Raise the Apollo 11!

The Apollo 11 booster has been found:

On July 16, 1969, the world watched as the Apollo 11 spacecraft launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Florida, with three crewmen on board. Four days later, Neil Armstrong became the first human to ever set foot on the moon.

The original rocket engines — “one and a half million pounds of thrust, 32 million horsepower, and burning 6,000 pounds of rocket grade kerosene and liquid oxygen every second” — that powered that historic launch fell to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and have not been seen in the four decades since. But that won’t be the case for long. Today on his blog, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced that he has located the rockets, and he plans to bring them to the surface.

As a space nut of long standing, I look forward to seeing these rockets in the Smithsonian one day soon.

The Truth Is In Here, Too

Remember the X-Files? At the end of every episode, there was the production card, that little bit of surrealism that identifies the show as being created by a particular production company, in this case, Chris Carter’s Ten thirteen productions. I bring this up because the tag line of that production card always stayed with me. A simple statement, spoken by a child: “I made this.”

It wasn’t just a boast, but a reminder. Someone made the preceding show. It didn’t just appear on your screen, beamed in from outer space. It was consciously made to sell you an idea. Now in the case of the X-Files, we knew it was all just a tale told, full of sound and furry, etc.

I started thinking about this when the Kony 12 controversy erupted last month. What struck me most was how muddled everything became over something as simple as a movie. Though perhaps simple is the wrong word. Movies are complex, deceptively so. We forget how much time and attention goes into editing them into a coherent narrative that we overlook the gaps in that editing, and pretend that the moving pictures are telling us a documented truth. Even and especially documentaries, which purport to be unbiased, or at least backed up with the facts.

But facts are funny things. They’ll serve liars just as well as they will crusaders for truth and justice. Sure, Joseph Kony is a horrible man, and the Lords Resistance Army a travesty left to fester due to the failings of international justice, and the state of affairs in that part of Africa a blight on humanity. These are undisputed facts.* But what gets left out of the film detailing these atrocities is how the movie makers are profiting, not just from harvesting white guilt, but how they divert attention from these and other atrocities by changing the story. Kony 12 isn’t about the lords Army. It’s about what Invisible Children is doing to help raise awareness of themselves. And oh yeah, some bad stuff happening in Africa.

We have let movies dictate our perceptions for so long that we have forgotten that someone else’s vision defines what we see or don’t see. And that makes us responsible, as an audience, to stay informed. It’s long past the hour of when you could simply be a passive consumer of moving pictures. It can be argued that this never was a luxury we had, only another meme sold to us.

All politics is personal. And it doesn’t get any more personal than the images you let people put in your head. This goes double for viral propaganda videos. Anything that wants your attention as much as it wants your money should be suspect. Never stop asking “who made this?” because if the answer isn’t “I made this,” than someone is selling you something and it may not be something you want to buy.

*Unless you’re Rush Limbaugh, but he makes a living out of disputing the known facts. Why is he still on the air again?

Whatever Happened To Susan?

One of the biggest mysteries left unsolved since the beginning of the Doctor Who relaunch in 2005 is what happened to the Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan Foreman.

When last we saw, her fate was left in the air:

Susan continues to travel with the Doctor and her two teachers until the 1964 serial, The Dalek Invasion of Earth. During the events of that story, Susan falls in love with David Campbell, a young freedom fighter in the 22nd century. However, Susan feels that she has to stay with and take care of her grandfather. The Doctor, realizing that Susan is now a grown woman and deserves a future away from him, locks her out of the TARDIS and leaves after a tearful farewell.[4] Carole Ann Ford had expressed a desire to leave the series as she felt the character of Susan was too limiting. Ford reprised the role of Susan on television in the 20th anniversary special The Five Doctors (1983), but no mention of David, or what became of him, was made.[5]

Later hints are dropped that she, like all the other Time Lords and Time Ladies, died during the Time War. But then something curious happened.

In Part 2 of The End of Time, an unnamed Time Lady appears standing next to Rassilon. There has been much speculation as to who this woman is and Russel Davies has been purposefully vague, saying, “I like leaving it open, because then you can imagine what you want.” This is supremely unhelpful. But that’s never stopped us before.

This unnamed Time lady and the Doctor share a meaningful look of recognition during this scene. This look is pretty much the basis for a lot fo fan speculation as to the woman’s identity.

Here’s my theory as to who she is: Susan Foreman, The Doctor’s Daughter.*

At some point in the future, The Doctor and River Song have a daughter. Due to the unique nature of River Song’s biology, this daughter inherits the Time Lord ability to regenerate. It is later discovered that their daughter will play an important role on the outcome of the Time War.

In order to safeguard her from this fate, The Doctor decides to hide his daughter in the one place no one would think to look for her: with himself. After she regenerates into the form we know of as Susan, Foreman, River deposits her with the First Doctor, informing him that she is his granddaughter. He raises her as such, never realizing otherwise.

