Daily Archives: April 4th, 2008

History, being myopic and such things

This is an interesting little article, from ages ago now, by Daniel Lord Smail, author of On Deep History and the Brain, which certainly sounds like something I’d read. From the article, it seems like Smail is targeting that tendency of historians to ignore prehistory in accounts of human history – starting, instead, with Mesopotamia and agriculture, because that’s when you really get documents that can be used to examine history (this idea c/o Leopold von Ranke). The use of ‘prehistory’ to describe this period itself indicates this tendency, since it places undocumented times ‘before’ history proper – I really hope it’s something Smail addresses; if he doesn’t, he’ll have lost a bit of cred from me.

Couple of ideas that have been floating around in my head, thanks to reading the precis linked above:

1. I have never really understood the historian/archaeologist divide. I know, from the little bit of Sumerian/Assyian study I did in undergrad, that there is (or has been?) argy-bargy on both sides. I just don’t get it: it’s like animal handlers not cooperating with vets, or something. How can the two disciplines seriously expect to get the most out of their studies without talking to each other? It just seems daft.

2. An issue with the article itself: ” It is time we rectified our Christian-induced myopia, argues Daniel Lord Smail. … Before the 19th century, few doubted Genesis was historical truth.” Yo – if you want to argue for getting an Africa-centric beginning to history, being quite so Euro-centric probably isn’t the best way to go about it! Perhaps he is aiming his accusations primarily at European/American authors, from a Judeo-Christian society, but still… I think he’s also underestimating the amount of undermining of accepted Christian cosmology had gone on in the Enlightenment, and from then on too.

This is something that requires a bit more thought from me, and probably me actually buying the book and reading it. I can understand why historians have gone for the places with documents and so on to base their study on – and perhaps this reveals me falling into the Ranke trap that I was probably indoctrinated with in my undergrad days, and I am just so not post-modern enough to throw that off without a really good reason and several convincing arguments (with foototes).

Superior Saturday!

Oh baby!

Garth Nix reading the prologue to Superior Saturday. At last! I’ve been looking forward to this book for, oh, a year? However long it’s been since Lady Friday came out. What makes it sad is that as soon as I get hold of it… it will be read, in a couple of hours, and then I’ll have to wait a year or so until finally Lord Sunday, and I get completion. I hope.

Anyway: June this year! That’s not really that long away!

Call yourself a space fan?

If you do, and haven’t either seen In the Shadow of the Moon or made plans to do so – hang your head in shame!

Seriously, one of the best things I’ve seen at the cinema in ages. Ages and ages.

Take as many of the Apollo astronauts as are still alive (as far as I can tell; except Armstrong, who has apparently been basically a recluse almost since we got back to terra cognita), and make them talk about what it was like becoming an astronaut, flying in space and to the moon, and being home again. Splice this with genuine, rarely-seen before footage, and you have a spellbinding nearly-two-hour movie.

There’s no interviewer shown, so it’s just the blokes in their own words (and it is, by its nature, very blokey – there’s maybe two women who speak in the whole thing, and they’re in interviews from the sixties). All the men are given identical, nondescript backgrounds behind them – and they’re all only shown from the torso up. It’s almost like they’re floating in space, or outside of real time – which sounds daft, but bear with me: they’re utterly divorced from now – they only exist with relation to the space programme; they don’t interact with anyone except the viewer; and there’s nothing to date the film, except their clothes which are utterly nondescript as well. It was a fascinating way of compiling them.

The footage shown… well, I had to watch until the end of the credits to make sure it was all genuine NASA footage, with no CGI, because I’ve got a bit cynical in my old age. But, apparently, it was all real – and it was awesome. And so much that I, at least, had never seen! Views looking out as the stages separate – the moon buggies – that Earth-rise… I got goosebumps at several points, it was all just so beautiful. And there’s real audio too – Armstrong’s famous bit, of course, but also stuff from inside the command module (footage from there, too): it was almost funny listening to Jim Lovell’s voice, because I could almost recite his words along with him c/o Apollo 13. And I really did get goosebumps when they showed the first men who went around the moon – Apollo 8 maybe? – and they read from Genesis: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning — the first day.[1]

Probably the person who was most interesting to listen to was Michael Collins – the poor sucker who got stuck in the Command Module, while Neil and Buzz went walking. He was fascinating, and a great speaker. Eugene Cernan, too, was also great… actually they all were, pretty much.

I cannot stress it enough: if you like this sort of thing, you really should try to see it on the big screen. Yes, it will be OK on DVD – but some of that footage just looks so much more impressive when it’s huge![2]

[1] And then to hear that some woman sued them, when they got back to Earth, for mixing church and state… hilarious!
[2] We sat in the second row, in a tiny little cinema… it was insane, but very cool.

Space Opera

Jonathan said it right:

“I also wouldn’t say that space opera is firmly entrenched within the confines of the science fiction field. Rather, I’d say that space opera is the truest, purest form of science fiction and it rightly occupies the very center of the field. Space opera has given science fiction its greatest icons and many of its greatest stories.”

From Mind Meld – it’s worth read in full if you like space opera; they’re answering the question of how to keep space opera relevant.

Me, I say: who cares about relevant?! I like what Tobias Buckell says, too: “massive spaceships, planets with two suns, big dumb objects (the deathstar), giant space battles, plucky heroes and larger than life settings.”[1] Yeh! Woohoo!

[1] I don’t even know who Buckell is, but now I might have to find out.