Posts Tagged ‘‘The Martian Chronicles’’

Mars as Communist Utopia in Pre-Revolutionary Russian SF

June 7, 2018

I thought this might interest all the SF fans out there. One of the books I’ve started reading is Lost Mars: The Golden Age of the Red Planet, edited by Mark Ashley (London: The British Library 2018). It’s a collection of SF stories written about the Red Planet from the 19th century to just before the Mariner and then Viking probes in the ’60s and ’70s showed that rather than being a living planet with canals, vegetation and civilised beings, it was a dead world more like the Moon. It’s a companion volume to another book of early SF stories from about the same period, Moonrise: The Golden Age of Lunar Adventures, also edited by Mike Ashley. The Martian book contains stories by H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury – from The Martian Chronicles, natch – Marion Zimmer Bradley, E.C. Tubb, Walter M. Miller, and the great novelist of dystopias and bug-eyed psychopaths, J.G. Ballard. It also contains pieces by now all but forgotten Victorian and early Twentieth writers of Scientific Romances, W.S. Lach-Szyrma, George C. Wallis, P. Schuyler Miller and Stanley G. Weinbaum.

Both books are also interesting, not just for the short stories collected in them, but also for Ashley’s introduction, where he traces the literary history of stories about these worlds. In the case of the Moon, this goes all the way back to the Roman satirist, Lucian of Samosata, and his Vera Historia. This is a fantasy about a group of Roman sailors, whose ship is flung into space by a massive waterspout, to find themselves captured by a squadron of Vulturemen soldiers from the Moon, who are planning an invasion of the Sun.

The history of literary speculation about Mars and Martian civilisation, is no less interesting, but somewhat shorter. It really only begins in the late 19th century, when telescopes had been developed capable of showing some details of the Martian surface, and in particular the canali, which the Italian astronomer Schiaparelli believed he had seen. The Italian word can mean ‘channels’ as well as ‘canal’, and Schiaparelli himself did not describe them as artificial. Nevertheless, other astronomers, like Percival Lowell of Flagstaff, Arizona, believed they were. Other astronomers were far more sceptical, but this set off the wave of novels and short stories set on an inhabited Mars, like Edgar Rice Burrough’s famous John Carter stories. I remember the Marvel adaptation of some these, or at least using the same character, which appeared as backing stories in Star Wars comic way back in the 1970s.

It’s also interesting, and to contemporary readers somewhat strange, that before H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, the vast majority of these stories about Mars assumed that the Martians would not only be far more scientifically and technologically advanced, but they would also be more socially and spiritually as well. Just like the Aetherius Society, a UFO new religious movement founded by George King in the 1950s, claims that Jesus was really as Venusian, and now lives on that world along with Aetherius, the being from whom they believe they receive telepathic messages, so there were a couple of short stories in which Christ was a Martian. These were Charles Cole’s Visitors From Mars, of 1901, and Wallace Dowding’s The Man From Mars of 1910.

Other utopias set on the Red Planet were more secular. In Unveiling a Parallel, by Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant, of 1893, the Martians are handsome and intelligent, and their women totally liberated. Another feminist utopia was also depicted by the Australian writer Mary Moore-Bentley in her A Woman of Mars of 1901.

And in Russia, the writer Alexander Bogdanov made Mars a Communist utopia. Ashley writes

While the planetary romance theme was developing there were other explorations of Martian culture. The Red Planet became an obvious setting for a communist state in Krasnaia Zvesda (‘Red Star’, 1908) and its sequel Inzhener Menni (‘Engineer Menni’, 1912) by Alexander Bogdanov. Although reasonably well known in Russia, especially at the time of the revolution in 1917, and notoriously because of its reference to free love on Mars, it was not translated into English until 1984. Kim Stanley Robinson claimed it served as an influence for his own novel, Red Mars (1992), the first of his trilogy about terraforming the planet. Although the emphasis in Bodganov’s stories is on the benefits of socialism, he took trouble to make the science as realistic as possible. The egg-shaped rocket to Mars is powered by atomic energy. His Mars is Schiaparellian, with canals that have forests planted along their full length, explaining why they are visible from Earth. He also went to great lengths to explain how the topography of Mars, and the fact that it was twice as old as Earth, allowed social evolution to develop gradually and more effectively, with planet-wide communication and thus a single language. (Pp. 11-12).

So five years before the Revolution, Mars really was the ‘Red Planet’ in Russian literature. I’m not surprised it wasn’t translated into English until the 1980s. British publishers and censors probably disliked it as a piece of Communist propaganda, quite apart from Anglophone western Puritanism and the whole issue of free love. No naughtiness allowed on the side of the Iron Curtain, not even when it’s set on Mars. Russian cinema also produced one of the first SF films, also set on Mars. This was Aelita (1922), in which Russian cosmonauts travel to the Red Planet to start a revolution, though at the end it’s revealed that it’s all been a dream.

Meanwhile, Mars as a planet of mystery continues in the French SF series, Missions, shown at 10.00 Thursdays on BBC 4. This has French spationauts and their American rivals landing on the Red Planet, only to find a mysterious altar constructed from lost Atlantean materials described by the Romans, and Vladimir Komarov, a Soviet cosmonaut, who has been turned into something more than human with three strands of DNA. In reality, Komarov died when the parachutes on his spacecraft failed to open when it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere. Tragically, Komarov knew it was a deathtrap, but went anyway because Khrushchev wanted another Russian space achievement to show up the Americans, and Komarov did not want his friend, and first man in space, Yuri Gagarin to go. It’s a tragic, shameful waste of human life on what was a purely political stunt, and Komarov is, because of his desire to save his friend, one of the great heroes of the space age.

But Missions shows not only how much people really want us to travel to Mars – to explore and colonise – it also shows how the Red Planet still remains the source of wonder and speculation about alien civilisations, civilisations that may not be hostile monsters intent on invading the Earth ‘for no very good reason’, as Douglas Adams described the motives of those aliens, who wanted to take over the universie in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. One of the French spationauts, Jeanne, has dreamed of going to Mars since being shown it through a telescope by her father when she was a little girl. Electromagnetic scans of the area, when developed, give a picture of her face, and ‘Komarov’ tells her he has been waiting millions of years for her, and she is the true link between Mars and Earth.

Yes, it’s weird. But different. And it shows that Mars is continuing to inspire other forms of SF, where the Martians aren’t invaders – or at least, not so far-but benevolent guides waiting for us to come to them and make the next leap in our development. Just like Bogdanov in 1912 imagined that they would be ahead of us, and so have created a true Communist utopia.


The Grim Implications for Britain of Chelsea Clinton and her Book on Global Health

February 27, 2017

In this short video from The Jimmy Dore Show, the American comedian and his co-hosts, Stef Zamora and Rob Placone, rip into the New York Times for publishing a bit of non-news from Chelsea Clinton. She’s the daughter of Hillary and Bill Clinton, and the NYT saw fit to publish on its pages a tweet from her, saying that the she read Fahrenheit 451 in 7th grade, and it still makes her feel uncomfortable. It’s widely considered that Chelsea Clinton is being groomed to follow her parents into politics. That’s the message that Dore, Placone and Zamora got from this tweet. They feel it’s a puff piece for her. And so did several of the NY Times’ readers. One Mr Flugennock tweeted back that the newspaper should come off it, as ‘we aren’t going to vote for her’. Accompanying this was a photo of Clinton junior with the caption, ‘Mommy, your clothes fit me now.’

Indeed they do. Both Chelsea and her vile parents seem to be highly critical of state medicine. During her election campaign last year, Killary declared that single-payer healthcare was ‘utopian’. As Dore and the other left-wing American newscaster repeatedly pointed out, it’s a utopian institution that every other country in the developed world has, except America. And Chelsea seems to think the same thing. I distinctly remember her saying something sneering and dismissive about socialised medicine or single-payer health care a few years ago.

Dore, Placone and Zamora joke about the essentially vapid content of the tweet. Zamora commented that she also read Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Zeuss in the 1st Grade, and it still makes her feel uncomfortable about green eggs. Rather more seriously, Dore remarks on her comments seem to suggest that she expected to feel more comfortable with age about the book’s dark subject matter. Fahrenheit 451 is one of SF and Fantasy author Ray Bradbury’s classic novels, alongside The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man. The book takes its name from the temperature at which paper burns. It’s a dystopian book, set in a future where a despotic government has banned literature and reading. In this world, firemen are people, who start firesm not put them out, consigning books and learning to the flames. Of course it’s a disturbing book. It follows the real life burning of subversive literature by oppressive regimes and movements, like Nazi Germany. It’s why Dore also makes a heavily ironic joke about not getting used to the Holocaust either.

The NY Time’s also mentions that Chelsea Clinton has also co-authored a book herself. This is Governing Global Health, an ‘unbiased’ book, which examines public-private healthcare partnerships around the world, and looks forward to them becoming increasingly important in tackling world health. Dore, Zamora and Placone miss the serious undertones for this, joking instead about its supposed connection to Clinton’s comments about Bradbury’s masterpiece. This is supposed to have disturbed her so much, she wrote a book of her own.

But Clinton fille’s authorship of this tome has serious and very ominous overtones for state healthcare elsewhere in the world, and most immediately in Britain. Public-Private Partnerships are basically the Blairite ‘Third Way’, which they in turn inherited from the Tories’ foul Peter Lilley. This capering bigot was upset that private enterprise was locked out of the NHS, and so created the Private Finance Initiative. This is where the state bales out and subsidies private firms for building and managing NHS hospitals. It’s more expensive, and so the hospitals built under it are fewer and smaller. Even worse, perfectly efficient and excellent state hospitals have had to be closed, so that Blair and the Tories could provide more lucrative work for their friends in private healthcare.

Blair took over the Clinton’s electoral strategy and their corporatist, anti-working class ideology and injected it into the Labour party. Bill Clinton’s campaign was based on rejecting the Democrats traditional base in the working class, and abandoning what little welfare provision there was, in order to win votes from Reaganite Republicans. And the policy’s continued under Obama and Shrillary. Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Democrats, famously stated last year that he wasn’t concerned if they lost blue collar voters, as for every one they lost, they’d pick up two or three suburban Republicans. This is the same attitude that infects Blairite Labour. Blair, Mandelson, Broon and Campbell targeted affluent swing voters in marginal constituencies, sacrificing the interests of the working class in order to appeal to middle class Thatcherites. The policy didn’t work, and is creating massive poverty. But the corporatist elite love it, and so the Clintonites in America and Blairites over here are still pushing it.

And just as Blair took over the Clintonite free market ideology, the same corporate interests that infest American politics also came over her to win contracts in healthcare, the prison system and other parts of the state infrastructure. Companies like the notorious health insurance fraudster, Unum. The American private healthcare companies realised that the market in America was in serious trouble, due to rising costs. There was an excellent article in Counterpunch a month or so ago, which reported that in some areas it almost broke down before being rescued by Obama’s affordable care act. With the market in America glutted and sinking, they’ve come over here to win contracts from our NHS. And our politicos have been stupid and malignant enough to give them to them.

I think Dore and co. are right. Chelsea Clinton is being groomed to succeed her parents. And as a believer in private healthcare, she does want to push the privatisation of our NHS for the profit of her country’s private healthcare firms. She has to be stopped. If she enters politics to push her vile agenda, it’ll be bad for America and terrible for Britain and our NHS. Keep her – and them – out of politics and out of Britain.

Danish Amateur Rocketeers Aim for Space

November 19, 2015

This is truly awesome! It’s a VICE documentary I found on Youtube about Copenhagen Suborbitals, a non-profit organisation formed by two Danish guys, Kristian von Bengtson and Peter Madsen, who are building their own spacecraft to carry a person on a sub-orbital spaceflight.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that both have a background as professional rocket engineers. Bengtson used to work for NASA, while his partner, Peter Madsen, also has a background in rocket science. Bengtson got in touch with Madsen after Madsen built and launched his own submarine, the Nautilus, and stated that he’d like to go back to rockets.

Their spacecraft, Beautiful Betty, is built from off the shelf components, like domestic boilers. The rocket uses ethanol as its fuel, and LOX, liquid oxygen, to oxidise it to make it combust. At the time the film was posted in 2012 Bengtson and Madsen were still experimenting with crash test dummies rather than risking a human life. My guess is that they haven’t progressed beyond that, as if they had finally launched someone into space, even in a very short suborbital flight, it would most likely have been all over the news. Bengtson, Madsen and their team would have been celebrities.

The two also encourage others to copy them, in order to show that it doesn’t have to be massive corporations with extremely expensive launchers getting into space. Bengtson says at the end that people are welcome to join them, or copy the details of the spacecraft from their blog and go off and make their own spacecraft.

Here’s the programme:

This is truly inspiring. I strongly believe that the only way spaceflight will ever truly become a mass enterprise, will be when ordinary people have the opportunity to experience space. When the High Frontier is no longer the sole preserve of giant aerospace companies and national or international organisations, like NASA and ESA. When its more like the mass popular migration into space depicted by Ray Bradbury in his classic collection of short stories, The Martian Chronicles. Without, hopefully, the pessimism about human civilisation and it destructive effects contained in Bradbury’s book. In The Martian Chronicles the human settlers destroy the indigenous Martians, and then their civilisation collapses after a nuclear war destroys all life on Earth, or at least humanity there.

Now rocketry, even at the level of Copenhagen Suborbital, is very advanced engineering. Nevertheless, there’s a very large amateur rocketry milieu around the world. These range from hobbyists, who make and launch model rockets that travel only a few hundred feet up, to some extremely serious rocketeers. One year a group sent a 45 foot minuteman missile into orbit.

One of the issues that might strangle the popular, amateur exploration of space is domestic terrorism. In Britain, research into rockets and their use as spacecraft was seriously hampered by the Victorian legislation, nicknamed ‘the fireworks act’, which made it illegal for amateurs to manufacture explosives. The law was passed as a response to bombings by Irish nationalists. Unfortunately, as well as helping to prevent terrorism, it stopped the various early British amateurs from experimenting, though there were a number of rocket societies which developed in the 1920s. Out of them grew the British Interplanetary Society, which is still going today. It still publishes serious papers on rocketry and space science, as well as more popular coverage of spaceflight. Among its members are the late Arthur C. Clarke, and Matt Irvine, who was one of the special effects team building the models for the cult BBC SF series, Blake’s 7.

The legislation regulating the manufacture of explosives is quite correct. These are highly dangerous materials. Apart from anything else, there’s always the danger of accidents, quite apart from the renewed terrorist threat from ISIS and al-Qaeda much earlier. Even in America, which has much less strict firearms regulations, serious rocketeers have to obtain suitable certificates and permits from the Federal Aviation Authority.

Nevertheless, these Danish guys are showing what you can do with skill and ingenuity without the budget of the big space combines. The motto of the British Interplanetary Society is ‘From Imagination to Reality’ – and they’re doing it!
Godspeed, guys!