Later, after Susan looses David to the Dalek’s in the 21st century, she decides to embrace her Time Lady heritage and goes traveling. Due to a run in with Captain Jack in the 52nd Century (before he becomes immortal) She finds a back door into the Time War and fulfills her destiny by becoming part of it. She helped the Doctor fight the Time war, and helped him escape, and as punishment, was forced to stand beside Rassilon and watch as he attempted to kill her father, only to be thwarted by the Master.

I like this theory,not only because it’s mine, but because it has some nice timey-wimey stuff going on, plays with continuity, and opens up some opportunities for fun story telling and character development. Everything that is great about the Doctor, when done right.

* No, not Jenny, the chromosome-swapped clone of the Doctor from The Doctor’s Daughter. That episode was, frankly, confusing and kinda crap, so we’re just going to pretend it didn’t happen, just like the writers.

The Power of Names

Everyone knows that Mark Twain was really Samuel Longhorne Clemens. And really, if you were born with a name like that, why change it?

There are several reasons to use a pseudonym:

Anonymity (which goes right out the window if you, like Mr. Clemens, don’t hide your birth name and prefer, in mixed company to go by it instead). Plus these days, a Google search can render anonymity moot, unless your smart, and let’s face it, people aren’t (have you met people? Generally about as smart as house cats, on a good day).

It’s a good idea to use a pseudonym if you have the same name as someone famous or infamous and want to avoid confusion. Not that there are a lot of Babe Ruth’s running about, but John Smith (no, the other one) could really have used a nom de plume. And pretty much everyone named Adolf who was born before 1945 but lived through WW II understands this reason. Except Adolfo Buey Cesarus, but really if you’re the sort of person who’d mistake a gentle-hearted Brazilian fabulist with one of history’s greatest fiends, you really are a house cat.

If you’re hiding form a past life of crime and general skulduggery, or from skull duggers who might want to do you in for something you’ve seen, a pseudonym is probably in order, the more common and nondescript the better.

And sometimes you have a respectable career as a mathematics teacher like Charles Lutwidge Dawson and you don’t want to mix circles with the fans of your silly poetry and children’s fantasy, like Lewis Carroll. Maybe it’s simply illegal for a civil servant like Brian O’Nollan to publish under his own name, and so Flann O’Brian is born.

on the other hand, some people were born with outsized personalities that their drab names simply could not contain. Marion Robert Morrison just doesn’t sound butch, but John Wayne makes the ladies smile-in-that-way, and the men stick out their chin with envy. No one was ever going to give Archie Leach a job in movies, but Cary Grant? Who doesn’t love that guy?

Stage names for actors have become so common, I bet you’d be surprised to find out just how few given names appear on the big screen. Just ask Moses Horwitz, his brother Jerome and their partner, Louis Feinburg, better known to the world as Mo, Curly and Larry.

Unfortunately, women still have problems being taken seriously as authors. Just ask George Sand, James Tiptree Jr., D.C. Fontana, J.K. Rowlings, J.D. Robb, K.A. Applegate and S.E. Hinton.

And sometimes the name your born into just doesn’t fit. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the name Edward Alexander Crowley. It’s British through and through. But it just doesn’t have the same ring to it as Aleister Crowley, and when you want to conjure an image as a master occultist, ringing the right tone is the key to the temple. Pearl Grey is a perfectly respectable name, unless you write westerns for a living, then maybe Zane Gray is a bit more appropriate. Eric Blair is a fine, if plain name, but we know him better as George Orwell, which just resonates with authorial intent.

You’ll notice I haven’t even gotten into the cultural reasons for using a collective pseudonym. We simply don’t know who the authors were of the ancient Greek epics, so we call them all Homer. In Japan, Pen Names are almost universal. Or did you think Bosho was really named after a banana plant?

All of this is the long way of saying that I’ve decided to adopt a Pen Name for my writing. So, in the (very near) future when you want to find a new piece of fiction, look for the by-line of Keith Edwards. I hear that guy’s stuff is pretty great.

Monkee Gone To Heaven

Davy Jones of the Monkees died of a heart attack Wednesday. He was 66 years old.

I’m too young to have been involved in the first wave of Monkee mania back in the 60s. And to be sure, the Monkee’s are a weird, vestigial bit of pop culture from that time period — a Beatlesesque pop band created specifically for a TV Show about the adventures of a Betlesesque pop band — that’s PoMo on so many levels. And to watch the show in reruns, as I did in the 80s, probably did more to introduce me to meta-conceptual narrative than either Robert Anton Wilson or Thomas Pynchon.*

And the thing is, it’s clear that they knew what they were doing. They were messing with square, TV land tropes and purposefully trying to blow young minds. And I can respect that.

And in these days of prefab Disney pop stars, boy bands and reality TV, the fact that they didn’t write or at first even perform their own music is a gripe lost in some aging hipster’s argument about selling out. How do you sell out when you were recruited by a TV exec looking to cash in on Beatlemania? I’ll tell you how you don’t sell out: by subverting the audiences expectations by having as a guest star Liberace, who instead of playing a piano, smashes it with a sledge hammer.

That’s the legacy of the Monkees and of Davy Jones. He thwarted our expectations and had fun doing it. What more can you ask out of life?

* I would go so far as to argue that I was able to grok RAW and Pynchon because the Monkeys had already primed that pump.