To Infinity and beyond

When I was five I was just alive…

Apollo 11 East Crater Panorama

When I was five I didn’t really think beyond the moment, except maybe to wonder what was for dinner or to fidget in class because we were doing something boring and I wanted to go outside and play. I don’t think I ever thought about what I would be when I grew up, although it is possible I wanted to be Thomas the Tank Engine. That didn’t work out.

When I was seven I wanted to be an astronaut. It was 1969 and the year of the moon landing. Excitement had been growing at school and at home; during the mission, as the rocket both approached and departed the moon, each night before bed I went to the door and waved goodnight to the astronauts. Then one glorious day at school our teacher brought out the television and we sat and watched a fuzzy picture of clumsy spacesuits bouncing about in slow motion – and they were really there, on the moon! It was incredible. Just as I had waved to them at bedtime, they could stand and wave back at the Earth. Wave back at me.

The following year the Apollo 13 mission played out in real time before our eyes. It wasn’t all Tom Hanks and confidence in a happy ending. We didn’t know the ending until it happened. My mother and grandma were distraught. At bedtime I didn’t just wave, I prayed, possibly for the first time in a meaningful way. That splashdown in the ocean was the answer, although whether to prayer or human ingenuity or both is up to you to decide.

After that I still wanted to go into space. A couple of years later I was still fascinated and I did my research, I watched Star Trek on television and read Hugh Walters. Before I finished primary school I had moved onto Philip K Dick and discovered that I needed to learn maths and physics to get into NASA. This was not a major obstacle; I liked maths and science, although I also liked history and French, and was pretty good at them.

Somehow in my teens it started to go wrong. I got too fat and unfit to think about astronauting. It turned out that while I was good at maths and physics I was better at languages and history. It turned out I actually loved them. Then it turned out I was better at thinking about why we should go into space than I was at actually going into space, so I studied philosophy and psychology at university. And then it turned out I was better at computers than those things too.

So in the end I worked in jobs that didn’t exist when I was five, or even ten, or actually barely fifteen. It turns out I am the citizen of a future only accessible through science fiction to the five-year-old-child-me. And it turns out I still think the most exciting thing to happen recently is not the London Olympics but the Curiosity mission to Mars.

The strangest thing is, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

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30DC-3: A picture of the cast from your favourite show.

So many shows, so many choices.

Until anything better comes along (do you hear me, Whedon?) I think the programme I can watch repeatedly and still enjoy has to be Firefly.


Ask me tomorrow and it might be different although this one will always be a contender.

What I like about the show is the writing, the black humour, the characterisation and the shades of grey (apart from the humour obviously – that is definitely black).

I like the claustrophobic quality of the ship, the mix of high and low tech on planets, the mix of languages and the gradual revelation of back stories. It was a show cut bizarrely short, especially given some of the rivals that continued.

And finally someone who does space scenes without sound effects!


Look out universe!

If I wasn’t me, I might be Angelina DiGriz…

Although there may be other characters in stories that I admire more, for some reason the wonderful Angelina diGriz popped into my head (fortunately only lightly armed on this occasion) when I gave thought to this prompt.

What’s the appeal? Well, she is clever, fast, funny, beautiful, terrifyingly capable and somewhat homicidal. Did I also mention ruthless, brilliant and huge fun? What is not to like?

There are relatively few strong female characters around, and in early 60s and 70s science fiction there are almost none. But there is the gorgeous Angelina, a reformed homicidal maniac mother of twins who can save the main character, her husband Slippery Jim DiGriz, and the day, by being smarter, quicker and sharper when it counts, and still keep the kids in line.

Almost everything about her is so far removed from my own existence that the idea of just being her, being that different and exciting, is intriguingly desirable. How delicious to ignore the constraints of conventional morality and successfully wave two fingers at all the stuffy bureaucracy fillling other hum-drum lives. How satisfying to find a soul-mate who is equally clever, dashing and relaxed about legal niceties, and with him to take on hidebound civil servants trying to stifle innovation with their petty rules and procedures. How fascinating to be that accomplished and knowledgeable in the fields of weaponry, robbery and trickery.

