Bits and Bobs – C.A.T. Novel, Medical SF Competition, Spinning Black Holes and Mars

30 08 2015

I know I have been rather quiet on what my writing projects are about recently, but that’s in part because I have been ‘heads down’ ‘typing away’. It’s better not to say too much about projects. This way, when stories get published, they can be read with a fresh eye and enjoyed as an unexpected experience.

So what have I been writing recently? Well, apart from one short story that had a deadline to meet, I’ve been writing my C.A.T. novel. It has been long in development. C.A.T. started out as a walk-on-walk-off part, quite literally. I used it later in the novel because it was convenient. Then it started taking over the novel. So we had to come to an agreement. It could have its own story, provided it left my novel alone. Well, you know the history of the C.A.T. stories…

catcoverneptunesangelcoverlargeGuard Cat Full Detail

Of course, prior to that was Agents of Repair, published in Issue 29, Thyone by Jupiter.

Well, you guessed it… C.A.T. has taken over the novel, lock, stock and smoking barrel laser.

Now, I’m not going into details about the story line or anything like that. But a few things are worth mentioning. First off the novel lends itself to an interesting structure. It is, for good reason, being told as a series of novelettes. The first of these, Space Blind, got an honourable mention in the Writers of the Future competition. Or at least an early draft of it did.


I have just now completed the first draft of the second novelette, Eternal Vigilance. Normally I wouldn’t say too much about this, but something very interesting happened in the writing of this story (in fact, after due editing and polishing, I think this is definitely going to be a ‘corker’).

I was checking up on my facts, when a stumbled across a science report describing an aspect about a place. It was something that was of no immediate use, but fascinating in itself. Ching.

“It was one of those ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if I could use it this way?’ questions. After all, engineering-wise it would be a great improvement on another idea in that great series by a great writer had! Hah! Don’t be daft. You can’t get it into that state.” went through my head.

What followed was like going forever round a revolving door from ‘yes it can be done’ to ‘no it can’t be done’ and back again. Being dizzy was an understatement.

in the end, one little tiny engineering detail, allowed me to do it. And I went WOW!

The moral of this little story is that if an idea is attractive to you as a science fiction writer, then not only ought it to be in the story, but also engineering may make it plausible.

… I’m not saying will, but may, and it is worth the effort of trying to so.

Whilst that idea appears in Eternal Vigilance, it won’t get fleshed out until the next novelette in line to be written and not fully until towards the end of the novel itself. What it has done in my mind, is turned a good story into something that might be considered ground breaking. (Only readers can make this judgement – hence the might.)

In other news, I picked this free to enter competition up from BSFA website. It closes 31st January 2016. Stories up to 3000 words and a limit of two entries per person. What for me made interesting reading was the list innovative medical  science fiction themes (and I’m quoting from their website here):

  • Frankenstein – reanimation 
  • The Island of Doctor Moreau – surgery, tissue grafting  
  • Brave New World – eugenics 
  • Flowers for Algernon – disability 
  • I Am Legend – contagious disease 
  • The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe – terminal illness 
  • Woman on the Edge of Time – psychiatry 
  • Never Let Me Go – cloning, transplantation

I’m not saying that the ideas all first appeared in the novels mentioned above, but they are what people naturally turn to when talking about them. Good luck to anyone who is entering the competition.

Finally there has been loads of interest in space recently. Mind-bending discoveries. But this picture is awesome…


It is of two black holes spinning round each other. More details can be found here. I would like to know why we have the connecting lines of light and matter inside that that general ring of light and matter. What’s going on here? Is answering these questions good enough to generate a science fiction story?

Finally, I’m going to turn to Mars. They have just begun a year long experiment to see how people would react to a simulated environment on Mars. Of course similar experiments have been done in the past where valuable lessons have been learned, and I’m sure the same will be said of this latest in the future. However, two things bother me about Mars.

The first is how are they going to deal with the radiation problem? You either protect people from radiation or find a cure for cancer. The former is going to be very difficult. It will require quite a bit of effort. Similarly the latter. Which solution will get there first? If I had to guess, it would the cancer cure.

The second is the reports about there being evidence of life having once existed on Mars. There could eb consequences of this – see here for my short story A Fate of Dust. In the meantime here’s the picture of what Beagle II should have looked like on landing on Mars… and yes the inventions that were made for Beagle II have been used elsewhere in the space programmes.


Bias against Women Science Fiction Writers – More Proof

23 08 2015

The evidence about the bias against women science fiction writers continues to mount up. This time it is in relation to the Hugo awards. See here for what Nicola Griffiths has to say about it. Basically the graph (yes we are talking hard numbers and facts here) she produced shows that after about 2000 the proportion of women members of SFWA is higher than the proportion of Hugo Award Nominations.

The analysis was done on the Hugo awards to see what would have happened had we not had the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies placing bloc nominations and votes. See here for details. But I will pick out one quote:

“Looking deeper into this replacement ballot, one sees right off the bat that the non-slate ballot would have been far more equal when it comes to gender representation, which brings it more in line with the ballots from 20142013 and 2012.”

