Monday, April 14, 2014

Ukraine, The End, Global Climate Change, Bombs

First the Crimean crisis, then the Eastern Ukraine crisis, we have to worry about.  Beyond that you've heard that there are wars and you've heard the rumors of wars.  You've seen images from scientists showing melting icebergs and glaciers and you've been told the earth will become too hot to be the beautiful, nuturing place we once knew.  Species extinctions, food shortages and overpopulation all threaten to destroy humanity or the world in which it lives.  And then we might see terrorists use nuclear weapons, for whatever insane reason, and all of our perceived normals will go straight to hell.   Or have you heard about all the resistant strains of bacteria that we'll be killed by, because we've foolishly use antibiotics for any thing.  Birth defects are rising in areas from polluted ground water, and the world has floating patches of garbage upon the surface of our oceans.  It is thought by some scientists that numerous ocean going species collapse, combined with global climate change could cause food riots, and since most of the Third World that is, poor, people of the world live in equatorial or at least nearly equatorial regions, the human toll from the catastrophe will be far in excess of anything since the era of the plagues, such as Black Death and the like.  And then again, you haven't done your homework yet, you still have that huge pimple...

It might well be true that the world has always had events, crisis, and disasters.  It is also true to say, we've never likely known about them nearly as well as we do now.  Science fiction, fantasy and all forms of speculative writing have considered every possible disaster, that we know of, and usually long before it was known by the general populace to be possible.   There are critiques from outside of speculative fiction who just considered the entire of the genre to be weird or childish fantasy but that is clearly not true.   Great minds have for centuries used such writing to produce considerations of the world at present, through the lens of an outsider, or by placing the narrator inside an event that could threaten the world.  The imagined disasters in these works can help us understand the present, but showing the reader how the writer of that day would imagine people responding to the disaster, if in the future.  But some other ways of understanding the present better is by seeing how the current reader sees all the things they cherish being lost, and what would they do to stop that.   Science fiction and fantasy fiction allow the reader to put the question to themselves, "What if this happened to me?".   

There are many more Apocalyptical Crisis books than the images included in this piece show.  The reader is invited to search for the crisis and then look into the fiction.   Raw data does not always speak to the mind, but fiction often does.

The eight books shown are (in no particular order):

On The Beach by Nevil Shute which follows the events of a world that has been poisoned by a nuclear conflict, and radiation that is going to kill that world.

Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin is about a "future" civilization on a world that seems familiar, and we learn more and more that sometimes events can destroy the future, and make it seem more like the past.

The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett is a story about a world destroyed by a massive nuclear conflict.  In the former United States the return to normal is slow, and is only in the third generation since the bombs fell.  Technology is seen as evil, and religion has found greater adherents.

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank is another nuclear war story, but with a specific focus upon a small town in Florida, and seeing the recovery in the early days of the events.  The title comes from the Bible, "Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come."

The Last Man by Mary Shelley is not about a nuclear disaster.  It was written in 1826 about a plague that devastates the earth, and follows a group of people trying to find their way to other humans, in Europe, before the end can destroy them all.

The Postman by David Brin follows a man who discovers a uniform from a long lost era of America, a postal uniform.  The story is about how humans would at first break into small groups, tribes, and be led by warlords, but there is hope that in the future a greater idea of nation will be restored.

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K Le Guin follows a man who can dream reality into a better world, but, the problem for that world then becomes, what worse could happen that the new world does not consider. Much more speculative and more fantastical than the others on the list, there is still scenario after scenario of worlds in crisis, and how remaking the wheel and facing old threats that have modernized or evolved shows that normal might be difficult, but it can always get worse.

Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle show earth society, particularly the US society, after a huge comet strikes the earth.  Millions have died, law and order are gone, the world is a disaster area, and people are only now realizing that they have to do something or they will die.    

