One of my favourite blogposts from Mark, and one which Robin and I were channeling on our recent deep assignment amongst Cornwall’s standing stones and moors, is “Megalithic Astropunk” — an essay on the brilliant 1970s mini-series Children of the Stones.
Children of the Stones is about Petros, the black hole vampire-god of disintensifaction and intensive death, whose hunger for star-energy is similarly diagrammed in Burroughs’ Nova Trilogy.
Children of the Stones belongs to a micro-genre connecting two British seventies’ obsessions, stone circles and outer space, that might be called megalithic astropunk. The other major work in this field is Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass swansong.
The serial opens by (presumably self-consciously) echoing Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Children of the Damned, Quatermass II, The Wicker Man and The Stepford Wives, inducting its two lead characters , astrophysicist Adam Brake and his son, Matthew, into a near-closed community of ‘happy’ people. One of the great services such fictions provided was to make its young viewers intensely suspicious both of ‘happiness’ as an emotional state and of those who proffer it as a libidinal-political goal.
In the case of Children of the Stones, the Grand Inquisitor Utilitarian-priest is Hendrick, the unctuous-charming Lord of the Manor. It is no surprise at all to learn that Hendrick, a semi-retired astrophysicist who has discovered a supernova, turns out also to be a white magician: a magus, as Adam describes him as the series comes to a close. Like many pulp master villains, Hendrick is not straightforwardly a malevolent monster, but a beamingly altruistic administrator of the pleasure principle, a manager of the hedonic calculus, even as he is an agent of (Burroughs) control. The price of such ‘happiness’ – a state of cored-out, cheery Pod people affectlessness – is sacrifice of all autonomy.
Are we being asked, then, to side with human consciousness against the alien unconscious? Isn’t, after all, freedom from the passions a Spinozist goal? Yes, but freedom from sad passions is not the end of the story if it is at the price of a ‘happy’ passivity, a blank-eyed disengagement from all Outsides, as all (your) energy is sucked up by the ultimate interiority, the time-space implosion of Nova.
Under such pressure, you become a stone.
You become petrified. (Even when you are happy.)