Posts Tagged ‘Space Travel’

Peru Using Incan Engineering to Solve Water Crisis

August 16, 2022

I found this little snippet in today’s Independent fascinating. I’m a fan, sort-of, of Frank Herbert’s classic SF epic, Dune. This is set on Arrakis, a desert planet, whose sandworms are the only known source of the drug Spice, whose mind-expanding effects allow the mutated human navigators to guide their spacecraft across the galaxy without the use of computers. The planet’s original settlers, the Fremen, use stillsuits, technological body suits that harvest water from their sweat and body fluids to produce drinkable water, enabling them to survive for weeks even in the deep desert. And the Fremen have also established a network of cisterns to gather water as part of a project to turn their arid world green.

That type of technology and engineering, used to reclaim and channel water in desert areas, fascinates me. There are ingenious machines now that collect water from the humidity in the atmosphere, to produce drinking water. Nearly 2,000 years ago, a Greek engineer created a huge moisture-gatherer in one of the ancient Greek colonies on the Black Sea to provide the town with water despite the absence of rain or rivers. Now, according to the Independent, Peruvian engineers are renovating the ancient system of canals the Incas used to irrigate their land. The article by Samuel Webb, ‘Ancient Incan technology being used to harvest water to combat Peru’s crisis’, begins

Techniques used by servants of the Inca empire to build canals 500 years ago are being resurrected in Peru to funnel much-needed water to remote mountain communities and the city of Lima below.

Gregorio Rios, 74, oversaw the renovation of the vast network of canals above San Pedro de Casta, a town 3,000 metres above sea level in the South American country’s Huarochiri district.

The canals were built centuries ago by the Yapani ethnic group, using clay and rocks ingeniously compressed over a long period of time.

The local municipality previously used concrete to build new modern canals, but it stifled plant growth, affecting the local ecosystem, and crumbled after just 10 years.

The Yapani canals, by contrast, are more than 500 years old. New canals built with the ancient techniques could last for more than 100 years if built correctly. They are also permeable, so the water is filtered and plant roots help anchor the structure in place.

Mr Rios, whose work is supported by Warwickshire-based charity Practical Action, said: “Our ancestors built the canals with rock and clay. That knowledge is being lost and it’s in our interest to recover it.

“We have got to take control of the management of water for the crops. This is all being done thanks to the knowledge of our ancestors.”

See: https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/ancient-incan-technology-being-used-to-harvest-water-to-combat-peru-s-crisis/ar-AA10DXaP?ocid=msedgdhp&pc=U531&cvid=17e09ff4479f425caad8d64f8d71ad6d

In Chile, farmers use networks of string placed across their fields to collect moisture from the sea mists for their crops despite the lack of rainfall in that part of the country.

And over in Iran and Afghanistan, there’s an ancient system of subterranean canals, the qanats, irrigating those countries deserts and arid regions.

I find it absolutely fascinating that such ancient methods and modern technology are together being used to combat the desert and the contemporary water shortage caused by climate change.

Steampunk Music: The Dwarven Factory

July 20, 2022

Here’s something a bit different and, hopefully, more soothing after the politics. I found a lot of Steampunk music on YouTube yesterday. Steampunk is the subgenre of Science Fiction that imagines what would have happened if the Victorians had put some of their more ambitious and far-sighted inventions into practice, and so had computers, flight, motor vehicle and space travel. It takes its inspiration from Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, as well as real inventions such as Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine – a mechanical computer – and Giffard’s dirigible airship, which flew round the Eiffel Tower in 1854, as well as the futuristic drawings of the pioneering French Science Fiction writers and artist, Jacques Robida. Notable books include William Gibson’s and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine, about a Victorian future in which Lord Byron is now king and Babbage’s Difference Engine is a reality. It’s also produced a milieu of fans, who design and wear clothing based on these futures that never were, and build mock-Victorian technological props, like ray guns. One of the most popular fashion accessories is suitably elaborate, 19th century-style futuristic goggles.

But there are also composers producing works inspired by this type of SF. This seems to be orchestral, but with the addition of synthesisers and other electronic effects, often with an underlying ticking of clockwork or a beat suggesting this or the rhythm of the heavy industrial machines of the period. Its composers include Peter Crowley, who also produces more traditional fantasy music, Landon Zientara, and Shannon Chiang. I’m delighted that someone is still producing music in the classical idiom, and some of these pieces sound like the scores for SF and Fantasy films that were never made. Here’s one piece of Steampunk music, The Dwarven Factory.

90s Space War SF Programme’s Christmas Message of Peace

January 1, 2022

One of the things I’ve been doing over the Christmas season is watching videos of the old Science Fiction series Space: Above and Beyond on Guy With Beer’s channel on YouTube. Created by X-Files’ writers Glenn Morgan and James Wong, the show followed the adventures of a flight of American space marines fighting a future war between humanity and race of aliens known as the Chigs. Humanity was moving out into the Galaxy and was unaware of intelligent alien life, until the Chigs launched an unprovoked attack on two human colonies. The series heroes were the Wild Cards, whose members included an Asian-American, Paul Wang, a Black female engineer, Damphousse, whose father was the chief engineer in a nuclear power plant; Nathan West, an aspiring colonist for one of the attacked planets. West had been due to go there as a member of a colonising party with his girlfriend, but had lost his place due to an affirmative action programme that gave it instead to a group of in-vitros. These were artificially gestated humans developed to serve as slave labour and an unfree police force. Although now free, they were subject to massive prejudice and widespread discrimination. One of the other members of the Wild Cards, Cooper Hawkes, was one. He had escaped from the In Vitro facility after being told he was due to be killed because his natural born officers regarded him as a failure. He had been arrested by the cops simply for depending himself after a group of natural born humans tried to lynch him simply for getting a job on their building site. The judge at his trial sentenced him to join the marines. Leading the squadron was another woman, ‘Queen’ Vansen. The squadron was based on the space naval vessel, the Saratoga, commanded by Commodore Ross, a Black man, while their immediate commander, Colonel McQueen, was another in vitro. This followed the general pattern of Science Fiction of the time. Like Star Trek, it looked forward to men and women of different races working together in harmony and equality, where they were simply accepted without comment. The issues of racism, prejudice and discrimination was dealt with through the In-Vitros. Behind the scenes was the Aerotech Corporation, the space conglomerate leading the colonisation missions, which may have known far more about the Chigs than they let on. As does a blind American politico aspiring to be chief of the UN. She’s leading a peace initiative to the Chigs and their allies, the AIs, androids created as a police force, who rebelled after someone typed a virus into the computer system governing them with the message, ‘Take a chance’. When she is about to award West with a medal for protecting her against an assassination attempt, he asks if her if the rumours are true and that they knew the Chigs were out there. She says nothing more, but drops the medal on the floor and turns away from him.

The Chigs, a nickname because in their space armour they resemble Chiggers, burrowing tropical flees, remain a mystery until the very end of the series. They remain constantly hidden in their armour. Any attempt to remove it results in them dissolving into a green goo. There are hints of what they look like – the odd clawed, three fingered hand and arm is seen, but their faces are not revealed until the last two programmes when their envoy finally comes aboard the Saratoga to discuss peace terms and finally removes his mask to reveal his true alien features. They’re methane breathers, who come to a moon of their world to incubate their eggs in a special brood chamber. Allied to them are the AIs, who found sanctuary with them after escaping Earth following their defeat by the humans. These run the prisoner of war and forced labour camps, torturing their prisoners and attacking and stealing fuel and vital minerals from mining worldlets in the Oort Cloud. Both the Chigs and the AIs are utterly ruthless, killing without mercy, including the wounded.

The series only lasted for one season of 23 episodes, which seemed to be the lot of the vast majority of SF shows that weren’t Star Trek, although Farscape managed to go for four, plus the three part miniseries, The Peacekeeper Wars, and Babylon Five lasted five seasons. At the time I wondered if it was inspired by the success of the film Starship Troopers directed by Paul Verhoeven. Based on the book by Robert Heinlein, this was about a future war between a militarised humanity and the Bugs, a race of intelligent alien insects. In this future society, only those who had done their military service had the right to vote and enter politics, a view which Heinlein himself held. Verhoeven subverted this by satirically portraying them as Nazis, based on his experience of growing up in the occupied Netherlands. Heinlein also really did believe that war was ennobling experience. But I also wonder if it was partly inspired by Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, about a thousand-year war between humanity and another alien race, the Taureans, which sees one of the recruits, who hasn’t aged thanks to relativistic time dilation, returning to a vastly changed society in which he has no place. It was SF’s treatment of the alienation and maltreatment by the armed forces many squaddies experienced in Vietnam. Space: Above and Beyond, by contrast had no explicit message about war either pro or contra. Rather it was about about a people doing their best to defend their country and planet against a ruthless, genocidal enemy. During this they see their friends die. Paul Wang, initially very religious, loses his faith due to what he has seen and done. There is the constant danger of hospitalisation and permanent trauma from PTSD. And Wang is tortured into making a propaganda video by the AIs, a tactic used by America’s enemies.

The series’ Christmas show had a rather more positive storyline in keeping with the season. It was clearly inspired by the Christmas truce between Brits and Germans at the start of the First World War, as it showed in contemporary footage in a historical flashback. The Wild Cards are sent out on sortie in one of the space Armoured Personnel Carriers. They are discovered and attacked by a Chig squadron, which abandons them for dead. Their ship is disabled and left drifting in space. The radio is damaged so that they can hear the Saratoga looking for them, but not respond. And to cap it all there’s a comet headed right at them.

They are saved when messages in garbled English started coming in for them in Morse code. These messages tell them how to repair their spacecraft enough so that they can put themselves in orbit around the comet instead of getting smashed by it. They’ve been drifting further into Chig territory, but the comet will take them away from it and back to the human lines. It looks like the person sending these messages was not human, Which means he was a Chig.

The programme ended with a written message from the cast and crew of Space: Above and Beyond wishing everyone peace during the holiday season. I thought the series had a lot of potential and was disappointed when it ended. At the time it had the same figures the X-Files had when it started, and there were rumours that it was cancelled so the X-Files could get Morgan and Wong back, but this was denied. My favourite episode was ‘Who Monitors the Birds?’, telling the story of how Hawkes escaped from the in-vitro facility. He had been marked as a failure because he observed birds flying, and had asked the commanding officer training them to be killers, ‘Who monitors the birds?’ When the officer replies, ‘I( do’, he asks, ‘But who monitors you?’ Hawkes is sent on a highly secret mission to assassinate a senior chig general. This goes wrong and his partner is killed. he therefore has to roam the planet fighting to get to the extraction point. During his journey he runs into a Chig trooper, and is about to shoot him when he sees him watching a flying, bird or bat-like creature. Hawkes pauses long enough for the Chig squaddie to move on. He later runs into the same alien again running away from a Chig patrol. They’re about to shoot each other, but put down their guns momentarily to swap dog tags and go their separate ways. Hawkes nevertheless has to shoot him during their next encounter, which naturally upsets him. Punctuating his adventures is a strange woman, appearing as a corpse with grey skin and the marks of decay. She has designs on his body and tries to thrust her attentions on him. At other times she grabs his head to show him the Chig patrols coming for him. And after he pushes her away, she vanishes into thin air. She’s silent or inaudible throughout, except at her final appearance when she says ‘Till next time then’. She is never explained, and you’re left wondering if she’s an hallucination, another alien or what. At the end of the story, Hawkes rips up the contract he was offered, in which he would gain his freedom on killing the alien general. I think it works as a stand-alone story, and is in its way a classic of SF TV, like many episodes of Dr. Who and Star Trek.

