(Forgotten British heroes, part one)
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the basic premise of this idea was a little corny but back in March 1953 it was hot stuff. Children all across the British Isles were delighted when the first edition of a new comic; The Lone Star (“the only magazine with three dimensional pictures!”) hit the newstands featuring Sheriff Ace Hart. Created and drawn by artist Ron Turner, Ace (or Space Ace as he became known) thrilled and entertained the nation with his galactic swashbuckling every week.
Ron Turner is a name that is probably known to hardened comic book fans but to most of us, he is largely unknown. It’s a safe bet, however, that we might have all seen his art from time to time as his later work included comic strips featuring Thunderbirds, The Daleks and Judge Dredd. But it was Ace Hart that really got the ball rolling for this prolific illustrator and was the culmination of a lifetime’s fascination of science fiction for him.
The ‘space western’ is a well known trope in modern culture but executed properly it can be very effective and quite endearing. Star Trek is perhaps the best example over recent years but in the 1950’s they were more occupied with creating the genre, not steering clear of the clichés. The trope revolves around the idea that the vastness of space contains many hazards and adversaries similar to those encountered by American settlers as they forged a path across the ‘new world’. In that context, Ron was being truthful to the idea by casting his spaceman as a hard-nosed, western lawman.
In the story, Ace is struck by a meteorite which gives him immunity to radioactivity. This super power leads him to become Space Squadron Commander (naturally), captaining the new spaceship The LS1. His crew includes the craft’s inventor Professor McKay, his chief pilot Bill Haines, science officer Dr Wang Fu, mining expert Monty Milne and a mascot monkey called Marmaduke. It sounds like a typical line-up for a space adventure but you have to remember it was created long before Star Wars. In fact, it was only eight years after the Second World War. Quite forward thinking for its time, I think you’ll agree.
British audiences never really experienced the explosion of science fiction radio drama that the Americans had during the 40’s and 50’s but it’s very likely that Ron was aware of them. So much so that his series was quite similar to a children’s series called Space Patrol which began a couple of years earlier than his comic strip. Kids in the 1950’s were obsessed with space travel and the potential which the brave new future promised them.
Space Patrol featured a young hero called Commander Buzz Corey and it was his job to see that law and order were kept in the thirtieth century around our solar system which was known then as the United Planets. Created by Mike Moser as a spoof of Flash Gordon, it soon gripped the imaginations of the American youth and during its run, between 1951 to 1954, it garnered the sponsorship of the Ralston Breakfast Cereal Company and spawned much merchandising, including a curious device called a “Space-O-Phone’.
Not to be outdone by their transatlantic cousins, the Die Cast Machine Tools Company (the firm which produced the Lone Star Comic) decided that they too could make a profit by cashing in on the idea of selling hero branded toys. It wasn’t long before they had produced their very own version of a futuristic communication device, available in a variety of colours, for children to reenact scenes from the adventure.
I was lucky enough, just recently, to discover a set of these at a collector’s fair and even more excited to get them for just £1. I don’t think the seller knew the significance nor the history but to me they were almost mythical in my imagination. I have been researching this genre for many years and had heard the radio advertisements proclaiming that it was possible to hear voices up to one hundred yards away. How was this achievable? I remember thinking.
Apart from the fact that it is possible to actually hear someone talking a hundred yards away without the aid of any device, I was intrigued as to what advanced technology lay behind these little miracles. Imagine my disappointment, then, when it became clear that they were little more than two tin cans and a length of string - in principal at least. Imagine also; the disappointment of a young ten year old lad and his sister as they gleefully opened the box on Christmas morning 1953 to discover, essentially, two plastic handles and some coloured cord. It must have provided literally minutes of entertainment before being thrown on a bedroom shelf. The dream, it seems, is always more resplendent than the actuality.
In fairness, they work really well and even have a small whistle set into the base of the handle so that you can alert the other user of your need to communicate. But it’s the thought of having a hundred yards of hazardous string between the two sets that jars with the practicality of playing out. How many times must that wire have got caught on furniture and branches in the rush to catch an alien. Worse still: as we all know - long lengths of any kind of wire, when left to its own devices, begins to tangle and knot itself into an impossible dreadlock of frustration. But most of all it’s the way that you have to stand facing your friend with the string held taught for the phones to work that is the single most play-inhibiting factor. That, and the fact that they are, well, a bit rubbish.
All of this is a lesson. It has taught us that childhood heroes come and go. One minute it’s mutated turtles, the next it’s a child wizard and all the time the manufacturers are watching us - waiting to bring toys and other objects branded with our loved one’s logo and sturdy endorsement to prise our hard-earned pocket money out of our sweaty and gullible hands.
More than this, it has taught us that Britain had a passion for science fiction long before Doctor Who and also had some very talented artists bringing it to us. Ron Turner may have slipped under the radar in the internet age but his spirit lives on and much of what we, as a culture, organically know of scifi today, is due in part to the exploits of a radioactively immune western sheriff that he created.
What follows is an actual transcript from a genuine archive document written in 1963 containing annotations from Sydney Newman the producer responsible for creating the original Dr Who mythology which became the now legendary television series. As you can see, the ‘doctor’ was originally intended to be: ‘A frail old man lost in space and time who has lost his memory’ (sounds very familiar to someone I know).
I discovered this document whilst researching my own ‘time-slip’ writing and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
BBC ARCHIVE. WRITTEN DOCUMENT 1963
“DR. WHO” General Notes on Background and Approach
A series of stories linked to form a continuing serial; thus if each story ran 6 or 7 episodes there would be about 8 stories needed for 52 weeks of the serial. With the overall title, each episode is to have its own title. Each episode of 25 minutes will begin by repeating the closing sequence or final climax of the preceding episode; about halfway through, each episode will reach a climax, followed by blackout before the second half commences (one break).
[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “Each episode to end with a very strong cliff hanger.”]
Each story, as far as possible, to use repeatable sets. It is expected that BP [abbreviation for ‘back projection’] will be available. A reasonable amount of film, which will probably be mostly studio shot for special effects. Certainly writers should not hesitate to call for any special effects to achieve the element of surprise essential in these stories, even though they are not sure how it would be done technically: leave it to the Effects people. Otherwise work to a very moderate budget.
There are four basic characters used throughout:—
A with—it girl of 15, reaching the end of her Secondary School career, eager for life, lower—than—middle class. Avoid dialect, use neutral accent laced with latest teenage slang.
MISS McGOVERN (LOLA)
24. Mistress at Biddy’s school. Timid but capable of sudden rabbit courage. Modest, with plenty of normal desires. Although she tends to be the one who gets into trouble, she is not to be guyed: she also is a loyalty character.
27 or 28. Master at the same school. Might be classed as ancient by teenagers except that he is physically perfect, strong and courageous, a gorgeous dish. Oddly, when brains are required, he can even be brainy, in a diffident sort of way.
[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “Top of his class in the parallel bars.”]
These are the characters we know and sympathise with, the ordinary people to whom extraordinary things happen. The fourth basic character remains always something of a mystery, and is seen by us rather through the eyes of the other three….
A frail old man lost in space and time. They give him this name because they don’t know who he is. He seems not to remember where he has come from; he is suspicious and capable of sudden malignance; he seems to have some undefined enemy; he is searching for something as well as fleeing from something. He has a “machine” which enables them to travel together through time, through space, and through matter.
QUALITY OF STORY
Evidently, Dr. Who’s “machine” fulfils mary of the functions of conventional Science Fiction gimmicks. But we are not writing Science Fiction. We shall provide scientific explanations too, sometimes, but we shall not bend over backwards to do so, if we decide to achieve credibility by other means. Neither are we writing fantasy: the events have got to be credible to the three ordinary people who are our main characters, and they are sharp—witted enough to spot a phoney. I think the writer’s safeguard here will be, if he remembers that he is writing for an audience aged fourteen… the most difficult, critical, even sophisticated, audience there is, for TV. In brief, avoid the limitations of any label and use the best in any style or category, as it suits us, so long as it works in our medium.
[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “Not clear”]
Granted the startling situations, [Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “What startling situations?”] we snould try to add meaning; to convey what it means to be these ordinary human beings in other times, or in far space, or in unusual physical states. We might hope to be able to answer the question: “Besides being exciting entertainment, for 5 o’clock on a Saturday, what is worthwhile about this serial?”
[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “Not clear”]
DR WHO’S “MACHINE”
When we consider what this looks like, we are in danger of either Science Fiction or Fairytale labelling. If it is a transparent plastic bubble we are with all the lowgrade spacefiction of cartoon strip and soap—opera. If we scotch this by positing something humdrum, say, passing through some common object in street such as a night—watchman’s shelter to arrive inside a marvellous contrivance of quivering electronics, then we simply have a version of the dear old Magic Door.
Therefore, we do no see the machine at all; or rather it is visible only as an absence of visibility, a shape of nothingness (Inlaid, into surrounding picture). Dr. Who has achieved this “disappearance” by covering the outside with light—resistant paint (a recognised research project today). Thus our characters can bump into it, run their hands over its shape, partly disappear by partly entering it, and disappear entirely when the door closes behind them.
[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “Not visual. How to do? Need tangible
It can be put into an apparently empty van. Wherever they go some contemporary disguise has to be found for it. Many visual possibilities can be worked out. The discovery of the old man and investigation of his machine would occupy most of tne first episode, which would be called:- “Nothing at the End of the Lane”
[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “Don’t like this at all. What do we see?”]
The machine is unreliable, being faulty. A recurrent problem is to find spares. How to get thin gauge platinum wire in B.C.1566? Moreover, Dr. Who has lost his memory, so they have to learn to use it, by a process of trial and error, keeping records of knobs pressed and results (This is the fuel for many a long story). After several near-calamities they institute a safeguard: one of their number is left in the machine when the others go outside, so that at the end of an agreed time, they can be fetched back into their own era. This provides a suspense element in any given danger: can they survive till the moment of recall? Attack on recaller etc.
[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “Good stuff here”]
Granted this machine, then, we require exciting episodic stories, using surprising visual effects and unusual scenery, about excursions into time, into space, or into any material state we can make feasible. Hardly any time at all is spent in the machine: we are interested in human beings.
OVERALL CONTINUITY OF STORY.
Besides the machine we have tne relationship of the four characters to each other. They want to help the old man find himself; he doesn’t like them; the sensible hero never trusts Dr. Who; Biddy rather dislikes Miss McCovern; Lola admires Cliff… these attitudes developed and varied as temporary characters are encountered and reacted to. The old man provides continuing elements of Mystery, and Quest.
He remains a mystery. From time to time the other three discover things about him, which turn out to be false or inconclusive. (i.e. any writer inventing an interesting explanation must undercut it within his own serial—time, so that others can have a go at tne mystery). They think he may be a criminal fleeing from his owm time; he evidently fears pursuit through time. Sometimes they doubt his loss of memory, particularly as he does have flashes of memory. But also, he is searching for something which he desires heart—and—soul, but which he can’t define. If, for instance, they were to go back to King Arthur’s time, Dr. Who would be immensely moved by the idea of the quest for the Grail. This is, as regards him, a Quest Story, a Mystery Story, and a Mysterious Stranger Story, overall.
While his mystery may never be solved, or may perhaps be revealed slowly over a very long run of stories, writers will probably like to know an answer. Shall we say:—
The Secret of Dr. Who: In his own day, somewhere in our future, he decided to search for a time or for a society or for a physical condition which is ideal, and having found it, to stay there. He stole the machine and set forth on his quest. He is thus an extension of the scientist who has opted out, but he has opted farther than ours can do, at tne moment. And having opted out, he is disintegrating.
[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “Don’t like this at all. Dr Who will
become a kind of father figure - I don’t want him to be a reactionary.”]
One symptom of this is his hatred of scientist, inventors, improvers. He can get into a rare paddy when faced witn a cave man trying to invent a wheel. He malignantly tries to stop progress (the future) wherever he finds it, while searching for his ideal (the past). This seems to me to involve slap up—to—date moral problems, and old ones too.
In story terms, our characters see the symptoms and guess at the nature of his trouble, without knowing details; and always try to help him find a home in time and space. wherever he goes he tends to make ad hoc enemies; but also there is a mysterious enemy pursuing him implacably every when: someone from his own original time, probably. So, even if the secret is out by the 52nd episode, it is not the whole truth. Shall we say:—
The Second Secret of Dr. Who: The authorities of his own (or some other future) time are not concerned merely with the theft of an obsolete machine; they are seriously concerned to prevent his monkeying with time, because his secret intention, when he finds his ideal past, is to destroy or nullify the future.
[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “Nuts”]
If ever we get thus far into Dr. Who’s secret, we might as well pay a visit to his original time. But this is way ahead for us too. Meanwhile, proliferate stories.
The first two stories will be on the short side, four episodes each, and will not deal with time travel. The first may result from the use or a micro—reducer in the machine which makes our characters all become tiny. By tne third story we could first reveal that it is a time—machine; they witness a great calamity, even possibly the destruction of the earth, and only afterwards realize that they were far ahead in time. Or to think about Christmas: which seasonable story shall we take our characters into? Bethlehem? Was it by means of Dr. Who’s machine that Aladin’s palace sailed through the air? Was Merlin Dr. Who? Was Cinderella’s Godmother Dr. Who’s wife chasing him through time? Jacob Marley was Dr. Who slightly tipsy, but what other tricks did he get up to that
[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: “I don’t like this much - it reads silly and condescending. It doesn’t get across the basis of teaching of educational experience - drama based upon and stemming from factual material and scientific phenomena and actual social history of past and future. Dr. Who - not have a philosophical arty-science mind - he’d take science, applied and theoretical, as being as natural as eating.”]
Contrary to any popular, urban myths that you might have heard, Lemmy told me (when I worked for Hawkwind as a roadie, many many years ago) that his nickname came from his childhood fondness (and ability to impersonate) a character called “Lemmy” Barnet, who was a ‘techie’ in a British science fiction radio programme called “Journey Into Space”. It was written by BBC producer Charles Chilton, and originally ran from 1953 to 1956. Such was the success and following of the show, it was the last radio programme in the UK to attract a larger evening audience than television. In many ways, it heralded the end of the ‘golden age of radio’.
The character of “Lemmy” Barnet was played by (among others) Alfie Bass and David Kossoff (father of rock guitarist Paul Kossoff) and he was the spaceship’s radio operator and resident ‘geezer’, often heard playing his mouth organ and getting into a variety of scrapes with cheeky charm. In retrospect, his character owes more to Shaggy from Scooby Doo than it does to Flash Gordon, but his ‘man of the people’ approach to space travel made him a very loveable mascot.
Originally, David Kossoff had asked Chilton if his character could be called Lemuel, but Chilton shortened the name to Lemmy and based the character on himself, since he had been a radio operator in the RAF.
If you have never heard of this programme, (and you enjoy vintage radio as much as I do,) you really should take the time to hear how the world sounded before TV and the internet. You can download most of the surviving episodes at the My Old Radio website and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
As with most sci-fi, it owes more to the ideology and spirit of the age in which it was written and this is typified in moments such as when the crew are frequently heard taking cigarette breaks. However, the scientific and technical observations are startlingly accurate, as are the crew’s reactions to seeing Earth from space for the first time.
Remarkably, in episode nine of series one (Operation Luna), Lemmy utters the immortal words (that were to become a catchphrase often shouted at the band Motorhead:) “Turn it up.” This is the same episode that the crew meet a terrifying space alien armadillo (!) played by none other than Derek Guyler, best known for his appearances on TV with Eric Sykes and the grumpy janitor in the 1970’s series “Please Sir.”
Most controversially, they suggested (in 1953!) that it would be the British who first landed on the moon in 1965. I was so captivated by this premise that I based a sketch on the idea when I was writing the original “Uncle Reggie’s Magic Radio”. However, in my version the astronauts were not only British, they were from Yorkshire and you can hear that sketch at Uncle Reggie’s Podcast Site. (The Yorkshire Moon Mission makes a return, guest appearance in the novel about Reginald Merryweather which I am currently working on.)
Don’t forget to explore the links contained in the above text.
“Good afternoon. Do you have anything on valve radios?” says a mellow voice that rings through the willows and elms, almost making the pond ripple in reverberant sympathy.
“Reggie!” I call as I turn and there he is, dressed in his familiar Gabardine raincoat and tweeds and he lifts his hat as he greets me with that huge, silly grin of his.
“How the devil are you, you old goat?”
I pull the lever and turn my scooter a little so that there is room for the two of them on the bench next to me. “What time do you call this?” I ask him, as he and a young man sidestep to be next to me.
“I’d call this a perfect time to arrive. Bradley - I’d like to introduce you to a very dear and very old friend of mine.”
“Hey less of the old already,” I say.
“Ziggy Bernstein. Ziggy this is Bradley Gardner,” and we shake hands awkwardly as he bends over.
“He’s not on the square, like us, is he?” I wink at Reggie.
“VERY PLEASED TO MEET YOU ZIGGY,” says Bradley.
“I’m not deaf!” I say. I’m just sitting down. “And what about you? What do you do?”
“He’s a journalist, don’t you know?” says Reggie.
“Oh? Are you famous?” I ask. Bradley looks at me and then at Reggie.
“Not as such, yet”
“He’s going to write about me,” smiles Reggie.
“Is he now?” I say. “Good luck.” - Bradley obviously hadn’t got to know Reggie very well yet (or perhaps he had), and he frowns at me as he sits, at the far end of the bench.
“Ziggy played guitar,” says Reggie, and his knee nudges mine. I know what he’s doing.
“Really?” says Bradley, stunned, dying to laugh but still not sure if he heard properly. After looking at me for a moment he decides to go for it: “Screwed up eyes and screwed down hairdo?” he says, cautiously. Reggie and me guffaw then fall silent. Reggie has a short coughing fit as he reaches for his pipe from his pocket.
“What do you mean?” I say, straight-faced and Bradley nervously mumbles and looks to Reggie for backup.
“He’s winding you up, Bradley,” says Reggie as he tamps down the tobacco and flicks his lighter open. “You’re learning fast though, I’ll give you that.”
Bradley might be ‘learning fast’ but he’s clearly out of his depth and Reggie was loving it. He leans over and points at the carrier bag of stale bread at the side of my scooter and asks: “Can I?”
“Sure, sure,” I say and kick the bag towards him. He delves into it and begins skimming slices of Mother’s Pride across the dark water as a flotilla of waterfowl emerge from the undergrowth in all directions and he seems pleased.
“So,” says Reggie, as billows of creamy smoke encircle his head and he takes off his hat, smoothing down the white hair, “what do you know?”
“Ach, the same old. You know?” I say. “Got here quite early today. Had a chat with Marty.”
“Oh how is he?” he says.
“You know, usual self.”
“Don’t ask,” I say and he cranes his neck up and looks along the High Street towards Royal Oak Lane.
“Did you come in the Moggy?” I ask.
“Yes. Just making sure she’s safe.”
“Still going strong then?”
“Aren’t we all?” he says with a glance. His brown eyes sparkle in the sharp sunlight and I can still see the fire within.
Bradley is coming to the end of the bread and as he flings the end crust, it wallops a drake on the head, bounces onto the bank and the tabby cat leaps and wrestles with an unsuspecting flurry of feathers. He anxiously looks at us and points but I know there is nothing we can do.
“I think it might be time for a lunchtime beverage. What do you think Reginald,” I ask.
“That sounds like a perfect idea. Come on Bradley.”
“Where are we going?” he asks, still watching the forces of nature taking their course and from the look on his face - feeling responsible, or perhaps irresponsible.
I stand up and fold the tartan blanket into the shopping basket which takes Bradley’s attention away from the cat but his mouth is still gaping as he watches me.
“I thought you …I mean. I didn’t know that…”
“What? That I couldn’t walk or something? Ach, I get lazy sometimes. Besides, my padded seat is more comfortable than that bench,” I say as they both rise and brush the cold from their trousers. “Come on, it’s just across the road.”
We sit in the window, overlooking the road so I can keep an eye on my scooter outside. The smell of freshly cooked chips and bacon fills the air as the soft murmur of a Sunday lunchtime warms us from the brisk day outside. A thin film of condensation blurs the glass and I wipe a small porthole with my cuff.
“A very agreeable pint indeed,” says Reggie as he slurps at the froth of his Black Swan. “Brewed in Yorkshire,” he enthuses to Bradley, then adds: “…wherever that is,”
Bradley’s glass is half-poised to his lips as he thinks fast and looks at him. “It’s…”
“I know - up North, but not as far as Scotland,” says Reggie and I laugh. Bradley laughs too but he is not in on our countless in-jokes. We’ve had sixty years to hone our repartee, how could he? We’re a double act, me and him.
The Fox is a homely, ‘proper’ English pub. Red brick, slatted windows with tangled ivy and a sense of log-fire welcome that is so often lost in many of the new, ‘corporate’ pubs. Villages revolve around places like this and for me, it has become my second home and I settle back, putting the newspaper on the seat at my side as I take off my scarfe.
“So fellas. What have you been up to this weekend?” I ask and Reggie gulps a quick mouthful before heavily landing his glass on the table.
“Oh, it’s been quite an adventure really,” he says and Bradley smiles and nods in agreement. “Friday night, Mrs Jiggery put on a bit of a spread for Burns Night - I know it’s not the right day, but I thought it might be fun. THEN,” he continues: “on the Saturday, we caught the bus into Bedford and after visiting the Museum and lunch at the Embankment…” Bradley is looking at him now. His smile has become that goldfish-gape again as Reggie turns.
“You remember, Bradley? I had the ‘dry-aged Aberdeenshire steak with all the trimmings and a pint of Bombardier and you had the Salmon Fishcake with a watercress salad and bottled water.? Bradley says nothing. He just looks at him and then at me.
“Anyway, after that we walked along the Ouse, over Town Bridge and onto the high street,” - I nod in acknowledgement and saw Bradley mouthing the word ‘No’ as he pulls a bemused frown for my benefit. “Then I took us to see the place where David Robinson had his old shop. Remember Bradley? I told you I worked there as a young man.”
“They named a college after him at Cambridge you know,” I added, looking at Bradley. “Sir David he was in the end.”
“Then we took another bus into Clapham to see the Glenn Miller Museum. Have you been there Ziggy? Housed in the old control tower of the airfield where he was last seen alive in ’44,” said Reggie widening his eyes. “Splendid it was, then back home in time for tea. Mrs Jiggery had made Stargazy Pie for us and we pulled Christmas crackers - just for a bit of fun.”
“Crackers …yes,” says Bradley, downing about half of his pint in a single go.
“Then I put on a slide show: Egypt, Paris, New York, that sort of thing. I opened a bottle of Armagnac and we had cigars,” he concluded.
We all fall silent as the soft, muffled noises of the pub envelop us and the sound of collective swallowing and the clinking of glasses on the table is the only exchange between us. Reggie looks at the crackling logs in the fire but Bradley is troubled. He looks out of the window and back at Reggie a few times before speaking.
“Reggie?” he says, “That’s not …I mean. I don’t …hm. How can I put this?”
Reggie puts his glass down and looks at him, slowly folding his arms, “hmm?”
“That’s not what happened. You’re joking. Right?”
“Well Bradley. Perhaps you’d like to tell the nice Mr Bernstein here, exactly what you have been up to for the last 48 hours, then. Hm?” he says, raising an eyebrow. Repeatedly. I’m not sure what he means but I expect he’s been up to mischief again. As usual. Whatever it is that Reggie is trying to conceal finally dawns on Bradley with a weighty realisation and he grins.
“Ah. Right,” he concedes and stares at the floor with a schoolboy blush just as the chips arrive.
“Ooh! Tucker,” beams Reggie and we all dive into our bowls of hand-cut, deep fried slabs of potato, each of us thankful for the distraction for different reasons.
“You know Reggie, I’ve been clearing out my garage recently. I’ve been getting rid of all the left over stuff from the shop as you know, and I found something that I think is yours,” I say, with a full mouth. Huffing the heat between the words. He turns to look at me.
“Oh?’ he says and I reach into my inside pocket. I offer out my hand and he wipes his on a napkin before taking the tin box from me. He is frozen in time as he gazes at the box.
“Well bless my soul,” he says, shaking his head. “After all these years.” His eyes twinkle as his fingers clasp around the tin. “Thank you Ziggy, you have no idea how precious this is.”
“What is it Reggie?” asks Bradley as he chomps and squirts more sauce on his lunch.
“This,” answers Reggie, “is ‘number seven’ …the one that was missing.”
Bradley stops and looks at his hand as he offers it to him. “I’d like you to look after it. You might need it later,” he urges and Bradley slowly takes the box and starts to open it but Reggie’s huge hand covers it. “Not now,” he says and Bradley puts the box in his pocket, looking at Reggie to make sure that he was doing the right thing. “Good lad,” says Reggie and concludes lunch, wiping his lips with the napkin and rising to his feet.
“You must excuse me a moment. I have to ‘see a man about a dog’,” he winks as he places his hand on Bradley’s shoulder to get past and I see him disappear across the bar and into the Gents. A few locals glance and some nod as he goes by.
“So, you’ve been having fun with ‘Uncle Reggie’ then, have you?” I smile at Bradley as I finish my chips.
“Yes, it’s been …interesting,” he says.
“What do you think of him?” I ask.
“He’s …” he thinks for a while, “fascinating,” he says.
“Don’t believe a word,” I warn him but he is not convinced.
My scooter trundles along the high street, bumpily, as Reggie and Bradley walk alongside as we go back to his Morris Minor, parked a little way along from the pond. I can recognise it immediately, not only for it being an old 1950’s split-screen, vintage green banger but also for the famous ‘AND 50’ number plate.
“Hello there Mavis,” says Reggie to the car, “I hope you’ve been keeping out of trouble.” He leans over and brushes a couple of leaves off the bonnet.
“What have you got planned for the rest of today?” I ask. Bradley shuffles about nervously.
“Oh, that’s it isn’t it? Bradley has to catch a train soon?” I look at him.
“Back home?” I ask.
“Yep, back to London to start my feature.”
“Where will you begin?” I ask him and he scratches his head.
“At the beginning I suppose,” and Reggie laughs.
“I doubt it,” he says.
I hand him the newspaper I’ve been carrying and say: “Here, take this. Something to read on the train,” and he takes it with a smile and a nod.
“How about you?” says Reggie.
“I think I fancy some duck soup tonight,” I say, looking back at the pond.
Bradley looks terrified for a moment, but I punch him on the shoulder.
“Silly boy. Sainsbury’s best. As if I’d…” I say, shaking my head and glancing at Reggie with a wink. “Next thursday, as usual?” I ask and he waves through the window and then they were gone
And that, in a nutshell, was my Sunday - same as usual: ‘nothing much happened’, but it was nice to see the old fool again. I just wonder what Bradley will make of it all.
Every Sunday I do this. I take the scooter down to the pond and feed the ducks. I like to have a little routine in my life, you know? A little routine goes a long way: it helps pass the time and it’s nice to have something to look forward to. Monday is Post Office day - I like to check my balance and then on the days when it’s due: collect my pension (ach, it’s not much but then I don’t want for anything these days. Myriam - god rest her - left me everything. I get by.) Tuesdays I like to go to Senior’s Yoga at the community centre and although I find it hard to join in, there’s a lot you can do sitting down. They do a good cup of tea as well, so that makes it a nice trip out. Wednesday is shopping (after I’ve put the washing out). I get the bus into Hitchin and make a day of it. Thursdays I usually meet Reggie in the library and then we go for cakes and more tea.
