11 December 2008


An assortment of interesting snippets back in response to recent posts, from which I've plucked four.

Picking up on my passing mention of Lem's Fiasco, Zainab Talu points out to me several similarities between it and H G Wells' First men in the moon, including one of direct relevance to the communication and "straight record" issues.

Fiasco is a "first contact" story: Lem's interstellar voyagers cross the gulf specifically to communicate with another civilisation. Arriving there, they seek to establish pictorial signs and signifiers by projecting onto the clouds below them a sort of child's primer in human history. They include cave images of hunting. They include depictions from the Abrahamic texts. They include the expansionist drive in the age of exploration. The result, as the beings below perceive their visitors as bloodthirsty destroyers, is an escalating cycle of actual physical violence and destruction which leaves nobody left to communicate on either side.

Wells chose a closer world, but First men in the moon is also a first contact story. Talking to the leader of the Selenites (who inhabit the Moon's caverns), his protagonist Cavor also describes humanity in terms of conflict:

"I told him of the first orders and ceremonies of war, of warnings and ultimatums, and the marshalling and marching of troops. I gave him an idea of manoeuvres and positions and battle joined. I told him of sieges and assaults, of starvation and hardship in trenches, and of sentinels freezing in the snow. I told him of routs and surprises, and desperate last stands and faint hopes, and the pitiless pursuit of fugitives and the dead upon the field. I told, too, of the past, of invasions and massacres, of the Huns and Tartars, and the wars of Mahomet and the Caliphs, and of the Crusades ... I told them an ironclad could fire a shot of a ton twelve miles, and go through 20 feet of iron – and how we could steer torpedoes under water. I went on to describe a Maxim gun in action, and what I could imagine of the Battle of Colenso."

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the Selenites do not allow Cavor to return home with news of their existence.

Staying with Lem, but on a lighter note, Ray Girvan observes of the 'lord of the flies' effect (which annoys and destabilises house flies in His Master's Voice) that "...at least they can sell that part to JML Direct..."

More seriously, Ray also makes a number of points in response to my "The continuous Craig Ewert". In particular, he rightly reminds me that no substantial new ground is being broken by the Zaritsky documentary. Deaths have been documented for similar reasons on mainstream television before – for example, that of cancer sufferer Herbie Mowes. The Mowes broadcast was another well handled, enlightening and respectful depiction of an important life aspect too often left in undiscussed shadow. The difference which I perceive between the two cases lies not in the material but with the broadcaster: the BBC, in my perception at least, handled the publicity for the Mowes broadcast with more gravitas and less hype than Sky's for yesterday's Ewert documentary.

In a thoughtful post over at Unreal Nature, Julie Heyward is prompted to buy His Master's Voice ... but I am more intrigued by her suggestions that a signature and a voice recording constitute "a true straight record" and "a straighter record" respectively. I shall have to think about this one.

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