quinta-feira, 2 de julho de 2009

Futures - Four Novellas - Peter F.Hamilton, Stephen Baxter, Paul McAuley and Ian McDonald

Let's talk about space:
Well, it makes a kind of sense, you've either bought this book (Hurrah!) or you're thumbing through it-maybe thinking about buying it, maybe just hanging around until the counter queue disappears so you can hit on the assistant you've been eyeing up for the past few weeks, or maybe you've just ducked into a bookstore and you're waiting for the rain to stop. Whichever, you've still picked up what is, to all intents and purposes (given the fairly obvious packaging), a science fiction book, so we'll take it as read you've got some kind of interest in space.
So we'll move forward a little.

Do you remember who first took you into space? Because, let's face it, we've all been up there, either via the printed page, the movie theater or the TV set. So who was that person into whose care you entrusted your imagination ... saying, albeit silently, "Here I am ... make my senses spin and my jaw drop .. .feed me Wonder!"?

If it was by the printed page then maybe it was in the capable hands of H. G. Wells or Jules Verne, with their futuristic visions of space travel, in cumbersome rockets whose viii trajectory and power source were a little shaky even then, around about a century ago for most of those marvelous tales. Or maybe it was the pulp-fictioneers, those penny-a- word scribes who filled page after page of exotic planetary locations usually populated by scantily-clad females and horrible monsters (boy, it must have been tough being a girl on some of those orbiting rocks ... at least until the torn- suited Earth astronaut crash-landed to save the day).

Maybe it was the likes of the "serious" writers ... guys like Isaac Asimov, with his agoraphobic investigator, his robotic hordes and the mind-boggling read that were the Foundation books; and Ray Bradbury, with his homespun humanistic homilies of interstellar needles descending onto the Martian quilt and poverty-line families constructing soapbox rockets in their back yards; and Arthur C. Clarke, with his barroom fables from the White Hart and the short story "The Sentinel" that became 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In fact, maybe it was film-the sight of Spielberg's mother ship descending onto the mountain-top or the spectacle of the alien toddler bursting out of John Hurt's stomach -or TV (Joseph Stefano's insectoid Zanti misfits from The Outer Limits, perhaps ... or the scene when one of the folks in Rod Serling's Twilight Zone diner reveals he's a Martian) that lit the fire in your soul and set you dreaming about out there.

There are so many writers and artists and directors who, year upon year, decade upon decade, have continued the craft, fashioning their own voices and their own ideologies, that it's a genre in which, no matter where you start into it, it's eminently possible-and frequently essential-to travel back to earlier works for further entertainment and enlightenment.

As we've been told through our TV sets for more than 30 years, space may well be the final frontier.

Of course there's Time to be unraveled yet, and Immortality, but the vastness of space-with its seemingly infinite possibilities of worlds, cultures, environments, eco structures and so on-invariably strikes the loudest chord in the minds of fiction readers and mo vie-watchers the world over. And no matter how far we manage to progress into the void, that frontier will still be there... the line just being constantly rubbed out and redrawn again and again, each time a little further away.

Although I've spent much of the last 10 or 12 years involved with horror, dark fantasy and even crime-both writing it and editing anthologies of the stuff-science fiction (or, more specifically, space fiction) was my first love ... fed from the British black and white reprints of full-color American comic books such as Mystery In Space or curled up on a sofa listening to the BBC's radio renditions of Charles Chilton's Journey Into Space.

But it was Patrick Moore who first took me into space via a book.

The year was 1958, and it was probably my first hardcover ... bought by my parents for Christmas (it's neatly inscribed in my mother's handwriting, penned, I'm sure, little realizing the effect such a gift was to have on her son) a book entitled Peril on Mars, written by the great astronomer himself. It was wonderful stuff and I had no hesitation in scribbling down the titles of the three earlier adventures of Maurice Gray and his friends on the Red Planet. I've since had the opportunity of acknowledging that formative experience by commissioning an Introduction from Patrick for Mars Probes, an anthology of new stories about our closest x planetary neighbor to be published in the US in late 2001- it's always nice to square the books and repay your dues, no matter how long it takes.

Anyway, back in the 1950s and hungry for more science fictional inspiration, I haunted the bookshops and quickly discovered Angus McVicar's Lost Planet series, featuring young Jeremy Grant, and E. C. Eliott's tales of Kemlo and his friends on Satellite Belt K. And then on to H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds-which I had already read as a Classics Illustrated and so knew the story-and Edgar Rice Bur- roughs's Princess of Mars and its many sequels.

After that, courtesy of my English Language tutor at Leeds Grammar School, came Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man ... in which "Kaleidoscope", a one-act tale of a doomed astronaut adrift in the void, brought the concept of space travel firmly into the realms of the possible-even the probable-and, paradoxically, its downbeat finale made the prospect of such adventure even more attractive than the ray-gun variety of SF favored by the comic books and the once-so-called "juvenile" adventures.

From then I was firmly hooked.

As I grew older and more adventurous and demanding in my reading, the emphasis on space gave way to terra firma tales set sometimes in possible futures, sometimes in the present and occasionally on an alternate version of Earth on which accepted historical facts and events had been altered ... sometimes subtly and sometimes not. Thus it was that the science-or simply the developmental and speculative possibilities inherent in this brave and frequently audacious brand of literature-wove its spell.

Now I can enjoy the so-called hard science (quite an achievement for someone who regularly marvels at both car and computer-and even, when the muse hides for a while, my desk lamp-when they obligingly respond to the flicking of a switch) just as much as the space opera of, say, E. E. Smith's Lensman books and old issues of Amazing and Fantastic.

All of these still grace my crowded bookshelves, though old faithfuls such as some of the ones I've already mentioned and the likes of Carey Rockwell's adventures of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet are (despite, in the latter, the exemplary technical assistance of Willey Ley) a little more mannered today than they seemed to be all those years ago. But mannered or not, they all make up a glorious confusion of adventures and stories set both on Earth and on worlds near and far, and in strange futures ... realities populated by fantastic creatures and barely recognizable versions of ourselves. And every single word on every page continues to fight the good fight and carry forward the baton of imaginative fiction.

Introduction by Peter Crowther
Watching Trees Grow by Peter F. Hamilton
Reality Dust by Stephen Baxter
Making History by Paul McAuley
Tendeloe's Story by Ian McDonald

Futures - Four Novellas [ Download ]