Why Sci-fi?

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Every book needs an "elevator pitch": a tiny handful of words that immediately convey precisely what that book is. It's the description of your book that you'd provide to any given big-shot if you found yourself travelling in an elevator with them, and it usually involves bringing in another, well-known work for comparison. These things are notoriously difficult to come up with, but for me it was no problem:

Ten Little Astronauts is And Then There Were None on board an interstellar spacecraft.

Okay, so there is one tiny problem. When I give people my elevator pitch, they often assume the book's going to be funny. Maybe that's because so much of my sci-fi involves sock creatures or donut apocalypses or a bizarre future in which everybody thinks Hamlet was written by William Shatner. Maybe it's because so much of sci-fi in general involves green, three-boobed alien space women wanting to be taught the Earth concept of love. Maybe it's just a struggle to imagine anybody called "Ethel" or "Vera" blasting across the universe at 30% of the speed of light.

But the thing is, when you look a little deeper, Agatha Christie isn't such an odd match for science fiction after all: not when so many of her mysteries depended on science fact. Having served as a nurse during World War One (and qualified as an apothecaries' assistant, mixing medication by hand), her grasp of chemistry was sufficient to provide several major plot points in her mysteries. The extent of her knowledge when it comes to not only how to poison people, but how to poison people and get away with it is actually a little bit disturbing. The point is, though Christie is best known for pompous Poirot and meddling Miss Marple, her mysteries themselves often rely upon an impressive understanding of science and terrifying ability to murder people with it (though thankfully only in fiction!).

Ten Little Astronauts does the same thing, but with space in place of chemistry. Besides the cryonic suspension tanks - a necessary device to get the cast into interstellar space - the events of the book conform as closely as possible to known scientific reality, and the mystery revolves as much around the crew on board the Owen as it does the ship itself. If you're only interested in the mystery, then the science won't get in your way. However, if you're also looking for a sci-fi story that takes a realistic look at space travel and doesn't shy away from the scale of the journeys involved, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

This remarkable picture reveals how crime writer Agatha Christie was one of the first people in Britain to try stand-up surfing.

And if there was ever any doubt just how amazing Agatha Christie was, here's absolute proof: she may well have been the second Briton ever to surf standing up.

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