Tag Archives: ashley pollard

[April 22, 1962] “To ride on the curl’d clouds” (ARIEL ONE)


By Ashley R. Pollard

Looking back to October the 4th 1957 when Sputnik was launched, it’s hard to believe that only five years have passed since that fateful day when Russia beat Britain and America into space (perhaps my American readers will say that Britain had no realistic chance of getting into space first, which I would agree with, but for the Western nations to be beaten by the Russians – now that’s the thing.)

With Sputnik, humanity transitioned from flying through the air to moving through the vacuum of space, where no living animal can survive without a pressure suit. The only other time that I can think of when a paradigm shift of this nature took place would be back when the first hot-air balloons were invented. This provoked the discussion, at the time, that this was the invention of travelling through the air.

As I read the history of hot-air balloons, the idea of travelling through air as an invention seems odd to me. But as language evolves over time, so do concepts like invention, which has moved from the original Latin meaning of discovery to the more modern meaning of a process or device. Though by modern I should clarify that I mean “from the fifteenth century,” which is not surprising given the changes that arose from the Renaissance, and everything that came out of rediscovery of the knowledge of the ancient Greeks.

For those who look back on the past with rose-tinted glasses I will remind my readers that the times I’m writing about were surrounded by their own troubles. The Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453, for example, which led to a westward exodus of Greek scholars that fuelled the rediscovery of ancient thinking. One can argue that today’s troubles, with West and East facing off against each other, is just part of the story of humanity’s struggle between its biological drives versus its intellectual aspirations.

Almost equidistant (physically, though not ideologically) from the Free and Communist worlds, Britain is about to become Earth’s third nation to practice the “invention” of travelling through space. Admittedly this puts us behind America and Russia, but as the Yanks are wont to say, this still makes us a contender. We are calling our satellite Ariel One, more prosaically referred to as UK-1 or S-55. This program grew out of proposal by the British National Committee on Space Research to NASA that came from a discussion at a meeting of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) to study the Earth’s ionosphere.

What is the ionosphere? It is that layer high up in the Earth’s atmosphere where the sun’s energy strips the thin air of its electrons, creating a charged barrier to radio waves. It is this layer that allows British and American “Hams” to talk to each other across thousands of miles of ocean. Understanding how the ionosphere works not only has practical implications for engineers, but is also vital to modelling the atmosphere as a whole. The rewards to science will be tremendous.

I must confess that while Ariel One may be a British satellite, it was made in America for us by the NASA Goddard Flight Center. Our satellite will launched atop a Thor-Delta rocket aka Delta DM-19, which is a variant of the Thor-Able booster that launched some of America’s first satellites, and is due to be launched on the 26th of April from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Launch Complex 17A.

The Thor rockets were designed for the United States Air Force as intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM), which became redundant for purpose after the introduction of the Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). So arguably this is a case of swords being turned into plowshares for science. The Thor-Delta uses a Delta rocket as its upper stage, which has the new AJ10-118 engine, and the upper stage also has cold gas attitude control jets. This allows rockets to be stabilized, and the motors can also be stopped and restarted for more precise orbital insertions than were previously possible.

The Ariel One satellite has six experiments onboard, five of which will examine the relationship between two types of solar radiation and changes in the Earth’s ionosphere, and the other cosmic rays. University College London has two ionospheric experiments aboard Ariel; a Langmuir probe for measuring of electron temperature and density; and a spherical probe for measurement of ion mass composition and temperature. The University of Birmingham has a plasma dielectric constant measurement of ionospheric electron density device, which uses a different method to measure electron density that complements the Langmuir probe.

In addition, University College London has two solar radiation experiments; one will measure Lyman-Alpha ultra-violet emissions; the other will measure X-Ray emissions from the Sun in the 3 to 12A band. The sixth experiment, provided Imperial College London, is a Cerenkov detector, which will measure primary cosmic ray energy spectrum, and the impact of interplanetary magnetic field modulation on this spectrum.

You may be thinking, “These experiments sound familiar. I know that NASA’s Orbiting Solar Observatory, for example has similar detectors. Why do we need another satellite that does the same thing?”

That’s an excellent question. There are three answers:

1) Just as more eyewitnesses create a stronger legal case or journalistic report, so do multiple satellites give a broader, mutually verifiable view of the same phenomena;

2) Different laboratories create subtly different experiment types. Thus, Ariel will look at the Sun with slightly different eyes than OSO;

3) Ariel represents an important first step in British space science, one that lays the foundation for future successes.

To finish this months article I must comment on the name Ariel, which is an interesting choice. Ariel is a Hebrew word found in the Bible. I understand it means either the Lion of God or Hearth of God, depending on interpretation. It is also the name of one of the moons of Uranus (recently visited by other members of the Journey).

But, one can’t help but think of Milton’s Paradise Lost or Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and my guess would be that it’s an allusion to the latter because Ariel was the servant of Prospero – and I have the highest hopes that Ariel One shall be successful in serving British science equally well.

[March 19, 1962] A convention of a different colour (Eastercon in the UK)


By Ashley R. Pollard

Last month I said I would talk about science fiction fan activity in Britain.  I think it only fair to say that my involvement with British science fiction fandom is peripatetic, as in unsettled, as I lack the stamina to be fully involved with fannish behaviour.  Not a bad thing per se, but not my cup of tea.  As such, I’m all too aware that my account of British Eastercons is rather secondhand, as I haven’t been to one for several years.

