With most of us living beneath urban light-polluted skies, in which only the brightest stars (and the International Space Station) can sometimes be seen, it’s a rare thing that makes us contemplate the vastness of the cosmos. Arguably, it was therefore (somewhat) portentous that the night before Edinburgh spoken word group Illicit Ink presented an evening of new fiction under the banner, When Words Collide — riffing on the iconic 1950s SF movie When Worlds Collide, naturally — that a large meteor blazed across the skies of Scotland and the North of England.
Despite the March event’s cosmic banner, however, the majority of the evening’s writers opted only to go as far as Earth orbit. Not that this suggests a lack of ambition; urbane host Tom Moore began proceedings with an amusing yet also sinister tale of possible alien conspiracy (and/or psychological breakdown) inventively told through a series of answerphone messages. R A Martens opted to extrapolate from the symbolic idea of men being from Mars while women are from Venus; Pippa Goldschmidt, meantime, provided a genuinely touching tale of a child using astronomical facts as a route to understanding their parents’ marital breakdown.
From David Marsland’s tale of a space mission gone wrong to Gavin McMenemy’s space-race cosmonaut looking back on his career; from Alison Summers’ Big Brother In Space TV show to Matt Macdonald’s astronomy geek finally getting to kiss the girl; and from Catriona Silvey’s lone research scientist talking to a sentient slime mould named Barry to Caroline von Schmalensee’s retrospective on a rocket-fixated young boy who might just receive a message from the stars — the evening’s focus was very much on the individual, with the big universe lurking in the background. This may well explain why Matt Nadelhaft’s essay on the evolution of stars (riffing on the idea of stars being like living, sexual beings) felt stretched.
Admittedly, the final story of the evening by Ariadne Cass-Maran — told in a series of diary entries by a trainee space-age trolly dolly — eventually dragged the audience into orbit above Venus. Make no mistake, though; this was an evening where the focus was very much on the cosmos inside each of us, and none-the-less thought-provoking for that.