Jim Mastro

Writing, and all things in between


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Have They Really Been Here Before? Part 4

In this final installment of my four-part blog, I’ll offer some final thoughts on the possibility that our planet was visited in the past by technologically advanced beings.

For instance, I find it interesting how archaeologists will comment that ancient cave paintings and petroglyphs  are so accurate and true-to-life that the animals they represent can be identified by species:

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But at the same time, they claim images like these are purely symbolic:

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Nor can they explain why some “purely symbolic” stone carvings so accurately represent space-suited individuals:

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The fact that these petroglyphs and carvings are found all over the world, in cultures that had no contact with each other at all, makes them even more mysterious. Just as mysterious, in fact, as the similarity in megalithic structures all over the world (Middle East, Central and South America, Southeast Asia) and the precision in stone carving used to make them, even though the people who supposedly built these things, again, had no contact with each other.

There seems to be no end to the mysteries, such as these eerily accurate descriptions of apparent nuclear explosions from the ancient Indian text, the Mahabharata (a vimana is a flying machine):

“Gurkha, flying a swift and powerful vimana hurled a single projectile charged with all the power of the Universe. An incandescent column of smoke and flame as bright as the thousand suns rose in all its splendor […] The cloud of smoke rising after its first explosion formed into expanding round circles like the opening of giant parasols…

“It was an unknown weapon, an iron thunderbolt, a gigantic messenger of death, which reduced to ashes the entire race of the Vrishnis and the Andhakas…

“The corpses were so burned as to be unrecognizable. The hair and nails fell out; pottery broke without apparent cause, and the birds turned white. After a few hours all foodstuffs were infected…A thick gloom swiftly settled upon the Pandava hosts. All points of the compass were lost in darkness. Fierce wind began to blow upward, showering dust and gravel….

The earth shook, scorched by the terrible violent heat of this weapon. Elephants burst into flame and ran to and fro in a frenzy… over a vast area, other animals crumpled to the ground and died. From all points of the compass the arrows of flame rained continuously and fiercely.”

Recent excavations at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in India have uncovered flattened, highly radioactive skeletons. There is no apparent cause for the sudden death visited upon these people.

Or this from Genesis 19:

And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.

Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven;

And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.

Recently, archaeologists have been excavating a site (Tall-el-Hammam”) they believe to be that of Sodom and Gomorrah, and their research has revealed the cities were destroyed by an intense “heat event.” Not only that, but the area apparently remained uninhabitable for 600 years.

Couple this with the abrupt disappearance of Sumerian civilization, described thusly in a Sumerian text:

On the land fell a calamity, one unknown to man;
one that had never been seen before,
one which could not be withstood.
A great storm from heaven…
A land-annihilating storm…
An evil wind, like a rushing torrent…
A battling storm joined by a scorching heat…
By day it deprived the land of the bright sun, in the evening the stars did not shine…
The people, terrified, could hardly breathe;
the evil wind clutched them, does not grant them another day…
Mouths were drenched with blood, heads wallowed in blood…
The face was made pale by the Evil Wind.
It caused cities to be desolated, houses to become desolate;
stalls to become desolate, the sheepfolds to be emptied…
Sumer’s rivers it made flow with water that is bitter;
its cultivated fields grow weeds, its pastures grow withering plants.

This reads like a textbook example of the aftermath of a nuclear explosion to the west of the city, with its resultant radiation contamination and poisoning. When you consider it in light of Sodom and Gomorrah’s heat event and the discovery early in the 20th Century of Libyan Desert Glass, it’s even more intriguing.

Libyan Desert Glass (LDG) is the name given to a mysterious layer of green glass found in the Libyan desert (west of Tall-el-Hammam). The glass was somehow formed by an intense heat source that turned the desert sand into a greenish glass. There is no sign of a meteor impact, but even if there was, it would not produce the observed structure and distribution of the LDG. However, the LDG is almost identical to the trinitite glass formed at the Alamogordo, New Mexico site where the first atomic bombs were tested.