Furthermore, I’m not a Big Name Fan, because I stand at a distance from the core of those who move and shake the mores of fandom.  One could argue that I’m an old time fan who has gafiated from fandom, getting away from it all, since I rarely participate in fannish activities per se.  Before you jump to the conclusion that I therefore must be a sercon fan, serious and constructive, I should add I’m not that either.  For me the word FIJAGH says it all: fandom is just a goddam hobby.  It sums up my position perfectly

With those caveats in place let me talk about the British national science fiction convention.

The first thing I should state is that Eastercons are a relatively recent thing, which started seven years ago in 1955.  How time flies.  The first national SF convention was held in London in 1948, and called Whitcon, because it was held over the three-day weekend of Whitsun. 

For my American readers who may be unfamiliar with British Bank Holidays, Whitsun takes place seven weekends after Easter, my understanding is that in America it comes under the Pentecostal tradition.  You’ll excuse me if I’m a bit vague about Christian practices; they’re not my thing despite being brought up in a nominally Christian family.  We were what might be called Christians by default.  A very British thing that may not be fully understandable to those looking from outside of British culture.

The next four national SF conventions were also held in London before the convention moved in 1954 to Manchester.  By this time the number of people attending had started to drop precipitously, which caused quite a furore within fandom about what must be done?  With, people like Ken Slater and Vince Clarke, arguing that British fandom needed reinvigorating.

Resulting, though that implies far more causation for something that is mostly a loosely correlated series of events, in the formation of the BSFA in 1958 with Eric Bentcliffe and Terry Jeeves as joint secretaries.  So in 1959 the newly formed British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) took over running the national convention, which now takes place over the four-day Easter weekend.

This years Eastercon will happen on April 22nd, and is being held in Harrogate, which is in North Yorkshire.  Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend, due to the combination of a lack of time and money preventing me from doing so.

The official name is the rather prosaic The 1962 BSFA Easter Convention, the committee running the convention is made up of Ron Bennett and Phil Rogers.  They are the ones in charge of organizing the events during the weekend.  The fans are calling it Ronvention.

I’m told there are 94 fans going to Ronvention, which is split between the West Park and Clarendon hotels.  The West Park will be the venue for the Fancy Dress party, the theme being favourite characters from SF &F books; the BSFA will hold its AGM there to discuss what to do with the money raised for the Doc Weir Memorial Fund to honour him; and finally there will be a film shown there too.  Meanwhile everything else, like quizzes, an auction and a talk on the development of British fandom by Mike Rosenblum will take place at the Clarendon hotel.

Mr. Tom Boardman, of Boardman Books, is the Guest of Honour.  He edits the popular Mayflower SF series, which was one of the earliest publishers of SF in post-war Britain.  And, in addition to his work as editor and publisher, he also reviews SF for Books & Bookmen, a magazine published by Hansom Books.

Also attending is Ron Ellik, travelling from the USA courtesy of the Trans Atlantic Fan Fund.  This is a fan fund whose title says exactly what it does.  The roots of the fund lay in Forrest J Ackerman’s idea called the Big Pond Fund that eventually brought John Carnell to the American Worldcon in 1949.  This morphed into what is now known as TAFF when Walt Willis went to the 1953 Worldcon, and wrote a report about his travelling around America, which he published in his fanzine, Hyphen.

In addition to an American presence at Ronvention, I’m told that German fans Tom Schluck, Rolf Gindorf, Wolfgang Thadewald, Thea Grade, Horst Margeit, and Guntrum Ohmacht will be coming to demonstrate that the best way to get into a Britain is to come to as fans.

And lest you find yourself wondering if UK conventions be greatly different from American ones, fear not.  You will still encounter the masquerade balls, the awards ceremonies, the huckster sales, the vociferous fannish debates, and yes, the debauchery (though such entertainments lie in my past).

Before finishing this month’s article I must thank my good friend Rob Hansen for his help with collating all the fannish information I’ve shared with you.  I would have been lost without his sterling work in recording the goings-on in fandom.  That is it for now, which just leaves me to say goodbye, and see you all again next month.

[February 19, 1962] February Thaw (tales from the British fan)


By Ashley R. Pollard

This month’s theme is anticipation.

For instance, the anticipation of the coming spring that will soon relieve the winter blues, signaled by the mornings and evenings getting lighter.  I no longer get up in total darkness and leave work as darkness descends because now the winter sun sets around five.  Instead, I now walk over Westminster Bridge in the gathering twilight.  The gloam of the day brightened as Elizabeth Tower illuminates, and the sound of Big Ben asserts the official time with all the authority that its chimes can muster.


https://www.flickr.com/photos/trainsandstuff/31074517774

However, it’s still too cold for my liking, with the winds from the East chilling one to the bone.

As I write this piece, I’m also anticipating another birthday, which I will have celebrated by the time this article is published.  Not a significant number this time round as that was last year.  But I’ve taken another step into the future, a future that is bright with the possibilities of exciting new things to wonder at.  I am confident that tomorrow, despite the series of postponements, America will launch John Glenn in his Friendship 7 capsule.  I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to have the weight of expectations on one’s shoulders combined with the feeling of disappointment from having to wait yet another day or more before being able to go into space.

However, the anticipation of success is palpable.  The future is bright, and mankind will one day go to the stars, where no one has gone before.  These are, in my mind, the most exciting of times to be alive in.  Of course I say no one has gone before, but perhaps aliens are already travelling among the stars.  Perhaps they’ve already visited us, though I think that’s unlikely, despite the recent profusion of “saucer stories.”

Speaking of unlikely things, while meandering up Charring Cross Road, perusing the secondhand bookshops for science fiction books, I found a copy of Immanuel Velikovsky’s Worlds in Collision.  This fanciful (but seriously presented) account of the formation of our solar system, has acquired a strong cult following of late.  It had been shelved in the science fiction and fantasy section, next to a copy of George Adamski’s the Flying Saucers Have Landed.

This I believe says a lot about how members of the book trade or general public view science fiction and fantasy fans.  I will not rant on about society’s inability to keep up with the changes going on all around us.  It is, arguably, human nature to find change unsettling.  Here in the twentieth century our old ways and beliefs are being challenged by new discoveries, and our understanding of the cosmos expands.  Nevertheless, we fans can tell the difference between science, science fiction, and works like Velikovsky’s and Adamski’s, which best belong with the fairy tales.

Still, as a follower of Fortean apocrypha, I find Velikovsky’s ideas a fertile ground for strange and whacky ideas.  So much so, I wrote a short story inspired by them.  Whether the story will ever see the light of day is another matter.  Perhaps in future, say in fifty years or so, it will bring a smile or even a chuckle or two to those that get to read it.

Back to anticipation — I’m anticipating the coming weekend.  Not for the usual reason of shooting arrows (the literal kind; I am an archer – for fun, not profit), even though I have new limbs for my bow that my partner bought me for my birthday.  Instead we are attending a one day convention run by the students of The Imperial College science fiction and fantasy society.  I understand from my partner that several authors have been invited to speak and be on panels.  It will be a chance for fans old and new to mingle, chat.  Also, there are book dealers in attendance.  So I’m looking forward to going to the convention and who knows what I might find?  Stay tuned.

And, as a sort of end to an anticipation, there are news reports of a shocking discovery made on the 14th of February.  A French patrol of troops found the mummified remains of William N. ‘Bill’ Lancaster in the Sahara desert.  He disappeared in April 1933 while attempting to beat the world speed record for a flight between Britain and South Africa.  His mummified body was found near the wreckage of his aeroplane, an Avro Mark VIA Avian called Southern Cross.  They found his journal, and the reports say he lived for seven days after the crash before dying of thirst while waiting to rescued.  There’s a story in there for sure.

So that is it for another month.  March will bring more news of science fiction in Britain, and I hope you will join me again.

[January 21, 1962] January Freeze (The Great Explosion, by Eric Frank Russell)


By Ashley R. Pollard

I mentioned last time I find December winter difficult.  In January it snowed, which reminds me of the song Let it Snow! by Vaughn Monroe, though the cover version sung by Dean Martin may be more familiar to younger readers of Galactic Journey.  So with the frightful weather outside I had a good reason to stay indoors and read, and thanks to the Traveller’s influence I have laid hands on preview copy of Eric Frank Russell’s, The Great Explosion, soon to be available at the end of May / beginning of June in hardback from all good bookstores.

When I first came across Russell’s work I initially thought he was an American because of his easy use of colloquial American English in his writing.  However, as we say over here, he’s as British as they come.  We not only mix in the same science fiction circle, but also share an interest in the works of paranormalist Charles Fort, which I may be assuming (incorrectly?) readers of the Galactic Journey know about.  Russel also writes under various pseudonyms including Webster Craig, Duncan H. Munro, Niall Wilde (also spelled Naille Wilde), and Maurice G. Hugi.

I can’t remember the first story I read by him, but my guess is probably his Hugo award-winning short story Allamagoosa, which appeared in the May 1955 issue of Astounding Science Fiction.  If you’ve not read it I suggest it is well worth your time to find a copy and do so, despite it being or perhaps I should say because it’s a shaggy dog story.  However, my favourite two books by Russell are his 1957 novel, Wasp, and Next of Kin from 1959.  I will mention that Next of Kin, because it has a bearing on his latest novel, first saw print in Astounding as a novella titled Plus X, and there was also a slightly expanded version of the novella published by ACE Books as The Space Wilies before the definitive Next of Kin was published.

Eric Frank Russell’s new novel is an expansion of his novella And Then There Were None that appeared in the June 1951 issue of Astounding.  However, despite the minor disappointment of this story being an expansion of a previous work, it manages to expand the original work in a way that adds considerably to the context of the setting.

The story starts with a prologue describing the happenchance discovery of the Blieder Drive, a space-drive that takes mankind to the stars.  This being Russell, there’s less manifest destiny and more an anarchic rush to either exploit or get rid of people.  Terra, as a result, sees a large number of people leave because of the Blieder Drive, and the story proper begins 400 years later with the first voyage to reunite the lost worlds to form the Terran Empire.

