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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hercule Poirot meets the Romans

London's treasures await

On the morning of our third day in London, as we left Hercule Poirot's home in Whitehaven Mansions, my strength began to ebb.  I work out regularly at the gym, do my best to stay lean, fit, and healthy, and take walks around my neighborhood when the mood strikes and my schedule allows.  It had been a long time since I had felt exhausted by merely walking around.  But clearly my long walk yesterday around London, on top of our first evening’s stroll to such sights as Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, and Whitehall, were taking their toll.  I slowed down, not out of breath but lagging in energy, and, with muscles burning and joints crying foul, walked the few blocks to my next destination.

The Museum of London is just that: a history of the city from prehistoric times until today.  London has existed far longer than any American city: it was founded as Londinium a few years after Christ’s death in the first century, following the invasion by the Roman emperor Claudius.  Yet tribes such as the Iceni and Celts inhabited the land long before that.  And London as we know it today did not spring into being overnight.  London was destroyed and rebuilt several times, before being abandoned and forgotten.  Eventually people found a reason to return, re-founded the city, and from there it grew, enveloping nearby towns and villages such as Westminster and Whitehall, until London became the sprawling metropolis we know today.

What interested me most was the city's Roman period.  After watching the vivid portrayal of life of the Empire in films such as “Gladiator,” in TV series such as “Rome,” “I, Claudius,” and the Doctor Who story “The Romans, in novels like “Roma Eterna” by Robert Silverberg and “Imperium” by Robert Harris, and from reading historic works by Suetonius, Cicero, and Pliny the Younger, I was curious to see how the Empire had influenced the development of civilization in England.  But as I dragged myself inside, my breathing fast, my mouth dry, and my concentration nonexistent, I knew I was in no shape to take in all that this museum had to offer.

Pay unto Caesar for your refreshments!
In the museum’s cafĂ©, we refreshed ourselves with water, soda, and examples of some of the baked goods that England is famous for.  Even though it was earlier, we called this our “elevenses,” as the English call their midmorning break.  Then we braved the exhibits.

Award-winning and best-selling author Connie Willis once remarked that she loved it when something in one story led her to read another.  I’ll go farther than this: under fiction’s powerful influence you may find yourself hungering to read or watch stories in genres you might not otherwise seek out.  You may even find yourself braving difficult nonfiction that you ordinarily wouldn’t touch with the proverbial ten-foot pole.  I imagine that is the case for Connie Willis, as her time travel novels exhibit such attention to detail that she must enjoy studying history.  

I contemplate a new suit
Some might question the wisdom of spending my limited time in London inside a museum, but the time I spent there left an impression upon me.  For so much of what drew me to visit England was its fiction.  In addition to the great stories about contemporary life, some personalities are burned indelibly into my consciousness.  King Arthur and Merlin.  The Emporers Julius Caesar, Claudius, and Nero.  Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy.  Queen Victoria.  Doctor Who.  Winston Churchill.  Hercule Poirot.  Some might cut such a list in two, dividing it between Fiction and Fact.  But what we think we know about those who lived in the past is often enlivened by Fiction, and those who lived only in Fiction survive in our hearts because they bring the past so vividly to life.  Time and necessity bring these disparate partners together; love entwines them in our hearts.  To paraphrase Mr. Spock, I find the interrelationship between the two fascinating.

I left the Museum of London sated, invigorated, and hungering for more.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

One Year Later: Part 3

Last year, in “The Blogging Wars: My Hope,” I asked three questions: 1) Why should I start a blog now?; 2) Why should you read my blog?; and 3) What am I passionate about?  In "One Year Later: Part 1," I addressed why I began this journey.  In Part 2, I discussed my passion for Fiction, how it often rivaled Fact in my life, and how blogging has enhanced my novel-writing.  In this concluding entry, I’ll tackle the most difficult question I asked one year ago: Why should you read my blog?

In 2011 I read fifty novels (or short story collections); I could have written reviews for countless websites.  As I don’t keep track of them, I have no idea how many movies and TV shows I could have reviewed; doubtless they number many more.  Many might argue that short, to-the-point book reviews on a widely known site would benefit readers more than a few entries on an individual’s blog.  Others might suggest that my time was better spent in using such forums to point out the merits of relatively overlooked movies such as “Priest,” or by contributing to the ongoing fan conversations regarding shows such as “Castle,” “Grimm,” “Clone Wars,” and “Once Upon A Time.”  Instead I concentrated my efforts upon my blog.  In “One Year Later Part 2,” I shared with you what the past year’s blogging has contributed to my life.  But the question remains: Why should you read my blog?  What makes it worth squeezing the time into your schedule?

Life throws so many demands at us that what little free time we can grasp is often given over to family, to activities such as sports and games to help us cast off our stress, or to crashing onto the couch to soak in our favorite program.  Those of us who find value in religion often feel as though we should read our holy texts or associated “Inspirational” writings over secular writings.  Years spent in school have burned us on tackling any works of significance, or impressed upon us that studying Nonfiction will better help us meet the constant demands for increased knowledge and skills in an ever-changing world.  So where does Fiction fit into the scheme of things for most people, let alone one person’s musings and reflections upon Fiction?

Allow me to list one particular example of my efforts over the past year.  When I searched the web to see what other people had written about Dr. Gregory Benford’s first three novels, I was shocked by how apathetic or negative the comments were.  People seemed united in their opinion that the novels were not fun, easy reads.  While I can understand how If the Stars are Gods by Benford and Eklund might perplex people on an initial read-through, Jupiter Project reminded me of the young adult SF novels by Robert Heinlein so cherished by the science fiction community.  One reader even stated that The Stars in Shroud depressed him, despite its exciting plot, beautiful prose, and the protagonist’s relentless pursuit of spiritual fulfillment.  Truly all art is subjective.

I don’t expect you to outline every book you read, or attempt to sketch out the storyline of every movie or TV show you watch.  But if my blog can remind you of one thing, let it be that riches often lie beneath the surface of any artistic work.  Before I began blogging, I might have agreed with some of the above-mentioned reviews.  But by peering into aspects of the novels that intrigued me, I glimpsed some of the infrastructure that held each story together.  Such study helped me to see how aspects of the story resonated with my own life, and challenged me to learn from them.  Perceiving these helped me rethink how I interact with the Fiction I love.  I began to watch and read stories differently.  I gained a fuller understanding, and a deeper appreciation, for all Fiction.  As a result, Fiction grounded me in this ever-changing world, and helped me see interconnections that might otherwise have remained hidden.  

In addition to all this, Fiction challenged me to be a better person.

Life often propels us along at a pace faster than we are comfortable with traveling.  “Facts” often weigh us down until we feel our backs must break.  I can only hope that my blog entries ease your journey and lighten the loads you carry.  If my blog entries can reaffirm this central truth, let it be this: Fiction is far from insubstantial.  In fact, it may serve the most important purposes of all: to “Inspire” us, to “Educate”, and to help us unite with the rest of humanity.  

You see, Fiction’s rewards often exceed its entertainment value.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

One Year Later: Part 2

In my first blog entry, “The Blogging Wars: My Hope,” I essentially asked three questions: 1) Why should I start a blog now?; 2) Why should you read my blog?; and 3) What am I passionate about?  In "One Year Later: Part 1" I addressed why I began this journey.  In regards to the second question, I find myself in a quandary.  Why should you read my blog?  Is what I’m doing that significant or relevant to your life?  So next I’ll tackle the third question, “What am I passionate about?” in the hopes that wrestling with the one will shine a light upon the other.

As I mentioned in my very first entry, “The Blogging Wars: My Hope,” writing instructors seem to always offer two pieces of advice: Write what you know, and write what you’re passionate about.  While I may find myself confounded in other aspects of my life, in this area I feel not the slightest confusion or hesitation.  I love great fiction.  Heck, I love Fiction period.  TV, movies, books: whether well-executed or poorly-made, I love them all.  Every story—in every form--represents an attempt by the creator(s) to transform a flickering, translucent idea into a substantial, fleshed-out narrative.  All art is subjective, and the aspects of a story that resonate with me may have little, if anything, in common with the artist’s conscious intent.  Thus fiction functions like a bridge or a summit conference between people who don’t know each other and arrive with contrary worldviews.  When maker and recipient meet through the intermediary of Fiction, they may speak different languages, they may not understand each other, they may even find they don’t really like each other.  Nevertheless, when they part, they possess a similar experience and fresh insights.  Both return home enriched and refreshed by the time spent together.  Communication.  Enlightenment.  Enjoyment.  That is the power of Fiction.