Friday, April 11, 2014

C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy: Perelandra (part 2)

Christian Doctrine is never far from the surface in Lewis’s writings, and Perelandra is, I think, the most overtly religious of his Space Trilogy. It imagines the planet Venus, or Perelandra in the Old Solar tongue, as an unfallen Paradise, a second Eden. Dr. Elwin Ransom has been sent to Perelandra by the Oyarsa of Malacandra, the angelic spirit which rules the planet Mars, in order to foil an attack on that planet by the Dark Archon of Tellus. Ransom has met Perelandra’s equivalent of Eve; and where there’s Eve, you just know a Serpent is going to show up.

Weston, the belligerent physicist from Out of the Silent Planet, has rebuilt his spaceship and has now arrived on Venus. When we saw him last he was a pompous materialist, a caricature of the Late-Victorian Scientist, much like Professor Challenger from Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, only without the more endearing foibles. Since then, Weston has had what one might call a religious experience. He has come to believe in a Higher Power; in fact, he claims that he has been in contact with this Power. But the Power he now believes in is not what Ransom would exactly call God.
“How far does it go? Would you still obey the Life-Force if you found it prompting you to murder me?” 
“Or sell England to the Germans?” 
“Or to print lies as serious research in a scientific periodical?” 
“God help you!: said Ransom.
I've always found this a significant exchange. The old Weston, caricature though he was, still possessed a certain code of morality. He embarked on his original trip to Mars not for wealth (unlike his avaricious partner Devine) or even fame, but rather to benefit humanity. Although he was willing to hand Ransom over to the (supposedly) blood-thirsty sorns, he felt some scruples about it – not because of any qualms about murder, but because he felt that an educated man like Ransom was more valuable than a common illiterate plebe. Even Oyarsa, in passing judgment upon the Earthmen, perceived that Weston was not “broken” like Devine, an amoral creature driven by solely by greed, but merely “bent”; possessing at least some sense of ethics.

But now he has renounced what moral code he previously had. Ransom’s questions in that passage are an ironic escalation in seriousness. Most of us would consider murder a greater crime than lying, but the old Weston, the scientific materialist, regarded Science – real Science, not the fuzzy humanities crap that Ransom studied – as a Supreme Calling. That he would now gladly murder an acquaintance is unsurprising; that he would betray his country more disturbing, (keep in mind, this novel was written during the Second World War); but that he would debase his own profession by peddling falsehood in journals dedicated to the discovery of scientific Truth shows how far he has fallen.

Ransom desperately tries to find some point of common ground in order to persuade Weston to see reason, but this only makes Weston angry. He replies with a rant that to me recalls some of the teachings of Ayn Rand. I don’t know if Lewis read any Rand; he was more likely referencing the popular view of Nietzsche, but I’m not familiar enough with him to say for sure.
“Idiot,” said Weston. His voice was almost a howl and he had risen to his feet. “Idiot,” he repeated. “Can you understand nothing? Will you always try to press everything back into the miserable framework of your old jargon about self and self-sacrifice? That is the old accursed dualism in another form. There is no possible distinction in concrete thought between me and the universe. In so far as I am the conductor of the central forward pressure of the universe, I am it. Do you see, you timid, scruple-mongering fool? I am the Universe. I, Weston, am your God and your Devil. I call that Force into me completely . . . .”
Weston gets his wish. At this terrible blasphemy, his body convulses and he becomes possessed by his Higher Power, the Bent Oyarsa of Earth. Lewis never directly identifies this being as Satan, but that’s who it is, and now he sets out to corrupt this world’s Eve as he did the one on ours.

Maleldil, the Ruling Entity of the Cosmos, (spoiler alert: Maleldil is really Aslan), has given the first Man and Woman of Perelandra only one command. You might remember that in Eden it was something about trees and fruit. In this case the command involves the Fixed Land. Most of the islands of Perelandra are floating masses of dense vegetation, but there are solid islands in the great planet-wide ocean. The Man and the Woman are permitted to visit the Fixed Lands, but not to settle and stay there.

Why? It seems pretty arbitrary to Ransom too; but since that is Maleldil’s command, Weston devotes his energies to persuading The Green Lady, this world’s Eve, to defy the command and spend a night on the Fixed Land. Ransom finds himself at a disadvantage. He can’t very well tell her that Weston is Bad or Evil or even Untrustworthy because the Lady has no frame of reference to understand what these things mean. And, she greatly desires to gain wisdom, to “grow older” as she puts it. Ransom must marshal the best counter-arguments he can.