Although it was made well over 20 years ago, the series’ seasonal message still remains relevant at this Christmas season. We need peace now as much as ever, with Iran and Israel seemingly gearing up to attack each others’ nuclear facilities, tensions rising with China and with Russia over Ukraine.

May we look forward to peace this year and an easing of tensions, as programmes like Space: Above and Beyond have wished at this season.

Quinn Discusses Possible Screen Adaption of ‘Hyperion’

November 9, 2021

This interesting little snippet comes from the ‘Quinn’s Ideas’ YouTube channel. Quinn’s a Black American fantasy/ SF writer and graphic novelist with a taste for galaxy-spanning SF that tackles the big metaphysical ideas, like power, responsibility, suffering, the nature of humanity and the possibility of alien life and truly sentient AI. He’s a big fan of Frank Herbert’s classic Dune, which has now been filmed by Denis Villeneuve and has been playing in cinemas around the country. Quinn’s put up a series of videos about Dune, which are well worth watching, as well as other great SF works like Asimov’s Foundation. In this video he talks about the news that there are plans to adapt Dan Simmon’s Hyperion, but it’s not known yet whether this would be for the cinema or TV. He hopes it’s TV.

Hyperion is another of his favourite books, and he’s also posted videos about it. It, too, is another SF classic. It set in a future in which humanity has expanded throughout the galaxy, united into a type of interstellar UN called the Hegemony. Outside the Hegemony are the Oustlers, a society of nomadic humans, who have adapted themselves to space, who attack and raid vulnerable Hegemony worlds. Also outside the Hegemony is the Technocore, a society of intelligent AIs, who rebelled against their human creators centuries ago and fled into space. Their whereabouts is unknown, but they have established apparently friendly relations with humanity offering advice and technology. Earth was destroyed hundreds of years ago by accident in an attempt to create an artificial Black Hole. Although the humans have FTL spaceships, these are still quite slow compared to the cosmic spaces they traverse, so that it can take months or years to travel from one planet to another. These transit times are offset for the crew and passengers of such ships through a form of relativistic time dilation, so that the subjective time they experience in flight is shorter than that in the outside universe. A more immediate form of travel are the Farcasters, technological portals that allow the user to pass instantaneously across space from one world to another.

Hyperion itself is a sparsely populated agricultural world, threatened with attack from Oustlers. It is home to the mysterious Time Tombs, strange monuments that have appeared to have travelled backwards in time. Haunting them is the Shrike, a gigantic humanoid killing machine, whose body is a mass of cruel spikes and blades. In this future, Christianity has declined to the point where it’s a minor sect that survives on only a few worlds. Among the new religions that have replaced it is the Church of the Final Atonement, centred around the Shrike. Six pilgrims are periodically selected to go to Hyperion, journey to the Tombs and meet the Shrike. It is believed that although the creature will kill five of them, it will grant the wish of the survivor. The novel follows six pilgrims, who entertain each other by telling their stories on their way to meet the creature.

The pilgrims include a former Roman Catholic priest, sent to investigate the disappearance of a fellow former cleric while conducting an anthropological study of the Bikura, a mysterious human tribe; a female gumshoe from a heavy gravity world, investigating the murder of the biological and cybernetic reconstruction of the poet Keats; a Jewish academic from a farming world, desperately seeking a cure for his daughter’s condition. An archaeologist investigating the Time Tombs, she has started to age backwards after a mysterious event until she reaches infancy. There is also a noted galactic poet and writer of trash historical fantasies about the last days of Earth, a Palestinian Martian colonel and a Templar master. The Templars are another new religion, which worships trees, and the Templars have converted some of the vast trees on their homeworld into spacecraft.

The book’s influenced not just by Keat’s poem ‘Hyperion’, but also by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. I therefore think Quinn’s right in that it would be better as a TV adaptation, as each tale could constitute an individual episode within the overarching story. At the heart of the book is the problem of evil, how the universe can contain such immense pain and suffering. It’s an issue that has challenged philosophers and theologians down the centuries. Hyperion is a Science Fictional attempt to examine the problem, as exemplified by the Shrike.

Hyperion was the first in a series of novels completing the story: The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion and the Rise of Endymion, all of which I found similarly worth reading. It would be great if Hyperion was adapted for screen, but I’m afraid that, like some of the Dune adaptations, some of the central ideas which make the book an SF classic might be lost. If, that is, the book’s ever adapted at all. Things seem rather tenuous and it may all come to nothing. We shall have to wait and see.

Satanic Murderer Linked to Neo-Nazi Order of the Nine Angles

October 29, 2021

This is interesting. According to an article in today’s Evening Standard, Danyal Hussein, the murderer of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, was on an internet group run by a Nazi Satanist connected to the Order of the Nine Angles. The article, entitled ‘Danyal Hussein: Calls to ban Nazi-occultist group after Satanist murders of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman’ runs

‘Campaigners have renewed a call to ban a UK-based Nazi-occultist group following the Satanist murders of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman.

Killer Danyal Hussein, 19, was jailed for life on Thursday for the murder of the sisters as part of a twisted demonic pact to win the lottery.

Hussein is believed to have been influenced by a black magic practitioner called EA Koetting, who promotes his work to more than 80,000 followers on YouTube.

Since his Old Bailey trial, it has emerged that Hussein was an active member of online forum Becoming A Living God, set up by Koetting.

The American author has associated himself with a group called Order of Nine Angles (O9A) and its US branch, Tempel ov Blood, which has been linked to a string of recent terrorism cases in Britain.

As Hussein was jailed for life for the sisters’ murders, Nick Lowles, chief executive of anti-fascism campaign group Hope Not Hate, said: “Danyal Hussein was influenced by a man associated with the Order of Nine Angles before he launched his attack.

