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...Are Go!

Warren Ellis' latest Wired UK column talks about Thunderbirds, and its effect on a generation (or more) of Britsh kids.

I know I obsessed about the Gerry Anderson futures when I was 11, when they turned on colour TV on Jersey and the first programme I watched in colour was an episode of Thunderbirds that was being broadcast when they were testing the new colour transmitter. I read the old Century 21 annuals, and traced out the Thunderbirds blueprints, building my own Tracy Island from Lego years before the playsets became a Christmas hit. It resonated with me as I unsoldered my first radio, scraping paint of germanium transistors to make my own opto-electronics sensors.

And this is why: Thunderbirds was engineering fiction, writ on a grand scale.

Ellis hits it out of the ballpark with this paragraph:

But here's the important bit. Not that the stuff in Thunderbirds breaks and people need to be rescued - but that people thought of and built that stuff in the first place. Plans to move the entire Empire State building; nuclear-powered irrigation plants; rocket fuel derived from seawater; sending a crewed space probe to the Sun itself to steal a chunk of solar matter. That's some big thinking - like something I'd find in Geoff Manaugh's BLDGBLOG Book. As with all great children's fiction, it trades in vast, demented concepts - all presented as things people have thought of. That is incredibly important: immense and very beautiful ideas as solutions to problems. And those solutions just happen to be variable- geometry rocket-planes and VTOL megacarriers and space stations tricked out like 1950s ideal robot homes of the future. (Thunderbird 5, it does look a bit like it has wood panelling down its sides.)
It's why I became an engineer, why I worked on projects that would throw lumps of metal at kilometres a second, on radar statios that could detect aircraft taking off and landing in Japan from the middle of Australia. It's the big projects, the breaking-the-rules projects, the changing-the-world ideas.

I may just write about them now, but they're always there, those big ideas.

And now the new Japanese Prime Minister is calling for the UN to create a Thunderbirds-like service.

“A good idea came up. We should have the UN call for the creation of something like ‘Thunderbirds’.”
He'd get my vote.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 4th, 2009 10:45 am (UTC)
I too loved Thunderbirds, although it has to be said that it's set in a world where the terms "risk analysis", "safety case" and "fail safe" seem never to have come into use!

["Fail Safe" is of course a very misunderstood term. It does not mean that the system in question is safe from failure. It means that it is designed so that the most likely failure modes leave it in as safe a condition as possible. An awful lot of Thunderbirds technology seems by contrast to have been outright designed to Fail Dangerous, if not Fail Utterly Deadly.]
Sep. 4th, 2009 11:51 am (UTC)
But if it hadn't, there wouldn't have been a story to tell or people to rescue....
Sep. 4th, 2009 12:52 pm (UTC)
And not a particularly 'green' future either - 'Let's destroy half that rain forest so we can put a road through it with the giant tree-gobbling machine!!'
Sep. 4th, 2009 12:38 pm (UTC)
Funnily enough, today I realised that the reason I haven't enjoyed an sf novel in a while is that I'm not in the mood for social speculation: what I *want* is engineering fiction. Colin Kapp for the 2000s!
Sep. 4th, 2009 12:54 pm (UTC)
That's one of the reasons the recent-ish film version was so utterly utterly awful - they missed the whole point.
Sep. 4th, 2009 03:51 pm (UTC)
That and the whole aiming for the younger audience idea that made Alan a young teenager. I think he was supposed to be in his early 20s in the original show.
Sep. 4th, 2009 04:51 pm (UTC)
Well there already is an International Rescue. I do not believe they picked that name randomly. http://www.intrescue.org/
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )