Retroverse: The Secret History of Outer Space
So what do we have here? This is my other Coronaclypse Project.
Here’s how it started. Way back when, I was working for this small law firm. My boss went nuts, after about a year, I decided that it wasn’t going to get better and quit the firm. I took a job working in house for an Indian Band and moved up north. It was a good job, loved the work, loved the people I worked with.
But… the downside was that I’d basically moved away from my wife, from my life down in the city, our friends, etc. My mother in law had just had a stroke a couple of months before. So she couldn’t come to join me for two and a half years. Come a long weekend I’d take the twelve hour bus ride down, and then take the twelve hour ride back. But even with the phone and visits, it was pretty lonely.
I had some time on my hands.
Anyway, one night, I was watching a Late Night Double Bill – This Island Earth and Queen of Outer Space.
This Island Earth involves aliens in the 1950’s who call themselves the Metaluna, who try to trick a bunch of scientists into being a think tank for them. It turns out that that the Metaluna are at war with another alien race, the Zagons, who are bombing them out of existence.
Queen of Outer Space involves astronauts in the 1980’s who get hijacked to Venus which is ruled by space amazons. Turns out that the Venerians a generation ago had an interplanetary war with a neighboring planet called Morda, they won, but they’re still bitter.
It was late at night, I was bored, and kind of fuzzy, so I ended up wondering “What if its the same war?” What if the interplanetary war from This Island Earth was actually the same interplanetary war referred to in Queen of Outer Space, just seen from two different points of view. What if these two movies were in the same universe.
That was kind of a cool idea, so I started looking a little deeper. The uniforms and costumes of Queen of Outer Space were borrowed from Forbidden Planet, the set was from World Without End, the Spaceship footage was from Flight to Mars. The matte painting of the Metaluna homeworld from This Island Earth was re-used in Killers From Space.
Even better, Eric Flemming, who played the handsome, rugged American astronaut leader in Queen of Outer Space, had played an identical character, albeit a different name, in Conquest of Mars.
Best of all, Laurie Mitchell, who plays the hideously scarred Venerean Queen Ylanna, who has a thing for earthmen, despite herself, had in the previous year, appeared in Missile to the Moon, another movie about astronauts encountering a colony of space amazons, this time on the Moon, where she had played a space princess named Lambda – very similar name phonetically – who had fallen in love with an earth astronaut and been hideously scarred by a giant spider. It fit together!
So my two movie universe actually connected up to six more movies. And when I dug into those movies, they connected up to more and more. Props, costumes and effects footage were continually being recycled – the space suits in Destination Moon showed up in sixteen other movies, the V2 rocket launch footage showed up in another half dozen. Ideas and situations were recycled – Aliens tampered with Apes to create humans in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Five Million Miles to Earth, out in space there were societies either solely composed of women, or dominated by them, in a half dozen movies. Invisible body-snatching aliens appeared in a run of movies; one eyed tentacled monsters appeared in another run.
But there were questions – why in the 1950’s in this universe, were aliens invading every other week, and why were almost all the invasions small scale and underpowered, often no more than one saucer and a few henchmen? Why were they always from a different planet? And where had they gone, because in space movies set in the future, Astronauts weren’t encountering them?
I went beyond connecting these movies, to explaining the connections, to making sense of them, resolving contradictions. Fitting them into a kind of overarching structure. All the invasions were actually the same group, or coalition of aliens. The piecemeal nature was them trying out different plans, trying to work out the bugs for the big takeover. The different origins and stories were just plausible deniability, cover stories to make sure that the stupid earthlings didn’t figure out too much. And of course, astronauts in movies set in the future didn’t find them, because they’d been wiped out – they were meeting the winners, who were not giving away the story.
It turned into a project, two years worth of tracking these movies through the internet, through IMDB, review sites, through film books, tracing and watching as many as I could on DVD or old VHS, dredging through old memories of late night television. The end result was a 90,000 word book, The Retroverse, a Secret History of Outer Space, a cinematic universe before I’d ever heard of the MCU. That’s the cover you’re looking at.
A stripped down summary of it can be found in my book, The Fall of Atlantis.
It was very satisfying.
And interesting, because I was retroactively creating a continuity. I was using the same methods as conspiracy theory, and it was easy to see how conspiracy theories could be created out of random bits of data. Retroactive Universe? Retroverse. Also Retro Universe in the sense of a nostalgic recreation of 50’s and 60’s sci fi.
Anyway, somewhere along the line, I thought that this universe, this Retroverse, would make an interesting setting for a novel, some flashy 1950’s style hard boiled adventure, but one that could also play off modern themes like racism, sexism, that could juxtapose the idealism of the 1950’s era, with it’s own flaws.
So I started writing – off and on, here and there. Two thousand words, then five thousand. A chapter, a vignette, scenes. An outline.
I looked over all that stuff, I think it’s pretty good. Time to commit fully to it and finish it.
Here’s an excerpt…
Abby looked out the window. There was a man sitting across the street eating a sandwich. He’d been there all afternoon.
“Who do you suppose he is?” she asked her sister.
Martha let the curtain fall.
“I can’t imagine, we’re paid up with the police department.”
“Do you suppose he’s here for Mister Holmes?”
“I don’t know,” Martha bit her lip thoughtfully. They did run a respectable establishment and it wouldn’t do to have arrests made on the premises. That certainly wouldn’t be good for business if the customers got the idea that the police might barge into the Brewster household any time they wanted. “Why don’t you run upstairs, Mr. Holmes should be finished with our little Evey. We’ll just have him leave by the back door.”
“Well, perhaps the basement?”
“No, not this time, I think.”
“Make sure he pays before he leaves?”
* * * * * * * * * *
The big red haired man jumped as the speaker stepped out from behind a fence.
“I ain’t never heard that name, Mister.” The Irishman flexed his muscles and stared angrily at the newcomer. The stranger was sandy haired, tall but not nearly as heavy as the Holmes. “Maybe you should be moving along and not scaring people by jumping out of alleys
like some kind of spring loaded cat.”
“Funny thing,” replied the man, “I have a picture of him here that looks just like you.”
“Hey, that is a funny thing. Maybe its my cousin, let me see the picture.”
Holmes stepped forward holding his hand out. The stranger glanced at the picture, and Holmes swung hard with his right. As if he knew it was coming, the stranger ducked the blow, stepped around and pounded a couple of hard blows into the big man’s kidneys. He grunted and
fell to his knees. The stranger struck the back of his neck and he pitched forward.
“Ahh, goddam, you aren’t military police. Who the hell are you?” he yelled, as he felt his arms yanked harshly into cuffs.
“Jack Agar,” Army Intelligence, “the man replied, and you’re caught Holmes.”
“Army intelligence? What the hell do they want with me. I’m just a mechanic.”
Agar helped the big man to his feet.
“You’re a mechanic who works on jet planes, numskull. Top secret stuff. We were afraid you might be gone over to the reds. That made it Intelligence.”
“How did you catch me?” Holmes asked sulkily.
“I spent ten minutes on the phone with your NCO. You like the whores. After that, I just started checking the knock shops. Almost had you in Duluth, missed you by half an hour, then you gave me the slip.”
“Oh yeah,” he said, “I was going to go to Fresno but I got on the wrong bus.”
“I had to backtrack all the way to Duluth and check bus schedules leaving around the same time.”
Holmes nodded. “Women, they were always my weakness. I can’t keep away from a piece of pussy.”
“I don’t think that weakness is going to be bothering you for a while.”
“That your partner out front?”
“Nah, he’s just some guy I paid to sit out there and eat a sandwich.”
“So what now?”
“Now I haul your sorry ass back, you get a court martial, and then you serve out your sentence. Dishonourable discharge when they let you out.”
The big man sighed.
“It was your call. No one told you to go AWOL.”
* * * * * * * * * *
They took a passenger train to Washington. Agar opened up a newspaper and started flipping through it. The front page was an article on a flying saucer sighting outside Washington. Agar skimmed through the article and then flipped the newspaper around.
Opposite him, Holmes lips moved as he read the headline.
“Them flying saucers are sure in the news,” he offered.
“I saw one of them flying saucers,” Holmes said.
“Oh yeah?” Agar checked the sports pages. How were the Yankees doing?
“Yeah,” the man said. “I was driving along in the desert one night and this great silver shape swooped over me. It looked like a big crescent.”
“I thought you said it was a saucer?” Agar checked his watch.
“That’s what everyone calls them. They come in all kinds. There’s globes, and there’s real saucers and stretched out things, and ones that look like hats, and crescents. Anyway, I see this saucer, right.”
“The saucer that’s not a saucer?”
“That’s right. And suddenly my jeep dies.”
“Run out of gas?”
“Nope, the motor cuts out and the lights go off on the jeep. I just stop, and you know what that saucer does?”
“It gives you a lift to the next town?”
“Almost. It parks right there in front of me, and this door opens, and these spacemen come out.”
“Spacemen? No spacewomen?”
“I only saw men.”
“Swear to God, these spacemen come out in their shiny uniforms. I’m sitting there in the jeep, sweating bullets I’m so scared. I’m practically shitting my pants, you know what I’m saying. If I’d had a gun, I don’t know what I would have done.”
“Must have been pretty horrible looking spacemen.”
“That’s just the thing, they looked like you and me. Well, they looked like regular Americans.”
“Just like us?”
“Yeah. Sort of. They were kind of swishy.”
“Yeah, you know what I mean. It’s like those guys who are too good looking, there’s nothing rough or rugged about them.”
“Well, I didn’t want to say it, cause you could always be wrong. I knew this guy, he looked like a swish, but the tail he got, it was unbelievable. But yes, that’s what I thought.”
“I guess that’s why there were no spacewomen.” Agar turned to the funny pages.
Nothing much. He flipped through until he found the crossword puzzle.
“I suppose so. But anyway, they say they ain’t going to hurt me. They got an important message for me. Then they bring me onto their ship.”
“That’s nice of them.” Agar pulled a short pencil from a shirt pocket.
“Well, I didn’t really want to go, but that wasn’t stopping them. You know what I mean. When you got to go, you got to go.”
“I wouldn’t get on ship with faggots from outer space. You sure you’re all man?”
“Listen, I got girls up and down the coast that will testify for me. You shouldn’t ought to say things like that.”
“Whatever. Hey, what’s a five letter word for foreigner?”
“I dunno. Anyway, I go in their ship, and they take me for a cruise around space.”
“I’m tickled pink, I mean, here I am just an ordinary slob you know, and I’m tooling around in a flying saucer with these guys like they’re my pals. We go out to the moon, swing right around. I’m looking at the earth from so high up, its like a blue marble.”
“Good for you.”
“I didn’t think it would look like that. It seemed so small. I was looking through the window, at it, and all I could think was that it was so small. Like a baby. Practically the whole world, the entire human race, all the people good and bad, and they were all right in front of me
in this ball I could hold in my hand. It didn’t look like I thought it would, not like you see on maps and globes. I thought that it would be more colours, but it was just blue and the land was just dark spots in the blue, and the whole thing had all these white whisps. It was beautiful.”
“Then they gave me the…” Holmes paused for a second and drew the word out, giving it an odd gravity, “the message.”
Agar looked up from his crossword puzzle.
“The message?” He asked.
“What was the message? Mars needs women?”
“They said that we were all brothers. They said that we needed to look after the planet, and stop hurting each other and stop making war on each other. They said they were really worried about the atom bomb and what we might invent next. They said they were coming to
help, and that they’d help us fix all our problems.”
“That’s why you went AWOL, to spread the word?” Agar asked. “It seems to me you’ve done a better job spreading the clap. Not one of those girls that talked to me mentioned your fairy story.”
“You’re the first one I told.”
“You’re one of these brass. I know you don’t believe a word of it. But you are going to write it up in your report, and sooner or later someone is going to read that report who’ll see it’s the truth. Maybe that’s what it’s all for.”
“I think anyone who reads this report is just going to get a good laugh. I mean, for Christ sakes, look at you. You’re a lousy mechanic for Pete’s sakes. Okay, a jet engine mechanic, but that’s still just a grease monkey. You telling me that a pack of swishes come in on a big crescent
flying saucer all the way from outer space with an important message, and they wind up giving it to you? What are they, knuckleheads?”
“Hey, I don’t like the way you’re talking to me.”
“Oh yeah? Then you tell me, smart guy, why don’t these knuckleheads stop dicking. Why aren’t they landing in Washington or addressing the United Nations. Better yet, why don’t they just land in Red Square and tell Comrade Chairman to make nice and get out of Korea.”
“Maybe they’re going to.”
“Well, I can’t wait to see that.”
“You think this is all a pack of horseshit,” Holmes sulked. Agar looked him straight in the eye.
“Brother, I think that is the biggest pack of horseshit I ever heard in my life. I think you are bucking for a section 8 to get you into the funny farm and off your AWOL and its not going to work.”
Holmes face flushed, and his body tightened. For a second, Agar thought the big Irishman was going to try and rush him. But then the man settled back, visibly controlling himself.
“You’re right, it don’t make no sense that they picked me to be the first. But they had to pick somebody, didn’t they? They had to start someplace. Besides, I think I have an idea why it was me.”
Agar sat watching.
“They picked me cause I’m sensitive.”
Agar allowed the corners of his mouth to turn up in a slight smile.
“Not like that, I’m no fairy. But you see, I got the gift, a lot of my people do. It’s like we can see a little further than other people, hear a little more. It’s like we know things, it’s a talent.”
The big Irishman was earnest, almost confiding in his manner.
“They’re like that too, you could tell right off, but much more. It’s like they could talk to each other with their minds, if they needed too. I’ll tell you what I think,” Holmes said. “I think it used to be, we were all like that. But down here on Earth, we lost it, but they still got it up there. I think down here and up here, we’re all brothers. These men from space, they’re our brothers and they want to look out for us.”
“Well,” Agar said, “if it’s all the same to you, I’ll wait for those space sisters to show up before I let them look after me.”
“You know what I think,” the Irishman said, “I think you got the gift too, that’s how you caught me.”
“Brother,” Agar said, “maybe you do belong in the funny farm.”
“Actually, that ain’t why I went AWOL. It wasn’t the space brothers, and it was, sort of. It’s hard to explain.”
“Try,” Agar said, “we got time to kill.”
“Well, after they left, the Jeep started up just fine, so I started driving back to base. Then I started thinking, and the more I thought about it the harder it got. So I just pulled over to the side of the road, and sat there, thinking. Dawn came, I watched the sunrise coming up. And the
thing I was thinking was, I didn’t know what mattered any more.”
“I mean, here I am. I’m Tommy Holmes, and I got a good thing going with the ladies, and I’m in the Army and I’m a pretty good mechanic. It’s like, I got a life, you see, and I know where everything fits in it. Then this thing happens to me.”
The big man’s fists opened and closed as he tried to articulate what had happened to him.
“Go on,” Agar said.
“It wasn’t the Spacemen and it was. They didn’t do nothing to me, I’m sure of that. But it was just that they were there at all. I mean, you go through life, and you think you’ve got it all sorted out, you know? Then along comes this thing, and it shows you, not that your life is
wrong or anything, but just that there’s more. So you got to sit there and figure it all out all over again. Because everything you thought and everything you knew, well, its not necessarily wrong is what it is, but its…. Incomplete.”
“Like you ask yourself, whats it all about? Whats the point? Does any of it make a difference? You feel small, sort of. Mister, I’ve seen the Earth like marble I could hold in my hand, and when you’ve seen it that way, nothing is ever going to be the same again. I knew the
life that I had wasn’t mine any more, it just didn’t fit, I had been taken out of it and I couldn’t get back in, not seeing what I’d seen and knowing what I knew. So I just turned that jeep around and started driving, and I didn’t know where I was going or what I was going to find when I got there, but that was just fine with me.”
“What you found was pussy,” Agar replied cynically. “You stopped at every cathouse you could find. Your story is a crock.”
The Irishman shrugged and leaned back, looking out the window, watching the scenery go by.
“The space brothers,” he said quietly, “they’re coming. You’ll see, soon everyone will. And when they get here, it’s all going to be different.”
There was no more conversation for the rest of the trip. Military Police were waiting at the station, Agar turned him over and then got on back to Washington. He wrote his report, on a whim including the Irishman’s outrageous story, filed it, and tried to forget about it.
Much later, he’d remember it and think about it, and it seemed to Agar that this really was the point for him when everything started to change.