Nothing produced the delicious frisson of excitement more than a good ‘Bug” movie of the 1950’s. “Them!” “Tarantula.” “The Deadly Mantis.” Nothing thrilled me as a kid, smell of popcorn and butter in my nostrils, sticky unnamable blob-like substance clinging to the soles of my shoes, than Bradbury’s infamous Rhedosaurus, “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” snacking on a cop in two short bites. “Reptilicus” taking down the Danish parliament. “The Giant Behemoth” battling Big Ben. Nothing frightened me to the roots more than the swelling brass crescendo and the water obscured first view of “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Continue reading
I sketch with all the skill of a five-year-old drawing a box house with two crooked windows cross braced into four panes, a door only a cubist could love, and stick mommy, stick daddy, and the stick children behind a skewed picket fence in the front yard. And, oh yeah, a big ball of the sun high in the upper right corner. If I could only get the clouds not to look like alien objects in an otherwise sufficient sky, I would be happy as a clam. If I knew, how happy a clam was. Continue reading
Back in the days when I was knee-high to a Martian bouncer, I moved out of the incubator of elementary school and into the wide world of Junior High School. The year Maz slammed the World Series winning walk-off home run over the left field wall of Forbes Field. I was out of my element, discomforted by the poorly lit tan locker-lined halls with floors waxed to the squeak of my shoes. Challenged by my first real taste of fashion consciousness. White pressed shirt, black pants, white socks, black shoes. Much as my mother plied me with shirts that sparkled with pastel hues, I stayed true to my cool. Continue reading
Voulez-vous lire avec moi, ce soir?
(With apology to Patti Labelle and Lady Marmalade.)
Sure, I know enough French to find my way around a children’s primer. Continue reading
“Id Id Id Id id Id!” says Dr. Edward Morbius in the face of “Doc” Ostrow’s death-bed revelation of the “horror” in the movie Forbidden Planet. A movie often challenged by film spectacle, but never surpassed. It is, after all, based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest, hence a glowing example of the intertextuality done so well and so important to SF. Continue reading
I wanted an iNterocitor and what I got was an iPadPro
Seasons greetings a couple days after Christmas AM. Still irregular slices of colored paper more various than the stars in the overlit night sky adorning the living room floor, and more cookies than my diabetic heart can stand on the dining room table. Not to mention, more food in the fridge than in all Cathay. Yes, mom, I intend to send the whole refrigerated box full of ravioli and meatballs; and breaded shrimp and chicken; and mixed salad kissed by balsamic vinegar and olive oil; and thin spaghetti drenched in shrimp sauce to the starving kids in…wait… not if I clean my plate. Those were your rules, not mine.
So from the three languages, that haunt me. Glædelig Jul, Buon Natale, Joyeux Noël and Godt NytÅr, Felice Anno Nuovo, Bonne année, to boot.
I’m not too impressed by the argument that science fiction is a predictive art. I’ve read and seen a lot of SF. Other than the time traveling couple ( I know it was one of you!) in the second episode “Time Is Just A Place” of the 1955 season of Science Fiction Theater who bring a small round domed device that rushes around vacuuming the floor awfully like a Roomba to a mid-fifties suburban neighborhood, (and, well, maybe the Star Trek flip phone) the idea of future prediction has not been as meaningful to me as much as the other elements which make up SF.
However, I, full of joy, send you to the internet site www.technovelgy.com. Please return after a day or two of perusal and rejoin me. A visit to this URL (I discovered it after an urging by Arthur C Clarke in an article) is enough to make me review and revise my opinion. A whole lot of invention and social interaction was predicted by science fiction. Technovelgy points the chapter and verse of the prediction and the result manifest in our jaded modern consumer driven society.
Me? I just received a ping from Exeter and although I am anxious to take the pilotless DC3 he will send for me tomorrow morning, I would hate it if he exploded my iPadPro when he ends our iMessage session.
I was in a recording studio of vast and unlimited proportions. Not at all sure why I was there. Damn dream logic. But it was a pleasant enough time listening to the announcer on a mic at the far end of the room deliver the prologue to some drama. When his deep, resonant voice came to the end of the copy, he pointed his finger and cued me. I delivered my lines. I pitched my voice one treble click higher than normal with slight intimate breathiness. Hey, go figure, the dialogue seemed to call for it. I did okay and all of us, because now there was a cast of “all of us” milling around the expanding room, took a break.
We talked, drank coffee, ambled over to a table full of lunch meat and condiments. The writers brought in a new script. The announcer came over and asked if I could play a Martian speaking French. “Why not.’ I thought, ‘isn’t that the reason I’m here?’ I stood in front of the microphone, a couple thousand dollar condenser mic with a magnificent steel scrolled holder and pop shield that I knew outside this dream I could never afford, and began. Speaking French. Like a Martian.
We dream, we talk, we invent, we write. An important part of my dream occurred. I wrote it down immediately when I awoke. An important part of that dream I made up as I wrote it down. Doesn’t matter which is which or what is what.
We can choose to lead our lives rooted in the rutted reality that makes up our daily travail. Many do. Some with the good result that we call success. Others with a less happy outcome.
