Blackholes and Revelations: A Discussion of Blackholes and How they are Presented in Science Fiction…

Warning! Warning! This following discussion contains extensive reference to Interstellar, Doctor Who, Event Horizon along with other related movies, series and novels, contains minor spoilers. Read ahead at your own risk…

Welcome back, future thinkers. So with the recent incredible images of the Black Hole a few months ago (sorry this post is late), I thought, what better time to look at how Blackholes have been presented within Science Fiction. Blackholes, black hole suns or wormholes have always had this form of beauty and terror. It’s an area of complete darkness, that absorbs everything near it. A sun that has collapsed within itself, something that would suck up this whole galaxy if we came close to one.

To even get a picture of something 55 million lightyears away is a task in itself but a blackhole, something that doesn’t emit any visible light was a near impossible task. They got it after joining many telescopes from across the world to create the Event Horizon telescope and even then it took about 5 petabytes for the picture to even be stored (5 million gigabytes). It’s an incredible feat of what humanity can achieve by putting the best minds together. But how they are presented in Sci-Fi, how has this changed, how will this change in the future and what is the Scientific accuracy of these movies? This is what I would like to look at today so without further ado, onto the post.

There are many stages of the presentation of black holes within Science Fiction. This stretches right back to roughly 1950 in a book called The Sword of Rhiannon which depicted Mars plunging into a singularity very similar to a Blackhole and there are several different similar depictions throughout early Science Fiction although it would not be until 1967 where these singularities would get there name: blackholes. Here I’m going to try and look at each major point where blackholes are presented within fiction but I don’t have infinite time and neither do you reading this so I’m going to look at the main pieces that over different decades of research into the subject. Here I’ll mainly be focusing on visual media but I’ll also try my best to mention books and audio the best I can.

Whilst there are many books that I think it’s best to look at one of the first films, I would like to look at the movie adamantly named The Black Hole. The film from 1979 depicts a research crew finding a derelict ship on the edge of a blackhole. If I was to describe the movie, basically it’s a lot like a Disney take on Dark Star. It’s not a great movie but what is cool about it is how centred around the black hole it is. It’s a really dated film, even for 1979 but how it illustrates and presents black holes are interesting. It comes directly from the information at that time where they talk of it as being like a portal from hell, where a demon could rip through and destroy humanity which is done in a literal sense when I discussion Dr Who The Impossible Planet. There’s a fun cast but it’s not very scientifically accurate as you would guess. It’s seen as more of a gateway rather then a gravitation point of potential destruction of all that goes near.

It is much like early Star Trek and films like Dark Star where everything is pretty dated to the views and ideas of the future in the 70’s perspective. There’s not much to it in the way of scientific accuracy or realism taking more of a Lost in Space bright and colourful vibe but it is still significant. In many ways it acts more as a Science lesson then a film but with a cast like Anthony Perkins and Robert Foster there is still some form of fun to be had. It’s very of it’s time though as you would guess, it has moments where the ship feels realistic but other times such as with the robots, it has the feel of a kids show (although it is a live action Disney movie which at the time were quite similar). It’s a very campy film following the range of films that want to capitalise off the success of Star Wars the two years prior.

There’s also the aspect of how they present the blackhole which is honestly still quite accurate…kind of. You get the main basis of the Blackhole although due to them not knowing of it’s very large gravitational pull, there probably wouldn’t be a ship like that that could get close to it. It would destroy our own galaxy never mind a ship. There’s discussion of the event horizon which plays into it somewhat but really it is nothing special. For what it’s worth, however, it’s a cool Science lesson to introduce these concepts to kids.

The next big development in black holes being presented in Science Fiction comes in the Sci-Fi Horror film, Event Horizon from 1998. If you haven’t seen the film, it revolves around the investigation around a ship named the Event Horizon which uses a miniture blackhole to travel large distances. When a crew visit the ship to find none of the crew behind. They look across the ship but a mysterious life sign all across it. As they delve deeper and try to complete their mission, one of their crew members witnesses the core’s gateway opening. Soon the crew start to see hullicinations and not before long all Hell breaks lose. What happens next is a Horror nightmare that I’ve been neglecting to watch for quite a while but only got round to recently.

I have a lot of mixed thoughts on the film which I won’t get into them too much as that is not the topic of this discussion today. What I want to focus on here is specifically how the blackhole is depicted as a gateway to hell, a wormhole that has broken through to an entirely new dimension. Something beyond suffering we could imagine. And this is similarly depicted in subtler and less subtler ways in other Sci-Fi stories which I will get to later in the post. Some of the science in this film is over the top although trying to create a containment which harnesses the power of a fake blackhole could be an interesting way to travel from entirely new places but as the film discusses, we don’t know what could be at the other side.

