A little Solstice something for all the cultists here at Conspiracy Central. I should have posted this two days ago, but honestly all I have been doing for the past week is gorging myself on ham and green bean casserole. Hmm … canned goodness topped with deep fried vegetables. It positively screams 1950’s heart attack Americana!
Meanwhile, you can while away the winter by listening to Martian Migraine editor Scott R Jones recite my story “We Three Kings,” from Cthulhusattva: Tales of the Black Gnosis, available wherever eldritch literature is sold. Like that little shop round the corner from you, that wasn’t there yesterday. Say hi to Danielle for me.
I accidentally sold all the ammo for my .50 cal sniper rifle, so the Nick Valentine quest will be postponed while I wander the Wasteland scrounging up caps to buy my bullets back. In the interim, I give you the following screed –
Pfht. You kids these days, with your wireless and your smartphones and your DLS cables … we didn’t have none of that back in my day, nosiree.
We had radio. Which, come to think of it, is the original wireless.
I don’t recall anything like that in the Mad Max films, which makes me think radio is something unique to the American mind; of course, Mad Max is also a much bleaker vision of the future than most American fiction, which tells us something about why radio plays such an important role.
The link between radio and the bomb goes back to nearly the beginning of the Cold War, to CONELRAD:
The early ancestor of what would become the Emergency Alert System, CONELRAD was the radio service the US Government developed to warn the public that the End was coming. Nowadays, the Emergency Alert System warns you that you might lose TV reception1, but once upon a time, in the early 50’s, a radio broadcast would have been the only warning to Duck and Cover.
WiFi means we live in a culture where we are permanently connected, essentially without effort, to the entire world. But even back in the Paleolithic days of the 70’s, radio, telephone, and satellite networks connected us so completely that it was guaranteed that any major news story would be covered within minutes.
The Internet requires a computer, a modem, and a set of protocols to allow one computer to talk to another. A telephone requires miles upon miles of cable and someone on the other end who had a telephone and wants to talk to you.
It is assumed there won’t be Internet after the bombs fall; smartphones will be, at best, prepaid only. In the bleakest of worlds, this means we are alone: no help is coming, nor can ever be expected.
But that isn’t American – the American Apocalypse is about hope, and that’s because atomic radio is what built America.
Okay, atoms and radio, but “atomic radio” just sounds cooler.
The Manhattan Project severed the New World from the Old as surely as a new dawn. At the same time, the groundswell of rock and roll was starting to transform a nation …
… well, not if the FCC had anything to say about. The outlawing of “hillbilly music” as weakening the moral fiber forced early DJs to move south into Mexico, pumping out music on bajillion-watt transmitters that could be heard clear up into New York, transmitters so powerful the radio towers glowed in the dark. It was the Golden Age of DJs
Those outlawed broadcasts across the night, stretching across the vast emptiness of the continent, found millions of listeners turning the knobs of their radio receivers, hoping to find that elusive frequency –
and that’s what radio is all about, Charlie Brown. Reaching out, searching, finding. The music – it’s almost secondary, at least in the fiction of Apocalypse.
Oh, yes – the knobs. Back in the day, a stereo was a serious piece of equipment:
Not only did you feel like a little Einstein, twirling the knobs, searching for a “frequency”, which was measured in “MegaHertz”, which you didn’t understand but that sounded so super-sciency, but you were also doing something that is increasingly lost today. What you were really doing, alone in your room in the dark and empty American night, was saying to the world: “here I am. Come fill me up. Tell me something.”
The Internet knows you. It knows what you like and it gives you endless quantities of it. Amazon Kindle knows I like animals, and provides me with more free nature shows than I could watch in a lifetime4.
And that is pure and good and true and proof that we did it right.
But what we lost is that exposure to the unexpected – the new song, the strange voice, the book in the corner of the bookshop you didn’t pick up because of any “recommended” list, but because something about it, wholly beyond logic or personality, caught your attention. It’s that spark, that connection, the idea that as alone as you are, someone else is out there …
… which is what the American Apocalypse is about: hope. Not the End, but what comes after. Rock n’ roll came after the bomb, and radio will be there after the next one.
)Or, if you live in Modoc County, that you’re about to get 20 feet of snow and will be trapped until spring.
Well, not the people who lived there; they probably knew something had happened.
Now we have blogs!
Especially given how long it takes me to write this blog.
So I’ve been playing Fallout 4 for … hang on, lemme check … 48 hours, and I’ve already encountered three mad scientists1 – which makes me think that’s just the tip of the mad science iceberg.
It’s good to see Fallout 4 is really kicking up the weirdness, with both the mad science and the horror – between Dunwich, Pickman’s Gallery, and whatever awful thing is waiting for me at the Salem Museum of Withcraft, this is starting to look like some abominable hybrid of HP Lovecraft and Ed Wood, which, come to think, pretty much encapsulates all that is good in life.
After all, life in the Wasteland is hard enough:
mad science is the only way …
… hang on, epiphany time. I shall now proceed to speak cathedra ex gluteus, or, as they say, talk out my a – nyway,
I submit to the committee that true Mad Science – goggles, Alton Brown hair, crazed German accents – didn’t become a thing until after WWII.
I could look it up, I suppose, but between being called in to work this morning and the fact that it’s like -10 outside and I just want to hibernate until the thaw, I have been struggling to get this blog written all damn day, so I’m just gonna go with it.
It’s no coincidence, although I spent an hour today and couldn’t find the link, that UFO sightings correlate almost 1-to-1 with secret military bases, and that UFO sightings didn’t really become a phenomenon until after the Trinity Atomic Bomb test.
I think UFOs are a sublimation of our real fears, and a symbolism of that fear – after 1945, we had cause to fear things in the sky.
(Also, of course, most UFOs are just secret test aircraft, Venus, swamp gas – yada yada. But secret aircraft themselves are a manifestation of the Cold War, so the thesis still stands.)
The use of nuclear weapons was a watershed moment in human psychology. Not only did we now have the power to destroy the planet, but that power was vested in a small group of select individuals: soldiers and scientists. Anyone with a little training can grasp at least the rudimentary aspects of a gun, or even a bomb, and every guy thinks he could secretly be Chuck Norris if he really had to – gods know I’ve seen enough of them on Friday nights at the casino.
But nuclear physics is another story. Nothing about nuclear weapons2can be intuitively understood, and even nuclear physicists will cheerfully admit it doesn’t make sense to them half the time.
When we look at images of the 1950s with our modern eyes, we see the innocence of a childhood too young to understand what’s happening. I wonder how much of that is reality, and how much is our perception? Or, to put it another way, how much were they truly ignorant of what was happening in their world? This was a generation that went from WWII to Korea to Vietnam, from victory to defeat, all the while living with doomsday hovering over their collective heads. No wonder Levittown rose from that era – it was a generation-wide case of shell shock.
And like Cthulhu plushies or Santa Claus3, we deal with fear by making it funny. Humor is the best weapon we have against the ultimate indignity of death. Also, it’s easier to demonize this guy:
than it is to realize that the people who gave us the bomb were people, with wives and children clutching teddy bears, and that they weighed the cost of their war and found the price worth paying. Because if they could do it – the best of us – what does that mean about ourselves?