Archive for the ‘Space’ Category

Conspiracy Theories Spreading About Coronavirus

April 5, 2020

This morning, Zelo Street put up a disturbing piece about attacks on mobile phone masts, and the Scum’s response to them. According to the Beeb, 5G masts in Birmingham, Liverpool, Melling in Merseyside, and Aigburth, have been set alight. The motive for these attacks apparently is a bonkers conspiracy theory that the phone masts spread the Coronavirus. The Street has rightly described this bizarre idea as laughable, if it wasn’t resulting in this criminal damage.

The bonkers notion is spread by a number of celebs, including Amanda Holden, one of the judges on Britain’s Got Talent, Cheers actor Woody Harrelson, Lee Ryan of the band Blue, Michael Greco, a former star on Eastenders, and others. The Street quotes the reaction of Dr Michael Head, a senior research fellow at the University of Southampton, who according to Sky News condemned the conspiracy theorists and  celebrities as

‘a public health danger who once read a Facebook page … Here, we also see similar groups of people keen to show their ignorance on a topic where they have no helpful expertise, nor any inclination to post useful public health messages … The celebrities fanning the flames of these conspiracy theorists should be ashamed’.

Zelo Street also criticised the hypocritical attitude of the Scum, which was more than happy to attack the other celebrities for spreading this nonsense, but definitely not Holden. Why? They like her boobs, having posted comments like “Amanda Holden has to wear silicone nipple covers to hide her famous golden buzzers” … “AMANDA Holden’s gravity-defying chest is pretty spectacular” … “Amanda Holden says ‘there’s been lots of complaints about my t*ts’”. It’s another instance of hypocrisy and sexism at the Scum, which obviously won’t surprise anyone.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/04/5g-hoax-sun-and-amanda-holden.html

The idea that phone masts spread Coronavirus is not just grossly irresponsible, it’s scientific nonsense. There is a serious argument that phone masts are a threat to health because the radio frequencies they use may cause neurological damage. However, the Coronavirus isn’t caused by radiation of any kind. It’s a virus, a microbe, and so has nothing to do with radiation, whether spread by mobile masts or anything else. And among the various celebs spreading this bilge is another familiar name: David Icke. Very occasionally, the former footballer and self-declared messiah says something interesting, but it’s mixed in with a considerable amount of rubbish. Like the Reptoid aliens he has declared are secretly running the world, disguised as leading politicians and royalty. Or his claim that the Moon is artificial, and is really a giant alien transmitter which broadcasts the signals preventing us from waking up and realising that we are in the Matrix. There’s also a video on YouTube in which he’s interviewed by a journo from one of the Net news shows. Icke takes the fellow to an ancient standing stone on the Isle of Wight and tells him that Satanists are holding ceremonies there, including human sacrifice. I doubt that. I doubt that very much. There’s no evidence of such Satanic cults in Britain, and the myth about Satanic sects abusing and sacrificing children and babies was disproved long ago. There are, apparently, real Satanists around. According to a census there are about 4,000 of them. But I doubt very much they’re sacrificing people, on the Isle of Wight or anywhere else. It’s far more likely that any occult activity by the stone is kids going legend-tripping. That is, they’re going to the stone with their girlfriends, booze and possibly ouija boards in the hope of seeing something weird. But definitely not doing anything as serious as sacrificing humans.

I’m not surprised that there are conspiracy theories about the disease, however. It’s almost inevitable during this time of global fear. Thanks to the use of propaganda, misinformation and the existence of real conspiracies by governments across the world, some are absolutely paranoid about the authorities. They believe that they really are totally malign, conspiring with a terrible Other – evil space aliens, or Satan and his demons – to destroy and enslave humanity. Many people don’t feel that they have been given all the information about the disease and its spread, and it’s in what they feel is the absence of reliable information and the ingrained distrust of the government that these theories spread.

Back in the week, I noticed that a very old one had come back. It was on the BBC News, which had a piece about how the disease was affecting Russia. One of the people they spoke to was a Dr. Niklin, who blithely told the world that Coronavirus was an American germ warfare weapon. Well, it might be, but I very, very much doubt it. Because that’s what they said about AIDS when that appeared in the 80s and 90s. AIDS also definitely isn’t a bioweapon. I think it evolved from a strain of Green Monkey Disease that crossed the species boundary into humans. The story that it was an American germ warfare experiment that escaped from Fort Detrick was a lie put out by the KGB in retaliation for the Americans claiming that it was KGB who organised the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.

These are scary times indeed without anyone pushing stupid and dangerous nonsense about mobile phone masts, germ warfare or anything else. Coronavirus is a threat, but it’s an entirely natural phenomenon. Of that I’m very certain. We need to believe and trust the real medical experts on this, like Dr. Head, and ignore anyone else telling us otherwise. And that includes celebs not named and shamed by the Scum.

 

The Coronavirus and the Death of the Dream of a Disease-Free Future

March 30, 2020

There has been one other consequence of the Coronavirus, apart from the immense toll its taken in tragic deaths, its disastrous impact on economies and social life around the world as trade and personal contact has been reduced to a minimum as countries go into lockdown. I doubt few people have noticed it, but I believe that the pandemic has finally killed the sixties dream of the conquest of disease.

It was an optimistic decade, and although the high hopes of technological, social and economic improvement and expansion ended with the depression of the 70s and its fears of overpopulation, ecological collapse, and the running out of resources, coupled with global terrorism, labour unrest and the energy crisis, some of that optimism still continued. And one of the sources of that optimism was the victories that were being won against disease. Before the introduction of modern antibiotics, diseases like tuberculosis, polio, diptheria and cholera were common and lethal. In the case of polio, they could leave their victims so severely paralysed that they had to be placed in iron lungs in order to breathe. Their threat was greatly reduced in Britain and the West through the introduction of antibiotics, as well as the improvements in housing, working conditions and sanitation. And these advances appeared to be global. Yes, there was still terrible poverty in the Developing World, but these emergent nations were improving thanks to the efforts of charities and the United Nations. The UN was helping these nations become educated through schools, setting up wells and other sources of clean water, teach their peoples about the importance of sanitation. Most importantly, it was actively eradicating disease through immunisation programmes.

The UN and the charities are still doing this, of course, often working in hostile conditions in countries wracked by dictatorship, corruption and civil war. But in the 1970s the world won a major victory in the struggle against disease: smallpox was declared extinct in the wild. Humanity had overcome and beaten a major killer that had taken the lives of countless millions down the centuries. Cultures of the disease still remain in laboratories, just in case it returns. But outside of these, the disease was believed to be finally extinct.

It was the realisation of the optimistic ideas contained in Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. The series envisaged a future in which humanity had set aside its national and racial division, and become united. It had joined other extraterrestrial races in a benign Federation, a kind of UN in space, and embarked on a wave of space colonisation and exploration. It sent out ships like the Enterprise ‘to seek out new life and new civilisations’, and boldly split infinitives which no-one had split before. And part of that optimistic future was the victory over disease. It was still there, and there were instances where it ravaged whole planets. But by and large humanity and its alien partners were conquering it. That optimism continued into the subsequent series, like Star Trek: The Next Generation and the films. Serious diseases, which now regularly afflict humanity would be easily treatable in this future. In the third Star Trek film, The Voyage Home,  the crew of the Enterprise journey back to the 20th century to save the whale and thus the Earth of the future from an alien spaceship that somehow causes advanced technology to shut down. Entering a hospital to rescue Chekhov, who has been captured by today’s American army, McCoy finds an elderly lady awaiting dialysis. ‘What is this!’, he characteristically exclaims, ‘the Dark Ages!’ And gives her a pill. When next we see her, She’s fit and well and raising her walking stick in thanks to McCoy as he and the others rush past. Around her two doctors are muttering in astonishment about how she has grown a new kidney. And in the Next Generation pilot episode, ‘Encounter at Far Point’, McCoy is shown as an elderly man in his 120s.

Now medical progress is still being made, and people in the West are living much longer, so that there is an increasing number of old folks who are over 100. And some scientists and doctors believe that advances in medical science, especially geriatrics, may eventually lead to people attain the age of 400 or even a thousand. The last claim appeared on a BBC 4 panel game over a decade ago, in which various scientists and doctors came before the writer and comedian Andy Hamilton and the Black American comic, Reggie Yates, to argue for the validity of their theories. And one of these was that the first person to live to a thousand has already been born.

But such optimism has also been seriously tempered by the persistence of disease. Just as humanity was eradicating Smallpox, SF writers were producing stories about the threat of new killer diseases, such as in the films The Satan Bug and The Andromeda Strain, as well as the British TV series, Survivors. I think public belief in the ability of humanity to conquer disease was seriously damaged by the emergence of AIDS in the 1980s. This was so devastating, that some viewed it in terms of the Black Death, though mercifully this wasn’t the case. And after AIDS came bird flu, swine flu, and now the present pandemic. And unlike these previous health emergencies, the world has been forced to go into lockdown. It’s an unprecedented move, that seems more like a return to the response to the plagues of the Middle Ages and 17-19th centuries than the actions of a modern state.

The lockdown is necessary, and this crisis has shown that states still need to cooperate in order to combat global diseases like Coronavirus. Medicine is still improving, so that it’s possible that some people, the rich elite who can afford it, may enjoy vastly extended lifespans. But the current crisis has also shown that serious diseases are still arising, illnesses that now spread and affect the world’s population as a whole. And so the 60s dream of a future without serious disease now seems very distant indeed.

Cartoon – The Tories: Nightmares of the Flesh

March 23, 2020

Here’s another of my cartoons lampooning and attacking their Tories and their noxious leading members. In this case, it’s influenced by a few of the ‘body horror’ films of the 1980s – The Thing, Society and From Beyond, and one of the early ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ strips in 2000 AD, ‘Killerwatt’. Body horror is that part of the Horror genre, where the human body mutates and takes on warped, twisted forms, though I think it can also include the ‘torture porn’ subgenre, in which people are tortured and mutilated.

In The Thing, an American base in the Antarctic discovers a crashed UFO, from which an alien escaped to infect members of the base’s team and their animals. The alien replicates and hides by infecting other creatures, devouring them at a cellular level but copying their form – until it finally reveals itself by twisting itself into weird, hideous forms. As the bodies mount, and successive characters are revealed to have been infected and taken over, paranoia mounts. The horror is as much in the fear and distrust the characters have of each other, as of the grotesque appearances of the Thing itself.

From Beyond, directed by Stuart Gordon is roughly based on the short story, ‘Beyond the Wall of Sleep’ by H.P. Lovecraft. However, the film bears little resemblance to the story that inspired it. In the film, two scientists, Tillinghast and Dr. Pretorius, are using a device, the resonator, to peer into a unseen dimension surrounding our own and its denizens. Tillingast is arrested for murder after one of the creatures from that dimension then appears and bites the head off his superior, Pretorius. He takes a curious policeman and a female psychiatrist from the mental hospital in which he has been confined back to his laboratory, and set the resonator running to show them he’s telling the truth. But each time they switch on the machine, Pretorius appears, in progressively grotesque forms as it is revealed that he’s become a monster of hideous appetites. The slogan for the movie was ‘Humans are such easy prey’.

In Society, directed by Gordon’s collaborator, Brian Yuzna, the horror is mixed with social comment aimed squarely at the class system of Reagan’s America. It’s hero is a teenage lad, Bill Whitney, who finds out that he’s really adopted, and his upper class family, their friends and colleagues, are really monsters. These creatures have total control of their bodies, which they can deform and twist like rubber or plastic. They are predatory and exploitative, feeding on ordinary humans in orgies in which they melt down almost to a liquid state to feast on their victims.

It’s hard not to see this as a comment on the exploitative, predatory nature of the rich business class set free by Reagan and the Republicans.

But these films were anticipated in their horrors by 2000 AD and ‘Nemesis the Warlock’. Created by comics veterans Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill, the strip was set thousands of years in the future, when humanity had moved underground, away from the devastated surface and the planet’s name was now Termight. Ruling Termight was Torquemada, grand master of the Terminators, a quasi-monastic order, who had turned humanity’s fear of intelligent aliens into a religion and led wars of extermination against them. Opposed to him was the alien hero, Nemesis, and his resistance organisation, Credo. The character first appeared in the two ‘Comic Rock’ strips, ‘Going Underground’ and ‘Killerwatt’ in 1980, several years before the above films. In the latter story, the alien chased Torquemada down the teleport wires the grand master was using to get to his capital, Necropolis, after his train journey overland was interrupted by a gooney bird, a colossal bird creature resembling, or evolved from, the Concorde airplane. As the two raced down the wires, they had to cross the Sea of Lost Souls, a nightmare sea of neutrons and twisted bodies created when a gooney bird sat on the teleport wires.

Two panels showing the Sea of Lost Souls from ‘Killerwatt’. Art by that zarjaz master of the macabre, Kevin O’Neill.

In this cartoon, I’ve drawn a similar landscape, complete with surfers, where the denizens of the sea are Tory politicos. They are Boris Johnson, David Gauke, Dominic Cummings, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nicky Morgan and Theresa May. I hope you enjoy it, and that it doesn’t give you nightmares. Oh yes, and what you see behind them is supposed to be giant tongues, in case you thought it was anything else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worrals of the WAAF – Captain W.E. John’s Flying Heroine for Girls

March 23, 2020

Captain W.E. Johns, illustrated by Matt Kindt, Worrals of the WAAF (London: Indie Books 2013).

Captain W.E. Johns, illustrated by Matt Kindt, Worrals Carries on (London: Indie Books 2013).

Captain W.E. Johns, illustrated by Matt Kindt, Worrals Flies Again (London: Indie Books 2013).