Our attempts to classify and define often limit our potential.  With regard to literature, we slap labels on that which we love so that we may more readily find the type of story we desire.  Mystery.  Science Fiction.  Fantasy.  We all know such categories are misleading.  I suspect the comedy elements of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels resonate far more strongly with most readers than the “Mystery” or plot elements of the latest bail-jumper she’s attempting to capture.  Novels such as Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson and Drood by Dan Simmons might as easily be shelved under Historical Fiction as SF, Fantasy, or Horror.  Dean Koontz and Stephen King: forget trying to classify them.  Due to those writers’ popularity, bookstores will place their titles anywhere they can, regardless of the genre elements a particular work contains.  Yet regardless of how popular an author is, we try to limit his power over our lives.  In the case of those above, we slap an emotive word on each book: Fiction.  What is Fiction cannot be fact, can it?  How can Fiction contain truth, when we label such “factual” books as Nonfiction?  Isn’t Fiction, by its very definition, inferior to “Fact?”

One thing that has grown clear to me over the past year of blogging is how much Fiction has influenced my life.  Immersing myself inside the novels of Dr. Gregory Benford has reinforced how science fiction and spirituality often walk hand in hand.  Reflecting on the stories of Robert Silverberg has reminded me how fallible all humans are, of how the similarity we share exceeds our external differences, and how much we all need each other.  Peering into “The Cage” has given me greater appreciation for the depth underlying the original Enterprise crew, and helped me understand why many of Gene Roddenberry’s characters seem more substantial than most “real people” I have known.   Lastly (but not comprehensively), English Fiction drew me to visit England.  No “Facts” such as history, climate, or culture has ever lent me the strength to break through my comfort zone and vacation in another country.  “Facts” enhanced what Fiction had taught me, and helped me understand all that I experienced there, but the inescapable truth remains: I would not have devoted the additional time and money to such a trip, had not Fiction first tantalized me with the intriguing differences I would find there.

Last year, in more ways than one, I charted a new course for my life.  While I possess little more than ideas and hopes regarding my eventual journey, Fiction served as my compass, helping me navigate through unfamiliar territory.  More than that: to a great extent, Fiction powered the journey.  Much of whoever and whatever I will eventually become, and wherever I eventually end up, I owe to this tremendous resource.  Whether that makes me an insubstantial, inferior person, or merely more cognizant of my foundations, I do not know.  But while I travel, I know what drives me, what sustains me, what defines me and provides me with joy.

Yet I wonder: would I have realized all this, had I not opened myself to the potential of blogging?  Could Fiction have given me so much this past year, had I not immersed myself in its great works and reflected upon its power?  The surest way to kill love is to hoard it; the best way to feed a passion is to share it with others.  Sharing this passion in my blog this past year has enhanced my life in every way.  Looking forward to crafting each new blog entry has focused my efforts on my novel-writing: I believe I’ve written more Fiction in the past year than ever before, and feel as though what I’ve written is of better quality.  I’ve endured the long swim involved in finishing my rough draft.  I’ve battled the stronger currents of completing a line-by-line revision.  Now I face the churning rapids of enhancing and defining the settings, characters, history, and underlying assumptions of the novel.  Yet you know what?  I’m ready for it.

With greater confidence in my abilities, I set out on the next phase of my journey.  Still plagued by anxiety, I look forward to the coming adventure.

This essay will conclude with One Year Later: Part 3. 

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

One Year Later: Part 1

Time passes so quickly.  What seemed to happen only yesterday may have occurred months or years ago.  We spend our lives swimming in a stream of memories.  Like exhaled bubbles, most moments of our lives drift off into the stream, forgotten forever or rarely recalled.  Significant memories, which often include many we would rather forget, hug our bodies as we swim, refusing to float away with the current.  Memories may increase our buoyancy, lending us strength to swim to a distant, desired destination.  Or they may suck the breath from our lungs, and pull us beneath the surface.  We may not be able to forget those that embarrass or disgust us, but if we can learn from them, we may avoid repeating the mistakes that forged those memories.  On the other hand, we can strengthen and create positive memories if we concentrate upon those that will drive us onward.  Now and then, it’s beneficial to sit back, recall what we’ve done, and reflect on what such accomplishments have contributed to our lives.  It is with the latter in mind that I look back one year ago to when I started this blog.  

