December 14, 2003

They wrote of the future because they could
catch glimpses of it and wanted to be there; they
wanted to live there, but they were blocked by
any route but the path of imagination.

They knew in their hearts that they themselves
were not good enough to bring it about; too
mediocre to have a hope of transforming the
world, they wrote fantasies of personal
transformation: rapid transcendent change into
supermen that could achieve global transcendent

They created a literature that's
both pathetic and inspiring; and it
transmitted their dreams and              Superhero comics are one
diseases to others, some of whom          reflection of this flame,
were better positioned for the slow       but they rarely touch on the
crawl to sudden transformation.           second part of the story.
                                          Superman exists in a
You can take it back                      Metropolis that is not so
to van Vogt:                              different from New York.

A.E. van Vogt -                                     One of Alan Moore's
   "Slan" (1940)                                    innovations: the
                                                    Miracle Man brings
   Wilma Shirras -                                  about an age of
     "Children of the Atom" (1953)                  Miracles; once
                                                    Dr. Manhattan
   George O. Smith -                                exists, you are in
     "Highways in Hiding"   (1956)                  a new world.

A.E. van Vogt -
   "The World of Null-A" (1945)         VAN_VOGT

   Alfred Bester -
      "The Stars My Destination" (1956)

   L. Ron Hubbard -
      "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Healing",
      an article in Astounding Science Fiction, May, 1950.

                                                    Still earlier: "The
                                                    Shadow" radio shows and
There are two different fantasies in play:          novels, that co-evolved
one is "mutation", the belief that you are          in the early thirties.
a changeling, that you have so little in
common with the conventional run of                    The power to cloud
humanity that you're in effect a new                   men's minds, learned
species, a new and-- despite the                       in an exotic land.
schoolyard taunts-- superior species.  You
must go underground, and seek out your own                   ZEN_FLESH
kind.  SF fans of the forties called their
group houses "slan-shacks" (where popular
side-lines included blowing up the basement
with rocketry experiments).

The other fantasy is the dream of
"self-transformation": there exists some
simple method (a talisman, a technology,
an idea) that properly used can
transform you into a superior being.
Choose wisely who is worthy to be
elevated to your new god-like status.
Humanity is on the verge of a new

A.E. van Vogt's "Null-A" books were
obsessed with Korzybski's General
Semantics, and van Vogt also went on
to get involved with Dianetics... 
and there were other doctrines he         GARDNER
was infected with as well.

Ideas like these are the reason Engelbart invented
the personal computer: he was after a gadget that
would ramp up the intelligence of humanity. It's       ENGLEBARTS_BARD
also the reason Engelbart was later a sucker for EST.

  And also the reason the 60s era loved the idea of
  enlightenment in a pill.

It begins with Null-A, and it ends with Scientology
and EST, but along the way it spins off rocket
ships and computers, and transforms the world in
it's passing.