Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Invisible Man of Science Fiction (2005) John Wyndham

This is a BBC documentary about the writer John Wyndham, who was born John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris. Harris spent much of his early life writing science fiction space tales under his own name. However it wasn't until he be dusted off an old manuscript and submitted it under the name John Wyndham that he met with any success and effectively changed science and science fiction.

Harris, later Wyndham, was the son of a lawyer who was devistated as a child when his parents split in the middle of a scandal. He tried to follow in his fathers footsteps, or in science but found what he really wanted to do was write.

When, after the second World War, he was having trouble selling anything that he wrote, Harris dusted off the novel The Day of the Triffids and changed his life and science fiction.

Triffids was a radical change in science fiction. It was a story that was very much set in a world we knew or could know. It's science was based on very real science. The triffids of the title are the result of genetic manioulation. It's so good at painting the portrait of real science and of what is possible that it predates the use of atomic energy and the discovery of DNA by only a few years.

Such was the case of all of his follow up books. For example his The Trouble with Lichen deals with the fall out of a discovery of a lichen that if used medicinally will allow one to live for centuries. How would it change the lives of people who use it and of society in general.

The Invisible Man of Science Fiction is a wonderful portrait of Wyndham and his books. It is on some level sparce on personal details, Wyndham didn't talk much about his personal life, and he gave only one TV interview (which is excerpted). However the film is filled with discussions of his work and how it influenced not only popular culture but science. Many scientists are interviewed who talk about how Wyndham wrote about made them want to be scientists and to change how they look at what they are doing.

Definitely worth tracking down. (I picked this up on DVD at a nostalgia show)

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