Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The Magrs Chronicles - my lecture for the Edinburgh Book Festival 2017

In August I gave a lecture at the Edinburgh Book Festival about Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, and more broadly about my becoming a reader of science fiction as a kid. Along the way, it's also an essay about using libraries and the way that parents can influence a child's reading. 

The whole text is available on my Patreon page as of today -

and here is a taster... please do and go subscribe to my Patreon to read the rest...!


When I was a kid everything was science fiction and the reason I’ve always loved the stories of Ray Bradbury is that I think he felt the same.

This essay / lecture is about the fact that I believe the rockets and outer space and travelling to Mars were always some kind of sideshow and a pretext and a pretence that the future and science fiction itself all happened on other planets. It didn’t. It was happening here, all the time.

I was a nineteen-seventies kid. Elton John sang about doing a 9 to 5 job ferrying passengers to Mars and he wore moon boots, jumpsuits and giant glasses. Everyone was covered in glittery make-up and astronauts arrayed themselves like David Bowie did, in punky space-age drag.

In the 1970s all the aliens came from Earth – Zygons, Silurians and bodysnatchers of every stripe had always been here, we learned. The Von Daniken ‘Chariots of the Gods’ idea, that pyramids were space ships and cryptic marks on desert floors were motorway maps of the stars. Invasions came to earth during the sun-baked summer holidays of the mid-Seventies and they came in the form of monsters brandishing kitchen appliances – deadly egg whisks and sink plungers.

Our food was science fiction. Impossible, unfeasible, almost inedible, with its e-numbers and preservatives and artificial colorants. If you looked inside us – kids from that era – we glow with phosphorescent hues. We ate so much specially-modified frozen food all our insides are dyed the amazing shades of the space-time vortex.

I grew up in the North East of England, coming to consciousness just as colour tellies were all the rage and people were starting to be able to afford them. My first TV memories are to do with Alice in Wonderland, the Wizard of Oz, Yellow Submarine – and also Jon Pertwee with a brilliant meringue of a hairdo, and an electric blue velvet jacket, being blasted with radiation on the Planet of the Spiders.

Travel to other planets was achieved through Buddhist meditation, the intervention of wicked arachnids and battered blue Police Boxes. The first science fiction I was aware of was utterly strange, utterly everyday and enchanting.

We lived on a council estate of blocky black-bricked buildings all designed by incredibly clever Swedish architects. A husband and wife team who dressed in matching mackintoshes and rain hats, who built their sleek dream home in the middle of our New Town, in acres of neglected grounds. We’d see them walking about the Council Estates they had doodled into being, holding hands, traipsing around like Bill and Ben – looking highly pleased by the elegant curves and the fact that no two streets in our town were the same. You could get lost forever in our social housing labyrinth.

As kids we played on the building sites, in the deep yellow pools of mud and sandpits and gravel heaps. Mucking about with detritus, finding mica nuggets and glossy tarmac chunks and hunks of plaster chalk. And we played down the Burn, which was the remaining strip of wilderness at the heart of our industrial town. A Brazilian jungle thicket into which we’d disappear for whole days at a time, fishing miniscule tiddlers out of the stream and hanging from the trees and making dens where we could read our library books and comics.

Our town was all concrete minimalist brutalism. To us kids it was space-age and we loved it. Ramps and walkways and vast concourses of cement and paving slabs. Smooth and wonderfully slippery when wet. Fantastic and deadly in ice and snow. A city made for robots and mechanical men. For androids and housewives on valium pushing trolleys up and down the soft lino of supermarket aisles.

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