Science fiction is often distinguished as such by the fancy pyjamas worn by the protagonists or the presence of two suns rather than one in the sky. Unfortunately, no such tags serve to label Taken, a 20-hour epic occupying prime-time and late-night space this summer on CBC TV.
Broadcast originally on the Sci-Fi Channel and given a kind of celebrity endorsement by Steven Spielberg, this 10-episode not-so-mini-series purports to follow three generations of average if troubled Americans who were abducted, examined and even impregnated by aliens following a 1947 flying-saucer crash near Roswell, N.M.
At one level, this is just summer fun, a good yarn at a time when few people are watching TV anyway. Given its solemn and realistic tone, however, the series looks like another retreat from reason. Moon landings a U.S. government hoax? Aliens making crop circles? Elvis still alive? Psychic hot lines? Too many people believe in all of these. How melancholy to read last month that 19 per cent of Germans told pollsters for Die Zeit they believe that the U.S. might have staged the Sept. 11 attacks. They might as well think the twin towers were brought down by aliens.
These fictions are extraordinarily tenacious. Cosmic conspiracies, it seems, are more appealing than Occam's Razor, the ancient logical principle that the simplest explanation is usually correct. It is a principle worth applying to the so-called Roswell incident, which was not even on the radar screen of most UFO hobbyists before some belated testimony revived it in the late 1970s.
It is easily established that the "spacecraft fragments" found on a farmer's field in 1947 were parts of a high-altitude research balloon. If military authorities seemed secretive at the time, this was for the good reason that Project Moghul was intended to develop methods of monitoring Soviet bomb tests. The "alien bodies" seen later were research dummies. Many of the "events" now conflated by Roswellians into an exciting narrative of a few days actually took place over years.
Crop circles? Earthlings can and do make them. Check out the paraphernalia at www.circlemakers.org. Yet on Taken, these and other popular fallacies are traded as documentary legal tender.
That the CBC is somewhat embarrassed by Taken is clear from the rationalist equivalent of a parental advisory it offers before commercial breaks. Roswell, our host explains, is part of "alien mythology." We fear that this subtlety will be lost on most viewers. And although our national broadcaster has more shame than the Sci-Fi Channel - which formed something called the Coalition for Freedom of Information as a marketing ploy - the CBC offers plenty of intoxicating visuals on its Web site and is running a contest to visit Roswell.
It could be that the popular myths surrounding extraterrestrial visitation are indestructible. Even serious discussion about life elsewhere in the universe tends to feed these fantasies. And so this $40-million U.S. TV series, full of technical bells and whistles, becomes one more setback for rationality. Taken? Let us try not to be.