Tuesday, April 25, 2017
A Return to Buck Rogers: The Importance of Chicago
At first, Commander Kane believes that Buck Rogers has been preserved for 500 years. Then another idea occurs to his suspicious mind: what if Buck is part of an elaborate ruse to investigate Princess Ardala and himself, before they reach Earth and negotiate a treaty with the Draconian Empire? Nonetheless, Kane and Ardala allow him to return to Earth, and wait to see what happens.
Once Buck arrives on Earth, he waits in a room for hours, while investigators study his ship. Then Doctor Huer comes in, accompanied by the drone Twikki. Hanging from Twikki's neck is Doctor Theopolis, one member of a super race of computers that exists apart from Humanity. They have evolved into a separate life form, and program their descendants without the aid or interference of Humans. These computers run the Inner City, and even as important a man as Dr. Huer must still bow to their dictates.
Dr. Huer is a kindly man who attempts to ease Buck's arrival in the 25th Century by telling him that he has arrived at the coordinates originally programmed into his space shuttle. The Inner City is also called New Chicago, and is built upon the ruins of the old city. Whatever dangers the U.S. President in the 1980s foresaw (remember, Buck Rogers was developed and filmed in the late seventies, during the Carter presidency, before Reagan took the reins, and long before he proposed his Star Wars defense plan), wars devastated the globe after Buck left Earth. These wars left civilization in ruins, and nearly drove Humans to extinction. But at least Buck has returned to the land of his youth, even if it is drastically changed from when he lived there.
Through the process of reading the novel, and then watching the movie again, these questions struck me powerfully. Why should the space shuttle have been programmed to land in Chicago? Chicago seems a bizarre choice for a 20th Century space shuttle landing site. In the real world, in the 1980s and beyond, the shuttle returned to Earth in Florida, with the occasional landing in New Mexico or California. So I have to wonder what made the writers think that 20th Century Chicago could host a space shuttle landing. (And why it should land there, when it would then need to be transported back to Florida anyway?) Further, what makes 20th Century Chicago so unique in people's minds that it should serve as Buck Rogers' home, as well as the seed from which New Chicago, the home of civilization on 25th Century Earth, should sprout.
I guess one day I'll have to visit Chicago. Perhaps that will help me understand why the space shuttles should have landed there, and the unique importance of the city that inspired the writers of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century." Then, along with Buck, I can sing, "Chicago, Chicago, you're my kind of town."