The Moon As It Should Have Been

“By the mid-1960s, NASA’s Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter spacecraft had provided close-up views of the lunar surface. The photographs revealed a landscape that was far removed from the craggy scenes [Chesley] Bonestell had been painting for decades. The moon was softer, with rolling hills and mountains that appeared more Appalachian than Alpine. ‘The Moon looks for all the world like the Berkeley hills,’ Bonestell grumbled:

“I thought how wrong I was! My mountains were all sharp, and they aren’t on the moon. They’re all round, battered by millions of years of meteorites. I knew an astronomer, I can’t remember his name. He did a model of [the crater] Copernicus about four feet across, and he had the mountains softly rounded. I was just a kid, and I said, ‘Why did you make them so round?’ I expected them to broken and sharp. And he just laughed and walked off. It made me angry, and I never did go near him again. Why wouldn’t he tell me?”

“The matter of the Bonestellian depiction of the Moon raises an interesting issue: why did he paint the moon the way he did? So utterly convincing were his paintings that few if any people – scientists and astronomers included – ever questioned their accuracy, any more than one would question the reality of a photograph. Indeed, so compelling are his lunar landscapes that one feels it is somehow the Moon’s fault that it doesn’t look the way he painted it. Bonestell’s Moon was as it should have been. There is considerable argument in favour of the idea that we would not have been so anxious to land on the Moon had we known it looked as boring as it does – that his romanticized landscapes helped encourage the development of the lunar landing program. Bonestell himself was aware of this, saying that ‘even if they’re wrong, they did influence young people and got them interested in astronomy, so they at least served that purpose…”

Text: Ron Miller and Fredrick C Durant III, The Art of Chesley Bonestell. [London: Paper Tiger, 2001]. p 93.

Images: Top: Chesley Bonestell, Exploring the Moon by Earthlight, from Man on The Moon, 1961. Oil on board, 36x38cms. Bottom: The Apollo 15 lunar module “Falcon” with the moon’s Apennine Mountain Range in the background.

Adventure thru Inner Space

“It’s often been said that science fiction predicts the future. I’d argue that this isn’t generally the case. In fact, it’s the future that predicts science fiction.

“First off, we have to understand what we mean when we talk about “the future.” That definite article “the” implies that there is a single future, but of course there isn’t—despite how we talk about it, the future isn’t a fixed, tangible thing, it’s a psychological and social construct. (The past is also a psychological and social construct, but we won’t get into that here.) Each of us has one or several possible models of the future in mind at any given time—both our personal future and the future of the world—and society as a whole also has several possible agreed-upon futures under consideration.

“These models of the future are built by the human brain, extrapolating from the present situation using information gathered from past events, and they are all inherently flawed because of the limitations of the human brain. Even computer models and other calculations are built according to rules devised by human brains, and are equally subject to these flaws. Our vision of the future tells us much more about ourselves, our pasts, and our present than it does about the actual future…”

“Tomorrowland, a section of the Disneyland theme park that nominally reflects the world of the future, is a vivid example of how our views of the future have changed over time.

“In Tomorrowland’s first phase (1955-1967), the main attractions were the Moonliner, a simulated trip to the moon, sponsored by TWA; Autopia, an automobile-driving ride for children, reminiscent of the interstate highway system; the all-plastic House of the Future, sponsored by Monsanto; and the Submarine Voyage, inspired by the voyage of the Nautilus, the first atomic-powered submarine, under the north pole. You can easily see how these attractions reflected the interests and concerns of the time.

“Tomorrowland was given its first major makeover in 1968. Major new attractions added at this time included the Carousel of Progress, sponsored by GE, which touted the wonders of electricity; Adventure Thru Inner Space, sponsored by Monsanto, which took riders on a journey into the heart of the atom; and Peoplemover, sponsored by Goodyear, a scaled-down model of a clean, quiet, rubber-tired public transit system of the future. Not long thereafter, the Moonliner was remodeled into Mission to Mars and Space Mountain, Disney’s first multimedia rollercoaster, was added. These changes reflected the fact that the concerns of the immediate post-war period had been replaced with new concerns, more consumer-oriented and even more expansive.

