Saturday, 30 October 2010

Mr Benn, or bust

Although I’ve been making great strides to broaden my personal reading repetoire over the last decade or so, I still have a soft spot for the so-called science fiction genre. My memories of English Literature at O-level (taken in 1980) are not fond: the novels were Great Expectations and Jane Eyre, the play was Romeo and Juliet, and for poetry, a Twentieth Century Poets anthology. For a budding cosmologist these old relics were a personal nightmare; not one mention was made of tachyons in any of them.

Of course, I realise now that these are all true classics, and I have revisited them. I still find the old language painful to get through, but the rewards are plain to see. Once I left school to become an engineering apprentice (ugh!), I was introduced to the fantastic worlds of EE ‘Doc’ Smith and F Paul Wilson; easy to digest, and perfect for a non-literary teenage boy. I was hooked. Over the next few years I devoured the entire back-catalogues of Smith, Asimov, Clarke, Anthony, Heinlein, and many more. I have, however, neglected more recent authors for fear of becoming hooked again, but I really miss those fantastic concepts and adventures.

"Blasted wind blew away my bowler hat." (

I always thought that it was those teenage years that had formed my love of sci-fi, but looking back, I realise now that 1970/71 was the real genre initiation for me. At six years old, it wasn’t books that switched me on to sci-fi, but TV. This was the period of Mr Benn, Timeslip and Marine Boy – absolute classics. At that time there were also repeats of US TV series like The Invaders, Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants - great adventures all. And when Look-In magazine was launched in 1971, I was introduced to Timeslip in comic strip format; it was even better than the TV series.

I’ve read comics ever since, but never revealed it to anyone for fear of being ridiculed. Of course, everyone and his dog reads comics now, thanks to Hollywood’s normalisation of the genre (despite most of the adaptations ending up as utter tripe). All these upstarts think they’ve discovered something new. Pah!

As we, the MA students, enter the Professional Contexts semester, I am forced to consider seriously about where I sit, author-wise, in the literature spectrum. I’m trying to be all literary, but I just don’t feel the love. I don’t get the currents giants of novel writing, especially in the UK, such as McEwan, Morrison, Mantel and Rushdie; perhaps I’m just not mature enough. In any case, they bore the arse off me, so it’s time I stop pretending and nail my colours to the fiction mast.

"What do you mean you didn't get past page 31 of the novel?" (

I've slated the likes of Dan Brown (quite rightly) for a lack of any kind of writing ability, though I will own up to being envious of his ability to generate zeitgeist material. My recent guilty pleasures are Michael Crichton and Clive Cussler, and while Cussler’s stuff is throwaway pulp (in an enjoyable rompish way), I have a lot of time for Crichton’s a-few-minutes-into-the-future style of sci-fi. Perhaps it appeals the physicist in me.

So, over the next month or two, I really need to sort out what my final project will consist of, and whether it will satisfy my tutor as well as my inner six-year-old self.

No comments:

Post a Comment