Friday, 30 June 2017

Trevor Hoyle – An Introduction

Trevor Hoyle is a versatile English author, having published over 20 books ranging across genres, from mainstream novels, memoir, spy and suspense thrillers to acclaimed science fiction and drama, encompassing ecological disaster and football hooliganism along the way. Based outside the metropolitan cultural centres in unfashionable Rochdale, where he was born, grew up, and still follows the local football team as a season ticket holder at Spotland, he has (according to the SF Encyclopaedia) “most unusually, been able to apply an erudite surrealism to works directed towards a mass market.”

Trevor Hoyle (photo by Glyn Hughes)
Hoyle’s early training as an actor is reflected in his success as a dramatist and script-writer for television and radio, including the plays GIGO [Garbage In Garbage Out], inspired by his interest in quantum mechanics, which won a Radio Times Drama Award, and Randle’s Scandals: The Life and Liver of Frank Randle, about the subversive Lancashire comedian. He attributes the development of a distinctive method and literary style to the experience he gained working as an advertising copywriter in Manchester, which he describes as “the best training on the job a fiction writer can get.” Hoyle self-published his first book, The Relatively Constant Copywriter, in 1972, after it was rejected by 18 publishers; several of their responses are reproduced inside the book, concluding that whilst “interesting” and “well written”, “it is an uncommercial novel.”

After becoming a full-time author, Hoyle had a stint writing and presenting Granada TV’s weekly arts show What’s On, before the publication of Rule of Night in 1975, an unflinching look at social deprivation and urban violence from the perspective of a memorable anti-hero in teenage football hooligan Kenny Seddon. Rule of Night was a significant breakthrough for Hoyle, garnering critical praise both at the time and on its 2003 re-issue, with many reviewers noting echoes of A Clockwork Orange in this “powerfully authentic account of working-class life and gang violence.” His subsequent Q series of novels, incorporating parallel world theories and alternate realities, cemented his reputation as an innovative science fiction writer and led to his involvement in the BBC’s prime-time series Blake’s 7, writing scripts and producing novelizations of various episodes.

Hoyle has established himself as a highly productive author, producing successful ‘commercial’ work alongside more experimental fiction, notably 1979’s The Man Who Travelled On Motorways, “a multi-layered exploration of fantasy and reality, recollection and illusion, sex and terror and the dynamic nature of the collective unconscious”, and 1984’s Vail, described by the author as “a dystopian vision of Britain as a police state.” The ability to combine elements of different genres is amply evidenced by his epic novel of global complicity in climate change, The Last Gasp: first published in 1983 and revised in 1990, it was re-issued in 2016, having been extensively re-written to bring its themes up to date. With a strong cast of characters, a plot spanning decades and continents which interweaves corporate greed and ecological disaster with military and political interference in the environment, its cinematic qualities have been recognised by Hollywood studios taking a movie option on the book. Hoyle explains that “dystopian futures are much more interesting and filled with dramatic potential than utopian ones, which to a novelist is a definite attraction”. In many ways, The Last Gasp is not so much speculative science fiction as sober prediction, based on evidence and identifiable trends in world climate; as Andy Hedgecock put it, “Hoyle seems less like a prophet and more like a chronicler of imminent chaos.”


Sunday, 30 April 2017

A Clockwork Orange in popular music and culture

Music forms a key component of A Clockwork Orange, both as novel and film. Anthony Burgess was a classical music enthusiast (and a prolific composer), who disdained youth culture and the popular music of the later sixties, as being “based on so little knowledge of tradition” that “it often elevates ignorance into a virtue.” When not terrorising citizens, the central character Alex praises “lovely Mozart, the Jupiter” and proudly boasts “J. S. Bach I had, the Brandenburg Concerto just for middle and lower strings”; he and his fellow teenage hoodlums cause mayhem to the strains of Beethoven. This is contrasted with an intense dislike of pop music, which Burgess regarded as an ephemeral, juvenile art form; he conveys his low regard for the genre via the artists invented for the book – Stash Kroh, The Mixers, Johnny Zhivago, Ike Yard – and “their pathetic pop-discs”.

Despite the author’s vehemently expressed contempt, popular culture enthusiastically embraced the imagery and themes of A Clockwork Orange – especially once Stanley Kubrick turned it into a notorious film in 1972. The distinctive language of the book, which had earlier captivated Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, found favour with David Bowie at the height of his popularity. He used the term ‘droogie’ in ‘Suffragette City’, a song from his 1972 Ziggy Stardust album, while opening concerts with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, as used in the film’s soundtrack. Bowie was also among the first to appropriate the look of Kubrick’s version, which inspired his stage costumes of the era. Later in the 1970s, the Korova record label took its name from the novel’s ‘milk-plus mesto’ bar; names taken directly from A Clockwork Orange include those of Sheffield-based bands Heaven 17 (the film has The Heaven Seventeen at number 4 in the charts with ‘Inside’ and, later, Moloko – one of the words Burgess transliterated from Russian, where it means milk. He also referenced the Soviet state record label, Melodia, through Alex, as a record shop: “the disc-bootick I favoured... a real horrorshow mesto and skorry, most times, at getting the new recordings.”

The official soundtrack gave another twist to Burgess’s vision – Kubrick gave it the same prominence and single-minded attention to detail as he had the film’s overall design. He was contacted by electronic music pioneer Walter (later Wendy) Carlos, who he then commissioned to interpret the score on Moog synthesiser. For the main theme, ‘March from A Clockwork Orange’, Carlos and collaborator/producer Rachel Elkind used the choral movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, with the vocal part featuring the first known recording of a vocoder. This appeared alongside other electronic re-workings of Beethoven, Elgar and Rossini, which built on the success of Carlos’s earlier ground-breaking experiment in applying modern technology to classical standards, 1968’s celebrated album Switched-on Bach. The original songs on the soundtrack included ‘Timesteps,’ described by Carlos as an “autonomous composition with an uncanny affinity for Clockwork” and which is “still considered one of the landmarks of electronic music.” Not entirely satisfied with the official album which accompanied the film, as it excluded much of what they had recorded, Carlos and Elkind shortly released their own score for A Clockwork Orange, which “brought together all the music that Wendy suggested, arranged and / or composed for this remarkable film.”

Wendy Carlos in her New York studio

Alex and his marauding droogs have since been portrayed as dangerous and even glamorous anti-heroes; a lengthy list of the most unlikely artists have adopted the film’s visual references for their performances and videos, from U2 to Kylie Minogue, Blur to Guns ‘n’ Roses. No doubt Burgess, who protested that “youth is so conformist, so little concerned with maverick values, so proud of being rather than making, so bloody sure that it and it alone knows”, would be exasperated by the reduction of his novel’s complex themes to a crude shorthand for non-conformity. The ongoing appropriation of A Clockwork Orange – both book and film continue to generate homage and parody in pop culture – demonstrates that there is still no better way to sell products than with a whiff of youthful rebellion, however inauthentic.

The Simpsons, among other representations of A Clockwork Orange

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The 'Linear City': Imagining Newcastle's Future in 1965

Histories of city planning can give fascinating insights into the built environment of different localities at particular moments in time. Even more tantalising are those plans and developments that never came to pass, the lost cities of the future that are buried in archives and planning departments. There is a science fictional element to these speculative architectural documents, some of which have been the focus of research projects. Recent examples include My Future York at the University of Leeds and Managing Change in Future Cities at Newcastle University.

A particularly striking idea, drawn from the second project, is the 'Linear City' of 1965 - a visual concept that appeared in the Northern Architect in July 1965. This was the subject of a recent news article, in which project leader Professor Mark Tewdwr-Jones explained that 'the idea was to treat the region as a series of distinct areas - the city, the countryside, the seaside, the lakeside, the hill town - to reflect the different features and asset of the places but all within one region and all connected together by a new fast speedy transport system'. In the image below you can see a visual representation of the monorail system the designers envisaged, which could have been lifted straight off the page of a SF novel.

Linear City Image from Northern Architect (1965) 

Monorail passengers gaze down at the traffic far below and look out over the futuristic city skyline in the next image:

Linear City Image from Northern Architect (1965) 
These design ideas testify to the hopefulness of 1960s Newcastle. Less a concrete plan than a way of capturing the spirit of a time that looked forward to improved living conditions and quality of life for the densely populated city. Alternative futures like this one, brought to light by the Future Cities project, also encourage thinking about alternatives in the context of contemporary urban development, meaning that the city of the future is constantly being renewed and reinvented for the present.

Thanks to Bethany Rex for the link and for drawing my attention to this topic.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Anthony Burgess and A Clockwork Orange

February 2017 marks the centenary of the birth of Anthony Burgess. The Manchester-born writer published over 60 books in a prolific career; a man of many and varied interests, primarily known for his mainstream fiction, he also branched out into biography, linguistics and criticism, film and television scripts, and classical music compositions (including three symphonies and a musical version of Ulysses). Burgess remains best known for his powerful work of dystopian science fiction, A Clockwork Orange

This cautionary tale first appeared in 1962, and follows the leader of a gang of young hooligans, Alex, on a violent rampage through a near-future city, to his draconian punishment (through a form of ‘aversion therapy’ known as Ludovico’s Technique) at the hands of the state. Raising questions of criminal rehabilitation and the freedom of the individual, Burgess explained that what he “was trying to say was that it is better to be bad of one’s own free will than to be good through scientific brainwashing.” These dark themes caused a minor stir, leading to the removal of the final chapter from the American edition; however many reviewers bestowed equal attention on the innovative slang, Nadsat, used by the juvenile delinquents. Drawing on his keen interest in linguistics, Burgess created a language primarily based on Russian, which he was learning at the time for a visit to the Soviet Union, but also incorporated elements of Cockney rhyming slang, Romany phrases and Shakespearian English. Terms such as droog (as Alex refers to his fellow gang members, from the Russian for ‘friend’), devotchka and malchick, razrez and tolchock, subsequently entered the fringes of popular culture.

So taken with Burgess’s linguistic invention was Andrew Loog Oldham, manager of the Rolling Stones, that he paid homage in a lengthy sleeve-note for the band’s second album, released at the start of 1965. The influence of A Clockwork Orange was evident from the opening lines: “It is the summer of the night / London’s eyes be tight shut / all but twelve peepers and / six hip malchicks who prance the street.” Oldham also appropriated the novel’s theme of ‘ultra-violence,’ which brought a foretaste of the controversy to come, as he advised prospective buyers of the record “if you don’t have bread, see that blind man knock him on the head, steal his wallet and low and behold you have the loot, if you put in the boot, good, another one sold!” The offending sentiments, discussed in the House of Lords, were first hidden beneath a sticker, then excised completely from later pressings of the record, in possibly the first instance of sleeve-note censorship.

A Clockwork Orange may have remained a curio and a cult novel, had it not been filmed. The American writer Terry Southern first planned an adaptation in the late 1960s, working on a screenplay to be directed by Michael Cooper, and starring Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones as Alex and his droogs. When that project stalled, Stanley Kubrick picked up the option and, featuring Malcolm McDowell in the lead role, his version opened in 1972; its amorality and scenes of explicit violence attracted controversy from the first. A whole series of urban myths grew up around the film on its release, seized upon by the popular press, which accused it of inspiring murder and mayhem, with a series of violent incidents attributed to real-life ‘Clockwork Orange’ gangs. The Leeds University campus was long rumoured to have been a filming location, though it was in fact the underpasses of Brunel University, Middlesex, which were used to depict the urban territory of the delinquents. Whilst Kubrick initially defended the film, it was the director himself who instructed Warner Brothers to withdraw it from British screens a year later. Whether he was prompted by alleged threats against his family, police advice or moral misgivings, Kubrick’s decision ensured its future notoriety – it remained banned in the UK until 2000, after the director’s death. Burgess was reputedly unhappy with Kubrick’s treatment of what he described as a ‘very minor work’, and the sensational coverage of the film, which he felt overshadowed his own career – though he himself freely discussed A Clockwork Orange for the rest of his life, and returned to it in 1987 with a semi-musical theatrical version. His ambivalent attitude was captured in a 1973 interview:

Films help the novels they’re based on, which I both resent and am grateful for. My Clockwork Orange paperback has sold over a million in America, thanks to dear Stanley. But I don’t like being beholden to a mere filmmaker. I want to prevail through pure literature. Impossible, of course.

The iconic artwork used for the film and book tie-in originated with Penguin Books Art Director David Pelham. Though he based the design on imagery from the film – the bowler hat and braces of the main character, Alex – rather than the text, it still captured the central theme of de-humanisation effectively. It was used internationally, and also adapted for a later version of the film poster, to accompany the edited cinematic release. A copy of the book owned by Burgess was found after his death in 1993, with the rest of the facial features drawn in – possibly added as an attempt to reclaim his original vision. Another artist involved in the film’s promotion was Philip Castle, whose invitation to create the official poster came after Kubrick saw his advert for illustration work in The Evening Standard; it was accompanied by the uncompromising slogan “Being the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven.” Castle’s design also formed the artwork for the soundtrack album cover. The artist recalls the Director’s keen, almost obsessive, interest in every aspect of A Clockwork Orange’s publicity and visual imagery, from the furnishings of the Korova Milkbar to the creation of a mock newspaper, The Clockwork Times, for which Castle rendered paintings of images from the film. Kubrick’s interpretation of the book has been described as “arguably the last great pop art masterpiece, an apocalyptic consummation of the consumer imagery of modern life”.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Dr Christopher Evans

Christopher Evans (1931-1979) was a British computer scientist, who worked, in the latter part of his career, at the National Physical Laboratory in London. His name often crops up in association with J.G. Ballard, a close friend of the writer, and an acknowledged influence on him. For example, in his autobiography, Miracles of Life, Ballard writes:

Chris Evans drove into my life at the wheel of a Ford Galaxy, a huge American convertible that he soon swapped for a Mini-Cooper, a high-performance car not much bigger than a bullet that travelled at about the same speed. Chris was the first ‘hoodlum scientist’ I had met, and he became the closest friend I have made in my life. In appearance he resembled Vaughan, the auto-destructive hero of my novel Crash, though he himself was nothing like that deranged figure. Most scientists in the 1960s, especially at a government laboratory, wore white lab coats over a collar and tie, squinted at the world over the rims of their glasses and were rather stooped and conventional. Glamour played no part in their job description. Chris, by contrast, raced around his laboratory in American sneakers, jeans and a denim shirt open to reveal an Iron Cross on a gold chain, his long black hair and craggy profile giving him a handsomely Byronic air.

Important too was Evans' access to scientific ephemera - technical advertisements and pharmaceutical brochures - that were regularly delivered to Ballard in a brown envelope: 'Every week a huge envelope arrived, packed with handouts, brochures, research papers and annual reports from university labs and psychiatric institutions, a cornucopia of fascinating material'. Ballard found inspiration in such material, and referred to it as 'invisible literature', a subject I've written about before on the blog.

However, Evans was also an author in his own right, as well as a successful popular science TV presenter. His book, Micro: The Impact of the Computer Revolution, was turned into the TV series The Mighty Micro, and screened in 1979 shortly after Evans' death.

Here I'd like to briefly re-visit his two fictional anthologies Mind at Bay (1969) and the sequel Mind in Chains (1970), which included short stories by Ballard, M.R. James, John Sladek, Alex Hamilton, May Sinclair and Brian Aldiss. The blurb of the former reads:

In those dim and twisting corridors of the mind, unknown terrors sleep uneasily, needing only the scent of fear to bring them to howling wakefulness. How sure can you be, after all, of your foothold on the perilous tightrope over the dizzying abyss of madness?

