New Statesman | Why I find the prospect of an apocalypse comforting

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“Cosy catastrophe” is the nickname the sci-fi writer and historian Brian Aldiss applied to the works of John Wyndham, author of The Midwich Cuckoos and The Day of the Triffids. Aldiss did not mean for it to be flattering: “The essence of cosy catastrophe is that the hero should have a pretty good time (a girl, free suites at the Savoy, automobiles for the taking) while everyone else is dying off.”

In other words, the cosy catastrophe is a cop-out. It’s safe. Bad things happen, but they don’t happen to people like us. Whether it’s a fair way to describe Wyndham doesn’t really matter, because while the name caught on, the pejorative intent didn’t. Aldiss had reached for sick burn and accidentally struck deep truth: there is something comforting about the apocalypse.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

New Humanist | What does Utopia tell us about our attitudes to disaster?

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I grew up expecting to live until the end of the world. Born one week before the Greenham Common protests began, some of my earliest memories are the throb of nuclear terror. I read When the Wind Blows (Raymond Briggs’s 1982 post-fallout picture book) at the library and fretted about a slow, greenish, bloat-fleshed demise in the dismal confines of a fallout shelter, every cell of the body poisoned as life futilely exceeds hope. I asked my mum what would happen if the bomb dropped. “We wouldn’t need to worry about that,” said my mum. “We live near the RAF base so we’d probably be dead before we knew about it.” I asked my mum if God was a man or a woman. “A man,” said my mum, with surprising certainty for someone who showed little sign of believing in a god of any sex. “A woman wouldn’t have made such a mess of things.”

Read the full essay at New Humanist

Paperhouse At The Picturehouse: Wall-e

(If you want to see the film unspoiled, I suggest you hold out on reading this until after you’ve been to the cinema.)

Pixar always open their films with a new short. There’s something delicious about the extra layer of anticipation: after the months of expectancy, the hours of wondering how they are going to top the gleam of Cars or the organic textures of Ratatouille, you sit down in your seat ready to to be dazzled by the new world of Wall-e – but first, there’s the funny physics-bending of Presto to get through. Presto is typical of Pixar’s confidence: they can create worlds with any rules they imagine, so they do. And the premise on which Presto builds its cartoon-violence comedy is the brilliantly disarming trick of a physical
universe which doesn’t match the visual one. If you’ve played Silent Hill 2 or Portal, then you’ll know the idea – but even if you recognise what’s going on, your dazzled brain will be delighted.

And then, after they’ve amused and astonished you, Wall-e begins, and is immediately like everything you know and nothing you’ve ever seen. Continue reading