Intro

Myth is a powerful component of human culture, and presumably this will be true in the science fiction future. Space explorers and interstellar colonists will have new myths to sustain them.

And on a more mundane level, science fiction authors can harvest ancient myths to fortify novels they write.

Space Myths

Futuristic people living in a futuristic future will have a cultural heritage of futuristic mythology. Along with their futuristic food-pills, jet-packs, and flying cars. Science fiction authors need ways of reminding their readers that they are not in Kansas any more.

Examples include:

THE HELIX AND THE SWORD by John McLoughlin
In this fascinating novel, six thousand years from now humanity lives in genetically engineered living space habitats and spaceships. The surface of planets are considered to be evil, and society is set up along the lines of the peons and aristocrats of DUNE.

The entry into space is considered to have been started by the Trickster Gagarin "First Man in the Deep", a mythological figure who is sort of a combination of the Trickster Coyote and Yuri Gagarin. He represents the principles of uncertainty and surprise, the uncountable and unknowable aspects of life in general and warfare in particular.

The Four Resources are Space, Time, Energy, and Matter. By the standards of the culture of The Helix and the Sword, our current world has abundant matter, but is starved for energy. Their culture on the other hand has abundant energy (solar power) but is starved for matter (since both gravity and planets are considered evil).

The Four Nucleotides form deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). They are mythologically symbolized as four beautiful sisters dancing about with one another. This creates the Tree of Life. Their dance provides occasional mutations, which are distractions for the Four Horsemen. One of the sisters symbolizes Abundant Space, others symbolize Abundant Time, Abundant Energy, and Abundant Matter.

The Four Horsemen are the Forces of Selection, Pruners of the Tree of Life (i.e., symbols of evolutionary natural selection). "First is Famine, Hunger's Waste; Second War, his thrall; Third is Pestilence, of Earth; And Fourth is Death for all!". Famine symbolizes Lack of Matter, War symbolizes Lack of Space, Pestilence symbolizes Lack of Energy, and Death symbolizes Lack of Time.

The novel also has semi-mythological figures such as the Blessed Gerard O'Neill, Saint Charles Darwin the Deliverer, and the Blessed Arthur Clarke. After six thousand years the biographical details become fuzzy, historical figures are transformed into mythic heroes.
THE GREEN MORNING by Ray Bradbury
When colonist Benjamin Driscoll arrives on Mars, he passes out because the oxygen is so thin. Inspired by American Mythology, he sets out to become the "Johnny Appleseed" of Mars. The idea is that trees will produce oxygen.
SARGASSO OF SPACE

But Van Rycke was not just a machine of facts and figures, he was also a superb raconteur, a collector of legends who could keep the whole mess spellbound as he spun one of his tales. No one but he could pay such perfect tribute to the small details of the eerie story of the New Hope, the ship which had blasted off with refugees from the Martian rebellion, never to be sighted until a century later — the New Hope wandering forever in free fall, its dead lights glowing evilly red at its nose, its escape ports ominously sealed — the New Hope never boarded, never salvaged because it was only sighted by ships which were themselves in dire trouble, so that "to sight the New Hope" had become a synonym for the worst of luck.

Then there were the "Whisperers", whose siren voices were heard by those men who had been too long in space, and about whom a whole mythology had developed.

Van Rycke could list the human demi-gods of the star lanes, too. Sanford Jones, the first man who had dared Galactic flight, whose lost ship had suddenly flashed out of Hyperspace, over a Sirius world three centuries after it had lifted from Terra, the mummified body of the pilot still at the frozen controls, Sanford Jones who now welcomed on board that misty "Comet" all spacemen who died with their magnetic boots on. Yes, in his way, Van Rycke made his new assistant free of more than one kind of space knowledge.

From SARGASSO OF SPACE by Andre Norton (1955)
MURPHY'S HALL by Poul Anderson
In the future, astronauts and space explorers who die with their magnetic boots on expect to meet afterwards in the mythic "Murphy's Hall". Or Murphy's Whatever. Anderson also wrote a short commentary about the story.
LEVEL 7 by Mordecai Roshwald
After the atomic war, Terra is a dead radioactive wasteland. Except for the survivors in the US underground complex at the seventh level (and their Soviet counterparts). They will have to live there a few generation before the radiation level decays to something halfway safe. The protagonist's girlfriend amuses herself by writing educational children stories for the kindergarten kids. One is about the deadly Saint, who is called St or Strontium-90 (somebody points out the symbol for strontium is Sr, not St). The other is about the funny mushroom that grew bigger and bigger. Until it blew up.
EDUCATING CHILDREN 1

I have just finished reading what is written on it: a story for the children of the future generations. I find it a very interesting story, and here it is, copied word for word:


Gamma, Alpha and Little Ch-777

Once upon a time, many years ago, there lived on Level 7 a little called Ch-777 (Ch for Child). He was a nice little boy and a good pupil, but he had one strange weakness; he was curious to know what went on above him, above our good Level 7.

“Tell me,” he used to say, “please tell me what goes on up there.” And when his parents heard him ask that they were frightened, for they did not want even to speak of the hell up there. But the little boy kept on asking: “Tell me, please tell me what goes on up there.” So one day they told him.

The higher you went up from Level 7, they said, the closer you came to Him whose name must not be mentioned. He could not be seen, and He could not be heard, and He could not be touched, and He could not be smelled, but up there His power was infinite. If anybody went near His kingdom, said the parents, he would be killed at once by His invisible servants.

At this Ch-777 became very frightened, and many days went by without his asking a single silly question. But after a while his curiosity got the better of him again, and this time he asked his teacher: “Tell me what goes on up there.”

The teacher, who knew more about the world outside Level 7 than little Ch-777’s parents did, told him that He who ruled up there was called—and even she was afraid to pronounce His name aloud—St 90. She called Him ‘Saint 90’, for she did not want to say His real name which was (she said in a whisper) Strontium 90.

Saint 90 was the omnipotent master of death and destruction. He was the supreme ruler of the upper world, and to carry out His evil designs He had servants who obeyed His every command—wicked little devils whose touch was deadly too.

Such were the two small devils called Alpha and Gamma. Their job was to wander around in the upper world, trying to find somebody to kill. They got very bored doing this, because the upper world had long before been conquered by St 90 and his servants, and now there was no living creature left to kill.

“Would they kill me too,” asked Ch-777, “if I went to the upper world?”

“Of course they would, you silly boy,” the teacher said. “And probably they would catch you before you even got there.”

After this Ch-777 did not ask any more questions. But he could not forget the story about the upper world. Every night he dreamt about little Alpha and Gamma, who appeared as two lovely sisters of his own age who wanted him to play with them. Before long he really believed that these two devils were just two friendly little girls.

