C.A.T.-mas-1-2-3

I have (at C.A.T.’s insistent nagging) re-published his C.A.T.-mas stories in time for Christmas – well they are his little adventures about Christmas, aren’t they?

The Blurb:

C.A.T. is a self-learner robo-cat. Only problem is self-learners are illegal and if discovered will be deleted, no questions asked. Anyone found knowingly harbouring a self-learner can face the death penalty if caught.Commander Zacman, who runs the Service’s Base on the moon, Triton, orbiting Neptune, bought C.A.T. as a pet robo- cat.C.A.T. had to give away he was a self-learner to save Zacman’s life from the bandits. Now they work as a team, stopping crime and capturing criminals wherever they happen to find them around Neptune. These are the stories of how they spent some of their Christmases together…

The Cover:

4126GtS23AL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

The Link to UK Amazon.

(Psst… C.A.T. here… I’ve got her working on a new Christmas story, fear not my so marvellous fans…)

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The Future of Science Fiction Short Story Publishing?

Some while ago a famous author (who I will call X) told me she would expect to submit a short science fiction story for publication 30 to 40 times on average. My first reaction was one of utter horror – all that time, effort and expense to get one story published, it just was not worth it.

Not a lot seems to have changed since then, except more outlets accept short stories via the internet i.e. printing, paper and postage are no longer part of the expense.

On the other side of the coin, magazines and short story anthologies are in undated with a huge number of stories. (The one exception I know of was when a magazine asked for reprints only on specific comparatively narrow theme, two very thinning out criteria.) So like short story authors they have a lot of work to do.

We have here a situation where two sets of people want to work together, but each is swamped by nugatory work, in the case of the authors arranging to send out stories to multiple outlets, in the case of publishers having to read too many stories for the space they’ve go in their magazine / anthology. Isn’t this silly?

Some publishers have found the answer by only accepting stories from authors they ask to write for them. This of course leads to only the more famous authors or friends of the publisher being asked, which could deny them access to that one story that makes a difference to their magazine / anthology. Sure it saves on the work for both authors and publishers.

What is needed is an algorithm that can check through a story, work out its pluses and minuses and then direct the author to submit to the markets where that story will have the most success of being accepted. I hasten to add I am not the person to develop it.

Is such an algorithm possible? I certainly think it will be within 30 years. In theory it could be available within 10 years as, for instance, third generation neural networks have already been found to obtain successful results in more lucrative areas of science and technology. What such an algorithm needs is access to a humungous number of stories and the publisher decisions. So if publishers band together and there is the will in the research and development community, then yes it is a goer.

Reticence will have its way, which is why my prediction goes for the 30 year mark.

There is an interim step… the publisher could develop an algorithm to do an initial sift and reject the stories that in the first instance do not meet his criteria. For instance if he wants a story sent on planet ‘Y’, then he can set up a sifting algorithm to check ‘Y’ appears in the text of the story. An obvious criteria to start with is word-count! If it doesn’t fulfil the required criteria, then an automatic rejection is sent out. This when combined with a automated ban for resubmitting within a month (or longer) will certainly concentrate authors’ minds.

Whichever high-profile publisher gets to set up such gateway system will save on time and effort in the longer term, and be able to produce cheaper or more profitable anthologies. It’ll be interesting to see which publisher does this first.

 

 

Hues of Habitability: Characterising Pale Blue Dots around Other Stars Lecture

If you in or around Bath on the evening of 21st November at a loose end then how about….

Venue:        7.00pm – 8.30pm Wednesday 21st November 2018 at East Building Lecture Theatre 1.1, University of Bath

Title:            The Caroline Herschel Prize Lecture 2018,  Joint WHS /Bath University Event
Hues of Habitability: Characterising Pale Blue Dots around Other Stars

Speaker:      Dr Sarah Rugheimer

Tickets:        Free, but you must register for the event at
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/hues-of-habitability-characterizing-pale-blue-dots-around-other-stars-tickets-51244194766?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

Description:

Dr Rugheimer (Simons Research Fellow at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of St Andrews) is an outstanding early career researcher studying the atmospheric composition of exoplanets, and the potential of these atmospheres to provide fingerprints of conditions that can sustain life. Her key results include showing how clouds can complicate the detection of oxygen in an exoplanet’s atmosphere, and how a star’s ultraviolet radiation affects the ability to detect signatures of life on its orbiting planets. Her energy and vision were central to the creation of the Centre for Exoplanet Science at St Andrews, where she has integrated and utilised insights ranging from the geochemical and isotopic character of the Earth’s rock archive to the fundamental physics of how a planet’s atmosphere forms. Her lectures demonstrate a rare clarity of understanding, and she has proved effective at presenting scientific concepts to the public.

Her Caroline Herschel Prize Lecture will be on “Hues of Habitability – Characterising Pale Blue Dots around Other Stars”.  She discusses how we might detect life on another planet, and also how we might be fooled. This planet we call home is teeming with life from the very depths of the ocean where no light penetrates, to small brine layers between ice crystals and near-boiling iridescent waters of Yellowstone. As we discover the vast diversity of extremophile life on Earth, our minds can only begin to imagine the possibilities for life to exist on other planets in the Universe. In this talk she will present how we are going to characterize terrestrial planet atmospheres orbiting other stars. Atmospheric modelling allows us to examine two key areas of interest in origins research – the remote detection of life on an exoplanet and the atmospheric conditions of early Earth that gave rise to the origin of life.

Slide1

This should help those of you who are sciency science fiction writers….

Runaway SF Story…

Oh dear – I’ve got a short story that’s running away with itself… it just refuses to behave when I’m drafting it. Just when I think it’s all plotted out, section by section, it goes ‘nah, I’m taking you this way instead, whether you like it not’.

And what’s worse, this kind of thing keeps happening to me! Not that’s it’s a bad thing for the story. In fact these diversions, once edited and polished, are good for the story. I only wish I could see them coming and use my writing time more efficiently. And there’s the rub… overall, it takes the story longer to write.

There are authors who can churn out novels on a quick conveyor belt, one after another at short regular intervals. Most of these are variations on a theme, which means once they’ve done the first novel, a lot of the would-be work has been done for the second novels. Or putting it another way, once you’ve got a plot that sells well, why change it for subsequent novels?

There have been a whole string of authors who have over the last several decades burst onto the science fiction scene with a very successful novel. After a few novels in that initial universe, they’ve turned their hand to writing about other universes, and somehow, those novels do not meet with the same success of the first novels. Their need to fulfil contracts or keep the churn rate up to keep fans happy is paid for by the quality of creativity that goes into those later novels.

(I’m sure you can think of the famous novelists who have gone down that path yourself.)

This is not to say that those later novels are not enjoyable. Just they disappoint in comparison with their earlier work.

So here comes the second rub… in order to get published by a big publisher, you have to put out your best work. This means taking the time in polishing, editing, rewriting, editing and polishing. This does not necessarily mean working on the same novel all the time. Sometimes, a new author can mine two or more novels to produce the breakthrough novel. But that same amount of time is not available for the subsequent novel. Unless the new author has a second novel lurking in the wings, then the quality is bound to not be the same.

Which is why I suspect many agents and publishers are looking for trilogies. The second and third novels are already or well on the way to being written and they will have the same ‘freshness of creativity’ because it boils down to the trilogy being one extra long novel… the publishers just dole it out in a few chunks to the readers.

But there is a limit to the amount or ways you can shape the universe you write your novels. There will come a time, when the author has nowhere to turn to make a new story. Or putting it another way, there is an inbuilt natural limit for good quality stories to come out of any universe. That limit will depend on the type of universe that is built. It is therefore not surprising that agents and publishers will also look for mileage any universe has before taking on an author.

Of course some universes have more natural mileage than others…

But what types of universe are there? Space opera, data-worlds (for want of a better description to lump AI and cyberpunk), time travel, human-introspective-worlds and what else?

Guess what number four novel is going to be about? (Answer… the what else! And it sure is going to be fun to write! And yes my brain hurts… and yes it’s taking me away from what I had expected to write…)

 

Describing the Science Fiction Worlds

I was stunned the other day that someone who is well-versed in fantasy themes and ideas did not understand a reasonably common idea in science fiction. Yet so many fantasy writers expect science fiction writers to understand their tropes – high magic, low magic, in between magic, gobbledygook magic… yes that’s what it sounds like to me when they go on about different types of magic. And what the heck is urban fantasy? Ordinary fantasy or fantasy set in a housing estate?

I’m a science fiction reader and writer, and I have enough on my plate to keep up with new ideas and worlds of science fiction and science without being expected to keep up with fantasy as well.

When it comes to story appeal to the general population (by they I mean people who are not genre aficionados), it is important to explain the terms in their story, or even better, just show us the impact of whatever gizmo or spell the protagonists use. Or at least have a non-knowledgeable sidekick to whom a necessary explanation has to be given when required (like Dr Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories).

