Weird Science

Weird Science
When the Sky Comes out of the Ground

Ray Huling | 18 Mar 2008 14:00
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Meteorites!
Nothing sets the imagination alight like fire from the sky. On September 15, 2007, a fireball visible at mid-day fell from the vicinity of the Southern Cross, burst in the Peruvian jungle and brought pestilence to the village of Carancas.

Hundreds of people rushed to the huge crater - 40 feet in diameter, with a waist-high rim. Its cavity of about a dozen feet held a pool of boiling water. Many of those who gathered at the site fell ill. They had the usual array of mystery symptoms: nausea, headaches, rashes. While some of the Peruvians suspected a sneak attack by warlike Chile, other parties arrived at even darker conclusions.

On September 20, Pravda, a tabloid website of the Soviet school, reported that an American KH-13 spy satellite, not a chondritic meteorite, had impacted the Peruvian soil. The villagers had succumbed to the dissemination of its Plutonium-238 fuel.

Pravda said the satellite had been spying on Iran, as a prelude to a nuclear strike. Fortunately, a faction of the "American Military Establishment" shot down the satellite, stalling the plans of "United States War Leaders," who hope to draw the Middle East into "Total War" by invading Iran. These same two factions have come to blows before, reported Pravda, most notably 9/11.

Let's move on to even crazier ideas. Horror writer Nick Mamatas, on his blog, Nihilistic Kid, observed the similarity between the super-exogenic Peruvian sickness and H.P. Lovecraft's story, "The Colour Out of Space," in which a meteorite poisons, rots and taints a small farm in western Massachusetts. This observation brought weird horror into play, and a wave of enthusiastic speculation ensued.

Ectomo picked up on Mamatas's post and drew some practical conclusions: "Face it, dear readers, something very nasty is on the way. Space AIDS or Ebola in the best case, the living dead in the worst." Kim Paffenroth, an author and scholar of zombie fiction, joked that he was already heading to knock out the stairs to the second floor. You can't help but notice the not-entirely-jocular glee in the title of his post: "This Could Be It!"

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The major media hosted both camps. The Lede, a New York Times blog, stroked its chin at the oddity and inconsistencies of the reports out of Peru. The Pravda theory appeared in the second comment on the NYT post; Lovecraft in the third. We see here evidence of a bizarre phenomenon. Pravda's ravings and Lovecraftian horror both have materialist roots, but today their materialism serves to deny reality, rather than intensify it.

The Meteorite Giveth, The Meteorite Taketh Away
Meteorites retain the same place of prominence in the modern heart that they held in the ancient one. Perhaps no heavenly body beside the zodiacal constellations has endured in this way. We know a meteorite cleared an evolutionary path for us 65 million years ago. We also know a meteorite could block that path at any moment. Meteorites symbolize both Genesis and the Day of Judgment.

The tales of Pravda and the Lovecraftian blogs belong to a different order than your usual apocalypse. Each of these paranoias descends from a great materialist mythology. Pravda is a scion of Marx, who referred to his doctrine as "scientific dialectics" and meant to overturn romantic notions of historical progress and economic life. Lovecraft wrote allegories of the science and exploration of his day in the language of pulp fiction. Cthulhu is the theory of general relativity disguised as a sea monster and featured in a detective story.

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