After an intense few months of move project management, with little time for anything else, the relocation to Cambridge is upon me and life can start to be filled up again with things other than estate agents, builders, painters, letting agents, removal companies, the list goes on. So yesterday I had the pleasure of spending the day filming with a great crew from the BBC making a short film as part of the New Generation Thinker experience. Check out last year’s films here. And yes, I did have to walk around looking thoughtful and take a book down off a shelf and pretend to be very interested in it. TV is a strange beast but it’s fascinating being part of a team creating in a medium where the images hold sway over the words. Very different to writing, and to radio. I’ll post a link to the NGT 2013 films when they find their way on to the BBC Arts page. In the meantime, there’s much more to come over the next few months, from a new blogging role for Sci-Fi-London, home of the UK’s main SF film festival, to a What Scientists Read event at the Edinburgh International Science Festival in April. Goodbye packing; hello world. It’s good to be back!
[Bad pun blog title courtesy of my husband.]
So the big news this month is that I’ve just been appointed to a University Lectureship in Literature and Film at the University of Cambridge. I’ll be heading down South to take up the post on 1st April 2014. I’m looking forward to embracing all things film and literature in the South East, as well as being within easy striking distance of the Big Smoke. One of my main responsibilities will be a special topic paper on Classical Hollywood – my favourite recent discovery is the startlingly postmodern 1941 musical Hellzapoppin’, loved by Lindy Hoppers the world over for its fantastic dance scene, but also laugh out loud funny and smartly self-reflexive about the Hollywood cinema of its time, in particular, and film in general. Well worth a watch over the festive period!
This Friday will be the 50th anniversary of the death of Aldous Huxley, the prolific writer best known for his dystopian vision of the future Brave New World. To honour the occasion I’ll be heading down to Edinburgh for my first visit to BBC Radio Scotland’s The Culture Studio. I’ll be chatting with Janice Forsyth about Huxley’s life and work – just how far are we now actually living in the world he imagined?
There’s an interesting connection here with Zamyatin’s We which I discussed last month at BBC Radio 3′s Free Thinking Festival. Huxley denied having read We before writing Brave New World but the similarities between the two tales are uncanny: the use of literature for state propaganda; the possibility of a space beyond the world of the controlled state; a final showdown with the man at the top; the threat the individual poses to an organised society. It’s hard to believe that We was not a source for Brave New World – George Orwell didn’t buy it; nor did Kurt Vonnegut, author of the fantastic Player Piano, who cheerfully admitted that he ripped off his plot from Brave New World which he had no doubts was equally ripped off from We. Lurking in the background here, as always of course, is H. G. Wells with his visions of future utopias and dystopias which have frightened and intrigued all subsequent speculative writers in equal parts.
Debate raged this summer about the all-male Arthur C. Clarke shortlist and the place of women writers in science fiction. That, along with the Texas abortion law changes, got me thinking about the feminist power of SF and what we can learn from it about women’s rights and how these are connected to our control of our own reproduction. That became the topic of my Free Thinking essay, which will be broadcast tonight on BBC Radio 3 at 10.45pm. As always, if you can’t listen live, it’ll be available on listen again here. Come with me on a late night journey on the Wombcraft to other imagined times and places. Enjoy the ride!
So, I am all Free Thunk! What a fantastic weekend in Gateshead with the BBC team and my fellow New Generation Thinkers. Speed dating was a heady, super-charged, intellectual comedy with the lovely Ian McMillan hooting the hooter in his own inimicable style. I came runner up each day with my idea that we should have a National Fool to keep us all honest! In slightly more serious proceedings, my discussion of Zamyatin’s dark dystopia We and the contemporary issues we are all facing around surveillance and questions of privacy, security and freedom was broadcast last night on BBC Radio 3. I was lucky enough to participate alongside a trio of the best in the business – David Aaronovitch, Sean O’Brien and Matthew Sweet. If you didn’t catch it last night, you can listen again here.
And here’s me trying to win over the love and votes of the Speed Dating public!
After a quiet, scholarly summer I’m reemerging to get going on some more public activities. First thing coming up is the fantastic annual BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival at The Sage, Gateshead, 25th-27th October. This year’s theme is ‘Who’s in Control?’ and I’ll be sharing my thoughts at two gigs. On the Saturday, come along to my essay on reproduction and SF taking a tour of speculative fiction from Wells to Battlestar Gallactica. Then on Sunday I’ll be joining poet Sean O’Brien and journalist David Aaronovitch for a discussion of Zamyatin’s astonishing dystopian novel We. Tickets are free but need to be booked in advance here. All the sessions are recorded live and broadcast on BBC Radio 3 shortly after so if you can’t make it to Gateshead, stay tuned to Radio 3 instead!
My first column as a BBC New Generation Thinker has been broadcast on Monday 10th June in a fascinating programme also covering the Slade School of Artists, the current problems in Turkey and Kierkegaard. Listen again at BBC Night Waves (my column starts at 27.53 minutes in).
I was down in London yesterday to record my first column for BBC Radio 3 Night Waves. The science media is all a-buzz about ‘analogy’ at the moment after the publication of the new book by Pulitzer prize winning cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter and his collaborator, French psychologist Emmanuel Sander: Surface and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking. They argue that rather than analogy just being a part of reasoning, it it actually the key to cognition – the only way we understand anything is by comparing it to something we already know. Interested by their arguments, I take a look at how analogy figures in literature and science and what is can tell us about the relationship between them. It’ll be broadcast sometime next week – I’ll post the link when it come out, so watch this space.
I’ll be heading down to Looking Glass Books in Edinburgh on Thursday 30th May along with my collaborators on the What Scientists Read project to talk AA. Milne, Jane Austen, galaxy evolution and much more with members of the British Science Association.
I’m delighted to announce that I’ve been selected as a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker 2013! Keep an eye on my Radio page for updates on upcoming appearances on BBC Radio 3′s Night Waves.