Posts Tagged ‘Aliens’

Is Rupert Murdoch the Biggest Purveyor of Fake News?

January 14, 2017

Yesterday, I put up a piece commenting on a report in the I newspaper that the BBC had decided to set up a special team, Reality Check, to rebut fake news on the internet. James Harding, the head of BBC News, said that this wouldn’t be about policing the internet, and it wouldn’t attack the mainstream press.

This all rings very hollow, as at least in America, faith in the mainstream news outlets is at an all-time low. More people are turning to alternative news sources on the internet as a reaction to the bias and misreporting of the established news outlets and broadcasters. And the Beeb certainly has plenty of form when it comes to bias. Like editing the footage of the battle between the strikers and the police at Orgreave colliery during the Miners’ Strike, so that it appeared to show the miners attacking the police. The reality was the complete opposite. Barry and Savile Kushner in their book, Who Needs the Cuts, point out that the Beeb rarely allows a dissenting voice to be heard against austerity. When one is heard, they are interrupted or shouted down by the presenter, keen to maintain the government, establishment view at all costs. And Nick Robinson himself did a piece of deliberate misreporting worthy of TASS or Goebbels during the Scots referendum. He asked a question Scottish independence might have on the financial sector north of the border. Salmond answered it fully. This was then gradually edited down over successive news programmes, until it vanished altogether, with Robinson claiming that Salmond hadn’t answered the question.

So there’s plenty of very good reasons why you can’t trust the Beeb.

Now there is a considerable amount of fake news on the Net. The American elections have thrown up any amount of pure rubbish. In addition to the usual weirdness from the Ufolks, which claimed that Putin had told the Russian armed forces to prepare to defend the motherland against extraterrestrial invasion, there were the tin foil hatted claims of Alex Jones. Jones, the head of the conspiracy news site, Infowars, had come out with some truly barking, and very dangerous comments about Hillary Clinton. He claimed that she was part of some Satanic cult, which was abusing children from a pizza parlour in Philadelphia. She was also supposed to be demonically possessed, like Barack Obama, and may have been an alien or robot, at least in part. It’s entirely bogus, along with the reports others put up claiming that she suffers from a neurological illness contracting from eating children’s brains.

But the mainstream media has also produced bogus news. And one of the worst offenders is Fox News. Someone analysed how many of the stories Fox reported were actually true, and came out with the statistics that about three-quarters of the time they were rubbish. Put simply, if you watch Fox, you will be less informed that someone who doesn’t. There’s a reason why the network’s earned the nickname of ‘Faux News’. It’s very much like the old clip sometimes added to pieces on the internet, in which a man upbraids another for making an answer so stupid, that it’s lowered the IQ of everyone in the room, and the other needs to apologise. Well, that’s Fox writ large.

Fox News is also on the internet, along with many other newspapers and channels. So you can watch Bill O’Reilly tell lies about his career there. O’Reilly’s one of the channel’s veteran anchors. He was caught out claiming that he was actually in the Falklands or nearby parts of Argentina reporting during the Falklands War. He also witnessed a sectarian riot in Northern Ireland, and was present outside the house of one of the witnesses of the JFK assassination when he committed suicide. In fact, this was all shown to be bilge. In the Falkland’s conflict, for example, he was safely several thousand miles away in Buenos Aires.

Will the Beeb try and rebut some of the barking stories reported by Fox? No, of course they won’t. Fox is a mainstream news source, and is part owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns the Times and the Scum over here. The Scum is notorious for its bias and mendacity, but somehow the Times and its sister paper, the Sunday Times, has managed to avoid this. Sometimes you wonder why, as the Sunday Times has also carried bogus stories.

Like the time it claimed Michael Foot was a KGB agent called Comrade Boot, for which the former Labour leader successfully sued for libel. And then there were the ‘Clinton Crazies’. These were a group of journos around the Sunday Times and the American Spectator, who believed that Bill Clinton was a violent mobster. The former governor and US president was supposed to be importing cocaine from South America through an airfield in his state. He was also responsible for ordering the deaths of 20 + aids and other figures, who had displeased him. One of the journos responsible for this nonsense was so paranoid, that during an interview with another journalist he kept the curtains closed, and anxiously peered out into the street at various intervals, in case ‘they’ were watching him from a parked car. One of the hacks, who produced this tripe later saw reason, and appeared on one of Adam Curtis’ documentaries stating very clearly it was all crazy nonsense. But the Sunday Times published it.

But the Beeb very definitely isn’t going to tackle Murdoch’s rubbish, because Murdoch is the favourite of the various parties that have occupied No.10 in recent years, both the Tories and New Labour. In exchange for favourable publicity for the Murdoch press, they’ve been very happy to concede greater advantages to the media mogul, despite numerous conflicts of interest and the construction of a near monopoly in private broadcasting.

Murdoch hates the Beeb with a passion. He’s been demanding its break up since the 1980s, publishing stories attacking the Beeb at every opportunity in his papers, including the Times. And so with the threat of privatisation now made extremely clear by the Tories, the BBC will very definitely not want to show how mendacious Fox is.

So you can expect the Beeb to crack down on the alternative news outlets on the Net, under the pretext that it’s fighting the rubbish put out by Jones and co., while doing nothing about the fake news churned out by the establishment. Like the Murdoch press, and the Beeb itself.

Trailer for Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant

December 26, 2016

Looking through YouTube on Christmas Day, I found a trailer for the next instalment in the Alien franchise, Alien: Covenant. Directed by Ridley Scott, this follows on from his not-quite Alien prequel, Prometheus, which came out in four years ago in 2012. The blurb for this runs

Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created, with ALIEN: COVENANT, a new chapter in his groundbreaking ALIEN franchise. The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world. When they uncover a threat beyond their imagination, they must attempt a harrowing escape.

Directed by Ridley Scott

Starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz, Jussie Smollet, Callie Hernandez, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Benjamin Rigby.

The trailer shows the Covenant landing, and a scene with one of the David robots, played by Michael Fassbender. On landing, one of the crew steps on a bizarre set of bulbs, which releases some kind of spore. There is also a proper Alien egg hatching, ready to birth a facehugger. The sequence begins with one of the female characters refusing to let one of the other women out of room with a man, who is clearly in the agonies of some kind of transformation, or the eruption of an Alien from their body. It ends with two lovers in a shower having their tender moment interrupted by an Alien attack.

According to the YouTube page, it opens on May 19th.

This is another movie that I’m looking forward to, along with the sequel to another of Scott’s SF masterpieces, Blade Runner 2049.

The Alien has now become one of the classic Hollywood monsters, alongside the Predator, and older creatures like the Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolfman. Several critics have pointed out that Alien was basically a ‘B’ movie, but treated like a Hollywood main feature. I’d say that this was a fair statement. The basic story – alien gets on board spaceship to run amok killing the crew – was the storyline of another, very definite ‘B’ movie of the 1950s or ’60s. The same critic remarked that it could have – and very nearly did – come from Roger Corman, the great director responsible for churning out any number of them. Fortunately, Dan O’Bannon, the script writer, objected and the studio found Ridley Scott instead. What elevated the movie far above it’s ‘B’ movie plot were its stylish direction by Scott, its superb special effects and the way its script broke a number of conventions and gender stereotypes. It was one of the first SF movies to have a strong female lead in Ripley. Another critic has pointed out that as well as breaking gender stereotypes, Ripley also broke another Hollywood convention in that she was basically a hard, by-the-book character. These types usually die before the end of the movie, but not before they perform some noble gesture that shows they’re OK really. Ripley goes by the book, and doesn’t want to let Kane in to infect the ship with whatever attacked him. She’s right, but it’s a hard attitude, and she’s overridden by Ash, who appears to be acting from simple compassion. The reality is otherwise, and, as everyone whose watched or heard of the film knows, carnage ensues. But Ripley survives to the end, and finally beats the monster.

And, of course, what really made the monster one of the classics was its unique quality and the dark beauty of its realization by Swiss Surrealist H.R. Giger. The Alien’s two-stage life cycle – facehugger and then the monster itself, is genuinely alien. It isn’t like anything on Earth. Its gestation inside humans is based on the ichneumon moth, which lays its eggs in captive caterpillars. These serve as living larders as the developing larvae hatch and eat their host from the inside. It plays on the fear of parasitism, and was intended by the writer and director to make the men in the audience afraid of rape and a malign pregnancy, rather than women.

And when it finally emerges and develops, the monster itself does not look like anything on Earth. The film was before CGI and a little before animatronics, so it really was another ‘man in a rubber suit’. However, it’s design was so unique that it didn’t look like one. It was both cadaverously thin, like a spindly, distorted human corpse, but with an insect carapace. It also had a tongue with its own mouth and set of teeth, and appeared to lack any kind of external sense organs. There are no eyes or ears that you can see. Finally, there are the strange tubes emerging from its back.

Stylistically, it was one of the biomechanical creatures that formed Giger’s oeuvre. These were a disturbing mixture of the biological and mechanical, so that organically derived shapes had the shapes of, and acted like, machines. The Alien was so uniquely strange and disturbing, that it’s influenced the design of other malignant beings from space since then. The aliens in Independence Day show Giger’s influence, as did the ‘Sleazoids’ in an X-Men storyline of about the same time, and the Cythrons and their armour in the Slaine strip in 2000 AD, for those comic fans of a certain age.

There’s also supposed to be an Alien 5 in production, which will apparently see the return of Ripley, Newt and the surviving Space Marine from James Cameron’s Aliens. I don’t know much about this, however.

The Alien franchise is now 3 1/2 decades old, and like Hammer Horror’s Dracula, or Star Wars, doesn’t seem to show any signs of stopping. From the trailer it looks like the latest instalment could be well worth going to, if you’re a fan of what Mark Kermode has called ‘gribbly monsters.’

Frontiers Magazine on Robot Weapons

October 23, 2016

The popular science magazine, Frontiers, way back in October 1998 ran an article on robots. This included two pages on the ‘Soldiers of Tomorrow’, military robots then under development. This included drones. These are now extremely well-known, if not notorious, for the threat they pose to privacy and freedom. The article notes that they were developed from the unmanned planes used for target practice. They were first used in the 1960s to fly reconnaissance missions in Vietnam after the US air force suffered several losses from surface to air missiles. Drones were also used during the Cold War to spy on the Soviet Union, though instead of beaming the pictures back to their operators, they had to eject them physically. They were further developed by the Israelis, who used them to spy on their Arab neighbours during their many wars. Their next development was during the Gulf War, when they broadcast back to their operators real-time images of the battlefields they were surveying.

Apart from drones, the article also covered a number of other war machines under development. This included remotely operated ground vehicles like SARGE, and the Mobility Module and remotely controlled buggy shown below.

robot-army-cars

SARGE was a scout vehicle adapted from a Yamaha four-wheel drive all-terrain jeep. Like the drones, it was remotely controlled by a human operator. The top photo of the two above showed the Mobility Module mounted aboard another army vehicle, which contained a number of reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition sensors. Below it is a missile launcher fixed to another remote-control buggy. The article also carried a photo of a Rockwell Hellfire missile being launched from another of this type of adapted vehicle.

robot-army-car-missile

Next to this was a photo of the operator in his equipment, who controlled the Tele-Operated Vehicle, or TOV, as the developers were calling such machines.

robot-army-car-operator

Another of the machines described in the article was the Telepresent Rapid Aiming System, a robot gun designed by Graham Hawkes and Precision Remotes of California as a sentry robot. As the article itself notes, it’s similar to the tunnel machine guns used by the Space Marines in the film Aliens. It could either be operated by remote control, or made fully automatic and configured to shoot live ammunition. At the time the article was written it had already been tested by a number of different law enforcement agencies.

The only vaguely humanoid robot was the Robart III, shown below.

robot-solider

This machine was able to track a target automatically using its video vision, and possessed laser guidance to allow it to be operated remotely. In demonstrations it carried a pneumatic dart gun, capable of firing tranquillizer darts at intruders. In combat situations this would be replaced with a machine gun. It was designed to be used as a mechanical security guard.

The article also stated that miniature crawling robots were also under development. These would be used to creep up on enemy positions, sending back to their operators video images of their progress. If such machines were mass-produced, their price could fall to about £10. This would mean that it would be easily affordable to saturate an area with them. (pp. 56-7).

The article describes the state of development of these machines as it was nearly 20 years ago. Drones are now so widespread, that they’ve become a nuisance. I’ve seen them in sale in some of the shops in Cheltenham for anything from £36 to near enough £400. Apart from the military, they’re being used by building surveyors and archaeologists.

And while robots like the above might excite enthusiasts for military hardware, there are very serious issues with them. The Young Turks, Secular Talk and Jimmy Dore have pointed out on their shows that Bush and Obama have violated the American constitution by using drones to assassinate terrorists, even when they are resident in friendly or at least non-hostile countries. Despite all the talk by the American army about ‘surgical strikes’, these weapons in fact are anything but precise instruments that can kill terrorists while sparing civilians. The three programmes cited, along with no doubt many other shows and critics, have stated that most of the victims of drone attacks are civilians and the families of terrorists. The drones may be used to home in on mobile signals, so that the person killed has been someone using their phone, rather than the terrorists themselves. Others have been worried about the way the operation of these weapons through remote control have distanced their human operators, and by extension the wider public, from the bloody reality of warfare.

