On Monday 18th June Year Seven had an afternoon with the award winning author JP Smythe. Year Seven have been introduced to his Australia series through the Year Seven Library Activity. His other novels include The Machine, The Explorer, and I Still Dream. During this event Year Seven got the chance to hear more about what it is like being an author, and how Science Fiction is great at predicting the future.
The visit started with Smythe talking to students about how genre fiction can tell us the truth (and sometimes even the future). When writing about the future, authors have to be able to come up with a creation that feels plausible to the reader. Smythe gave the students a brief history of the Science Fiction genre and gave examples of how books have predicted future technologies, politics, and culture. Examples include John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar (1969) which predicted the first black President of the US is a man called President Obomi. In Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents (1998) there is an American presidential candidate who runs a campaign with the slogan “Make America Great Again”. Jules Verne even predicted that man would visit the moon in From the Earth to the Moon in 1865!
Smythe then looked at how he accidently predicted the future. In his novel The Machine there is technology that allows humans to change neural pathways to forget traumas. In real life researchers at the OpenWorm project are trying to create a digital version of an actual nemotode worm in a computer. This process is still being undertaken and they have only managed to create a series of digital processes that mimic the natural workings of the worm’s neural networks. In his book No Harm Can Come to a Good Man there are companies that try to predict the future based on history. This same idea is being used at the moment by FiveThiryEight to predict the outcome of the world cup.
Towards the end of the visit Smythe spoke about his young adult Australia series. In this he looks at whether you can change the course of your life if you have grown up being told that you are a bad person. He spoke about how the future he presents in these books can seem frightening and oppressive but if you look at the way things are in the world right now it might not be that far fetched. The students were given the chance to ask questions about this book series and asked Smythe about the Bechdel Test, whether there would be a film of the Australia books, and whether he was working on any other films.
Year Seven really enjoyed their visit from JP Smythe. It was a fascinating look at Science Fiction and how books can be used to show truths about the world around us. He gave them a lot to think about and a lot of suggested reading for the summer break.