The Man Who Didn't Need to Walk on the Moon

Jul 3, 01:08 by IROSF
Comment Below!
Jul 6, 00:42 by frog pill
"humanity actually did not abandon space travel; rather, humanity has always been travelling in space, and will always be travelling in space... Fully capable of mentally conquering the universe—if we have the courage and the insight to listen to, and rise to the challenge of, what the universe is telling us instead, of ignoring it—we do not need to physically conquer the universe. And that is why humans today are not bothering to build cities on Mars or land on Ganymede."

This rationalization sounds impressively mystical, until you see that it boils down to "I don't have to go to flight school, exercise, and get degrees to be an astronaut! I can just sit at home and travel through space." - that is, apparently, wrestle with feelings of cosmic inadequacy.

If we're not mentally capable of conquering our lust for ipods, gasoline, pointless wars, celebrity, etc - in other words, all of the things we waste our energy and time on instead of big projects like space travel - I hardly think we should be patting ourselves on the back for realizing that we can give up on spaceflight so as to navel-gaze on earth about the ennui of being alone in the universe. If "mentally conquering the universe" means overcoming angst, then it is not much of a goal, except for the modern novelist who tends to disparage heroes and plots in favour of pathological psychology.

The point of space travel certainly is not, nor ever was, to send people out into space to feel existential angst in a tin can in a vacuum, or to understand "our loneliness, our angst, our despair about our cosmic insignificance". It is to push human achievement to the limit and to attempt what seemed impossible. In the Cold War, it was to prove ourselves greater than our foes by some other means than nuclear weapons - one benefit of which was to unite whole peoples in a great work that didn't involve killing and yet could inspire awe and pride in a nation. The pity is that, in a world dominated by greed and fear, there is no longer the imagination to be inspired by such achievements, or the determination to bring them into being.
Jul 6, 01:26 by Bluejack

Nicely put, Frog.

I think there's room in science fiction for the metaphorical and the mystical as well as for ambitious engineering, a curiosity about the universe, and a desire to bring Terrestrial life to barren worlds.

But I do whole-heartedly endorse your advocacy for the latter.
Jul 7, 15:29 by Nader Elhefnawy
I've read very little Ballard-I've simply found his writing hard to get into, despite the adulation-but I enjoyed the article.

I do think frog pill is onto something when he raises the issue of an "over-psychologized," morbid view of space endeavor which is common in much "capital L" literature (Thomas Pynchon, for instance).

But I do think the talk of pushing human achievement, etc., ought to be put into perspective. That's all well and good, but space is also an area of serious, practical activity, and the Cold War "stunt" mentality has set back the cause of serious space exploration and space development by making a public that was more skeptical of such endeavors back then than is usually appreciated even more suspicious of such projects.

And I would also suggest the causes for disappointment have been mainly material-particularly the combination of our inability to produce really reliable, cost-effective space launch systems to date with the lean times the world economy has faced since the 1970s, especially given the limited rewards we can expect to reap in the short term. (When I was on the Space Show in May, a caller asked if there is any low-hanging fruit on which we can pin ambitious plans for the private space sector. I had to answer: no, that's exactly what we can't look forward to doing.) Colonizing another planet is not nearly as simple a thing as we once thought it would be. (In fact, I mentioned some of the reactions to what Venus really turned out to be like in my article on steampunk in IROSF this month, in the part about the narrative appeal of outdated science.)

In any case, if you want a fuller version of my take on this story, you can go check out my writings for the Space Review since 2006.
Jul 10, 18:14 by Michael Andre-Driussi
I've read plenty of Ballard's work, and I feel that this article makes a stretch in suggesting that Ballard only applied this method to space flight. A similar stretch could prove that Ballard saw the Decline of Detroit through his novel Crash (1973); or exposed the sterile promise of "master planned communities" in High Rise (1975) and Running Wild (1988). One could even do a "fallen Hollywood" riff, showing how much of his short fiction seems drawn from the classic Hollywood-ripper Sunset Boulevard (1950).

That is to say, IMHO what is being discussed is the essence of Ballard's style across a wide range of his work, much larger than simply those pieces related to space flight. I argue that his role as author is literally that of the Ancient Mariner--he comes to your wedding party, whether it be exhilarating space program, or sexy auto show, or utopian community unveiling, and the Albatross around his neck is Shanghai.

Not to reduce everything to this single biographical fact, but to acknowledge it. That Jimmy the child lived in a Bright City that quickly turned into something very dark. That Jimmy went through a bit of Stockholm Syndrome, self-identifying with his jailers the Imperial Japanese. That Jimmy the teen personally and directly owed his life first to the American heavy bombers that dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and then to American heavy bombers that dropped spam over China like manna from heaven. His love/hate emotions toward America are thus rather complicated, and certainly more deeply etched than most people of his generation, or later ones.

In short, he's the Ancient Mariner. Doesn't matter what your celebration is, he'll show up and remind you about all the bummers in life. And you'll take it, because the authenticity of it comes through--he's been there, and you know it, feeling it in your bones.

3rd paragraph, 2nd sentence: "received received"
Jul 10, 22:48 by Bluejack
Thanks for the typo catch, Michael. Classic line-end brain-miss on our part.

Also, perceptive and well-informed response!

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