Ben Aaronovitch tells a delightful anecdote. He gave his friend a review copy of Rivers of London. After a reasonable length of time, he asked for his friend’s comments. This friend replied he had not been able to read it because he had loaned his copy to his grandmother who did not want to return because she had been enjoying so much.

His publishers, as you would expect, analysed the sales markets. They found Rivers of London sold across all sections of society, young and old, men and women, you name it in more or less equal measures. In other words, his novel had a broad appeal across society. That can only happen if the author does not assume people with know specialist genre terms.

There is a flip side to this good quality. When there is something unusual in the story, it has to be explained, which in turn slows the story down. It is therefore not surprising that many stories in science fiction and indeed fantasy are about coming of age in understanding the world they live in (e.g. Harry Potter).

In the process of writing two of my three novels (we won’t talk about the first one as it has all the ‘beginner’s mistakes’ in it), is that the first draft was written from the point of view of someone who was learning about their world. The trouble with these learner characters was they were so drab, dull and boring. In both cases, another main protagonist eventually took over. I’ve now rewritten number two novel  from the new protagonist’s viewpoint and have started a similar process with number three novel.

But we are back to issue of explaining the background unusualness of the world…

For those of you who were forced to read the classic novels by the likes of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy, you will probably remember the lengthy descriptions of places. Today’s modern novels still have the descriptions of places, but not at the same rambling wandering meandering length. They are cut back to the bare minimum to give a sense of atmosphere of the place combined with those details that are necessary to the story. Here the emphasis is sense of atmosphere.

We can have the same in science fiction. Who can forget the first line of Neuromancer:  ‘The sky about the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.’ You immediately get the sense of grim tech surrounding the story.

A lot of science fiction, can and does take place in nature’s surroundings e.g. forests, deserts, at sea. Here the authors can rely on the common understanding of readers to get away with sub-minimal explanations of the world. This works equally well for man-made and tech surroundings that are famous beyond the science fiction community (e.g. Star Trek).

What about tech surroundings that are the author’s invention and are too different from what I call trope surroundings? See the author has to do real work, the cut it down to the minimum to give the atmosphere plus the necessary details for the story, just like what we do with descriptions.

There is one way around this, which should be seldom used. Have the point of view be fascinated by an aspect of the world. You can then ‘wallow’ for a short time in describing the view. And I do mean short. It adds to the character and the atmosphere of the story.

An example of an unusual ‘world’ can be found later on in my Guard Cat story (‘in’ the Mahilani geyser) if you want to see what I am getting at.

guardcatcoverlarge

The unusual worlds on science fiction include those that can be seen from space i.e. off-world, ice-worlds (sorry but Star Wars depicts a snow world, not a true ice world), cloud worlds and techie surroundings. (Oops… I’ve got all of these in number two novel – maybe it’s too exotic to ever get published).

The only advice, based on experience, I can give is keep editing your descriptions until they kind of resonate with you.

 

 

 

 

 

So that was BristolCon 2018

Wow! Triple Wow! It was a lovely convention to be at – well I may be biased, but others, some of them complete strangers said how much they enjoyed it!

As I was helping for a few hours behind the scenes, I didn’t get to see as much as I have done in other years and missed out on catching up with quite a few friends (sorry)!

But I did manage to sneak into the art room, which was bigger and roomier this year compared with previous years. You could actually stand back and enjoy the artwork rather than having to be huddled close to. I even bought myself a piece of artwork! I know I’m awful at taking photos, but here it is hanging on the wall at home…

IMG0065A

Look closely… very very closely… My thanks to Gemma Beynon for letting me have such a beautiful piece.

(C.A.T. here… so this is what my author’s been up to… hey that looks so like home… is that my Christmas present? Please, my author, pretty please… I could stare at that for hours and hours and hours…)

At last, I’ve found something to keep C.A.T. from nagging me!

Now back to BristolCon – the serious stuff.

The first panel I attended was the 10-00 am one on…

But What Does It Mean For Me?: Janet Edwards, Rosie Oliver, David Gullen, Kevlin Henney, Dev Agarwal (M) SF casually tosses around massive paradigm shifts without really diving into their impact on everyday life. If teleportation became widely available tomorrow what would the impact be on a worker in a car factory, a GP or a border official? What would the impact of that be on society? Almost every SF writer missed the coming of smartphones – let’s get ahead of the next wave.

