May the Fourth be with You!

3 05 2016

‘May the fourth be with you’ was first used way back in 1979, the day Margaret Thatcher came to power. It headlined a congratulatory advertisement in the London Evening News placed by the Conservative Party.

Since then, May 4th has been adopted as the unofficial birthday of the Star Wars franchise. So I’m going the say Happy Jedi-Day to all you Star Wars fans.

Later this year, 8th September to be precise, it will be the 50th anniversary of Star Trek’s first appearance on TV. And there will be parties, conventions, art shows, you name it to celebrate.

Of course, Britain produced its iconic series in Dr Who – I remember seeing the first episode when it was aired.

Whilst these may be the main three series, there are many others. Each panders to different taste. But all come under the umbrella heading of SCIENCE FICTION.

Why are all these series so successful? At least part of the answer lies with the science fiction community comprising many sub-communities. Each of these may not be as enthusiastic about the other sub-communites, but they are happy to to take an interest and applaud their efforts in an even-handed way.

That was until recently. I must admit I don’t know all the twists and turns of the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies sagas, but I do disagree with them deliberately trying to manipulate the Hugo Awards to push their part of the science fiction genre to the fore. It has brought the Hugo Awards into disrepute and through this, made the science fiction community as a whole look like fools. If this continues, people will walk away from the community, thereby strengthening the hold the Puppies have on the science fiction genre. The whole science fiction community will become more inward looking and dwindle in stature. This is really just basic human nature at play here.

But there is a second issue here. Science fiction thrives on the cross fertilisation of idea.s Each sub-community brings along with it its own take on life and the universe which adds to the pool of science fiction new ideas. Take even one sub-community out of the science fiction arena ends up taking more than its fair share of ideas away.

I know all too well how cross fertilisation works in generating the ideas for my science fiction stories. I’m now sitting on a possible way to make things go faster than speed of light in a vacuum. I’m not talking about Alcubierre’s Drive here. Rather I’m talking about using some add-on physics that is compatible with our real world physics.

No, I would not believe that was possible, except it fits in with so much of our real world set up. Now the speed of light limitation is derived from the electromagnetic equations (if you must know it is:

c = 1 / √ ( ε . μ )

where c is the speed of light, ε is the electric constant and μ is the magnetic constant). I’m not breaking this rule as it stands, just kind of standing a little way off to one side of it metaphorically speaking. Or at least my hypothesis for it is. And it is only a hypothesis at the moment. But I sure can have fun writing some science fiction based on this – even if it is going to be a headache to describe it in simple terms!

And then there is one other interesting point… all progress in science starts with a hypothesis that then goes on to be tested.

After that all I can say is May the Fourth be with You!

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Arthur C Clarke Award Shortlist

29 04 2016

The shortlist for the Arthur C Clarke award was announced a couple of days ago. It comprises:

are:

Now let’s look at the original graph I put up for all the submissions for the award (note this does include publishers who published two or less books or Faber and Faber who sent in three books, two written by men and one by a woman – note to self – do not change my mind on what to present in a graph half way through compiling the stats!)

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Several interesting points cane be made here:

  • Nearly all the Hodder and Stoughton submissions got onto the shortlist. (The exception was The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy.)
  • None of the publishers who submitted 8 or more novels got onto the shortlist. This includes the fabled Gollancz!
  • There are two novels out of six that are written by women, i.e. a third, which is the roughly the going ratio for books submitted by women in science fiction.
  • Three out of the six deal with post apocalypse events.

Make what you will of these snippets…

I for one am not going to second guess the judges on this one…





Cool… Em… the dark planet… and science fiction?

22 04 2016

I am surprised that there has not been a lot written about three pieces of breaking of science news.

The first piece of news concerns the temperature of Venus at its poles. The measurement the Venus Express probe took as it plunged to its death through the Venusian atmosphere was -157ºC. This is at least in part due to the vortex winds at the pole moving and consequently thinning so fast that, well, it kind of gets cold, in fact very cold. See here for more details.

This leads to interesting possibilities. If you remember, Geoffrey Landis, wrote a novella, Sultan of the Clouds. Here he pointed out that the upper atmosphere could just about be breathable for humans. Obviously these high speed winds could make it an interesting ride through the Venusian sky. Better understanding of weather and the way the winds work could alleviate that.

But here’s the thing – depending on just how variable the weather moves things round, we could have a ring surrounding the pole where the temperatures are bearable for humans. It could even act as a landing place to mend faulty Venus ‘cloud cities’.

And if the comfortable temperature ring on the Venusian surface oscillates closer to and farther away from the pole, then it is possible to make moving land cities to keep with the comfortable temperature zone.

This actually suggests some interesting science fiction stories, whether it be on Venus itself or on a similar world…

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The second piece of news concerns the EM drives… they have come up with a theory of how it might work. Seriously. See here for more details.  EM drive was proposed by British aerospace engineer, Roger Shawyer way back in 1999 and uses a radio frequency resonant cavity. It has been predicted that these drives can not only whizz around our Solar System, but can also be used for interstellar travel to neighbouring stars. Even better this theory explains some anomalous behaviour seen in how our space  probes have been travelling around the Solar System! So this theory is not just a case of coming up with equations to fit the EM Drive experiments!

Now that there is a theory, it can be tested. Even better, it can be designed to give optimal thrust results. Yep… you know where this is going, don’t you?  Yes – we’re going to have seriously rethink the way we fly around in space, whether to planets or asteroids or neighbouring stars, in our science fiction.

Finally, there’s further news of the hunt for the ninth planet in our Solar System. There has been a mysterious pull on the Cassini probe. When this is taken into account with the shepherding of the Kuiper Belt objects, then the search can be narrowed down to the constellation of Cetus. Below is a picture of what we could be looking for, estimated to be ten times the mass of Earth. See here for more details. 

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And yes… science fiction is going to have to take this into account as well.

So you can see, it’s all change in our understanding of space travel etc.

I haven’t seen any science fiction that has used or even suggested any of the above. And this brings with it a lot of questions about the state of science fiction today. Why have things like the above been missed? I know I put a strong wind vortex in my short story Flex and Flux on Venus, but not at the poles or leading to such a reduced temperature. If I can take steps in the right direction, surely other more experienced and knowledgeable writers can too, and do an even better job of it than me?





Neighbours in SF terms!

16 04 2016

I’m absolutely delighted with the SFSignal review of my short story Flex and Flux in the Aphrodite Terra anthology.  All the stories in this collection were themed on our neighbouring planet, Venus and edited by Ian Sales.

The review includes the soundbite (is this the right word? Maybe it should be textbite!) is:

“Flex and Flux” by Rosie Oliver, the anchor and perhaps my favorite story, is a wondrous hard science fiction story of solar sailing and desperate measures to try and make the trip from Venus back to Earth.

In the meantime there is a galaxy not so far far away that has been discovered. In fact a galaxy that orbits our own Milky Way has been discovered only 380,000 light years away from Earth. It is being called Crater 2. More details can be found here. Just to give you an idea of how close it is in galactic terms, our Milky Way has a diameter of 100,000 light years. Yep, that’s close.

Which of course brings up a couple of interesting questions.

The first is just how many galaxies are there close by?

Actually quite a few. Those galaxies that are closer are:

  • Canis Major Dwarf
  • Sagittarius Dwarf
  • Large Magellanic Clouds
  • Small Magellanic Clouds
  • Ursa Major Dwarf II
  • Ursa Minor Dwarf
  • Draco Dwarf
  • Sculptor Dwarf
  • Sextans Dwarf Spheroidal
  • Ursa Major I

Phew! This sounds quite crowded!

However, what it does mean is that if we humans find a way of transiting our own Milky Way, it will only be a matter of time before we do some serious galaxy hopping!

The second question is why didn’t we notice this and other close by galaxies before now?

The answer is that they are so faint in our night sky or so spread out that they appear like small stars. But it does give rise to the natural question of what size or luminosity does an object have to be at a given distance before we notice it? If we extrapolate such questions, we can come up with some interesting ideas for science fiction stories… go write…

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The Science keeps rolling in… Time for Science Fiction…

14 04 2016

With one thing and another it has been a very sad time. Perhaps the saddest news is that I found one of my cats, ‘Rufus the Poofus’ dead in my garden just outside the backdoor under the decking. He died suddenly and up until that point he had been a very healthy active cat.

