the fireside
chats recounted
xiangjun zeng

27 June 2019:

Some days, when I think about technology now, and what it was like when I was growing up, it feels like I am living in a science fiction movie.

I think back to the days when making a call to another country meant jiggling with clunky country and area codes. It meant going through international switchboards and operators before patching through finally to the person we wanted to talk to.

Often, the voice on the other end sounded like they were talking through tin cans.

A 5-minute call was a luxury. A half hour call could rake up quite a princely ransom in telephone bills. An hour? Unheard of.

Now with Skype, WhatsApp and much other telecommunications software, getting in touch with another person in another country is sufficiently easy to seem like a dream.

A few weeks ago, Zendexor and I had a brief chat over Skype. After over a year of email exchanges, I had thought it a good idea to "meet" in person the man who runs the website in which many of us have spent many hours reading tales from the Old Solar System.

It was quite wonderful. We talked about books (of course), about world building, about what drew us in when we read a finely woven tale. We talked about the craft of writing and our favourite story tellers.

In all honesty, I don't regard myself as a writer. I see myself more as a storyteller, and writing just happened to be the way I chose to tell those stories. Zendexor, it was clear from our conversation, has a much more subtle and deep appreciation for the craftsmanship and the art of writing than I do.

We have only just skimmed the surface in our half-hour conversation, and I can't wait to have another. It is very exciting to hear insights from other fellow story tellers. If everything goes well, we will have another conversation soon, and I would love to share it with the regulars on this site.

Thinking back, the best part of the conversation for me, was talking about the books and authors we have read. One of my favourites is John Wyndham. He was a British science fiction writer who wrote a series of short novels in the early 1930s.  Then came longer novels in the 1950s.

The Kraken Wakes, absolutely my favourite. The Midwich Cuckoos, another fine tale. One that raised the hair on the back of my neck far more than Lovecraft ever did. The Chrysalids, The Day of the Triffids, Chocky

The way John Wyndham wrote just captured me. It is that fine balance between mystery and exposition. We catch a glimpse of the 'other'. The alien, the monster, the catastrophe. We feel their far-reaching impact and influence together with the characters, but we never really get to see the 'enemy' in full sunlight. It is that tickling of the imagination that draws me to his writings.

Sadly, we will not have any more stories from John Wyndham, and I can only hope to find more writers like that.

I can't wait for our next conversation. What could be more fun than two fans of tall tales nerding out over our favourite stories? If our schedules match, we should be able to get in touch again in another two or three months’ time!

Comment from Zendexor:  The chat was indeed hugely enjoyable.  Regarding John Wyndham, apart from his unsurpassed tales of disaster set on Earth, there are three OSS tales in his collection The Seeds of Time - the macabre "Survival", the tense, riveting "Dumb Martian" and the wonderfully elegiac and atmospheric "Time To Rest".