January 9th, 2008

Across The Universe

Song Info (from Beatlesongs): This song is from the Let It Be album and was 100% written by Lennon, who also sang lead. He said that it was one of his favorite songs lyrically, but not one of the best recordings. He said that he was irritated with his [first] wife and her going on about something “drove me out of bed. I didn’t want to write [the song], I was just slightly irritable and I went downstairs and I couldn’t get to sleep until I put it on paper.”

I’ve been a science-fiction fan for as far back as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories of watching TV with my dad (before we became a “no TV for kids” family) were of Dr. Who and Star Trek. After the “no TV” rule, I became a voracious reader (which was, I think, part of the intended effect) and I discovered sci-fi books. I don’t know what my official starting sci-fi books were, but I remember reading books based on Dr. Who pretty early on – stick with what you know, right? – and Star Trek novelizations were a staple for a long time, even into adulthood. There isn’t much to them, but familiar characters make for enjoyable reading, and they were a quick read.

Of course, I eventually discovered Asimov and Bradbury and Gibson and a hundred other authors who no one’s ever heard of. There was a Science Fiction subsection of the Fiction section in our local library, and it amounted to around three shelving sections, not much in the grand scheme of things. Our school library tended to focus more on biographies and the like (though they did have Lewis), so I tended to read and re-read a lot of the same titles from the local library. I distinctly remember they had a total of three Star Wars novels, and I read them a couple of times each.

Sci-fi sort of gets lumped into the same category as romance novels most of the time. “Worthless” and “stupid” get thrown around a lot in discussions, and depictions of laser guns and robots don’t do much to dispel those notions. When sci-fi is done well, though, it can be a fantastic tool for observation of the human condition. The addition of the fantastic can allow for a clearer view of the normal. Even the original Star Trek series was able to address issues that would never have made it past the censors in a “regular” show. It might seem strange to us these days, but having a multi-ethnic crew in the latter half of the 1960s was huge. America was gearing up for a Cold War, and here was a Russian on the bridge. And did you know that Star Trek featured the first interracial kiss shown on television? Pretty groundbreaking for a “stupid sci-fi show with lousy sets.” Hidden under the trappings of sci-fi, the writers were able to bring topics like racism and genocide to the table, with an eye towards generating discussion.

Of course, along with all of that, sci-fi sets the imaginative mind on its way. In sci-fi, space travel is as common as getting on an airplane. Robots do all the menial work (until they get too big for their britches and turn us all into batteries, of course). Communication is instant. Computers run everything. Any of that sound familiar? If vacuuming is a bothersome chore to you, you can get yourself a Roomba. Do you have a cellphone that flips open? Why not just call it a communicator? And, really, it’s a pretty short hop from “Don’t tase me, bro!” to “Don’t phase me, bro!” if you think about it. Sci-fi has not only imagined the future, it has in many cases shaped the future.

Is it so hard to imagine space travel, then? Space Tourism is a commonly used phrase already, and the assumption is that it will happen, it’s just a matter of time. Once more people are doing it, it’ll get cheaper and better. The question, as I see it, is where are these space tourists going to go? Is it enough to escape Earth’s atmosphere, orbit a few times, and come back? Initially it will be, though $200k for the privilege seems steep. People have been talking about Mars a lot in the last few years, so there might eventually be a base there. I’ve said it before, but I think we should start with a base on the Moon. It’s closer, and I think still being able to see Earth might help people there still feel a connection to it.

With all of my talk of love for sci-fi, though, I won’t be catching any flights to the Moon any time soon (assuming they start happening soon, that is). While I love the idea of space travel and I love the thought of being able to see Saturn’s rings up close and I’m curious about what it feels like to be free of gravity, I can’t get past the idea of being in a little tin box in the vastness of space. It’s the same reason I never want to be in a submarine, really. A man-made environment surrounded by an environment that will kill you with the only thing keeping it at bay being the man-made environment? No thanks. How many times have you had to get your car repaired in the last 5 years? There are no tow trucks for submarines, and even fewer, I suspect, for spaceships.

It’s strange, this dissonance – I love the thought of “future,” of a shiny and bright place replete with robots, of an address in the Sea of Tranquility, but I can’t bring myself to imagine getting there.

3 Comments on “Across The Universe”

  1. Meags says:

    I listened to an interview lately where an author said that sci-fi and fantasy novels help people learn about themselves and about life without the barrier of realism holding it down.

  2. The Big Guy says:

    I think I have a greater appreciation of sci-fi when thinking of the context of Star Trek. Although, I love sci-fi your comments were pretty cool to think about. I must say I didn't expect that out of this post. EXCELLENT POST!

  3. M. Kate says:

    Wilbur has enough sci-fi novels in the basement to stock an entire library…assuming Marilyn hasn't picked them.

    Good thoughts, sweetie…reading your post is officially my favorite form of sci-fi entertainment.

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