Science fiction double feature, part 1

Sunday afternoon. Lazy Sunday. Gloomy Sunday. Sundays have always been kind of a day of the damned. Human emotions are cryptic, often incomprehensible phenomena. I have them, but I don’t really get them. Does anybody really understand how they work? And you know what: fuck checking in a little box to give your mood. Fuck saying, “I’m a smiley face” or “I’m a frowny face right now.” Fuck that bullshit. How are you? Oh, I’m :) at the moment. Maybe later I’ll be :(, who knows. Because the only difference between happiness and sadness is a flipped-around parenthesis. That question is our eternal bane: How are you? How are you doing? What’s up? Mind if I ask you a simple-minded question and receive an equally simple-minded answer?

Q: How are you?

A: Good.

I’m doing well. Not bad. OK. Could be worse. Mediocre. Tolerable. Eh. Whatever. Indifferent. Apathetic. Dead to the world. Heading for a breakdown. Etc., etc., et fucking cetera. Day-to-day casual exchanges can get really boring. But what can you do? That’s the ridiculous way we interact. Us silly fucking human beings. Perpetually unable to differentiate between the trivial and the important. And after all, what is the difference? One man’s trash is another man’s treasure; one man’s boring bullshit is another man’s fact of vital significance.

The future is spread out before us like a vast invisible landscape. There are a million paths for us to take, but once we start down one, the rest of them cease to exist. This makes me recall two memories: one is asking the priest at the Catholic school I went to, in about 7th grade, about free will vs. predetermination. For example, could Judas Iscariot have not betrayed Jesus, since that’s how it was all predicted to happen? And if so, well, how is it that he could end up at the bottom of hell, as Dante claimed? The priest’s answer was basically that God can see all possible ways the future could turn out, and that’s how he can be all-knowing but we can still have free will. I’m not sure if I was satisfied with this explanation, and at this juncture, I’m not sure quite what I think of that. But along similar lines, another memory: in the X-Men cartoon I watched all the time as a child, there were numerous time travel story arcs, a few of which involved people from dystopian futures traveling back to undo the events that brought those dystopias into existing. Thereby erasing that entire alternate timeline, and everyone who exists in it. I’ve always been deeply fascinated by time travel, and said fascination is as intense as ever. Hell, I’m kind of a sci-fi junkie. Not that I obsessively read sci-fi stories or anything; just that I could spend way longer than is beneficial puzzling over various concepts and storylines from the science fiction genre. I love thinking about speculative fiction, about time travel, robots, genetic experimentation, space travel, etc. I’ve never really wanted to be an astronaut, but ever since I was brought to a planetarium as a little kid, I’ve thought about man’s place in the universe and what, exactly, it would be like to leave the earth’s atmosphere and exist in that empyrean realm we call “outer space.” An infinite gulf dominated by blackness. I’m reminded of a short film I love called Powers of Ten, made the Eames brothers; if you’ve never seen it, take 10 minutes out of your life because it’s very worth it.

Sputnik entered orbit in 1957. That’s about 52 years ago. Naturally, science fiction predates this science fact by, well, pretty much forever. That’s the beauty of human imagination. We can be primitive and have flawed ideas about how the world works – we can think, like Aristotle, that objects are trying to return home when they fall to the ground – but that doesn’t stop us from looking up at the sky and saying, “I want to go there.” Or from telling stories about doing just that. Daedalus and Icarus, you know, or Bellerophon who tried to ride Pegasus up to Olympus. Or the Tower of Babel, which tried to reach heaven. I’ve recently gotten heavily into the work of H.P. Lovecraft, and it can serve as almost a modern analogue of these ancient myths: basically, don’t fuck with the stars.

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves…” – Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene II

Maybe these myths are comparable to the old “There be dragons” or the fear of falling off the edge of the earth – don’t go exploring too far, you don’t know what you’re going to find. You know why we don’t have access to the stars? Because the gods don’t want us to, dammit. Or to quote Glen or Glenda, “If the creator had meant us to fly, he’d have given us wings!” If you go traipsing around in some distant galaxy, well, don’t be surprised if you piss off Zeus or if Yog-Sothoth eats you. Or if the Xenomorph clings to your face and then bursts from your chest. Or what have you. You had it coming! It’s all about the conflict between man’s fear of the unknown and our neverending curiosity and drive to learn, learn, learn! We want the mysteries of the universe, but we don’t want to take too many risks to figure them out. Well, you can’t divine the secrets of existence without breaking a few eggs. What about Dr. Faustus, the namesake of Ashley’s middle school? Sold his soul to Satan just to mess with the Pope and summon Joan of Arc and maybe learn some dark secrets along the way. And what’s the moral Lovecraft’s trying to get across? Basically: don’t even try to figure out the answer. You won’t like it if you do. It’s better to just let sleeping gods lie.

Only problem is, we’re curious fuckers. As Pandora and Adam & Eve teach us, we don’t care if it’s forbidden. That just makes us want to know even more! So, despite all our cautionary tales to the contrary, we’ve landed on the moon. We’re peering into the stars and gazing across potentially life-bearing (well, not really) planets and you know what? It’s awesome.

The Eagle Nebula

So I admit it. I love science fiction. Speaking of which, a few months back I think, Ashley and I read this great story by Robert A. Heinlein called “-All You Zombies-“; I highly recommend reading it; it’s a milestone in time travel fiction, and a great example of how fun time paradoxes can be. So, I have to go eat dinner and then work for 3 hours, but there’s a lot more I want to explore: how exactly I define sci-fi as a genre; more about how, exactly, it’s appealing; its relation to our everyday lives; etc. If I have time, I’ll launch into this more later. You know what else? Looking at the categories we have for blogs, I want to think more about synthesizing new ideas from old ones. After all, everything connects to everything else. It’s all linked under the grand umbrella of the human experience. So keep that in mind: just as John Donne says no man is an island unto himself, so no idea is an island. There’s always a peninsula.

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