From Plato and Lucian to modern day, we will be exploring science fiction over the next few months at our classics centre and Rumble Museum. To kick off our season of exploration, on Wednesday 17th July, 22 Year Sevens took part in our Imagined Planets Day.
Students arrived to find four different group tables, each one named after a different science fiction author, with a booklet outlining the task for the day, and some of the materials displayed on the tables.
Arthur C Clarke-award winning author, Chris Beckett, began the day with a detailed and fascinating introduction to his novel Dark Eden, which is set on a sunless planet on which a small group of humans crash landed many years ago. He spoke about how he went about creating the planet - how the first idea came from the screen of his Amstrad computer which had a black screen with bright green lettering. This gave him the idea of a planet where the light came from the living things on it rather than the sun.
He explained how it was only after he thought of the idea of a sunless planet that he discovered that such things did exist, called "rogue planets". He set about designing the life on the planet, and came up with the idea of tree-like organisms which emitted heat and light, because they tapped into the hot core of the planet - so their sap was boiling hot. These were called "red lantern, white lantern and yellow lantern trees". The creatures all had a similar body map, of six limbs, and blackish blood, and big, flat eyes. Creatures were bioluminescent. They were often named after creatures on earth, even though they were actually quite different, as he this is what settlers had often done historically when they encountered new species.
He talked about the importance of being disciplined in creating the worlds and story lines, and how the name of the planet itself was also important. His planet had been called "Eden", because the story line had echoes of the story of Eden from the Bible - although in the Bible story, humans were exiled from Eden, whereas in this story, they trapped on it. He talked of how names can help make connections and carry connotations for readers.
The talk was very inspiring, and the Year Sevens straight away started coming up with initial ideas for planets and story lines. With the arrival of sixth form helpers, as well as very kind support from Oxford University student Tamsin Morton, the groups started shaping their ideas into a coherent concept. Once their ideas were in place, they had large display boards, and model planets and moons to decorate! Chris Beckett circulated to see how their plans were developing, and answer any questions.
By 2pm, after a mere four hours of hard creative work, the groups were ready to present. "Le Guin" table came up with a concept of a divided planet, with electricity in its core, and different groups of people who were in conflict with each other, as well as creatures who fed off the energy produced by conflict. "Asimov" table's idea involved a planet where moons regularly crashed into its surface, and this had created different regions in the planet. "H.G. Wells" table had a planet called "Evolv" that was also divided, and they came up with a carefully thought out ecology. The final table - "Bradbury" - had a complex storyline of internecine warfare, and a region where acid rain had fallen on the planet and caused some of its population to become mutated.
The presentations were detailed and well-delivered, with each person in the group participating, and the display boards and planets were stunning. Chris Beckett gave some thoughtful and encouraging feedback to every group, before awarding "Asimov" as the runners-up, and "Le Guin" as the winners!
After school, parents, siblings, and students from other year groups came to enjoy seeing the displays, and Chris Beckett delivered an equally fascinating community talk to parents and students, which revisited some of the themes of the morning talk, but also explored the definition and importance of science fiction as a genre which is always open to the new, and exploring our concepts of what life is, what human beings are, and what society should or could be like.
Congratulations to all the Year Sevens for their fabulous work, and a very big thank you to Katja, Yasmeen, Tamsin and Isobel for assisting the groups so well. Thank you finally to Chris Beckett for inspiring talks and spending the whole day with us.