Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Moon Man

Some years back, a friend of mine (I don't recall, which one, sorry) said that, as far as he was concerned, the best part about the first moon landing were the names of the first two men to step off the Lander.

I'm happy to say that, though I didn't get it at first, it didn't take me long because I had the proper cultural references. Think about it. The first two men who actually set foot on the moon ...? Maybe it'll help to imagine a multi-tentacular monster lurking behind the nearest rock. No? How about if they both have rayguns? Work with me!

All right, stop sulking. But you're gonna do a facepalm when I tell you --

The first man on the moon was named Neil Armstrong. Maybe you can come up with a name that sounds more quintessentially two-fisted and All American than that, but if you can my fedora's off to you, pal. Neil Armstrong isn't the name of an "astronaut" -- it's the name of a spaceman. A lean, muscular rocket jockey who knows the business end of a laser pistol, who's bronzed by alien suns, and who's on a first-name basis with the Queen of Outer Space. I mean, could it get any better?

Well, hard as it is to believe, yes it could. Because not only did the Commander (he had to have been a commander; there are some things that are just non-negotiable) have a name to strike fear into the cold, flinty hearts of space pirates everywhere, but his second in command was a feisty fella nicknamed -- wait for it -- "Buzz"! Okay, granted his last name wasn't "Lightyear", but that would've been too good. As it is, the dialogue practically writes itself:

"Smokin' rockets, Commander! Is that a Tenta-Man lurking behind that rock over there?"

"Yes it is, Cadet. Now remember what you learned back at Space Academy, Buzz; drill him right between the first pair of eyestalks ..."

"I'll try, but the real thing is sure different from the holos ...!"

They didn't get much else right, sad to say; instead of a sleek and silver rocket out of a Bonestell painting, the Lunar Landing Module looked more like a wadded-up piece of tinfoil. And even worse than that, there was no girl! This was really unbelievable. You need a girl to (a) faint and (b) be carried off to service the improbable lusts of the Tenta-Men.  Otherwise how are you gonna reach that 5,000 word limit?

But the worst part of all was the ending. I will give the American public this: it took every writer, editor and critic completely by surprise. Even the really gonzo ones, like Phil Farmer and Roger Zelazny, didn't see it coming. And yet, in retrospect it worked perfectly within the confines of its reality. Which, unfortunately, was also our reality.

I never got a chance to meet Neil Armstrong, but remind me to tell you about the time Buzz Aldrin came to our house. It was a hot, still, August day, and yet somehow, I swear to God, he'd arranged for a breeze to be blowing on him, enough to rustle his hair slightly as he stood on the front porch, arms akimbo, and said, "Hi, I'm Buzz Aldrin."

I still don't know.

This was in 1984, and by this time we'd all of us, astronauts and authors alike, accepted  the bitter truth; that we weren't going back to the moon anytime soon. In a way, it was almost better, because the reality of the mission was so much less. Instead of the ship from DESTINATION MOON, we had this bizarre little thing that would have looked complete only with a NIXON/FORD bumpersticker. We built a space station, which resembled the austere magnificent double wheel of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY in much the same way that a Big Daddy Roth creation resembled a Porsche 911. And it smelled like old socks. If there's one thing we can take away from all this, it's that style means nothing in space.

I don't know ... maybe if we'd paid a little less attention to getting there without any style at all, and tried getting at least one decent coffee table book out of the whole damn thing, people might have not had the one reaction to the space program that no one expected:

 Maybe they wouldn't have gotten bored.

But Armstrong did his part. And, while doing it, achieved true unique-ness: now and forever the first Man On the Moon.


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