Back in the old days, when we used to go on holiday up to Scotland, we would be stuck in a car for hours. This was before my brother or I had personal cassette players or anything like that. No iPods back then. We had these:
The accompaniment to these trips was always the same: Max Boyce, Bob Newhart, Joan Armatrading or Elaine Page (if Mum had a look in). There was also Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. I loved it. It was otherworldly and dramatic and Richard Burton’s voice drew it all together in such a powerful way. I was conditioned into it at an early age and it was one of the first CDs I bought.
One of my school reports from Middle School said that my writing in class was “dominated by spaceworkers and aliens of varying hues.” If only I could remember more of these stories. The word ‘spaceworkers’ has always stuck with me though. It was always the regular people I was concerned with. Someone whose job it was to clean a spacecraft or work in one of its little rooms, not on the bridge in control of things but making sure everything worked alright. As I write this, I can’t help thinking of Red Dwarf, but that must have come after the school report I’m thinking of. A big part of the week back then was reruns of the original series of Star Trek. 6pm on Tuesdays on BBC2. We would sit down with Dad and watch Captain Kirk overcome a variety of problems. How much of it sank in I have no idea. There were certain episodes I remembered as a child and others, better ones, that I came to enjoy more as I got older. The two I remember from childhood were The Devil in the Dark, where a silicon based organism wreaks havoc in a mining facility but only because its misunderstood, and Operation: Annihilate, where Spock is infected by a parasitic pancake which drops on him and is blinded in an attempt to get it off (but its OK because he gets better in the end).
The latter episode proves one thing about this kind of story: the heroes are always OK at the end of an episode. There are never any consequences that last past the end of an episode. When you sit down next week, everyone is fine and there’s no mention of what happened before. I understand now that this was the pattern (and still is in some cases) with episodic television. It was designed so that you could miss an episode and carry right on with what was happening without worrying about ongoing story arcs. Don’t forget this is before the time of Catch-Up and box sets and anything else like that.
Toys are another thing that betray my love of Sci-Fi. First, there were the hundreds of Star Wars figures and ships that my brother and I had (in the days before they cost a small fortune). We would choose our armies like picking teams for football and line them up at either end of the bedroom, Han Solo fighting shoulder to shoulder with Boba Fett. We would then cut loose with bouncy balls trying to decimate each other’s forces until only one remained. Let me put it this way, it was never the person who had the old C3-PO, whose limbs were so loose he could barely stand the tremors from the washing machine downstairs, let alone a bouncy ball battle. Apart from the Star Wars figures, there was the Lego. Space Lego particularly. Before it got overtaken by Star Wars and Marvel and DC, Lego used to use their imagination. They had to make up their own spaceships. Some of them were pretty awesome.
I mean look at it. You have to admit it’s got lovely lines. You can’t see it but it has a little cargo pod which is carried under its rear. That for me was fantastic. It was all about hauling freight in space (well, little round Lego crystals anyway). Every once in a while, there would be some problem or a deal would go wrong. I had two of these and another, slightly more sleek model, on top of loads and loads of other bits that I could make into space stations and the like. I was making up stories with this, none of which I can remember. Now I have to be honest; I’m a primary school teacher so I can hazard a guess at what the stories of the seven year old me were like. It was all part of the process, I guess.
Next, I have to mention Zoids. I had loads of these too. The comic book that went with them, which borrowed from every Sci-Fi and Horror story you could mention, was also great fun and something that I followed along with great anticipation from week to week. That was a story arc before TV did it all the time. I was never really into comics, but for this I would be there every Thursday at Jowsie’s newsagent down the road from my house to get the latest issue. Thinking about it, I probably should have included Zoids in my list of 10 influences I wrote in my first post. They really were a big deal for little Richard Austin.
Then there were the films. I’ll admit to a couple of stinkers right out of the gate: Battle Beyond the Stars (The Magnificent Seven in space with John Boy Walton) and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (Peter Strauss and Molly Ringwald versus Michael Ironside – a man with an unassailable Sci-Fi pedigree including Total Recall, V and Starship Troopers). Film-wise, that and Star Wars is what I grew up with. There’s also an honourable mention here for Quatermass and the Pit, which always scared me to death. That was my first experience of the mix of Sci-Fi and horror. My Star Trek thing kept on going with the films: I remember one of my books at Middle School was covered with a Search for Spock poster but Wrath of Khan remains one of my favourite films ever, Sci-Fi or otherwise.
That was my early life with Sci-Fi. It probably comes to an end with me watching the film pictured below. My brother stuck it on for me and then popped in to jump scare me half way through. Right about at this moment:
Part 2 will be up soon, in which I want to try to figure out why I like this stuff so much and why it’s been so much a part of my life.
Thanks for reading