Wednesday, August 31, 2011

UFOs: Top Cases

All in all, the guess is that about 95% of UFO sightings are explainable. 

They’re mistaken perceptions, things that can be easily explained, military tests, hoaxes, or the results of someone missing their dose for that day.  It’s the other five percent, to paraphrase Dr. Michio Kaku, that should give us the willies.  The History Channel’s Secret Access: UFOs On The Record, does a very good job of examining a few cases from that five percent.

The program is basically, from my understanding, an overview of Leslie Kean’s book, UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go On The Record.  Meaning the program eschews conspiracy talk in favor of quality witnesses and hard evidence, going strictly on what is known.  Kean even acts as a sort of emcee for the show in intercut interviews.  Five cases were highlighted.  Three were puzzling as always, one changed me from skeptic to tentative believer, and one still left me doubtful.  Two of the cases were the Rendlesham Forest Incident and the Belgian Black Triangle Wave of 1990, both of which have been discussed on here before.  So if you’d like to know more, please click the links.
Again I must warn, when I write about this subject, I write primarily for the UFO newbie.  Seasoned Ufologists may wish to skip this post entirely.

One case was from November of 1986.  A Japanese 747 was flying over Alaska at night.  The pilot, Kenji Terauchi, an ex-fighter pilot with 10,000 hours of flight experience, sighted two glowing objects approaching his aircraft.  The UFOs “had two rectangular arrays of what appeared to be glowing nozzles or thrusters.”  These objects then went on to enter a massive, walnut-shaped UFO ahead.  Terauchi estimated the size of the “mothership” as that of two or three aircraft carriers. 

Understandably concerned, Terauchi contacted Anchorage tower.  Flight control officials confirmed that they had a large contact in the 747’s vicinity.  A call to Elmendorf AFB revealed that there was no military traffic in that area and that the Air Force radar was indeed tracking the same object.  The UFO continued to follow Terauchi’s 747, following every turn and at times causing the plane’s flight crew to brace for collision. 

Terauchi decided to go public with his UFO encounter.  The FAA investigated.  After reviewing radar tapes and audio recordings of Terauchi and the control towers, John Callahan, Division Chief for the FAA, concluded that this was indeed something serious.  After all, an airliner did almost have a collision with something in U.S. airspace.  Callahan was called to the White House to brief national security officials on the incident.  After reviewing the tape, Callahan reports that an official from the CIA confiscated the data and stressed that both the White House meeting and the incident “never happened.”  Terauchi was later relieved of flight duty by JAL.

Another case was that of The Phoenix Lights.  On March 13th, 1997, the residents of Phoenix, Arizona witnessed an enormous formation fly over the city and surrounding region.  The video shown on TV from the sighting convinced me that the official Air Force explanation was the correct one: a flight of A-10s from the Maryland Air National Guard dropped bright magnesium flares while on maneuvers from Luke AFB.  The footage made it obvious that it was flares and if not, the size of the supposed “craft” would have been that of one of the massive ships from Independence Day and that would be tough to hide away.

What were shown on TV were indeed flares.  There is a rub in that explanation, however and it is twofold: one, the flares were dropped nearly two hours after the initial UFO sighting and two, witnesses reported seeing not just lights but a physical craft the size of “three football fields.”  The UFO was black in color, boomerang in shape, and carrying five bright lights beneath its fuselage.  It moved silently and slowly but would demonstrate sudden bursts of great speed.  One witness described the material of the hull as looking “wavy,” almost like the surface of water.  There were hundreds of witnesses to this event…including the Governor of the state, Fife Symington.

During the days following the sighting, Symington did not reveal his own encounter for obvious political reasons.  He even staged a hokey press conference with a guy in an alien costume to diffuse public tension.  It in fact, only outraged or intimidated witnesses.  In recent years, Symington expressed regret for that action and has gone on official record with his sighting:

“As a pilot and a former Air Force Officer, I can definitively say that this craft did not resemble any man made object I'd ever seen. And it was certainly not high-altitude flares because flares don't fly in formation.” 

According to a recorded report to the National UFO Reporting Center, an anonymous airman stationed at Luke AFB that night alleges that the UFO was tracked on their radar and that F-15 fighters were sent to intercept.  One of the pilots returned to the base, “visibly shaken” and in disbelief of what he saw.  His description of the UFO to the airman matches that of other witnesses.  Luke AFB then “went on lockdown.” 

Given the presence of a physical craft sighted by numerous, qualified witnesses, the Phoenix Lights have yet to be adequately explained.

The one case profiled that still leaves me unimpressed is one that occurred right here in my own backyard.  On November 7th, 2006, multiple people at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport claim to have seen a UFO over Gate C-17.  The object was said to be metallic and saucer-shaped.  After an estimated five minutes, the UFO shot straight up through the cloud cover, leaving an open hole of clean air behind in the clouds.  The official explanation is that what was observed was a “hole punch cloud” or “fallstreak cloud.”  The problem with that explanation being that on the day in question, the temperature was not below freezing, a physical requirement for such clouds to form. 

According to a Chicago Tribune investigation, there are numerous pilots and other airline employees who witnessed the UFO but many are afraid for their careers should they go on the record.  I can understand that but it adds to my problems with the case.  All we have are stories from eyewitnesses, many of whom anonymous, and no real physical evidence.  I’m not saying that a UFO did not appear over O’Hare Airport.  I’m saying that I need to see a little more first.

There are numerous other quality UFO cases that this program could have gone with had time allowed.  The Washington D.C. wave of 1952 is one.  The Minot AFB incident of 1966-67 is also quite credible.  Taken en-total, the conclusion is clear:  the UFO phenomenon is a real one and deserves sincere, professional scrutiny…not ridicule.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The mac daddy of pop culture

I think that this guy might be the greatest pop culture analyst of our time.  A bon vivant of the wasteland that was and is television.  A gadfly to geek dogma. 

His name is Dan Meth and he is an animator.  As perhaps a parergon to his main body of work, he has developed a series of pop culture charts and infographs.  The link above will take you directly to his site where you can revel in enjoyment for yourself but just the same I’d like to point out a few of my own favorites here:

-Pooh Corner Rx, where the characters of A. A. Milne are given, rather fittingly in my opinion, prescription drugs for their corresponding psychological conditions.  Geez, never did like any those characters.  Like them even less as they belong to Disney.  Do click the aside link Meth gives at the bottom of the graph to see the similarities between Pooh and Iron Man.

-A celebration of the font Cooper Black for its contribution to pop culture.

-A size comparison of movie sandworms accompanied by the astute observation that the 1980s were indeed a good time to be a sandworm.

-Check out the “Fantasy World Map.”  Notice that Whoville is just on the other side of a mountain range from Mordor with an open valley to the south between the two.  Imagine the wackiness that could ensue.  After all, “one does not simply walk into Mordor.”

-A chart comparison of house layouts for sitcom families as to which side the kitchen and the living room were placed.

-Perhaps most impressive of all is the “U.S.A. Sitcom Map” which locates every sitcom geographically.  The title is really a bit of a misnomer as Meth has far more than just sitcoms listed.  Shows such as Magnum P.I., Twin Peaks, and Baywatch could hardly be termed “sitcoms.”  Well, I suppose an argument could be made in the case of the latter. 

If there is anything to be gleaned from these charts and graphs, it is that I spent entirely too much time in front of a television during my youth.  Parents take heed and don’t let this happen to your children.  Still, I am envious of Dan Meth’s work.  It’s a beautiful collision of the highbrow with the lowbrow…exactly my kind of thing.  Must have been a blast to put together.  Not only that but love it or hate it, TV is an artifact of our culture.  It says much about who we are as a people.  Take that for what you will.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Diamond planet

I wish that Arthur C. Clarke had lived to see this.

In his book, 2061, a novel that I have made reference to before, Mount Zeus on Europa is one enormous diamond.  Now, astronomers have discovered a planet composed entirely of diamond.
The planet orbits around pulsar PSR J1719-1438 in the Serpens constellation of space and is thought to have been formed in the heart of a dead star.  Once the star lost 99% of its mass through nova and ceased fusion reaction, it became a planet...a white dwarf star...about five times the size of Earth.  The nova remnant was subjected to such intense gravity and pressure that it was compressed into diamond.  It's thought to have a density about 18 times that of water.  Wow.  Clarke had postulated the existence of such planets before but this is the first time astronomers have actually seen one.  If someone had told me a planet made of diamond would be found, I would have relegated the notion to the realm of fiction.  I think this bears out that old Einstein chestnut: the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we can imagine.  Names for the diamond planet are already being proposed, ranging from "Lucy" obvious Beatles "Midnight," the name of a diamond planet from an episode of Doctor Who.
An interesting aside to this discovery is that astronomers believe there are probably other planets orbiting pulsars out there.  I wouldn't have thought this possible, given the issues of gravity, but they're out there.  They might not all be diamonds but then you can't have everything now can you?

In other news, another article appeared about how astronomers have observed a star being consumed by a black hole.  The Swift observatory detected enormous bursts of radiation from a star in the constellation of Draco.  Two more bursts followed the next day.  Astronomers analyzing the data found the levels of energy detected to be too high even for a supernova.  The most logical conclusion left was a star ripped apart by the gravitational force of a black hole and jets of radiation flounced out as a result. 
So the data collected amounts to a stellar Zapruder film?  Is that what we’re saying?

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Marvel's "Annihilation Classic"

I need to warn you: this post is geekier than usual.
I received a birthday present from me to me.  No, the day hasn't past but I'm not going to tell you when it takes place.  It's not a celebration-worthy date in my eyes, just an excuse for me to be self-indulgent.   My choice this year?  One of them was Marvel's trade paperback, Annihilation Classic.

Annihilation was a crossover event for Marvel Comics in the last decade.  It centered around space-oriented characters that were relatively under-used.  I never read the saga but when I saw a "Classic" collection featuring many of these characters in stories from those halcyon days of the 1970s and 80s, I couldn't resist.  Plus, the appearance of Adam Warlock on the cover pretty much sold it for me.

The collection features a 1997 comic book for Bug.  Yes, that green guy from The Micronauts in his own book.  In fact, those said same unsung heroes of the 1970s make a guest appearance in the issue.  Not only that but hilarity ensues as Bug fights Annihilus and unwittingly causes every major event in the Marvel Universe (and one in DC) to occur.  
The original Tales to Astonish #13 is reprinted, the issue that features the arrival of that alien monster Groot from Planet X.  He's made out of wood but that won't stop him from trying to conquer Earth.  In the end he's stopped by a guy named Leslie, homologating geeks everywhere.
One of the first battles between Thanos and Drax the Destroyer is featured, showing us just how deep the roots of that hatred go.  I'll never forget that issue of Silver Surfer from 1990, "Where is Thanos?!!"  Even more surprising to me was the fact the story was really a back-up in an issue of Marvel's Logan's Run comic.  Wonder if they still have the rights to those film characters?
As I mentioned, we get to see the first appearance of Warlock, one of my favorites, even though at that time he was merely known as the artificial man, Him.  No matter.  I've seen the original issue and it was priced far beyond what I was willing to pay, so this suits me just fine.
Along those lines, the first issue of Nova is also included.  Not a big deal to me as I already own Essential Nova but it's nice to see it in color.  Another disappointment is the pages taken up by reprinting the entire Rocket Raccoon miniseries.  Sorry, just was never a fan.  Oh yeah, Quasar and Star-Lord show up, too.

Being that Sunday is Rest and Comic Books Day (along with beer and baseball/football, whichever's in season) at my house, I read through this trade today as well as a few other old issues I picked up.  One of those issues was Avengers #244.  In it, The Vision says that The Avengers had cooperated with authorities to keep the existence of alien life a secret.  That struck me as very difficult to do given the goings-on of much of the Marvel Universe up to that point.  In fact, I'd have to say that the alien cat is pretty much out of the cover-up bag by now in Marvel.  Seems to me that a story focusing on "regular people" adjusting to the reality of aliens would make for a interesting comic book miniseries.  And I...ahem...might know someone interested in writing it.  So...comic book powers that be, just shoot me an email.

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Duran Code?

If you think for a moment that this post is an excuse for me to write about my favorite band, Duran Duran...well, then you're right.  The post does, however, contain many of the things that Strange Horizons is (hopefully) known for: mystery, conspiracy, art, and UFOs.

