The Art of Science Fiction

It’s common knowledge that Science Fiction (or Scientific Romance as it was originally called) was very much a product of its time.  A combination of Victorian adventure story, the influence of war and Empire, the speed and revelations of the industrial revolution (and the associated scientific advances), and, in the hands of the best writers, a literary critique of the times.  There are earlier traces of the speculative and the fantastic, but it was the Victorians that firmly set the template of what we now know as Science Fiction.

Title-pageEven early explorations of this new form of writing were associated with striking visual art, which is wholly appropriate for the nature of the genre.

A good example are the illustrations for the 1905 French edition of H.G. Well’s ‘The War of The Worlds’ (first published in 1897).  Henrique Alvim Corrêa (1876–1910) was a Brazilian artist working in Belgium who created wonderfully atmospheric images, full of darkness, light and menace, an example of which can be seen to the left.

As was common at the time, many of the stories we now know as novels began life as serialised stories in popular magazines like The Strand Magazine, Pearson’s Magazine, and The Idler.  It’s wasn’t until the 1920’s though that specialist Science Fiction magazines began to appear.Amazing Stories

Beginning with Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories in 1926 – these highly illustrated magazines soon proliferated and spread the graphic iconography of the genre as much, if not more, than the words from which they originated.

In a strange way the magazines, which were there to spread the ‘word’ of Science Fiction were superseded by the images they used to illustrate the text.  When the cinematic Science Fiction boom of the 1950’s took hold it would only be a short time before the age of the magazine was over (apart from a few survivors).

Although I love early Science Fiction stories (I’d read all of H.G Well’s short stories before I’d left school), I did not feel as much of a fondness for the mid-20th century stuff (and the space operas were just a drag!).  I was far more attached to the films of the 1950’s Science Fiction craze (many of which were based on novels) and even now I would rather see a Science Fiction film than read a Science Fiction book (probably because Science Fiction is such a fantastically visual genre).  I think this is part of the reason why I have migrated to the relative of Science Fiction in the speculative fiction genre that is The Weird.

Village Of The DamnedSince the magazines lost their near-monopoly on Science Fiction stories and the eventual decline in such movies (The Village of The Damned being one of the last original stories of the era), the graphic or illustrative element of the genre flourished on the covers of paperback books.

I remember in the 80’s and 90’s seeing loads of classic Science Fiction paperbacks with cover art from the 1960’s and 70’s in charity shops – but of course, like so many other things, I did not appreciate them at the time!  It is now rare to see the striking and strange book covers at all, and particularly the first editions (paperback or otherwise) anywhere at all.

Fortunately I recently came across a collection of these speculative stories from another age and I decided to buy the lot!  They look stunning and on the whole are in fantastic condition; but my mind is skewed towards the Weird and that is where my heart is, so reluctantly I have decided to pass them on.  Just looking at the covers makes you wonder what imaginative wonders the pages contain and I would love to have the time to read them all but it’s just not possible.

I currently have them for sale very cheaply on eBay, here, but be quick, the first lot end this Sunday evening (25th Oct.) – why not try a few, you never know what astounding stories await!

Here are just a few of the books available:-

DSC_0084DSC_0108DSC_0119DSC_0112DSC_0102DSC_0096

Time Stacks by Matt Molloy

Time-lapse photography has a history about as long as photography itself and the effect of the photographic image on art has had a huge influence.  The blurring of an image has been repeatedly used – whether in the cause of Impressionism, Futurism, or any number of artistic ‘ideals’ – that its photographic origins are sometimes forgotten.

Traditional time-lapse photography tends to create a smooth blurring effect, a softening of the image, a merging of motion into a continuous stream of light.  Matt Molloy, a photographer from Ontario in Canada, has taken a different approach.  For his time-lapse images he has ‘stacked’ a sequence of time-lapsed images, creating a staggered blurring effect.  The images are quite ethereal, bridging the line between a photograph and a painting.

