HauteLit from HotLanta: Science Fiction

                My books, disorganized by the move, lay splayed across the office in disarray.  This has lead me to choose books that I may not have otherwise chosen because I’ve either forgotten about them completely, I’m not able to reach other books a midst the towers that were constructed by a lack of time to really organize them, or due to the fact that I probably picked it up for a few cents thinking, “this will be fun to read,” but ultimately others took priority.

The latter dilemma reminds of my former roommate, a sixth grade science teacher, who loved all things science-fiction-y to the point where she had so many science fiction books, experiments, shows and interests yet so little time to fully enjoy them all.  This time of year is the hardest for teachers because the kids sparkling beginning-of-the-year attitude towards school begins to fade and disciplinary problems start to occur more often.  We had to get our cultural fixes wherever we could and I remember driving down the rural roads of Mississippi listening to her science fiction stories on cassette tapes, hearing Doctor Who in the background as we worked on our lesson plans at the kitchen table, or the comforting voice of Carl Sagan emanating from her laptop as she worked downstairs before I drifted to sleep.   Her experimental science materials were perpetually scattered underneath a periodic table from the 50’s she absconded from the storage closet at school, an unlikely reflection to the paintings, books and art supplies that lay on my side.  We would practice the experiments she would conduct for her students the night before in the kitchen or front yard as neighbors raised an eyebrow.  At times it seemed like she could be a mad scientist herself.  I have no doubt she’s still encouraging a new generation to pursue careers as scientists or engineers with her consistent passion for science and science fiction.

The disarray of my literature and memories are juxtaposed against a landscape of the darker half of the seasons being ushered into the weather pattern.  Chilly air flows through my open windows in the kitchen as I write.  In the shadows of my new office (we haven’t replaced the ceiling lights in there yet), it’s no surprise that my eyes should fall upon, “A Century of Great Short Science Fiction Novels,” edited by Damon Knight.  Really, under these circumstances, there was no other book I could have chosen.  It just seemed right.

Then, as if ordained by some mysterious electromagnetic force, I’ve been attracting science-fiction-y things to me all week which has lessened my need to do my usual heavy gathering of information than usual, because it’s all up here in the folds of my brain.  Admittedly, All Hallows Eve looms nearby so this could be more of a factor than an unknown force, however, being in a science fiction culture crave, I’m willing to speculate while searching for hard evidence.

When were your eyes first opened through some kind of fictional vessel to the possibilities that could exist through scientific innovation or life on other planets?  It’s interesting to consider.  At first, I thought that it wasn’t until my college literature classes where I studied Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Robert Louis Stevenson’s, “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and although these are the precursors to the genre, I had contact with more modern aspects of the genre before I discovered the roots in these two works.  Originally, it was through the vessel of my tiny antennaed TV which I had earned through good grades, or chores or expert persuasive skills that I first encountered science fiction.  My TV did not have cable, I mostly watched public television and luckily, The Twilight Zone and Land of the Lost were finding a resurgence through public television at the time.  This spurred me to consider comic books as an extra source of material for my science fiction craving (although, at the time I was under the impression that comic books were just for boys.  This was a completely unfounded idea).  I would sit on the floor of the antique store reading 25-50 cent comic books to my heart’s content.  I became entranced by the possibilities.

Later, when I attended Georgia Tech, a science and engineering university, I’m sure these TV episodes and comic books lingered in the back of my mind prompting me to ask strange questions about what is really possible and impossible in science in large lecture halls of students who knew much more than me about science.  I’ve never been a scientist, having no attention to detail and having a shaky background in mathematics, but the possibilities fascinate me.  Now, I find myself watching the soon-ending series Fringe, realizing that no matter how technologically advanced we become, we will always concern ourselves with what ELSE is out there and what we dream up in fiction can one day become a reality.

So, this weekend, I plan to curl up in many blankets to read Contact, by Carl Sagan for the third time and to listen to H.G. Wells War of the Worlds narrated by Orson Welles.  Perhaps I’ll even light some candles and watch Twilight Zone episodes in the dark.  Or maybe I’ll make some sort of Halloween treat reminiscent of Frankenstein or mix a drink imitating the elixir devised by Dr. Jekyll.  Although I will likely never write science fiction myself, not being quite as talented as those such as Issac Asimov or Carl Sagan in the scientific realm, I admire the genre for reaching outside of the norm and bringing to light ideas we might not have otherwise considered.

Literature

Editor Damon Knight, “A Century of Great Short Science Fiction Novels”

Damon Knight, “Not with a Bang”

Carl Sagan, “Contact”

Brandon Graham, “King City”

Editor Hugo Gernsback, “Amazing Stories”

H.G. Wells, “Time Machine”

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, “Watchmen”

Precursors to Science Fiction

Radio

H.G. Well’s “War of the Worlds” as narrated by Orson Welles

TV

Carl Sagan’s, “Cosmos”

Pilot Episode, “The Twilight Zone

Science-y Art

Mary Burton Durell

Cassandra C. Jones

Botanical Illustrations & History

Prune Nourry

Jean-Michel Basquiat

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