This debate, which Lewis tells us continues off and on over the course of several days, forms the core of the novel; and in it, Lewis recasts just about every argument ever made on the subjects of Disobedience and Free Will. Ransom frequently finds himself in over his head. Fortunately, the Green Lady has a short attention span and tends to get bored when Weston and Ransom’s wrangling get too academic. Well, that’s probably unfair. The fact is that the World is so wonderful and new to the Lady that Theology is really low on her priority list of things to explore and discover.

It is when the Lady wanders off and leaves Ransom and Weston alone that the horror begins. Many critics have held that John Milton, when writing Paradise Lost was “of the Devil’s camp without knowing it.” Milton’s Lucifer is suave and charismatic and compelling, much more interesting that the stiff, uptight angels. Lewis disagrees, and portrays the Tempter here as someone who can be intelligent and charming when it suits him, but who regards these qualities merely as tools.

When he’s alone with Ransom, he doesn't bother with philosophical sophistries or cunning persuasion; he doesn't even bother with human posture. The personality he had displayed before goes off like a light switch, and although Ransom can’t put his finger on exactly what is wrong, Weston no longer seems human at all. He says nothing to Ransom except to simply call his name from time to time, and when Ransom replies, the Un-Man, (as Ransom now thinks of him), simply says: “Nothing.” The Un-Man does that all night – unlike Ransom, it doesn't need to sleep. “Ransom… Ransom …” “What the Hell do you want?” “Nothing.”

In another, disturbing passage, Ransom comes across a small, mutilated frog-like creature. He realizes that the Un-Man has done this, and has left a trail of maimed amphibians all along the beach. He’s mutilating frogs for no real reason at all – not even for fun. He’s just doing it – literally – for the Hell of it. Ransom attempts to put the creature out of its misery, but the poor thing proves dreadfully hard to kill and he winds up torturing it even more in his efforts to end its suffering.

This, Lewis says, is the nature of Evil. It’s not the grand, tragic Lucifer defying Heaven in blank verse; it is a bratty little kid doing petty, pointless, mean stuff just to be annoying.

As the daytime debates with Weston drag on, Lewis finds himself despairing. The Lady has not succumbed to the Tempter’s persuasive arguments –yet. But can she hold out forever? Can Ransom hold out running interference and trying to counter Westons’s arguments? Is it fair that Ransom alone bear the responsibility of battling the Prince of Darkness?

Does this battle solely exist on a moral, philosophical plane? What if an elephant had stepped on the Serpent in the Garden of Eden? Is Ransom expected to take on Weston physically? Ransom at first rejects this idea, but as he argues with himself and second-guesses himself through the night he keeps coming back to it. His own experiences during the First World War were so different from his boyhood notions of battle that he has a dubious opinion of his own courage. “When did I ever win a fight in my life?” On top of that, he is a middle-aged, sedentary academic, hardly up to punching out Satan.

Then again, so is Weston.

As he argues with himself a Voice comes to him in the night, telling him “It is not for nothing you were named Ransom.” This boggles him. He’s a philologist and he knows the derivation of his name, (it’s “Ranolf’s Son” and has nothing to do with the English word "ransom”) The thought that all of this, even a thing as trivial as his name, is a part of something which had been foreseen and planned for centuries or more in advance gives him a deeper sense of the gravity of the whole situation. The Voice adds “My name also is Ransom.”

Ransom makes the decision and steels himself to act. The Tempter can only continue his campaign as long as it has the use of Weston’s body. So Ransom must kill Weston.

I always found this direction a peculiar one, that I’m not entirely comfortable with. But keep in mind, Lewis wrote this novel during World War Two, in which British soldiers really were physically taking arms to battle the Forces of Evil, which probably had a profound influence on his thinking. In any case, Ransom confronts the Un-Man. When he realizes that Ransom seriously means to harm him, the Un-Man flees.

