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.