Science Fiction and the Question of Identity

I think for me, the most sure-fire appealing SF is that which deals with questions of identity.

Blade Runner is the most obvious example of this: Androids (Basically) are programmed with false memories of their lives prior to their activation for psychological reasons, but they know they’re androids. A detecive is hired to track them down. Along the way he meets another android who doesn’t know she’s an android because of the fake memories, and handles it not at all well. In the end, after killing off the last of the bad androids, he discovers that he’s an android, too, and runs.

Dark City is another one: a guy wakes up with Amnesia, framed for a murder he may or may not have committed. He’s got an estranged wife that he loves, and is on the run, but he notices that the map of the city redraws itself every night, and he ke keeps seeing the same people in different jobs every night, and begins to suspect that he’s never even met his wife prior to visiting the movie, that those are false memories. As it turns out, a hive-minded alien species is trying to find “The Human Soul,” for lack of a better word, by redefining people’s lives and memories dozens of times, assuming that which doesn’t change is the thing they’re looking for.

The Prisoner TV series spends 17 episodes with a character named “#6” attempting to figure out who the shadowy ruler of The Village, “# 1,” is. Ultimately it turns that #1 is, and has always been, #6 himself. (And in fact, they told us that in the opening titles of every episode: #6 says “Who is number one?” and the #2 of the week says “You are number six.”  Which actually is written, “You are, number six.” Hidden in plain sight.)

Much, if not most of Philip K. Dick’s novels and stories touch on this to some extent. The most notable case is in “A Scanner Darkly,” when undercover narc Bob Arctor is accidentally assigned the task of spying on himself by mistake. Rather than blow his cover (Even his bosses don’t know who he is), he goes along with it, and gradually suffers brain damage to the point where he’s Bob half the time, and a druggie the rest of the time. the ultimate attempt to re-fuse his identities devastates him, and turns him in to yet another person, who’s just another burned out wasteoid.

There’s a book – forget the title – where the main character is a spy who’s memory is wiped after every mission. He then has it put back in at the start of his next mission, and he’s always quite shocked to find out all the stuff he’s done.

I like hard SF, but I don’t see this as incompatible with that. I also like questions of the human soul, and this is all about that.

In the end, I suppose, a line from one of Laurie Anderson’s songs has always stuck with me:

We don’t know where we come from

and we don’t know what we are.

SF is uniquely suited to try to define the parameters of that question, even if it is fundamentally unanswerable. I admire anyone who takes a stab at it.

ORIGINAL POEM: “Wand” 4/29/17

If I could fix you
If I had a magic wand
If I could wave it
Magically wave it all away
All of the pain
All of the anger
All the confusion
All of the fear

If I could fix you
You could understand
No one’s out to get you
It’s all in your mind
You could forget it
Let it all slip away
Nothing would scare you
Well, not much anyway

If I had a magic wand
If I had a magic wand
If I had a magic wand
I could wish it away

And you could have friends!
You wouldn’t be lonely!
And some old ones might come back, too
The ones you drove away
And you could be happy!
And not fear the future
You could be the old you
Not this thing that’s eaten you

If I had a magic wand
If I had a magic wand
If I had a magic wand
I’d do that for you

But it took you so long to get to this day
That you don’t believe in your own decay
And can’t remember it was any other way
And you claim that you wish it would all go away

But do you?

What’s it gonna be?
Come on, now,
What’s it gonna be?

If I had a magic wand
If I had a magic wand
If I had a magic wand
Would you let me fix you?

If I could fix you
If I had a magic wand
You wouldn’t let me, would you?
“Because you’re not crazy,”
“Because the world is crazy,”
Because you can’t leave this life
You’ve lived it so long

So if I had a magic wand
If I had a magic wand
If I had a magic wand
I’d wish myself away

MOVIE REVIEW: “Panic in Year Zero!” (1962)

The only thing better than discovering a B movie you’ve never seen in a genre you like is discovering a good B movie in that genre. “Panic in Year Zero!” is a damn good movie. Damn good, I say.

Directed by, and starring onetime-superstar Ray Milland, and co-starring a pre-beach-movie Frankie Avalon, along with a cast of nobodies, it tells the tribulations off a normal American family in World War III. Well, a normal American family with a dad who slips into a watered-down Welsh accent, but, hey, whatever.

Despite having a budget of a couple hundred bucks, plus whatever was left over at the Craft Services table when the previous production wrapped, the movie uses it exceptionally well. “Low Budget” doesn’t mean “Bad,” and if you use your low budget effectively, it can give you qualities that a bigger, slicker film can’t. This movie uses its limitations excellently. I expected it to be yet another ‘Family escapes, then gets attacked my mutant monsters’ turd. Instead, I got an intelligent, well directed, pretty well acted movie that both shows the best qualities of the mid-century American can-do attitude, and also how thin the veil of civilization really is. It pulls off the juggling act of optimism,  pessimism, and and mild action all at the same time.

Much like Red Dawn (The 1984, not the crappy remake), we start out with normal slice-of-life as the family gets ready to go on a fishing trip for the weekend. Shortly after they get into the foothills, they start seeing flashes and hearing booms they mistake for lightning. The dad quickly realizes the truth, and we get the ONE special effect in the film (A matte of a mushroom cloud with the cast staring at it from the road).

From there the tension ratchets up. All the radio stations are dead. They find one from Bakersfield which seems perfectly normal, but it abruptly goes dead. They pull over at a payphone to try to call grandma, but can’t get through. They start getting nearly run off the road by cars hauling ass out of the city. They stop at a restaurant, which is packed with scared people and running out of everything. This being almost the ’50s, the dad hits on the idea of pulling off the highway and driving through some of the smaller towns that may not have heard yet. This works for a while.

What makes this work is that the dad is a decent all-American (though occasionally Welsh-accented) guy, determined to be fair and decent with everyone. He is burdened with being the only one in his family who really grasps what’s going on, however, and the lines between what he will and won’t do blur pretty quickly. Initially he pays for gas when they need a refill, and pays for groceries – this being before the idea that money is useless has really sunk in yet – but pretty soon he’s beating people up to take what he needs, then leaving behind as much cash as he thinks is fair to salve his consciousness.

At one point he starts a fire to create a traffic jam so he can get his car across the highway and down a dirt road on the other side. This causes one oncoming car to burst into flames, and the driver to be clearly injured, but dad don’t stop.

What keeps this from going all Breaking Bad is that he sees what’s happening. He’ll do anything to keep his family safe (And fails, because he is just a guy, not some superman or army vet who’s trained for this stuff). Example:

Wife: “You can’t be so hard on yourself.”
Dad [depressed]: “I killed two men.”
Wife: “I tried to kill them, too, I just wasn’t a good enough shot.”

