05 September 2015

+JMJ+

Locus Focus: Take One Hundred Twenty-Three!


Welcome to Sightseeing in September!

As I type this, it is raining and thundering outside. Anyone trying to see the sights in my city this evening isn't having a very pleasant time, I'm afraid! But even Manila in the rain is superior to the setting I've selected for you today.

This isn't the most positive note with which to begin a new series, but it's the note of the only post that wanted to be written today. So I'm going with it.


Venus
The Marching Morons
by C.M. Kornbluth

There was the expected momentary discomfort at takeoff and then two monotonous days of droning travel through space to be whiled away in the lounge at cards or craps. The landing was a routine bump and the voyagers were issued tablets to swallow to immunize them against any minor ailments. When the tablets took effect, the lock was opened and Venus was theirs.

It looked much like a tropical island on Earth, except for a blanket of cloud overhead. But it had a heady, otherworldly quality that was intoxicating and glamorous.

The ten days of the vacation were suffused with a hazy magic. The soap-root, as advertised, was free and sudsy. The fruits, mostly tropical varieties transplanted from Earth, were delightful. The simple shelters provided by the travel company were more than adequate for the balmy days and nights.

It was with sincere regret that the voyagers filed again into the ship, and swallowed more tablets doled out to counteract and sterilize any Venus illnesses they might unwittingly communicate to Earth.

For an undeveloped planet that has only recently been opened to tourists, Venus isn't too bad. What it lacks in attractions and amenities, it makes up for in atmosphere. And isn't the feeling of being somewhere foreign one of the great allures of travel?

There doesn't seem to be much to write Earth about, but the travel company doesn't need to worry about word-of-mouth when it has got a huge PR machine humming steadily in the background. Indeed, all it took to make Venus the hot vacation spot of the year were a few casual placements in TV scripts and credible articles in widely circulated magazines. It seems that people will believe anything the media tells them!

Never mind that the media's last word on Venus, before this new barrage, was that it was beyond the powers of the space program. Rockets had been crashing on the moon--and you can't land on the moon, how could you hope for Venus? But apparently, you still can. When the characters of the most realistically-written dramas go on Venus runs, credible authors you've never met share fascinating stories about Venusian encounters, and your own doctor insists that "everyone knows" a trip to Venus is the best sort of rest cure, then you probably just hallucinated everything you think you know about those failed rockets. Yeah, that must be it.

But Mrs. Garvy is one Earthling who has to see Venus for herself, before she will believe that she has been remembering things wrongly. And though the text doesn't tell us how she resolves things in her mind, we know that the majority of her fellow passengers and the rest of the tourists who follow are convinced enough--and convincing enough--for hundreds of thousands of other Earthlings to fight for spots when Venus is opened for colonisation. And so the "march" into space begins . . .

C.M. Kornbluth's short story The Marching Morons is set in a future when the vast majority of people are so stupid that the only thing the remaining intelligent people can do to protect themselves is to provide endless bread and circuses to keep the mobs pacified and at bay. But Venus isn't a circus. It's a new idea. And a desperate one.

The Marching Morons is an SF classic, but I didn't discover it until this year. It makes quite the counterpoint to what is on the news these days, aye? I'll bet it wouldn't take much to get us to believe in "Venus." And no, I'm not talking about us as morons. I'm talking about us as the elite thinking class.


Question of the Week: Have you ever read or heard a description of some place that made you feel you needed to see it to believe it?


Image Source: The Marching Morons by C.M. Kornbluth

15 comments:

Brandon said...

It does seem to be the case that places, insofar as they are destinations, are wholly in our heads. Of course, Kornbluth doesn't go beyond seeing the real-estate-con aspect of it; but it also is a motivation to discover. (And I think a weakness of Kornbluth's story is that the people who are most likely to be enticed by a destination are the people who live in their heads -- the 'elites', not the 'morons'.)

As a side note, I suspect that you might like Arsen Darnay's "Such Is Fate"; it's a more fun (and less misanthropic) story in the same genre as Kornbluth's, although it's more about history than about place. (There's an audio version of it here.)

Belfry Bat said...

Incidentally, there are some aspects of landing on the real Venus that are easier than the Moon; the atmosphere is rather thick, so it slows you down very well in preparation for a good soft-landing... on the other hand... Randal "4942" Munroe reports

"The acid's no fun, but it turns out the area right above the clouds is a great environment for an airplane, as long as it has no exposed metal to be corroded away by the sulfuric acid. And is capable of flight in constant Category-5-hurricane-level winds, which are another thing I forgot to mention earlier."

