Mark A. Carter
 

DEEP MELANCHOLIA

World famous Canadian Science Fiction novelist Mark A. Carter rants about impact disaster films. They usually show us surviving. But is that really what will happen? A heads up: if we are confronted with a piece of space rock the size of Everest or a solar filament heading our way, we really don't have a chance. We don't have the technology to defend ourselves or to get away. And what happens in a fight or flight scenario when neither option is available to us? We die. Everybody and everything dies. It's called an Extinction Level Event or E.L.E. It's what wiped out the dinosaurs. But, in advance of the inevitable, do we chose to party like it's 1999 or to prepare now for future calamity and perhaps survive?

 The Earth (the smaller planet on the left) is seen as it plunges into the rogue superplanet Melancholia.

 Image is courtesy of Lars von Trier from his Science Fiction film: Melancholia.

Copyright © 2011 Zentropa, Canal +, arte France Cine´ma, and Sveriges Television.


The bottom line is this: we need to get off this planet if we are to survive, as a species, into the future. We need to colonize our solar system and the other star systems. Why? We live in a cosmic shooting gallery. And if humans are to survive, we must take our eggs, which are all in one basket, and spread them to assure our survival.

Quite frankly, I think politicians have given up on a far reaching notion of human survival. To them, the world is all about politics and back stabbing political survival. But they care nothing about the survival of the human species. And they care little about saving the entire world. Of course, if a piece of space rock threatened Earth, they would be the first in line to seek shelter underground, if that was a plausible solution to survival or to board an experimental spaceship, if that guaranteed their deliverance. And damn the rest of us ordinary people.

Politicians do not want us looking at the sky. They do not want us thinking about the threats that lurk there in the dark between the stars. In fact, they do not want us to see the stars either. The domes of light pollution that our cities generate blot out the stars themselves. We have replaced the stars with city lights. Where once people used to look at the night stars, they now look at city lights, and exclaim, "how beautiful." That is perverse.

Complacency, denial, and merely hoping for the best will not save us from what I called the Cosmopoetic sources of doom in my 1981 thesis: The Doomsday Theme in Science Fiction. And neither will a fatalistic approach to life. If you are a fatalist, you might as well have the attitude presented in the 2013 film The Zero Theorem directed by Terry Gilliam that "Life might be seen as a virus infecting the perfect organism of Death." By that perverse way of thinking, death is the normal state of the universe and our existence is a cosmic aberration. But I think otherwise. For the time being, I would like to believe that humanity has the ability to survive an onslaught from space if we apply our ingenuity now. When the threat is imminent, it will be too late.

The Zero Theorem

Directed by Terry Gilliam.

Copyright © 2013 Stage 6 Films

Deep Impact

Directed by Mimi Leder

Copyright © 1998 Dreamworks

Why write this rant at all? As I stated in 1981, "Science Fiction is predictive." And whereas the fiction warns of Earth being assaulted from space, now the science bears out the fiction. Cosmologists have stated that the threats are very real. They believe that extinction caused from a bombardment from space is not a question of if but of when. And now, as stated in the 2015 article in The Atlantic entitled: "The chilling regularity of mass extinctions" by Adrienne LaFrance, Geologists and Atmospheric scientists have joined in and warn of future mass extinction from space bombardment. Their theory suggests that mass extinctions in Earth's past corresponded with our star's cyclic journey across the plane of the Milky Way. And these mass extinctions shall occur in the future.

It is all fine and good that Science Fiction is predictive. But it is also romantic in that it usually has a happy ending. But here I find most of the fiction flawed. It shows mankind surviving bombardment from space, as in the 1979 film Meteor, directed by Ronald Neame. Films also feature nukes used to save the day, as in the 1998 film Armageddon, directed by Michael Bay, and its competition, the 1998 film Deep Impact, directed by Mimi Leder. At least in Armageddon, a mining team is send up to an asteroid to plant the nuke beneath the surface of the space object. Whereas, in Meteor, the feel good notion of Americans and Soviets jointly retargeting their ICBMs from each other toward an approaching meteor to explode on its surface seems altogether silly. And in Deep Impact, the idea of a million people, preselected and lottery winners, surviving the space bombardment in a shelter built into the limestone caves of Missouri, while everyone else is left to make the best of it, is also a puerile notion.

The bombardment from space will always be more severe than we imagine in our fiction. There will be no crawling out of our shelters in a year to start rebuilding after the destruction. There will be no surviving an impact and the ensuing tsunami by scurrying to the top of a hill to avoid drowning. There is evidence that previous Extinction Level Events occurred with the force of every nuclear weapon we have in all of our arsenals exploding simultaneously and possibly more powerful than that. And the size of the space rocks that threaten us are so large that our nukes would be tiny and ineffective to move or to shatter them. Think of a mosquito flying at a speeding locomotive in the hope of shattering it or knocking it off the rails. Right. Sure. You bet. And, in fact, in the Cloudcuckooland possibility that we did manage to shatter a large space rock that was headed our way, we would still be bombarded by the plethora of smaller projectiles that resulted and be annihilated nevertheless. And we have no defence at all against a solar flare, a cosmic kill shot that incinerates the Earth, as imagined in the 2009 film Knowing, directed by Alex Proyas.

In my 2007 novel Hephzibah of Heaven, I wrote about asteroid Lucifer colliding with Earth, ending all life, and turning the planet inside out. But in the 2011 film Melancholia, directed by Lars von Trier, the planet that hits our world is so large that it utterly subsumes the Earth. Von Trier's depiction of the end, albeit extremely depressing and utterly surreal is more accurate than all of the romantic notions of us surviving. So, what are we to do?

Knowing

Directed by Alex Proyas

Copyright © 2009 Summit

We have little chance of fighting the objects that endanger us from space. We are sitting ducks. And sometimes, the only way to avoid annihilation is to simply get out of the way. Our only hope is to flee.

The Roman Empire would have survived perhaps until the present day had their science and technology invented the steam engine and then perhaps the internal combustion engine and then the airplane. Vast distances within their Empire were their Achilles heel. And they are ours as well. But for us now, the distances are stellar. But when politics becomes more important than science and technology, society stagnates. Moral corruption erodes from the top down, and civilization crumbles. Nero literally fiddled while Rome burned.

Perhaps the only technological saving grace being toyed with to propel us to the stars is Alcubierre Drive. Time will tell whether it is the steam engine of our time and will allow us to leave this planet and to colonize other worlds, to literally spread our eggs in many baskets to ensure our survival; or whether, in our complacency and malignant narcissism, we keep wasting valuable time playing video games, sexting, taking selfies, doing illicit drugs, blowing ourselves up, shooting each other, fighting imaginary wars against fictional enemies, and otherwise partying like it's 1999, while the world burns. It's sad that we label the homeless crazy because they see the world as the dystopian Orwellian nightmare that it really is while the rest of us exist within a delusion of normalcy. And you wonder why I have deep Melancholia.

Read: Conceptual Breakthrough
NASA Warp Drive
Regularity of Mass Extinctions

Now you know.

from the imagination of Mark A. Carter - novelist

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