Until I began to build and launch rockets, I didn’t know that my hometown was at war with itself over its children, and that my parents were locked in a kind of bloodless combat over how my brother and I would live our lives. I didn’t know that if a girl broke your heart, another girl, virtuous at least in spirit, cold mend it on the same night. And I didn’t know that the enthalpy decrease in a converging passage could be transformed into jet kinetic energy if a divergent passage was added. The other boys discovered their own truths when we built our rockets, but those were mine.
– Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam
Rocket Boys was made into a movie, “October Sky,” the title being an anagram of Rocket Boys, and I’m still charmed by it. I’ve found that the film is much beloved in some quarters, but I found it to be a disappointment, as so many such films are, because the book had the texture of truth, while the film had the texture of Hollywood. Relationships were generified, characters were stereotyped, you know the drill.
There have been a number of historical paths whereby the bright kid gets out and up in the world. Rocket Boys is a description of a new path: Rocket Scientist, exemplified by Hickam himself, but also, to my reading, the more important character, Quentin, the hard scrabble kid who uses his brain and big words to protect himself from his circumstances, and who decides that Hickam, the son of the mine superintendent, has access to the resources they would need to start a rocketry club.
In 1957, the town of Coalwood, in West Virginia, is cut off from the world in ways that are simply unfathomable today. For example, a major point in the book is when their science teacher, through considerable effort, manages to procure for them a book on rocketry. One. Single. Book. Is it possible to picture such a time today, when Amazon.com and Abebooks.com are universally available?
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A review of Gojira, Ishiro Honda, dir. Toho Co, Ltd. 1954; reissued by Classic Media 2006.
On March 1, 1954, the United States detonated Castle Bravo at Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific. Castle Bravo was a hydrogen bomb with a yield of 15 megatons, roughly two or three times what had been expected. It was the largest radiological accident ever caused by the land of the free and the home of the brave and poisoned the crew of a Japanese tuna boat, the Daigo Fukuryu Maru (Lucky Dragon No. 5), with one crew member eventually dying of leukemia. This led to a tuna scare in Japan and a petition drive to ban the bomb.
Tomoyuki Tanaka was one of many Japanese who followed the story closely. He worked as a producer for Toho Company, Ltd., one of Japan’s major film studios. When a deal fell through and created a hole in the studio’s release schedule, Tanaka decided to fill it with a new kind of film, a sci-fi horror story filmed in noir style and featuring a prehistoric beast awakened by an atomic explosion. The beast was named Gojira and the film was released in Japan on November 3, 1954.
If you look closely, you’ll see a reference to Lucky Dragon No. 5 early in Gojira. The movie opens on a freighter at sea off Odo Island, the Eiko-maru. It’s evening and some of the sailors are gathered together while one of them plays the guitar and another the harmonica. There’s a sudden bright light and a loud noise. The sailors rush to the side of the ship to see what’s happened:
Notice the number on the life preserver, “No. 5.” The freighter sinks and all hands are lost.
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By order of King George:
The Bush Rules:
I took these photographs while standing on Governors Island, in New York harbor between the southern tip of Manhattan and Red Hook, Brooklyn. This is where Reagan and Gorbachov met in December of 1988, marking the quasi-official end to the Cold War.
BTW, my buddy Tim Perper tells me that the original Gojira has been released on DVD, uncut, without Raymon Burr.
Bill Benzon, WAAGNGNP Minister of Visual Propaganda
I know a lot of amateur scholars, including myself (ask me about New York City circa 1911 sometime). Many of them concentrate a fair amount of their scholarly impulses on science fiction, and that includes my friend Douglas. He’s taken advantage of the fact that U.C. Berkeley has a collection of the papers of A.E. van Vogt, for example. He also tells me of a movie review of Metropolis written by H. G. Wells.
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Welcome to the Party! Please allow me to invite you for a walk down nostalgia lane.
My family was living in California (Palo Alto, to be precise) when the first Star Wars movie came out. Somehow my younger brother, who was five then, cajoled my parents into taking him to see it about twice as many times as I did. (I shouldn’t have been surprised: this is the kid who as a pre-schooler talked dozens of drunk college students into giving him “just one sip” of their warm, cheap beer during a faculty-student intramural softball game at my dad’s college.) Before my family made the cross-country trip back to our hometown in central New York, my bro and I saw Star Wars more times than the sum total of our years on the planet. I have an excuse for a kindergarten baby beating me in the viewings race: I had a seven-year-old’s crush on my second grade teacher, which is to say, I had other priorities. Still, losing to my brother in that and losing out to some other kid who was able to impress Ms. Buntin with his knowledge of the fancy word for “spit” were no fun to experience and just slightly less not-fun to remember (note to Party leaders: a great topic for a future Open Thread would be confessing — and ranking — the worst of your life’s trivial disappointments).