More general statistics have been gathered over at Strange Horizons. In this case it shows the bias against women is worse in the UK than the USA!

Whilst gathering the evidence with solid hard facts is good… it stops people who believe otherwise or, worse, trying to pull the wool over your eyes in their tracks… it does not identify why the bias exists or how to solve it.

My real fear is that with the Hugo debacle (I can call it no other), is that things will get nastier before they get better.

Science Fiction Writers Development Arc?

21 08 2015

A ‘what if…?’ question has been nagging me for days, but I was too busy on other things to kick it into the dust. I finally had a few minutes of peace and quiet (that is if you can get peace and quiet in a coffee shop). Out came the piece of paper and pen, and the doodling started. By the time I finished my americano, I had a new world, a new society and a fairly good idea where in the universe I would site it! And I had a very basic story that would naturally fit in, or putting it another way, the world lent itself to an obvious story arc.

Now all I need is the the plot and the characters… and the time to write it… and one nagging question of ‘how did that happen?’ Well, it’s not every day you end up with the whole basis for a science fiction novel!

I can only assume that my subconscious has been rather busy gnawing away at something obscure, to produce something as fully fledged as that.

Then I thought back to my three novels that I’ve written and how they came about. Let’s call novels 1, 2 and 3.

Novel 1 is a typical beginners novel where you work a massive number of mistakes out of your system, which is why this novel will never see printer’s ink. That novel began as a short 500 word description of a place that did not exist. At it doesn’t exist these days, but may do in the future. That came about as a result of a call for a competition. And what did I choose as a basis for the competition… a crazy discussion while travelling by car through the wild countryside of Wales, you know, one of those silly glib comments made about the passing scenery. Things just kind of grew out of that comment.

Novel 2 grew out of why can I displace this thing to that place kind of question. Then the engineer in me got busy playing around to see if it was possible. The detail just grew and grew and grew and…. well you get the picture. I have had some short stories published that are good background stories to this novel. Pulling those together helped solidify my thoughts about that universe.

Novel 3 started out a description of a place, written as an exercise for my creative writing course. Only of course some of the patterns I saw in the on-line pictures brought other things to mind, which of course led to the basis of the storyline. Only one slight snag with that one. At one point, early during writing the first draft of the novel, I realised that not only did I invent one world, I had to bring together a kind of second world so you could get to the world I first thought of. It’s a kind of you get two seriously detailed new worlds for the price of one novel type of thing.

So we come to Novel 4. Interestingly this did not start with a place, but with a question about the impact of certain trends in the development of society, and then moulding the place around the society.

There are basically two trends in this little history:

  1. Each novel has started with a trigger, which only took a few moments to happen. But those triggers were intriguing  enough for me to want dig or develop further. This seems to be a constant in the instigation of my novels.
  2. The triggers have moved from what I call experiencing reality close at hand through finding out about distant places that I’ve never been to to coming up with totally imaginary places. Or putting it another way, I have shifted my way of working from how do places affect societies to where do I find certain types of societies.

This has left me wondering if other more advanced science fiction writers experience a similar kind of development arc?

Your guess is as good as mine.

More Science Discovery – Rocks of Light

18 08 2015

No this is not a title of a story, but I wish it was…

Sometimes collecting odd facts come together to form a nice little theme… the ‘final’ fact was the discovery of what causes baryte to glow. See here for the details. What is special about this stone is that if exposed to sunlight or flames it glows in the dark for hours.


But there are other stones that do things light-wise. There’s a very rare gem called Alexandrite. And look how it changes when it is moved from daylight to incandescent light…


And then there’s amethyst. It is generally believed that natural lemon colour of citrine may have occurred as a result of heat from magnetic bodies in close vicinity transforming the color of amethyst. In fact there are some stones where one end is amethyst and the other is citrine. I was told by others that amethyst naturally turns to citrine over a look period of time.


So what has all this got to do with science fiction?

Well, I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with Anne McCaffrey’s Crystal Singers, even though today’s technology has made the novel feel outdated. Beyond her series I can’t off hand think of any stories that involved what I’m going to call scientific crystal technology.

Yet, with each of the above stones, stories do suggest themselves, based on their respective properties. The baryte could be the stone in a ‘wizard’s wand’ – think Gandalf in the mines of Moria. The Alexandrite could be used as camouflage and the Amethyst in a subplot to have the stone change colour without being touched by anything.

Over to you writers… I’ve other projects I must be working on… don’t ask…

Looking back to look forward – looking forward to look back

15 08 2015

Looking forward, as you do when you are writing science fiction, can benefit from looking back over what you have written in the past. This can lead to pointers as to where the focus of the writing is going… so let’s have a go at this looking backward malarky…

Like any potential writer, the first steps are always tentative and experimental. Whilst the writing left a lot to be desired (let’s be honest here, it was absolutely awful), the themes I had a stab at were all over the place. Time travel, aliens, near future extrapolation, far future space opera… I’m sure I must have missed a theme out in my blundering around, but as sure as heck, I don’t know what it is.

