Scotland in Space

Creative Visions and Critical Reflections on Scotland’s Space Futures. Editors: Deborah Scott and Simon Malpas. Foreword by Ken MacLeod

Shoreline of Infinity/The New Curiosity Shop, 2019, 179 p.

Ken MacLeod’s wittily titled foreword “Steam me up Watty” (though he was not the first to it, Watt being apparently one of Birmingham’s finest, according to the Birmingham Mail) sets the scene for Scotland’s entitlement to a share in space endeavours while the editors’ Introduction explains the project’s genesis.

The main body of the book has three sections, each with a story specially written for the book, and academic essays complementing or critiquing the points it brings up.

Scotland and Mars has Pippa Goldschmidt’s Welcome to Planet AlbaTM!, set on the eponymous vistor centre next to a launch pad somewhere in the north of Sutherland, where tourists can experience a VR sensation of walking on Mars at a time when the first humans are actually on their way to the Red Planet. Narrator Ali is of Arabic extraction and spent some time working in the US. The story is about loneliness, rootlessness and fitting in. Alastair Bruce’s essay Mars: There and Back Again relates the hows and when of getting to Mars and the latest plans for that. Sean McMahon discusses what colour Mars really is. (Spoiler: not red – in fact it’s a mixture of browns, beiges and orange with the (very) occasional blue sunset or -rise.) Elsa Bouet in Red Journeys: ‘Welcome to Planet AlbaTM‘! and the Martian Literary Imaginary assesses Pippa Goldschmidt’s story and its themes among the history of Mars in fiction, Wells, Bradbury, Robinson et al.

Fringe in Space begins with Laura Lam’s story A Certain Reverence which is larded with Scottish words and usages. It’s narrated by Blair Orji. She is part of a Scottish contingent, either scientists or entertainers, to a tidal-locked planet orbiting Proxima Centauri b where aliens (who have already given humans access to all-but-light speed technology) are waiting to be exposed to Scots culture. In Life, but not as we know it: the prospects for life on habitable zone planets orbiting low-mass stars Beth Biller considers how we have identified such planets, their nature and how to tell if they are habitable. Tacye Philippson, senior Science Curator at National Museums Scotland, in Alien collecting: speculative museology, assesses what aliens might consider worth collecting from Earth and from Scotland in particular.

Scotland at the end of the Universe starts with Russell Jones’s story Far, in which an (almost literally star-cross’d) love story is blended in with an Inflation Drive which allows a newly independent Scotland to be transferred across the universe. The appearance of the story is notable for its layout which resembles that of modern poetry at times (unsurprisingly as Jones is a poet) but also for the brightly coloured illustrations of drinks glasses and what looks like microwave background images plus a few diagrams and the word ‘Yes’ rendered in blue in the font used for promoting that result during the 2014 Independence Referendum. In The Multiverse Catherine Heymans explains how cosmic inflation (which describes how the early universe must have expanded, its signature left as the cosmic microwave background,) violates Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity but how an Inflation Drive could indeed be a way of travelling faster than light – except for the problems involved in switching it off. Vatjaz Vidmar’s Of Maps, Love Stories and the Universe describes both fiction and science as kinds of maps delineating connectedness and that bonding in this way (as within or between atoms) may be the universe’s resistance to its own demise by heat death.

Colin McInnes’s Afterword notes that the first person to give a description of rocket propulsion (in 1861; well before Goddard and Tsiolkovsky) was a Scot, William Leitch, from Rothesay, and that Scotland is well to the fore in modern space technology, Glasgow now manufacturing more spacecraft than any other European city, a possible proving ground for the exploration of space both fictionally and in reality.

Pedant’s corner:- Jones’ (Jones’s.) “The tourists area” (ought to have an apostrophe; tourists’,) McFadyan (unusual spelling of McFadzean, though presumably pronounced the same way,) “Susan and me carefully wriggled through” (Susan and I,) a missing quotation mark before a piece of direct speech, “about half the diameter Earth” (of Earth,) Marts (Mars’s,) “one variant of these are ion thrusters” (one variant is – even if the ion thrusters are plural they are still the one variant,) Wells’ (Wells’s,) tinging (tingeing,) censors (sensors.) “Scotland’s always dead set on doing it on our own aren’t we?” (either ‘We Scots are always …aren’t we?’ or, ‘on its own, isn’t it?’) “because a shipful of dead humans arrive is likely” (because if a shipful it is likely.) The binary star of Alpha Centauri blaze in two, tiny pinpoints” (stars,) “as we bowed and rose back up, still panting. The humans…” (as we bowed and rose back up, still panting, the humans ….) “Only happened once a millenia or so” (once a millennium,) Anglada-Escud é (Anglada-Escudé,) electronic shocks (electric shocks.) “This class of exoplanet have temperatures…” (This class has …,) “metamorphised limestone” (metamorphosed, or, since this was marble, ‘metamorphic’,) a missing full stop (x 2,) “now the vote and die has been cast” (plus marks for ‘die’ but that ‘and’ makes the verb’s subject plural; ‘have been cast’,) sat (x 2, sitting,) “their owner” (x 2, each time it was a dog, so ‘its owner’,) Heymans’ (Heymans’s,) “using the same physics that can predict the original temperature of your cup of tea 13.8 minutes after you brewed it” (not ‘predict’, it’s already happened; ‘calculate’,) “very epicentre” (epicentre means off-centre; ‘centre’, if you must aggrandise it use the word ‘hypercentre’,) miniscule (minuscule,) the moon (the Moon.)

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