Saturday, May 19, 2007

Dr Brian Stableford at The Lights

Clare and myself went to see Dr Brian Stableford at 'The Lights' in Andover yesterday evening: the title was something like Science Fiction: the Junction of Science and Literature. Stableford has published more than one hundred books, apparently.

Before we went, Alex and Adrian, who are currently staying with us, had many a laugh at our expense predicting the 'weirdos' who would turn up for this talk. A large attendance was not to be expected for such an arcane topic, and the talk was in a side room. The main auditorium, we discovered, was being used to host an 'Elvis' concert. The fans were out in force, and I believe successfully out-weirded anything Dr. Stableford could attract.

I did take the following video in the bar, just before the Elvis hordes emerged, so you can check out the w-quotient for yourself. (Clare is in-shot at the start of the clip).

Perhaps I should briefly mention his talk. Brian came across as a rumpled, rather shy man in his late fifties, with a self-deprecatory air. His talk was, I gather, based around his creative writing classes and covered the development of science-fiction writing from the earliest years.

Most of the early authors seemed to be French, and the first one I had heard of was Voltaire, with Candide - the satire on the Leibnitz thesis that 'we live in the best of all possible worlds'. Stableford had gotten as far as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells when his hour was up and we took the break above, shown in the video.

It would have been interesting to hear his view about modern SF, but we only got fragments in the Q&A. There are interesting issues of how 'science' per se can infuse literature. Much SF simply provides a backcloth (spaceships and lasers rather than wagon trains and revolvers) and seems to add nothing to literature. The best SF uses the non-obvious, counter-intuitive insights of, say, physics, biology, evolutionary psychology, to say something new about how we live and understand our lives - the function surely of literature?

I felt the speaker was coasting it rather, happy to tell anecdotes on the assumption his audience was not that challenging. I wish he had shifted gear.

Clare bought one of his books afterwards (we understand the economics of these events!) - Sexual Chemistry. Someone in the audience thought this was pretty amusing, so maybe the weirdness quotient was registering after all.