Monday, 31 December 2018

Hugo Gernsback and the Electrical Experimenter Archive

Born in Luxembourg, Hugo Gernsbacher emigrated to New York at the age of 20, in 1904. In the USA, he soon displayed an entrepreneurial spirit, changing his surname to Gernsback and setting up the Electro Importing Co. to sell the latest specialist electronic devices from Europe. Always interested in developments in science and technology, he founded the magazine Modern Electrics in 1908 as a mail-order catalogue, with technical articles and instructions for home electronics enthusiasts. He also registered patents for such exotic items as the Isolator, a sensory-deprivation helmet intended to increase concentration and focus, despite looking more suitable for deep-sea diving.

Electrical Experimenter, which ran between May 1913 and July 1920, was the successor to Modern Electrics, where Gernsback had serialised his own novel Ralph-124C 41+ between 1911 and 1912. Although, like its predecessor, it concentrated on technical science for amateur hobbyists – particularly in the field of radio, or ‘wireless’ – its scope was expanded to include some early science fiction, among them his own stories. Alongside these were articles by Nikolai Tesla, who also published segments of his autobiography in the magazine during 1919. In a 1916 editorial, Gernsback argued that a “real electrical experimenter, worthy of the name” must have imagination and a vision for the future.

The monthly editions of Electrical Experimenter in 1918 largely focused on technology in warfare, with the First World War still raging in Europe. From January’s ‘Electro-Magnetic Depth-Bombs’ through the ‘Gyro-Electric Destroyer’ to ‘The Automatic Soldier’, Gernsback showed his pragmatic knack of seizing the moment. Although the August issue harked back to a more innocent era of transport speculation, presenting the ‘Aerial Mono-Flyer of the Future’, the year concluded with tanks and barbed wire. The magazine continued to run extensive advertisements for all things electrical, including Gernsback’s own Electro Importing Co., which was still in business. The archives of Electrical Experimenter can be found in several digital repositories; the bulk of them are at American Radio History, and the Internet Archive.

Though his magazines were both successful and influential, Gernsback was notorious for his sharp business practices, taking advantage of struggling writers. One of these was H.P. Lovecraft, who referred to him as ‘Hugo the Rat’. He went on to found Amazing Stories in 1926, accepted as the first major science fiction magazine (although Gernsback’s preferred term was ‘scientifiction’, which he initially used). He was declared bankrupt in 1929, losing control of his publishing empire, but recovered to launch Wonder Stories and other popular magazines; he founded over 50 different titles during his lifetime. Gernsback was involved in early radio and television broadcasts, and anticipated the rise of mass media and air travel as early as the 1920s. He continued to envision the future, invent and register patents, until his death in 1967. The prestigious Hugo Awards, inaugurated in 1953 at the World Science Fiction Convention, are named after him in recognition of his contribution to the genre, as is a crater on the Moon.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Synthesizers: Sound of the Future

A recent trip to Melbourne took me back to some of the blog's 2015 posts, on the theremin and electronic music. The Grainger Museum's exhibition 'Synthesizers: Sound of the Future' explored electronic music experimentation in Melbourne in the 1960s and 70s.

Based on the University of Melbourne campus, the Grainger Museum was originally set up by Australian composer Percy Grainger and opened in 1938. The Museum's collection holds scores and manuscripts relating to Grainger's compositional career, as well as 50,000 other items, including diaries, ethnographic objects, furniture, decorative arts, photographs, artworks, clothing and correspondence.

After giving some background to Grainger's own interest and experimentation in free music in the 1950s, the exhibition then turned to the Museum's 1960s transformation into 'the Grainger Centre', a studio for students and composers of experimental electronic music. This was largely brought about by composer Keith Humble, who was appointed as a senior lecturer at the University in 1966.

Over eight years, Humble built up the Centre's electronic music studio, sourcing the most cutting-edge synthesizers of the time, including a VCS3 MK1, VCS3 MKII, Synthi AKS (which included a keyboard) and the EMS Synthi 100. These were purchased from Electronic Music Studios (EMS) in London, a company formed of Peter Zinovieff, David Cockerell and Tristram Cary, the latter of whom wrote music for Doctor Who.

One of the highlights of the exhibition was its bringing together of a range of these EMS instruments, some of which could be played. I couldn't resist trying out the theremin (an earlier invention) and hearing its spooky science fictional tones, although 'playing' thin air proved difficult!

The exhibition finished on the 9 September but the Grainger Museum have created an online exhibition based on the show for those interested in finding out more.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

R.C. Churchill – A Short History of the Future

The 1950s seem to have been a particularly fertile period for writers exploring both the near and far future. In the wake of the totalitarian regimes which proliferated in Europe during the 1920s and 30s, with the coming of the Cold War and the horrors of Hiroshima, the Holocaust, and Stalin’s purges still fresh in the collective memory, these speculative visions tended toward the dystopian. Influenced by accelerating cultural and technological change, popular topics included authoritarianism, mechanisation, post-apocalypse survival, social control and state tyranny, reflecting the fears of a post-War generation. 
In the middle of the decade, the English writer R.C. Churchill delved into this world to produce A Short History of the Future. Presented as a factual work based on ‘historical’ sources, Churchill constructed a chronology of the future from the 1950s to the sixtieth century, including maps and a timeline to trace the rise and fall of various fictional empires and regimes. The Airstrip One of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, a primary text, is supplemented by American author David Karp’s One, which expands on the terrors of Winston Smith and the Ministry of Love with Professor Burden and the Department of Internal Examination. Ranging across the world, the benign New Cretan Epoch documented by Robert Graves’ Seven Days in New Crete is followed by Gilbert Frankau’s Second Christian Empire in 4192 (from Unborn Tomorrow). Churchill concludes by drawing on Bertrand Russell’s short story ‘Zahatopolk’, which depicts the fall of a sixtieth-century ‘religious dystopia’ governed from the University of Cuzco, Peru, and its succession by a reformation centred on Mount Kilimanjaro.

The works and writers considered in A Short History of the Future range from the well-known to the obscure and all-but-forgotten, concentrating on the literary tendency of sf rather than the pulp magazines. Thus Ray Bradbury, Bertrand Russell, Kurt Vonnegut and Evelyn Waugh are cited alongside Margot Bennett, Charles Chilton, Geddes MacGregor and C. H. Sisson. Sometimes Churchill references a lesser-known work by a famed author; Aldous Huxley’s Ape and Essence rather than Brave New World, or Nevil Shute’s In the Wet, as On the Beach was yet to come. The skill with which the various sources are woven together is satisfying, providing a portrait of the times which produced them, and leaving scope for the future updating of this history.

R.C. Churchill (1916-1986) was born in Bromley, Kent – also the birthplace of H.G. Wells. In a long and varied literary career, he worked as a journalist and book reviewer for the Birmingham Post. He had pieces published in T.S. Eliot’s prestigious literary magazine The Criterion and the journal Scrutiny, founded by the influential critic F. R. Leavis. Churchill wrote extensively on English Literature, mainly Shakespeare and Dickens – his essay ‘The Genius of Charles Dickens’ appears in The Pelican Guide to English Literature. His interests and subject matter were wide-ranging, with titles and topics including Art and Christianity (1945), culture and democracy (Disagreements, 1950), The English Sunday (1954), and Sixty Seasons of League Football (1958). A Short History of the Future is, to my knowledge, his only foray into the field of science fiction.

I am grateful to Nick Reynolds for his help with my initial research into A Short History of the Future; his blog contains valuable information on the book, which otherwise has a very small digital footprint.

Friday, 10 August 2018

A Spanish Anarchist View on The Dispossessed

Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed found an appreciative reader in the Spanish anarchist Victor García (the pseudonym of Germinal Gracia). Here, we reproduce the brief summary of the novel he included in his untranslated 1977 work on utopias and anarchism. Gracia was a veteran of the Spanish Civil War and the post-war clandestine anarchist movement in Spain who had subsequently spent decades exiled in Venezuela and France. A voracious reader, traveller and linguist, Gracia was concerned that the classic works of anarchism that had shaped his ideological development and that of his comrades were no longer appropriate for disseminating anarchist ideas. In Le Guin, Gracia perceived an imagination capable of translating their shared ideals for a contemporary audience.

