Black Box

By Kevan Manwaring

Paradigms collide in this gripping journey beyond the limits of cosmos and consciousness.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Out of Eden


As part of my research for my eco-science fiction novel Black Box I visited the amazing Eden Project in Cornwall. This inspiring initiative, the vision of Tim Smit, transformed old china clay pits into a showcase for Earth's biodiversity and state-of-the-art sustainable design. At the heart of the reclaimed industrial landscape, now bursting with greenery and fascinating art and displays, are the biomes: two massive structures resembling the eyes of insects or plant cells with their hexagonal substructure. There is the mighty Rainforest biome, with its waterfalls and canopy walkway; and the Mediterranean one. Both contain flora and fauna native to their ecosystem. There are a myriad other exhibitions and attractions too. When I first came here in 1999 it had just opened and everything was being planted up - but looking a bit 'thin'. Now, after nearly two decades, the biomes are well-established, as are the surrounding terraces. There have been various extensions and enhancements. The venue hosts many fabulous events, including the Cornish WOMAD. When I visited with my partner, Chantelle Smith, in late December 2016, it was hosting a laser show with music in the Mediterranean biome, which transformed the space into something even more space age in the dark winter night. I wanted to experience what it was like to be inside such an environment, to help me imagine life aboard Ithaka, the vast Arkship on its way to Proxima Centauri B (until it breaks down and breaks off contact within orbit of its destination). That craft carries ten biomes - containing a fragile, precious cross-section of life from a dying Earth. All of humanity's hopes are in that ultimate message in a bottle cast into the infinite void of the cosmos. It was thrilling to step into Eden's biomes and imagine stepping into one of Ithaka's ecospheres. I let my senses and my subconscious soak it all in - the telling details that make all the difference, and the more intangible 'feeling', now embodied, hard-wired into my body's hard-drive.

Other research helped too - reading up on the living experiments that took place in American deserts (when a group of scientists attempted to live inside a sealed biome for two years); TC Boyle's brilliant satirical novel, The Terranauts (2016); and an old favourite of mine, Douglas Trumbull's SF classic, Silent Running (1971); but it was the visit to Eden Project which 'anchored' the experience for me - making it a visceral reality, which I hopefully managed to convey in the novel.    

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