There is a wonderful science fiction story, “The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything,” by George Alec Effinger (you haven’t heard of him? Shame on you! Get thee to a library!) which is about the first aliens to make “official” contact with the human race.
After a time, the beings who had been greeted with such world-wide fanfare found their very arrival in the room regarded with dread. No, they weren’t Darth Vader pretenders, or Dalek impersonators, but instead the most horrific of all beings.
They were bores. They were interstellar versions of Cliff Clavin from Cheers, with opinions about everything, including the best music in the world, which in their minds was the soundtrack to Ben-Hur.
I’m not alone in my love for this 1984 short story, as it was a a finalist for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. God, I love it.
I tend to think of this story a lot whenever I am getting to ready to go somewhere, and what is amusingly referred to as the History Channel (hell, even Planet Green, for that matter) runs one of those silly “documentaries” which feature interviews with “ancient astronaut theorists” and their longing to meet the long-departed aliens who supposedly gave the human race the ability to build walls, erect landing strips where the soil could not handle aircraft of any sort (yeah, I’m not supposed to mention that) and the finer arts of human sacrifice.
Leaving the ancient astronaut theorists to someone else - anyone else - has anyone ever thought about the incredible pressures that will be placed on the poor schmucks who step out of that first spacecraft/shuttle/chariot of the gods?
They won’t be able to have a normal conversation with anyone.
It will all be:
What is the Secret of Life?
What is the cure for______?
Where is Flight 19?
Will you be a guest on my TV show?
Will you endorse my product/candidate?
With all the secrets of the universe to choose from, why the hell did your ancestors pick architecture to focus on when they visited us last?
And this will all be in the first three days.
There will come a point when they will say, “We just have to go back into our ship for something,” and that will be all she wrote. They will be gone forever, and Earth will be quarantined, just like one of those planets on Star Trek, where smart people just never go.
Ark II: So this is what Al Gore was warning us about . . .
“Well,” my wife said after I persuaded her to watch a couple of episodes of Ark II with me, “it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a show that cheesy.”
As I tried to explain to her, if you were looking for science fiction on television in the 1970s, you didn’t have a whole lot of options. Space 1999, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Wonder Woman were pretty much the top SF shows of the time. There was no Sy Fy (because Sci Fi has too many letters for illiterates) Channel, and science fiction movies - especially before Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind - were few and far between.
We had to catch our science fiction wherever we could. One of the places many people found interesting science fiction programming was Saturday morning television. Filmation Studios already had a hit with the animated Star Trek, and in the process had discovered that a lot of adults watched along with the kids - or even without the kids.
Accordingly, they took a chance and decided to produce a live-action series, Ark II. Set in the year 2476, the planet has become that ever-popular environmental wasteland. Humans live in tiny communities, terrorized by various warlords.
But there is hope in this time of despair. Somewhere - in a place we never see - the Ark II has been built, and three young scientists have been trained to go out into the world and bring hope.
And, boy, is it a world in need of some hope. Besides the meager existence the survivors of the earth face, they manage to concoct a few rules that don’t lend themselves well to long-term survival.
One tribe might rid themselves of the old and the infirm, while another night use a lottery to banish folks. And then you’ve got Jonathan Harris (Doctor Smith, Lost in Space) to deal with.
The crew of the Ark II was made up of Jonah, a twenty-ish leader, accompanied by Ruth and Samuel, two younger scientists. Along with them travels Adam, a talking chimpanzee. The Ark itself is a sort of mobile lab.
Not to forget Jonah’s cool jet pack, which is the same model used in the James Bond film Thunderball.
Yes, it’s cheesy, but hey, it’s pretty much all we had. More to the point, it actually holds up pretty well. The stories are simplistic, but told well-enough, and many of the plot lines are still likely to wind up being used on science fiction programs today.
And compared with some of the crap - that’s a technical term - that runs on the Sy Fy Channel these days, Ark II holds up well by comparison.
Ark II also benefitted from its roster of guest stars, ranging from Malachi Throne (It takes a Thief) to Helen Hunt (Mad About You) to Marshall Thompson (Daktari). Even Robby the Robot shows up on one episode.
It’s not great science fiction, but it doesn’t pretend to be. It does deliver some entertaining stories that can be enjoyed even today, and that’s not something you can say about every SF series from the past.
The stars later moved on to other parts. Terry Lester made a name for himself in soap operas, and Jean Marie Hon starred on The Man from Atlantis. Jose Flores still acts today, in small roles.
Trivia note: Ted Post, who directed several episodes, also directed Beneath the Planet of the Apes.
The Mitt Romney/Spenser mystery novel connection?
I’m not all much into the later Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker, which I think they lack the brilliance and complexity of the earlier stories. Even so, last year I found myself rereading the 2004 adventure of the Boston-based detective, Bad Business, about Spenser’s investigation into the shadowy world of murder and high finance.
Halfway into the book, reading Spenser’s encounters with the fatuous Bob Cooper, the head of the company, a thought crept into my head:
Did Parker use Mitt Romney as the role model for Bob Cooper?
I recommend the early Spenser novels to everyone, but this year, I do also suggest this later novel. I wonder what others might think?
Quote of the Day
It is not only radical or currently fashionable ideas that the texts leave out - it is all ideas, including those of their heroes. - Frances Fitzgerald