Things may seem pretty bleak out there at the moment - geopolitical unrest, climate chaos, displaced populations - and threats are real not only to the peace and security of our families and communities but to the very existence of humankind as the dominant species upon this planet. It all feels like The Eighties: the sequel. It was back then, living in the shadow of the Cold War as a teenager, that I first started to get seriously interested in science fiction as a way of speculating about the future. Alternative versions of now. For SF holds a dark mirror up to the present day. It has done this since its inception, in Mary Shelley's masterpiece, Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus, published 200 years ago, but haunting us still about the perils of playing god, of science running amok. In the 30s Aldous Huxley explored the spectre of genetic engineering, or eugenics as it was known back then; in the 40s George Orwell contemplated a Fascist future which feels eerily prescient; and in the 80s Margaret Atwood depicted a dystopian state that has struck a chord with many. And that is just a few.
I humbly join the conversation - not to compare my efforts with the giants I stand upon the shoulders of, but because it is hard not to speculate about where humankind is going; whether we'll last the decade, let alone the century. It is hard not to be pessimistic, but one thing I am sure about - the limitless power of the human imagination - and that gives me hope. While we have the freedom to imagine and express other futures, other ways of being in the world, there is hope.
In Black Box, I wanted to look into the abyss, but I also wanted to offer a glimmer of hope. I offer not another bleak dystopian vision of the future, nor a wildly optimistic utopia, but what Atwood terms an 'Ustopia' - for one man's hell is another man's heaven.
To research the technical aspects of exploring Europa I consulted with the Reader in Astrophysics at the University of Leicester (where I am undertaking my Creative Writing PhD), which just so happens to be the UK base for research into Jupiter’s moons, as it houses the Space Research Centre, and, nearby, the National Space Centre – a fantastic resource which I visited; as well as the Eden Project in Cornwall, to experience life inside an artificial biome. Initially conceived as a film, Black Box would, I think, make a fantastic movie – but I hope you will enjoy, for now, the novel.
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