For any other author this might be a chance to give the ship a suitable grand name, but Russell just refers to it throughout the novel as “the ship.”  Russell’s focus is on the foibles of the bureaucratic mindset behind the mission.  The story is split between the relationship between the pompous diplomat, who is only ever referred to as “the Ambassador” or “his Excellency,” the phlegmatic Captain Grayder, who is in command of the ship, and the punctilious Colonel Shelton, commander of the military detachment sent to protect the diplomatic staff.

Russell compares their behaviours with those of the people of the worlds the ship visits and contrasts them to the ordinary man aboard: in this case Sergeant Gleed and Tenth Engineer Harrison, who get assigned to various tasks assigned by their betters.  This being an Eric Frank Russell story, the focus of each of the planetary visits is to satirize the beliefs of the great and good.

The first planetfall occurs on a planet where all Earth’s prisoners were shipped to when the Blieder Drive made interstellar travel possible.  Unlike, say, Australia, which is our real-world analog, our convicts have created a world where stealing is the norm, and where things we take for granted as decent and proper are laughed at for being foolish.  The natives manage to get one over on the crew in their exchanges, played for comic effect, as what is being described is pretty horrible, but no worse than the lives our ancestors lived in feudal times.  This part of the story is a set-up of the shape of things to come [This sounds a lot like Robert Sheckley’s The Status Civilization (Ed.)]

The ship then makes its way to Hygeia, which is dominated by nudists who are health and fitness fanatics and who sneer at the fat and flabby Ambassador; they make the fittest member of the ship’s crew look feeble by comparison.  Here Russell is able to poke fun at both sides: the Hygeians for their fastidious health habits and the Terran’s for their prudishness.  The outcome of the diplomatic negotiations can probably be considered a draw, as neither side will ultimately get what they want.

The third planet visited, called Kassim, is the shortest part of the novel because it’s uninhabited and the colonists are assumed to have died from a disease.  While this is all well and good, I thought Russell missed a chance to have a bit more science on show.  There again that has never really been his forte, which brings us to the final and longest section of the novel (the part published back in 1951).

I unfortunately have not been able to lay my hands on a copy of And Then There Were None, so I cannot compare and contrast the two for changes made by Russell.  For those of you who have not had the pleasure of reading the original, here is a chance to read and enjoy a fabulous story sending up the bureaucratic might of Terra by a bunch of the most philosophically inclined anarchic libertarians you could possibly imagine.  Some of the conversations are what I would call psychological nuggets of pure gold pedantry that will bring tears of laughter to anyone’s eyes.

This is Russell at his best, lampooning social conventions and assumptions to make us question why we do what we do.  My sole criticism would be that this only works here because the crew of the ship from Terra are nice people: as in decent human beings no matter how deluded their beliefs.  Had the ship come from an authoritarian regime prepared to enforce control by whatever means necessary then the story wouldn’t have ended so well.  There again the story would not be a humorous satire, but rather a dystopian tale of a man’s inhumanity to man.  Of the two, I know which I would rather read.

Four stars.

[December 17, 1961] XMAS COOL (UK report and Drake’s Equation)


By Ashley R. Pollard

I find December, in fact all the winter months, a tad difficult because it’s dark in the morning when I get up to go to work, and dark when it’s time to come home.  To add to the misery it’s cold too.  However, a piece on the misery of Christmas is, I feel, not congruent with the general feeling of excitement and good cheer that emanates from seeing people shopping, and of course the switching on of the Oxford Street lights.  A tradition that started in 1954 and seven years later is still going strong.

In other good cheer, our Health Minister the right honourable Enoch Powell (not my favourite member of parliament because he’s too clever for his own good) gave British women an early Christmas gift by making birth control pills available from the National Health Service.  It may not sound like much, but it’s all part and parcel of women’s emancipation, which in my opinion is a good thing.  Having the means to give women some control of their bodies about when they want to get pregnant is certainly a sign that the future is here.

Thinking back to when I was a child, a tablet like this would’ve been something right out of a science fiction story.  Not that I can readily think of any science fiction stories where the woman are in control of when they become pregnant.

A part of me thinks that birth control may have some unintended second order consequences.  The positive part is freedom to choose, and it will certainly address the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus 1798 work, An Essay on the Principle of Population, where he postulates that unchecked population growth is exponential while the growth of the food supply was expected to be arithmetical, with catastrophic consequences for humanity.  His solutions having had provided authors with a raft of apocalyptic story lines over the years.

Speaking of the Age of Enlightenment, I have access to the 1753 Cyclopædia: or, An Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences by Ephraim Chambers.  This was one of the first ever encyclopaedias published.

Imagine my delight and surprise when reading through it to find a definition of the word interstellar,

“is a word used by some authors to express those parts of the universe that are without and beyond our Solar system; in which are supposed to several other systems of planets moving around the fixed stars as the renters of their respective motions: and if it be true, as it is not improbable, that each fixed star is thus a sun to some habitable orbs, that move round it, the interstellar world will be infinitely the greater part of the universe.”

This is the stuff of science fiction before science fiction existed as a genre.

But it invites a question, if there are habitable planets out there, do they have life?  Are there aliens in the universe?  Countless stories have been written by science fiction authors about aliens — some lurid, some frightening, some optimistic — but now Dr. Frank Drake has come up with an equation to allow mankind to estimate the probability of the existence of aliens in the universe.

