The topic of the talk for January was “Hollywood and the Astrobuff”, and it was presented by ASV member Patricia Larkin, co-convener of The Diurnal meeting ever third Tuesday of the month.

Hollywood and the Astrobuff
Pat Larkin’s lighter theme on science fiction movies reflected a more serious nature of the SF industry and the effect it has on society. While a number of the movies discussed may look quaint to us today, they contain some cutting-edge technology and scientific vision of their time.
Carl Sagan’s thought-provoking ‘Contact’ of 1997, which covers the intellectual and philosophical aspects of life in the universe brings out the less common theme of the relationship between theology and science. Earlier movies like ‘Destination Moon’ reflect the paranoia of the Cold War years of the 1950s that fuelled the space race. The 1978 movie ‘Meteor’ has, apart from its scare tactics of military involvement, a chilling message for us of the ever-present threat of Earth’s collision with space objects. What about ‘2001: a Space Odyssey, made in 1968? Computers were starting making inroads into our society and speculation about the consequences of their role in it, and the social implications went wild. The movie prophetically showed the enduring influence that computers would have in our daily lives. HAL, the film's favourite 'actor', a computer with emotions greater than those of the astronauts, is the only fully-realized character in the film. HAL's name is an acronym derived from two basic types of learning systems, Heuristic and ALgorithmic. Only HAL knows the real mission of the trip. Coincidentally (perhaps not) if you replace each letter in the name with the next letter in the alphabet it becomes IBM. Much of the film is silent, the first spoken words in the film occur about 25 minutes into the film, and there are only about 40 minutes of conversation in the 140 minute movie. Viewers are left to experience the non-verbal, mystical vastness of the film, and to subjectively reach into their own subconscious and into the film's pure imagery to speculate about its meaning. Many consider the masterpiece bewildering, boring, slow-moving or annoying, but are still inspired by the epic story of how man is dwarfed by technology and space and by its sublime music.

We may ultimately watch a film to be entertained, we may not take Science Fiction serious, but even just an awareness of the ideas expressed in it will have a lasting effect on our mental faculties and will extend our vision of the future. There were many “Astrobuffs” in the audience on the night, as shown by the lively discussions during question time. Whether on safari in the outback, with an article in our newsletter or giving a presentation at meetings, Pat Larkin is an exquisite story teller.