Captain W.E. Johns was the creator of that great British hero, ‘Biggles’ Bigglesworth, an RAF fighter ace, who with his friends Algy and Ginger foiled the evil designs of the German menace in a series of tales set in the First and Second World Wars. They’re classics of British children’s literature. They appeal mostly, but by no means exclusively to boys – they’re have been plenty of female readers. Even though they’re now somewhat passe, they’re influence on British popular culture is still noticeable. In the 1980s there was an attempt to translate the character into film with an SF twist. Johns’ hero was still a World War II airman, but was sent into the present day by time warp. The character was so much a staple of British literature, that he was lampooned, I believe, by Punch’s Alan Coren in his short story, ‘Biggles Strikes Camp’. More recently, the square-jawed space pilot, ‘Ace’ Rimmer, the heroic alter ego of the cowardly, egotistical and sneering Rimmer in TV’s Red Dwarf, seems to be something of a mixture of Biggles and that other great British hero, Dan Dare, the pilot of the future.

But during the Second World War, Johns was also determined to thrill and inspire girls with a similar figure for them. And so he wrote a series of three books about Joan Worralson, ‘Worrals’, and her friend Frecks. They were pilots in the WAAF, the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, which was set up to deliver aircraft to the RAF. Although not combat pilots, Worrals and Flecks soon found themselves actively fighting the Nazi menace in Britain, and then France. The books were republished in 2013 by Indie Books. There’s also some connection there with the RAF Museum, as that institution has its logo proudly printed on the back cover.

I found them in a recent catalogue for Postscript, a mail order firm specialising in bargain books. They were there, alongside serious histories of women in aviation and the WAAF. I liked the ‘Biggles’ books when I was a schoolboy, and decided to order them to see what his female counterpart was like. A decision helped by the fact that they were £2.95 each. They came shortly before the shutdown last week. I haven’t read them yet, but will probably give them a full review when I do. In the meantime, here’s the blurbs for them:

1: Worrals of the WAAF

Britain: 1940

Joan Worralson – Worrals to her many friends – is ferrying a replacement aircraft to a RAF fighter station when she is plunged into combat with a mysterious plane.

Later, she and her friend Frecks investigate what that plane was up to – and fall into a nest of spies.

With their own airfield the target for destruction, the two girls will need every ounce opf skill and daring to save the day.

2: Worrals Carries On

Britain: 1941

While Britain reels from nightly air attacks, Worrals and Frecks are stuck in the routine of delivering new planes to the RAF – until a chance discovery put them on the trail of a Nazi spy.

The hunt leads them to London at the height of the Blitz and even into occupied France. Cut could it be that the traitor is right in their midst? And ready to hand them over to the Gestapo?

3: Worrals Flies Again

1941: Occupied France

British agents are risking their lives behind enemy lines. But how to get that vital information back home?

MI6 need a pilot who speaks French like a native and with the courage to take on an operation so crazy that it might just work. A job for Worrals.

But when she and Frecks fly to the isolated French castle that is to be their base, they discover that nothing is what it seems – and the Gestapo have got there first.

Like other professions and employers, the RAF is trying to diversify its ranks and recruit more women and people of BAME backgrounds. This was shown very clearly a few months ago on the One Show, in a section where pilot and former Countdown numbers person, Carol Vorderman, herself a pilot, talked about the winners of a competition by the Air Cadets  and the RAF to find their best and most promising members. There were three, two of whom were girls, while the third was a Black lad. As a reward, they were given a tour of the vast American factory where they were building the new high performance jets that were due to come into service over this side of the Pond, and talk to some of the American Air Forces pilots. These included a young woman, who was so thrilled with flying these machines that she told them she couldn’t believe she got paid for doing it. There was also a little subtext informing the viewer that young women could still fly these deadly war machines without sacrificing their femininity. One of the girl cadets was a blogger, who specialised in makeup and beauty. And there’s also a more general drive within aviation to recruit more women as pilots, for example in civil, passenger flight.

There have clearly been for a long time women interested in flight and careers in the armed forces. I don’t know how many girls were encouraged to join the WAAF or take to the air by reading Worrals – I suspect they more likely to be influenced by the ‘Biggles’ stories. There was also an attempt to launch a comic strip which featured a group of female pilots fighting for Britain in the WAAF or RAF in the girls’ comics. This was mentioned in the excellent short BBC documentary series, Comics Britannia. However, the strip didn’t prove popular with female readers and was closed down. The comic asked them what they’d rather read instead, and they said, ‘a good cry’. This resulted in a series of strips of unrelenting misery in their comics, including ‘Child Slaves of War Orphan Farm’. I think stories about heroic female pilots sticking it to the Nazis would have been far healthier, but the girls of the time obviously didn’t want it. I don’t know if the books would have any greater success now, when writers are trying to create strong role models for girls in fiction.

I haven’t read them yet – they’re on my ‘to read’ list, along with many others. But I intend to read them eventually. I’m interested in finding out what they’re like, and how they stand up to today’s changed ideas about gender roles. And more importantly, whether they’re any fun. I look forward to finding out.

And my mother wants to read them afterwards. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ad Astra: A Tale of Quest, Obsession and Disappointment

March 23, 2020

Directed by James Gray, starring Brad Pitt, Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones and Liv Tyler.

I wanted to catch this one at the cinema when it came out last year, based on the trailer I’d seen online. This showed Brad Pitt as clean-cut, square-jawed space captain racing across the lunar landscape in a rover, guns blazing away at the bad guys in theirs. It looked a very convincing depiction of a possible near future. A future when humanity is at last moving out to colonise and exploit the resources of the solar system, but still plagued by geopolitical intrigues and violence. From the trailer, I thought it might be about terrorism on the high frontier, just as the motive for sending the Robinson family into space in the ill-fated 90s version of Lost in Space was a global threat from an insurgency. But it isn’t. It’s instead about humanity’s quest to discover alien intelligence, and the dangerous consequences of one man’s refusal to face the fact that we haven’t found it.

Warning: this review contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen the film, and want to see it fresh, please don’t read on. I’ll put up something else in due course, which you can read without worrying that it’ll spoil your fun.

Brad Pitt plays Commander McBride, a hard-working, intensely focused career astronaut, whose devotion to his duty has led to his wife walking out on him. But because of his intense, single-minded concentration on his duty, he isn’t particularly affected by this. The film begins with a statement that humanity will expand into space, and will continue looking for extraterrestrial intelligence. Then the action begins with McBride in space, working with other astronauts on the outside of a giant space structure. This is hit by massive power surges, causing vital components to overload and explode, hurling pieces of the station and the astronauts desperately trying to fix them off into space. McBride is one of these, knocked off the station by falling debris. But he, and the other astronauts, fall downward to Earth, rather than off into space. Tumbling, Pitt eventually rights himself and parachutes back to the ground. The station is revealed to be no such thing. It’s a giant radio antenna, set up to receive possible signals from the ETs.

The power surge that hit the antenna was one of a series, each increasing in strength, that is causing blackouts and devastation across the world’s cities. Their source has been located near Neptune. It’s believed that their caused by an antimatter reaction, and a lost system commanded by McBride’s father, is believed to be the cause as it was powered by antimatter. The ship was sent out there on a 29 year mission to search for alien signals, far away from the interference of human telecommunications in the inner solar system. However, 16 years into the mission it disappeared. McBride’s father became a hero, and many astronauts tell McBride that it is thanks to him that they took up a career in space. This raises the question of whether McBride senior has indeed found aliens, who are hostile and using the station to disable Earth ready for conquest. This would be the plot in other movies, but not in this one.

