Posts Tagged ‘space’

Sci-fi, time machines, and THE FUTURE.

July 27, 2010 - 7:09 am 1 Comment

Thanks to a certain @fetfet50, I picked up two Joe Haldeman books (The Forever War and The Accidental Time Machine) at the library.  Having a disproportionate love for anything sci or fi, I was pretty certain I would enjoy them.

Boy was I wrong.

I consumed them.  I wanted to marry them.  I’m not sure how I went my entire sci-fi lovin’ life without hearing of Joe Haldeman.  But I am disgustingly glad I finally have.

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I read The Forever War first, it being the oldest between the two books by nearly 40 years.  At its loosest, it’s an allegory for  Vietnam, Haldeman having served there, and the connections are pretty obvious, most distinctly in the horrible preparation of the troops through no fault of their own, the use of mind-altering drugs by the troops (though in Haldeman’s version, this is officially sanctioned, at least for most drugs), and the backwards un-reason for the war in the first place.  But from there, the book takes an entirely original twist on… well… everything.

Fighting an enemy called the Taurans about which little to nothing is actually known (indeed, no one even knows what Taurans look like until their first mano – a – mano combat, many years after the start of the war), the soldiers are flung through space and time by way of collapsars (now an actual, scientific term for super-massive black holes with incredible rates of rotational speed; in the book, something closer to a black hole – which, lest we forget, were not even actually considered legitimate theory in the 1970s, oh how time flies: super-massive black holes are now that which hold every galaxy together and dark matter keeps us spinning  – and which the author simply describes as a collapsed star with a high enough gravity and density to warp time).  This poses no problem for the soldiers until they return to earth, first dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of years in the future while they themselves have aged only months or years, and every time they return, they find their home planet to be in worse, or at least weirder, shape.  In an ironic twist, after about a thousand years, heterosexuality is considered abnormal and unnatural, natural breeding is considered flawed and gross, and straight people have to be ‘cured.’  But, failing that, the heterosexual are looked on as mere abnormalities, curiosities, and no one is worse for wear – not anymore, anyway.  Not only did that make me giggle, Haldeman actually gave a compelling argument for it, and accurately (or as accurately as can be presumed) gave an account of the feelings of those soldiers, straight soldiers, returning from a mostly-heterosexual time period into this gay new world with as little hate as possible.  Indeed, this was a huge change for them, since sex between male and female soldiers was encouraged in the past as a means of stress relief and considered wholly normal if not necessary for the morale of the troops.  In short, the concept of sexual orientation as well as emotions and perceptions of people jumping thousands of years in a few month’s time felt incredibly genuine while still being sensitive toward tough issues, which was even more impressive to me given that the book was written in 1974.  (In the words of the Ninth Doctor, “Relax. He’s a 51st century guy. He’s just a bit more flexible when it comes to dancing.”  Oh Captain Jack.)

That being said, for as forward-thinking as the book is when it comes to people, it’s incredibly backwards when it comes to technology, which clearly is no fault of its own.  It was 1974; personal computers were nearly unheard of, and here these soldiers are, between the years 2000 and 3500, roughly, and one is complaining that you could only fit something like 15,000 pages worth of information on a memory stick the size of your thumb and that’s why battle plans are inaccurate, et al.  Now, of course, it’s only 2010, but we can fit the entire Library of Congress and then some on a flash drive the size of a toenail.  As I said, it’s no flaw of the book’s, but it does make you squint for a moment and think to yourself, “Wait, no.”

I won’t go into the battle technology too much but I have to mention my favorite piece of equipment, the statis field, a sort of forcefield where everything – light, lasers, everything – is canceled out, and the soldiers on both sides are reduced to fighting with weaponry with no internal moving parts: bo staves, swords, bows and arrows.  I can’t say why, but a bunch of people in space suits taking out long-limbed aliens in life support bubbles with arrows totally made this book for me.

Technology, war, emotions aside, this book, and Joe Haldeman’s writing style on the whole, is incredibly funny.  There are parts where you snicker, parts where you giggle, and parts where you laugh so hard you start to cry.  This is true of both The Forever War and The Accidental Time Machine.  It’s not even so much that jokes are made; it’s a truth in advertising sort of humor, a pointing out of obvious inconsistencies, and weird, universal quirks in people, regardless of time or place or species.  The style is also completely comprehensible and enjoyable whether you have trouble with basic math or a degree in physics or, like me, are somewhere in between.

Check back soon for my review of The Accidental Time Machine, A History of Violence, and possibly The Eyre Affair, which despite the fact that all I remember about Charlotte Bronte from my 6th grade report was that her coffin was only 12 inches wide, I am enjoying immensely.  Hopefully it will not take me a month to post like this one did.  Blogger fail.

“To be well-remembered is a gift.”

