Friday, 31 May 2013

Dreams of a Low Carbon Future - New Graphic Novel Project

Artwork by James Mckay
Scientists based in the Energy Building at the University of Leeds have won £25k funding from the Royal Academy of Engineering to produce a graphic novel entitled Dreams of a Low Carbon Future. The novel will be a collaboration between scientists, artists, and school children, and will examine the issues of climate change and how we adapt our society to achieve a low carbon sustainable future.

The project is currently seeking artists and designers from the University's UGs, PGs, academics and support staff who are interested in participating in this project.

5,000 copies of the graphic novel will be printed. It will be launched at Thought Bubble Comics Festival in Leeds (23-24 November 2013), and exhibitions of artwork will be held at the Cartoon Museum London and the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery on campus in early 2014.

High profile contributors include the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Prof. David Mackay, Futurologist and author of You, Tomorrow, Dr Ian Pearson, and US environmental activist and author of Endgame, Derrick Jensen.

The project is managed by James Mckay, a professional comics artist working for 2000AD magazine and manager of the Doctoral Training Centre for Low Carbon Technologies.

Participants are invited to contribute:   

* Comic strip art   
* Single images e.g. sketches/paintings
* Text e.g. poems, stories that could be illustrated by other artists   
* Design – help design, format the book and promotional material (e.g. posters, flyers etc.)   
* Concepts – what do you think the future will look like?

Anyone with Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Futurist/comics/graphic novels interests, or with interests in the environment, technology or science in general will hopefully find this a fascinating, unusual project to be involved in.

ANY contribution, no matter how small, will be valuable. Please contact James at for further information.

Friday, 17 May 2013

SF Small Ads: One Giant Leap for Amateur Radio

The year is 1925, one year prior to the launch of Hugo Gernsback's first issue of Amazing Stories. This was the magazine that, along with Gernsback, would later be credited for the invention of scientifiction- science fiction but not as we know it... It is for his contribution to SF that Gernsback is now remembered, the Worldcon Hugo Awards are named in his honour. But, as a former electrical engineer, his first interest was actually amateur radio. 1925 was the year he launched WRNY, an AM radio station that operated in New York and ran until 1934.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century amateur radio was a widespread hobby. In 1912 Gernsback said that he estimated 400,000 people in the U.S. were transmitting or picking up radio signals, and it was presumably audience demand that led to the establishment of WRNY. The first broadcast was on 12 June, 1925 and was covered by The New York Times. The programme included an address from the radio pioneer Lee de Forest and two hours of live musical entertainment. In those early days the idea was that anyone could build their own radio and start picking up frequencies and there were so many stations, it wasn't unusual for them to share the same frequency at different times during the day.

The prevalence of small ads. in contemporary magazines and other Gernsback publications, including Amazing Stories and Wonder Stories, testifies to the popularity of amateur radio. However, Gernsback was also a notorious self-promoter and often used his publications to cross-market one another; some titles would carry the radio station’s call letters on the cover and his company, Experimenter Publishing, produced several specialised publications for radio. In the adverts, amateur radio enthusiasts were called fans and frequently petitioned to buy the latest manuals, which covered such mind-boggling topics as 'radiotics' and 'broadcastatics'.

Still, amateur radio wasn't the only pursuit vying for the attention of the discerning reader- magic sets, night classes, exercise programmes and thinly veiled appeals to enlist for the Navy were among the other adverts. These build up a detailed, if slightly off-putting, picture of the contemporary SF enthusiast: male, possibly lonely and lacking in confidence, with an interest in all things technical and/or magical. Even during this early phase, the stage was being set for the familiar geek-sterotypes, although the later professionalisation of radio would lead to the emergence of an even more unsavoury character... the DJ.

Through his publishing actvities, Gernsback had a significant influence on the growth of early broadcasting. So, while perhaps a more modest achievement than Father of SF, his shortlived ascendancy over the airwaves is nevertheless an interesting footnote in SF's history.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Future Foods: Episode 1 - Cereal Solutions

Sci-Fi Forward dons a pair of investigatory moon boots and prods at the sugar-coated underbelly of space-themed breakfast cereal in the first of a new series looking at the many ways in which science fiction has influenced The Food What We Eat.
Breakfast - the most important meal of the day
As a child in the 1980s I was spoilt for choice when it came to cereal. Humdrum offerings such as Corn Flakes and Bran Flakes were quickly supplanted by more exciting fare such as Rice Krispies and Sugar Puffs once I realised that a combination of pleading with/moaning at my poor Mum in the supermarket could result in the purchase of teeth-dissolvingly good treats. My desire to make DOUBLY SURE I ingested my recommended daily allowance of sugar in a single spoonful wasn't my only motivation when it came to choice of cereal however, I was also hypnotised by a combination of cartoons, commercials and 'collectable' free gifts. Muesli may well be good for you but Frosties had an animated talking tiger. Called Tony. Who wore a cravat. Ace. 

