Here’s the day’s program, to be held at Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, Independence Avenue, Colombo. I’ll be speaking on “Long shadow of Pulp Science Fiction: Popular culture for promoting science and imagination” at 11 AM, and repeating it again at 1 PM.
Amazing Science is a travelling exhibit put together by French scientific institutes inspired by American ‘pulp’ science fiction magazines during the first half of the 20th century.
As the creators say, it “takes you on an exploratory journey into uncharted territory, on the frontiers of pulp culture, science fiction and scientific research”.
The exhibition revives the old “pulp” look through a blend of scientific research, creative writing and popular culture. From the infinitely small to the infinitely large, the most advanced areas of science are now the realm of unexpected encounters with the real and the imaginary worlds. Each of the exhibition panels features scientific visuals based on a specific research area.
Here’s the Abstract of our own talk:
Long shadow of Pulp Science Fiction: Popular culture for promoting science and imagination
by Nalaka Gunawardene, science writer
and S M Banduseela, science fiction translator
‘Pulp magazines’ is a generic term for inexpensive magazines published in the United States from 1896 to the 1950s. They provided popular entertainment, especially before broadcast television became well established, and carried illustrated short stories and serialized stories in categories like adventure, travel, detective and science fiction.
This illustrated presentation will look at the role pulp magazines played in promoting science fiction writing and reading as part of 20th century popular culture. Many who later became mainstream writers, such as Robert A Heinlein, Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury first established themselves by writing to such publications.
In this talk, we look at how pulp science fiction inspired scientific discovery and innovation in areas as diverse as space exploration, computer science, robotics, evolution and materials science.
In this week’s Ravaya column (in Sinhala), I introduce a recent anthology of rationalist essays compiled and edited by leading Sinhala language writer Ajith Thilakasena. I was asked to talk about the book at a recent meeting of the Sri Lanka Rationalists’ Association. Since I too have contributed a chapter, I cannot review the book; this is merely an exploration of the book’s provocative contents.
In it, Sir Arthur described the development of reliable psychological probes, using which any suspected individual could be ‘painlessly and accurately interrogated, by being asked to answer a series of questions’. While its original purpose is to keep the world safe from criminals and terrorists, the “Psi-probe” soon proves to be useful on another front: to weed out religious fanaticism – and all religions themselves – which is a greater threat to humanity.
A few weeks ago, with the concurrence of the Arthur C Clarke Estate, I invited S M Banduseela, the most prolific translator of Clarke’s work in Sri Lanka, to render this last story into Sinhala. Here it is, being published for the first time here:
Lakbima Sinhala daily newspaper has just published my long interview with S M Banduseela who is widely recognised as Sri Lanka’s foremost translator of science and science fiction. He is best known as Arthur C Clarke’s Lankan translator.
Those segments are not repeated here. Lakbima has also carried my questions related to Clarke’s views on traditional knowledge, and on religion. Banduseela answers them in his capacity as a leading rationalist and free thinker in Sri Lanka.
As he often said: “One of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion. So now people assume that religion and morality have a necessary connection. But the basis of morality is really very simple and doesn’t require religion at all. It’s this: “Don’t do unto anybody else what you wouldn’t like to be done to you.” It seems to me that that’s all there is to it.”
S M Banduseela is widely recognised as Sri Lanka’s foremost translator of science and science fiction. Beginning in 1970, when he translated into Sinhala language The Naked Ape by zoologist and ethologist Desmond Morris, Banduseela has introduced Sinhala readers to over two dozen world acclaimed titles.
He is best known as Arthur C Clarke’s Lankan translator. In the mid 1970s, he translated Clarke’s landmark 1962 volume Profiles of the Future, which was well received. Encouraged, Banduseela took to translating Clarke’s key science fiction novels beginning with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Over the years, he rendered into Sinhala all four Odyssey novels, as well as other works like The Fountains of Paradise, Rendezvous with Rama and The Hammer of God.
In this wide ranging interview, published in the Sinhala Sunday newspaper Ravaya (24 Nov 2013), I discuss with Banduseela various aspects of science fiction in the Lankan context: the niche readership for this literary genre; its enduring appeal among Sinhala readers; and prospects of original science fiction in Sinhala. He also recalls the challenges he faced translating Clarke’s technically complex and philosophically perceptive novels. I ask him why Sinhala readers have yet to discover the rich worlds of science fiction written in countries like Russia, Japan, China and India.
Uttareethara (The Greatest) is a biographical documentary series produced and broadcast by HiruTV, a privately owned, commercially operated terrestrial TV channel in Sri Lanka.
Uttareethara profiles — through interviews and archival imagery — the lives of outstanding writers, artistes, scientists, filmmakers and others who left their own mark in the public space in Sri Lanka during the past few decades.
This episode (No 16), first broadcast in September 2012 (and since then, repeated several times) is about Sir Arthur C Clarke (1917-2008), who lived in Sri Lanka since 1956 and became a Resident Guest of the Indian Ocean island in 1975.
It features interviews with: Hector Ekanayake, Managing Director of Underwater Safaris Ltd, long-standing friend and business partner of Sir Arthur; Journalist and former editor Edwin Ariyadasa; communications specialist Dr Rohan Samarajiva; Clarke’s principal Sinhala translator S M Banduseela; amateur astronomer and scholar Fr Dr Mervyn Fernando; tourism specialist Renton de Alwis; and cancer researcher Dr Kumari Andarawewa (via Skype).
At the station’s invitation, I presented the one-hour show and also did several interviews.