Working in the spaceship yards, for real
On Tuesday I gave a talk at Strathclyde University's Advanced Space Concepts Laboratory
's seminar series
. Professor Colin McInnes
(who I'd met at Satellite 2
, and whose talk there
was recently summarised in an article in The Herald
) and Dr Malcolm Macdonald
had invited me, and they showed me around the labs and took me out for a few drinks, a meal and a very stimulating conversation afterwards - for all of which, much thanks.
You can see the seminar here
- there's an opening sample on the page, and buttons for streaming or downloading if you want to see and hear the whole talk and discussion. Here's the (slightly tongue in cheek) abstract:
"The Imaginary Engine: notes for a research proposal on the 1990s
private space space opera boom in science fiction".
Abstract: The relationship between scientific-technological advance and science fiction has often been assumed and celebrated but seldom rigorously examined. A possible theoretical framework for doing this has emerged in the discipline of Science and Technology Studies (STS): 'the political economy of promise'. Usually applied in the context of biotechnology, this framework looks at the ways in which the 'promise' of new technologies or scientific breakthroughs is used to mobilise resources – of labour, capital, research grants, political credibility, public acceptance – in the real world. Imaginary representations of promising developments play an integral part in this process, acting as (almost literally) 'fictitious capital' in the boom phase of an economic cycle.
It is suggested that science fiction, by treating future possibilities as actualities, may function as an even more literal fictitious capital. In the second half of the 1990s, rapid technological development in, and the ever-widening application of, information technology and the consequent dot-com boom was accompanied by a surge of technological optimism – albeit combined, often, with social pessimism – in science fiction. One such area of optimism concerned the near prospect of large-scale private space exploration and settlement. Records of this period exist in the archives of numerous newsgroups and semi-public mailing lists such as alt.space, sci.space, and the Extropians email list. A mapping of discussion on these lists with influential works of written SF of that period and with speculative investment in a number of fields is outlined and further research proposed.
Though my delivery, as usual, gives the impression that I am painfully dredging words from the vast shallows of my mind, and the camera and mic are unforgiving of my tics (fiddling with my glasses, clicking my pen, pushing up my sleeves), I had the benefit of an involved and SF-savvy audience whose questions and comments contributed a great deal.
I was well impressed by the scale and scope of the engineering department, by the enthusiasm of the staff and the research students I met, and by the work of the Advanced Space Concepts Laboratory, which is collaborating with local space industry
and other partners in numerous
fields, including the exciting field of microspacecraft.
They're building spaceships on the Clyde! Who knew? As one of the builders points out, there are a lot of young people in Scotland who really need to know, and he's doing something about it
Labels: climate, genomics, local, Scottish politics, self-promotion, skiffy, writing