So there I was...watching an episode of Ancient Aliens.  I'm not a fan of the majority of the conclusions I see presented on the show but it is about aliens and it's more diverting than the majority of programs on television.  A recent episode was about how aliens came here in the past to mine gold.  Taking a deep breath after that.  The show went to a location that, to me anyway, was unexpected: Rennes-le-Chateau.

Rennes-le-Chateau is a small town in the far south of France.  It is home to Sainte Marie-Madeleine church, Church of Mary Magdeline.  The legend goes that while renovating the church in 1891, the priest of said church, Father Bérenger Saunière, found ancient parchments that brought him great fortune...and nervousness.  He began to add oddities to the interior artwork of the church, such as grotesque faces and a demon holding up the holy water fount.  Tales grew taller and taller about an enormous treasure of gold that Sauniere had acquired due to finding the truth about the Priory of Sion.  That is to say, the supposed secret society that involves the blood lineage of none other than Jesus Christ.  Yes, that is where books like Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and The Da Vinci Code come into play.

Other speculations as to the eerie nature of the Chateau are that it houses the treasure of the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail, or The Ark of the Covenant.  Even though much of this has been discredited, the fine folks at Ancient Aliens aren't giving up.  They posit that the treasure might actually be an alien device, perhaps a "stargate" or even a buried spacecraft.  As one who has studied literature, I would argue that this is simply a case of transferring a story of fantasy to a modern one of science fiction but that's just my opinion.   Anyway, I said that this would have something to do with Duran Duran and I'm getting there.

Nicolas Poussin was a French artist who painted in the classical style.  His beautiful pastoral painting, Les Bergers d'Arcadie (The Arcadian Shepherds), depicts three male figures and one female figure gathered around a stark, eldritch, tomb-like stonework.  Upon this tomb is the Latin inscription, "Et En Arcadia Ego."  This means, "I too (was there) in Arcadia."  There are those that argue that the painting depicts a tomb at the church in Rennes-le-Chateau and that the Latin phrase is loaded with all kinds of hidden meanings relating to things ranging from the tomb of Jesus to the final resting place of Mary Magdeleine.
Whatever the meaning, Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran saw the painting and chose the name "Arcadia" for a spinoff project with band members Simon Le Bon and Roger Taylor.  What other connection is there than that?  Read this question that a fan posted to the band's website in 2004 and check out Nick's response:

"For either Simon or Nick: Arcadia, being named after the quotation "Et En Arcadia Ego", seems to have an interesting theme throughout it's artwork of secret codes. Since Nick has previously said that Jean Cocteau is a favorite of his, and assuming Jean Cocteau was in fact a 'Grand Master' of the Knights Templar this might lead one to believe there are many secret codes and references in the Arcadia music and artwork. Not to mention the fact that 'Holy Blood, Holy Grail' appeared on Simon's Reader, but has since been removed and the whole of the Arcadia project was recorded in France. Mmm, most curious. Comments? Denials? Further evidence? Seriously, are we going to see a 20th Anniversary Arcadia re-release with all sorts of extras?"


So...what's the deal, Nick?  Is there a stargate at the Chateau?  A downed UFO?  Whatever it is or whatever the duo of Le Bon and Rhodes encountered in France, Messr. Rhodes isn't talking.  So I'll just watch the video for Arcadia's "Election Day."  It's so bizarre, its just got to have some kind of hidden meaning.  I'll keep watching and decoding until I find the "alien spacecraft is located HERE" message.  "Maximum big surprise" indeed.

As a postscript, I attended the Alley Art Fair today.  Great paintings, please watch my Flickr feed for pics.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, August 26, 2011

In the year 2025...

-A multilateral world.  There will be more members of the UN Security Council.  I personally don’t believe that will make much difference, as the big guns, US, Russia, and China, will always be able to block anything that does not suit one of their agendas.  I am, however, intrigued by Slaughter’s notion of European Union-style economic collectives for Africa, Southeast Asia, and The Middle East.  This might be what’s needed to tackle poverty in Africa and elsewhere once and for all.

-Sustainability.  The nations “that will be the strongest in 2025 will be those that have figured out how to do more with less.”  Renewable energy and recycling are the names of the game.  A lot of us have been saying that for a long time but I don’t know if we’ve yet reached the tipping point for commitment yet.  More on that in a bit.

-Non-state actors.  All kinds of people organizing themselves into groups of all kinds and influencing governments.  It’s happened in America and Slaughter believes it’s going to happen globally.  I think she’s right.  We’re already seeing it happen in places like Egypt, Algeria, and even Syria to lesser success.  Social media and mobile technology will exponentially expedite this process, allowing people with similar convictions to come together.  It’s tough to stop someone with a laptop and a cameraphone. 

-It’s going to take something big.  Remember what I said about a tipping point and Slaughter’s rosy outlook?  She acknowledges it.  "These predictions may appear rosy. In fact, the enormous changes on the horizon will require major crises.”  So what are we looking at here?  Limited nuclear war, perhaps...or a global viral pandemic.  The most likely scenario in my opinion is an environmental disaster, an “ecological 9/11” as Mac Tonnies once put it.  Hurricane Katrina only on a much larger scale.  It will have to be a catastrophe that people will readily be able to see as directly attributive to human behavior and/or inaction. 

I hope she’s right.  I hope the future of 2025 will be along these lines.  Right now, as we continue to overpopulate and over-consume our resources, it’s tempting to see a future more like Soylent Green or A Clockwork Orange.  One aspect that I believe Slaughter neglects in considering the future is Transhumanism.  While I don’t necessarily expect The Singularity to have arrived by 2025, I do believe we need to consider just what kind of role technology will play in these scenarios.  If not replacement with techno parts, we need to consider the affect of genetic modification and engineering.  This might not only lead to alleviating certain problems, it could also mean a lot of people living a lot longer.  So we’re right back to that population problem again.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Meet the Republicans

When it comes to Global Warming, Rick Perry does not support the notion that humans are making the world warmer.  Shocker.  He points to the so-called "Climategate" flap over what a few scientists said, but even that was clarified and the parties involved exonerated.  Michelle Bachmann calls carbon dioxide a "harmless gas."  Sigh.  Ron Paul calls Global Warming one big "hoax."  Parting from the pack, Mitt Romney believes that humans are contributing to rising global temperatures, but won't enact any environmental measures until the rest of the world does.

