Winner announced for Second Clarke-Bradbury SF Competition

The space elevator
20 July 2005
The jury of the second Clarke-Bradbury International Science Fiction Competition organized by the European Space Agency's Technology Transfer and Promotion Office has now selected the winners and runners-up out of 109 stories and images submitted from 29 different countries. The competition, on the theme of ‘the Space Elevator’, was open to all ages, and encouraged images to be submitted as well as stories.
The Space Elevator is conceived as a 100 000 km ribbon of carbon nanotubes extending into space up which climbers will travel to release payloads into different orbits. It is anticipated that the Space Elevator will reduce launch costs to around $100 per kilo when it is operational in 12-15 years. From the fairy story Jack and the Beanstalk to Arthur C. Clarke’s 1979 novel The Fountains of Paradise, the idea of a Space Elevator has captured the imagination of scientists, engineers, writers and artists alike. The Space Elevator currently being extensively studied and developed is based on the ideas and concepts of Dr Bradley Edwards, Space Elevator International.

The Second Clarke-Bradbury Science Fiction Competition, managed by the Maison d’Ailleurs (CH) and the OURS Foundation (CH), had two categories - science fiction story and artwork – which had to relate to a Space Elevator and incorporate technologies and applications in some way. For example, imaginative use of the Space Elevator as a cheap access to space for launching oversized or fragile objects to distant planets, or for space tourism, or space exploration or terra-forming. The Jury assessed the entries in accordance with the following criteria:

  • Technology - convincing use of technology,
  • Imagination - innovative ideas and the ability to think ‘outside the box’
  • Structure - development of storyline, plot, characters
  • Skills - clarity of expression, style, degree of realism
  • Visualization - convincing depiction of the Space Elevator

Arthur C. Clarke
Arthur C. Clarke
All the entries were evaluated by an international jury who eventually selected a Winner and Runner-up in each of the two categories. David Raitt from ESA's Technology Transfer and Promotion Office and the organiser of the Clarke-Bradbury International Science Fiction Competitions said that as might be expected, the jury members found it extremely difficult to decide which story or image should be the winner. Although the selection criteria were a guidance, the final choice was personal and subjective.

Some judges looked for evidence of scientific and technological accuracy and the way technology was used, others were more concerned with whether the story was a good read. It appeared that most of the entrants were familiar with the Space Elevator – though more than a few stories concentrated on disasters which might befall it. Although a number of authors found themselves confined by the focus on technology, many wrote lightly fictionalised descriptions of journeys up the Elevator with no real thought of the problems. Thus the jury looked for stories which created a sense of drama or difference.

Based on the jury input, the Winner of the Second Clarke-Bradbury International Science Fiction Competition for 2005 in the Story category was ultimately chosen by the organisers to be the story Clever by Christian Doan, a writer and artist living and working in Melbourne, Australia. The tale is about nanites – tiny alchemists able to construct anything from raw material. Injected into the body, protected by the saline, they could be carried anywhere – including up a Space Elevator – but when they escaped in a bead of sweat and the saline solution evaporated then they were free to do their work! This story was chosen because of the quality of writing, the technology idea behind the story and the thriller feel to the text. It was a convincing future technology and a fluently-written suspense story with a subtle, unstated twist at the end. The use of viewpoint was interesting and the way the scenario established refreshing. The story was also short and stood on its own with no need for further explanation.
Africa Tower
Africa Tower
The Winner of the Image category is Frank Lewecke from Nuernberg, Germany for his image entitled Africa Tower - the African Space Elevator. Frank was born into the space generation, growing up in times when men walked on the moon and this is reflected in his art work Appropriately, the artist was inspired by Arthur C. Clarke's novel "3001" and the science fiction concept of an elevator into space was combined with detailed and realistic painting to produce a powerful, captivating translation on canvas. Although not a factor in its selection, the painting is doubly apposite at a time when the world’s attention is focused on Africa.

The Runner-up in the Story category is Scott Rolsen from Denver, USA for his work entitled Ervin's Watch. This is a story of opposites – female soldier and monk; different times and places – where a long forgotten elevator is used to return to Earth. The writer skilfully manages to give an idea of the length of time that passes on the trip in his tale.
Rising at dusk
Rising at dusk
The Runner-up in the Image category is Richard Bizley, an artist from Lyme Regis in England, for his image entitled Rising at Dusk. The painting depicts an elevator car (named Clarke Clipper) travelling upwards as the sun is setting. This setting sun is casting a long shadow of the elevator ribbon on the clouds, which show the immense length of the structure.

The Winners and Runners-up receive a monetary prize from Dr Brad Edwards, Space Elevator International and Philip Ragan, Space Elevator International - Australia. They also receive complementary copies of the ESA Brochure on Innovative Technologies from Science Fiction, as well as another ESA publication, Science Fiction, Technology Fact based on the cover art of SF novels and magazines in the collection of the Maison d’Ailleurs. The European Space Agency will also publish the most promising and interesting stories and images as a book.

Dr Edwards said on presenting the prizes that he was delighted with the interest shown in the Space Elevator concept and the many good stories which had been submitted – though he added that he was a little disappointed that several of them saw his Elevator destroyed! David Raitt added that there were some very imaginative names for the Space Elevator and some innovative uses – including sky diving regattas. A number of the stories focussed on a breakdown and subsequent repair of the Elevator, others used it as a rescue mechanism or to escape an overcrowded planet, and several concentrated on the ride itself. Raitt also pointed out that just like the early science fiction writers who were constrained by the actual science and technology of the time, the Competition authors, having no actual operational Space Elevator to draw on, could only extrapolate from their own experience with real Otis-type elevators – so the inside and function of their Space Elevators was more like the lift in a department store or skyscraper – very little time taken to travel and no spacesuit required!

"The Clarke-Bradbury SF Competitions helps raise the awareness about the European Space Agency and how technology can be used in innovative ways. An important aspect of the Competitions is to try and foster an interest in young people in science and technology in general and space activities in particular because of the decline on young people studying the sciences."

Related articles

 •  A chance to imagine the future (
 •  Winner announced for science fiction competition (
 •  Innovative Technologies from Science Fiction for Space Applications
(BR176 - 5.2MB pdf)
 •  Tales of Innovation and Imagination
(SP546 - 1.6MB pdf)
 •  Science Fiction, Technology Fact
(BR205 - 4.5MB pdf)

Related links

 •  Space Elevator Reference website (
 •  Wikipedia on Space Elevator (
 •  Space Elevator International (
 •  Carbon Designs, Inc (
 •  SF-Museum Maison dŽAilleurs (
 •  The Ours Foundation (


 •  Clever (by Christian Doan) (
 •  Ervin's Watch (by Scott A. Rolsen) (