Wednesday, 17 December 2014

An Illuminating Interview

You know how, back in the day (i.e. before the 15th century), people had to write all those long books out by hand? And how that Gutenberg bloke came along and started printing stuff, which led to More Books?

Right, now we're on the same page - so to speak - here's a link to an illuminated MS that's been created by modern scribes. None of them are monks, so far as I know, and they are unlikely to be struck down at any moment by marauding Vikings, or the Black Death. Otherwise, though, they are perfectly legit scribes. With ink.

It does look a bit odd, because of course mediaeval manuscripts were chock full of weird images of naughty/crazy people, strange mythical beasts etc. Here the scribes have done a cracking job of illustrating the piece with images of the Saturn V, Apollo spacecraft etc.

Anyway, they've produced a spiffing volume of illuminated writings about sundry topics. At the link you can see an interview with physicist and science writer Paul Davies. It's an interesting interview in itself.

I think Davies makes a good point re: Richard Dawkins, in that the latter's books made biology sexy, whereas before The Selfish Gene it had been seen as the rather dull, worthy cousin of physics and astronomy.

Re: written science fiction, there is the thorny question of whether it should - or can be - more optimistic. Davies makes the key point that the Cold War led to the Space Age because of intense competition for prestige between two power blocs. But if military strategy had been the sole issue, there'd have been no real need to try and convert/upgrade ICBMs to take men to the Moon and probes far beyond. Similar competition might produce a 'Second Space Age' fuelled by the rivalry of (say) India and China.

Sadly, Davies also makes the point that our culture seems increasingly rootless, or rudderless. Where material acquisitiveness is everything, nothing is meaningful. At the same time, he's right to argue that things are better now in many ways than they were in the Sixties or Seventies. What we lack is a 'framing narrative', a common core of myth or idealism. I don't see literary sf delivering that, but I could be wrong. Renaissance humanism only affected a small minority of people in theory, as only a few could read. But many more were touched by art, music, and the general spirit of the age.

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