Category Archives: 37 Minutes

Channel 37’s roundtable talk show. Commentary, discussion, interviews, in-depth features, and humor (of course) related to all things science fiction.

Hesiod’s Five Ages of James T. Kirk

37 MinutesCareers don’t always go in the direction you expect. For example, I went to college intending to become a history professor, and now I’m a freelance writer. You just never know. Heroic fictional characters, on the other hand, tend to proceed through life as if trekking (*ahem*) down an enchanted path strewn with rose petals, accompanied by a chorus of angels singing ballads of their triumphs.

And speaking of heroics, recently I was reading about the “Five Ages of Man” as expounded by the ancient Greek poet Hesiod in his epic Works and Days. As I read it, I was struck by how the ages more or less mirrored the career path of TV’s most famous spaceship commander, James T. Kirk.

See what you think:

The Golden Age

Kirk's Golden Age. . . the deathless gods who dwell on Olympus made a golden race of mortal men who . . . lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief: miserable age rested not on them; but with legs and arms never failing they made merry with feasting beyond the reach of all evils. . . . they are called pure spirits dwelling on the earth, and are kindly, delivering from harm, and guardians of mortal men; for they roam everywhere over the earth, clothed in mist and keep watch on judgements and cruel deeds . . .

Substitute “space” for “earth” and you have a pretty good description of Captain Kirk as we first met him — a man whose arms and legs (and occasionally his lungs) never failed him, who roamed everywhere keeping watch on the cruel deeds of a phalanx of bad-guy aliens. Although never entirely free from toil and grief, Golden Age Captain Kirk always managed to shrug it off by the end of the episode, before pointing his stalwart crew toward their next weekly adventure.

The Silver Age

Kirk's silver age. . . then they who dwell on Olympus made a second generation which was of silver and less noble by far. It was like the golden race neither in body nor in spirit . . . an utter simpleton, playing childishly in his own home. But . . . they lived only a little time in sorrow because of their foolishness . . . . Then Zeus the son of Cronos was angry and put them away . . . .

The second incarnation of Kirk certainly was surrounded by silver (and, for some reason, lots of beige) and generally agreed by the fans to be indeed less noble by far and pretty childish. Lacking the body and spirit of the Golden Age, this era fortunately spent little time in its sorrow. So let us follow the example of Zeus and quickly put this age away and hasten on to:

The Bronze Age

Kirk's bronze ageZeus the Father made a third generation of mortal men, a brazen race . . . terrible and strong. They loved the lamentable works of Ares and deeds of violence; they ate no bread . . . . Great was their strength and unconquerable the arms which grew from their shoulders on their strong limbs. Their armour was of bronze, and their houses of bronze, and of bronze were their implements . . . . . These were destroyed by their own hands and passed to the dank house of chill Hades . . .

Terrible and strong was Kirk at this age, a more violent and combative man who ate not bread but apples and was unconquerable in battle. And his new uniform sure had a lot of bronze on it. Not to mention that he destroyed his house by his own hand, passing it down into Hades in a big ol’ fireball.

The Heroic Age

Kirk's heroic age. . . Zeus the son of Cronos made yet another . . . which was nobler and more righteous . . . . Grim war and dread battle destroyed a part of them . . . . And they live untouched by sorrow in the islands of the blessed along the shore of deep swirling Ocean, happy heroes for whom the grain-giving earth bears honey-sweet fruit flourishing thrice a year . . . . And these last equally have honour and glory.

Okay, maybe I’m reaching a bit here, but work with me. A nobler and more righteous Kirk leads his happy heroes to the shores of the deep swirling Pacific where they brought unto the Earth once more the whales that would prevent more grim war from that big Space Log. And once he gets busted back to Captain, he gets the honor and glory. See, it kind of works.

The Iron Age

Kirk's iron ageFor now truly is a race of iron, and men never rest from labour and sorrow by day, and from perishing by night; and the gods shall lay sore trouble upon them. But, notwithstanding, even these shall have some good mingled with their evils. And Zeus will destroy this race of mortal men also when they come to have grey hair on the temples at their birth.

When we last meet Jim Kirk, he is roused from complacency in the Nexus to seek once more the labor and sorrow by which he had made his name and reputation in ages past. Finding sore trouble once more, he at last perishes by night, but there is indeed some good mingled in as he manages to save another planet from sure destruction. Just like old times.

And that last line probably explains Kirk’s hair.