Later on, when his son, Frankie Avalon, shoots a guy in the arm, he gets a little too worked up over it. “I could have blown his head clean off!” He likes his newfound power. Dad tears into it, talking about how the best part of civilization is gone, and how they’re going to have to do some uncivilized things to survive, “But I want you to hate it. Every time you have to do something bad to another man, it’s your duty to hate it, because that’s all there is left of civilization: What’s inside of us. If we lose that, we’re no better than them.”

Eventually, they manage to find a place to hid out in the mountains, and do pretty well there for a couple months, with only infrequent news by radio (They get five minutes of emergency broadcasts every two hours, on the hour).

Then the film gets unexpectedly vicious. Some wandering thugs attack the daughter. Mom scares them off with a gun. Dad and Frankie come back to the camp, later on and see Daughter crying and the mom looking forlorn and holding her close. Dad asks, “Did they…hurt her?”

Mom nods, yes.

I was dropjawed! This is an early ’60s adventure film. Teenage girls don’t get raped in these movies! They make it very clear that she did, though. She behaves in a tragic fashion in the aftermath, apologizing to her dad as if it’s her fault, talking about how she doesn’t want to go back to civilization because she’s ‘not the same,’ and so on.

In a run in with the same thugs later on, we discover that they’ve murdered four people, and are holding another teenage girl prisoner, using her as a sex slave.

Again: holy crap!

This girl is a better actress then the daughter, and telegraphs the trauma better. There’s an oh-this-is-just-wrong romantic subplot about Frankie developing a crush on her and putting the moves on her, but before I could even say, “Oh, God, no, don’t go all stupid on me now,” the girl completely shuts him down, and he realizes what he’s done.

Later on someone gets shot and they need a doctor. On the way, they hear on the radio that the enemy has surrendered. They manage to find a doctor, who insists they roll up their sleeves before they come in (“Can’t be too careful. Junkies are everywhere”). Even as its drawing to a close, the film maintains its dual viewpoints

Dad: “The war’s over! We won!”
Doctor [sarcastically] “Well ding, ding for us.”
Dad [put off]: “You have a very odd sense of humor.”
Doctor: “The war is over, over there, but that doesn’t change anything over here. Now, you stay on the back roads. And you keep your gun handy. Our country is still full of thieving, murdering patriots.”

So Dad manages to keep his family alive, if not safe. Or does he? the movie is a little ambiguous about that as well. We don’t actually find out if the person who got shot survives or dies. It’s implied that probably survived, it’s made clear that they have a good chance of surviving, but the film steadfastly refuses to give us a clear-cut happy ending. All we’re told is that we can not allow endings, only new beginnings.

Wow! This is strongly recommended.

There’s negatives, of course. Frankie looks like a teenager, and him viewing the disaster as a fast track to becoming a man is a neat twist, but he’s not good enough to quite pull it off. The daughter is just a plain bad actress. The mom is a bit of a schlub. Frankie spends two days in a car with open windows, and never gets as much as a follicle out of place. Damn, that’s some hair helmet he’s got going on there. The soundtrack – a big, bold, jazzy, swingin’ score – is completely inappropriate for the movie. “The Wilderness” is clearly a soundstage, and some of the day-for-night shots are painfully obvious.

From a modern perspective, the movie is pretty sexist. Women are victims. They can’t defend themselves. They’re baggage. A lot of viewers may find this offensive or insulting.

From the perspective of the time, though, I think this is pretty on the mark. Women were not trained to be self-reliant. Given that their lives were intended to be cooking, cleaning, and shopping, I think the movie actually acquits itself pretty well. Mom is eventually packing a gun, as is one of the girls. Two girls get raped, but they don’t go suicidal or completely catatonic. It’s made clear that they’ll survive and they still have worth. They’ve been violated, they’ve not been sullied.

Bottom line: This is actually a better movie than a lot of big budget World War III films. It’s a forgotten minor classic. Watch it.

SUNDAY SERMON: And The Beast Is…

Today, we’re gonna talk about the identity of The Beast from Revelation. There’s all kinds of baroque theories about this: Some big computer, some guy – probably Jewish – that we haven’t met yet, the Roman Catholic church, as well as flash-in-the-pan paranoia: Mohammed, Napoleon, Hitler, Nixon, Reagan, Both Bushes, Clinton, and Obama have all been accused of being the Beast.
 
My opinion of the Bible is that it was written for the generation in which it was published. If Revelation was to make any sense, it had to makes sense for the people who read it in the late 1st century. It doesn’t make sense for me to take the opinion that it had to be translated into Latin, then English, then brought to America and left to simmer for a couple centuries before people could understand what it meant. A lot of people are of that opinion.
 
OK, so looking at it from a first century perspective, something becomes obvious: The book is in two parts. The first third is an elliptical and/or poetic retelling of the recent past, and the second half is about the future. IOW, the second half is what we think of when we say “Prophecy,” and the first half is there to evoke the book of Daniel, and set up the second half. This is not at all inconsistent with Old Testament Jewish prophecy which was often about the present and recent past as it was the future.
 
The division happens around 8:1 when it reads, “When The Lamb opened the seal there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.”
 
Nearly all the events prior to that can be tied to specific events in the Jewish war of 66-70 AD. I’m not going to go into a full breakdown, we can discuss that some other time. Another important thing that seems clear to me: That war lasted 3 1/2 years. 3 1/2 x 2 = 7. How long was the tribulation again? 7 years. The author (At least to my reading) pretty clearly feels the tribulation has already started (That’d be the 66-70 war) and that the Church was living in a kind of extended time out before the second half started. We’re still waiting for that second half.
 
Which brings us to The Beast. Jews / Christians reading/hearing Revelation would clearly have identified the Jewish War events John recounts in a spiritualized form. It wasn’t a code to them (As we so often assume) or not much of one. It was really more like an open metaphor. So, also, is the Beast.
 
First we’re told that The Beast had a dagger thrust, but survived. We’re also told that an image of him is created, and anyone who doesn’t worship it will be slain. He further causes all, both high and low, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand, the mark being a number that is also a name. We are expressly told that people can figure this out, which means people in the 1st century could have figured it out, which means they DID.
 
The number in our Bibles is 666, but the number 616 is almost as common in many early manuscripts. If it’s a typo, it’s a very common one.
 
Greek and Hebrew letters have numerical value, just like Latin letters do. Now, in order to do ANY business transactions, you had to get a tax stamp. This was like a notary stamp, kinda, showing that the emperor had gotten his cut of the transaction. IOW, that you’d paid your sales tax. The stamp During the period immediately before Revelation was written, the emperor was Domitian. The tax stamp during his reign in the eastern empire was in Greek,and it read:
 
Iota Delta [space] Kappa Alpha Iota Sigma Alpha Rho Omicron Sigma. In English, this means “14th Year of Caesars’s Reign” (Sorry for spelling those out. I can’t do greek characters on FB, alas) Now, using the Greek values for those numbers we get 14+20+1+10+200+1+100+70+200 which equals….616! Clearly at least the ‘typo’ copies are referring to the emperor Domitian.
 