Journey to the Moon

McBride is instructed to go to the Moon, from which he will be launched to Mars, to send a message to his father on Neptune, who is suspected of being alive. On his trip to the Moon, he’s joined by a Colonel Pruit (Donald Sutherland), who knew McBride’s father. The lunar base at which they land is a bustling town with a mall stuffed full of tourists and shops selling souvenir tat. McBride says to himself that it’s the kind of thing his father hated, and he would have tried to get as far away from it as possible. Pruitt is due to go with him, but is prevented from doing so at the last minute due to a heart problem. Finding a secluded spot away from the crowd, Pruitt gives him a memory stick, telling him that not everybody believes McBride senior to have been a hero. The stick contains suppressed information that they will do anything to prevent getting out. McBride then goes on to join the team that will take him to the launch site of the ship, that will take him to Mars. The Moon is being exploited by a number of different mining companies, but no territorial rights exist, so, as someone explains, ‘it’s like the Wild West out there.’ Hence the armed guards with McBride when he leaves the base. It’s this part of the programme that appears on the trailer for the movie, with McBride and team racing across the grey lunar landscape while under attack from what can only be described as space bandits. Various members of McBride’s team are killed, but he survives and succeeds in getting to the opposite base. He then joins the crew of the Cepheus, who will take him to Mars.

Space Rescue

On the way there, the crew receive a distress call, which they are obliged to answer. McBride tries to deter them because of the vital importance of the mission, but is unsuccessful as he is travelling incognito and so can’t reveal just how his mission overrides international space law. The SOS comes from a Norwegian scientific research station. McBride and the ship’s captain, Tailor, cross over to investigate. They don’ find any survivors, who have been killed by escaped baboons or some other ape used for research. These kill Taylor, and try to kill McBride, but he shuts them behind a door and decompresses that section, killing them. Crossing back to the Cepheus, the give Tailor a space burial.

McBride finally gets a chance to watch the video on the stick. It shows his father, (Tommy Lee Jones) announcing that the crew have mutinied. The mission has been unsuccessful, and so they wish to return to Earth. McBride as therefore suppressed it by putting them all in one section of the station and decompressing it, killing them all, innocent and guilty alike. This obviously leaves McBride shaken.

Mars and the Radio Call

On Mars, he’s taken from the launch complex to the base, where he is taken under great secrecy to a soundproof room, from which he reads out a scripted message to his father. This occurs several times, and are unsuccessful. On the next attempt, he goes off script and makes a personal appeal. He suspects that he has been successful, but the commanders won’t tell him. Throughout his journey, McBride is subjected to psychological testing before he is allowed to continue. He fails this for the first time, and is taken back to a comfort room – a room in which reassuring pictures of flowers are projected on the walls. He is told that he will not be continuing his journey. The crew of the Cepheus will instead go on alone to meet his father. They are equipping the ship with nuclear weapons to destroy the station before it can generate further power surges that will destroy civilisation. McBride is freed from his captivity by the station’s director of operations, a Black woman, whose parents were on board the station and murdered by McBride’s father. McBride has to rush through an underground tunnel to the launch complex, including swimming through a subterranean lake. He finally emerges in the system of tunnels, that will take the ship’s exhaust away from the ship itself when it launches. The countdown has begun, and it’s now a race against time for McBride to get aboard before he’s incinerated when the rocket fires its engines.

Encounter at Neptune

He succeeds in getting aboard and the ship launches. However, the crew are instructed to restrain him using any means necessary. In the ensuing struggle, he accidentally kills them. He then takes over the mission. He inserts the various tubes which will feed him intravenously during the 179-day mission, informs base what he intends to do and has done, and that he will now go dark.

He eventually arrives at the station, and comes aboard, moving through the decomposed section in which the bodies of the murdered crew are still floating. He brings one of the nuclear bombs on board with him. He meets his father, who blithely tells him what he did, and that he cared nothing for either his son or his mother. It is plain that he doesn’t want to come home, as although he hasn’t found alien life, he is convinced it’s out there. He just hasn’t found it yet. McBride sets the bomb, and tries to take his father back to Earth. But on the journey to the Cepheus, McBride senior pulls away from him, dragging him with him as the two are tethered together. The father tells McBride to let him go, McBride releases the tether, and his father floats off into space. McBride then jets back to the station, to rip off one of the panels so that he can use it as a shield against the icy particles and dust making up Neptune’s rings as he jets through that on his way back to the Cepheus. He then returns home, making a successful descent back to Earth, where friendly hands help him out of his capsule. Earth is safe, and his brought back all his father’s information on the countless alien worlds he discovered.

The film ends with McBride back in a military canteen, performing a kind of psychological evaluation on himself. He muses that his father was driven by his obsession to find alien life, and his disappointment at not finding it blinded him to the wonders of the worlds he had found. He is well-balanced, and focused on the tasks at hand, but not to the exclusion of the ability to love and be loved in return. There is a hint that this new attitude is bring his wife back to him.

Ad Astra as the Reply to 2001, Solaris, and Contact.

It’s a very good movie. The designs of the ships and rovers are very plausible and seem very much based on the old lunar rovers NASA used during the Moon landings on the one hand, and those on the drawing board for Mars on the other. It’s also a very quiet movie. It follows Gravity, and the masterpiece of SF cinema, 2001, in showing no sound in space except what can be heard through the characters’ space suits when they’re hit by the force of an explosion or some other event. It’s also at just under 2 hours a longer movie than most. This is gives it some of the quiet, epic quality of 2001 and Tarkovsky’s Solaris. The interrupted space journey of its hero, from Earth to the Moon and the Moon to Mars and thence Neptune, also recalls that of Floyd, Bowman and the other astronauts of 2001.

But there’s an important difference between Ad Astra and these flicks. 2001 and Solaris are about humanity’s encounter with powerful, but unknowable aliens. These encounters are transformative for the species and at an individual, personal level. In 2001, the aliens’ black monoliths raise humanity up from apes, and then transform Bowman into the Star Child at the film’s climax. In Solaris, the hero rekindles a relationship with his lost love through a simulacrum of her generated by the planet below. This allows him to medicate and discourse on the nature of humanity, honour and the need for humans to value each other. He is then able to descend to the planets surface, where he meets another simulacrum, this time of a dying friend he left on Earth, in a house where it’s actually raining inside. In both films, the aliens are genuinely alien, incomprehensible, but nevertheless interested in humanity and able to be reached out and contacted.

This is a reply to those movies, which is clearly informed by the fact that after decades of searching for alien intelligent alien, we still haven’t found it. Nor have we discovered any life elsewhere in the solar system. It’s possible that it exists on Mars, but if it is, it’s at the level of microbes. This makes the film a kind of anti-2001. It could have been called ‘The Stars My Disappointment’, as a pun on the title of Alfred Bester’s SF masterpiece, The Stars My Destination. McBride’s conclusion – that the scientific information about the myriad alien worlds his father discovered – is still immensely valuable, even if they are uninhabited and lifeless, but the obsession with finding alien life blinded his father to its value – is a good one. But I remember the SF writer and encyclopaedist John Clute saying something similar to Clive Anderson back in 1995. This was during the Beeb’s Weekend on Mars, a themed series of programmes on the Red Planet on the weekend that the NASA pathfinder probe landed. Of course, people are still fascinated by the question of whether Mars is, or has been, an abode of life. Anderson asked Clute if he would be disappointed if they discovered there was no life there. Clute responded by saying that if someone said they were disappointed at that, he would be disappointed in them, as we would still find out so much about the world, which should be sufficiently fascinating itself. Well, yes, but that’s very much the consolation prize. What people have always dreamed about is finding life in space, and particularly Mars. You can’t really blame them for being disappointed if we don’t. As for the message that it’s good to focus on your work, but not so much that it damages your personal relationships, it’s a good one, but hardly an earth-shattering revelation. And in the context of space travel, Tarkovsky says something similar in Solaris. There the hero says at one point that humanity doesn’t need space travel and alien worlds. There is 5 billion of us – a mere handful. What man needs is man. This shows the humanistic focus of Tarkovsky’s movie against its theme of space travel and alien encounters.

Conclusion

Ad Astra is an excellent movie, but ultimately somewhat of a disappointment. It’s to be applauded as an attempt to make an intelligent SF film with a grounding in established science. But ultimately its message that the search for alien life shouldn’t blind us to the possibility that it doesn’t exist, or that it may be extremely difficult to find requiring a search that lasts generations, perhaps centuries, before we find it, isn’t as emotionally satisfying as films in which the aliens are very definitely there. You could compare it to the Jodie Foster film, Contact, in which she played a female scientist convinced aliens exist, and finally succeeds in going out there and finding them. In the vast majority of such movies, the hero is nearly always a believer in the existence of the ETs, who is finally vindicated when they turn up. This is one of the few films to show the contrary. It’s a valuable, perhaps necessary message, but one less attractive to most audiences, who want there to be aliens, if only fictional and contained in the narrative of cinema.

Oh yes, and I have to differ with the comments about the presence of tourist malls in space. Yes, such places are full of tat and kitsch, but there are also the sign of a genuinely vital human culture. People aren’t all high-minded, serious creatures, and for genuine, living human communities to be established in space, they can’t all be left to scientists and engineers solemnly probing the secrets of the cosmos or working on the best way to extract and exploit their resources. They’ve also got to be where ordinary people visit, and enjoy the experience of being on an alien planet. And that means buying tat and kitschy souvenirs as well as indulging in deep philosophical meditations. As Babylon 5 also showed with its market, the Zocalo, and its tat. Though in that episode, the stores selling the tourist kitsch were all closed down. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Star Trek: Was Gene Roddenberry Influenced by Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ Novels

March 20, 2020

This is just a bit of SF fan speculation before I start writing about the really serious stuff. I’ve just finished reading Isaac Asimov’s Pirates of the Asteroids. First published in 1952, this is the second of five novels about David ‘Lucky’ Starr, Space Ranger. In  it, Starr goes after the Space Pirates, who killed his parents and left him to die when he was four. He tries to infiltrate their organisation by stowing away aboard a remote-controlled ship that’s deliberately sent into the asteroids to be attacked and boarded by the pirates. He’s captured, forced to fight for his life in a duel fought with the compressed air push guns NASA developed to help astronauts maneuver during spacewalks. After fighting off an attempt on his life by his opponent, Starr is taken by the pirates to the asteroid lair of a reclusive, elderly man, one of a number who have bought their own asteroids as retirement homes. The elderly man, Hansen, helps him to escape, and the pair fly back to Ceres to meet Starr’s old friends and mentors from the Science Academy. Starr and his diminutive Martian friend, Bigman, decide to return to the old hermit’s asteroid, despite it having disappeared from its predicted position according to Starr’s orbital calculations in the meantime. Searching for it, they find a pirate base. Starr is captured, his radio disabled, and literally catapulted into space to die and the pirates plan to attack his spaceship, left in the capable hands of Bigman. Starr and Bigman escape, travel back to Ceres, which they find has been attacked by the pirates in the meantime, and the hermit, Hansen, captured. Meanwhile Earth’s enemies, the Sirians, have taken over Jupiter’s moon, Ganymede. Starr reasons that the pirates are operating in cahoots with them to conquer the solar system, and that the pirates are taking Hansen there. He heads off in hot pursuit, seeking not just to stop the pirates and their leader before they reach Ganymede, but thereby also prevent a devastating war between Earth and Sirius.

In many ways, it’s typical of the kind of SF written at the time. It’s simple fun, aimed at a juvenile and adolescent readership. Instead of using real profanity, the characters swear ‘By space’ and shout ‘Galloping Galaxies’ when surprised or shocked. It also seems typical of some SF of its time in that it’s anti-war. The same attitude is in the SF fiction written by Captain W.E. Johns, the author of the classic ‘Biggles’ books. Johns wrote a series of novels, such as Kings of Space, Now to the Stars, about a lad, Rex, and his friends, including a scientist mentor, who make contact with the civilisation behind the UFOs. These are a race of friendly, humanoid aliens from Mars and the asteroid belt, who befriend our heroes. Nevertheless, there is also an evil villain, who has to be defeated by the heroes. It’s a very long time since I read them, but one thing a I do remember very clearly is the anti-war message expressed by one the characters. The scientist and the other Earthmen are discussing war and the urge for conquest. The scientist mentions how Alexander the Great cried when he reached the borders of India, because there were no more countries left to conquer. The characters agree that such megalomaniac warriors are responsible for all the needless carnage in human history, and we’d be better off without them. This is the voice of a generation that lived through and fought two World Wars and had seen the horror of real conflict. They weren’t pacifists by any means, but they hated war. It’s been said that the people least likely to start a war are those who’ve actually fought in one. I don’t know if Asimov ever did, but he had the same attitude of many of those, who had. It’s in marked contrast with the aggressive militarism of Heinlein and Starship Troopers, and the ‘chickenhawks’ in George W. Bush’s administration way back at the beginning of this century. Bush and his neocon advisers were very keen to start wars in the Middle East, despite having done everything they could to make sure they were well out of it. Bush famously dodged national service in Vietnam. As has the latest incumbent of the White House, Donald Trump.

But what I found interesting was the similarity of some the elements in the book with Star Trek. Roddenberry, Trek’s creator, was influenced by another SF book, The Voyage of the Space Beagle, as well as the ‘Hornblower’ novels. The latter is shown very clearly in Kirk’s character. But I suspect he was also influenced by Asimov as well in details like the Vulcan Science Council, subspace radio and the energy shields protecting Star Trek’s space ships. The Science Council seems to be the chief organ of government on Spock’s homeworld of Vulcan. Which makes sense, as Vulcans are coldly logical and rational, specialising in science, maths and philosophy. But in Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ books, Earth’s Science Council is also a vital organ of government, exercising police powers across the Terrestrial Empire somewhat parallel to the admiralty.

Communications across space are through sub-etheric radio. This recalls the sub-etha radio in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and shows that Adams probably read Asimov as well. In Star Trek, space communications are through ‘sub-space radio’. The idea of FTL communications isn’t unique to Asimov. In Blish’s Cities in Flight novels, the spacefaring cities communicate through normal radio and the Dirac telephone. The ansible, another FTL communication device, appears in Ursula K. Le Guine’s 1970s novel, The Dispossessed. What is striking here is the similarity of terms: ‘sub-etheric’ and ‘sub-space’. These are similar names to describe a very similar concept.

Star Trek’s space ships were also protected by force fields, termed shields, from micrometeorites and the ray weapons and torpedoes of attacking aliens, like Klingons, Romulans, Orion pirates and other riff-raff. The spacecraft in Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ books are protected by histeresis shields. Histeresis is a scientific term to describe the lag in materials of the effects of an electromagnetic field, if I recall my ‘O’ level Physics correctly. Roddenberry seems to have taken over this concept and imported it into Trek, dropping the ‘histeresis’ bit. And from Trek it entered Star Wars and Science Fiction generally. The idea is absent in the recent SF series, The Expanse. This is set in the 23rd century, when humanity has expanded into space. The Solar System is divided into three political powers/ groups: the Earth, now a united planet under the government of the United Nations, the Mars Congressional Republic, and the Belt, which is a UN protectorate. The Martians have gained their independence from Earth only after a war, while the Belt is seething with disaffection against UN/Martian control and exploitation. The political situation is thus teetering on the brink of system-wide war, breaking out into instances of active conflict. The ships don’t possess shields, so that bullets and projectiles launched by rail guns smash straight through them, and the crews have to dodge them and hope that when they are hit, it doesn’t strike anything vital. The Expanse is very much hard SF, and I suspect the absence of shields is not just the result of a desire to produce proper, scientifically plausible SF, but also a reaction to force fields, which have become something of an SF cliche.

But returning to Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ novels, it does seem to me that Roddenberry was influenced by them when creating Star Trek’s universe alongside other SF novels,  just as Adams may have been when he wrote Hitch-Hiker. Asimov’s best known for his ‘Robot’ and ‘Foundation’ novels, which have also been highly influential. But it looks like these other books also exercised a much less obvious, though equally pervasive influence through Roddenberry’s Trek.

Cartoon: Mock Movie Poster for ‘The Stainless Steel Rat’

March 18, 2020

Here’s something that I hope will cheer you all up, or at least the SF fans among you. It’s another of my cartoons, though this time it’s not satire, but a mock movie poster for one of my favourite SF novels, The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison. Harrison was a serious SF writer. One of his novels was Make Room, Make Room!, which was filmed in the 1970s as the dystopian thriller Soylent Green with Charlton Heston. However, he’s probably best known for his series of humorous SF novels, beginning with the Stainless Steel Rat, about the galactic archcriminal, Slippery Jim DiGriz. They’re set in the far future, when humanity has spread across the Galaxy, and living conditions, society and psychology/ social services have all advanced so that crime is all but unknown. All but. Slippery Jim, the ‘Stainless Steel Rat’ of the title, is a career criminal who does it simply for the joy of outwitting the authorities. The interstellar police, however, eventually catch up with him, and he’s forcibly recruited into their ranks. And he’s shocked to find that they’re all former criminals. His boss, Inskip, was a notorious thief who robbed a spaceliner in mid-flight. It’s done on the principle of ‘set a thief to catch a thief’. And his first assignment is to capture a stunningly beautiful woman, who’s murdering her way across space. Spoilers: he finally catches her, she’s given psychiatric treatment to rehabilitate her, she’s also recruited by the space rozzers. Di Griz marries her, and the two then become a team, whose adventures are then told in the succeeding books as they, and their sons with them, travel across the universe solving crimes, overthrowing dictators and stopping wars with alien races.

I was wondering who I’d cast as the heroes, and have as director and the scriptwriter adapting it for cinema. The text on the cartoon shows who I decided upon. It reads

A Terry Gilliam film. From the book by Harry Harrison. Adapted by Douglas Adams.

Jacqueline Pearce David Tennant Don Warrington.

It’s definitely fantasy, because Adams and Pearce have sadly passed away, as has Harrison himself. Tennant would be the Stainless Steel Rat, Pearce, who you will remember was Servalan in the epic Blake’s 7, would be the murderess, Angelina, and Don Warrington would be the police chief, Inskip. Yes, I am thinking of his character in Death in Paradise, so it would be a bit of type casting. But he has done humorous SF before. He appeared in an episode of Red Dwarf in the ’90s as one of the members of a spaceship crew of Holograms, all of whom had massive intellects and egos to match. His character appeared on board Red Dwarf and promptly started making sneering remarks about Kryten and Lister. Kryten was described as nearly burnt out, while he described Lister as some kind of subhuman creature, that could in time perhaps be taught some tricks. Until Lister parodied him with a mock report of his own, in which he informed him that he had a sturdy holowhip in the ship’s armoury and was going to use it on his backside pronto if he didn’t leave. At which point Warrington’s arrogant spaceman vanished. And with a threat like that hanging over him, who could blame him?

Here’s the cartoon. I hope you like it and it give you a chuckle in these grim times and keep your chin up! The Coronavirus won’t last forever.

A Tale of Piracy, Murder and Revenge in the Far Future

March 15, 2020

Alastair Reynolds, Revenger (London: Orion 2016).

And now for a bit of good Science Fiction. Julian, one of the great commenters on this blog, asked me to write a review of Alastair Reynolds’ Revenger a couple of months ago. Well, it’s taken me a little bit of time to get round to it, but here it is.

Reynolds has a doctorate in astronomer and was a scientist for the European Space Agency before becoming a full-time writer. He specialises in hard SF, the type of Science Fiction written by authors such as Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. This is based, more or less, in known science, although obviously this can be stretched to a greater or lesser degree. Hard SF tends of avoid Faster Than Light Travel and concentrates on creating worlds and futures that are scientifically plausible, given the present state of knowledge.

Revenger, however, is set in the very far future when the Earth and the other planets have long been broken up to create a plethora of habitable, artificial space environments like the space colonies advocated by the late Dr. Gerald O’Neill’s L5 Society and other space colonisation groups. There are about 20,000 such worlds, collectively referred to as ‘the congregation’. The Earth is no longer even a memory, and the Solar System has been subject to successive waves of colonisation, known as occupations. The present period in which the book is set is the twelfth. These occupations have spanned lasted thousands of years, with vast periods in between, so that the Solar System is very ancient indeed. And not all the colonising civilisations that have risen and fallen have been human.

Some of these lost civilisations were extremely advanced, far more so than the present state of humanity. They have vanished, but stashed pieces of their technology in the baubles, tiny artificial worlds sealed off from the rest of the universe. Although tiny, these have their own artificial gravity provided by swallowers located in their centres. Chemical rockets and ion engines are known and used, but the chief method of flight between the worlds of the congregation is the Solar Sail. This is limited to sublight speed and the inhabitants of the Solar System are themselves unable to reach the other cultures of the ‘Swirly’, as the Galaxy is called. Nevertheless, there is evidence that some of the ancient ships with which the Congregation was settled came from outside the Solar System, and there are a number of alien species from outside doing business there. Chief among these are the Clackers, who act as humanity’s bankers, and who have a mysterious, intense interest in the ancient discs used as currency. There is also a trade in the lost technologies contained in the baubles with ships, whose crews specialise in raiding them for their wonders.

The book’s the story of Arafura ‘Fura’ Ness, a rich young woman, and her quest to rescue her sister, Adrana, and avenge her murdered crewmates after the ship she and her sister join is attacked by the pirate queen, Bosa Sennen. The sisters come from a rich family that has fallen on hard times. Determined to restore the fortunes of their widowed father, they sign on as bone readers with one such ship plundering the baubles, Monetta’s Mourn under Captain Rackamore. The bones are a strange communication device, ancient alien skulls containing mysterious circuitry, or fragments of them, into which an especially sensitive human can jack to send and pick up messages from other vessels. There are also more conventional forms of communication like 20th century radio and television. After their ship has successfully plundered one bauble, it is attacked by Sennen. Ness is hidden from Sennen by the previous bone reader, a young woman driven mad by the bones. This woman and Adrana are taken by Sennen, who needs new bonereaders. She ruthlessly tortures and kills the other crewmembers, before departing the wrecked ship.

Ness and another woman, Prozor, manage to survive and make their way back to civilisation. Ness is ambushed by an agent for her father in a bar, and taken back to her home on Mazarile, where she is drugged and kept as a virtual prisoner. With the aid of her robot, Paladin, she escapes, rejoins Prozor, and the two make plans to join a suitable ship they can use to rescue Adrana and destroy Sennen and her evil crew.

Although set in the far future, the congregation and its worlds are nevertheless based on real scientific speculation. They’re a Dyson cloud/ swarm – I’m afraid I’ve forgotten the precise term. It’s a form of Dyson sphere. The physicist Freeman Dyson suggested that advanced, space-travelling civilisations would break up the planets of their solar systems and use the material to build solid spheres around their suns in order to harness all the stars’ light and energy, with the civilisations then living on the inside of the spheres. However, there are problems with such a concept. For example, the gravity generated by centrifugal force would be stronger at the Sphere’s equator, and disappear at the poles, making these areas difficult for civilisations to occupy. Larry Niven dealt with this problem by suggesting that they would only build an inhabited ring around the star, hence his masterpiece, Ringworld. Dyson, however, believed that such spheres would not be solid, and would in fact be composed of a cloud of tiny worldlets arranged in suitable orbits. This is the idea that Reynolds has used as the basis for this book.

As advanced as technology is in Revenger – limbs can be removed, replaced and traded quickly and painlessly in shops like items in a pawnbrokers – the society of the congregation is very much like that of 19th century Europe. Their doesn’t appear to be any system of public, state education, so that many people are unable to read, and the sisters are initially somewhat resented because of their moneyed background. The sexes are equal in this future, with women and men performing the same jobs. But the Ness sisters’ father is a recognisable Victorian patriarch determined to do whatever he can to hold on to his daughters. The technology has changed so that the ships are driven by the light from the Sun rather than the terrestrial wind, but they’re still sailing ships. And the baubles with their treasures locked away are the interplanetary equivalents of desert islands and their buried treasure. The book therefore reads almost like something Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island, would have written after an evening drinking with Jules Verne and the two knew about quantum physics, solar sails and Dyson Spheres. Reynolds is good at creating credible future worlds, and the Congregation and its worldlets are very convincingly depicted as places where people live and work. 

While not everyone likes or reads SF, and this may not be to every SF fan’s taste, it is a good, rattling yarn which successfully marries far future Science Fiction with 19th century pirate fiction. So avast, ye planet-lubbers, and hoist the mainsail to catch the wind from the Sun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Radio 4 Next Monday on Possible Extraterrestrial Life

March 11, 2020

Next Monday, 16th March 2020, at 11.00 AM, Radio 4’s Out of the Ordinary is covering the subject of what aliens are probably like. The programme, ‘Aliens Are the Size of Polar Bears (Probably), has this brief description in the Radio Times:

Jolyon Jenkins concludes his series by hearing from astronomer Fergus Simpson, who predicts that if aliens exist they will be living on small, dim planets in small populations, have big bodies and be technologically backward.

This looks like a different take on the question of intelligent extraterrestrial life. Way back in the 1990s some of the astronomers involved in the hunt for it, such as SETI’s Seth Shostak, considered that aliens, if they exist, would probably be small, the size of Labradors. It’s also been an assumption of the search for intelligent aliens that the universe is old enough for alien civilisations to have arisen many times over, colonising space. Simpson’s suggestion that the aliens, if they’re out there, are probably technologically backwards, sounds like a solution to the Fermi Paradox. This was first proposed by the Italian-American physicist, Enrico Fermi, and runs: if the universe is old enough to have produced intelligent aliens, then why haven’t we found any? There are several solutions to the problem. One is that they don’t actually exist. Others are that space travel may be difficult, or that aliens don’t feel any need to expand into space. Or that advanced, technological civilisations destroy themselves in catastrophes like nuclear wars before they move outward across the Galaxy. Another solution is that they’re there, but keeping very quiet in case there are other, malign intelligences out there intent on their extermination.

This last solution is explored by the SF writer Alistair Reynolds in his novels Revelation Space, Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap. In this trilogy, humanity has expanded into space, only to be threatened by an ancient extraterrestrial menace – the Inhibitors. This is a machine culture that exists solely to destroy spacetravelling civilisations. Their reason is that millions of years ago, the Galaxy suffered a prolonged series of devastating wars as different species moved out into the Galaxy to claim territory from their rivals. In order to prevent further such wars occurring, the Inhibitors embarked on a long-term campaign of eradicating such civilisations. They aren’t enemies of intelligent life per se. Indeed, the whole policy is in order to protect such life, provided it remains confined to its home planet or solar system. But once it moves out into interstellar space, it becomes a target for eradication. And the Inhibitors themselves are quiet, dormant and so undetectable, until they discover their next prey, and wake up.

If aliens do live on small, dim planets, then they’d be difficult to discover with present astronomical techniques. Planets are too small for telescopes to detect normally, as they’re lost in the glare of their star, although some may later be seen through extremely high-power telescopes using very advanced optical techniques. And the planets that have been the easiest to discover are large worlds orbiting close to their suns. They’ve been detected because their gravitational pull has caused their stars to wobble as they orbit around them. Small planets further out would exert less force, and so caused smaller wobbles that may be difficult to detect. And if they’re technologically backwards, we would not be able to detect signs of their industrial and other activities, like radio or television transmissions, for example. If spacefaring civilisations do exist, at least close to us, then we should have detected signs of them by now. There was a paper in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society suggesting that a light sail used within 30 light years of Earth would produce so much gamma radiation that we would be able to detect it. The fact that we haven’t may mean that such civilisations don’t exist. Simpson’s suggestion for the possible nature of extraterrestrial life is therefore one solution to the problem of the Fermi Paradox.

