Monday, November 12, 2007

Arthur C. Clarke's "I Remember Babylon": Cold war propaganda mongers get a new medium

I didn't like this story primarily because the tone & the opening paragraph sound like Clarke supports the idea of a governmental moral police - state officials telling the citizens what is good for them rather than people deciding for themselves. And as if there is something wrong with the so called baser human tastes - apart from guilt imposed by morality brigade through years of brainwashing!

Moral police is a very touchy issue in India.

Story summary.

Story is narrated by Clarke himself, in the form of a fictitious encounter with Gene Harford, an Americal helping Soviets, at a Soviet Embassy reception in Colombo, Lanka.

Diplomat thanks Clarke for his idea of geostationary communication satellites, & how USSR is planning to use it for propaganda purposes against the US.

Idea is to throw up a satellite into geosynchronous orbit "due south of New Orleans ... way out in the open Pacific; it won't be over anyone's territory, so there'll be no political complications on that score... in full view of everybody from Seattle to Key West... the only TV station the whole of United States can tune in to! Yes, even Hawaii! There won't be any way of jamming it... The FCC can't even protest to a country that doesn't exist in the eyes of the State Department."

Note that no special dish or tuning device will be required by consumers! Its signals will be the equivalent of terrestrial TV!

And US cannot immediately counter because "United States is years behind in pay-load capacity".

To entice US consumers, they have plans of programs appealing to baser human tastes - of the kind that are now common place. With subtle propaganda sprinkled in. "For the first time in history, any form of censorship's become utterly impossible. There is simply no way of enforcing it; the consumer can get what he wants, right in his own home... we've absolutely no taboos. If you can film it, we can telecast it."

If this content renaissance sounds dated, I suppose it wasn't so when the story was published - long before I was born.

Story ends with a hint that is supposed to provide a clue to how title links up with the plot, but it went over my head: "into my heart blows a cold wind from the past; for I remember Babylon".

Collected in.

  1. "Collected Stories of Arthur C Clarke"
  2. "More Than One Universe"
  3. "Tales of Ten Worlds"

Fact sheet.

"I Remember Babylon", short story, review
First published: Playboy, March 1960.
Rating: C
Note: Ted Chiang's "Tower of Babylon" is a completely unrelated story.


Anonymous said...

Went over your head, indeed.

Read up on it. It's a classic for many good reasons worth understanding.

Tinkoo said...

Anyone would care to illuminate the "many good reasons worth understanding"?