Thomas Wm Hamilton
April 11, 2009 Guest Speaker

Thomas Wm Hamilton is an author, a retired astronomer, and a former child actor.

 

He has written three books, two are non fiction.  His most recent is an alternate worlds time travel novel.  His books are:

TIME FOR PATRIOTS (Alternate Worlds Science Fiction)
 
LIBRARY SYSTEMS AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

UNBUNDLING, AN IBM MARKET ANALYSIS AND HISTORY

Changing Times Alternate History Website
 

His Science and Astronomy Background includes:

Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation for the Apollo Project

Viewlex, a Planetarium manufacturer

Planetarium Operator at Wagner College

 

His most notable film credit was in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET.

 

The following is the final draft of a paper Mr Hamilton will present at the Mid Atlantic Planetarium Society Conference:

 

                                    PLANETARIUMS IN SCIENCE FICTION
 
                                             Thomas Wm. Hamilton
                                               HOSS PLanetarium
 
     Planetariums have long used science fiction themes, or even adopted actual science fiction stories for planetarium presentations.  Over thirty years ago I adopted Edward Everett Hale's "The Brick Moon" for a show.  This 1869 story, printed as a serial over three months in the Atlantic Monthly, presented the first ever proposal for using a satellite as a navigational aid.  Many planetariums have used Asimov's "The Last Question".  Other planetariums have developed their own shows with a science fiction theme, such as the utterly charming "Larry The Cat Goes To The Moon."  But how has science fiction treated the planetarium?  This paper takes a preliminary look at that question.
 
      As far back as 1942 Robert A. Heinlein posited the development of something that seemed to resemble an immense planetarium that he called the "grand eidouranion" in Beyond This Horizon.  The eidouranion (a name based on Greek words meaning "image of heaven") attempted to include all the stars in our galaxy, as well as all known planets and moons, plus proper motion and the effects of stellar evolution, and would ultimately expand to include all galaxies!
 
     A year earlier, Isaac Asimov was a bit less ambitious.  In his classic story "Nightfall", regarded as the best science fiction story ever written, Asimov has aliens on a planet with six suns.  At one point they go into something strongly resembling Chicago's Atwood Sphere, mainly to test their reactions to the unique experience of darkness illuminated by a few stars.
 
     Later stories and films made explicit use of planetariums.  With Hollywood as a neighbor, it is not surprising that the Griffith Planetarium was used for The Rocketeer.  In this a comic book hero discovers a rocket backpack that has him flying around saving his girl friend and fighting Nazis.  The climatic scene is at the Griffith.  The Adler Planetarium appears in one television show, the much lamented Kolchak, The Night Stalker.  Kolchak is a reporter at a Chicago newspaper who keeps getting involved with weird events.  One involves an alien stranded by a crashed spaceship who needs human marrow for food, and uses the Adler to figure out where in the galaxy it is so it can go home.
 
     The 1982 mixed live action and animatronic film The Dark Crystal was produced by Jim Henson and Frank Oz of Muppet fame.  This was no light-hearted Sesame Street though.  A highly ambiguous character named Augrah has an observatory to keep track of the three suns of the world of Thra.  The observatory contains an orrery/quasi-planetarium to aid this goal.  There reportedly will be a sequel released in 2011.
 
     Vaguely similar is the animated TV show The Avatar:  The Last Airbender.  In the second season the heros had to determine the precise date and time of a solar eclipse, and used a giant planetarium to calculate this.  The show was aimed at 6 to 11 year olds.
 
     David Gerrold wrote a short story about a boy who is convinced he is a Martian, The Martian Child, getting the idea from a game he played with his adopted son.  No planetarium appears in the short story, but a movie made from the story has a scene in a planetarium where adults try to shake the boy's belief.  We ought to note Gerrold hated the film version, although the planetarium scene is probably not the sole reason for that.
 
     One story was written by an author with some limited planetarium experience.  Elissa Malcohn, who did a show or two as my student, had a story in Asimov's Science Fiction, "The S.O.B. Show".  A standard alien flying saucer lands on the lawn in front of the Vanderbilt Planetarium during a planetarium convention.  Written for laughs, no one realizes this is a real alien, thinking it a gimmick by the host to amuse.  Many take photos of the UFO to use in their home planetariums, as well as of the alien. Various characters seem strongly reminiscent of some of the people working in planetariums in that time period.
 
     The McLaughlin Planetarium in Toronto has been used by two different Canadian authors as a setting.  Robert J. Sawyer has a proselytizing alien spacecraft land in front of the McLaughlin with a message that it has proof of the existence of God.  A scientist working in the planetarium, who is dying of cancer, takes up the question, ultimately going into space with the departing aliens.  The story has been criticized as creationist propaganda, which the author says is nonsense.  Alice Munro also used the McLaughlin as a setting for a short story which I have not seen.
 
     Invaders From Mars is a curious case.  An independently made film, it was given different endings for its releases in the United States and Britain.  The American release has the entire invasion end as a child's dream.  The British version has a scene near the end where humans gather in a planetarium to figure what is happening.

     Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, who often collaborate, have a two volume set in which the protagonist, a science fiction author suggestively named Carpentier, finds himself in Hell after getting drunk and falling out a hotel window at a science fiction convention.  SF cons are more fun than planetarium conferences, it would seem!  Anyhow, among the sites in an inferno clearly based on Dante that he visits in both books, there is a planetarium in Limbo.  Just what are they trying to tell us?
 
      Finally, and immodestly, there are two stories of mine.  A short story, The Mountain of Long Eyes, has creationist terrorists infiltrate the Department of Homeland Security, seize Kitt Peak Observatory, blow up the Flandrau Planetarium, and threaten a similar fate for Kitt Peak and all the other planetariums in Arizona if "demonically inspired" scientists don't admit the universe is only 6000 years old and claims otherwise are lies.  They are opposed by a Papago shaman.  And in Time For Patriots a community thrust back in time proves they are from the future by giving George Washington a planetarium show on the Apollo landings.
 
     What then can we deduce from all this?  Some use the planetarium in a manner that acknowledges its unique abilities, whether in the exaggerated manner in Heinlein's novel, or the use in The Avatar, which could probably have been done more easily and accurately by simply asking Fred Espenak!  For some in this usage, such as in Kolchak, it may be more than improbable.


Other stories simply use the planetarium as a background, either for atmosphere, as in Invaders from Mars, or because it improves the tale, as in The S.O.B. Show.  Given that SF tries to incorporate scientific items, we can expect planetariums to continue to pop up in a modest way.
 
 
BIBLIOGRAPHY/FILMOGRAPHY
 
Addams, Charles  Untitled Cartoon Strip showing a person in a planetarium cycling from human to werwolf back to human as the show went through the Moon's phases.
 
Asimov, Isaac  "Nightfall" in Astounding Science Fiction, April 1941, and reprinted over sixty times since then.
 
The Avatar:  The Last Airbender, season two, 2005, on Nickelodeon.

The Dark Crystal, 1982 film produced by ITC Entertainment.

Gerrold, David  The Martian Child, a film based on a short story, 2005, New Line Cinema, concludes with a planetarium show.

Hamilton, Thomas Wm.  The Mountain of Long Eyes, short story, Changingthetimes.net. 
 
Hamilton, Thomas Wm.  Time for Patriots, novel, Strategic Book Publishing, 2008, 203 pages.  George Washington learns he is dealing with a community from the future when they give him a planetarium show on the Apollo landings (pages 57-59).  The planetarium appears on pages 36 and 185.
 
Heinlein, Robert A. Beyond This Horizon, April, May 1942, Astounding Science Fiction; 1948 Fantasy Press, paperback, many subsequent editions.
 
Invaders From Mars, 1953 independent film.
 
Kolchak, The Night Stalker Episode #3, "They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be...", 1974.
 
Malcohn, Elissa, "The S.O.B. Show", in Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, December 1986.

Munro, Alice  The Moons of Jupiter, Macmillan of Canada, 1982.  Title story of an anthology.  The McLaughlin Planetarium of Toronto is part of the setting.
 
Niven, Larry & Jerry Pournelle  Inferno, Pocket Books, 1976, 237 pages. 
 
Niven, Larry & Jerry Pournelle  Escape From Hell, Tor Books, 2009, 336 pages. 
 
The Rocketeer, film set in 1938 based on a comic book character, 1991, Walt Disney Productions. 

Sawyer, Robert J.  Calculating God, Tor Books, 2000, 334 pages hc; 335 pages pb.

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Additional information about Mr Hamilton can be found Here