Matt Molloy ‘Land of the Giant Lollipops’

Matt Molloy ‘Sky Sculptures’

Matt Molloy ‘Smeared Sky Sunset’

Matt Molloy 'Sunset Spectrum'

Matt Molloy 'Spun'

The British Library Sound Archive

Sound equipmentIn May of this year The British Library highlighted the situation regarding it’s Sound Archive (something I had not previously realised the British Library had), and that if nothing is done to preserve it we may loose chunks of our history captured in audio form.  The situation is succinctly put on the website, and reads:-

The nation’s sound collections are under threat, both from physical degradation and as the means of playing them disappear from production. Global archival consensus is that we have approximately 15 years in which to save our sound collections by digitising them before they become unreadable and are effectively lost.
Some people will recognise the problem from a similar situation – the difficulty in reading early computer programmes (see my article, here).  Once a technology is superseded, the ability to access material stored in certain formats becomes increasingly difficult, let alone the natural degradation of the recording medium itself.  To counter this the British Library has set up the Save Our Sounds web page and identified three main aims for the project:-
  • to preserve as much as possible of the nation’s rare and unique sound recordings, not just those in our collections but also key items from partner collections across the UK
  • to establish a national radio archive that will collect, protect and share a substantial part of the UK’s vibrant radio output, working with the radio industry and other partners
  • to invest in new technology to enable us to receive music in digital formats, working with music labels and industry partners to ensure their long-term preservation.

It has received a huge injection of funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund but still requires donations to further it’s work (you can find out how to contribute here).  If you would like to explore some of the archive you can gain access to 60,000 recordings which have been digitised and made available online, here.The British LibraryCurrently there is an ongoing project, begun in 2012 and recorded by the BBC, called The Listening Project.  I have heard a few of these edited conversations on the radio and they are quite fascinating.  The British Library page has this to say about them:-

The Listening Project is an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC.  People are invited to share an intimate conversation with a close friend or relative, to be recorded and broadcast (in edited form) by the BBC and curated and archived in full by the British Library.  These one to one conversations, lasting up to an hour and taking a topic of the speakers’ choice, collectively form a picture of our lives and relationships today.

Whether you interest lies in Classical Music, Oral History, World Traditional Music or the sounds of nature and the environment, there should be something of interest in the archive.  There is even a section of images of early play-back and sound recording equipment and early record catalogues from 1898 to 1926!  The Listening Project recordings can be found under the Accents and Dialects section or through the link above which goes to the BBC page on the project.Sounds of Our ShoresThis summer there is another audio project, but this time it brings together The British Library sound archive and The National Trust called Sounds of Our Shores:-

What does the UK coastline sound like during the summer of 2015? What are the distinctive sounds of Scottish estuaries, Cornish beaches, the Pembrokeshire coast or a busy seafront? In what ways do these sounds fascinate us, move us or seem important to us?

Sounds of our Shores is a community-led, interactive soundmap which asks members of the public to upload their favourite seaside sounds and help build a permanent digital resource of UK coastal recordings.

If you are near the coast in the UK and fancy contributing to this sound archive just go to the website and read the simple instructions – you can contribute as many recordings as you like, but I think they want something more than just waves crashing on a beach or seagulls screeching, so try to be creative.  I happened to be on the stern of HMS Warrior when the America’s Cup boats left Portsmouth Harbour a few weeks ago and caught the vague sound of people as they watched it happen.  It’s quite indistinct, except for a woman saying “Pretty good init.  Really impressive wan’t it….all come past us like that…” (from about 1.15), you can hear the whole thing here.

Abstract Realities by Serge Najjar

I love architecture and I love photography and it is great to see these two art forms coming together and creating really striking images.
Yes, the architecture is already there, a space filling physical object which can be walked around and should, of course, be experienced first hand; but what sometimes makes a particular building or place somewhere that people want to visit can be down to the eye of the photographer.  A good photograph shows us what a thousand bad ones fail to show – the beauty, symmetry, elegance or humour of a place and it’s people.
The photo’s in the series ‘Abstract Realities’ by Serge Najjar (of Beirut, Lebanon) do just this.  They highlight the repetitive patterns and angles of the architecture and also feature a person, to give both scale and often light relief from the austerity of the geometric lines.
Here a few words by Serge Najjar on his LensCulture page:-

Every Saturday I drive my car towards a destination still unknown and guide myself by my instinct, by light and by whatever attracts my eye. This is when I stop, position myself and wait for something to happen.