Friday is the Fish and Chip Club. Three or four of us meet up and go have fish. I like a piece of fish on a Friday - It takes me back to childhood memories of Shabbat but, as there’s nobody to share it with anymore, I don’t make much of a fuss in an evening. Early bedtime, maybe read a book. Saturday is usually a bus ride into Bedford to walk ‘round the shops and then Sunday, it’s down to feed the ducks (if it’s not raining) and a pint of Black Sheep at The Fox with a few hours to read the newspapers. So that’s me for you: a man of leisure you might say but after a life like mine, I think I’ve earned it. I should complain.
“Zelig! Are you talking to the ducks again?”
I look around as best I can and see him standing there. Dark brown Homburg pulled down making his ears protrude like pink handles. “Marty? Is that you?” I ask.
“Yes, you old fool, who did you think it was? The Sandman?”
“It was your ears I recognised. Let me put my glasses on.” He sits on the bench next to my scooter and looks out across the pond.
“How’s Lydia?” I ask, but the curl of his mouth and the tipping of his outstretched hand tells me that things are not great, so I change the subject. “The grandchildren then? Have you seen them recently?”
“Ach, you should see them,” he suddenly beams, “all grown up now. But what looks they have …and bright too. They have brains,” he says, softly tapping his forehead. “They make me very proud.”
He turns slightly to look at me and the warmth of his smile, just for a moment, takes the chill off the afternoon. It’s the kind of day that has a bleak clarity to it, that only winter could bring. The light is different, it has a sharpening effect on the senses and there, way up in the highest stratosphere, the slightest of clouds smear themself over the thin blue canopy.
Marty, too, seems different today. January is visible in his features. Like Janus, he wore two faces - one, looking back over the old year, already blank as snow and the other: bracing the elements and pointing to the fresh green growth of renewal. He is a gardener at heart or rather: it is he.
He’s talking to me but his voice has softened into a blur in my mind as I listen to my own thoughts. I should really pay attention as I know at some point he will ask me something but I am content to just let the time pass and feel the crisp air on my cheeks as he talks. I watch as the ducks fight with each other under the willow trees. Dropped crusts of bread are bobbing about in the ripples around them and now, here comes a coot: little white beak thrusting forward to take advantage of the squabble and steal the crust.
“…don’t you think so?” I hear, as my attention focusses back on his voice - realising that it’s my turn to speak.
“Oh, of course,” I gamble, is the best answer, seeing as he was clearly looking for my approval. My punt pays off, as he seems satisfied that I was right there with him in the moment and, to put a cherry on it, I continue: “If God had meant it to be, he would have made it so,” I add with a knowing nod (which was a masterstroke) and in agreement, he sits back on the bench and crosses his legs, accidentally whacking my scooter. His huge black shoes don’t register the impact and he shuffles about in his seat. As long as he’s comfortable, I think as I look back across the pond.
“Sold any good books lately?” he asks me now, his tongue investigating the remains of his lunch lodged in his dentures.
“Marty, it’s been twenty years since I sold the bookshop.”
“But you were doing wholesale by mail order for a while, weren’t you?” he says, as he tips back his head to watch a flock of Canada geese rise in startled unison from the trees beyond. They scramble and re-form above us before disappearing beyond the rooftops with a collective claxon of noise like the London to Brighton run.
“Meh, it was too much like hard work. All those boxes: lifting, wrapping, posting. Anyway, it was all just left-over stock. Eventually, I’d got rid of most of it. The rest I gave to the charity shop and then some to the community centre.”
“You should have told me you were getting rid of it all.”
“It was all old stuff. You wouldn’t have been interested. People don’t crack spines anymore,” I say, mainly for my own satisfaction at the visual analogy.
“Spines? Cracking? What are you talking about already?” he says, leaning away slightly but turning to me.
A tabby cat skulks out from the trees on the opposite bank and as I watch it, I sigh and continue: “Book spines, Marty. Kids today. They prefer to read their phones or the internet. Paperbacks? They’re finished. Like us - crumbling remains of an older time.”
“Crumbling? Speak for yourself,” he laughs and nudges my knee. Then, slowly tipping himself forward he raises his elbows behind him and I hear the click and snap of his shoulders as he grunts and flexes his back.
“Well, can’t sit here all day. My geraniums won’t water themself you know,” he says as he rocks a couple of times before launching himself unsteadily into an upright position. “You take care of yourself now. Don’t go speeding in that thing,” he gestures with his cane and taps the wheel a couple of times. “I’m not bailing you out of prison if you get into a fight with any rockers,” he winks and I laugh.
“Rebel without a clue, that’s me Marty,” I say and as he disappears, chuckling onto the High Street and away, I call after him: “Remember me to Lydia,” and he acknowledges the thought with an un-glancing wave.
I’ve seen this village change over the years and not for the better either. He takes some time crossing the road because of the constant stream of cars - how they’ve made the outdoors seem so alien, almost dangerous. When I was a young man, there were very few cars. It’s hard to imagine now but apart from the occasional delivery van, people used to ride bicycles or walk. When they did that, it was like the outside was an extension of inside. As though all these strangers were actually in your own world and we’d speak to each other. In actual fact we all knew each other because of it and we had some connection in each other’s lives. But now, with everyone trapped in their little tin boxes, no one talks anymore and there’s never any peace and quiet. There’s always the continual drone of an engine somewhere and when you’re not so quick on your feet (or mind) every road is a worry.
Before all this, when life was different it was very different. I never had time to just sit and think about things like I do now. I was too busy building my empire. ‘How come you can’t be a dentist or a lawyer like your cousin Julius?’ said my mother back then but even though I loved books I didn’t particularly want to do any of the things in them - I was happy just to dream (I couldn’t read enough as child) so it was a concession on her part in a way and so it was sealed: a shop was the only option for me from an early age.
I remember it well. It had been a slow day. A few tourists had passed through: flicked over some copies of local history and some picture books about the British coastline. Mr Potter came in earlier and took away a handful of crime novels. He liked a good murder mystery and I tried to keep him a few aside. He was there most weeks and I liked to keep my regulars happy. Doris Stevenson, one of the local primary school teachers, wanted something on the Vikings and I sold her a huge old thing with engravings and colour plates that she was very happy with.
Yes, one thing that “The Shepherd’s Crook” had become known for was, catering to all tastes. “Rare, antiquarian, second hand and latest releases - all under one roof” it said in the advert I placed in the paper every week. It had been my empire for a few years and I was proud of it. Cousin Julius might be a big shot solicitor but I owned a bookshop, I thought. He had a bit of specialist knowledge but I, - I was the gatekeeper of knowledge itself, I sneered in spiteful peevishness at my absent mother.
It was just after lunch when I first met him. I’d been opening some boxes of books I had bought at auction and carefully collating them into piles on the table by the cash register when I heard the bell go. The shop was a small, three story Tudor style affair, with leaded windows set into a curved bay. There were three steps up from the main road and I could always hear customers even before they come in, by the way their footsteps echoed in the cellar below, but this chap was different. The first I knew, was when his huge frame appeared in the doorway, dressed in a Gabardine raincoat, and he lifted his hat as he greeted me.
“Good afternoon. Do you have anything on valve radios?” he said with a mellow voice that rung through the twists and turns of the shop, almost making the light fitting sing in reverberant sympathy.
“I think, if I do, they’ll be on the first floor,” I said and he bustled past me with vigorous enthusiasm. “But first …excuse me,” I called, “could you leave your holdall at the desk please.”
I heard him halt and turn on the creaking boards as he reversed down the steps.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t wish to appear rude but it’s for your own convenience. Sometimes,” I continued into the silence of his stare, “…sometimes people steal things.”
He looked at me for a while and I was not sure what to say next.
“Of course!,” he boomed, “forgive me. I’m not a thief but I do understand. Please, take this - but do look after it won’t you,” he said moving closer and lowering his tone. “It contains something very valuable indeed.”
I heard the floor groaning as he paced energetically back and forth upstairs and flecks of dust began to fall, softly through the shafts of sunlight filtering in between the racks in the window. It seemed as though he were consuming the contents of each book as I heard the sound of volumes being dragged from their shelves as others tumbled, causing him to trip more than once. After a while, I thought I should investigate and see if I could help.
As I climbed the stairs, calling “Is everything alright up there? Have you found anything you like the look of?” I was stopped in my tracks by his yelps of delight.
“Eureka!” he cried. “This is even better than I could have hoped for.”
“Ah,” I said. “A rare volume: ‘Calculation of Astronomical Formulae’. Good choice,” I smiled.
“I was rather hoping to discover ‘Advanced Principals of Valve Technology’ and for a while was quite tempted by ‘Newton’s Optical Writings’ but this is a bobby dazzler. Just the ticket,” he enthused as he bent back the pages and sat himself down on a dining chair by the window. Behind him, the street carried on its daily business but for him, the world came to a standstill as his eyes widened. Hurriedly flicking the pages.
“Listen to this,” he said, (presuming that I understood his enthusiasm but as they say: the customer is always right.) “Ephemeris Time is a uniform time based on the planetary motions, whereas Universal Time only exists on Earth and is necessarily based on its rotation.
Because the Earth’s rotation is slowing down and, more importantly: with unpredictable irregularities, UT is not a uniform time and cannot be trusted. Since the calculation of the position of planets requires a uniform time, one must use ET for the calculation of accurate ephemerides. Therefore, the exact value of the differences ΔT = ET - UT can be deduced only from observations and extremely accurate recorded measurements. I KNEW IT!” he roared with a sunrise grin. “This,” he said, slamming the book closed with one hand, so close to my face that I felt the backdraft and smelt the years of neglect as the dust billowed from its pages, “…is the missing link I have been looking for.”
He was still babbling as we went downstairs and I started wrapping the book for him in brown paper. “What line are you in?” I asked as I melted the ceiling wax onto the string of the package. His choice of book was unusual and I wanted to be sure that I could earn a bit of repeat business.
“I’m on the radio don’t you know?” he said. (I thought I had recognised the voice.) “Suspenders? Have you heard of that? ‘Best new radio drama of 1951’ said the Radio Times last year. It’s very popular,” he smiled.
“Your name please? So I can fill out a bill of sale,” I asked, pen poised at the ready.
“My name? Yes, it’s: R.K. Merryweather.”
“Reggie Merryweather?” I suddenly realised, “Yes I have heard you. You used to present ‘Missed your chance’ didn’t you? That was a funny show. I liked that. What’s this new one then? More comedy?” He looked at me seriously for a second before answering.
“Oh no,” he said. “It’s mystery, suspense, drama, horror and…” he slowly waved his hands as if invoking evil spirits and whispered: “the unknown,” and there was a long silence as he let the impact of his revelation fill the room.
“Well, I do hope you’ll come back if you need more inspiration or …reference material. I usually have things on most subjects and if I don’t have it I can always order it,” I smiled as I passed him my calling card.
“Zelig Bernstein. Literary broker. I see. Well thank you Ziggy, I certainly shall be back,” he said as he reached down for his holdall but it slipped as he was trying to put the book away and the contents came tumbling across the desk - A paper bag containing seven cherry scones.
I was surprised that he shortened my name that way - the way that they do in the States, but for some reason I instantly forgave him the familiarity. There was just something magnetic about his presence.
“Oh, I do beg your pardon,” he said as he grappled with the tumbling cakes. “I’m afraid I can’t resist visiting Mary Marshall’s cake shop whenever I come in to Hitchin.”
“I’m quite partial to a bit of cake myself,” I said, “and she does make exceedingly good ones,” I nodded.
“Tell you what then,” said Reggie as he closed the bag and brushed the crumbs off his coat, “If you’re ever free at lunch next time I come into town, why don’t we go for tea and cakes? Then, you can tell me all about your rare and interesting books, and I can tell you all about my work. Hmm? How does that sound?”
“That sounds like a grand plan. I’ll look forward to it,” I said and I wasn’t kidding. His eyes, the voice, his style was fascinating and I was sure that he would be a good customer. ‘Repeat business, you see? That’s how you build’ - my mother’s voice told me in my head.
“Much obliged to you Ziggy,” he said as he raised his hat and headed towards the door.
It had started to rain and he hoiked up his collar and looked up at the sky with a frown before stepping out, chattering to himself as he went to the sound of the brass bell ringing closure to my first meeting with the ‘great’ Reggie Merryweather. But it wasn’t to be the last.
As I was clearing away the brown paper and putting the duplicate of the bill on the spike, I found a tiny tin box with red lettering on black, nestling between the register and a jam jar of pencils.
‘The Mighty Atom. Wireless crystal cat’s whisker,’ it read and as I slowly opened it, I was amazed to see a faint mauve glow coming from inside, but I closed it quickly. I knew it wasn’t mine and had to be Reggie’s. I wasn’t worried too much, I knew he’d be back.
For every writer, there sometimes comes a point where they take the ‘big picture’ and think “what the hell am I writing about?” Unfortunately for me, this has happened this week.
After spending a year and a half nurturing my baby with tender loving care, feeding and tending it on a daily basis, this week it looked up at me and said ‘what the hell have you made me? What is this body you have given me?” and I had to re-assess the entire story from the toes to the head.
It’s not as though my story is weak - far from it (in my humble opinion), it’s just that the way I have been building it, now seems clumsy and cluttered. It makes me realise how an outsider might come to visit my world and I see that it is not a tidy place. I feel as though I should have at least hoovered round and done the washing up.
My problem is not unique and I am sure that a lot of writers have experienced a similar ‘crisis of confidence’ at some point in the journey but for reasons that escape me, I am asking for your help before I hit the delete button and rid myself of the problem once and for all (didn’t we all feel like that at one time or another?).
