The “Golden Age” of Science Fiction

My wife and myself have been having a clear out. Our children are grown, but throughout their formative years, we kept most stuff out of harm’s way safely secured in the loft. One things I knew was up there but now I’ve had a chance to savour again is my collection of Science Fiction Books, or more correctly my collection of Science Fiction Art.

I love my kindle reader on my tablet and on my phone, but as with all things there is a price to pay for technology advances, and something that is missing now is the link between books and cover art. I still recall now the absolute wonder I felt when I saw my first “proper” Science Fiction Book in the school library way back in 1973 when I was just 11 year’s old. It was a copy of the late, great Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation”.  I was mesmerised not so much by the book contents, but by the cover.

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Asimov’s Foundation

It portrayed a strange looking craft, in a strange blue realm, with wispy, cloud-like formations. The craft looked all unbalanced, almost put together at random, no symmetry and not obvious at all which was the front and which was the back. I was enthralled.

Every other Sci-Fi movie or picture I had seen showed alien space craft as saucers or sleek, silver rockets, not this haphazard, almost space-junk vessel that seemed to defy any kind of aeronautical engineering rules.  More mysterious was that nowhere in the book was any mention made of anything like the spaceship on the front.  I’d never experienced anything like it before.  I read the book and it was good, but different from what I expected.

It was a story that spanned hundreds of years of a imagined future where one man, Hari Seldon predicts the future of fall of the Galactic Empire through his pyscho-mathematics, based on statistical analyses of human behaviour, and is banished for his heresy.  Star Wars definitely borrowed some of Asimov’s ideas such as the faster-than-light “jump” and Trantor which is a planet wide city, heart of the Empire.   Asimov wrote this in the 1940’s, way before computers were available so there are still strange references to slide-rules whilst space-ships leap across light years of space instantaneously. It’s wonderful stuff.

However I remember that whilst reading the book in bed at night, I kept looking at the cover and marvelling at the detail and the imagination of the man who created it. The man I found out was called Chris Foss. Some of you may know him now as one of the key artists who worked on Guardian’s of the Galaxy.  Check out his website, (yes he’s still alive!) at http://www.chrisfossart.com/ .  Chris was a pioneer of Sci-Fi Art and his air-brush paintings and drawings have influenced so many other artists. His imaginings have seeped into popular culture, particularly movies, where those massive spaceships with all those fiddly details all stem often from Chris’s influence.

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Asimov’s Elijah Bailey Stories

From then on I was hooked and I sought out other books, based it has to be said as much on the cover as anything.  Other Asimov books I vividly recall were “The Caves of Steel” and “The Naked Sun” two stories featuring Elijah Bailey, a detective who dwells in an underground city as earth has become so populated there is not room on the surface to live. The population has also banished robots to work only in outer space due to the fear of them. This theme is echoed in the classic cult Sci-Fi film “Blade Runner”.  Although the film is based loosely on a Philip K. Dick novelette, it owes as much to Asimov’s ideas and Chris Foss’s imagination as to anyone’s. Bailey solves one murder on Earth then in “The Naked Sun” he is ordered off -world to solve another murder on Solaria. But like all other Earthmen he suffers from crippling agoraphobia when outside the underground cities, and holds an inherent mistrust of robots which the Spacers, who live off-world, find extraordinary.

Seeking out yet more Sci-Fi, I came across the “Lensman” and “Skylark of Space” Series by E.E “Doc” Smith. The covers on these books were even more bizarre and extraordinary than I’d seen with Asimov’s books. Cone shaped spaceships above artificial looking landscapes, wreckage in the foreground of Hindenburg-like scenes and incredible detailed craft unloading smaller scout ships were some of the scenes depicted. I just couldn’t get enough of this stuff.

James Blish and A. E van Vogt were two more authors whose books and covers captivated me. “Cities in Flight” by Blish was a sprawling space odyssey where whole cities wrench themselves from the Earth to go seek their fortunes amongst the stars using the “Spin Dizzy” faster than light drive, and van Vogt’s amazing space opera “Voyage of the Space Beagle” which surely had to have influenced the creators of Star Trek in some fashion.

It wasn’t only Asimov and Smith stories fronted by Chris Foss’s art from Panther Science Fiction that attracted my eye. Robert Heinlein, Brian Aldiss, and Frank Herbert were published by New English Library who had an association with artist Bruce Pennington. I particularly recall my love of the Heinlein’s “Revolt in 2100”, Herbert’s “Dune Messiah” and Aldiss’s “Space, Time and Nathaniel” covers, even though the stories themselves have not stayed with me if I am honest.

Another classic author I enjoyed was Arthur C. Clarke who is most well known for being the visionary who first postulated the use for satellites for communication. His most famous work is his 2001: A Space Odyssey, however I felt that his other books were far superior, “Rendezvous with Rama” and “Childhood’s End” for two.

I cannot say what it is that makes me feel so fond of these books and their covers, of this art. Perhaps it’s just happy memories of childhood, recalling the wonder of exploring other people’s imagination, what was possible with colours, ideas and predictions?  What I can say is that I feel I am richer for it.  I firmly believe that overall in the world, things are much better now than they ever have been, but I can look back on this aspect of my life with much fondness, and try to remember what is was like discovering for the first time those marvellous books by Asimov, Clark, Smith, Van Vogt, Blish and so many others. That for me truly was the “Golden Age” of Science Fiction …

Cheers

 

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My Dad …

My Dad celebrated his 80th birthday two days ago.

