Tuesday, July 29, 2008
I began my interest in science fiction when I was about twelve. I had lived in a small village near Durham called Shadforth and went to primary school there. There were around thirty children in the school and one and a half teachers. Maybe having a half teacher gave me the necessary sense of ambiguity to be interested in SF. Anyway, the school doubled as a library. All the shelves in the hall (maybe twenty by forty feet) swivelled and the adult library lay behind. By the age of nine I was reading adult literature. By ten I had read every western in the place followed by all of the noirish novels of Peter Cheyney, Raymond Chandler et al. By eleven I suddenly discovered that half people, like my teacher, came from planets across the universe where half was the norm and the full person was an alien! Maybe by living in a small pit village but with an over-exercised sense of mental adventure, I was ripe for journeys through time and space following in the solar jet stream of ‘Dan Dare, pilot of the future’.
I even wrote a dissertation in the early sixties defending science fiction as literature when, like now, it was regarded as the work of pariahs who were barred from eating at the table of high art. I think, in all the ensuing time, I have read every conceivable exegesis on time and space travel – not that that excludes a delightful lurch into the new at some point in my diminishing biography.
Imagine my wry amusement with the news this week that the exponent of the longest walk on the moon, Dr Edgar Mitchell, US astronaut, claimed that aliens have been landing here for the last sixty years and governments had hushed it up. This was quickly followed by a denial from NASA and the suggestion that the old feller was Ed-gaga Mitchell. However, he claimed insider knowledge and so we must keep open minds. As I have over-elaboratedly pointed out, I am vulnerable to suggestions of this kind. Why, once, following my reading of some philosophy on solipsism (the central thrust being that I was the only person in existence and all else was my fabrication) I walked through the city of Norwich and wondered whether the teeming people around me were, actually, ghosts. Even bumping into them did not provide supportive evidence for Dr Johnson’s rebuttal of Bishop Berkeley’s proof that the world did not ‘really’ exist. I kicked stones and bumped because I was testing how strong my self-perceived world, was.
Anyone who comes out with a theory or an experience which is regarded by the majority as ‘outlandish’ (a good science fiction term) is derided or exterminated. Ask the ghost of Galileo who is sitting by your side, at this moment. The result is that few speak out, in fear of repression or of committal to the asylum that houses science fiction writers and their kin.
There is a wonderful poster on a road near here, in Accra. It has the memorable phrase:
The tip-off. Your civic responsibility
I don’t think it works here and it doesn’t work for Dr Mitchell, either. At present.