The problem, perhaps, with addressing the concerns of the day – particularly in science fiction that hopes to predict the future – is that it ages pieces considerably. Simon Ings (Hot Head; Dead Water) said of Paintwork: “[Tim] catches those fleeting moments of possibility in stories that ought to have no shelf life whatsoever – and which, regardless, linger in the mind.”
With very positive reactions, this timeliness obviously doesn’t concern Tim too much. In fact, he embraces that idea, mentioning how dated – but still enjoyable – films like Alien, Blade Runner and Outland are. “The idea behind many of them,” he tells me, “is that we’ll go into space and it’ll be this massive industrial enterprise; we’ll build these huge mining platforms – and that’s a reflection of the 1980s right? That’s a reflection of what industrial corporate technology was like then. It’s not a reflection of what industry’s like now.
“If we do ever expand our industries into space, it won’t look like that because the only way we could do it would be with more sophisticated technology – with nano-technology, and much sleeker approaches to doing things. We’re not going to go and build huge mining cities on Io, or whatever. But that doesn’t make those films any less beautiful to watch and it doesn’t make them any less relevant. In the1970s and the 1980s, we were building these huge oil platforms out in the North Sea in order to exploit the resources we had there. And I’m a big believer in that sort of science fiction; I don’t mind getting things wrong.”
He can even see his own work becoming dated, despite only being published in July 2011. “I get the impression that QR Codes are already going out of fashion,” he continues. “I don’t mind that because when I was writing about them, they were a fairly new thing. It’s interesting: I think the reason they’re going out of fashion is because they’re so easily hacked! They’re so open to malware – and you don’t know where it goes.
“That’s what Paintwork is all about. I like the idea that you can look back at science fiction from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, now, and go, ‘well, that’s wrong about the future, but that doesn’t matter because it was reflecting the values and concerns of the time it was written.’” It’s like a time capsule. “It makes science fiction an important and historical document,” Tim agrees. “You can’t get the future right, you never can. So coming back to those films, I watch Alien and Blade Runner and those movies all the time because they’re visually stunning. For that reason, there’s a place for it and it is nostalgia.”