There follows an epic chase and running battle which takes the two across the ocean to the Fixed Land. At one point, Weston’s own personality comes to the surface – or is it only another mind-game by the Un-Man? Ransom cannot tell – and gibbers nihilistic despair about the nature of reality. It gives a glimpse of Lewis’s view of damnation; not the horrific tortures of Dante, but a loss of self. Lewis’s Hell is a diabolical melting pot in which individuals lose their identities to merge with their Master. In a similar way, in his book The Screwtape Letters, Lewis has a demon describe the souls of the damned as delicacies to be devoured.

Finally, deep in a cavern beneath the Fixed Land, Ransom and the Un-Man have their final confrontation. Ransom bashes his Enemy’s face in with a rock: “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, here goes – I mean, Amen.”

Now that it’s dead, Weston’s body no longer seems inhuman. The evil force animating it is gone. Ransom casts the body into a volcanic crevice to bury it and then, feeling an obligation to commemorate the passing of what once had been a great man, he carves a memorial inscription. “That was a tomfool thing to do,” he admits when he has finished it, “But there ought to be some record.”

Ransom emerges from the caverns and meets the Oyarsa of Malacandra and his Perelandrian equivalent. Here we get another of Lewis’s idée fixes: that gender is something that transcends biology. Although the eldila are angelic beings without sex in the biological sense, they nevertheless have qualities, the one of masculinity and the other of femininity. This also comes out of his theme that the ancient legends of gods and goddesses are kind of racial memories of the Cosmic Order: The god Mars is an echo of the Oyarsa of Malacandra; the goddess Venus an echo of Perelandra.

He also meets again the Green Lady, who has finally been reunited with the King, this world’s Adam. Whereas on Malacandra, the sentient races are subordinate to a ruling Oyarsa, on this world rulership is being handed over to the King and the Queen – as should have happened on Earth had things not gone wrong. The King, whose name is Tor, comes off not nearly as interesting as the Lady, but then again we see very little of him. It does strike Ransom as somewhat unfair that she had to resist temptation and he didn't have to do anything, but Tor had his own struggles. In a secret place, he was shown what was happening with his Lady. It occurs to me that perhaps Tor’s temptation was to intervene in his Lady’s temptation and prevent her from deciding on her own, but Lewis does not specifically say this.

Ransom witnesses the great ceremony crowning Tor and Tindril the King and Queen of their world. It is only now that Ransom notices that his heel is bleeding where Weston bit it during their battle. But it is now time for him to return home. Another white casket-like box has been prepared for him in which he will be carried back to Earth.

At their parting, Tindril unconsciously echoes what Weston said during his brief moment of lucidity during the earlier battle. He said life was like a rind one was sinking through, and past that rind was oblivion. The Lady also compares life to the thick rind of a fruit, but beyond that skin lies sweetness.

With that, and with the blessings of the King, Ransom is carried off back to his home.

NEXT:  We visit the strangest planet of all, Earth, which lies under the shadow of That Hideous Strength. Have a NICE day!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Former Poplitikoist Writes about Film!

Stephen Parkes is a great fellow and now is aiming at writing reviews.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Cancers are Gone

Hi, this is my last cancer update, well I hope so.  If cancer comes back then I'll be back telling you then I am fuckered for good.  There are different kinds of cancer.  Some are in your body, some are in your state of mind.  I had both.  Neither were invited, but both were horribly destructive and both caused me to lose almost a year of productivity and a great deal of hope and optimism.

Back in November I learned I had cancer in my body.   Most of my year prior however had been hell, and truly, the year before sucked badly as well.  I had unrelenting bloody diarrhea, pain, a fall in February 2013 that did terrible things to my hips, back and tailbone, I had migraines daily, my mom died in October of 2012, and other things happened.   But cancer was the real problem.  I could say losing my mom was worse, because of course no one wants to face death of a loved one, but she had alzheimer's and she was 86, and death, for almost everyone except the holy, is inevitable.

Beyond my health, and bodily cancer I learned of a different kind.  Following my taking back a project that had lingered for two years unworked on, a former business partner fired me from a different book the day before exploratory surgery, for cancer.  He didn't know I had cancer, my doctors thought I had a different kind (colon cancer) than the one I eventually was found to have (lymphoma), and my world was filled with angst, pain, and fear over dying.  I wasn't really in a mood to be fired so I referred to the event as being fired the day before cancer surgery, which it technically was.   But I no longer think it matters.  The real issue was working with someone who made many plans and never accomplished any of them.  I gave him more than one chance too, and for that I was the fool.  Burn me once, shame on you, burn me twice ...

People have actually accused me of lying about having had cancer.  But they were wrong, and foolish.  I've come to terms with being called a liar about having cancer, because I know the truth, and so do the people who treated me. If anyone wants to make their accusations public I will sue for libel, and win, handedly.  I could, in fact, reproduce one of the letters from one of the people, here, and shame them, but I'll just keep it, in case.  It is a sad commentary that I have to do that, actually.

I was going to have a comic and two books done for Spring Con, which happens in May.  However, having a staph infection arise from the chemo, and that followed by radiation, my body didn't allow me the energy to complete my work portion of one of the projects.  And the partner in one of the others didn't complete his work, and quit.   That left one more, a more complicated project and both writers on the book took too much time, and I particularly got bogged down, so in the next month I'll finish my work and we'll send it to the artist.  I usually am ahead of the game, but in this case cancer kicked my ass.

I was interviewed by someone for a poetry and arts journal that didn't get a chance to start like it was supposed to do so.  So I am was allowed/encouraged/told to post it on my blogs and use it as I would.  Here is the LINK

As a creative person I hope to return to my past of constant work, and constant projects, but the thing about cancer, and the treatment, and how life throws feces at you, you cannot plan for it, it just happens.   So I have to be content to just be alive, and really, that ain't so bad.

I've begun to post rerun interviews over at LIFE AFTER COMICS and they are coming out about one per week.  Sure you could just look them up, but here you get them laid upon the table for your pleasure of reading as you will.   I had offered a similar situation to someone but they were confused thinking I was asking for compensation.  I just was offering free use, as are these for the forum LIFE AFTER COMICS.   I like Defiant 1, he is a very moral and interesting fellow.  I hope you stop by and show the site some love.

My work can be purchased in person at SPRING CON of course.  Or through the email.  Whatever you want.  Or hell use Amazon.  It doesn't matter to me.

You can find me here at Poplitiko of course but also at:

My short fiction blog
My poetry blog
I post at this comic book forum

Special Thanks go to a number of people.

Jason and Stacy Moser
Chuck Dixon
JM Hunter
Paul Ewert
The Staff at Buffalo Hospital
The Virginia Piper Cancer Inst. at Buffalo Hospital

And of course all of my family and friends.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy: Perelandra (part 1)

Erich von Däniken speculated that the stories in ancient myth and legend about gods angels and miracles were actually distorted accounts of space aliens. C.S. Lewis anticipated this idea and inverted it. In Lewis’s cosmos, space aliens are actually angels.

Elwin Ransom, a mild-mannered professor of philology, knows about these heavenly beings first-hand, having been taken to the planet Malacandra (known to terrestrial astronomers as Mars), by a pair of unscrupulous scientists, and having met Oyarsa, the ruling intelligence of that planet. He has learned that each planet has its own such planetary genius, but the Oyarsa of Earth rebelled against Maleldil, who rules over all, and waged war against his fellows. As a result, Earth has been quarantined from the rest of the Solar System.

At the end of Out of the Silent Planet, Oyarsa hints to Ransom that great changes will be coming to the Solar System in the near future and the long “Sitzkrieg” of Thulcandra, the Silent Planet (as Earth is called), may be coming to an end. Perelandra begins with Ransom preparing for another journey into space, this time as an agent for the divine eldila.

In some of our previous looks at Old-School Science Fiction, I’ve invoked the Nebular Hypothesis, the theory that the sun and planets coalesced out of a great cloud of interstellar gas which is the basis of our current understanding of the origin of the Solar System. When the theory was first proposed, it was assumed that the outer parts of the cloud would have coalesced first, and that therefore the outer planets are older than the ones closer to the Sun. We’ve seen how this assumption colored the depiction of the planets in science fiction for much of the 20th Century: Mars was usually presented as an ancient, dying world, such as perhaps Earth will be in several million years; and Venus as a young, primeval world, similar to what Earth was like in prehistoric times. Pulp writers portraying Venus were often tempted to forest it with Paleozoic jungles inhabited with antediluvian monsters.