His equation arose out of an article published in 1959 by Giuseppe Cocconi and Philip Morrison in the journal Nature called Searching for Interstellar Communications.  Cocconi and Morrison thought radio telescopes were now sensitive enough to pick up any transmissions being broadcast by civilizations orbiting other stars, and they went on to posit that these transmissions would be sent using the frequency of neutral hydrogen, a logical landmark in the radio spectrum.

A couple of months later Professor Harlow Shapley from Harvard University opined that the universe had ten million, million, million suns, and if one in a million has a planet around it, and if only one in a million of those has a planet that supports life as we know it, then there would be 100 million worlds where life could evolve.

This article spurred Dr. Drake to start the first systematic search for signals from extraterrestrial intelligent civilizations, which has not been successful in finding in finding said signals.  However, undeterred Dr. Drake hosted a meeting to discuss the search for extraterrestrial intelligence using radio signals at the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope.  Out of that meeting has come his equation defining the parameters needed to make an estimate of the number of alien civilizations that might exist.

What it doesn’t do is give an answer per se; it only defines what we must know for us to arrive at an answer.  But now that mankind is venturing into space we may be able to start collecting the data necessary to plug figures into the equations: for example things like the number of stars with planets around them, which given we haven’t got proof that there are other planets around other stars, is a big step.  After that, determining how many planets might be habitable will be another hurdle scientists will have to overcome.  But, the hope that we may one day know the answer to the question, which was first propounded in the 1753 edition of Chambers Cylopaedia, is what makes mankind’s future bright.

So one day, in another time and galaxy, we may well be celebrating the changing of the seasons with beings from other worlds.  On that note, allow me to wish all the readers of Galactic Journey a very merry time, and my best wishes for a happy and prosperous new year.  I’m sure 1962 is going to be even more exciting than 1961. 

Thank you all for reading.

[November 10, 1961] EARTH ON FIRE (UK Sci-fi Report)


By Ashley R. Pollard

Last month, I wrote about the shocking explosion of the world’s largest atomic bomb.  Now, I plan to entertain and delight you all with a review of the film The Day the Earth Caught Fire, which will be on general release in Great Britain from the 23rd of November.  Its subject matter is serendipitous, if not unnaturally timely, cast in the light of recent events.  This can’t hurt its chances of doing well at the box office, and if you’ll pardon the levity, it’s surely guaranteed to become a blockbuster.  This early review has been made possible by influence of the Traveller, who has gone to great lengths in assisting me with gaining the credentials to see a pre-release screening of the film. 

The Day the Earth Caught Fire stars Edward Judd, Leo McKern and Janet Munro and starts in a most striking manner with Judd’s character walking in sweltering heat through the deserted streets of London.  The story then flashes back to how it all began when both the Americans and Russian simultaneously exploded atomic bombs at the Earth’s poles.  This caused both the axial tilt to change and also shifted our planet in its orbit around the Sun.

The effects of the axial tilt mean disruption to the regular weather: torrential rain and floods for example.  It’s only later we find out that the Earth has also been pushed closer to the Sun, which means the planet will soon become too hot for human life.  Unlike other nuclear horror stories, the emphasis here is on the hero discovering what is happening by putting together the bits of the puzzle, using his skill as a Fleet Street journalist to tell the story.  The way the film is shot has an almost cinéma-vérité feel to it, and arguably, the story pacing has produced a very British end of the world as we know it.

I was very much reminded of the Hollywood adaptation of Nevil Shute’s On The Beach as both stories deal with the anxiety generated by the existence of atomic bombs in the world.  However, while the former ends with the impending death of mankind, The Day the Earth Caught Fire has a more ambiguous ending, leaving us with the news of the detonation of bombs set to reset the Earth’s orbit, but without telling us whether the plan succeeded or not.

My understanding is that the film will be released in the United States in May of next year.  Also, for those readers who are concerned about atomic bombs knocking the Earth out of orbit, I have it on good authority that the energy required would be far greater than is currently achievable with our technology.

Now, last time I also promised to finish my summary of A for Andromeda.  We left-off waiting for what would happen to Fleming, Dawnay and Professor Reinhart in the next episode called, The Murderer. This episode gripped viewers around the country as the series premise of alien’s sending us the means to create life, and what that would mean for humanity, chilled people to the bone.

Christine, the character played by Julie Christie (who died in the previous episode) is re-created when the computer give the scientists the code for creating the next alien life form, which produces a clone of her called Andromeda.  The performance by Christie in her new role as the computer’s cat’s paw is compelling, and I expect she will go on to star in other things.  Now that the alien intelligence is embodied in Andromeda, the original cyclops creature host is killed by the computer.

In episode six, called The Face of the Tiger, Andromeda is put to work on developing an orbital missile defence program for the British government.  Further developments also include the producing an enzyme that will aid in healing injuries.  But it soon becomes clear that humanity is in peril of coming under the influence and control of the computer, which is using Andromeda to further its own agenda.  The computer reveals itself when opposed by Fleming by making Dawney, the biologist working on the project, sick.

In the final episode, called The Last Mystery, the story is moved forward into the year 1972, when the signal from the Andromeda Galaxy has stopped.  The military are now in full control of the project, and the computer having failed to kill the other scientists, tries to kill Fleming by using Andromeda.  This plan fails, and Andromeda is revealed to be a slave of the computer; the scientist agree that it must be stopped, otherwise the world will fall under the alien computer’s control.