So there you have it: an epic life as plotted by an epic poet. As Hesiod wrote in Works and Days, “Both gods and men are angry with a man who lives idle, for in nature he is like the stingless drones who waste the labour of the bees, eating without working.” When it comes to describing the life of Captain Kirk, the word “idle” doesn’t make the cut. Eating, sure. But eating and working? That’s our Captain.

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Hollywood Shrugged

or, Another Movie Made from a Book Written by a Dead Author to Save a Bunch in Royalties

37 MinutesThe releasing of part 1 of Atlas Shrugged was coupled by lukewarm advertisement accompanied by an ambivalent trailer hinting of the suggestion of a plot. As far as I could tell, there was no pre-production or even post production hype that would normally surround a project of this potential. This movie quietly crept on to the screens of “selected” theatres. Perhaps this is based on all the controversy surrounding the novel itself.

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand has found its way into American pop culture much the same way as most of the other pop culture icons such as Stars Wars, Andy Warhol and, of course, Channel 37. So, during the snowzilla events of 2010, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. This was, in fact, my first e-book.

I found the world that Ms. Rand created to be a virtual Wagnerian opus, dark and grim in nature. The plot twists in her novel contrived to make this world darker and grimmer. Unfortunately, with the spring thaw and the newness of the new spring, the book was placed in digital hiatus.

Atlas Shrugged had that same controversial effect in the political world that Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code had on the religious world. But the bottom line is: this is a work of fiction. The book has been called dystopian fiction, speculative fiction, or even science fiction –- which is why it fell on our desks here at Channel 37.

The trailer to Part 1 was overwhelmingly underwhelming. I almost recognized one of the actors. To place this movie in modern times is a serious dis-service. Apparently, the budget for Atlas Shrugged did not rate having proper sets or big name actors such as Tom Hanks:

In order to hear what our viewers think, Channel 37 will be conducting interviews at our location at Balticon this May. The first ten movie goers that stop by and talk to us will get a special “RTH” travel sticker (a $2.00 value!) and instant world-wide fame. To qualify, the viewer must see the whole movie without falling asleep and taking no more than one bathroom break.

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May the 4th Be With You!

37 MinutesHappy Star Wars Day to everyone! To get a history of the holiday (which we at Channel 37 take very seriously) check out this wikipedia link:

As a bonus in honor of this holiday we offer a contest. Any fan visiting our booth at Balticon who can quote a line that we cannot identify will be awarded an official Channel 37 “Earth” sticker (a $2 value!).
The line must be from either A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, or The Return of the Jedi (the only three that really matter, and the older versions, too — not the re-releases with extra scenes).

Good Luck!

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It’s the End of the World (Film at 11)

37 MinutesAs many of our dear readers know, the world will end this Saturday. As we expect this to be a fairly momentous event, we at Channel 37 will be ready to capture the details. Our video crews will be out and waiting for the event to unfold.

Rest assured we will have live (recorded) video at our debut at Balticon on Memorial Day weekend. Scroll down for updates as they happen.

Until then, Enjoy an old REM video:

UPDATE: 05/21/2011, 10:24am

As of yet the end of the world has not manifested itself. We are, however, still vigilant in our coverage. We have several bit of new information:

a) The end will occur at 6pm (1800 military time). We are, as of now, unsure whether this is GMT, EST, CST, PST or Arizona time. We will have more information as if becomes available.

b) Giant Foods (no, not a sponsor) is producing or selling extra large marshmallows, ideal for roasting over Fire and Brimstone. Hopefully we will have recipes soon.

c) Check back with Channel 37 for the latest End of the World coverage!

UPDATE: 05/21/2011, 1:04pm

This is Paul reporting in from Annapolis. Just came back from a foray to the local coffee shop, where everyone appeared to be calm over what could be their final meals. Their courage and calm demeanor in the face of impending doom was a marvel for this correspondent to behold.

We will continue our coverage throughout this unfolding story. In the meantime, keep courage.

UPDATE: 05/21/2011, 1:37pm

The weather is great, the sky is calm. Is this the calm before the storm? The Northern Baltimore branch of Channel 37 will be offline for the next several hours.

Don’t Panic. Will be back later. Meanwhile Paul will keep the world informed as needed. Will tweet if something happens in the meantime!

UPDATE: 05/21/2011, 5:18pm

After enjoying the bittersweet pleasure of what could be my last beer after putting an initial coat of paint on the wall in the back yard (we want it to look good for these final hours), I am preparing to sally forth to put on the final coat before the appointed time of the rapture. Ah, the poignancy of that phrase; a “final coat” indeed.