Ultimately, who doesn’t fancy living in a stylish and glamourous universe of comedy crime capers and gleaming spaceships, fighting evil with a pithy quip and an improbably designed weapon?

After all, a change is as good as a rest!

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This is annoying me

I just finished reading "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro. Good book. No problem there.

So then, old thing, what is the annoyance to which the title of this post refers?

The thing is, why is this not classed as science fiction?

Pace Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale). And Cormac McCarthy (The Road). Or Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveller’s Wife – the clue is in the title!). And no doubt others.

Apparently science fiction is not cool enough, or good enough, or serious enough for "real" writers. I am feeling fed up today with the snobbishness implied by this. It isn’t science fiction because it’s about relationships or the human condition or whatever. And science fiction isn’t?

I admit a lot of science fiction and fantasy is pretty poor stuff. But then so is mainstream fiction. The Da Vinci Code, for God’s sake; it’s terrible. I read it, and it made me want to wash my brain clean. I could have done with some time travel device afterwards, to go back and prevent myself from picking it up.


Anyway, it wasn’t my cup of tea. I tried to give it away to a friend who said they fancied reading it, but they insisted on giving it back after. I have now inflicted it on Oxfam, may God have mercy on my soul. If ever there was an argument for the ends justifying the means, selling that book for a good cause is it.

Anyway, back to my main rant of the day.

For me, what makes good science fiction really good is the freedom to explore the human condition fully. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Bladerunner if you watch films but don’t read books so much) is about what it means to be human. And a good way to do that is to push the boundaries a bit and say "what if…?" in order to find out more about that very thing. If you can’t tell the difference then it may as well be human…so if we treat it differently, is that rational? Or prejudiced? Or something else?

To be honest, I could list endless science fiction books which address the great issues of life, the universe and everything, in order to support my case. But the point is, I don’t want to write an Apology for Science Fiction. I just want some recognition that fiction is fiction, and some of it is more exotic than others, and some of it is better written than others.

All fiction is fantasy in its own way, and it is useful to divide it up into genres to help readers choose styles and contexts they enjoy. But let us not pretend one is more valuable than another in its own right. Let us not fall into the trap of denying the value of writing because it is unfashionable. Rather, let us celebrate good writing and challenge poor writing (admitting this blog is not quality prose – it is merely a conversation, rambling and unstructured because life is too short).

And give Terry Pratchett an award while you are at it!

Who is Matt Smith

Smith will first appear on TV screens as the 11th Doctor in 2010.

He was cast over Christmas and will begin filming for the fifth series of Doctor Who in the summer. Tennant is filming four specials in 2009.

Smith was named as Tennant’s replacement in Saturday’s edition of Doctor Who Confidential on BBC One.

He said: "I feel proud and honoured to have been given this opportunity to join a team of people that has worked so tirelessly to make the show so thrilling.

"David Tennant has made the role his own, brilliantly, with grace, talent and persistent dedication. I hope to learn from the standards set by him.

"The challenge for me is to do justice to the show’s illustrious past, my predecessors, and most importantly, to those who watch it. I really cannot wait."

Thanks to Misty at Shakesville for feeding me this information! Now my appetite is whetted I am even more keen to see it all come together. And that is the understatement of 2009. Already.

Mobile Library

I stand before you almost too weak to type. Today I moved my sci-fi library from the dining room, where it has been teasing me over dinner for the last couple of years, to the landing, where hopefully it will steal into my dreams and make them more interesting. This is all part of the Grand Plan to get the house in order. I’m not sure it will work but I did get some exercise trawling up and down stairs with arms full of books. I also rediscovered some golden oldies which I really must find time to read again.

But where to start? Fred Hoyle or Greg Benford? Brian Aldiss or Roger Zelazny? Daniel Galouye or John Brunner? Ray Bradbury? Decisions, decisions…

And I have a stack of books as yet unread sitting in the living room, thanks to a couple of handy charity shops and some birthday tokens. Come to think of it, if I don’t post here for a while, don’t be surprised.

Anyway, the shelves are now installed and the books housed. Tomorrow we move some other furniture about, although the third bookcase to be moved will have to wait until the channels in the wall are filled in. I do have to shift a couple of half-size bookcases though. Plus find a home for the Pratchett collection.