On stem-cell research, Rick Perry is opposed to any and all embryonic stem-cell research.  So is Bachmann.  Again, shocker.  But Perry is at least open to the idea of adult stem-cells as he himself was aided by such a treatment.  Romney's position on the matter has flip-flopped so much, it's hard to say just where he stands anymore.  Right now, it looks as if he is opposed to stem-cell research.

Evolution.  Hoo-boy.  Basically, Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann believe that The Flintstones was a documentary.  They believe that the Christian view of "intelligent design" should be taught along side evolution.  Mitt Romney believes that the universe was created by God and did so through the process of evolution.  Romney sounds all right but the other two should spend a day in a museum with paleontologists. 

I expected each candidate to be stingy when it comes to funding scientific research.  What with recent efforts to cut funding to the Hubble space telescope and no doubt there are plans to scuttle its successor, my prediction was that as president, none of these people would want to part with a single tax dollar for the "fancy book learnin' "  that is science.  But while this hasn't exactly come up with Perry or Romney, Bachmann did vote to increase funding to the National Science Foundation.  Chalk a mark in her column.  In the meantime, Republicans in Congress have made past attempts to cut funding to both hurricane research and the USGS.  Anybody noticed anything on the East Coast lately?

I honestly don't know what scares these people so much about science.  The idea that intelligent design should be taught in a public school is frighteningly close to theocracy for me, especially when so much evidence supports evolution.  Plus, the two concepts need not be mutually exclusive.  Pope John Paul II once said that evolution "has gone far past the theory stage" or something to that effect.  That notion, however, is more suited for a theology class than a public school science curriculum.  
More unsettling than that is every candidate's unwillingness to act on Global Warming.  It's a conspiracy, the Sun is doing it, God is doing it, whatever, it's a political issue when it should be seen as an emergency.  Denying the fact of rising temperatures and the ensuing climate and weather changes is just plain ignorance.  Or greed.
Or both.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

2011 Hugo Awards announced

There is an elite group of geeks who prefer that their science fiction be in book form.  For them, the Hugo Awards were established in 1955 and they’ve become about as big of a prize as you can win in geekdom.  Here are this year’s winners:

Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (Ballantine Spectra)
The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang (Subterranean)
The Emperor of Mars” by Allen M. Steele (Asimov’s, June 2010)
For Want of a Nail” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s, September 2010)
Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It, edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O’Shea (Mad Norwegian)
Girl Genius, Volume 10: Agatha Heterodyne and the Guardian Muse, written by Phil and Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colors by
Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
Inception, written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Warner)
Doctor Who: “The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang,” written by Steven Moffat; directed by Toby Haynes (BBC Wales)
Sheila Williams
Lou Anders
Shaun Tan
Clarkesworld, edited by Neil Clarke, Cheryl Morgan, Sean Wallace; podcast directed by Kate Baker
The Drink Tank, edited by Christopher J Garcia and James Bacon
Claire Brialey
Brad W. Foster
Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2009 or 2010, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award).
Lev Grossman

I am embarrassed to confess that aside from the Doctor Who episodes, I’m unfamiliar with few of these titles.  As to why, please refer to my multiple posts on just how long my reading list is and how long it’s going to take me to get through it (damn you, Cryptonomicon.)
Except for the big winner.  I have picked up and leafed through Blackout by Connie Willis in the bookstore numerous times and seems very much my kind of thing.  In the book, time traveling historians from the year 2060 return to London in 1940 to observe the Battle of Britain and risk altering history.  Might sound trite but I suppose it’s good enough for the Hugo.
Lev Grossman was featured a couple weeks ago in Julia Keller’s Sunday literature piece for The Chicago Tribune.  Although it seems his writing looks to be more on the fantasy side of things, I’ve had nothing but encouragement to read him.  He did write Warp, which seems to be a Bright Lights, Big City for the geek set.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Budd Hopkins: In memorium

One of the pioneers of alien abduction research has died.
Budd Hopkins passed away last Sunday.  Here is a statement from UFO researcher, Leslie Kean:

Budd Hopkins
June 15, 1931 – August 21, 2011
I’m very sad to announce that Budd Hopkins died today, August 21, at 1:35 pm. Budd had been under hospice care for about three weeks, at his home in New York. The combination of liver cancer and pneumonia led to his death. His daughter Grace Hopkins-Lisle and I were with him almost continuously during these past weeks. He was not in any pain throughout any of the process, and he received the best possible care and loving support from those closest to him. Today he gradually slipped away, and simply quietly stopped breathing. He died peacefully and without any struggle, with Grace, Grace’s husband Andrew, and me by his side.
Thanks to all of you for being such strong supporters of this extraordinary man, who has contributed so much to our lives, in so many different ways.
- Leslie Kean

While a painter and sculptor by profession, Hopkins began investigating the UFO phenomenon after a sighting of his own.  He eventually began to receive letters from people all over who had experienced “missing time” in conjunction with their UFO sightings (in fact, it was Hopkins who coined the term, “missing time.”)  This in turn led him to research what we now call “alien abduction.” 
Hopkins went on to interview over one thousand individuals from all walks of life who claimed to have been victims of the abduction phenomenon.  He had professionals conduct hypnosis sessions with these abductees, gleaning much of what we now consider to be given aspects of the abduction scenario: a person is paralyzed, brought aboard an apparent alien spacecraft, given an invasive medical exam, and returned to their point of abduction with no recollection of the event.  In time, however, memories of the abduction begin to return.
Hopkins might not have been the first to address the occurrence of humans being abducted by aliens nor will he be the last, but it was Hopkins who truly placed the phenomenon into the mainstream for the first time with books such as Intruders, Missing Time, and Witnessed—the true story of the Brooklyn Bridge UFO abductions.  Along with Whitley Streiber, Budd Hopkins took the concept of alien abduction from New Age fringe to a widely known, even if controversial, subject. 
As mentioned previously, Hopkins was an established artist with his paintings featured in the Guggenheim and Hirshorm Museums as well as the Museum of Modern Art.  He was the recipient of numerous grant awards from The National Endowment for the Arts.

