Chris Hatherill from super/collider visited YCN to share some of the books that have informed his life and work to date.
Chris Hatherill is a freelance journalist and founder of super/collider – an independent agency which explores science through a creative lens. Working with journalists, illustrators, photographers, filmmakers and other creative folk, they bring the wonders of everything from Astronomy to Zoology to new audiences through events, projects, products and publications.
As part of our Reading Lists series of talks and events, we invited Chris to share six of his favourite books with an assembled audience of YCN Members.
Chris began the talk by introducing ceramicist and artist, William Edmonds, to help explain what super/collider is and does. William presented their recent collaboration, a selection of volcanic egg-cups based on real volcanos and born out of their mutual love of lava.
Going on to explain that he’s, “not really a scientist,” Chris described his background as a pop-culture journalist and the point when he noticed a lack of accessible science communication, which lead him to start super/collider. However, it’s clear from his selection of books that the natural world and the processes that make it tick have been a long-standing interest.
1. Cosmos by Carl Sagen
“I thought I’d start with a book from before my time,” said Chris. An entertaining picture of the author on the back of the book, dressed head to toe in a beige outfit from the 70s, drew some laughs.
“I think Sagen was really good at stepping back and looking at the bigger picture… Presenting a grand sweep of humanity,” Chris explained.
He then read from the opening passage of the book, allowing the audience to become lost in an awe-inspiring description of our universe and the possibilities it presents.
2. Paddle to the Sea by Holling Clancy Holling
Next was a book Chris remembers vividly from, but hasn’t read since, his childhood. An award winning title from Chris’ homeland of Canada, Paddle to the Sea tells the story of a native North American boy who carves a man in a canoe from wood before setting it off on a journey across the Canadian landscape, illustrated in a ‘Where’s Wally’ style, as Chris describes it.
Chris explained how he "loved finding the little guy on every page and learning about the landscape”.
3. The Living Planet by David Attenborough
“As I got a little bit older, I started to watch a show, that I’m sure many of you have watched too, The Living Planet with David Attenborough,” Chris explained, before joking about his intelligence, and the fact that a lot of his chosen books are based on TV series'.
Explaining that it was the description of the microcosmic worlds within worlds that he has always found so fascinating in this book, our audience listened to him read a passage from the book, summarising “all the different creatures that live on a single branch, on a single tree in the rainforest.”
Chris drew a parallel with the straightforward way that Attenborough has always communicated the natural world, the same approach he prefers to take with super/collider, compared to the more “whizz, bang, wallop” science communication that abounds today.
4. Cry of the Kalahari by Mark Owens
Sticking with the nature theme, Chris introduced us to a little known book he read when he was about 10 years old.
This is the true story of a hippie couple, who sold all their belongings and moved to the middle of the Kalahari Desert in northern Botswana to do research. The book charts their action packed and exciting life in this remote location.
5. The Other Side of the Sky by Arthur C. Clarke
“I’m not a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy, but I do like realistic future stuff — things that might actually happen, instead of people named Zork. I prefer to read about what the Japanese Space Programme might be like in 100 years,” Chris explained. This lead him to praise the work of Arthur C. Clarke, who he says is a master of this approach.
Chris read from one of the book’s short stories, The Nine Billion Names of God, which was written in 1953 and tells the story of a Tibetan lamasery whose monks seek to list all of the names of God by renting a computer capable of printing all the possible permutations.
6. Red Mars by Stanley Robinson
Chris went on to explain that super/collider are about to start a project with some film makers, “using storytelling techniques that are less Hollywood and more Blue Peter; cut and paste, stop motion kind of stuff… and looking forward to playing at being kids again.” This, he says, will involve making lots of little models of Mars, to help tell the story of how we might colonise the planet.
This lead us to Chris’ final book, which he described as “the bible of terraforming,” which is the process of making another planet habitable.
Published in 1992, it tells the story of future colonists traveling to Mars in the year 2060, tying in lots of current themes from Earth, including the rise of multi national corporations to desert warfare.
Drawing to a close, Chris answered questions on super/collider’s past and present inspiring projects before inviting us to join him and his telescope outside. Despite a few clouds in the sky, we were then treated to a close-up view of the Moon’s craters, as well as Jupiter and two of its own moons — all of which was a big hit, not only with the audience but passers by too.
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Nearby YCN Members can now freely borrow all books introduced by Peter from the Lending Library at 72 Rivington Street.
Location:72 Rivington Street,
London, EC2A 3AY,
Start:9th April, 2014 at 6:30pm
End:9th April, 2014 at 8:00pm