(The American Catholic will observe its tenth anniversary in October. We will be reposting some classic TAC posts of the past. This post is from March 26, 2013.)
My co-blogger Darwin has a good post at his blog, Darwin Catholic, expressing his irritation at three laws proposed by the late science fiction writer Arthur Clarke. Go here to read it. The proposing of laws seems to often go with the territory of being a science fiction writer. Asimov had his laws of robotics, for example. Reading Darwin’s post propelled me into imagining the ten commandments for science fiction writers, and here they are:
1. You are a science fiction writer, and will write only science fiction: no fantasy, no (spit) urban fantasy, no (gag) romance novels disguised as fantasy. This rule is subject to being overruled if you really, really need the cash.
2. You will not bow down to the idols of popular taste or to what will sell in the mass market. Kindle and e-publishing will have your sole worship.
3. You will not take the name of science in vain and have more than three scientific absurdities in each story that you write.
4. All the rest of creation labors for only six days. For science fiction writing wretches remember the words of Heinlein: “Six days shalt thou work and do all thou art able; the seventh the same, and pound on the cable.“
5. Honor your father and your mother as they may well be the ones supporting you as you seek fame and fortune by scribbling endlessly for a living.
6. You shall not murder other science fiction writers who shamelessly steal your ideas. You may think about murdering them however quite a bit.
7. You shall not commit adultery with other literary genres, unless you really, really need the money. See the first commandment.
8. You shall not steal ideas from hack writers. Stealing ideas from good writers is permissible so long as you have plausible deniability.
9. You shall not bear false witness against other writers, even if they have it coming. (Well maybe a little bit, if they really, really have it coming.)
10. You will not covet anything that more successful writers have that you do not. You write only to express yourself and not to gain financial riches! (Everyone can now stop laughing.)
Amazon Prime now has all five seasons of the best science fiction series ever broadcast: Babylon 5.
Bester: Would it interest you to know that I’m married, Mr. Garibaldi? That I have a five-year-old daughter? That on Sundays when I’m back home, we pack a picnic lunch and go out under the dome on Syria Planum and watch the stars come out? Hardly the description of a monster. Michael Garibaldi: [applauds sarcastically] Smooth! You’re getting good at this. Keep working on it, and one of these days I might even be convinced that you’re human.
My bride has been binge listening to the series while working at her computer. As always, she has impeccable taste.
Anyone else planning to see this over the Memorial Day weekend?
I am not expecting much so perhaps I will be pleasantly be surprised. Playing outlaws with hearts of gold is a tricky business. Make them too villainous and the audience loses all sympathy with them. Make them too nice and you lose the storytelling possibilities. Of course since we know how everything turns out, perhaps it doesn’t matter. The film will make several ton loads of money whatever its quality, and give obsessed Star Wars fans living in the basements of their mothers something new to fight about for the next few years.
“A refurbished Star Wars is on somewhere or everywhere. I have no intention of revisiting any galaxy. I shrivel inside each time it is mentioned. Twenty years ago, when the film was first shown, it had a freshness, also a sense of moral good and fun. Then I began to be uneasy at the influence it might be having. The bad penny first dropped in San Francisco when a sweet-faced boy of twelve told me proudly he had seen Star Wars over a hundred times. His elegant mother nodded with approval. Looking into the boys eyes I thought I detected little star-shells of madness beginning to form and I guess that one day they would explode.
‘I would love for you to do something for me,’ I said.
“Anything! Anything!’ the boy said rapturously.
‘You won’t like what I’m going to ask you to do.’ I said.
‘Anything, sir, anything!’
‘Well,’ I said, ‘do you think you could promise never to see Star Wars again?’
He bursts into tears. His mother drew herself up to an immense height. ‘What a dreadful thing to say to a child!’ she barked, and dragged the poor kid away. Maybe she was right but I just hope the lad, now in his thirties, is not living in a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities.”
Alec Guinness, A Positively Final Appearance (1999)
Something for the weekend. Theme songs from Lost in Space. As a kid I loved the show, even though even at the age of eight I realized the show was science fantasy rather than science fiction. The 1998 Lost in Space movie left me cold as it was too dark for my tastes and did not fit the lighter tone of most of the episodes of what was often an especially silly show.
A new Netflix take on the show debuted yesterday. The episodes I have thus far watched aren’t bad.
Time to refresh my Chief Geek of the blog creds. The Axanar film project has produced huge fan interest, and well it should. The Prelude to Axanar video below is the best Trek I have ever seen.
Jonathan Lane has written, and Mark McCrary has illustrated, the first illustrated fan short story set in the Axanar universe. With their kind permission I am posting it here. Give your comments in the comboxes. Go here to view the Fan Film Factor Blog.
Stardate: 2244.9 Location: The 602 Club, Mill Valley near San Francisco, Earth
At a table…
DARIA: Um, um…Hecate
DARIA: Crash and burn, Matt!
MATT: Which one did I miss?
MATT: BLAST IT!
RON: Take a shot.
DARIA: Hey, why is it called the Hercules and not Heracles?
DARIA: All the other human Ares-class ships are named after GREEK gods.Hercules was the ROMAN name for Heracles, which was the original Greek name.
MATT: Hey, Daria, when did you get transferred from biochemistry to ship’s cultural historian?
DARIA: Pulse you, Decker!When I signed up for Starfleet, I figured I was gonna EXPLORE alien societies…not shoot at them.
[Long, quiet stare.]
MATT: Yeah, I think that’s true for most of us.
THALEK: Not me.I wanted to fight!
RON: Well, you’re just an idiot is what you are.
MATT: Hey, I thought Hercules–excuse me, HERACLES–wasn’t even a full god.Wasn’t he just a half-god?
RON: Don’t tell Captain Travis that.He’ll knock you right into San Francisco Bay…from here!
DARIA: So how many Ares-class cruisers do we have in service now?
MATT: Twenty-two.And there’s two more in dry dock, ready to join the Fleet.Nemesis and, um…the god with the two faces…
DARIA: Huh?Thalek, how is it that an Andorian knows the name of an ancient Earth god?
THALEK: I don’t.But the USS Janus is getting an Andorian crew, and I’m being transferred from the Poseidon as soon as the new vessel is ready.
RON: Speaking of Andorians, Thalek, why is it that you hang out with us humans here at the bar?
THALEK: I don’t understand…
MATT: What he means is that most of the crews stick with their own species.Look around.The Tellarites drink with other Tellarites.The Andorians drink with Andorians.The Vulcans…well, I don’t think they even drink, but they certainly don’t socialize with us.
THALEK: One could say that you humans don’t exactly socialize outside of your own species either.
[Looks of embarrassment.]
THALEK: Hah!As you humans say, I’m just pulling your hair.
THALEK: Why would someone pull a leg?
MATT: Good point.
THALEK: It’s true that we are all still a little leery of the other races—Vulcans, Humans, Andorians, Tellarites, Nausicans, Deltans.The Federation covers a vast span of the galaxy, and our races don’t get many opportunities to interact with each other.Without warp-six capable starships, it can take weeks or even months just to get from one star system to the other.
DARIA: But now we’re all here on Earth together, fighting a common enemy.You’d think we’d make more of an effort to get to know each other.
RON: I don’t want to get to know each other…
RON: I don’t!That’s my choice.
DARIA: Thalek, he didn’t mean that.He’s just a little drunk…
RON: Pulse you!I know what I said!
MATT: Ron, don’t be a dunsel…
RON: I’m just saying what we’re all thinking!Tellarites—they’re obnoxious!They think they’re hot plasma, but they’re just a race full of angry, pig-nosed bloodworms!Deltans…they’re supposed to be so “sexually mature” that we aren’t even supposed to talk to them!What in blazes is up with THAT???
DARIA: Ron, keep your voice down, you’re making a scene.
RON: Nausicans are just animals!Orions are blasted thugs.Denobulans…
MATT: Seriously?You’ve got a problem with Denobulans?
RON: Well, no, I suppose they’re okay.But all the rest of them.Look at those Vulcans sitting over there…
MATT: Oh, man, here we go.I knew he’d get to the Vulcans…
RON: Why shouldn’t I???They think they’re so blasted superior to us.For a hundred years, they held back technology from Earth—even though we were supposed to be allies—said we weren’t ready for it.We had to claw our way to a Warp 5 engine that they’d already had for centuries.
THALEK: That doesn’t surprise me.The Vulcans used to be quite protective of their technology.
RON: They still are!
MATT: Hey, did you know my great-great grandfather worked with Henry Archer on the Warp 5 project?Or was it three greats?
DARIA: My great-grandfather served under Henry Archer’s son on the Enterprise during the Romulan War.He was their helmsman.I think Captain Archer’s first officer was a Vulcan.
RON: Probably sent to spy on them…
THALEK: I don’t beleiveso.I seem to recall that she helped reveal the existence of a Vulcan listening post that was covertly monitoring my people.I doubt that a Vulcan spy would assist in a mission that would so jeopardize a clandestine operation like that.
RON: Doesn’t it bother you that they were spying on your planet in the first place???
THALEK: That was nearly a century ago.The Vulcans have changed.
RON: HAVE THEY????
DARIA: Ron, please quiet down.You’re embarrassing all of us.
MATT: Yeah, Ron…
RON: Shut up!The Vulcans haven’t changed at all.They’re still arrogant know-it-alls who think they’ve figured out what’s best for the galaxy.The “great awakening”?Don’t make me laugh!They weren’t even going to enter this war!!!And they’re still withholding technology from us!!! The weapons on board the Zeus?The Andorians gave us those…
THALEK: You’re welcome.
DARIA: And the Vulcans gave us shields and life support systems.
RON: But they held back the weapons!!!Why?YOU HEAR ME, YOU POINTY-EARED HOBGOBLINS?
DARIA: Ron, sit down!
RON: DON’T IGNORE ME, YOU GREEN-BLOODED COWARDS!!!Why didn’t you give us weapons?We know you have them!And they’re probably much more advanced than ours.Or maybe you could have helped us, worked with us, to improve the weapons that we ALL have.DO YOU WANT THOSE BLOODTHIRSTY KLINGONS TO WIN THIS WAR???
DARIA: Matt, we need to do something…
RON: LOOK AT ME, BLAST IT!!!You Vulcans–you’re not even fighting!You’re just PRETENDING to fight!
MATT: I’m going to find someone from security.
RON: You could have saved the crew of the Tecumseh!They were being decimated by the Klingons!!The Nike was the first ship to arrive at Altair VI.But instead of engaging the Klingons, you held back.WHY???My sister was on that ship, and you sat back and didn’t fire a shot!You cowards hid behind a stupid moon!!! WHY????Why didn’t you engage sooner?WHY DID YOU WAIT???
[A loud voice answers from elsewhere in the 602 Club…]
GARTH: Because I ordered them to.
[Captain Kelvar Garth walks over to their table.]
DARIA: (whispering) Holy…is that who I think it is?
THALEK: It’s Garth.
MATT: Captain present!Ten-hut!
GARTH: At ease, everyone.You, too, Lieutenant…. Lieutenant?
RON: Tracey, sir.I’m a weapons officer on board the USS Zeus.
GARTH: Lieutenant Tracey, I’m sorry about your sister.I truly am.We lost 184 valiant men and women in that battle…but it could have been more.I gave the Vulcans on the Nike the order to wait behind that moon until the rest of their squadron could arrive.
RON: But why, sir?The Tecumseh was crippled, defenseless.They had no chance against the Klingons.
GARTH: And neither did the Nike, son…not alone.Over half a dozen D-6 cruisers came out of warp to ambush the Tecumseh.Had the Nike gone in before our other ships arrived in the system, it would have been a blood bath…and it would have cost us one of Starfleet’s most advanced warships.
RON: We still lost an entire ship and crew!
GARTH: But not two, Mr. Tracey!Not even an Ares-class could have held off that many Klingons!
[Closes eyes, composes himself.]
This war isn’t fair, Lieutenant.It isn’t just, and it certainly isn’t clean.It is, quite literally, the ugliest and most daunting test we have ever faced as a planet.And every choice we make, every command we give, will cost us something…because the enemy we are facing is ruthless.
RON: My sister wasn’t even a soldier, sir.She worked in their sickbay.
GARTH: Look, I know most of us didn’t sign up to be warriors.That’s not what Starfleet’s about.But we have to prove that we can do what we need to do to defend the Federation…no matter the cost.
[Pause.Thick silence.Deep breath.]
GARTH: That order…and the destruction of the Tecumseh…will haunt me for the rest of my life, Mr. Tracey.I see those faces and hundreds like them every night when I wake up from my nightmares.One day when you’re a captain—and I hope you will be—I pray you never have to make the decision of who gets to live and who has to die.I hope that, by the time you have a ship of your own, that there is peace in the Federation and we can all return to simply being explorers.
DARIA: I think we all want that, Captain.
GARTH: But in the meantime, understand this: we are all—ALL—fighting for each other.Humans, Andorians, Vulcans, Tellarites…we are a FEDERATION of Planets.We must have each other’s backs.We fight the Klingons—we DON’T fight each other.And remember this, as well: none of us, no race, no individual, is perfect.No one has a monopoly on bravery or intelligence or common sense, and no one is morally superior.We’ll all make bad decisions…or sometimes even good decisions with bad outcomes that can’t be avoided.But we must be willing to look past the bad and see the good in all the races of the Federation.
[Garth turns toward the window and looks out at the stars.]
Someday this blasted war will be over.It HAS to end, and we HAVE to win.There is no alternative for us.And when that finally happens, we’ll be left with what we’ve been fighting for this entire time: the United Federation of Planets.Don’t tear apart the very thing that we have been risking and sacrificing our lives to preserve.Do you understand, Lieutenant?
RON: Yes, sir, I do.
GARTH: I think it’s time you head back to your quarters…all of you.That’s an order.Sleep this off.There’s a still a war on, and we need you all to be at your best.Dismissed.
[The four officers get up to leave.Ron walks over to the Vulcans and raises his glass in a toast.]
RON: To our losses: Vulcan, Human, Andorian, Tellarite…all of the races in the Federation.We fight together.
[The Vulcans take a moment, look at each other, stand up, and raise their glasses.]
Vulcans: To our losses.
SONYA: That was quite the speech, Kel.You trying for Ramirez’s job?
GARTH: No way.He can keep it!
SONYA: Well, your words do lead to actions.I admire that.I think you really reached that young officer.
GARTH: I hope so, Sonya.But I meant what I said: this war HAS to end, and we HAVE to win.
SONYA: I agree.But the twenty-five thousand credit question is “How?”
GARTH: That’s why I asked you here.I’ve got an idea…and it’s a pretty crazy one.But I actually think it could work.
SONYA: What is it?
GARTH: Sit down, Sonya, and order a drink.I have a feeling you’re gonna need it.
Know, O prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars – Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west.
Robert E. Howard
In my misspent youth I devoured the works of Robert E. Howard. The creator of Conan the Barbarian, Howard was a writer for the pulp magazines of the twenties and the thirties. He had a knack for creating literary worlds and populating them with unforgettable characters. His characters were men of violence, but usually not without a sense of honor. His puritan hero, Solomon Kane, set in sixteenth century Africa, had a faith in Christ:
“Nay, alone I am a weak creature, having no strength or might in me; yet in times past hath God made me a great vessel of wrath and a sword of deliverance. And I trust, shall do so again.”
Not to be mistaken for great literature, Howard’s stories almost always make great, rattling reading, and sometimes even give a thing or two to think about.
Catholic science fiction author, a convert from atheism, John C. Wright, has a good review up of a Conan tale: The Tower of the Elephant:
Conan is young here. The internal chronology of the stories is subject to some guesswork. But it is fair to say that this is the second or third tale in Conan’s career, taking place after Frost Giant’s Daughter (1934). We see him for the first time in what will be his signature costume: “naked except for a loin-cloth and his high-strapped sandals.”
