Mon 18 November 2019
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Science fiction isn't just fantasy: it can change Britain
What is it that inspires young people to have a love of discovering how the world works?

Britain doesn't have enough young people becoming scientists and engineers. It's a familiar refrain heard from politicans on both sides of the aisle, not to mention eminent scientists and most recently, Eric Schmidt, Google's chairman. There's plenty of blame to go around for this apparent decline, whether it's the glittering lure of the financial sector, inadequate teaching, or our celebrity-obsessed culture.

But what is it that inspires young people to have a love of discovering how the world works, and how to make new things based on those rules? The Apollo missions were hugely influential for a whole generation of children, but what inspired the Apollo engineers in the first place?

Science fiction is one answer; Donna Shirley, former manager of Mars Exploration at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, read Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles and Arthur C Clarke's The Sands of Mars as a child, as well as Clarke's more serious scientific writing about space exploration. She recalled, "It was clear to me that space exploration wasn't just fantasy … I thought, 'Gosh, I could do this.'"

We're no slouches in Britain when it comes to world-class science fiction. Along with the grandmaster, Arthur C Clarke, we can count H G Wells, John Wyndham, and Aldous Huxley, not to mention more contemporary writers such as Iain M Banks, Stephen Baxter, Ken MacLeod, Charlie Stross, Richard Morgan, China Mieville, and the late Diana Wynne Jones. But compared with the past, today's children are more likely to get their inspiration from TV, film, or games than books. So how are things on that front?

To carry on reading

The Telegraph

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