Taken from: Victor García, Utopías y Anarquismo. Laguna de Mayrán: Editores Mexicanos Unidos, 1977, pp. 101-3 (my translation):

Because it doesn’t have established pre-requisites, science fiction offers its readership all kinds of fantastical situations.

Such is the case of Anarres, the utopian planet created by Ursula K. Le Guin, nine light years from Earth, where the Odonians – anarchists who wanted to found a regime without authority or government, with solidarity as the basic norm of behaviour – chose to live in voluntary exile.

The Dispossessed is the work of a writer with a deep understanding of and open sympathy for libertarian ideals. It is the first work of science fiction in which anarchism is brought into objective focus without avoiding, which is to be applauded, the recurrence of human problems that no social regime could ever eliminate.

Three space days’ travel from Anarres we find Urras, the planet the Odonians left one hundred and sixty years ago. Shevek, a great mathematical physicist, is working on an equation as transcendental as those of Einstein and Planck, and as such is the first inhabitant of Anarres to visit Urras, where he is feted by the great and good and universities fight for his services.

Urras conforms to a system of state regimes more or less like our own, where the powerful live in unimaginable luxury while those in poverty would envy the conditions endured by the poor in our society. Shevek discovers this gradually:

The conversation went on. It was difficult for Shevek to follow, both in language and in substance. He was being told about things he had no experience of at all. He had never seen a rat, or an army barracks, or an insane asylum, or a poorhouse, or a pawnshop, or an execution, or a thief, or a tenement, or a rent collector, or a man who wanted to work and could not find work to do, or a dead baby in a ditch.

When Shevek, evading the surveillance of the powerful, manages to visit the poor neighbourhoods where a general strike is being planned, the people let him know that they are aware of the existence of Anarres and long to emulate its system. The greatest wish they express for one another is ‘May you get reborn on Anarres!’ ‘To know that it exists, to know that there is a society without government, without police, without economic exploitation…’ ‘I wonder’, the worker Maedda says to Shevek, ‘if you fully understand why they [the powerful] have kept you so well hidden… because you are an idea. A dangerous one. The idea of anarchism, made flesh. Walking amongst us.’

Shevek returns to Anarres disillusioned. He has not revealed his theory because the powers that be in Urras only wanted to understand it to make themselves still more powerful and to subjugate the nine planets of their universe, which includes Earth: ‘A planet spoiled by the human species’, as Keng, ambassador of earth on Urras, explains:

We multiplied and gobbled and fought until there was nothing left, and then we died. We controlled neither appetite nor violence; we did not adapt. We destroyed ourselves. But we destroyed the world first. There are no forests left on my Earth. The air is grey, the sky is grey, it is always hot. It is still habitable, but not as this world is.

The work of Ursula K. Le Guin could successfully replace, for modern minds, venerable tomes like At the Café and Between Peasants by Malatesta, Sembrando flores by Federico Urales, and Jean Grave’s The Adventures of Nono. While it suffers the impact of environmental pessimism, it holds fast to a glimmer of salvation: Anarres, refuge of the anarchists.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

SF Images on the Mechanical Curator

I attended a British Library event in Edinburgh recently where I learned more about the activities of their Labs initiative, which is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Launched in 2013, BL Labs helps researchers develop new ways of working with collections content and data. In practice, this work ranges from making digitised collections more accessible, to facilitating the use of text analysis software and spatial mapping tools.

So, on to the SF part of the story. Many people who encounter BL Labs will have done so (perhaps without knowing it) through the images taken from its ‘Mechanical Curator’ project. This is a program that BL Labs created to extract images from 65,000 of the digitised books in the Library's collection. In 2013, as a result of this process, a million images were uploaded to Flickr Commons under the CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication, which means that anyone can copy, modify and distribute them, even for commercial purposes, without needing permission. The collection includes cartoons, architecture, adverts and decorative art, among other things. But there's also a Space and SF album, made up of astronomical and speculative space imagery (see example below).

Image taken from page 84 of La fregate l'Incomprise. Voyage autour du monde à la plume par Sahib.

These reminded me of illustrations from some of the Special Collections volumes included in the the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery’s exhibition ‘Visions of the Future’ (4 April - 11 June 2011) (see below).

Albert Robida Le Vingtième Siècle
Albert Robida Voyages Très Extraordinaires

For those who prefer chance encounters, there's also the Mechanical Curator tumblr page, which automatically publishes a randomly selected image from the collection every hour. And the public domain mark on the images has led to some interesting cases of creative re-use. Notable examples include artist Mario Klingemann's series of artworks using the images and the music video design for the song 'Hey There Young Sailor' by The Impatient Sisters.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Trevor Hoyle – An Interview (Part Two)

The versatile English author Trevor Hoyle was featured on SF Forward last year, with an introductory profile; afterwards, my friend Chris Scarfe, who grew up close to the Hoyle family in the Newhey area of Rochdale, kindly arranged for me to meet, and interview, the author. As an admirer of his work, it proved to be an absorbing and wide-ranging conversation, encompassing Trevor’s early career as an actor, television presenter and copy-writer, his influences from film and literature and his richly varied output. This feature covers several topics relating to science fiction – which represents only a portion of his published work – and is based on notes and a transcript of that conversation; the words are Trevor’s own. 
Part Two

On the possibility of his novel The Last Gasp being filmed: That’s been and gone… they renewed it for five or six years. They kept giving me money – not a lot of money, but it was a five thousand dollar option each time – so I thought, well if they do want to get it made, they’re not just going to throw money away, but year on year nothing ever came of it. What you need for a film project of course is either a big name director to attach to it, or a star; once that’s in place everything follows… if Ridley Scott wants to do it, then everything follows, but they couldn’t get anyone interested enough to act in it or direct it … I just took the money which amounted to quite a lot over five or six years and that was it.

On sf film: I think the best by far is Solaris. I was at Granada TV doing What’s On [a weekly regional arts and entertainment programme which Trevor wrote and presented, c. 1971-74] when Solaris came out and I went to see it and I was absolutely blown away, it really was one of those life-changing moments … I couldn’t understand the bloody thing, it just sucked me in... There’s a book of essays on science fiction films [Cinema Futura, 2010, edited by Mark Morris] – the editor wrote to me and said ‘do you want to pick a science fiction film and write about it?’ I said yeah, absolutely, if I can have Solaris … I wrote a critique of that – not a critique, it wasn’t academic. It was a tribute, a fan’s homage. I think the film’s better than the book by Stanisław Lem, who was a good writer. Tarkovsky [the director] took the book as a jumping-off point, and he did something magical with it – to me, that film gets nearer to imagining what an alien civilisation would really be like than any other cinematic portrayal…

On 2001: A Space Odyssey: 2001 was ground-breaking, it really was – you had to be around and at the right age to feel the effect, because up until then we’d been watching things like Destination Moon, which was not a bad film for 1950-something, but 2001 was absolutely ground-breaking. That was the major change really; up until then science fiction had been cheap and nasty B-films – Invasion of the Body Snatchers (actually that’s a fantastic film, cheaply made but still brilliant). It was in Cinerama, that’s where you have three projectors – you could actually see the blurred edges where the separate prints overlapped — they were supposed to be synchronized. In Manchester they had the Theatre Royal I think it was called; it was an old theatre converted into Cinerama, and I went to see it about five times in two weeks. The screen’s curved so you actually do get a 3D effect. It would be crude now but in 1970 when I saw it, 2001 gained tremendously from that presentation; not just watching the film but being immersed in it.

On The Invaders: That’s a great series – Roy Thinnes [the lead actor] was a good hero – the episodes were well-written, well-directed but didn’t fuss around; they just gave you a very simple story – well, it was the same story – invaders from another planet, but done with hardly any special effects. It was all achieved simply with reactions, you never saw anything…

On A Clockwork Orange: A ground-breaking book and film, certainly the film, again by Kubrick. I find A Clockwork Orange difficult to watch – I don’t mean I’m bored by it but uneasy, I think. Unsettled. Maybe that’s what it’s meant to do but I’m on edge all the time, and perhaps that’s what Kubrick wants you to feel. You come out of it thinking ‘I was hungry but I didn’t like the meal’.

