Friday, July 29, 2022

Journey Through The Past

On holiday recently, and in a fairly isolated location with no TV, I read a lot. I brought four books with me, but they only lasted a couple of days. And so I went in search of more.

Fortunately, in a nearby town, I found a brilliant little second-hand bookshop. The owner was extremely knowledgeable on her stock. I asked her about a couple of titles/authors, and she was able to tell me yes or no, and exactly where. I told her, as I left, what a fantastic shop it was and she seemed genuinely pleased.

There were a few shelves of SF books, and I found a few old paperbacks I hadn't read and looked promising. In the middle of all these, however, was an old favourite I haven't read for many, many years. Downward to the Earth by Robert Silverberg. I picked it up, then put it back as I have a copy at home. But that cover! It wasn't the cover I had, and the artwork was beautiful, and so I grabbed it.

I posted way back in 2009 that Silverberg was one of the people I would love to meet one day. This has come true - not once, but twice. The first time I met him, in 2010, I thanked him for his work and told him what it meant to me. I told him that the first two SF novels I read as a teen were by PKD and Silverberg. He asked me what they were, and while I remembered PKD's novel, my mind went blank with his. And so I stood there looking like a fool and feeling embarrassed.

In 2014 I met him again, and we managed to have a longer and more coherent conversation. And Cat Sparks was on hand to capture the moment - a photograph which still brings me joy.

But back to the present. 

I absolutely tore through Downward to the Earth, and it was wonderful. The writing, the plot, the characters, the worldbuilding - all as brilliant as I remembered it. Since I last read it, (in the 90s, I think) I have been to University and studied Heart of Darkness, and so as I read Downward this time, I couldn't help but see the references to Conrad's work (and, in some ways, Apocalypse Now) Heck, there is even a character named Kurtz, a kind of dark reflection of the protagonist.

While firmly a product of its time (1970), there is a post-colonialist reading to this text which is, perhaps, more relevant than ever. 

Once again, I am reminded why Robert Silverberg is amongst our greatest writers.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

When Would You Go?

Time travel has always fascinated me. What would it be like to visit times and places long gone and events long passed, to see what your surrounds were like in earlier times, to try to understand how people lived then?

I've been reading some time travel fiction recently. A few short stories, a novel or two, some website posts which claim to be true, as well as some theoretical works. Most of it was pretty good, some was less than impressive. But they all gave me ideas and got me thinking about what I would do if I had the chance to use a time machine.

Where would I go? Or, more accurately, to when would I go? Would I go back and see a Beatles concert? And if so, which one. Would I go back and try to warn the boys about events that would lead to breaking up the band. And how could I prove my credentials? 

"Hey Paul, I'm from the future, and I can prove it. What is the name of a song that you've just written that no one else has ever heard, and I'll sing it to you." That would surely get their attention. "Oh, and here's a new song I wrote you might like - called Blackbird."

But if I had the chance to travel in time, would I choose something so self indulgent.

There are so many historical events, so many big questions.

Last week, while wandering through the Castle and Cathedral, and then looking at some Roman ruins, my thoughts again turned to like in those times. And yes, once more I wondered.

I used to teach a time travel film to my students. It wasn't a bad film and provided a lot of fodder for teacing beyond English. We used to talk about science, survival, history and technology. I also spoke with them about the psychology of visiting another time, and how the biggest danger might simply be not fitting in with the people around you. Stranger danger has a new meaning.

This was something that Year 9 boys in particular thought could be overcome simply by taking a motorcycle, a mobile phone and modern weapons.

The more I think about it, the more I have no idea when I would go. But dinosaurs might be cool.