Monday, July 15, 2019

MOON MAD






This is the week of celebrating the 50th anniversary of humankind’s (well, it wasn’t going to be in other kind’s, was it?) first landing and walking on the moon (July 20, 1969). And I am allowing myself to feel the twitter-like vibrations of thrill.



Those who know me well know that I have been moon mad from a very young age. It’s not quite been full lunacy, I don't quite wear my moon madness on my sleeve, but I have been known to wear it on my chest.








And it did lead me to write my play, Made on the Moon, which had its world premiere at the 1996 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.





The play was staged by a young company of actors from London and ran for the three weeks of the festival. It received a fairly positive four-star review from The Scotsman, which I don’t remember in full, but I do remember that the review said that the play “...would not be dismissed from the stage.” Which meant, I think, that the reviewer appreciated it as a fully theatrical work of art.



Despite that assessment, I dismissed Made on the Moon from the stage a couple of years back and adapted it as a novella, which has been published by Crossroad Press.





It received some positive reaction as well, and these I remember.

"With just enough satirical elements to emphasize the blurred line between logic and insanity, true fans of Science Fiction will find a kindred attachment with the Stanley Lewis character. It is a hero's journey, a relentless determination to dream the impossible. Made on the Moon by Steven Paul Leiva shows us that reaching for the stars is not just a dream, for some, it is a way of life." -- Ricky L. Brown, Amazing Stories Magazine

“Leiva has crafted a satire – perhaps a self-satire – with a very warm heart. If you’ve ever dreamed of flying in space or walking on the Moon, you’ll get the point of this story and you’ll love every page.” -- Russell Blackford, author of Science Fiction and the Moral Imagination.

In both versions, the first half of Made on the Moon has very definite autobiographical elements. The second half most definitely does not! And in writing it I learned that I was, without a doubt, a writer. And I learned what it means to fashion fiction that, it is hoped, resonates beyond just the twitter-like vibrations of thrill. For the piece started out, many years ago, as a simple polemic in support of the space program, but became something much more complex than that. Something that allowed me to explore myself with a cold eye, and society with an even colder one. All while having a few laughs along the way.

But, still, it’s genesis was my fascination and love of the moon and of our successful effort to reach it—even if our motivation to do so was not as pure as I would have liked. 



At the wrap party for the Edinburgh run, the cast and crew presented me with our poster all signed by themand a title page from my playscript autographed by Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon!

How the hell did they pull that off?

While the company was rehearsing Made on the Moon in London they heard that Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, was on a UK book tour for his novel, Encounter at Tiber (co-authored with John Barnes), was now in London. Tom Knight, who played Stanley Lewis, the protagonist of the play went to one of Aldrin’s book signings and asked him to autograph the title page. It was pretty gutsy of them, asking an author to autograph someone else’s work. But it was certainly appropriate as Aldrin has a few lines heard offstage in Made on the Moon. Being both gutsy and appropriate, I was deeply moved by the gift and damn appreciative. 





And it has remained a prized possession.
















Later that year back in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to meet Aldrin during his American book signing tour. I accompanied my good friend, producer and manager Ken Kragen (The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour; the Kenny Rogers “Gambler” movies) to the headquarters of The Planetary Society where Aldrin was having a special book signing for members. Ken is a lover of astronomy and the space program and had bought at an auction one of Aldrin’s flight suits, which adorned a mannequin in his office for years. 




I thanked Aldrin for signing my play and, of course, now had the pleasure to have him sign a copy of his book. After all, it was only fair. 






I had one more opportunity to meet and speak with Aldrin when we were both attending an awards banquet at which Ken Kragen was being honored as a “Father of the Year.” Which, by the way, was well-deserved. Aldrin was gracious and we briefly talked about going to Mars. Not he and I in particular, of course, but good old humankind in general.

I intend to have a lovely week of remembering watching live on television Aldrin and Armstrong walking on the moon and feeling again what I felt then. And reliving the thrill of being able to meet live-in-person a man who had been to the moon. After all, Stanley Lewis's first line of dialog in Made on the Moon is, "I had wanted to go to the moon from the time I was an infant."
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Made on the Moon, the novella is available as an ebook on Amazon. Crossroad Press has discounted it to 99 cents. Hey, that’s nowhere near what it cost to go to the moon! Check it out.



Tuesday, May 14, 2019

TRAVELING IN SPACE LOOKING FOR ALIENS


We all, every last one of us, often believe in things we consider to be obviously true, thus things we “know” to be true, but which may simply not be true. It’s what 20th-Century philosopher Ernst Cassirer, I believe, called “first impression knowledge” (although I’m happy to be corrected on this). William James coined a term which also applies—the sentiment of rationality. In other words, you accept something as true when it seems rational to you, or, better said, feels rational to you. As the term implies, this is an emotion and not true rationality and certainly not real knowledge.

A good and obvious example of this is an early Homo sapiens individual (you can fill in the gender) standing on an African savanna looking up at the sun



taking it for a supernatural entity that, obviously, rises in the East in the morning and goes to bed in the West for the evening. It is this individual’s first impression that the sun moves overhead, despite the truth that it does not. But he “knows” it to be true because he has observed it, therefore—as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has recently and now famously (soon infamously, I’ll bet) stated regarding specific trials and tribulations of a certain Mr. Trump—case closed.



Fortunately we Homo sapiens over time looked longer and deeper into the matter of the sun and came up with second, third, fourth, and onward, impressions of the orb, and a good deal of the truth about that fiery body is now known to us scientifically—that is, rationally and not just emotionally.

A current bit of first impression knowledge that strikes many people’s sentiment of rationality is the assertion that since the universe is so vast



(The radius of the observable universe is estimated to be about 46.5 billion light-years and its diameter about 93 billion light-years), and there are so many Galaxies


(Research released in 2016 revised the number of galaxies in the observable universe from a previous estimate of 200 billion to a suggested 2 trillion or more, containing more stars than all the grains of sand on planet Earth), and there may be 100 billion of stars in our galaxy alone


with potentially billions of planets that might support some form of life—obviously there must be other intelligent, technological, communicating, civilized life in our galaxy and it would be arrogant of us to assume otherwise.

Feels rational, doesn’t it?

But is it? For there is not one shred of evidence, no data at all, not even a hint out there that any Extra-Terrestrial Civilizations (ETCs) exist anywhere in the universe, let alone in our galaxy. And if any number of the possibly millions, maybe billions of ETCs are like us, sending out various electromagnetic signals and perhaps traveling in space and such, and since we have consciously been looking for such signals (admittedly not for long, but possibly long enough) why haven’t we pick any up? Or been visited (credibly, not UFOly) by them? This is known as the Fermi Paradox, named after physicist Enrico Fermi


who seems to have casually asked this question in 1950 causing not so casual consternation among people who think about such things.

Many of those people have tried to offer solutions to this paradox, and those possible solutions are well documented and commented on by physicist and astronomer Stephen Webb in his informative, detailed, wonderfully written If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens ... WHERE IS EVERYBODY?: Seventy-Five Solutions to the Fermi Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life (2002, 2nd ed. 2015).



Sometime last year I became aware of Stephen Webb and his book by coming across his TED Talk on YouTube which he gave in April 2018.


It’s about a thirteen-minute talk that has now been viewed almost four million times. It’s a good, if brief, introduction to the ideas in If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens ... WHERE IS EVERYBODY? But the book offers so much more, and I highly recommend it.

In his book, Webb objectively presents seventy-four of the seventy-five solutions to the Fermi Paradox in clear, conversational writing. Then, at the end of each section on a solution, he points out objections and weaknesses in each, calling on data not only from physics and astronomy but math, biology, geology, geography, and chemistry. Taking the reader far beyond first impression knowledge, Webb paints a picture of life in its various manifestations—simple, complex, adaptable, conscious, intelligent, technological. He does not do this using arcane—to non-scientists—language. The occasional, but necessary, use of math can be daunting for the mathematically illiterate, such as me, but glazing over of the eyes can get one though that. For the most part, though, Webb’s writing is not only readable but a comfortable, stimulating pleasure while many non-first impressions begin to open your mind. Especially to just how difficult it is in this cold universe for life to spark, to evolve from simple single-cell organisms into complexity, to survive, to thrive, not to mention to achieve sentient, intelligent, consciousness.

What your mind is opened to, then, as you finish the book, is the absolute wonder and strongly possible uniqueness of life, most particularly intelligent life, more specifically Homo sapiens intelligent life. No species self-loather is Webb in this world where many fellow humans make the knee-jerk reaction that our species are the greatest jerks on Earth, if not the universe.

This is all the more critical when you come to the seventy-fifth solution, which is Webb’s own, and so naturally subjective—but not by any means a first impression sentiment of rationality. Simply stated the solution may be that we have found no evidence of one or two or millions of ETCs (intelligent, technological and communicative) out there because—WE ARE ALONE IN THE UNIVERSE.



Okay, stop shouting now. It is not case closed. But it is something every one of us should embrace as a possibility.

I was drawn to Webb and his TED talk and book because I have always had, admittedly, a sentiment of rationality that we may indeed be the only intelligent life in the universe. I have never discounted the possibility of the opposite, but the thought that we are alone has intrigued me. So much so that I gave this opinion to my fictional aliens, the protagonists in my novel Traveling in Space.



Of course, my aliens think they are the only intelligent life in the universe and, indeed, have named themselves Life. But then, while traveling in space in their colossal lifeship, they stumble upon us, Homo sapiens sapiens, on this pretty little planet. We are nowhere near as intelligent—or fundamentally mature—as the aliens, but they find us knowledgeable enough to want to learn more about us.
My novel is not a work of hard science fiction. Rather it is a satire somewhat in the tradition of Gulliver’s Travels. My aliens are but a representation of our possible future selves—if we gain more intelligence (or knowledge) and maturity, and don’t destroy ourselves first. A possibility that also must be seriously considered.

What I hope my novel points to and I believe Webb in his book does too—is that we may or may not be the only intelligent life in the universe, but it doesn’t really matter. For even if there are others out there, our galaxy—and indeed the universe—is so vast, and communication and travel within will be so difficult, that although we may someday see evidence of ETCs, we almost certainly may never meet them “face to face.” If this is to be the case that finally closes, then we are virtually alone in the universe.

What matters, then, whether we are alone or not, is to act as if we are. Not to be arrogant about it but to appreciate just how unique, singular, and thus precious our life is -- our species is. If we, as a species, can do that, then maybe we will not self-destruct. And perhaps we will go on to survive, to thrive, and to continue to know far beyond first impressions.

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If you want to learn more about Stephen Webb you can check him out on his web page (Which he should, of course, call WEBB PAGE) here. You can get information on his many books and read his thoughts on many interesting subjects, including science fiction of which he is a huge fan.

If you are new to this blog and me and my books—and let's be honest, well over seven billion people in this world would be—I invite you to check out the ABOUT STEVEN PAUL LEIVA (well, who else would it be about?) page on this blog. And the MY BOOKS page also on this blog.



Monday, May 6, 2019

THROWBACK BLOG # 4 - The Liberal-Conservative War: Is it Cultural — or Biological?



As you can see, I wrote this blog in 2012. Current
events compel me to post it again. Some of the names
have changed, but otherwise....



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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Liberal-Conservative War: Is it Cultural — or Biological?


Fox News pushes its agenda from the Right;










MSNBC pushes its agenda from the Left. 










Moderate Senators and Representatives are dropping out of Congress, abandoning that august body because it ain’t so august anymore. White Evangelical Christians and Far Right cultural conservatives seem to want to go back to the lost Golden Age of their childhoods, or even before that, in an America where Family Values reigned supreme. 




The secular and the radical Left seem determined to spoil the dreams of White Evangelical Christians and Far Right cultural conservatives by pointing out that that Golden Age was fraught with racism, 









sexism, 








McCarthyism, 





repression, and intolerance.


Conservatives are afraid of America descending into Socialism; 






















Liberals are afraid of America descending into a Theocracy. 
























And compromise has become a ten letter four letter word. 


As the American philosopher, Marx 






-- as opposed to the German philosopher Marx -- 










once declared: “Of course, you know, this means war!”  And the war has been named Culture.


But what if the war is not cultural at all? What if it is biological? What if this unbridgeable divide we are experiencing is not just a matter of opinion, but is, in fact, a matter of speciation? 





Speciation, of course, is the process by which a new species branches off from an existing one, the demarcation being set once a member from one branch can no longer parent with a member from the other. We know that speciation has not happened yet because the very liberal James Carville and his very conservative wife Mary Matalin have children. 








But that doesn’t mean that a process of speciation, dividing the Left from the Right (or visa versa) won’t happen, and happen soon given the current tenor of discourse in this country.


Speciation does not necessarily mean progress. It simply means that certain members of a species have had some mutations that make them better adapted to the current or changing environment. It is not really a raw in tooth and claw situation -- despite Fox News and MSNBC -- it is more a luck of the draw situation. But if there is now to be two Homo species in this land, -- Homo sapiens retro and Homo sapiens progressivus -- the question will be, Which is more likely to survive into the future given the current environment of America? Of course, there is no reason why two Homo species couldn’t both survive and co-exist, as other species co-exist. After all, there must be thousands of species of birds in the world, all twittering into the air, each thinking their song is the sweetest. 










But as we in our land love a good race -- and usually only one at a time -- let’s look at several aspects of the environment in America today and see how each species might fare.




Creationism vs. Evolution






If evolution through natural selections is, as the vast majority of biologists believe, an established fact, then Homo sapiens progressivus is obviously the better adapted species, for its members are open to understanding the mechanics of evolution and taking advantage of those mechanics to better their lives. I can’t really see how evolution as an established fact brings harm  to Homo sapiens retros, except, of course, to their pride.  And if Creationism proves to be correct, then there is not much for Homo sapiens retro to adapt to. Indeed the species adapted to, and adopted, this thought many years ago.  But there is some detrimental harm that may come to their shoulders by all the patting of themselves on the back. As for Homo sapiens progressivus,well if creationism proves true then this species is going to spend eternity in a very hot place -- and let it adapt to that!


Climate Change




If climate change, as the vast majority of climatologists believe, is an established fact, then Homo sapiens progressivus is already well adapted, recycling and driving hybrids and electric vehicles and such. It enters upon species-hood already willing to understand climate change’s negative effects and to work, assuming it can grab enough political power, to reverse the harm.  Homo sapiens retro will not fare well if climate change is a fact, as it will probably be flooded, tornadoed, and hurricaned out of existence. If climate change is a hoax, then the only thing that Homo sapiens retros will have to adapt to is the cash from their oil company stocks.  Homo sapiens progressivus will migrate to costal areas where its diminished numbers will spend their time sulking and trying to remove tar from the feathers of seagulls.


Abortion

Abortion as a fact is not really a matter of controversy, it’s whether abortion is a sin or a matter of a rational, personal decision by a woman.  If it is a sin, then Homo sapiens retro is best adapted as some God directed catastrophe is likely to ensue so precisely that it wipes off the face of the Earth only Homosapiens progressivus. If abortion is simply a rational and personal decision by a woman, then Homo sapiens progressivus will be much better adapted to take advantage of the intelligence and creative energies women bring to society once they are assured of freedom of choice. Homo sapiens retro will survive only if they can compel enough women to stay home, shut up, cook the meals, and be prepared to spend much time in the maternity ward.




But none of this do we face just yet. As I said, given the example of James Carville and Mary Matilin, it is obvious that speciation has not yet happened. But once there has been enough reported cases of a liberal male 




















failing to impregnate a conservative female,









or of a liberal female failing to be impregnated by a 






















conservative male, 




we will know that there are now two divergent and non-compatible species living in the United States of America.  And then it will truly not be a culture war at all, but a species war.

And may the best species adapt.