Whether I was putting together a collection of almost unplayable flexi discs by bands I'd never heard of or amassing enough of those stalwarts of 'Weren't the 80s TOTALLY BONKERS' TV shows, Spokey-Dokeys TM, to drive my neighbours to an early grave as I clicked and clacked up and down the street, my sticky-pawed formative years seemed to derive an unreasonable amount of excitement from cereal. And it wasn't all about promotional items... Firstly there were 'Kellogg's Variety Packs' which featured eight wee packets of different cereals and were usually bought to 'take away with us' when we went on holiday. In the monochrome world of the 1980s, Variety Packs offered the discerning child an almost unbelievable amount of choice at breakfast (and gave my Mum a wonderful opportunity to fill the back of our cupboard with uneaten packets of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes). And then there were The Sci-Fi Cereals. As we know, few things are more appealing to a child than The Wonders Of Space, with its endless possibilities and lack of school teachers. Apart from sugar and chocolate, the one thing guaranteed to elicit a nauseating whelp from my little face when browsing the cereal aisle with Mum was a tenuous link to The Great Black Void wrought in cartoon-form on the front of a packet. Maybe I could save the world from the clutches of Generic Space Alien Man... by eating some crisped rice.

Anyway... Dear reader, why not come with me as I run down the Top Five Sci-Fi Themed Cereals... EVER!!!?

5. Ricicles

Essentially Rice Krispies with added sugar, Kellogg's used a 'Henry's Cat' tie-in to market the product at launch, realising several years after everyone else that said cartoon was in fact just a shit 'Roobarb & Custard'. The perma-stoned jaundiced feline was soon removed from packets and replaced by {drum roll} Captain Rik. Looking like a cross between the MilkyBar Kid and that irritating green alien knobcake from The Flintstones, it seems fair to assume that Rik purchased his commission in the manner of a Victorian nobleman, unless 'flying round a bowl of cereal with a wimpy jetpack like a wheezing bee' is considered enough of an achievement to warrant promotion to Captain in The Future. Ricicles still have a space theme today but the redesigned Captain Rik looks even more gormless. They're just a bit, you know, 'ordinary'...  Kellogg's added divvy marshmallow bits at one point in an attempt to inject a bit of interest, but this move resulted in a drop in sales so they soon reverted to the 'puffed rice with sugar' of my childhood. Full marks for staying power but Ricicles only scrapes into the top five.

Captain Rik then and now
4. Nestle Honey Stars 

The first entry for a cereal I've never actually eaten comes from Evil Corporate Megalith Nestle. Honey Stars are only available in the UK as a ludicrously expensive import from online grocery stores and, as much as I'm committed to this blog, I aren't prepared to pay £10 a box. Soz. They do look pretty cool though. The cereal itself is star-shaped, with the recent addition of the occasional rocket-shape. *Amaze*. Sadly the cereal loses points as its mascot is a lame-ass bear in a spacesuit. Literally seconds of thought must have gone into that one. Seriously, just look at him. What a nipple end.  

UnBEARably bad box art

3. Ready Brek

How exciting can porridge be? Thanks to a stroke of genius from the marketing bods at Lyons, the answer is 'very'. The message was simple: eat Ready Brek and you will attain a radioactive orange glow during your walk to school. More than once I could've sworn I saw this aura reflected in a car or shop window on a cold winter's morning. In your face Jack Frost. The fact that I developed no interesting mutations or special powers after consuming Ready Brek beyond a slightly higher tolerance to chilly weather was rather disappointing but maybe if I just ate a few more packets...


"Get up and glow" kids

2. Weetos Meteors

I mean HOLY SHIT y'all. If Weetos Meteors had existed when I was a kid I would have died of a wheat overdose before high school. Yer standard Weeto was pretty darn special, depositing so much chocolate into the bowl that they made Coco Pops look worryingly anaemic. And the trippy adverts sparked the catchphrase "Derek was reaaaaaaaally bored" which led the similarly named Dad of my mate Johnny to think that our entire school was taking the piss out of him. 

Evidently Weetos included copious amounts of lysergic acid diethylamide... 

But they were just hoops. Been there, done that. Meteors though?!! And did I mention that alongside these meteors are stars? Wow. Not only that, they're actually pretty good for you, containing hardly any sugar, salt or fats. If they threw some rockets into the mix they'd be pushing for the number one spot...

1. C3-PO's

C3-PO's what?

Ok, so they were never released in the UK (as far as I know) and they were apparently bloody awful but come orrrrrrn! This was a cereal with serious pedigree. Freakin' C3-PO was no mere cartoon, this dude helped rid the universe of the Evil Galactic Empire. What I would have given to have his gold head stare at me from the breakfast table when I was a kid. And you didn't just get any old free gifts with this bad boy, there were Star Wars related trading cards and even a creepy Luke mask should you want to convince your friends that, not only were you said Jedi Knight, but that you'd spent all your cash on botox and cocaine.

This is either the back of a box of C3-PO's or a Nazi recruiting poster, I'm not sure which

The accompanying ad campaign was pretty weird too. Our camp friend is seen evading lazer fire by dashing into a cave with a tray of cereal, revealing to R2-D2 that he wants to name the cereal after himself while wearing a pinafore, then looking rather frightened as a fluffy monster puts his arm round him like a predatory disc jokey. It also features that staple of advertisements, the 'nutritious breakfast', which every cereal is meant to be 'part of'. I mean really, who the hell has an orange, several slices of toast and a whole pot of coffee on top of cereal?

"Two crunches in every double-o" apparently

So there you have it, conclusive proof that a product need not be either a) any good or b) available in your own country for it to be OFFICIALLY THE BESTEST THING THERE IS if it's associated with the right sci-fi movie.

Rational thought 0 - Capitalism 1