In “The Blogging Wars: My Hope,” I essentially asked three questions: 1) Why should I start a blog now?; 2) Why should you read my blog?; and 3) What am I passionate about?  For many years, part of me had yearned to write a blog, but I had no idea what I would do with one.  What would I write about?  What might I communicate that could benefit others?  And how could I justify spending the time away from working on my novels to write a blog?  Ultimately, I started the blog because of two factors: Condor and Depression.  

Every year, when Condor arrived, I would find myself at a loss as to how to engage with the convention’s Guest of Honor (G.O.H.).  An esteemed author walked in our midst, yet I had read little or nothing of his (or her) fiction.  Or perhaps I had read several of his novels, but many years previously, and thus lacked fresh reactions to his characters, settings, plots, and ideas to spark an interesting conversation regarding his work.  Last year, I determined that I would read as many stories by 2011’s G.O.H. as I could.  Both before and after Condor, I read most of the novels Dr. Gregory Benford wrote in the 1970s and early eighties.  But, as the blog evolved, I quickly realized that I wanted to do more than merely review those books.  I wanted to celebrate them.  This involved outlining the stories, studying aspects that fascinated me, and thinking about what they meant to me.  

Sometimes I grow depressed: I have written stories for so many years, but have yet to see any of them published.  It’s my fault: I often fail to finish the stories I start, or spend too much time rewriting, and never put the effort into the submission process that I should.  This lack of success drags me beneath the surface, where a subsequent lack of oxygen deprives me of the strength to swim onward.  Depression most often afflicts me during the shorter days of Winter, especially around the holidays.  I realized that everything I had tried before had not transformed me into the writer I wish to become, so I decided that I must adopt another approach.  Around this time, an issue of “Locus” slid into my letterbox.  It discussed the role that blogs play in fandom, and provided testimonials by published authors who found blogging beneficial to their careers.  I figured, why not start?  After so many years of swimming, I had not yet found the place I desired to inhabit.  Why not take the next tributary, strike off in a direction I’ve contemplated, and see where it took me?  

So, like Sam Clemens in Philip Jose Farmer’s The Fabulous Riverboat, or like Raul and company in Dan Simmons’ novel Endymion, I traveled into uncharted territory.  At the very least, I figured, it would be an adventure.

This essay will continue with One Year Later: Part 2.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Protecting Our Dinosaurs

One of the worst criticisms a reviewer can level against a Science Fiction novel is to state that the characters and setting fail to undergo significant and lasting change.  This is because they see Science Fiction as the type of literature that most celebrates diversity and change.  Whether the characters fight off alien invaders, or work to prevent a mad scientist from profoundly changing the world, they argue that if the characters and setting revert to their former status at story's end, the book does not deserve to be labeled Science Fiction.  Instead, it belongs to a subset of mainstream literature with watered-down SF elements, and is referred to as a thriller, or described as merely SFnal.  While I understand such arguments, I cannot accept such a narrow definition of the fiction I love.

In the 1960s, the Doctor Who production team underwent a series of changes.  Producers and Script Supervisors came and went, in some cases after a single story.  At one point, those in charge decided that the first Doctor, William Hartnell, must leave the program, and drafted in Patrick Troughton as his replacement.  Those in charge of production during this later era largely abandoned the historical stories, and the stories tended to focus upon the Doctor defeating fearsome aliens and scary monsters.  Such a narrow focus took its toll.  By the end of the second Doctor’s reign, the BBC considered canceling the show.  Thankfully, they opted to continue, and injected new life into the program by grounding the Doctor on Earth.  Surrounded by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT), the third Doctor occasionally traveled to other planets, but mostly fought to unravel the plots of mad scientists, or to prevent aliens from invading Earth.  More than in any other incarnation, either previous or successive, the third Doctor (played by Jon Pertwee) worked to prevent significant change.  This was the role he played in the story “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” when he seeks to prevent the conspirators from activating their Timescoop a final time.  As much as he admires their vision of a more eco-friendly civilization, he cannot agree with their methods.  For while their device would protect everyone and everything within the immediate area as it transports the group and their supplies back to the time of the dinosaurs, not only would it eradicate those unprotected by the Timescoop, but also erase every person who has ever lived.

The colonists in “Terra Nova” face a similar challenge.  They cannot exert significant change upon their surroundings.  They must prevent any citizen, or breakaway group such as the Sixers, from decimating a particular species of animal or plant, over-utilizing any of the world’s resources, or polluting their environment.  To fail in this, or to prevent any industrialists from time-traveling back and wiping out such Paleozoic resources could bring catastrophic results.  In addition to destroying the colony’s long-term sustainability, such profound change could wreak havoc upon the timeline, wiping out or significantly altering all of human history.  Should this occur, their link to the future would be forever severed.  They would find themselves without access to modern technology, medicine, and other goods that allow them to share this world with the dinosaurs that rule the planet.  No more pilgrimages would join them.  They would be forever alone.

Lovejoy understands such concepts better than most.  His love for mankind’s unique creations is unparalleled.  In the TV series, and in the novels by Jonathan Gash, this dealer works to protect antiques from undergoing any change whatsoever.  He would be outraged if asked to modernize a centuries-old desk fashioned by a master craftsman.  He would be aghast if a client cleaned an antique without proper guidance.  He knows that the wrong chemicals, applied in an incorrect manner, can weaken or eradicate the unique patina bestowed upon wood, canvas, or other materials by time, leaving the artwork little different from today’s copies or reproductions.  This, like the third Doctor and Commander Taylor in Terra Nova, makes Lovejoy someone whose existence revolves around the prevention of change.  

We grow angry when our plans for change are dismissed.  Yet sometimes we should sit back and reflect upon the possible wisdom of those who work to prevent such changes from occurring.  For as grand as our visions might be, any change impacts others and affects our environment.  And all of us can be brittle, many times in ways we’re not aware of.  To alter or eradicate the dinosaurs upon which we depend might hurt us in significant ways, or even destroy us.  Sometimes, those who work to prevent any change from occurring are the most visionary of all.  

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Preserving Our Dinosaurs

Imagine air so foul that you must wear a respirator whenever you leave your apartment.  You press through crowded, darkened streets—little sunlight pierces the polluted air.  The government limits every aspect of your life, from the food you eat to the number of children you’re allowed to have.  Good luck finding a job, let alone one that fulfills your passion: you compete with your fellow citizens for the few on offer, knowing the slightest offense or poor test result can make you unemployable.  Am I describing life in a communist state?  Am I imagining the lives of the European poor prior to WWI?  No, I’m thinking of the future as depicted in the recent TV series “Terra Nova.”  This is the future the conspirators in the “Doctor Who” story “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” fear is inevitable.  It is a future Earth exhausted by too many bold visions, too many dynamic changes, and too many revisions of the existing order.

Change is inevitable.  Every day brings new demands.  Today’s bold solutions and “improvements” to yesterday’s way of life, necessary though they seem, inevitably lead to fresh challenges that must be tackled.  Therefore we prize innovation highly.  We praise inventors.  We herald visionary leaders who propose sweeping reforms.  We pride ourselves when our government funds the programs we see as necessary, or cuts the programs we see as wasteful.  Yet each change is like a stone tossed into a pond.  Throw in too many, and not only do we disturb the water, but we elevate the bottom of the pool until it grows level with the surrounding land.  Wind and sunlight dry the damp ground, erasing all signs of the former pond.  To preserve our pool, we cannot throw in too many stones, and we must occasionally dredge it to prevent the bottom from rising too high.  So which stones should we not throw in?  Which stones should we remove when we dredge the pool?  On what basis do we make such decisions?

As much as we yearn for bold change and gentle revisions, we also long for stability.  We contribute to social security, healthy insurance, and pension systems in the belief that these companies and government departments will care for us in the future.  We draw up contracts to ensure that each party delivers the promised goods, services, and monies.  We join faith communities and groups that celebrate our views and values, and feel betrayed if the leadership later revises the existing orthodoxy.  We loving maintain our favorite automobiles, clothing, furniture, and artwork to lengthen their useful lives.  We saddle ourselves with hefty mortgage payments, take all necessary measures to ensure we can live out our lives in them, and pray that the government or our family won’t force us from our beloved homes in our twilight years.  We engage in marriage, the ultimate in long-term contracts, in the hopes that we will share the rest of our lives with our loving partner.  We expend effort and give to groups that pledge to protect certain plant and animal species against extinction.  We recycle, buy ecofriendly products, and try to utilize as little gas and electricity as we can, because we wish to bequeath a healthy world to future generations.  Stability: oh how we crave it!