Ok, so where’d the “666” come from, then? If you add the letter Nu – “N” – then you’ve added 50 to the equation, which gives you 666. Why would you add “N?”
 
Because Domitian was obsessed with his uncle Nero. He persecuted Christians just like Nero did, he re-assembled as much of Nero’s staff as possible, styled himself as much like his uncle as he could. This was so obvious, so well known, that a common nickname for him was “The Bald Nero.” Just like his uncle, he even died abruptly. In Domitian’s case, by stabbing. Assassination in 96 AD.
 
One day he’s at the peak of his power, oppressing and killing folks, and then: toast. This happened so fast that many people didn’t believe he was really dead, but that he was just hiding somewhere, waiting to reveal himself again for some larger purpose.
 
“What about the mark on the head and hand?” Metaphor. If you love money, it’s on your mind. If you merely need to use money, it’s on your hand (Most people being right handed). If you don’t use money, you’re likely gonna starve (Which is to say, if you don’t get the stamp)
 
That image people had to worship? The imperial statue. It was a sacred object, Domitian was regarded as a god, and was commonly addressed as “Our lord and god domitian.”
 
Clearly this is what Revelation is referring to: The Beast was the Emperor Domitian.
 
This presents an obvious problem for us Christians, as the dude has been moldering away in a tomb for more than nineteen hundred years. I suppose we have to assume he’ll be resurrected whenever the second half of the Tribulation starts, or that he’s been otherwise occulted until then. That’s really not any weirder than a lot of other theories about the Beast, if we’re honest.
 
But there is no doubt in my mind: It was/is Domitian.

MOVIE REVIEW: “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977)

There’s two kinds of James Bond movies: The good ones and the dumb ones. “The Spy Who Loved Me” is far and away my favorite of the dumb ones, and if I’m honest, it’s one of my favorite Bond films of all times.

That said, I was operating mostly on memory until yesterday. I’d videotaped it off of TV, trimmed for TV, full of commercial breaks, back around 1980, and as pretty much the only Bond flick I had, I watched it endlessly for a year or two. I honestly don’t think I ever saw the complete, uncut thing until this weekend. It was better than I remembered. I was pleasantly surprised.

Firstly, for a dumb film it’s not as dumb as I remembered. Apart from Kurt Jurgens’ dumb-but-cool Legion of Doom headquarters that rises out of the sea, they play the whole thing very straight. Even Jaws, the over-the-top murderous henchman, isn’t a cartoon. He’s genuinely frightening in some scenes (Such as on the train), he’s a seven-foot-tall freak of nature, insanely strong, and his unkillability just kind of seems believable.

Secondly, despite being a terrible, terrible actress, Barbara Bach makes an unusually strong partner in the film. As Bond’s more-or-less equal-and-opposite from the USSR, she’s not helpless, and contributes a good deal to the film in the first half. Watching her and Bond try to out-spy each other to get the MacGuffin was a lot of fun, and she does get the drop on him once or twice. When they’re partnered up in the second act of the film, she contributes less, and in the final act she’s basically a damsel in distress. That’s disappointing, and her whole “I’m going to kill you when the mission is over, James,” thing is resolved way too easily. Still, I’d say she’s easily the best Bond Girl since Tracy (1969) and prior to Natalya (1995).

Thirdly: The Liparus. It is the greatest and largest villain’s lair in the entire franchise, and even now, thirty-five years after I last saw the film, I’m in awe of it. It’s a life-size set with not one, but three full-sized submarine mock ups in it, and 1.2 million gallons of water. The final battle makes the ninja assault on SPECTRE’s volcano lair in You Only Live Twice seem like a minor tiff.

This is just an unspeakably lavish film in terms of set design. It’s the most Bondian looking Bond film ever. In addition to the Liparus, there’s Atlantis, the bad guy’s OTHER lair. (Yes, that’s right, the bad guy has TWO lairs!) The Naval Base office has a cool, slanted ceiling, is all pre-stressed concrete and glass walls, and must go back two hundred feet, and it’s only in one scene. The brig on the Liparus is equally huge, and again it’s only used once. The submarine sets – unrealistically huge – are pretty impressive. This whole thing just looks super-crazy-no-way-gonzo-over-the-top, and that’s honestly what we want, right? A bad guy who isn’t content to destroy the world, he’s going to destroy it with style.

In short, up until the one hour mark, it is a genuinely good Bond movie, which I think most people have forgotten. I know I did.

Right at the one hour mark, it turns into a live action cartoon, of course. I was watching it with my son when a motorcycle sidecar turns into a rocket. He said, “FINALLY,” with a kind of hilarious weariness. From then on, it’s just sillier and sillier – a submarine car, a supertanker that eats submarines, Jaws suddenly falling hundreds of feet off a cliff and just shaking it off, Kurt Jurgens attempting to start a nuclear war so that he can play Adam-and-Even in his new underwater civilization. It’s just dopey, and I’ll be the first to admit, but it does a surprisingly good job of selling itself. The Liparus sub-eater is so cool that I’m willing to overlook the 120 or so things that are wrong with it.

They take it a little too far on occasion – such as shooting a boat out the side of the Liparus like a rocket for no good reason, rather than just putting it in the water – which breaks the suspension of disbelief. Still: This is the dumb half of the movie that everyone remembers. What I think they don’t remember is that it’s really entertainingly dumb.

There’s a lot to like here. The direction is great, the action scenes cut together really well, and the Arch Villain’s plot is the first time in the franchise that anyone wanted to destroy the world just to play God. (Interestingly, the first irredeemably genocidally insane villain in Bondom is an environmentalist).  This is one of the very few films – two? Three? – that in any way deals with Bond’s pre-spy life, his dead wife gets a name check, and Bond’s reaction shows that he’s still messed up over it.

As that’s a neat scene, I’ll recount it: Bond and our Soviet agent meet at a bar (In Egypt! It was a very different, less fundamentalist world in 1977, and would remain so for about a year) and he immediately starts flirting with her. She rattles off a bunch of facts about him, “…has had many lady friends, but only married once -”
Bond [abruptly]: “That’s enough.”
Anya: “So you are sensitive, Mister Bond.”
Bond [Dryly]: “About some things. Thank you for the drink.” [Abruptly walks away without having touched it]

Of course there’s negatives. The soundtrack is a bit too disco-influenced. Bond’s “Hello, let’s bone” shenanigans come across almost like parodies of porn films, they’re so cringingly awful. As opposed to the charming guy with an undercurrent of menace, which is the way the character had always been played (And Moore is charming in this, by the way), he’s suddenly some kind of sexual superhero who’s mere presence causes women to swoon within seconds. Or, in one inexplicable scene, to sacrifice herself to save his life after just one kiss. To be clear: Bond has always gotten laid a lot, and I don’t have a problem with that, but it’s just done really badly here. Barbara Bach’s character is hopping in the sack with Bond just days after her long-term boyfriend was killed. “Ok,” you think, “It’s the 1970s. She’s a swinger or something, it means nothing.” Nope, they play it like she’s falling in love with 007. Kurt Jurgens is strangely underdeveloped as a supervillain. Why do they capture the third sub? They already have the two they need.

