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November, 2017

ET, Where Are You?

by Larry

I was born in the greatest war our world has known. There were 50 to 80 million people killed in that conflict. Most of the images I saw or heard through newsreels and broadcasts in my first years were of horrendous destruction. Not long afterward, hydrogen bombs were developed and vast quantities stockpiled. History tells us virtually all efficient weapon advancements are eventually used. My dad encouraged thoughts along these lines, telling of the ways we could utterly destroy our country's enemies, in fact had already done so in the recently concluded battles. So even before I became aware of television, I had been thinking in terms of sci-fi, for there were a variety of stories heard on the radio with an out of this world flavor, and I was a great fan of such audio programs as "Green Hornet" years before my family acquired

Picard as Locutus (Wikipedia)
its first little black and white TV set. I figured we needed all the help we could get! To my childish way of thinking, were we to continue with more and more awful ways of killing one another, there was a decent chance I would not live out a normal span of years and that all the rest of what seemed good to me would soon be forever gone as well. "Captain Video," "Superman," and "Buck Rogers" soon followed in my fancy, and I loved visits with neighbor friends who already could watch such programs before my household got with the times. In my young mind, all these programs spoke of a kind of being that was more than human or actually came from superior places where beings had, by our kind's standards, relatively magical powers. Once I could read on my own, I quickly discovered that libraries were palaces for sci-fi enthusiasts, stocking whole shelves or even banks of books with an otherworldly theme. H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and a host of less worthy or memorable sci-fi authors were quickly filling my noggin with their imaginative tales. I even tested my talent for sci-fi writing, winning a local prize for a yarn called "The Blue Haze," about a cloud that distorted time and the implications of this for humanity. The notion of phenomena, creatures, vastly more impressive beings, or weird alternate things from beyond our orb coming to save or attack us has, of course, been with man- and womankind probably since prehistoric epochs. Demigod conceptions must have filled this niche in our species' early yearnings.

Thus when major motion picture or other media companies have turned to such ideas, inevitably I was a ready devotee, be it for "Star Trek" and its sequel series or movies, "Star Wars," "Bladerunner," "Close Encouters of the Third Kind," etc. My favorite sci-fi author has been Kurt Vonnegut, though by now I have devoured the works of at least scores if not hundreds of authors in this sort of literature. My wife, Valerie, not only shares my interest in sci-fi but has gone well beyond me in pursuit of the hobby and has a large collection of such paperbacks.

What is the appeal? Partly, I think, at least for me, it is about hoping for a "Deus ex machina," a device or means by which our currently insoluble dilemmas can be more or less miraculously solved at a story or play's finale via a god-like intervention, one that brings about a form of happy ending.

As we are now in the midst of life on Earth's sixth great extinction, one that perhaps threatens even to extinguish ourselves, human beings understandably seek a new source of rescue. There are no real supermen from Krypton, and Stephen Hawking suggests that if aliens did arrive the event would likely not be to our benefit.

Still, we are often wistful, it seems, for flying saucer people or other extraterrestrials to come and deliver us from all the difficulties in which we find ourselves. Carl Jung is said to have commented that if there were not any true unidentified flying objects from beyond our planet, we would still have invented them, for their ilk play such a key part in our psyche, the idea of a realm vastly better than our own from which beings might offer us a secular form of Heaven on Earth or even transport us to their much more advanced home worlds. The odds against it are overwhelming. Chances are, if there are to be solutions, we must come up with them. May this occur quickly, then, for at the moment it looks like we shall only survive our looming crises by "The Skin of Our Teeth."

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