My Older Legacy Literary Blog

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Verisimilitude in Science Fiction Movies

A personal aside: I have not able to blog for the last two weeks until now due to Hurricane Gustav.  I was without electrical power until two days ago, and then I lost it again yesterday.  Now it is back on again.  Some people in Baton Rouge still do not have power.  Now Hurricane Ike has run through the western part of Louisiana and Texas and has done a lot of damage.  

To put something in this blog excerpt besides personal filigree, I submit this:  Sir Edward Everett Hale wrote a short story called ”The Brick Moon” just after the Civil War which I remember reading in Sam Moskowitz’s ”Science Fiction by Gaslight” anthology.  Father of Rocketry Konstantin Tsiolkovsky expanded on this idea by Hale in 1895 in a SF short story.  In 1923, Hermann Oberth coined the term ”space station” to describe an orbiting outpost that would serve as the starting point for flights to the Moon and Mars.  .

Wernher Von Braun designed a space station in 1952 that you see above from a concept by Willy Ley in his book  Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel (Illustrated by Chesley Bonestell, 1949) which eventually led to George Pal’s movie ”Conquest of Space” (1955).  In the movie onboard the large ”tin doughnut” they chart and map a hurricane in Hawaii.  Arthur C. Clarke predicted the use of satellites to do the same thing in 1945.  

Phil K. Dick put an invention as a precursor to the Fax machine, in  The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch .  It is rather silly, actually.  There was a sort of very small ‘messenger rocket’ that could immediately send important documents by air to a destination.  

I’m sure someone else predicted the Fax machine, I just don’t know who it was.  Ray Bradbury uses the name “facsimile’ as a description of a duplicating machine in the Twilight Zone episode “The Electric Grandmother.” 

In a great cheeseball sf movie “Flight to Mars” with Cameron Mitchell, the crew launches a similar very small messenger rocket back to earth from the manned ship, to give data and information to the control center.  I’m not sure if they had the obvious foresight to do this by radio transmission in this 1950’s film..

In Ambrose Bierce’s “Moxon’s Master” (San Francisco Examiner, 1908) there is a Chess Automaton whereby a person is discovered within the machine making all the chess moves.  Bierce got the idea from the actual Maelzel Automaton built in 1769 and Edgar Allan Poe’s Chess Automaton story/reportage of it, “Maelzel’s Chess Player” (p. Southern Literary Messenger, 1836).  

Here is a description of the actual automaton by the Museum of Hoaxes website:

Kempelen, who was a Hungarian nobleman, built the chess automaton in 1769 and then toured throughout Europe with it, exhibiting it before audiences filled with royalty and aristocrats. He typically invited audience members to challenge his automaton to a match, and these challengers invariably lost. The automaton even defeated Benjamin Franklin. .In 1790 Kempelen finally dismantled the machine and stored it away. But this was not the end of its career, because in 1805, after Kempelen had died, his family sold the machine to Johann Nepomuk Maelzel, a German university student.  Maelzel reconstructed the automaton and toured with it throughout Europe before bringing it to America in 1826. There it again entertained and fascinated audiences, while regularly beating challengers. .While it was touring America, the writer Edgar Allan Poe had a chance to watch it in action, and he wrote an article in which he tried to use strict logic to solve its mystery. He theorized that a man was hidden in the body of the turk itself. He was almost right, but not quite.    This is the explanation excerpt from The Turk, by Tom Standage:.The real secret was revealed on February 6, 1837, almost seventy years after the automaton’s creation, in a tell-all article published by the Philadelphia National Gazette Literary Register. Hidden inside the box out of which the body of the Turk emerged were full-sized men (they weren’t in the body of the turk as Poe thought). These men were usually chess champions, one of whom wrote the expos√©. Among the chess masters who had served as the automaton’s hidden operators were Johann Allgaier and Aaron Alexandre. .A series of sliding panels and a rolling chair allowed the automaton’s operator to hide while the interior of the machine was being displayed. The operator then controlled the Turk by means of a ‘pantograph’ device that synchronized his arm movements with those of the wooden Turk. Magnetic chess pieces allowed him to know what pieces were being moved on the board above his head. .So the Great Chess Automaton was not sentient after all, but only a hoax. This disclosure proved its undoing. Its mystery snatched away, it was relegated to a warehouse, where a few years later, in 1854, it perished in a fire. Future generations would never again have the chance to match wits with the world’s first thinking machine.  (Museum of Hoaxes: http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/

Now to go to a baser level, Edward D. Wood, Jr. invented “Solarmanite” or “Solamite” or ”Solarmite” in “Plan Nine from Outer Space (1956 or 1959).”  It is a weapon that ignites all light sources, like our Sun and all stars in the Universe and all places that receive the light.  The weapon has several different names because the actors mispronounce it several times in the movie with variegations on the name.  Dudley Manlove, who plays the second fiddle alien to Bunny Breckenridge in the movie, explains how the Solarmanite works by explaining a simple analogy of the sun as a Gas can and the earth is ignited by it as a match to a stream of gasoline by exploding particles of light.  I found out that alien creatures knew all about gasoline cans and matches after that.


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