Now he stopped paying attention to what was going on around him on good Level 7. He became bored with all the interesting things that were happening, he became a bad pupil, and one day…he disappeared.

How he managed to get out, nobody knew. But he left a letter saying that he was going up to join the little girls Alpha and Gamma.

Nobody ever saw him again. No doubt he was killed by Alpha or Gamma, or by some other devil, on his way up.

And this, children, is the moral of the story: Do not think of the world above you. Be happy here. If you are curious to know what happens above Level 7, think of poor Ch-777 who paid for his curiosity with his life.


     I think this story is quite good in its way, though it has room for improvement. For instance, why blame Ch-777’s sense of curiosity for his tragic end? It could be suggested that the devils Alpha and Gamma, on the orders of St 90, entered his head and made him mad enough to want to go up where their master would be able to devour him.
     I think this version is more frightening. I shall suggest it to R-747. It could be used to make children obey adults’ commands: if they don’t, they can be warned, Alpha and Gamma will enter their heads and make them go up to be killed by St 90.
     I gave R-747 her story back today and suggested my alternative version. She agreed that mine probably was more frightening and better as a mythological story, but still preferred her original because it kept closer to the facts and so was of greater educational value. P-867, Who was listening (rather quietly, for a change), remarked maliciously: “I think Alpha and Gamma have entered your heads already! The whole idea’s insane.”
     I could not deny that her remark was sharp, but I did not let her see that I had enjoyed it.
     An atomic energy officer, AE-327, had been listening to our conversation too. He asked to see R-747’s manuscript, and after glancing through it made a few technical com- ments. First, he said, she was wrong about the chemical symbol of Strontium, which was Sr and not St. “So there’s nothing saintly about Strontium,” he said. Then he added that, unfortunately for the nice story, Strontium 90’s half-life (the time which elapsed before its radioactivity fell to half of its original value) was only twenty-five years. “So your saint would be a very short-lived one,” he said with a laugh.
     “Why not take Plutonium 239, an isotope with a half-life of 24,100 years? Better still, choose Thorium 232: that has a half-life of 13,900 million years!”
     “That would be splendid,” remarked P-867 mischievously. “With the symbol ‘Th’ it’s really theological.”
     AE-327 smiled and went on to object to R-747’s devils too. “Gamma rays and alpha particles aren’t really as alike as the sisters of the story,” he said. “What’s more, Strontium 90 emits beta particles, not alpha. If you’ve got to have alpha particles, you’ll have to make Plutonium 239 or Thorium 232 the villain of the piece. As for gamma rays—”
     Here I, rather impolitely, interrupted my learned colleague. I could not stand his pedantic objections, which seemed to pour even colder water on the idea of a new mythology than P-867’s cynical remarks. I said that stories for children need not be scientifically accurate. If they were, they would not be stories!
     It was time for us to leave the lounge, but before we parted I promised to give R-747 a story of my own next time we met.

The Story of the Mushroom

Here is a story from the Sacred Tape which can be heard by any child who pushes the ST button.

Once upon a time, many years ago, people did not live on Level 7, but far above, on the crust of the earth. They had no natural roof over their heads, and they used to be made wet by water falling on them, or burned by a huge fiery ball which was suspended over them for about twelve hours each day. This made their life very hard.

For a long time the people were very miserable because of the falling water and the fiery ball, not to mention the violent air currents which blew with the strength of a million electric fans. Little by little, however, they learned to erect roofs over their heads, and even to build small boxes to live in.

They taught these skills to their children, and the children taught them to their children, and so on for many generations. And as time went by the people grew better and better at making their boxes. Before long the little boxes gave place to huge, high ones—some as high as our dining-room is long, and some even higher than that…

But this did not satisfy them. They no longer wanted just to be protected from the wet and the burning ball and the air currents: they wanted to go higher and higher. So they invented gadgets which made them able to walk around in the air, and they thought that the higher they went the better they were. After some time they had gadgets which went up so high in the air that people standing on the earth could no longer see them.

But even this was not enough for them. They had shown that they could build big things and could go high in the air. Now they wanted to take a very small thing and make it change itself into a giant, so that it would grow high into the air all by itself.

So they found a small and fragile thing that grew out of the earth, something called a mushroom. It was so small and weak that a child’s foot was enough to crush it to pieces. But unless they could transform this tiny mushroom into the biggest and strongest thing on earth, the people would not consider themselves happy.

So the most learned ones put their heads together, and thought and worked, and workedand thought, until one day they succeeded. The mushroom began to grow!

There was a big celebration, and the people who had discovered how to make the mushroom grow became very important.

And the mushroom grew and grew and grew. Before long it was higher than the highest boxes. And still it went on growing. Now it reached the flying gadgets. And still it grew.

But something was happening which the people had not intended: as the mushroom grew it emitted a strong smell. Few people noticed it to start with, but as the mushroom got bigger the odour became stronger, and more and more people began to smell it. Some could not endure it and became ill and died. In spite of that the others put up with the bad smell, happy that their mushroom was growing so large.

As time went by, the mushroom grew so big, and its smell grew so strong, that some people began to be afraid of it. So they looked for a place to hide. There was no place they could find on earth where they could not smell the mushroom, so they started to dig down.

Down they dug, down, down, down…until they arrived at Level 7. And when they got to Level 7 they could not smell the mushroom any more.

But the thing they had escaped from was still growing and growing, swelling and covering the whole earth with shadow and stink, until one day—it burst!

In a split second the mushroom exploded into millions of little pieces, and the air carried the particles into the people’s boxes, into their flying gadgets, everywhere. And everyone who was touched by a particle, or who smelled the bad odour, died. And it was not long before there was not a single person left alive on the surface of the earth. Only the few who had dug into the earth survived. And you, children, are their offspring.

And this is the moral…


No, I do not feel like adding a moral. I wonder what R-747 will think of my story.

From LEVEL 7 by Mordecai Roshwald (1959)
EDUCATING CHILDREN 2

(ed note: in the novel Earth has been rendered uninhabitable and among the few survivors are the people in the space arks Noah and Pegasus. Bamboo is an important resource.)

Lester Rajani spoke also to the children. They must learn to work, plant, harvest, respect and love bamboo as he did, he told them, and he told them stories. I will repeat one here as he told it. The American woman-astronaut, Stacy Thorpe, has typed out the moment—

"Once upon a time, long ago and far away, so far away that no one knew where it really was, there were dragons who lived in Ishmoteer. This was a fabled and a truly marvelous land. Now the dragons here were considered to be magic, because with only the great bamboo forests about them, they did wondrous things. Using only their bamboo, they grew food and they built houses, they made their own furniture and floor mats and even their cooking utensils. They made wheels and wonderful chariots, and little cages for their pet crickets, because dragons have pets, also. They made paper for writing and telling stories and for very fine painting, They made all sorts of marvelous things. They made drums and flutes and fifes and pipes and clarinets and bongos and laughing music with their instruments. They made perfume, and fine jewelry, and even crutches for the dragons who stubbed their big toes. They made vases for their flowers and long tunnels to carry water and ovens and stoves for cooking and baking. They made writing pens and combs and shoes and when they went high into the mountains where there was snow they made sleds and toboggans and even skis. These dragons of Ishmoteer built soaring bridges and wonderful temples, they made candles from bamboo, and on warm summer evenings they sailed their bamboo boats and played music and sang songs"

"Were the dragons really real?" an excited little boy asked.

"And was there really an Ishmoteer?" cried a young girl.

Rajani smiled upon the children who had glided through the bamboo thickets of Noah, growing tall and straight under the ultraviolet suns crafted by man, glistening in the light of charred bamboo in the decorative lamps, looming over the bamboo chairs and benches, holding drinks in bamboo cups and gourds. Rajani brought a bamboo flute to his lips and an airy tune flew forth. He lowered the flute and his eyes shone.

"Of course the dragons are real," he told the children. "And do you know where Ishmoteer is?"

"Tell us! Tell us!"

"Why, look around you. This is Ishmoteer, and we are its dragons."

From EXIT EARTH by Martin Caidin (1987)
GREAT GALACTIC GHOUL

Probing difficulties

Mars Spacecraft 1988–1999
SpacecraftOutcome
Phobos 1Failure
Phobos 2Failure
Mars ObserverFailure
Mars 96Failure
Mars PathfinderSuccess
Mars Global SurveyorSuccess
Mars Climate OrbiterFailure
Mars Polar LanderFailure
Deep Space 2Failure
NozomiFailure

The challenge, complexity and length of Mars missions have led to many mission failures. The high failure rate of missions launched from Earth attempting to explore Mars is informally called the "Mars Curse" or "Martian Curse". The phrase "Galactic Ghoul" or "Great Galactic Ghoul", referring to a fictitious space monster that subsists on a diet of Mars probes, was coined in 1997 by Time Magazine journalist Donald Neff, and is sometimes facetiously used to "explain" the recurring difficulties.

Two Soviet probes were sent to Mars in 1988 as part of the Phobos program. Phobos 1 operated normally until an expected communications session on 2 September 1988 failed to occur. The problem was traced to a software error, which deactivated attitude thrusters causing the spacecrafts' solar arrays to no longer point at the Sun, depleting Phobos 1 batteries. Phobos 2 operated normally throughout its cruise and Mars orbital insertion phases on January 29, 1989, gathering data on the Sun, interplanetary medium, Mars, and Phobos. Shortly before the final phase of the mission, during which the spacecraft was to approach within 50 m of Phobos' surface and release two landers, one a mobile 'hopper', the other a stationary platform, contact with Phobos 2 was lost. The mission ended when the spacecraft signal failed to be successfully reacquired on March 27, 1989. The cause of the failure was determined to be a malfunction of the on-board computer.

Just a few years later in 1992 Mars Observer, launched by NASA, failed as it approached Mars. Mars 96, an orbiter launched on November 16, 1996 by Russia failed, when the planned second burn of the Block D-2 fourth stage did not occur.

Following the success of Global Surveyor and Pathfinder, another spate of failures occurred in 1998 and 1999, with the Japanese Nozomi orbiter and NASA's Mars Climate Orbiter, Mars Polar Lander, and Deep Space 2 penetrators all suffering various fatal errors. The Mars Climate Orbiter was noted for mixing up U.S. customary units with metric units, causing the orbiter to burn up while entering Mars' atmosphere.

The European Space Agency has also attempted to land two probes on the Martian surface; Beagle 2, a British-built lander that failed to deploy its solar arrays properly after touchdown in December 2003, and Schiaparelli, part of the ExoMars mission consisting of itself and the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. Contact with the Schiaparelli EDM lander was lost 50 seconds before touchdown. It was later confirmed that the lander struck the surface at a high velocity, possibly exploding.

From the Wikipedia entry for
EXPLORATION OF MARS: PROBING DIFFICULTIES
TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN

After a lecture on cosmology and the structure of the solar system, William James was accosted by a little old lady.

"Your theory that the sun is the centre of the solar system, and the earth is a ball which rotates around it has a very convincing ring to it, Mr. James, but it's wrong. I've got a better theory," said the little old lady.

"And what is that, madam?" Inquired James politely.

"That we live on a crust of earth which is on the back of a giant turtle,"

Not wishing to demolish this absurd little theory by bringing to bear the masses of scientific evidence he had at his command, James decided to gently dissuade his opponent by making her see some of the inadequacies of her position.

"If your theory is correct, madam," he asked, "what does this turtle stand on?"

"You're a very clever man, Mr. James, and that's a very good question," replied the little old lady, "but I have an answer to it. And it is this: The first turtle stands on the back of a second, far larger, turtle, who stands directly under him."

"But what does this second turtle stand on?" persisted James patiently.

To this the little old lady crowed triumphantly. "It's no use, Mr. James – it's turtles all the way down."

J. R. Ross, Constraints on Variables in Syntax (1967)

Gremlins

Mythical Gremlins

Gremlins are mythical creatures that enjoy causing freak malfunctions in aircraft. They appeared in folklore sometime after the 1920s as one of the new superstitions that came with the dawn of the machine age. During World War 2 there are some psychologists who were of the opinion that military flight crews belief in gremlins boosted morale.

So it is logical to assume that the dawn of the Rocketpunk era and the proliferation of manned spacecraft will create a new mythology of "space gremlins." Especially since one of the theories about World War 2 gremlin sightings was hallucinations due to lack of adequate oxygen in the high-flying aircraft. Anoxia is also common in such rocketpunk settings as a spacesuit low on breathing mix and habitat modules with malfunctioning life support.


Real Gremlins

In Niven and Pournelle's THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE space gremlins are not superstition, they are dangerously real. The Terran Empire makes first contact with an alien race they dub the "Moties". The moties have diverged into several species. The sentient "Engineer" species is assisted by the non-sentient Motie Miniatures or "watchmakers". The watchmakers are about half a meter tall, are gadgeteer geniuses, and breed like rats.

On board the Imperial battlecruiser INSS MacArthur a breeding pair of watchmakers escape. Though several attempts are made to exterminate the watchmaker infestation, the watchmakers easily survive, nay, thrive. Venting the ship to vacuum doesn't work since the watchmakers can cobble together little space suits and airlocks. The enlisted men really enjoy how they can leave their laser pistols under their bunks along with some food, and in the morning discover the pistol's hand grips have been custom altered to perfectly fit their hands.