Way back in the first Gulf War, one of the French radical philosophers in his book, The Gulf War Never Happened, argued that the extensive use of remotely controlled missiles during the war, and the images from them that were used in news coverage at the time, meant that for many people the Gulf War was less than real. It occurred in Virtual Reality, like a simulation in cyberspace. Recent criticism of the military use of drones as killing machines by whistleblowers have borne out these fears. One, who was also an instructor on the drone programme, described the casual indifference to killing, including killing children, of the drone pilots. They referred to their actions as ‘mowing the lawn’, and their child victims as ‘fun-sized terrorists’, justifying their deaths by arguing that as the children of terrorists, they would have grown up to be terrorists themselves. Thus they claimed to have prevented further acts of terrorism through their murder. And they did seem to regard the operation of the drones almost as a video game. The instructor describes how he threw one trainee off the controls after he indulged in more, unnecessary bloodshed, telling him, ‘This is not a computer game!’

And behind this is the threat that such machines will gain their independence to wipe out or enslave humanity. This is the real scenario behind Dr Kevin Warwick’s book, March of the Machines, which predicts that by mid-century robots will have killed the majority of humanity and enslaved the rest. A number of leading scientists have called for a halt on the development of robot soldiers. About 15 or twenty years ago there was a mass outcry from scientists and political activists after one government announced it was going to develop fully autonomous robot soldiers.

I’m a fan of the 2000 AD strip, ‘ABC Warriors’, which is about a group of robot soldiers, who now fight to ‘increase the peace’, using their lethal skills to rid the galaxy of criminals and tyrants and protect the innocent. The robots depicted in the strip are fully conscious, intelligent machines, with individual personalities and their own moral codes. The Frontiers article notes elsewhere that we’re a long way from developing such sophisticated AI, stating that he did not believe he would see it in his lifetime. On the other hand, Pat Mills, the strips’ writer and creator, says in the introduction to one of the collected volumes of the strips on the ‘Volgan War’, that there is a Russian robot, ‘Johnny 5’, that looks very much like Mechquake, the stupid, psychopathic robot bulldozer that appeared in the strip and its predecessor, ‘Robusters’. None of the machines under development therefore have the humanity and moral engagement of Hammerstein, Ro-Jaws, Mongrol, Steelhorn, Happy Shrapnel/ Tubalcain, Deadlok or even Joe Pineapples. The real robotic killing machines now being developed and used by the military represent a real threat to political liberty, the dehumanisation of warfare, and the continuing safety of the human race.

Chunky Mark on the Horror of Theresa May’s Cabinet

July 14, 2016

Theresa May was declared the winner of the Tory leadership contest. Yesterday, she moved into No. 10, and now today she has announced her cabinet. This includes such luminaries as Boris Johnson (foreign secretary), Jacob Rees-Mogg (Secretary of State for India) and Liam Fox. In this video, Chunky Mark the Artist Taxi Driver gives his considered view of this cabinet of horrors. As you’d expect, it’s a rant, and Mark compares May and the rest of her cabinet ministers to some of the classic monsters of horror cinema. May herself is the Queen from Aliens, and he likens all of them to the Omen, Norman Bates, Pinhead from Hellraiser, and Pennywise the Clown from Stephen King’s It. He says at one point that they’re so horrific, he expected poltergeists to fly out of No. 10. This is Margaret Thatcher’s revenge from beyond the grave, he tells his viewers. And none of them have been elected. The leadership of the country was simply transferred from one Tory to another, without our consent or involvement.

But he has a point. These people are monsters. May stood in the street yesterday, and announced that she was going to work to continue the Tory party’s work of creating a more equal Britain, and not one that was for ‘the privileged few’. This is surely a lie, as flagrant as any the Tories have ever uttered. Chunky Mark points out that she praised David Cameron’s social programme, which has seen even more people forced down into misery and poverty. And May is, of course, the authoritarian, who wants to spy on everyone with her ‘snoopers’ charter’. Chunky Mark goes a bit far when he says that she wants to implant chips in our heads. But as Lobster has shown in a number of articles on mind control, the technology is there, and has been refined ever since one of the scientists involved in developing the technology stopped a raging bull with it in an experiment for MKULTRA back in the 1960s. The paranoiacs might be nuts, but sometimes they’re right.

Mark also discusses the shouting that was also heard on camera when May made her speech. You never saw them, and nobody from the BBC decided that the public should listen to them, or hear what they had to say. They were protestors from DPAC – Disabled People Against Cuts, protesting against the cuts to Disability Living Allowance and the PIP. But the Beeb didn’t want you to know that.

He also covers May’s stance against Scots independence. The British Conservative Party also includes the Scots Unionists, indeed, until the 1970s, the Conservative Party was known as the Unionist Party north of the Border. And May has made it abundantly clear that the Conservative and Unionist Party will never let the Scots have their independence.

The Chunky One is also rightly incensed about the vile racism in all of this crew. One of May’s new ministers declared that our society was being wrecked by North African and Syrian immigrants. Chunky Mark points out that they’re refugees, who’ve been forced to flee their countries because of the wars we’ve started there, and our own looting of them. Then there’s Boris Johnson with his infamous rant about ‘watermelon picaninnies’ and how Obama hates Britain, because he’s half-Kenyan, and we tortured his people. It’s a very dark joke when this man becomes our foreign minister. And then there’s the appointment of Jacob Rees-Mogg as the Secretary of State for India.

It’s a rant, but an accurate one. This is indeed a cabinet of horrors, in which people, who are clearly deeply unsuited to any kind of responsible cabinet role, have been given the posts to which they are the most unsuited. Kenneth Clark said in his unguarded conversation with Malcolm Rifkind that if Boris got in, he’d have us fighting three wars at the same time. Well, he’s not Prime Minister, but he has been made foreign secretary, so perhaps he’ll have his chance yet. Completely absent from all of them is any concern for the poor, or for anything except corporate profit. Cameron’s was an administration of aristos and corporate elites for the rich. That has not changed one iota, no matter how much May spouts about ‘equality’ and not working for the ‘privileged few’.

Secular Talk on Alex Jones Rant about Elite Marrying Horses and Sacrificing their Children

January 20, 2016

Okay, I’ve put up several pieces tonight discussing just how nasty and rapacious the rich are. They are deeply selfish, and seem to have a profound psychological needs to inflict harm, degrade and impoverish those lower down the social hierarchy. And all while declaring that it’s all for the public good, and to encourage people to strive harder to better themselves. Or some other such rubbish that should have gone out with the 19th century.

On the other hand, some of the expressions of the increasing alienation between rich and poor have become extremely bizarre, like the growth of the Conspiracy counterculture and its belief that the rich are truly Satanists, or have made a malign pact with evil space aliens. Or both. One of the main figures on the conspiracy fringe is Alex Jones, who is prone to making some really bizarre rants about the depravity of the elite and super rich. In this piece from Secular Talk, Kyle Kulinski discusses one of the great man’s rants which truly scales the heights of high weirdness. I offer for your entertainment this piece in which Jones states that everyone knows that the elites marry horses, dress up in werewolf costumes, demand to be worshipped, sacrifice their babies and finally nuke themselves.(!?)

