Friday, September 26, 2008

Edward FitzGerald's Rubaiyat: Quatrain I

A favorite of mine is Edward FitzGerald's translation? or perhaps a paraphrase? of Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat. The problem is, simply--which version? FitzGerald published five editions, with the number of stanzas or quatrains ranging from 75 in the first edition to as many as 110 in the second. I've glanced through translations by others, and while they may be, as some have claimed, closer to the original, I find them much less interesting. Perhaps the best way would be to say that Fitzgerald's versions are inspired by Khayyam's.

One example of a variance occurs in the first quatrain:

First Edition Version

Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan's Turret in a Noose of Light.

Second Edition Version

Wake! For the Sun behind yon Eastern height
Has chased the Session of the Stars from Night;
And, to the field of Heaven's ascending, strikes
The Sultan's Turret with a Shaft of Light.

Significant differences? The first seems more poetic while the second more prosaic, to me anyway. He's replaced "Morning in the Bowl of Night" with "the Sun behind yon Eastern height." In the first version, it is "Morning" that is active, having flung a stone, the Sun, which chases away the Stars while in the second, it is the appearance of the Sun, rising in the East, that chases the stars. The Sun changes from being employed by another in the first to being the actor in the drama.

In the first edition, we read of the "Hunter of the East," the Sun, which captures the Turret in a noose of light. The second also brings in the Sun, but this time it captures nothing, but simply strikes the Turret with a Shaft of light. But this does bring with it an echo of the "Hunter" of the first stanza with the reference to a Shaft, perhaps a spear used in hunting.

The first is a bit more complex, I think, for it begins with Morning who flings a stone (perhaps from sling carried by hunters and warriors?) that drives away the stars, and that stone then is revealed as the Sun, who becomes a hunter that uses a noose of light to capture the Sultan's Turret.

The second gives us the Sun that rises from Eastern heights, chases away the stars, and rising, strikes the Turret with a shaft of light. While to call the Sun's rays a shaft is probably more accurate, visually, the noose of light is more fanciful and suggests something that lasts longer than simply being struck by a shaft. The Sultan's Turret will be captured by the Sun all day, not just struck once in the morning.

While FitzGerald uses the second version for the remaining editions, I frankly prefer the first- a case of not fixing something that isn't broken.

Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan's Turret in a Noose of Light.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tana French: Two novels--Psychological or Police Procedurals?

Tana French's first two novels are strange ones. The two are linked in that they are supposedly police procedurals, involving Dublin's Murder Squad (which doesn't exist according to French) in action, but the focus is almost as strong, if not stronger, on the psychological aspects. The plots are relatively straightforward and uncomplicated. Those who have read a number of mysteries will be able to "solve" the crime long before the last page. However, saying that doesn't take away from the enjoyment of watching two of French's cops go about their jobs in a highly professional manner, most of the time, while hampered by certain unprofessional doubts and, to a greater extent, the past. In fact, it is their own past that provides the major hurdle for them, for the murders themselves in the two novels do not provide the focus of interest; it is the past of the officers involved in the investigation that makes these two novels absorbing.

For example, in her first novel, In the Woods, a young girl is murdered outside a small town, in the vicinity of an archaeological dig, which sets the tone. The association of her murder with delving into the past is felt most strongly by the officer in charge of the investigation--Robert (Rob) Ryan. Actually, that isn't his full name; it is Adam Robert Ryan. Ryan dropped his first name to conceal his identity. Years ago as a young boy, he was involved in the disappearance and possibly the murder of his two best friends. They had gone up the same hill that the body of the young girl was discovered. Hours later, a search party found Ryan in shock, wearing bloody tennis shoes. His two friends were never found. He had blanked out the events of that afternoon and wasn't able to say what happened. His two friends are missing to this day.

When the body of the murdered girl was discovered, Ryan had to struggle with memories, he thought had been buried and long forgotten. He had dropped his first name. Nobody knew of his association with the earlier disappearance. But, he should have informed his superiors of this involvement with the earlier crime and handed over the investigation to another officer. Instead, he decided to keep his connection with the earlier crime hidden.