Obviously, this could all be nothing more than wild speculation – and I’m quite certain many people will see it that way. There is certainly no shortage of websites and books “debunking”  what is affectionately called the “ancient alien theory.” Some of these criticisms are valid, but I find most of them to be unconvincing, as though the writers are really reaching, as if desperate to “prove” this ancient alien theory wrong.

Frankly, I don’t see why. I don’t see anything absurd about it. To me, it’s simply another possible explanation for the many anomalies we have found, and as such it should be open to consideration and testing. There is no convincing reason why it should be dismissed out of hand.

Now, I will readily admit it is perfectly reasonable that all the things I’ve mentioned — the pyramids, the stone carvings, the petroglyphs, the jet-like gold trinkets, the ancient descriptions, the LDG, the “heat event,” and so on — have mundane, terrestrial explanations. But sometime the explanations put forth seem outlandish all on their own, and sometimes there simply is no reasonable explanation. The pyramid builders used ramps? Where are they? The jet airplane is really a fish? The spacesuit is a shaman outfit that just looks like spacesuit? The ancient Indians and Middle Eastern tribes had such amazing imaginations that they contrived flying machines and weapons that behaved exactly like nuclear devices? Ancient people built stone structures of such amazing physical and mathematical precision using stone or bronze tools, and moved 200-ton (or larger) blocks over great distances with manpower alone?

Maybe so. I can’t say either way. Here’s the thing, though: On the one hand, each of these anomalies and mysteries requires its own, separate (often unconvincing) explanation. On the other hand, one simple explanation covers them all at once: technologically advanced beings visited our planet in the distant past.

Sometimes the simplest explanation is the best one.

Which brings me back to my original question: Could it be that some of the events I describe in my science fiction trilogy, Children of Hathor, actually be true? I thought I was just making it all up, but now I’m beginning to wonder…

 

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Have They really Been Here Before? Part 1

I have long been fascinated by the way events (even apparently minor events) can reverberate through time, affecting subsequent events hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of years later. A recent example is when 19-year-old Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Sarajevo, Bosnia on June 28, 1914, which triggered World War I. Events following that war led directly and (in retrospect) inevitably to World War II, which led directly to the Cold War and all the little proxy wars, coups, assassinations, and CIA covert operations to “stop the spread of communism” that the Cold War engendered. The consequences of all of those things affect us even today, particularly in the Middle East. One person’s actions, one bullet, literally changed the course of history for the entire world, resulting in millions of deaths — and the count keeps rising.

Granted, this example only covers decades, but I’m certain it would be easy to find single events hundreds or thousands of years ago that have led directly to the way things are today.

It is precisely this concept that I explored in the Children of Hathor trilogy. In that story, all the hundreds of human races in the galaxy are descended from an extinct progenitor race, the Hathor. 800,000 years ago. a single action by a single one of these Hathor altered the course of history for every race in the galaxy. As a direct result, some of those Hathor-spawned races visited Earth thousands of years ago, helped elevate early humans to civilization, and interbred with them. Now those actions have directly affected the life of 12-year-old Jason Hunter, and his subsequent actions define the future course of galactic civilization, affecting hundreds of worlds and trillions of people.

When I set out to write the trilogy, I was of course aware of the many books that claim ancient aliens visited Earth. I’m not sure I bought it, but it was a fun concept to explore in fiction. Since them, however, I have read some of these books, and I’m beginning to wonder if maybe there isn’t some truth to the idea. I’m beginning to wonder, in fact, if there isn’t as much truth as there is fiction in my trilogy!

Now, before you think I’ve gone off my rocker, let me first say that much of what is written in the aforementioned books is horse hockey. That is, the writers almost invariably take a few tantalizing facts and use them to launch into absurd flights of fancy. One book made the claim that the “starmen” were wise and benevolent, that we were a carefully watched colony, and that soon they would return and peace and beauty would reign over the Earth, or some other such nonsense. Even if aliens did visit Earth in the past, there is no reason to assume that they were any more selfless and benevolent than the Spanish Conquistadors. Why should they have been? The people here must have seemed to them as primitive as subsistence hunters in the Amazon jungle seem to us. They would have been as likely to enslave early humans as raise them up.

As for the notion that these aliens will return, well, that sounds just like the South Pacific cargo cults, or, frankly, any religion that insists its god or prophet or whatever will return someday soon (always soon!) to save us. These aliens, if they existed, might well be extinct by now. In fact, I’d lay heavy odds that they are. We’re talking thousands of years! If Earth history is any guide, no civilization lives for more than a few hundred years, tops. Odds are pretty much even that our “modern” civilization won’t survive for more than another century or two, based on how we are trashing our planet and how we are ever so eager to kill each other.

Still, there seems to be some pretty good evidence that human-like aliens did visit Earth millennia ago, and that their presence dramatically affected the development of human civilization. For all we know, there could be a vast galactic civilization composed of hundreds of races, just like in my trilogy, and we are no more aware of it than small Amazonian tribes deep in the jungle are aware of Western Civilization. Nor would those galactic races be any more aware of us than we are of those hidden Amazonian tribes.

It’s a tantalizing thought. In my next post, I’ll talk about some of the evidence that makes me think this is possible. And I’ll talk about why I think it’s premature to insist that space travel between star systems is impossible.


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Earth as seen from Antarctica

Some things take on a certain resonance when viewed from a windblown, polar desert. Since I arrived here at McMurdo Station a little over two weeks ago, the weather has been, shall we say, challenging. It has been an endless parade of storms, sometimes with wind in excess of 50 mph, frigid temperatures (-10F), and blowing snow. There have been times when I haven’t been able to see more than a few feet in front of me. One must be particularly vigilant for large vehicles (as in bulldozers and forklifts) and blowing debris in conditions like those.

It is here that I have just finished reading my signed copy of “Earth,” by David Brin. As I have come to expect from Mr. Brin, the novel is imaginative, thought-provoking, thrilling, and exceptionally well written. And frightening, because it invokes a future world that is all too possible. In fact, in some respects, I would say inevitable. It is perhaps because I read it in Antarctica that I have been pondering the future–both the fictional one as well as the impending real one–in rather stark terms. One cannot spend as much time as I have here in the bitter cold and desolation without coming to appreciate the generally life-friendly environment found elsewhere on our little planet. One also comes to an understanding, on a very fundamental level, that the rest of the planet could look like Antarctica–if not in frigidity, then certainly in desolation and lifelessness–if we’re not careful.

And we are not careful.

I have to wonder about us humans. Individually, we are rather smart. As a species, not so much. Oh, we are certainly clever. We invent all kinds of new technologies and modify our environment on a scale that has only happened once before in Earth’s history, when cyanobacteria changed the atmosphere from neutral to oxidative. But that took eons. We’ve made our changes in, literally, the blink of an eye. And the changes have not been good.

As a biologist, I understand the basic imperatives that motivate all living things: pass on DNA to the next generation; gather resources to facilitate this activity. The more resources, the better, in most cases. When humans take this to the extreme (which, frankly, most humans would do, given the opportunity), it’s called greed. But other animals are greedy too, when they have the option. I’ve had dogs who are never satisfied with the toys they have, they want all the toys in your hand or hidden in your pockets. Some animals, when given access to all the food they can imagine, will eat themselves sick. “More, more, and more” seems to be the default position.

I had hoped, once upon a time in my youthful optimism, that we humans would see the bigger picture and moderate that destructive influence. We certainly have the capacity to do so. We have the brain power. But we seem unable to harness that brain power to see the bigger picture and make decisions that will ensure our survival. Just the opposite, in fact.

Look at how fishermen have historically mismanaged the resources that provide their livelihoods. They will notice how a fish stock is diminishing, but instead of getting together and coming to an agreement designed to ensure the fish stock remains robust and sustainable, they try to outcompete each other to grab the last little bits, to get as much money as possible out of it before it’s gone. And then when it’s gone, they blame the seals, or the whales, or sport fishermen, or the government. The only reason some fish stocks still exist is because that government stepped in and imposed much-hated regulations. It is only because of those regulations that any fish are left at all! In some cases, the regulations came too late and certain fish stocks became economically extinct.