C.S. Lewis, drawing on some of these ideas for his Space Trilogy, followed the tradition of making Venus, or Perelandra as he called it, a young planet; but he went past the Antediluvian, all the way to the Edenic.
Lewis’s Perelandra is an unfallen world, a sinless paradise. The dark archon of our world wants to change that. Hitherto, he has been unable to cross the orbit of Earth’s Moon, due to the cosmic interdiction of Maleldil; but Weston’s space ship has changed everything. The quarantine has been broken and the terrestrial forces of Darkness are about to stage an assault on Perelandra, to corrupt it as Earth has been corrupted. Oyarsa has recruited Ransom to go to Venus to prevent this from happening.

Lewis used the writings of H.G. Wells, particularly The First Men in the Moon, as his inspiration for Out of the Silent Planet, but Perelandra draws more from fantastic literature of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. As Lewis himself later put it, “I took a hero to Mars once in a space-ship, but when I knew better I had angels convey him to Venus". It’s typical of Lewis that he found angels to be more believable than Weston’s technobabble.

Arriving on Perelandra, he finds it covered completely with water, which seemed a plausible conjecture before the Mariner space probes gave us a better look at Venus. The oceans of the planet are sweet, which both symbolizes the world’s uncorrupted state and on a more prosaic level makes sense assuming that the planet is several million years younger than Earth. Ransom encounters floating islands, composed of densely-matted vegetation, upon which trees grow and animals dwell. Lewis does a wonderful job of describing the strange, lush world that Ransom finds.

It is on one of these islands that Ransom, anticipating James T. Kirk, meets a green-skinned space babe. She is the Eve of this Paradise, this world’s First Woman. Ransom is able to speak with her, because the language he learned on Malacandra turns out to be a lingua franca of the Solar System, (and the fact that he already knew “Old Solar” was the reason he was chosen for the mission); but he is puzzled that, apart from the color of her skin, the Lady seems perfectly human. Human-looking aliens in science fiction are usually explained by things like Parallel Evolution, or a Common Ancestry from a Precursor Race, or Cheap Make-Up Budgets, or in many cases Lazy Writers. Lewis, naturally, gives a reason fitting with his theology: the natives of Perelandra have a human form because that is the form Maleldil assumed when he became a mortal on Earth.

It occurs to me in this reading that the color of the Lady’s skin might be symbolic both of her innocence and of the unfallen nature of her world, full of life and potential. I hadn’t thought of it before simply because, well, green-skinned aliens are something of a cliché. But I think it might be significant here, if for no other reason the comparison with Ransom’s own skin. He was carried to Perelandra in a box of a translucent material; as a result, half of his body has a bad sunburn from the solar radiation and the other half remains British pasty white. The Lady calls him Piebald Man because of his half-and-half appearance, which she found amusing when she first saw him; but this appearance might also signify Ransom’s own imperfect nature: good intentions mixed with uncertainty and doubt; the desire to do what’s right conflicting with sinful impulses.

Sex does not seem to be one of those impulses. He arrived on Perelandra naked, and the Lady is naked as well; but he is so self-conscious about his own appearance – he is, after all, no Adonis: a sedentary, middle-aged college professor with a ludicrous sunburn to boot; and she, despite her peculiar coloring, is overwhelmingly beautiful – that desire does not come into the picture.

We do not learn until the very end of the story that the Lady’s name in Tinidril. It’s possible that, being this world’s first woman and newly-created, she has not yet felt a need to take a name or to be given one. In any case, Ransom thinks of her as The Lady, and as she is this world’s Eve, I suppose she cannot avoid being an Archetype. She is innocent, but not unintelligent, and has a great desire to learn. She and Ransom have several conversations in which he learns as much from her as she from him.

But eventually, you know the Serpent is going to show up.

NEXT:   Enter Weston; a Belief in Higher Powers; the Terror of the Un-Man and Moral Conflict