The movie goes way too Matt Helm in the last five or ten minutes. I’m being literal. One of the final fights resolves itself exactly like the one at the end of “Murderer’s Row,” in which an electromagnet is used to take out a henchman. The Escape Pod is rocket powered for some reason, and is a big round bed stocked with champagne and books and a premium sound system. The obligatory “The boss stumbles in on Bond in dilecto flagrante” scene honestly is smarmy in the same way the same scenes were smarmy for Dean Martin.

Cringe.

But this movie really is no end of fun, despite its legions of flaws.

A couple final notes:

Though it’s never openly stated, the bad guys would have gotten away with it. The only reason they don’t is because one of the bad guy’s people getting greedy and offering to sell secret MacGuffin technology to the superpowers. Had Stromberg’s staff been loyal, the good guys would never have known what was up, the plot would have gone off without a hitch, and everyone on earth would have died.  I like that.

This movie marked the first time anyone had ever seen a jet ski. They were in the prototype stage, and introduced to the public here (At this point called a ‘Wetbike’ because British people are bad at naming things)

This movie also marks the introduction of the Lotus Esprit. Bond’s car in the movie is one of only two working prototypes in the world at the time. Sadly, it didn’t really turn into a submarine.

Weirdly, the very next movie in the series has almost the exact same plot: Supervillain wants to wipe out the world so he can play God and start over with his hand-chosen Adams and Eves. Bond is teamed up with a spy (CIA this time), and the basic structure and progression of the story is almost identical. It involves Jaws. “Moonraker,” just outright sucks, though, and is nothing but live-action cartoon from start to finish.

Ok, I’m done. This is not the greatest movie ever made, but it is almost undoubtedly better than you remember, and well worth a watch on a Saturday night, if you’ve got nothing better to do.

I just came up with the greatest Zombie story of all time.

I. Just. Came. Up. With. THE. BEST. Zombie. Story. Concept. Since Max. Brooks.

Normally I don’t brag or praise myself, but oh my gosh, bolt of lightning to the head, a huge idea, then another, then another, then another. and the core of a novel is laid out before me in the matter of maybe seven minutes. And it’s unlike anything else anyone is doing.

I have to use it, right?

Once I finish my late friend Jim’s novel (he’d written about 85% and asked me to complete it for him), all my other projects are on hold until I do this zombie thing.

I’m giddy

MOVIE REVIEW: “Colossus: The Forbin Project” (1968)

It is the future! The year 1972…or 1975…or 1979, it’s a little unclear, but definitely some time in the ‘70s, as seen from 1968.

On the whole, it seems much nicer than the ‘70s we actually got: there’s no sign of Jimmy Carter, no wide ties, no loud leisure suits, no disco, no bell bottoms. Instead, this version of the ‘70s looks pretty much identical to the ‘60s: Skinny suits, reserved demeanor, a lot of optimism about technology, and a lot of cold war tension (Détente not being something envisioned in the ’60s). A Bobby Kennedy impersonator is president. (This film was made in the narrow window between when Bobby announced he’d be running and the time he was assassinated.)

In a supremely misguided decision, the entire nuclear defense and offence of our country is turned over to a computer buried deep in the Rockies. This computer is called “WOP-R”…oh, no, wait, different flick: This computer is called “Skynet,” no, wait…uhm…“Colossus.” Yes, it was called “Colossus.” It was designed and built by Dr. Charles Forbin, and the complex is Krell-sized and quite literally impenetrable. We see Forbin locking it up in the opening credits.

At a press conference at the White House, the president Kennedy the Second and Forbin introduce the system to the public, and explain generally how it works: It monitors the whole world to eliminate human error from the whole pesky “Nuclear War” thing, thus rendering us – and by extension, earth – safe forever. Curiously, the president refers to “Citizens of the World” in his speech, but not “My fellow Americans.” Typical, really. Hippies.

Anyway, while at the press conference, Colossus goes goofy and says “There is another system” over and over. The staff boot the reporters out, discuss the situation with the CIA and Forbin, and conclude that the Soviets have built their own Colossus (Called “Guardian”) working from stolen US information. “You’ve got a spy on your staff,” the CIA chief tells Forbin. This is an interesting plot element that is never revisited, and left dangling at the end, mostly because the political situation changes so fast that such things become irrelevant.

Colossus requests a connection to Guardian, and on the urging of Forbin and the Soviet director of the Guardian project – Kuprin – the governments reluctantly agree. The machines connect over phone lines or something, and quickly set about developing a mathematical language to communicate in. Everyone is excited about this – a whole lot of new stuff gets developed during the day or so they’re developing the language, including some babble about “Finite Absolutes” – but they start to wig when they realize the machines are now speaking in a language no one else can understand. It’s the machine equivalent of one of those unsettling languages identical twins sometimes speak in.

The US and USSR attempt to break the connection. The machines warn that action will be taken if they’re not re-connected immediately. The president and the Soviet leader refuse. Both machines launch nuclear missiles aimed at the other country. Neither country can do anything to shut ‘em down. After a stressful couple minutes, they agree to reconnect the computers. Colossus shoots down the Soviet missile, but the American one is too close for Guardian to do anything about by that point, and it destroys a town in northern Russia.

Colossus explains that if the connection is broken again, he’ll start nuking lots of towns. Guardian does likewise. Both governments lie to cover up the incident. Forbin and Kuprin head to Rome to discuss a way to shut their Frankensteins down, but the machines figure out what’s going on, and dispatch the KGB to kill Kuprin “Or else we will vaporize Moscow.” This they then do. (the KGB, I mean. Moscow is fine.)

Back in the ‘States, Colossus dictates terms to Forbin: 24/7 surveillance. In the few hours before this goes into effect, he sets up a covert method for the government to sneak information to him through a mistress. (“If you doubt that a man needs a woman, check your history banks, and art units”) Of course he doesn’t actually have a mistress, so he just picks the prettiest computer tech, “Cherry Forever” from “Porky’s.” Colossus agrees to give them privacy while they do it. In fact, they don’t really do it – not at first, anyway – they just lie around naked and exchange information (“Oh, is *That* what you call it!” boom-chicka-wah-boom-chicka-wah-wah), but they eventually get around to the sweet monkey love. It’s all entertainingly awkwardly chaste and proprieticious early on, though.

