So there you have it. I dropped David a line that I was running the interview this week, seeking permission from him to use some of his images to illustrate the piece, but I never heard back. So, no eye candy, alas.

UPDATE: I basically totally forgot that I had posted a scan of the article on my Gallery server, with the kind permission of the magazine.

If you took the time to download and watch the trailer for Man Conquers Space, you’re aware that David has somehow excavated a new emotion: the future of the past is sad.

It’s what we make jokes about when we complain about the lack of aircars and silver-jointed business suits. As promised, you see. We were in fact promised these things: moon bases, orbital space stations, the commercial and scientific exploitation of space. It’s what I wanted to do as a child; it’s what I’d do this very second if I could.

My wife can’t comprehend why I think living – and dying – in Major Tom’s tin can is infinitely more attractive than actively participating in the day-to-day hurly burly of imperial America. It’s something I can’t specifically answer; but I think I can make some generalizations.

First, I think that computers are a surrogate for this lost future. My personal passionate adoption of computers is a substitute for what should have been, a reasonable substitute that provides that particular potential infinity. Yet in space, you can die. I don’t believe that carpal tunnel has yet resulted in a fatality.

The real loss of the possibility of general expansion into space is probably better for individuals in the sense of increasing their survival rate. But for people like me, and David Sander, who really only ever wanted to be granted the possibility of dying out there in the long dark, it’s one of the many little deaths along the road to that final, welcoming blanket.

This is a highly personal interpretation, of course: but as much as I enjoy working with computers, they remain a simulacrum. David’s use is in fact just such a simulacrum.

I must stop. I’m listening to a documentary about the loss of habeas corpus at the discretion of our military and political leadership, and the stars are singing to me. There’s distance there, from all this. From all of it.

14 thoughts on “Space Conquered Me

  1. Mike, I think all you really need (and want) is a damn frontier. You can die anywhere, but to die alone these days is truly difficult. To die doing something only a few people can do (read “willing to do”) is farking impossible. Such is life…you were born too late.

    P.S. That documentary is wrong.

    Capitalist Pig Scotty

  2. Yes, sort of, Scott.

    (The documentary is right, unfortunately; thanks for the countervailing view.)

    The ‘frontier’ issue is a part of the failure of space and the sense of loss it engenders – it’s a part of why computing interested me for sure, and like all frontiers, the hallmark of offering individuals the chance to do work in the sevice of political and economic goals the same individual might not support is present. that’s the key benefit to a society of organizing toward a frontier: the soreheads leave. I’m a big sorehead.

    Who cares if it’s a democracy? This is space! Who cares if the DMCA threatens freedom of speech? These are computers!

    (David’s beautiful visions do represent at least in part the imaginings of some who who used slave labor to accomplish important advances in rocketry, it must be noted.)

    I think, as with computers, the idea of the frontier’s economic vitality overwhelming the predictable attempts to control that frontier’s growth underlies the enthusiasm and faith that working on the project is the right thing to do.

    Certainly, a part of my interest in moving into space is the idea that new econmic powers and practices which directly undermine those in place today in unpredictable, highly disruptive ways will grow out of it. We can do better, and we can do worse. Disruption of concentrations of capital and power is something I see as in my interest, even though on balance it’s probably not in my economic best interests.

    Since that’s the way I see the world, Scott, “Either you’re with us, or against us”, while not my formulation, leads me to concude I must be against us. This inevitably means I must not have guaranteed recourse to constitutional protection, but rather, only on the suffrage of some persons with whom do not share either trust or core values.

    This is a really, really interesting issue to me, but probably not one I’ll cover here: too much politics.

    Very little really worthwhile has been done in political and economic science on this issue that I know of. Marx never really examined it, since a frontier is by definition beyond the reach of what he thought of as “mature” capitalism. Critiques and considerations of it based on the US frontier tended to be at the time based on rhetoric rather than economic or philosphical analysis.

    Even SF examinations of space-as-frontier tend to be expressions of mainstream capitalist cheerleading (Heinlein) or mushy new-age metaphor (Clarke, God bless the wee man nonetheless). Authors that really strove to elucidate alternative economic structure without getting stuck in Utopia generally have addressed such issues in the context of fantasy – Le Guin and Delany come to mind.

    I suspect that there will be some interesting post-cyberpunk over the next few years that address some of these issues – Cory’s new book may be among them.

  3. er-

    “sufferance”, not “sufferage.”

    I actually woke up in the midle of the night with heart palpitations over this. I am absurd.

  4. Cory’s new book is available for free download if you want to read it electronically. I snagged it this weekend to try out the MS Reader on my PDA. That sucks as a way to read a book, for me.

    Viz the rest: ummm…OK. Guess I need to read more. But I think you’re doing me a disservice by NOT writing more about this issue. FWIW, I’m with you on the whole “lack of frontier” thing, but I see it as a failing more of my own imagination and my willingness to take a risk. Space would be fun, no doubt, and I honestly thought we’d be there colonizing and whooping it up by now. That we haven’t done that doesn’t strike me as a failure of American capitalism, in fact, quite the opposite. But like I say, I need to brush up on the issue more.

    So — get busy, bud.

  5. I have considered mucking around with my Palm to get the book on it. I have a hard time imagining it would please me as a reading experience, but, like, gotta try before one dismisses these things, right?

    I did leave out some interesting writings about frontiers that are very serious – there’s a big body of work by nonwestern writers about the experience of being the people who live on a frontier when the Europeans show up. Space, thankfully, lacks less-economically-robust societies to be disrupted.

    Thanks for the invitation, Scott. But where in person I’ll rant on and on about politics, I’ve chosen to avoid them here in consideration of the complex and uncomfortable feelings of isolation and alienation reading others’ political opinions and interpretations in the blogosphere creates within me.

    I believe democracy and the political expression of the will of the people at the ballot box trumps capitalism and national interest.

    I lived in Chile the year Allende was elected; his removal via openly-US-supported military coup disposed me, as a first-grader, to disbelieve American political proclamations of devotion to democracy in international politics.

    I prefer not to dwell on my alienation here, and frankly, have discussed it at too great a length in these comments.

  6. Yeah, that’s probably where the SF boys got it from, I’m guessing.

    There’s this interestig theme in my family history of making tracks, too. Not that we knew about it – part of making tracks was losing history.

  7. Now there is an interesting point. Making tracks and losing history is part of the space mythos as well. Uproot yourself not from just a country, but a whole planet, start anew. For most people, one of the most attractive elements in starting fresh, is to forget where you came from.

    For me, space is almost entirely bounded by science fiction. I never got caught up in the real space dream; the closest I have come is a fascination with astronomy, and theoretical examination of far-distant galaxies. Oh right. That science fiction thing…

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