Ok, so the story so far -
It’s a steampunk extravaganza. My main character was born in 1912, started out as a radio journalist and cod-scientist who dabbled with the emerging radio technology. During the war years he worked for the British Ministry of Misinformation and then after the war went on to have a speculative fiction series on radio which he wrote. However, when he (claimed) to have invented a time machine, he intervened in his own past and succeeded in erasing himself from history and eventually had a major breakdown in 1960 which resulted in his incarceration in a mental institution. Following a variety of twists and turns he re-emerged in the late 1990’s when a rock band discovered an album that was released of his vintage radio series from the 50’s and took their name from the series as their band name.
In the current version of the story, a journalist is sent a cd by the rock band to review for the NME and he starts to research the name and becomes intrigued by the snippets he finds and arranges to meet up with the old guy (now in his 90’s) to secure an interview. Things don’t go to plan and before long, the journalist is sucked into a frantic time-traveling adventure as the old guy goes in search of his long lost love from the war years.
Ok, so here’s my dilemma - I have almost a hundred years of journal entries for the old guy as well as a stack of short stories ‘he’ wrote. In themself, the journal entries are fascinating but don’t have a ‘plot’ that would engage an audience in anything other than a ‘faux-biography’. I also have a reasonably gripping tale of a contemporary journalist being hurled backwards and forwards in time as the old guy retraces his lifetime steps to save the girl of his dreams from his arch enemies.
At this point, I have several options: firstly, I could tell the tale of the journo, in a standard novel format, experiencing the twists and turns of a stranger and split the entire thing into a ‘Trilogy’ so that the journals become the second installment and the journo’s account (and essentially part of his ‘review’) as he ends up writing the ‘memoirs’ of the old guy with his stories as the third part of the overall trilogy.
OR - I could include the journal entries (and thereby thread the entire lifetime of the old guy) into the main story, as if the journo was reading the books as he went along. Much in the same way that The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide revealed bits of information as and when they were required.
The lifetime entries of the old guy are so strong (and bizarre) that they tell a tale of a man destroyed by his own intelligence and the stories that he (supposedly wrote) stand alone as credible enough to be worthy on their own merit. But the ‘plot’ brings the whole thing to life. Do I separate the immense backstory as a diary and keep the stories he wrote for the radio series as a separate, and final ‘part’ of a three part chronicle?
Today, I had an epiphany. The ‘inner voices’ told me that I should incorporate (what is essentially a ‘back story’) - the journals - into the main frame of the plot and abandon the short stories altogether as they are nothing more than a ‘vanity’ move on my part to include a bunch of stuff that I am attached to. I like the short stories very much and the content is very integral in cross-referencing various episodes in the old guys life (as he usually wrote from personal experience) but in the final analysis, their inclusion was more of a distraction than an enhancement of the overall piece.
As a result of this realisation, I have ruthlessly hacked at least ten thousand words off the total word count which is always good but I am concerned that the finished story will be impoverished without the depth of understanding that the stories he wrote (which made him famous) would bring.
What should I do? - Make the story a ‘trilogy’? Make the story a blend of past and present? and include the short stories as an appendix? or just spin the whole thing around the fact that a journalist in the present day meets a time traveler who gives him his journals and let us discvover ‘edited highlights’ as we go along?
Beware! The one-legged space chickens are plotting our demise. Even as I write in the confines of my self-made prison, I know they are out there, building their empire and patiently waiting for the day that they will inherit the earth. It all happened very slowly at first and no-one took much notice except me. I could see what they were doing back in 2011, when it all started for me, but nobody paid any attention to my warnings. Their strategy was stealth, you see? Each small advance, by degrees, was calculated to increase the collective effort.
It began when NASA sent the first chickens into space in the 1960’s. They wanted to see if they could survive the inhospitable conditions outside our atmosphere but what they didn’t anticipate was the creatures’ resilience. After many years of existing on heavily processed food (and the effects of zero gravity), the chickens had genetically modified themselves beyond all recognition.
Later generations had no need to be bipeds and slowly, the race evolved to have a single leg, which they used for mobility and also to learn the workings of the space craft which was now their home. In time, they also grew large and began to accumulate great intelligence which they passed on to their young and eventually discovered other abandoned ‘test’ vehicles orbiting earth. They amalgamated these together to form an almighty and imposing coop and, armed with some impressive technology, began to land their (now egg-shaped) crafts on earth in key locations to begin the reign of covert terror.
I used to listen to them on my radio, night after night, sending messages to each other as they worked their way through the fabric of society. Starting with Southern Fried Chicken at first, they systematically set about introducing their venomous toxins into our food chain. The fast food giants tried to hide it of course but I knew it was going on and the guerrilla chickens were happy to sacrifice their lives for the common good, knowing that their great god, Oeuf, would be pleased.
A British poultry magnate was one of the first major figures that the chickens targeted and his sudden demise was a direct result of a major offensive in the South East of England. But they were not content with the speed at which their grand plan was unfolding and the chicken sheds of Norfolk continued to ring out with the sound of the radio, playing softly through the Tannoy systems. Little did the farmers know what damage they were doing, late at night, when the broadcasts came through from The Mother Egg.
In the next onslaught they began to target eggs, realising that even vegetarians eat them. They wanted to make sure that the attack was both swift and comprehensive and so began to genetically impregnate the eggs with their evil. From time to time during the 1970’s, I discovered, news of the effects leaked out and government guidelines were swiftly enforced to halt the spread of risk but the chickens were cunning. They turned their attention to chocolate.
Easter seemed like the perfect seasonal opportunity for the elders to construct a system of operation and they knew that they could subvert the deepest of human desires: the need to believe in folklore and the craving for tasty confectionery. As the creme-filled egg had long been a British favourite amongst consumers, they saw it as the perfect vehicle for finally taking over one of the world’s superpowers.
It was only a matter of time before everyone had become addicted to the syrupy virus and in doing so, were increasingly blind to the gradual decline in both education and healthcare. The figures proved this, year after year and the chickens were happy. Every night I’d listen to the speeches on the radio given by the eldest of the elders, calling the faithful to the cause.
Tonight is one such night, as I sit in the darkness and write these words to you by the light of a single candle. The radio at my side fizzes with short wave static, but in between the hissing crackle I can hear the staccato rhythms of the great leaders, pontificating their messages of mission and by God, it’s terrifying. I can barely muster the words monumental enough to describe the extent of the sheer horror it instills in the human soul. And so, for twenty years now I have lived here in the safety of this roof space above the place that used to be my home, for they will never find me here.
I have created a tolerable life, with my bible for comfort, an axe for safety and my binoculars to keep watch. Drilling holes through the roof tiles was difficult at first and I have to remember to plug them when it rains but they are sufficient for me to watch the skies through - constantly scanning for the return of the Landing Eggs, the great golden crafts that they first arrived in, because they are coming. It’s been foretold by the elders, it’s just a matter of time and so I wait, constantly watching. From time to time I must venture out to buy food, but by night I must hide in the sanctuary of my enclave.
But what of your fate, dear reader, as you hear my sorry tale. You may scoff, but you will do so in vain and to your own inevitable peril, for you are in terrible danger as I once was. Sell your possessions, lock your doors and prepare to retaliate or else we are all doomed. You must take up the mantle of resistance in my stead as I am now too weak. To save myself from further torment I have decided to orchestrate my own termination. When you find this letter, take it as a serious and sincere foretelling of the real danger that you live under and let my death be a warning to you all.
(First stage outline sketch)
When escalating comments about missing persons appear on a message board, it starts to attract global attention and a reporter for one of the internet’s largest investigative news sites decides to uncover the truth behind the shocking claims.
At first he tries to infiltrate the system but only comes up against massive resistance and official silence. Eventually, he is investigated by the FBI who subsequently implicate him in a damning sex scandal. His computer is seized and thousands of videos and photographs are claimed to be stored there.
From prison, he learns the true extent of the horror when it is revealed that life-term prisoners are being sent to “The Canning Factory” where they are made into tinned meat - a cheap and ready meal, used to feed society’s increasingly poor and hungry masses.
By reducing the prison population and feeding the hungry, the government feels itself vilified as the lives of murders and rapists are deemed worthless but the inhumanity of cannibalism is still too devastating to be made public.
In spite of his attempts to secure his release (and a world wide campaign to get the practice stopped), the government denies all knowledge and the writer is left to contemplate his eventual fate.
A story sketch and outline of a sci-fi tale in the style of Ray Bradbury (for eg).
Dean Fraser is a senior lecturer at MIT who has been researching quantum physics and string theory and has developed a practical, working time machine based on the high speed reactors used in black hole research. Using part of the NASA astronaut training programme technology, he builds himself a capsule in which he intends to be suspended in animation for 500 years.
Using funding and grants from various government agencies, he tests this on rats initially and successfully sends one, a year into the future. Frozen in time it is re-animated and proved to be genetically and atomically one year younger than it’s actual age. Elated, he decides to try his technology out on himself.
TV NEWS BULETIN
And finally, a wacky scientist from Massachusetts Institute of Technology claims to have invented a time machine. Dean Fraser, senior lecturer has used 20 billion dollars of government funds and grant aid in building himself, what he calls his SuperPod. His intention is to send himself into a deep sleep and be awoken five hundred years from now in the hope of proving that the future is, in fact, a better place and not the “terrible nightmare” we always see in the movies. Let’s just hope that this ‘Rumplestiltskin’ is correct, right Jeanie? Here’s the weather”
My neck hurts, my back aches and I feel like I’ve been drinking heavily. I wonder if the programme is going to plan or if my Pod has malfunctioned. I can hear voices outside, maybe there’s a problem. (continues in first person to end)
He awakes and it turns out that he is in a museum in Singapore. The Chinese have taken over the whole of the orient, known as the USC (the United States of China), following America’s dissolution: The south rose up and took control through a military coup, reinstated the Confederacy and the right of public justice as well as slavery. This sparked off a civil war which caused the world’s Reformed United Nations to intervene and dissolve America and turn it into a ‘holiday continent’, a global park, taking with them all the USA’s most valuable treasures and scientific resources.
In the process its massive wealth was seized and distributed throughout the world allowing all governments to initiate a true New World Order, free of conflict, where every citizen could enjoy work, enough food, good education and health as well as the happiness, once only enjoyed by the few. This ‘new world’ is the first working example of a ‘utopian vision’ which is what Fraser set out to prove. The coalition of world governments agreement on justice for all has resulted in a perfect state of equilibrium.
Dean is received with great acclaim and studied by the museum and the scientists with great enthusiasm however he struggles to understand their ‘languages’ which is a development of ‘world english’. However, in the process, he eventually laments the fact that it was he alone that managed to destroy the ‘eden’ that he had predicted and in the process proven his worst fears and those of the movie makers and science fiction writers.
Having shared this idea in discussion, here is Noah Slater’s version-
So, just to give you in email form what I spouted in the car.
The guy builds a time machine. You base the functioning of the time machine on theTwin Paradox. That is, you travel close to the speed of light in a loop away from the earth and then back to the earth. Time on your ship from your frame of reference has gone at a normal speed, but the time on earth has gone remarkably quickly. Whole decades, even centuries have flown past. This is a well known scientific principal.
As for how he would achieve this, you’d borrow a trick from Star Trek. Have him discover a way to create spacial manifolds. While the ship remains stationary in relation to the space it is occupying, the space itself is folded up like a wave and propelled forward like a wave, carrying the space ship with it. Do some research on how the Warp Drive works.
Anyway, so when he returns, he finds the realisation of Arcadia. A blissful Utopian society that has managed to achieve perfection, happiness, health, plentiful food, flourishing arts, etc, etc, etc. But he only gets a short while to take much of this in. Before long, government agents turn up to whisk him away. For his safety, he is told.
They explain that there are factions who would be none too pleased with his arrival, they worry that his antiquated ways would upset the harmony and balance. So they keep him locked up, and segregated from the outside world. Only, knowledge of his arrival spreads, and soon reaches the Restoriationalists.
It turns out that this idyllic paradise is not all that it seems. The peace, and the balance, and harmony is STRICTLY ENFORCED. Any dissension is dealt with swiftly, and discreetly. Lets just say that if you upset things, chances are you might suddenly vanish over night. And if anyone dares to mention that you’ve vanished… Let’s just say, most people choose not to say anything at all. This is a common trope. See Empire With a Dark Secret, which is itself a larger scale version of Town With a Dark Secret. Contrast this with the Arcadia trope. Probably many more TV Tropes here.
Unbeknownst to him, his arrival was prophesied in the Books of the Ancients. For decades, members of the organisation had been pouring themselves over an obscure part of the manuscript which talked about a man who sent to the future to save them from their corrupted ways. One of the Ancients to bring them the wisdom of Old Ways.
A dramatic rescue is staged, and our prisoner is taken by faction members to a secret underground cavern. There, he is shown the Book of the Ancients, and the prophesy is explained to him. He tries to explain that these aren’t prophecies, they’re newspaper clippings, press releases, and NASA reports of his experiment and departure.
No matter what he says, they manage to re-interpret his words and fit them into their understanding of the prophecy. The very idea of a newspaper seems mystical to them, having had no societal need for printed matter for centuries and centuries.
Unwittingly, this man’s arrival provides the catalyst for Restoriationalists to stage their final uprising, ultimately culminating in a successful coup d’état. What happens from here is anyone’s guess. Perhaps this man is installed as president against his will, or perhaps he is killed in the struggle. I’ll leave THAT part, at least, up to you.
Got a title:
(a 100 word micro-fiction)
Gerald wished the noise would stop. The car alarm was barely audible at first but now it was becoming louder. He wished his neighbour would come and turn it off as it was starting to irritate him. Gradually he became soothed by its sound but instead of falling asleep, he woke up - in bed, and the sound was still there getting louder. He realised it had been a dream and groped in the darkness to the window. He saw the outline of a huge alien spacecraft slowly descending into the street beyond with its lights twinkling in the rain.