Colossus/Guardian has a voice synthesizer at this point (An uncredited Paul Frees, who’s really good. Easily the best Cylon ever. Way better than Gary Owens.) and the CIA and KGB are gradually sabotaging their respective ICBMs under the machine’s noses. Meanwhile, the Colossus staff attempt to pull a Star Trek, overpowering the computer by having it run some kind of perpetual counting program, or whatever. The computer merely says “You are fools,” and has those responsible shot. Nuclear missiles in the US and USSR are to be re-targeted at neutral countries so Colossus/Guardian can control the whole world.

Colossus demands to address the world, so they let it. It explains who it is, and how it’s in charge of the world, and how this is for everyone’s best. “Problems unsolvable for you are simple for me,” and “I was built initially to prevent war. This has been done. War is gone forever.”

Best line in the movie:

This is the era of peace. It can be the peace of untold prosperity, or the peace of unburied dead.”

As illustration, it reveals that it knew about the sabotage all along, and nukes the locations that the CIA and KGB are currently working on, killing thousands. Forbin – very reserved through the whole movie – utterly freaks the hell out.

Colossus tells Forbin that eventually he’ll come to love and be in awe of the machines, and that all humanity will as well.

Never,” Forbin says.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Man oh man oh man oh man, what a great movie! Seriously, I had some major misgivings about watching this one. I remembered it as being pretty disappointing, and I’m not convinced I’d seen it since 1979 or so, but MAN it’s great! Faaaaaaaaaar better than I remembered.

First of all, the direction is awesome! There’s lots of well-composed shots, there’s lots of camera motion, and all kinds of neat elements like overlapping dialog where people are talking at the same time, or dealing with background chatter, or what have you. The blocking of the group scenes – involving videophones, even! – is done so well that it appears effortless. If you’ve ever done any stage or TV work, you’ll know how hard that is to pull off with large interacting groups. Really, this whole movie seems effortless, and I’m pretty impressed by that. Director Joseph Sargent brought a lot of those same elements to “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” four years later (The good one, not the crappy remake), and to a lesser degree in the “Space” miniseries in 1985, and several of the better “ Invaders“ episodes in the ‘60s. He’s good.

How good? You’re effectively dealing with a movie here that takes place almost exclusively inside of three large rooms, with a lot of talking. It would have been amazingly easy to blow it, and end up in “Creation of the Humanoids” territory, but they don’t. Instead, they make a very conscious effort to play it in the same vein as a cold war thriller, like, say, Failsafe, rather than in the dopier vein of a period SF film. He makes this work so well that when the movie ventures outside its principle locations, you kind of want it to get back in there. This is the kind of film it would be ninety-nine times easier to do badly than to do well, and yet Sargent pulls it off very well indeed.

It’s a classic.

The cast is really solid, too: Hans Jorg Gudegast plays Forbin. He’s better known by his stage name of “Eric Braeden,” and even better known still as “Victor” from The Young and the Restless. He also played Irwin Rommel surrogate Hans Dietrich on “Rat Patrol.” He plays Forbin as an interesting mix of youthful idealism and reserved Werner von Braunism (If that’s a word. And if it isn’t it should be). He’s composed, very confident, very smart, very quick to grab any advantage that comes his way, and yet he doesn’t have much of an emotional life. When Colossus turns out to be more than he’d anticipated, he’s overjoyed. When it quickly gets out of hand, he’s annoyed, but treats it as an intellectual puzzle that he’s certain he’ll overcome eventually. It’s a game – telegraphed by him playing chess with Colossus at one point. As the movie goes on, he gets a bit more ragged, has a hard time keeping his calm face on. When Kuprin is killed, he’s startled. When his own people are executed in front of him, he’s heartbroken. When Guardian nukes the US he snaps. When he declares his defiance from the machines at the end, you know – you just know – that it’s empty bravado. They’re right: Forbin is too fascinated with them to remain angry for long, and these kinds of emotional traumas are just wearing him down and making him an easier target. The machines have won not only the whole world, but the soul of their creator, or soon they will anyway.

Susan Clark doesn’t make too much of an impression. She’s pretty enough, but they deliberately play that down. She does come across as pretty smart, and her awkwardness with the ‘mistress’ situation is played very well, particularly when the idea is first breached and she’s a bit drop jawed by it. Apart from that, she plays her scenes in what I like to call “The Barbara Bain Mode,“ a lot of calm, quiet, measured talking while walking around reservedly. She’s not the kind of person to freak out, she’s not the kind of person who needs a rescue, even if she isn’t a forceful personality. There’s just enough of a romance angle here to flesh out her character a little, but not nearly enough to be annoying or tedious. There’s a neat little horrified flash from Susan Clark looking at Forbin at the end where she realizes that Forbin’s soul will soon be forfeit.

There’s some nudity in the movie, all filmed cleverly. For instance, Clark strips down in one scene, and is obscured artfully by a champagne glass which distorts her image just enough – and artistically enough – that it doesn’t feel gratuitous.

Gordon Pinsent really is a dead ringer for the Bobby Kennedy.

William Schallert plays the CIA chief. He’s typically pretty good, and his oddly grim sense of humor is a nice touch to the film. James Hong is in the movie, but does nothing apart from smoke cigarettes and look nervous. Marion “Happy Days” Ross has a bit part as one of the computer techs.

There’s a lot of interesting statements about politics in this flick. The idea that machines should control our weapons is clearly driven by fear and justified by an optimism about “The Human Millennium” which will unlock all our potential, “We can do all this, but first we must have peace.” When Colossus/Guardian (Now identifying itself as “World Control”) addresses the world at the end of the film, the speech is oddly similar to the one the president gave, announcing “The Human Millennium” has begun. It’s interesting because the government got *EXACLY* what they wanted, and they’re horrified by it!

Be careful what you wish for: Not only is there no more threat of war, there’s no more need for government at all. This is presented, interestingly for the time, as a bad thing. Human life is protected, arguably more secure under “World Control” than at any point in our history, and yet it’s also oddly irrelevant. Humanity kind of no longer matters on one level because we’re no longer in the driver’s seat.

Whether it was intentional or not, what we’re looking at here is basically a dismantling of the early sixties Kennedy idealism and futurism as the ideas come home to roost. It’s no surprise that the president is *clearly* supposed to be Bobby, since this film essentially is the conclusion of a process that started with JFK: the attempt to perfect the world. But is there any room for people in a perfect world? The film argues that there is, but only if we’re housebroken. But if we’re housebroken, are we still human? By the end of the film, “World Control” has effectively become a god, and a very wrathful one, a Zeus throwing lightning bolts at those who sow disharmony. We spent a lot of time working our way out from under that kind of setup, it seems a shame to go right back into it, only for real this time.

The Machine is the supreme arbiter of right and wrong, invasive in every aspect of people’s lives, and such areas as are left to man as his own purview – sex, alcohol, the occasional entertainment – are essentially trivial, more about being given the illusion of choice rather than an actual choice. Bread and Circuses to distract people from their slavery. Forever.

