Destroying London! From LonCon3 and beyond…

Capital cities tend to get destroyed in Science Fiction – they represent the country and it’s civilization as a whole. So they’re natural targets of aliens [substitute fantastical antagonist as applicable] and the evil genius authors who guide their attack.

The University of Liverpool had the simplest of exhibits up at LonCon3, A4 printouts with pictures on a display board, but if you’re talking destroying London, our capital, and my home city, then you’ve got me at ‘The Destruction of London’.

From the guide: Drawing upon the prophecies of medieval astrologers and soothsayers to modern science fiction and fantasy (Richard Jefferies, George Griffiths, H G Wells, John Wyndham, Doctor Who), this display will look at some of the imaginative and sinister ways the destruction of London has been imagined. 

We start off around 1524 when there was a Europe-wide panic due to astrologers forecasting downpours and floods on the 1st February. The Thames was meant to have burst its banks and drowned the whole city. 20,000 Londoners fled – but not a drop fell. The embarrassed astrologers (like any good apocalyptic doomsayers thwarted by reality) issued a statement saying that they really meant 1624. Then comes a poem by Horace Smith, a friend of Percy Bysshe Shelley (who helped to manage his finances). The two agreed to submit poems (sonnets) to the Examiner having been inspired by Diodorus Siculus (Book 1, Chapter 47) which is on Ozymandias – Shelley’s of course became better known but I was very pleased to discover Mr Smith’s contribution of the same name, printed February 1, 1818 a week later in the Examiner.

IN Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desart knows:—
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.”— The City’s gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

Wonderful.
Battle of Dorking Hartmann the Anarchist The Sleeper Awakes
 Next we’re off to 1871 and Chesney’s ‘The Battle of Dorking’ (kicking off the invasion genre and an important precursor to science fiction) and other fictional invasions of London including Hartmann the Anarchist, before we move on to HG Wells’ and his dystopian future-London setting of The Sleeper Awakes.
Then there’s the sidestep into gaseous fog threats across the decades, in William DeLisle Hay’s The Doom of the Great City 1880 and Conan-Doyle’s The Poison Belt (1913), before we start to see familiar images from screens small and large and we’re up to date and looking forward to seeing what the next destruction of London will look like. daleks-london
  And on that subject, just across the way is this fantastic diorama by Nick Cobb of a post-apocalyptic Peckham, circa it’s car park and cinema; you can see more of this epic work on Nick’s Flickr page

London is an awesome place. London will still be awesome post-apocalypse – just rather more… apocalyptic.

Again big cities tend to get destroyed in science fiction. Their remnants show scale. The scale of disaster and the scale of what has been lost.

Great stuff.