Skip to comments.Sci-fi Worthy of Malthus
Posted on 05/01/2013 7:18:29 AM PDT by Kaslin
In the new sci-fi movie "Oblivion," Earth's most precious resource is Tom Cruise. But running a close second (spoiler alert) is water. Aliens want it. All of it.
This is old hat, science fiction-wise. In "The War of the Worlds," H.G. Wells had Martians coming to Earth to quench their thirst. The extraterrestrial lizards (cleverly disguised as human catalog models) in the 1980s TV series "V" came here to steal our water too -- though they wanted it in part to wash down the meal they intended to make of us. In the more recent "Battle: Los Angeles," pillaging Earth's oceans was the only motivation we're given for why aliens were laying waste to humanity.
The first problem with this plot device is that it's pretty dumb. Hydrogen and oxygen are two of the most common elements in the universe. An alien race is savvy enough to master interstellar travel but too clueless to combine two Hs with one O to form H2O? C'mon.
At least in "Mars Needs Women," the precious resource in question -- Earth girls -- by definition can be found only here, just as "real" Champagne must come from the region that bears its name. And though I have no doubt that Earth women really are the best, the logic of evolution suggests that compatibility issues for aliens would be a hurdle not even Match.com could overcome.
In "To Serve Man," the famous "Twilight Zone" episode, the motivation was far more plausible: They wanted to eat us ("To Serve Man" -- it's a cookbook!). And who knows -- maybe we're delicious.
One rule of thumb in sci-fi is that the aliens are really us too. They reflect a good trait in humanity -- think E.T., Spock or Mork -- or a bad one. That's why writers recycle ancient human motives -- the desire to plunder, colonize, rape, enslave -- as the motives of futuristic aliens.
That's all fine. But science fiction is also supposed to raise ambitions for what humans can accomplish. And in that, Hollywood is failing.
For a while now, filmmakers have been churning out fare -- like the horrendous remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" -- based on the Malthusian assumption that resources are finite and if we keep going the way we are, the Earth will be "used up" (to borrow a phrase from the opening monologue of the canceled cult sensation "Firefly"). Either that or we'll be invaded by aliens who appreciate our stuff more than we do.
The pessimism is infectious. Physicist and sci-fi nerd Stephen Hawking recently argued that maybe we should hide from aliens lest they rob us blind. When Newt Gingrich proposed a base on the moon, everyone guffawed as if such an optimistic ambition was absurd. The obsession with "peak oil" and the need to embrace "renewables" because we're running out of fossil fuels is another symptom of our malaise. Fracking and other breakthroughs demonstrate that, at least so far, whatever energy scarcity we've had has been imposed by policy, not nature.
Which gets us back to outer space. In our neighborhood alone, there are thousands of asteroids with enormous riches -- in gold, platinum, rare earth metals, etc. Planetary Resources Inc., an asteroid mining firm started last year by director James Cameron (ironic given the politics of his film "Avatar") and some Microsoft and Google billionaires, has its sights on several rocks worth anywhere from hundreds of billions to tens of trillions of dollars. And these are just the chunks scattered around our orbital backyard and near enough to exploit with existing technology. There are also plenty of balls of ice out there that might be convertible into fuel for further space exploration.
Thomas Malthus and his intellectual descendants saw humans as voracious consumers of finite resources, like a "virus" devouring its host, as Agent Smith says in "The Matrix." But humans are better understood as creators who've consistently solved the problems of scarcity by inventing or discovering new paths to abundance. As the late anti-Malthusian hero Julian Simon said, human imagination is the ultimate resource.
Unfortunately, that resource is dismayingly scarce these days, in Washington and Hollywood.
Yul Brenner kicked a$$ in that movie.
“Kingdom of Heaven” -they took an excellent story from history and proceeded to mess it up, make it derivative, and introduce absurd anachronisms. Guy of Lusignon should have been the hero, played by Orlando Bloom, came to the Holy Land - killed some Muslims that he shouldn't have because they were our allies - romanced and won the princess and eventually the throne - listened to religious fanatics instead of good military council - lost the Kingdom of Jerusalem to Saladin. Instead they made a mockery of the actual history and slandered one of the most romantic histories of the Middle Ages.
“John Carter” - they took a very simple story with excellent sci-fi elements - proceeded to complicate it beyond measure - changed what the characters said, what they did, and their motivations for what they did (they put a sword in Dejah Thora’s hand - and made her WEAK! In the story she didn't flee from sacrificing herself for her people, she embraced it - and her father wasn't willing to sell her into sexual slavery - he was willing to see his entire city fall rather than sell his daughter)- then wondered why it FAILED to capture ANY of the Edgar Rice Burroughs magic.
Joseph W. Campbell had the alien/human interaction correct. We come out the winner.
Space shuttle fuel cells did it all the time. Water is the output. On the Apollo missions, the astronauts complained the mix was H2 rich, and gave them very smelly flatulance.
Yeah, but Gabby Johnson lives forever as long as we remember him, galdangit.
Consarnit, yer right! Ain’t no dagburn two-bit hornswaggler gonna change that!
Something I did not know.
It indeed was the “show with everything, including Yul Brenner”.
Nice music refernce!
In space there are no circuit breakers.... or seat belts either.
Happened after some guy called it a slut..
ah... cross threading?
Indeed. A five point harness would have served well in many an episode.
“Neither wears the politics on their shoulders and havent polluted their product.”
I like a lot of their movies too, but I wouldn’t set my expectations too high as to their political views.
Tom Cruise keeps his opinions to himself most of the time in public as well. The last time he was outspoken was on psychiatry for which he took a lot of bad publicity even though he was probably right.
Prince of Darkness Ping!
Warm beer......Lucas refrigerators ping!
I don’t get the reference. Where’s the pic from?
“Perhaps Lucas Electric had all the starship wiring contracts.”
Coffee up the schnozz - on a thread chock-full of bright comments, yours wins the Blue Ribbon!
If Lucas(or SmithInstuments) is still in business I sure hope it’s not below freezing in space...
With error messages like lp0 on fire that might be the case.
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