I like to complain. So, when someone looks at my aging countenance and remarks, “Getting old is a bitch, ain’t it?” I immediately launch into a smarmy face that shows commiseration. I follow with a list of infirmities and medical oddities that would send a pharmaceutical company into a frenzy of ailment influenced naming rights.
I do find comfort in my waning years. For many reasons, most as boring as my inventory of gripes, I will not present you a checklist of my geriatric satisfactions. I would like to point out one particular joy. It has to do with science fiction. It has to do with coming of age in the era of nineteen fifty’s science fiction. I returned home after a hard day’s day last week to discover a package leaning against my front storm door. Excited, I ripped open the cardboard to reveal a hefty collection of DVDs.
I know, I am about to tread in a time period that is remote to many of you as the Pleistocene, but hop on the bicycle saddle and join me on a trip back in time before “Star Trek” was any kind of reality. “The Outer Limits” (which endeavors to take control of our television set as we zip past) is a relative newcomer. We move on beyond a fifth dimension “as vast as space and as timeless as infinity, The Twilight Zone.” We land on a Saturday evening in the spring of 1955. I was a youngster just knee-high to a Martian Bouncer.
I am on the floor in front of an immense twenty-one inch aluminized screen fitted into a mahogany console as grand as grandma’s heirloom cupboard. Rabbit ears are at attention. The endless fifteen-minute news broadcast has faded to a Pie Traynor pitch for a heating company. Commercial over, a brass and string fanfare swells, the camera lingers on an oscillating radar disc, tilts down to some sort of miraculous control device, then pans stage left across a laboratory of gorgeous dials, blinking instrument lights, flat cathode ray displays, and gleaming metal toggles. Not an experimental workspace of the future, say 1972, but of this most exciting moment on the living room carpet.
“How do you do, ladies and gentlemen. I’m your host, Truman Bradley. Let me show you something interesting.” We are off! Season one, Episode one of “Science Fiction Theater.” The “something interesting” is always a scientific experiment. Bubbling paint off a wall with sound waves. A slo-mo image of a bullet piercing a television screen. Fragile glass shattering in sympathy with a struck tuning fork. The rushing clicks of a Geiger counter. All of which, in some manner, have something to do with the fictional presentation to follow. At tale end, Truman appears on screen, “Of course, this was a story. It didn’t happen… but it could have.”
The special effects were foolish to nil. The action had all the dynamism of a Victorian stage play. But the stories were capable of generating suspense, mystery, and the frisson only new intellectual notions can bring. While watching “Science Fiction Theater” for these two weeks, my eleven-year-old and my present psyche are both pleased the content, although dated and frozen in the science of the post World War II era, is strange and filled with wonder. And hope.
Stick around with me. Next week I want to talk about the optimism and advancing human potential that was found in SF until the mid-nineteen-sixties. “I’ll be back with you a week from today with another exciting adventure from the world of fiction and science.” Thank you, Truman, could hardly say it better myself.