Some of this seems to be a mangled memory of the worse traits of the Roman emperors. Caligula made his horse a senator. The ‘Great Beast’ in the book of Revelations may well refer to the emperor Nero. Nero when he was a young man, used to wander around the streets of Rome with other dissolute aristos, dressed up as an animal. He would then pick fights, wounding and killing, and raping women. It’s memories of the bizarre and depraved acts of the ancient world, which colour Jones’ views of the Bohemian Grove ceremony, where they symbolically slay ‘Dull Care’, as a real, human sacrifice. I don’t think it is, and when the ceremony was shown on Jon Ronson’s programme, Secret Rulers of the World, in which he examined the Conspiracy culture in the US, it seemed to be very obviously a mannequin, no more sinister than your average Guy Fawkes figure.

But it does prompt Jones to spectacular rants like these.

The problem is that although Jones is something of a buffoon, who goes way over the top, sometimes he’s exactly right. He hates war and the way the globalists have impoverished his country. He just thinks it’s all the fault of liberals, while the truth is, it’s all being done by Conservatives, following the logic of the free market, which he so vigorously defends.

Jodrell Bank and Amateur Radio Telescopes

December 18, 2015

BBC 4 a few weeks ago broadcast a documentary on the history of Jodrell Bank, Britain’s pioneering radio telescope. Bernard Lovell, its founder and director, had been one of the scientists working on the development of radar during the War, and the radio telescope was originally built using parts left over from the project that were due to be scrapped. In the early days it was very much an ad hoc operation. The size of the telescope’s dish has the radius it has because that was the distance between the van holding its key components in the early days to the edge of the field. The programme covered the history of the telescope from its very beginnings to today. It described how the telescope came into its own in the late 1950s and 1960s when it was the only instrument that could independently verify the first Soviet space missions and their conquest of space. This also caused additional pressure on Lovell, as there was official demand for him to monitor space missions in the USSR, which detracted from his real interest in exploring the heavens through the radio signals sent out into space from stars, nebulae and galaxies.

The Russians also liked and admired Lovell, so much so that on scientific trip to the Soviet Union, the Russians showed him some of their highly top secret space installations, and hinted that he would be very welcome if he left Britain and joined them. Obviously the great man did not take up the offer. Eventually such pressure proved so great that he was off work suffering from depression, and even considered leaving science altogether. Lovell was a Methodist, and to the surprise of his children, at this point in his career he considered joining the clergy. He didn’t, but went back to charting the heavens.

Other highlights of the telescope’s fifty-odd year history was the discovery, by Jocelyn Bell-Purnell, of pulsars. These are neutron stars, small, highly compact stars at the end of their lives, which broadcast a signal into space. The stars are small, about 40 miles or so in diameter, and spin quickly, so it appears that the signal is being sent in pulses. They’re also regular, so that in the first few days when they were discovered one of the theories about them was that they were a signal deliberately sent out into space from an extraterrestrial civilisation. After more pulsars were discovered in the following days, the scientists were able to give the true explanation of their origins.

Since its heyday, much larger telescopes and arrays have been built. Jodrell Bank nevertheless still remains important, contributing valuable research in this area of astronomy.

Indeed. I remember a few years ago an edition of one of the Beeb’s astronomy programmes in which Dara O’Brien and Brian May were up there. O’Brien is a failed mathematician, having dropped out of a university maths course, while May is a properly accredited astrophysicist. He had, it’s true, a twenty-odd year gap in his career, due to performing with Queen, but he finally handed his thesis in a few years ago. It was duly marked, and he passed. This obviously makes him one of the most rock ‘n’ roll scientists ever. I think in the programme they were supposed to be looking for signals from alien civilisations. They didn’t find any, which probably surprised no one, given that scientists have been looking, off and on, for radio signals from aliens since the days of Project OZMA in the late ’60s and 70s. Despite NASA’s optimistic prediction in 1995 that in five years they would be discovered, no has as yet.

Patrick Moore, one of the greatest science communicators and popularisers, always maintained that astronomy was still one of the very few areas of science where amateurs using modest equipment could make a real contribution. I doubt that there are very many ordinary people outside the big observatories, who have an active interest in radio telescopy. Nevertheless, it is possible to build your own radio telescopes. There’s a piece by Trevor Hill, who was a science teacher at Taunton School in Somerset, about how he built a an array of radio telescopes in the book, Small Astronomical Observatories, edited by Patrick Moore (London: Springer 1986). He did so as part of an attempt to get the pupils interested in astronomy. Naturally, he started off by building a normal, optical observatory for a telescope. He turned to radio astronomy at the suggestion of one of the pupils after the normal astronomy session had been cancelled due to rain. The pupil pointed out that radio waves travel through clouds, and so observation wouldn’t be stopped by bad weather. His article in the book describes the radio telescopes he built. This includes a set of Ham radio aerials set up in an array to receive radio waves from solar flares.

Taunton School Radio Telescope

Trevor Hill’s Solar Flare Radio Telescope at Taunton School

He also provides a schematic of the telescope’s construction. As you can see from the photo, even as a small-scale amateur project it’s still very large. Nevertheless, he states that it was very cheap. With the exception of the computer, it cost about £200 in 1995. Which means it’s almost possible for every man or woman to become their own radio astronomer. Obviously, this was before the boom ended, and Cameron got in to hit everyone with massive debt and advancing poverty.

Here’s Tim O’Brien, professor of astrophysics at Manchester University and the radio telescope’s associate director, talking about the telescope on the 70s anniversary of its establishment. It’s great to hear him say that it remains at the cutting edge of research, and may be so for the next fifty years.

Yay! X Files Returns in 2016!

October 17, 2015

Okay, I can’t really talk about conspiracy theories and conspiracy cultures without mentioning the return next year of the X Files, after a hiatus of ten years. During its 9 year run, Mulder, Scully and co in the FBI battled evil aliens, genetically engineered super soldiers, shadowy human conspiracies, bizarre cults, poltergeists, vampires, mad scientists, demons, ghosts, mutants and bizarre environmental hazards. The series finally ended with the trial of Fox Mulder, the defeat of the super soldiers, and the death of the series’ arch-villain, the Smoking Man in an explosion. Like Twin Peaks, which was similarly going to be revived after a twenty year or so gap, the X Files is going to return next year.

To those of us old enough to remember it when it was first on, the X Files is one of the modern classics of SF/ Horror television, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Trek: Next Generation. It took some of the classic SF themes – alien infiltration, mad scientists, as well as more modern fears of Satanic Ritual abuse and the fascination with serial killers and gave it a modern angle. It also had a dry sense of humour, which gave it a uniquely quirky treatment of some of the themes, which formed a counterpoint to the grim subject matter. The episode, ‘Die Hand, Die Verletzt’ opens with a boring PTA meeting in the headmaster’s office in a typical American state school. The headmaster, his teachers and parent members are all presented a stolid, respectable citizens concerned about the moral content of the school plays. Grease is rejected as morally unacceptable for its portrayal of teenage sexual activity. It’s only when the meeting closes with a prayer that it’s revealed that the assembled group are in fact a coven of Satanists. The episode, ‘The Postmodern Prometheus’, is a homage to the Frankenstein movies of James Whale, but given a postmodern twist: the action takes place within the text of a comic book created by two of the characters. It’s title is also a postmodern homage to Mary Shelley’s original classic. That was subtitled ‘The Modern Prometheus’.There’s also a further, darkly humorous twist in that the monster, the deformed product of his father’s genetic experiments, is a fan of Sher.

Unfortunately, the factual background of some of the material – like all too real conspiracies, where the CIA and US intelligence funded and armed Fascist groups in South America – meant that too many people on the UFO fringe took it way too seriously. On the plus side, I don’t think it did the tailoring industry and the manufacturers of suits any harm. I’m looking forward to the new series, and hope it does really well and that it won’t be too soon before it crosses the channel. Here’s the trailer for it.

It’s obviously science fiction, though there really are people, like Alex Jones and the Tea Party, who genuinely believe that there is a secret conspiracy to launch a coup against the American government to set up a Satanic dictatorship. What I would say has far more basis in fact is the comment about the growth of the surveillance state. In the above video, Mulder says over footage of a drone that we are more watched than ever. This is supposed to make us safer. But in fact we’re in bigger danger than ever.

That’s not fiction. Snowdon’s revelations show that the intelligence agencies can hack into our mobile phones, turning them on to get secret footage and recordings of us. The software permitting this was used by the Yemeni authorities to intimidate and collect information on a human rights lawyer. It would be great if this was SF, like genetically engineered super soldiers with alien DNA and technology. Unfortunately, it’s all too real. And the real Fox Mulders bringing this to light need all the support they can get.

Simon Pegg and SF and Comic Book Infantilism

May 23, 2015

I was on holiday last week, which was why I haven’t put anything up for a few days. Never mind – I’m back now, and ready to pour more scorn, criticism and bile on the Tory government and the establishment sycophants and global corporate exploiters that support it.

But before I do, I’d like to tackle one issue that’s been bothering me, ever since I read about it in the papers and Radio Times last week. Simon Pegg got in the news for claiming that contemporary culture was being infantilised through Science Fiction, comic books, and the movies that were based on them.

As Pegg himself admitted, this is deeply ironic comic from him. He’s made his name as an SF and comic book nerd. In Spaced, the comedy he co-wrote, he played a struggling comic book artist/writer, who worked behind the counter at his local SF and comic shop. As well as the zombie rom-com, Shaun of the Dead, he also wrote Paul, his homage to science fiction geekdom, in which he and Nick Frost play a pair of SF geeks, who stumble upon the real alien that the US government has kept secret ever since the Roswell crash. The interview in the Radio Times, in which he made the comments, begins with a discussion of his role as Scotty and one of the writers on the new Star Trek movie.

Pegg made his comments about the infantilising effects of comics and SF when talking about how he was trying to smarten up and not be a ‘slobby husband’ for his wife, Maureen. As part of which, he had stopped drinking, turned to living a healthier life style, and stopped dressing as a teenager. The Radio Times then went to state how this new, adult perspective had changed his view of Science Fiction and comics. It said

This new grown-up perspective chimes with Pegg’s views on the culture in which he made his name and plies his trade. As Mark Gatiss said in Radio Times last month, “The geeks have indeed inherited the Earth.” On the other hand, this empowers the fanboy who wrote an autobiography called Nerd Do Well.

But on the other… “Before Star Wars, the films that were box-office hits were The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde and The French Connection – gritty, amoral art movies. Then suddenly the onus switched over to spectacle and everything changed.

Now, I don’t know if that is a good thing. Obviously I’m very much a self-confessed fan of science-fiction and genre cinema. But part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste. Now we’re essentially all consuming very childish things comic books, superheroes … Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously!

It is a kind of dumbing down in a way, “he continues. “Because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about … whatever. Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.”

Now Pegg hasn’t said anything that a multitude of other, SF writers haven’t said before. Ray Bradbury, the author of The Martian Chronicles, famously said that the ‘Golden Age’ of Science Fiction was thirteen. Brian Aldiss, who amongst his various works wrote the short story, Supertoys Last All Summer Long, on which the Kubrick/ Spielberg film A.I. was based, was highly unimpressed by Star Wars. In his history of Science Fiction, The Trillion Year Spree, he made the sneering observation of its massive fan popularity that ‘a thousand throats thirsting for escapism must be slaked (if not cut)’. Many SF authors moved away from writing SF over their careers, such as Christopher Priest. Priest denies that he was ever an SF writer, but does not despise the genre or its fans. He’s said that he still has affection for the genre. Michael Moorcock, the editor of the SF magazine, New Worlds, leader of the SF ‘New Wave’, and author of the cult Elric novels, in the edition of the 1979 series on SF writers, Time Out of Mind, also stated that Science Fiction was essentially an immature form of literature. Moorcock then considered that the reason why so many SF writers had stopped and gone on to other forms of literature was simply that they’d grown up.

The great Polish writer, Stanislaus Lem, made pretty much the same point from his own personal experience in his book on Science Fiction, Microworlds. Lem’s an extremely highbrow Polish writer, who amongst his various works wrote Solaris, which was later filmed by the Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky. Lem has been very strongly influenced by the South American ‘magic realist’ writer, Borges, and was deeply impressed by Philip K. Dick. In Microworlds, he talks about the ‘transformation of trash’, in which the shop-worn props of Science Fiction – robots, aliens, mutants and spaceships – were transformed into a new kind of serious literature by Dick. He hoped, through his own writing and literary criticism, to make a similar contribution and raise the literary standards of the genre so that it could take its place as serious literature. He abandoned this, and the genre itself, as impossible.

Moorcock also began his career keen to raise the literary standard of Science Fiction. He was keen to import the experimental styles explored by William S. Burroughs and other, contemporary, literary writers. Again, in Time Out Of Mind, he talks about how he find his attempts to do so rejected and condemned by the SF old guard, particularly Frederick Pohl.

Now it’s fair to say that much Science Fiction is escapist fantasy, as is much literature generally. Nevertheless, much Science Fiction literature and cinema has tried to tackle serious issues. SF at times has been the ‘literature of warning’, exploring the terrible consequences that could arise if a particular political, social or technological course is pursued now. It’s also been used to critique and criticise existing society. This was particularly true of SF in the former Soviet Union, where writers like the Strugatsky brothers wrote in the ‘Aesopian mode’, to present Science Fictional fables to say obliquely observations about the true state of Soviet society, that could not be said openly.

It’s possible to draw up a list of Science Fiction novels, films and short stories, that have made serious points about human existence and the state of society. Most fans of the genre undoubtedly have their own favourites, or can think of others, that also do this. This is just happens to be the list I’ve drawn up at the moment.

1. War of the Worlds.

H.G. Wells’ novel of the devastation of Earth by Martian invaders had its origins in a discussion between Wells and his brother about the destruction of indigenous, primitive societies, by European colonialism. Wells wondered what it would be like, if a similarly technologically superior invader came and did the same to Great Britain, the leading imperialist power of the late 19th century.

