Lovecraft Country, Mythscience & the Spaceways

Unlocking the orrery

Tonight Lovecraft Country premiered episode 7 titled “I Am” that features Hippolyta and her recently discovered orrery — or solar system model — previously owned by Hiram Epstein. The orrery opens up to reveal a key and coordinates that send her to Mayfield, Kansas. In Mayfield, Hippolyta finds an observatory that, when she cracks its very difficult math, opens a portal of ever-changing dimensions. Hippolyta repeats “mass, velocity and radius” or “the length of time it takes two planets to rotate around the sun.” She is referring to angular momentum that is mass times velocity times radius.

Hidden Figure?

Hippolyta correctly calculates the math, then she (and Tic) are sucked into the portal. Hippolyta lands what appears to be an alien planet. However, she is technically in the same spot as before — just on an alternate version of Mayfield (the coordinates are the same for both places). This is supported by quantum physics (alternate realities). Hippolyta finds herself in a “gravity ship” where she meets an Afrofuturistic extraterrestrial being who confirms that she is not imprisoned. Before her is a tangram puzzle that she dismantles in order to find a solution. Tangrams are dissection puzzles consisting of flat polygons, called tans, which are put together to form shapes. The objective is to replicate a certain pattern.

Extraterrestrial connections
A tangram

The being is called Seraphina who describes herself as “I am” and she says to Hippolyta: “Where do you want to be? Name it. Who do you want to be? Name it.” As a joke Hippolyta says she wants to dance with Josephine Baker and suddenly finds herself in 1930s Paris (with Baker). At some point she tells Baker “I see what I was robbed of back there [in my America],” Hippolyta talks about her experience as a Black woman in the U.S.: “I feel like they just found a smart way to lynch me without me noticing the noose.”

Say their names…

Hippolyta’s testimony reminded me of Breonna Taylor and the injustice of her case and countless others. Hippolyta expresses her rage against state-sanctioned American racism to Baker and the hatred she has of herself for letting others make her feel small. Her defiance re-activates the spacetime portal, sending her to the alternate 1800s where Black women warriors (inspired by the Dahomey) train to fight colonialist (French) soldiers. At some point she rejoins her husband George and they travel into deep space to explore the cosmos, as a “real-life” version of their daughter Diana’s comic, Orithyia Blue. It is here that we hear the voice of Sun Ra.

Sun Ra

Sun Ra was a jazz maverick and proto-Afrofuturist whose film “Space is the Place” is what we hear as Hippolyta and George exit their space ship. Sun Ra coined the term myth science to describe how artists can re-create themselves in a place of adversity or oppression. He ‘redeployed, reconceived, and re-created’ the materials and metaphors of cold-war science in his artistic practice, which includes DIY (Do It Yourself) instrumentation to experiments with electronic costumes and multimedia performances.

Orithyia Blue in real life

In outer space, Sun Ra changed his name from Herman “Sonny” Blount. He collaborated with Visual Music Systems to create the Outer Space Visual Communicator, a real invention I have had the opportunity to see and experience (in real life). For Hippolyta, space offered her a place to re-connect with herself and, like Sun Ra, find a new identity and way of being… of existing in as many ways as she can. She defies societal norms and expectations and becomes who she always imagined herself to be.

How can I fit into everything?

Hippolyta re-joins Seraphina and the gravity ship is gone (no longer needed). Seraphina tells her that she no longer needs the devices to travel time and space; she is one of them now. She is free to become whomever she wants or needs to be. This episode, more than any other, resonates with me as I often feel the pressure to be small in order to fit in and be what others expect me to me. I was reminded that it is okay to go forth on a different path.

Nettrice is a digital artist, academic, cultural critic and advocate of STEAM education.