Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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Untitled Space Story – Chapter 1

January 2, 2012

The instinct is to slump backwards in relief, but the gesture lacks a certain something. Still, I suppose it doesn’t really matter. It’s not like there’s anyone else here to read my body language, after all, and I know full well how I’m feeling.

The relief is physical, like a knot dissolved from my stomach, a weight from my shoulders. That said, all the weight genuinely has been lifted from my shoulders. I suppose I’m going to have to learn to adjust my language to deal with this new environment. It only occurs now how many of our colloquialisms are related to gravity. I suppose that isn’t surprising. We’ve spent thousands of years in the dirt, after all, with gravity as a given.

And here I am now, floating gently. My head touches against the bulwark with all the force of a feather’s fall. I’ve done the training – plunging up and down inside a converted cargo plane in the stratosphere, trying to simulate the effects of zero gravity, but it doesn’t compare to the real thing. Nothing does. And no other human being in the entire history of our civilisation has ever been in a position to realise that.

The enormity of the concept stops it from truly sinking in. Not through lack of trying – I’ve been in training for this day for six years, in one form or another. I knew what would happen, and I knew how important a thing it would be. Philosophically, the human race has finally crawled free from the cradle of its life, and I have taken that first faltering step. And in more realistic terms, the space race has been won, and a major blow has been struck in the Cold War. I feel equal pride in both aspects of this achievement.

I drift across to the window, and peer down at the view below. The window is tiny – less than six inches across. In light of the view outside, I’d give almost anything for a bigger one, but the scientists at ground control tell me any bigger and it’d blow out into space under the pressure of internal atmosphere. I suppose, compared to explosive decompression, I can learn to live with the limited view.

The world turns beneath me – vast and beautiful and so close it seems I could touch it. Yet, so distant that I am no longer a part of it. It is night in the world below, and the cities of earth glimmer faintly against the encroaching darkness.

I’ve communicated with ground control, and delivered all that was expected of me. The radio protocols, the confirmation of telemetry, the inspiring soundbite I’m sure will be quoted for decades to come. I’ve been sworn never to admit that it was pressed into my hand by a speechwriter a few days before the launch. I suppose they didn’t trust an airman to come up with something suitable for the history books. Given the scale of what we’ve achieved here, perhaps rightly so.

I have a few hours of downtime now, to recuperate from the launch, then on with my duties. But what to do with that downtime? Weight was such a factor in the design of this whole system that I have very little to entertain myself with, and even though the last of the thrusters died away a few hours ago now, my body is still thrumming with the leftover adrenaline and sheer emotion of the moment.

No man has ever been so far from home.

I feel the urge to talk to someone about it. How absurd, how paradoxical is that? I have an opportunity to experience the most perfect and complete isolation and solitude ever encountered by mankind, and my instinct is to laugh and to talk and to joke, to communicate.

With a laugh on my lips, I spin the dial and repeat the standard radio hail like a mantra, waiting for the familiar voices of the ground support staff answering me. I wonder whether I’ll be able to draw them into actual conversation, beyond my operational parameters and mission brief. I have the mad desire to make small talk, to ask about the operators’ families, and sports results. However vicarious, this connection to normality suddenly seems so vital.

But no-one answers.

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Real Zombies Scuttle

June 19, 2010
A recent meme that’s proved almost worryingly popular around here is planning for a zombie holocaust. It might sound grim, and even a little crazy, but it’s a diverting enough theoretical exercise. At least, it is for most people – as ever, a few devote a bit TOO much time to it. I’ve actually heard it voiced in a serious tone that we ought to plan for it, as ‘you never know’, and there’s a slim but real risk of the plan being needed.

That’s always tickled me, as the plans people make are always to counter zombies as envisioned by George A. Romero. Romero was good at slow, tense horror films, but his idea of zombies is the least plausible I’ve ever seen. A Romero zombie shambles around, hunting all day and all night until its decaying flesh putrefies too far for it to move. They will eat voraciously, but they do not digest. From this alone we know they are impossible.

Picture the scene – a colossal treadmill, filled with Romero zombies. In front of them, a member of staff sits thumbing idly through a trashy magazine. The zombies, driven by pure, primal instinct, lurch forwards towards their flabby supervisor. The wheel turns all day and all night, as different staff members take their shifts, and in the next room, a generator rumbles. Cheap, renewable electricity for ever!

Romero zombies use energy to move, but they don’t gain energy from any source. They violate one of the most inviolable of physical laws, and for that reason alone they can’t happen.

28 Days Later paints a different picture, with an extremely contagious virus turning people into out of control, murderous animals. The victims are still alive, unlike Romero zombies, and presumably have the same physical weaknesses. As far as I can see, this approach is fairly feasible, although there’s no real virus that does anything close to this.

There’s a more feasible and infinitely more sinister possibility though, one that does happen in the real world, just not to humans. It happens to insects.

Cordyceps uniliteralis is a fungus found in jungles across the world. It acts as a parasitoid to certain specific types of ant – a parasitoid being defined as a parasite which kills its host as part of its normal life cycle.

An ant, picking its way through the jungle floor, might accidentally inhale a spore from a mature fungus. The spore lodges itself inside the ant’s body, and immediately sets about making changes. Any spare soft tissue inside the carapace gets converted to sugars, and any cracks in the carapace are sealed. The ant belongs to the fungus now, and it is not willing to share it with other pathogens. When the host is sufficiently prepared, the fungus begins to alter the chemistry of the ant’s brain. The urge is chemically implanted in the ant to find somewhere at just the right altitude, just the right temperature, and just the right humidity. The ant sinks its mandibles deep into the stem of the plant it’s climbed, and dies. The fungus then works quickly, bursting out of the host’s head and shedding its spores onto the breeze.

There’s something akin to a constant, low level war being waged between ant colonies and this fungus, with the colonies being built purposefully far away from likely spore areas, and ant drones being able to recognise infected individuals, and escort them far, far away from the colony before they reach the final stages.

As if that weren’t enough, there are other strains of this fungus which affect dragonflies, cockroaches, cicadas, beetles, stick insects, bees, wasps, butterflies and moths.

I invite you to dwell on how you’d recognise a human so infected, before their head splits open to release a cloud of spores.

That ought to fuel a few nightmares.

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Icarus is not to be emulated.

June 13, 2010

Icarus, as I’m sure you know, was a character from Greek mythology. His father Daedalus made them both feathery wings, held together by wax, that they might fly free from their captivity. Icarus got carried away with the joy of flight, forgot his father’s instructions, and flew to close to the sun – the wax melted, and he fell to his death.

The moral of the story is pretty obvious, I think, and Icarus is usually used as a byword for getting carried away, being too proud, or simply being on the verge of learning a rather harsh lesson.

Usually.

But the name crops up all the time in completely unsuitable places, and you have to wonder at times just what the decision-makers who chose the name were thinking.

In science-fiction it’s a little more understandable – the writers are giving us a rather heavy-handed clue as to what might lie ahead. It still begs the question of why the characters who chose the name thought it was a good idea, however.

A quick run-down of some more notable science-fiction examples:

The Matrix Reloaded featured a ship by that name, which was rather predictably blown up.

Stargate: Universe featured a military installation called Icarus Base, on a distant alient world. The official base logo was that of a feather against a sun.The alien world exploded in the first episode.

I mean seriously.
Just to drive the point home…

Sunshine featured not one, but TWO spaceships by the name of Icarus, both designed to fly right up to the sun. Their fate is of rather more plot importance than the other examples listed, so I’ll simply say that the mission is not without its hitches. Or deaths.

Use of the name outside fiction is even more baffling though, especially given some of the things it gets attached to. There was a major Greek airline called Icarus – would you be confident flying in a plane branded with the name of a man who tried to fly and fell to his death?

There are still flight schools, flying contests and aircraft manufacturers with the name, as well as bus manufacturers, for some reason, and Japan has just launched a solar-sail powered unmanned spacecraft named IKAROS.

Why not name flying endeavours after Daedalus? Alright, he was a murdering, jealous, devious  bastard, but he could actually fly without killing himself!

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On Pride

May 6, 2010

Continuing with the theme of unloading on this blog the things which weigh on my mind during the long working day – pride.

When is it reasonable to feel pride? I have perhaps a little more contact with the US than most of the English, and it’s always struck me as a very strong difference between the two countries. Many Americans make quite a big deal out of being proud to be American, whereas I’m not sure I’ve ever heard any Englishman proclaim his pride in being English.

It’s an interesting difference, and I wouldn’t say it stems from a lack of English patriotism. It’s possible part of it has to do with extremist politics. Proclaiming patriotism as a cover for slightly dubious policy is a common tactic in the political right. The two party system in the US means that the most right wing party is one of the major political forces in the country, and there’s no shame (well… comparatively) in subscribing to its views. In the UK, with a much more open system, the most right wing parties are groups like the BNP and even the National Front – groups with the stigma of racism and fascism attached, that many people shy away from. This has led to people being a little cautious about being overly patriotic.

But I don’t think that’s all there is to it. Personally, I wouldn’t describe myself as being proud of being English. That’s not to say that I’m not fond of the place, or even that I’m not very glad indeed to have been born here, but I don’t feel I can justify pride in something that I didn’t work to achieve.

That’s the nub of it, really – pride is for things you have personally had a hand in. I’m not proud of being English, my IQ, being right handed or having brown hair. I am proud of my music, my old fencing record, and various other skills and achievements. See the difference?

Boasting about innate traits and acts of chance is unjustified. Boasting about achievements you’ve worked hard towards IS justified – although sometimes boorish.

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The Shattered Head

May 6, 2010

A short story written for a writing competition in an MMO. The original setting is copyright Iron Realms Entertainment, but for this version I’ve removed or changed all specific names and places.

—————————

I found myself restless one cold morning, and my normal patrol of the forest boundaries turned into a hike, heading northwards through the mountains and across the plains. I walked for many hours, my thoughts wandering even further afield than my feet.

I eventually stopped as the sun touched the horizon, steeping in the tranquility of the moment. Besides the crickets chirping in the scrub, the only sound was my own breathing – and after a while, even that seemed a distraction. To lose myself truly in the setting sun, I held my breath.

“… d… t… lo… l… sl….”

I began breathing again, my concentration disrupted, and in so doing drowned out the faint and muffled sound. I cast around myself to try and find it again, holding my breath until my lungs burned, and my ears strained with the effort. It grew louder as I grew closer, until I was sure the sound was a voice. It seemed to be coming from directly beneath me, so I set about digging through the loosely bound grass and dirt.

As I pried a large rock out of the way, the voice went immediately from indistinct to booming, and I fell backwards in surprise. The rock was the head of a golem. It was filthy with the scrubland sod and cracked from temple to jaw. Its eyes were dull and lifeless, and did not acknowledge my presence at all. But for all that, its words were clear, and its voice was haughty and scornful.

I have transcribed here the words it spoke.

–  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –

I do not know how long I have lain asleep, and nor do I care.

I do not know if the restless tormented state I have inhabited could be called sleep, but that is irrelevant.

I know that I have awoken.

I have awoken to find that those who opposed me flourish. My former comrades, my brothers-in-arms have grown fat and weak, lying languorous in the fruits of my labour. Our old enemies stand fit to topple the world, just as I foresaw, so many centuries ago. But now I have awoken.

My warnings fell on deaf ears, and the weapons with which I armed my brothers were allowed to grow blunt and atrophied, but now I have awoken.

The so-called ‘scholars’ which were once my kin are not worth the bitter spittle I feel rising at their memory.  By their simple inactivity, they have betrayed all that we ever stood for, and they shall find no shelter from me now.

I will crack the foundations of the towers of the world, and the hardest of stones will be naught but dust before the vital fecundity of my ever-encroaching forces.

I was ever the strongest of our kind, and now my wrath has swollen great beyond measure.

The forests shake with anticipation, and the cities of men would do well to quake in fear.

Athnol has returned.

–  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –

I’m not ashamed to admit I staggered back as I realized what the thing was saying. The bile rose in my gullet as I realized that this stretch of land on which I had stood in such tranquility had been the site of the greatest and most horrific scene of unrestrained slaughter and carnage that I have ever seen – perhaps that the realms had ever seen.

It had been here that the mad druid Athnol had made his final stand against the unified armies of the world. Soldiers by the score had strewn the bloodied scrub, bodies broken and splintered by the stone arms of his golems and the crushing boughs of the towering treants. By the time Athnol himself finally fell, the streets of the Underworld were surely thronged.

And the slaughter had not ended there. The fragile alliance between the arrayed armies was held together only by their common enemy and as he fell, so the armies fell upon each other. Should I live to a thousand, I shall never see such bloodshed. I pray that I shall not.

The cracks the schemes of Athnol had forced into the gates and fortifications of the cities of the realm had been repaired, though it had taken some decades. Even being reminded of his life drained the warmth from me. And all this time, this shattered head had been blindly repeating these words, even as the worms crawled through its cracked and broken eyes…

“I do not know how long I have la-“

I cried out convulsively as the ruined stone face began its hateful litany over again, and before I knew it I was on my knees, pounding the already weakened head against the stony ground. I dashed my fingers open on its edges, and my blood fell on the soil as the voice finally faltered and died – but a few more drops could make no difference on this blood-glutted ground. My expression as stony as that of the now dead golem, I ground the last few fragments of rock to mere dust.

