I think it’s gonna be a long, long time…

VoyagerReverse

By the time I was born, Voyager 1 had traveled well beyond Saturn. Which means that on a mission that had already exceeded the five-year time limit of the original expedition of the starship Enterprise, Voyager 1 had only gone like 930 million miles. That doesn’t put it anywhere near Qo’noS!

But it’s still pretty good, I guess.

Now jump ahead 30 years, if you’d be so kind. In the interim, I’ve survived my awkward but impassioned The-Fast-and-the-Furious-should’ve-won-Best-Picture phase, watercress has finally gained the plaudits it’s so intensely deserved, and Voyager 1 is zipping along at an average velocity of 37,000 miles per hour (325 million miles per year). And according to last week’s confirmation from NASA, for almost two years now Voyager 1’s solitary journey has taken place in the interstellar medium, the soup of ionized gas, dust, Snickers® wrappers, etc. that fills the space between the solar winds of star systems. Voyager 1 is like 11 billion miles away from Earth, and it’s still not even close to leaving the Solar System. The beginning of the Oort Cloud, which nerds ’round the world agree defines the boundary of the Solar System, is still 300 years out for Voyager 1, and passing through the Oort Cloud could take it another 30,000 years! Even after it leaves the Oort Cloud it will still have only traveled a quarter of the way to Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun.

Oooooort!

And still nowhere in the neighborhood of LCDR Worf et al! STILL!

I know right now all three of you are are asking, “Where’s a freakin’ Einstein-Rosen bridge when we need one?!” However, before we go flinging our wishes for first contact about all helter-skelter, we should remember some of our beloved cautionary tales. V’ger being among the the most obvious. Sure that little bucket of joy didn’t end up destroying life as we (will) know it, but the movie in which it played an essential part definitely came close. Add that to a few xenomorphs (though in anything after Aliens, its less the aliens and more the filmmakers’ decisions that are terrifying), the Reavers (and Fox tearing our hearts out much more brutally than those space maniacs ever could/would), the Reapers (and the near-galaxy-ending collective nerd-rage that accompanied the end of their story), and the Borg (which may have in fact been some sort of herpetic consequence of V’ger itself, but for dramatic effect we’ll count them separately).

Lovecraft laid the threat out pretty eloquently.

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

If that’s not a good reason for underachieving, I don’t know what is.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be space-cowboying our way through the cosmos, I’m just trying to remind everyone that interstellar travel has brought a lot of problems to our door. After everything has been discussed, if we’ve weighed the risks and decided it’s worth flirting with the unending madness that results from the merest glimpse of Azathoth, the horror that inhabits the darkness at the center of the universe and is forever accompanied by horrifically crappy flautists, and we’re still willing to push farther into the infinite and endless expanse of forever and ever, then good on us. It would take us so long to get to the center of the universe anyway. Like, crazy long. Watching-Norwegian-TV long.

So what if the next thousand generations of humans will be long dead when Voyager 1 breaks free of just our solar system? I say bring on the cold vastness of space. I’ve really been jonesing for that sweet, sweet feeling of utter insignificance today.

Maybe this will help.

Star-sizes

p.s. Interstellar Medium could be CBS’s next summer hit. Space psychics? I’d watch that. Somebody tell Chris Nolan & John Edward to start working on a pilot.

Somewhere a Band Is Still Playing

Summer for me begins a season of rituals, none more sacrosanct than my annual reading of Dandelion Wine. I think this will be my fifteenth time through. I’m getting to it a little later than normal this year, but thankfully not so late that my OCD has decided to take up the cause. Dandelion Wine, and Farewell Summer with it (at least for the last several years), is a warm precursor to the pumpkin-and-dead-leaf-and-promise-of-frost-scented tales of newborn assassinsdark carnivals, and October mansions that will dominate my September and October.

As I’ve already had Bradbury on my mind, I was delighted a few days ago to bump back into a story I first read in late May. It’s a small write-up on the listing of the Bradbury family home in Los Angeles.

Cheviot-Front

Of course Ray painted the house “dandelion yellow.”

Creeper that I am, I’ve kind of kept my eye on it, and according to the realtor’s site it just sold for $1,765,000. I guess I got outbid a little. Sigh.

Along with the chance to glimpse where Ray wrote and found inspiration for so many of his classic stories, the article links to a quiet, beautiful piece written by Sam Weller, Bradbury’s official biographer. Part eulogy and part reminiscence, it paints the home as it was before and just after Ray’s death. Weller is a genuine fan, and he’s always written about Ray with less objectivity than serious literary critics might find appropriate. Which is, I would imagine, exactly how Ray would want it.

I think Ray was giving himself something to aspire to as he gustily typed out Granger’s words to Montag. A direction to guide the next six decades of his life. Something even the most eloquent admirer would be unable to top. And it worked. We knew exactly what to say two summers ago when Ray died. “He shaped the world. He did things to the world. The world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he passed on.”

And since I’ve geeked out this far, I might as well let Granger speak a bit more of his wisdom.

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between you and the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.

What a great reason to write. Or to garden. Or to paint a picture or raise a child or build a car or a treehouse or a time machine or take a photo or listen to and record the stories of a loved one or go to Mars or learn to play music or …

Well, I was going to stop there for the day … but I can’t. So …

I don’t think it surprises anyone that my literary hero is a true puer aeternus. My own dusting of Peter Pan is pretty obvious. The small part of me that is more or less grown up will forever marvel at Ray’s craft, his mastery of metaphor and theme. But it’s the boy in me who will run with his young poet-guide cohort through the jungle-hot midnight ravines and dusty Egyptian attics and into white-xylophone-bone-littered Martian ruins and through hobo camps where Moses and Plato and Byron and Thomas Jefferson warm their renewed flesh around phoenix-flame campfires.

And here I was getting ready to lose it even further and launch into Mr. Electrico for a few minutes, but I think the damage has been done. So instead, one of my favorite quotes from Ray. It’s not his deepest granted, but it’s among his most honest and it pretty handily sums up my love for him and his work.

tim_quote_crop_041814