Fleming is able to release Andromeda from the computer control by destroying it with an axe, and Andromeda burns the plans for the machine.  The pair try to make their escape, but Andromeda falls into a pool and dies, while Fleming is captured by the military.  As endings go, this is great for mankind, but a bit of a downer for the hero.  Still, there’s always the possibility of a sequel, because, after all, this is science fiction…

[Oct. 31, 1961] A is for Atomic (UK TV Sci-fi… and the Tsar Bomba)


By Ashley R. Pollard

A is for atomic and apocalypse, and this month also for Andromeda.  Of the three, the most entertaining is the new TV series on the BBC, called A for Andromeda, written by Frederick Hoyle and John Elliot.  Hoyle is an astronomer and noted cosmologist who also wrote the science fiction novel The Black Cloud, while Elliot is novelist, screenwriter and television producer.

Andromeda gripped me from the very first episode, called The Message, the opening sequence being an interview with Professor Reinhart, explaining the project as something that had happened in the past.  The story cuts to the professor and his research assistants, Jason Fleming and Dennis Bridger, working at the new radio telescope at Bouldershaw Fell…in 1970.  If that’s not a hook that grabs your attention then I don’t know what is.  The episode title gives the gist of the plot — alien message — and the series title tells you where the aliens are from — Andromeda.

The second episode, The Machine, builds on the message and we discover it is the plans to build a better computer, which the British government decide to do at a military base in Thorness, Scotland.  Here the plot starts to twist and turn with Dennis Bridger selling the information to a slightly sinister corporate conglomerate called Intel (a clever name; someone should put it to good use).

The third episode, The Miracle, moves the story into Hoyle’s special area of interest: life from space.  You may have heard of his famous stellar nucleosynthesis paper of 1954 — Frederick Hoyle is one of the foremost scientists of his generation and a populariser of the philosopher Anaxagoras theory of panspermia, a controversial theory.  The story introduces Madeline Dawnay, a biologist, who joins the team to help with the creation of a synthetic life-form that the computer instructions have given them.  Dennis Bridger’s betrayal is discovered, and he gets his just desserts while fleeing justice…when he falls off a cliff.

In last week’s episode, The Monster, the story has moved forward to 1971, where we bear witness to the creation of a protoplasmic life form named “the cyclops.”  Fleming, our hero of the series, is skeptical of the machine’s agenda and worried that it can affect the minds of those who come into close proximity to the machine.  We are left wanting more, and next week’s episode title, The Murderer, certainly leaves us something exciting to look forward to!

However, this time, reality has the jump on fiction, excitement-wise.  It comes in the shape of what the press is calling the Tsar Bomba or Kuz’kina Mat’ — Russian for “Kuzma’s mother” — a reference to Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s promise to show the United States the true might of Soviet power during the United Nations General Assembly earlier this month.

Or more simply, the mother of all bombs.

The Russians turned their premier’s statement into a demonstration of their nuclear might at 11.32 Moscow time on October the 30th by detonating a 50 megaton bomb over the Mityushika Bay the Soviet nuclear testing range.  For those of you whose geography is a little hazy, this is just north of the Arctic Circle over the Novayo Zemlya archipelago.  The shock wave from the blast is reputed to have circled the Earth four times.  Reports of seeing the explosion came from a nearly thousand kilometres away from the blast site.

The size of the explosion is almost beyond comprehension.  The only way I can get my head around it is knowing that it’s the equivalent to ten percent of all the nuclear bombs detonated to date or ten times the combined energy from all the bombs dropped during the second world war.  Such numbers are frightening and make the threat from aliens trying to take over the Earth pale into insignificance by comparison.

Perhaps it is because the threat to all life on Earth becoming extinct is an existential one, now that we live in the atomic age, that we enjoy such outrageous fare as Andromeda.  When we consider such matters, our minds are overwhelmed by prime emotions, which reduce our reasoning to that of the hominids we’re descended from.  I would argue that science fiction allows us to discuss that which is too frightening to comprehend.

So whether A is for atomic, apocalypse or Andromeda is really not the question.  Rather, our need to tell stories to understand ourselves is the way we face the end of life.

[September 15, 1961] DISASTER ON THE MOON (Arthur C. Clarke’s A Fall of Moondust)


By Ashley R. Pollard

August may have started with cool weather but it ended with a bit of heat wave for the August Bank Holiday weekend.  So I did get to sit on the beach eating ice-cream and reading a good book, and in this case having the pleasure of reading Arthur C. Clarke’s latest A Fall of Moondust, of which John Wyndham has said, “The best book that Arthur C. Clarke has written.” A high praise indeed.

I have been a fan of Arthur’s work after reading his novella, which first appeared in Startling Stories, called Against the Fall of Night.  I’ve also been fortunate to have had the pleasure of meeting him.  For those of you who follow my writing here I can also recommend, if you want a taste of the man’s humour, his short story collection Tales from the White Hart.  The title of which is play on the name of the original pub that The London Circle used to frequent.

