Friday, November 28, 2014

Earth -- The Opportunity Too Rich to Pass Up?

Here is the link to our article in Eerie Digest entitled "Getting Real About First Contact: The Ferengi Hypothesis," which we hope you will enjoy and maybe even honor with a comment.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

      Here is the link to our article, The Cringing Arghh!" from our wonderful friends at the emagazine Eerie Digest:

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.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

An American Empire on Mars?

     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 Hotel.  
      Significantly, Obama 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.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Earliest Sci Fi?  Part II

                Most 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. 
                Amazingly, 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.
                Perhaps 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 apparently proton-powered. 

                There 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.