Dodging in and out of other worlds
Chase down every star
You look real smooth in sleek new uniform
My you’ve come so far
Hide in sci-fi - go hide for a day
Dump stress and manic mess
Right out cargo bay
Immerse yourself in some other planet’s rain
Time in an alien barometric pressure
Could rest you and keep you sane
Other worldly child you’ve just adopted
Blinks in strange blue light
Her blinding smile means everything
Though you wake to screams at night
Wrapped up in sci-fi - you hate when it ends
It leaves you wondering
‘Bout a new set of friends.
Though you get real tired of replicated food
The difference in gravitational pull
Is bound to lift your mood
Leprechaun Alien appearance
As you scan and skim along the surface
It somehow draws you in
The child says too, “This seems like some place
I have always been.”
Knee deep in sci-fi - skip sleep to read on
Keep considering sick days from now on
Though you still feel tense
From time spent at warp ten
The slower shifting rate of the tectonic plates
Won’t throw you off balance again
Leprechaun Alien appearance
A lucite-like android type
Draws dangerously near
Somehow it’s right - contain your fright
Intentions crystal clear
Wrapped up in sci fi - you hate when it ends
Leaves you wondering ‘bout a new set of friends
Immerse yourself in some other planet’s rain
Time in an alien barometric pressure
Could rest you and keep you sane.
Before there was Star Trek and Star Wars, in a land that time forgot ... in fact, before there was tv or radio or even (gasp!) film ... before cyberspace was even a twinkle in William Gibson's eye ... there were thinkers and writers who felt sure they could go where none had gone before and return with more believers and heretics than craters on the moon.
A writer in science fiction (Sci fi) is a magician who builds a world in a test tube; as a laboratory for social and political concepts. These are thought experiments.
As readers/fans of science fiction, we get to leave our otherwise banal existence behind. We get to live in these worlds ... taste the exotic delicacies and befriend every sentient being in the whole multiverse. And of course we also get to fight the most fiendish villains with the most sophisticated weapons. Who could ask for more?
From the first, writers of science fiction were very interested in exploring the inky depths of the human psyche as well as how the new 'science' would effect us all.
Sometimes the line between fantasy fiction and science fiction is very hard to draw, and the differences can be semantic. Science fiction in its current form is relatively new, but you may be as surprised (just as we were) to discover how long writers have fantasized on moon travel.
About 2,000 years ago (YK2?) Lucian of Samosata (ca.160 AD) wrote a satirical account of a journey to the Moon. According to Lucian, the Moon was inhabited by the souls of human beings, for after we die we either wind up on the Moon in a kind of paradise or else in caves and cracks. Lucian did not discuss his space vehicle, so readers had to wait another 1500 years for a writer to discover a means for a return trip.
Johannes Kepler (1571- 1630), a German astronomer in his book Somnium (The Dream: published posthumously in 1634), describes an imaginary journey to the Moon and back, noting everything he expected to find there.
Apparently, travel is possible by a bridge built out of a shadow. It wasn't the strongest of bridges, but it was enough to accommodate Kepler's travelers. One would glide to the moon during a lunar eclipse and return to the Earth during a solar eclipse.
The Moon was a dark world with exotic trees. Moon creatures lived in dark hollows and caves. They were snakelike monsters. Some had wings while others lived in water.
English bishop Francis Goodwin wrote The Man in the Moon: Or a Discourse of a Voyage Thither (early 17th century) about a Spanish sailor named Domingo Gonsales. After Gonsales was abandoned on an uninhabited island, he trained some wild swans to carry him in a chair. Unfortunately, the swans flew him to the Moon instead of to Spain. So much for resourcefulness...
French poet Cyrano de Bergerac also described a trip to the Moon. - L'Histoire comique des états et empires de la lune (1656) - Cyrano assumed that when day
dawned, dew was sucked upward by the Sun. He reasoned that a man wearing vials full of dew would be drawn toward the Sun. So he collected some dew in vials, tied them around his waist
and launched himself by the power of evaporation. He broke a couple of bottles to keep from whizzing past the Moon, but he broke too many and landed back on Earth.
On his second try, he built a flying chariot with firecracker propulsion. To his surprise the Moon was
inhabited. He even ran into Domingo Gonsales, the Spanish sailor from the Goodwin story. Well I haven't actually read these accounts but I hope he brought enough firecrackers for the return trip.
This in turn was an inspiration for Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726)
(If you're confused by Cyrano's name, as I was ... Edmond Rostand used the poet's name and a few vague characteristics of Cyrano for his comedy "Cyrano de Bergerac" in 1897. There is no other connection.)