Then the captain discovers that the miniatures are altering the entire ship. Including the fusion reactor, the hangar bay, defensive Langston field generators, and laser cannon. The captain freaks out because his primary order is to prevent the secret of the FTL drive from falling into motie hands at all costs. He tries to eliminate the watchmakers, and all hell breaks loose. The watchmakers have laser weapons, control over all the airlocks, and control over the self destruct mechanism.

There are heavy casualties as the crew abandons ship and escapes to the battleship Lenin. The battleship has strict quarantine protocols, which is a good thing when they discover some of the "escaping crew" is actually space suits full of watchmakers who use the suit as a life-size puppet.

The battleship then turns all its weapons on the MacArthur, which initially has little effect because the freaking watchmakers have drastically improved the efficiency of the defensive force fields. The only reason the battleship survives is because the miniatures do no know how to aim the MacArthur's weapons. After a prolonged struggle the battleship finally manages to destroy the MacArthur.

The Moties politely ask why the humans are destroying their own battlecruiser and is there anything they can do to help? The battleship tells them, oh no, everything is just fine, no problems, nothing is going on here. But they will have to take their leave because they suddenly remembered they left the stove on back at their home planet. Bye-bye, see you later.


In Terry Pratchett's satirical fantasy novel RAISING STEAM, there is a sad little species called goblins. They are humanoids about two feet tall who are considered vermin by the humans, the dwarfs, the trolls, the vampires, and the werewolves. Everybody hates them.

Until it is discovered that the goblins are gadgeteer geniuses with technology. This was unknown since until recently there wasn't any technology. But when the local tech level undergoes their equivalent of the industrial revolution, the goblins are suddenly in great demand.

The fun really starts when engineer Dick Simnel invents the rail-road train. Goblins think the train is the coolest thing they've ever seen, and become obsessed. They live in the trains, constantly oiling, tapping the wheels, keeping things tuned, making repairs on the fly. The engineers are very happy, and amazed that the goblins actually ask intelligent questions. Goblins will take machinery apart but can put it together perfectly. Sometimes more than perfectly, often they make improvements in the process.


In the Dragonlance fantasy novels there is a species called gnomes. They are distant cousins of the dwarves, but their main claim to fame is they are the tinkerers. They are famous for inventing things. The trouble is they don't know when to call an invention finished. They keep adding embelishments until the thing collapses under its own weight.

Gnomes personify that old adage: "There comes a time in the history of any project when it becomes necessary to shoot the engineers and begin production"

GREMLIN

A gremlin is a fictitious mischievous creature that causes malfunctions in aircraft or other machinery.

Origins in aviation

Although their origin is found in myths among airmen, claiming that the gremlins were responsible for sabotaging aircraft, John W. Hazen states that "some people" derive the name from the Old English word gremian, "to vex." While Carol Rose, in her book Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins: An Encyclopedia attributes the name to a combination of the name of Grimm's Fairy Tales, and Fremlin Beer. Since World War II, different fantastical creatures have been referred to as gremlins, bearing varying degrees of resemblance to the originals.

The term "gremlin" denoting a mischievous creature that sabotages aircraft, originates in Royal Air Force (RAF) slang in the 1920s among the British pilots stationed in Malta, the Middle East, and India, with the earliest recorded printed use being in a poem published in the journal Aeroplane in Malta on 10 April 1929. Later sources have sometimes claimed that the concept goes back to World War I, but there is no print evidence of this.

An early reference to the gremlin is in aviator Pauline Gower's 1938 novel The ATA: Women with Wings, where Scotland is described as "gremlin country", a mystical and rugged territory where scissor-wielding gremlins cut the wires of biplanes when unsuspecting pilots were about. An article by Hubert Griffith in the servicemen's fortnightly Royal Air Force Journal dated 18 April 1942, also chronicles the appearance of gremlins, although the article states the stories had been in existence for several years, with later recollections of it having been told by Battle of Britain Spitfire pilots as early as 1940.

This concept of gremlins was popularized during World War II among airmen of the UK's RAF units, in particular the men of the high-altitude Photographic Reconnaissance Units (PRU) of RAF Benson, RAF Wick and RAF St Eval. The flight crews blamed gremlins for otherwise inexplicable accidents which sometimes occurred during their flights. Gremlins were also thought at one point to have enemy sympathies, but investigations revealed that enemy aircraft had similar and equally inexplicable mechanical problems. As such, gremlins were portrayed as being equal opportunity tricksters, taking no sides in the conflict, and acting out their mischief from their own self-interest. In reality, the gremlins were a form of "buck passing" or deflecting blame. This led folklorist John Hazen to note that "the gremlin has been looked on as new phenomenon, a product of the machine age—the age of air". Some experts believe this form of "passing the buck" was important to the morale of pilots. Author and historian Marlin Bressi stated, "Gremlins, while imaginary, played a very important role to the airmen of the Royal Air Force. Gremlin tales helped build morale among pilots, which, in turn, helped them repel the Luftwaffe invasion during the Battle of Britain during the summer of 1940. The war may have had a very different outcome if the R.A.F. pilots had lost their morale and allowed Germany's plans for Operation Sea Lion (the planned invasion of the U.K.) to develop. In a way, it could be argued that gremlins, troublesome as they were, ultimately helped the Allies win the war." Bressi also noted: "Morale among the R.A.F. pilots would have suffered if they pointed the finger of blame at each other. It was far better to make the scapegoat a fantastic and comical creature than another member of your own squadron."

Author Roald Dahl is credited with getting the gremlins known outside the Royal Air Force. He would have been familiar with the myth, having carried out his military service in 80 Squadron of the Royal Air Force in the Middle East. Dahl had his own experience in an accidental crash-landing in the Western Desert. In January 1942, he was transferred to Washington, D.C. as Assistant Air attaché at the British Embassy. It was there that he wrote his first children's novel, The Gremlins, in which "Gremlins" were tiny men who lived on RAF fighters. In the same novel, Dahl called the wives of gremlins "Fifinellas," their male children "Widgets," and their female children "Flibbertigibbets." Dahl showed the finished manuscript to Sidney Bernstein, the head of the British Information Service, who came up with the idea to send it to Walt Disney.

The manuscript arrived in Disney's hands in July 1942, and he considered using it as material for a live action/animated full-length feature film, offering Dahl a contract. The film project was changed to an animated feature and entered pre-production, with characters "roughed out" and storyboards created. Disney managed to have the story published in the December 1942 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine. At Dahl's urging, in early 1943, a revised version of the story, again titled The Gremlins, was published as a picture book by Random House. (It was later updated and re-published in 2006 by Dark Horse Comics.)

