Satellites of the Sun

This will be the first of a couple of posts covering  a couple of the interesting short films I’ve found in the online archive of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB).

Satellites of the Sun

Click the picture to be taken to the video

First up Satellites of the Sun by Sidney Goldsmith.

There’s something gloriously ominous about this animation. It has a colour-on-black design overlaid with a deadpan narration which adds up to a film with a remarkably dark tone. It also avoids the normal cliché of Also Sprach Zarathustra and instead offers a wonderful score by Eldon Rathburn.

As we journey through the solar system we see the construction of a space telescope (hubble?) watched over by an astronaut as his crewmate tumbles over and over in time to the music. In another scene we see a lander apparently orbit 1685 Toro. I should mention that despite what it says in the film Toro isn’t in fact our “second moon”. It’s actually an asteroid locked in a similar orbit to our own – something that dates the film. There are also several illustrations of the surfaces of the planets as observers imagined them at the time of the film’s production. There’s an almost science fiction quality to it.

Satellites of the Sun was originally intended as an update for the remarkable short film Universe (itself was a source for 2001: A Space Odyssey) and aimed at Canadian schools. However Sidney Goldsmith decided because of the work involved he would make something wholly original.

I’m glad he did. Watch the film and be chilled by the faceless astronauts while your mind expands to take in the immensity of our Solar System.

The Books That Made My Childhood

It’s (British) World Book day and my friend and author Caroline has published a list of books that shaped her as a child. It’s an intriguing list – especially as she’s Swedish  – and I thought I would do my own. I wasn’t sure about her definition of childhood but she ended her list when she got to age 12.

Without further ado (and in no particular order) here’s mine.

Meg and Mog
Yes that’s right. When I was in my early single digits I loved Meg and Mog. In my primary school we had a book club and every month we were given a catalogue of cheap books that we could get our parents to buy. I remember a tearful Gav clutching this booklet and demanding more witches and cats!

The Animals of Farthing Wood
Another surprise entry for me. I remember reading this book (it’s the first in a series) when I was a kid and eh … being blown away. I remember it being a lot darker than the enjoyable TV show. I cried. I’ve never forgotten that I cried although I can’t remember why.

The Phantom Tollbooth
Norton Juster’s American classic. This book is funny, it’s smart and it’s thought provoking. Juster throws in a ton of complex concepts and he expects you to keep up. Read it as a child and love the story. Read it as an adult and marvel at how Juster did it. Some people say it’s “too old” for kids but quite honestly tell them to F— off. Kids will get it so trust them to do so.

Yeah yeah… The Hobbit. Everyone reads the Hobbit and yes I think it is a children’s classic but everyone seems to forget he wrote a lot of other stories. My mum read me the Hobbit when I was 4-5 but later I read Farmer Giles of Ham and Smith of Wooton Major (this one is hard going…) and others. These showed me that fantasy didn’t have to mean princess and dragons. It could be mythic.

King Solomons Mines
I get the impression that H Rider Haggard is slightly out of fashion. My mother gave me King Solomons Mines to read when I was about 8 and I lapped it up. There’s something … manly … about Alan Quatermain. His stories are ripping yarns with interesting characters and an exotic Africa that feels like it’s another world. True his attitudes on race would raise eyebrows these days but they are representative of their times. Haggard himself is far more sympathetic to other cultures and the female sex than most writers of that period. It’s been a long time since I read this novel and I think I’ll go back and read them again now.

H.G. Wells
I started reading Wells when I was about 9. My godmother gave me a collected edition that included his normal novels and also some that people don’t talk about. Wells was my first introduction to Science Fiction as a mode of writing that could be more than just an adventure story. The Invisible Man, War of the Worlds and The Time Machine remain stories that shaped my world view.

Biggles is a distinctly unfashionable character these days. Many of the attitudes apparent in the writing would, these days, be seen as “problematic” but that was the attitudes of the time. I loved these stories. I loved the WWI setting and the descriptions of dogfighting in the clouds over the trenches. One Biggles book (The Cruise of the Condor) also marks the first time I ever had a problem with what I was reading. I had a serious issue with use of the N word and 2 dimensional characterisations. The Germans are evil! The blacks are servile but (so long as they don’t challenge their masters) noble. I found it deeply unsettling. I stopped reading Biggles soon after. End of an era and probably marks the period where I stopped being a child and moved into adolescence.

Faerie Tales.
The popular conception of fairy tales is that they are easy and nice. These aren’t – not if you think about the consequences. I have a very creepy volume of traditional folk tales. I also had an old copy of Grimms fairly tales.

Comics are also books so I am going to list a couple

Asterix and Obelix

I loved… no LOVED … these comics when I was a lad. I recently started buying the collected editions again. I admit I don’t find them as funny as I remembered but they are amusing. They’re enjoyable on a different level as a an adult the sly humour and satire is much more clear to me now. My mouth still waters when I think of wild boar and I blame Asterix!

Strictly speaking I’m not old enough to remember Eagle. I never bought it but I did inherit my dads Eagle annuals and it’s from these that I came across Dan Dare and the Mekon. That the classic British comic SF hero hasn’t been treated properly since the end of this comic is an absolute scandal. I loved the fine artwork and the stories. They’re quintessentially British tales with a distinctly post-war feel that hark to a Britain that had an eye to the future and wasn’t somehow obsessed with a halcyon past that never existed. More than that Eagle eventually gave us 2000ad.

Unfortunately I cannot show these books because my mother gave my original copies away when was at university. Seek them out for you and your children (careful with Biggles) and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Reading broadens the mind. Spending time in your imagination deepens your understanding of the world. When you read you pick up more than the words in the page. We shouldn’t need a World Book Day, encouraging your children to read should be obvious it should be natural. I hope this little list reaches out to someone and has a small impact of its own.