HOUSTON — A warp drive to achieve faster-than-light travel — a concept popularized in television’s Star Trek — may not be as unrealistic as once thought, scientists say.
A warp drive would manipulate space-time itself to move a starship, taking advantage of a loophole in the laws of physics that prevent anything from moving faster than light. A concept for a real-life warp drive was suggested in 1994 by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre; however, subsequent calculations found that such a device would require prohibitive amounts of energy.
Now physicists say that adjustments can be made to the proposed warp drive that would enable it to run on significantly less energy, potentially bringing the idea back from the realm of science fiction into science.
An Alcubierre warp drive would involve a football-shape spacecraft attached to a large ring encircling it. This ring, potentially made of exotic matter, would cause space-time to warp around the starship, creating a region of contracted space in front of it and expanded space behind. [Star Trek’s Warp Drive: Are We There Yet? | Video]
Meanwhile, the starship itself would stay inside a bubble of flat space-time that wasn’t being warped at all.
“Everything within space is restricted by the speed of light,” explained Richard Obousy, president of Icarus Interstellar, a non-profit group of scientists and engineers devoted to pursuing interstellar spaceflight. “But the really cool thing is space-time, the fabric of space, is not limited by the speed of light.”
With this concept, the spacecraft would be able to achieve an effective speed of about 10 times the speed of light, all without breaking the cosmic speed limit.
The only problem is, previous studies estimated the warp drive would require a minimum amount of energy about equal to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter.
But recently White calculated what would happen if the shape of the ring encircling the spacecraft was adjusted into more of a rounded donut, as opposed to a flat ring. He found in that case, the warp drive could be powered by a mass about the size of a spacecraft like the Voyager 1 probe NASA launched in 1977.
Furthermore, if the intensity of the space warps can be oscillated over time, the energy required is reduced even more, White found.
“The findings I presented today change it from impractical to plausible and worth further investigation,” White told SPACE.com. “The additional energy reduction realized by oscillating the bubble intensity is an interesting conjecture that we will enjoy looking at in the lab.”
This is a boon and a most fortuitous opportunity if it’s the real deal. But like most things in the real world, there is something that is an essential ingredient in any research project.
As I troll across the InnerTubes, I occassionaly run across an interesting website that features a possibly good story about UFOs, the government and the CIA.
Robby Graham’s site, Silver Screen Saucers, has an interesting post about a CIA operative who has written a book that is supposedly vetted by the CIA itself.
And it’s questionable validity:
Chase Brandon, a thirty-five year veteran of the CIA, will tonight appear as a guest on Coast to Coast AM with John B. Wells. Many listeners will no doubt be unfamiliar with Brandon and his career with the CIA, but his name has passed my lips literally thousands of times over the past several years.Brandon spent twenty-five years in the Agency’s elite Clandestine Service as an undercover, covert operations officer. His foreign assignments involved international terrorism, counterinsurgency, global narcotics trafficking and weapons smuggling. He was also an Agency foreign political affairs analyst, Presidential briefer to Bill Clinton and an instructor in paramilitary and espionage tactics at multiple secret CIA training camps.Brandon is perhaps best known as the CIA’s former Entertainment Liaison Officer – a position that required him to establish working relationships with many of the biggest names in Hollywood and to provide advice to filmmakers on matters of “accuracy and authenticity” with regard to the CIA’s image onscreen. He was – though he prefers to phrase it more sympathetically – the CIA’s chief frontline propagandist in Hollywood. He advised on countless films and TV series – often uncredited – quietly shaping scripts, characters and concepts.As a great deal of my academic research has been focused on cinematic propaganda efforts, Brandon’s activities in Hollywood naturally have been of considerable interest to me and I have spent many hours discussing with colleagues and writing about the CIA’s role in Hollywood and the influence wielded by Chase Brandon and other CIA advisors in the entertainment industry.The CIA/Hollywood relationship is a sordid one, and it predates the start of the Agency’s “official” involvement in Tinseltown by four decades. You can read about this relationship in Professor Tricia Jenkins’ excellent new book, The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes film and Television, and I’ll be exploring the CIA/Hollywood symbiosis in great detail in the context of the UFO phenomenon in my forthcoming book, Silver Screen Saucers: Sorting Fact from Fantasy in Hollywood’s UFO Movies.With Chase Brandon’s credentials in mind, the UFO community is set to engage in furious debate about this CIA man’s first novel, which is now on sale and is titled The Cryptos Conundrum. It is a “fictional” book dealing with the UFO/ET issue, specifically with the Roswell crash and cover-up. This marks the first time ever that any retired CIA operative has written a book (presented either as fact or fiction) on the UFO topic that has received the Agency’s official stamp of approval. On that basis alone, it’s a must-read.On the first page of the book, a bold, underlined notice reads:This material has been reviewed by the CIA to prevent the disclosure of classified information.But, of course, classified information can’t technically be disclosed if it is presented as fiction. Brandon is gleefully aware of this, and selects as his first quote of the book a musing by Francis Bacon:“Truth is so hard to tell, it sometimes needs fiction to make it plausible.”I’ve read Brandon’s novel. Obviously, it’s intriguing, to say the least, and Brandon clearly wants it to be seen to contain many truths, despite its “fiction” label. Does Brandon have ‘inside’ information on UFOs? It is my assessment that, yes, probably he does. Some. The circles he’s walked in during his career would almost certainly have made him privy to UFO-related chatter; to whispers and suggestions, if not hard evidence. This is not to say the information Brandon might have is true. Most of what he “knows” is likely based on what he’s been told, not on what he’s seen [UPDATE: even though he claims to have seen proof of Roswell with his own eyes]. More than anything, what readers should remember when reading Brandon’s tantalising book is that the author is a trained expert in propaganda and psychological warfare. Buy his book, then, but don’t buy into it.
When it comes to writing articles and books of esoteric symbolism, archetypes and just plain, strange Fortean subjects in general, nobody beats Chris Knowles.
But this time Chris acknowledges an author of supreme expertise in the area of the different; Jeff Kripal.
In yesterday’s Secret Sun post, Chris puts up an interview with Jeff and they discuss such imaginative writers as Philip K. Dick, Jacques Vallee, Charles Fort and others:
Longtime Secret Sun readers will be stunned to see how many of the topics we’ve discussed here being covered in Authors of the Impossible (as well as in Secret Life). Stunned but not surprised- there is a new consensus unfolding that acknowledges the past but isn’t beholden to it. That acknowledges the importance of the scientific method but recognizes its limitations in certain dilemmas. I hope that you read Authors of the Impossible and hope that it inspires you to apply a similar discipline to your own research. Discipline, rigor and most of all courage are desperately needed as the old weird becomes the New Normal.
Here’s a description taken from Jeff’s site. It refers to the upcoming film but covers the basic outline of the book as well:
The film profiles four extraordinary thinkers: the British psychical researcher F. W. H. Myers, the American anomalist writer and humorist Charles Fort, the astronomer, computer scientist, and ufologist Jacques Vallee, and the French philosopher Bertrand Méheust. Gradually, eerily, what Kripal dubs “the fantastic narrative of Western occulture” emerges before the reader from within that strange middle realm where fact mimics fiction, where fraud mimics fact, where everything is related and nothing is as it seems. The cultural histories of telepathy, teleportation, and UFO’s, a ghostly love story, the occult dimensions of science fiction, cold war psychic espionage, galactic colonialism, poltergeist girls, consciousness as the creator of culture, and culture as the crystallization of consciousness—it is all impossible, and it all happens here.
Ultimately, Authors of the Impossible is about us—you and me—waking up inside a dream, a novel, or a movie (call it culture, society, or religion) and realizing, with a start, that we are its authors. Even more stunning, we realize that none of it is real (to the extent that it pretends to be literal, stable, and absolute), and that all of it is real (to the extent that it reflects and expresses the Consciousness that projected it). Realization is the insight that we are being written, that we are caught in a story we did not write. Authorization is the decision to do something about it. If Realization involves the act of reading the paranormal writing us, Authorization involves the act of writing the paranormal writing us. What the film is finally about, then, is us becoming our own Authors of the Impossible.
All that being said, let’s go to part one of an interview I did with Jeff:
Jeff, tell us about the basic premise of Authors of the Impossible.
The basic premise of the book is that paranormal experiences, as anomalous events that possess both objective and subjective dimensions, do not and cannot be fit into our normal dualistic way of looking at the world as either “material” or “mental.” They can, however, be fruitfully approached as “living stories” or as “physical meanings” that are appearing in our world.
One of the thrulines in the book is the essential malleability of what we call reality. How would you explain that concept to a (relatively intelligent) novice?
