I have, for a long time now, wanted desperately to be involved in an interstellar war. I’m really not much of a terrestrial war fan (I just find war a bit unpleasant) but space wars are different. They’re all, like, boom! and zapow! and waaarrbb-warbb-wab-wab-wab whooooooshhhh! with lasers and twelve-legged, warp-driven alien peeps in their four-dimensional, Yggdrasil-powered V-wings, swooping with stratosphere-shattering, gravity-displacing zigzags: space wars are cool.
But even I admit that they ain’t for everyone. Whilst I dearly hope to experience an Iridian-Culture style war, co-piloting a Rapid Offensive Unit to take out those tripedal insect-warrior bastards, it’s with sullen recognition that this might not be most people’s tasse de thé. Even Dan Simmons’s majestic, sprawling, Chaucer-esque Hyperion series will have its (deluded) detractors.
This term I have begun to read The War of the Worlds with my tutor group. My head teacher, Steve Margetts, kindly provided a class set for my Year 7s which we’ve been reading together for the past couple of weeks. Once the standard tutor tasks are completed – equipment checks (vital), planner signing, Stars of the Week, etc. – we can get through just over a chapter each morning. I used to read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at my previous school, but wanted something with a bit more literary heft this time.
Our children read their own books every morning, but I was a little fed up with seeing Diary of a Wimpy Kid still being read in January. Also, I use the word ‘read’ in the loosest possible sense: some of them really do read, but many others don’t actually turn a page for twenty minutes. They’re so well trained and/or scared of me, however, that they pretend to do so with what they believe to be Stanislavskian attention. So I wanted to read something both brilliant and more difficult with them, partly to make sure they really were reading, but also that they were reading quality literature.
Unsurprisingly, the children love the story. They enjoy being read to; they are beginning to appreciate the opportunity to read aloud; they wallow in the knowledge that they’ve been entrusted to try something that no other tutor group (at the moment) is doing; but they also savour the chance to be stretched: H.G. Wells’s language isn’t too difficult, but it’s tough enough to make them feel like they’re doing something a bit more challenging. Last week, when I was away for the day, they even asked if the cover teacher would read a chapter with them.
A decision has now been made to read at least four books in Years 7 and 8, starting with The War of the Worlds and Journey to the Centre of the Earth respectively. As a sci-fi fan I’m delighted, mainly because this kind of knowledge might just help our children fight the space wars of the future (how d’you like them C21st skills?). Objectively more important, I guess, is that by starting each year with C19 science-fiction we’re gently introducing our children to a very rich, though often maligned, genre, and I’m flippin’ delighted.