Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Summer of Flying Saucers

This was the summer of flying saucers. On June 24, 1947, Kenneth Arnold, a private pilot out of Boise, Idaho, saw nine bright, shining aircraft in formation near Mount Rainier, Washington. He was not able to identify the aircraft. He could see only that each was shaped something like a flying wing, that they flew at tremendous speed, and that their individual motion was like that of a saucer skipped across the water. Upon landing his Call-Air A2 at Yakima, Washington, Arnold told a number of other pilots what he had seen. The story soon got out to the press, and within days, saucer mania was sweeping the nation.

At about the same time, Mac Brazel, a New Mexico rancher, found and recovered, with his family, the wreckage of what he assumed to be a weather balloon near their home in Corona. They reported their findings to the Lincoln County sheriff. Soon men from Roswell Army Air Field were on the case. On July 8, 1947, the story went out from the airfield that the U.S. Army Air Force had recovered the remains of a "flying disk." The next day the story went bust when the "disk" turned out to be nothing more than a wrecked weather balloon, just as Brazel had originally thought. That didn't stop later theorizers from contending that the debris was actually from a flying saucer, that the U.S. government had recovered and spirited away the saucer and its occupants, and that it had covered up the whole thing. That story of conspiracy and coverup was still years in the future, however.

Sometime around July 15, Kenneth Arnold received a letter from The Venture Press of Chicago. The author of the letter wanted to know about Arnold's experience of three weeks before. After some hesitation, Arnold wrote back to him, and within a few days, the men were corresponding by mail. Then the man from Venture proposed that Arnold investigate a purported sighting of flying saucers in Tacoma, Washington. And it wasn't just a sighting. In fact, the incident at Tacoma combined the best of Kenneth Arnold's original sighting of June 24 with the supposed crashdown near Roswell, for there was supposed to be physical evidence involved. And it was supposed to have taken place on June 21, giving the incident precedence over Arnold's own sighting. Kenneth Arnold's Chicago correspondent, by the way, was Raymond A. Palmer, editor of Amazing Stories, a science fiction magazine that had lately been publishing tales of the Shaver Mystery. As the summer of 1947 went on, Palmer must have seen flying saucers as the next big thing. 

The sighting in Tacoma, now called the Maury Island Incident, turned out to be a hoax, but Kenneth Arnold didn't know that at the time. He knew only feelings of unease, fear, and paranoia over the course of his investigation. Those feelings began when he found upon arriving in Tacoma that some unknown person had reserved a hotel room for him. Arnold had told no one of his trip. An unknown informant seemed to know everything that went on in his hotel room. He and another pilot searched the room for listening devices and found nothing. A house in Tacoma that he visited early in the investigation was empty on his second visit. Spider webs had been spun across the doorway. No one was around. In addition, the two men involved in the sighting, Harold A. Dahl and Fred L. Crisman, were secretive, evasive. They had misplaced important evidence and documentation. There was something amiss in their tale. They spoke of a mysterious and menacing man in black who knew everything about what they had seen and warned them against telling. Arnold never met the man. He did, however, meet two air force officers, Captain William L. Davidson and First Lieutenant Frank M. Brown, who arrived to investigate the incident. The two were killed in a plane crash on the way back to their base, and the physical evidence they had collected was presumably lost or destroyed. They were the first casualties of the flying saucer era. By the way again, Fred L. Crisman, who took part in the Maury Island Incident, had earlier written to Amazing Stories about a strange and frightening experience he supposedly had in Burma during World War II. His letter, published in the magazine in June 1946, was a warning not to pursue further investigations into the Shaver Mystery.

Kenneth Arnold departed from Tacoma on August 3, 1947. Less than two weeks later, on August 14, the first alien encounter of the new era occurred--or so the man said. His name was Rapuzzi Johannis--or so he said--and on that date, he claimed to have been searching for geological specimens in the Dolomite Mountains of Italy when he ran across two little green men and the spacecraft in which they had arrived on Earth. They shot him with a ray, paralyzing him, before fleeing in their ship. Being Italian aliens, they were stylishly dressed. Being Italian, they were probably enjoying the Ferragosto holiday when they were so rudely interrupted by an impertinent Earthman. Johannis didn't tell his story until a decade and a half had passed. In the meantime, he went to the United States, supposedly became acquainted with Raymond Palmer, and returned to his native country to write science fiction stories. Again, here was a witness claiming precedence, in this case as the first person in the flying saucer era to encounter space aliens.

Finally, to round out the summer of flying saucers, the National Security Act of 1947 went into effect on September 18, providing for the creation of the national security apparatus of the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency. The creation of the U.S. Air Force, later the official governmental investigator of the flying saucer phenomenon, was also a result of the act. The mind of the conspiracy theorist boggles at the implications of the events that began and ended the summer of 1947.

So in the course of a summer--Kenneth Arnold's original sighting took place two days after the summer solstice, and the National Security Act took effect five days before the autumnal equinox--much of the mythology for the flying saucer era was established (though most of this was done retroactively by writers and conspiracy theorists). In addition to sightings of flying saucers, there were reports--contemporaneous or not--of: crashdowns; recoveries of physical evidence, including alien bodies; the removal of alien bodies to secret government installations; encounters with live aliens; seizures and thefts of physical evidence; the involvement of government agencies in the flying saucer phenomenon; official secrecy, coverups, and conspiracies; and encounters with mysterious men in black. There were also the first official investigations; the first photographs of flying saucers; the first flying saucer hoaxes and pranks; the first flying saucer fads, crazes, merchandise, and culture; and the first flying saucer flap. Significantly, there were also the opposites of feeling when it comes to flying saucers: On one side, mystery, awe, wonder, hope, expectancy. On the other, fear, dread, anxiety, paranoia. The contactee and abductee phenomena were not fully formed in 1947, but as we'll see, those were and are late-stage developments, if not the very last stages of the flying saucer phenomenon, which has, at this late date, more or less reached its end.

Copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Contact

Human knowledge is not (or does not follow) a straight line, but a curve, which endlessly approximates a series of circles, a spiral.
--V.I. Lenin, Summary of Dialectics (1914)

Without intending to, I have come full circle in this series on movies and television shows. That happened by way of my finding by chance a DVD of the movie Contact (1997)--that was on Saturday--and watching it with the idea that it would lead me somewhere I was looking to go--that was on Sunday.

The epigraph above refers to straight lines, circles, and spirals. I have been writing about these things for the last few weeks. I have included Lenin's words here less for their subject matter than for their author--I'll have more to say about him and his beliefs in the next couple of entries--but these words are fitting for the moment. The second half of the quote from Lenin is less to the point, but here it is anyway:
Any fragment, segment, section of this curve can be transformed (transformed one-sidedly) into an independent, complete, straight line, which then (if one does not see the wood for the trees) leads into the quagmire, into clerical obscurantism (where it is anchored by the class interests of the ruling classes).
Talk about mixing your metaphors. Anyway, I have written before about the idea that, in the Christian version, God's intervention in history in sending His son to earth turned history from an endless series of cycles (or circles) into an arrow flying through time. Before Christ, empires rose and fell, kings and warriors lived and died, and things were forever the same. With the advent of Christianity, however, the cycles of unchanging history were broken so that there was now a forward and a backward: the idea of progress came into the world. That idea of progress has given us much, but it has also resulted in utopian theorizing on human nature, society, and history. Utopian theories, once put into practice, have too often resulted in mass murder. We can thank Marx, moreover his little attack dog Lenin, for a good deal of that.

So Matthew McConaughey is in a film in which his character spouts his philosophical beliefs and always carries around a notebook with a strap on it. In this film, there is a skeptic and a believer. In the end, the skeptic--an orphan bereft of love and family--undergoes an extraordinary experience, in the process becoming something of a believer. No, I'm not talking about True Detective. I'm talking about the aforementioned Contact, starring Jodie Foster as Ellie Arroway, a scientist and a skeptic, and Matthew McConaughey as Palmer Joss, a halfway man of the cloth and a believer.

As in True Detective, the names mean something or might mean something. The first name (I hesitate to call it a Christian name) of the female lead is Ellie, or, if you like,

Lₑ

like a term missing from the Drake Equation. (She alludes to the Drake Equation in the movie.) Her surname, Arroway, defies Lenin's quote as well as the pre-Christian cyclic nature of history, for the way of the arrow is straight, and the arrow flies in only one direction. (Except that if you imagine an arrow flying through the universe, you will see that, just like every other thing in a relativistic universe, it doesn't follow a straight path but one curved by the effects of gravity on the space-time continuum. That's beside the point, though, no pun intended.)

The name of the male lead, or at least the semi-romantic interest, is less clearly symbolic. His first name, Palmer, can be taken negatively, as like a conman who palms a coin, a bill, or a pea in a shell game, but I like better the idea that it refers to Raymond A. Palmer, the man who invented flying saucers. The character's last name, Joss, sounds like josh, as in kid or joke, or dross, something worthless, or maybe it's a combination of those two words.

As in True Detective, there is a good deal of imagery of circles, spheres, rings, domes, bowls, and saucers. Look for the shape of the desk lamp in one scene or of the U.S. capitol in another--they look like flying saucers. Also as in True Detective, the visions experienced by the skeptic are of a spiral followed by a reunion with a departed loved one. Needless to say, these visions change her life and perhaps even her beliefs, though I wouldn't bet on the latter.

Like Rustin Cohle in True Detective, Ellie Arroway is an orphan and a materialist or atheist, possibly the latter because she is the former. And like Cohle, she sees in those who believe in something an opposition, if not an enemy. We see this in the real world, too: a sense of arrogance and superiority on the part of the atheist or materialist, a sense that these people who believe in these things are hopelessly blind, stupid, and ignorant. If only they would open their eyes, they would see that the world means nothing--that our lives mean nothing and that love is simply the firing of electro-chemical signals in our very material brains.

Anyway, characters or players act out their parts. They should do so independently of the desires of their creators, the moviemakers. The plot in a movie should act independently, as well. Too often, though, moviemakers insert themselves into their creations. (Or, like God, they intervene in their creation.) That's my complaint against Jurassic World, and that's my complaint against Contact, for Contact was written by two atheists or materialists, Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan. (They actually wrote the story, not the screenplay.) To their ends, the villains in the movie are their own personal villains, and those villains exist on a continuum (or vector, or maybe arrow-way?) of villainy. They are the usual suspects in movies now and have been for years. From least bad to most bad, they are:

<---The U.S. Military <---> Conservatives <---> People of Faith <---> Fundamentalist Christians <---> Nazis--->

Palmer Joss is a believer, but he's also a non-conformist (he left his studies in divinity before taking the plunge), plus he's young, tan, and has a great head of 1990s hair, so he's okay. He may not even be anywhere on the arrow-way above, although he's sometimes on Arroway (Ellie that is). I should add that James Woods (in real life a conservative), who plays a government functionary, is also a villain, but he exists on a part of the continuum not necessarily charted here.

The worst villain (other than Hitler) to appear in Contact is the leader of some kind of fundamentalist Christian religion or cult. He's played by Gary Busey's son, but he looks more like the offspring of Edgar Winter. The first thing I thought of when I saw him is that he resembles George Adamski's vision of the so-called Nordic alien. (Nordic as in Aryan or quasi-Nazi.) Significantly, he makes his first appearance at a flying saucer jamboree, like the gatherings at Giant Rock in the 1950s and '60s, which "Professor" Adamski no doubt attended from time to time.

This villain--his name is Joseph, you know, like the patriarch of the Holy Family--is a preposterous character, an incarnation not just of the hatreds and fears of the atheist, but also of something more, and this is where Contact is especially troubling, if only in artistic terms. In his final scene, Joseph kills himself and destroys the alien-designed mechanism (significantly, a series of interlocking rings through which Ellie will drop in her sphere like a plummet, tracing a straight line or arrow-way through space) by detonating a suicide vest. This is partly why I say preposterous, for the suicide vest is a weapon employed almost if not exclusively by Islamist terrorists. Murder and suicide are anathema to Christianity. I don't know of a single case of a supposed Christian using a suicide vest in the real world. But in movies, Christians are terrorists and if Muslims are shown at all, they are mere victims. I suppose to an atheist--who is likely also a moral relativist--Christianity and Islam are the same thing. They're both icky religions after all. And that conflation of two opposing belief system goes on wherever atheists meet and wherever they form sentences. (I use the term relativist here partly to evoke consideration of Einsteinian relativity. The historian Paul Johnson has much to say about the relationship between relativity and moral relativism in his book Modern Times: A History of the World from the 1920s to the 1980s [1983, 1999]. It's a good book and worth your time, even if it's a little bulky.)

