David Newnham finds fantasy becomes reality

16th March 2001 at 00:00
Good news. The battery has finally run down on the megablaster, and relative silence has descended on the house. Ever since Christmas, the silver plastic raygun has whooped and howled, making conversation hazardous and putting the cats to flight. I can't remember who bought the thing, but I hope their own children take an early interest in the saxophone.

On reflection, I suppose I shall miss the plucky little blaster. In a house where toy guns are unwelcome, it slipped in through the back door. It was not, after all, a replica firearm. It was a replica blaster. And blasters don't exist.

Okay, so the American military may amuse itself in the Arizona desert with things that go pop in the night. But to the best of my knowledge, blasters and disintegrators and sonic super phasers are still the stuff of science fantasy. And yet we are all perfectly familiar with rayguns. Any one of us would recognise such a weapon. We know what would happen if it were fired (the victim glows before vanishing in a puff of vapour) and we even have a vague idea how it works.

In this respect, the blaster resembles the jetpack. "Look, Daddy. The dinosaur can fly. He's wearing a jetpack!" And so he is. I recognise the familiar assemblage of combustion chambers and propulsion units at once. See? There's the fuel tank across the top, and these straps hold the thing in place, just like a rucksack.

Blasters, jetpacks, force fields, time portals - no childhood is complete that doesn't embrace these conventions. Like Santa Claus and dragons, they exist by consensus, zooming effortlessly from one generation to the next.

Is this what religion was like for the ancient Greeks? I often wonder if they really believed in all those gods and their extravagant exploits.

I shouldn't wonder if their mythology wasn't just an early form of science fiction - a sort of parallel universe (we all know what one of those is) in which all citizens agreed that certain things existed and certain rules applied, even if they knew it to be mere fantasy.

There's only one way to find out, of course. We must beam ourselves back to the past.

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