Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Low Budget Science Fiction Props

At the Rice University library, where I work, someone rescued a weird bare twig from a flower arrangement and put it into a vase of water. It gratefully put out thready white roots and corkscrewy, bright green leaves.

It is a Curly Willow (Salix matsudana). Apparently the species originally came from Northwest Asia, grows fast, gets ten or twenty feet high and can wreak havoc on defenseless underground water pipes in the way of the root system.

In my opinion, this plant looks and acts like a low budget science fiction movie or play prop.

And so do many other things. Consider:

Banana slugs. These mollusks of the Pacific Northwest can be as much as 10 inches long and have long eyestalks and a rippling underfringe. With some amazement, I encountered them in Berkeley when I lived there. It's a memorable experience to watch a six-inch-long yellow slug lumber across a garden stone stair step. It tends to make people get out of the way. It must be noted that the Banana Slug is the de facto mascot of the University of California Santa Cruz. It would be difficult to make up something like that.

Lenticular clouds – the ones shaped like flying saucers and responsible for a good many excited reports of UFO's over the years. Admittedly lennies push the limits of low budget SF props – they're free if you find one in the sky to photograph but it may take some doing to get into position downwind of one of the mountains (Shasta and Rainier, for two) where they've formed.

Autogyros of the minimalist, single-place variety that have a seat for the pilot, a rotor on top, an inconspicuous propeller and not much else. I once saw one come calling at the local gliderport. Everybody's reaction was, "Hey lookit, there's a flying lawn chair in the landing pattern!"

Memorial Hermann Medical Plaza in Houston. By day it's a tall white box with and interesting cut-out on top. They call the cut-out a "lantern" because at night it lights up to spectacular effect. There are reflective tiles and various colored lights. The predominant effect is a saturated cobalt blue with purple flicker in the end visible from Rice University. When I swung by to a snap a picture, a nearby church on South Main Street was audibly having bell change-ringing practice – change-ringing being an old and very English art. So there's a futuristic architectural lantern on top of a modern medical palace, and there's change-ringing in the air, and it's in Houston; time and space felt doubled over in an odd way.

Science fiction is in the eye of the beholder.

No comments: