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
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 Star Trek episode, Mirror Mirror, which introduced the alternate “bearded Spock” universe where the Federation is an aggressive interstellar empire. Long may Star Trek Continue continue!
“The closer men came to perfecting for themselves a paradise, the more impatient they became with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps, it was easier to see something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle’s eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn.”
Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz
A writer can be considered a grand success if he manages to write something that will endure long after he is gone. In that case the poor, tortured Walter M. Miller, Jr., who ended his life by suicide, was a successful writer. After participating as an air crew member in the bombing of the abbey at Monte Cassino during the Italian campaign, Miller converted to Catholicism. During the fifties he wrote science fiction short stories. In 1955, 1956 and 1957 he wrote three novellas which were combined into the novel A Canticle for Leibowitz which was published in 1959. He won the Hugo award for this novel. He never published another novel or story in his life after this novel, as he descended into mental illness and left the Faith. Towards the end of his life he worked with Terry Bisson on a dreadful novel, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, published after his death and which is best forgotten.
Spoilers warning for those who have not read A Canticle for Leibowitz: Continue reading
They began by controlling books of cartoons and then detective books and, of course, films, one way or another, one group or another, political bias, religious prejudice, union pressures; there was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past, afraid of the present, afraid of themselves and shadows of themselves.
Ray Bradbury, Usher II (1950)
John C. Wright, Science Fiction author and a convert to Catholicism, laments the ruin wreaked on Science Fiction by leftist ideologies and pathologies:
Establishment SF is Politically Correct SF, in that it pays slavish homage to all the tired tropes and foolish dogmas of Political Correctness. With its emphasis on collective rights, victimology, and radical egalitarianism, there is no place in the PC SF universe for things like heroes, adventures, inventors, exotic locations, space princesses, or technology portrayed as beneficial.
Politically Correct SF is astonishingly parochial, because it is always assumed that the society of the future will be caught in the grip of the selfsame political controversies as the Victorian Age, which is the age when this worldview was first formulated by Marx. Hence, for all other SF stories, the future differs from the present. For PC SF, the future is just like the past, and nothing changes.
If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one.
Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
I have read science fiction since I first learned to read as a child. I enjoyed the exposure to new ideas and the frequently iconoclastic opinions, many of which I disagreed with, by the great authors of the field: Asimov, Heinlein, Anderson, Dickson, etc. Their imagination and writing skills took me far away from the small town in which I lived and enlivened my life by revealing to me that books could be tickets to strange worlds and stranger people. They helped to teach me to like to read and to like to think, both of which I have found handy throughout my life. It is sad then to see that science fiction in this country is now beset by those who wish to impose a stifling political orthodoxy on it. John C. Wright, a science fiction writer and a convert from atheism to Catholicism, gives us the details:
If you are a fan of science fiction, you know how shocking that statement is. If you are not a science fiction fan, I salute you for having better things to do with your time than read stories about space princesses being rescued from bug-eyed monsters by stalwart and clean-limbed fighting men of Virginia; but please let me explain why this is shocking.
Robert Heinlein is without doubt the leading writer in the science fiction field. He was the first to break into the slick magazines or into hardcover. Were it not for him, science fiction would still be languishing in a literary ghetto, no more popular than niche-market stories about samurai or railroad executives.
He was a gadfly. Heinlein’s two most famous novels are Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land. The first challenges the orthodoxy of the Left as much as the second does that of the Right. But in his day, few science fiction readers were offended by his or anyone’s ideas. Science fiction was proud to be a literature of the new and startling. A spirit of intellectual fearlessness was paramount.
A darker time followed. The lamps of the intellect were put out one by one, first in society at large, then in literature, then in our little corner called science fiction. What we have now instead is a smothering fog of caution, of silence, of an unwillingness to speak for fear of offending the perpetually hypersensitive.
Myriad examples exist. Orson Scott Card publicly expressed the mildest imaginable opposition to having judges overrule popular votes defining marriage in the traditional way. The uproar of hate directed against this innocent and honorable man is vehement and ongoing. An unsuccessful boycott was organized against the movie Ender’s Game, but he was successfully shoved off a project to write for Superman comics.
Got that? The award-winning Mr. Card, one of the finest science fiction writers today, was forced off the project because the dictates of his religious faith (not to mention his faith in democracy over rule by activist judges) did not agree with the political beliefs of the thought police.
No one accused him of attempting to write a Superman story belittling homosexuals, or belittling anyone. Sales would have grown, not fallen. This was not about money or hurt feelings. It was about this: if a man thinks what St. Paul thought about homosexual acts, he cannot write a children’s yarn about a friendly alien Hercules saving a spunky girl reporter from mad scientists or moon-apes. Continue reading
Nothing is so unworthy of a civilised nation as allowing itself to be governed without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct.
From a White Rose resistance pamphlet (1942)
I am happy that Dale Price is back to blogging on a fairly regular basis since it gives me a renewed opportunity to
steal borrow blogging ideas from him. He turns his attention at his blog Dyspeptic Mutterings to the insane purge going on within science fiction fandom of anyone who has political beliefs that do not coincide with the politically correct bromides du jour:
Orwellian group-think comes to real-world science fiction writing.
