Exhibition celebrates success of Scots science fiction writers


Scots writers have made their mark on the world of science fiction from Dr Jekyll to Dr Who and many life forms in between.

That success is being celebrated at the National Library of Scotland (NLS) which features a selection of Scotland’s science fiction treasures. The display opened today and is being held as part of the Edinburgh Science Festival.  Entry is free.

It’s Life, Jimmy but not as we know it tells the story of alien planets, strange creatures and unusual goings-on, all imagined by writers born or living in Scotland.

Iain M Banks is among the Scots sci-fi writers featured. Pic: Szymon Sokol.


It includes works by current writers who will be familiar to many such as Iain M Banks, Ken MacLeod, Steven Moffat and Michel Faber. But what may be more surprising is the number of well know mainstream authors who have tried their hand at science fiction including Naomi Mitchison, Alasdair Gray, Edwin Morgan and Lewis Grassic Gibbon, writing under his own name J Leslie Mitchell.

What is equally surprising is that creating visions of the future goes deep into the past in Scotland.  The first science fiction novel was published almost 200 years ago in 1817. Armata deals with interplanetary travel and describes a twin planet to earth. It was published anonymously but later was identified as the work of Thomas Erskine, a lawyer and politician who had served as Lord Chancellor of the UK.

Other highlights of the display include works by J T McIntosh, one of the most prolific science fiction writers in Scotland who is better known abroad than in his native land. McIntosh was the pen-name of James MacGregor who published his first short story in 1950 and wrote for another 30 years.  Over 100 short stories and novelettes were published in America alone, and some were translated into French, Italian, Spanish, German, Swedish, Polish and Japanese.

There will also be titles on display by Angus MacVicar and Michael Elder who will be fondly remembered by some people for Songs of Praise and Take the High Road on television.

John Birch, the NLS curator who put the display together said: “Science fiction in Scotland contains many treasures ranging from iconic well known works such as Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde and The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle, to graphic novels, Iain M. Banks and Steven Moffat’s first Dr Who short story from 1996. It also features obscure gems and little known writers.

“The display highlights the change in the nature of science fiction from niche writing in the past to mainstream acceptance today. We now have a rich scene of science fiction/fantasy writers in Scotland and are probably in a golden age for popular Scottish science fiction writing. Our display celebrates the past, present and future of this final frontier of Scottish writing and we hope it will be enjoyed by many.”

It’s Life Jimmy, but not as we know it is on until June 30 at NLS, George 1V Bridge, Edinburgh.