In the year 2130, a very large object happens through the solar system. It is so large that at first astronomers take it for an asteroid, and even give a it name, Rama, as they would for any newly discovered astronomical body.
Closer investigation of Rama reveals a startling fact. The object is a cylinder, 50 kilometers long and 20 kilometers in diameter. It is a made thing, not a natural object. Furthermore, the creatures who built it clearly had advanced technologically far beyond humankind.
Wonders increase when the survey ship visits Rama. The survey crew easily passes through the air-locks—the doors are not locked—and find an inhabitable, self-contained world in the hollow interior. But there are no signs of the intelligent life that built Rama. The crew explores the vast interior for days, but Rama remains virtually the same enigma as when first discovered.
Because Rama will pass dangerously close to the sun, the survey crew must abandon the vehicle. But before leaving, they prevent the Hermians (the human colonists on Mercury) from destroying Rama. The Hermians fear that Rama is preparing to take up a strategic orbit from which the Ramans—finally out of hiding—could control the solar system.
But Rama behaves in no way expected by humans. After rounding the sun, from which it draws energy, Rama continues on its way out of the solar system, its destination and purpose unknown to man.
In our critical attention to Rendezvous with Rama, we should first note that it is an extraordinary example of hard SF in the Vernian tradition. The giant vehicle is neither fantasy nor literary prop. It is very real, from the triple air-locks outside to the cylindrical sea inside. Further, its structure and movements are, until the last chapters, consistent with known scientific principles.
Very late in the novel, Rama shows propulsion capabilities that defy Newtonian physics (“There goes Newton’s Third Law,” one character says in disbelief). Until then, though, Rama is big, but not bigger than the potential of human understanding.
At another level, the Wellsian one, Rama is about the human reaction to an alien encounter. With considerable skill, Clarke develops in the narrative the two most elemental responses to aliens: first, that they could only want to conquer us, or, second, they will come to save us from ourselves. The first attitude we see in the Hermians, who consider Rama a threat. The second attitude we see in Boris Rodrigo, who, as a member of the Fifth Church of Christ, Cosmonaut, sees Rama as a giant ark, come to save the faithful.
As we have seen, though, Rama is neither (or reveals itself as neither). It has no apparent concern for earth, and has traveled this way entirely for its own purposes. Humans must face the possibility that they are too insignificant to be noticed, and play a very minor role in the universe.
But Rama may after all be carrying a kind of message. One of the most intriguing features of the storyline is that Rama is so unprotected from would-be vandals and predators. Do the Ramans assume that any species technologically advanced enough to reach the ship in outer space would also be respectful enough to leave it unharmed? This interpretation would link technological advancement with cultural maturity—even moral progress.
Such a theme is consistent with the tempered scientific optimism that we see in Clarke’s work throughout his career. Commander Norton, who leads the survey team, sees his role in Rama as that of a privileged caretaker. He is determined to leave the vessel in good order, and finally allows his crew to cut into one of the interior structures only after it is obvious that there is no other way to enter it.
Identifying deeply with the technological triumph that Rama represents, Norton sees a future in which humankind will someday enjoy the same achievements. His experience aboard Rama leads him to conclude that “There was mystery here—yes; but it might not be beyond human understanding.” Or, perhaps the universe is not stranger than we can know, and the universal language of intelligent life is science and technology. Rama itself—the very fact of its existence—speaks to humankind in the universal language of science.
Our appreciation of the novel takes an even richer turn if we consider closely the Hermians and their efforts to destroy Rama. Although they are considerably advanced scientifically and technologically, their behavior is hardly enlightened. The Hermians are evidence that Clarke is neither one-sided in his understanding of science, nor simple-minded in his trust of scientific advancement. It is only luck that places the right person at the right place at the right time to prevent the Hermians from destroying Rama. Furthermore, the Hermians might have been right—Rama could have been setting a strategic orbit from which it could control, militarily, the solar system. We know for certain that it isn’t only after it doesn’t.
Commander Norton acts on a “gut” instinct that Rama means no harm—and he is right. The Hermians reason from scientific logic to determine that it does mean harm—and they are wrong. Is Clarke telling us that, finally, science is subsumed in the fallible human domain, where chance, impulse, and irrationality supersede scientific logic? Is Clarke, after all, a closet humanist, speaking for the integration of “gut” instinct and scientific logic (just as many scientists insist that science is both Intellect and Passion)?
Does the Hermian’s near-success tell us anything about the Ramans themselves? We could argue that perhaps Rama after all had a defensive system; there was simply no reason to use it, since Norton and his crew took care of the Hermian threat. Or perhaps we see an ultimate naivete at the far end of the spectrum of scientific development—have the Ramans forgotten that violence is possible? Or perhaps the Ramans are fatalists—”what will be will be.” Or do they in some intuitive way “know” that a Norton will always come along to prevent vandalism?
These issues are a quantum leap beyond shoot-outs in outer space (and yet the novel is no less entertaining than good space opera), and they enrich the novel considerably. When a science fiction novel poses questions of this sort, it is on its way to becoming literature.
[note: from the 90's onward]
5. Dark City (1998) We relive the same day, over and over, as part of an experiment run by a dying alien race. John Murdoch discovers what’s up and uses his psychokinetic powers to fight back, ultimately uncovering an even more horrifying reality. This film has a massive cult following, and for a reason. A stunningly original neo noir SF aesthetic, haunting imagery, and a fun performance by Keifer Sutherland make this a flick that will be remembered just as long as the Matrix, which was released the same year.
4. Moon (2009) Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, the ‘solitary’ over-seer of the automated harvesters which extract helium-3 from the lunar surface. After a near-death accident, Sam realizes he’s not alone, and his new friends are an awful lot like him. This film poses a complex biotechnological nightmare and follows it to its logical conclusion. Directed by David Bowie’s son, Moon is a masterpiece that will receive its due thanks later this century.
3. Shutter Island (2010) No, not Inception, Shutter Island, the other Leo DiCaprio 2010 mind-bender that is actually much better (I’m currently working on a post that explains why). Legendary director Martin Scorsese’s first thriller takes your mind out, rearranges your thoughts, puts it back in and then sits back and watches you scramble to make sense of reality. If you think you have this movie figured out watch it again and ask yourself what’s really going on in the lighthouse. If you’re smirking right now I’m talking to you.
2. Primer (2004) This movie is about two guys who invent time travel in their garage. Beyond that, you’re on your own. Watching Primer is kind of like taking not enough bad acid.
1. eXistenZ (1999) David Cronenberg’s impregnable tale of organic virtual reality gaming. You play by allowing a hole in your lower back to be penetrated by a rubber fetus-looking console. Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh are game players who are never sure what game characters they’re playing. Pinned against a cabal of neo-terrorists, they find themselves trapped in multiple levels of unreality- a game within a game within a game, etc. The audience, too, never discovers the objective environment of the film, who the good guys and bad guys are, or even what year it is, creating a near future in which truth and reality are mediated by apocryphal entertainment vendors.
Honorable mentions: Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, 12 Monkeys, A Scanner Darkly, Fight Club, Vanilla Sky, Donnie Darko, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind….Inception….Matrix
The idea that a race of aliens—referred to by conspiracy theorists as the Anunnaki—is embedded among the human population is a belief held by author David Icke. He believes mankind is the result of prehistorical interbreeding between these reptilian aliens (also known as the Serpent-Gods) and humans, a babylonian orgy which created powerful and insidious hybrid bloodlines. Out of these bloodlines came the elite royal families of the world, the Illuminati, who have controlled all governments, banking systems and transnational corporations since.
Chosen ones from these bloodlines are culled by the Reptilians and groomed to be in positions of power—they are the Suits (politicians, executives, etc.), puppets essentially. Once they are established, their alien masters deploy them to carry out the master agenda of forging a one world government and enslaving the human race.
Effectively throwing a pie in the face of Ocham’s Razor, Icke points to historical documents such as ancient Summerian texts, which depict serpent worship as the oldest religion. And, ALSO, there is serpent symbolism on the coat of arms for the Knights Templar. This proves mankind’s intimate relationship with extraterrestrials.
The theory gets even more bizarre when Icke starts in on shape-shifters, or human descendants of the hybrid alien bloodline who momentarily shift in form and become visible to the observer as reptilians. There are numerous conspiracists who purport to have video clips of such shape-shifting. Remember, Icke cautions, it’s not a shape-shift from a physical body to another body, it’s a shifting of holograms—the perceptions of the observer have fundamentally changed and they are able to decode the energy field. You see, the hybrids have a vibrational affinity with their reptilian overlords and can be possessed by them.
Well why didn’t you say that in the first place? Here I was thinking that the hybrids didn’t have a vibrational affinity with the Reptilian overlords…This. Changes. Everything.
Like any intrepid explorer in search of the truth, I ended up watching YouTube videos. For several days in a row I burned the midnight oil watching footage alleging to have caught reptilian shape-shifters in the act of transformation. Cue videos, edited by albino gingers in Affliction t-shirts, set to music from System of a Down or Linkin Park, and featuring various CNN reporters, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Harrison Ford, Jesse Jackson, an aide to John Edwards, Drew Carey, Brad Pitt, Elvis, and of course Henry Kissinger.
What conspiracy theory would be complete without Henry Kissinger and his flapping turkey jowls?
Each of the videos contain some, if not all, of the following characteristics:
-Pupils momentarily appearing to transform into oblong slits.
-Faces suddenly impressed with scaly patterns.
-Over-active, fork-shaped tongues and jagged teeth; odd, sinister smiles.
I reached a few conclusions. One) YouTube should not be embraced as a step in the scientific method. Two) some people have really creepy eyes. Three) poor video compression results in scale-like pixelation.
Four) some people are weird-looking, to the point of looking lizard-like.
And five) Brad Pitt is infinitely more desirable to women than I am.
The following is a feverish, hamburger-inspired meditation on aliens, artificial intelligence, and the New World Order :
My gut instinct is that there are many advanced extraterrestrial civilizations flourishing beyond our solar system. In a universe containing billions of galaxies, each one containing billions of stars, to believe otherwise is an exercise in ignorant hubris.But it could take a while for us to meet ET. Centuries perhaps. Much sooner than that we’ll not only meet, but create, a new and dramatically different kind of advanced species: Artificial Intelligence. AI will be good to us….at least at first. AI might even introduce us to ET, like a friend of a friend at a party – (“Dude, you gotta meet this dude, he’s a great photographer!”). As AI integrates itself into our society, humans will use nanotechnology to upgrade ourselves to near-machine status. We’ll become post-humans, in that most of our day to day functions and pleasures will be heavily grounded in advanced technology. The foundation for this has already been laid. It’s all around us. Soon it will be within us.
Along these lines I agree with elements of Alex Jones’ New World Order theories. Note, elements. On other issues he’s just a wackadoodle. Somehow reptilian aliens controlling mankind is more plausible to him than than CO2 emissions destroying the atmosphere. Flanked by an armada of rabid libertarians, Alex Jones thinks the specter of global warming is nothing more than an elaborate ruse perpetrated by scientists and government officials in order to pave the way for a global carbon tax. Their main evidence disproving human-caused climate change is 1) Al Gore has a private jet, 2) Earth isn’t the only planet getting warmer, Mars is hot too, 3) cities during the medieval times were also hot, 3) Al Gore has a private limousine, and 4) Vikings grew crops in Greenland. Oh man, Vikings grew crops in Greenland?? Well fuck me running, let’s poison and vaporize the rest of our ozone, my bad, I didn’t know Vikings grew crops in Greenland!
You would be hard-pressed to find an assertion that makes me angrier than human-caused climate change denial. It’s the final sick-home for free market sociopaths, a rent-controlled insane asylum they sub-lease with creationists and teabaggers. I see nothing but dangerous insanity in the act of looking at a unanimously agreed-upon body of science and declaring it false, to the catastrophic detriment of global ecosystems and future generations of humans, simply because property taxes are a bummer. BUT–and here’s my hamartia–while I have trouble believing a small circle of elite masterminds controls the world, I do think it’s very possible that at some point in the future a class of post-humans, wielding advanced technology in dissonant collusion with AI societies—who (perhaps justly) believe humanity and its old world paradigms are a danger to Earth—could descend into absolute tyranny. Or, ascend, might be the better word. In “Adams in the Void” (a short story I haven’t written yet), I position this post-human/AI master race as taking over the surface of the planet, while old school humans are forced underground.
Alex Jones thinks the participants of this new class have already been chosen, and that in exchange for their complicity in forging the New World Order they have been promised vast powers of life augmentation and life extension. Frankly, my problem with the NWO is that I find it difficult to imagine a completely centralized global dictatorship when the trends behind technologies like the Internet lean overwhelmingly toward de-centralization—of knowledge, distribution, and even ownership. Jones’ theory also crumbles in one very important capacity: I don’t view AI as necessarily a danger to humanity. If the New World Order exists, AI will be the power that brings it down.
And if, like I believe, the phrase New World Order does not finger a singular group of tyrannical elites but rather exists as a metaphor for the widespread and historical lineage of human corruption itself, AI will be the revolutionary force that topples our dying regimes and restores parity to human consciousness. This will either be viewed as Armageddon or renaissance, depending on whose Twitter feed you follow.
I admit I harbor some fairly busy visions of the future. But I’m not married to them, and when push comes to shove I don’t believe in most conspiracy theories. I don’t believe that reptilian aliens inter-bred with humans. I don’t believe in crystal castles on the moon, or that Kennedy was killed by an emo hobgoblin who lives under a bridge. I don’t believe in ancient astronauts.
I feel the same disdain for conspiracy theories that I feel for celebrity gossip: intense guilt, for willfully distracting myself from the bigger problems of the world. And while I don’t personally dislike conspiracy theorists, they worry me…because I think they unwittingly make activists and whistle-blowers seem crazy, and by doing so distract the rest of us from the back-handed power plays of very real and very corrupt establishments. Corporations, seizing the infrastructure of the Earth, of the human body, of the particles that constitute matter. Corporations, who now own patents on our genes, on carbon nanotubes; who control the flow and substance of information; who influence what pills we take and what facts we believe; who hunt our young, on the streets and through social networking sites; who sell us culture before we’ve had a chance to decide if it’s just.
The theory of a New World Order is a displaced fear of plutocracy, privatization, and human existence turned to consumer fodder. It’s a healthy fear.