We embrace change in certain areas of our lives, but seek to protect other areas against any change whatsoever.  We welcome the extinction of those dinosaurs we despise, turn a blind eye to the carcasses of others’ cherished beliefs and institutions, but cry foul when the creaking old agreements, definitions, and viewpoints we love are threatened.  How do we balance the change we feel we need with the stability we crave?  How do we protect others’ dinosaurs when we see their existence as antithetical to our own?  Some things we know must be changed, others can be changed, and some, we believe, must never be changed. Where do we draw the line between compulsion and compassion, and who defines which of our cherished dinosaurs reside in either category?  

Sometimes I am bewildered by how oblivious others are to my feelings, my expectations, and my beliefs.  Each day I strive for perfect vision that will allow me to view others’ needs as equal to my own.  I know this is impossible.  Yet I try.  For one thing I know.  Whether I see the future depicted in “Terra Nova” as metaphorical or literal, I want to live there even less than I wish to colonize Earth in the Triassic, Jurassic, or Cretaceous Periods.  I want to live right here, right now, and I don’t want anyone to threaten the dinosaurs I cherish with extinction.

The moral of this story: Don’t you dare mess with my pet Triceratops!

This series will conclude with "Protecting Our Dinosaurs."

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Renewing our Dinosaurs

Have you ever wondered why a particular show never caught on with the viewing public?  With its dinosaurs that looked like puppets, the “Doctor Who” story “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” earned the fan’s disdain.  The same criticism cannot be made of the digital creations in last year’s series “Terra Nova,” which surely belong alongside the most convincing ever brought to our television screens.  Yet the future of the show seems in doubt, as ratings were not high enough for executives to readily agree to the production costs of a second season.  Given humanity’s eternal fascination with dinosaurs, I’ve wondered why more people aren’t tuning in.  Perhaps part of the reason lies in the series’ underlying premise: that man’s increasing demands upon the environment have ruined the Earth beyond hope of renewal.  

Perhaps the human brain is programmed to reject the idea that our world is capable of being destroyed.  We know that an asteroid or comet could strike the Earth tomorrow. Movies such as “Armageddon,” and novels such as Shiva Descending by Gregory Benford and William Rotsler, portray the catastrophic effects such an event would bring mankind.  Yet the United States doesn’t even have a craft capable of manned spaceflight at the moment, let alone the means of deflecting such an object.  We know that Carbon Dioxide levels are rising dangerously high.  Movies such as “The Day After Tomorrow,” and novels such as Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson, remind us that Global Warming could wipe out many of the plants and animals we depend upon, and make the climate inhospitable for us.  Yet instead of taking bold steps and sweeping action to combat these threats, we argue over the necessity of taking any action whatsoever. 

As much as we sometimes yearn to wipe the slate clean and begin again, we often prefer minor alterations to existing routines.  Rather than destroying and building something completely different, we embrace revision and renewal.  In the TV series, and the novels by Jonathan Gash, Lovejoy not only locates antiques for clients, but also restores them to their former glory.  Where others see ruin, he perceives a return to glory.  Our TVs and shelves are swamped with shows and books that enable us to restore old furniture, or alter it to suit current demands.  For every building we demolish to build another, many more are added-onto, rebuilt, or remodeled.  Mechanics rebuild or modernize old cars, even if the result costs more in money and time than purchasing the current model.  Instead of penning a new story, writers often revisit unfinished manuscripts in the hopes of finally capturing their initial conceptions.  Rather than opting for divorce and starting with another, spouses persist in their attempts to reinvigorate an ailing marriage, regardless of how broken their relationship might seem to others.  We restore, rebuild, remodel, rewrite, and refuse to believe that anything we love is ever completely beyond our ability to save.