Our experience of reality is always filtered through our psyches and its linguistic, cultural, social, and biological conditioning. Different such conditionings produce different experiences of reality, different possibilities, and so different impossibilities. Reality is thus not stable as we move from culture to culture or temporal period to temporal period. It shifts, morphs, and moves. And–and this is the cool part–we have some power of how it is shaped and appears to us through these various linguistic, cultural, and social filters.
How have your peers in Academia responded to the work?
It’s too early for that. Reviews generally take a year, believe it or not. I’ve received some very positive feedback via correspondence and conversation, though. My sense is that intellectuals are fascinated by this stuff, like everyone else.
We’ve seen certain writers work in relative obscurity- or are even shunned by the mainstream- in their lifetimes- do you foresee a future in which Jacques Vallee or Bernard Meheust are taken more seriously by people outside UFO/paranormal circles?
I certainly hope so. That’s one big reason I wrote this book. To get serious readers to take these wonderful writers more seriously.
We’ve seen Philip K Dick become more highly regarded by the Intelligentsia- could something similar happen to Charles Fort, or is his work too weird?
I don’t know why not? Though Fort did not really tell stories like Dick did. That’s one big reason Dick has been embraced by Hollywood. His work lends itself to story-telling, because it IS storytelling.
So how does the normal person sense this? Or do they?
A normal person senses this precisely in those anomalous events we call “paranormal.” Individuals who have traveled a great deal or lived in another culture also know this intuitively.
Why is the UFO topic so heated up these days?
Well, that’s an easier one: because many, many UFO sightings violate our understanding of how reality works and our sense of place in the universe. If these things are really happening, and I really do think they are happening, then our science and our self-understanding are both seriously challenged. Any system, be it religious or scientific or political, will resist these kinds of profound challenges through a kind of immunological response. That is, the system will surround and eject the anomalous or problematic presence like an invading bacteria or disease. In the more poetic terms of Charles Fort, the Dominant will “damn” the offending datum.
Has the nonphysical reality of UFOs become a dogma unto itself?
The reason I ask is because in UFOlogy circles you’ll have your self-appointed “Vallee fundamentalists” who shut out all opposing views as to the physicality of UFOs. Why do so we seldom hear the argument that stories of djinn and fairies were in fact close encounters that people simply pasted folklore and religious dogma over?
Vallee himself insists on the physical dimensions. He also insists on the folkloric dimensions. He insists on BOTH. That’s what makes him Jacques Vallee. I too am a both/and thinker, not an either/or thinker. As for the founders, yes, they were most likely very porous to these sorts of experiences, but I would not say that the dogmas were “pasted over” their experiences. I would say that the doctrines emerged from these experiences and enabled other people later to have similar sorts of experiences. The problem, of course, always comes in when the religious tradition insists on only its doctrines, only its practices, etc. That’s always a mistake. And it has produced untold violence and suffering in human history.
The interview goes on and it will probably continue in later posts. The gist of the interview is that the world does not have original thinkers in the scientific community anymore, at least not in the caliber of Oppenheimer, Dyson, Einstein, Jack Parsons and others of the early to mid-20th century who dared to dream of atomic powered starships, flying cars and undersea cities.
The sorry excuse for scientific, ossified debunkers that claim everything is impossible and we’re all going to die in a self destructive global warming catastrophe is all we have today.
For all of you PKD fans out there, here’s a treat.
While trolling (trawling?) for posting material this a.m., I ran across a little Twitter announcement on Greg Taylor’s Daily Grail site with a link to a site that was showing a Philip K. Dick documentary on the BBC. (here)
Now, after doing some re-reading of PKD’s classics and doing some research on the man himself, in my opinion he wasn’t croggled on drugs all of the time. But with this caveat, he did his fair share during the 1950s and 1960s and he was trying to stay clean during the writing of his Exegesis, although he had a doctor’s prescription for pain medication for headaches. Whether that had an influence on his writing the Exegesis is conjecture at best.
But who cares?
The Exegesis remains one of PKD’s most prolific work and at least three of his sci-fi classics stem from it’s sibling, VALIS; The Divine Invasion , The Owl in Daylight , and Transmigration of Timothy Archer .
A Day In The Afterlife Part 1
A Day In The Afterlife Part 2
A Day In The Afterlife Part 3
A Day In The Afterlife Part 4
A Day In The Afterlife Part 5
A Day In The Afterlife Part 6
Space colonization has been a theme (or meme?) in literature for over 150 years, probably thousands of years earlier than that really (Book of Enoch). Anyway, humans have dreamed of traveling to alien worlds in the heavens for a very long time, it isn’t a recent phenomenon.
Dr. Stephen Hawking is only one voice among many lately who has advocated colonizing planets in the solar system. Discovery of extra-solar planets over the past 20 years and recently of a solar system closely resembling ours that is 127 light-years away is piquing public interest in the mainstream about space travel and how we can study such things.
However, there are voices of dissension in the ranks, and from sources one wouldn’t expect any at all.
Especially from a science-fiction writer:
Renowned science-fiction writer, Charlie Stross, argued last week in his High Frontier Redux blog that space colonization is not in our future, not because it’s impossible, but because to do so effectively you need either outrageous amounts of cheap energy, highly efficient robot probes, or “a magic wand.”
“I’m going to take it as read that the idea of space colonization isn’t unfamiliar,” Stross opens his post, “domed cities on Mars, orbiting cylindrical space habitats a la J. D. Bernal or Gerard K. O’Neill, that sort of thing. Generation ships that take hundreds of years to ferry colonists out to other star systems where — as we are now discovering — there are profusions of planets to explore.”
“The obstacles facing us are immense distance and time -the scale factor involved in space travel is strongly counter-intuitive.”
Stross adds that “Planets that are already habitable insofar as they orbit inside the habitable zone of their star, possess free oxygen in their atmosphere, and have a mass, surface gravity and escape velocity that are not too forbidding, are likely to be somewhat rarer. (And if there is free oxygen in the atmosphere on a planet, that implies something else — the presence of pre-existing photosynthetic life, a carbon cycle, and a bunch of other stuff that could well unleash a big can of whoop-ass on an unprimed human immune system.”
Stross sums up by saying that while “I won’t rule out the possibility of such seemingly-magical technology appearing at some time in the future in the absence of technology indistinguishable from magic that, interstellar travel for human beings even in the comfort of our own Solar System is near-as-dammit a non-starter.”
Stross’s blog received over 450 comments as of this writing. The most prescient follows:
“First, Stross’s analysis fails to take into account future civilization types; I get the sense that he takes a normative view of today’s technological and economic realities and projects them into the future. This is surprising, not only because he’s an outstanding science fiction visionary, but also because he’s a transhumanist who has a very good grasp on what awaits humanity in the future. Specifically, he should be taking into account the possibility of post-Singularity, Drexlerian, Kardashev Type II civilizations. Essentially, we’re talking about post-scarcity civilizations with access to molecular assembling nanotechnology, radically advanced materials, artificial superintelligence, and access to most of the energy available in the solar system.
“Stross also too easily dismisses how machine intelligences, uploaded entities and AGI will impact on how space could be colonized. He speculates about biological humans being sent from solar system to solar system, and complains of the psychological and social hardships that could be inflicted on an individual or crew. He even speculates about the presence of extraterrestrial pathogens that undoubtedly awaits our daring explorers. This is a highly unlikely scenario. Biological humans will have no role to play in space. Instead, this work will be done by robots and quite possibly cyborgs (which is how the term ‘cyborg’ came to exist in the first place).”
I find this curious that a writer with ‘gravitas’ like Stross takes such a dim and extremely conservative view about space colonization, because some of his books address the issue. And they give no indication of such an opinion.
Maybe he just separates the ‘real’ world from his work, like millions of other folk all over the world?
Walk along now, nothing to see here.
Well anyway, it just goes to show that when you think that you have the world figured out, it goes and proves you don’t.
Especially when folks like Hawking and Stross throw curve balls at you!
It is well known in science-fiction circles that author Philip K. Dick was a mad, drug-induced psychic shamanic figure who glimpsed into the future realms on an almost daily basis for over thirty years, much to his detriment in most cases.
What isn’t known so much is that during the 1950s he was friends with an FBI agent and that during the early 1970s a neo-Nazi organization tried to enlist him to their cause:
“In 1972, a far-reaching neo-Nazi organisation discreetly began to contact various high-profile authors in the U.S. with a view to enlisting their help; the plan being to covertly plant codewords into millions of science fiction novels and spread a secret message to certain sections of society. The message related to a new, deadly, and incurable strain of syphilis – deliberately unleashed on the country by enemies of the U.S. – that was currently sweeping the land at an incredible pace, its existence denied by the government. This was, in fact, the beginning of World War III.
The scene I just painted was lifted from the following two letters – intriguing letters to say the least – both of which were written by science fiction novelistPhilip K. Dick in 1972 and sent, in all seriousness, to the FBI. Interestingly, within two years Dick began to experience the ‘visions’ he would later document in his book, Exegesis.
October 28, 1972
Federal Bureau of Investigation
I am a well-known author of science fiction novels, one of which dealt with Nazi Germany (called MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, it described an “alternate world” in which the Germans and Japanese won World War Two and jointly occupied the United States). This novel, published in 1962 by Putnam & Co., won the Hugo Award for Best Novel of the Year and hence was widely read both here and abroad; for example, a Japanese edition printed in Tokio ran into several editions. I bring this to your attention because several months ago I was approached by an individual who I have reason to believe belonged to a covert organization involving politics, illegal weapons, etc., who put great pressure on me to place coded information in future novels “to be read by the right people here and there,” as he phrased it. I refused to do this.
The reason why I am contacting you about this now is that it now appears that other science fiction writers may have been so approached by other members of this obviously anti-American organization and may have yielded to the threats and deceitful statements such as were used on me. Therefore I would like to give you any and all information and help I can regarding this, and I ask that your nearest office contact me as soon as possible. I stress the urgency of this because within the last three days I have come across a well-distributed science fiction novel which contains in essence the vital material which this individual confronted me with as the basis for encoding. That novel is CAMP CONCENTRATION by Thomas Disch, which was published by Doubleday & Co.
Philip K. Dick
3028 Quartz Lane Apt. #2
P.S. I would like to add: what alarms me most is that this covert organization which approached me may be Neo-Nazi, although it did not identify itself as being such. My novels are extremely anti-Nazi. I heard only one code identification by this individual: Solarcon-6.
November 4, 1972
Marin County Sheriff’s Office,
Marin County Civic Center,
Dear Inspector Shine:
As you may recall, on or about November 17, 1971, my house at 707 Hacienda Way, Santa Venetia, was extensively robbed. The last time I talked to you, during February of this year, you informed me that you had broken the case; a man named Wade (Jerry Wade I believe) had been arrested with the Ruger .22 pistol of mine stolen during this robbery. I have been in Canada and now in Southern California and hence out of touch. Have any more of my possessions been recovered? Have there been any more arrests made? Do you have anything more you can tell me at this date?
While I was in Canada evidently my house was robbed again, during March of this year. I did not know this until what remained of my things arrived down here; my realtor, Mrs. Annie Reagan, had stored them, and at least one entire room of stuff is missing: the bedroom in which the control system of the burglar alarm was located, the one room not covered by the scanner. Obviously it was robbed by someone who intimately knew the layout of the alarm system and how to bypass it. I recall that Inspector Bridges thought that the November 17 robbery was an inside job, at least in part. I believe that this later robbery in March of this year proves it. Only two or three persons that I can recall knew the layout of the burglar alarm system. One was Harold Kinchen, who was under investigation by Airforce Intelligence at Hamilton Field at the time I left (Mr. Richard Bader was conducting the investigation; through Sergeant Keaton of Tiberon he asked me to come in and give testimony. It had to do with an attempt on the arsenal of the Airforce Intelligence people at Hamilton on I recall January first of this year). I have more reason to believe now than I did then that Kinchen and the secret extralegal organization to which he belonged were involved in both robberies of my house, although evidence seemed to point more toward Panthers such as Wade. I say this because this is Orange County where I live now, and I have come to know something about the rightwing paramilitary Minutemen illegal people here — they tell me confidentially that from my description of events surrounding the November robbery of my house, the methods used, the activities of Harry Kinchen in particular, it sounds to them like their counterparts up there, and possibly even a neo-Nazi group. Recently I’ve obtained, by accident, new information about Kinchen’s associates, and the neo-Nazi organization theory does seem reinforced. In this case, the November robbery was political in nature and more than a robbery. I have thought this for some time, but until now had less reason to be sure.
