Manchester: the perfect setting for Science Fiction


Baby at Manchester University

So why did I chose Manchester and the North West of England as the main setting for A Calculated Life? It’s not simply because I know this city and region (I could have chosen London, which I know well enough).

The fact is that Manchester shouted out as being totally appropriate. I couldn’t resist. You see, A Calculated Life is set later in the 21st Century. It’s Science Fiction or, as others might classify the novel, Speculative Fiction. It presents a dystopian view of the future – one in which humans have adopted many advances in neural implant technology and genetic engineering. As Ray Kurzweil argues in The Age of Spiritual Machines, once we discovered computation we reset our future evolutionary path.

So where better to locate this futuristic novel, than the city where the first commercial computer was developed. After the Second World War, Manchester University became famous for developing Baby – nickname for the Small-Scale Experimental Machine. The innovations embodied in Baby led to the development of The Manchester Mark 1. This is turn became the Ferranti Mark 1 – the world’s first general purpose, commercial computer. (The pioneers included Tom Kilburn, Max Newman and Alan Turing).

So that’s one good reason.

But the dystopian nature of the novel also sits well with Manchester’s history. Ernest Rutherford is credited with being the first to split the atom in 1917 at Manchester University. And we can go back much further, to The Industrial Revolution. Manchester is widely recognized as the world’s first industrial city, built on textiles manufacturing. Manchester was the first city of a new age. And, of course, factory workers experienced the downside of this progress. In other words, Mancunians know that dystopias can come close to home.

Now I come to think about it, it’s surprising that more SF/ Speculative Fiction isn’t set in Manchester. There’s Jeff Noon’s cyber-punk-SF fiction – I’ve read Pixel Juice. Maybe you know others . . .

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