“This is yet another reason why the Government must move to ban this Nazi-occultist group.

“Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman had their lives stolen by this murderer, and the ideology which propelled him. Their families’ lives have been devastated.

“The Order of Nines Angles’ appearance in the story of these horrendous murders is shocking but shouldn’t be surprising.

“We have been warning of their promotion of terrorism and sexual violence, and called on ministers to act by banning the group.

“The Order of Nine Angles is determined to promote and inspire terrorism. They must be banned.”

Last week, Facebook announced that it had removed Koetting’s page and Instagram account for violating its Dangerous Individuals and Organisations policies, and YouTube said a review is under way. The PA news agency has previously contacted Koetting for a response.’

A few months ago when Danyal Hussein was arrested and charged with the murder, History Debunked put up a video suggesting that it was caused by Hussein’s own belief, as a Muslim, in the djinn. He stated that in his experience, it was very common amongst British Muslims and he had overheard Muslim students in his class discussing how one of their female relatives was being tormented by one of these spirits. That is why a murder, like something from the Middle Ages when people believed witches like Faust sold their souls to the Devil, and practiced human sacrifice, had returned to Britain.

Hussein did believe in the djinn, but it’s a bizarre twist that he was in fact motivated in this horrific act by a neo-Nazi. This might explain why the murder victims were two Black women, however. The Order of the Nine Angles is mentioned in Nicolas Goodrick-Clarkes book on contemporary Nazi occultism, The Black Sun. They sound absolutely bonkers, as if someone combined Norse mythology with a bit of crude Jungian theorising after reading the 2000 AD strip, Nemesis the Warlock, and thought that Torquemada was a good role model. The nine angles supposedly refer to the nine levels of Yggdrasil, the world-tree connecting the nine world in Viking myth. These are inhabited by acausal beings. The Order rejects the Theory of Relativity for the same reason the original Nazis did: Einstein was Jewish. After conquering the world and subjugating the non-White races, they aim to develop interstellar space travel and are eagerly awaiting the emergence of the future galactic emperor, Vindictus. Or something like that. The Nemesis the Warlock strip was set in a far future galaxy in which humans lived underground in a totalitarian hell. Earth was renamed Termight, and ruled over by Torquemada, grandmaster of the Terminators, a military order dedicated to exterminating all intelligent alien life. Creators Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill based it on the cruelty and corruption they had experienced in their communities growing up as Roman Catholics, though bigotry, hypocrisy and intolerance certainly aren’t confined to any one religion. They’re found right across all human ideologies and religions as part of the human condition. Mills and O’Neill were making metaphorical statements about racism in wider British society and particularly at the National Front, which was then on the rise. The strip was launched after a series of racist murders and the rise of anti-racist youth groups to oppose it like Rock Against Racism. But the Order of the Nine Angles with its cult of Vindictus does sound like its creators read ‘Nemesis’ and thought Termight was cool, as against the real fans of the strip, who knew it lampooned such Nazi prats. I have to say, though, that I don’t think anyone in the Order of the Nine Angles has read the strip or been influenced by it. It just seems to me that Mills’ and O’Neill’s creation, which still retains a cult following amongst comics fans, was all too accurate in its depiction of the mentality of these psychopathic nutters.

As for Hussein, it’s ironic that a man of colour was influenced by a Nazi, who would no doubt have looked down on him personally because of his race. And it shows that the motives behind his murder is much more complex than simple explanations that it was all down to Islamic superstition and immigration.

The First Science Fictional UFO Crash: Le Philosophe sans pretention

October 21, 2021

Ufology is full of stories of crashed alien spaceships. The best known is the Roswell UFO crash of 1947, in which the US air force under Hector Quintillana picked up the remains of a flying disc, complete with alien bodies, which came down on Mac Brazel’s ranch. The air force subsequently reversed their statement a day or so later, claiming that what had been recovered was merely a weather balloon, and released a photograph of Major Quintillana with something that certainly looked like the remains of one and not an alien spaceship. Many UFO investigators believe that a real alien spacecraft was recovered, though the late John Keel believed that it was probably a Mogul spy balloon used to gather information on Soviet nuclear tests. There are also stories that a secret autopsy was performed on the alien bodies. This was the basis for the notorious 1990s fake alien autopsy film released by Ray Santilli, and which in turn became the basis for the comedy Alien Autopsy starring Ant and Dec and Omid Djalili, amongst others. But long before the rise of the modern UFO phenomenon, earlier proto-Science Fiction writers were already penning tales of aliens travelling to Earth. One of these was Micromegalas, written by the French philosopher Voltaire. Another French writer, Louis Guillaume de La Follie wrote a similar tale about a scientist from Mercury who invents a spacecraft. This, however, is used by a colleague of the scientist to travel across space before finally crashing on Earth. I found this brief precis of the tale in Frederick I. Ordway’s and Randy Lieberman’s Blueprint for Space: Science Fiction to Science Fact (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press 1992). This is a collection of papers tracing the development of space travel from the ancient world, through the rise of Science Fiction, including the pulp magazines, space art to the development of the rocket and real space vehicles. The passage reads

Some of the characteristics of the modern science fiction novel appeared in a 1775 French workk by Louis Guillaume de La Follie, Le philosophe sans pretention. A strange tale unfolds of Mercurian who arrives on Earth and relates his adventures to one Nadir, an Oriental. It seems that on the planet Mercury an inventor named Scintilla had created a marvelous flying chariot powered by electricity. Amid scorn and ridicule, he proved that his invention would work in an amazing test flight witnessed by members of the Academy. This unleashes a series of events that leads to Mercury’s first spaceflight. Though doubting the practicality of the invention, a colleague named Ormisais nevertheless tries it out and, to his great surprise, the device functions after all. So he flies away to Earth in Scintilla’s electric chariot and, after a fairly standard trip, crash-lands on our world.

There’s also an illustration from the book of the flying chariot, and a caption giving its full title and its English translation: Le philosophe sans pretension ou l’homme rare – The Unpretentious Philosopher or the Unusual Man.

One of the aspects of the UFO phenomenon I find particularly intriguing is the way so much of its resembles Science Fiction and traditional fairy and other supernatural lore. I’m strongly inclined towards the psychosocial view of the phenomenon, which states that it’s an internal, psychological event which uses the imagery and narratives of the wider culture. Thus, while once encounters with the supernatural/ cosmic took the form of the fairies, angels or demons, as society has become more scientific and secular so the experience now has the imagery of aliens and spacecraft. However, John Keel believed that there was a real force outside of our perceptions behind both the fairy and UFO phenomena, which might be using them as a control system for us. See his UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse and Disneyland of the Gods.

Even if the book and its narrative have absolutely no connection to the development of the UFO phenomenon – I doubt outside of a few SF aficionados and literature experts many people have heard of the book, let alone the people who actually witness UFOs – it is a fascinating example of how surprisingly modern the writers of past centuries were in their speculations about space and the inhabitants of other worlds.

Cartoonist Kayfabe Review’s Jack Kirby’s ‘Eternals’ #1

July 7, 2021

This might interest those of my readers, who are into UFOs and the theories about ancient astronauts. Cartoonist Kayfabe is a channel on YouTube hosted by two independent comics creators, Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg, which reviews and talks about comics. In the video below, which they put up yesterday, the pair review the first issue of comics legend Jack Kirby’s book, The Eternals.

Published in the 1970s, this was based on the theories of Erich von Daniken, that humanity had been visited in antiquity by aliens, who had been worshipped as gods. In Kirby’s strip, the aliens were the Celestials or Space Gods, immense giant humanoids wearing weird armour or spacesuits, rather like the world-devouring Galactus of Marvel’s Fantastic Four comic. In the strip the Space Gods had come to Earth in the distant past, genetically engineering humanity’s pre-human ape ancestors. The result was three species of humanoids, the Eternals, humanity and the Deviants. The Eternals possessed immortality and superpowers, and were taken by humans as gods. One of the Eternals is called Ikaris, which is clearly a version of Icarus, the character from Greek myth. While the Eternals were generally benign and largely aloof from human affairs, the Deviants were actively hostile. Their genome was unstable, with a result that they were monstrous in form and envied and hated Eternals and humans for possessing a stable body plan and good looks. One of the Deviant characters was a man, who looked human, and so was hated by the rest of the Deviants and forced to compete in lethal gladiatorial contests for their amusement.

I first came across the Eternals as a back-up strip in the British version of Marvel’s Star Wars comic. From what I remember, the first tale had Ikaris, in disguise as Ike Harris, leading a party of human explorers into an ancient South American temple. The temple is, in reality, a monument to the Space Gods, who then return to Earth. The temple becomes their landing site, with one Space God standing sentinel over it. This then becomes a forbidden zone to the three other species. The Celestials have come to judge their experiments, taking fifty years to make their observations and gather information. If humanity or the other races fail the test, the Space Gods will exterminate them.

Kirby was a master of cosmic art, and this strip shows how skilled he was at drawing beings from outer space of immense power. The various ancient astronauts depicted in the temple’s carvings and statuary are clearly influenced by the art of the ancient South American Indian civilisations such as the Aztecs and Maya. This very much follows the views of von Daniken and similar authors, who interpreted a carving of an ancient Mayan king from the temple of Palenque as portraying an ancient astronaut piloting a space capsule.

There have been a multitude of comics about flying saucers since Kenneth Arnold made his sighting of a group of mysterious objects over the Rockies in 1947, which launched the modern UFO phenomenon. The Eternals is an example of how a similar, related theory – ancient astronauts – also entered popular culture in comic form. I don’t think the strip actually lasted very long. Either I stopped reading it, or the strip disappeared from Star Wars comic after a few issues. Despite this, the characters have remained part of the MCU and a film based on the strip, which I’ve blogged about previously, is currently being filmed, trailers for which have been released. Kirby’s art is awesome, and the strip marked Jolly Jack’s return to Marvel after a period with DC. I think Kirby had left because of his dispute with Marvel and Stan Lee over who had created many of the most iconic Marvel characters. Although he had returned, there still seems to have been considerable resentment against Kirby at Marvel. Piskor and Rugg comment on the overwhelmingly hostile tone of the letters Kirby’s editors at Marvel chose to publish in the comic.

I really enjoyed the first Eternals story and its premise, though I think I got bored with it as the tale went on. I shall be very interested indeed when the film finally comes out, as I’m currently in two minds whether I want to see it. It could be very good, and it’ll be great to see Kirby’s designs for the Space Gods appear on the silver screen. It’ll also be interesting to see what effect, if any, it has on the paranormal milieu. Will it lead to a revival of von Daniken and the ancient astronaut theory?

Mark Felton Demolishes the Claims for Die Glocke, Hitler’s Anti-Gravity Time/Space Machine

June 21, 2021

Yesterday I posted up a piece by the military historian, Dr Mark Felton, considering the evidence for Nazi flying discs. Felton’s an expert on World War II and the military technology of that time. He came to the conclusion that if the Nazis were experimenting with flying discs, then they were almost certainly failures given the spectacular failures of later, post-War experimental disc-shaped aircraft like the Avrocar. In this video he casts a similarly bleak, withering gaze over claims that the Nazis were working on a secret antigravity craft, called Die Glocke, or ‘the Bell’ because of its resemblance to the musical instrument installed in church towers. Not only is it claimed that the Glocke used antigravity, but it was also apparently a time/space machine. I thought immediately of Dr Who’s TARDIS. Did the Nazis really possess such a device, or have the people who are pushing this watched too many episodes of Dr Who, Time Tunnel and so on?

