time to leave earth? reflections on the launch of ‘terra 2’

By Zoe Buckton

If you’ve met Liesl King you’ll know she has a very soothing voice, so when she tells a room full of people that we need to evacuate the earth, the result is surprisingly calm acceptance. Terra 2 aims to conserve earth’s culture, curating science fiction inspired works of writing, artwork, music and film to create something akin to the Voyager Golden Record we sent into space back in 1977, but with a little more artistic flare and a little less Chuck Berry.

Golden Disk

I arrived early to give a hand with the event but to be honest, everything went so smoothly I was barely needed. I watched through a crack in the door of quad south hall while the last tables were moved and acoustics were tested. Every now and then a loud notice of ‘T-MINUS 10 MINUTES’, or ‘EVACUATE’ jolted me out of the book I was reading. This caused me some slight concern, I couldn’t help but imagine that maybe I’d been reading Elmet whilst the world went to pot around me, 28 days later style.

Liesl arrived soon afterwards and showed me inside the hall, the curtains were drawn snugly around the lecture hall seating and the room was dark – a portable screen was in place and with its big metal supports looked like something out of an Alien franchise briefing. A big launch countdown was playing on the screen and a strange little orb, or, ‘our wonderful robot friend’ as Liesl referred to it, was perched on the lectern. You’d be forgiven for mistaking the room for a giant launch simulator – it was brilliant.

Music by Wayne Dawson, Harry Nicklin, Ben Kitching and Murphy McCaleb.
Music by Wayne Dawson, Harry Nicklin, Ben Kitching and Murphy McCaleb.

The night kicked off with a half hour of science fiction inspired music by Wayne Dawson, Harry Nicklin, Ben Kitching and Murphy McCaleb. Their piece, titled ‘Terra Two: An Ark for Off-World Survival – a musical composition in nine movements’ started the evening. When we chatted to them before they started they told us they’d turned the project around in two weeks. Considering the quality of the music and the lyrics this was a big achievement, and one that certainly paid off as the audience became engrossed in the imaginary world the insect-like, dystopic V utopian music articulated.

Liesl King was the first of the night’s speakers, the founder of Terra2. She told us how she had felt when the idea for the project first popped up, how she never thought it would be a reality yet there she stood, launching the project in a full lecture hall. Her speech was inspiring and motivating, and drew on influences from her favourite science fiction author Ursula Le Guin. Dr. Adam Smith (lecturer in English Literature and member of the Terra2 Editorial team) also spoke on how he got involved in the project, asking what humanity means and what happens when the species is relocated. His discussion was enthusiastic and his pride in how far the project had come was clear.

Liesl King opens the evening as Team: Terra watch on.
Liesl King opens the evening as Team: Terra watch on.

Next the audience was treated to some snapshots from the Ark(ive) collated so far. First, Alan Clarke (Lecturer in Film and Media) spoke at length on space travel, everyone’s marmite scientist Elon Musk and referred to his diagrammatic t-shirt to help propose the way to our new home. He discussed spiritual texts and fiction as a ‘swiss army knife for the soul’ of space travellers, ensuring that astronauts can survive isolation and ideological challenges.

Rob Edgar (lecturer in Creative Writing and member of Terra2 editorial team) read an extract from his short story ‘The Driver’ written in the real-life dystopia of a crowded train journey. His piece was focused Turnbull, ‘the perfect […], his education and intelligence lauded. He was therefore shocked when he was further described as an under achiever and perpetual loner. It was only from his current vantage point that he fully realised why the recruiter had made these comments with such enthusiasm.’

Ashleigh Whittle, a Creative Writing master’s student at YSJ, read a chapter from her master’s submission ‘MARS 1’. The piece shared themes with Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, ‘The Keeper continued his speech for the small Martian group who gaped at the enclosed woman. There was a tall thick pane of glass separating the woman from the crowd. She was huddled on a thin mattress with her back pressed against the wall. Her face was sullen and lined with sadness. Two braids entwined her limp hair, drawing it back from her face. She had lived in the compound her whole life. Bred in captivity.’

Tom Jackson, an English Literature PHD student specialising in black literature, read a critical piece about the Octavia Butler’s novel Kindred. He argued that ‘Kindred is an essential text when considering the survival of humanity, earth bound or otherwise, because of the centrality Butler provides to survival through education. When considered as a ‘pedagogical project’ on historical reflection as Parham concludes that it is, Kindred becomes a vital artefact for those seeking survival in an undetermined and unstable future.’

Pauline Kollontai (lecturer in Theology and Religious studies) also presented a piece she explained Liesl had encouraged her to write when she was feeling down about the state of the world, her piece discussed how we’d be unable to start afresh in a new colony, but instead must learn from our past. She asked, ‘In Terra Two, what kinds of cultures need to be created to diminish our human ability to hurt and destroy one other? Will religions continue to exist and in what form? If religions continue to be part of the multi-faceted cultures of Terra Two, then what can be taken from the religious notions of humankind progressing towards a better state of being?’

Art work produced by students studying illustration at York St John University.
Art work produced by students studying illustration at York St John University.

The conclusion of the evening was delivered by Luke Kennard, author of the dystopian novel ‘The Transition’. He read a creative and experimental piece about the process of trying to write original science fiction, titled ‘Nova Satus, Nova Satus (Nova Satus)’. The piece was funny, touching and insecure:

‘One of the three moons, the middle one – let’s say they’re the size of pool balls if our moon’s a beach ball – is irregular, like a nugget. Anastasia’s daughter calls this The Stupid Moon. The Stupid Moon is a different shape depending on its rotation. Sometimes it looks like a melting parrot, sometimes it looks like someone’s head in a Francis Bacon painting, sometimes it looks like a big toe. And it’s shiny, as if it might be a giant lump of gold.’

Acclaimed Sf author, Luke Kennard.
Acclaimed Sf author, Luke Kennard.

After the launch, we sat in a very surreal Italian restaurant and ate pizza and pasta. Liesl shouted over the table to us,

            “Do you remember when I told you about this idea in my seminar class? Did you think I was mad?”

After some discussion, we agreed that maybe she had seemed a little mad, but the good version of mad. That kind of mad that happens when you think a project is too big to pull off but you smash it anyway, the kind of mad that only people with conviction and absolute faith in their idea can deliver. The belief that Liesl has in both her own project and those that support it will certainly carry it far, perhaps far enough to send into orbit.


Terra Two: An Ark for Off-World Survival  is free to all, but if you enjoy reading, viewing and listening to the contributions on the site please consider donating a small sum to http://www.wearelimitless.org/, quoting ‘Terra Two’ in the comment box. This charity helps to support orphaned children.