Alter Ego: Ken Hollings is Astro Boy

Astro Boy

Ken Hollings is a writer based in London. His work appears in a wide range of publications, including The Wire, Sight and Sound, Strange Attractor Journal, Frieze and Nude, and in the anthologies The Last Sex, Digital Delirium, Undercurrents and London Noir. His novel Destroy All Monsters was hailed by The Scotsman as ‘a mighty slab of trippy, cult, out-there fiction’. His latest book, Welcome to Mars: Fantasies of Science and the American Century, has been praised by celebrated documentary maker Adam Curtis: ‘Ken Hollings shows brilliantly how the extraordinary web of technologies that drove the Cold War has shaped not just our culture but the very way we think of ourselves as human beings.’ It is available from Strange Attractor Press. For more information please visit Ken Hollings’s blog. Below, he tells us why he would be Astro Boy if he was a film character.

‘I’ve defeated the saucers. The robots won’t come anymore.’

Astro Boy takes on men, monsters and machines – and wins. He has this special smile on his face whenever he comes in to land: so self-contained and filled with happy anticipation. I want to be a machine and live in the future – just like him.

‘A robot has the same right to fight for justice. Captain, stand up and fight.’

Innocent, honest, trusting and brave, Astro Boy is a true marvel of tomorrow. He can speak over 60 different languages and sense whether people have good or evil intentions, smash solid steel with his bare fists and has the most unbelievably cute eyes. ‘He flies in the sky and goes round the universe,’ proclaimed the original Astro Boy march. ‘He is mighty, gentle and the fruit of scientific technology.’ He is a robot and proud of it. To have the same pride in being human seems a real challenge by comparison.

‘I hear that humans were created by God.’

Astro Boy first appeared in the sci-fi comic strip Ambassador Atom created by ‘god of manga’ Osamu Tezuka. Astro proved so popular that he was given his own series. Begun in 1952, Tetsuwan Atom – his original Japanese name, meaning ‘Mighty Atom’ – would run for 17 years, establishing its robot hero as a benign cultural emissary from the future both in Japan and abroad. Somehow atomic fission didn’t seem so menacing when you knew it was controlled by the heart-shaped nuclear reactor concealed within his chest.

Read our interview with Osamu Tezuka.

‘There is no difference between humans and robots.’

With an electronic brain, atomic engines in his feet, powerful searchlights concealed behind his big wide eyes and a 100,000 horsepower punch, Astro Boy lives in a 21st-century city of skyscrapers and rockets, jet cars and factories. He is also the mechanical reincarnation of a dead child, the neglected son of a scientist reborn as a robot on April 7, 2003. He will always be the future we never had.

Ken Hollings

Ken Hollings

audio Listen to the podcast: Alex Fitch talks to animé expert Helen McCarthy about the work of manga and animé pioneer Osamu Tezuka.