Each year, the American Library Association (ALA) chooses a theme for libraries across the country. This year's is SPACE, chosen to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s historic lunar landing. As part of the ALA's national event, we’re going to take some space voyages, too. This six-session class will alternate between books and films. We’ll be reading WAR OF THE WORLDS, THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, and RENDEZOUS WITH RAMA, all of which explore human nature when it’s confronted by the unknown. Our films--FORBIDDEN PLANET, THE MARTIAN, and OUTLAND--delve into the mysteries and dangers of space exploration and colonization. What is it about the cosmos and journeying into the unknown that keeps fascinating humankind? Why the urge to “boldly go where no one has gone before?” Each of these six classic stories examines who we are, why we do what we do, and how we respond to the bold triumphs and inherent tragedies that are part of any mission into the unknown. Fasten your seat belts! It’s going to be an exciting ride!
SESSION ONE: Movie: FORBIDDEN PLANET. One of the “great ones,” and a direct inspiration for the various incarnations of STAR TREK among other later sci-fi movies and TV programs. The destruction of a great civilization through arrogance.
SESSION TWO: Book: WAR OF THE WORLDS by H.G. Wells. Wells’ novel is the classic invasion story about how a great civilization (The Martians) are brought down.
SESSION THREE: Movie: THE MARTIAN--which deals with the very real perils facing future missions to Mars.
SESSION FOUR: Book: THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES by Ray Bradbury. A classic, gorgeously written collection of stories by Ray Bradbury that deals with the ancient Martians and the Earthlings who later colonize Mars.
SESSION FIVE: Movie: OUTLAND (starring Sean Connery); a murder mystery on a mining camp on Jupiter's moon Io. An excellent (and rare) example of an outer space "whodunit."
SESSION SIX: Book: RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA by Arthur C. Clark. Clarke's masterpiece is about a mysterious space craft that enters the solar system and the intrepid explorers who investigate.
SESSION ONE: FORBIDDEN PLANT (1956)
1. In what ways does this 1956 film, especially the first half, promote stereotypical ideas about women and men? Or, put another way, in what ways is this film’s presentation of men and women typical of 1950’s American media.
2. In a related question: The 50s gave us such hits as LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET, FATHER KNOWS BEST, THE HONEYMOONERS, THE DONNA REED SHOW, MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY, among others. How does this film fall into that tradition?
3. Do we ever see the Krell? How does that add to the impact of the film?
4. In Shakespeare’s TEMPEST, when Miranda first sees humans--specifically men--other than her father Prospero, she exclaims:
O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in't!
When Alta first sees the Captain and two of his companions, she declares:
I've always so terribly wanted to meet a young man, and now three at once...You're lovely, Doctor. Of course, the two end ones are unbelievable.
Just as Miranda develops and matures over the course of Shakespeare’s play, so does Alta. In what ways does Alta “grow up” in FORBIDDEN PLANET?
5. Discuss the importance of Robby the Robot to the overall drama. How is he connected to the Krell? What is the film’s attitude towards such technology?
6. Though we are now used to spectacular special effects in films, in what ways are the art direction and special effects of FORBIDDEN PLANET still impressive?
7. Describe and discuss what you feel is the main “message” of the film? Is there more than one message? What are they?
1. The social commentary in The War of the Worlds is thick, but it continues to attract a multitude of readers, and the depiction of civilization collapsing in gallant resistance against an implacable enemy is grand, even moving. Science fiction writers ever since have used their fantasies as vehicles for commenting on society, but few fire the imagination the way Wells does. Approach the novel from the angle of its social commentary. What does this book say about human society in general and perhaps British Imperial culture specifically.
2. Approach this novel as an apocalyptic vision; it portrays our civilization collapsing into ruins, with good and bad equally destroyed. What makes this vision stirring?
3. How well is the climax of the novel developed? Do you think the highly evolved Martians would forget something like disease? Is the climax forced too much to fit Wells' social commentary (when something is gained, something is lost) at the expense of a coherent plot?
4. What are the parallels between the events in The War of the Worlds and the history of colonial empires? Don't stop with Western civilization's expansion; note the parallels in the history of Eastern empires, as well as the violent invasions of the Middle East and Europe by Huns, Mongols, and others. What generalizations about humanity is Wells making with his tale of conquest and utter defeat?
5. Some characters have names that represent their professions. Catalogue these and see whether Wells is making any comments about the kinds of people they represent.
6. Some readers are particularly annoyed by the Curate. Is Wells using him as an allegorical figure to say that religion is irrelevant?
7. The War of the Worlds draws on some of the popular, as well as serious, science of its era. For instance, some scientists really thought that there were canals on Mars, although such an idea is no longer taken seriously. Indeed, scientific views have changed greatly since the time Wells wrote The War of the Worlds. Using this novel as an example, how dependent are science fiction writers on the science of their times? What does ever-changing scientific knowledge do to how audiences respond to a science fiction novel?
8. Why, with all of Earth to choose from, would Martians target England? Try approaching this topic from the view of the 1890s.
1. What makes us root for a character to live in a survival story? In what ways do you identify with Mark? How does the author get you to care about him?
2. Do you believe the crew did the right thing in abandoning the search for Mark? Was there an alternative choice?
3. Did you find the science and technology behind Mark's problem-solving accessible? How did
4. Apparently potatoes, duct tape, and ‘70s reruns among other things can be a key to space survival. How does each of these items represent aspects of Mark's character that help him survive? (For those of you familiar with the character/TV show MacGyver, there might be some resonances.)
5. How is Mark's sense of humor as much a survival skill as his knowledge of science? Do you have a favorite funny line of his?
6. To what extent does Mark's log serve as his companion? Do you think it's implicit that maintaining a log keeps him sane?
7. There is little back-story regarding Mark's life on Earth. What do you imagine Mark's past life was like? Does our lack of knowledge make him more of an “Everyman” character?
8. Were there points in the story when you became convinced Mark couldn't survive? What were they, and what made those situations seem so dire?
9. Did you believe the commitment of those on Earth to rescuing one astronaut? What convinced you most?
10. Unlike other castaways, Mark can approximately predict the timing of his potential rescue. How does that knowledge help him? How could it work against him?
11. When Mark leaves the Hab and ventures out in the rover, did you feel a loss of security for him? In addition to time, how does physical travel/distance build suspense.
12. Read the following statement about “The Hero’s Journey” and discuss whether any of this applies to The Martian:
In comparative mythology, the hero's journey (also known as the monomyth) is the common template of a broad category of tales and lore that involves a hero who goes on an adventure, and in a decisive crisis wins a victory, and then comes home changed or transformed.
[...] Hero myth studies were popularized by Joseph Campbell, who was influenced by Carl Jung's view of myth. In his 1949 work The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell described the basic narrative pattern as follows:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
1. Unlike the film The Martian, which is based on solid science, The Martian Chronicles is a lyrical fantasy in which “hard science” takes a back seat. Does the “lack” of science take away from the novel? Or is Bradbury making larger points about human nature?
2. What elements of the book make Mars seem realistic? What elements make it seem fantastic?
3. Why do most of the settlers choose to return to an Earth ravaged by nuclear war?
4. Do you sympathize with the Martians when they react with hostility toward the earliest delegates from Earth? Why or why not?
5. Why do you think Spender feels compelled to kill his companions in "And the Moon Be Still As Bright"? How feasible is his plan of slowing—and eventually halting—the space program? Why, despite all that he has heard, is the captain willing to kill Spender? Is this story a turning point in The Martian Chronicles?
6. What is the significance of the names given to towns, rivers, and cemeteries in "The Naming of Names"?
7. Who is the most fully drawn Martian character in the book? Who is the most fully drawn human character? Are the two characters at all similar?
8. Discuss the role of nostalgia in "The Third Expedition" and "The Martian." What is Bradbury saying about people's attachment to the past in these stories?
1. The greenhouse might be speculated as to providing the oxygen for the mining operation. Do you see it as a credible part of the film? Why or why not?
2. Describe and discuss the architecture used in the film.
The medical lab
The general sleeping quarters
3. The food and "method of eating" in this film is quite different from that proposed in 2001 or Silent Running. Is the food proposed for this film believable? Does it support the plot?
4. Discuss the role of leisure in the film.
5. Doors play a very important part in the film. Explain the system of doors. How do they assist the plot? Are they effective?
6. Discuss the issue of "personal space" or "privacy" in the film. How does the architectural set support this part of the film?
7. Respond to this viewer comment. What do you agree with? Disagree with?
I've always wondered why Outland doesn't get more love? It's very similar to Gary Cooper’s High Noon, but in space. It features one of Sean Connery's strongest performances, boasts a killer Jerry Goldsmith score, and drips with atmosphere that you can cut with a knife. There's real tension and suspense with solid action. It also has mostly convincing visual effects and incredible production design. Yet hardly anyone I know has seen it! Anybody else with me on this? Or has my nostalgia blinded me?
8. Discuss some of the principal characters. Are they believable or merely “types”? Marshal William T. O'Niel, Carol O’Niel, Mark B. Sheppard, Dr. Lazarus. Are there any other characters that you feel are pivotal to the film’s plot/effectiveness?
9. Do the issues raised in this film--drug addiction, black market deals, law enforcement, the dangers of mining, et al--still seem relevant nearly 40 years after the film premiered?
10. Just as today we know that Mars never hosted a vast civilization with canals and monumental buildings, we know that Io is the most volcanically active body in our solar system, making the kind of mining activity we see in Outland highly improbable. Does that scientific reality detract from our enjoyment of the film, its story, or its “message”?
One of the minature sets depicting the mining camp
1. What is the purpose of leaving questions unanswered in the novel? List a few of the mysteries that are left unsolved by the author.
2. Discuss the attitude of the members of the different committees meeting on Earth and elsewhere to deliberate about Rama. Is preparing for war, as the ambassador from Mercury would rather have it, the best way to insure peace and security?
3. Why did Jimmy decide to pick up the lone flower of Rama instead of filling his pockets with the valuable jewels that are littering some of the fields nearby?
4. Discuss the possible purpose of Rama. Is Rama just an experiment lost in space, a vessel with a definite yet unknown purpose, or something else completely?
5. Discuss the difference between the creatures that evolve on Rama and the explorers from the solar system. Are the creatures of Rama engineered biological devices or simply robots?
6. Discuss the implications of the physical characteristics of Rama in the novel. Why is Rama cylindrical? Why is Rama spinning so fast?
7. Discuss the impact of evolving technology on fiction writing. If you were to write Rendezvous with Rama today, what would you need to change to make it more believable? How different is the future world that the current state of technology enables you to anticipate from the fictional creation that the author was able to foresee just a few decades ago?
9. Discuss the importance of evolution versus design in the world of Rama. Does science fiction provide clues to answering the dilemma of creation vs. evolution? What role does this dilemma play in the decisions of Commander Norton?