Arthur C. Clarke’s latest book probably cements his reputation as one of the key science fiction authors of our age; the others being Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein.  His breakout novel, if you will indulge me in describing it as such, was arguably Childhood’s End, which was released in 1953.  It describes the arrival of the Overlords on Earth to guide humanity and ends with the transcendence of mankind into something more than human.  This was followed by my favourite novel of his The Deep Range in 1957, which tells how a former astronaut becomes an aquanaut, and describes the adventures arising from farming the sea.

So the question is, does A Fall of Moondust live up to John Wyndham’s effusive praise?

The story starts with Captain Pat Harris describing the passengers boarding the Moon’s first cruise ship.  It is the Selene, run by The Lunar Tourist Commission, which sails the Sea of Thirst: a sea made of superfine dust that a vessel can float on.  Clarke manages to effectively evoke the other-worldliness of the moon, while at the same time setting a scene that could be have taken place on any cruise ship on Earth, with a largely mundane set of tourists.  The setting roots the fantastical elements into something familiar, making the adventure that follows extremely plausible, of when a holiday of a lifetime turns into a disaster.

Clarke intertwines the unfolding of the voyage with snippets of the world that the people come from and the development of his future society’s technology, including fusion and solar power.  Overall, the world of Moondust is optimistic about the future of mankind, almost cosy — up to the point when disaster strikes.

The catastrophe is a moon quake.  It creates a whirlpool that envelopes the Selene beneath 15 metres of dust.  But this is no story of hysteria, rather it is one of courage in the face of adversity, driven by the underlying belief that problems can be solved.

The story is effectively told from various viewpoints.  The story opens describing the voyage of the crew and passengers of the Selene.  After the disaster we are then taken to the viewpoint of the people searching for the lost ship, who have to come up with a way of getting everyone off safely.  Clarke masterfully describes the problems on both sides, and the various solutions that are undertaken as the clock counts down toward eventual doom — when everyone aboard the Selene will die from lack of oxygen.

Everything is cooly set-up, but then Clarke defies the readers’ expectations, piling problem on top of problem.  The experience is intense, as one wonders what will happen next.  But Clarke manages to keep racking up the tension, teasing the reader with solution only to reveal that there is more going wrong from unintended side-effects.  For example, leaking water from the Selene’s water tanks seeps into the dust and unbalances the ship, which further hinders the rescue operations.

Technology may well enable fantastic things like cruises across the dust seas of the Moon, but it is not omnipotent; you cannot defy the laws of physics, and the exploration of this distinction is where the novel excels.  The characters agency is constrained by what is possible, and in this way the story reminds me of The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin, except that Moondust is no maudlin tale of the consequence of stupidity, but rather a paean to reason and engineering.

So is this the best story that Arthur C. Clarke has written?  My answer is probably not, but there again Childhood’s End and Deep Range are hard acts to follow.  Moondust is a tour de force he delivers here, an excellent SF suspense-thriller.  The story drew me in and I sat and read it in a single day.  I imagine you will, too, some fine late summer day.

[August 15, 1961] SEVEN DAYS OF CHANGE (August’s UK report)


by Ashley Pollard

The month of August started with cool weather after a warm spring, which is disappointing for those of us who love to get out in the summer sun and lie on the beach. It is the time when the British newspapers are full of light-weight, fun stories in what is known over here as the ‘silly season.’

Such fripperies were ended quite suddenly with an array of news from behind the iron curtain, starting with the announcement of Russia’s second manned spaceflight on Monday the 7th of August.

While America has launched two sub-orbital flights in response to Yuri Gagarin’s conquest of space, they have yet to orbit the Earth. Now the Russians surge ahead, upping the excitement in the race to the moon by launching their second cosmonaut Gherman Stepanovich Titov. His call sign was Eagle, I imagine to emphasize his soaring over the world. But perhaps it’s also a poke at the Americans, who have failed to orbit the world with their Mercury capsule.

So, after staying in space for a just over a day, Pilot Cosmonaut Titov is now a Hero of the Soviet Union. During his flight he orbited the world seventeen times, during which time he slept, shot ten minutes of film, and completed various other tasks he had been assigned — proving that men can work in space. Not only that, but at age twenty-six he’s the youngest man in space, too.

For me, Titov’s mission was not just a success for the Russians but the furthering of the dream of travel in space for all mankind. But, I have to ask, how long will it be until the Russians send a woman into space? Perhaps this is a chance for the Americans to get one step ahead of their rivals.

Sadly, Titov’s flight was the only good piece of news inspired by the Communists this month. Seven days after Titov’s flight, the Russians upped the ante in the Cold War when Premier Nikita Khrushchev announced the Russians were going to build a wall around Berlin. This rather puts a dampener on things, taking us back to the unpleasantness that started in 1948 when they cut-off access to Berlin by land.

The first signs of action after the announcement was the erection of a barbed wire fence. But this is now being followed by workers building a wall, which seems to me to be a physical manifestation of the cultural divide between free-market capitalism and Russian state controlled centralized planned economy.

Beyond the very real fear I share with everyone regarding the threat of atomic destruction, I must also say that I find Premier Khrushchev’s escalation of tensions between East and West a tantrum tedious beyond belief. I truly doubt that human nature allows for nation states to function as communes that share resources for the good of all. If this act shows us anything it serves only to illuminate the cracks in the Russian Cold War polemic against the West. It’s not as if the new Wall has been erected to keep West Germans from fleeing into East Germany.