Evans was fascinated by the idea of interaction between human mental processes and those of computers and artificial intelligence systems. He was also interested in the ways in which human experiences and expectations could be confounded by SF and horror stories. In the foreword to Mind at Bay, he wrote, 'presumably the world of the interior - and not just the sparking of neurones, or the microbiology of memory - is for all practical purposes limitless, and I think there is little doubt that it is to date poorly mapped'. In a similar vein, in Mind in Chains, he observed, 'adventures of this kind [horror stories] are basically "pleasurable" in an outré and slightly anomalous way - the more so when they are entered into willingly and with the implicit assumption that they can be controlled or terminated at any stage of the game'.

Evans was attentive to the relationship between art and science and the extent to which these realms might productively unsettle one another to generate new insights. Just as Ballard was fascinated by the scientific fictions of medical catalogues and technical manuals, so Evans recognised the importance of literature as a window into 'the phantoms that inhabit our minds'.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Utopia: Crafting the Ideal Book - Online Exhibition for 2017

Utopia by Thomas More (Kelmscott Press)
Continuing in the vein of my recent utopia post, next year will see the launch of a new digital exhibition for the University of Leeds Library's Special Collections - Utopia: Crafting the Ideal Book.

The centrepiece of the exhibition comprises two significant copies of Thomas More's Utopia, held in Special Collections. The first is an early edition, published in 1518 by the famous printer and publisher Johann Froben. The second is an 1893 edition, printed by William Morris at the Kelmscott Press in a limited edition of 300 (see image right).

The theme of utopia will be explored through its dialogue with More’s text, addressed directly by Morris in the foreword to the Kelmscott Press edition, and by drawing attention to the production methods and collection histories of both.

For example, the re-printing of Utopia by the Kelmscott Press reflects Morris’s interest in the book as a work of art and his belief in the transformative role of art and culture in social life. In the short essay, ‘The Ideal Book’, he wrote: 

The picture-book is not, perhaps, absolutely necessary to man's life, but it gives us such endless pleasure, and is so intimately connected with the other absolutely necessary art of imaginative literature that it must remain one of the very worthiest things towards the production of which reasonable men should strive.

The exhibition will be launched in 2017 and will be available from Special Collections' online exhibitions page.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Science Fiction-Music Interconnections: The Adventures of Spaceship Hawkwind, starring Robert Calvert and Michael Moorcock

Formed in late-1960s London, Hawkwind were the pioneers of a strand of Progressive Rock known as ‘Space Rock,’ incorporating cosmic themes and musical experimentation in a style which assimilated “repetitive hypnotic beats and electronic/ambient soundscapes.” Their shifting line-up was augmented by the addition of South African-born poet and writer Robert Calvert, who had been involved with street theatre and underground magazines, and occasionally by the English author and editor Michael Moorcock; both shared the same counter-cultural aspirations and background in the Ladbroke Grove/Notting Hill area as the band, and brought literary and particularly science-fictional inspiration to Hawkwind’s sound.

From their first (and only) hit, 1971’s ‘Silver machine’, with lyrics by Calvert, and on the subsequent album In Search of Space, Hawkwind produced otherworldly music and explored science fiction themes, creating the template for a series of ground-breaking albums during the 1970s. In Search of Space and the follow-up album, Doremi Fasol Latido, introduced the ‘Starfarer’ concept, “a loose story line involving the adventures of Spaceship Hawkwind and its eventual crash-landing on Earth.” Calvert functioned as the band’s ‘resident poet,’ giving spoken-word recitals during concerts, composing lyrics and appearing as lead vocalist on record. Favourites on the UK’s then-flourishing free festival circuit, Hawkwind presented an on-stage spectacular with dancers and lightshow to accompany their live performances – captured on 1973’s Space Ritual, regarded as “the ultimate space rock album.” Lavishly packaged, the artwork was by regular associate, graphic artist Barney Bubbles, who also wrote a short sci-fi story of Spaceship Hawkwind for the performance programme, building on their existing overall Starfarer concept of the band travelling through time and space. Calvert’s manic-depressive condition and the demands of touring took their toll, and he drifted in and out of the line-up, his role on stage and as lyricist intermittently filled by his friend Michael Moorcock as a self-confessed “understudy,” who contributed ‘The Black Corridor’ (adapted from his own 1969 novel) and ‘Sonic Attack’ to Space Ritual.