And as is very clear (To me at least), humanity *WILL* come to love the master. 

OBITUARY: John Sterneman 1968-2017

John visiting my college dorm in 1986 prior to a concert

RINGRINGRINGRING
“Hello?”
“Randy! It’s John! I just had the most amazing hallucination!”
“Really? That’s fascinating. I just had a grilled cheese sandwich myself.”
“It’s not like that! I was driving down Alternate 19, you know that area down south of Dunedin where there’s that little bridge?”
“Of course not.”
“Ok, well it’s the place north of Clearwater, before you get to the causeway but…”
“Stick to the hallucination, John.”
“Ok! I was driving along and I looked to the right and the sun was just right over the waves, and this bird took off and the light made it look completely unlike a bird!”
“What did it look like?”
“A space ship!”
“Cool! What did the space ship look like? Do not say ‘like a bird'”
“No, I just said it didn’t look anything like a bird! It was cool! It had kind of a box for a back end, and the sides were sort of hooked, and it had wings, but they were coming out of the box end and…well, it’s hard to describe.”
“Evidently.”
“I’ll draw you a picture of it the next time I see you. I was thinking maybe we could kitbash a model of one together and use it in a film!”
“Cool!”
“Yeah! I don’t know what we’d use it in, but when you see it, you’ll agree it’s cool!”
“Sounds it.”
“So what’s up with you?”
“Well, I just had a grilled cheese sandwich, as I said, and I was planning on not doing my homework, and then my insane friend called rambling about a space ship he hallucinated was in the intercoastal waterway.”
“Yeah! Oh, hey, I gotta go!”

I remember the first time I ever spoke to John Sterneman. I was in 10th grade, and had just transferred to Countryside High School. I was taking Air Force ROTC, and didn’t know anyone. I just sat quietly in the back of the class and pretended to pay attention while everyone else – who already knew each other – studiously avoided me.

Our teacher was prone to just losing interest in the middle of  lessons, so he declared that we could just do whatever we wanted for the rest of the hour. John, Scott Mead, and a guy named Robert Supples went over to the book rack, where they were talking about something.

I went over to see what magazines they had while John and Supples were arguing about something, I’ve long forgotten what. Mead just watched, amused. Supples said something that grossed out John, and he replied, “You’re just tastless, Supples.”

Not even looking at them, and without even thinking about it, I said “How would you know what Supples tastes like?”

There was this awkward moment of silence where I was pretty sure I was gonna get punched, and then all three of them busted out laughing, including John, even though he was blushing beet red.

I have always remembered that moment. How often does one insult net you three friends? Much less one good friend, one great friend, and one best friend?

(Which isn’t to say he didn’t occasionally attempt to strangle me with my own tie)

For much of the next two years we were inseparable. It wasn’t particularly because we wanted to be, it was just that we were both in ROTC, which meant we got stuck together on projects a lot. We were both on the Drill Team, on the Honor Guard, volunteered for car washes, we hit on the same girls, we struck out with the same girls. It was a small world we inhabited in a big school, a weird little military subculture. Eventually just just sorta bond, you know?

John was smart, funny, and frequently given to enthusiasm for no good reason. He! Was! Prone! To! End! Every! Sentence! With! An! Exclamation! Mark! He was obsessive about movies, and he liked me because I had an encyclopedic knowledge of crappy 50s science fiction films. It quickly became apparent that he wanted to make movies. That wasn’t really as common at the time as it is now. People wanted to act, of course, but directing and writing were mysterious magical chores that we didn’t quite understand. The cult of the super-director, like Spielberg and Lucas was rising, but the wave hadn’t quite struck in 1983. Or if it had, we hadn’t really noticed it.

John had dreams of being a great director, but more than that – and this is what always set him apart from everyone else in my head – he also wanted to be a bad director. He loved those hacky old flicks where the robot is a stack of boxes with a man inside, where the 50 foot spider is clearly just walking over a photograph of a city skyline. He said something one day that has become one of my maxims, “Good movies are a dime a dozen, but a truly bad one? That’s unique!”

It’s hard to disagree with that.  So, yes, he dragged us off to see great films like Brazil or The Terminator or arthouse films like Clan of the Cave Bear, but he also dragged us off with great relish to see stuff we absolutely knew was dreck going in. Defcon 4. Savage Streets. Barbarian Queen. Grunt: The Wrestling Movie. Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling. Really, really bad stuff.

How bad? I pride myself on never walking out of a flick. I’ve even sat through crap by The Brothers Quay simply because I refuse to be beaten. The number of movies I’ve stomped out of in my lifetime can be counted on my fingers without using ’em all, and all but two of those were John’s fault. He had a genius for it.

The Bloom County Movie Critic’s Guild

John created an informal group he called “The Bloom County Movie Critics Guild,” (Being as it was 1984, and we were all dutifully obsessed with that comic strip) and just about every friday we’d hie off to some cinematic turd you could smell from a mile outside the theater. Sometimes there were six or eight of us, sometimes just John and me, yelling at the screen, laughing at things that weren’t funny, or weren’t meant to be, just reveling in the awfulness of it. On one occasion, during a movie called “Psycho Girls,” we laughed so hard we actually fell out of our chairs.

I think. I know I did. I’m reasonably sure he did, too.

Time passed and I graduated, and John kept inching closer to a career in film. He joined a local filmmakers society and dragged me along. He even made his own short, which you can hear him talk about here:

Unfortunately, the film is lost now. I actually never got to see it, even though he borrowed some of my equipment to edit the thing.

I’ve been running memories through my head all day, laughing myself silly, and trying to imagine what High School would have been like without him there, with his film obsession, and his Bloom County obsession, and his frequently-poorly-thought-out plans to feed those obsessions. At one point he was planning on driving to Berke Brethed’s home and having him paint the Bloom County cast on his serving tray. (John most often worked as a waiter). He always signed his first name in Japanese, and claimed that was his legal signature. If anyone tried to sign it any other way, you’d know it wasn’t him. If he, himself, signed his name in English, he believed it wouldn’t legally count.  He had some elaborate reason for this, but I never quite understood it. We called him “Johnjack” a lot, but I can no longer remember why.

He also built models. He was really good at it, excepting this bomber. I came over to his house, and he was just taking the pieces out of the box, sighing, looking at the plans, and then putting them back in. Eventually he glued part of the body together, declared himself done for the day, and shoved the box in the closet. Once or twice after that I came by to find him puttering away with it, and then it disappeared.

After he got married he shanghaied me into helping him move a bunch of crap from his childhood bedroom to his new apartment. While loading the car, I saw him carrying that model. “What the…?” I said.
“What?”
“It’s that same bomber!” I said.
“Yeah, so?”
“You gave up on that TEN YEARS AGO!” I said.
“Well, I always figured some day I’d have a son, and he could finish what I’d begun.” He said it with this perfectly deadpan voice, like he’d been waiting a decade to spring this punchline on me. I lost it. As I said, he was damn funny when he wanted to be.

