Astounding tales from beyond the outer limits of the twilight zone

Astounding tales from beyond the outer limits of the twilight zone May 12, 2021

A few recent items that both intrigued and disappointed me for their untapped Rod Serling-esque potential.

• Meet Tom Horn, who “Says an Asteroid Will Strike Earth in 2029, Unleashing an ‘Alien Virus’ That Will Give Rise to the Antichrist.”

Horn said this, most recently, on televangelist-grifter Jim Bakker’s show, which often features guests from the worlds of “End Times Bible-prophecy scholars” and of self-proclaimed “prophets.” Horn is both of those, sort of, but mainly I think he’s just a failed sci-fi writer — the kind who manages to dream up entertaining premises, but then can’t figure out where to go from there.

I’ll admit it: If the SyFy channel cranked out a B-movie involving an asteroid striking the Earth and unleashing a zombifying alien virus that gave rise to the Antichrist, I’d watch that movie. That’s not bad. Or, rather, it sounds terrible — but potentially bad in a fun way.

And Tom Horn seems like he’s full of such ideas. His author’s page at Amazon is quite the read. his first book, from 2005, was a novel called The Ahriman Gate: “This supernatural thriller tells the incredible story of a young Marine and his sister who discover information connecting the U.S. Government with UFO’s.” Apparently it was a Stargate/Nephilim or Ancient Astronauts/Book of Enoch story, but it wasn’t a huge success.

So Horn stopped writing fiction — or, at least, he started writing his fiction as though it were nonfiction, cranking out a series of books alleging Vatican-UFO conspiracies, delirious manifestos about the Illuminati, and a couple of attempts to cash in on QAnon fantasies. This all led up to his latest sci-fi End Times anti-vaxx mash-up, The Wormwood Prophecy: NASA, Donald Trump, and a Cosmic Cover-up of End-Time Proportions. Phew.

I’ll give Horn credit for his enthusiastic ability to try to include every disparate bonkers conspiracy theory in his work, it’s a bit like the manic charm of Patton Oswalt’s epic “citizens filibuster” monologue from Parks & Rec. Oddly, though, it still feels like he’s holding back. If the initial overwhelming sense one gets from Tom Horn’s oeuvre is that this guy is bonkers, that sadly gives way to the realization that his problem is he’s not bonkers enough.

• Undine brings us “The Case of the Time-Traveling Priest.” This is the story of Benedictine priest Fr. Pellegrino Ernetti, who claimed to have invented a “chronovisor” — a kind of television/DVR that allowed him to view and record events in the past by peering backward through time. (Tasha Shayne and Marco Margaritoff have also written about Ernetti’s supposed invention.)

Ernetti said his device used “mysterious alloys” and that it worked by “processing residual electromagnetic radiation left over by numerous processes.” I’m no scientist, by I’m guessing that it also involves reversing the polarity of the tachyon field.

Ernetti also claimed that famed scientists Enrico Fermi and Werner von Braun helped him develop his invention, although he didn’t start saying that part until after both Fermi and von Braun were dead. Ernetti never mentioned any assistance from T.L. Sherred, even though his 1947 short story “E for Effort” is probably where he got the idea.

Ernetti said he’d used his device to witness (and record) the crucifixion of Christ, Cicero’s speech to the Roman Senate, the Last Supper, and even a performance of Thyestes, a lost play by the Roman poet Quintus Ennius, which Ernetti “transcribed” (in anachronistic Latin).

In his final years before his death in 1994, Pellegrino Ernetti stopped talking about his time-traveling TV. One theory is that he was ordered to shut up about it because the Vatican did not wish to be further embarrassed by his fabulous forgeries. Another theory is that a Vatican conspiracy silenced him because his amazing device was Too Powerful and had to be kept from Falling Into The Wrong Hands or perhaps for Darker Purposes. One can find multiple short articles arguing the former theory and several very long books arguing the latter.

I find all of this terribly disappointing. Neither Ernetti himself nor any of the folks trying to spin conspiratorial webs based on his claims seems to have realized the full potential of the stories that could be told based on this premise. The raw material here ought to be enough to provide a mind-bending, genre-mixing Umberto Eco-meets-Philip K. Dick-meets-Dan Brown thrill ride but instead these folks just squandered it on poorly mimeographed photos of an Italian Jesus. Meh.

• The eminently patient science-blogger Joel Duff discusses “The False Hope of a Mature Creation.” This is about the omphalos hypothesis (so named because it puts a huge significance on whether or not Adam and Eve had belly buttons). Duff focuses on the young-Earth creationist critiques of this idea and how it’s mainly used as a dodge to avoid the implications of thinking too much about the meaning of deep time.

And so, alas, he doesn’t get into the really fun-to-play-with implications of this dodge — the reason why it’s also sometimes called “Last Thursday-ism.” If God was willing and able to create an apparently ancient universe just 6,000 years ago, then God must be just as willing and able to create an apparently ancient universe just 6 seconds ago. That raises the possibility that everything you think you know or remember isn’t real. All of your texts and photos, your memories of your now-deceased love ones, everything in every book you mistakenly believe you’ve read, and even your recollections of earlier today might well be — just like dinosaur fossils or the Martian landscape — merely apparent histories placed there by God as part of a “mature creation.” If those fossils and sedimentary layers are not real, then perhaps your own memories are not real and, thus, perhaps you are not real in any meaningful sense. (Jean-Luc Picard voice:  “All this might just be an elaborate simulation, running inside a little device sitting on someone’s table.”)

The elegant aspect of this theory is that it’s impossible to prove it’s not true. The inelegant aspect is that it’s a theory of “creation” that completely undermines the doctrine of creation (and the doctrines of incarnation, resurrection, redemption …).

Another downside is that it makes you sound like you’re really, really, really high.


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