Meme Therapy

This is quite a different approach to interviewing. At Meme Therapy a whole lot of authors are asked the same questions and the answers are posted in collections. It’s great fun to do, and to read.

You’ve just discovered an amazing (or appalling) and wholly imaginary new science fiction book and just have to write a short review of it (one or two paragraphs) What do you write?

Titan Wakes, by Ed Bromley, is an audacious novel of first contact in the comparatively near future. Mankind is mining the asteroid belt now that raw materials are so scarce on Earth. The colonization of Titan will facilitate the exploitation the outer solar system. Only this activity has disturbed the unimagined denizens of the deep oceans of Jupiter’s moons, Callisto and Europa. How will the Titan Base Advance Party explain humanity’s problems and ambitions to creatures with no knowledge and certainly no interest in such things? But they can’t just ignore the aliens or ride roughshod over them. These creatures have very different but very advanced technologies including effective means of defence, and if need be, attack. They also have their own philosophies which will just as much of a challenge to some.

There are inevitable echoes of Arthur C Clarke’s 2001 and 2010 as well as more recent space-faring books by the likes of Ken MacLeod and Charles Stross. In his aliens, Bromley shows his influences include HG Wells’s Martians, Eloi and Morlocks as well as John Wyndham’s Chocky and the Midwich Cuckoos. He has the confidence to acknowledge all those who have gone before him without compromising his own unique vision.

This is a convincing future. Bromley blends plausible extrapolation from likely developments already heralded in popular science journalism with in-depth knowledge of the Cassini-Huygens probe and similar missions. Thankfully the pace of the story never flags under this weight of learning. Nor does he ignore problematic political, economic and environment futures in favour of technological rapture. Most importantly, the book never becomes an arid exploration of theoretical debates. From Commander Joshua Jin-York on, the personnel of the Titan Advance Party are real, rounded people whose fate will keep readers turning the pages late into the night.

With the help of a friendly timelord you’ve assembled a poker game with some of the greatest minds in history. Who did you invite and why?

The emphasis would be on talking and drinking rather than poker because I’m no great whiz at cards. I’d be looking to meet great writers. So, the classical Greek playwright Euripides gets an invitation. His characters are so vivid and believable, showing how consistent human nature remains over the centuries. His plays tackle such difficult myths, often focusing on women, like Medea killing her children and Agave caught up in the Bacchic hysteria that kills her son. He doesn’t look at the high heroics of the Trojan War but at the fate of Hecuba, Helen, Andromache and Cassandra once they’re captured by the victorious Greeks. There’s a lot of comment on the politics of the day, especially from the viewpoint of the powerless, as well as exploration of the limits and demands of personal responsibility for the powerful. By contrast, he also wrote comedies, though few of those survive. So I’d love to hear more about those.

I’d like to see him throwing ideas and arguments around with William Shakespeare, another playwright who could switch from grandiloquent tragedy speaking to the universality of human experience to low comedy complete with knob gags. He had to deal with deadlines, getting paid, keeping patrons sweet and negotiating the politics of the day just like Euripides. It would be fascinating to see what they had in common and where they disagreed.

I’d ask Raymond Chandler to represent the Twentieth century, as a writer with an astute sense of mass-market appeal in his screenplays and novels and one who created such memorable characters. He also had a sound appreciation of the development of popular literature all the way back to medieval romances and the classics before that. I’d invite Dashiell Hammett along as well, for his insights into all the shades of grey in the human psyche.

What I’d really like is enough time for all of them to stay on once the novelty of the poker playing was over and the hangovers had abated. Then I’d introduce them to the Internet and invite them to explore the War on Terror and the global uses and abuses of power over people, resources and the environment in the Twenty-First century. Just imagine Euripides writing on Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans or the Israel/Palestinian question. How would Shakespeare see the relationship between Blair and Bush, with all their respective advisors and hangers-on? Or between that alliance and the rest of Europe? What would Chandler and Hammett make of western society today, with the widening gulf between underclass and privilege undermining the foundations of everyone in between?

Out of the ethical dilemmas that Science Fiction has explored in the past which ones have been your favourite(s)? Are they still relevant in the same way today?

It’s got to be the eternal problem that democracy is the worst possible system of government, apart from all the others, to paraphrase Winston Churchill. Books I remember most vividly from my early reading are Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress where the challenge is setting up a new society from a completely blank slate on the one hand and breaking free from an unjust, established order on the other. Then there were Larry Niven’s Tales of Known Space, The Integral Trees and The Legacy of Heorot, never mind all those 80’s post-holocaust novels that I doubt I’ll ever revisit. These days libertarian SF, whether on the left or the right always makes for thought-provoking reading, not least when it makes ideas that I know I fundamentally disagree with, and which historically, have caused chaos, sound so reasonable and seductive. How can any of this not be relevant, given the crisis of democracy in the developed world and the global rise of fundamentalism, be it Islamic, Christian or Environmentalist? And of course, the best fantasy fiction is exploring such issues with just as much rigour as SF.

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