However, others soon wondered if there was a link between this murder and the disappearance of the two young people a decade or more ago. Part of the pressure now on Ryan was the fear that he would eventually be identified.

The novel concentrates on the effects of the investigation on Ryan and of the conflict brought about by his surfacing memories from the past. The novel is more about Ryan and the psychological battles he fought during the investigation than it is about the murdered young girl, especially during the second part of the novel.

Those who prefer stories that conclude with all the loose ends neatly and nicely tied up will be disappointed/frustrated with this one. And, it is deliberate also, not just carelessness on the part of a young writer. This may be her first novel, but French knows what she's about.

Her second novel, The Likeness, picks up, sort of, about six months later. Rob Ryan's partner, with whom he had a close relationship, Cassie Maddox, has transferred to the Domestic Violence Squad, for she was one of the psychologically walking wounded, a victim of the investigation. She now has a boyfriend, Sam O'Neill, whom she met during the investigation. He is still with the Murder Squad, so when he calls her one morning, in shock, and pleads with her to come out to the scene of a murder, she agrees, more out of curiosity than any conscious desire to get involved. She is aware that Frank Mackey, head of the undercover division for the Dublin police, is also on the scene.

The victim is a young woman who turns out to be the exact double of Cassie Maddox, which is why O'Neill was in shock. At first he thought it was her. According to the identification she's carrying, her name is Alexandra (Lexie) Madison. When O'Neill had a police computer search done on her name, Frank Mackey turned up because he had had the name flagged. Any inquiries about Alexandra Madison would be brought to his attention.

And, just as in the first novel, the past of a police officer rears up to complicate her life. Prior to her assignment to the Murder Squad, Cassie Maddox had been with the undercover squad, and her boss was Frank Mackey. Together they created an identity for her. She was a student at the local college, attempting to get information about drug dealing on campus. Her false identity was Alexandra Madison.

The victim not only looked like her twin, but she had also taken on the false identity created for Cassie. Lexie Madison was a student at a different college this time, having "dropped" out of the college that Cassie had been working on. She was living with four others in a large house, and the five of them were known on campus as a closeknit and exclusive group.

Mackey got the "brilliant" idea of having Cassie substitute for the murdered woman. They would say that she was stabbed, but that she was found in time to save her life. Cassie would go undercover once again, pretending to be the woman who was murdered while pretending to be Cassie's undercover identity. One more point, Cassie left the undercover group when one of the drug dealers went psycho and stabbed her, not because he found her out but because she just happened to be there at the wrong time.

Again, the murder plot is not complex or complicated. The focus, again, is on Cassie's relationship to the victim, who had assumed her identity. Her acceptance by the victim's friends placed her in an extremely close and warm relationship with four interesting and intelligent people, and this, together with her increasing identification with the murder victim, resulted in a certain estrangement between Cassie and the police. She began to identify with the victim's friends and to defend them to Mackey and O'Neill, who were beginning to wonder about one of the victim's friends.

In both novels, then, the primary interest is not so much on the victim, but upon the investigating officers whose own history, along with a problem of identity, provided the most intriguing complication and complexity in the two.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Huxley and Orwell

According to A Book of Days for the Literary World, Aldous Huxley began his teaching career on September 18, 1917, when he was hired as schoolmaster at Eton. Among his pupils was Eric Arthur Blair, probably better known by his pen name, George Orwell.

Aldous Huxley is the author of one of the two best known dsytopias in the English language, Brave New World, published in 1932. It is set against the backdrop of a benevolent dictatorship, which keeps the population under control by early childhood conditioning, easy access to soma, a happy drug, and the promotion of sexual behavior with many partners. The second dystopia is George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949, which depicts a repressive regime that rules with terror and fear. It's image is that of a boot, perpetually grinding a face into the dirt.

The two works differ considerably, so there has been little discussion about possible influences the two may have had upon each other. Most discussions have been on the differences between the two tales and on the likelihood of either coming more or less true.