I found, as I often do, that not only is Robert E. Howard a better writer than I was able, as a callow youth, to see he was. He also easily surpasses the modern writers attempting to climb his particular dark mountain. From the high peak, brooding, he glares down at inferior writers mocking him, and, coldly, he laughs.
Particularly when Howard is compared with the modern trash that pretends to be fantasy while deconstructing and destroying everything for which the genre stands, he is right to laugh.
Let us list the ways.
Howard, as many pulp-era writers had to be, is a master of structure.
The Tower of the Elephant is divided into three chapters. The first introduces the set-up. In the most lawless quarter of a city of thieves, in a stinking tavern where rogues and lowlifes gather, rumors are spoken of a silvery tower that looms above the city in an isolated garden on a hilltop. In it is a gem of fabled worth and eldritch powers, that is the talisman of a sinister wizard. The tower seems strangely unguarded, or, rather, guarded strangely.
The wall is low, the way is not difficult: but none of the famous thieves will dare approach it. Our very own Conan (whom last we saw as a king) is here a barbaric lad who asks about the tower and the gem, is rudely answered, and rashly vows to make the attempt. Words are exchanged, and a fight ensues. We soon see how tough Conan is.
The second chapter is a heist. We are introduced to Taurus the Prince of Thieves. He and Conan join forces, attempting to elude or outfight the dangerous or unchancy defenders, human or otherwise, guarding the treasure. When even the Princes of Thieves is unable to overcome a particularly strange peril, a second fight ensues. We soon see how tough the Tower is.
The final chapter is pure awesomeness. The weird and supernatural secret of the Tower reveals itself. Even bold Conan, who fears no mortal blade, is petrified, if only for a moment. The dire and supernatural revenge which follows those who meddle in the outer secrets unfolds.
Howard is also the master of the one trick that always seems to elude postmodern writers. He knows how to pen a proper ending: As in a fairy tale of old, Conan is wise enough to obey the supernatural being when it speaks, and a pathway to safety is opened for him. He escapes with his life.
Go here to read the rest. Howard had a short and sad life of thirty years, ending in suicide when his beloved mother slipped into a coma, but he left behind works still being read 82 years after his death. Not a bad feat for any writer.
(I originally posted this back in 2013. I am reposting it for the fun of it.)
A first-rate video on Grant Wood’s American Gothic (1930). One of the more famous pictures at the Art Institute in Chicago, I have long admired it. Endlessly interpreted, the picture lends itself to a Rorschach type of test where what the viewer says about the painting says more about the interpreter than it does about the painting.
Whenever I look at it, I have always thought of Jonathan and Martha Kent, the fictional foster parents of Superman. The date of the painting would have been when the future Superman would have been around 11 based on his original chronology. The Kents would have been desperate to keep their beloved son, just beginning the mastery of his awesome powers, away from the notice of the World. The figures in the painting seem to me to be keeping a great secret. They look suspiciously at the viewer. The shades on their house are drawn. The averageness of the couple is belied by their desire to keep prying eyes away from that house. At the same time there is nothing that gives any hint of evil about the man and woman. They simply have something great that has been placed into their care and they wish to protect it from outsiders.
The association of the painting with the Superman saga is not original to me. In Superman The Animated Series Mr. Mxyzptlk, the imp from another dimension who periodically torments Superman, turns Ma and Pa Kent into a facsimile of the painting.
One can imagine the encounter that led to the painting.
Some things simply cannot be unseen no matter how strongly you wish that were possible. From November 17, 1978. For the masochists among our readers, the entire Holiday Special is available on You Tube. It is amazing that this did not succeed in killing the Star Wars franchise.
Originally broadcast on December 23, 1960, the Twilight Zone episode Night of the Meek features Art Carney as a drunken Department Store Santa with a big heart who substitutes for Santa on Christmas. Rod Serling sums up the message:
A word to the wise to all the children of the twentieth century, whether their concern be pediatrics or geriatrics, whether they crawl on hands and knees and wear diapers or walk with a cane and comb their beards. There’s a wondrous magic to Christmas and there’s a special power reserved for little people. In short, there’s nothing mightier than the meek.
Seeing The Last Jedi tomorrow with my bride and kids. I have been dutifully trooping to see the Star Wars franchise for four decades now, and I sometimes wonder why since the story lines are usually variants of what was portrayed in the initial Star Wars movie. Inertia I assume, and the fact that the bride and kids always wish to see the latest film. Having said that, I will never forget the immense impact of the initial Star Wars. In the days of the anti-hero it was a return to good guys and bad guys. The swashbuckling aspect seemed like an old Errol Flynn movie brought forward to the seventies and placed in space. Alec Guinness, who regarded the movie as “fairy tale rubbish”, was superb in his role and added a badly needed element of good acting. (The film made Guinness very, very wealthy, he having shrewdly negotiated for 2.25% of the gross. The cash he raked in made him no fonder of the film. He would toss Star Wars fan mail away unread, worried about the impact of the film on young fans who repeatedly watched it and regarded the more fanatical Star Wars fans as barking mad.) The special effects, which now seem embarrassingly dated, were rightly considered revolutionary at the time. Sigh. You can never step into the same river twice, and the freshness of Star Wars is only a memory for me.
A stand out performance by the late Jerry Doyle, who was one of the few contemporary outspoken Hollywood conservatives, as Security Chief Michael Garibaldi in the always underestimated sci fi show Babylon 5. This sequence shows the difference between GoodFacts and RealFacts. Orwell put it succinctly:
The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.
The things you find on the internet! From 1955 the first episode of the Captain Z-RO show featuring the time traveling explorer going back to 1492 and the discovery of the New World by Columbus. Obvious low production values, but it holds up well compared to the appalling drek that mostly makes up TV fare today.
“The Nazis have no sense of humor, so why should they want television? Anyhow, they killed most of the really great comedians. Because most of them were Jewish. In fact, she realized, they killed off most of the entertainment field. I wonder how Hope gets away with what he says. Of course, he has to broadcast from Canada. And it’s a little freer up there. But Hope really says things. Like the joke about Goring . . . the one where Goring buys Rome and has it shipped to his mountain retreat and then set up again. And revives Christianity so his pet lions will have something to—”
Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle
The televised version of Philip K. Dick’s tale of alternate worlds, one of which is ruled by the Third Reich and the Empire of Japan, is going into a third season in 2018. I have greatly enjoyed the first two seasons, which stands head and shoulders above most of the drek broadcast these days.
Would extraterrestrial alien civilizations be friendly or malevolent? Here is a post that argues they would be benign:
The second possibility is a little more intriguing. Imagine a benevolent or benign spacefaring alien species, akin to the Vulcans from Star Trek. If they’ve figured out how to successfully traverse the distances between the stars, then they have technology that’s at least hundreds of years beyond our own, and potentially thousands, tens of thousands or more. We have enough problems on our world figuring out how to manage our own planet, and we have the resources of an entire world, a solar system, and a massive, energy-giving Sun. For a species to come as far as an intelligent, spacefaring alien would have come, they must have figured out a solution to a whole slew of problems that humanity clearly still grapples with. Meeting a civilization such as this could only have positive outcomes for our own.Continue Reading →
My goodness. I’ve just spent an hour watching to see if a guy who raped a teenage girl at bow-and-arrow point is going to be eaten alive by the animals he has spent the last few seasons subjecting to forms of cruelty that make Michael Vick look like a PETA ambassador or beaten to death in the freezing cold by his victim’s half-brother. Thank goodness the guy who set his terminally ill daughter on fire in a pyromantic oblation to a heathen god at the behest of a witch who never seems to wear any clothes is not around to prevent justice from being carried out here — the woman whose size makes her the frequent butt of bestiality-related jokes killed him just in time! Lucky that she has a wealthy and well-connected benefactor in a one-armed knight whose hobbies from childhood on have included killing people and sleeping with his queen sister — including in a church right next to the corpse of one of their unacknowledged sons — to whom we were first introduced when he pushed the little brother of the above-mentioned rape victim out of a window to conceal his incest from her drunken prostitute-addicted domestic-abuser husband! Almighty God has made me in His own image and endowed me with faculties of reason and sense perception and given me free will so that I can tune in next week to see whether the unidextrous dueling champ’s royal sister sets her daughter-in-law and the rest of her extended family on fire or just a bunch of priests. Hallelujah!
Go here to read the rest. It is a shame too, because among the porn and violence laden dog’s vomit there are such gems as this:
And scattered about it, some in their overturned war-machines, some in the now rigid handling-machines, and a dozen of them stark and silent and laid in a row, were the Martians–dead!–slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the red weed was being slain; slain, after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.
H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds
Remember, no panicking. All will be well. Nothing to worry about:
Something for the weekend. Sogno di Volare, The Dream of Flight, the theme song of the game Civilization VI that was released yesterday. (Be still my geek heart!) I know what will be occupying my weekend! Continue Reading →
Time to refresh my chief geek of the blog credentials.
To observe the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, my favorite scene from all of Trek: Commander Michael Eddington’s rejection of the Federation in the Deep Space Nine episode “For the Cause”. It is remarkable that an entertainment phenomenon arising from something as ephemeral as a short-lived television show is still with us half a century later. Partially this is due to the endless running of the original Trek series in syndication in the seventies that greatly expanded Star Trek from a small cult to a large enough audience to flourish. If viewed with a cold eye Star Trek is a fairly routine space opera with often bad writing, cheap production values, concepts that strained credulity, (an alien race modeling itself on the human Roman Empire?), bad acting, (William Shatner take a bow), worse science and a ridiculous philosophy that seems to be an amalgam of socialism, militarism and sixties goofiness.
All true to an extent, but there is so much more to Trek than that. It has provided an optimistic view of the future that flies in the face of the fashionable gloom that has engulfed the West. Star Trek has served to inspire kids to embark on careers in real science, and sparked the imagination of many more children. Along with the daffiness of Trek fandom, it has been the basis of the beginning of many friendships and has provided hundreds of hours of harmless, and occasionally edifying, entertainment. I do not regret the time that I have spent on Trek over the years, and I trust that I will not see the end of this romance of the future. Man always needs optimism and hope, and even a form of entertainment can sometimes appeal to the better angels of our nature. May Star Trek and its offspring, you knew I was going to end with this, Live long and prosper! Continue Reading →
Paramount finally admitted that the lawsuit against the makers of Prelude to Axanar for copyright infringement was idiotic and is in the process of dropping it.
At last night’s Star Trek fan event, the latest trailer for Star Trek Beyond wasn’t the only newsworthy event: J.J. Abrams, announced that Paramount Pictures’ lawsuit against Axanar Productions was “going away.”
Speaking at the fan event, Abrams noted that Star Trek Beyond’s director, Justin Lin, was outraged at the legal situation that had arisen: “Justin was sort of outraged by this as a longtime fan. We started talking about it and realized this wasn’t an appropriate way to deal with the fans. The fans of Star Trek are part of this world.”
Lin had a direct role in helping to end the lawsuit: “[Justin] went to the studio and pushed them stop this lawsuit, and now, within the next few weeks, it will be announced that this is going away, and that fans would be able to continue working on their project.”Continue Reading →
As faithful readers of this blog know, I like to play historically based computer strategy games. One of my favorite series has been the Civilization games by Sid Meier. The first one reached my house on Christmas Eve 1991, the first Christmas of my twin sons, and my bride and I quickly became entranced by it. In between playing with our infants and introducing them to the joys of Christmas, we took turns charting the courses of society through 6,000 years of history. For a young married couple fascinated by history, it was the ideal Christmas present.
Over the past quarter century we have purchased each new version of it. I was struck by the optimism of the announcement trailer. It is a historical optimism I share and it is splendidly set forth in Daniel Webster’s closing argument to the jury of the damned in The Devil and Daniel Webster by Stephen Vincent Benet: Continue Reading →
Amazing how surreal the real world is now in comparison to fiction. Time to take a break from an increasingly insane world and take a look at two of my favorite fictional locales: Star Trek and Star Wars.
In comparing the two franchises, I would give the prize to Star Trek for consistent quality, with the exception of Star Trek the Next Generation (PC In Space.) However, Star Trek never reached the heights attained in the first trilogy of Star Wars, or the depths plumbed in the second trilogy. Give your opinion in the comboxes.
Let me tell you something about Hew-mons, Nephew. They’re a wonderful, friendly people, as long as their bellies are full and their holosuites are working. But take away their creature comforts, deprive them of food, sleep, sonic showers, put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time and those same friendly, intelligent, wonderful people… will become as nasty and as violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon. You don’t believe me? Look at those faces. Look in their eyes.
The trailer for Star Wars: Rogue One, due out this Christmas, which tells how the Rebels stole the plans for the original Death Star. The first of the Star Wars Anthology spin off films, and chronologically just before A New Hope, the first Star Wars film. At the end of the trailer there is the beginning of an unintentionally hilarious interview with a completely non-reactive Mark Hamill. Continue Reading →
Something for a Halloween weekend. Hey there Cthulhu. A minor vice of mine is a love for old pulp science fiction and fantasy. One of the authors I treasure is H.P. Lovecraft, best known for his cycle of horror science fiction\fantasy stories centering around the Old Ones, evil supernatural entities that lurk in dark dimensions, waiting to unleash unspeakable horror on unsuspecting humanity. The best known of these demonic creatures is Cthulhu. I have always found these stories gut-bustingly funny due to the fact that Lovecraft, in these stories, has to be the worst writer of fiction, at least fiction that does not contain phrases like “Love’s Savage Unending Fury”, “The Davinci Code”, “Based On A True Story”, and “Stephen King”, since Bulwer-Lytton shuffled off to the world beyond. Some things are so spectactularly bad that I find myself liking them due to how hair-raisingly inept they are.
One of my favorite stops at the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield.
The Thirty-third Infantry Illinois Volunteers was organized at Camp Butler, Illinois, in the month of September, 1861, by Colonel Chas. E. Hovey, and mustered into the United States service by Captain T. G. Pitcher, U. S. A.Continue Reading →
Time to renew my creds as Chief Geek of this blog. I have come across one of the best essays I have ever read about Star Trek: The Politics of Star Trek by Timothy Sandefur, which appears in the Claremont Review of Books:
Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:
The late Philip K. Dick, paranoid, left-leaning, mentally ill and drug abuser, was nevertheless a science fiction writer of pure genius. His book The Man in the High Castle (1962) introduced me as a boy to the genre of alternate history, with his unforgettable evocation of a United States divided by the victorious Axis powers of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. One of the main plot devices in the book is a novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy which posits an alternate reality in which the Allies won World War II. Like most of Dick’s work, the book suggests that the dividing line between alternate realities can be very thin. Continue Reading →
Over at The American Thinker there is an article entitled Why Conservatives Will Miss Spock. Go here to read it. I am afraid I found it fairly unsatisfying. However, there are examples of Spock giving voice during Star Trek episodes to fairly conservative viewpoints. Here are some of these instances:
1. Balance of Terror-Sadly, war sometimes is necessary:
War is never imperative, Mister Spock.”
– McCoy, after Spock agrees with Stiles on attacking the Romulans
“It is for them, doctor. Vulcan, like Earth, had its aggressive, colonizing period; savage, even by Earth standards. And if the Romulans retained this martial philosophy, then weakness is something we dare not show.”
– Spock, responding to McCoy
2. Space Seed-Freedom is better than rule by even an able dictator-
Captain James T. Kirk: [looking at a library picture of Khan on viewscreen] Name: Khan Noonien Singh.
Mr. Spock: From 1992 through 1996, absolute ruler of more than a quarter of your world, from Asia through the Middle East.
Dr. McCoy: The last of the tyrants to be overthrown.
Scott: I must confess, gentlemen. I’ve always held a sneaking admiration for this one.
Captain James T. Kirk: He was the best of the tyrants and the most dangerous. They were supermen in a sense. Stronger, braver, certainly more ambitious, more daring.
Mr. Spock: Gentlemen, this romanticism about a ruthless dictator is…
Captain James T. Kirk: Mr. Spock, we humans have a streak of barbarism in us. Appalling, but there, nevertheless.
