Friday, January 26, 2007

Amy Reads the Week (of January 26th, 2007)

"Look at the stars! look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!"
- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Last night, Gentle Reader, Mr. Reads and I went stargazing. Now, as romantic as that may sound (and indeed it was Quite Romantic), we actually intruded on a local astronomy class that had been kind enough to open its doors-—and telescopes—-to the universe-addicted public. That would be Mr. Reads, of course, and, to a much slighter extent, This Humble Author.

Sometimes I find the Wonder has gone out of the universe. Not from my view, certainly, because above all else, I find The Universe a Fascinating and Dark Place. When you're Out in the Black, Firefly reminds us, anything can happen. But we're not out in the Black, not yet, and we have a long, long way to go. In fact, we have such a long way to go that some have stopped looking at the skies and instead keep their feet firmly planted on the ground.

How many of our favorite comic book characters come from the sky? How many seem to live there, through flight, through technology, through just a selfless desire always to see The Big Picture spread before them? Why do we associate heroic acts with the air, the sky, and common, everyday things with the ground, and the Earth? "Keep your feet on the ground," I heard many times growing up, as I was a dreamer, with flights of fancy about becoming an author. I had entire worlds in my head, and stars in my eyes, ready for the day that they could all come into being.

We, as fans of comic books, and science fiction, and fantasy, embrace not only the Unknown, but also Possibility. I find it more comforting to look at the stars and imagine someone else looking down at me, than to imagine the 'Verse as nothing but empty Black. Yes, I find Mr. Sagan right; if that were true, it would certainly be an awful waste of space.

Last night I saw Saturn, Friends, so far away, yet visible with only a few lenses and my naked eye. I saw the Orion Nebula. I saw detailed craters on the Moon. But what I saw the most was Possibility. Between each star I saw was Black, and in that Black, millions upon millions of stars I couldn't see at the moment, but that I knew-—yes, knew, Gentle Reader!-—that they were there.

"Look, up in the sky!" people would cry when The Man of Steel made an appearance. We don't look up that much anymore, do we? Has the Wonder gone out of our skies? Or has simply the funding gone out of NASA? Are our feet, so encased, so crowded with dirt and clay, become too, too solid flesh, too clumsy to trip the light fantastic, or to soar to greater heights? We are a solid generation, are we not? We saw a man walk on the moon, yes, but only on recording. Instead, when offered live views of The Space Mission, we saw tragedy after tragedy: Challenger, then Columbia. After seeing the Challenger explosion, they didn't have to remind me to keep my feet on the ground; I made sure of it.

Even our science fiction, our true Last Frontier, has Gone The Way Of Genetics. One of the most popular television shows in production right now, NBC's Heroes, imagines superheroes not from the skies but from test tubes, and labs, made out of too, too solid flesh that despite flights of fancy, prefer the grounded reality of the Earth.

Battlestar Galactica offers us a different Worldview, yes, as it offers Different Worlds. But despite the fascination of the skies—-the eyes of Zeus, supernova suns-—they search them for the promise of Earth. For solid ground, once again.

We've lost Firefly, a show that reveled in the 'Verse, and the Black, and with its cancellation we've lost a bit of the pure joy that Space Exploration brings. Farscape too is gone, and although I never watched it faithfully, I've watched pieces here and there. Star Trek, Star Wars, Lost in Space, all of these fantastical Space Exploration shows and movies that I grew up with are faded now, distant memories, bright and shiny and polished in their new DVD collections, but still, not the *same*. There is something missing from it all, and honestly, Gentle Reader? I couldn't quite point to what it is.

Or maybe it's me, gazing at Saturn, amazed at it standing completely on its side, as if the rings were holding it upright. Or perhaps the parking lot lights, and the glow from town, keeping The Milky Way invisible from the class last night. Or it's us, All Of Us, looking to different forms of Exploration. We've explored far and wide, and we've once again become fascinated with Us, with Our Possibility, rather than the Possibility of all of the Worlds.

Heroes speaks to genetic research, to the utmost possibilities of the body, while so many other shows (ER, Gray's Anatomy, for example) speak to the body's fragility instead. A newcomer, The Dresden Files, based on my beloved Mr. Butcher's Dresden Files novels, looks not through the veil of the atmosphere but rather through the veil just next door. What lies not above but below the surface of the expected, the ordinary, the tried and true. But even this shows fails, Gentle Reader, in the very places the novels succeed. What we want is character in place of story, extraordinary to stand in for ordinary, not take the place of entirely. What we want, really, is another Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and while the novels have that potential, the pilot of the television series did not.

I don't know if you're well-versed in Mr. Hopkins' life and works, Dear Reader, and to be honest, I really am not. But Mr. Reads, ever the Modernist at heart, finds this odd little Victorian poet Quite The Modernist in His Own Right. I begin and end with Mr. Hopkins because he lived with one foot in this world and one foot in various other worlds entirely. He looked to the stars, to both the heavens and to The Heaven he believed in. He stared up With Wonder, and I urge us all to do the same.

Or, in the words of another poet, Mr. Auden,

"Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice"

Remember, Friends, that the bottom of the night is so often not down, but up.

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