The book remains relevant to contemporary society even today, more than a century after its publication. Stanislas Lem has praised the book for its depiction of the nature of total war, and what it feels like to be the victim of an invader determined to wipe you out utterly. Lem lived through the Nazi invasion and occupation of his home country. Apart from their aim of exterminating the Jews in the Holocaust, the Nazis also saw Poles, along with Russians, Ukrainians and the other Slavic peoples as ‘subhuman’, who were to be worked to death as slave labour. Their treatment of the Poles was similarly brutal. Lem felt that Wells’ novel of alien invasion gave a far better depiction of what the Nazi occupation was actually like, than many purely factual accounts of this dark period in his country’s history, to the point where he got annoyed with them and discarded them.

2. Brave New World.

Aldous Huxley’s classic dystopian novel of the dehumanising effects of biotechnology, in which humans are artificially gestated in hatcheries. In this technocratic, hedonistic society, real culture has withered away and society itself grown static because of the concentration on the purely sensual.

3. Rossum’s Universal Robots.

Karel Capek’s stage play introduced the word ‘robot’ into the English language. It was one of the very first to explore the possibility that humans could one day be overthrown by their mechanical creations. The robots in the play aren’t mechanical so much as artificially created humans, very much like the Replicants in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Capek was writing at the time working class, radical Socialist and Communist revolutions had broken out in central and eastern Europe, and the play can also be read as a parable about their threat to the bourgeois European order.

If anything, the book has become even more relevant today, as scientists and social activists have become increasingly alarmed at the threat that robots might shortly do exactly as described in the book. Kevin Warwick, the Reader in Cybernetics at Reading University and former cyborg, begins his pop-science book on robots, March of the Machines, with a chilling depiction of the world of 2050. In this world, the machines have very definitely taken over. The mass of humanity have been exterminated, with those few remaining either living wild, if lucky, or enslaved as domesticated animals by their mechanical masters.

Some international agencies share this alarm. There is a pressure group actively campaigning against the construction of killer robots. A few years ago the international authorities were so alarmed that they actively forbade the use of such robots on the battlefield after one country made the suggestion that such machines should be used today, based on existing technology.

4. Silent Running

After working on 2001, Doug Trumbull wanted to produce a less coldly-intellectual, more emotional SF film than Stanley Kubrick’s epic. This was film is one of the first with a ‘green’ message, about humanity’s destruction of the environment. It’s about one astronaut’s quest to save the last green spaces from Earth, now preserved on spaceships, from destruction. He disobeys the command to scupper his ship and return to Earth, and takes them to safety in the rings of Saturn.

Other films exploring similar themses include Zero Population Growth and Soylent Green. In Zero Population Growth, the world is massively overpopulated to the point where most animal and plant species, including domestic pets, have become extinct. The government therefore mandates a total cessation of reproduction for a generation. The film tells the story of a couple’s attempts to preserve the life of their child after the wife finds out she’s pregnant. The husband and father is played by Oliver Reed, who was a brilliant actor as well as notorious drunk.

Soylent Green, starring Charlton Heston, and based on Harry Harrison’s book, Make Room! Make Room!, was the first SF book to explore the possible consequences of the global population explosion and mass starvation.

5. Solaris

Based on Lem’s novel of the same name, Tarkovsky’s novel explores the problem of communicating with a genuinely alien intelligence, and what this would say in turn about human nature. The story follows the attempt of an astronaut to find out just what is happening aboard a space station orbiting the eponymous world. The planet itself is one vast organism, which creates replicas drawn from the human explorers’ own minds to try and work out what they are. One of these replicas takes the form of the hero’s ex-lover, with whom he begins a second, doomed romance.

Among its comments on space and humanity’s place in the universe are the lines ‘There are only a few billion of us. A mere handful. We don’t need spaceships. What man needs is man.’

The film was remade about a decade or so ago by Steven Soderbergh. His version is shorter, but apart from adding a sex scene and making Snow, the physicist, a Black woman rather than White man, there really isn’t much difference between the two, to the point where in some places they’re shot for shot the same. I prefer Tarkovsky’s original version, but you may feel differently.

6. Stalker

This is another movie by Tarkovsky, based on the novel by the Strugatsky brothers. The stalker of the title is an outlaw, who makes his money taking people into, and retrieving objects from, a mysterious, forbidden zone. In the book, the normal laws of nature do not apply within the zone, and its hinted that it is due to the crash of an extraterrestrial spacecraft. In Tarkovsky’s version, the zone is result of some kind of disaster. Tarkovsky’s film explores the nature of guilty and responsibility as the various characters attempt to venture further into the zone. The highly polluted, dangerous environment has a destructive effect on the biology of those entering into it. The Stalker himself has a disabled daughter, Monkey. Some hope for humanity is indicated by the fact that, although she cannot walk, Monkey nevertheless has developed psychokinesis.

Although this is another classic of Soviet, and indeed SF cinema generally, I think it’s seriously flawed. Tarkovsky cut out most of the special effects sequences from the books on which Stalker and Solaris were based, in order to concentrate on the human characters. As a result, the film suffers from a lack of genuine, shown menace, and instead is verbose and actually rather boring. Also, the central character in the book is far nastier. In the final scene in the novel, he wilfully sacrifices his accomplice to one of the Zone’s traps, so that he can retrieve the central, alien object coveted by everyone venturing into the zone – a golden ball that grants wishes. This is a film, which in my view does need to be remade by a director like Ridley Scott.

7. Blade Runner.

Apart from its sheer immense style, and the beauty of some of the scenes, this is another film that attempts to explore human nature through the mirror of its artificial, bio-mechanical opposite. Although it’s told from Deckard’s perspective, in many ways he’s actually the villain. The Replicants he hunts are bio-engineered slaves, who have escaped their bondage and come to Earth in the hope of extending their extremely short, artificial lifespans. They can’t, but in the process grow and develop in psychological depth and as moral beings. To the point where they are morally superior to their human creators. The penultimate scene where Batty saves Deckard from falling shows that he has passed the Voight-Comp test, which judges a subject’s a humanity according to their empathy and desire to save a trapped, struggling animal. It also has one of the most quoted poems in SF cinema – I have seen things you people wouldn’t believe, ships on fire off the shores of Orion…’

8. They Live.

This alien invasion drama is also a sharp satire on modern, global capitalism. A homeless construction worker discovers that the world is secretly dominated and exploited by skeletal aliens, who are at the heart of global capitalism. While it’s a low-budget action piece, Carpenter has said in interviews that he intended to give it an extra element by using it to criticise contemporary politics and economics. In the film, humanity’s exploitation by the interplanetary corporate business elite and their human shills and partners is responsibility for mass poverty, unemployment and homelessness – all to boost profits. If you cut out the aliens, this is pretty much what the bankers and global corporate elite have done and are still doing today. And it’s got the classic line, ‘I’ve come to do two things: kick ass and chew gum. And I’m all out of gum.’