This is paralleled in many of the Sci-Fi films, shows, games and even books I am looking at today. You see two main ways that blackholes are used within most Science Fiction. They are usually either used as a portal to another place that has a large gravitational pull (much like in Interstellar) or as a Hell-like force (literally in the case of Doctor Who: The Impossible Planet) which brings anyone that comes across it with doom. The thing is, even doing extensive research this post, we don’t know exactly what going near a blackhole will lead. What we do know, however, as soon as we go through a blackhole we probably aren’t coming back at least until we suddenly invent some form of lightspeed travel, (which seems to be more of a fiction rather than science at this exact point of time). Within Science Fiction, at least, they seem to follow one of those two presentations or even both of them.

Event Horizon is one of those examples where it combines both those ideas. I was quite impressed with that and actually thought it was a great twist on the concept and science behind using a blackhole. The idea of the ship using a small blackhole to travel from place to place across the universe is fascinating and seemingly plausable in eventual space travel. The idea of what could be at the other end and it leading to another galaxy is nothing out of the ordinary in Sci-Fi using portals or wormholes. Whilst, I thought the execution of the concept itself was interesting even if the fiction element is taken up a level where it turns out to be a gateway to a Hell-like dimension and a demon force comes through which starts to terrorise and mess with the crew’s minds. The ideas are there and they are great, as a film in it’s own right, the film’s construction is somewhat lackluster in how the story is visually told towards the end but more details of that will be in a review that will be on this website now.

The idea for miniature blackholes comes a 1971 theory by the great Stephen Hawking who recently passed this year. These are known to have a much higher density although would evaporate due to emitting what he dubbed as Hawking Radiation. Often these would come up in Sci-Fi books as being within a core either of a planet or asteroid that had escaped somehow into that area. Often these lead to losing the area that they were within. This is what happens in Event Horizon with the only main exception being the idea that instead of the core of an astrological object such as an asteroid, it is instead the ship that houses a “man-made” blackhole which eventually destroys the ship at the end of the film. Fiction that usually uses a similar concept are mainly short stories such as The Hole Man or Killing Vector which the latter having many similarities to the Event Horizon film.

Moving on, however, when I was watching the movie recently there were several parallels I came across to a certain Doctor Who story from New Who Series 2 (wow, me finding a way to mention Doctor who, shocker). The story is a two parter known as The Impossible Planet and The Satan’s Pit following The Doctor and companion Rose as they get trapped on a planet that should have fallen into a blackhole long ago. Surprisingly the base stays in place but even though they are safe, there is no way for the crew to leave. However, something even stranger seems afoot as they find an ancient alien language on the wall. A language that not ever The Doctor can decifer from before the creation of the concept of time itself.

The reason I mention these two episodes is not just that it is a great story using a blackhole as the main focus but also how it parallels the literal gateway to Hell that is used in Event Horizon. Instead of a gateway to Hell, it is actually a prison for an evil entity from ancient times. A being that might be known as the origin of evil throughout the known universe or Satan in our own planet among. Although it has this element from old mythology it uses Sci-Fi to look at faith and what we believe in. Is there any substance to the religions that we create? Are they based on true things? The story looks at how sometimes we can’t simply explain things away. The stranger elements to life that terrify us. Similarly we can’t entirely explain blackholes and what will happen if we come close to one. They are collapsing stars that will most likely lead to our doom if we came anywhere close but is there more to them in our universe. That is the true question that we will probably never know as long as we live.

The other usual form of using a blackhole is how it can act as a wormhole to a weird other galaxy or how time acts differently around them due to their gravitational pull. An example of this can be seen in the 2014 Christopher Nolan film known as Interstellar. I say I don’t have to explain it seeing it is one of the most well-known Sci-Fi films of this decade although here is a small synopsis before I explore how blackholes are used throughout the film. The main concept of the film follows a group of astronauts that go on a expedition through a wormhole in order to help find a new home for humanity. There are many great Sci-Fi elements of the film such as the world collapsing in a way that mirrors the world after the Wall Street Crash in the 1930s, the organisation that sets up the mission being formed from the remnants of Nasa, the interesting but still realistic design of Tars based on current robotics but the main idea here is how the blackhole is used. Whilst it isn’t the blackhole itself that they originally go through wormhole which leads them to a blackhole which is center of a number of planets 10 billion lightyears from Earth where they investigate to find whether they are inhabitable.

The blackhole is a larger component in the final act of the film where the main character when trying to save the other characters goes through the blackhole and finds himself as not dead but in a strange new dimension as something like Event Horizon where the ship is found after reappearing from the Hellish dimension which then seeps through into the ship and into our own reality. It acts more like the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey where the main character goes through a wormhole and lands in this weird dimension where time acts very differently. This goes into the other main element about blackholes is that time is quicker the closer you are to a black hole, an element explored heavily in Interstellar or another Dr Who episode I will mention later known as World Enough and Time.

