Archive for July, 2013

Turing

Orson Scott Card’s anti-gay marriage sentiments have returned to the SF spotlight with Harrison Ford’s comments while promoting the film adaptation at Comic Con San Diego. One proposed reaction from the LGBT community is to boycott the movie upon release, which is perfectly acceptable as long as emotions don’t spill over into the questionable extremes of restricting Card’s freedom of speech. SF has always been a diverse mess of conflicting ideas, theories and moral standpoints which, it has to be said, imbues its vitality as a literary form. Better perhaps to critique the film and then sit down with copy of Nova by Sammuel R Delany before deciding your personal stance on the controversy.

Meanwhile within the scientific community a similar debate has kicked off over the recent pardoning of Alan Turing. Overturning his conviction for gross indecency does show a shift in public and political thinking within the UK, however it does little to address the horrific treatment Turing had to endure at the end of his brief and brilliant life. There remains the on-going issue of the additional 49,000 gay men – all now deceased – who were also convicted under the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act.

Skylon

It’s encouraging to see Reaction Engines putting UK space flight back on the international news wire. Recent tests of their SABRE thrusters have generated a swathe of publicity, sparking a much needed injection of cash from the British government. When propelling Skylon – the single stage to orbit vehicle pictured above – up to MACH 5, these revolutionary hybrid engines will lift payloads of up to 15 tonnes into a low Earth orbit (approximately 300km).

The previous UK space program, Black Arrow, was axed in 1971, so it’s a timely return to the limelight – especially amid stories of heavy-handed tactics from DARPA attempting to stall the device’s development. Undeterred, Reaction Engines are pushing a good number of promotional materials out into the public domain, all suitably evocative of Gerry Anderson’s creations – that ominous black fuselage is just crying out for someone to
paint a massive 7 across it. It’s also reminiscent of the very British ‘Prometheus’ in Stephen Baxter’s dimension hopping Moon Six. So then, with this – alongside Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic – it seems as if the sky may no longer be the limit to UK astronautic interests.

Our Friend the Atom

Once, in my pre-teens, I ended up standing on the reactor head of a nuclear power station. As part of the tour, I was given a bright, bold pamphlet with cartoon caricatures depicting Messrs Proton, Neutron and Electron. Atomic science as a child-friendly bridge to an optimistic future. While not as striking as the Disney film/book version above, the desired outcome – the sanitisation of Einstein’s monsters – was identical.

Skip forward several years and the historical revisionism of Erich von Daniken – i.e. alien visitors kick-starting human development – received similar simplification in its own comic book series. Adapted in its original German by Michael Heron, and delightfully illustrated by Boguslaw Polch, it was published in a large, paperback format between 1978 and 1979.

The theme of extra-terrestrial intervention remains a familiar one, and John Sisson – over at his excellent homage to space age ephemera – has posted a kids fast food menu that condenses and explains the plot of 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Do peruse his site for further articles of what I’m referring to here.)

And for those of you who want more contemporary examples of sweeping futurist ideas encapsulated into targeted and digestible packages, look no further than Pixar’s Wal-E. Thankfully, Eric Tan has saved us the trouble of actually watching the film again – not that it’s a chore in any way, shape or form – by condensing the implicit messages further still. His beautiful propaganda posters hark back to a by-gone era where the bill board held a greater sway in mass communication.

It seems that such self-referential pastiches are the only outlet for old-school, blunt messaging in the plurality of the information age. Then again, that doesn’t appear to be a deterrent for some space cadets.