9. V For Vendetta

This is another film, which has been denounced by the author of the work on which it’s based, in this case the SF strip of the same name by Alan Moore, which first appeared in the British anthology comic, Warrior before being published by DC in their Vertigo imprint. The strip was very much a product of its time – Thatcher’s Britain, and the new Cold War with the former Soviet Union. The strip envisaged the emergence of a Fascist Britain following a nuclear war between the US and the Eastern bloc. Moore has said in interviews that the strip attempted to explore the moral ambiguities of violence, whether it can be justified against innocents as part of a wider campaign against an unjust system. He also wanted to make the point that many of the supporters of the Fascist regime could be considered otherwise good people, just as many otherwise decent Germans supported the horrific Nazi regime.

It’s a superhero movie, which does nevertheless accurately show the realities of life in a Fascist dictatorship – the mass internment of political prisoners, arbitrary censorship, and experimentation on those considered subhuman or ‘dysgenic’ – in the language of eugenics – by the authorities. It lacks the contemporary relevance of the original strip, as Margaret Thatcher and the Tories did have strong links to the far right. Thatcher was an admirer of Pinochet, for example. The strip explored many of the issues thrown up by contemporary stories of corruption in the political, social and religious establishment, like paedophile clergy. Despite Moore’s rejection of the movie, it’s still a piece of genre, comic book cinema that does try to make an extremely serious point about Fascism and intolerance by placing it in modern, 21st century Britain.

10. Children of Men

Based on the book by P.D. James, and starring Clive Owen and Thandie Newton, this is another dystopian yarn. This time it takes a completely different view of the future and its perils from Soylent Green and Z.P.G. In this future, humanity has been afflicted with mass sterility. No children have been born for 18 years. Owen plays a policeman, charged with protecting an immigrant woman – Newton – who carries the only child to be conceived for over a decade. As a consequence of the sterility, society in volatile and unstable. Only Britain has a relatively stable system thanks to the establishment of a Fascist-style dictatorship.

Although fiction, James’ book nevertheless explores a genuine social issue. Globally, populations are falling, to the extent that some demographers have predicted a population crash sometime in the middle of this century. In Britain and much of Europe, they’re below population replacement level. This is particularly acute in Japan, and is one of the causes of that country’s massive investment in the development of robot workers. Much of the fall in birth rates is due simply to people limiting the number of children they have in order raise their quality of life. There is, however, the additional problem in that the sperm counts of western men is falling, to the point that during this century a significant number will be considered medically sterile. Children of Men is another dystopian work that is chillingly plausible.

It’s possible to go on, and add further works of serious SF cinema, such as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and The Zero Theorem and Gattaca, with its depiction of a stratified society ruled by the genetically enhanced. Now I have to say that I agree with Pegg that an awful lot of SF films since Star Wars has been escapist fantasy, and can see his point about some of it having an infantilising effect. This is by no means true of all of it, as I’ve attempted to show.

Even films like Star Wars that are pure, or mostly spectacle can be worth serious discussion and consideration, if they’re done well. For all its escapism, Star Wars was astonishing because it showed a detailed, convincingly realised series of alien worlds, machines and space craft. Moreover, the second movie – The Empire Strikes Back – did present Luke Skywalker with a genuine moral dilemma. His friends Han Solo, Leia, Chewbacca and the droids have been captured and are being tortured by Vader and the imperials. Skywalker is faced with the choice of trying to help them, and in so doing losing his soul, or preserving his moral integrity by letting them suffer and die. His confrontation with Vader present him further with another, particularly acute moral dilemma. Vader reveals himself to be his father, and so if he kills him, he commits parricide, a particularly abhorrent crime. This also has literary antecedents. In one of the medieval Romances, the hero is faced with the revelation that the leader of the foreign army devastating his lord’s realm is his father, and so he is confronted with the terrible dilemma of having to kill him.

Now I don’t think that the potential of Science Fiction to explore mature issues and genuinely relevant problems has been fully explored in the cinema. One of the solutions to the problem is for fans of genre cinema to try and support the more intelligent SF movies that are released, such as Moon, which came out a few years ago. This would show producers and directors that there’s a ready audience for genuine, thought-provoking, intelligent SF as well as the gung-ho, action escapism.

The Real Source of the Coalition’s Employment Policy: Morgus from Dr. Who’s ‘The Caves of Androzani’

November 30, 2013

Sometimes, life really does follow art. This week we had Boris Johnson telling a gathering of City bankers that ‘greed is right’, almost, but not quite, following Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko. The other night it struck me that the government’s way of tackling unemployment also seems to bear more than a little resemblance to another piece of 80s screen fiction, the Dr Who story ‘The Caves of Androzani’.

This was Peter Davison’s final regular appearance as the fifth Doctor. In it, the Doctor and Peri land on Androzani Minor, where they get caught up in a struggle between government forces, led by Major Chellak, and an army of androids, created by the mad scientist Sheraz Jek. Androzani Minor is the source of the drug Spectrox, which massively extends the human lifespan. Its production is controlled by a massive industrial combine, the Conglomerate, whose chairman is the avaricious and ruthless Krau Morgus. This has, however, been disrupted by Sheraz Jek. Jek had previously been employed by the Conglomerate, creating an android workforce, who could harvest the raw Spectrox safely. He was, however, betrayed by Morgus. Androzani Minor is subject to periodic mudbursts, geyser-like blasts of boiling mud caused by tidal action when the planet passes close to its larger twin, Androzani Major. Morgus sabotaged Jek’s instruments so that he was caught without warning in one of the mudbursts. Horribly disfigured and driven by an all-consuming desire for revenge, Jek has stopped production of the drug in order to force the Androzani government to kill Morgus. The government, in its turn, has sent in troops under Chellak to quell Jek and his androids and restore production.

Morgus, however, has managed to turn this situation to his own advantage. A ruthless businessman with absolutely no morals, Morgus is deliberately using the war to raise the price of Spectrox. He supplies the government forces with the arms and equipment they need, while also secretly supplying Jek through a group of mercenaries in return for shipments of Spectrox.

Spectrox in its raw state is highly poisonous, with the victims of Spectrox toxaemia dying in three days. The Doctor and Peri contract this after falling into a Spectrox nest. The plot revolves around the Doctor’s and Peri’s attempts to escape from Chellak, Jek and the mercenaries, and the Doctor’s efforts to find the antidote before they finally succumb to the poison. He is concerned primarily with saving himself and his companion. His mere presence on Androzani acts as a catalyst for increasing confrontation between Chellak and Jek, and the political and criminal machinations by Morgus, which finally culminate in his overthrow and downfall by his PA, Trau Timmon.

It’s a taut story, which combines the political thriller with elements of Restoration drama and Jacobean tragedy. At certain crucial points, Morgus turns to speak directly to camera. As in Jacobean tragedy, nearly everyone dies at the end, with the exception of Peri, Trau Timmon and the Doctor. Here’s a fan trailer for it from Youtube:

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It’s Youtube address is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjH_hZZhaXw.

