The library in St Albans was what you might expect to find in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne. Dreary. Limited hours. One and a half rooms and a three book limit. The librarians weren’t particularly helpful. They stamped the little slip inside the front cover and slid the three books over the counter, never making a comment or recommendation. They let me wander the aisles looking for books with Saturn on their spines. The one and a half rooms were enough. They weren’t insignificant when I was a kid and the librarians didn’t need to do anything more for me. They were noiseless and tended to a calm place.
The Sea of Tranquillity was an idea of paradise. I looked at images of the moon and saw a place that registered billions of collisions. Impact upon impact, yet there was an immense area that was smooth and undamaged. A blue tinge to the otherwise grey-black expanse. That’s how the idea first appeared in my mind, because I’d never heard any one use tranquillity in a sentence. A dictionary in the St Alban’s library told me what it meant but it didn’t close the door on its meaning. The Sea of Tranquillity was a place where you couldn’t drown, and from there, the world was a perfect blue and white sphere turning in an endless, silent flow of sunlight.
Saturday morning would come and there’d be a pile of books on the carpet beside my bed. I didn’t have bookshelves because I didn’t own many books. As soon as I could clear my eyes of sleep I began reading and didn’t stop until I came reeling out of my room for food and water. I went back to bed and let the bright light outside my windows resolve into evening darkness. I did the same thing Sunday and wished Monday morning wouldn’t have to be such a colossal interruption. A whole week of school would follow and disassemble all my time and thoughts and I would register a billion impacts like a surface that can never be smoothed over with a calm hand. I don’t remember most of the books I read in those years but lying on my belly in bed, with words moving along in a silent flow, was another view from the Sea of Tranquillity.
None of the kids I played cricket or soccer or tennis with in my neighbourhood ever mentioned prose or poetry. They didn’t own any more books than I did. My friends read only what was required in school and they were the books I didn’t want to read. We threw, kicked or hit balls up driveways, across courts and over fields, but we played in a place where prose and poetry didn’t really exist. Art was transmitted into our lives only through the radio and television. What literature made it through was diminished and trivialised, altering little in the lives we were learning to inhabit. I have heard it said that a child needs only one literary experience to devote themselves to reading—and that has been described as a feeling of their lives being changed by a book. Every time I walked into St Albans library, wandering along the quiet aisles, all I was looking for was the Saturn sticker. I returned my books to the librarians dutifully, and I’m sure I appeared as untroubled by art as any of the other children in my neighbourhood.
The writers of those Saturn books were outcasts, half-insane dreamers, scientists from diverse fields, and many were just hacks who had failed to find any success with legitimate literature. They never wrote about the world as it was. Instead, they insisted on other visions; speculating on possible futures. They projected their fears and hopes into vast space operas or focused them into claustrophobically demented psychological shapes. Often, paranoid and broken worlds emerged from their pages. Radical philosophies and politics were cast out with thinly veiled narratives. They specialised in generating ‘a sense of wonder’—a term that many of them used as though they had invented the experience. Where everything I was told to read in school seemed to be trapped in history or the suffocating minutia of suburban lives much like mine, the writers of the books that carried a sticker of Saturn, depicted breaks with reality, in society and the individual. Every one of them had an irony at its heart, because all those books assured me that the future is unwritten. One of the librarians must have been a true believer, a person convinced of the value of Science Fiction, because the library of St Albans might have been small, but its collection of that kind of writing was comprehensive.
I forgot the Sea of Tranquillity. I now look up at the moon as rarely as anyone else and it’s been years since I’ve even thought about one of those Saturn books. There are other names for places on the moon. The Sea of Cold and The Sea of Nectar, The Sea of Crises and the Marsh of Dreams. Hundreds of craters and mountains have been named on that lifeless satellite caught in an orbit by the weight of our planet. The golden era of Science Fiction culminated with the landing of two men on the moon and it was from that smooth, calm place that they gazed back at our bubble. A planet where everything was named to the last speck of dust and there was an endless generation of stories. It was a moment in time in which the future seemed to open up and allow each of us daydreams of infinite possibility.