Here is the more troubling part about Contact, I think: If a non-Jewish author or screenwriter--especially an overtly Christian writer--were to deal so coarsely in Jewish stereotypes, he would be labeled a racist, an anti-semite, or even a Nazi, perhaps rightly so. But are we to accept the work of authors who deal in coarse Christian stereotypes? And what if those authors are, like Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, Jewish? Is one offense worse than the other? Setting any political issues aside, why should authors--true artists working in earnest rather than just hacks or rank amateurs--deal in stereotypes of any kind? Is not every person complex and three-dimensional and not a stereotype? If so, why should authors reduce any of his or her characters to mere devices for the sake of the plot? Too many authors do that, and that's what Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan did here. I expected more from them and got far less. (I admit here to being an admirer and fan of Carl Sagan.) Their fears and hatreds, made manifest in the film, practically ruin it. The weak ending, with its equivocations and its attempts to satisfy both believers and atheists--a case, I guess, of Solomon's proposed splitting of the baby--hardly helps. Despite the praise heaped on it by movie critics, Contact very nearly fails as a work of art.

One last thing. In going back to the idea that what were once stories about men are becoming or will become stories about women: In Contact, a woman took the place of Frank Drake, Carl Sagan, and other real-life and fictional men (including those in "The Listeners" by James Gunn, from 1968), but this was still 1997, so she wasn't quite there yet. She was still subordinate in many ways to men, and she lost her heart to men, first to her father, then to her occasional boyfriend. (She seems to think of her father's death, and by implication his life, as mere material phenomena: he went on living because of medicine, and he died because she couldn't reach it in time. His reappearance in her vision is because the aliens have recreated him from her memories.) In a remake of today, the woman radio astronomer would be in complete command. Even the president of the United States would probably be a woman. The men would be eunuchs or at best beta males or Pajama Boys. (And real-life men would probably stay away from the movie theater in droves.) But again, this was still 1997, a time when Bill Clinton was in the White House. (He's in the movie, though he doesn't know it.) Women in the America under his leadership were, consequently, all crazy or bimbos or doormats or walking humidors or meant to serve him or be used for his purposes in one way or another. And people so recently wanted him back in the White House. With nothing to do.

Next: Genres, continuities, discontinuities, flying saucers, aliens, contactees, abductees, Charles Fort, Karl Marx, V.I. Lenin, and more.

Copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

True Detective

I guess I'm catching up on my viewing from 2015, the HBO TV series True Detective included.

Few people remember it today, but in its first incarnation, Weird Tales had a companion magazine called Detective Tales, later Real Detective Tales, which began publication in 1922. The publishers of these two magazines got into financial trouble about a year into their venture. One of the publishers, Jacob Clark Henneberger, gave up his interest in Detective Tales and held onto Weird Tales, which has had an on-and-off career in the nine decades since. Detective Tales carried on under a different publisher and became Real Detective Tales, then, in May 1931, simply Real Detective. The similarly titled True Detective, part of Bernarr Macfadden's True series of titles, began publication in 1924 and lasted until 1995. The point of all this is that the makers of the TV series True Detective seem to have intended to evoke pulp fiction and pulp imagery in their show. I think they succeeded. I would add that, despite the title, True Detective has much--maybe more--in common with weird fiction than with detective fiction.

I heard a lot about True Detective in 2015 when it first aired, and I can say after having seen it that the show is compelling. The co-stars, Woody Harrelson as Marty Hart and Matthew McConaughey as Rustin Cohle are excellent. (Note the symbolism in their names.) Matthew McConaughey is, as always, like a chameleon in portraying seemingly real people. A lot of the supporting actors are also good. I'll single out Brad Carter as Charlie Lange, the peckerwood ex-husband of the murdered woman, for his performance.

There is some clunky, inauthentic, and overly literate dialogue in True Detective, but over all, the characters speak in ways that are true to life. Rust is often sophomoric in his pseudo-philosophical musings. Hart registers proper skepticism and disgust at what he says. (I'm not sure that any actor is as good at disgust as is Woody Harrelson.) The main title sequence is very good, and the theme song is perfect for it, one of the best theme songs I've heard in a long time. The settings and scenery are great, as is the cinematography. There are some anachronisms, I think, and places where the screenwriter's politics show through. For instance, he takes unnecessary swipes at private schools, especially parochial schools, and at school choice. In reading about the show, I find that the screenwriter, Nic Pizzolatto, was raised Catholic. A lot of us were, but so what? Get over whatever it is that got your underwear in a knot and move on. To that end, Rust character is evidently an atheist, but at the end of the show he sees the light (literally). I imagine that was a bitter disappointment for any atheists watching and enjoying the show. Significantly, his penultimate vision--the one actually shown on screen rather than the one he describes from his wheelchair--enters the otherwise flat land of Louisiana (see Flatland below) in the form of a spiral (see The King in Yellow below) and through a circular opening in the spherical roof (see The Ring and Flatland below) of a decrepit building (see almost everything below).

I have to admit, the change in tone at the end of True Detective is a little jarring, but if being gored and hatcheted by the worst serial killer in history isn't enough to change your life, I don't know what is. The show also changes in its structure and viewpoint in later episodes. I'm not sure if those were good moves or not. There are also too many convenient developments (the owner of the green house is still living, still lucid, still available for questioning, and has an impeccable memory), too many things left hanging (who called the man who subsequently killed himself in his prison cell?), and too many missed opportunities on the part of the detectives (why didn't they talk to an anthropologist, a folklorist, and a botanist very early on in the case?), but over all, True Detective is a good show, I think, and well worth the viewing.

I said that True Detective seems to want to evoke pulp fiction and pulp imagery. Here are some possible sources of inspiration, or at least examples of creative minds arriving at the same points independently of each other:

From The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers (1895): Carcosa (drawn from Ambrose Bierce); the King in Yellow; the viewing of the tape in True Detective vs. the reading of the play in "The Yellow Sign" as an experience that changes people's lives or damages their sanity; the secret symbol, in True Detective, a spiral, in "The Yellow Sign," the eponymous sign.

From H.P. Lovecraft (who drew from Chambers): the decadent and inbred family; the decrepit houses and other buildings; the backwoods setting; the circle or arrangement of stones in the woods at the the site of the cultist's rites; the super-secret and far-reaching cult; the secret and profane rites of the cult; the found object (in True Detective, the videotape).

From "Sticks" by Karl Edward Wagner (1974), The Blair Witch Project (1999) (both of which drew from Lovecraft), and the art of Lee Brown Coye: the found object in the videotape; sticks and stick lattices (there are sticks and lattices everywhere in True Detective; even the Cross can be seen as a stick lattice); drawings or murals on the walls of abandoned buildings; the old, decrepit, backwoods house; the murder of children; the super-secret cult.

From Twin Peaks (1990-1991): the opening sequence in which the body of a woman is found in some backwoods place; the otherwise eccentric storytelling, setting, and characters.

From The Silence of the Lambs (1991): the demented serial killer and his extensive house of horrors (if there is such a thing as the Gothic Baroque, the house and grounds of the serial killer in True Detective is it).

From The Ring (2002): the found object in the videotape; the viewing of the tape, which changes the lives of those who see it; the lone tree in the field; the repeated imagery of the circle or ring; the main title sequence in True Detective as a video montage like the contents of the tape in The Ring; the family with evil secrets; the decaying house of that family.

From Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbot (1884): talk of multiple dimensions beyond our own; flatness, circles, spheres, and other geometric or topological concepts (is a spiral merely a track made by a one-dimensional point as it moves in a certain way through a two-dimensional area, or, alternatively, the shadow in a two-dimensional area of a gyre spinning in three-dimensional space?; also, mention is made in the show of a psychosphere; also, sphere is another word for the different levels of the heavens, as in "music from the spheres"); flatness itself in the topography of Louisiana.

and

From the true-to-life Black Dahlia murder case (1947): The murder scene as a tableau for artistic, aesthetic, or personal expression; the ritualization of murder and of the preparation of the murder victim's body; the unsolved nature of the case.

As for philosophizing of Matthew McConaughey's character: I'm not sure where that comes from except from the minds of those who have given up hope or who are angry at and disillusioned by life and the world. It's not especially deep or serious-minded thinking, and though I'm no philosopher, I don't know of any formal source for the character's ideas or words. I'm with Woody Harrelson's character, though: Shut the eff up and let this vehicle we're riding in be an area of silent reflection. (But then the show would be far less interesting.)

One more thing: there is talk among writers and artists of "subverting" this or that. Trying to subvert things is an attempt at rebellion or innovation, very often a childish attempt. I would just say that when people claim that such-and-such "subverts" conventional storytelling, what they are really describing is something far simpler: it's called a twist, and genre writers and pulp writers use twists all the time. If you have never seen a twist before, or if you mistake a twist for a "subverting" of conventions, you haven't read very many stories. Next, I'll say that everyone in art, literature, politics, and society should remember the words of Ecclesiastes: There is nothing new under the sun. Nic Pizzolatto created a very fine piece of art, and he richly deserves the praise he has received, but I can't say that it subverts anything and I can't say that it's like nothing before it. (I don't know that he made those claims, only that viewers and critics tend to be carried away by hyperbole.) True Detective is just a really good piece of storytelling.

Updates, July 12, 2017
1. I see from another website that one of the books read by Rust is the collected poems of Theodore Roethke. Roethke was known for his recurring imagery of stones, bones, blood, sticks, and other natural objects. One of his most famous poems begins: "Sticks in a drowse droop over sugary loam." See "Sticks" and The Blair Witch Project above. Also, Roethke worked in greenhouses when he was young. Does green house (in True Detective) = greenhouse?
2. I see from that same website that flowers, especially in connection with sex, are part of the symbolism of True Detective. I hadn't thought much about that, but I'll add that flower parts--sepals, petals, etc.--are in whorls, a word similar in meaning to spirals.
3. Along those same lines, much of the imagery and many of the themes in True Detective have to do with sex, especially transgressive sex: pedophilia, adultery, sodomy, homosexuality, transvestism, bondage, group sex, pornography, sexting, sexual snuff films (the videotape). Even the spiral symbol can be interpreted as being related to transgressive sex. It's worth noting that all of the sex acts depicted outside of marriage are in one way or another transgressive. If I remember right, only one scene, a loving scene between Hart and his wife, shows a man and a woman in the missionary position (vs. what might be seen as pagan or pre-Christian alternatives). In contrast, the sex scene between Hart's wife and Rust shows her from behind, like the body of the murder victim at the beginning of the show. (By having sex with Hart's wife, Rust cuckolds him, i.e., places horns upon him, also like the body of the murder victim. Hart by the way is another word for an adult male deer.) I take all of that to be symbolic of a supposed moral decay that would have taken place over the years covered by True Detective, 1995 to 2012. Remember, True Detective was written by a Catholic. Remember, too, that 1995 was before cell phones and the Internet really took off.
4. In the climactic (not related to sex) scene, the main characters are on the floor of a domed building with a circular opening at the top of the dome. The building can be seen as analogous to an eyeball--i.e., a hollow sphere with a hole, aperture, or pupil in it--gazing upwards into the heavens (or spheres). (No wonder Rust sees a black hole, i.e., a kind of star but also a kind of spiral, through the aperture.) If the building is an eyeball, then maybe the stick-lattice representation of the Yellow King is at the fovea, a place also occupied for an instant, perhaps, by Rust. Significantly, fovea is Latin for pit, which is another word for abyss (for the Yellow King and his cultists) and trap (for Rust, who says early in the series that he feels like he's in a trap; the spiral symbol can also be taken as a labyrinth or maze, another kind of trap). Remember, Rust continually looks at his own eyeball in a mirror.
5. There is a lot of pagan, pre-Christian, post-Christian, and satanic imagery in True Detective, but other websites have gone into all of that, so I'll leave the analysis to them.
6. Whew!

Copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, July 9, 2017

I Walked with a Zombie

Next came I Walked with a Zombie, from 1943. People of today like their mashups--an odious word. Well, I Walked with a Zombie could easily be subtitled Jane Eyre Meets the Walking Dead. It's the story of a Canadian nurse, played by Frances Dee, who goes to the Caribbean island of Saint Sebastian to care for the invalid wife of a sugar plantation owner. There, for the first time, she encounters the concept--and the apparent reality--of zombie-ism.

I Walked with a Zombie was based on a newspaper feature of the same name by Cleveland journalist Inez Wallace (1888-1966). The title is sensationalistic and confessional. The story in the movie is told in the voice of the nurse, but it's controlled, intelligent, and even in tone. I imagine much of that is attributable to Curt Siodmak (1902-2000), one of the co-screenwriters. As is the case with the best horror movies, much is left to your imagination.

I wrote about zombies a few months back, pointing out at the time that the fear of zombie-ism is the fear among black people of being returned to slavery or of being made a slave forever. It is not the fear of a capitalist exploiter as critical theorists of today would have us believe. The shadow of slavery and of life under slavery is cast across I Walked with a Zombie, even in the opening minutes as the nurse rides in a wagon with a black driver. I can't say how black people of today might react to the movie, but I think that the awareness of the slave experience, of the suffering and pain of slavery, and of the fear black people had or have of slavery are conveyed in the film at a time when portrayals of any authentic black experience were rare in movies.

I Walked with a Zombie is, I think, a very effective film. The sequence in which the nurse leads the invalid wife through the sugar cane to the Voodoo gathering is very fine. Images of Darby Jones as the zombie Carrefour are extraordinary and unforgettable, surely among the most iconic in American movies. And has any singer in movies been more menacing than Sir Lancelot as he advances upon the nurse, singing his song in deadpan, casting his lyrics upon her like a curse?

I Walked with a Zombie was innovative in some ways. It is supposed to have been the first movie with a calypso song in it. Beyond that, I'm not sure that any previous movie had attempted to show the practice of Voodoo with the same evenness or humanity as this one does. I'm also not sure that any previous movie would have used the words houngan or obeah or Damballah or would have given any credence at all to Voodoo belief or practice. One of the things I like most about I Walked with a Zombie is that the black characters are treated as real human beings and not as stereotypes. There may be divisions in the movie--it is after all about white people and the real threat of zombie-ism is against a white woman--but the white and black characters interact with each other as fellow human beings, and the suffering of black people under slavery is essentially the context in which the drama plays out.

One last thing: I Walked with a Zombie was produced by Val Lewton (1904-1951), who wrote one story for Weird Tales, "The Bagheeta," published in July 1930 and the source for Lewton's film Cat People, from 1942. Lewton was of Jewish extraction, as was Curt Siodmak. Perhaps the history of suffering and slavery among Jews gave these men sympathy for black people and their similar experiences here in the New World under a system imported from the Old.


Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Animals in the Uncanny Valley

At the end of these hot and humid days, I watch movies in the dark. The night after watching Mad Max: Fury Road, I saw Jurassic World (2015) on DVD. The movie opens with a scene showing a CGI bird of an unidentifiable species. (I think it's supposed to be a jay.) Here's something I have come to understand about moviemakers: they think we're stupid. They don't realize that moviegoers might know something about birds, or paleontology, or human behavior, or any other subject, and that we might notice when they--the moviemakers--come up with some kind of BS. Anyway, the bird is fake, made by CGI, and does not look or act like a real bird. I have also seen CGI wolves and horses. I'm sure there have been other fake animals in movies.

A few months ago, I wrote about the uncanny valley, that place where human beings recoil from something that looks human but is obviously not human. An animated Shrek is okay because he doesn't and isn't supposed to look human. An animated Peter Cushing is creepy and repulsive, however. Animals are not human, but we have affinity with animals. We know they're alive. We recognize in them some of the same experiences, sensations, and feelings we have in ourselves. We know that they suffer and feel pain, that they wish to live and thrive and enjoy life and the company of their own species. (I will never forget the sight of a group of barn swallows playing a game with a floating feather as they circled a pond on an Indiana farm.) No, they are not human, but we know them and recognize them. We also recognize things that are not animals but that are supposed to look like animals. Toy animals are okay. Animals made by conventional animation are okay. But CGI animals are not okay. They inhabit the uncanny valley, and they are wrong and creepy and disturbing. Dinosaurs and imaginary animals are different because we don't have any experience with them, but CGI animals are creepy and should not be in movies. I would ask moviemakers instead: why don't you just get the real thing?

I have other complaints about Jurassic World. I'll start with the deficient and inaccurate science in the movie. I have already talked about the bird species that doesn't exist. But what about the dinosaur that breaks out of its eggs using a talon rather than an egg tooth? Or the map showing how dinosaurs migrated or expanded their ranges, yet the map is of the modern world? I'm sure there are other problems with the science in the movie, but they're not as obvious as the problems with technology. For example, if the dinosaur handlers can implant a tracking device in each dinosaur, why can't they just insert a small, remotely controlled explosive device or at least a tranquilizer capsule for use in case of disaster? And what about the cellphone system on the island? Why doesn't everybody who works there know everything instantly by automatic message? Why do they have to call each other? Why isn't there complete, foolproof cellphone coverage across the entire island? And why does one of the characters use a cellphone that looks like it came out the 1990s? Is that some kind of radio or walkie-talkie? Why? And why do they go after the dinosaurs on foot? Haven't they ever heard of a tank or an armored vehicle?

But the worst part of the movie--the surest sign that the moviemakers think we're stupid--is the disregard shown by the screenwriters for their characters. As an example, Chris Pratt's character is smart and able. I was never even mildly convinced that he would be attracted to the stupid, shallow, annoying character played by Bryce Dallas Howard. Worse yet--really the worst part of the whole movie for me--is the use of an idiot plot device whereby Chris Pratt's character very conspicuously disarms himself not once but twice before the top dinosaur appears. His weapon has a shoulder strap. He can free his hands while still carrying it. Yet he sets it on the ground. This is an insult to the character and to us. It's a sign not only of the screenwriters' contempt for us but also of their intervening in their story by forcing their characters to do things that are out of character simply for the sake of the plot. And not only for the sake of the plot but for the sake of their not having to work harder to figure out how to make their plot work better. This happens way too often in movies and it has to stop. Maybe moviemakers should have small, remotely controlled explosive devices implanted in them for when they misbehave.

Finally, Jurassic World reminds me of Aliens. Once again, a large corporation and/or the military is the villain. That didn't bother me very much, but I'll note that Vincent D'Onofrio gets it like Paul Reiser got it in Aliens. Do moviemakers, who work for large corporations, have any sense that when they kill off corporate functionaries in their movies, they may actually be killing off representations of themselves?

In November 1930, Weird Tales published "A Million Years After" by Katherine Metcalf Roof, a story in which two burglars steal and accidentally hatch a brontosaurus egg. The great dinosaur goes on a rampage, of course, before meeting the fate of all rampaging dinosaurs. No, there is nothing new under the sun. Cover art by C.C. Senf.

Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

For Freedom

Today, July 4, 2017, we celebrate our independence, but we also celebrate an idea larger than mere independence. There are nations now that became independent during the twentieth century, yet have retained or created tyrannical and arbitrary governments. On this day in 1776, we declared that we would have none of that. We declared loudly and openly and in plain language an idea that is at once as old as time and as radical as nearly any in history: that we are all created equal and that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. Those rights did not come to us from a king or the State or from any person or institution: they came from God. In the two hundred and forty-one years since, there have been those against us, and they have been against us in reaction to that radical idea, against the idea that we are and by rights free, that our rights and our freedom have come to us from our Creator, that they are individual rights, and that no person or institution may justly take them from us. In 1776, as war waged in our new nation, there were among us loyalists to tyranny. We knew them and recognized them. In the interest of charity, we might excuse or forgive them today. But today, there are also loyalists to tyranny who live among us and pass among us. They enjoy the rights and freedoms and privileges that we all enjoy in this country even as they scheme to take those things away from us. Their goal is to restore tyranny--to return to Old World ways of thinking and living. They are in short unworthy of living in the New World, a radical world in which men and women are free. They might better return to the Old World, if the Old World would have them, where tyranny still lives.

So what does any of this have to do with fantasy fiction? Well, since the idea of the future was created, we have also had a literature of the future. We call it science fiction, a form of fantasy. One of the sub-genres of science fiction is utopian and dystopian literature. The strange irony is that the societies described in those sub-genres are essentially a return to the past, even as the literature is of the future. They are reactionary in the extreme in that they seek a restoration of tyranny and a repudiation of the radical idea of human freedom. We know now that the future has been approaching so rapidly that we can hear and feel its onrush--the winds of the future are as a buffeting wind in our faces. We can say today that the future--meaning, the tyrannical past--is here in the form of a powerful and overreaching State that has denied the parents of a sick infant in their right to remove that child from its control and not only from its control but from its domain. That State demands that the child, as its property, die by its prescription. The future is here. That tyrant is, as it was in 1776, ruthless and arbitrary; it claims for itself powers against human life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is also, as it was at our founding, the government of the United Kingdom. George Orwell could hardly have imagined such a thing for the country in which he set his novel 1984. (Has any writer of science fiction imagined that tyranny would creep into our lives through medicine, a field whose first command is do no harm?) I find these facts disheartening in the extreme, as we have fought with the British so well against tyranny for the last century. But tyranny lives deep within the heart of the Old World, and given a choice between the values of the tyrant and the values of the free man, those in the Old World would seem forever to choose the former. This is why, for as long as we cherish our freedom, America will be the indispensable nation and a refuge for those seeking an escape from tyranny.

Happy Independence Day to All
and
May Freedom Ring!

Copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, July 2, 2017

It's Mad, Mad, Mad Max World

More on Utopia/Dystopia and Apocalypse:

What we think of as apocalyptic literature is probably not apocalyptic in that it isn't Christian or biblical. In fact, it's usually entirely secular and may actually be nihilistic. That's why I have used the term Anti-Apocalypse to describe the non-Christian or non-biblical story of the end of the world, to differentiate stories of this type from their Christian or biblical counterparts, and as an analog to the term Anti-Utopia, aka Dystopia. Again, I don't think we need a different term--i.e., Anti-Apocalypse--describing a separate genre, as that would just be a needless complication, but I wanted to make a distinction anyway.

As for Utopia and Dystopia: In literature, they are different genres, or two sides of the same genre. In the real world, though, Utopia is Dystopia, for this reason: a perfect society must be made up of perfect human beings; human beings are imperfect and imperfectible; the utopian visionary will never rest in his quest for a perfect society; as a result of all that, human beings--the citizens of Utopia--must be driven ceaselessly and mercilessly even to their deaths for the sake of creating the perfect society. That's where the Dystopia within every Utopia comes from. For anyone who believes that a perfect or utopian society is possible without a perfect humanity, I pose this question: How do you propose to make something perfect out of imperfect parts? The answer of the utopian is likely to be: By perfecting society, we will make people perfect. They of course have things backward, and more than two hundred years of ruin have shown as much.

So here's my next distinction, probably more needful than the first: Isn't an apocalyptic story one about the end of the world (or the world we know), while post-apocalyptic describes a different kind of story? I'm thinking here of apocalyptic movies like Melancholia2012, When Worlds Collide, and War of the Worlds versus movies in which the disaster has already happened and now people are trying to pick up the pieces: The Omega ManThe Road, the Terminator movies, etc. In other words, what we too often call an apocalyptic story is actually a post-apocalyptic story. I think people have had an easier time with this distinction than they have with the distinction between Dystopia and Apocalypse.

Anyway, I watched Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) the other night. It's a post-apocalyptic story, just like the other Mad Max movies. Like them, it's packed with furious action, only more so. In fact, Mad Max: Fury Road is so over the top in places that it's more like a brilliant physical comedy (and a satire) than a serious action picture. (It could easily be retitled It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Max World.) Here's something I noticed, though: Mad Max: Fury Road is a Mad Max movie, but Max has been demoted. He is now, at most, a co-protagonist. He may actually be simply a supporting character. The lead character, or Max's co-protagonist, is now a woman, Imperator Furiosa. Further, that woman is more or less a female Mad Max. The moviemakers can't really throw Max out the window and call their picture Furiosa or Mad Maxine without putting their franchise at risk, but the effect is the same. Max is no longer the lead, and it's no longer his story.

The drift of all of this seems obvious to me: what were once stories about men are becoming stories about women, and not only about women but about women who are in charge. Men have been reduced to secondary status. I'll put up for exhibit the two most recent Star Wars movies: both have strong, courageous, and determined female protagonists. (Both are also essentially iterations of the Luke Skywalker character.) The men are simply helpmates and satisfied to be led around by the women. In comic books, Iron Man and Thor have become women. (There are probably other sex changes that I don't know about, as I don't follow comic books very well.) It may just be a matter of time before there is a female Tarzan, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes (Watson is already a woman), and so on. And I don't mean just a female version of these characters: James Bond will be a woman.

So where will the men be in all of this? I am reminded of a dystopian novel, The Republic of the Future by Anna Bowman Dodd (1887). The story is told in the words of a man writing to his friend about the United States under socialism in the year 2050:
The few men . . . whom I saw seemed to me to be allowed to exist as specimen examples of a fallen race. Of course, this view is more or less an exaggeration. But the women here do appear to possess by far the most energy, vigor, vitality and ambition. (p. 38)
and:
The longer I stay here the more I am impressed with the profound melancholy which appears to have taken possession of this people. The men, particularly, seem sunk in a torpor of dejection and settled apathy. (p. 58)
I'm not sure we'll have to wait until 2050 to see that kind of world.

Copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Anti-Apocalypse

As I write and think about the alternative futures of Dystopia and Apocalypse, it occurs to me that the picture isn't complete. It occurs to me also that I may have misinterpreted the meaning of Apocalypse. I'll go at this by first writing about Utopia and Dystopia.

Utopia came first, before Dystopia. The first Utopia to bear that name was in Sir Thomas More's work of 1516. Stories of Utopia have been a mainstay of literature since then. It was only in the nineteenth century--a century of utopian theorizing and attempts at utopian living--that Utopia met its opposite, the anti-utopia or Dystopia, which describes a perfectly awful society. In the twentieth century, stories of Dystopia overshadowed those of Utopia. That is to be expected, as people who had encountered utopian/totalitarian regimes woke up to the reality that Utopia is an impossibility and that every attempt at establishing Utopia on Earth ends in disaster.

So the dream is of Utopia and the reality is of Dystopia. Again, I don't think that any serious writer of the last fifty to one hundred years is or was foolish or naïve enough to have attempted a utopian story. (Stories of Lost Worlds may be the closest thing to it, but they are within the less serious pulp genres of science fiction, fantasy, etc.) Many, though, have written dystopian stories. Those stories have often succeeded as utopian stories once did, that is, as satires. Others have come as critiques, warnings, descriptions, or predictions. The point is that, given the fallen nature of humanity, Dystopia is a possibility, while Utopia will forever remain a pipe dream.

I wrote recently that Utopia and Apocalypse may well be impossible without the Christian notion of progress. Apocalypse, after all, is a book of the Bible and a synonym for revelation. We think of Apocalypse as a negative--a world-ending disaster. But that's our convention. In its original meaning, Apocalypse is positive, a revelation about the end of our current world and the ushering in of something better. In that sense, the word and idea of Apocalypse is more nearly analogous to Utopia than it is to Dystopia. What's missing is the Anti-Apocalypse, a thing for which there isn't any word as far as I know. Put another way, Utopia and Apocalypse are positive fantasies, while Dystopia and Anti-Apocalypse (i.e., a world-ending disaster) are closer to what could really happen on Earth, should events go a certain way. But to switch the meaning of the word apocalypse to its opposite would be confusing to say the least, and probably needless, too.

So should we then make a distinction between Apocalypse of the Christian variety, or at least as a positive story of end times (in which good finally triumphs over evil), and Anti-Apocalypse, which is what we now call Apocalypse? And if so, should we have a word for it? One of the reasons I ask is that we could make of all this a nice symmetry: Utopia and Apocalypse as positive, progressive genres (progressive in the sense that earthly progress is a possibility, at least in literature), and Dystopia and Anti-Apocalypse as negative, more nearly conservative genres (conservative in that they recognize man's fallen nature). In the positive genres, what is good in humanity would be put on display. In the negative genres, the opposite would be the case. One point to consider here is that the positive Apocalypse would be an explicitly Christian genre; the other three genres would not necessarily be so. (The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood is an example--actually a critique--of a Christian Dystopia. It suffers from the same problem utopian/dystopian literature does in general, i.e., a lack of plausibility.) Another question: Has there been any positive apocalyptic literature? I guess the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins might qualify, but I have never read any of these books. From what I know, a lot of really terrible things happen in them, but all in fulfillment of the prophecy of end times.

Anyway, I'll say it again, to make a distinction between the positive (Christian) Apocalypse and the negative (more nearly secular) Anti-Apocalypse is probably unnecessary. It would only confuse things. We're already having enough trouble trying to differentiate between Apocalypse (a world of extreme chaos) and Dystopia (a world of extreme order). I'm not sure why the distinction is so hard to understand, but people keep making the mistake. Let's keep reminding them of the difference.

Copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Marx, Holmes, and Lovecraft

It's the start of a new week and time to be done with old things and begin with new. (I write this on Monday for posting on Tuesday.) This will be the last in my series referencing To the Finland Station by Edmund Wilson (Doubleday Anchor, 1953). Quotes from the book from Marx himself:
The writer must earn money in order to be able to live and write, but he must by no means live and write for the purpose of making money . . . .
I must follow my goal through thick and thin and I shall not allow bourgeois society to turn me into a money-making machine. (p. 209)
When I read those words, I thought immediately of H.P. Lovecraft, who I believe thought of himself as an amateur (in the good sense) and who failed to do the things that a professional writer does, who wrote slowly and carefully rather than being a hack (a label placed on him by Edmund Wilson by the way), and who, like Marx, declined to work and as a consequence lived very often in dire poverty. It was this poverty in fact that killed Lovecraft. If only he had lived as long as Marx . . .

Like Marx, H.P. Lovecraft was an unsentimental materialist. Lovecraft, who came from a cold northern European culture and who left his wife and died childless, may in fact have been less sentimental than the Jewish Marx, who loved his wife and children, even if he subjected them to poverty, disease, and starvation. (Strange love.) Unlike Marx, Lovecraft was conservative, a twentieth-century Tory. His view was not that History would be crowned by the advent of worldwide socialism--in other words, a supreme human society--but that humanity matters not and will be crushed under the big, green, slimy foot of Cthulhu. (It seems to me that atheists and materialists of today have more in common with Lovecraft than with Marx.) That is at least the conventional view--that Marx was progressive rather than conservative. I have a different view, for I believe that Marx and all of his acolytes right down to the present day were and are in fact hardened conservatives of the reactionary type in that they wish to restore the élite--of which they see themselves a part--to a position they lost with the end of feudalism. The usurpers of course were the middle class, Marx's bourgeoisie, who, in their exercise of their economic rights, reduced the power, prestige, and position of their supposed superiors to nothing, hence all the envy, hatred, and vitriol directed at them even today. Here is an illustrative quote from To the Finland Station:
From time to time, with telling effect, Marx will light up for a moment the memory of other societies which have been fired by other ideals. The disgrace of the institution of slavery on which the Greek system had been founded had at least, in debasing one set of persons, made possible the development of an aristocracy of marvelous taste and many-sided accomplishment, whereas the masses of the people in the industrial world had been enslaved to no more impressive purpose than "to transform a few vulgar and half-educated upstarts into 'eminent cotton spinners,' 'extensive sausage makers' and 'influential blacking dealers.'" (pp. 293-294; emphasis added)
Note the arrogance, the condescension, the contempt for the middle class. Note also the bitter resentment at the loss of position among the aristocracy. (Lovecraft also came from a fallen society and fancied himself an aristocrat.) Finally, note the phrase "a few vulgar and half-educated upstarts." Now we're at the heart of the complaint made by Marx and men like him against the middle class. It's the same complaint made against our current president, and it explains the extreme hatred of him by so many leftists, who seem to have lost their minds in contemplating his ascendancy: How did he get to where he is when he is so obviously inferior to us? What kind of unjust world are we living in? And how can we set it aright? (2)

I'll just add two things: One, in the end, the leftist/socialist/statist program is conservative in the extreme, a kind of reactionary belief system that wishes to restore feudal relationships among men. The real innovation, one of the most radical ideas in history and one enshrined in our founding documents, is that human beings are and by rights free. Two, Lovecraft, a lowly American pulp writer, out-Marxed Marx in his materialism and in his consequent placement of human beings at the bottom of the ladder of history instead of at the top. Although there are way too many Marxists in the world, especially among academia, the masses have made their judgment: they prefer Lovecraft--Edmund Wilson's hack--to Marx--Edmund Wilson's hero.