The 1943 publication of The Gremlins by Random House consisted of 50,000 copies, with Dahl ordering 50 copies for himself as promotional material for himself and the upcoming film, handing them out to everyone he knew, including the British ambassador in Washington Lord Halifax, and the US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who read it to her grandchildren. The book was considered an international success with 30,000 more sold in Australia but initial efforts to reprint the book were precluded by a wartime paper shortage. Reviewed in major publications, Dahl was considered a writer-of-note and his appearances in Hollywood to follow up with the film project were met with notices in Hedda Hopper's columns.

The film project was reduced to an animated "short" and eventually cancelled in August 1943, when copyright and RAF rights could not be resolved. But thanks mainly to Disney, the story had its share of publicity, which helped in introducing the concept to a wider audience. Issues #33-#41 of Walt Disney's Comics and Stories published between June 1943 and February 1944 contained a nine-episode series of short silent stories featuring a Gremlin Gus as their star. The first was drawn by Vivie Risto, and the rest of them by Walt Kelly. This served as their introduction to the comic book audience as they are human gremlins who lived in their own village as little flying human people.

While Roald Dahl was famous for making gremlins known worldwide, many returning Air Servicemen swear they saw creatures tinkering with their equipment. One crewman swore he saw one before an engine malfunction that caused his B-25 Mitchell bomber to rapidly lose altitude, forcing the aircraft to return to base. Folklorist Hazen likewise offers his own alleged eyewitness testimony of these creatures, which appeared in an academically praised and peer-reviewed publication, describing an occasion he found "a parted cable which bore obvious tooth marks in spite of the fact that the break occurred in a most inaccessible part of the plane." At this point, Hazen states he heard "a gruff voice" demand, "How many times must you be told to obey orders and not tackle jobs you aren't qualified for? — This is how it should be done." Upon which Hazen heard a "musical twang" and another cable was parted.

Critics of this idea state that the stress of combat and the dizzying heights caused such hallucinations, often believed to be a coping mechanism of the mind to help explain the many problems aircraft faced whilst in combat.

From the Wikipedia entry for GREMLIN
PUKKA GEN ON GREMLINS

(ed note: this was a promotion for Walt Disney's project to make an animated movie out of Roald Dahl's book The Gremlins: A Royal Air Force Story. For various reasons the project was cancelled.)

BATTING FOR WINCHELL
Lt. Com. Walter Winchell of the U.S. navy is temporarily unable to produce his column, which is being handled by guest columnists.

Pukka Gen* on Gremlins

*(RAF Slang for “the real low-down”)
By WALT DISNEY
     Ever seen a real Gremlin? No?—Well, maybe it’s because you haven’t been up in a British Spitfire swapping bullets with a Messerschmitt, or dodging German flak in a bombing raid over Hamburg.
     RAF fighter pilots and members of bomber crews who have seen real action are the only ones eligible to see real Gremlins.
     Of course, lots of others think they’ve seen them, but they’ve only seen the imitations:—Gound Wallopers the pilots call them.

* * *

     Ever since the Gremlins were discovered, the press has been deluged with drawings of grotesque hobgoblins, bearded dwarfs, misshapen elves, pixies, spooks and what-not, all trying to pass themselves off as Gremlins.
     But don’t let them kid you. The real Gremlins, discovered by the RAF are a distinctively individual race; and are by no means ugly. They have their own original characteristics, and bear no resemblance to the outlandish monstrosities and gruesome nightmares cooked up by artists of the past.

* * *

     How are we going to make a picture and write a book about them if we can’t see them?
     That’s where we get a real break. Thanks to the British air ministry, all the RAF pilots who have seen Gremlins have promised to give us first hand information on them.
     They’ve already supplied us with plenty of Gen to get started on, and letters are coming in every day filled with blow-by-blow accounts of the latest contacts with these remarkable little guys. The general consensus is that they’re less than a foot high and built on the chunky side. They wear zippered flying suits and their horns grow right thru their helmets.
     Some affect green bowler hats and all have black suction-boots for walking on wings at 300 miles an hour.
     After all, the RAF feels responsible for its Gremlins and wants them pictured just as they really are. And that puts us on a spot. They warned us that if we fall down on the job or put up any blacks they’d take a dim view of our efforts and probably tear us off a colossal strip, which we assume means pinning our ears back.
     Only last month the British embassy sent one of the foremost Gremlinologists out to the studio; a flight lieutenant who has been on speaking terms with every known type of Gremlin.
     He put us straight on lots of things. We found out, for instance, that Gremlins never operate higher than 30,000 feet. It’s the Spandules who take over above this altitude.
     They hang on to the leading edge of your wing and slowly exhale, forming a nice thick coating of ice. Spandules are flat rug-like individuals covered with fur and have large pockets for storing hailstones, which they chew constantly.

* * *

     From all reports, the Fifinella (that’s the female Gremlin) is a honey. They tell us her face is fizzing’ and she has wizard curves, all in the proper places. Nothing ropey about this little crumpet. We gather from this that she’s really an eyeful. The boys tell us that you’ll never catch a Fifinella drilling holes in your wing, cutting your parachute straps or draining the alcohol from your compass. All a Fifinella has to do is hop aboard a plane for a joyride and the Gremlins will follow her in droves. (Statistics show one Fifinella to every 12 Gremlins.)
     By the time they've chased her back and forth from one wing-tip to the other, wiggling your wing flaps, swinging on your aerial wire and playing see-saw on your elevators, you’ll wish she'd stayed at home to mind the Widgets.

* * *

     Widgets?—They’re the new born Gremlins that appear in nests hidden in the dark corners of your aircraft. In every batch of Widgets you’ll find a Flibberty-gibbet. She’s the one who eventually becomes a Fifinella. Before they’re a day old, Widgets are up to mischief.
     They have very high baby voices and chatter incessantly. Since they're not equipped with suction boots like older Gremlins, they usually concentrate on the instrument board and have a marvellous time putting all the gauges out of whack.

* * *

     The fact that Gremlins have become so real and play such an important role in the thoughts and conversations of the flyers is really a tribute to the courage, morale and sense of humor of the RAF.
     And when the gong sounds ending the final round of the war, the chances are that the Gremlins will be entitled to a large slice of credit for making their appearance during England’s darkest hour and carrying on in their mischievous way until victory was certain.

(ed note: No, I am not related to Walter Winchell. That is my first name but his last name)

From PUKKA GEN ON GREMLINS by Walt Disney (1942)
THE REAL GREMLINS OF WWII

However, what some people may not realize is that these were actually based upon allegedly real entities which, during the Second World War and even before, plagued pilots and aircraft crew with all manner of mischief as they battled in the skies during one of the bloodiest eras of human history. Here in the bloody skies of WWII, among the seemingly never-ending smoke, bomb blasts, strafing antiaircraft fire, buzzing enemy aircraft, and death, the crews of various aircraft from all sides were faced with a new enemy; bizarre impish beasts that were said to infest aircraft and seemed to want nothing more but to create havoc and bring them down from the clouds.

