Transcript of John Birch's filmed talk about science fiction.
Hi there, my name's John Birch, I work for the purchase team at the National Library of Scotland and I'm the curator of the science fiction exhibition we put together called 'It's life Jimmy but not as we know it'.
[Question on screen] How did your interest in science fiction come about?
My dad was a science fiction fan. He was an early sort of Trekkie. He loved Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke and that sort of thing, so I was subjected to things like '2001: A space odyssey' when I was probably nine or 10 or something like that. I've always had a interest in science fiction movies primarily, I think. But over the years I have read quite a bit of science fiction.
[Question on screen] How would you define science fiction?
There is a sort of recognised definition. It's hard to include things that are wild flights of the imagination. For me, there's basically two modes of writing. There's the realistic and the fantastic.
I think it was Ray Bradbury that said 'science fiction is a subset of fantasy, but science fiction plays by the rules of reality'. It doesn't go off on wild flights of the imagination. Not true science fiction.
Things don't happen because someone wishes them to happen. Things happen because of science and the rules that are laid down.
So people speculate about nuclear warheads and you get post-apocalyptic landscapes. People speculate on space travel in the future and you get star ships and space operas. People speculate on the advance of computing and you get artificial intelligence. The same if you speculate about, say, reading our DNA code and you get bio-engineering in the future and all the can of worms that opens up.
So, at the most fundamental level, science fiction is about ideas, but taking them from a realistic point of view to a logical conclusion, even though it might seem fantastic. If you set it up far enough in the future, it might become reality.
[Question on screen] Is science fiction writing largely a male preserve?
It certainly started out, I think, as boys with their toys. All about spaceships and rayguns, distant futures and places you can have adventures in. Very much a male aspect and very much a fan base of males reading it, but I think that's slowly changing.
The books used to be purely about ideas. Plot and characterisation would sometimes got nudged to the side, but certainly in current science fiction, plot, character, ideas are all intermeshed.
There's female writers out their stealing science fiction ideas. 'The time traveller's wife', for instance — would you call it scientific romance? It's basically a love story, but it's about time travel and centered around characters and plot.
I think there will be more of that cross-pollination going on in the future because science fiction is a bit more mainstream these days. Everyone knows the basic themes and ideas behind science fiction.
[Question on screen] Is there a Scottish dimension to science fiction?
Science fiction writers are more interested in an international science fiction tradition that they're a part of. It's not a narrower Scottish aspect, though there's a few people that do tackle it.
Alasdair Gray's 'A history maker', 'Sputnik Caledonia' by Andrew Crumey and Matthew Fitt's 'But n ben a-go-go' are a bit more explicit in their connection with Scotland in the future, rather than defining Scotland as something we've inherited from the past. They actually think about where we're going in the future.
[Question on screen] What would you say the role of the National Library is in promoting science fiction?
Collecting for the National Library is our number one priority. We don't know what the trends in the future will be. I currently think we're living through a golden age of science fiction with the likes of Iain Banks, Stephen Moffat, Gary Gibson, and we're going to co-opt Charlie Stross as well because he lives in Edinburgh.
In 20 years time, there will be university courses on these writers, and we should have the basics and collect all that they produce to enable people to be able to study them in comfortable surroundings in the future. That's what we're here to provide.
Scottish writers out there: please donate your archive to us so people can have a look at it in the future!