Publisher's Note: The personal views of the publisher, expressed here, do not necessarily mirror those of other contributors to this magazine. This is strictly my personal rant.
The Pearl Harbor Syndrome (continued), or: The Space Race is back, and this time it's racial! As I predicted in this column for over a year, the U.S. administration will soon react to Chinese, Indian, and other space programs with a new initiative to return to the Moon. The White House has been leaking warm-up rumors about a new space initiative for weeks now, and can anyone help but wonder if it's not a lame and opportunistic response to the recent orbiting by China of their first taikonaut? More importantly by far, is it real or is it hemorrhex?
Don't get me wrong (one has to quickly offer this disclaimer for fear of being accused of a lack of patriotism) I am proud of U.S. accomplishments on so many fronts over so many years, not just being the first people to put a man on the Moon. One has to however take all this with a strong dose of reality. I call it the Pearl Harbor Syndrome, whereby we only react to outside stimuli (Pearl Harbor, Sputnik, 9/11) and then react by crushing the other guyso why can't we ever just take the initiative? We only reacted in 1958, putting Vanguard I up, a few months after the Soviets sent up Sputnik. Until then, you could pick up a typical U.S. almanac or similar gazette and find nothing but ridicule about a proposed space effort from the unimaginative and austere haters of imagination, the gray men in their flannel suits, who populated American culture with their draconian vision, or lack of vision. I probably only remember all that because as a young kid, afire with the imagination and vision of SF, I was amazed at the culture of disparagement. I saw that the editor of every SF anthology, from Damon Knight to August Derleth to Judith Merrill to anyone you can think of, had to start their book with an apologia of some sort, praying that one day imaginative literature would be acceptable to the general public in this ultra-conservative society. After I stopped being amazed by that, I became amazed that intelligent people would allow dumb people to dominate the discussion that way. Then I was no longer amazed, because I realized it was a numbers game, and the dodos had more votes in putting neo-Confederates in office. What we have today is nothing more than Jefferson Davis's revenge on the Union, and God help us allit's like saying that maybe the Japanese and Germans did win World War II after all. Even today, the imaginatively challenged speak disparagingly of "sigh-fie" as in The Sci-Fi Channel (okay, okay, they have some great old movies and they show Twilight Zone re-runs, so I'm not bitching too much).
President Kennedy reacted to the Soviet space triumphs of the late 1950s/early 60s, including the Soviet launch of the first man in space (Yuri Gagarin) and the first woman in space (Valentina Tereshkova) in the early 1960s, by promising to put Americans on the Moon. Not American women, mind you, although a set of women astronauts were being trained along with the early Mercury 7 men, but the female program had to be kept secret and was shitcanned because of the reactionary politicians who were more interested in spending our hard-earned tax dollars on worthless pork barrel re-election slush fund projects. Such worthwhile projects include roads to nowhere, bridges over nothing; e.g., unwanted Navy ships in Lott's Pascagoula while real military folks were in harm's way without the proper gear the admirals requested; same with Air Force, while Lockheed had to relocate its HQ to Gingrich's district in Georgia and get tons of unwanted C-130s while the real planes the generals wanted were falling apart in the sky; price tag, $1 billion a year and $360 million a year, respectively; anything to buy votes. Then again, what can we expect from these super-patriots who never served in the military, which is okay until they open their hypocritical little mouths and, like that mean little twit Tom Delay, denounce a much decorated Vietnam paratroop combat veteran like Wesley Clerk as unpatriotic and a "puffed up Napoleon;" or that Fox fascist talking head Anus Cauterizer who was fired from network TV (a real network, not the Fox tabloid cesspool where she now plies her poisons) because she told the head of the Veteran Admin, a man who lost two legs, one arm, and one eye in Vietnam, that we lost the war in Vietnam because of scum like him?). That's how the budget process works, amid such a debate in our nation's capital, folks. And you want to keep voting for these biblical exemplars of honesty and saintliness who have seized power in this Tush Limbo Generation? Yes, in the final analysis, it won't kill us to spend that five billion a year on NASA, and I don't mean the part that's wasted on pork barrel projects by politicians who privately laugh and think space is a waste of time.
For the past 20 years, admittedly we've been able to get miracles in unmanned projects (Hubble, COBE, Galileo, etc.) but we've basically been stuck in pork barrel mode with the International Space Station that has been sucking up NASA's relatively tiny budget. Luckily, we've managed to come a long way forward despite it all. Who knows? Maybe one day we'll have an openly gay astronaut or even an atheist--the ultimate insult in a conservative culture. Once the Soviets lost the Moon race, there was little reason to continue the U.S. effort.