The origin of the modern term “gremlin” is disputed, but is often said to derive from the Old English word greme, which means to vex or annoy. It refers to a type of mischievous gnome-like imp or demon, typically said to be around a foot tall, which probably has its roots in the old folklore of goblins and fairies. The original early representation of these creatures was that of skilled craftsmen with a superhuman proficiency with machinery of all types, and they were once credited by some with helping mankind along with our technology, such as in the creation of the steam engine and even claims that they helped with Benjamin Franklin’s work with electricity. Yet for all of the benevolent early folklore associated with the impish creatures, it was their penchant for mischief and mayhem that they would become most known for.

The modern version of the gremlin as a malicious, trouble making hell raiser has its origins with British airmen, some of whom believed that there were miniature imps, gnomes, or fairies which seemed to show an intense interest in aviation and caused aircraft or navigational malfunctions. One of the first mentions of the creatures can be traced back to an early reference to them in the early 1900s in a British newspaper called the Spectator, in which it was written:

The old Royal Naval Air Service in 1917 and the newly constituted Royal Air Force in 1918 appear to have detected the existence of a horde of mysterious and malicious sprites whose whole purpose in life was…to bring about as many as possible of the inexplicable mishaps which, in those days as now, trouble an airman’s life.

The existence of such weird entities became truly popularized starting in 1923, when a British pilot crashed his plane into the sea and later reported that the accident had been caused by tiny creatures which had followed him aboard his plane and proceeded to create havoc aboard the aircraft, sabotaging the engine, messing around with the flight controls, and ultimately causing it to crash. The story spread, and it wasn’t long before other British pilots also began to complain of being harassed by similar miniature troll-like creatures with a mastery of technology and machinery, which caused engine failures, electrical malfunctions, communications shutdowns, bad landings, freak accidents, and pretty much anything else that could possibly ever go wrong with an aircraft.

Gremlins were said to engage in such a myriad of bad behavior as sucking the gas out of tanks through hoses, jamming radio frequencies, mucking up landing gear, blowing dust or sand into fuel pipes or sensitive electrical equipment, cutting wires, removing bolts or screws, tinkering with dials, knobs or switches, jostling controls, slashing wings or tires, poking or pinching gunners or pilots, banging incessantly on the fuselage, breaking windows, and a wide variety of other prankish acts. There were even pilots who claimed that the creatures had telepathic powers and could create realistic illusions in a victim’s mind, such as the appearance of the ground or a mountain emerging suddenly from the clouds. They were also sometimes reported to be seen sitting out upon the nose of the plane or the wings of aircraft in midflight tampering with the wings or even the engines. On occasion the gremlins were said to shout, giggle, whisper, growl, or otherwise make noise so as to distract aircraft crews, in particular gunners as they were lining up their sights on an enemy and pilots when performing maneuvers for which total concentration was a necessity. Such reports spread quickly through the ranks and by the end of the 1920s it seemed like any pilot who had ever had an aircraft problem of any kind had seen the things, and they were commonly reported throughout the Royal Air Force by pilots stationed in such far flung places as Malta, the Middle East, and India.

One of the most famous alleged gremlin accounts from this period was made by none other than the renowned American aviator, author, inventor, military officer, explorer, and social activist Charles Lindbergh as he was engaged in his historic nonstop solo flight over the Atlantic from New York to Paris in May of 1927. Lindbergh had been flying his single-engine single-seat plane Spirit of St. Louis from the Roosevelt Field in Garden City, NY to Le Bourget Field in Paris, France, which was to be an epic 3,600 mile (5,800 km), 33 and a half hour flight and the first ever of its kind. In the 9th hour of being airborne, Lindbergh reported that he had suddenly felt somewhat detached from reality and found himself surrounded by several vaporous, strange looking beings within the cramped confines of his tiny cabin, which spoke to him and demonstrated incredibly complex knowledge of navigation and flight equipment. Interestingly, in this case rather than cause mischief, Lindbergh said that the gremlins actually kept him alert and reassured him that he would remain safe on his journey. Lindbergh kept this bizarre experience to himself for years until the account was finally published in his 1953 book The Spirit of St. Louis. Interestingly, this would not be the only report of benevolent gremlin activity, as there were other accounts from time to time that told of the typically mischievous monsters helping pilots avert disasters or alerting them when to turn or change course or altitude, which showed there was more than one facet to whatever the things were.

The actual physical descriptions of gremlins varied rather wildly. In some cases they were described as being little elfish beings similar to humans, wearing bright red or green double-breasted frock coats, old fashioned hats with feathers, and pointed shoes. The skin color could be green, gold, pink, or red. Others gave the entities a more sinister appearance, saying that they looked animalistic, with hairy bodies, large, pointed ears, deep red or even glowing eyes, and horns. Still other reports speak of gremlins as having hairless grey skin, being vaguely reptilian in appearance, and having enormous mouths filled with pointy teeth. There were cases that said they looked like jackrabbits, bull terriers, or some combination of both. In some cases they were merely wispy entities seemingly composed of mist or smoke. Some accounts mention webbed hands and feet, fins, or bat-like wings. Size descriptions also varied considerably, with gremlins said to be anywhere between a mere 6 inches tall all the way up to three feet in height. In some cases, they were said to have large feet with suction cups or even leather shoes with hooks, both of which enabled them to walk about on the outside of aircraft or to hang upside down. One common trait in all reports is that through whatever means, gremlins were known to be able to adhere to the outer fuselage of planes and to withstand incredible temperature extremes, high altitudes, and violent winds.

Gremlins and their bothersome antics were reported throughout the 1920s and 30s, but perhaps the period of the most intense alleged gremlin activity was during the fierce fighting of World War II. Reports of gremlins were especially prolific among the UK’s RAF (Royal Air Force) units, especially the high-altitude Photographic Reconnaissance Units (PRU), which flew perilous missions in unarmed, unarmored Spitfires and Mosquitoes at great heights on photographic missions over enemy territory. It was during these harrowing missions, when pilots operated in bitter, biting cold as heat was redirected to the cameras to keep them warm, that the little monster tricksters were regularly seen and blamed for all manner of otherwise inexplicable technical troubles and woes. In some cases, mechanical problems would arise only to mysteriously right themselves again as soon as the planes landed or the gremlins were gone.

