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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

entry arrow4:45 PM | Return to Cosmos

I don't exactly remember how I came to read Carl Sagan, but I must have been very young. Perhaps in college, sometime during freshman year, and so perhaps it was in 1993. I think I must have stumbled on him in my freshman composition class with fictionist Timothy Montes, who made us read an essay by Sagan titled "The Nature of the Atom." In that essay, I was astounded by the glorious way he presented science to the layman. "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch," Sagan wrote, "you must first invent the universe."

Later on in that essay, Sagan would write: "The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” How do you not respond to that? How can you not feel that even though the universe is infinite and largely unknowable given our human limitations, every inch of us is related to every marvel in the stars?

In 1993, I think I was browsing through the selection of books at the Mango Avenue branch of National Bookstore in Cebu City -- my old, favourite haunt, from which I bought my issues of Premiere Magazine -- and I think it was around that time when I was trying to read every Michael Crichton book I could get my hands on. Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park was about to come out in the U.S. and the buzz was blinding. Before the film found itself in blockbuster territory, however, I had my mother buy me two things: the original John Williams soundtrack of the film, and the Crichton novel it was based on. Both I devoured before the film came out in Dumaguete screens, and made dinosaur fans out of all of us. The book's delightful meshing with science must have tickled my inner nerd because I soon sought out books on popular science right after that -- those by Stephen Jay Gould, Steven Pinker, Oliver Sacks, Loren Eiseley... My first pretentious purchase, of course, was Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, which I pretended to finish to those who asked me what it was all about -- but frankly I couldn't quite get past Chapter 1. Around this time, however, I fell in love with Daniel Boorstin's The Discoverers, a thick volume of the history of man's discoveries, which I proceeded to read with such leisure I finished it only in 2011.

Among those science books I bought after 1993, there was Carl Sagan's The Dragons of Eden, the paperback's bright red cover quite an enticement for an impressionable boy. It proved to be a touchstone for me, and led me to other things like Broca's Brain, The Cosmic Connection, and The Varieties of Scientific Experience. Finally, there was his novel Contact, which was an inspiration for how I began my short story "A Strange Map of Time." Later on, I would catch snippets of Sagan's popular PBS series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which aired in 1980. I knew of its influence, but in a pre-YouTube world, it was impossible to screen.

But now we finally have that show's follow-up, produced for Fox by Ann Druyan (Sagan's widow) and -- of all people -- Seth McFarland, which gives me additional reasons to love the inane genius of The Family Guy.

It's hosted and narrated by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and promises to be a worthwhile updating of Sagan's beloved series. I've seen the first episode, and I'm holding my breath for the twelve that're still coming.

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