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Author Arthur C. Clarke is probably best known for the novel and screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey. His writing always seemed to me to be more “science” than much science-fiction.
Clarke contributed to the idea that geostationary satellites would be ideal telecommunications relays and the geostationary orbit is now sometimes known as the Clarke Orbit or the Clarke Belt in his honor. Clarke, who died in 2008, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, and he is the only science-fiction writer to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Childhood’s End was a novel I taught several times and read very closely with students. It was written in 1953 and set in the late 20th century. Its plot, thankfully, did not occur by the end of that century. Well, it didn’t occur in the way Clarke described.
This novel was an early example of the “first contact” with aliens story. When he was writing, it was the time of the United States and the Soviet Union competing to be the first in space and building rockets to fight nuclear war. That conflict was often portrayed in science fiction as aliens, nuclear mutants and “body snatchers.”
Childhood’s End opens at a time when we are preparing to launch the first spaceships into orbit for military purposes. That is when huge alien ships appear over Earth’s biggest cities. The “space race” immediately ends as we unite in our defense of the planet.
It only takes a week before the aliens announce that they will take over all international affairs. But the Overlords, as they call themselves, are doing this for our own good. They see that we are on the verge of destroying our planet and humanity.
The Overlords never appear, but Karellen, the “Supervisor for Earth,” is their representative speaks directly only to Rikki Stormgren, the UN Secretary-General.
Karellen says, “Your race, in its present stage of evolution, cannot face that stupendous challenge. One of my duties has been to protect you from the powers and forces that lie among the stars—forces beyond anything that you can ever imagine.”
The plan is that the Overlords will reveal themselves in 50 years, when humanity is used to their presence.
Rather than the aliens of War of the Worlds and other novels, the Overlords don’t try to destroy Earth. They plan to make it better. Earth prospers. The end of war. A kind of utopia.
Things seem good, though not everyone is trusting. Spoiler alert: When the Overlords are finally seen, they look very much like our image of the Devil.
When Clarke died in 2008, no one had been able to bring his novel to the screen. Clarke unsuccessfully tried to adapt his novel back in the 1960s with filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick moved on to 2001: A Space Odyssey which started with Clarke’s 1951 short story “The Sentinel.”
This year Childhood’s End finally came to the smaller screen in a three-episode series on the SyFy channel.
So, the Overlords didn’t come to Earth. Or did they? I wrote earlier today about how many of us are willingly giving up control of our lives for the sake of convenience. Maybe the “overlords” are here in the form of algorithms and technology.
Take that idea a step further and some have suggested that the technology was put here by aliens. Okay, this moves beyond science fiction into fringe science, but there are believers.
Clarke’s Overlords are very interested in psychic research. At a party, guests play with a Ouija board. They ask where the Overlords came from and the answer is a star-catalog number that matches the direction the Overlords’ supply ships come and go.Do they want us to know?
Without giving away the plot, I’ll say that psychic abilities and the children of Earth are keys to the Overlords’ ultimate plans.
Even the Overlords give up control to the Overmind. The Overmind is the interstellar Hive Mind that Clarke said dominates the Milky Way Galaxy.
Is the Internet and all its technology the Overmind? The Internet launched in the 1980s. If the Overlords decide to reveal themselves to us, it would be in the 2040s. Beware the Overmind.
I was happy to read that BBC AMERICA announced a new series based on Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently novels. The series, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, is scripted by Max Landis and comes from the producers of The Walking Dead.
They are billing it as a “comedic thriller that follows the bizarre adventures of the eccentric holistic detective.” Dirk Gently is played by Samuel Barnett, his reluctant assistant Todd is played by Elijah Wood, and Hannah Marks is Todd’s sister Amanda. Oscar-winning director Dean Parisot will direct the series’ first two episodes. They are shooting the series in Vancouver.
There was an earlier BBC series called simply Dirk Gently that starred Stephen Mangan in the title role in 2010 and 2012.
The way they are playing the new TV adaptation for this fall, Dirk and Todd will be working their way through one mystery all season, though it will take holistically absurd and unlikely paths.
I am a Dirk Gently fan and have written about Dirk and his adventures before and I do recommend the books, but I know it’s easier to watch it unfold from your couch, so set your DVR.
This video was made at Ikeguchi Laboratory in Japan a few years ago and resurfaces online every once and awhile.