His life wasn’t particularly funny, though. His childhood was rough. John was originally from New Jersey, where his folks had a rocky marriage. They moved to Florida to give it one more chance, to try and start over again in a new place. I suppose that worked. As with all things, the answer is more complicated than the question makes it appear, but I’m pretty sure that one worked. Even so, problems arose from time to time.

I remember one night I was getting ready for bed when I heard someone stage-whispering my name from outside. I figured it was the annoying neighborhood kids, with whom I was feuding. I called my dad. my dad ripped open the shutters expecting to see the fat boy from across the street; certainly not expecting to see John shriek and jump backwards into the darkness. I guess John wasn’t expecting to see my dad, either.

It turns out John’s dad had been mad about something or other, and charged him. John, having been down this road before, literally dove out a window and ran. When he couldn’t run anymore, he walked. Eventually he ended up outside my window. What you have to realize is that I lived nearly ten miles from the Sterneman house!

We fed him, and were going to put him up for the night and take him to school in the morning, but his dad insisted we bring him home. After discussing it with John (“You know you don’t have to go, you’re welcome to hang out here for a few days, or we could call the state if you like”), he decided to head back, and he never mentioned it again. So, even though the big “Florida Restart” experiment was a success as far as John’s parent’s marriage went, there were still some issues, obviously.

John’s dad had some utterly hilarious stories about his time in the military. In retrospect, those were almost certainly not true, but John told ’em better. Nobody could tell ’em like John did.

My point being that however bad things were between him and his dad – and evidently they were pretty rough – you’d never know it.

Instead, John would invent stuff like the point system for being unexpectedly funny, in which you’d be awarded one or two points, depending on how unexpectedly funny the thing you said was. There was only ever one three-pointer issued, in the parking lot immediately after seeing Aliens in 70mm at Tri-City Plaza, but I can’t remember who got it, not that it matters. John never actually kept score. There probably had been some point – like scientifically determining who was the funniest kid in ROTC, I dunno – but he’d immediately lost interest. The game went on forever, though. Years later people would still occasionally say “Two points,” or “A point at best” or “No points, loser.”

Or when he invented The Confusion Contests. The object was to come up with a nonsequitor and drop it casually into a conversation. Something of the lines of, “Yeah, we’ll hit the movie then they’ll really have the mouse on the schooner and we’ll go to Dunkin’ Donuts.” If you reacted with a ‘what?’ then you lost. If, however, you replied with a nonsequitor of your own, then the other person had to fire back with yet another one made up on the spot, and worked into the next sentence. The competition kept going until it became so incoherent that one side or the other gave in. Or, if a third party said “What are you kids talkin’ about?” a draw was declared.

Man, those were exhausting! It’s a lot of work to be that random. Fun, though.

Despite the eventual total falling out with his dad, I don’t want to give the impression that John was bolted down, over-pressured and ready to blow, because he wasn’t. Whatever negative things were going on in his life, though, he’d just bury it beneath goofball stuff like his games, or hanging out with the rest of us ROTCies as we wandered around Clearwater Beach at night and struck out with the girls, or him hauling us off to Jo Ann’s Chili Bordello, a pre-Hooters cathouse-themed restaurant where merely-average-looking waitresses served tables in lingerie.

Jo Ann’s was, incidentally, John’s first job. He’d worked as a busboy there before I’d met him. I remember the first time we went there, all of us were like, “John, what kind of place did you bring us to?”
“Relax, guys, this is as dirty as it gets. It’s a family restaurant.”
“Is it a Manson Family restaurant?”
“No. Also, avoid the chili. Despite the name, it’s not very good. ”

You may notice that I’m being pretty unorganized and all-over-the-place than I usually am in relating all this. It’s because thirty-to-thirty-five year old memories that had long been filed away are unspooling continually in my brain. I tell a story, it reminds me of another, which reminds me of another, and so on. This was back in the days when we were still mostly kids, after all, and a school year seemed a million days long, and there was always more things to pack into a day, more days to pack into a life.

You know how it is: things are just more intense when you’re young. Colors are brighter, happiness is happier, depression is bleaker, friendships are tighter and friendlier. In a larger sense, though a life with John in it was kind of random. Not like crazy-eight bonkers random. We had Supples to fill that role. But entertainingly askew.

Time passed, and you start to grow apart from the people you care about. They get better jobs – in John’s case, at a TV station – and then they move away. Being as it was the ’90s by then, they might move away and back several times. It was an odd time, with technical jobs becoming almost a form of migrant labor. We stayed in touch, still occasionally arranged to see movies, or go to a Superbowl Party at his place, even though it was 100 miles away, and he’d somehow acquired a pet rat by then, which was, all things told, a bit off-putting. But, hell, John was worth it.

Thinking about it, our last “Just like the old days” night was his bachelor party, appropriately enough. It was filled with drinking, vomiting, Karaoke-ing old Marty Robbins songs, no strippers, and (As usual), me as the designated driver. (I don’t drink. Also, oddly, I’d never done Karaoke before, nor have I done it sense, which is strange as I’m a natural ham)

John at his bachelor party, just moments before belting out “Old El Paso”

He had his first kid shortly after that, and I really didn’t see him, apart from helping him move once or twice. (True friends: People you will help move, even though you already had conflicting plans). Nothing unusual in that: New wife, new kid, job, priorities. Wasting time with your friends is something you can’t afford, and it’s pretty universal. As Scott Mead said when he found out my wife was expecting, “This is the part where you stop returning my phone calls, and never hang out anymore.” It’s true.

That’s me on the left, then Scott Mead, John, and Mike Ciani. In high school we were inseparable, but this was the last time ‘The Big Four’ were ever all together in one place.

Presently, the newly-minted Sterneman family moved out to California. They did a couple reality shows, which, let me tell you, is pretty shocking when you’re just flipping through the channels one night, and your best buddy from fifteen years before is on TV, trying to decide which new house to buy. (I talked to him about that. He was dismissive of the experience, but not so dismissive as to avoid doing it twice.)

He and his wife had a couple more kids, and he was pretty successful, by all accounts. You can check out his IMDb page here. I was proud of him. It’s a tough industry to crack, and he did. Granted, he never got to make movies, but I don’t even know if he still wanted to by that stage in his life. It made me happy to know that of all our little high school throng, he was the one who came closest to attaining his adolescent dreams.

The last time I actually saw John was in 1999 or so. He was back in town seeing to some properties he owned. We got together with one or two of our old friends, grabbed a bite at some greasy spoon.

