Archive for January 2016

Babylon Connection   Leave a comment

Babylon Jupiter Tablet

Credit: Trustees of the British Museum/Mathieu Ossendrijver; NASA (both as shown in the New York Times)

Today I read in the New York Times an article about ancient Babylonians tracking the movement of Jupiter. It’s a remarkable discovery because the tablets dating from 350 BC to 50 BC (above is an example) revealed sophisticated mathematical equations comparing the motion of Jupiter across the sky. Cuneiform pressed into clay tablets detailed a graph which calculated the velocity of Jupiter’s travels in a given time. It was originally thought that this sort of calculus was first used in the Middle Ages.


Babylonians called Jupiter Marduk, the god of water, vegetation, judgement and magic. If you think about it, all four of those things might have been intensely important to a city-state. The fortunes of any population depend upon its ability to feed itself, and during dry times Marduk’s powers might have been called upon ensure the Tigris and the Euphrates kept flowing. Otherwise, without growing crops, it might have taken a bit of magic to keep the peace, and judgement must have come swiftly if Babylon’s citizens acted in a way not befitting of its patron god.

Marduk, I’ll have you know, didn’t come by his godship easily. It’s a bit obscure how he came into being as a mythological entity and it seems he went by 50 other names. During a civil war between the gods, Marduk, as a young god, offered his services to the Anunnaki gods, telling them he’d defeat the other warring gods and bring order. In return, they’d make Marduk the head god. Arming himself with all the elements and forces of nature, Marduk emerged victorious and took his rightful place as the one all others showed deference.

Somewhere in here’s a great story waiting to be written. No, not the trope where the ancient tablet is picked up by some unsuspecting archeologist or museum security guard and all hell (literally) breaks loose. Here’s my idea:

These hunks of clay talk to people via an ancient language known only to a few. An elderly professor, trying to prove he’s still relevant, goes into a collection and uncovers a cuneiform tablet no larger than a slice of stale bread. He’s seen it thousands of times, but realizes it’s been misinterpreted. A chip off of a corner, missing for years, turns up and changes the entire meaning of the message. It’s a message from Marduk himself, who foresees a wonderful vision that will only arise under exact circumstances. The elderly professor tries to show his revelation to the department dean, who dismisses him and accuses him of dementia-related hallucinations. Another professor, also getting along in years, is the only person who believes him. Trouble is, this person is on the other side of the globe and speaks another language. The two can only communicate, it turns out, in cuneiform symbol script. Both have age-related illnesses and it’s only a matter of time the two of them work together to solve the problem and bring the prophecy to life.

Will they?


Of Hitchhikers and Stardust   Leave a comment

Alan Marvin

Marvin has joined…



Astro David

Major Tom in space (credit: Tom Colbie)














I thought it ironic that two iconic British souls left this world for the one yet to be explored last week. Neither was a stranger to space and its oddities and both made significant contributions to the world of sci-fi and fantasy. I’d thought I’d compose a few words about both. It’s a given their talents are unique and rare, so I’ll just stick to the anecdote sides of things and save the lauding for others to trumpet.

David Bowie’s music played in the background of my youth and influenced my tastes. He seemed to be a bit left of whatever else anyone had to offer. One afternoon, my parents took me to Philadelphia (I grew up between NYC and Philly, so we visited both cities often) and “Diamond Dogs” just hit the airwaves. A truck towing a Mack truck-sized album cover of “DD” caught my attention. David Bowie, his head intact but his body transformed into a muscular dog, seemed oddly interesting to me. Those sort of things didn’t roll past our house, especially that huge, so I kept watching the truck jockeying for space in the Center City traffic. A few days later, I’d seen the album cover in the window of a record shop. I didn’t have enough money to buy it, but I heard the title song on WMMR, the progressive radio station out of Philadelphia. Somehow the music, in my mind at least, didn’t match up to the picture I’d seen traveling through town. It didn’t matter, though. I loved it.

My friend Anthony adored Bowie and remains an ardent fan to this day. On one occasion, either my birthday or just because, he handed me a poster that I still own.  It’s a depiction of his Berlin era, walking through the streets with Bowie walking past posted bills of him on a decrepit wooden fence. I have it tucked away someplace safe and now might be a good time to find it a suitable frame.

Another friend, Ken (quite an excellent artist) painted a portrait of Bowie. I still have that, too. It was on the occasion of my 22nd birthday and it rivals any other artwork anyone else could have painted of him. This portrait shows Bowie emerging from a dark background, a thoughtful gaze on his face. Makes you wonder what thoughts Ken might have channelled from Bowie as the brush stroked the canvas.

Not all that long ago, my husband Andrew and I watched “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” I’m sure I’m not the first one who considered the film strange. I’m in total agreement that he’s the only person who could have played the alien.

And speaking of aliens, Alan Rickman and David Bowie intersect professionally. Ironically, Rickman played the part of Dr. Lazarus in “Galaxy Quest,” while David Bowie’s theatrical work, “Lazarus” plays at the New York Theatre Workshop. In the song, “Lazarus,” Bowie hints at death while Rickman’s Dr. Lazarus tries not to die. Okay, I know this is a stretch but I thought it’s just one of those strange peculiarities worth noting.

Years ago, Andrew and I saw Alan Rickman on Broadway in “Private Lives.” Playing the male lead as Elyot Chase, he starred opposite Lindsey Duncan in the part of Amanda Prynne, Chase’s ex-wife. During the first act, Rickman was as stiff as a board, but must have had a drink or something during intermission, as he perked up considerably. During the second act, the Alan Rickman we all love appeared and any missteps he might have experienced during the first act were instantly forgotten. The play was in previews at that point, so he might have been stumbling with the lines. Who knows?

Yes, everyone knows that he played Snape and who can possibly forget his Hans Gruber in “Die Hard.” As Dr. Lazarus, though, he was a riot. Underneath his deadpan exterior lie a chicken-ish man who really feared dying on a spaceship that was supposed to be part of a television series set. That’s what I loved about Rickman’s film roles – he understated his roles with dry wit and a hint of terror, leaving the audience member never quite sure what his intentions might be. That’s really good acting, and Rickman had that talent in spades.

Now regrettably, both have left our planet for distant shores, hitchhiking along the universe, leaving a trail in the stardust for us to remember them by. Perhaps by some mystical force, both Rickman and Bowie will rise again, as the biblical Lazarus did.





%d bloggers like this: