By James Dacey
I must confess that throughout school and university I could never warm to science-fiction books. On the several occasions when I did attempt to read these stories, I found that I would quickly get bored, as I simply could not engage with the zany characters and situations that all seemed so cold and detached from my own everyday experiences. And in many cases I quickly became irritated by the tone of these authors, who to my mind seemed more intent on demonstrating how wickedly clever they were than actually bothering to craft a decent story. And then I discovered Ray Bradbury.
It was courtesy of my parents, who bought me The Illustrated Man as a Christmas present. My mum, a literature lover with no particular interest in science, told me that this was a great collection of short stories about people, which just happen to be set in distant places or futures. She was absolutely right and I was soon gripped by these imaginative tales with their familiar characters and surprisingly simple plots.
For instance, I loved “The Long Rain”, a story about some explorers who become stranded on Venus, a planet where it is never ceases to pelt down acidic rain. Their only hope of survival is to reach one of the man-made “Sun domes”, where they can take refuge before they are driven to insanity by the rain. In another story, “The Man”, a group of astronauts from Earth travels for years before landing on a distant planet. To the travellers surprise/disappointment they discover that this world has been paid a visit only the previous day by a Jesus-like character who has managed to enlighten the entire population. The story then becomes focused on the varying reactions of the astronauts to the situation.
In short, my experience of reading Bradbury transformed my view of science fiction. I now realize that it is a very broad genre that overlaps with other types of fiction that I knew I already enjoyed.
So with the sad news that Bradbury died this week, I thought it would be a nice idea to dedicate this week’s Facebook poll to science fiction, by asking you to select your favourite author from the genre. Now, despite my fairly recent change of heart, I’m still a very long way from being any sort of expert in the science-fiction field. So I asked a colleague here at Physics World with a passion for literature to draw up a list of some of the undoubted greats of the genre. This is what we have:
Arthur C Clarke
Robert A Heinlein
Kim Stanley Robinson
Please vote for your favourite by visiting our Facebook page. And, of course, feel free to explain your choice or suggest an alternative author by posting a comment on the poll.
In last week’s Facebook poll we asked you to express your opinion on the recent announcement that the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope will be constructed in both South Africa and Australasia. This “split-site” decision by the SKA committee came as a bit of a surprise, given that the past few years have seen South Africa and Australasia battling it out with independent bids to host the telescope.
The decision, however, is popular with the people who took part in our poll, as 93% of respondents selected the option “Yes, it is a good compromise”. Just 5% believe that SKA should be built exclusively in South Africa, and only 2% believe it should be built exclusively in Australia. Thank you for all your responses and we look forward to hearing from you again in this week’s poll.