Both novels give the impression that the situation is permanent with little possibility of change. Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, the more outwardly repressive of the two, seems to be closest to the repressive regimes in Hitler's Germany and the Soviet Union under the communists. Later events showed that both had flaws which brought about their downfall.

Huxley's Brave New World on the other hand relies not on repressive measures, on terror, and on outright elimination of possible opponents. Instead, the state provides a wide diversity of activities which keeps the populace under control. Secondly, the state also uses conditioning techniques, possibly based on research by American behaviorist, John B. Watson, beginning in early childhood to make the populace happy and satisfied with its lot, whatever that may be.

Another significant difference is that Nineteen Eighty-Four has no refuge for those who may wish to escape, for the entire planet is divided into three warring camps, with little difference among them. Opponents or dissidents, when captured, are tortured and brainwashed into publicly confessing their crimes and declaring their complete support for the State, which is reminiscent of the trials in the Soviet Union under Stalin.

However, in Brave New World, the State has set aside an island for those who are dissatisfied and are likely to be a disrupting influence, where the inhabitants are left on their own. Secondly, in North America, there is the reservation where the inhabitants are also allowed to live as they choose. However, the reservation is also a tourist attraction, and visits there are encouraged by the State so that its citizens can experience first hand the poverty and disease and misery that the State is protecting them from.

Of the two, I would judge Brave New World as the most likely to succeed. It's hard to argue against a regime that works so hard to keep its people happy, well-fed, and satisfied. The populace is safe and secure--so who needs freedom?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Robert Frost: a terrifying poet?

Robert Frost has always been one of my favorite poets; therefore when I heard that Lionel Trilling, in a speech at a dinner given in Frost's honor, called him "a terrifying poet," I had to take a close look at this. I found the article that contained his speech. I read the speech. I reread those poems that Trilling had cited, "Design" and "Neither Out Far nor In Deep." I also reread a number of his other poems, and I had to agree with Trilling that there was much in Frost's works that I had missed. At the end of his speech, Trilling turns to Frost and says:

"Like you, Sophocles was the poet his people loved the most. Surely they loved him in some part because he praised their common country. But I think that they loved him chiefly because he made plain to them the terrible things of human life: they felt, perhaps, that only a poet who could make plain the terrible things could possibly give them comfort."

One poem that Trilling didn't mention was "Out, Out--," and this one has struck me as being an excellent example of some of "the terrible things of human life" that Trilling mentions. I have placed the poem at the end of this post for those who wish to read or reread it.

The title comes from Macbeth's soliloquy after hearing that Lady Macbeth has committed suicide. The entire quote is:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."

His soliloquy suggests that life is short, a "brief candle," and meaningless--"a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing." What has this to do with Frost's poem?

It is the story of a young boy who was distracted while cutting wood with a buzz saw. Frost begins the poem by describing the saw as an animal either about to attack or in search of prey--"The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard" and again, seven lines later, "And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled."

His sister calls him to supper, and as she does,

"As if to prove saws knew what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap--"

The boy realized the significance of what had happened,

"He saw all spoiled. 'Don't let him cut my hand off--
The doctor when he comes. Don't let him sister.'
So. But the hand was gone already.
And then--the watcher at his pulse took fright.
No one believed. They listened at his heart.
Little--less--nothing! and that ended it."

The boy knew how important that hand was for a farmer during the early days of the 20th century. He c0uld have lived for he was young and strong and healthy. The doctor was there. Why did he die? Perhaps this explains why, "He saw all spoiled."

This is a distressing poem about a young boy who died too soon, but this happens. It was just a momentary loss of concentration; he was distracted for a second, but the consequences far surpassed the events that brought it about.

But, this is not all there is to the story: there are those last lines of the poem to consider:

"Little--less--nothing!--and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs."

How does one read those last two lines? with shock? dismay? -- at the heartlessness of his family who, "since they/ Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs." It is one thing to say that life must go on, but does this go beyond even that commonplace encouragement?

