Escape Velocity Girl


“…loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours…”
September 26, 2010, 9:55 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Blogospherians can be thought of as cultural archaeologists sifting digital sand for the odd pot shard of a story. Or (storm cloud over silver lining), as Mad-Max-ian moto-carrion, cannibalizing roadside relics for conceptual spare parts to keep their meme-guzzling jalopies gunning the information highway. Either way, the NASA Ames space colony archive counts as a find of some antiquity, dating as it does from the 1970s. Judging by the proliferation of relevant posts, it’s the new blogo-village sci-fi-bike – and one might as well take a (non-erotic) ride.

Bernal Spheres (catnip to Umberto-Eco-ian  conspiracy theory Diabolicals) and spoked Toroidal Colonies (primitively real versions of Iain Banks’s elegant single-strip Orbitals) promise a world in the which the fate of future-us is divorced from that of the world – global warming and market collapse being relatively irrelevant to a species with a diversified geographical portfolio. But, having evolved upon the exterior surface of a sphere, what effect would life in such inside-out, topsy-turvy habitats have on us? To what extent do concave vs. convex, obtuse vs. acute shapes shape our thoughts and assumptions – if at all?

Though the tessellated radiolaria of Ernst Haeckel’s plates illustrate the mathematical regularity of Nature’s microstructures, for much of our 200,000 or so pre-microscope years man’s visual world has been one of irrational, organic, unpredictable arabesques – a landscape seemingly far more chaotic than the matryoshka-ed right-angle rectangles that define the modern metropolis. Has the contemporary prevalence of the perpendicular and parallel made us, as a people, more hubristic and narrow-minded, less able to home-run or even handle entropic curve balls? Would life on the inner rim of a humongous bike-tire – no horizon, but a swell of man-made land curving “forward, not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling” – promote a fallacious sense of omniscience and corresponding claustrophobia, the world/Toroidal Colony as Panopticon, each inhabitant both jailer and jailee?

To take the daisy-chain of inquiry further, are our puny man-minds limited in their ability to even comprehend certain forms of geometry and geography? H.P. Lovecraft’s R’lyeh, the sunken city of cephalopod-headed Cthulhu, is built according to a geometry so very non-Euclidean it drives fictional men fictionally mad. Christopher Nolan’s dream heisters in Inception construct Escher-inspired infinite stairs impossible in reality, but apparently comprehensible by a drugged or druggy subconscious. Alan Moore includes a yellow-brick Möbius strip as a symbolically screwy part of Promethea’s psychedelic journey through the Immateria. Ender’s battle room breakthrough is his reorientation to fight in three subjectively-defined, rather than absolute, dimensions, while the good Doctor’s ability to comprehend and manipulate the time bit of space-time marks him as a capital-a-Alien or, perhaps, as the equivalent of the Sphere in Flatland, whose very existence hints at dimensions beyond our/the Flatlanders’ knowledge.

photo credit: NASA Ames Research Center

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