Friday, November 11, 2011

Space, the Final Frontier: Romance Among the Stars

Men rode on horseback across the plains. Some scratched out an empire, felling trees, plowing ground, raising cattle and grain. Others set sail, perhaps as early as the fourteenth-century, daring the dark, cold North seas to travel west. Columbus, driven by the same desire to know, to discover, sailed toward the North American continent. These pioneers represent ideals that we hold dear:

·      They were daring risk-takers bound for personal glory.
·      They were courageous, facing the unknown.
·      They were often in the service of a greater good, including nation-building, a family legacy, map-making, and gathering knowledge.

Frequently these men demonstrated extraordinary perseverance and honor. Lewis and Clark, for example, were assigned by their president to seek and report what the vast, uninhabited regions of the United States offered; they persevered and faced the unknown. They met Native Americans whom they had taught themselves to fear. They forged rivers, the depths of which had never been plumbed. They faced creatures unknown and collected plants that no one had investigated. Many ordinary humans would have turned back, reporting the forests impassable, the rivers too swift, the beasts too fierce.

But these men did not yield; they earned historical regard by doing their duty as best they could. Their quest was to know, but along the way, they learned about loss and love and longing, triumph, tedium, and tolerance. In short, Lewis and Clark, Vikings unknown, Columbus, and countless settlers are knights. Like Sir Gawain, they had a duty, and they strove to complete it as honest, brave, noble men. Like Sir Gawain, many tales of the pioneers are Romance tales.

There is one more frontier, however, one that men have not conquered, one that remains to be dared and explored, one represented by an entire genre: science fiction. That frontier is space where, as Gene Roddenberry said, men boldly go where no man has gone before, and it follows that tales of space exploration may be Romance tales. Consider the first Star Wars and the efforts of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia.

Luke Skywalker lives by a code, that of Jedi Knights who, like Knights of the Round Table believe in something greater than themselves: the Force, a higher power humming throughout the universe. The Jedi code co-exists with an impulse that Darth Vader succumbs to—the very human desires for power and wealth. Thus, between the son, Luke, and the father, Vader, is the classic combat occurring within the breast of a single man: the battles between altruism and selfish desire, between sacrifice and cowardice, between forgiveness and cruelty.

Han Solo begins in the narrative without a code. He serves himself and if given opportunity, might become as wicked as Vader. However, he joins Luke and Leia’s quest, carrying them to a destination simply as a mercenary. Along the way, he discovers himself just as Luke does. Each searches for unknowns, an identity and a purpose, and each man finds them. Luke acquires self-determination and independence, proving to himself that he has courage and honor. Similar character traits bloom in Han as well. Both become Rebels, and both put their lives on the line to destroy the Death Star, rescuing the universe from a conquering tyrant.

Science Fiction settings are fantastical, epic, and vast, but the supernatural interventions have more to do with futuristic technology and a man’s true grit. Fortuitous rescues, happy coincidences, and well-timed storms all contribute to rescues and feats that seemed impossible. But of course, Luke, Han and Leia also enjoy the supernatural benefit of The Force, granting them insights and intuition that often save them. They also number three, a number with symbolic weight. One alone is not likely to defeat the foe. Together, they triumph.

Love and temptation almost destroy the trio. Leia loves her home, Tatooine, and principles of freedom and self-governance. Luke loves Leia as does Han. The love triangle endangers the trio’s strength and resolve, but they master their lust and envy, the classic temptations whether the object is a woman, a country, or a pot of gold.

Reading Challenge:

I haven’t read much Science Fiction in many years. Once upon a time, during college, I read nothing else. Try some. You’ll like it for the same reasons you love reading. Consider:

·      Dystopian Science Fiction such as A Canticle for Leibowitz by Warren M. Miller, Jr. or the school classic, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
·      The Hugo award winner, Dune by Frank Herbert

Writing Challenge:

Invent a place that does not exist but could exist, one set in the future, one that features science and technology. Describe the place, capturing the rhythms and scenes. For example, from “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury:

            In the living room the voice-clock sang, Tick-tock, seven o'clock, time to get up, time to get up, seven o'clock! as if it were afraid that nobody would. The morning house lay empty. The clock ticked on, repeating and repeating its sounds into the emptiness. Seven-nine, breakfast time, seven-nine!
            In the kitchen the breakfast stove gave a hissing sigh and ejected from its warm interior eight pieces of perfectly browned toast, eight eggs sunnyside up, sixteen slices of bacon, two coffees, and two cool glasses of milk.
            "Today is August 4, 2026," said a second voice from the kitchen ceiling, "in the city of
Allendale, California." It repeated the date three times for memory's sake. "Today is Mr.
Featherstone's birthday. Today is the anniversary of Tilita's marriage. Insurance is payable, as are the water, gas, and light bills."
            Somewhere in the walls, relays clicked, memory tapes glided under electric eyes.
            Eight-one, tick-tock, eight-one o'clock, off to school, off to work, run, run, eight-one! But no doors slammed, no carpets took the soft tread of rubber heels. It was raining outside. The weather box on the front door sang quietly: "Rain, rain, go away; rubbers, raincoats for today…" And the rain tapped on the empty house, echoing.
            Outside, the garage chimed and lifted its door to reveal the waiting car. After a long wait the door swung down again.

Bradbury juxtaposes the familiar with the unfamiliar, creating a world that is not ours, but is. What details let us know this is set in the future (especially considering that the story was published in 1950)?

GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics): More Commonly Confused Words

During the coming political season, voters would be wise to remain disinterested as the candidates speak. They would also be wise to avoid being uninterested because their futures depend on the outcomes.

Based upon the example above, the two words—disinterested and uninterested—must have different meanings. Here is the same idea, rewritten using the meanings of the words instead of the words.

During the coming political season, voters would be wise to remain unbiased (disinterested) as the candidates speak. They would also be wise to avoid being not interested (uninterested) because their futures depend on the outcomes. In other words, voters should keep open minds while listening closely to what candidates have to say.