As to the motive of the assault I’m not sure at all. Possibly it had to do with my published novels, one of which dealt with Nazi Germany — it was extremely anti-Nazi, and widely circulated. I know for a fact that Harry Kinchen and the Japanese relatives he had through his wife Susan had read it. Kinchen’s Japanese-born mother-in-law, Mrs. Toni Adams, had read the novel in the Japanese edition. Beyond any doubt, Kinchen is an ardent Nazi trained in such skill as weapons-use, explosives, wire-tapping, chemistry, psychology, toxins and poisons, electronics, auto repair, sabotage, the manufacture of narcotics. Mr. Bader is of course aware of this. What I did not pass on to anyone, because I feared for my life, is the fact that Kinchen put coercive pressure, both physical and psychological, on me to put secret coded information into my future published writings, “to be read by the right people here and there,” as he put it, meaning members of his subversive organization. As I told you in November, he accidently responded to a phonecall from me with a code signal. Later, he admitted belonging to a secret “worldwide” organization and told me some details.
The coded information which Kinchen wished placed in my novels (I of course refused, and fled to Canada) had to do with an alleged new strain of syphilis sweeping the U.S., kept topsecret by the U.S. authorities; it can’t be cured, destroys the brain, and is swift-acting. The disease, Kinchen claimed, is being brought in deliberately from Asia by agents of the enemy (unspecified), and is in fact a weapon of World War Three, which has begun, being used against us.
In a recent confidential discussion which I had with my Paris editor, a close friend of mine, this editor ratified my conviction that to allow this coded “information,” undoubtedly spurious, to get into print, would be a disaster for this country. These neo-nazis or whatever they are would “break” their own code and make public this phony information, thus creating mass hysteria and panic. There is, of course, no such new untreatable paresis, despite rumors we have been hearing from Servicemen returning from Viet Nam. I have contacted the F.B.I. on the advice of my editor-publisher friend, but I felt I should contact you, too. You may wish to pass this information about the coded information in novels onto Mr. Bader.
I will hope, then, to hear from you. Thank you.
Philip K. Dick
3028 Quartz Lane #3
P.S. Harold Kinchen introduced me to only one individual, who asked me to write for his underground pornographic publications; I refused. By accident I recently learned that this man, “Doc” Stanley, of Corte Madera, “was a student of the speeches of Hitler during his college days at the University of Chicago, advocating their doctrines and reading them to people.” Neither Stanley nor Kinchen mentioned this to me.”
Interesting that the University of Chicago comes up here. It is a well known fact that the U of C is a hotbed of nonconservative/Trotskyite philosophy where Leo Strauss spawned acolytes such as Bill Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, Clarence Thomas, John Podhoretz, and Robert Bork (link).
And if neocons aren’t synonymous with neo-Nazis, I don’t know what is.
Maybe the drugs brought PDK some clarity, hmm?
It has a lot of good points, but I take issue with some of them:
For the first two hundred years of the modern era — from the accession to the leadership of Western society by the philosophy of rational materialism in the late Seventeenth Century to the appearance of techno-warfare in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 — there was no such thing as science fiction literature. Through all this time, writers had no conscious awareness of working in a connected and cumulative SF tradition. Such a thing as science fiction was unthinkable, unimaginable. It didn’t exist.
How very different the situation is today! In the late Twentieth Century, nobody at all would think to doubt that there is such a thing as science fiction. Paperback racks are filled with books labeled “SF.” There is a great visible science fiction industry: writers, editors, critics, magazines, books, films, fans, clubs, conventions, awards, and much much more.
The difference between the situation prior to 1870, when SF could not be said to exist, and the situation we are heir to today, is the general acceptance by the Western world of the plausibility of scientific mystery. This acceptance, this new faith, began to take hold right around 1870.
As we have suggested, in order for myth to be an effective indicator of yet-unrealized possibility, there must be some basis for a belief in transcendence. We must think that there could be mysterious higher states of being and awareness, and we must be able to believe that we might plausibly attain those higher states.
In ancient myth, spirit provided such a groundwork for belief in plausible mystery. After 1870, science became sufficiently developed as a concept and a practice to serve as a new foundation for belief.
But this was not so prior to 1870, which is why we can say that during the first two hundred years of modern Western society, SF literature did not exist. It is only retrospective wisdom that allows us to peer into the past and single out a literary possibility here, a dynamic metaphor there, a subtle argument or an imaginary exploration, and identify these highly separated moments of special creativity as a connected series of advances necessary for the coming into being of SF literature.
It is our awareness of the nature of later science fiction — and our appreciation of the invisible working of the transcendent spirit of SF — that allows us to perceive what these varying bits and pieces had in common: All were attempts at the presentation of plausible scientific mystery.