On the planet the crew land on, the time is very different from Earth with an hour on that planet being 7 years on Earth. This is a very interesting element that has only really been explored in Science Fiction from around the past decade. As you come closer to a blackhole, time is going to change rapidly. This element of time dilation is very interesting to think about in how we view space travel, the sun and blackholes. The time it takes light to reach our eyes from the sun is an average of 8 minutes. The time we see the sun, we are seeing 8 minutes into its past due to the time it takes to travel across the vacuum of space. Perception of time is dependant on the force of gravity which has even been tested compared between our orbit and on the planet (the speed being very slightly slower on Earth then in orbit).

As I mentioned, this concept is used very recently in the Doctor Who episode or episodes World Enough in Time and The Doctor Falls. The concept of time dilation is similar used to Interstellar although showing how the gravitational pull of the blackhole determines how time passes. Whilst I won’t spoil any twists of the story, the main use of this concept in particular is in how the ship the Tardis crew lands (currently The Doctor, Bill, Nardol and shockingly Missy) on a ship trying to fly away from a blackhole after it falls into its gravitational pull. The ship has many levels with the engines at the bottom and the control at the top. It’s honestly another great execution of scientific concept similar to Interstellar, never mind the twists and turns the story takes along the way with characters and their attachment with the villains. When one of the characters is injured, they are taken and brought down to the hospital below although as the characters on the top level figure out what to do, many years for one of the characters (Bill) passes as things below turn sinister. Basically, something was wrong with the ship and in order to fix it several of the crew had to go down to the bottom of the ship. At the bottom, however, time passes much faster then at the top and so the people who were sent down are long deceased and it actually their children that roam the bottom of the ship. As you go further up, it is a similar thing although with each generation being slower and smaller as would be expected.

It’s cool to look at how this is used as a way to look at how we can suddenly watch the people around us fade away around us in our perception of time. It’s an interesting part of the blackhole’s physics and how gravity effects time which could also be compared to the day to night cycle of even other planets with how they have a much longer day to night cycle due to their size and force of gravity. But that’s enough of this small tangent but hey, it’s all interesting to think about, that’s why I always love talking and watching Sci-Fi and Science. Reading Science books and watching Science documentaries. Blackholes have always been an interesting to me in particular and the mystery around it.

Like the rest of the universe, we still have a lot to know about them but we do know that they are dangerous; a dense space of matter with the strongest gravitation field in the universe, a dead and collapsing star. They can absorb stars, even light in that case capturing an image of one was a massive task and to all those engineers and scientists responsible, they have accomplished something that we thought was impossible. Something with the force to wipe out an entire galaxy is terrifying but intriguing. Does it actually have another side, does everything die when they enter? We can observe and analyse but we will probably never figure out in person.

Other texts that explore this include the rebooted Star Trek film from 2009 where they use a blackhole based weapon to decimate the planet Vulcan or even films such as Zathura (where the board game turns out to be a giant blackhole, Treasure Planet (leading to one of the main characters in the Treasure Island based film which is honestly underappreciated) and even the 2006 film Black Hole (a TV movie). There is comicbooks where it plays a small part but in Television, books and games it is often a bigger feature. In TV specifically it is only used several times due to the limited knowledge we have on them such as Battlestar: Galactica, Space: 1999, Blake 7, Stargate SG-1 and Star Trek being some of the most well known examples that I haven’t mentioned. Games that it is featured in are a larger amount as they often become a ominous and dangerous presence. These include Super Mario Galaxy, StarCraft II, Mass Effect 2, Quantum Break, No Man’s Sky and Halo among several others. Books are a larger source of chronicling blackholes from their original discovery to where we are now although there are too many to mention in this post here.

Anyway, with that final note, I’m glad I finally got round to this post. I haven’t been able to write for a while but I started this post in around April and it’s only getting uploaded now but if I rushed this out then I just wouldn’t be happy, this is a passion project for me after all. Blackholes are fascinating to me in many ways; their destructive nature, their origin as a collapsing star and also how we can only observe but never come close to them unless we want to meet our death. They truly fascinate me and to look at some of their most important representation in Science Fiction has been great. I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic, future thinkers. Are there any episodes or movies featuring blackholes you wished I mentioned or any elements I missed or didn’t look at in enough detail? Let me know in the comments below…

Next week, get ready as we’re back in full swing as I will be posting a tribute to recently past Terry Rawlings and how he edited one of my all-time favourite films: Alien. I will also be posting a short recommendation of the very interesting Sci-Fi forms known as Star Army. Stay tuned for that Future thinkers and until next time

Michael McGrady, Signing Off.

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