The Battle of Britain, an enormous air campaign waged against the United Kingdom by the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) during the summer and autumn of 1940 in particular saw many cases of reported gremlin activity, so much so in fact that the British Air Ministry even acknowledged the problem and made serious attempts to investigate the phenomenon. The Ministry even went as far as to have a service manual written up by a “Gremlorist,” Pilot Officer Percy Prune, which was an official document consisting of a list of the creatures’ exploits, how to placate or distract them, and various ways to avoid accidents due to their presence, such as not displaying bravado, arrogance or over confidence, which was thought to attract the creatures. There were also posters that warned of the malicious little monsters, as well as bulletins which often included the following ditty:

This is the tale of the Gremlins
As told by the PRU
At Benson and Wick and St Eval-
And believe me, you slobs, it’s true.

When you’re seven miles up in the heavens,
(That’s a hell of a lonely spot)
And it’s fifty degrees below zero,
Which isn’t exactly hot.

When you’re frozen blue like your Spitfire,
And you’re scared a Mosquito pink.
When you’re thousands of miles from nowhere,
And there’s nothing below but the drink.

It’s then that you’ll see the Gremlins,
Green and gamboge and gold,
Male and female and neuter,
Gremlins both young and old.

It’s no good trying to dodge them,
The lessons you learnt on the Link
Won’t help you evade a Gremlin,
Though you boost and you dive and you jink.

White one’s will wiggle your wing tips,
Male one’s will muddle your maps,
Green one’s will guzzle your glycol,
Females will flutter your flaps.

Pink one’s will perch on your perspex,
And dance pirouettes on your prop,
There’s a spherical middle-aged Gremlin,
Who’ll spin on your stick like a top.

They’ll freeze up your camera shutters,
They’ll bite through your aileron wires,
They’ll bend and they’ll break and they’ll batter,
They’ll insert toasting forks into your tyres.

And that is the tale of the Gremlins,
As told by the PRU,
(P)retty (R)uddy (U)nlikely to many,
But a fact, none the less, to the few.

At first this seemed to be a phenomenon completely unique to the Royal Air Force and it was often whispered among airmen that the gremlins were in league with the enemy, but it later became apparent that enemy aircraft were also suffering from the creatures’ tomfoolery and that they took no sides, taking equal glee in harassing both British and enemy aircraft alike. When the American Allies came to British shores, they too began to experience the strange phenomenon. American pilots and airmen typically described seeing strange creatures out on the wings of the aircraft, where they would fiddle around with the aileron, which is the hinged flight control surface on the wing that allows it to roll or bank. So persistent were the stories of gremlins fiddling and tampering with the aileron of American aircraft that the Americans often referred to the creatures as Yehudis, after a famous violinist of the time, because they were always fiddling.


Reports of gremlins and their knack for hiding aboard planes to sabotage them persisted throughout WWII, from all sides and nations involved in the conflict, more often than not by experienced pilots and aircraft crew that were sober, level-headed and rational. What could have been at the heart of these accounts? What were all of these people seeing or experiencing? It is often pointed out that the lack of adequate pressurization of aircraft back in those days most likely led to hallucinations, which were then shaped by the stories of little trickster, prankish imps with a tendency to sabotage or damage machinery. There could also have been some element of “passing the buck” so to speak, or deflecting blame for human error by blaming accidents on these fantastical creatures. This could have helped build morale among the men, as it would have been more constructive to blame the gremlins for aircraft mishaps rather than accuse members of their own squadron.

FAMOUS GREMLINS YOU SHOULD KNOW

This is from a set of advertisements created by the Esso company in 1943. Each was associated with particular car part or system, and the Esso promised to protect your automobile from the little monsters if you brought it in for regular maintenance. They are sort of the embodiment of various automobile failure modes. A pantheon of malfunctions, so to speak.

Rocketpunk crew will think up their own gremlins that relate to spacecraft systems: e.g., nuclear reactor, propellant tanks, life support, etc.

Superstition

MILITARY SUPERSTITION

Junghaus doesn't look old enough to be a veteran. He can't be more than nineteen. Just a pimply-faced, confused kid who looks two sizes too small for his uniform. Yet he has four little red mission stars tattooed on the back of his left hand, over the knuckles at the roots of each finger. "Catch a fistful of stars..." They'll creep along the next rank of knuckles now. A barbarous custom that's scrupulously observed. One of the superstitions…

…I've begun to note quirks. Chief Nicastro gets furious if anyone passes him to the left. Better you ask him to drop what he's doing and let you by. Kriegshauser never removes his lucky underwear.

The Commander himself has a rigid ritual for rising and departing his quarters. Faithfully observed, I suppose, it guarantees the Climber (warship) another day of existence.

From PASSAGE AT ARMS by Glen Cook (1985)
SUBSTITIONS 1

      71-hour Ahmed was not superstitious. He was substitious, which put him in a minority among humans.

     He didn't believe in the things everyone believed in but which nevertheless weren't true.
     He believed instead in the things that were true in which no-one else believed.

     There are many such substitions, ranging from 'It'll get better if you don't pick at it' all the way up to 'Sometimes things just happen.'

From JINGO by Terry Pratchett (1997)
SUBSTITIONS 2

      "Quite a lot, " said Miss Beedle, "but far more about goblins, and they believe in the Summoning Dark, just like the dwarfs, after all, they are both creatures of the caves and the Summoning Dark is real. It's not all in your head, commander: no matter what you hear, I sometimes hear it too.

     "Oh dear, you of all people must recognize a substition when you’re possessed by it? It's the opposite of a superstition: it's real even if you don't believe in it."

From SNUFF by Terry Pratchett (2011)

Chariots Of The Gods

In this concept, future space explorers discover that mythological creatures are actually garbled stories of alien visitations made by primitive humans. Much the same idea as the silly Chariots of the Gods?, but done a bit more plausibly.

Examples include:

CHILDHOOD'S END by Arthur C. Clark
It would be a spoiler to explain. Just read the novel. It is a classic.
TIMEDIVER SERIES by L. E. Modesitt Jr.
This series is about a species who can travel through time and space using nothing but their innate abilities. They spend their time scavenging high-tech goodies from other planets and times, while destroying any species who might pose a threat. In The Fires of Paratime the characters have names like "Odinthor" and "Heimdall." Thing are interesting until they become afraid of the new recruit and try to covertly kill him. Somebody named "Loki." Then the book becomes so exciting you literally cannot put it down.
WHO MOURNS FOR ADONAIS? episode from Classic Star Trek
Captain Kirk and the valiant crew of the starship Enterprise meet the last surviving Greek God Apollo. They are space-traveling aliens with innate abilities to manipulate energies. The ancient Greeks worshipped them as gods, until the Greeks got too sophisticated. Zeus et al grew weary and weak without worship from humans and discorporated.
HOW SHARPER THAN A SERPENT'S TOOTH episode from Animated Star Trek
Captain Kirk and the valiant crew of the starship Enterprise meet a technologically advanced alien looking like a wingéd serpent, who turns out to be the Mayan god Kukulkan. He was going to vaporize the Enterprise like a fly in a bug-zapper, but at the last minute helsman Ensign Dawson Walking Bear recognizes Kukulkan and blurts out his name.
THE LORELEI SIGNAL episode from Animated Star Trek
Captain Kirk and the valiant crew of the starship Enterprise pass too close to the planet of the Space Sirens and are enslaved by the beautiful vampiric women living there (for certain values of "beautiful", predictably for an American show they are all thin, Caucasian, and blond). The men start to rapidly age as the Sirens devour their life force (there is no way to phrase that without it sounding like a double entendre). Luckily the Siren's ability to cloud men's minds only applies to men. Lt. Uhura, Nurse Chapel, and the rest of the female crew arrive to kick butt and take names.
THE MIGHTIEST MACHINE by John W. Campbell Jr.
Several thousand years ago on Terra, the inhabitats of the continent of Mu were in constant warfare with the race of Teff-Hellani. These were savage creatures who evolved from primate goats. They had horns, cloven hooves, red skin, loved living under ground near fires, and had a taste for human meat. Yeah, you get the picture. Teff-Hellani = Deff-Hell = Devils.

The conflict started with stone-age technology and persisted up to the age of ray-guns and spaceships. Finally king Tsoo-Ahs ("Zeus") leads a spacefleet to attack the Teff cave entrance. The continent of Mu is sunk in the ensuing battle, the warring fleets are flung through a space warp to a distant star, both fleets crash on separate planets and have to rebuild civilizations from scratch.

In the future when Our Heroes are flung through the same space warp, they find the two sides are still fighting.
THE INFINITE ATOM by John W. Campbell Jr.
In this sequel to The Mightiest Machine author Campbell re-uses the aliens-into-mythological-creature theme. Around 700 BCE centaur-like aliens are marooned when their spaceship crashes in ancient Greece, inspiring Greek myths of centaurs in a meta-like fashion. Most of them are cruel to the local Greeks in their efforts to launch a message torpedo to their homeworld. But Zhi Athron kindly teaches the Greeks, and is remembered in myth as "Chiron". The aliens all die out and become myths. Four thousand years latter the message torpedo brings an invasion of Centaurs hungry for living space, and the interstellar war is on.
SHAMBLEAU by C. L. Moore
Interplanetary rogue Northwest Smith meets his match when he finds out the hard way that the old myth of the snake-haired Medusa turning people into stone is no myth. But author Moore adds a touch of existential eldritch horror. The only thing that saves Smith's sorry derrière is the fact his Venusian side-kick Yarol remembers the rest of the myth, and uses a mirror to do an over-the-shoulder trick shot with his heat-ray gun.
YVALA by C. L. Moore
Interplanetary rogue Northwest Smith proves that he is incapable of learning from his mistakes by getting captured by another mythological woman. This time her name is Yvala, and she inspired the myth of Circe. Including the ability to turn men into beasts. Since Smith and Yarol were on the Jovian moon specifically to kidnap beautiful native women for the sex-slave trade, it is impossible to find any sympathy for their fate.
THE LONG TWILIGHT by Keith Laumer
They look like two crazy guys trying to kill each other, but they are actually immortal humanoid aliens who inspired the myth of Thor and Loki. They have been on Terra for several thousand years, trying to kill each other for all that time.
THE MIGHTY THOR by Stan Lee, Lerry Leiber, and Jack Kirby
This Marvel comic book gives Norse mythology a decided sci-fi twist. They were latter made into fun movies.
QUATERMASS AND THE PIT aka Five Million Years To Earth movie by Nigel Kneale
Five million years ago insectoid Martians genetically engineered human beings to be slaves. Human's mental image of the devil is a distorted memory of the insect Martian face, with antennae for horns.
THE QUEEN OF AIR AND DARKNESS by Poul Anderson
This story turns the "Chariots of the Gods" concept on its head. Instead of aliens inspiring the myth, the myth inspires the aliens. On the colony world Roland the humans are mostly unaware of the native aliens. They study the humans telepathically, and find deep archtypes in the human psyche of elves and fairies. They use these archtypes as telepathic images when dealing with humans.
DREAD COMPANION by Andre Norton
In this novel, the land of Fairie is another dimension. The inhabitants are aliens who are vaguely humanoid but look like the typical mythological Fair Folk. What is interesting is that the Fairie dimension adjoins every other planet in the galaxy. So one can still stumble into Fairie even though you are living on a colony world hundreds of light-years away from Terra.

Everything Old Is New Again

On a meta level science fiction authors can use ancient myths to inspire their stories. Which is no news to anybody who has read about the monomyth in Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Certainly not George Lucas.

From a science fiction writer's standpoint being inspired by myth has three great benefits:

  1. The writer is harnessing the awesome archetypal power and universal appeal of myth
  2. The plot is already written
  3. Myths are way way past the expiration date of their copyright

This is a variant on the old science fiction author trick of using history to plot their novels.

But authors would be wise to avoid grafting a simple-minded science ficion framework over Biblical myths. It has been done to death already. There are hundreds of pulp SF stories where a couple crash-lands on a virgin world, all such stories ending with the punch-line that their names are Adam and Eve. Brian W. Aldiss calls these "Shaggy God Stories."


Examples include:

STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE
Based on the monomyth
THE MATRIX
Also based on the monomyth
FORBIDDEN PLANET
Pretty much a science-fiction version of Shakespeare's The Tempest
SHADOWLINE by Glen Cook
The novel is a retelling of Norse mythology, especially the story of Ragnarök. The gods are instead mercenary bands, Ragnarök is the federation outlawing and disbanding the mercenaries, Gneaus Storm is Odin complete with two telepathic flying lizards like Huginn and Muninn, Valkyrie-like medical drones roam battlefields to retrieve valiant soldiers fallen in battle to be brought back to life by advanced medical techology and given the opportunity to enlist with Storm's mercenary legion in a sort of high-tech Valhalla.
THE GAP INTO CONFLICT: THE REAL STORY by Stephen R. Donaldson
The novel is a interpretation of Wagner's Ring Cycle set in the future.
STARSONG by Fred Saberhagen
This classic Berserker tale is a retelling of the Orpheus myth.
FOOL'S RUN by Patricia McKillip
This is another retelling of Orpheus.
GOAT SONG by Poul Anderson
Still yet another retelling of Orpheus.
SPACE CHANTEY by R. A. Lafferty
This entire book is a satirical futuristic version of Homer's Odyssey.
DIES IRAE TRILOGY by Brian Stableford
A science fictional version of the Odyssey but in full trilogy form.
THE KALEVALA SERIES by Emil Petaja
Each book in the series is a science fiction version of a myth from the Finnish Kalevala. Each centers around an avatar of one of the Finnish gods reliving their legend in a futuristic world.

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