And now we have well-moneyed and powerful oil and coal barons who fight tooth and nail to maintain their lucrative industries, vociferously denying the negative impacts of their industries even as those negative impacts become more and more obvious. They have used their money and power to purchase politicians–purchase our republic, actually–essentially removing the only impediment to oligarchic control: a functioning, democratic government. They are not the only ones, of course. Pharmaceutical industries, agritech industries (like Monsanto), “healthcare” giants, and others have done the same, and their damage to our political and physical health should not be underestimated. But no other industry has the long-term, potentially devastating influence of the fossil fuel industry.

Sure, we are all guilty to an extent. Most of us drive cars, purchase consumer goods manufactured far away and shipped across oceans, and burn fuel to stay warm. But in many cases, we have little choice. Decisions made by industry and government limit our choices, even though we decry those limits and press for more reasonable alternatives. There are those who have sounded the alarm for decades. Thirty years ago I wrote an essay (published in the San Diego Union-Tribune) in which I offered this analogy: If you place a culture of bacteria in a petri dish and leave it to its own devices, one of two things will happen–the bacteria will multiply until all the food is used up, then they will all die, or, if they are of a particular sort, they will poison themselves with their own waste products, and they all die. Sometimes both things happen at once.

So how are humans different?

Clearly, we are not. That is glaringly obvious. Any living creature will multiply to the greatest extent possible, and it is only external factors (such as predators) that keep the population under control. We no longer have any predators, other than ourselves. But populations freed of predation will succumb to the bacteria scenario, or their populations will be brought under control by the two last-ditch methods the ecosystem has: mass starvation and density-dependent disease. It is the height of hubris to not understand, despite all our technology, that we are subject to the same controls. The current Ebola crisis is just the latest that mother nature has sent our way. It won’t be the last. (Unless, of course, the Ebola virus evolves the ability to transmit itself in the air while retaining its virulence.) And starvation, well, that’s where this conversation is now headed.

About 250 million years ago, at the end of the Permian, there took place the worst of several mass extinction events in Earth’s history. About 90% of all life, on land and in the ocean, perished. The event, which took a thousand years or so, was apparently caused by massive volcanic activity in the area now called Siberia. Volcanoes spewed huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, which warmed the globe by a process that any five-year-old can understand, but that which deliberately escapes the comprehension of certain rich and powerful (some would say stupid) people. Warming reached a point at the end of the Permian where pent-up methane was released from permafrost and from the deep ocean and polar seas. At that point, the feedback loop went into overdrive. The globe warmed as much as 10-12 degrees Celsius, drought ravaged the land, acidification ravaged the seas, and pretty much everything died.

That same process, which took place because of natural events over the course of thousands of years, is happening again. Only this time it is happening with a rapidity that ought to boggle anyone’s mind. It is a rapidity that is absolutely unprecedented in Earth’s history. It takes a broader perspective to see this, and humans seem generally limited in their ability to see beyond the next day, or the next quarterly report. But if you understand biology and ecology, if you understand geological processes, if you understand the grand reach of time that characterizes our planet’s history and development, it become very clear indeed. In the geological equivalent of a nanosecond, we are irrevocably altering our environment in a way that is making it incapable of supporting human life.

Brin’s book paints this kind of picture, but in that fictional account there is still hope. I am not so sanguine. I know what happens when a massive system is pushed out of balance. It seeks a new balance, and it reaches it sooner or later, but in most cases that new balance is dramatically different than the starting point.

Earth’s climate is just such a massive system, and massive systems have a lot of inertia. Like a huge freight train, it take a lot to get it moving, but once it’s in motion, it is not stopping anytime soon. We have put Earth’s climate into motion. The train has left the station. We might have been able to moderate the effects and stave off the worst of it a few decades ago, when wise and prescient people first sounded the alarm. That opportunity is lost. Researchers have already measured methane seeping out of permafrost, and people have seen methane bubbling up from the Artic ocean. Even knowing this, we continue to make the situation worse. Carbon emissions are predicted to increase by 2.3% worldwide next year and beyond.