Abstract Realities 1Abstract Realities 3Abstract Realities 2Abstract Realities 4 Abstract Realities 5Abstract Realities 6 Abstract Realities 7Abstract Realities 8Abstract Realities 9Abstract Realities 10

Photographs by Erik Johansson

The photographs of Erik Johansson combine the surrealist eye for the absurd (in a similar way to Rene Magritte) with the visual contortions of the work of E.C. Escher.

Johansson is a professional photographer who has produced work for Microsoft, Adobe, National Geographic, Google and Volvo, amongst others.  It is interesting that he does not try to conceal his digital manipulations; going so far as to produce videos revealing the laborious behind-the-scenes manipulations he has to go through to, as he puts it, “realise the ideas in my mind“.

Considering the amount of torn up countryside, roads scored or dragged through the landscape and general disintegration evident in much of his photography, I wonder if it reveals something about his inner psyche…?

Leaving Home

Go Your Own Road

Fishy Island

Greenfall

Arms Break Vases Don’t

Cut And Fold

Common Sense Crossing

–oOo–

 

 

Hole in The Ground

So what would you do with a 76 foot deep circular hole in the ground situated at 400 N. Lake Shore Drive near the Chicago River?Chicago Spire HoleIntended as the site for a huge spiraling tower of apartments called the Chicago Spire (designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava).  It would have been the second tallest building in the world at the time of it’s intended completion and the tallest building in the western world.  The only part of the project that was actually completed was the foundations, consisting of the already mentioned hole in the ground.  Unfortunately financial problems, aided by the global financial crisis (but then again, what isn’t blamed in the global financial crisis!) over took the project and it was abandoned. The image below is an impression of what the Spire would have looked like; above is a photo of the current site, which has been abandoned since 2008.Calatrava's Chicago SpireAny ideas yet?

There have apparently been six proposals to re-use the site.

One is by SPACE architects and called ‘Mine The Gap’ – it uses the empty tube as an open air entertainments venue (although it will have a retractable canvas roof when necessary) and will be powered by wind turbines above.Mine The GapAnother idea is to turn the whole site in a mini nature reserve.  Called ‘Birds in Horto’ and designed by Peter Schaudt, the pit will be flooded and a walkway will allow people to pass through the site without disturbing the wildlife.Birds In HortoThe third idea looks far too busy and commercial for my liking.  Called ‘The Urban Island’ and designed by Michael Day, it appears to be an attempt to enliven a drab part of the city by creating a mess of shops around a transport hub and cultural space – I’m not so sure.

Urban IslandThe next idea is essentially a replacement skyscraper using the existing foundation.  I didn’t bother including an artist’s impression because it is a far too unimaginative use of the space – at least the others try to do something different and unexpected.  Although if you do want to see it, and all the others, they are here on designboom.

The fifth idea is beautifully simple – turn the place into a giant swimming pool which siphons the river water and filters it before returning it back to the river it cleaner than it was; it’s called ‘The Swimming Hole’ and is designed by Martin Felsen and Sarah Dunn.Swimming HoleThe last idea is ‘The High Tech Hot Tub’ by Clare Lyster and Alejandro Saavedra, which initially made me sigh with disappointment; but on discovering the reasoning behind it, it actually sounds quite good.  Why not use the hole as a huge data storage centre and cool the machines with the cold water of the Chicago River – the resultant hot water can then be used to heat hot tubs at the surface for the public to use.High Tech Hot TubIf you’d like to find out more you can read the original article on designboom, here.  It is interesting that most of the comments after the article on designboom think that the proposals are a waste of ‘valuable urban space‘ and it would be better to ‘try to finish the Spire or build an even more outstanding one (taller and grander). The city needs more skyscrapers‘.  I find this quite amazing from readers of a design orientated website.  It is a very unimaginative view of space – yes, it is a valuable commodity in a city, but surely not only in financial terms.

So which is your favorite – or do you have a better idea?