While I was painting, I heard many sounds that seemed at first to be omens: the distant roar of the thundering hooves of the apocalyptic horsemen, which turned out to be a helicopter; a wailing trumpet of doom that turned out to be a neighbor’s vacuum. Nevertheless, I remain vigilantly on duty and will report again — one way or another!

UPDATE: 05/21/2011, 11:36pm

The northern branch of Channel 37 is back online! We just learned of a volcanic eruption in Iceland. Is this the end? Could it be the harbinger of doom? Or is it just blowing hot air like the rest of this wild rumor?

Let us know what you think! Come see us at Balticon next weekend and give us your opinion!

UPDATE: 05/22/11, 9:45am

Hey, did you hear that the Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012? Be sure to follow our coverage of this latest breaking apocalypse here on Channel 37, your home for serial science fiction from the distant reaches of UHF!

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Secret Writings in Ancient Pyramid

37 MinutesIt was recently announced that ancient “secret” writings were discovered in the great Pyramid at Giza. Sounds like the beginning of a great Action/Adventure/Science Fiction/Fantasy novel. Is this something that Paul and I could have written? You Betcha!

But it’s real!

Could these writings tell us the meaning of life? The secret of the stars? The recipe for Spam?

Time will only tell.

Meanwhile check out the article on the CNN website.

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“I Don’t Expect to Die on This Planet”

37 MinutesBalticon 45 was a terrific four-day family reunion for readers and writers of science fiction in all its forms. For Channel 37, not only was it our official debut, it was also a chance for us to make many new friends and meet people with whom we had corresponded via Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail.

Balticon is also a remarkably fuel-efficient serendipity engine. You never know who you’re going to meet, or where a chance conversation is going to steer your imagination or your inspiration. I had several such chats over four days, but throughout the whole event I kept up a running conversation with “Scratch” Bacharach, who describes himself as a lifelong fan and who has attended every Balticon since the early 1970s.

Now, Scratch has a lot to recommend him. First of all, he has great taste in hats, judging from the selection I saw. But he also has been around fandom for about as long as I have been alive, and he has seen a lot of changes — some of which he likes, and some of which he doesn’t. Scratch is one of those people who has his strong opinions about things, but unlike many of us his opinions are based on a lot of experience and observation. So that makes him worth listening to, even if you might disagree with some of his conclusions. But the other thing that’s cool about Scratch is that he’s open to a good discussion and willing to listen to different opinions, just like a true fan should.

One of the things I liked immediately about Scratch is that he is an inveterate optimist. Like me, his philosophy of fandom is steeped in a sense of mission and responsibility. He started out in fandom during the heady days of Star Trek and 2001; I came of age in the days of the L-5 Society and the Space Colony movement. Common to both eras was a sense of destiny, of purpose; fans were more than just appreciators, they were drivers. Fueled with the heady excitement of the promise of living and traveling in space, they worked in their own lives to help bring that future closer to reality, each in their own great or small way. At the Space panel that Scratch chaired on the last day of Balticon, he set the tone right off by asking, “What should the role of fandom be in helping lead the return to manned space exploration?” Over the next hour, he roused the rabble into what felt like an old-school revival meeting. It was a great note on which to end the convention.

On Sunday I had a chance to sit down with Scratch and ask him about the past, present, and future of fandom, manned space exploration, and science fiction conventions. I think you’ll enjoy it!

“Into pessimism, I go not.” — SB

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Space Shuttle Endeavour docked to ISS (NASA/Paolo Nespoli)

-- NASA/Paolo Nespoli

This is a deeply bittersweet photo. Most of us have been waiting decades to see something like it. And very soon it will no longer be possible to see such a thing again. Next month, the space shuttle fleet will be retired after a 30-year career.

I stayed home from elementary school to watch the first launch of the shuttle Columbia on April 12, 1981. I got to see Columbia after its landing in White Sands, New Mexico following its third mission. I grew up with the shuttle. I remember the promises: that it was a “space truck;” that it would make space travel as cheap as regular freight; that it would launch the components for an eventual swarm of orbital facilities that would serve as hopping-off points to Lagrange colonies, lunar mining stations, asteroid prospecting expeditions, planetary missions, and oh so much more. The shuttle, in other words, was the vehicle that would usher in The Future.

So that photo actually got me choked up a little bit. It hit me like a snapshot from a parallel reality, or from the Future That Could Have Been. I had to get up, put on John Barry’s regal score for Moonraker, close my eyes, and go back in time 30 years to when all those things were all still exciting possibilities.

