Tag Archives: memory

Science fiction mystery

I grew up on pulp science fiction. Books passed on by my parents, acid-heavy paper already yellow, cheap glue binding already cracking. Novels of course: Asimov, Heinlein, Simak and Niven; but also books and books of short stories: Nebula winners,  Hugo winners, author compilations and best-ofs. The short story is the science fiction form par excellence, where the effervescence of ideas has the most freedom. Clunky characters and minimal plotting are forgiveable in twenty pages. Introduce a story arc and it descends to the level space opera.

And so books come and then they go, or they fall to bits, but the ideas, and fragments of them, stick. These are ten stories that I remember, or remember a part of, but have long lost any clue about who wrote them or what they were called.


An alien approaches a human spaceship, the occupant of which is an astronaut taking recreational drugs to cope with the ardours of a long space journey. The tripping astronaut and the alien regard each other through a porthole glass; the astronaut assumes the alien to be a figment of his trip. As the human astronaut starts coming down, the alien begins to fade out of existence.

A narrator addresses an audience describing the extraordinary power of an ambient weapon that kills people directly without damaging property. At the end of his lecture he tells the audience that they’re dead: he has used the weapon on them.

A man acquires the power of time travel, and travels backwards and forwards along his own life and into the future. Travelling back as far as he can, he meets a female version of himself from an alternate reality who has also acquired the power of time travel. They have sex.

Mars needs water, and Earth is holding her to political ransom for the water from Earth’s oceans. An enterprising group of young men take a spaceship to Saturn and return with a fragment of one of its rings, largely composed of H2O.

Two men begin to wonder why humans must sleep and dream, as no other sentient creatures in the galaxy do. They discover that humans are occupied by a species of mental parasite whose co-habitation of the psyche causes the phenomena of sleep and dreams.

A reality-correction agent relies for clues about the future on an instantaneous communication device called a dirac, from whose signals everything that has ever been said or will be said using it can be decoded.

Aliens arrive on Pluto. The lightspeed time lag makes communication problematic. Someone suggests simply broadcasting a constant stream of information, and the aliens doing likewise. Most potential questions will be answered before they are even asked.

A man called Kilroy travels into the US wartime past of the 1940s, and leaves in a graffito a mark of his presence.

A talking dog explains to a man on a park bench that canines exercise a guiding intelligence over humans, and that it was a dog who gave Thomas Edison the clue enabling him to make a lightbulb with a persistent filament.

In a society where children are aptitude tested and neurologically programmed for their careers, one boy fails the aptitude test: he can’t be programmed. He’s distraught until he discovers he’s one of the elect few who write the programmes.


Trying to remember what you can’t remember is a perplexing exercise in itself: you can’t begin with a book, you have to begin with the fragment that’s stuck with you, the essential piece of the story. It’s the known unknown.

If you can identify any of these stories, please do. I’d like to know how far my memory has distorted them.


Re-remembering cinema

I was living on Havelock Road in the mid-90s when the Duke of York’s had a major refit. All the seats were replaced and, like the copies of Sight and Sound that formed the core of my filmnerd collection, the old ones found their way into the skip round the side of the cinema. Collecting one was an opportunity too good to miss: phone calls were made and friends were summoned. These were the seats of our cinematic education: worn-out chairs adorned with red heart shaped felt-patches, the seats in which we’d learned to love Godard and Hal Hartley, stubbed cigarettes out beneath in the balcony and stayed awake till 1am in to watch Tetsuo. Owning one was owning a little bit of Brighton history.

Being cinema seats, they were slightly unsuitable for use as household furniture: they had only one foot, and sitting in them required keeping a rather low centre of gravity. My friends took one each and suggested they were going to nail them to planks to form a home cinema. Mostly they languished in our rooms till we got bored of them as we got bored of Hal Hartley, and left them behind when we moved house. Shortly after they went in the skip I saw some boutique reselling seats they had salvaged: even at less than a tenner, I was outraged at this naked profiteering. Like the farmers’ soil of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, the Duke Of York’s cinema seats belong to those who loved films in them.