Saturday, 12 November 2011

Look: No Rocket Ships

07:01:00 Posted by Ashley Lister 6 comments

By Ashley Lister

I once taught a class on the genre of Science Fiction, a genre characterised by features that include time travel, science and technology. In that class I made the somewhat facile remark that Science Fiction was any story that included rocket-ships. I still stand by this distinction, although I appreciate not everyone would agree. And I reiterate it here at the start of this blog because the rocket ship is the one element of traditional Science Fiction that I’ve not touched on in the following narrative.

I’m writing this at ten o’clock on Thursday evening. Below is a poem that I wrote at six o’clock – four hours earlier – this same evening. This poem didn’t exist at five o’clock today.
The earliest anyone will be reading this will be on Saturday, although you might have heard my performance of this poem on Friday at the No. 5 CafĂ©. I’m writing for a reader in the future. You, my reader in the future, are reading my voice from the past. I think that’s a fairly effective form of time travel. We didn’t even need a TARDIS. Or some mumbling twunt pretending to be different David Tennant.

In The Stuff of Thought, celebrated linguist Steven Pinker discusses the phenomena of hyperstevism. To quote from Pinker:
The abundance of Steves in turn-of-the-century science has lead to the most formidable weapon in the fight against neo-creationism today: Project Steve. A brainchild of the National Centre for Science Education, the initiative is a parody of the creationist tradition of publishing lists of several dozen "scientists who dissent from Darwinism." The NCSE replied: "Oh, yeah? Well, we have a list of several hundred scientists who affirm evolution - just named Steve!" (And Stephanie, Steffi, Stefan, and Esteban.) [...]
Hyperstevism is a phenomenon of the second half of the twentieth century. Like tulips, dot-com stocks and other examples of the madness of crowds, the fortunes of Steve fell as quickly as they rose. Today it has fallen to levels not seen since the nineteen teens and it may become as geriatric as Elmer or Clem.
It was this excerpt that got me to thinking of a poem for the Science Fiction themed event. But, aside from simply addressing the subject of Hyperstevism, I wanted to do something to make the whole piece more technology based.

I wrote the poem directly into Microsoft Word. With the text saved I then accessed an online programme called IM Translator ( From there, because the program is fairly user-friendly, it was simply a matter of copying my text from Word, pasting it into an onscreen box, and then pressing the PLAY button.
I instantly heard my poem being read in a computer-generated voice that was reminiscent of the voice-software commonly associated with Stephen Hawking.
After that the technology got kind of complicated. A downloaded app allowed me to play the spoken text whilst recording it to an MP3 file. The MP3 file was then blue-toothed to my BlackBerry so it could be played at the Science Fiction themed poetry event.

And this is the poem. No rocket ships, so it probably doesn’t count as real Science Fiction. But it’s based on technology and science therefore I believe it’s ticking many of the boxes. And it's written in the spirit of the genre.

The Importance of Being Steve

Stephen Pinker, Stephen King.
Stevie Nix, Stephen Hawking.

Steve Buscemi, Steve Martin.
Stephen Fry, Stephen Hawking.

Stephen Stroud, Steve Irwin.
Steven Sondheim, Stephen Hawking.

Stephen Merchant, Steve Baldwin.
Steven Spielberg, Stephen Hawking.

Stevens rule the modern world.
Stevens lead the world like kings.
Stevens map the universe.
Stephens like Stephen Hawking.

But, please don’t think I’m some kind of Superman.


Lara Clayton said...

The reading of this poem last night was brilliant!
Great post :)

Ashley R Lister said...

Thanks Lara,

It was a style of delivery I've wanted to try for ages and I thought Science fiction was an appropriate theme.

I've now uploaded the audio file to YouTube -


Lindsay said...

Last night's performance of this poem was the most unique performances I've seen that didn't involve a purple leotard and a silver headband. Great poem Ash.

Ashley R Lister said...


Thank you. I'm so glad you liked this one. And I can promise everyone now: I won't be trying to improve any of my poems with such devices as leotards and heavy denier tights.


Christo Heyworth said...

Very interesting explanation of hyperstevism, and a terrific poem which was probably even better at your reading which I'm sorry to have missed.
Many of my favourites among what are most often characterised as Sci-Fi, (Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut) have an absence of rocket ships, but no absence of what seemed to be exotic imagination at the time of creation, but is gradually becoming commonplace in our cyber-age.
Oh, and thanks for featuring Gynn Square - at throwing out time in some North Shore pubs, you could believe that aliens have landed.

Ashley R Lister said...

Hi Chris,

I loved the aliens at Gynn Square last year. They should be a permanent fixture.

And I enjoy my Asimovs and Bradburys - although I always feel as though I don't know enough science to properly appreciate them. I suppose it's one of those genres that's going to make the unschooled like me feel distinctly out of my depth.


Ashley Lister