At some point, they will begin to decrease, not because we have suddenly wised up, but because the effects of our foolishness and profligacy will finally start to be felt, in diminished economic activity, diminished food production, and diminished population. That point is coming sooner than anyone wants to believe.

People may decry what I am saying as “doomsday hysteria.” It is nothing of the sort. As a scientist and philosopher, I can look at what is scathingly obvious with a certain amount of professional objectivity. Earth has gone through this before, and she always recovers. After the devastating Permian extinction, it only took her a few million years to repopulate the globe with a whole new diversity of plant and animal life. She will do that again after we are gone.

And we will be gone far sooner than anyone wants to believe. It doesn’t take much to destroy a civilization, even an advanced technological one like ours. It has happened many times just in the brief span of human history. Take away food, and everything falls apart. I think human beings will be extinct in less than 300 years. Maybe a lot less. The victim of our own greedy, selfish stupidity, and mainly the greedy selfish stupidity of a relatively few people. All their money and power will do them no good at all when there is simply no food to buy. It is a shame that they cannot see that.

Still, it is sad, and I am profoundly disappointed. We humans held such promise. I think of the sublime miracle of consciousness, the very fact that we can be self-aware and can also look out upon the universe and be amazed and humbled and filled with wonder. I think of the miracle of love, which I have to believe goes far beyond the simple facts of procreation and hormonal influence. There is a spiritual component to love that far surpasses those biological imperatives.

I think of the sublime beauty of this planet, with its stunning diversity of life. There is certainly nothing like it in our solar system. And even though there are almost certainly other planets with life, there may be nothing quite like the Earth in the entire galaxy. What a shame to despoil such a place.

I also think of all the beauty we have created, and the noble and courageous things we have done. Art, music, individual acts of love and heroism. What other creature demonstrates these things? What other creature looks out upon a beautiful sunset with wonder and then feels compelled to paint it, or write about it, or compose a song to it?

I think of all the amazing things we could have done. We could have traveled to the stars! There is a whole universe to explore! Think of what we might have discovered! Think of what grand artistic and scientific and technological things we might have accomplished, if only we could have seen a little clearer.

Of course, people do and have done some terrible things, too, to each other and to the planet. There is no excuse for any of it. But the most terrible thing of all has been to kill our mother.


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A New Way to Look at Quantum Strangeness

So here I’m really going to go out on a limb. First, I want to make it clear that I am by no means a physicist. However, I do have a passing understanding of the most interesting (to me) major areas of that discipline: Relativity, Cosmology, Astrophysics, Particle Physics, and Quantum Mechanics. My understanding is not rooted in the arcane (and to me inchoate) mathematics involved, but rather in the overall concepts. It’s an understanding derived from reading numerous books on the subject, many of them written by physicists, including Stephen Hawking, George Gamow, Richard Feynman, and Michio Kaku.

You’ve probably never heard of the last one, but you should. His writing is clear and eloquent, and his ability to explain the densest, most arcane concepts is remarkable. I am currently reading his book, “Parallel Worlds,” which is concerned with the intersection of particle physics and cosmology. Physicists have understood for some time that you cannot begin to understand the unimaginably large without first understanding the unimaginably small. I have been interested in these subjects for as long as I can remember, certainly ever since high school. As an undergraduate, I took courses in astronomy and astrophysics, and had I not been a smidgeon more interested in marine biology (and had I been better at math), I might well have chosen physics as a career path.

So I am interested in the subjects for their own sake, because I am interested in all science, and because now, as a science fiction author, they give me great ideas that I can use in my stories. And I love ideas, especially big ideas. Here’s one I just came up with: Phased Uncertainty.