Or we can follow our dreams. Take a ride with our imagination. Or hitch a ride with the imagination of others. Reading is writing and writing is reading. And reading science fiction and writing fantasy and exploring the dark horror that resides in us all are far more important than the world at large gives credit.
Go have a dream.
Well, as is often the case, nothing went wrong. Zeitgeist wavers, changes, is overcome by some thread or other that was in evidence all the time. Thoughts of science and the endless optimistic view of wonder filled technology, began to wane when sober and realistic “cold equations” concerning the price paid for our energy, our wavering theories, and the seeming march of progress showed a darker vision. A bleaker perception was always a part of SF. No one of you would call “The War of the Worlds” a joy-filled tale. Humanity is saved “…after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom had put on this earth.” An adaption scared the hell out of a bunch of folks awaiting an invasion by Hitler, one evening deep in an economic depression on the Halloween evening of 1938. The growth of super science and super weapons in reality and imagination in the ensuing years, does not give resistance to bacteria much of a chance at our salvation. In our times that have come, SF and newspaper headlines point to those proposed Martian killers as the very real agents of our doom.
The science fiction of the sixties turned literary and experimental with the decade. Turned political and social. Fiction of the so-called “soft sciences” were created along with stories emphasizng “hard” science fiction. Somehow, like C.P. Snow’s “The Two Cultures” the differences seemed irreconcilable. Culture clashed. “Let’s put science fiction back in the gutter where it belongs.” say rabid enthusiasts. “Science Fiction is an effort to understand our ineffable selves and universe in a manner as meaningful as the language of poetry.” say rabid enthusasts of another milieu.
Is SF a literature of adventure and wonder? Is SF a literature poetry and philosophy? Is SF a literature of optimism and technological progess? Is SF a literature of pessimism and apocalyptic insight? Is SF a literature of change?
The answer is in front of you. It doesn’t matter what your preference proscribes or prescribes. Whether or not you turn on steampunk or scream pulp. The answer is, “Yes.” SF is all of those tropes, movements, ideals, cosmologies. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of, or are important, in our philosophy.
I was born six hours short of the new year in 1944. There, now you know how old I am.
My birthday, the last day of the year, troubled me for years. I entered public schools old enough that my peers (though they never had the gumption to question it aloud) wondered if I was held back because my grades toppled to the sub-basement inhabited by deficient students and reprobates. I can now reply, I was an above average student, neither genius nor dolt. There, now you know how smart I am.
I found myself out of place and out of time. A year behind the brave new world of my friends. They marched in joyful lock-step into a future that promised a whole bunch of some vague contentment. I was not a part of the new exciting dance of the Mid-twentieth Century. I was obscured in the dust of an expiring age. Too late for one era and too early for another. The oldest son-of-a-bitch in elementary school. Unable to join in the fun of the party.
Third grade, I discovered the absolute marvel of science fiction. My fellow students were bound on a journey to become the cream of the crop, the apple of society’s eye. Gray flannel, white collared providers of the social order. I chose to live in a science fiction cosmos unbound in all dimension. Aware of the dystopian. Involved in the outré. Challenged by the surreal. Aware of wonder. Bathed in the mystery. I began to understand my date of birth indicated an avant grade, not a rear guard.
Science Fiction from 1926 until the beginning of the 1960’s, filled with many of the dire cosmic warnings we find so troubling today, was optimistic. Comets plowed into the earth. Stars crashed into one another. Galaxies collided. Beaches in the twilight hours before the last days filled with our sightless crawling descendants would in short order be snuffed by an engorged sun. Blasters and ray guns gave way to tractor and pulser beams that lit the dark of space with a purple pulsing prose. Time travelers and UFO’s landed in obscure parts of the terrestrial globe by the score. Somehow, through the pages of cataclysm, we all survived to become stronger and whole
Hugo Gernsback, deep in love with the idea of technological change, created a magazine, “Amazing Stories.” Dedicated to the amateur tinkerer who hoisted on personal bootstraps and innovative invention, showed the way to the new world order. Gernsback called this new kind of literature scientifiction. He, without shame, stated scientifiction, which was hitherto created by scientists who experimented in fiction, would take on the new role of creating a new breed of scientists who practiced science created by fiction.
John W Campbell pushed the rolling slug further down the path. Somewhere along the line, while he and his writer’s were perfecting the fiction side of the equation, he became involved with several movements that stressed a new human potential. Alfred Korzybski and the time-bound General Semantics included in A.E. Van Vogt’s Worlds of Null-A. The Rhines at Duke University flashing cards of telepathic impressions portrayed in endless tales of telekinesis and fearful mind reading überfolks. The science fiction writer Damon Knight claimed would disappear off into the desert of the American West never to be heard of again. The creator of Campbell’s most deep dip off the end of the pier, the science fiction writer who created Dianetics, L. Ron Hubbard. Campbell wore out the e-meters of his writers and his readers.
All in the name of an enhanced zeitgeist. I found it an exciting and dangerous time to come of age. Full of energy, hope, and a sense of overwhelming grand destiny. SO. Where did it all go wrong?
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.