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A Disaster of Apocalypses

I'm still not sure what the collective noun is for the Apocalypse, but here are two recent events that most definitely were not disasters:

The Event is a two part event (little "e") organised by writer Leila Johnston composed of lectures and panels on aspects of the Apocalypse. Billed a "2012 preparation sessions", it was more like the extremely erudite love-child of SyFy and sketch comedy.

Speakers included author Naomi Alderman (who proposed an eloquent and disturbing thesis connecting the rise of zombies with social attitudes towards the Holocaust), scientist and historian Dr. Ralph Harrington (who spoke compelling about volcanoes and got a very enthusiastic round of applause for his use of bar charts) and a host of others, including a brilliant panel of local government "representatives" discussing the zombie apocalypse.

The session ran around four hours and the audience (sixty-odd people crammed into a pub basement) didn't even squirm. In fact, with the exception of the somewhat ramshackle seating, The Event was perfectly run: a variety of fantastic content, engaged audience, terrific goodie bags (thanks to Tor and Orbit!) and a great MC. 

From a personal experience, the bit I found most striking was the didactic element. Even with the (largely played for laughs) zombie panel, The Event consisted of experts educating the audience. Rather than, say, experts debating. Or even an interview. Even as someone that naturally rebels against any sort of schoolroom situation, I wound up really enjoying it - a combination of the content, the speaker and the overall atmosphere. Given the direction our Kitschies themed evenings are going, something like this might be a logical next step. (Hmmmm.)

The second session of The Event is on 19 February. It is currently sold out, but further events (Events?) may be in the works.

(In the interests of full disclosure, Pandemonium are 'sponsors' of the event, in that Leila let us chuck coupons into the goodie bags.) 

The Day the Earth Caught FireWe picked up a second dose of the Apocalypse this week (it may be contagious) at the Greenwich Picture House. Every month, the Royal Observatory pairs with this comfy cinema to show a classic science film. Then, to make the experience even more enjoyably nerdy, an actual honest-to-god space scientist ("astronomer", they're called) gets up and talks about the science (or lack thereof) in the film. 

Monday night presented a perfect storm of geeky genius. "The Day the Earth Caught Fire" (1961) is one of the all-time great British SF films - a combination of rapid-fire Fleet Street banter and nuclear disaster scenario. Really, really big hydrogen bomb tests start causing weather patterns straight out of the End Times. Our (inebriated) journalist hero shags, snarks and snoops his way to the horrible, horrible truth. The Earth has been knocked out of its orbit! (dun dun DUN!)

Great special effects and zippy dialogue make the movie brilliant, and its deliberately ambiguous ending is the stuff of legend. (Don't you dare come at me for spoilers - the fifty year rule is in effect.) Then, Dr Marek Kukula, from the Royal Observatory, presented a slide-show made up entirely of shit crashing into the Earth. Apparently there are bombs, big bombs, bigger bombs, meteorites, bigger meteorites and other planets - none of which are actually big enough to pong the Earth out of orbit.

But (spoilers!) it could happen. Occasionally (like, on a galactic time-scale), Saturn and Jupiter line up and their gravitational pull turns into a SUPER GRAVITON DEATH RAY. A billionty-twelve years ago, the SUPER GRAVITON DEATH RAY punched Neptune in the face and knocked it so hard that it flew out beyond Uranus. That probably won't happen to the Earth, but it is cool to know that when really big explosive shit fails, there's always the inexorable grip of gravity, calmly plotting to destroy the world. (I suspect that the esteemed Dr. Kukula may be less than impressed by my recap of his presentation.)

Also, the Earth is doomed anyway, as in 5 billion years the Sun will turn into a Red Giant and devour us. (That's a type of star, not a 1st Edition monster.) So, uh, damn. 

Charmingly, the audience questions began with "vaguely relevant" and then quickly spiralled into  "quick; we have an astronomer trapped with us; ask everything!" "Why isn't Pluto a planet any more?" was my personal favourite.

Anyway, my lunacy aside, this series of events is simply brilliant. Great movies, great talk and, again, a crowd that's really excited, make for a great atmosphere. Next month's film is "Time Bandits", and they're taking votes for the final session in April (all three options are great). We'll be back for both of them, and highly recommend that you do the same. Nab your tickets quickly - the last one was completely sold out.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I've been bragging to everyone for weeks that I've "read the book", thinking it was the film adaptation of Charles Eric Maine's The Tide Went Out. It isn't. Oops.)