I’ll explain. In one of his chapters, Kaku was explaining one of the very strange things about the quantum world, in which particles can essentially be in two or more places at the same time. Electrons, for example, form an “electron cloud” around the nucleus of an atom. Their position at any given time is a matter of probability, but it is less a single point than a general area, and they can be in two places at once. But if you know the electron’s “position,” you cannot know its momentum, and vice versa. This is known as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

The big question is, if sub-atomic particles behave in this way, why don’t large objects? Why can’t a virus, to give Kaku’s example, be in two places at once? Richard Feynman solved the “how” of this question, but I’m not sure he solved the “why.” I mean, why don’t macro objects like viruses or tennis balls behave like sub-atomic particles? After all, they are composed of sub-atomic particles, each one of which is in a state of uncertainty where there is a small but measurable probability that it is across the room, or on the other side of the world, or on Mars for that matter. Individual particles can be as uncertain as they want, but once they are part of a larger object they seem to all agree to “be” in one particular place.

Here’s what I think. I think sub-atomic particles that are part of a collective object are in a state of phased uncertainty. Each one of them individually still has a vast set of probabilities, where they could each be in a million different places, but as part of a collective they have “agreed” to occupy a single “phase” wherein their greatest probability of existing in one spot is the same for all of them. All of their other probabilities are much smaller, but more importantly, they are out of phase. They are all over the place. One particle might have a slight probability of existing in the next room, while the particle next to it might have a corresponding probability of existing in the scientist’s shoe. In order for the entire object to suddenly be in another spot, all particles would have to “agree” collectively on a different phase. So, for example, Kaku’s virus is in one spot because all of its particles are in phase, such that each one has the greatest probability of existence at that one spot and all their other probabilities are both much smaller and out of phase. If they could somehow collectively decide to occupy a different spot, they would all have to simultaneously change to a different phase, such that their collective probability of existence is greatest somewhere else, on the other side of the petri dish, for example. Or in someone’s lung.

I don’t think this is impossible, though it is obviously highly unlikely. But what if there were some way of forcing it? What if you could alter the collective probability of an object, changing its phased uncertainty such that it is much more likely to be in an entirely different spot? This would constitute the perfect means of teleportation, though that word would be a misnomer, because you wouldn’t actually be moving a person or object (i.e., teleporting). The object or person would just suddenly “be” in another place (across the country, perhaps) because you’ve made it such that the object or person’s highest probability of existence is “there” instead of “here.”

I’ve never seen phased uncertainty mentioned anywhere, so this might be an entirely new idea. (Right! What’s the probability of that!) Any physicists out there care to comment?

In the meantime, you will see Phased Uncertainty in one of my upcoming novels.

 


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Time Travel

Time travel has been a staple of science fiction since, well, since H.G. Wells. Physicists have debated the real-world possibility of time travel for almost as long, ever since it has been shown that Einstein’s equations do not rule it out. However, one of the biggest objections to time travel (besides the “kill your grandfather” paradox) is that we don’t see time travelers. Even Stephen Hawking raised this objection, claiming that if time travel was possible we should be seeing tourists from the future. Since we don’t, it must be impossible.

There are two enormous logical fallacies in this line of reasoning. First, it assumes that time travelers would announce themselves as such, or at least that they would be obvious. This seems to me as a very naive assumption. Announcing that you have come from the future would be the dumbest thing you could do, in any era. In times of superstition, it would be a ticket to the stake, fire included. In modern times it would pit the hapless traveler against the avarice and ideology of those who would seek future technology to gain an advantage. Either that or the traveler (or his machine) would be hijacked for a trip to the past to change the hijacker’s current financial circumstances, or for a dozen other reasons. A time traveler who identified himself as such would be hard pressed to get out alive, whatever the year he or she popped up in.

The second fallacy assumes that humans will be around long enough to develop the technology, or at least that advanced technological civilization will be around long enough. There is no logical reason to make this assumption. In fact, based on the current state of affairs on this planet, humans could be extinct in very short order. Runaway global warming has caused the mass extinction of most of the life on Earth more than once, and it could do so again (this time thanks to us). Add to that the constant threat of nuclear terrorism and nuclear war, rampant pollution of the environment by toxic and carcinogenic chemicals, overpopulation, habitat and ecosystem destruction on a massive scale, and, of course, the ever present possibility of an asteroid or comet-induced extinction event, and it seems the likelihood of us surviving to the end of the century is not very great.

