Archive for May, 2016


While the paperback illustrations of pulp Sci-Fi dominated the imagination, the words inside their covers were fairly impenetrable for the younger reader. Thankfully, in the UK, there was always Nicholas Fisk who brought his own distinct brand of the other-worldliness to school libraries across the country. It’s sad, then, to discover that he has died at the age of 92.

He leaves behind him a range of weird and wonderful stories that not only entertained, but also never talked down to their readership and never balked at describing the horrendous if the plot required. So there’s no disrespect intended in the punning title of this article, rather a heartfelt nod to Fisk’s artistry as a story teller.

The Guardian’s obituary outlines numerous elements of the author’s life, including Fisk’s focus on ‘believable realism’, ensuring that all his outlandish tales were built upon the most solid of foundations. What the article neglects to cover is the sheer depth of Sci-Fi topics that this prolific writer engaged with.

Cold war politics set on an experimental spaceship piloted by children – Space Hostages. The J. G Ballard-esque Trillions that depicts mysterious crystals falling across the Earth from space. Or sinister eugenics as uncovered by a young, 22nd Century protagonist in A Rag, A Bone and A Hank of Hair… Despite this breadth of subject matter, it was Grinny that probably had the deepest, and most terrifying affect on Fisk’s youthful audience.

Embodied in this was a playful attack on the taboo of not respecting your elders – even if they are odourless, glowing aliens, – and his descriptions of old age (as viewed through childlike eyes) really makes the aging process seem horridly grotesque. Satisfyingly, Great Aunt Emma – the insidious off-world fifth columnist – finally gets her comeuppance, but via one of the most disturbing scenes in children’s fiction. It’s a victory, of sorts, but one that comes with the full weight of conscience attached.

Grinny was brought back into print in celebration of Fisk’s 90th birthday two years ago. Maybe it’s too soon to call for an anthology of his greatest Sci-Fi works, and maybe the appetites of modern children are too desensitized to be shocked by the author’s fearlessness in presenting the unpalatable. That said, they’d be impoverished without at least one of Fisk’s works in their bookcases. Sadly, though, that’s an impoverishment older readers will just have to come to terms with now another unique voice within the genre has fallen silent.

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Royal Albert Hall Space Spectacular

You’ve got to give the Royal Albert Hall credit where progressive credit’s due. Not only did their recent Space Spectacular continue Drozbot’s theme of live Sci-Fi, but it also brought a fresh audience to the soundscapes of classical music. There’s no denying that John Williams, and his return to full orchestration of Sci-Fi movies in the 1970s, helped develop the listening habits of a generation, but the event’s 17 piece programme didn’t just stick with the ‘hits’ of that most prolific composer.

Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, presented as the show’s opening piece, was nicely underpinned with a reference to Alex North’s original film score for 2001 A Space Odyssey. It’s hard to conceive of that film with anything other than Stanley Kubrick’s preferred classical selection, and North’s music sadly sounds weaker as a result of the movie’s iconic status – even with the inclusion of György Legeti’s avant-garde Requiem.

However the surprises, secreted in both the schedule and show notes, didn’t end there. Sir Arthur Bliss and the march from William Cameron Menzies and Alexander Korda’ Things to Come, spilled over into a more Modernist approach to the future as postulated by H.G. Wells. This was subsequently extended with the inclusion of Jupiter and Mars from Gustav Holst’s Planets, culminating in the John Williams at probably his most experimental with the score to Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

While electronic music was understandably avoided, there were some interesting references to Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris and the synthesized adaptation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Ich ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ. This, in turn, brings to mind Wendy Carlos’s adaptation of Henry Purcel’s Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary – that opened Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange – as well as Isao Tomita’s adaptation of Williams’ extraterrestrial opus. Connections within connections…

As we mentioned in a previous Drozbot post, this all comes as yet more evidence of the cultural acceptance of Sci-Fi as a valid artform. There is, out there, a new generation receiving similar influences through the works of composers like Jessica Curry within video games. This wonderfully replicates what John Williams was achieving in the 1970s and, also, ensures a continued appreciation for classical music. If the much maligned Sci-Fi can move into the mainstream, then we predict the Royal Albert Hall holding a video games extravaganza in the near future.

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While this site tends to focus on the lingering, less ephemeral elements of Sci-Fi, there have been an increasing number of live acts in the genre. Music and experiential cinema took precedent in one of our previous posts, but now it’s the turn of theatrical endeavour to grab the spot light.

Sci-Fi on the stage has a mottled history. Experimental and maverick directors – like the sorely missed Ken Campbell and his nine hour epic adaptation of Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea’s Illuminatus Trilogy – have played to the genre’s strength, others have either neglected it or viewed it as folly. Recently, though, London-based theatregoers have been spoiled for choice when it come to those treading the otherworldly boards.

Alistair McDowell’s X has just finished its run at the Royal Court, telling a thrilling tale of humanity stuck in the outreaches of our solar system. An icy, Plutonian base acts as the evocative setting for the three member cast as they struggle with the conflicting economic and emotional realities that have led them to take this far-flung job. The action then veers towards psychological thriller as a shadowy figure is reported outside the landing craft/planetary base and a mysterious bloody X is daubed on one of the station’s windows.

Saddler’s Wells hosts the next staged production, with George Orwell’s 1984 being depicted through dance from the 24th to the 28th of May. Choreographed by Jonathan Watkins to a score by Alex Baranowski, the ballet has already earned itself a flurry of rave reviews before heading off on tour. But, incredibly, this isn’t the only version of the story in the West End this year. Duncan Macmillan and Robert Icke’s version will be at the Playhouse Theatre from the 14th June.

Finally a Sci-Fi perennial has been back for yet another run, this time at the Dominion Theatre. Jeff Wayne’s rock operatic version of H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds not only saw David Essex return to the cast (you may remember he was the artilleryman in the original album production), but also Liam Neeson taking over the late Richard Burton’s role as the narrator.

While Sci-Fi theater is no longer out there on the peripheries of various fringe circuits, it’s still a long way from centre stage. It’s in motion, though, as a younger audience – weened on the likes of Magneto and Professor X starring in Harold Pinter plays – make the effort to experience the thrill and immediacy of the proscenium arch as it frames the fantastical.

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