“By 1998, Tomorrowland was becoming increasingly dated despite some cosmetic changes and was given another major makeover. Notable changes at this time included the addition of the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, a new interactive ride in which riders could compete not only with each other but with people all over the world via the Internet, and the replacement of the Rocket Jets with the new Astro-Orbitor, an essentially identical ride except that the older ride’s black and white NASA-style design was replaced with a new “retro-futuristic” design in bronze, gold, and brown.

“The harder Disney tried to keep its future up-to-the-minute, the faster it went out of date. (There’s nothing so stale as yesterday’s headlines.) So in recent years they’ve begun reaching all the way back to Jules Verne for a more “timeless” future. Even though these designs are already obsolete, they still retain a futuristic flavor, and it won’t fade so quickly…”

Text: David Levine, How the Future Predicts Science Fiction, The Internet Review of Science Fiction, February 2010.

Image: Tomorrowland’s Carousel of Progress via A Little Slice of Life.

Reanimator

The pivotal story that intensified Ballard’s divisive status [among SF authors] was the first of what he called his ‘concentrated novels’, ‘The Terminal Beach’. The text is presented in short, titled blocks of prose, which abandon linear sequence, and strip out the extraneous connective material of conventional narrative. The prose-blocks juxtapose imagistic evocation, found texts, gnomic dialogues and different technical registers. Ballard pursued this experimental style between 1966 and 1970, eventually publishing the texts as The Atrocity Exhibition. Merril immediately included ‘The Terminal Beach’ in her manifesto Year’s Best in 1966, and Moorcock editorialized in New Worlds in the same year under the headline ‘Ballard: The Voice’, proclaiming that these new experiments were ‘the first clear voice of a movement destined to consolidate the literary ideas – surrealism, stream-of-consciousness, symbolism, science fiction, etc. etc. – of the 20th century’.12Ballard delivered his own manifesto, ‘Notes from Nowhere’, in the same issue. It was full of puzzling juxtaposed assertions: ‘Neurology is a branch of fiction: the scenarios of nerve and blood vessel are the written mythologies of brain and body. Does the angle between two walls have a happy ending?” In a central passage, however, Ballard crisply explained his experiment:

Planes intersect: on one level, the world of public events, Cape Kennedy and Viet Nam mimetised on billboards. On another level, the immediate personal environment, the volume of space enclosed by my opposed hands, the geometry of my own postures, the time-values contained in this room, the motion-space of highways … On a third level, the inner world of the psyche. Where these planes intersect, images are born. With these co-ordinates, some kind of valid reality begins to clarify itself.

“This method was essentially one of Modernist collage reanimated by the 1960s avant-garde. Disregarding boundaries between discourses at the level of the sentence, Ballard’s experiments also moved between different media. He published a number of pieces in New Worlds but also in non-SF ‘little’ journals like Ambit and Transatlantic Review. He designed mock-advertisements, and sought funding from the Arts Council for billboard art (of the kind being done by Daniel Buren). He also organized an exhibition at the London Arts Lab to explore new psychopathologies. This was, needless to say, anathema to an American SF that Ballard characterized as ‘an extrovert, optimistic literature of technology’ compared to ‘introverted, possibly pessimistic’ new SF.” The first American print-run of The Atrocity Exhibition was pulped for fear of litigation; it eventually appeared in a Grove Press edition, the home of avant-garde fiction by Georges Bataille and William Burroughs.”

Roger Luckhurst, “Decade Studies: The 1960s”, Science Fiction. Cambridge: Polity. 2005. p 149-150.

Image: Stanley Donwoo, Teeth, 2006, via New Shelton