It’s funny the things that can trigger memories. In recent months a wind turbine has appeared on the horizon a few miles from where I live. The giant paddles have finally gone on but it is currently inactive and looms above the rural landscape like a silent sentinel, a sleeping machine giant. Every time I see it I think of a TV show that I was nuts about when I was a kid: The Tripods, a BBC adaptation of the classic John Christopher science fiction trilogy.
The backdrop to the story goes something like this: the Tripods are machines built and piloted by an alien race which has conquered Earth, enslaving the human race and returning it to a state of low technological development more akin to medieval times. Relics of the past still litter the countryside: overgrown rail tracks, derelict buildings – the functions of which have been forgotten, the shells of long dead cars and so on. Humans are kept in line through a mind control process called ‘Capping’ which turns them into devout acolytes of their masters. At the age of fourteen, once the changes of puberty are underway, teenagers are taken by the Tripods and implanted with a Cap. The adults all see the Capping as a harmless coming-of-age event, a passage into adulthood, the young initiates, however, are sometimes less eager to give up their minds to their alien overlords.
The story follows the fortunes of Will, who has reached the age of capping. He is days away from the ceremony when he encounters a vagrant called Ozymandias who paints a very different picture of life under the Tripods. A veil is suddenly lifted and Will defies the wishes of his family and the traditions of his village and runs away before he can be capped. He is joined by his cousin Henry and together they head for the coast in search of passage to France, in the hope they might reach the White Mountains (the Alps), where Ozymandias has told them there is a stronghold of people free of Caps who strive to overthrow their alien oppressors.
For a nine year old kid it was mind-bending stuff I can tell you and I guess it was my first experience of a post-apocalyptic world (alongside Z for Zachariah) The images of these huge alien machines standing ominously over the tree lines of wooded villages or plonked in the middle of a picturesque lake really spooked me out and fired my imagination – I never looked at a pylon or water tower in the same way again – and now I have a wind turbine to fuel my imaginings once more. The influence of this TV series and John Christopher’s fantastic story is very evident on both of my novels and has certainly kindled a love of post-apocalyptic literature and looming alien machines.
Strange that thoughts of a broken world can be sparked by something designed to help save it.