The Odyssey Micro Interview: Piers Bizony

In advance of his talk at the BIS on the 27 June 2012, award-winning writer Piers Bizony talks to Odyssey about the famous Clarke/Kubrick partnership, and the future of human space exploration.

Be sure to join us next month for what promises to be a highlight in this year’s lecture programme. Book early to guarantee a ticket! For details please see here:

2001 A Space Odyssey1. Many still believe “2001: A Space Odyssey” to be the best SF film ever made. Indeed, in 2010 it topped a review in “The Guardian” newspaper winning just this accolade. What do you think its enduring appeal is?

The movie deals with ultimate questions: why are we here? Is there any purpose to life? Does existence mean anything? On that level, 2001 is, quite simply, the most thought-provoking science fiction film of all time. It also offers us an image of human progress. It’s as if we do, in fact, have a future. Today all we hear is doom and gloom about the environment, war, religious fundamentalism, banker’s greed and so on. In 2001 we see a world where rational scientific advance takes us to the stars. Of course, the movie is filled with subtle warnings, too, about the depersonalising effects of technology. For smart, aware audiences, 2001 rewards repeat viewing; but there’s no doubt that many young people today find it slow and boring. Each movie has its time in cultural history, I guess.

2. Did you ever meet Arthur Clarke?

Yes indeed, many times; and in the mid-1990s I archived his UK-based papers at Dene Court in Somerset, with his brother Fred and his other brother Michael. Alas Michael died some years ago, but Fred is still going strong.

3. What do you think happened to Dave Bowman at the end of the movie?

Now, don’t be mischievous . . . each viewer must make of this what he or she chooses to make of it. Clearly this is a moment when one human, at least, achieves some kind of transcendence.

2001 image4. When will the revised edition of “2001: Filming the Future” be available?

I’m working with the Stanley Kubrick Estate, and the Stanley Kubrick Archives at the London College of Communication. The plan is for the international publishers Taschen to bring out a book just ahead of the year 2014, the 50th anniversary of the first meetings between Kubrick and Clarke, and the origination of the film (which, in the event, took four years to make).

5. Is it realistic to hope that humans will walk on Mars before we reach the middle of this century, or is this a longer-term goal?

In a word: no! Mars needs to give us more evidence that it’s worth the risk of sending humans. I think Europa and other worlds in the Solar System are more exciting scientific targets. As for commercial space, asteroids might give a strong financial incentive for deep-space missions. Unfortunately, I don’t see anyone funding a human trip to Mars in the foreseeable future. On the other hand, Earth-Moon space promises to get very busy, as access to orbit and lunar space gets easier and cheaper.

2001 image6. What are your views on the space commercialisation debate: does it offer real hope for cheaper access to space, or is it just a platform for tourism? Or both!

Like all successful forms of human endeavour, it’ll be a mixed bag of fun, profit and idealism, followed by routine access and, ultimately, lost baggage and tiresome queues. In a hundred years’ time, Ryanair or its equivalent will be making space trips almost dull. Notice in 2001 how Pan Am’s flights are supposedly so routine you sleep through them.

7. Do you have any guilty pleasures?

“Rocket porn,” my wife calls it . . .with new and improved diecast techniques, toymakers are aiming for the adult collector’s market with ever more realistic and detailed versions of Saturn V and Apollo, and all the rest besides. The older I get, the “younger” the clutter around my office becomes. It is a bit of an addiction, and I even have Saturn V rockets in several different scales.


Thank you, Piers Bizony!

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