On Blake’s 7: I went to a Blake’s 7 convention two years ago, first one I’d been to. I was the only writer there. There were lots of actors — Gareth Thomas, Blake, he was there, walking with a stick, he looked poorly. He’s dead now, which is no surprise at all. The fans who came knew far more about Blake’s 7 than I did. I’d written three books based on scripts, and I wrote a script for Series 4, and they were asking all kinds of arcane questions: ‘did such-and-such happen?’ and I had to say ‘ain’t got a clue, mate, I don’t know!’

My involvement came about through Nick Austin at Panther books ... I’d written the Q series for him, three books, and he rang me one day and said ‘there’s a new series coming up created by Terry Nation’ – the man who invented the Daleks, wrote for Doctor Who – ‘and they want a novelisation’. (I don’t know if I’d written any before, I’ve done about 15 novelisations [now], I did Ghostbusters! They found out at the last minute ‘cause it was a big hit in America, it was coming over here. They panicked and said ‘have we got a book?’ – no, they hadn’t so they had to get somebody to write it, and quick.) Nick Austin said ‘It’s called Blake’s 7, do you want to do it?’

You have to write these to a tight deadline – the book has to come out at the same time as the show, not weeks or months later… so I wrote the first Blake’s 7 novel and then I did two more, all for different publishers. I got to know Chris Boucher, the Script Editor at the BBC, and he said ‘have you got any ideas for the next series?’ So I submitted two or three outlines and he picked one, which became ‘Ultraworld’… there’s audio-books of the three novels [written by Trevor], read by Paul Darrow (Avon) and Jacqueline Pearce, who played Servalan…

On the scriptwriter’s involvement in filming: No [it’s not encouraged] – I went down to television centre when they were doing an episode in the studio, because in those days you had location work — done on film of course — and you had the studio recording, which was on tape. The alien planet in Blake’s 7 was always a quarry, the same quarry somewhere half an hour out of London, Beaconsfield, somewhere like that…

On fans of the series: Blake fans are so obsessive, far more than I was. I was never a big fan to be honest. I thought it was cardboardy, a bit cheesy, but it’s become almost a cult thing for a lot of people, as that convention proves. People were coming up, they had stuff of mine, facsimile scripts, and DVDs of my episode I’d never seen before. I said ‘where the hell did you get these?’, and they’d say ‘can you sign your name in the top right-hand corner’ – that exact spot, nowhere else.

There’s a funny thing — that is, amusing — about TV novelisations. By the time the books came out, while the show was on the air, of course I’d written them months before they were filmed, so sometimes I didn’t even know which actors were playing who because they hadn’t cast the minor parts. I added characterisation to all the characters in the books, otherwise you’re just transcribing the scripts. You have to make a book of it. I’d invent bits of dialogue to make linkages, so these weren’t actual changes, they were additions to make sense of it. But if the book didn’t follow the script word for word, and deviated ever so slightly, I got all kinds of crap from the fans. ‘This book is a travesty – the weapon V-914 didn’t appear in episode 3!’ And no, it didn’t, because I gave the weapon its name.

And the other thing of course: the script that I was working to was altered on the studio floor, because that’s what directors do, they say ‘that line of dialogue doesn’t work – we’ll either lose it, do it with a look, or re-write it’… I don’t know that, I’m at home, sat in my shed in Newhey writing, and they’re altering stuff in the studio and on location. The book is published by the time it’s edited [the programme], so it couldn’t be changed anyway – but these guys [the fans] are so fanatical they’re irate that you’ve changed it; I’ve read stuff online: ‘the book’s nothing like the show’ – well I took Terry Nation’s scripts and never changed a thing. I didn’t ‘invent’.