Felton begins in his usual dry manner. ‘Did’, he asks, ‘the Nazis possess antigravity? Could they flip between dimensions? And did Adolf Hitler escape to the Moon using such a craft? No, I haven’t been self-medicating,’, he says, and goes on to explain he’s only considering the claims made in ‘certain documentaries’. He wants to know if they contain any truth or are just ‘bovine excrement’. I think after watching this the answer lies far more on the side of bovine excrement, but I’ve never been persuaded by the Nazi saucer myth. But Felton states that the Americans and their Allies were astounded by how advanced German aerospace engineering was. The Nazi regime produced a number of highly advanced air- and spacecraft, like the Messerschmitt 262 jet plane, the Bachem Natter rocket interceptor, the V1 Flying Bomb, the V2 rocket. It was a secretive regime, operating from underground bases using slave labour, and so it was ideal for distortion of historical truth. Much of that distorted history was created by the Nazis themselves, and by their successors since then.

The video states that the Glocke entered public consciousness in a book published in 2000. This, followed by others, claimed that the project was under the control of Hans Kammler, the head of the V2 project. Kammler was the stereotypical Nazi leader, straight out of a comic book. He disappeared at the end of the War and was never seen again. It was supposedly powered by a highly volatile substance, red mercury. But Felton eschews discussing how it worked because it’s all theoretical. He just gives a physical description of the putative machine, stating it was 12-14 feet tall, shaped like a Bell, and had a swastika on its side, just so’s people knew where it came from. Is there any documentary evidence for this? No. The only evidence comes from an interview between an author and a Polish intelligence officer, who claimed access to a dossier produced by the SS personnel working on the project. Various names have been suggested for the scientists and officers in charge. One of them is Werner Heisenberg, due to a close similarity between his name and one of the scientists supposedly involved. Heisenberg was the German physicist in charge of the Nazis’ atomic programme. He produced a nuclear reactor, which partially worked, and an atomic bomb which didn’t. Mercifully. But everything is known about what he did during the War, and he was captured and thoroughly interrogated by the Americans afterwards. He didn’t mention the Glocke. Which in my view means that he very definitely wasn’t involved.

The video goes back further, stating that claims of the Glocke actually go back even further, to 1960 and the publication of the French author’s Bergier and Pauwels’ Le Matin des Magiciens, translated into English in 1963 as The Morning of the Magicians. This made a series of claims about the Nazis, including UFOs and occultism, that were roughly based on fact. The Horten brothers had designed flying wing aircraft, which resemble UFOs. After the War their plane ended up in America. Felton says that it clearly influenced later American planes, like the Stealth aircraft. He suggests the Horten flying wing plane contributed to the flying saucer craze of the late 1940s. It has been suggested that what Kenneth Arnold saw in his 1947 flight over the Rockies, which produced the term ‘flying saucer’, was in fact the Hortens flying wings being secretly flown. As for Nazi occultism, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, was an occultist. He intended Wewelsburg castle to be a pseudo-pagan temple, but claims of Nazi involvement in the occult have been greatly exaggerated. Indeed they have. Nicholas Goodricke-Clarke, in his book on Nazi paganism, states that Hitler drew on the bizarre evolutionary ideas of the neo-Pagan cults in Germany and Vienna, like the Ariosophists, whose ideas really were bizarre and quite barking. He also had some contact with the Thule society. However, the pagan sects were banned during the Third Reich because Adolf was afraid they’d divide Germans. He concludes that real Nazi paganism was slight, except in the case of Himmler and the SS, who really did believe in it and wanted his vile organisation to be a new pagan order. Pauwels and Bergier’s book fed into the nascent 60s counterculture and then into the later New Age. Their book is notorious, and has certainly been credited as a source for much New Age speculation and pseudo-history by magazines like the Fortean Times. I think there was a split between the two authors. Bergier was an anti-Nazi, who had spent time in a concentration camp. I think he may even have been Jewish. Pauwels, on the other hand, gravitated towards the far right.

Villainous Nazi super-scientists also became part of SF pulp fiction of the 1960s and 70s. The Nazis were supposed to have discovered the secrets of space and even time travel. One of the books flashed up in this part of the video is Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream. This came out in the 1980s, and pondered what would have happened if Hitler had emigrated to America and become a pulp SF writer. The West German authorities weren’t impressed, and it was banned in Germany under the Basic Law outlawing the glorification of the Nazis. I found it in a secondhand bookshop in Cheltenham. It proudly boasted that it contained the SF/Fantasy novel Hitler would have written. Well, Hitler didn’t go to America, and never wrote any SF or Fantasy novels, and the book actually looked really dull. So I saved my money and didn’t buy it. This type of literature flourished because the Americans had been so impressed by genuine German scientific achievements. And the post-War atomic age and UFO craze allowed imaginations to run riot. So Nazi scientists also turned up as the villains in various SF film and TV shows. One prize example of that is the X-Files, in which the secret programme to breed human-alien hybrids at the heart of the UFO mystery is done by Nazi biologists, who came to America under Operation Paperclip.

The video then asks whether the Nazis really did experiment with antigravity. Well, they experimented with everything else, including occultism. NASA was also experimenting with antigravity from the 1990s onwards, as were the Russians and major aerospace corporations like Boeing in the US and BAe Systems in Britain. The Russians even published a scientific paper on it. But despite their deep pockets, these were all failures. And it seems that Operation Paperclip, which successfully collected German rocket scientists, chemical and biological weapons experts, and aerospace engineers, somehow failed to get their antigravity experts. We don’t have the names of any of the scientists and engineers, where they worked or even any credible documents about them. If the Glocke really had been built and its scientists captured by the US and USSR, why were the Americans and Russians trying to build it all from scratch. And if Hitler did have antigravity and UFOs, then how the hell did he lose the War?