Now, I’m not going to blame presidents or politicians or bureaucrats for this or that decision. Robust, rugged, and reliable space travel is bogglingly complicated, and it’s mind-blowingly expensive. And it may not be the sort of thing that governments do well. Or entrepreneurial companies either, for that matter. See, governments aren’t in the vision business; they’re in the governing business. Companies aren’t in the vision business either; they’re in the return-on-investment business. We haven’t yet found the “sweet spot” that can enable us to pull off routine space travel, but then again I bet we haven’t even come close to exhausting the possibilities. So where will the solutions come from, and how will we know what they look like?

At Balticon, I got to meet and talk with Scratch Bacharach, who’s been a fan of science fiction for almost as long as I’ve been around and he’s still convinced that he’s not going to die on this planet. I haven’t met anyone who’s said anything like that for many, many years, and boy did it stir up some long-forgotten feelings. There is still such a thing as optimism.

I’m a writer for a living, but I have to admit that I didn’t know the etymology of the word “optimism.” So I went and looked it up, and I was pretty surprised by what I learned. The word dates from 1737; I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it was coined during the Enlightenment. It was originally used to label a philosophy dedicated to achieving “the greatest good.” Optimum-ism, in other words — the Sisyphean effort to create the most good for the least evil. Originally a French word, it didn’t even enter English usage until a decade after the American Revolution.

Think about that for a second. Adams, Franklin, Washington et al. didn’t have the word “optimism” to describe their plan to invent a new nation based solely on the ideals of equality and inalienable rights.

Kind of puts space travel into perspective, doesn’t it?

Moving into space isn’t going to result in the creation of utopias (Greek for “nowhere lands”). It’s not going to solve all our earthly economic and environmental problems. We’re going to bring all that baggage with us wherever we go. Gerard K. O’Neill kicked off the Space Colony movement by arguing that the surface of the Earth wasn’t the best — the optimum — place for a technological civilization to expand to its fullest potential (or inevitable consequences, depending on your perspective). No one knows if he’s right. I don’t know if space travel is a biological imperative or just simple escapism, or even if it has to have a reason.

But thanks to my friend Scratch Bacharach, I am reminded that whatever ends up happening, it’ll be the optimists asking the tough questions, exploring the possibilities, trying things out, succeeding sometimes and failing often, getting up again and failing better the next time until they figure it out.

Turns out, optimists are pretty easy to spot after all.

They’re the ones looking up.

“Mama told me not to look into the eyes of the sun
But Mama, that’s where the fun is.”

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Only Five Days Left in the Ebook Death Match!

37 MinutesNext Monday, it’s all over. Only one writer will be left standing. And the loser will have to face a fate so unimaginable that . . . well, okay, it’s not that bad actually.

The Ebook Death Match is a brawl of titans — Keith “EdGizmo” “Penslinger” Hughes and Scott “Spiritual Tramp” “I Only Have One Nickname” Roche — to see who can sell the most books between June 6 and June 20. But here’s the twist: they’re not selling their own books. They’re selling each other’s! That’s right: Scott is hawking Keith’s science fiction thriller Borrowed Time while Keith is busking Scott’s horror anthology Through a Glass, Darkly. Whoever sells the most of the other’s books, wins.

And as an added perk, the participants in the Ebook Death Match got to decide what the loser must do. As of the close of voting on June 13, the winner by a healthy margin — with a full 50% of the vote — was that the loser must write a song and sing it. Depending on who loses the Death Match, it may be us, the readers, who suffer the horrific fate . . . (*cue horror music*)

So hurry up and join in the fun before it’s too late! Just be sure to buy your book by midnight on Monday, June 20!

To encourage you, listen to this dramatic interview of the contestants at Flying Island Press refereed by Zach Ricks. And be sure to check out this epic video:

Of course, we here at Channel 37 remain strictly neutral (GO SCOTT!), and we wish both contestants the best of luck (HOORAY SCOTT!). In the best traditions of the sweet science, we say, “May the best man (SCOTT! SCOTT! SCOTT! SCOTT!) win.”

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What’s with all the Steam, Punk?

37 MinutesWhat’s with all the steam, punk?

The sub-genre of Steampunk certainly is growing within the Science Fiction community. This year Steampunk was overwhelmingly represented at Balticon, Baltimore’s best know science fiction convention.

The roots of Steampunk, of course, lie in the writings of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. The term “Steampunk” first appeared in K. W. Jeter’s 1979 novel, Molock Nights.

