[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sM8yjJYM8w?wmode=transparent]While Bloomsbury were publishing The Eye, filmmaker Nichola Bruce was completing The Strangeness of Seeing, an avant-garde alphabet of vision made in collaboration with the artist Rebecca Marshall. All 26 films are being screened at the Chelsea Arts Club on Monday, 24 October at 6.30pm, and Nichola’s asked me to join her for the Q&A afterwards. We’re allowed fifteen guests between us, so if you’d like to come along, drop me a line.
I’m preparing a series of talks for Pushkin House in London, to tie in with a long project on science under Joseph Stalin. While we’re finalising the programme, these notes will give you an idea what to expect.
Russia’s Other Culture: science and technology in 20th century.
Early in the twentieth century, a few marginal scientists bound themselves to a bankrupt government to create a world superpower. Russia’s political elites embraced science, patronised it, fetishized it, and even tried to impersonate it. Many Soviet scientists led a charmed life. Others were ruined by their closeness to power. Four illustrated talks reveal how this stormy marriage between science and state has shaped the modern world.
1. The Men Who Fell to Earth: How Russia’s pilots, parachutists and pioneers won the space race.
In the 1950s and 1960s Sergei Korolev and the Soviet space programme laid a path to the stars. Now Russia is our only lifeline to the technologies and machines we have put in orbit. Simon Ings is joined by Doug Millard, Senior Curator of ICT & Space Technology at London’s Science Museum, to trace Russia’s centuries-old obsession with flight. This was the nation that erected skydiving towers in its playgrounds, built planes so large and so strange, the rest of the world thought they were fakes, and outdid Germany and the US in its cinematic portrayal of space. The nation’s soaring imagination continues to astonish the world.
The talk coincides with 50th anniversary of pioneering space travel by Yuri Gagarin
2. Prospectors: Why Russia sits on plenty and never gets rich
The old boast ran that Russia governed an empire with more surface area than the visible moon. Still, 40 per cent of it lay under permafrost, and no Romanov before Alexander II so much as set foot in Siberia. Defying nature, the Bolsheviks forcibly industrialized the region, built factories and cities, and operated industries in some of the most forbidding places on the planet. Beginning with the construction of the Transsiberian railway, and ending with the planting of the Russian flag on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, this is a story of visionaries and idealists, traitors, despots, and the occasional fool.
The talk will form part of a week of activity marking the fifth anniversary of Pushkin House’s establishment in Bloomsbury.
3. Red Harvest: What Russia’s famines taught us about the living world.
After the civil war, the Bolsheviks turned to the revolutionary science of genetics for help in securing the Soviet food supply. The young Soviet Union became a world leader in genetics and shared its knowledge with Germany. Then Stalin’s impatience and suspicion destroyed the field and virtually wiped out Russian agriculture. Stalin was right to be suspicious: genetics had promised the world a future of health and longevity, but by the 1940s it was delivering death camps and human vivisection. Genetic advances have made possible our world of plenty – but why did the human cost have to be so high?
4. “General Healthification”: Russia’s unsung sciences of the mind.
The way we teach and care for our children owes much to a handful of largely forgotten Russian pioneers. Years after their deaths, the psychoanalyst Sabina Spielrein, the psychologist Lev Vygotsky and the pioneering neuroscientist Alexander Luria have an unseen influence over our everyday thinking. In our factories and offices, too, Soviet psychology plays a role, fitting us to our tasks, ensuring our safety and our health. Our assumptions about health care and the role of the state all owe a huge debt to the Soviet example. But these ideas have a deeper history. Many of them originated in America. The last lecture in this series celebrates the fertile yet largely forgotten intellectual love affair between America and the young Soviet Union.
Probably not – but who will have the guts to actually stand up and say so? Who dares canute the creeping sciencefictionalisation of everything?
Will Adam Roberts, three-times Clarke Award nominee, finally bite the hand that never quite feeds him?
Will Tom Hunter rub ash in his hair, drag his fingernails through his cheeks, and recant his works as Director (some would say, saviour) of the Arthur C Clarke Award?
Will John Sutherland, Emeritus Professor of Modern English Literature at UCL, treat this jargon-besotted genre with the derision and contempt it so richly deserves?
Or will it be left to Muggins here to generate conflict and controversy in a room full of people who think science fiction is, well, quite good really…?
Find out when I chair the snappily titled “Is Science Fiction the only truly relevant literary genre today?” at 7:00PM on Monday, 7 November 2011.
Come along to the Darwin Lecture Theatre, UCL, Darwin Building, Malet Place, WC1E 7JG.
The event is presented by New Scientist and Gower Street Waterstones, who are hoping this bun-fight will promote Roberts’s new novel By Light Alone. Annoy them by bringing copies of Dead Water for me to sign.
Also, I will be making a Special Announcement that will change the face of British science fiction overnight.
Tickets £8 / £6 New Scientist Subscribers/ £5 students http://waterstoneslectureseries.eventbrite.com
All details here:
Thanks to the splendid Pod Delusion, here’s a recording of my conversation with Simon Frantz at CineSci6.
Oliver Morton (@Eaterofsun) tweeted: “This lovely ad makes me think bizarrely of @simonings’s Dead Water rewritten by a Disney sentimentalist”