But SF literature still did not exist as late as the advent of Verne in the 1860s. He was not working in an active tradition, a contemporary literary form. Rather, he was recognized as a marvel, a writer with his own unique product. It was as though Verne were a last solitary Romantic wizard with a formula all his own — like Captain Nemo, that master of his own special brand of electricity.
After 1870, however, in the very moment of Jules Verne’s imaginative retreat, modern Western civilization entered a new phase, the Age of Technology. And immediately, science fiction was born.
The new era was the result of a change in the attitude of society toward science. The consequence of the change was that after 1870 it was possible to set out consciously to write science fiction. No longer was SF a feat that a rare Romantic wildman, lit by inspiration while in some unique state of acute mental receptivity, might aim at once in a lifetime. Science fiction became a form that almost anyone could write, and after 1870 there would always be a number of writers at work producing SF.
The shift in attitude that made the Age of Technology and SF literature possible might be called the final fruit of the Romantic Period. The change was, in effect, the solution to the major problems that the whole Romantic Period had been attempting to solve.
One of these problems was the lack of plausible mystery in the world. Without transcendence, the Romantics felt like orphan children. They mooned after the old spiritual mystery that the Age of Reason had rejected. And they hunted vainly for new mystery everywhere in the hopes of finding it somewhere — and didn’t necessarily recognize it when they had it.
Another problem was the science and applied science that the Romantic Period had inherited from the Age of Reason. This rational activity was beginning to alter life, and the Romantics didn’t know how they felt about that. The Romantic Period looked upon monster science with the same ambivalence and apprehension that Victor Frankenstein felt for his creature.
It was the change in the practice of science during the Nineteenth Century that we have described that finally made it possible for the Romantics to see that one of their problems was the answer to the other. Through the course of two phases in Western society — the Age of Reason and the Romantic Period — the “practice of science” had meant the careful observation of the material world, the gathering and classification of fact. But in the later years of the Romantic Period, this familiar definition was strained beyond its limits.
First to appear were radical new mathematical systems like non-Euclidean geometry and symbolic logic. These systems were self-consistent but, by ordinary standards, irrational. They seemed to apply to something more or something other than the ordinary earthly realm.
These new forms of systematic thinking were followed in the 1860s by strange new scientific theories, all of which pointed beyond the known into the unknown.
There was Darwin’s theory of evolution. This suggested — from current scientific evidence — that both man and nature had once been something different than they now were. And further, that they might alter again in the future.
I don’t know why the Panshins’ speculate that the concept of “science-fiction” couldn’t have existed before 1870 is plausible at all. Jules Verne and certainly Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley didn’t work in a vacuum. They drew upon the technology of the Enlightenment and most certainly Verne, who’s first hand witnessing of a ‘submarine’ while in college absolutely influenced the creation of Captain Nemo and the Nautilus.
It is said that for better or worse we can trace the roots of our modern world to the American Civil War/War of Secession/Between the States ending in 1865 while the Franco-Prussian Wars happened in 1871. The number of years may be moot, but the technologies used have direct descendants in our time and most were predicted by Jules Verne, Mary Shelley and H.G. Wells.
Other than that, the Panshins have excellent points.
In a mood for steampunk sci-fi?
Check this out from Boing-Boing:
I’m not a fan of Second Life, but this is pretty artistic!
Ever wonder what early Led Zeppelin sounded like, you old burn-outs?
Check out this clip from Boing-Boing:
Led Zeppelin, 12/30/1968
Yeah, I Boing-Boinged out today.
They have good stuff though!
Star Trek (the Original Series) has a special place in TV science-fiction history in that it had the first inter-racial spaceship crew in primetime (Rodenberry had a hell of a time selling it to NBC, so he tricked them when he sold them the original pilot).
Nichelle Nichols was the first African-American female to have a role on a prime-time TV show where she wasn’t required to be a nurse or maid (although the nursing profession has made it up the economic food chain recently) in subordination to a white widower. Her role as Lt. Uhura on the Enterprise bridge crew was not only proof that African-Americans can have leadership roles on TV, but women as well.
What isn’t widely known is that Nichols wanted to quit the show after one season and that one person in particular talked her out of it.
Martin Luther King Jr.