Hawkwind - Space RitualHawkwind - In Search of Space

A prolific author and, from 1964, editor of the magazine New Worlds – where he had published some of Calvert’s poetry – Moorcock found acclaim with the Cornelius Quartet of novels, following the weird and wonderful adventures of central character, Jerry Cornelius, a psychedelic harlequin-secret agent, an anti-hero of the times, picking his way through the debris of ‘swinging London’ and all points beyond. The first of the novels, 1968’s The Final Programme, was filmed in 1973 (though the result was much to the author’s disapproval); Mick Jagger was reputedly approached to play the lead, only to decline the Cornelius role as ‘too freaky.’ The Jagger connection was not coincidental – amongst other endeavours, Cornelius fronts a pop group known as the Deep Fix, a name Moorcock used in turn for his own musical project when he came to record the 1975 Concept Album The New Worlds Fair. In the same year he contributed lyrics to, and was credited as the originator of, Hawkwind’s album Warrior on the Edge of Time – based on his concept of the Eternal Champion, a recurring character found in different guises throughout his work, including Jerry Cornelius. The connection between author and group was further cemented by a series of dubious genre novels attributed to Moorcock and Michael Butterworth (though primarily the work of the latter, Moorcock’s name guaranteed respectable sales), beginning with Time of the Hawklords in 1976, featuring the band as protagonists in a series of sci-fi-inspired adventures.

Michael Moorcock - the Cornelius ChroniclesMichael Moorcock & The Deep Fix - The New Worlds Fair

Hawkwind - Warrior on the Edge of TimeMichael Moorcock & Michael Butterworth - Time of the Hawklords

Once Robert Calvert took the helm on a more permanent basis as lead singer and songwriter in 1976, he oversaw a shift in Hawkwind’s conceptual concerns. Their later-70s output focused more on dystopian and futuristic themes, closer in spirit to the contemporary work of J. G. Ballard than the fantasy territory they had previously explored, in keeping with Calvert’s experimental solo albums. This phase began with Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music (referencing the classic magazines of early science fiction), continued with 1977’s acclaimed Quark Strangeness and Charm and culminated in their final album of the decade, PXR-5, the last to feature Calvert, and released after his departure from the band. Calvert and Moorcock (whose versatility saw him expertly turn his hand to any style within – and occasionally outside – the sci-fi genre) had similar preoccupations, and while Calvert was a captivating, at times eccentric and flamboyant front-man, the pair’s work is complementary. After Calvert left to pursue his own projects, Moorcock continued to perform with Hawkwind on a regular basis and worked with them throughout the 1980s, notably on the albums Sonic Attack and Chronicle of the Black Sword, “all but one of whose songs are based on his Elric saga (the other, ‘Needle Gun’ is about Jerry Cornelius).”

Hawkwind - Astounding Sounds, Amazing MusicHawkwind - Quark Strangeness and Charm

Whilst Robert Calvert sadly died in 1988, Michael Moorcock remains a celebrated and successful author; a variety of splinter groups featuring original or one-time members of Hawkwind (including founders Dave Brock and Nik Turner) continue to tour the UK and world-wide, under a number of related band names. In their various incarnations they are recognised as innovators and prime exponents of a distinctive and enduring style, an influential and widely-respected group whose admirers include such diverse musical figures as Jello Biafra, Julian Cope, John Lydon and Henry Rollins.

Hawklords Tour November 2016