Whetting Our Martian Curiosity
Life on Mars? Little green men from outer space never did land on our soil. In some ways I'm sort of disappointed.
Today we think of "life" on other planets in terms of whether the NASA rover Curiosity will discover water on the Red Planet, our neighbor in this galaxy. The little green men are us - to misparaphrase my favorite philosopher, Pogo, or rather, the "us" is the latest in NASA technology.
Yes, I was a science fiction buff in my youth. When other teen girls were swooning over Sinatra, I was reading sci-fi pulp magazines. I had already read all the Jules Verne volumes I could find.
Sadly, I lost my taste for science fiction years ago, about the time John Glenn orbited the planet and we left the first human footprints on the moon. Somehow outer space appears less exotic, less romantic.
The recent death of writer Ray Bradbury called to mind the days when some critics sneered at sci-fi writing as mere pulp. Although he was a popular writer in his day, Bradbury was no pulp writer - unless you dismiss Charles Dickens to a similar category.
What I liked about Bradbury's work was his concentration on humanity, rather than future technology. He was a writer with a purpose, not merely to amuse but also to encourage the reader into analytical thinking, plus a generous dose of social awareness. His writing certainly was provocative, the best example to my mind being his "Fahrenheit 451." His picture of a day when reading material is strictly controlled by a totalitarian state chills me to this day.
One biographical source says Bradbury was influenced by Robert Heinlein, an older sci-fi writer, who expected his plots to focus on humanity rather than the mechanical. The same source says Bradbury was also influenced by the works of H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, my old friend Verne and Edgar Allan Poe, another favorite from my younger years.
Bradbury described himself as a writer of fantasy, not science fiction. He may be right. One critic once devoted an entire column to knocking the movie "E.T." as bad science fiction.
The critic had a point because "E.T." is not science fiction. It is instead a delightful fantasy about the delicate sensibilities of children, their lack of bigotry at an age before adults have spoiled their minds with wretched prejudices. That critic didn't have a clue.
Regardless of genre, Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles" no longer carries the romance the book enjoyed before our current space age.
Here at Scotia Village in Laurinburg, our retirement community has been enjoying a series of continuing education classes on the Hubble space telescope and its findings. Dr. Allen Dotson, a semi-retired physics professor at St. Andrews University, arranged the series of films featuring breathtaking Hubble photography - or, from my strictly non-scientific mind, artwork amid the stars.
Dr. David Meyer of the Northwestern University faculty is the lecturer. After these Great Courses films are shown, Dotson sticks around to clarify details and answer questions.
We are learning that - just as the opening segment of the original "Star Wars" film avers - we are not alone, and ours is not the only galaxy. There are certainly many other galaxies far, far away. In fact, there is so much more out there that our minds cannot comprehend the vastness. Truth is, our galaxy really is just a candy bar by comparison.
As Curiosity hurtled at mind-boggling speed toward Mars for a perfect landing, I was grateful it contained no humans facing death at the hands of technology or of green aliens. The rover's aptly named. Aren't we all waiting for its findings?
Florence Gilkeson, who lives in Laurinburg, is a retired newsroom staffer with The Pilot.
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