Gateshead writer Dr Simon Morden is a rocket scientist and one of the few people who can claim to have held a chunk of Mars in his hands (the red planet, not the chocolate bar). He’s edited the British Science Fiction Association’s Focus magazine, judged the Arthur C. Clarke Award and is the author of a trilogy of thrillers set in futuristic England: Equations of Life, Theories of Flight and Degrees of Freedom, starring the immoral, charismatic Petrovitch, a survivor of the nuclear fallout in St Petersburg, and now residing in London’s dangerous Metrozone (all published by Orbit). Below, he explains why his apocalyptic alter ego would be James Cole in Twelve Monkeys. EITHNE FARRY
Apocalypses are like buses. You wait for ages, then three come along at once. It’s no fun dodging flaming meteors, global flooding and the imminent return of the Messiah – but once the last tree dies, the last mountain peak slips beneath the waves, and the heels of the last believer disappear into the clouds? What next? That’s when it gets real.
Post-apocalyptic landscapes: they’re all around us. Just take the wrong turning in town, and the bright lights are suddenly behind you. The boards are up on the windows, the weeds are sprouting in the gutter, and in the distance, a glass bottle kicks against the kerb.
You’re not alone, of course. You might be The Last Man on Earth, but alone? It doesn’t work that way. The ghosts are as hungry as the feral creatures that live in the slowly decaying ruins. There’s nothing to stop you from becoming an animal yourself: post-apocalypses are hard on the weak, the compassionate, the humane.
Which is why my alter ego is James Cole, reluctant time traveller and would-be saviour from Terry Gilliam’s masterful Twelve Monkeys. Cole is an unlikely hero – in fact, there’s a good argument to be had about whether he’s a hero at all, and that the proper hard work is being done by the scientists responsible for the time machine.
So, protagonist or patsy? Cole, haunted by visions of the past, of the future to come, haunted even by the present he finds himself in, behaves… more or less decently. He’s the guy who does his best: mostly crazy, banging around the time-lines like a pinball, he stumbles across enough clues to give the future a fighting chance. He even finds himself unexpectedly in love.
No gunplay. No big explosions. Just, you know, people. I can’t fool myself that I’d be a leader of a band of post-apocalypse warriors, or the lone survivor looking on the works of Man without despairing. But Cole? I could be Cole. So could you.