Finally I settled down to write a novel about the fishing industry in about fifty years time. The reason was simple. I knew a lot about the sea and the ways of the sea. Oh yeah! Like heck I did. I learned more about the sea than I thought possible, including facts like plumose anemones eat starfish. And as for the various types of seaweed and the habits of conger eels… But more importantly, I learned about writing. Sure this novel has what I call all the beginner’s mistakes, but at least I got a lot of those out my system. That novel will never see the black and white print. I still continued experimenting with story themes.

But after I finished that novel, I seemed to drift into writing about the near future Solar System. And you would think that such a ‘universe’ would only have one development line, with maybe slight variations. Nah! I’ve ended up building three very different universes…

The first is the adventure one where heroes save the day against the baddies – the C.A.T.-iverse as I would call it. It’s based on very traditional science fiction themes, the ones the readership feel comfortable with.

The second is trying to predict the near future, which is basically either the consequences of extrapolating current trends or asking awkward questions about current trends. In many ways my first novel – the fishing industry one – fits into this category. However, the hard truth is that pulling together a novel for the near future is fraught with the danger of it quickly becoming out of date. It has to be balanced by those items you get spot one, and believe me I got one spot on when at the time of writing the knowledgable people would have said I was barking mad. But obviously dated novels do not sell well, unless there’s an important theme or issue or famous novelist behind them. So this universe ends up ‘being done’ in short stories.

The third one is trying to predict what the future could be really like. And this is where things take a turn for the strange or putting it another way – It’s the future, Jim, but not as we know it. When I actually sat down to work out what the future would bring, I realised that many novels had one very big thing missing. They did not take into account how humans would adjust psychologically or socially to the surroundings they had to endure or live in. And when I took a place and tried to work on this aspect, I got some surprising results. In fact they were so surprising that I doubt I can ever publish a novel in this universe. And as for trying to get a short story published… that’s not really a goer either. It’s just to off the beaten track for people to feel comfortable to read.


There is a bit of a but on universe three… I keep thinking of Sherlock Holmes and his (not so) sidekick, Dr Watson. The advantage of this paring was that Dr Watson was the catalyst to be able to explain what could not be explained by ‘showing’ the story. This is all right if you can a sidekick into a society that is in a ‘distant self-contained’ part of the Universe. As they say in the maths world… this is an exercise for the reader…

The real problem about women SF writers…

7 08 2015


Thanks to many people for their very kind comments, some public, others private, about my short story, Flame of Desire. It’s certainly proved popular.

In the meantime, the business about the bias against women science fiction writers had flared up again. This time an author sent a novel to 50 agents under her real name and got two requests for the full manuscript. She also sent the same novel to 50 agents under a male pseudonym. Guess what? She got 17 requests for the full manuscript. In fact one agent asked for the full manuscript under her male pseudonym, whilst it was rejected under her real name. There were other biases in the responses. See here for the article in the Guardian. And see here for Catherine’s original post about it.

I have argued in previous posts that this bias reduces the quality and variety of science fiction novels that are being offered to the public. But I’m going to add another interesting argument to the debate.

The government (at least here in the UK) is actively encouraging more women to have careers in the STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. This is to help reduce the overall industrial shortfall in these areas. So the proportion of STEM-based career women is going to increase. With this general overall increase, there will come an increase in science fiction readership because of the relationship between STEM and science fiction.

Needless to say it will follow that men wanting a male author bias will become diluted somewhat. Once the commercial people realise that, they will start to look more closely at the pile of submissions by women. Because the proportion of women is small compared to what it should be (given the evidence from Catherine, amongst other things), the quality of science fiction will rise.

Before anyone says I’m making a bold assumption with this argument, this is exactly what happened with the Oxbridge students when the number of women students was only a small proportion compared with men. The women’s colleges were consistently getting high scores. In the end the men’s colleges had to open their doors to women students in order to raise their results.

So I’m arguing the greater equality for women writers in science fiction will be forced on the genre because of pressures coming from outside of the genre. Yes, it will take time, but it will happen.

The only real debate is whether the science fiction genre is going to sort this inequality out from internal initiatives or just sit back for the change to be forced on it.

If it is the latter, then the world will think less of the genre than it otherwise might have done. The choice is really up to the genre.

Flame of Desire

2 08 2015

Kraxon Magazine have published my short story Flame of DesireI don’t know how they manage it, but they always pick the pictures to go with the story. My thanks go to the editor and his team.


This story came about as a result of scientific discovery and what I call a giggle moment. The scientists found that a candle flame produces and throws into the air tiny tiny diamonds. The giggle moment was the idea that a man proposes to his girlfriend, but instead of of offering a diamond ring, offers her a flaming candle.

The story went through several iterations and there’s nothing about diamonds in it. You’ll just have to go and read it to find out what it’s all about.


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