On Star Trek and Star Wars: The early Star Wars I thought were good. Star Trek – no, I never took to it, it was too much men in lurex pyjamas firing laser guns, which had never been my kind of science fiction anyway. I’ve always been more for the Philip K. Dick-type stuff… but when the first Star Wars came out, ‘cause again like 2001 and like Clockwork Orange, these are really seminal films that alter the landscape totally. I was writing my Q Series science fiction trilogy for Panther at the time and the local rep rang me up and said ‘there’s this new film coming out, a premiere in Manchester at the Odeon, do you want to come to it?’ I’d read something about the film, so I said ‘yes’ and I was really impressed. It was a press preview and there were lots of science fiction fans there and again, you’ve got to put it in the context of when it was, whatever year it was [1977] and there’d been nothing as well done as that, technically. I mean now it’s passé, when you look at it. It’s like looking at 2001, looking at it now with our eyes and accustomed as we are to CGI, it can look a bit hammy, but you’ve got to think of people looking at it with 1970-eyes and put it in that context.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Trevor Hoyle - An Interview (Part One)

The versatile English author Trevor Hoyle was featured on SF Forward last year, with an introductory profile; afterwards, my friend Chris Scarfe, who grew up close to the Hoyle family in the Newhey area of Rochdale, kindly arranged for me to meet, and interview, the author. As an admirer of his work, it proved to be an absorbing and wide-ranging conversation, encompassing Trevor’s early career as an actor, television presenter and copy-writer, his influences from film and literature and his richly varied output. This feature covers several topics relating to science fiction – which represents only a portion of his published work – and is based on notes and a transcript of that conversation; the words are Trevor’s own. 

Part One

On science fiction authors: Philip K. Dick to me is the absolutely consummate science fiction writer, above any other. I used to read loads of science fiction in the fifties; they had four or five really good monthly magazines – Astounding Stories, Galaxy – with about eight, nine, ten new stories by all the greats, Philip K. Dick, Blish, they were nine pence each – nine old pence. I remember I used to buy them at Rochdale Market, so I devoured all the science fiction. I’ll tell you a writer I did like – E. C. Tubb, a British writer, whenever there was a story of his on the cover I went for that right away, and he wrote hundreds of stories.

On perceptions of science fiction: It’s still a bit of a ghetto. I’ve written less science fiction than mainstream fiction but when people ask ‘what do you write?’ I say ‘well I’ve written thrillers, mainstream novels, science fiction’, they immediately latch on to the SF. It’s polarised. The people who read what they call ‘proper fiction’ are still very snooty about it. They say ‘I never read science fiction’ or ‘I never go and watch science fiction movies’. So I ask them, ‘you mean you’ve never seen Alien?, you’ve never seen Blade Runner? Have you seen Frankenstein?’– that’s all science fiction. Because they think of science fiction as rockets and men in lurex pyjamas with ray guns. You know Philip K. Dick doesn’t have any of that, it’s all in here [the head] with Philip K. Dick.

On meeting Philip K. Dick: I took the family to California and before I left I was talking to a fiction editor called Nick Webb, and he said ‘Phil Dick lives in California, Santa Ana, why don’t you pay a call on him?’ … He gave me Philip K. Dick’s address but he didn’t have a phone number. So I thought, when I get to Los Angeles I’ll look in the book. I didn’t want to just turn up, I wanted to ring him and introduce myself first — say I’m a writer from the UK, we have the same editor and so on’ – but I couldn’t find any [number]. I went through directory enquiries, but no, he wasn’t listed. 

So I’m driving along, this balmy evening in the summertime – I’ve got the right road but where is 1049 (or whatever it was)? I pulled in to the kerb at some Spanish stucco-type buildings … and I’d stopped at exactly the right number on the five-mile-long bloody road. I went up to the, kind of Spanish grill-work, and there were about a dozen mailboxes with buttons you could thumb and an intercom. And there it was – Philip K. Dick – his name was right there along with the others. Before I pressed the button I thought, ‘I’ve got to get my act together here quickly, say who I am, mention Nick Webb’ (because that was the only connection between us). I press the button, I’m about to speak … and the gate clicks open automatically.

