Wednesday, February 9, 2011

We Interrupt This Broadcast ...

I was struck by the parallels between A Rose for Ecclesiastes and War of the Worlds, particularly their preoccupation with the challenges and the necessity of communication. A Rose for Ecclesiastes occupies itself with intimate contact – translation of a sacred text, personal communication and relationships. Gallinger finds himself growing in knowledge but not always able to understand the Martian people he interacts with. Some things are un-translateable. War of the Worlds deals with mass communication instead of personal contact. The humans never get the chance to try communicating with their invaders, but there’s more focus on their inability to communicate with each other, with telephone lines cut and static between broadcasts. The terror of losing mass communication really struck a chord with me in light of the current situation in Egypt. Loss of the internet and attacks on reporters greatly heightens public fear because suddenly we’re cut off from the ability to learn the story from its witnesses.

Both Gallinger and Richard Pierson act as reporters in their own stories. Some posts already touched on Gallinger’s use of metaphors, an imperfect effort to communicate things people on Earth cannot quite understand. Pierson has the same descriptive problems with his scientific approach. He can make references to tentacles and snakes but cannot quite convey what he’s seeing. He cannot put horror into words, which seems particularly relevant given the story’s setting during World War II. I thought H.G. Wells made a strong point in the interview posted on Blackboard, that Americans could still “play with terror and conflict” because the war wasn’t too close to home yet. The truth of some stories cannot be told from a distance.

The inability to truly capture a story connects to a defeatist attitude over continuing it. Martians in A Rose for Ecclesiastes and humans in War of the Worlds become complacent with their own demise because it seems they’ve arrived at the end of their stories. The Martians feel that their fate is fixed because someone already finished the story for them. Pierson is losing hope because he fears there will be no one left to read his account. In both cases, though, persistence emerges from seeming futility. Gallinger uses the pessimism of the Book of Ecclesiastes as a source of optimism – the writer thought the people had no chance, but they survived anyway. While the Martians don’t respond to his humanity in the emotional sense, they do accept it in the logical scientific sense in correlation with their own sacred texts – his humanness will allow them to reproduce with him. Such a literal expression of humanity also saves the day in War of the Worlds. Humans lived on because of their own mortality. The death of some allowed for the survival of the rest because it brought on bacteria that the invaders could not handle. Listeners get the same sense of imperfect hope that Martians do in A Rose for Ecclesiastes. We don’t learn exactly how life went on, but we know that it did.

Thus both stories find hope in the ability to prevail, though they’re not entirely hopeful. Gallinger prevails against his own will. His survival can alternately be looked at as a failure to commit suicide. Regardless, humanity persists even when it seems an impossibility. Apparent apocalypses become interruptions instead of extinctions. To me this idea is tied to the section of the radio broadcast I initially found most baffling – the musical interludes. War of the Worlds begins with interrupted interludes, and the breaking news eventually takes over the regularly scheduled musical programming. The question of what is the real interlude - the music or the stories interrupting it - arises. But ultimately, the breaking news is resolved and life can return to normal. On a larger level the radio broadcast was an apocalyptic interruption. The world ended for an hour, but then another program came on and life returned to normal. A Rose for Ecclesiastes brought music more to the forefront with Braxa’s dance, but I also made the connection between Ecclesiastes and the song based on it, “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season).” I’m not sure if Zelazny was influenced by the song or not, but it was originally recorded in 1962, a year before his story came out. I think this idea of turning and cycles of life ties in well with both stories. The song concludes on a note reminiscent of the ultimate salvation of the societies in both stories – “I swear it’s not too late.”

I’m sorry that this is a little long – it seems I'm having some of my own representation problems on detailing my responses to the stories. I still feel more comfortable with science fiction in the pop cultural sense, so as an addendum to our discussion last week, I wanted to add this link to show another place I’ve learned about science fiction through cultural references. In other words, everyone should watch Community.


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