It only seems yesterday when I was looking forward to seeing my Dad come through the door of our bungalow, where I grew up.  I didn’t see him much during the working week, as he was always away, but I treasured the weekends, as he would take me and my brother up to the golf course or to the squash courts and teach us both how to play. He used to kick a ball around with us and when I was still young I learnt he had once been a professional footballer and qualified football coach.  He played for Leyton Orient in the 1950’s when he was in his early twenties and he completed his national service whilst going through training as a footballer.

My Dad on National ServiceAfter some disappointments in his footballing career, he moved into the rather cutthroat world of sales, and got involved in the selling of oscilloscopes, state of the art ones at the time.  He found he was good at sales, not by being pushy, but by being persistent and developing long term relationships with his customers.  He moved around a few companies, Hellerman Deutsch, Sourieau and then in the early seventies he moved to a small company based in Swindon called Raychem.  This is where he hit his stride, and was involved in selling specialist cabling to the aerospace and marine and oil industries.  He excelled in this role and the company grew from a small offshoot of the American firm to being a hugely successful branch of the business.  He ran sales projects relating to Concorde, Harrier Jump Jets, Tornado Multi-Role Combat Aircraft, Challenger Tanks amongst others, he became greatly respected and very successful.  He recruited and mentored a large sales team who to this day remember him with fondness and respect.My Dad looking his suavest

Whenever people ask me who my heroes are, it’s an easy answer. “My Dad” is my simple and immediate reply.  Oh, I have other’s, but my Dad is the person who taught me the most important lessons in life, not by preaching to me, but simply by living his life in the right way. He acted with consideration and politeness to everyone, but never expecting a free ride or hand-outs. Through his hard work he showed me that it is actually better to give than to receive, because it enriches your life so much more to give yourself fully to every endeavour.  He taught me through his actions that we don’t “have rights”, but we are privileged to live in this country and as a result we have responsibilities to treat everyone with dignity and fairness. He taught me to never judge other people by the way they look or they way they sound, or to judge people based upon what other people say about them.

He detested gossip. He viewed wealthy people not as greedy, nor snooty, they were just good at making and keeping money, otherwise they’re were the same as he was. I cannot recall him ‘moaning’ or ‘complaining’ about the state of the nation, merely being thankful that he had the opportunity to live and work in a country that was not wracked by famine, drought or extreme poverty.

He never  criticised people for making decisions.  He showed me there is no “they”, there are only people who make decisions and those decisions are often made with the best intentions even if they result in bad consequences.  He was slow to criticise, quick to praise.  He was a true gentleman in every sense of the word.

My Mum and Dad with my oldest son Chris

    My Dad retired at 53 years old and went work for himself successfully as a consultant for over 20 years. He even got me work in the IT industry when I really needed the money. He was unbelievably amazing at working with people.  I don’t ever recall him raising his voice in anger. I’m sure he did, but I don’t recall. He worked tirelessly to provide for our family and to do the best he could in his career, so that he might never have to worry about money in his old age.
    My Dad celebrated his 80th birthday two days ago. Yet he knew nothing about it.
    Last March he phoned me up to wish me happy 51st Birthday,that was probably the last meaningful conversation I ever had with him.  Since then, severe dementia has taken him to a place which I cannot imagine and pray I will never go. This year, he does not even know me, doesn’t know his grandchildren, doesn’t know his wife, my Mum, to whom he has been married nearly 60 years.
    I sat with a stranger, as he blew out his 8 candles, not knowing why and barely mustering the strength to do so it seemed.  I thought there an then, that my Dad is gone, there is only a body existing that looks like the man I knew and loved, because the essence that made him the person he was has gone.   Every now and again he may say something, a recollection of the glory days of his sales career, a reference to a meeting, a cabling system, a person. But it’s like the last embers of a fire, just flickering away, occasionally flaring up as the wind blows.
      The thing that annoys me more than anything when I visit him, is the way that he is treated and talked to. The carers are trying their best, but he is talked to like a child, treated like a simpleton, they did not know this man as I knew him, how could they?

Final Selfie, Me and My Dad

    There are many ways in which people die or age. Cancer, heart attack, accident. Some are drawn out and painful, some quick and painless. Having now experienced first hand the effects of dementia, I find it hard to imagine a worse way to go. Slowly and gradually day by day entering into a world of confusion, unable to understand the most basic of communications, and worst of all, having the person you are stripped away from you, so that you cease to be the person you have been all your life and become alien to your very closest loved ones.
    My Mum and Dad met at school. They were childhood sweethearts and have been together for nearly 70 years. My Mum is a ‘tough old bird’ as they say.  But I know she is broken hearted, the dreams of a happy, long and well-deserved old-age suddenly gone. She crys, I cry, I’m sure my brother cries too.  But I’m not writing this for any sympathy, I’m writing this for two reasons. Firstly in memory of my hero, My Dad, who lives on for me in my mind, and secondly to ask you who read this to remember to treat all people as you would wish to be treated, because one day there, but for the grace of God, go you.
    Cheers
    Dave Mc