Letters extra: Science and Philip Pullman's fantasies

16th January 2004 at 00:00
I find it astonishing that Jonathan Osborne can take seriously "the science of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials " (TES, 2 January). To be called "scientific" it should at least deal with plausible science, as Jules Verne does with his Nautilus submarine in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea , which anticipates many features - in 1870 - of modern submarines.

Pullman does nothing of the kind. The episode of Lyra and the computer in The Suble Knife is nothing but the repetition of cliches about IT. (Kids are a whiz with computers and can show adults a few tricks, so Lyra puts on the electrodes and gets a few patterns from the machine that Dr Malone, the research scientist, hasn't been able to.) The message is that there is something big out there, and the kid can get it on board but the adult can't. Really. A Famous Five type of story, technically updated.

But the unfortunate point about all this is that the fantasy-fiction, and the comment upon it, uphold fantasies of unlimited power through AI (Artificial Intelligence), or corresponding paranoia about the possible damage to children's brains through over-exposure to the computer.

If science seeks an object in Pullman's writing it should not be the "science" but the weird psychology of so many of the characters who, with their accompanying daemons and deaths, seem to be in states of schizophrenia and other derangements. Here at least is a rich field of investigation.

Nigel Probert

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