Saturday, February 13, 2010

Gods, Demons, and Used Spaceship Dealers

Ever noticed how - earnest - space aliens are, in some stories?

Either they're dedicated to oppressing humanity or collecting our brains, or doing something else we don't like - or they're high-minded altruists, come from the stars to guide brutish humanity to a keener, greener future.

Not all speculative fiction stories are like that, of course. But I think there's been a tendency to treat the stars as a sort of cosmic Rorschach test: telling us more about the viewer than what the inkblots are like. Or stars.

As the author of Tales of Future Past put it:
"...It's become a cliché of science fiction that we can look to the stars for deliverance from our base impulses. The more enlightened beings that live there will give us a leg up and free us from ourselves. Roddenberry, Speilberg , and Sagan looked at outer space and found hope in the guise of figurative angels.

"Quatermass did so and literally found the Devil."
("Quatermass & the Pit," Tales of Future Past)
Quatermass & the Pit is one of my favorite science fiction tales. The premise was a bit less implausible in 1967, when it was produced, than after robotic exploration of Mars started - but it's a well-done movie. I'd see it again.

I rather liked the scene when it became patently obvious that the thing under London was not a German bomb, left over from the war.

(from Tales of Future Past, used w/o permission)
'That's odd: he doesn't look German?'

No: That's not a line from the movie.

Gods, Demons, and Cthulhu

I think Lovecraft may have been closer to the mark, with Cthulhu. The big guy wasn't, as I understand it, evil - not in the sense of wanting to do something bad to humanity.

Cthulhu simply didn't care what happened to us.

Sort of like how somebody fixing his house might back a trailer over an anthill. It's bad for the ants: but the homeowner might never notice what happened. Of course, if the ants found a way into the homeowners kitchen - - -.

Maybe being ignored isn't the worst thing that could happen to us.

Scientists, Used Spaceship Dealers, and Surfer Dudes

We may run into people who can move planets and stars around, control the energies of stars, and stretch reality like taffy, as easily as we release chemical energies storied for eons to send knowledge around the world at a little below the speed of light.

And, although I'm pretty sure that some of them will be as earnest and focused as televangelists and environmentalists: I suspect that we'll find that they have quite a range of interests. Most of which don't involve us. At all.

Turning the volume down a little, let's say that your standard-issue space aliens make contact with humanity. They may be smarter than we are, and they certainly have been developing their transportation technologies longer than we have. But there isn't much that they do, where we don't have a fairly good idea of what they're doing - and a general notion of what sort of energies and materials they're doing it with.

Those folks will probably include anthropologists (zenologists?) who want to learn all about our quaint native beliefs and customs. Also folks who see an opportunity to serve - and make a living - exchanging used spaceships for something else, and then unloading the used spaceships.

Dull? Boring? I don't think so.

Getting back to Cthulhu and company.

I suppose that your standard-issue eldritch abomination from the abyss of space might be the sort of brooding psychopath we've come to expect from some stories.

Or, not.

Look at it this way: if you're able to make a star explode as a supernova, any time you want, wouldn't it be a rush to set up a big sail and windsurf the shock front?


"Big wave surfing to great"

tchouser1, YouTube (August 21, 2007)
video, 3:06

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