Retro Replays: Can we ATOMIZE the ARCTIC?
First in a series of recycled blog posts from years past
All my old posts are archived, but they're not exactly easy to hunt through. There's some stuff in there that I'm really fond of, though; so I'm going to periodically re-present these gems as part of my Retro Replays series. Starting with one of the best:
Ah, the naive influences of my youth...
When I was a kid my dad had several boxes of old Mechanix Illustrated and Popular Mechanics magazines, dating back to the 1940s and 1950s. So, almost before I could read, I was eagerly looking over the illustrations of articles like the following:
Like many of the articles, "Flying Saucers for Everybody
(Mechanix Illustrated, March, 1957) was written by a Mr. Frank Tinsley,
who as it turns out was a frequent and enthusiastic contributor of SF
to magazines such as Amazing Stories. I believe he was also an
illustrator who did some work on the Tom Swift books. One Mechanix
Illustrated article that I fondly remember was the (partly prescient,
partly off-base) article "Fortress on a Skyhook" (MI, April, 1949).
Part of the illustration is reproduced below:
The article claimed that the U.S. Defense Department was seriously considering space-based nuclear-missile platforms. Tinsley included detailed sketches of a method for what we would now call heavy-lift launching of prefab space station components. Of course, the rockets in question had that perfect, curved V2 profile to them. Just the thing to set a kid's imagination going.
The funny thing about these articles is that they came to me out of what was, for a young boy, an unimaginably distant past. They were visions of the future that hadn't happened--that had already become overgrown, and now lay steeped in dust in basement boxes. I suppose knowing this gave me a somewhat jaundiced view of technological development, which the Apollo project briefly succeeded in wiping away.
Most of Tinsley's ideas were vaguely workable; some were positively Utopian. Not all of the articles I grew up with were believable, though. Some were nightmarish, and some, like the one I'll leave you with below, were ludicrous and painful at the same time, even to us in the unenlightened sixties.
This article was entitled "Can we ATOMIZE the ARCTIC?" Tinsley didn't write this one; it was penned by a Wallace W. Ashley and Elmer V. Swan. According to them, Professor Julian Huxley had proposed the idea of using nuclear bombs to melt the polar ice caps. This would moderate our northern climate, eliminating pesky cold snaps and opening up shipping across the top of the world.
My scans below don't do justice to the two-page spread that begins the article. On the left we see a full-page illo of nukes shattering the ice caps. As your eye pans right across the page, the sky becomes filled with a radiant glow (presumably the permanent background radiation that will keep the arctic comfortably warm for its new inhabitants) while basking under it is a new urban Center of Commerce.
Left-page panel: nuking the whales, er, icebergs.
Right page partial-panel: the radioactive sky.
Of course, this was published in May, 1946 (in Mechanix Illustrated, natch). Hiroshima and Nagasaki had just happened when the article was commissioned; let's hope the authors and editors hoped to inspire a more peaceful use of nuclear power than that which they had just witnessed.
To me though, this and the other articles formed an indelible early lesson: that the future goes obsolete faster than just about anything.
P.S.: If you like this sort of thing, you should visit the A.C. Radebaugh site, The Future We Were Promised, which is absolutely wonderful.P.P.S:
As a bonus, here's another image from the "Fortress on a Skyhook" article, for your viewing pleasure: