have incited people both to scream and to laugh in an effort to preserve their sanity in an officially ultra-controlled but really out-of-control world.
Are there plans under
way to turn Mars into what India once was for the British raj -- the jewel in
the crown of an interplanetary empire? Or will there be a more sinister form of
corporate domination that flashes a company logo instead of the flag of a
nation? On the one hand, NASA includes foreign astronauts in missions to
what is optimistically called the International Space Station. But on the
other hand, the Obama administration has given its blessing to the corporate
ownership of space, not merely through Space Dragon and other
privately-produced launch vehicles, but also through plans for a
privately-owned "Space hotel" that will charge future travelers a
million dollars a night for accommodations. Too wild to take seriously?
Over ten nations have already made reservations for the Bigelow Space
is pushing plans to allow corporations to lay claim to asteroids and mine them
as private property. Given the bankruptcy of government projects such as
Bush’s back-to-the-Moon push and Obama’s aborted human mission to Mars, are we
destined to witness an expansion of capitalistic exploitation of off=world
resources under the umbrella of a token US government presence that will
actively discourage competition from other places on Earth? Peter Hyams’s vision of space mining in the forward-looking
film Outland focuses on a Jovian moon
where a giant corporation, under the aegis of a league of industrialized
nations, extracts ores through gruesome practices that call for the intervention
of a lone, embattled federal marshal intent on preserving some scale of human
value. This may not be far from the
truth if laissez faire economic
practices are allowed to flourish unsupervised and uncontrolled. In the Chemical Corridor of Louisiana, where
I used to live, plants were sealed off
by private security armies that would not allow local police or fire
departments past their gates.
So far, the greed
for gold, platinum, titanium, and rare earth minerals is so great that
governments – notably our own – have done little to even hint that capitalism
will not have a free hand in our solar system.
Historical precedent suggests that this is a suicidal course to follow. There is one asteroid that is estimated to
contain a greater supply of gold and other precious metals than the entire
supply now on the surface of this planet.
The best known example in our past of such an influx was that of
fifteenth century Spain, where instead of leading to universal prosperity, the
overflow of riches promptly sunk a thriving economy into massive poverty, to
the advantage of a small class of unproductive hidalgos.
Such a super-rich
class, already being produced by the burgeoning wealth gap in our society, is
already licking its lips at the possibility of obtaining huge land grants on
Mars for their personal advantage. Be assured
that if Mars is settled, it will not be by humble homesteaders like the Great
Plains or the Old West, for the good reason that individuals will not be able
to simply stock a Conestoga and join the wagon train to lay out stakes to their
allotted acres. On Mars, billionaires are
in the process of buying up all those claims for pennies on the dollar, and
settlers will only be admitted as peons – the space age equivalent of Walmart
employees. In fact, the bloated accounts of the Walton family make it a
potential player in the upcoming land grab of all times.
So far, the United
Nations has pretty much kept its head in the sand on these issues. But it is time they started to look skyward
and to arrange for Earth’s expansion into space to be preserved from the
pressures of short-term greed and sheer imperialism. It is imperative that an effort be made to
establish that, like Antarctica, other bodies in the solar system should be
maintained as a common heritage subject to the oversight of international law,
with consideration for all of humanity, and not just corporations disguised as
individuals or oligarchs disguised as companies.
sci fi enthusiasts look back to H. G. Wells or Jules Verne as the founder of
the genre, but its roots actually lie in 17th century France. An excellent place to begin is with the
strange novel The Estates and Empires of
the Moon and The Estates and Empires
of the Sun published anonymously in 1657 and 1662. Known by various other titles in translation
and sometimes under the collective title The
Other World, these visionary books are the work of Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac,
a swordsman and philosopher generally recognized as the main figure in Edmond
Rostand’s 19th century drama of the same name. The real Cyrano was much more complex than
Rostand’s long-nosed matchmaker, however.
Besides his reputed skill with a blade (rumors once had him taking on a
mob of about 100 enemies at the Tour de Nesle), Cyrano was a daring thinker,
frequenting the most daring and dangerous free-thinking circles of his age and
excelling in theatre as well as in fiction. Many of his favorite authors, such
as Bruno, Pico, and Cardano, had been banned by the church and sometimes
arrested by the Inquisition. Thus, it
was for good reason that he did not publish his science fiction during his
lifetime, but instead circulated it in samizdat-fashion
as manuscripts among his trusted friends.
Cyrano boldly advanced into both hard (technological) and soft
(intellect-oriented) science fiction.
His protagonist (anonymous in the first volume and dubbed with the
anagram Dyrcona in the second) becomes interested in space travel after a night
on the town with some drinking buddies and has a holographic close encounter
associated with a passage in the works of the Italian scientist Cardano. He ponders different means of achieving
flight and first attempts to ascend with the aid of a
matter-phase-transformation device based on evaporation. This contraption actually sends him aloft,
but not far enough, since he lands unexpectedly in early Quebec. Trying a different kind of machine, he
accidentally discovers the power of rockets and launches himself into space
during a Midsummer celebration. When he
reaches the Moon (Cyrano precociously describes the Moon’s own gravity field),
he is surprised to meet a succession of other earthly visitors, all figures
from the Bible, who have preceded him.
Their methods of propulsion are all different from his own and range
from the most fanciful (taking advantage of high water during the Deluge)
through the metaphysical (prefiguring the astral projection in Burroughs’s John
Carter of Mars series) and including the most interesting to our time (a device
based on electromagnetism). However,
terrestrial ex-pats are not the Moon’s only inhabitants in Cyrano’s universe,
and he soon falls into the hands of an indigenous race of intelligent
centaur-like creatures. Soon after, he
makes friends with an entirely different kind of life form, a long-living
“corpse parasite” that reanimates and inhabits the dead bodies of other
species, imparting wisdom through his cadaverous disguise. Such a bizarre possibility has been revived
often in sci fi, from the comical zombies in Ed Woods’s Plan Nine From Outer Space to the character of Jadzia Dax in Star Trek : Deep Space Nine. The equine Selenians have quite a few
technical wonders of their own, including entire cities that can move in sync
with the weather.
the most interesting forecasts in Cyrano’s work concern not technology, but
biology, psychology, sociology, and ethics.
The Selenians place the newcomer in a most awkward encounter situation,
since they are reluctant to consider him an intelligent being. Instead they try to turn him into a pet and
to breed him with a Spanish gentleman who has already fallen into their
clutches. Their ambiguous relationship
may be an original incidence of gay issues in outer space. Eventually, with the help of his shape-changing
friend, “The Demon of Socrates,” the protagonist shakes off the assigned
identities of an ape or a bird and convinces the Selenians that he possesses
something approaching their intelligence.
As he masters their musical language, he discovers that the Selenians
enjoy an almost Utopian existence, complete with nearly free sex, a highly
regulated and ridiculous form of warfare, and an advanced form of homeopathic
medicine. He becomes especially intimate
with one of the females in the royal court – an implication of the first
interspecies sexual encounter in the history of science fiction. As the first volume reaches a crescendo of
religious satire, the protagonist is whisked back to Earth in mysterious
fashion, but later, once again with the assistance of the Demon of Socrates, he
navigates to the vicinity of the Sun in a spacecraft of alien design that is
is a new translation of Cyrano’s work by Sophie Lewis, under the title Voyage to the Moon, that makes it more
accessible to twenty-first century readers than those of Lovell, Aldington, or
Derreck. Hopefully, it will bring new
awareness to sci fi followers of the contributions of this great pioneer who
acted as a major influence on the 19th century masters who launched
the genre in popular fiction among the English-speaking reading public.