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Is Sci-Fi Stupid?


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Tuesday Morning Quarterback digresses and rants about how he thinks science fiction doesn't make sense. See below:

Martians: Even Dumber Than Humans. Aliens, computers, clones -- at the movies they're all trying to take over the Earth. Why would they want to? And I don't mean just because of pop music. In the Matrix movies, sinister computers enslaved humanity, sustaining men and women in elaborate racks tended by medical droids, while an incredibly complicated simulation tricks everyone into thinking they are experiencing normal life, thus preventing revolution. Why did the sinister computers do this? Because, the Matrix movies explained, the computers depend on human body heat as a power source. This makes absolutely no sense. First, body heat isn't a "source" of energy -- body heat originates with food, which requires sunlight as its energy source. If the malevolent computers wanted heat, it would be far easier and cheaper to build nuclear reactors, or even burn the crops grown to feed the captive people who give off the heat.

In Independence Day, Earth is attacked by aliens who live in space aboard an ultra-gigantic starship, calling no world home, using planets solely for resources. Why do they want to conquer Earth? To seize its resources. Maybe Earth-like planets are rare, but the likelihood is there are thousands, if not millions, of Earth-like worlds in the galaxy. Wouldn't it be far more appealing to mine an uninhabited Earth-like world than to stage an elaborate global military assault -- which, even if successful, will consume resources?

Hark back to the television miniseries V, in which aliens land in California and pretend to be friendly in order to buy time to position forces for the conquest on Earth. Their sinister objective: They want our water. Water is among the most common substances in the cosmos! The immense Oort Could of comets that surrounds the solar system has an estimated 40 times the mass of Earth, and most of that mass is water. Super-advanced aliens could simply pull their starcruisers up to the Oort Cloud and take all the water they could carry without having to stage an elaborate invasion and overcome armed resistance. Meanwhile, we don't yet know why outer space beings are trying to take over the Earth in Threshold and Invasion, the new network aliens attack series. All we are sure of so far is that aliens are obviously attacking, yet government is doing nothing. Maybe FEMA is in charge of alien response, too.

Now to Steven Spielberg's The War of the Worlds. We're told that thousands of years ago, super-advanced aliens buried hundreds of attack tripods across the Earth to be activated during an invasion. But if the bad aliens were here with overwhelming force thousands of years ago, why didn't they just seize the Earth then, when there was no resistance? Meanwhile, humanity has engaged in centuries of excavation for sewers, tunnels and subways, yet no one has ever stumbled across even one of the alien machines. Plus, since the tripods are buried under cities how, thousands of years ago, did the aliens know where the cities were going to be built? Anyway, it turns out the sinister aliens want to drain human blood for use as fertilizer for some hideous plant-thing that will turn our world into a planet like theirs. But if the goal was to turn our world into a planet like theirs when they came here thousands of years ago, why didn't they just deploy the hideous plant-thing then?

My main death-ray blast against The War of the Worlds movie is that it represents another case of Hollywood buying the name of a famous work, then producing dreg with only passing resemblance to the famous work. H.G. Wells' 1898 book presented a complex struggle between humanity and its attackers; Spielberg's version presents human beings as appalling fools who practically deserve to be wiped out, while reveling in scenes of slaughter of the helpless and destruction of U.S. cities. Somehow Spielberg manages to glamorize violence, dumb down great literature, be misanthropic and be anti-American all at once -- quite a feat even by Hollywood standards. Wells' book was written at the peak of the imperial era, when European powers were seizing African and Asian lands under the pretext that industrial superiority gave Europe a right to conquer. Wells wrote a parable to ask: If superiority justifies conquest, why shouldn't another world conquer ours? In the book, the Martians believe their technical superiority entitles them to seize whatever they want and kill whomever stands in the way -- exactly what European imperialists believed. Wells' 1898 War of the Worlds was an indictment of the notion that might makes right, and played a role in turning European public opinion against imperialism. The Spielberg movie is just explosions and screaming, every last trace of intellectual merit squeezed out -- quite a feat even by Hollywood standards.

Death ray update: MIT students recently used cheap mirrors to prove it is possible, at least, the Archimedes built a solar-powered death ray that set Roman warships aflame 2,200 years ago.

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