Actually using firecrackers for propulsion was an older idea. The first attempt at a spaceship is attributed to Wan Hu (1500 a.d.?) in China (Mandarin). It was propelled by 47 firecrackers attached to two kites. Wan Hu's servants lit the firecrackers, and the mandarin took off in a blaze of fire. No traces of Wan Hu were reported. Presumably he was blown up. (I've read but haven't confirmed that a peak on the moon is now named Wan Hu.)
The first scifi that I can remember reading was a Hugh Lofting book from the Dr. Doolittle series. I don't recall the title, but Dr. Doolittle returns from a trip to the moon. Due to the effects of low gravity (I suppose) he has grown to the size of a house.
Of course not all science fiction is moon travel. The structure of better societies, was named when English statesman Sir Thomas More wrote Utopia (1516). Probably every political system once thought it would create an ideal world. But science fiction writers could create that world and then put it under a magnifying lens and so be able to blow it up.
Of course science fiction has found many other avenues for expression besides literature. If you'd like to learn more about the literary evolution,click here to continue this thread.
Science? Fact or Fiction
Here in the US, we know that even in a nation that attempts to proclaim itself a democracy, there are many secrets. Did something happen in Roswell New Mexico on July 6, 1947?
Did aliens land? Was it a military experiment? Mass hysteria? Testimonies of witnesses coupled with government denials have created the date as a hallmark in the debate.
So, as I start to write this page, I bump into someone who has seen a flying saucer. Freaky right? Well maybe not. It seems he had been a hydraulics mechanic for the Navy during World War II. After the war he ended up doing some Top Secret work for a division he calls DE-205 (Development and Evaluation). They were working on the development of remote control flying on fighter bombers which happened to be his area of expertise. About 1947 they were stationed in Virginia, when one of the planes got out of control. The fighter that had been assigned to follow it, lost sight of it, and it seemed to be heading for Washington D.C. Now that would have been an embarrassment if they had to shoot it down over the Capitol, but fortunately it was just flying in circles when they regained control.
Shortly after that they moved their operations to Moffett Field, California. Sometime between 1947 and 1949 when he retired from the service, he had seen one of the projects there. It was a flying saucer. As he explained it to me they were working on a lot of prototypes that were just plain impractical. In the hangars there would be abandoned projects covered with tarps. Under one of the tarps he also saw a one man flying machine that was essentially a platform with a horizontal fan. It would have been steered by flaps that directed the airflow.
Conspiracy theorists certainly have plenty of reasons to be suspicious. So was that saucer an impractical US flying machine, or a captured UFO? I'd be willing to bet the military denies any knowledge of such a project or even the existence of DE 205. In matters of national security, you can't ever be too paranoid.
If science fiction feeds our urge to guess and probe into the unknown, it can be argued that science fiction has propelled scientific advancement. What did the United States and the USSR hope to gain by sending the first cosmonauts and astronauts into space. At the time there was no agenda for satellite communication and desktop computers. Or laboratories for creating perfectly round spheres in anti gravity environment. The space race was a chance to prove that either democracy or communism was a better system. Who could send the first man into space? (USSR) Who could send the first to the moon? (US) Who could stay in orbit longest? (USSR) This wasn't scientific exploration. This was once again a laboratory for social and political concepts. This race fueled massive spending which revolutionized communication, miniaturized computers, and of course proved that there really may have been life on Mars.
Don't get me wrong. There were a lot of scientists with valid scientific goals involved in NASA projects. But the political will was not typically motivated by these factors.
Very few of us today would imagine that our parents or grandparents may have been scifi fans.
But before there was television, there was film ...
In 1902, George Melies produced the film, "Trip To The Moon.". Six astronomers in suits, ties, and top hats climb into a bullet shaped space ship that's shot out of a cannon. After fending off moonmen with their umbrellas, they are able to return to earth by letting their rocketship fall back to earth.
Fritz Lang's 1926 silent-film classic "Metropolis" gave birth to one of sci-fi's most classic and memorable images in the form of a saintly female automaton called Maria. One of the interesting anachronisms created by films about the future is how they reflect the styles the styles of the past. The automaton and the sets are very much in keeping with the "moderism" of the Art Deco style of the 20's.
Films are the riskiest adventures in scifi story telling. Pushing special effects to it's limits may seem like a sure thing, but sometimes it's the simplicity of the story or the ideals that carry it. I've listed a few highlights among the Grade-B and Epic movies on the next page
Then there was radio ...In 1938, Orson Welles broadcast H.G. Well's "War of the Worlds". Many people listened in shear panic. They actually believed that Martians had landed! For a taste of old time radio broadcasting in realaudio, visit the Seeing Ear Theatre link at the bottom of the page.