To tell you the truth, I have a terrible memory, so bad that I don’t have anything that specific to share about my reactions to Star Wars, at least anything that everybody else who saw it for the first time at that age isn’t likely to say, too (Darth Vader: scary! Luke Skywalker: cool! Princess Leia: hot! C3PO and R2D2: funny! Special effects: awesome!). Many things from that CA interlude stand out far more vividly still today than those movie-watching experiences:
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Harmonic Convergence of the Geeks - By Oaktown Girl
The Star Wars geeks are all a-twitter over some big 30 year anniversary celebration happening this weekend. It will be all Star Wars, all the time, all weekend.
So let’s talk about Star Trek instead. (Don’t worry, Lucas fans. The WAAGNFNP’s leading Star Wars geek, TC, will give us all a full report on Star Wars next week, including facts, memoirs, free appraisals of your Star Wars memorabilia, and Lord Astaroth knows what-all else).
WAAGNFNP MOOAD Tribunus Laticlavius christian h. has a good Open Thread idea: program 6-8 hours of Star Trek television, from any of the TV series. Tell us which episodes would you choose, in which order, and why. Remember, this is not merely a “favorites” list, so put on your “Spock’s Brain” helmet and get to thinkin’. Yes, you may post as you ruminate, so we can all do some thinking together.
But the MOJ is ever-merciful, and is willing to share this space with all sci-fi/fantasy fans seeking refuge from the Star Wars onslaught. You are welcome to discuss Babylon 5, Buffy, Lord of the Rings (movies), or whatever your little hearts desire - TV and movies only - any topic. Please visit the Readers Anonymous thread for book chat.
Mirror Universe Spock….mmmmm…sexy. DS9’s Captain Sisko once they let him drop the dweeb look and be his natural hot, hunky self…very sexy indeed. So here’s another idea: tell us your secret (or not so secret) Sci fi/Fantasy TV/movie crushes. Go ahead, ‘fess up. The truth will set you free.
Now please enjoy the following nifty edit of “Mirror Mirror”. Definitely worth a look:
I have been working on a film script to counter claims that the WAAGNFNP unfairly concentrates on nuclear destruction over other forms of apocalypse. A précis follows. [I have the idea pretty well fleshed out, but am looking for some help from readers on a few details.]
Working title: Triumph of the Snark.
The movie, set in the indeterminate future, starts with an unnamed narrator (later in the movie we hear him referred to as “Doc”) describing the cynical and barren life that he lives in a cramped underground city: What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered? That about sums it up for me. There is nothing of beauty in this city, the residents (who sarcastically refer to themselves as Morlocks, and the city itself as Turgidsonville) are mean, spiteful, rude and condescending. Most spend their days online, trading acerbic barbs and ridiculing anyone who advances any positive agenda for change. A great catastrophic event in the past is hinted at, and the viewer at first assumes that it refers to some manner of nuclear, ecological, or epidemiological disaster. Instead, it is revealed that people were merely driven underground by their own perverse thoughts, their insistence that anything “nice” or “cheery” was bad - a “New Nihilism” had swept the world, sapping people’s will to live and reproduce, and leaving a small embittered remnant ensconced in their digitally-enabled tombs.
Doc’s job as an electrical engineer takes him to the surface on occasion to look after the power grid. The surface is a pleasant enough place - though it is evident that Doc himself is utterly unimpressed with it. There are a smattering of automated farms and mines providing raw materials for factories producing mass quantities of Mountain Dew, junk food, electronic components and other essentials. Working on the surface one winter day, Doc is drawn away from the solar grid he is repairing by a vision of a giant rabbit who tells him that “death will come from the sky” in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. Following the vision causes him to miss being crushed by a falling jet engine that lands precisely where he had been working. Nearby he finds an injured teenager lying in the snow, mumbling Schlachthof Fünf over and over again. Doc brings him home, and although the boy can only remember his name - Donnie McLightly - he has a relentlessly cheerful nature which proves infectious. Inspired by the song Mr. Blue Sky from a CD Donnie finds in his pocket, he convinces Doc to help him form a club which he calls Electric Light Orchestra Illuminati (ELOI) club. Tapping a hidden, seething vein of optimism in Turgidsonville, the club soon grows in number, despite what seem to be self-limiting set of rules.
The first rule of ELOI club is that you do not blog about ELOI club.
The second rule of ELOI club is that you do not blog about ELOI club.
If this is your first day at ELOI club, you have to logoff and go topside.
Well, the frenzied fun of the Kentucky Derby Live Blogging pretty much blew out Open Thread (#6), so here’s a fresh one because there’s just so much going on this weekend - NBA and NHL playoffs, TC tells us there is LPGA action this weekend, a boxing match that is supposed to save boxing, and of course Paris Hilton possibly maybe actually doing jail time saving the corporate media from having to possibly maybe actually perform their duty to keep us informed of things that really matter.
A tip of the MOJ’s gavel to WAAGNFNP newcomer Ya Ya who not only picked the Derby winner, but picked it with authority. Maybe Ya Ya will resurface later this weekend when she reemerges from her Oscar De La Hoya-induced swoon.
Me, I’m missing a killer concert because I’m stuck inside with a horrible cold. So I rented a couple of movies. One is a Czech film, and the other is this one:
Which, can you believe, I still have not seen and it came out in 2000?