I, after the first season, because my heart was still on Broadway and the performing arts part of me, the musical performing arts of me was yearning to leave. I never intended to be an actress other than in the theater. So for me, TV and movies, that was something to help me get from here to there. And so it was a shock for me to be cast in Star Trek . A shock and a joy. I was performing in England at the time of the inception of the show and my agent tracked me down in Paris and told me that they were doing a show called Star Trek, assuming that I’d know what that was. Because I’d been in and out of the country for so long.Now I’d known Gene Rodenberry since he’d given me my first TV starring role in a show that he’d done called the ‘The Lieutenant’. And he was one of the first people of that stature that gave me encouragement. He called my agent and said can you find Nichelle, because I need her for a role in this show and wherever she is, get her back here because I want a woman head of a department on the bridge. He changed the role from a man heading communications on the bridge and he wanted a woman of color. He wanted me and I came back and got the role. So the first year went by, and I enjoyed doing the role, to me at that time it was very challenging [laughs] but I played my role to the hilt, being the head of communications and all that and by this time the show had aired and I was starting to get notice and on the side I’m singing at places and people are hearing me and calling and I’m thinking, “Oh this is my big break! I have to leave this little show and go do it! I was thinking Broadway here I come!’
And so I went on a Friday evening shortly before the end of the season to let Gene know that I wouldn’t be returning to the show, he looked at me like I was crazy, “YOU CAN’T LEAVE,” but he realized how serious I was and he knew I was passionate about singing, and he said, “I know what your dream is and so forth but don’t you see what I’m trying to do? He said take the weekend and think about my decision and how important this show is and how it was a first and if I leave, well he didn’t know what to say, but he said take the weekend and that way I could take the time to really think about what we just said and come back Monday and we would talk about it and if you really want to leave then, you’ll go with my blessings, but realize I want you to know that what we are doing here is really historic. The next night was Saturday and I was due to be a celebrity guest on a dais at an NAACP fundraiser at UCLA.
One of the organizers came up to me and said that there was someone who wants to meet you; and he says that he’s you’re best, biggest fan and I’m thinking it’s a Trekkie! [laughs] and so I said certainly and I got up and turned around and maybe 10 or 15 feet coming towards me I see Dr. Martin Luther King and I remember thinking whoever that little fan is, he’s going to have to wait, because here’s Dr. King, who walks straight up to me with this big, magnificent smile on his face and says, “I’m the fan!” because I’m sort of looking around for someone else, and he says, “I am your best fan, I am your biggest fan!” and I… I was at a loss for words, and if you know me, I am never at a loss for words.
I just couldn’t say a thing and he began to tell me how important my role was, what an inspiration it was. And you have to understand we were in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, people were regularly being attacked by dogs, and marchers were being hosed on the television every night, real life things, and here I am in this futuristic thing on TV and he was so complimentary, he told me “I was so important and the way you have created this role,” and I am just looking at him and looking at him and I remember I just kept hoping he’d never stop talking. Because his voice is just… you know the voice. And I finally just start saying, thank you so much Dr. King and I am shaking his hand and still shaking from nervousness and I said thank you so much and I am really going to miss my co-stars.
And at this his face totally changed, and he said “What are you talking about?!” and so I told him I would be leaving the show, because; and that was as far as he let me go, and he said, “STOP! You cannot! You cannot leave this show! Do you not understand what you are doing?! You are the first non-stereotypical role in television! Of intelligence, and of a woman and a woman of color?! That you are playing a role that is not about your color! That this role could be played by anyone? This is not a black role. This is not a female role! A blue eyed blond or a pointed ear green person could take this role!” And I am looking at him and looking at him and buzzing, and he said, “Nichelle, for the first time, not only our little children and people can look on and see themselves, but people who don’t look like us, people who don’t look like us, from all over the world, for the first time, the first time on television, they can see us, as we should be!
As intelligent, brilliant, people! People in roles other than slick tap dancers, and maids, which are all wonderful in their own ways, but for the first time we have a woman, a WOMAN, who represents us and not in menial jobs, and you PROVE it, this man [Gene Rodenberry] proves and establishes a precedent that validates what we are marching for because three hundred years from today there we are, and there you are, in all our glory and all your glory! And you CANNOT leave!”
And I did not leave.
I like these little gems from the sci-fi world, especially little unknowns like this one about icons of TV history like Nichelle Nichols. People don’t realize how hard it was (and still is in some aspects) for certain Americans to climb the economic ladder because of stupid prejudice.
And of course, King was in a class all his own too.
But you have to be a martyr to be in it.