More to the point, doesn’t Khrushchev know this is the silly season? There is only so much heaviness we can stand during the summer!  As for now, despite the disappointingly cool weather, at least we still have a beach to look-visit, ice-cream to eat (we British eat ice-cream even during our cold summers), and once Khruschev has had his fun, hopefully we can return to reading stories of cats stuck up trees being rescued by the nice men from the fire brigade.

And accounts of space shots: as a science fiction fan, I find those an acceptable break from the fluff of the silly season…

[July 20, 1961] A CULTURAL DIVIDE (A UK fandom report)


By Ashley R. Pollard

This month, our London correspondent looks upon the rifts in the British science fiction community and despairs for the world as a whole…

Fans gathered at The White Horse in the 1950s—before we moved to The Globe

I have previously mentioned that London science fiction fandom is engaged in a feud that started three years ago, but which hasn’t stopped us from all meeting up at the pub once or twice a month for a drink and a chat. The feud is rather boring and has become increasingly tedious with disputes and tempers flaring over trivial things like membership cards — who needs membership cards anyway?

I mention this again apropos of this month’s title: A Cultural Divide.

For those who don’t know me, I’m a psychologist, and therefore people interest me, and understanding their behaviours is all part and parcel of my job.  Still, I’m amazed at what I see happening within fandom when quarrels break out.  Given science fiction fans have a lot in common with each other you might think that a sense of community would lessen divisions rather than stir them up.

Still, there’s always a Gin & Tonic with ice and a slice for when things get too hot and bothered in the pub.  Besides, as a woman, my opinions are rarely sought by the men who are arguing away over the various trivialities that consume them.

Our perennial fannish storm in a teapot proved a fine backdrop for the larger one described in C. P. Snow’s famous 1959 Rede Lecture The Two Cultures, which transcript I was able to recently secure, and which I read with great interest in a quieter corner of the pub.

In Cultures, Snow discusses at great length the divide he sees between the scientific and the arts and literary communities.  In particular, the way each perceives the world and the growing divide where one side is unable to comprehend what the other side says. 

The primary example Snow uses is the inability of the arts and literary culture to grasp things like the importance of the second law of thermodynamics: the idea of entropy increasing over time.  His argument being that the political and social elites are no longer taught science and technology, which effectively makes them modern day Luddites opposed to industrialisation, at a loss to cope with the changes technology is bringing.

Because of this, Snow argues there has grown a divide between arts and literary intellectuals and scientists/engineers.  Neither side being able to comprehend the other or finding the points of view expressed nonsensical to their ears.  Each side seeing the other as deluded.

Snow goes on to argue that social changes have been driven by the industrial revolution, which has changed society in ways the political leaders of the country fail to appreciate, because they come from the arts and literary side of the intellectual spectrum.  As such, they’re unable to see beyond the change in their lives, and don’t understand the best hope for the poor is industrialization despite the problems that occur as a result of people leaving the countryside and living in the cities.

After all, would one really want to go back to working the land as an agricultural labourer?

Now, Snow argues, we are standing at the beginning of a new revolution, a scientific revolution, heralded by the harnessing of the atom.  Yet our leaders, both political and social, are brought up in the domain of arts and literature not science and engineering.  Rich and poor, however, while divided by wealth, share a cultural assumptions from the historical narrative, but this, while good in one way, is also problematical because of the assumptions from the historical narrative affect how one sees the world.

So, the rich fail to comprehend science and technology, while the poor treat science and technology as things equivalent to magic: beyond their comprehension and understanding.

However, the poor experience the benefits that science and technology bring and are affected by the social changes arising in a visceral way that the rich are insulated from by their wealth.  In short, the rich live their lives with values derived from an arts and literary education where social change is slow, whereas the poor have to contend with both the benefits and costs from a rapidly changing cultural milieu.

And now we face the possibility of another change, with Great Britain, Denmark and Ireland applying to join the European Economic Community.  While Britain and the countries of EEC share a cultural heritage the leaders of all the countries have failed to recognize the implications of the socio-economic changes that will occur from a union which will accelerate technological change across Europe.  A change that will be magnified if the cultural elites fail to pay attention to the scientific revolution.  Snow argues these social changes will divide populations and the only thing that can address the problem is better education with a greater emphasis on science. 

The narrative of science is based in evidence, whereas the arts and literary narrative is based on mythology.  If were are to develop, not just new machines, but to to gain insight into the most valuable of resources, ourselves and what makes us tick, then we have to embrace the scientific method, put facts before feelings and develop theories that account for our natures, rather than mythologizing the human condition based on beliefs held onto through faith. 

Perhaps science fiction is the answer.  I like to think that our genre serves as a bridge between the abstruse texts of science and the spiritual fantasies of the uninitiated.  Science fiction, as educating entertainment, is the “spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down.” 

On the other hand, looking at fandom, which I would argue is society writ small, we can’t seem to agree on anything.  And if we can’t agree on our own narrow issues, how can we expect a more fundamental divide, such as the one described by Snow, ever to be healed?

I can only conclude human nature drives peoples reaction to change and differences of opinion, which education alone may not be able to address.  No matter where you go in this world, ultimately people are just people.