Collecting my breath, I glanced up at the three moons in a cloudless sky, and began to silently stalk southwards.


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Who are you?

September 26, 2009
“Tell me all about yourself. Who ARE you?”
It’s a question I’ve always dreaded, from workplace interviews to childhood activity holidays when they’d cheerily insist we ‘broke the ice’. Any answer you give defines yourself, not just to the people listening but to yourself as well. Whatever you pick as an interesting fact, a thing people can use to get a bead on you, that is something you define yourself as, whether you know it or not.
Maybe once I’d have said I was a fencer – which I was at the time. And it was something I used to define myself. But I wasn’t dedicated enough to the sport that I could really, honestly say that it was a large part of my identity. If I was that dedicated, I wouldn’t have given it up when I failed to find a decent fencing club when I went to university.
Sometimes I’ll answer that I’m a musician, but if I do it’s followed by an instant wave of guilt for not practising enough. I could be a much better musician than I am, were I committed enough.
Many people would answer with their job, and fair enough if you have landed the job you dreamed of as a child. I certainly wouldn’t go to my job as a first choice though. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m ashamed of it, or even that I don’t enjoy it. I’m quite fond of my job – of the jobs I’ve had, it’s certainly the best. But at the same time, it wasn’t a job  my mind went to immediately even as an adult, just something that came up in a desperate session of trawling the internet for possibilities while my bank balance slowly but inevitably became a bank imbalance.
If you define yourself by any one ability, you set yourself up for a fall when you come across someone better at that ability than you. If you define yourself by your intelligence, for instance, any witty stings made by someone in your social circle will hurt all the more, because you feel you ought to be equal to it. If you define yourself by your artistic ability, what does it do to your self esteem if no-one will hire you for it, while those around you make themselves a living?
People will always be competitive with this kind of thing, even hobbies like travelling or reading are in a strange way competitive. Not literally so, like a sport would be, but in a quieter, smugger sort of way. If someone defined themselves by their voracious appetite for books, what will happen to their self-esteem if they come across someone who has read every classic, and waxes lyrical about obscure Romanian poetry?
This, I think, is why people pursue the most obscure world records. To have something at which they are the undisputed best in the world, something by which they can safely define themselves. To be the guy who stuck 50,000 pegs to his left hand.
Some people will even define themselves by someone else, usually a significant other. That’s setting yourself up for an even bigger fall, as if something happens to that relationship or that person, a huge part of your personal identity disappears, leaving you scrabbling for something else to hang your metaphorical hat on, and trying to rebuild your self esteem. And besides, even if the relationship proves as solid as a rock, and the two of you are both blessed somehow with true immortality… I think I’d prefer to be defined on my own terms.
A few people will actually define themselves by a negative trait. Being bad with money, being tardy, being a party animal. This is downright dangerous, as they feel the need to pay up to this image. I’ve seen people who’s ‘thing’ was to get drunk a lot at parties. At one point, they just enjoyed a good time, but once it became expected of them they veered towards outright alcoholism.
You’re probably thinking I’m building somewhere with this, but I’m really not. It’s a conundrum that bothers me all the time. There are a few things by which I do define myself, but to save face when bested, guilt for not being as thorough with them as I could be, and derision for thinking myself better than I am at something, I tend to keep them to myself. I’m sure my friends have definitions of me, and occasional veiled references can lead to either a sobering moment or a flattered glow. But by and large, I’m happy for their opinions to stay theirs, and I try not to subscribe to them myself unless there’s good reason.
So… tell me about yourself. Who are you?

“Tell me all about yourself. Who ARE you?”

It’s a question I’ve always dreaded, from workplace interviews to childhood activity holidays when they’d cheerily insist we ‘broke the ice’. Any answer you give defines yourself, not just to the people listening but to yourself as well. Whatever you pick as an interesting fact, a thing people can use to get a bead on you, that is something you define yourself as, whether you know it or not.

Maybe once I’d have said I was a fencer – which I was at the time. And it was something I used to define myself. But I wasn’t dedicated enough to the sport that I could really, honestly say that it was a large part of my identity. If I was that dedicated, I wouldn’t have given it up when I failed to find a decent fencing club when I went to university.

Sometimes I’ll answer that I’m a musician, but if I do it’s followed by an instant wave of guilt for not practising enough. I could be a much better musician than I am, were I committed enough.

Many people would answer with their job, and fair enough if you have landed the job you dreamed of as a child. I certainly wouldn’t go to my job as a first choice though. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m ashamed of it, or even that I don’t enjoy it. I’m quite fond of my job – of the jobs I’ve had, it’s certainly the best. But at the same time, it wasn’t a job  my mind went to immediately even as an adult, just something that came up in a desperate session of trawling the internet for possibilities while my bank balance slowly but inevitably became a bank imbalance.

If you define yourself by any one ability, you set yourself up for a fall when you come across someone better at that ability than you. If you define yourself by your intelligence, for instance, any witty stings made by someone in your social circle will hurt all the more, because you feel you ought to be equal to it. If you define yourself by your artistic ability, what does it do to your self esteem if no-one will hire you for it, while those around you make themselves a living?

People will always be competitive with this kind of thing, even hobbies like travelling or reading are in a strange way competitive. Not literally so, like a sport would be, but in a quieter, smugger sort of way. If someone defined themselves by their voracious appetite for books, what will happen to their self-esteem if they come across someone who has read every classic, and waxes lyrical about obscure Romanian poetry?

This, I think, is why people pursue the most obscure world records. To have something at which they are the undisputed best in the world, something by which they can safely define themselves. To be the guy who stuck 50,000 pegs to his left hand.

Some people will even define themselves by someone else, usually a significant other. That’s setting yourself up for an even bigger fall, as if something happens to that relationship or that person, a huge part of your personal identity disappears, leaving you scrabbling for something else to hang your metaphorical hat on, and trying to rebuild your self esteem. And besides, even if the relationship proves as solid as a rock, and the two of you are both blessed somehow with true immortality… I think I’d prefer to be defined on my own terms.

A few people will actually define themselves by a negative trait. Being bad with money, being tardy, being a party animal. This is downright dangerous, as they feel the need to play up to this image. I’ve seen people who’s ‘thing’ was to get drunk a lot at parties. At one point, they just enjoyed a good time, but once it became expected of them they veered towards outright alcoholism.

You’re probably thinking I’m building somewhere with this, but I’m really not. It’s a conundrum that bothers me all the time. There are a few things by which I do define myself, but to save face when bested, guilt for not being as thorough with them as I could be, and derision for thinking myself better than I am at something, I tend to keep them to myself. I’m sure my friends have definitions of me, and occasional veiled references can lead to either a sobering moment or a flattered glow. But by and large, I’m happy for their opinions to stay theirs, and I try not to subscribe to them myself unless there’s good reason.

So… tell me about yourself. Who are you?

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On Arks

May 24, 2009

The idea of an ark as a sanctuary for all that is important in the face of great disaster is an old one, and you’d struggle to find a single person in the Western world who doesn’t know the story of Noah, who supposedly saved two of every creature from the flood.

The idea of more modern arks is something that has surfaced from time to time in both fact and fiction. The concept is to me a very evocative one, and I’d like to explore a few of the more prominent examples here.

Firstly, fact. One of the most amazing feats of this decade has been the construction of the great Seed Vault on Svalbard. A colossal deep-freeze storage unit containing seeds and genetic information for every key crop and plant that our race has come to rely on. Behind huge blast doors, 120 metres beneath a mountain in the frozen wastes of a remote, polar bear haunted island in the arctic circle, no matter what floods, droughts, plagues or infestations strike the crops of the world, there will be a frozen ‘backup’ on Svalbard.

Entrance to the Svalbard Seed Vault

Entrance to the Svalbard Seed Vault

The construction of the Vault was entirely funded by the Norwegian government, which claims sovereignity over the island. Recognizing the potential importance of the project, however, the cost of upkeep is paid for by a vast consortium of nations, including both leading economies and developing ones, as well as at least one legendarily wealthy philanthropist.

This is an entirely pragmatic and self interested project, though no less noble for it. It does put it rather at odds though, with the purely optimistic nature of the one Ark project that is even more incredible.

The Voyager satellite recently left the very outer edges of our star system, travelling at a speed of 3.6 AU per year, one AU being the distance between the Earth and the Sun, or approximately 8.3 light-minutes. Although it is not the satellite’s only function, Voyager carries on it a message from Earth, consisting of over a hundred images, the sounds of the natural world and of human civilisation and industry, greetings in a great many languages, and a selection of musical movements, from Bach to Chuck Berry, going via traditional music from dozens of cultures.

