Discovery

20130728-181202.jpgI just got back from the beach, where I listened to the audio version of Stephen King’s The Shining. And while I was listening I realized that I had never seen Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of King’s classic horror novel, at least not from start to finish. The movie is rather embedded in our collective conscious, and many of its scenes (“Here’s Johnny!”) are so ubiquitous as to be fodder for satire. But the movie was new to me so I downloaded it from iTunes and watched it over a two-day period last week. The movie immediately struck me as quintessential Kubrick and a very thought-provoking horror movie.

During my self-imposed intermission I decided to look it up to see if it was considered as complex as it seemed. I was awed by the extensive analysis that’s been done over the years.

So, what does this have to do with Doctor Who? Well, when I asked my friend Jennifer Garlen about it, she gave me some great insight. Jennifer is a subject matter expert on classic movies and has a phenomenal blog at Virtual Virago. During our exchange of Facebook messages about the The Shining she mentioned she loved Doctor Who‘s allusion to the film. And at first I couldn’t think of which episode she was referring to. I finally had to ask my son — who has every episode of New Who memorized — to realize that the episode was “The God Complex.” I’m sure you’ve seen it if you’re a DW fan. But this set my mind off on a tangent. What exactly am I doing, writing about Doctor Who? I don’t review episodes. I don’t pan the show. I haven’t built a wiki or deconstructed “The Name of the Doctor” (yet). But what I have done is use DW as a basis for self-discovery. While there are as many ways to do this as there are people on planet Earth, this approach seems to work for me.

Like the psychological horror of Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick, the intellectual fantasy and science fiction of DW allow me to become introspective, learning a little bit about myself as I watch. And I think this is good for us. In “The God Complex” characters are subjected to hotel rooms that reveal your deepest fear. Could you handle that? Could you handle a room full of spiders, snakes, clowns or dentists? I’m not sure I could, but we all have an amazing ability to face our fears when we need to.

For a family-oriented program Doctor Who has an amazing capacity to scare the living hell out of us (“Are you my mummy?”). And I think this is a component of the show’s strength; but there’s more to it. Doctor Who is spectacularly good at optimistic endings, and this makes the frights bearable, knowing that everything will be okay. This is why I love genre and classic fiction. Too often these days we’re saddled with pseudo-intellectual stories that are ambiguous or inconclusive. If I wanted that I’d simply sit back and watch real life unfold. But for entertainment give me SFFH any day of the week!

After all, any connection between your reality and mine is purely coincidental. :)

Until next time,
Years truly,
Keith

Copyright (c) 2013 Keith Parker

Scale

scale“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” ~ Arthur C. Clarke.

Scale and scope.

When did the scale and scope of speculative fiction become so obsessed with the unimaginable?  This question came to mind the other night when I was watching Star Trek Into Darkness, after having just seen a re-run of Doctor Who‘s “The Eleventh Hour” (s05e01) the day before.  Both shows, so completely different in theme, character, and setting, do have something in common: The stakes are so high that the action — both physical and dramatic — has to be quasi-supernatural in order to … in order to … in order to what?

Keep our attention?

  • Is it really necessary to have a fist fight with a genetically engineered god on top of an air-car traveling at 100 miles per hour?
  • Is it really necessary to have Mr. Spock from two different universes?
  • Is it really necessary to climb through an unimaginably large warp core that’s eerily reminiscent of a famous British police box on the inside?

Speaking of which …

  • Is it really necessary to hack into a global video teleconference?
  • Is it really necessary to have an villain who can shape-shift (clothes, and dog collar, and all) into anything, anything at all?
  • Is it really necessary to program a planet-wide computer virus?

Maybe it is.  I don’t mean to sound like a curmudgeon, because both of these shows charge me with that sense of wonder that’s enchanted me since I was old enough to know what genre is.