Some sources claim that the project was also run by SS Gruppenfuhrers Emil Mazuw and Jakob Sporrenberg, both deeply noxious individuals. Mazuw was the governor of Pomerania, one of the former German territories later given to Poland after the War along with Silesia. He was the head of the SS and high police in Pomerania, and was deeply involved in the Holocaust. Before the War he was a factory worker. What use would he have been to a secret scientific project at the cutting edge of physics? Ditto Sporrenberg. He was also deeply involved in the Shoah, and had zero scientific or engineering background.

The video then considers the 1965 Kecksburg UFO crash, which is also cited as the evidence for the Glocke’s existence. That year a bright fireball was seen in the sky over six US states and Ontario in Canada, coming down in Kecksburg, Pennsylvania. The US army was mobilised, cordoning the area off and taking something away. In 2005 NASA revealed that the object was a capture Russian satellite, the Cosmos 96, which had re-entered the atmosphere and broken up. But this has provided much material for certain TV documentaries from the 90s to the present.

Felton concludes that if the Glocke ever existed, it was probably part of the German nuclear programme, and not a time machine. That’s if it ever existed at all. Echoing the X-Files‘ Fox Mulder, he finishes with ‘The truth is out there, as they say’.

Well, yes, the truth is out there. But as Scully was also fond of reminding Mulder, so are lies. And the Glocke is almost certainly one of these. The UFO world is riddled with fantasists and liars, some of whom are government agents apparently on a mission to spread misinformation. I think this is to destabilise the UFO milieu and stop them getting too close to real secret military aircraft. There’s the case of a civilian contractor working near one of the US secret bases, who became convinced that it really did contain a captured alien, with whom he was communicating over the internet. It seems he was being deliberately led up the garden path and pushed into madness by two air intelligence operatives, who first fed him information apparently supporting his views, and then told him it was all rubbish. It’s a technique known in the intelligence world as ‘the double-bubble’. They lead the target first one way, pretending to be whistleblowers, and then tell them it’s all lies, leaving them confused and not knowing what to believe.

Some UFO sightings are almost certainly of secret spy aircraft, including balloons. The Russians also encouraged belief in UFOs as a spurious explanation for secret space launches from Kapustin Yar, their main rocket complex. I also think that some of the stories about crashed UFOs, secret Nazi research were disinformation spread by the superpowers to put the others off the scent. The extraterrestrial hypothesis was only one explanation for UFOs after the War. It’s been suggested that when Major Quintillana said that the US had captured a flying disc at Roswell, he was deliberately trying to mislead the Russians and hide what had really come down, which was a Project Mogul spy balloon. Friends of mine are convinced that the Russians were similarly running a disinformation campaign about Soviet official psychical research in the 1970s. A number of western journos were given tours of secret Russian bases where experiments were being conducted into telepathy, telekinesis and so on. Some of the more excitable American generals were talking about a ‘psychic cold War’. One of the most bonkers stories I’ve heard was that the Russians were supposed to have developed hyperspace nuclear missiles. Instead of passing through normal space, these rockets were to be teleported to their destinations by trained psychics, rather like the mutated navigators folding space in the David Lynch film of Frank Herbert’s Dune. The hacks who followed up these stories found the secret bases were actually bog-standard factories. Workers told them that their places of work had been briefly taken over by the government, new rooms constructed, and a lot of strange equipment put in which was subsequently taken out. It looks very much like the Russian government believed it psychic research was all nonsense – hardly surprising for an officially atheist regime committed to philosophical materialism. The whole point of the exercise was to convince the Americans it worked, so they’d waste their money going down a technological and military blind alley. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Polish intelligence agent at the heart of this claim had been engaged on a similar project. Or perhaps he was just lying on his own time.

As for fantasists and yarn-spinners, well, I believe the Montauk project is one prize example. This was the subject of a series of books published in the 90s by two Americans. They claimed there had also been a secret time travel project based on, you guessed it, Nazi research. I think it also involved evil aliens and whatever else was going round the UFO world at the time. Kevin McClure and the Magonians were highly suspicious of it, not just because it was bullsh*t, but because it also seemed to glorify the Third Reich. They suspected the authors of writing far-right propaganda.

The Montauk project also appears to be partly based on the Philadelphia Experiment. This was the claim that during the War the Americans had conducted an experiment to render warships invisible to radar using magnetism, following Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. This had gone seriously wrong. The crew of the ship under test suffered terrible effects. Some burst into flame, another walked straight through a bulkhead before the ship itself vanished. The story was later turned into a time travel movie of the same name in the 1980s.

Was it true? Naaah. Although I’ve seen it in various UFO books, the claims seem to come down to one man. I’ve forgotten his name, but someone who knew him wrote in about him to the Fortean Times. The man had been his uncle, an alcoholic and spinner of tall tales, who had precious little, if anything, to do with science or the military.

It looks to me very much like the Glocke antigravity time/space machine is yet another of this myths or pieces of disinformation. I don’t think it was ever built, and the Polish intelligence officer who claimed it was, was a liar. As for the authors of the subsequent books and articles claiming its all true, no doubt many of them are sincerely genuine. But it doesn’t mean they’re right.

And some of the people pushing the Nazi saucer myths are real Nazis, seeking glorify the regime through sensational claims of secret technology and bases in the Canadian far north, Antarctica and the Moon. They do it to enthral people with the glamour of Nazi technology to divert attention away from the real horrors it perpetrated.

I’m sure most of the people, who believe in Nazi UFOs are decent people, who are genuinely appalled at the atrocities committed by Hitler and his minions. But there are Nazis out there trying to manipulate people, and that’s the danger.