I didn’t say a word, I went through the gate and up to the first-floor apartment – it was C1, I can still remember the number – and the door’s slightly open. Now if you’ve read any Philip K. Dick, you’re in a Philip K. Dick story right away. I thought I’m going to freak out here in a minute, this is an hallucination. So I pushed the door open and walked in to this tiny apartment, a two-room apartment – living room, bedroom, tiny bathroom – and Phil K. Dick is sat on the sofa … on his knee he had an upturned cardboard box lid full of little pots of snuff, about 10 or 12, and he was trying these, trying to wean himself off whatever he was smoking, or cutting down on the smoking ... anyway he’s sitting there and of course he looks at me and thinks ‘who the f**k is this?’ This total bloody stranger’s just walked in. And I’m still shell shocked because I’ve walked straight into Philip K. Dick’s apartment, which is cramped and shabby, it really is. So then I introduce myself, stumble out that I’m a science fiction writer from England, we both have the same editor, blah, blah … and he kind of visibly relaxed and invited me to sit-down (in a rocking chair). The explanation for the door being open was that minutes later another science fiction writer arrived [K.W. Jeter]. When he heard the buzzer, Phil Dick must have thought ‘oh that must be Kevin’ – so I’d turned up at exactly the same point in time and space when his friend was due to arrive.

Anyway, we sat and chatted for two or three hours. During the course of the evening the phone rang, maybe two or three times, and Phil went in to the bedroom to answer it. Kevin Jeter, who was a bit younger than me, he’d say ‘oh that’s wife number three’ or ‘that’s the current girlfriend’, or whatever. They were after money, I gathered, because he was paying alimony to about two or three wives – he had several children, I believe. He wasn’t with anybody at the time, he was living alone in this apartment. So gradually I was brought up to date on who the latest phone call was from, that’s how the evening passed. Nothing remarkable really but it was still memorable. … the only thing I do remember talking about – I don’t think we talked about writing particularly, as I recall – was about money. Writers tend to do that, talk about contracts, advances, how much are you getting paid? And it came as a shock that I was getting more than him from Panther in the U.K. Phil was only getting about two or three thousand dollars advance from Ace Books, his main American publisher, ‘cause a lot of his stuff came out in paperback – again, it was the science fiction ghetto, you didn’t merit a hardback, hardbacks are for ‘proper’ books, you’re a pulp fiction writer. But I do remember thinking, ‘this guy is the best science fiction writer in the world and he’s not getting as much as I am!’

On Blade Runner: All the recognition comes later, because he died in 1982; the year I saw him was 1980 and he certainly didn’t mention to me that they were making a film of it [Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?] … he didn’t mention the option, I’d have remembered that. What happened of course is that Ridley Scott, another big Philip K. Dick fan, made the film and Philip Dick saw some very rough footage… he died before the film was finished but he did like the bits he saw. I’ve read an interview where he said ‘you’ve captured my vision exactly on screen, what I had in mind, that acid rain Los Angeles kind of thing’ so he did have an inkling that they were going to make a good film of it.

[Trevor has also related this meeting fictionally, both on his website and adapted for his short story ‘The 5-Sigma Certainty’ in the anthology Lemistry]

On the series Electric Dreams – and other Philip K. Dick adaptations: it’s sad because there are some good people behind it, like Bryan Cranston who is an executive producer, a brilliant actor. I had high hopes for it … I think adapting Philip K. Dick for the screen must be very hard – Ridley Scott did a brilliant job with Blade Runner but the stories are so off-the-wall … Cranston and the rest are trying their best but there’s something essential missing … it was made with the best intentions, they actually got some good actors, but it’s just not catching the essence of the man and his work.

On Blade Runner 2049: I don’t usually walk out of films; I was severely tempted this time, except the only thing that kept me in was the thought ‘what’s Harrison Ford going to be doing in this?’ He’s billed up under Ryan Gosling, and of course he doesn’t come in until three quarters of the way through and it’s two hours and fifty minutes or something... So I’m waiting [for Harrison Ford], I had to sit through the rest of the f***ing film, it’s awful, it really is, it’s so loud and it really batters your senses. I like Ryan Gosling, he’s okay, he’s an actor I can live with, but if I go and see a film, first of all I make sure I’m going to like it, I don’t go to see a film I’m going to hate, so I don’t walk out of films – but I was sorely tempted to walk out on that. 

On A Scanner Darkly, directed by Richard Linklater: it’s faithful to the book… it’s done very cleverly, that kind of computerised grainy quality you get. I’ve never seen another film made that way, using the same process [rotoscope].