Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pulp Science Fiction - Space Commies!

Of course we all know that classic Science Fiction was created in the shadow of the Cold War. Many of the stories had tales of menace that really were metaphors for an all too real kind of Armageddon. Here we see, again, a Guy in a Helmet.  Notice please that Golden Age Sci Fi had entirely different depictions of female space travelers.  Tight fitting space suits.  And for some inexplicable reason hair and decolletage were safe from whatever cosmic rays the guys were swaddling up to hide from.

When reality came along in the person of Valentina Tereshkova, it looked a little different.  This was only nine years after the cover shown above.

The title of this post is a bit satirical, but Tereshkova was actually just that, a Communist in Space. Even years later after the fall of the Berlin Wall she remains by all accounts a dedicated Party Member.
And she's got the medals to prove it!
In fact once you exclude the mechanical cyborgs and amorphous blobs, a lot of the "heavies" from classic Sci Fi appear to be modeled on Communists of various stripes.  With of course a base layer of earlier, archetypal fears.

Here we have the "Russki" variant.  Swarthy, beetle browed.  This type of bad guy tends to be ruthless and fanatical.  Not always that bright, they typically acquire technology and skills by theft, much as the Soviet space program got a leg up by acquiring technology and scientists from the German V2 project.

In terms of lineage the remorseless barbarian at the gates hearkens back to the Goths and Celts who brooded sullenly just beyond the borders of Rome. The image carried on through the lumpish, cruel trolls of Norse mythology and the gargoyles of the middle ages.  And shortly after the artwork above they became:

Although to be fair the Klingons of the original Star Trek soon outgrew their original status as faux Russians and became an interesting group in their own right.

In the 1950s the Communists we were actually in a "hot war" with were not Russian but Chinese and their North Korean surrogates.  Another strain of Sci Fi evil doer has an Oriental strain to it.  Pointy ears, leering grin, odd skin color and sinister slanty eyes.  This genre also has a long history.  We have always found the Mysteries of the East slightly intimidating and evil characters that look like this came early.  Ming the Merciless from the original Flash Gordon serials back in the 1930s comes to mind.  Our friend below is more blue grey, but this kind of alien has overtones of Yellow Peril, of elves and goblins, perhaps even a bit of traditional Christian depictions of Satan.  This category of Evil is usually given credit for having an ancient culture and knowledge of their own.

And their Star Trek descendants?

Vulcans and Romulans.  Perhaps the duality of similar characters being "good and bad" reflects the realities of the times.  There were after all "good" South Koreans and Taiwanese to counterbalance the "bad" North Koreans and Red Chinese.

As Star Trek characters the Romulans never really took off.  They are just kind of boring.  Face it, you would much rather go to a party with Klingons.  Consider leaving before they all get too drunk.

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