Alan Moore is one of the most successful and acclaimed writers of all time, working primarily in the areas of science fiction and fantasy and in the medium of comic books and graphic novels. Many of his titles are regarded as some of the greatest works of the genre, including ‘V for Vendetta’, ‘From Hell’, ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ and the seminal ‘Watchmen’, which frequently appears on lists of the top 100 novels of all time. His latest work, ‘Nemo: Heart of Ice’ was released earlier in 2013.
It’s an interesting interaction the way that science and fantasy engage with each other.
On science and fiction
So it’s kind of interesting. The fictional science that is apparent in our literature and our, um, in our fiction is in many ways oddly parallel to the real science. I mean the first stories of space exploration are always to the moon. There was Lucian who had a ship taken to the moon in a water spell. There was Francis Godwin who in the 16th century was hanging around in my hometown of Northampton and was trying to impress the rather gullible local women with his tales of having gone to the moon in a goose pulled chariot.
A little bit later, well quite a lot later actually, you start to get people exploring Mars and Venus in fictional terms and it’s almost as if we had to get to the moon first, in fiction, as well as in real life, in order to progress any further into the fictional universe. And then of course you get progressive things like, alright, how could we travel to the stars? So you get hyperdrive and these fictional inventions that at least make interstellar travel credible. It’s kind of interesting that the world of fiction is a kind of phantom twin of our own world that has co-existed with it since arguably Gilgamesh. It has reflected our world, but through a strange glass that sometimes is a distortion and sometimes is eerily accurate. I mean, I’m sure this is just purely to do with mathematics. It probably isn’t a really big deal at all but you get quite a lot of things like, um, the fictional liner the Titan that, according to the fiction, was deemed unsinkable and was the largest ocean liner in the planet and it sinks on its maiden voyage. This is in a story that was written, I think, in the 1880s or 90s, so a good 20 or 30 years before the Titanic went down.
There are interesting…it was obvious though that somebody had conceived of the idea that, well, ‘The British and the Germans do seem to be, kind of, outcompete each other in terms of making bigger and bigger ships, I suppose that one day you might have a really, really big ship and I suppose they’d call it something like the Titan but there might be problems with a ship that size, mightn’t there?’ And so you get these accidentally precognitive little things bursting through into fiction.
I mean, I remember that in Gulliver’s Travels, where he visits the science obsessed land of Laputa. This would’ve been, I think, in the 1700s and the Luputans tell him that Mars has two moons. This was a long, long time before we realised that Mars actually does have two moons, Phobos and Deimos. Now, I’m not suggesting that there’s anything at all occult but simply that it’s interesting. It’s interesting that we use our fictions, and perhaps especially our fantasy fictions, to rehearse scenarios so that perhaps we won’t have to actually deal with them in reality. It might be argued that by writing Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell contributed to averting that kind of situation by making people conscious of it, and alert to its possibility. It’s an interesting interaction the way that science and fantasy engage with each other.
On H.P. Lovecraft
One of the writers who features very heavily in ‘Nemo: Heart of Ice’- and who I’m very interested in at the moment for other reasons – is the writer H.P. Lovecraft who was a strict materialist, a strict rationalist, and was possibly the first person to propose a philosophy of cosmic indifferentism. This was because he was just starting his writing career in the early 1920s and he was a man who was keenly interested in science and astronomy and who had understood – at least he came to understand – what Einstein had meant with the theory of relativity. He realised that science in general was changing the actual conception of how human beings fitted into the universe. That we had suddenly realised that the universe was much, much bigger than we’d ever imagined and that it was entirely guided by what appeared to be random, chaotic, mindless forces. And this is what Lovecraft was trying to conjure up in his terrible elder gods, um, his god Azathoth, who is described as variously a kind of nuclear chaos or as a blind, idiot god. Which is a fairly good way of summing up blind material forces in the universe. Lovecraft didn’t believe that man was of any significance at all.
He said that things like good or evil, love or hate – any kind of human conceptions – are purely relevant to us on our tiny little speck of mud sort of orbiting a spark in a near infinite universe. And Lovecraft was one of the first people to actually engage with what that new conception of the universe was doing to us psychologically. He was the one who famously said that he thought, and I’m paraphrasing here, he thought that it was the greatest mercy that mankind was unable to correlate its knowledge. But nevertheless, that day is coming when we shall be able to correlate our knowledge and the only question is whether we will embrace that light of understanding or whether we shall flee from it into the comforting shadows of a new dark age. Which I think for 1920 is a prescient glimpse of the fundamentalist activity that we’ve been seeing over the past ten, twenty years. A literal attempt to actually negate all scientific advances and to take the entire planet literally almost back to the dark ages. Lovecraft was one of the first people who conceived of that.
I started to think of him as…he may yet emerge as perhaps one of the most important authors of the 20th century. This, despite the fact that people who read him come to the conclusion that he can’t write. That he’s an appalling writer, which I don’t think is true or fair; he’s just a very idiosyncratic writer.