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Brandon -- Well, Mrs. Garvy does say that she thinks her fellow passengers are among the "brainy" set! And she herself seems to be smarter than her husband and doctor. It's only the average IQ that is 45; perhaps "Operation Venus" has different levels of attack, one for each class of "morons"! This brings out the heartlessness of it more than anything else, I think.

Thanks for the link! I'll get to Darnay's story when I can. =)

Bat -- That is interesting, but I don't think any of the characters who need to be convinced that Venus is open for colonisation need something quite on that level! Then again, we don't really see the entire media campaign. Perhaps something like this was included for the higher-level "morons"!

MrsDarwin said...

I once read a short story about a party of scientists on Venus who get separated from their group and go mad, one by one, because of the constant rain. I don't know why rain; I've never heard that it rains on Venus. But that was the conceit, and it was a rather creepy tale. At the end, one man makes it back to base with his sanity mostly intact, only to be driven crazy by seeing everyone so comfy and dry and unaffected in the shelter. (I don't remember the story in full detail, but this is what sticks with me.) It certainly didn't instill any desire in me to go there!

Strangely, I've had the opposite experience of what you've described: not believing that a place could be all that interesting until I've seen it. I felt that way about New York City; never had any desire to go until I went, and then I wished I could have stayed for days. I had no desire to go to Germany when I was in Europe, but my last weekend trip was to Munich and Cologne, two lovely cities I wish I'd had more time to see. (I now regret exceedingly not having gone to Poland while I was in Europe, and now who knows if I'll ever be back?)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I'm starting with a sample of only two here (Kornbluth's story and the one you vaguely remember), but I wonder whether examining Venus as an SF setting will reveal it as the "dark" planet of "death" in genre writers' collective imagination. (In contrast, Mars seems to be the setting for optimistic stories!)

I like being surprised by new places, too . . . which gives me the perfect excuse not to shake off my prejudices before a trip. ;-P Later this year, I'll be going to another Asian country for business; and all I really plan to do is work, hang around the hotel, and let more enthusiastic colleagues drag me around. One of my friends happens to love this country's culture and is a little angry at how little I care. If she only knew how high the chances are of my gushing about what an amazing surprise it was when I finally come home! LOL!

Belfry Bat said...

Oh, now we are getting somewhere! C.S. (the convert) Lewis presented Venus, in Perelandra, (... at least, in the first chapters... I really ought to finish it, but there's a funny story about all our books... ) as a newly-created Eden, with one known newly created Rational Animal; pictures escape me at the moment, but at least it was very warm. Just before I got distracted, the Devil's instrument had just arrived and, as the course of things would have it, introduced some small Knowledge of Evil by misconstruing or misrepresenting the actions of Prof. Ransom, who had got there first...

---

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Perhaps Ransom should have gone to Mars then!

Would you happen to know why C.S. (the heretic *) Lewis picked Venus over Mars?

* Just kidding. **

** Or maybe not. =P

Belfry Bat said...

Mars was the destination of the First Book; that... that went a little sideways as well.

Belfry Bat said...

(Clive "Jack" Staples L. may very well have been a heretic after his conversion; prior to it, he was simply wrong)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

So he wrote the first book before he became a heretic? I'm finding you obscure again.

I wonder if one could read the first book and trace a tradition back to H.G. Wells and his Martians.

Belfry Bat said...

No, all three (or four) of the Space books followed after ... after he became an Anglican; I'm just pointing out that pagans can't (formally) be heretics.

Brandon said...

In Out of the Silent Planet, when Ransom goes to Mars, Lewis was actually in part responding to Wells, but it's Wells's The First Men in the Moon, not War of the Worlds, that he is responding to.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Bat -- What is obscure to me is why you thought it was a pertinent point when none of his SF novels (which are the only reason he entered the conversation) seem to have been written during his heretical years. Come to think of it, why did you bring up his convert status in the first place? What does it have to with Venus or Mars? Is there another C.S. Lewis who is a cradle Catholic that we don't know about? MYSTERIES!!!

Brandon -- It's always interesting when writers respond to each other! I wish I had already read that Wells book. Now that I'm focussing on other languages, I may never get to it. What are the chances of there being a good translation in German or Italian? Or even Russian?

Belfry Bat said...

(i see you got comment 13!)

I think you're looking for complication or intrigue where none is intended; I was simply being a bit silly at first, and then you answered, and so the fun continued, &c. (His having already converted, though, was a smidge relevant to his actually writing the things, but not perhaps to the here-untouched question "were they any good?")

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Geez, Bat . . . You have no idea how hard it is to talk to you!!! =(