Thursday, August 25, 2011

An old science fiction story becomes historical artifact

When I was a school girl in the 1950s, I remember having teachers telling me that petroleum was decayed dinosars preserved in the earth for millions of years. I mused in an earlier blog,"do I remember this correctly? Could this possibly be true?"

I heard from a number of contemporaries who said yes, that's what they were told , too. And we thought we were so advanced!(Wonder what silly myths we still believe today?)

Recently, my granddaughters and I were going to the used book store, and my oldest ran to her room for some books to trade. One was a juvenile science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein. The pages were VERY yellow.

"Oh, give me that!" I exclaimed. "I read everything he ever wrote and it will be fun to reread it now."

She sighed in relief. "Daddy gave me this and he really wants me to read it. But grandma," she turned a pained face to me. "I just couldn't get into it."

Well, rest easy, child. I almost couldn't get into it myself.

It was written in 1952. This family, living in Luna City buys an old spaceship and takes off for Mars, where there are several settlements. And live Martians.

Now, you youngsters, you don't know about the early 1950s and how the population romanticized Mars. People were still seeing UFOs--I saw one myself in 1947, and it's one of very few events the Air Force still lists as "unexplained."

When we looked at Mars, it seemed crisscrossed by regular, symmetrical canals. Connect UFOs with the canals, and you got some hopeful science fiction buffs who were itching to see what was there. An alien race? Oh, boy!

When better telescopes and better science came along in the mid-50s, we were told the marks were normal erosion, no sign of water--or air to speak of--and it was a big, ol' dusty planet, Well. We felt were bummed, majorly.

("Martian Chronicles" by Ray Bradbury was written in 1950 and is still a lyrically written manuscript that might hold up.)

So I'm trying to read this book, and Heinlein was forward-thinking for his day. Everytime they went anywhere, though, they all whipped out their slide rules to calculate the orbit. Scary. The idea of computers, or artificial intelligence, was too far away for his mind to grasp. The grandmother in the story is a well-trained pilot who can't get a license because women can't have them. The mother is a physician, but she fixes ALL the meals, and of course, the author has them actually cooking in space. A passenger ship comes down with "neo measles" for anyone who hadn't had the measles earlier (Measles vaccinations also were beyond his imagination.)

There's quite a lot he does get right, but overall, it's kind of "Father Knows Best Goes to Mars." And a lot of you have never heard of the tv sitcom, "Father Knows Best."At least I lived through those years and had a referant. My granddaughter had none, and her eyes crossed.

Who knew a Robert Heinlein novel could become an nistorical artifact?

Actually, now I think about it, I hadn't planned on being a historical repository myself.

But I am.

1 comment:

clairz said...

Ah, context is everything! When I'm reading a book, I find that I am constantly looking at the publication date (have to check more than once, since I can't seem to keep anything in my memory banks) so that I can stop and think about what the world was like when the book was written. That goes double for books written within the last 20 years, since technology is making changes from day to day.

I can see how the Heinlein book would become just too much to explain. Makes me wonder about the books I read as an English major and all the references I missed.