Morgus himself is smooth talking, exploitative and ruthless. When he finds out that one of the Conglomerate’s mines has produced too much copper, he arranges new equipment containing a bomb to be sent to the plant, which is destroyed in the resulting explosion. Fearing that Androzani’s president is aware of his duplicity, he personally pushes him down an empty lift shaft. Calling Trau Timmon to inform her of the tragic accident, he muses, ‘Still, it could have been worse.’
‘How so?’, she asks.
‘It could have been me.’

Here’s another fan produced piece from Youtube, showing Morgus as one of the fifty great Dr Who villains of all time.

It’s on Youtube at:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3mlkV6tmA0.

Particularly noteworthy here is Morgus’ solution to the social problems caused by unemployment. At 0.55 on the video he states ‘those without valid work permits will be sent to the eastern labour camps’. Morgus makes this comment in a conversation with the President, who drily observes ‘Where they’ll work for you for free’.
‘I hadn’t thought of that’, replies Morgus.
To which the President simply says, ‘I know’, while all the while looking at Morgus with eyes that say the complete opposite.

It’s this episode that reminds me very strongly of the government’s policy. After all, what is the Conglomerate’s deportation of the unemployed to forced labour camps except a form of workfare?

It’s been said that all Science Fiction is, despite its settings in the future, or on other worlds or parallel universes, about the issues facing present society. Workfare was certainly being discussed in the 1980s, when it was first introduced in America by the Reagan presidency. It’s been pointed out that much of the SF of the period is a reaction to the new, Conservative policies of the period, the privatisation of the economy and the growing power of frequently ruthless corporations. It is the Corporation in Alien and its sequel, Aliens, that sacrifices Ripley’s crewmates aboard the Nostromo, and the planet’s colonists and the marines sent to rescue them fifty years later in order to acquire the Aliens for the company’s weapons’ division. Another corporation, OCP, is also the villain in Robocop. The company acquires Detroit’s police force after it is privatised, and sets up a young, rookie cop, Murphy, to be gunned down in order to turn him into cybernetic law enforcement officer of the title. Morgus and the ruthless, exploitative Conglomerate can similarly be seen as a comment on the economic and social policies of Reagan and Thatcher. It is possible to go somewhat further, and suggest that the story’s also a disguised treatment of the Iran/Contra affair, in which the US government supplied arms to Iran and the Contras in Nicaragua, in return for the freeing of US hostages in Lebanon, and the shipment of cocaine into the US by the anti-Sandinista forces in Nicaragua.

It also needs to be noted, on the other hand, that the story is not necessarily an explicit comment on free-market capitalism. It’s assumed that the Conglomerate is privately owned, but it’s not stated. Both the Fascist and Communist dictatorships have used forced labour in industry, and so the use of unemployed slave labour in Morgus’ work camps could simply be based on those examples, especially as the work camps are on the ‘eastern continent’. Dr Who’s writers were clearly well aware of the way totalitarian states, particularly Nazi Germany, operated when devising their villains, such as Davros in The Genesis of the Daleks. Even so, free market capitalism under David Cameron has very definitely followed Morgus’ Conglomerate in the introduction of forced labour for the unemployed, even if they haven’t started to send people to Siberia yet. As for Morgus deliberately manipulating production to keep it profitably low, and create a reservoir of the unemployed, which he can exploit for free, the Angry Yorkshireman over at Another Angry Voice has pointed out that Neo-Liberal economics demands a constant unemployment rate of 6 per cent or so to keep labour cheap.

So, one way or another, Cameron’s government is following the Science Fictional policies of Dr Who’s Trau Morgus. Only without bombing mines and personally assassinating leading politicians. And it’s similarly time that someone brought it all to an end, though hopefully we won’t have to wait for a visitor from beyond the stars.

Christian Wolf’s Other Edens

May 11, 2013

Way back in the 1970s there was an anthology of Science Fiction stories entitled Other Edens, probably referring to the strange worlds and bizarre futures envisaged by the stories’ authors. In the 18th century, however, many European intellectuals took the idea of extraterrestrial life very seriously. One of the Christian apologists of the 18th century was the German, Christian Wolf. Wolf was a follower of Natural Theology. He believed that the Book of Nature did indeed testify to the presence of an almighty and beneficient God. Some of his views now seem quaint or ridiculous. He followed many 18th century philosophers and theologians in believing that the Earth’s creatures had been formed for the benefit of humanity. The moon and stars, for example, had been made so that humans could perform at night some of the activities they also did during the day, such as going fishing. This idea was widely mocked even in Wolf’s time. Wolf did not believe that these celestial bodies had been formed only for humanity’s benefit. He reasoned that as there were so many different worlds in the universe that astronomy was increasingly revealing, so they must have been made by God for the benefit of these planets’ different inhabitants. These beings naturally would be adapted to the very different conditions on their worlds.

This view, that the universe was full of inhabited planets, formed the intellectual background for the early, proto-SF tales of the 17th and 18th centuries, such as Cyrano de Bergerac’s The States and Empires of the Sun and Voltaire’s Micromegalas. This last was a satire, in which two vast aliens, thousands of miles huge and with a multitude of different sense beyond the five of humans, travel to Earth from the star Sirius. They are greeted by a delegation of terrestrial scientists, eager for the aliens’ superior knowledge of the cosmos. The aliens duly grant the scientists’ request for a book containing their knowledge of the universe. They give them a book the size of the present day Baltic states. Looking through the book, the scientists find every page empty, and duly complain. The aliens have broken their bargain with the international scientific research team. No, the creatures from Sirius reply, they have kept their word. That is precisely what they know about the universe. It shows Voltaire’s satiric wit about the nature of science, and the idea that the universe may be far more vast and unkowable than we can ever truly know. The 20th century British biologist, J.B.S. Haldane, said that ‘Not only is the universe queerer than we imagine, it is queerer than we can possibly imagine’.

The idea that God had formed the various worlds of the universe to support different intelligent species was known as the doctrine of plenitude. It was seriously shaken in the late 19th and 20th centuries when increased astronomical investigation revealed the worlds of the solar system to be mostly barren rocks, either too scorching, boiling hot or icily cold to support life. Far from the notion of alien life attacking the belief in God or Christianity, it was the opposite – the notion of a vast, sterile universe devoid of intelligent beings except humanity, that led many to atheism. Despite this the recent discoveries of a vast and increasing number of extra-solar planets has led people to consider the possibility once again that humanity may not be alone in the universe. A few years ago there was a scientific conference called by the White House to debate the consequences and possible approaches to alien contact. One of the subjects discussed was the effect such contacts would have on terrestrial religion. Would it undermine religious faith? All of the representatives of the world’s religions consulted, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and so on concluded that alien contact would not affect their particular faith, but they weren’t sure of the others. There is still much speculation that alien contact would somehow undermine human religions. Historically, however, the opposite has been true: the existence of alien life has been seen as proof of the Almighty’s existence, rather than His absence.