Of course this fascination would carry over to popular music as well. I wonder if Von Daniken knows of some traditional songs that are actually about sightings. Or spirituals that were adopted to religious services at a later date.
TagYerit finds itself in the company of many bands who share their appetite for science fiction with their listeners. This list is barely the tip of the iceberg. Frank Black (and the Catholics formerly of the Pixies) has devoted a whole CD to the phenomenon.
Just in case you ever wondered if aliens invaders were hip and cool or if they're monsters from far away places, you'll find a wide range of opinions from Flying Purple People Eaters to Fast Food (Pete Townsend's rock opera with Nina Simone as the carnivorous alien.)
Wooley, Sheb: "Purple People Eater"(1958) ... First sci fi song that I can recall hearing.
" He was a one-eyed long horned flying purple people eater.
I said Mr. Purple People Eater, what's your line
He said it's eatin' purple people and it sure is fine
But that's not the reason that I came to land
I wanna get a job in a rock and roll band"
This song also references other 50s novelty songs including short shorts and tequila
The Byrds Please Mr Spaceman (1966)
Won't you please take me along
I won't do anything wrong."
David Bowie from his popular hit in 1969,
"Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on
Ground Control to Major Tom
Bowie is the most succesful, if not most prolific artist who has carried his fascination with science fiction into his works. He returns to Major Tom in his 1980 hit, Ashes to Ashes. The LP "Diamond Dogs" focuses on mutated life on earth after the bomb.
"Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" is about a rock band on an earth with five years left. Singles from this album include "Five Years" & "Starman" as well as the title track. David Bowie also starred in the movie, The Man who Fell to Earth. He even had a hit with the song "1984" based on George Orwell's novel.
By the way, Dar Williams did a cover of Starman that as of this writing (4/99) was only available online.
B-52s: I don't know if anyone ever asked the B-52s to label their music, but they're one of the foremost quirk rock bands around.
Besides "Planet Claire", and "53 Miles West of Venus"(from "Wild Planet"), the title track from "Cosmic Thing", aliens shake their cosmic thing. So now you know that aliens can in fact be hip and cool ...
... and hungry
Blondie: "Rapture"(1981) "
Cause the man from Mars,
Stopped eatin' cars,
And eatin' bars,
And now he only eats guitars,
Of course, this serves as a lead in to an instrumental break. Those clever aliens!
Harry Nilsson "Spaceman" "I wanted to be a spaceman"
You know I wanted to be a spaceman
That's what I wanted to be
But now that I am a spaceman
Nobody cares about me
Say, hey! You mother earth
You better bring me back down
I've taken just as much as I can
But around and around and around and around
Is the problem of a spaceman
Elton John Rocket Man (1972) Music by Elton John, Lyrics by Bernie Taupin
Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids
In fact it's cold as hell
And there's no one there to raise them if you did
And all this science I don't understand
It's just my job five days a week
A rocket man, a rocket man
Pete Townshend extended his fascination for writing musicals by basing Iron Man (1989) on a children's book by Ted Hughes. The all star cast of singers include John Lee Hooker (as The Iron Man) and Nina Simone (as The Space Dragon) The Iron Man is a large self-maintaining robot programmed to destroy any machinery or system that ultimately threatens man. As I mentioned aliens can get hungry. So what do they eat?
I eat heavy metal
Gargle premium gas
I drink heavy water
... I can swallow laser
If I'm eating light ...
FAST FOOD (as sung by the Dragon)
... I must say it's gracious
Of you all to multiply
For I am voracious
And I need a huge supply ...
.... I want food - fast
I want fast food ...
Pretty naked girls
Preferably tattooed ...
Donovan in his 1973 album Cosmic Wheels discusses another cosmic question. How do spacemen relieve themselves? The answer ... Intergalactic Laxative (this song also deserves a nomination in the whole world toilet paper museum)
Not everyone was enraptured with the US exploration into space. For some it is and was a case of misplaced priorities. For example, Gil Scott Heron's 1972 "Whitey on the Moon"
Next question concerns communication:
Using text from science fiction and 'beat' writer William Burroughs, Laurie Anderson answers that question: "Language is a virus from outer space." in both film and song Home of the Brave (1986)
What would science fiction sound like without the Theremin. The theremin takes it's name from the Russian inventor Theremin,
It was used often in early Star Trek episodes and can be heard on many Grade B Science Fiction scores including:
The Thing (Dimitri Tiomkin - composer)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (Bernard Herrmann - composer)
Ed Wood (Howard Shore)
Mars Attacks (Danny Elfman)
It would seem only fitting, since it was the first electronic instrument.
