In which I postulate a philosophical question…
…to which the correct answer is, and will probably continue to be:
“Nah. More like a whole load of hot air”
Those of you who used to hang about on Nature Network, where this blog previously had its home, will know that there is some sort of a correlation (though I am not aware of a formal study…. anyone know one?) between science geeks and sci-fi film buffs.
Hence the inauguration here with a bit of vintage sci-fi.
And the rather laboured allusion in the title is to whether scientists blogs to spread enlightenment, or simply to sound off a bit.
The answer, of course, is almost always a bit of both – though around here you can probably expect more of the latter. Like a lot of bloggers, I don’t really have a thematic plan (let alone a scheme for global domination) . I tend to blog about what’s on my mind. Indeed, when I was trying to think up a bio for the new blog, I was half tempted to call it
“A Trawl of Unfinished Ephemera”
Now, a big chunk of the point of moving here from NN, at least for me, was to try and reach a bit more general readership – partly by having a more open comments policy than NN did, but that’s one for another time. People who read the old NN blog will know what sort of content and tone to expect here. But since, like I said, I’m hoping for new readers, and since I am not nearly as well-known a blogger as some of my fellow OTs – now now, no scientology jokes, please – I thought I would give any newbies some idea what you can expect from Not Ranting.
So what’s it going to be?
Looking back over the year that the blog has been running on NN, I see that I could classify the posts into roughly the following categories:
History of science 18%
Science policy 14%
News & events 14%
The life scientific 9%
Communicating science 5%
Science fiction 5%
So expect some pseudoscience (which leaks in from my other blogging), a good slice of history, some science policy, a bit of other miscellanea, and a general tone of low level grousing.
Enough of this navel-gazing. Tell us about the film!
Finally, lets get back to that excellent movie clip.
As a last aside, like many a scientist (and science blogger) of a certain age, I remember the lunar landing programme of the late 60s and 70s as being one of the key things that sort of defined for me what “science” was. But, again like a lot of kids, I was also an avid viewer of space, and science, fiction – Lost in Space, Star Trek, Doctor Who, and so on. So the blame for my scientific career lies with the film makers. They are the guilty men.
Anyway, for those that didn’t recognise the source of the clip, it is from low-fi 70s sci-fi classic Dark Star, a favourite movie of my younger brother and me ever since we first saw it in our teenage years1. Dark Star has been a bit of our joint history, one of those films we share lines from as private jokes. And I started up my NN blog almost exactly a year ago with a short piece about the film, triggered by the news that screenwriter Dan O’Bannon (one half of the team that produced the film, along with director John Carpenter) had just died, aged only 63.
The running gag of Dark Star is the one about – what if space travel turned out to be really, really REALLY boring? With people stuck together for years, thoroughly fed up with one another’s company, eating monotonous food and doing monotonous things on a malfunctioning spaceship?
Any resemblance to working in life in general, of course, is purely deliberate.
For those too young to have ever caught Dark Star, perhaps its most obvious descendant, at least on British TV, is the comedy series Red Dwarf (official website here) which seems to me to owe much of its “Waiting for Godot in space” premise to Dark Star. Of course, Red Dwarf has other obvious antecedants in 70s sci-fi, including Alien and another “space will drive you crazy” cult classic, the proto eco-movie Silent Running.
Perhaps the best known single sequence from Dark Star is the end of the film, featuring the philosophical and talkative bomb (see above). However, you may get more of a flavour of the film overall from this short sequence.
If you’ve never seen Dark Star, it is well worth digging out on DVD or video (do they still have those?) to see what 70s film-makers could do with a quirky vision, next to no money, improvised-on-a-shoestring special effects (by O’Bannon) and an absurdist deadpan sense of humour. At least if the film-makers were talents like Carpenter and O’Bannon.
 Sadly, I really am that old. It crept up on me.