It shows 32 metronomes that are started, all out of sync. As the video progresses (it’s only 4 minutes, but you can jump a bit if you get anxious), they shift and then synchronize themselves.
Magic trick? Nope.
It’s that science that is magic – physics. The video shows that transfer of force can align the metronomes over time.
Transfer of force? You give a toy car a push. It rolls across the floor on its own. It hits another toy car halfway across the room with some force. Wait. How could it exert a force? The only reason it moved was because you pushed it.
After you pushed that first car, a force was transferred to the car. When it had that collision, it exerted a force on the second car. That force came from the hand that pushed it. Forces are transferred.
And yet, the metronomes syncing is still kind of magical. Most of the science I like best has some magic to it.
Our Town is a 1938 three-act play by American playwright Thornton Wilder. It tells the story of the fictional American small town of Grover’s Corners between 1901 and 1913 through the everyday lives of its citizens.
As far as I can recall, it was the first play I saw on a professional stage. At some point during my junior high or high school years, we took a class trip to see it performed at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey. Serendipitously, that is also where it was first staged in 1938.
It went on to Broadway and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It remains popular today and revivals of it are frequent, especially with student productions.
One reason for its performance popularity is the deliberate minimalism of the staging and sets. Wilder sets the play in the theater where it is being performed. It is often staged with only a few tables, chairs, benches and ladders on the stage. The audience is asked to see someone on a ladder as being at a second floor window, for example.
A main character is the stage manager who directly addresses the audience. My recollection of my first impression in seeing the play (totally unprepared by my teacher) is that I was disappointed. What a lousy set! It looks like a rehearsal. Not even as nice as some of our school productions.
And the stage manager seemed like a narrator (We had those in school plays.) but he would bring in guest lecturers, answer questions from the audience (Were those real audience members or shills?) and even filled in playing some other roles. (Couldn’t they hire a few more actors?).
Most of the time the actors didn’t have props and would mime actions. (They couldn’t afford some ordinary household items?)
I did like that there were some characters our age. George Gibbs meets his neighbor Emily Webb outside the gate of her house after school. Some romance brewing. Emily confers with her mom. Then the Stage Manager thanks them and dismisses Emily and her mom.
The Stage Manager tells us that a time capsule will be placed in the foundation of a new bank building in town. He wants to put a copy of Our Town into the time capsule.
By Act II, it is three years later and George and Emily are getting married.
Act III is what I remembered best. I went back to the play to fill in the blank spaces. It is only nine years later, but we are in a cemetery outside town. Emily has died in childbirth. This is a burial.
The dead who inhabit the cemetery were sitting in chairs at the front of the stage and they speak. Death has made them pretty much indifferent to the living. Emily isn’t ready to join them. She misses life and wants to go back.
The Stage Manager can do whatever and he allows Emily to go back and relive her twelfth birthday.
As both 12 year old Emily and dead Emily walks through that day, she sees it differently. She appreciates the beauty and preciousness of the everyday and realizes that her parents and the other living characters do not appreciate it at all.
She goes back to the cemetery where George is at her tomb. She is sad because she knows that the living do not understand life. She asks the Stage Manager if anyone understands the value of life while they live it. “No. The saints and poets, maybe – they do some, ” he tells her.
Emily returns to her grave. The Stage Manager concludes the play, wishes the audience a good night, and the play ends.
There is a 1940 film version of Our Town. It stars William Holden and Martha Scott. It was free to watch on Amazon if you have a Prime membership. Although it follows most of the play, it takes some big liberties. One big change is that it has a happy Hollywood ending.
Thornton Wilder was unhappy with that 1940 film (and also a 1957 musical versions of the play). Before his death, in 1975, Wilder worked to have a definitive version of his play. That version was broadcast on NBC in 1977, with Holbrook, Ned Beatty, Sada Thompson, John Houseman, Glynnis O’Connor and Robby Benson. The Wilder estate was so satisfied that they decided there was no need to permit another television version of the play, but they did make an exception for a PBS production in 1989.
We just don’t understand. Prove the Stage Manager wrong.
Synchronicity – that concept that was first explained by psychiatrist Carl Jung – visited me recently. I keep a small notebook of ideas for poems. Some entries are just titles. Last week, I was paging through them and came across “The Museum of Broken Relationships” which I scribbled on a page back in 2014. Good title, I thought.
I went to my online collection of ronka poems that I keep adding to, and wrote a poem to that title:
The suggested donation to enter is expensive.
Each of us has our own gallery.
Mine is dark. Poorly lit. That’s intentional.
Letters, drawings, paintings, postcards, photographs – many poems.
It’s okay to touch. No one cares.
I always add an image to the poems and did a search on that title and was surprised to find that such a museum opened this month in Los Angeles.
Carl Jung defined synchronicity as the idea that holds that events are “meaningful coincidences” if they occur with no causal relationship, yet seem to be meaningfully related. I’m not sure of the meaning here, but it does seem meaningful. Like interpreting a dream, I started considering possibilities. I was recently sifting through a box of old letter and emails I had saved. Some could be considered “love letters.” As someone married for three decades, I wondered to myself the wisdom or lack thereof in keeping these combustible pieces of paper.
Maybe I can donate them.
The actual Museum of Broken Relationships grew from a traveling exhibition revolving around the concept of failed relationships and their remaining ruins.
It started in Croatia in 2006 with an artist ex-couple and became a permanent museum in Zagreb in 2010. This new Los Angeles location opened this month.
You can donate an exhibit along with a title, the duration/dates of the relationship, city/country of origin and an accompanying story. Your personal information remains with the staff, so your exhibit is anonymous. (they do need your full name and a signature to show that you give consent to unlimited display and potential reproduction and publication of your donation on all museum material.)
Our collection has no restrictions. It might be a single object – a letter, a photograph – or several items, or a video or audio. I’ve got a mix tape somewhere that chronicles one relationship’s end with songs and narration. It might be therapeutic to write the stories of failed relationships.
Chances are the museum will accept your donation as part of their, but whether it ends up in an exhibit, traveling displays, catalogues or other museum publications is not guaranteed.
We all have small museums, virtual and actual, of broken relationships. Sometimes we hang on to the exhibits even though seeing them is unpleasant. Reminders are important. Lessons learned. Roads taken.
Don’t want to donate to the actual museum? Consider leaving an exhibit as a comment here. Tell us the object(s) and give us the story.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a penchant for time travel stories. So, it is with some interest that I find that the old-fashioned TV networks are lining some up time travel TV for the new seasons.
NBC has Timeless, billed as a thriller about some misfits time traveling to try to stop a criminal mastermind.
On ABC, we’ll get Time After Time which has the 19th century sci-fi author H.G. Wells (who wrote The Time Machine and started a lot of this) searching for an escaped Jack the Ripper who has traveled to modern-day New York using Wells’ time machine.
If that sounds familiar, it is because it is based on a 1979 movie also called Time After Time . That’s a film I really enjoyed. Jack the Ripper, a serial killer of the 19th century, turns out to be a doctor acquaintance of Wells who evades the police by using Wells’ time machine. However, Dr. Stevenson may have escaped to the future, but because he does not have the “non-return” key, the time machine automatically returns to 1893. H.G. Wells uses it to pursue Stevenson to 1979, where the machine has ended up on display at a museum in San Francisco.
Wells, the real life author now fictionalized, is shocked and disappointed by the future. His predictions had been of an enlightened socialist utopia. He finds a future of war, crime and bloodshed that is better suited to Jack the Ripper.
On FOX, they are going in a comic direction with the mid-season show Making History which will have buddies who jump in time back to historical events, such as the Revolutionary War.
Minus the comedy, that last one reminds me of The Time Tunnel show that was on in 1966–1967. It only lasted one season, but that was in a time when a season ran for 30 episodes. The show was inspired by the 1964 movie The Time Travelers.
I loved that show in 1967. The special effects look pretty poor by today’s standards, but the plot was also about two top-secret U.S. government time travelers who move from one period in history to another. Episodes were set in the past and future. In the series, the two travelers literally jumped into the “tunnel” before the technology was really ready and so become lost in time. I figured back then that I was learning some history when I watched the show. It also was the first time I thought about that paradox of what would happen if you went back in time and changed anything.
UPDATE: I don’t know if the series currently reruns on any channels, but it is available from Amazon. A reader emailed me to say that the series is available, though in an odd format, for free on YouTube. I watched a few episodes today. It is pretty much as I remember it, and about as dated as any memories I have of 1966. Corny, with tacky effects and I can completely see why it appealed to my 13 year-old brain.