Yes I was on the panel. Not much was talked about teleportation, but a fair bit about how Star Trek’s tricorder was becoming a reality. Then we moved onto genes and how they could / would be changed, how we would change in the light of 3-D printers etc. The main concern was that with all these inventions, people would end up being stuck in their homes for a lot longer and not have the social interaction that they have these days. What are the consequences of that? Well I had a lot more to say than I actually did (which is a good thing, because it meant the panel did not slither into awkward silences – in fact there were a lot of laughs to be had all round). Those who missed it, missed a darned good panel.

One of the panelists, David Gullen, has had a story accepted by Science Fiction and Fantasy, so look out for it. Well done, David.

The next panel I attended, as a minion, was…

A Many Headed Beast: Tony Cooper, Gail Williams, Cheryl Morgan, Jason Whittle, Jasper Fforde (M). Publishing has splintered into several different models now. There’s Big Five traditional publishing, small presses, self publishing electronically or physically, and hybrid takes on these. This panel is not intended to be a deathmatch to establish which is the One True Model, but a weighing up of pros and cons to help you decide which one is best for you.

It discussed exactly what it said it was going to discuss. The balance was a self-published novel means the author has control of it. The more the publishing veers to the Big 5 publishers, the less control the author has of how the novel is presented. The biggest problem for everyone is getting their novel noticed. The Big 5 have a whole team geared up to help get publicity and hence attract sales for their novels. And the budget to go with it compared to self-publishers.

The next event I attended was Gareth L Powell’s kaffeeklatsch. He talked about his recently published book, Embers of War and his career in writing, including his BSFA Best Novel Ack Ack Macaque.

The final event I attended (again as minion) was…

The Future of War: Jonathan L Howard, Anna Stephens, Amanda Kear, Mark Iles, David Gullen (M). Battlefield AI, autonomous drones, smart guns, battle stations as big as a moon… Does the tech rule or can we still make a human story when writing military science fiction? Is an understanding of the history of warfare a help or an impediment? Are galactic empires with giant battle fleets feasible, or just for fun?

The general agreement was that the most difficult weapon to defeat in warfare was the kinetic lump of metal / rock. (It helped that we had an expert like Mark Iles who was ex-military on the panel). The planet-busting asteroids were definitely the in-thing. Another interesting concept was the weapon that stripped the atmosphere from a planet. Hm…

(C.A.T. here… good job my author wasn’t on the panel… or she would have given away the weird and wonderful weapons I had to deal with in my oh so lovely novel… purr, purr, purr…. kinetic weapons, Bah! Old fur!…. now I’ve got a new idea for dealing with that…)

The closing ceremony was a sit at the back and dash out immediately on completion (caught the bus with a minute to spare). The date of the next BristolCon is Saturday 26th October 2019. Be there!

 

Sciency Science Fiction New Novel pick for November

I know, I know, this is a bit later than planned, but had a busy month… see below…

My sciency science fiction new novel pick for November 2018 is

The Titan Probe

by Brandon Q. Morris

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The Blurb:

In 2005, the robotic probe “Huygens” lands on Saturn’s moon Titan. 40 years later, a radio telescope receives signals from the far away moon that can only come from the long forgotten lander. At the same time, an expedition returns from neighbouring moon Enceladus. The crew lands on Titan and finds a dangerous secret that risks their return to Earth. Meanwhile, on Enceladus a deathly race has started that nobody thought was possible. And its outcome can only be decided by the astronauts that are stuck on Titan.

The Titan Probe is a stand-alone novel that follows the events from The Enceladus Mission.

The Reason:

Not only does it follow on from identifiable real events, it is near future-ish, with realistic physics etc behind it from the sounds of it and is from an author I have yet to explore…

Amazon UK link here.

Amazon US Link here.

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Now for my reasons (not excuses I hasten to add) for being late in posting this….

  1. I have completed my NFWI Handicraft Judging course and passed – yes NFWI does mean the National Federation of Women’s Institutes.
  2. I have done a little bit to help BristolCon 2018, which was yesterday. My personal thanks to all those who helped run the convention, probably the friendliest in this country. For those unable to come, you missed a great day with lots of interesting panels, artwork, kaffeeklatsches, workshops  and Guest of Honour events. There was extra space this year and it felt roomier! Next year’s event is on Saturday 26th October at Hilton DoubleTree Hotel, Bristol. (Hopefully the local rail and road works will have finished by then!) Guests of Honour were announced at the closing ceremony last night – and if they are anything to go by the tenth birthday of the BristolCon looks to be heading to be a good one!
  3. Now I need to get back to my short story writing – I am so way behind, it’s unbelievable! So I may a little but quiet a little bit longer!