A long time ago, when I was in my teens, it was the era of space travel and exploration; I was 14 when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon in 1969. I was fascinated by sci-fi, space, astronomy and such things, belonged to the local Astronomical Society, studied star charts and had a very small and ineffectual telecscope, which I nevertheless would haul out into the chill Canterbury night for viewing the sky.
I’d grown up on Star Trek and Dr Who. Although the original Star Trek didn’t do too well on representing future women in any kind of good light I guess I had hopes for the future and sci-fi explored those hopes.
Time passed, life went on and my interest in astronomy faded into the background. I’d read my way through most of the good sci-fi I could find and on hitting the bug-eyed monster genre became disillusioned.
In my twenties I watched the movie Logan’s Run which killed my interest for quite a while. I found totally unpalatable what occurred when the male and female characters both escaped from the city which was all either had known. On cresting a hill to see a sight unfamiliar to both, the heroine (with the obligatory twisted ankle that a frail female will inevitably suffer) looked up to the male and said in her tiny, frightened voice: “What is it?”. He looked down at her and said in his gruff, masculine voice, “I don’t know!”. This garbage, at the height of feminist action in the 70s was my breaking point.
Contrast that with the classic book Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy, and the other great feminist works of the time, positioning women as strong and self-reliant, capable, able to run away from a city without twisting their ankles.
Luckily at some point I rediscovered sci-fi on TV and have always been a fan of all the Star Treks, particularly Voyager with its strong female captain, Kathryn Janeway, and strong female crew: Belanna Torres and Seven of Nine. I enjoyed the earlier seasons of Earth: Final Conflict with its androngynous Taelons, the short-lived Space: Above and Beyond, featuring Kristen Cloke as Captain Shane Vansen, the immensely creative Farscape with Claudia Black as Aeryn Sun, the Peacekeeper, and Virginia Hey as the blue Zhaan, who’s actually a plant, Stargate, with Samantha Carter. Andromeda has Bekka and Trance, as well as Rommie, and the remake of BattleStar Galactica is a winner, having cast a couple of formerly male roles as women. By the way, that remake is superb and also provides a first: you can download a podcast to listen to while watching the show, though I can only find podcasts starting with episode nine.
One of the best, ever, sci-fi shows on TV was Babylon 5, although female representation was a bit thin. Still it did have Delenn and Susan Ivanova, both very strong women. If you’ve never seen Babylon 5 you need to be aware that it’s a complex story which starts slowly as it lays the groundwork for later episodes in the five year arc. Characters grow and change and even disappear — main characters, not just the poor redshirts of Star Trek, the previously unseen crew members who would be sent on an away mission only to die.
So, yes, I’m a fan of sci-fi and retain some of my interest in astronomy, which is where this post started. For Kiwis it’s useful to know of the Carter Observatory website. The Carter Observatory has a planetarium and telescope viewings, lectures and much more. See the night sky simulator online or download software for your Mac or PC. Bob Mitchell, Programme Manager for the Cassini Space Project, will be in New Zealand from April 18 as the Carter Memorial Lecturer. There are public lectures all over the North Island. His Wellington talk will also be streamed live over the internet for anyone who can’t physically be there.
I’m thinking it’s time for me to revive my interest in things celestial and plan to attend.