I hope we eventually tackle the really big issues, such as the colonization of space (both to increase our knowledge and to ensure our species’ survival) and the reduction of Carbon Dioxide in our environment.  But I take heart in what I can do today, even if my individual concerns seem wholly unrelated to such global issues.  Even if what I accomplish is no more than a gentle reform, or a minor adaptation to a previous effort.  For who knows what all our individual changes, improvements, and upgrades might eventually accomplish?  Perhaps if all of us concentrate upon giving our best efforts in all that we do, and each day attempt to fulfill our ultimate potential, our individual efforts might add up to a new reality in which we perceive achievable solutions to such global threats. 

We often argue over causes and methods, or lay the blame for a particular problem at another’s door, and then conclude that a particular problem is unsolvable.  Is it any wonder that we  occasionally do battle with despair?  Yet, just as we reject the conspirators’ viewpoint in “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” we reject the future as depicted in “Terra Nova.”  I find this tremendously encouraging.  For as special and unique as I may (or may not) be, or how strong and capable I may (or may not) be, I know that I don’t want to live on a ruined Earth.  And as cool as I think dinosaurs are, I don’t really want Mr. T. Rex as my next-door neighbor.  

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Allure of the Dinosaurs

I recently watched a TV show about a group of people who wished to relocate not to another part of the world, but back in time.  Freed from such current problems as political corruption, false ideologies, inner-city violence, and pollution, they would found fairer institutions, pursue social equality, and place less stress upon the environment.  In the time of the dinosaurs, they would reinvent the human condition.  Theirs would be an enlightened culture.  Man would strive to perfect himself in every way, while preserving the planet upon which he depended.  No, I’m not talking about last year’s series “Terra Nova,” but a program broadcast nearly forty years ago.

In the 1974 “Doctor Who” story “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” the Tardis materializes in present day London.  As in “The Dalek Invasion of Earth,” the city seems largely deserted.  Places usually crowded with people, such as Trafalgar Square and the Victoria Embankment, are empty.  At least the forces patrolling the city are not Daleks and Robomen, but UNIT (the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) and the British Army.  Using their Timescoop, this group of would-be settlers has brought a few dinosaurs forward in time.  Now, with the streets cleared and the military distracted by the dinosaurs, they can finish assembling what they need.  Then they will transport themselves, and everything they wish to take with them, back in time to found their new world.  

One can certainly understand the allure of starting over.  This is a common theme in the social, cultural, religious, and political arenas.  Robert Heinlein envisioned an entire generation’s yearning to reboot society in Stranger in a Strange Land.  Yet long before the 1960s, groups such as the Puritans, the Quakers, the Shakers, and the Amish developed their own unique ways of dealing with the world.  In many cases they got their start in the “New World,” where ordinary citizens fought a revolutionary war against the seemingly undefeatable British military to create the new government they desired: a representative democracy.  

The dream of rebooting society never fades, whether in the 1776, 1974 or today.  Politicians often win their way into office promising sweeping change and bold reform.  Scientists and engineers regularly invent items such as television, cellphones, and computers that profoundly change how we interact with others.  As a species, we keep embracing the “new way of doing things,” the “better idea,” the “superior” religion or philosophy or worldview.  In doing so we bring down the dinosaurs—once so strong and indomitable—that our sweeping change and bold reforms replace.  

The conspirators in “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” and the pilgrims in “Terra Nova” face the ultimate challenge.  If they can master such dangerous beasts, then perhaps they can sweep humanity’s former mistakes aside and begin anew.  But those of us in the present face no lesser task.  A former generation’s inventions, ideologies or structures may not address today's needs.  Working together, we can accomplish sweeping change and bold reform.  Looking inward, we can question what habits or viewpoints threaten to shipwreck our dreams, destroy our relationships with others, or cut short our lives.  

Perhaps that is why we seem endlessly fascinated by dinosaurs.  They remind us of the greatness of yesterday, while spurring us to meet the demands of today, and thus build our dreams for tomorrow.

Or maybe we just think they’re cool.

“Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” written by Malcolm Hulke, is available as a book, an audiobook, or on DVD from the BBC.  Hopefully, Fox will renew “Terra Nova” for a second season.  Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land is available in its traditional version as a Mass Market Paperback, or in a “complete, uncut” length as a Trade Paperback.  

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