Vast scales and scopes are nothing new to the mythos of speculative fiction; not when you had shows like The Twilight Zone telling you that there was a fifth dimension “as vast as space and as timeless as infinity” right there in the corner of your eye; not when you had The Outer Limits telling you that “we will control all you see and hear”; not when you had spaceships traveling to Jupiter so humanity could become star children.  And all of that was a generation ago.

But if we take away today’s themes of the universe-is-going-to-implode-and-all-of-spacetime-is-going-to-get-flushed-down-a-Planck-scale-toilet, then what are we really left with?  We’re left with questions.  And those are the hardest things of all.  Do we seek justice, or do we demand revenge when we see crimes of utter devastation?  Do we trust the man in the bow-tie when he was really only figment of our childhood?   Do we believe there is absolute good and absolute evil?  Or do we believe there’s a spectrum in between?

The struggle to save humanity — the galaxy, the universe, the mutli-verse itself — really pales when compared to the questions that these shows ask.  The visual candy is there — oh, yes — and I will gladly pay the price of admission time and time again to consume it.  But I want to ask these questions.  I want us all to ask questions.  In my opinion, that’s the only way we can grow.  I want to know if there’s moral absolutism or moral relativism … or both.  I want to know what we do when morality changes, if indeed it can.  I want to know how to ask these questions.  I don’t look for answers much anymore, but I don’t think that’s the point anyway.  I think we, as humans, have to ask them.

By the way, a Star Trek fan gave me two hand-made Tribbles.  They’re sitting on the mantle next to a Waterford crystal wine decanter, in stark contrast to one another: The sublime and the ridiculous.  The trouble is, I don’t know which is sublime and which is ridiculous.  That’s another question I’ll have to ask.

Until next time, years truly,

Keith

Copyright © 2013, Keith Parker, except as noted below:

Doctor Who is copyright © 2013 by the BBC. No infringement upon the rights of the BBC is intended.

The World Inside My Globe

keithTo the left is a studio photograph of me that was taken right before the 1968 moon mission when Lovell, Anders, and Borman took the incomparable “Earth Rise” shown below.

As you know, I like to blog about science fiction and time travel, as well as love and fear.  And you may be thinking the Christmas Eve Apollo Mission, with its iconic photo and the reading from Genesis, is the reason for that love of spaceships and ray guns.  But oddly enough, it’s not.  I was in awe of our astronaut heroes, to be sure, but I found my own globe that day, and I still explore it 44 years later.earth rise

You see, a red Christmas ornament hung from the family tree.  I remember sitting under that pine (yeah, I was that small … or the tree was that big … or both) staring into the ornament as it hung on a low branch next to a huge, multi-pane window in our living room.  We lived on “The Mountain” in those days, a magical era for those who know Huntsville.

That crimson globe was situated so it reflected the cedars and evergreens in our front yard. a corner of the wood cabinet TV set where we would watch that incredible moon mission, and a supernatural illusion of myself, sitting in a parallel world that was so close that I could touch it … almost.

globeAnd I remember that little boy wondering, How can I get into the world inside that Christmas ornament?  It was the most beautiful red, much like the photo to the left.

And, of course, what I was thinking was not a revolutionary thought.  Not by a long shot.  It was not groundbreaking or ingenious.  Ever since there have been reflecting pools and looking glasses, children have gazed inside them and wondered where that special world is.  I was no different.  Except … except that I am unique, just as you are.  The images are mine alone, just as yours are yours alone.  And my fascination with parallel worlds that are just like ours — only not quite  — is why I do what I do.  It’s why I’m enthralled by fantasy and speculative fiction.  It’s why I ask, “What if?”

And …… It’s also why I try to inject humor when I can because, while I was mesmerized by that spectral image, my older brother crept up behind me and thumped me on the top of the head.  “Yikes, that hurt!” I said.  And it did hurt, but that,  my friends, was also the best Christmas present I’ve ever gotten.

Have a happy and safe holiday season.

Peace, as always, from Keith.

Copyright © 2012, Alan Keith Parker.  All Rights Reserved.