Time travel might very well be physically possible and technologically feasible, but if we don’t survive long enough to figure out how to do it, we’ll never know. And even if we do survive, no intelligent time traveler would ever reveal himself or herself as such. I think either of those is a more reasonable explanation for the lack of future tourists than to claim their absence is proof that time travel is impossible.


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Validation

It’s what every writer wants. We spend months or even years crafting a novel, laboring in solitude, immersed in our fictional worlds. When we finally emerge and release our work to the world, we all want some indication that it was worth the effort. Nothing provides that better than a letter from a satisfied reader, a letter like this one:

Corbin letter

(I redacted the writer’s name to protect the student’s privacy.) According to the teacher who forwarded it, this student had never read science fiction before but now was hooked. Better still! I have opened a student’s eyes to the mind-expanding possibilities of speculative fiction.

This letter made my day. No, it made my week!

And that’s all I have to say about that.


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Star Trek Redux

A few more thoughts occurred to me, now that I’ve finished the complete Star Trek original series. First, surely Paramount and Desilu have realized they made a monumental error when they canceled the show after its third season.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but now it’s abundantly clear that the show was really coming into its own as the third season drew to a close. The writers were becoming more imaginative and expanding their story lines beyond the bounds of provincialism that dogged the first two seasons. In fact, the final two episodes, “All Our Yesterdays” and “Turnabout Intruder” were two of the best episodes of the whole series, both in terms of the science fiction concepts they explored and the quality of the acting. Shatner did an impressive job acting as a slightly mad, power-hungry, jilted woman in “Intruder,” and Nimoy was amazing in “Yesterdays” as Spock slowly reverted to a more primitive Vulcan. One can only imagine what amazing episodes would have been produced if the short-sighted studio execs had let the Enterprise complete her five-year mission.

Also included in the DVD set was the original pilot, “The Cage,” starring Jeffry Hunter as Captain Chris Pike. Hunter was a very credible captain for the Enterprise, and I think the series would have done fine had he remained in that role (though it is hard to imagine anyone other than Kirk as captain of the Enterprise!). It was also clear from that pilot that Gene Roddenberry was well ahead of his time. He made an effort (within what the studio would allow) to point out the foolishness of racism and to create a world in which all races were equal. (He fought the studio very hard to keep Michele Nichols on, even though the “suits” pressed to have her removed from the show.)

He took similar pains to confront the rampant sexism of the time. Even though Pike made a comment about “still not being used to having women on the bridge” (a sign of the times), the second in command of his Enterprise was nonetheless a woman (Majel Barret, who would become Roddenberry’s wife and would later serve as Nurse Chapel; she was also the voice of the computer in Star Trek: The Next Generation). All the Enterprise women on that pilot wore pants, just like the men, something that makes a whole lot more sense than miniskirts when dealing with space exploration (or just about anything else, for that matter). One can almost hear the studio suits demanding that if Roddenberry wanted the go-ahead for the show, the female command officer had to go and all the women had to wear miniskirts. They got their way on that one.

However, Roddenberry got the last laugh. Even though the two top command officers in Next Generation were male, several episodes of that series featured female captains (as did Star Trek: Voyager), and the captain of Deep Space Nine was black. And the women wore pants.

In Next Generation, Roddenberry resurrected terminology that was used in the original pilot but never again used in that series. Pike called Barret “Number One,” which Captain Picard used in Next Generation to refer to Riker. Pike also used the term “engage” for engaging the warp drive, another term that never made it past the pilot but appeared years later in the Next Generation lexicon.

Finally, it was interesting to see in the pilot that neither Roddenberry nor Leonard Nimoy had pinned down Spock’s unique character. In that episode, Spock seemed to show emotion, shouting at times and even once smiling as he observed a strange “singing” plant. By the time the series was given the go-ahead and filming began with Shatner, Spock had become characterized as an emotionless, logical Vulcan, a characterization that the writers ultimately hammered on ad nauseum.

For those Trekkies out there, I’ll no doubt have more to say once I’ve watched every episode of Next Generation (which I now have on DVD!). For the non-Trekkies, I’m done posting about Star Trek for now!