Rufus’s antics had provided some of the inspirations for C.A.T. – though I have yet to include the twitching of the upright tail as he walks out of the room gesture in one of my stories. If you want to buy the C.A.T. story, or just read the first part – go here.

Clearly I haven’t had the heart to be up to much. I have managed to keep an eye on the science, which continues to gather pace…

There’s been an article about super-DNA that protects people from hereditary diseases. Unfortunately because the evaluation was done from anonymous donors, further work with the people concerned cannot be done – they are trying to track them down, but whether they succeed remains to be seen. See here for more details. In one way, this should not come as a surprise. If bad DNA can produce horrible hereditary diseases, why not have good DNA that can prevent them? Sometimes postulating the opposite can be the basis for a good science fiction story.

Then there’s the recent announcement that a billionaire wants to invest in the development of wafersats to go to our nearest star, Alpha Centauri. These wafersats will be propelled by laser from close to Earth. See here for details. This has engineering challenges, and may not succeed. But there are other projects including  we should not forget the rival project the Icarus project with its Firefly spacecraft. See here for details. Either of these could find out more about Alpha Centauri and whether there are any habitable planets there. Again this could be an interesting area to explore through science fiction asking the crucial what ifs.

Further news on Planet IX – more evidence has been found that it could exist. A seventh Kuiper Belt object also shows signs of having been perturbed by the a mysterious gravitational tug out there – which could be Planet IX. They are actively looking for it. And they have put together soem ideas on what it would look like… See here for details. Picture below from the article, just to whet your appetites.

 

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But given the recent results from the New Horizons about Pluto, this diagram might be rather too conventional in its make-up. Yes, it’s all too possible, but given the highly eccentric orbit Planet IX should be taken I would expect expect some strange cyclic effects to change the composition in ways that we have not yet thought about. Again another area for the science fiction exploration.

There are so many opportunities for good stories here for science fiction… go write…





BSFA Awards and their implications…

27 03 2016

Last night the BSFA awards were announced. They are:

Best Novel Award

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

Best Short Fiction Award

Aliette de Bodard: “Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight”, Clarkesworld 100

Best Artwork Award

Jim Burns, Cover of Pelquin’s Comet, Newcon Press

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Best Non-Fiction Award

Adam Roberts: Rave and Let Die: The SF and Fantasy of 2014, Steel Quill Books

My congratulations to all these winners.

On a personal note, I am disappointed. The winning novel contains far too much magic for my personal tastes. To me it belongs firmly in the realms of fantasy. I know Aliette’s writing style is very beautiful and free-flowing and in these terms, yes, she is the deserved winner.

Equally I have sympathy with the award organisers. Where do you draw the line between science fiction and fantasy? This line has over the years become blurred and then indefinable.

However, the science-based science fiction books are bringing very little that is new to the readership these days. When was the last novel you read where you went ‘Wow, the tech in here is exciting’?

I had that feeling with Alastair Reynolds Revelation Space. He went on to publish more novels in that universe – Chasm City, Absolution Gap and The Prefect, as well as a whole palette of short stories. I had hopes for Hannu Rajaniemi’s Quantum Thief series, but that disappointed because it was a difficult read in terms of technology and lack of simple explanations.

 

So has science-based science fiction lost its way?

I would have to answer yes. I see from the news of science discoveries and technology journals that there is a tsunami of new technology going to hit us like it has never hit us before. Without science fiction pointing some of the consequences out, a lot of people are going to be perplexed, puzzled and floundering.

This is in turn means that people won’t buy the new gadgets, which in turn will slow down economic progress – hey – did I just come up with an argument as to why governments should be supporting science fiction writers?

 

 

 





Aphrodite Terra now out in Paperback

26 03 2016

Just to let you good people know that the anthology Aphrodite Terra in which my short story Flex and Flux appears is now available in paperback. See here.

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