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. Continue reading
Paul Krugman recently did a Five Books interview with The Browser, talking about his five favorite books. The books are: Asimov’s Foundation series, Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, two books by Lord Keynes, and a book of essays by economist James Tobin, one of Krugman’s old teachers. Of Foundation he says:
This is a very unusual set of novels from Isaac Asimov, but a classic. It’s not about gadgets. Although it’s supposed to be about a galactic civilisation, the technology is virtually invisible and it’s not about space battles or anything like that. The story is about these people, psychohistorians, who are mathematical social scientists and have a theory about how society works. The theory tells them that the galactic empire is failing, and they then use that knowledge to save civilisation. It’s a great image. I was probably 16 when I read it and I thought, “I want to be one of those guys!” Unfortunately we don’t have anything like that and economics is the closest I could get.
How Start Trek should have ended.
A sad day for Dr. Who fans everywhere. Nicholas Courtney, who brilliantly portrayed the Brigadier in over 100 Dr. Who episodes, has died at age 81 of cancer:
Nicholas Courtney (born William Nicholas Stone Courtney on 16th December 1929) played first Colonel and then Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, beginning in “The Web of Fear” and finally in “Battlefield”. He reprised the role for the fan video “Downtime” (later adapted into one of the Virgin Missing Adventures), and for several audio dramas for the BBC and Big Finish Productions.
He was born in Cairo, Egypt, the son of a British diplomat and educated in France, Kenya and Egypt. He served his National Service in the British Army, leaving after 18 months as a private, not wanting to pursue a military career. He next joined the Webber Douglas drama school, and after two years began doing repertory theatre in Northampton, and from there moved to London.
His first appearance in Doctor Who was in the 1965 serial The Daleks’ Master Plan, where he played Space Security Agent Bret Vyon opposite William Hartnell as the Doctor. The director Douglas Camfield liked Courtney’s performance, and when Camfield was assigned the 1968 serial The Web of Fear, he cast Courtney as Captain Knight. However, David Langton, who was to play the character of Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, gave up the role to work elsewhere, so Camfield recast Captain Knight and gave the Colonel’s part to Courtney instead.
Lethbridge-Stewart reappeared later that year in The Invasion, promoted to Brigadier and in charge of the British contingent of UNIT, an organization that protected the Earth from alien invasion. It was in that recurring role that he became most famous, appearing semi-regularly from 1970 to 1975. Courtney made return appearances in the series in 1983 and his last Doctor Who television appearance was in 1989 (in the serial Battlefield). Continue reading
My credentials as Chief Geek of this blog need refreshing. The smartest, and best written, science fiction show currently on the air is The Fringe. The show relates the adventures of a team working for the FBI that explore fringe events involving advanced science, extra-terrestrial aliens and other paranormal events. It is a much better written and funnier X-files. The team consists of two FBI agents, a mad scientist, the mad scientist’s son and a cow. John Noble does a superb job as mad scientist Walter Bishop as indicated in the above video where he engages in an inflora experiment on the friendliest of fruits. Go here for some of the best of Walter clips. Continue reading
A follow up to my initial post here on what is becoming known as Climategate. Now news comes from New Zealand about massaging of data by global warming proponents.
The New Zealand Government’s chief climate advisory unit NIWA is under fire for allegedly massaging raw climate data to show a global warming trend that wasn’t there.
The scandal breaks as fears grow worldwide that corruption of climate science is not confined to just Britain’s CRU climate research centre.
In New Zealand’s case, the figures published on NIWA’s [the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric research] website suggest a strong warming trend in New Zealand over the past century.
If I can tear myself from the election results tonight, I plan on watching the pilot of the new V series on ABC which will premier at 7:00 PM central tonight. I wrote about this new V series here in a post last May, a remake of a cheesy, yet entertaining, alien invasion show from the Eighties.
MrsDarwin and I grabbed a rare chance to take an evening out last night and went to see District 9, a science fiction movie that came out a couple weeks ago. Contrary to stereotype, it was actually MrsDarwin who had latched onto this as the movie to see, and I’m glad she did as it was one of the more enjoyable SciFi flicks that I’ve seen in a while. (Movie Trailer here.)
This Newsweek article about Nobel Prize-winning economist and NY Times columnist Paul Krugman contained an interesting biographical detail:
Krugman says he found himself in the science fiction of Isaac Asimov, especially the “Foundation” series—”It was nerds saving civilization, quants who had a theory of society, people writing equations on a blackboard, saying, ‘See, unless you follow this formula, the empire will fail and be followed by a thousand years of barbarism’.”
His Yale was “not George Bush’s Yale,” he says—no boola-boola, no frats or secret societies, rather “drinking coffee in the Economics Department lounge.” Social science, he says, offered the promise of what he dreamed of in science fiction—”the beauty of pushing a button to solve problems. Sometimes there really are simple solutions: you really can have a grand idea.”