In truth, I was rather skeptical of aspects of Hopkins’ work…the abduction research, not his art…namely the use of hypnosis and the chance of confabulation.  However, I liked his credo of “extraordinary claims deserve extraordinary investigation” and I appreciated the fact that he showed such courage in delving into a subject that was wholly unpopular at the time.  What he did for the field of Fortean researching was nothing less than courageous.  He willingly went in to investigate while the rest of science turned its collective head and giggled.  We owe him a debt of thanks, if not for research he conducted then for the abductees that he helped who irrespective of the cause have experienced real emotional pain. 

Budd Hopkins will be missed.  He is already missed by several people I am sure.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Sunday, August 21, 2011

And it will come from a coffee stain

Like any good geek, I consume more than my fair share of coffee.  Coffee is after all, "the preferred drink of the civilized world" according to Thomas Jefferson.  But like many of my brethren, I have been forced to endure coffee stains in very embarrassing localities upon my trousers due to bungled mugs at work or drippy latte cups in the car.  Now, however, a new study has brought good from those unsightly stains.

If you've ever seen a coffee stain...and I'm guessing that you have...then you know that the dried stain turns colorless while the coffee tone retreats to the outer edge of the drop.  Research scientists have now found out why that is the case.
The particles of coffee are quite round.  As the stain dries, surface tension brings the liquid away from the center and the round particles roll with it.
What's that you say?  You really don't care about what happens when a coffee stain dries?  You soon may.  These said same scientists found that if they altered the coffee particles into a more ellipsoid shape, the particles remained clustered together, thus allowing for a uniform color in the stain.

This means new developments are on the way for ink printing...just as the print world breathes its last.  I jest.  Many things are printed besides reading materials.  This will also allow for quicker drying, smoother coating paints as well as important news for those who are fashion-inclined.  Imagine lotions and cosmetics that go on smoothly and dry quickly.  I'm sure that's good news for someone, just not necessarily me.
So from now on when I get those "embarrassingly located" coffee stains, I can shout back to all who might stare, "Hey!  I'm doing science here!"

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kree vs. Skrull: When the heavens raged

Pictures have dribbled out over the past few days of The Avengers being filmed in Cleveland.  Avengers is one of my all-time favorite comic book series, so the photos plastered on the Internet are certainly enticing.  Then inspiration struck me.

I have posted a few times before about my favorite science fiction comics.  While I would not place Avengers inside the realm of sci-fi comics, one of my favorite storylines from the book is definitely steeped in the trappings of the genre.  It was called "The Kree-Skrull War" and I thought I'd use today's post to tell you about it.

Writer Roy Thomas said that he wanted the story to be basically a space opera with the Earth caught between two alien races embroiled in a bitter conflict.  In fact, our world would be to the Kree-Skrull War what Pacific islands were to World War II.  Thomas was even said to have been inspired by the Raymond Jones novel (and eventual film), This Island Earth.  A word first about the combatants.
The Kree are human in appearance and masters of an interplanetary empire.  They are merciless and fascistic, almost like spaceborne Nazis.
The Skrulls are green guys with big ears and wrinkly chins.  They are capable of shapeshifting into almost any form and like the Kree, they are imperialists.
Eons ago, these two empires collided into war and the Earth has become a locality of strategic interest for both sides.  It's up to the Avengers to protect humanity from becoming collateral damage.  Boasting a line-up of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, The Vision, and several other supporting cast members and cameos, Earth's mightiest superheroes square off against two opposing battlefleets.  And the outcome of the entire conflict may come down to two key figures, Kree-born Captain Marvel and honorary Avenger Rick Jones.

There's just so much to like in this epic storyarc.  Space battles, multitudes of superheroes, and the introduction of the ill-fated romance between The Vision and The Scarlet Witch.  The Vision crashing through Avengers Mansion, exclaiming, "Three cows shot me down!" (a reference I don't have the time to get into at the moment.)  The "devo" ray the Kree deploy in the Arctic in an attempt to return the Earth and everyone on it back to prehistoric times.  The battle in space where a massive nuclear weapon is launched towards Earth by The Skrulls and Captain America orders Goliath to "stop that ship at any cost...including your own life!"  As if that were not enough to satisfy, there's also a fair amount of social commentary.  The storyarc took place between 1971 and 1972.  This is around twenty years on since Sen. Joe McCarthy and the awful HUAC hearings.  When it is discovered that there are aliens among us that we can't quite trust, Sen. H. Warren Craddock founds the "Alien Activities Commission" in Congress, bent on rooting out all aliens hidden in our midst and preventing them from destroying the American way of life.  Public opinion turns against aliens, even those like Captain Marvel who are here to protect us.  Protests, violent mobs, and racial slurs ensue.  Sound familiar?

Yeah, they just don't make comic books like this anymore.  Impeccable art by Neal Adams, fun storyline, and a tinge enough of social statement to make you think.  The whole saga is available in a collected trade paperback edition.  You have no excuse.  Go get it.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Inhale that's good for you

It was tough to parse upon first reading.

I came across a posting about a bizarre health trend from a few years ago.  I've tried to see if it's still in action but could find nothing one way or another.

Apparently, people have taken to inhaling radon.

Yes, that radon.  One of the noble gases that is a highly radioactive product of decaying uranium.  Good for arthritis, though.  And cancer.  And MS.  And asthma.  And anything having to do with the immune system.
So say the owners of Free Enterprise Mine in Montana.  They've had people visit from all over, swearing that a good ol' lungful of radon cures what ails them. 
Seems it's not a new idea, either.  The practice of radon-breathing goes back thousands of years to underground hot spring spas in Russia and Eastern Europe.  What's more, visitors are not stopping at just breathing in the radon and frankly, why would you?  A few of them are drinking water from the mines, claiming that it helps with prostate, urinary, and stomach issues.  Geez, maybe I'll give it a try.
Others take radioactive, green mud from the mine and rub it on their skin to help with dermatological problems.  Others still claim that the mines improve the health of their dogs, especially those with arthritis.  That last part gets to me.  I don't care if people willingly give themselves radiation poisoning but leave the dogs out of it. Yet all the feedback from the mine visitors has been nothing but positive.  Doctors, of course, are chalking it up to placebo effect and are lining up for the new cancer patients they plan to see emerging from the mines.

I wouldn't do it.  I wouldn't recommend anyone I care about do it, either.  I will, however, grant these people one point and that is that medical science, like any other branch of research, doesn't know everything.  How many times have we thought that we had it right when it was really wrong?  Back in the 1950s, doctors suggested cigarettes for stress.  Can you imagine?  All our toothpaste and public drinking water comes with fluoride.  Now we're finding out that fluoride is poisonous and may be behind any number of health problems in people.  So who's to say that small doses of radiation might actually turn out to be good for you?  Might even mutate you into a superhero.
That's a complete fabrication, of course.  Mutations are really terrible things that don't live very long.  But that doesn't mean it won't help your gout. 

I shudder to do this, but for a skeptic-centered discussion, here's James Randi's forum on the matter.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tech that's good for your heart

So far, they are calling it a new "tattoo."
Imagine a chip or patch that is ultra-thin and applied to the skin with water.  You know, like one of those temporary tattoos you get in CrackerJacks?  Only this patch would be loaded with micro-circuitry that can measure and transmit any number of medical stats.  Diabetics would never have to mess with another needle again to check their blood sugar levels.  Heart rate, nerve activity, brain activity, muscle movement, it all can be sent to a monitor.  Perhaps a mobile device clipped to each nurse assigned to you at the hospital.
Why wait until you're already in there?  One of these high tech dealy-bobs could transmit an alarm to your own mobile device any time a vital sign showed indications of trouble.  It could warn you about a heart attack before you're even feeling symptoms.  And there are quite a few men I know who might still be alive today if they had this technology, been warned, and not said "oh I feel weird, gonna go lie down for a while."  The microcomputers might even develop to the point where victims of stroke or ALS might be able to speak again by placing one of these over their throat.  The computer could translate the motions of speech.

The engineers who developed this new device are keen to point out that this promises to be an advance not just for medicine, but for personal, wearable electronics as a whole.  With it, we might one day be able to access the Internet without need of an external device or at the very least we may see the world through augmented reality contact lenses and not bulky glasses.  Wow, the more I read about this the more I want one.

Of course this new tech has already brought the Luddites out.  There are those who fear that your medical information could be intercepted by someone else, thought I'm flummoxed as to what someone could do with your pulse or respiration rate.  Then the fundies are claiming that it's "the mark of the beast" forewarned in the Book of Revelation.  Seriously, look at the comments beneath the article.  Where do these people come from?

Heck, the only thing I'm concerned about is that if the patch is water soluble, what happens when you sweat?

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Monday, August 15, 2011

The Shaver Mystery

Of all matters Fortean, The Shaver Mystery is one of my absolute favorites.  Inspired by yesterday's post on underground dwellers, I thought I would take a post and tell you about the strange narrative of Richard Shaver.

Richard Shaver was originally a factory worker from Pennsylvania.  In 1943, he wrote to Ray Palmer (not The Atom), editor of Amazing Stories magazine, telling Palmer about a “proto-language” from which all other languages in the world are derived.  Shaver called this language he discovered, “Mantog.” When Palmer replied to Shaver’s letter, asking how he found this, Shaver wrote back…with a 10,000-word manuscript.
In it, he told the story of an entire civilization that lives beneath the surface of the Earth, not at all dissimilar from the numerous legends of a “Hollow Earth.”  Among these subterranean denizens were Teros, generally good people.  Yet the majority of the population was what Shaver termed “Deros,” short for DEranged RobotS.”  Not robots in the mechanical sense but in that behaved savagely…whatever that means in regard to robots.  The sketches I've seen of these beings depict them as having elephant-like trunks, bald heads, and bloated bellies.  They lived in caves hollowed out by “ray” beams left to them by an ancient and advanced race.
The Deros were capable of influencing humans mentally.  In fact, they were to blame for just about everything bad thing that went on in our civilization.  The Deros would kidnap surface humans for food and torture.  According to Shaver’s writings, they also had a penchant for abducting women and utilizing their bodies to all sorts of Sado-masochistic ends. The Deros even traveled in flying saucers and other forms of spaceships, communicating regularly with a race of aliens that were just as evil as they were.  And how did Shaver know all of this?  He insisted that he had been a prisoner of the Deros, deep within their caves for eight years until the kindly Teros rescued him.
I quote Flounder: "Oh boy, is this great!

Palmer collected all of this into a coherent narrative...and evidently edited out quite a bit of sex...and printed it as a novella in Amazing Stories.  Later, he would release it as a collected edition called, I Remember Lemuria.  I own the latter text as part of an edition called Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth by David Hatcher Childress.  Anyway, upon the March 1945 publication of the Shaver Mystery, Amazing Stories received a tremendous surge of mail.  Most of it was critical, lambasting the magazine's attempt at passing off pulp science fiction as truth and a polemic against established sciences, yet not all of it was derogatory. 
Several letters came in from people who claimed that they too had seen the Deros.  Or at least heard them in the cases of writers who reported the odd sounds and voices of the underground dwellers deep inside mine shafts and wells.  One woman claimed that she had been abducted by the Deros and used as a sexual slave for years before escaping.  Of particular interest was a letter from Fred Crisman, a man who would become something of a "convergence figure" in Forteana.  He claimed to have wandered into an advanced city of Deros while serving in Burma during World War II.  He likewise asserts that he suffered injuries from blasts by their "futuristic laser guns" and that he and his fellow soldiers blasted their way out with sub-machine guns.
"Oh boy, is this great!"

The idea of a Hollow Earth is far from a new one, even at the time of Shaver's publication.  Stories go back for centuries of people conjecturing or even outright proclaiming that there is an entire civilization beneath our feet, populated by beings bizarre and only rarely encountered.  The Nazis searched for an entrance to this world, Admiral Byrd supposedly led Operation Highjump to Antarctica in order to flush out escaped Nazis who had entered the Hollow Earth and now had super weapons at their disposal from the Deros.  A book that describes this somewhat is Arktos: The Polar Myth by Joscelyn Godwin.

Obviously there are many people who with great comfort pronounce The Shaver Mystery as fiction.  I'm one of them.  But you know what?  I don't care.
Seriously, this story is great.  It has absolutely everything that made Golden Age pulp science fiction fun.  In fact, I like this Hollow Earth stuff so much that I once wanted to write a trilogy of film scripts based upon it with a heavy dose of Star Wars thrown in.  I have only written one so far but maybe one day who knows.  So thanks, Mr. Shaver, Mr. Palmer.  Whether you were trying to put one over on us or not (and I'm betting that you were), you gave us one hell of a good story.

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Mole People: beneath New York CIty's streets

"Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before"--The Smiths

When I first came across this story, I had to do a double take.

Turns out that there really are mobs of homeless people who live in the subway tunnels beneath New York City.  It all was detailed in a 1993 book called The Mole People by journalist Jennifer Toth.  Having studied literary non-fiction, I can tell you that such texts do require a a fair amount of skepticism.  It is not always evident where the writer's reporting gives way to the tools of the novelist, but that is a matter for my other blog.  From what admittedly little searching around I've done on the Internet, it does appear that Toth was dead on the money.

At the time of her writing the book in the early 90s (ahh halcyon days), there were an estimated 5,000 people living in the tunnel systems beneath the city.  The majority of these homeless people were mentally ill, alcoholics, addicted to drugs, or otherwise afflicted.  My jaw nearly dropped, however, when I read that several of these people have collected themselves into enclaves that function like actual communities.  Each one has a "mayor," a social strata, nurses, and teachers.  As implied, they're even raising children in the tunnels.  Hot water is available through steam pipes.  This allows for cooking, showers, and laundry.  Electricity is siphoned from underground wires and cables.  "Runners" head for topside to scavenge for food and other needed items.
It's not just in New York, either.  The same sort of situation is going on in Las Vegas, right beneath even the town's glitziest casinos.  People living in the storm drain system in many similar respects to the ones described in NYC.

This, I will admit, blows my mind.  It's like Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, a book that is currently in my to-read stack but entails an entire culture that lives in the sewer tunnels and abandoned subway tracks of the London Underground.  I also see a bit of the hustlers from My Own Private Idaho in all this, the way that they lived together in abandoned buildings as semi-communities.  I must confess, there is a certain romantic appeal to this.  Living on the edge, away from society and off of "the grid."  Oh the stories that this sort of thing is just ripe for.

But you'd be homeless.  Bottom line.  You'd be dealing with the same unfortunate souls that approach you for help every time you leave the trains at Union Station.  The schizophrenics and the addicts, living off of enormous rats that they've hunted and cooked.  They're basically living a criminal lifestyle, fending off attacks from other homeless who are bent on survival at any cost and sometimes taking criminal jobs of either burke or blade just to get something to eat.  It's undoubtedly an existence that is at best desultory and at worst harrowing.

So I must ask, in the end, what is more shocking: the fact that we have "mole people" beneath the streets or that this kind of poverty exists anywhere in the United States?

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Like Jehovah's Witnesses, they were just on the doorstep of Mars

I will be engaging in free-form conjecture for the duration of this post.

While I understand that the "face" on Mars is likely a trick of optics and the human mind's tendency to matrix, not all of the Cydonian anomalies can be so easily written off.  Let's presume for a moment that these are intelligently designed structures left behind by an alien civilization.  Left behind in what way?  Did aliens land on that fourth planet in our solar system, erect monuments, and then just leave?  Why?  Given the similarities of the pyramidal and sphinx-like shapes on Earth and possibly Mars, did the aliens show up here as well and have our ancient ancestors build tribute monuments?  Then leave?

Could this mean...that the aliens are religious nuts just like we are???

Obviously achieving higher technology and possessing religious fervor are not mutually exclusive but this notion of the alien equivalent of door-to-door Evangelicals is far scarier to me than the abduction/butt probe scenario.  So I'm going to leave this theory for a while.  A long while.

For the sake of my sanity, I'll steer this waxing theoretical into another direction, namely that the aliens who built the artifacts were indigenous to Mars.  There are indications that Mars was green at one point.  It had water and apparently still has flowing water to this day.  There is evidence that there was once microbial life at the very least.  What happened?  Well today, Mars has a very weak magnetic field.  Almost non-existent.  There are several theories as to why this is the case but the result is the same: the atmosphere was by enlarge stripped away.  The majority of the water is now at the frozen near as we can tell.  Did a Martian civilization suffer what author Mac Tonnies called "an ecological 9/11" and leave only their monuments behind?  If so, did any of them survive?  Let's say that they did.  Play along with me here.

Although I disagree with him most times, Richard Hoagland contends that Phobos, one of the two moons of Mars, is in actuality a "15-mile long, extremely old and battered," ancient spacecraft.  Looking at the photos, I have to admit the more than passing resemblance the moon has to "the doomsday machine" on Star Trek.  Yes, Phobos is most oddly shaped, more like a dumbbell or bowling pin than what we customarily think of for a moon.  Hoagland argues that on the surface of Phobos, one can see "right-angle designs" and "deck plating."  "You can almost count the rivits [sic]!" he writes on his site.  The craters are not craters, they are "openings."  He goes on to claim that the hull of this supposed craft is ripped open and that you can see walls and "entire rooms."   I can't see much from the photos.  It just pretty much looks like a rocky surface to me.  But that's no fun, is it?  Is Phobos really a massive spacecraft that was built by aliens to rescue them from the planet-wide disaster below?  "Phobos" was a Greek character whose name means "panic" or "fear."  While I understand that Phobos is a moniker that we humans bestowed on the rock, what more fitting title for an escape craft for mass exodus?
There is a bit of evidence that suggests that Phobos is hollow.  Are there alien life forms living in an arcology beneath the rock?  Perhaps a bit like Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous With Rama?  What other signs of that are there?  In keeping with the Clarke theme, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin keeps bringing up the "monolith" on Phobos.  I guess he even took time to talk about it during his stint on Dancing With the Stars.  So is it a monolith of the sort postulated by Clarke?  Doubtful.  Is it a way to get inside the spacecraft into the interior of the arcology?  Maybe.  What about an observation tower?  I guess.  Is it an artifact left on the surface for symbolic purposes?  Seems odd that you would do that if your goal was to build an ark to rescue your civilization from impending doom, unless...wait, an "ark?"

Oh geez!  I'm right back at it!  They're fundies!  Littering the solar system with their artifacts and icons to The Jeebus.  Soon they'll be here, giving us their pamphlets to let us know that The Jeebus loves us very much and that we should come to their church services in order to be saved, flashing gory photos, maybe even holograms, of abortions at us as we drive down the street, protesting the funerals of soldiers, and influencing our government to oppose "crazy" things like same-sex marriage and stem cell research.

I liked it much better when the Martians just wanted to level us with their heat rays.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Return to Hodge Podge Lodge

I had a "talk" with someone on Facebook a while back about e-readers.  Their comment was, and I'm paraphrasing, "I get really tired of people saying that print is dead.  It truly isn't.  These new-fangled e-readers lack one important thing: tangibility.  It doesn't feel like holding a book in my hand.  Plus, who will pay for books when you can pirate them like anything else on the web?"
Oh my dear Luddites.  How long must I be among you?  The "tangibility" argument is one I grow less and less sympathetic to by the minute.  Has this person ever actually held a Nook or a Kindle?  The device is no less "in your hand" than a dinosaur book is when you read.  Plus on the Nook anyway, you even get the sensation of turning pages.  And piracy?  There are stats that show sales of e-books actually going up after piracy.  E-books are where it's at and where it will continue to be...especially when newer, cooler readers are released through places like The Sharper Image.  Of course there will always be people who resist this new technology but their number will grow fewer and fewer as e-readers just become another part of our daily lives.  As I quoted in an earlier post: "if you have a smartphone, you're already partly transhuman."  Nothing is going to stop this movement. 

I just read a short story by John Shirley called "The Belonging Kind."  Technically it was co-written by William Gibson and it appeared in Gibson's Burning Chrome anthology, but this story was pure Shirley in style.  It's about a tired man who discovers an entirely new race of creature, one that slinks among us in our modern life more easily than a cockroach does, fueled by the alcohol of a hundred bars.  If you like John Shirley's writing style, read it.  You won't be disappointed.  If you don't like the work of John Shirley, read it anyway.  It could do you good.
I've also been re-reading an old magazine.  A few years back, NME released a thick, glossy edition that held a collection of original stories on New Romantic bands.  At least they say it's New Romantics but I'd simply call it "80s Music" as Madonna was most certainly not a New Romantic.  Of course Duran Duran were featured prominently in the issue.  There are several gems within the pages of interviews, one of them being Nick Rhodes getting hostile with Duran's tour staff as he refuses to give Andy Warhol obstructed view seating in Madison Square Garden.  Who can blame him?  Simon watches Nick overdo it with the eye shadow and calls him a "bleedin' panda bear."  John confesses that he was nowhere near as nervous meeting Prince Charles and Princess Diana as he was meeting David Bowie.  Good stuff.  Reminds me of better times.

Forget to blog this earlier.  I had a bit of disappointment over my sabbatical to Ohio.  I mentioned to my Dad that I'm researching for an academic paper on the cut-up method used by William Burroughs.  Then Dad, Mr. "I've got 2 Ph.D.s" asks "Who is William Burroughs?"  Sigh.  I should have suggested he have all incoming freshmen read Naked Lunch, but instead I went to look through the refrigerator just as I did so many years ago.

Now playing: David Bowie, "Moonage Daydream."

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Star Wars: "But it's not science fiction..."

I suppose it isn't.  Not in that Asimov, Clarke kind of way.  
There is a selection of science fiction fans who cringe at the mention of Star Wars.  The name reeks of glitz, special effects (or "fx" as the hip would say), and overall the mainstream of America. One need not have a true appreciation for science fiction in order to enjoy Star Wars, thereby placing it outside of the specialized community.

I will be the first to admit that the phenomenal success of Star Wars had an unintentionally deleterious effect on the genre.   After the film's 1977 release, subsequent science fiction films were expected to be no more than "action movies in space."  What ever you do, don't slow down.  Don't have a character explain the working principles of their X-Wing fighter before flying it.  The film can never be about concept.  Instead, stick with character action.  That is why incredible science fiction films such as 2001 and Planet of the Apes appear as snooze-fests by comparison in terms of pacing.

I get it.  I certainly don't disagree.  Yet on the other hand, I don't really care.  That's saying something if I'm actually the one defending "glitzy" entertainment.
Before Star Wars, I was indistinguishable five year-old.  I liked kicking my inflatable football in the back yard.  I liked Tonka trucks.  I liked learning about animals in the zoo.  But on a fateful summer day in 1977, I sat with my Dad in a movie theater in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  An enormous Star Destroyer crossed the screen.  After that, nothing in my life would ever be the same.  Whatever I had been interested in previous to that point went right out the window.  I wanted anything and everything that had to do with science fiction.  Toys, comic books, other movies, and especially as much Star Wars as I could humanly consume.  More than that, the little boy that I was learned that before anything got pressed to film, George Lucas had to write everything down.  With but a pen and sheets of scrap paper from Dad's job at Saint Joseph's College, I could do the same thing.  Well, no guarantee of similar quality, in fact I can guarantee the reverse, but I learned I could do it.  By acting out scenes with my action figures, I learned that how to place dialogue into a character's head and how to create their "voice."  In other words, I learned how to write.  Pretty much everything I am today is owed in no small part to Star Wars.  I cannot imagine the universe without it.

Nevertheless, however much personal joy this young kid took from seeing the dual suns of Tatooine or swarms of X-Wing fighters attack the Death Star, that does nothing to quell the science fiction objections.  I get that.  But consider this...
Star Wars also inspired me to read other forms of science fiction.  As I matured, I sought out Asimov, Clarke, Ellison, Gibson, and so on and built an appreciation for what certain literary critics term "hardcore science fiction."  Without Star Wars, I'm not certain I would have ever read those books or even become a fan of the genre.
So as the purists bemoan the massive shelf space devoted to Star Wars novels and "media tie-ins" in the science fiction section of libraries and bookstores (what few that are left), please keep my tale in mind.  Somewhere, there may be a ten year-old who is only a year or two away from putting down their Star Wars book and wandering off into the other areas of the shelves to see what he or she can find.

Oh yes...Han shot first.

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