March 29, 2004

The Klingon in the Basement

There is a Klingon in my basement. No, really. If you are at my
house, and all is quiet, every now and then you might hear a guttural
voice call out something like "wa'maH wej wa'maH vagh." You'd know
(well, I would) that that meant it was 1:30 PM thanks to the tlhIngan
tlhaq (Klingon Clock) installed on one of my computers in the
basement.

I understand that sounds weird, but it makes sense if you're a member
of the Klingon Language Institute (and I am).

"I wish I were Irish," my wife remarked one day as we strolled through
a local bookstore, "don't you?"

I'm not sure of the date, but it was probably some week closing in on
March 17th. I'm pretty certain there were displays of a variety of
Celtic travel and culture books. My own gaze strayed to the other
side of the store, where the book covers were emblazoned with rockets
and tentacled beings.

"Oh, I don't know," I replied, "I have enough trouble remembering that
I'm human."

It was true. I suspect it sounds, oh a bit disordered, but I think
this is Science Fiction's gift - the ability to step beyond one's
skin. Forget gender, race, color or creed - SF lets you gain a
perspective that is beyond human.

Okay, this "gift" is really the gift of fiction in general. If they
know what they're doing, gifted authors can give you any perspective -
but in the tales of rockets, robots and little green men this is
delivered on virtually every page. My own experience in a lifetime of
reading science fiction is that, once talking rocks and
transdimensional travel are "normal," you discover how surprising and
unexpected is the mundane world we inhabit.

David Fagerberg notes:

"The test of all happiness is gratitude," Chesterton wrote, and many
of us have flunked that test. "Children are grateful when Santa Claus
puts in their stockings gifts of toys or sweets. Could I not be
grateful to Santa Claus when he put in my stockings the gift of two
miraculous legs?" We feel no wonder at ordinary things; it is no
wonder that ordinary things disappoint us. (FT March 2000: The
Essential Chesterton,
http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0003/opinion/fagerberg.html)

The "Klingon in my basement" is my shorthand for this outlook, one I
contend I've received from a life of reading fantastic stories. The
chance to look at the universe from a different perspective, and be
amazed and grateful to explore this creation around us. In some way
it means that I am that bumpy headed alien wondering at this world,
that "Klingon in the basement" who marvels to discover that after all, he
is really human.

Posted by joela at 10:06 PM