So now people of color are launching their early tubs into orbit, and who knows what they'll do next? No way the U.S. can allow a bunch of Third World noodle-twirlers to give us a black eye! So, as I have predicted, the king of deficits and delusions in Washington is about to announce some sort of a vote-getting boondoggle that won't fly. It won't fly because there won't be any money. It won't fly because his ultra-rightwing constituence don't allow it, since they avowedly don't trust reason or science, which their faith-based culture has sought to destroy at every turn (the endless skipping record and one-note samba of the Scopes Trial, replayed at every snake oil stand and every cross burning in the land). It won't fly because Bush I promised a similar initiative that was cynically doomed to failure before the words left his mouth ("the vision thing"). I am no longer amazed by these things. I am still amazed that so many people are still fooled by all this.
In the end, nobody cares why the Europeans required years to begin exploiting Columbus's discovery of the New World. Certainly the Vikings didn't do a lasting good job of exploiting Vinland, though they tried to settle Greenland and lasted a few hundred years until the Little Ice Age froze them out. No such problem in Nueva Hispania once the Conquistadores discovered gold. No such problem once it became a cultural space race between the Catholic colossus of Ibera vs. the Protestant upstart of Britanniathe futurians of another time, whose descendants are today's Backwardians still fighting to replace science education in our schools with 7,000 year old Babylonian creation myths.
Avanti! Spumoni! Pasta e' faggioli! Excelsior! Turdi! And that's how human nature works. Somehow the pieces all fit together, and humanity lurches forward. It maybe be backward, sideways, or down the hill, but we're all going someplace. Curious George is about to announce it. One hopes that the man with the yellow hat (Cheney) will agree and let him. What a pale imitation of the Kennedy speeches it will be! How forgettable and cynical and motivated by petty short-term interests from a guy who, with all his wealth, never had the intellectual curiosity to make a single trip to Europe to see the splendors of the past, to inform a valid vision of the future. But who really remembers the names of the courtiers who fought in smoky backrooms over the budget of Ferdinand and Isabella's Spain in 1492? All history cares about is that Columbus did return to the New World eventually. He was followed by armadas of explorers both good and evil. In the same manner, humans will return to the Moon and venture into Space. I know, because I have a dream. The dream was put in my head by genuine dreamers like the Futurians of the 1930s. We sigh-fie fans owe those early SF authors our lifelong gratitude for the wonders we saw in our childhoods. Those wonders keep us dreaming today.
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Comic-Con International: It's called WonderCon 2004 and will be held July 22-25, 2004 in San Diego, California. Read the full scoop at http://www.comic-con.org. We'll be covering this story for the next six months, so stay tuned.
Clarion West: June/July 2004. Pat Murphy, Larissa Lai, Geoff Ryman, John Kessel, James Patrick Kelley, Kelly Link, and Charles de Lint will instruct at the 2004 session in Seattle, WA. Contact Nisi Shawl, firstname.lastname@example.org or (206) 720-1008 or http://www.sff.net/clarionwest/ for info.
Received: Nebula Express Science fiction novel by Terry Sunbord, author of Robinson Crusoe 1,000,000 A.D. (April 2004, Clocktower Books). You are part of a work crew on a deepspace cargo liner headed for Triton, largest moon of Neptune, in the near future. As your work day begins, you and your seven team members of WorkPod01 leave your comfortable crew quarters for a long shift of repairs on some impact damage from a drifting space object. Each of the team members is a highly paid, dedicated, and mature man or woman with strong family ties on Earth. You treasure your photos, your memories, your daily video conferences with the spouse and kids back in San Diego or New York or Shanghai, whatever your city of origin. As you step out into a shattered hulk in the middle of deepspace, populated by sinister mudmen and dominated by a staff of mummified officers overlooking the Eagle Nebula far from where you're supposed to be, it soon dawns on you that something is out of whack. An increasing number of things appear wrong, and you are soon on the run for your lifesuch as it is. You must stay one step ahead of a sinister conspiracy and keep yourself and the love of your life, a tango-dancing and tragic beauty from old Buenos Aires, out of the mudmen's deadly yellowish fangs amid the somber, lantern-dark, water-dripping wreckage of the giant ship Nebula Express. Terry Sunbord's new novel is a totally original and gripping new work that will remind some readers of such classics as Alien and Dark City. Look for Nebula Express soon from Clocktower Books and Fictionwise.com.