June 29, 2010 - 11:12 am 11 Comments

              A woman, who has been a gift, told me that this morning.

              I am remembering, and remembering well.

              When I was a child, I had a piano, and not just any piano: I had an upright Steinway grand.  It had to be a hundred and twenty-five years old, and it was stellar.  I spent time with it every day.  I was small, maybe five or six, hardly more, but I loved that piano, and even then, I knew it was worth more than the emotions I alone imparted upon it; I knew it was worth more than the ridiculous sum of money I thought it was worth (despite it having been free in the Pennysaver from someone who probably just needed it to be gone).  I knew it was important.  It was music, and it was history, and it was love.

              But it was also old, and each time it was played, it sounded worse and worse.  My mother had it looked at to see what, if anything, could be done, but after so much time, it was fragile; the once straight, silver strings within the piano were warped and would have to be replaced, the worn-out hammers refitted.  We were living on food stamps then; we couldn’t afford cable TV or a Nintendo, let alone refitting an antique piano.  So, instead, I watched PBS and I read, and my mother and I would play our hearts out on the old, warped piano, and we didn’t care that our favorite tunes from Jesus Christ Superstar didn’t sound much like the album anymore.  She played and I sang and after a while I played, too, despite the tone-deaf Steinway.

              Then came the time when we, too, had to move, and once more, the piano had a family that needed the instrument to be gone.  So my father (a fine musician himself, but with a more easily-restrung instrument, the guitar), perhaps not wanting to see music be forgotten or left to strangers who, upon moving in, would not know its worth, would not care about its past, or perhaps just wanting to give it to someone who he knew would and could use it, gave the piano to a good friend of his called Jay, who had a son who could learn to play too, in time; a friend who maybe could restore it, or maybe not, but at least it would not be gone or forgotten.

              I went and visited my piano a few times with my father, but I then grew up and got too busy, forgot to visit, and after a while, the memory of my beloved piano faded away until I was old enough to really care to remember it and take care in remembering it: to research it, to find out the monetary cost of such an experienced instrument, and the historical value.  As it turned out, it had earned a lot of both.  I remembered my warped piano then, and I was angry: angry that I had had to give my treasure away; angry that I no longer even possessed a real piano; angry, too, at the less-than-stellar keyboard to which I’d since been demoted, which was born of plastics and would age far worse than my sturdy, cherished Steinway.

              But my anger would burn out; I knew the piano was in good hands, even if those hands had painted on the keys an acrylic rainbow to make the notes, the warped sounds the piano produced, easier to remember. Of those hands, I have a memory.

              Jay’s son and I would play the piano, when I did visit its new home.  Later in the evening, I would sit on the wooden piano bench and my father’s friend would tell me about the universe, about space and time.  He had a pocket watch on a chain.  Jay would take the silver chain and fold it over on itself, and he would explain to me that the universe: its buoyant, bright stars and super-massive black holes; its huge, nebulous gasses where stellar bodies were born and tiny, rocky planets where human bodies were too, folded on itself as well; that time warped space and space warped time, and that space and time were one, together; that time, like space, could be shaped, and he would say all of this with the watch on the end of the chain, the clock hanging limply at the edge of space in a small, silver universe, and it would tick away the time quietly in the background of my impromptu astro-quantum-physics class, never interrupting, but persistent.  Even at six, at seven years old, I came to understand that this was the important part of the lesson.  At the forefront of my brain, I wanted to be a physicist.  At the back, I was aware that time stretched on, fused with space as it was, and even if I missed something that Jay had said on those nights, I am forever glad I did not entirely skip the lecture.

              Last night, I mentioned my piano to a good friend while we talked, and the evening passed.

              This morning, I was told that Jay had passed last night.

              Though I have grown up, and had only visited a few times, I do miss him.

              “To be well-remembered is a gift,” a cherished woman told me this morning.  I believe her, and I believe, in time, I will remember her well.

              I also still believe in physics, and maybe now I believe in a little of the metaphysical.  I believe that time warps space and space warps time and that the two will never be parted.  I believe all of us affect and are affected by space and time, since, in the words of another man from my childhood who is also now gone and missed, “We are star-stuff.

              I know that being well-remembered does not allow us to interrupt the persistently short time we are given, as the ticking watch at the end of a small, silver, chain-link universe always knew, but I believe that it can be warped into the best shape that our stellar masses and minds can form, if we remember, and remember well, for as another man who affected my youth but was gone long before I could miss him had said, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

              I have decided to remember the time, and time, remember well, because that same, stellar woman also told me this morning, “Those that are remembered, are never really gone.”


              Below the cut are (perhaps selfish) dedications and thank yous for the creation and exponential, infinite expansion of my mind and self: things I have wanted to say, things I should have said already, and things I say too much.