I first become entranced by these devices in the old television series, “The Wild Wild West.” The devices used by James West and Artemis Gordon set the stage, visually, for all subsequent incantations. Although the movie. Released in 1999, had the same feel, the craftsmanship, in my opinion, was not the same as the series.
Although the “Steampunk” has only been used since the 80’s older works, such as Shelly’s Frankenstein clearly fall within this sub-genre.

Lately, Steampunk itself has spawned sub-sub-genres, such as “Dieslepunk”, “Atomicpuck”, “Gaspunk” and “Clockpunk” just to name a few.

As this relatively new sub-genre spreads its wings in the future, we’ll be seeing much, more
Here are some examples of actual machines form the mid 1800’s that used steam: the USS Monitor (left), a totally steam driven ship with lots of attitude and the USS Alligator (right), Steamy Underwater Death!

Steamy underwater death!

Here is a video of the Steampunk exhibit in Oxford last year:

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The High Frontier

37 MinutesAs the Space Transportation System’s thirty-year career winds up (depending on the weather, the final mission may be departing later this morning), it’s important to look ahead to what’s next. It’s hard not to feel a little despairing; for the first time in a half century — think about that for a moment: in a half-freakin’-century, people — the United States won’t have its own way to put people into orbit. Think about it another way: there’s a really good chance that the next time people step onto the lunar surface, the first words out of their mouths will not be in English.

(Personally I think that will be a great moment in human history, but I predict it will also generate a deafening amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth in the country of Alan Shepard, John Glenn, and Neil Armstrong.)

Once NASA turns off the lights in Mission Control for the last time, it will fall once again to the enthusiasts to pick up the banner of manned spaceflight and carry it forward into whatever comes next: ranging from amateur rocket builders and space memorabilia collectors all the way up to entrepreneurial startups and private space launch companies. But there is one group conspicuously missing from the cadre: science fiction fans.

A pair of cylindrical space colonies, painted for the Ames Summer StudyThe last time the United States found itself in between manned space programs — between the end of the Apollo program (plus its Apollo/Soyuz and Skylab codas) to the first Space Shuttle mission — fandom was a crucial force in keeping public awareness firmly aimed at the stars. It’s probably not a coincidence that when Stanford physicist Gerard K. O’Neill asked a seminar of his top freshmen to think about whether a planet’s surface was really the optimum place for an expanding technological civilization to do its thing, Star Trek was broadcasting its final season. And when, in 1976, O’Neill was the featured speaker at a standing-room-only Senate hearing on the potential of space colonization, the august gallery looked more like the audience at a Worldcon GoH keynote.

But the space colony movement was also, arguably, the high water mark for large-scale fannish engagement with social policy in the United States. It’s not hard to understand why. A grassroots space movement had generated enough momentum to land on the shores of Congress; most of the young enthusiasts expected that moment to be followed by a ride on the new Space Shuttle to go build a giant colony where the L-5 Society would then disband in a mass meeting, Woodstock style, holding hands and swaying to its song:

Home, home on Lagrange,
Where the space debris always collects,
We possess, so it seems, two of Man’s greatest dreams:
Solar power and zero-gee sex.

But nothing saps the enthusiasm of young and old alike quite like the boring process of government. (Not that government goes out of its way to be exciting, mind you.) When the unstoppable force of youth met the immovable object of committee hearings, the inertia quickly dissipated. Since then, fandom has been largely absent from the heated debates over the benefits and drawbacks of the many amazing developments in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics that are busy shaping and reshaping the future of the planet — along with everyone and everything that’s along for the ride on it.

Logo of the NASA Ames Research Center Space Settlements siteI think that’s a crying shame. Fandom collectively has a lot to say. Not that fandom speaks with one voice — far from it, and wonderfully so — but by and large fandom is home for people who are more intelligent and imaginative, more attuned to subtlety and sensitive to nuance, more poetic, and frankly more optimistic than other groups of people. Fans are busy imagining whole new worlds; not idyllic utopias where they can chill out all day, but harsh, cold places where survival is a challenge and where brains, brawn, and improvisational genius make a difference.

It’s time that we started piping up again, started clamoring to be heard once more. We have communications tools that the grassroots space movement couldn’t have even dreamed about 35 years ago; we need to use them to raise the level of debate above partisan screaming and sniping toward thoughtful and respectful discussion among men and women of good will. Beneath the shallow sloganeering, there are matters of real import that require the kinds of deep, thoughtful, informed, passionate debate at which fans excel.

We can keep dreaming about living in space and visiting other planets, or we can do something about it.

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