Nazism and Fascism need to be fought and any claims of Nazi superscience or occult power critically examined, even if it seems to be harmless nonsense.

Grim Jim on the Role-Playing Games Based on the Terran Trade Authority Handbooks

May 6, 2021

The Terran Trade Authority handbooks were a series of SF art books by Stuart Cowley published in the late ’70s and early ’80s beginning with Spacecraft 2000-2100. Cowley took various paintings of spacecraft, published originally as covers for paperback SF novels, and turned them into a future history and typology of these fictional spacecraft. I’ve only got the first book, Spacecraft 2000-2100, but I think there were others on space wrecks, star liners and great space battles. The books were the fictional publications of a future governmental organisation, the Terran Trade Authority, and its subsidiary, the Terran Defence Authority, which regulated trade between Earth and the other planets and civilisations, as well as providing for the planet’s defence. In this future, humanity was only just expanding into interstellar space, but had encountered two nearby alien civilisations on Proxima and Alpha Centauri. These aliens were markedly similar to humans, although not so similar that their ships didn’t need modification for human use. These similarities were so strong that there was speculation about a deep kinship or common origin for the three different species.

I came across the book when I was on holiday and was really blown away by the art. This was by such great SF artists as Chris Foss, Angus McKie, Bob Layzell and others. And even now, about forty years later, the books are fondly remembered by SF fans. What I didn’t know is that they also spawned two Role-Playing Games set in their fictional universe, one published by Morrigan Press.

I found this video by Grim Jim, a game designer, who’s also a fan of these great books. Here he talks about the RPGs, which unfortunately failed to make much of an impact. According to him, the Morrigan RPG gamebook has been long out of print. If you want to play it, you’re therefore reduced to either finding a second hand copy somewhere, or pirating it. Normally he wouldn’t recommend the latter, but this is really the only option for people who want to play it. He talks about the mechanisms of the game system used, which seems to have been a generic game system. For some reason the book replaced the awesome paintings of the original TTA handbooks with computer art. This is fine, but doesn’t have the paintings’ quality. G J speculates that Morrigan may have had to use computer art because of problems over the copyright for the paintings. It seems that by the time Morrigan published the book, the copyright had reverted back to Cowley.

I’m not really into games, but a number of my friends are very much into RPGs, like the classic Dungeons and Dragons and so on. One of these is Traveller, an SF game which I think came out in the 1970s a few years before the TTA handbooks and the games based on them. People are still putting up videos on YouTube about the TTA books and their spaceships, including one which recreated them zooming through space through CGI. This isn’t politics, but I thought people would enjoy this video about a great piece of SF art and literature.

Model-Maker Bill Pearson Talks About His Work on Blake’s 7

February 25, 2021

This is another video from the film about the work of the talented peeps behind the models and miniatures used in some of the classic SF films and TV shows, A Sense of Scale. In this short video of about 4 mins in length, the late Bill Pearson talks about his work on the Beeb’s cult SF series, Blake’s 7. He describes the series as the Magnificent 7 in space, and says that the heroes were all bad guys, but not as bad as the people they were fighting against. They were anti-heroes. It’s a fair description, as the heroes were nearly all convicted criminals – Vila was a thief, Jenna a smuggler, Avon an embezzler, Gan a murderer, while Blake was a democratic agitator, a political criminal against the totalitarian, fascistic Federation, who were the real bad guys. Cally, a freedom-fighter from the planet Auron, was the only one who hadn’t been arrested, sentenced and convicted by the Federation she was pledged to overthrow.

Pearson says he was persuaded to join the effects team as he was told it was going to be wonderful and big budget, which it never was. He was recruited to the series as he had impressed the Beeb’s head of special effects with what he had been doing at college, and started work at the Corporation with a couple of episodes of Dr. Who. He was on Blake’s 7 from the start and did most of the spaceships in the last series. He says there were very little miniatures. There were a couple of hero ships, but they’d been built by the time he joined the SFX crew. The London, the ship used in the first episode, ‘The Way Back’, to transport Blake and his future crew to the penal colony of Cygnus Alpha, had already been made by an outside company. Other model-makers on the series included Martin Bower, who also worked on Space 1999 and the film Outland, and who worked on a couple of models of the heroes’ ships, the Liberator. There, and I thought the effects were all done by Matt Irvine and Mike Kelt. He only got involved with the miniatures in the final series. Pearson says that he’s notorious on the internet for making the gun that Avon uses to kill Blake in the very last episode. This, he says, is still around and getting more appreciation. I think here he’s referring to the series, rather than the weapon, as it’s just after that he talks of Blake and his crew as being bad guys and anti-heroes.

Pearson states that model-making for the screen isn’t as glamorous people think. One of the downsides is unemployment and there are many special effects firms now going bankrupt. However, it is the closest we’re going to get to immortality at the moment. A century from now someone’s going to pick up a packet of cereal and get a free 4D recording of Alien, put it in their viewer, and see his work and his name on the credits. And that’s pretty cool. The video also includes stills of Pearson working on some of the models used in the series and on Alien along with the interview.

BLAKE´S 7 (TV) miniature effects – YouTube

Pearson gave the interview in 2012, and the state of the effects industry may have changed somewhat since then, but I don’t doubt that CGI has had a devastating effect on the use of practical effects in movies and television, although they’re still used to a certain extent.

Blake’s 7 was made over forty years ago and was low budget SF. Matt Irvine said once that the money spent on one effect in the cinema was far in excess of what they had to spend on the series. But the show had memorable characters, great actors and some excellent stories. The effects work varied in quality, but the main spaceships, the Liberator and the Scorpio, looked good, as did the three sentient computers in the show, Zen, Slave and Orac. Blake’s 7 is, along with Dr. Who, Thunderbirds and Space 1999, a classic of British SF television and still retains a cult following all these decades later.