David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
11/23/22 10:54 a.m.

Looks like we’re having fun discussing Arthur C. Clark’s “Silence Please,” so how about short from him?

“History Lesson” came out in 1949, and it’s another fairly quick read.

You can easily find it online. Someone even made an animated short based on it.

Things you’ll find inside: people, glaciers, faraway worlds.

After reading, we can discuss, but my first question: Is the ending tragically honest or a bit too cheeky?

Thank you for joining GRM Book Club.

Toyman!
Toyman! MegaDork
11/23/22 10:57 a.m.

Moved from the Silence thread. 

I took a few minutes to read through History Lesson. It is a good bit more complicated than Silence Please but still a pretty good read. I don't think it has quite the imagery of Silence Please but it's very close. This story has the feel of something that was jotted down in passing and never polished. That could be due to me reading it between emails at work. 

The ending is probably appropriate. If you look at the lasting forms of entertainment, they aren't the historic record, They are stories, poems, and music. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. The works of Shakespeare, and the symphonies of Bach. In another 10000 years, it will be old movies.

We had better hope that the Venusians understand what fiction is. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
11/23/22 10:57 a.m.

You can find the animation adaptation here

I'd recommend reading it first. 

I think this is the original book form, too, complete with artwork. 

Sarah Young
Sarah Young Copy & Design Editor
11/23/22 11:50 a.m.

Spoilers below.

 

 

 

So, does anyone have a guess as to what the Walt Disney production was? It seemed to follow a human (Or was it an ape? It was described as a biped with two arms, two eyes, a mouth). Then the film follows a vehicle driving across countryside, eventually showing up in a high-traffic city and colliding with another vehicle head on. And then:

Mr_Asa
Mr_Asa UltimaDork
11/23/22 11:55 a.m.

In reply to Sarah Young :

Honestly, any character from the Mouse House before 1949 (when the story came out) is viable.  Probably not Mackey as the car crash isn't a Mackey thing, but Donald or Goofy? Sure.

"Characteristic expression of arrogant bad temper" does lean more Duck-ish, though.

Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter)
Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
11/23/22 12:06 p.m.

I can't think of anything specific, could just be a ficticous future feature. 

Sarah Young
Sarah Young Copy & Design Editor
11/23/22 12:07 p.m.

In reply to Mr_Asa :

That's a good point. Disney cartoons made all kinds of animals into two-armed bipeds. Would the Venusians understand that an animated piece ≠ real-life footage? Would they be unable to tell because the Earth is covered in ice?

It's interesting that not even the final humans on Earth knew what the film contained or understood its relevance. It honestly sounds like a total accident that it wound up holding the status of treasure.

Mr_Asa
Mr_Asa UltimaDork
11/23/22 12:24 p.m.

In reply to Sarah Young :

There is something in a paragraph of the last section that states that the Venusians realized it was a stylized work of art and not a true depiction of life on Earth.

Not to dig too far into "thats not how science works" but I'd be very surprised if the Venusians did not send archeological digs to Earth to mine for more information.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
11/23/22 12:29 p.m.

In reply to Mr_Asa :

Just had a related thought: The Venusians prefer to live in water, so I wonder if a frozen Earth is viewed as just not conquerable? 

Sarah Young
Sarah Young Copy & Design Editor
11/23/22 12:31 p.m.
Mr_Asa said:

In reply to Sarah Young :

the Venusians realized it was a stylized work of art

Ahh, I remember that.

And agreed. I don't think the Venusians could have made it to such a technologically advanced and socially peaceful level if they were to draw conclusions from one archeological find.

Mr_Asa
Mr_Asa UltimaDork
11/23/22 1:12 p.m.
David S. Wallens said:

In reply to Mr_Asa :

Just had a related thought: The Venusians prefer to live in water, so I wonder if a frozen Earth is viewed as just not conquerable? 

Not to be xenophobic, but any right thinking species would dig for relics of their closest neighbor, even if they had no interest in the planet itself.

The fact that they didn't may be a deeper meaning behind Clarke's story?  They are obviously a science poor society if they don't have chemistry or the mechanical fields mapped out, so maybe it makes sense that they would spend thousands upon thousands of hours on dissecting a cartoon? (Sidenote: how did they build a space ship without delving into mechanical science fields? How many Apollo 1/Challenger experiences did they have without material sciences?) 

Reminds me of a HFY story where humanity missed FTL travel, but every other race figured it out at the detriment of the rest of their sciences.  Basically flew around the galaxy in space-borne 18th century sailing ships, had muzzle-loaded firearms and such

Mr_Asa
Mr_Asa UltimaDork
11/23/22 1:23 p.m.
Toyman! said:

The ending is probably appropriate. If you look at the lasting forms of entertainment, they aren't the historic record, They are stories, poems, and music. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. The works of Shakespeare, and the symphonies of Bach. In another 10000 years, it will be old movies.

We had better hope that the Venusians understand what fiction is. 

On this note, I wrote a brief vignette on this a while back.

"Why do you worship a rodent?"

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
11/23/22 2:31 p.m.

In reply to Mr_Asa :

It sounded like the Venusians progressed rather quickly, so maybe they missed out on some technological discoveries. I could see that. So maybe they have high-def TV but it's black and white. 

 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
11/23/22 2:34 p.m.
Mr_Asa said:

In reply to Sarah Young :

Honestly, any character from the Mouse House before 1949 (when the story came out) is viable.  Probably not Mackey as the car crash isn't a Mackey thing, but Donald or Goofy? Sure.

"Characteristic expression of arrogant bad temper" does lean more Duck-ish, though.

When I first read the story, I had the same question: What Disney short did the canister contain? 

I found a few online discussions from people who seemed to know a bit about 1940s Disney cartoons. It sounded like it didn't describe any particular piece–more like a collection of scenes. (I'm guessing Clarke didn't have YouTube at his fingertips in 1949.) Some also noted that not all Disney shorts ended with those words. 

As far as the face seen at the end, some said it sounded like Donald Duck. Mickey would look too cheerful, right? 

Sarah Young
Sarah Young Copy & Design Editor
11/23/22 4:15 p.m.

In reply to Mr_Asa :

Not to be xenophobic, but any right thinking species would dig for relics of their closest neighbor,

This. 

how did they build a space ship without delving into mechanical science fields? How many Apollo 1/Challenger experiences did they have without material sciences?)

And this. The Venusian reptile people are a naive species in a lot of ways. They managed to harness antigravity but hadn't figured out how to breathe on land.

Also, this story reminds me of "Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play" where humans in a post-apocalyptic future unite to put on a production of the "Cape Feare" episode of "The Simpsons," and it's rife with mismemories and errors. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
11/23/22 5:19 p.m.

I wonder, to another species, would we also seem naive?

Future alien: "How can humans send probes into outer space yet only chart 5% of their own ocean floor?"

I wonder, did Clarke intend to make the Venusians seem so naive or is that just 1949 talking? 

I do like the fact that the Venusians seem both more and less advanced than us. They can conquer the stars but not the ice. 

Just reading the Wiki entry on "Mr Burns, A Post-Electric Play." Yes, that.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
11/23/22 5:26 p.m.

In reply to Sarah Young :

And, holy cow, we gotta see this.

So, it asks the same question: Will humanity carry on forever or is life so fragile that one day we'll be remembered by just a few simple clues? 

GameboyRMH
GameboyRMH MegaDork
11/25/22 11:08 p.m.

Much more of a serious work of science fiction than "Silence Please" which was more a story of a prank gone wrong with a little sci-fi in it. As I read the story I wanted to check more and more when it was written. A lot of the ideas that may seem wrong to us now were entirely plausible in 1949, such as:

- Venus being a habitable planet. It's in a decent place to be one, it just so happens that the planet was composed of the perfect ingredients to make a crushing acidic burning hellworld, which wasn't known at the time


- Ice ages being a civilizational threat. The opposite of today's problems, but only due to humans releasing GHGs (largely a theoretical concern at the time), and ice ages could still be a civilizational threat again tens of thousands of years from now (and intentionally burning fossil fuels could be one way to prevent one! Technically we're doing that right now, we've just done way too much way too quickly, and somewhat too early).


- The first moon landing being in the '80s. An altogether more reasonable timeline to anyone who didn't see the US/Soviet space race coming

The beacons certainly didn't seem intended to be hard sci-fi but turned out to be accidentally kind of correct. Today you could build a RIPEG-powered beacon like that - using ionizing radiation to create light which gets converted to electricity and then into radio waves. Photoelectric cells and transmitters aren't exactly filters but they are converting the energy into different forms until radio waves come out.

It's actually totally plausible that the aliens could've had no archaeological evidence to work with, not only due to their limited exploration but the amount of time that had passed and the action of the glaciers grinding everything into sub-glacial debris fields.

I thought the line about the threat of "racial degeneration" (race being used to describe a species by the alien archaeologists) sounded a little eugenicsy, but it's true that civilization reduces evolutionary pressures to maintain and improve health and fitness, medical advancements just more than offset the problem to the point that it's not worth worrying about. We'll be able to easily fix our own genes before we need to worry about them commonly being significantly broken at this rate. Maybe something else that wasn't known at the time, or maybe that was a hint at the twist that was coming...

I thought it was odd that the archaeologist so easily proclaimed that there was no reptilian life on the planet but this was definitely a hint at the big twist. By the time the story talks about the picture closing in on the protagonists's face, I was expecting "That's all folks!" I don't know if it was meant to be anything specific but I was also getting a Donald Duck vibe. If we saw alien kids' cartoons with almost nothing else to go on, we would also seriously consider that they may have been reflecting reality more closely than they actually did.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
11/29/22 5:07 p.m.

For the scientists in the room: Wouldn't the glaciers just grind up all of humanity's remains into gravel? And if so, would the Venusians already know that and figure that any exploration is just a lost cause? 

Another thought. Assuming you had to the power to easily vault across the galaxy, would you check out the planet allllll the way over the there or the one next door? (I'm thinking the big mission would get more clicks.)

I do like how Clarke's early works employ different styles, tones, etc. You can see it just in these two stories. 

Last night I read "The Sentinel," the short story that served as the starting point for 2001. 

Kenneth_Howard
Kenneth_Howard New Reader
1/6/23 7:27 a.m.
David S. Wallens said:

You can find the animation adaptation here

I'd recommend reading it first. 

I think this is the original book form, too, complete with artwork. 

Also, I would recommend this website https://ca.edubirdie.com/write-my-assignment which I found very useful. You can find there a lot of essays about books on these themes and more. I use it all the time.

Thanks for sharing, I was actually looking for the original book form and couldn't find it on the internet.

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