Once again, Trilling ended his speech by saying: "But I think that they loved him chiefly because he made plain to them the terrible things of human life: they felt, perhaps, that only a poet who could make plain the terrible things could possibly give them comfort."

After reading Trilling's comments about Frost, it is now impossible for me to see Robert Frost as simply a rural, regional, bucolic poet who celebrates the beauties of nature and the simple rural life.

"Out, Out--"
The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood beside them in her apron
To tell them "Supper." At the word, the saw,
As if to prove saws knew what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap—
He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!
The boy's first outcry was a rueful laugh,
As he swung toward them holding up the hand
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all—
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man's work, though a child at heart—
He saw all spoiled. "Don't let him cut my hand off—
The doctor, when he comes. Don't let him, sister!"
So. But the hand was gone already.
The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then—the watcher at his pulse took fright.
No one believed. They listened at his heart.
Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.
-- Robert Frost --

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Now that's a familiar face.

I enjoy watching old TV shows. Aside from the usual reasons--interesting characters,themes, plots, and setting--I also have fun recognizing those who were just starting their careers and later became stars of their own shows in the following years.

I just finished a DVD which contained a number of episodes of a favorite Western of mine--Have Gun Will Travel-- starring Richard Boone as Paladin. Boone was a great actor who definitely wasn't just another pretty face. Aside from the usual number of vaguely familiar faces of the supporting cast, I recognized four very young people, who would later go on with careers of their own, either on TV or on film, or both.

One was Charles Bronson, who played numerous roles as a villain or a good guy and was convincing in both, and also some roles that fit uneasily in between. Perhaps his most famous role was that of Paul Kersey, the revenge-seeking architect, whose wife and daughter were attacked by a group of thugs, in the memorable Death Wish. He went on to reprise that role four more times. While most people would probably condemn vigilantism, the same people no doubt would cheer Kersey on as he blows away another gang of bad guys.

Another familiar face on the DVD was Jack Lord, who later gained fame on our island state as Steve McGarrett, head of Hawaii 5-0. He also starred in a short lived series as Stoney Burke, a rodeo rider.

A third was Mike Conners, who had a long and busy career also, but probably is best remembered as Mannix, the PI in the long-running TV show of the same name. The show ran for 8 years, from 1967 to 1975, or 194 episodes.

The fourth face was familiar, but I just couldn't put a name to her until I saw the cast listing--Angie Dickinson. She has numerous film credits, including the two "Big Bad Mama" films and Dressed to Kill. The two I most remember her from are Rio Bravo with John Wayne, and Captain Newman, MD with Gregory Peck. A glance at her TV credits suggests that it would be impossible to watch TV for more than two or three days without seeing her at least once. Her most notable TV role was that of Sgt. Pepper Anderson on Police Woman, which ran for 91 episodes, from 1974 to 1978.

Have Gun Will Travel, I think anyway, holds up well. I remember, though, feeling the same frustration watching the episodes now as I did some fifty years ago: the shows were just too short.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Same Character? but a new face?

Television shows have a problem with long-running series that may cover 5 or more years. Things happen and the familiar faces sometimes must change. Sometimes the actor dies or perhaps is injured and can't continue. Sometimes a dispute arises, for a variety of reasons, and the actor leaves. This introduces a serious problem for the producers. What do they do now that an acter is no longer available? In some cases, they can write in an accident or illness and simply kill off the character. In other cases, it's not that simple--especially if character is THE lead.

I saw a film last night that exemplified this problem and also one way to solve it, or at least attempt to solve it. The show was a mystery series based on novels by P. D. James. Her lead character was Commander Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard, who was played by Roy Marsden in the first eleven dramatizations of her novels.

To be precise, I hadn't read any of her mysteries before I first encountered them on PBS' Mystery Theatre. I found the dramatizations so interesting that I started reading her novels and got hooked. Of course, when I read the novels, I pictured Roy Marsden as Commander Dalgliesh. And, so it went, for eleven dramatizations. To me anyway, "Roy Marsden IS Commander Adam Dalgliesh."

Then, something happened; someone else took over the role of Dalgliesh--Martin Shaw. I had never heard of him, so I had no opinion about him prior to viewing the film. After viewing the program, I must admit I was disappointed. It isn't that Martin Shaw is a poor actor; he is a poor replacement for Roy Marsden.

Roy Marsden is quite tall; he is easily spotted in a crowded room. He is a dominating presence. Martin Shaw is considerably shorter. Several times during the film when the scene opened in a room in which there were a number of people, it took a while for me to find Dalgliesh, which never would have happened if Marsden had been in the role. Moreover, even in the one-on-one scenes, Marsden is clearly in control, while Shaw usually takes a back seat to the other character.

Marsden's facial features are a bit on the harsh or rugged side, with piercing eyes that seem to be looking deep into you. Shaw is almost round-faced with mild eyes, a rather bland individual actually. He clearly, to me anyway, is not the commanding Dalgliesh that Marsden was. Again, he is not a bad actor; he is the victim of bad casting.

As I watched, I was reminded of Alec Guinness in his superb portrayal of Le Carre's everyman spymaster--George Smiley. Guinness portrayed him as a quiet and unassuming, almost shy individual, a perfect spy since he is the sort of person that most people wouldn't notice and would soon forget, even if they did. Guinness, unfortunately, died eight years ago. However, there are still two Smiley novels that haven't been dramatized. I think Martin Shaw would make an excellent George Smiley. He doesn't really look like Guinness, but he's the quiet, retiring individual that Le Carre created in his novels.

I think that the producers of the James mysteries decided that they wouldn't try to replace Marsden physically but would substitute someone obviously the opposite, and someone who, moreover, doesn't fit James' description of Dalgliesh in her novels. Perhaps they thought that, by substituting somebody so different from Marsden, the viewers would soon forget Marsden and accept Shaw. It doesn't work for me. Fortunately James' novels have complex and interesting characters and plots, so I watch the dramatizations for those elements. I wonder what P. D. James thinks of the substitution.

Why the switch? Nobody knows for sure, but there are several rumors floating around. One rumor is that the change took place when the show went from ITV to BBC but nobody knows why that might have caused the change. Another rumor is that Marsden suddenly developed a severe case of stage fright and just couldn't perform anymore, which forced the producers to go with someone else. The third rumor is that Marsden just got tired of playing Dalgliesh.

I looked at Marsden's history on and picked up two items. He was a very busy actor, with numerous credits to his record. However just before his last Dalgliesh role, the number of roles he played dropped considerably. Now that may simply be the effect of the Dalgliesh role, which usually lasted from 4 to six episodes per mystery, while most of his other roles only lasted one episode. So, one James' mystery meant four or more episodes, which also reduced his free time to some extent.

The second item of interest was that, again according to, Marsden did not have a single role between 1998 and 2004, a six year gap. Is this a real gap or did he work, but whoever created the listing missed six years of work. Regardless, in 2004, he went back to work and has been busy ever since, unfortunately not as Commander Adam Dalgliesh though.

A second example of changing actors in the middle of a series is the switch from Ian Carmichael to Edward Petherbridge in the role of Lord Peter Wimsey in Dorothy Sayers' mysteries. Ian Carmichael is a tall fellow and a bit of a stout fellow. Edward Petherbridge looks like someone whose name is Petherbridge should look like--a stereotype, to be sure. He's small, blond, wiry, fussy, possibly neurotic, and a bit frantic, a sort of Woody Allen, British style. I frankly prefer Ian Carmichael.

However, I did hear, and confirmed it for myself, that Petherbridge is actually closer to Sayers' description than Carmichael is. However, whenever I read a "Lord Peter" novel, it's Carmichael I see, not Petherbridge.

I have no idea and haven't even been able to come up with any rumors as to why the change was made.

So, here are two examples in which the main character in a continuing and popular series is changed to someone who is almost completely the opposite physically, and certainly different in the way he portrays the character. In the first case, the original actor, Marsden, was much closer to the description in the novel, and in the second, the replacement actor was closer to the character in the novel. However, I prefer the original actor.

I guess that says something.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Dickens: Martin Chuzzlewit

_Martin Chuzzlewit_ may be one of Dickens' least known novels. Moreover, most references to the novel generally focus on one part of the novel, young Martin Chuzzlewit's trip to the United States and its unfavorable portrayal of the inhabitants. As it has been many years since I read the novel, my comments are based on the BBC adaptation of the novel (which I just viewed) that stars Paul Scofield as Martin Chuzzlewit, the grandfather.

The overall plot details the trials and tribulations of a number of people, but I guess the core plot would be the separation between Martin Chuzzlewit, a rich old man, and his grandson, also named Martin Chuzzlewit.

However, I think that there are strong arguments that the true name of the novel should be _Seth Pecksniff_. I think Pecksniff is one of Dickens' greatest creations. He is arrogant, deceptive, sanctimonious, brutal to those he has power over, sycophantic and obsequious to those more powerful than he. At the end, I realized that I had missed something significant about him; he is also truly self-deceptive. I almost felt sorry for him at his downfall at the end.

There is also an argument for considering Tom Pinch the major character, but while he is prominent throughout, he for the most part is passive, although he does grow in stature at the end. In addition, he seems to be the only "good" character who doesn't marry his true love at the end, for he has fallen in love with Mary, the orphan ward of the senior Martin Chuzzlewit, and she is true to her first love, the young Martin Chuzzlewit.

As can be expected, Dickens has filled the work with memorable secondary characters--two of whom are free-lance nurses, who unfortunately were nearly unintelligible to me.

Good film for those who like a story with a number of subplots and a wildly assorted cast of characters.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Star Trek

One of the many marvelous opportunities granted by retirement is that of reducing my OOTD list. OOTD stands for "One of these days." Those were things I wanted to do or read or view or visit, but never seemed to have the time. Well, now I've got some time.

One of my OOTDs was to see in its entirety the movie _Forbidden Planet_. I finally managed to do that some time ago. Another OOTD that I just eliminated was viewing the initial pilot for _Star Trek_, the one that never made it to the screen during the series' initial run 1966.

Forty years ago! Has it really been that long ago?

As all Trek fans know, the pilot was "The Cage" and the captain of the Enterprise was Christopher Pike, played by Jeffery Young. The pilot was rejected by the network, and Roddenberry had to submit another one, which finally was accepted.

I've seen parts of it over the years, mostly as part of a two-part episode, "The Menagerie," broadcast later, as an attempt to get some use out of it. At other times, I tuned in too late to see the whole episode when it was being rerun.

So, last night I loaded up my DVD player with a disc that contained three episodes: "Turnabout Intruder," "The Cage," and "The Cage" in color. It was interesting to view "The Cage," the pilot episode, back-to-back with "Turnabout Intruder," which was the last _Star Trek_ episode that was broadcast.

The first version of "The Cage" was a mix of color and black-and-white. The remastered version was completely in color. I watched both and the only major difference I could see was in the voice of the chief alien. His voice was deeper in the b&w version.

The crew of the pilot had vanished except for two characters: Mr. Spock, who actually smiled in the pilot, something he wouldn't do again, I think, for at least a year or more, and Majel Barrett, who played No. 1, second in command of the Enterprise, and later appeared as Nurse Chapel. It was rather daring in 1968 to have a female character a heartbeat away from the top spot. And, in fact, she took command of the Enterprise when Capt. Pike was captured and, moreover, was depicted as performing competently.

The bridge of the Enterprise was generally the same, although some changes had been made. It appeared much smaller and consequently much more crowded in the pilot. One element that disappeared in the series was the sight of crew members carrying clipboards and getting paper printouts from what I presume is the ship's computer. After the pilot, the clipboards disappeared, and the ship's computer gained a voice.

As with most of the episodes, "The Cage" made a point that is even more relevant today than it was some 40 years ago. The issue was whether Capt Pike would accept his imprisonment, regardless of how pleasant it was, and regardless of whatever illusions the aliens could provide (they could read his mind so they knew what his deepest desires were) or would choose die if he couldn't be free. And, it was No. 1 who set her weapon to explode and kill the humans rather than be enslaved.

Today, we seem to have traded in that desire for freedom for a false sense of security.

Now, on to episode 2.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Human or ???

One of the pleasures of reading for me is the way something in the story I'm reading will remind me of something else. Perhaps it's a memory of something that happened to me or possibly another story or a film or a poem. And, sometimes, given the time, I will follow the trail and look up that story or perhaps rent the film. Then that story or film might bring up another story or film. Once in awhile, I have to make an arbitrary decision to stop at some point. This happened recently.

In an online discussion group, we were talking about Lester del Rey's short story, "Helen O'Loy." One of the members commented that this reminded her of a _Twilight Zone_ episode titled "The Lonely." I was curious, so I rented the DVD, _Twilight Zone, Vol. 5_, and watched it. Another episode on that DVD was "I Sing the Body Electric," based on a short story by Ray Bradbury. And, this reminded me of another story by Bradbury, "The Long Years." The process continued with two more stories, "Satisfaction Guaranteed" by Isaac Asimov and "Can You Feel Anything When I Do This?" by Robert Sheckley. Asimov's story, of course, reminded me of his novel _Caves of Steel_. And... It was at this point that I decided that there were things I had to do and went on with my life.

What was it about each of these that brought up another story? The theme is the same for all but one of these: a robot is manufactured so that it is indistinguishable from a human. Each of these stories takes a slightly different slant on the relationships created. However, there are certain similarities which make one wonder just how fictional these stories will be some time in the future.

"Helen O'Loy" by Lester del Rey
1. Situation: two men, Dave and Phil, dissatisfied with their obsolete and inept robot housemaid purchase a new one (Helen) and add their own modifications.
2. Problem: Helen falls in love with Dave.
3. Initial Response: Dave rejects her because she is a robot.
4. Resolution: Dave changes mind and marries her. Dave dies after many years and Helen commits "suicide" and is buried with him.

"The Lonely": a _Twilight Zone_ episode
1. Situation: a convicted murderer (he insists it was self-defense) is exiled on an asteroid. His only contact with humans comes every three months when the supply ship from Earth arrives.
2. Problem: the loneliness is threatening his sanity. The sympathetic supply ship's captain secretly leaves him a female robot.
3. Initial Response: he rejects her because she is a machine.
4. Resolution: He accepts her when she begins crying and says she also is lonely. A pardon comes about a year later and the ship comes to return him to Earth. She can't go back because there's no room for her. He insists she must go also. The captain then shoots her and says she was only a machine.

"I Sing the Body Electric!": the _Twilight Zone_ version of Ray Bradbury's short story
1. Situation: Widower with three children
2. Problem: Children are having difficulty in coping with the death of their mother. They rent a robot grandmother.
3. Initial reaction: rejection by one child who fears the robot grandmother will desert them as did their mother.
4. Resolution: final acceptance and the grandmother leaves to be dismantled when youngest leaves for college.

"The Long Years": short story by Ray Bradbury
1. Situation: man living on Mars, and all others left when war erupted on Earth.
2. His wife and two children die and he is left alone. He builds a robot wife and two robot children.
3. He seems to forget that they are robots and not his flesh-and-blood wife and children.
4. He dies finally, and the robot wife and children are left to go through the meaningless rituals of human life.

The four stories summarized above share one commonality: the human appearing robot is supposed to solve a problem resulting from the lack of a human being or from extreme isolation. Frequently, there is an initial rejection, but eventually the robot is accepted, and in some cases, the human forgets that the robot is only a machine.

The endings vary also. In "Helen," the robot commits suttee: the wife dies when her husband dies. In two stories, the robot is either destroyed or returned to her rental place to be dismembered. And in "The Long Years," the robot wife and children are left to carry out their human oriented behaviors which have no meaning for them.

In how many years or perhaps decades will these speculative fictional works be transformed from fantasy to realistic drama?

What kind of relationships will we develop with these human-appearing machines?

Any thoughts?