American Conservative Demands Beeb’s Privatisation Because Feminism, Muslims and Non-Binary Haircuts

February 28, 2020

Boris Johnson and his pet polecat, Dominic Cummings, have made it very clear that they want the Beeb privatised. They’re talking about removing the licence fee and turning it into a subscription service. This is because they claim that the Beeb is full of evil lefties, who are biased against them. The evidence from the BBC newsroom, at least, completely contradicts this. The Beeb followed the rest of the right-wing press in viciously attacking and smearing the Labour Party and its leader at every opportunity. And that included pushing the anti-Semitism smears. But this is the propaganda line Boris takes in order to justify his running away from everything but the softest interviews, and for the eventual privatisation of the Corporation itself.

The Tories hate the BBC partly for ideological reasons, partly out of simple political strategy and partly out of venal self-interest. They despise the Beeb as a nationalised industry and because, the present state of the Corporation notwithstanding, it has in the past criticised, contradicted and refuted Tory claims. Hence the Tories have claimed the Corporation was against them under Thatcher and John Major, and made the same threats of removing the licence fee. They also want to privatise it because many of the parties’ chief donors and supporters are the owners and proprietors of rival broadcasters, like Rupert Murdoch. They’re jealous of the Beeb’s dominant position in British broadcasting, and want to see it go so that their networks will fill its place. These rival networks also include American broadcasters, who have been buying into British TV companies since at least the 1990s.

And earlier this week, the American Conservative broadcaster Lauren Chen joined all the British Tories demanding the Beeb’s privatisation.

Who? Good question! Chen’s young American woman with her own internet show, discussing issues from a right-wing perspective. You can find her videos up on YouTube. I found one of them earlier this week, in which she ranted about how the Beeb needed to be privatised because of a programme produced by BBC Scotland, The Social. No, I hadn’t heard of it, either. I doubt many people in Britain have. But Chen had, and was furious. Because the Beeb was using it to push far left Social Justice Warrior propaganda on ordinary, Conservative-voting Brits!

This was because the programme had featured short pieces in which a variety of people talked about the issues that were important to them. Those Chen seized on and used as the subject for her video were a piece by a young woman complaining that men were all sexist and didn’t go to female-led movies. This would mean that the Oscar’s committee, over two-thirds of whom were male, wouldn’t give an award to Little Women. Another woman, who identified as non-binary, complained that she couldn’t get a suitably androgynous haircut.  A dominatrix appeared to talk about her profession and complain that people didn’t respect BDSM as they’d been conditioned to think of it as deviant. Another woman argued that Islam believed in the equality of all, whether male or female, while firmly wrapped up in a burqa so that only her eyes were visible. Then there was a young man arguing for Christianity. These all showed the Beeb’s liberal, progressive bias. It using taxpayer’s money to push feminist, LGBTQ+, Muslim propaganda. And it only broadcast the Christian because he was weak, woolly and unconvincing, and so showed how they wanted to present the religion.

Now I can’t say that those pieces would have been of interest to me, and I doubt they would to many other Brits. Some of the arguments were quite flimsy. For example, a number of vloggers on cinema dispatched the claims about sexism and Little Women a few weeks ago before the Oscars. They pointed out that there have been scores of female-led films, that have attracted a male audience. I don’t know if they mentioned it, but I’m fairly sure one was Annihilation. Based on the book by Jeff Vandermeer, this was an SF tale of a group of female squaddies investigating a mysterious zone in which the laws of nature had been subtly altered and plants, animals and humans mutated by a meteorite. This was a zone of eerie beauty and equally weird menace, and the film was highly praised. A male psychologist argued that it wasn’t because they were female-led that meant men had no interest in certain types of movie. Rather men were generally interested in tales which either contained violence or danger, or which had a strong element of good versus evil. And a number of female vloggers also said that they weren’t interested in seeing Little Women either, because there had been so many other adaptations of it. As for the non-binary woman and her haircut, as Chen pointed out, that was an inconvenience. Plenty of other people also have problems finding the right hairdresser or barber.

Behind all this, however, was her argument that the Beeb should privatised because then market economics would prevent it from foisting these opinions on the British public. The Beeb shouldn’t be using taxpayer’s money to produce material like this. Instead she told Brits that the money would be better spent on our failing health service. Well, our health service does need more money, but it’s only failing because the Tories also want to privatise it and sell it to American private healthcare companies. And it is true that if the Beeb was privatised, it probably wouldn’t be able to produce shows like The Social, because they wouldn’t be commercial. No-one would watch them, and they wouldn’t attract advertising revenue.

And this argument shows that Chen either knows nothing, or simply doesn’t care, about the ethos of public service broadcasting. The Beeb produces videos like those Chen attacked, not because it’s full of evil Commies determined to destroy mainstream British culture and turn everyone into BDSM, non-gender specific feminist Muslims, but because it has a duty to serve the public. That means that its content has to reflect a range of opinions, include those, who wouldn’t otherwise have a voice. Like women worried about how well a classic girls’ movie would do at the Oscars, fetishists, Muslims, the queer and transgender, and even the odd Christian. They pay their taxes and in a democratic state, have the right to make their views heard. They’re given a platform because free speech is a public good above the requirements of pure commerce, according to the ethos of public broadcasting. And everyone should be entitled to their opinion, regardless of whether it is held by the majority or not.

Chen isn’t defending free speech. She’s arguing for its denial.

As for The Social itself, I went to its homepage at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p039wndg

This simply states that

BBC The Social is an award-winning digital platform based in Glasgow that develops creative new talent.

We help develop ideas and commission content to publish across the BBC and our content reaches millions of people every week.

And most of their videos aren’t particularly political or contentious. Yes, their site has a section on LGBTQ+ videos, and as well as one about a young man coming out as gay at church. But they also have videos on disability in Scotland, the problem of living with a kind of alopecia, deafness, overcoming the stigma of being a single mother, and many other topics and issues. It seems to be ordinary community broadcasting, in the sense that it gives people in the wider community an opportunity to talk about issues that are important to them. It’s similar to a number of shows that have appeared on British TV, such as Brass Tacks back in the 1970s, and the 4 Thought short films on Channel 4.

You don’t have to agree with what these films are about to recognise that they are part of the reason public service broadcasting must continue in this country. The Beeb’s Tory bias is doing it no services by alienating its traditional left-wing supporters. But it’s important that the Beeb should continue, even if most of the newsroom and its senior management should be sacked.

Because ordinary people, including the transgender, Muslims, Christians, the disabled, and whoever else – should have a voice, and not just Tories and the owners of big multimedia firms.