Scott: There were no massacres under his rule.
Mr. Spock: And as little freedom.
Dr. McCoy: No wars until he was attacked.
Mr. Spock: Gentlemen…
[All but Spock laugh]
Captain James T. Kirk: Mr. Spock, you misunderstand us. We can be against him and admire him all at the same time.
Mr. Spock: Illogical.
Captain James T. Kirk: Totally.
3. Mirror Mirror-Civilization is better than barbarism-
Spock: It was far easier for you as civilized men to behave like barbarians than it was for them as barbarians to behave like civilized men.Continue Reading →
Never attempt to force the pink skins onto thin ice!
Andorian maxim about Humans
Further proof that with Kickstarter, and other modes of alternative financing, and CGI technology being literally at our fingertips, we are rapidly reaching a world where the old Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney movies of the thirties, with complete amateurs somehow putting together a professional musical, can now be taken as prediction rather than fantasy. The above video, Prelude to Axanar, is incredibly well done, a “retrospective” look by major participants in The Four Years War between the Klingons and the Federation. It is in effect a Youtube advertisement for the forthcoming independent movie on the battle of Axanar, the decisive turning point in The Four Years War. Trek fans rejoice. Also rejoice those who are hungry for better quality entertainment than is slopped out by the networks, cable channels and the Hollywood studios. Virtually any group now can put together entertainment of this quality. Hey any Catholic group who wishes to put out quality movies on the saints. A pathway now exists for you to do this. O Brave New World!
Time to renew my Chief Geek of the blog creds. As faithful readers of this blog know, I am a Star Trek fan. (No, I do not own a Star Fleet uniform, let alone worn one to court!) Over the weekend I watched the three episodes thus far produced by Star Trek Continues, go here to their website, an unpaid volunteer group making episodes to complete the final two years of the original Star Trek five year mission. Other Star Trek “tribute” episodes have been produced by other groups, but I have seen nothing that comes as close as Star Trek Continues in capturing the feel, and the fun, of the original series. Judge for yourselves. The video above is the third episode produced: Fairest of Them All, which is a continuation of my second favorite StarTrek episode, Mirror Mirror, which introduced the alternate “bearded Spock” universe where the Federation is an aggressive interstellar empire. Long may Star Trek Continue continue!
A true blast from the past. An SPI, Simulations Publications Inc., infomercial filmed in the seventies to introduce people to wargames.
Among my hobbies, besides writing blog posts and annoying people for fun and profit, is the playing of rather elaborate strategy games. I began playing these games circa 1971 when I wheedled a copy of Luftwaffe from my parents for Christmas that year. The next year for Christmas I received a copy of Panzerblitz, and I have been playing and collecting strategy games since that time.
My wife and I acquired our first computer in 1987, a Commodore 64. Since that time almost all of my playing of strategy games has been on the computer. Christmas Eve 1991 was a memorable one in the McClarey household. It was the first Christmas Eve we spent with our newborn twin sons, and our copy of the computer strategy game Civilization arrived in the mail.
In between playing with our infants and introducing them to the joys of Christmas, we took turns charting the courses of societies through 6,000 years of history. For a young married couple fascinated by history, it was the ideal Christmas present.
Computers do spoil us. My playing of board wargames has diminished to almost nil. When I do attempt to play a board wargame, keeping track of the rules without the aid of a computer and doing the math calculations in my head seems too bothersome for the game to be enjoyable. Perhaps I am simply lazy, but I do believe exposure to computers does foster a “Can’t a computer do it?” attitude. Continue Reading →
Something for the weekend. A medley of the Star Trek theme songs. Ah, what memories they evoke of the endless hours I have wasted watching the various Star Trek shows! Shatner of course had the best comment regarding obsessive Star Trek viewing. Go here to view his comment.
Heresy! Of course at the end of the skit we learn that Shatner was merely demonstrating what the evil Captain Kirk from the “Mirror Mirror” universe would have said to faithful Star Trek fans! (What a relief!)
That leaves us free to debate important, meaningful questions. What was the best Star Trek original episode? I vote for Balance of Terror: Continue Reading →
(Language advisory for the video; apparently the first film made the reviewer extra grumpy.)
The above video shall serve as a review for the entire Hobbit trilogy. I saw part II last week and I was certain, perhaps in what felt like the fiftieth hour, that time had ceased and eternity begun. You know a movie based on The Hobbit is bad, when by the end you are rooting for Smaug to be unleashed on Peter Jackson and his merry band of let’s-see-how-much-money-we-can-flog-out-of-this-dead- Hobbit! Ah, well, we will always have The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Continue Reading →
Well we haven’t had a Star Trek post in a while and my Chief Geek credentials for the blog need refreshing. The idea of the Klingons being Shakespeare fans never struck me as far fetched. The Bard after all has his admirers in all cultures here on Earth and the Germans often refer to him as unser (our) Shakespeare. Granted that even Shakespeare has his moments of tedium but for those reared on the form of endless torture known as Klingon opera, that would be of no moment. Continue Reading →
One of the “alternate Earth” episodes that became fairly common as the original Star Trek series proceeded, as explained by Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Development, and by limited production budgets, this episode featured an Earth where a cataclysmic war had driven the Americans, the Yangs, out of their cities and into primitive warbands. Chinese Communists, the Kohms, settled in America. Their technology was a few steps higher than the Yangs. The Yangs had been waging a war for generations to drive the Kohms from their land, and the episode coincided with the Yangs taking the last of “the Kohm places”.
Over the generations, the Yangs had forgotten almost all of their history and what little knowledge remained was restricted to priests and chieftains.
“Cloud William: Freedom?
James T. Kirk: Spock.
Spock: Yes, I heard, Captain.
Cloud William: It is a worship word, Yang worship. You will not speak it.
(This post is from 2009. I haven’t had a Star Trek geek post in a while and I thought it would be fun to repost this. We had a good discussion the first go round and I hope we will again.)
“As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Starfleet personnel may interfere with the normal and healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes introducing superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely. Starfleet personnel may not violate this Prime Directive, even to save their lives and/or their ship, unless they are acting to right an earlier violation or an accidental contamination of said culture. This directive takes precedence over any and all other considerations, and carries with it the highest moral obligation.”
Yesterday Darwin had a thought provoking post about the impact of technologically advanced cultures on less developed cultures. In the combox discussion there were frequent references to the Prime Directive of Star Trek. This of course gives me an excellent excuse for posting this examination of the Prime Directive and for me to burnish my credentials as the “Geekier-Than-Thou” member of this blog.Memory Alpha, the Star Trek Wiki, has a good discussion here of what the Prime Directive is:
“The Directive states that members of Starfleet are not to interfere in the internal affairs of another species, especially the natural development of pre-warp civilizations, either by direct intervention, or technological revelation. When studying a planet’s civilization, particularly during a planetary survey, the Prime Directive makes it clear that there is to be “No identification of self or mission. No interference with the social development of said planet. No references to space, other worlds, or advanced civilizations.” (TOS: “Bread and Circuses”) Starfleet personnel are required to understand that allowing cultures to develop on their own is an important right and therefore must make any sacrifice to protect cultures from contamination, even at the cost of their own lives.
The Prime Directive is not enforced upon citizens of the Federation. Under the rules as defined in the Directive, a Starfleet crew is forbidden from removing citizens who have interfered with the culture of a world. Violating the directive can result in a court-martial for the offending Starfleet officer or crew. (TNG: “Angel One”)
In all, there are 47 sub-orders in the Prime Directive. (VOY: “Infinite Regress”)
Originally the Directive was a shield for primitive worlds. If such a world was in danger, Starfleet had been known to order ships to save that world, provided it could be done without violating the Directive. (TOS: “The Paradise Syndrome”)
The Directive was later amended, prohibiting Starfleet officers from intervening even if non-intervention would result in the extinction of an entire species or the end of all life on a planet or star system. By the 24th century the Federation had begun applying the Prime Directive to warp-capable species, refusing to interfere in internal matters such as the Klingon Civil War. (TNG: “Pen Pals”, “Homeward”, “Redemption”, “Redemption II”).”
The video that opens this post is from The Star Trek The Next Generation episode Pen Pals, and illustrates well the moral ambiguity that often ensued when Star Fleet officers were faced with a Prime Directive situation. How can you turn your back on people who need your aid? How can you be sure that such aid will not have long term calamitous results for the entities you sought to aid? Is the Prime Directive an absolute as Lieutenant Worf contended, or is there room for interpretation? What is the guiding purpose of the Prime Directive?
I think that Picard nails it when he says that the Prime Directive was intended for relieving Star Fleet officers from making intervention decisions when their emotions were aroused. In a time when Star Fleet captains with enormous power at their disposal are often far from the direct control of the Federation I can see much wisdom in this policy. Of course there are problems with the Prime Directive.
1. The first problem is that it didn’t work in practice. When the Prime Directive is mentioned in one of the shows, the odds were heavy that the good guys were going to stomp all over the Prime Directive for some noble end. Some sophistical justification was usually tacked on at the end to justify the violation, but the violation remained clear and glaring. No consequence resulted from the violation, so one could be excused from assuming that no one in Star Fleet high command really took the Prime Directive all that seriously. Continue Reading →
I am on vacation this week with my family. My internet connection in the coming week will range from intermittent to non-existent. I will have posts for each day I am away on the blog, but if something momentous occurs, for example: Elvis is discovered working at a Big Boy’s in Tulsa, the Pope issues a Bull against blogging as a complete waste of time, or Obama reveals that Area 51 does contain aliens and Joe Biden has accidentally started an intergalactic war with them, I trust that this post will explain why I am not discussing it.
Among other activities we will be attending the Gen Con Convention in Indianapolis, a pilgrimage the McClarey clan makes each year to renew our uber-Geek creds. If any of you are close to Indianapolis and you have never attended, it is worth a drive to see tens of thousands of role players, board gamers and computer gamers in Congress assembled. If nothing else you will go home reassured as to how comparatively normal you are. Last year’s attendance was in excess of 41,000 and there are multitudes of gaming related events. A good symbol of the holy grail of nerdiness that is Gen Con is here. Below is a Gen Con video which gives a nice feel for the magnitude of the convention.
My wife and daughter participate in the live action dungeon at Gen Con. I do not participate due to my great personal dignity, and because I doubtless would cry in anguish as my character was slain two seconds into the dungeon! I normally hang around at the game auction along with most of the grognard veteran gamers, i.e. geezer gamers. The type of wackiness that goes on at Gen Con is best symbolized in this video which has nothing to do with Gen Con but which certainly has the Gen Con spirit. (Hattip to Pauli at Est Quod Est.)