Duncan Lunan and Science Fiction
Duncan Lunan, ed., “Starfield, Science Fiction by Scottish Writers”, Orkney Press, Kirkwall, 1989. ISBN 0-907618-21-9.
Duncan Lunan, ‘Hawke’s Notes’, in William Rudling, ed., Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos, 2002, ongoing, including (books) “The Martian Quartet”, 2004, revised 2009, “The Lunar 10”, 2007, and “Earthspace”, in press.
Contributions to Newspapers, Magazines and Other Books: see Published Work.
I was four years old in 1950 when my grandmother took me down to Troon beach to see the Blue Sun, which was caused by a high-altitude smog of oil droplets from a forest fire in Canada. The sky was bronze, the Sun was blue and the whole familiar landscape of the swimming pool and the bandstand was alien, like being on another planet. It had a big effect on me. A year or so later a friend of mine had a picture book of modern wonders including a photo of a Viking Mark 1 sounding rocket, and I remember thinking, “Hey, a real spaceship!” But my first love was still the sea, and what turned it around was Angus MacVicar’s ‘The Lost Planet’ on Children’s Hour, in the original radio version. The boy across the street had “The Young Traveller in Space” by Arthur C. Clarke, and I bullied my parents into giving it to me for my eighth birthday. That got me completely hooked on space. When I edited “Starfield: science fiction by Scottish writers” for Orkney Press in 1989, I asked Angus MacVicar to write the introduction, and I felt that closed a circle. The cover was by Sydney Jordan, whose ‘Jeff Hawke’ strip started in February 1954, and that was another big influence as I grew up.
Jeff Hawke was Britain’s chief astronaut, the hero of the world's longest-running science fiction strip cartoon, drawn by Sydney Jordan from Dundee. It ran in the Daily Express with 66 stories between 15th February 1954 and 18th April 1974, followed by another story in the Scottish Daily News, and two more in syndication in Europe. A last 7-episode story appeared in the comic A1, in 1991, bringing the total run to 70 stories. They were syndicated in 45 countries and were so popular in Europe that when the European papers came to the end of the run, there was a special linking episode in which Jeff Hawke died and was reincarnated as the medical officer on a starship a hundred years in the future, the hero of ‘Lance McLane’, Sydney Jordan's new strip which was running in the Daily Record, in Scotland. Lance McLane continued to run in Europe as Jeff Hawke for a further 10½ years, but purists regard that as (literally) another story. The new ‘Jeff Hawke’ ended on H9454, but with extra episodes, missing episodes and stories published only as McLane, by my reckoning the final total is over 10,200.
I was eight years old when Jeff Hawke began in the Daily Express. When it had been going for about three weeks, I said to my mother, "This is so good, I'm going to collect it". As mothers do, she replied, "Oh no you're not... you're not piling up dirty newsprint... you'll never look at them..." but I collected all but 100 episodes during its run and now have a complete collection. The Jeff Hawke Club is now reproducing the complete canon of Hawke and McLane in Jeff Hawke's Cosmos and I’m writing notes on the stories as they appear, a real labour of love now nearing its end. As of May 2017, the editor William Rudling has produced 9 volumes of 3 issues each, plus a Supplement, Vol. 10 No. 2 is now in press, and there have been four books: “The Martian Quartet”, 2004, revised 2009, 3rd edition now available; “The Lunar 10”, 2007, “Earthspace”, 2016, and “Jeff Hawke Junior”, 2017.
In JHC Vol. 2 No.1, Sydney was kind enough to refer to my 'Hawke's Notes' disquisition on antigravity as 'learned'. When I showed it to Gregory Beekman, then President of ASTRA, the Association in Scotland to Research into Astronautics, he remarked that I was just the person for the job because of my wide range of interests. But that's just the point: I can hold forth about the aircraft types, the rocket propulsion and guidance, the alternative propulsion systems, the alien biology, the folklore, archaeology, mythology and the possibility of past Contact, the literary references, the visual allusions, the science fictional references, even the philosophical references and themes, of a comic strip that started when I was eight years old, because I grew up with Jeff Hawke and that was how I became interested in all these things in the first place.
In 1969, in the run-up to the Moon landing, I recalled that Sydney Jordan had predicted the date of it as August 4th, 1969, in a story called 'Time Out of Mind' (see the back cover of “The Lunar 10”, above). I gave the number of the episode to my librarian friend and fellow SF writer, the late Chris Boyce, and he got me the exact date of publication, so Sydney was on BBC and STV the night of the landing. Five years later, when I wanted to quote Hawke in my first book "Man and the Stars", I wrote to Sydney for permission and that put us in touch.
Meanwhile, Chris had been influential in getting Jeff Hawke into the Scottish Daily News after it was dropped by the Express, and also in getting the Daily Record (for whom he worked in the late 1970s) to commission Lance McLane. When I met Sydney at the British Easter Science Fiction Convention in 1978, his first words to me were, "Oh, you're Duncan Lunan. I want you to write stories for me." It took four more years to happen, but late in 1982 I began writing for McLane with 'The Phoenix at Easter' and by the end of the strip in 1988, I had written or contributed to ten stories.
By then Sydney had begun illustrating articles and stories for me, starting with McLane strips for an article in Nuclear Free Scotland and including World Magazine and the Journal of Practical Applications in Space. In 1989 he created the jacket for "Starfield", the first ever anthology of science fiction by Scottish writers, which I edited for Orkney Press (above); he did the introductory painting for the article 'Flight in Non-terrestrial Atmospheres, or, The Hang-Glider's Guide to the Galaxy', Analog, January 1993, which I wrote with Gordon Dick, and illustrated my novelette, 'With Time Comes Concord', Analog, September 1993. In October 1994 he illustrated our Analog article ‘Keep Watching the Skies!’, which has now grown into the book “Incoming Asteroid!” Sydney produced 16 illustrations for my book "Children from the Sky", investigating the mediaeval mystery of the Green Children of Woolpit, and has since illustrated my book of time-travel stories, “The Elements of Time”, published by Shoreline of Infinity in 2016.
Until I joined ASTRA in 1962 I was pretty much under the influence of Patrick Moore’s “Science and Fiction”, reading only classics – Verne, Wells, Stapledon – and technically accurate hard SF, mostly Arthur C. Clarke and Fred Hoyle, though I was branching out into John Wyndham by the time I joined ASTRA. Andy Nimmo then introduced me to Asimov, Heinlein, Van Vogt, Sheckley, Poul Anderson… and when I got to University I began reading the magazines and ranging more and more widely. In 1967 I met Chris Boyce, and through him became a member of the original Glasgow SF Circle, a fan group meeting in pubs, though it went through a formal phase with monthly talks at the Charing Cross Hotel. Dr. Anne Karkalas of the Glasgow University Extra-Mural Department, later Adult and Continuing Education, was one of the prominent members.
My first professional sale was ‘Derelict’, which was bought by Amazing in 1967. The magazine wasn’t publishing new fiction at the time and it didn’t appear for seven years, during which I’d sold eight more stories, six of them in a series called ‘Interface’ appearing in Galaxy and If. But the only markets for SF at the time were in the USA, and when I was cut off from them by the postal strike in 1971 I began branching out into nonfiction, which has been my main line of work since.
In 1971-1984 I was SF critic of the Glasgow Herald, and when the 200th anniversary of the paper came up in 1986, Chris Boyce suggested to them that I run a short story competition, which proved so popular that it ran for six years. The judges in the first year were Chris, Archie Roy, Alasdair Gray and myself, with Angus McAllister, Veronica Colin and Bill Morris taking turns in later years. Chris also suggested the anthology project which became “Starfield: Science Fiction by Scottish Writers”, though it took till 1989 to get it into print with Orkney Press.
After I ran the first Glasgow Herald SF short story competition, Anne Karkalas asked me to run a creative writing class at the Department, which did a mailshot to competition entrants living within the Central Belt. It went well enough that they offered me a second term, to which the class agreed as long as it could focus on workshops, and at the end of that they decided to keep going, as the Glasgow SF Writers’ Circle, whose 30th anniversary was marked in October 2016 by publication of the anthology "Thirty Years of Rain" (Taverna Press, 2016).
In the 1970s I’d attended the UK Milford workshops started by James Blish, and I based the format partly on the Milford workshop’s rules, and on what I’d learned there from John Brunner, Chris Priest, Rob Holdstock, Richard Cowper, Ken Bulmer and the other regulars. But I also drew on a weekend seminar which the late Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger ran at the Glasgow Folk Centre in 1966, and on experience in Folk Song Repertory, a singers’ workshop which was set up afterwards. One of the most useful things which MacColl and Seeger did was a workshop on workshops, exploring what constructive criticism is and how to prevent ego-trips, cliques and other problems to which workshops can be subject. Many of those principles apply just as forcefully to creative writing as to live performance; but if you think having a story critted in a group session is harrowing, try giving a performance to an imaginary audience while a bunch of fellow-singers are taking notes.
Michael Cobley and Elsie Donald were among the original class members; Veronica Colin joined for the second term and later ran the group for several years. There was some disagreement about what the true start date was, but Barry Condon (aka Fergus Bannon) settled the matter by throwing a 21st anniversary party in October 2007. After 1986 the competition went on for five more years, followed each time by the writing class, and each year more of them joined the Circle – including Hal Duncan, Gary Gibson and Neil Williamson, who coordinates it now. What the individuals and the group have achieved is ultimately down to their own talents – I’m sure many of them would have made it on their own. The aim is to help one another to achieve commercial publication, and we’ve created an environment which enabled many of those talents to flower. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea – the established Glasgow writers that I’ve mentioned didn’t fancy it, or didn’t like it if they tried it – but when pretty well everyone who’s stuck with the group has achieved publication in one form or another, at least we’re not doing any harm to those who do enjoy it. There are always going to be more people wanting to write, so as long as they can find the GSFWC, the group can go on for ever.
In the “Starfield” anthology the stars were the late Edwin Morgan and Naomi Mitchison, plus Alasdair Gray, all of whom supported the project from the outset. Then we had the established Scottish writers of SF - Chris Boyce, Donald Malcolm, Archie Roy, Angus McAllister and myself – and we had all the early judges and winners, plus runners-up from the first three years of the competition. The dustjacket was by Sydney Jordan, introduction by Angus MacVicar, and design and typesetting by Dog & Bone, Glasgow, which consisted of Chris Boyce, Angela Mullane, Donald Saunders - and Alasdair Gray, so the style was recognisable. The cover story was ‘The Rig’, which had been the first of Chris's to catch my attention in Impulse with a Keith Roberts cover; this time it was painted by Sydney Jordan, in two versions, and at the launch we made Chris a present of the first one. The book was dedicated to the late Steven Prosterman, who wanted to start an SF magazine to encourage Scottish writers, and that need has now been met for the first time since the 1950s by the quarterly magazine Shoreline of Infinity, who also plan to republish all the Scottish SF anthologies to date, starting with “Starfield” in paperback on August 31st, 2017.
Three of the stories that I wrote during the 1971 postal strike were published eventually, after revision. Two of them were time-travel stories, ‘The Day and the Hour’ and ‘In the Arctic, Out of Time’, which took 15 years and 18½ years respectively to get into print. Both then gained Nebula Award recommendations, justifying my faith in them. ‘With Time Comes Concord’ was another long-delayed story with Nebula recommendations, and I had in mind to collect them as time-travel by land, sea and air. Later I wrote ‘Carrying the Fire’, and in 2012 Gary Gibson collected all my time-travel stories to date as the kindle book “With Time Comes Concord and other stories”. The same year the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow commissioned me to write still another time-travel story (‘Galileo at the High Frontier’) and in September 2016 Shoreline of Infinity republished them all in paperback with my original title for the collection, “The Elements of Time”. Sydney Jordan had illustrated ‘With Time Comes Concord’ for Analog and he has now illustrated all the stories, as well as providing a colour cover based on ‘Riding the Fire’.
Although for many recent years I’ve been writing mainly non-fiction, in 2008 I restarted reviewing SF and fantasy, for Concatenation, Interzone and now Shoreline of Infinity. In 2015 Shoreline published one of my earlier stories, and Michael Collins published another in 40p Magazine; but I had a new one in “Thirty Years of Rain”, and Shoreline now have several new ones of mine in press, so my SF involvement is far from over.