And on TV ...
Captain Video & his Rangers (1949-1956) with a movie series in 1951
Tom Corbett Space Cadet (1950-1955)
Note: In junior high school, I had a latin teacher who suggested that we (his students) should be astronauts, as we stared so vacantly into space.. After all, we were so good at "taking up space", that we'd be quite succesful as "space cadets.". He thought he was being funny, but sadly, he was just plain boring.
Space Patrol with Commander Buzz Cory (1950-1955)
Ricky Jones "Space Ranger" (1954-1955)
"The Twilight Zone"(1959-1964) - was created, hosted and often scripted by Rod Serling
"There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears, and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call... THE TWILIGHT ZONE." William Shatner appeared in several episodes 6 years before he commandeered the Enterprise on Star Trek.
The Outer Limits (1963-1964) was ABCs response to the success of The Twilight Zone. "There is nothing wrong with you television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image; make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur, or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all you see and hear. We repeat: There is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to ... the Outer Limits." In order to separate it from The Twilight Zone, each episode had a monster. No Outer Limits episode was filmed for less than $150,000 of which $40,000 was devoted to the monsters.
My Favorite Martian (1963-66) What would you call a martian who found his way to your house. How about Uncle Martin? Forget the ray guns - this TV alien was more interested in conquering Earth as an anthropologist. He was a curious, non-threatening alien, kinda grumpy and he was annoyed at having to live here.
Having distanced myself from watching television before Dr. Who finally reached the US, I almost missed out on this phenomenon. It says something about television programming that the longest running scifi show was produced by the BBC in the UK. Doctor Who (1963-1989) was an eccentric, sometimes arrogant "Doctor" who was not named Doctor Who (Well there was one episode, but apparently it was a mistake.) Actually his identity was kept a mystery, which is how the show got it's name. The Doctor is a Time Lord who travelled the galaxy with a time machine shaped like a British Police Box.
I'd be willing to bet that the writers for Star Trek Voyager have had fun with this connection to their unnamed holographic doctor.
"Lost in Space"(1965-68) Every child dreams of a friendly helpful robot to help you fight the great evils out there shouting, " Warning! Warning! Danger Will Robinson" This robot resembled Robby the Robot from the 1956 movie "Forbidden Planet.". The optimistic writers placed this space adventure in 1997. The Robinson family takes off in the Jupiter 2, America's first colonization mission to Alpha Centauri. Dr. Zachary Smith, a foreign spy, sabotages the mission by reprogramming the ship's robot to destroy the Jupiter 2 after launch. Smith gets trapped on board, and the Robinsons save the ship, but not before it's guidance system is damaged, and the Jupiter 2 is lost in space. The story is adapted from The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss, which was in turn inspired by Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. A shipwrecked story with a twist. This time the ship just happened to be a space ship.
Professor Robinson is played by Guy Williams, who also was Zorro on the Disney series.
Star Trek ""To go where no man has gone before ..." Before I discuss how much I enjoy Star Trek, I would like to confess to having only a passing interest in the original series (1966 - 1969). But when a television set surfaced in our house in 1989, we became fascinated by the writing. It seems to me that the challenge is to recreate a set number of dilemmas and make them new and fresh. Whether it be love stories, war stories, or unusual alien encounters.. It seems after about 7 years every crew member has had their chance at love, time travel, and expanding the engineering capacity of the Federation to reach new horizons.
Star Trek The Next Generation (1987- 1994)
Star Trek Deep Space 9 (1992 - 1999)
Star Trek Voyager (1995 - )
There are much better sources for information on contemporary science fiction shows such as The X-Files, so I'm going to stop here, but I do want to make a comment on the show Quantum Leap. While it followed the same rules as most science fiction programming, I was always troubled by the notion that people weren't allowed to solve their own problems. The premise has
Dr. Beckett, an ordinary physicist trying to be quietly heroic - hurtling through the past (after a medical experiment went horribly wrong) bouncing into people's bodies and solving their problems. For a show that was supposed to make the audience feel good, it left me with an empty feeling. It was presumptuous and insidious that it would take a white male scientist (from the future no less) to solve many personal, racial, political and social problems. Now maybe I would felt differently if Dr Beckett had been a black woman.