I was thinking of watching 2001: A Space Odyssey for a review, but I had a problem. Dr. Hunter S. Thompson dropped a seed into my brain, and I can’t think about the movie without dealing with that seed.
Allow me to quote from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas…
What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped to create… a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody – or at least some force – is tending that Light at the end of the tunnel.
Sci-Fi was basically mired in that self-same belief for decades. If you read all of the Space Odyssey books, you find that there are more Monoliths are more numerous than just the movie makes them seem. There are many monoliths and the reason for them is that a super-advanced race of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings sent them to earth was to advance our evolution from one stage to another. Eventually they decide we’re cool and let us into their mouse club just like a Monty Python sketch!
Now, do me a favor and go read the bit about the acid culture again.
I can’t get this idea out of my head that Arthur C. Clarke fell into the same sort of trap along with a lot of other writers. Star Trek does it, B5 does it, Dr. Who does it. Asimov doesn’t do it as directly, but he does some. So many of the writers, names and stories I’ve mostly forgotten now, so many aliens and supercomputers playing as a stand in for God. There seems to be this need to reach out to a god, or a super-advanced race of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings, or possibly just a really smart robot. Star Wars doesn’t, and I’ve noticed that’s one of the reasons some sci-fi fans hold it in contempt. You could argue that The Force is appealing, but I argue that it’s just a sort of unfocused spiritualism. More of a way to define the walls of the tunnel than any sort of light tender.
I have noticed though, that it happens a lot more with older sci-fi than the newer stuff. By newer I mean the mid 90s or so, because… you know. I remember some of Heinlein, and Philip K. Dick being very down on the idea of religion as a whole. English movies and TV shows were much more apt to say either there was no God, or we were alone in the universe during the 80s. Red Dwarf and Hitchhiker’s Guide come to mind. Rationalism came to Sci-Fi in the way the genre always pretended it subscribed to. A wave of atheism rolled in after a while, and then rolled back as people who should have embraced the idea of humanity doing it for itself drifted back into their deeply conservative ways while nominally holding liberal views. Gods and super-advanced races of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings were once again all the rage, lending a helping hand or leaving us in our purgatories with that unexplained polar bear.
So now, you can stand near a closed down book store, and with the right kind of eyes, you can almost see that high-water mark. The place where the wave broke and rolled back. Or maybe there was no wave, maybe it was just a small ripple of rationalism in an otherwise over-godded pond.
So yeah, Hunter S. Thompson and Arthur C. Clarke referenced in the same post. Not everyone does that. Next time I’ll talk about what My Little Pony and the Russian Revolution have to do with each other.