Topics: African Americans, Diaspora, International Space Station, Octavia Butler, Science Fiction, Spaceflight
A casual search on this blog, it's not the first time I've invoked Octavia Butler as an observer of our times, and it likely won't be the last.
“Parable of the Sower” unfolds through the journal entries of its protagonist, a fifteen-year-old black girl named Lauren Oya Olamina, who lives with her family in one of the walled neighborhoods. “People have changed the climate of the world,” she observes. “Now they’re waiting for the old days to come back.” She places no hope in Donner, whom she views as “a symbol of the past to hold onto as we’re pushed into the future.” Instead, she equips herself to survive in that future. She practices her aim with BB guns. She collects maps and books on how Native Americans used plants. She develops a belief system of her own, a Darwinian religion she names Earthseed.
The sequel, “Parable of the Talents,” published in 1998, begins in 2032. By then, various forms of indentured servitude and slavery are common, facilitated by high-tech slave collars. The oppression of women has become extreme; those who express their opinion, “nags,” might have their tongues cut out. People are addicted not only to designer drugs but also to “dream masks,” which generate virtual fantasies as guided dreams, allowing wearers to submerge themselves in simpler, happier lives. News comes in the form of disks or “news bullets,” which “purport to tell us all we need to know in flashy pictures and quick, witty, verbal one-two punches. Twenty-five or thirty words are supposed to be enough in a news bullet to explain either a war or an unusual set of Christmas lights.” The Donner Administration has written off science, but a more immediate threat lurks: a violent movement is being whipped up by a new Presidential candidate, Andrew Steele Jarret, a Texas senator and religious zealot who is running on a platform to “make American great again.”
Octavia Butler's Prescient Vision of a Zealot Elected to "Make America Great Again," Abby Aguirre, New Yorker, 2017
In "Sower," one of the distinct things I recall is the juxtaposition between advancement and debasement; triumph and depravity. While civilization on Earth was practically going to shit in the novel, I remember from the novel, we discover microbial life on Mars, which is predicted to be the extraterrestrial life we'll likely discover on the red planet. The Moon Landing - that conspiracy theorists don't think happened, and likely won't think the next one led by commercial space vehicles isn't a forgery - occurred in 1969: it was the year after the Fair Housing Act and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, followed by the presidential candidate that announced the sad news, Robert F. Kennedy. It was the year the Original Star Trek was cancelled, "boldly going" into syndication, convention and science fiction mythology; a vison of us surviving to be our better angels. We were still in the Civil Rights Era, and fighting for the rights to be human. On that year, mankind walked on the moon, but specifically European men, as African American astronauts only appeared as extras along William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, or in prosthetic makeup so you couldn't tell what culture they were from. Guy Bluford, Ron McNair and others had yet to appear on the scene, then and now a small selected group of explorers.
I watched the launch of SpaceX, marveling at its sleekness, benefiting from transistors and the march of Moore's law to the nanoscale. It was a day after riots for the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaund Aubrey. The scientists and technicians in Mission Control were wearing masks acknowledging the pandemic; the president* and vice president* were playing their "macho-tough-guy" shtick.
*: indicative of installed puppets by Putin.
Rockets, moon shots
Spend it on the have nots
Money, we make it
'Fore we see it you take it
Oh, make you wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
This ain't livin', this ain't livin'
No, no baby, this ain't livin'
No, no, no
Marvin Gaye, "Inner City Blues," Genius Lyrics
A rat done bit my sister Nell
With whitey on the moon
Her face and arms began to swell
And whitey's on the moon
I can't pay no doctor bills
But whitey's on the moon
Ten years from now I'll be payin' still
While whitey's on the moon
The man just upped my rent last night
Cause whitey's on the moon
No hot water, no toilets, no lights
But whitey's on the moon
Gil Scott-Heron, "Whitey on the Moon," Genius Lyrics
Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word (unquote).
We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood -- it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on."
We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.
Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence, Martin Luther King, Jr., Riverside Church, NYC, April 4, 1967 (he would be assassinated April 4, 1968)
Poets in many spaces have earned the quaint acronym: "prophets of eternal truths." As prophets, Gaye, Heron and King made the same observation of their time, that it was obscene to attain such technological triumphs while letting income inequality, rampant militarism, racial unrest and societal disparity go as unchallenged as established on Plymouth Rock. Prophecy isn't prediction as much as it is warning: it is usually written as suggested course-correction, not inevitable conclusion.
A global empire was gotten initially with sugar cane and cotton, on land looted from First Nation peoples, the same who helped the colonists survive their first winter - they were repaid with near extinction. The land was looted from Mexicans, the theft memorialized in jingoism and sloganeering: "remember the Alamo." The land was cultivated by kidnapped peoples from the African continent. The looters wrote us all off as savages, uncivilized, unintelligent, rapists, drug dealers, animals, and took their sexual pleasures - heterosexually, homosexually and depraved pedophilia - with their captive property. Mulatto children typically worked in the master's house, but acknowledged their fathers like they acknowledged his white children: sir and ma'am, so ingrained Floyd used "I can't breath, sir" to the assassin sitting on his neck. Science moved forward during these years, a proof that it can advance even in the midst of a nation's depravity.
Sleek, Dragon SpaceX craft can dock with International Space Stations, while below cities burn in dystopia and a madman mean-girl tweets from the loo. As "comforter-in-chief," he is consistently missing in action, befitting a five-deferment draft dodger.