* * *

A few months ago, I went to a Sherlock Holmes event at the local library. It has been awhile since I read the Sherlock Holmes stories, so when the presenter started to talk about Holmes, his career, and his lifestyle, a lightbulb came on over my head. Again, I thought of H.P. Lovecraft, who, like Holmes (and Marx): was an avowed and enthusiastic amateur; lived by simple means, alone or in the household of a woman (or women) but who more or less eschewed the company of women (unlike Marx); entertained visitors to his apartment but seems to have been more or less a loner and one who lived mostly within his own thoughts and imagination; pursued his amateur studies in the extreme; and had specialized knowledge of obscure or esoteric subjects. (1) My next question was this: Did Lovecraft read the Sherlock Holmes stories? The answer appears to be yes. My final question was this: Did Lovecraft model himself at all on Sherlock Holmes? That's one for people who know more about Lovecraft than I do.

Notes
(1) The one woman in Holmes' life is Irene Adler. The one woman in Lovecraft's life was Sonia Greene. Both disappeared in a hurry. Sonia was a Russian-born Jew. Irene Adler is a native of New Jersey and not obviously Jewish. But what of her surname? We have already had one Adler in this series, the Austrian--and Jewish--socialist Victor Adler. There was also a famous Jewish psychologist named Alfred Adler, who, significantly in a discussion of Lovecraft and leftists, postulated the existence of an inferiority complex among us. Anyway, I'm not the first person to ask the question, Is Irene Adler Jewish? Look for it on the Internet.
(2) A last quote from To the Finland Station:
But with his [Lenin's] hard sense of social realities, he is quite clear about the intellectual inequalities between the intelligentsia and the masses. He quotes in What Is to Be Done? as "profoundly true and important" a statement by Karl Kautsky to the effect that the proletariat, left to itself, can never arrive at socialism; socialism must be brought to them from above: "the vehicles of science are not the proletariat, but the bourgeois intelligentsia." (pp. 393-394)
Hence the arrogance and condescension of our current leftist ruling class, all of whom have come from the middle class, all of whom enjoy a middle class lifestyle, all of whom fancy themselves intellectually superior not only to the masses but also to the vulgar, moneymaking middle class, and all of whom wish to impose from above a program in which they will attain and hold power, all, they claim, for the sake of "the people."

Original text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, June 26, 2017

Beyond the Finland Station

I finished reading To the Finland Station by Edmund Wilson last night. I'm glad to be out from under the shadow of this book, not only because of its excessive length--484 pages in the Doubleday Anchor edition of 1953--and not only for the author's less than engaging prose style. More than anything, I'm glad to have the book behind me because of its subject matter and for Wilson's apparent admiration for the ideas and historical figures--Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, and so on--described therein. Socialism is, as we now know, the ideology of mass murder. It's sickening to read a chronicle of its development, moreover, to follow an otherwise intelligent man in his appreciation of it. Maybe I'm being too sensitive. Maybe Edmund Wilson was not as appreciative as I imagine. But I'm glad to have it behind me. Still, the centennial year of the Russian Revolution of 1917 continues. Still, an awareness of what that has meant is with us: 100 years and as many as 100 million dead at the hands of socialists the world over.

I wrote in yesterday's entry about the Listeners, the men and women who have dedicated themselves to the search for intelligent life in the universe. They listen and listen, certain that we will, at any moment, finally hear from our space brethren. That certainty is, it seems to me, religious in origin and intensity. It carries through many fields of endeavor, though. Even squatchers believe that we are on the verge of discovering definitive proof of the existence of Bigfoot, if not finding the hairy beast himself. As Robert Crumb might say, Keep on Squatchin'.

Anyway, following is a quote to that point from To the Finland Station. The speaker is Lenin himself. The occasion is the beginning of the first Russian Revolution, from the spring of 1917:
Not today, but tomorrow, any day, may see the general collapse of European capitalism. The Russian revolution you have accomplished has dealt it the first blow and has opened a new epoch. . . . (p. 469)
Note the similarity in expression between the breathless Marxist revolutionary and any number of fervent believers of the last century and more as they await the coming of their most hoped-for event.

A century of political murder and mass starvation, imprisonment, and torture has intervened since Lenin spoke those words. Thank God--our God, not his--that "new epoch" is reaching its end, although leftists in the West have invented and put into practice new and far more subtle and insidious permutations in the form of political correctness, critical theory, etc. A second point, though: when and if we hear messages from outer space, they are not likely to be anything we hope for, expect, or predict. Imagine, for example, this bur under the blanket of the atheistic Listener: What if the people from the stars tell us that they believe in God? Better yet, what if they tell us they believe God sent to their planet a representative of Himself who died for their sins? Imagine a real-life Mr. Spock who wants us to know that everything he does is washed in the green blood of the Vulcan Jesus. The Listeners in that case are likely to become Non-Listeners and to begin asking themselves, Where can we find a cotton ball big enough to plug the Arecibo telescope?

We should know by now that predictions based on a priori reasoning and abstruse theorizing about history and human nature are practically useless. The best predictions continue to be those made by conservatives who have some understanding of these things. To that point, another quote from To the Finland Station:
Victor Adler [an Austrian socialist, though apparently more moderate than his Russian counterpart] had once shocked Trotsky by declaring that, as for him, he preferred political predictions based on the Apocalypse to those based on Dialectical Materialism. (p. 429)
Dialectical Materialism, at least in later interpretations, can be taken as an a priori system and is seemingly used by some science fiction writers either as a backdrop for their work or as a means of making predictions in their work. Contrast that with the idea of the Apocalypse, especially as applied in genre fiction. The idea of a leftist or Marxist Apocalypse would seem an affront, a self-contradiction, an impossibility. Although Utopia is his prediction, Dystopia is the Leftist's preferred future. Apocalypse, it seems to me, is more nearly a conservative idea. But, as Robert Frost wrote:

Some say the world will end in fire, 
Some say in ice. 
From what I’ve tasted of desire 
I hold with those who favor fire. 
But if it had to perish twice, 
I think I know enough of hate 
To say that for destruction ice 
Is also great 
And would suffice.

Yes, ice--a freezing of history in the form of Dystopia--would suffice.

Alien Crucifixion (one version) by Frank Frazetta.

Original text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley