Fully Automated Future Nostalgia

One very nice Christmas present I got was a second hand copy of Spacebase 2000 from 1984.

This is itself a compilation of the 2 earlier works Spacecraft 2000 to 2100 AD by Stewart Cowley, and Great Space Battles by Stewart Cowley and Charles Kerridge. Sadly it does not include the material from Aliens In Space by Steve Caldwell, who was in fact Stewart Cowley as well.

What all these books have in common is that they all describe events and artefacts in the era of the “Terran Trade Authority” (TTA)… and they are all constructed around illustrations produced for the dust jackets of other science fiction works, which were then repurposed and the TTA narrative attached.

The list of artists whose work on the books has been catalogued elsewhere:

Spacecraft 2000 to 2100 AD

Great Space Battles

Aliens In Space.

Stewart Cowley provided a full chronology for the story of how humans quickly acquired interstellar travel in the early 21st century, made contact with humanoid species around Alpha Centauri, and were then engulfed in a major war started by the aggressive race around Proxima Centauri. This ended in a victory for Earth and its Alphan allies. After that was a long phase of peace and reconstruction, interrupted by the chaos of the Laguna War caused by another aggressor originating around a dwarf star, who launched a futile attack that could only end in eventual destruction by superior industrial power and resources.

The image in the banner gets an entire history as the “CAM 117 Gunship” created around it:

The style and format is of course an imitation of popular books about military technology that were appearing from the 60s onward, from publishers like Purnell: artistic recreation of a particular type, with key technical data, and a potted history mixing in anecdotes and incidents with formal process breakdown. This now survives in wikipedia pages about tanks and bombers and other killing machines.

Although it seems to have a lower reputation amongst the fans, I prefer Aliens In Space as the focus there is on world-making and describing the planets and places where the aliens are encountered. I particularly liked the “cloud forest” of the planet Swarmy, painted by Peter Goodfellow. Peter Goodfellow had a career as a painter himself as well as all the dust-jacket work (the cloud-forest was used on the jacket of the French sci-fi novel L’Ordre Des Vigiles).

The most interesting parts of Spacecraft 2000 to 2100AD also get into world-making in the final section about “Unidentified Alien” craft that don’t fit in to the war history. There are “The City Ships Of Alpha” and the tantalising suggestion that there is a deep background connecting all the planetary systems and their peoples. There is wreckage found to contain an aircraft taken from Earth in 1983. There is also the grand mystery that appears to be the fragment of something truly colossal:

This picture is in fact the cover design of the 1970 paperback edition of Double Star by Robert Heinlein… and in the year 2000 there was a controversy about it being replicated by a Turner Prize artist.

The most futuristic aspect of these books is the recycling of cultural debris, and we can see possibilities for new machine-learning systems to invent alternative past-future histories from discarded mass-images. I say we call it the Cowley-Fisher Hauntologicator Process.

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