Friday, July 03, 2009

Memories of the Space Age

The Internet Review of Science Fiction (iRoSF) has an article from Gary Westfahl on JG Ballard and the space race. It's called The Man Who Didn't Need To Walk On The Moon.

This month is the fortieth anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing, so I'm sure we'll see a number of articles on the subject. Covering JG Ballard is a little weird under the circumstances, as he regarded the space race as a dead loss - though he found it a very fertile ground for stories. Many of them concern crazy astronauts, dead astronauts, abandoned Cape Canaveral buildings, rusting rockets and a general air of total rejection of outer space, a sense of it being pushed in to the past to be safely compartmentalized and dealt with as history. When he began writing stories on the subject, that was an outrageous position to take. Fifty years on, it has almost come true. The astronauts have not gone nuts, though at least one - Lisa Marie Nowak - has not been exactly normal. There's a few rockets still wheezing half-assedly into Earth orbit, but the zip, pizzazz and vigor has gone. Generally, the space age seen from today seems to be more of a Taj Mahal than a great leap forward for civilization. More pretty than useful.

Westfahl seems to be approaching the work of Ballard as a fortune-teller or futurologist, though this could be the slant the editors asked him to take. I doubt if Ballard saw himself as the Faith Popcorn of the Space Age. But apart from that, it's a decent round up of Ballard's infatuation with strangling the space race at birth. He describes the corpses and monuments to the Space Age that litter Ballard's works like some Ozymandias of Apollo.

One interesting point was:
But Ballard did make one error: he assumed that humans would abandon space
travel because they were shattered by the revelations brought by ventures into
space; instead, humans have largely abandoned space travel because they are in a
state of denial about those revelations. That is, I would regard the following
phenomena as direct results of the Apollo lunar missions: a huge resurgence of
belief in the absurd pseudoscience of astrology, which maintains that the
positions of stars and planets are primarily important as reflections of, and
influences on, human behavior; [and] a growing refusal to accept the validity of
Darwin's theory of evolution by people who would rather trust in the wisdom of
an ancient religious text which explicitly argues that human beings live at the
bottom of a crystal hemisphere surrounded on all sides by water.
He concludes, although I don't really agree with him, that part of the pullback from space was a Ballardian realization on the part of humankind that Earth is sufficient to drive us crazy; we don't have to be astronauts to go mad. The alienation and insignificance we get on the surface of our own planet is quite enough for us.

Thanks to the JGB, the JG Ballard mailing list at Yahoogroups for pointing this article out to me.

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin
I sometimes mention a product on this blog, and I give a URL to Amazon or similar sites. Just to reassure you, I don't get paid to advertise anything here and I don't get any money from your clicks. Everything I say here is because I feel like saying it.