This information is encoded on a golden disk, coated with an incredibly pure isotope of Uranium, chosen for its half-life of  4,510,000,000 years. Numbers that large are hard to properly assimilate without something to compare it to, so imagine it this way – our planet was formed from the swirling dust and gasses of the newly formed star-system only 4,540,000,000 years ago.

If some disaster were to befall humanity, wiping us out entirely at this very moment, the Voyager satellite would be the very last thing to survive of humanity. When the winds and storms of Earth had scoured the greatest monuments of mankind into dust, Johnny B. Goode and the Brandenburg Concerto will still drift through the interstellar void, untouched even by the most distant solar winds.

As a comical side-note, the major record label EMI was approached with regards to including ‘Here Comes The Sun’ by the Beatles on the Voyager disk, but they refused.

The Golden Record

The Golden Record

There have been innumerable references to the ark as a store of biological information in fiction – usually science fiction. Almost every notable science fiction TV series has had something approximating it at some point, whether it’s an automated system set to wipe out the protagonists in an attempt to restore an extinct race (as in Stargate SG-1) or a more peaceful remnant, seeking only somewhere to set down and rebuild (as in Star Trek : TNG). Rarer but no less intriguing is the fictional equivalent of the Voyager disk – not an attempt to save a species, but to preserve something of it, so that it is not lost entirely to the ravages of time. In reality, this is a good deal easier to achieve than saving the species itself – a lot of work went into the Voyager disk, certainly, but not nearly as much as it would have taken to outfit the satellite to carry a sufficiently large colony of humans to replicate with a safely sized gene-pool, along with habitats, food, water, air, and enough energy to sustain them indefinitely. You only need to look at how difficult it has been to sustain the international space station (ISS) with only a handful of astronauts, even with regular supply missions, a near Earth orbit and no pressure on those astronauts to reproduce to see that such a thing would be completely outside human capabilities at the moment.

In science fiction, of course, colossal hindrances in engineering limits and even the laws of physics are easily overcome. That is rather the difference between ‘science fiction’, and ‘science’. So it’s little wonder really that science fiction authors and scriptwriters tend to go the whole hog with the fully blown species preservation, rather than settle for the achievable but innately tragic idea of a small capsule containing the great masterworks of art, preserving something of a doomed species’ endeavours.

This said, there are still one or two examples, usually drawn either from settings which aren’t technologically that far ahead of our own, or in at least one case a civilisation LESS advanced than our own. In the recent film ‘Children of Men’, adapted quite heavily from a book by P D James, humanity is doomed to a slow death, the result of sudden global infertility. There are no new children, and the remaining adults are slowly dying as a result of panicked anarchy, a countermovement of totalitarianism, or simple old age. Not with a bang, but with a whimper, as T.S Eliot put it.

The protagonist of the film at one point goes to call in a favour from his cousin, a government minister tasked with overseeing a huge repository of precious works of art, referred to as the ‘Ark of the Arts’, inside Battersea Power Station. Interestingly, in an early draft of the script, the repository was referred to as the ‘Noah Project’. We see works by Michelangelo, Picasso and even the graffiti artist Banksy, and hear strains of King Crimson playing inside the building. In a nice little reference, a huge inflatable pig has been suspended over the power station, in tribute to the ‘Animals’ album, by Pink Floyd.

Another poignant example of this comes in the 1870 novel ‘20,000 Leagues under the Sea‘ by Jules Verne. In this, the infamous Captain Nemo has assembled a fully self-sufficient submarine, and taken to shunning the land and all its Empires. He explains that to him, the human race is already extinct; or at least devolved to such a point as to no longer be worthy of notice. He has gathered on the Nautilus all of the finest examples of art and pure endeavour – tomes of poetry, history, scientific knowledge and philosophy, totalling 12,000 tomes in all. They are accompanied by countless paintings and sculptures of an incalculable value, and the sheet music to a great deal of composers, both long dead and contemporary. He explains that to him, there is no difference, and all of the creators of these art-works are long dead and equal in their timelessness.

“These composers,” Captain Nemo answered me, “are the contemporaries of Orpheus, because in the annals of the dead, all chronological differences fade.”

In a strange way, Nemo was the self-styled curator of a post-apocalyptic sanctuary of all that had been worth saving from humanity, with the strange twist that he was living in a decidedly pre-apocalytic world, in which humanity still thrived, in complete ignorance of his existence. And if that doesn’t spark some shiver of wonder in you, you just aren’t imagining it hard enough.