“You owe me a picture of that space ship you hallucinated,” I said.
“What?”
“Years ago you hallucinated seeing a space ship taking off from the water somewhere off of 19. You kept saying you were gonna draw me a picture of it, for like years, but you never got around to it.”
“Huh. I think I kinda remember that.”
“Here: Napkin! Pen! You owe me a drawing! Now! Go!”
“Randy, that was probably fifteen years ago.”
“Right, so I’ve been patient for a long time. Draw it!”
“I have absolutely no memory of what it looked like.”
“Draw!”
“No!”
“You bastard,” I said.
“Yes,” He laughed.

Afterwards we saw some crappy b-movie, just like the old days – I don’t remember the one – and when it was all done, he sucked down a cigarette, shook my hand, and said, “Hey, it was really good seeing you again! We’ll have to do this again next time I’m in town!” I whole-heartedly agreed, though I think we both knew that wasn’t gonna happen. I think we both knew that was the last page in that chapter, the period at the end of the sentence.

We were still friends, of course, but contact was infrequent in the years that followed. We’d email, but it was unfulfilling. I’m long-winded and generally jobless, and he was working and terse. I sent a few. I sent a couple letters, which he never replied to. John was always bad with letters. I found him on facebook, and a quick look tells me the last time I talked to him was in February of 2016. We met in 1983. 33 years. A third of a century.

A long damn time, even though all the fun parts of that were in the first half, and the life-long bonding stuff was in the first quarter. Still: there are some people you can never see again, and still be friends with, and there are others you can be in the same room with constantly, and not care about all that much. John was in the former group. It always made me happy to know that he was out there somewhere, running around, doing stuff. Knowing that I could theoretically turn a corner in an airport and bump into him and –

Oh, holy crap, you know what? I actually did The movie was not the last time I saw him! It was seven or eight years after that! My wife and I were seeing somebody off, and we literally turned a corner and there he was, waiting for a plane! We went to the Chilis or TGI Fridays or whatever the crappy chain restaurant is there, and I bought him dinner and we chatted away for a while, then he had to go. Hand to God, I had forgotten that until just this moment, writing it now. How weird.

It was the cigarettes that killed him. He’d smoked like a stack since high school, and had the resulting health issues. He needed a heart transplant, but wasn’t really taking care of himself, and passed away in late January.

I feel as though someone just ripped out half the plumbing of my childhood. Like with his passing, a hunk of the foundation of who I am is cracked. I feel bad, of course, but oddly it’s not so much the fifty-year-old me of 2017 I feel bad for. Rather it’s the thought of how the me of 1985 would have taken the news. That’s strange, isn’t it?

Though he did eventually reconcile with his father, I’m given to understand that the last years of John’s life were…confused. As awful as that was for him and the people who loved him, I choose not to dwell on that. John loved Orson Welles, and as Orson himself said, “The only difference between triumph and tragedy is where you decide to stop telling the story.”

I choose to stop telling it before the grim last years started. I choose to stop it when he was still out west, actually doing what he’d set out to do decades before. If I’m putting “The End” and rolling credits on the movie of his life, then in my mind the final scene in that movie is whatever his last, best moment was, with a good present, a promising future, three kids, and a wife, and a happy life.

It still bugs me that I never got to see that damn space ship, though.

Goodbye, John, and thank you.

So how many people know about the Stargate program, anyway?

I’m an unabashed fan of the Stargate franchise. If you’ve never seen it, this discussion won’t make any sense to you, so turn back now. If you have, though, I’ll relate the highlights of a discussion my family had about the SGC over dinner tonight:

Me “How many people know about the Stargate program?”
Son “I dunno.”
Me “Well, let’s try to work backwards.”
Son “Ok. There’s 25 teams, so that’s 100 people there.”
Me “Right, plus medical staff. Honey? How many people on the medical staff would you think is appropriate given what we’ve seen?”
Wife “Maybe around 150, including doctors and nurses and corpsmen and so on. They’re kept pretty busy. Plus psych personnel.”
Me “Plus kitchen staff”
Wife “Forty or fifty”
Son: Plus Janitorial staff
Me: “Right. Because even they’d have to have a really high security clearance, and it’s a bit facility in use 24/7/365, so, what, probably another 40 or 50?”
Wife: “What about scientists?”
Me: “Most of the long-term research is done at Area 51.”
Wife: “How many there?”
Me: “Well get back to that. We mostly only ever see Dr. Lee and Sam, but they make it clear there’s others around. Let’s say 20 or 30?”
Son: “Plus at least one space shuttle crew. And the crew of the ISS. And whoever unloads the recovered cargo from a space shuttle.”
Me: “Good point.”
Son: “And let’s not forget the USS Nimitz and that entire carrier group. I mean, yeah, they’re all dead, and the Navy said it was meteors, but a lot of Navy people must have been in on the cover up.”
Me: “Again, good point. Now, area 51: Honey, how long does it take to build an aircraft carrier?”
Wife: “Pretty close to a decade, I think.”
Me: “With tens of thousands of construction workers?”
Wife: “Oh, yeah, totally.”
Son: “I agree the Prometheus and Daedalus class ships were probably about the size of aircraft carriers.”
Me: “They were working on the Prometheus for a while before we saw it, but they can’t have been working on the Daedalus all that long. How many F-304s are there?”
Son: “Daedalus, Odyssey, Apollo, Hammond, Sun Tsu, oh, and the Korolev, which got blown up almost immediately. How many crew for an aircraft carrier?”
Me: “About 5000.”
Son: “They never have anywhere near that number. It’s usually in the hundreds. What’s a skeleton crew for a carrier?”
Me: “If you just want to steer and go forward for a couple days? Maybe a half dozen. If you want to actually DO anything, a couple hundred at least.”
Son: “So they’re probably on skeleton crews.”
Me: “that makes sense.”
Wife: “So we’re guessing about 10,000 people in Cheyenne Mountain, and, what, 30,000 or so in Area 51?”
Son: “At least. Probably more since they’re cranking those ships out one a year.”
Me: “They might be constructing them in other countries.”
Son: “Unlikely. Russia had to beg for one. Probably China, too.”
Me: “Good point. This is increasingly implausible. I could buy it when it was just Cheyenne.”
Son: “Plus the governments of Russia, China, France, England, and Canada.”
Wife: “And all the signatories of the Antarctica treaty. AND what about the contractors and stuff who build all this crap?”
Me: “True. They did say some alien tech was slipping into commercial products by means of corporate espionage by the contractors.”
Son: “Heck, that one guy managed to clone an Asgard.”
Wife: “What about Atlantis? Or Icarus?”
Me: “Let’s ignore them for now. They’re comparatively small operations.”
Wife: “yeah, true. So what do you think?”
Me: “Well, when we started I was going to say maybe 30,000 people, but now that we’re all looking at it reasonably, I’m saying at least 100,000 people, and that’s probably a lowball number.”

So what do you all think?