How futuristic does futuristic science fiction have to be? How do we imagine our descendants will be living, five or six generations down the line? Judging from science fiction on films and TV, we do appear to be convinced of one thing – that doors will be a very odd shape in the future. Personally, I am not convinced. I suspect that the shape, a rectangle, that has served perfectly well for hundreds of years, will continue to serve in the future.
The images we receive from the international space station suggest that living room in Space is just as cluttered and haphazard as living rooms on Earth, but we like the notion that spaceships of the future will feature a great deal of streamlined plastic vaguely reminiscent of Habitat designs from the 1970s.
In my first sci-fi book, Inside Out (published on May 12th), my spaceship, the Heloise, is travelling across the Solar System in the future – more than two centuries away, but less than three, so it should have a great deal of Terence Conran influence. But it doesn’t. For the first part of its voyage it is serving as a cruise ship for middle-aged, middle-income tourists and its décor, inspired by transatlantic liners of the early 20th century, owes far more to James Cameron than to Gene Roddenberry, while the passengers comfort themselves with guides to social etiquette of the 1950s.
What prompted me to make this decision was St Pancras Station. I could say Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament too, but St Pancras is all about travel and it says so much.
The nineteenth century saw a huge surge in technology, taking our ancestors beyond one final frontier after another. In 1830, a journey from Chester to London could be made in about 24 hours (by travelling through the night), on an expensive horse-drawn mail coach. For the majority of people, a journey across their own shire was a major expedition. Then the railways arrived and within a very short time, travel across the entire country was possible for anyone within a single day. The static population was suddenly mobile. As the empire expanded and steam ships improved, even travelling round the world became a casual prospect.
How did society respond to this surge in possibilities? By building Gothic railway stations to suggest that everyone was still living safe in the certainties of the Middle Ages. Needless to say, these certainties involved pointed arches, pretty stonework and noble knights but glossed over pestilence, famine and the burning of heretics. The Middle Ages were a time when everyone knew where they were and what was expected of them. Geographical and social mobility is a worry. Anything might happen. Faced with limitless horizons, packed with uncertainties, many people prefer to shut the door and stay safely within the four walls of the familiar.
When writing Inside Out, I was making a wild guess that many ordinary people, confronted with the sudden expansion of our horizons to the edge of the Solar System, would simply hyperventilate if offered passage on the Star Ship Enterprise, but feel far more comfortable with a slightly cheap and tacky version of the Titanic – minus the iceberg, of course.
released May 12th on Kindle