Some Science is Left Behind in Science Fiction

I’ve installed an oxygen generator in my house – it’s called buying a mother-in-law’s tongue plant and placing it on the window sill. The plant also has the advantages of removing airborne

  • benzene – commonly used solvent and is also present in many basic items including gasoline, inks, oils, paints plastics, and rubber. In addition, it is used in the manufacture of detergents, pharmaceuticals, and dyes.
  • formaldehyde – found in virtually all indoor environments. The major sources, which have been reported and publicised, include urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) and particle board or pressed-wood products. Consumer paper products, including grocery bags, waxed papers, facial tissues, and paper towels, are treated with urea- formaldehyde (UF) resins. Many common household cleaning agents contain formaldehyde. UF resins are used as stiffeners, wrinkle resisters, water repellants, fire retardants, and adhesive binders in floor covering, carpet backing, and permanent-press clothes. Other sources of formaldehyde include cigarette smoke and heating and cooking fuels such as natural gas and kerosene.
  •  trichloroethylene – Over 90 percent produced is used in the metal degreasing and dry-cleaning industries, but it is also used in printing inks, paints, lacquers, varnishes, and adhesives.

The original study was done by NASA in 1989 – don’t believe me? Well check this out. 

Based on a newspaper article I gave a small talk to my local Women’s Institute in 1990. They politely listened is all I’m going say. I think if I gave that same talk today, they might be more interested.


Note: Mother-in-Law’s Tongue is also known as the Snake Plant!

Of course more plants have been identified to help reduce pollution in the air… which makes it easier for people to set up their own air purification system.

Recently there have been a spate of news items about how air pollution is affecting our health. Some deal with the harmful nitrogen dioxide pollution from car fumes. Guess what? Mother-in-law’s Tongue does that as well! (So does the Areca Palm, which has the added advantage of not being toxic to cats and dogs.)

Wouldn’t it be nice to set up a system of placing these plants by the roadside to help reduce such pollution? Of course, they couldn’t stay out in the cold weather and would have to have some sort of protection. But even so, you would think that some sort whizz scientist would have set up an experiment by now to measure the beneficial effects.

What bothers me is

  • the seeming lack of interest in this potential solution
  • I haven’t seen any science studies looking into the genetics of plants to improve their air purifying quality
  • I haven’t found any science fiction stories that cover this topic.

The last would be so helpful in spreading the word. And it could make for a positive progressive science fiction story that would be about something different publishers have not seen before – and therefore make them more interested in buying it.

So what are you SF writers waiting for?






Ground-breaking new science fiction coming soon!

Absolutely over the Moon for Geoff Nelder. He has a new book coming out on Monday, May 20th – Suppose We.


The Blurb:

When a ship crash-lands on a faraway planet the crew needs local help. Unfortunately, the natives are a million years ahead of us. Ignored, the crew has to find a way to get attention.

Bringing back a sense of discovery and wonder to science fiction.

“I’ve always found Geoff’s work both inspirational and brilliant. I know that whenever I pick up one of his works I’m in for a damned good read. For those who’ve never read any of his works before, welcome to the Geoff Nelder club.”
—Mark Iles, author of THE DARKENING STARS series.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood: FELAHEEN, PASHAZADE AND END OF THE WORLD BLUES – “Geoff Nelder inhabits science fiction just as other people inhabit their clothes.”

If you liked Tuf Voyaging by George R.R. Martin, and Anne MccAffrey’s Dinosaur Planet you’ll like SUPPOSE WE.

Why I’m so excited:

I read and commented on a draft of Suppose We as part of a critiquing circle. Even then, it sparkled with lively characters and the sheer audacity of invention of the science fiction kind.

Seriously, this novel takes science fiction to a new level in surprising ways. A must read!

Brexit, Climate Change and Science Fiction

The UK, as with the rest of Europe, is in the throes of electing Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). The talk in the UK has been dominated about Brexit – the withdrawal, or otherwise, of Britain from the European Union.

Amazingly Brexit has not been very publicly connected with the other hot topic of the day – climate change. I find this situation absolutely crazy.

Let me explain. Climate change will only be solved if all the nations work together to enact a series of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and thereby keep the Earth’s temperature at a sustainable level for humans. It only takes one nation not to comply to ruin the whole plan.

We have already seen an example of this breaking ranks: Chinese firms illegally emitted CFCs that increased the size of the ozone holes and thereby breaking the Montreal Accord that is trying to save our ozone layer.

But before we get to that stage we need to develop a plan in the first place. A totally INTERNATIONAL plan. By withdrawing from the EU, the ability to get an agreement is reduced and the ability of the EU persuade the rest of the world that climate change measures should be introduced are reduced.

Anyone voting for a Brexit party in the UK in the forthcoming elections will in effect be voting against helping sorting out climate change. 

No arguments, no ifs and buts, it is a logical deduction. The consequence is that those voting for Brexit will help reduce future generations changes of survival and having a good life. Again a logical deduction.

But there is more to this than just stopping climate change. We are ultimately talking about climate control of a global nature here. We understand a lot of the drivers of climate change, not necessarily all of them. But some are better than none. And a few of these we can actively make a difference to.

The real question becomes as we gain more understanding and capability to control the global climate, where to put the ideal climates on Earth.

This will lead to what I call the second climate war (the first being the above mentioned stopping global warming sufficiently so we can survive as a human race).

I have seen very little science fiction stories on the interaction of politics with climate change. Yes, there have been a lot of stories warning about the consequences of climate change and survival in the aftermath of climate change, but political fighting about how best to control it? Nah!

Yes, I have published one story on this topic, way back in 2012 in Jupiter Magazine, Issue 38, Pasithee. (A kind of comedic how the topic really was solved!)


One of the reasons for the lack of stories is that climate change involves a vast number of interactions between different aspects of the real world. It takes time to get your head around all of them, and would take a whole novel to explain them all without the addition of a plot and characters.

But in my view, this does not stop stories about individual aspects of climate change being written and published. Only problem is accessing the politics issue, which in itself needs the space of a novel.

But these problems should not stop us science fiction writers trying!


New Sciency Science Fiction Pick for June

The pick of the new science fiction novels to be published in June is:

Stealing Worlds

by Karl Schroeder


The Blurb:

From Karl Schroeder, author of Lockstep, comes the near-future, science fiction, hacker’s heist, Stealing Worlds.

Sura Neelin is on the run from her creditors, from her past, and her father’s murderers. She can’t get a job, she can’t get a place to live, she can’t even walk down the street: the total surveillance society that is mid-21st century America means that every camera and every pair of smart glasses is her enemy.

But Sura might have a chance in the alternate reality of the games. People can disappear in the LARP game worlds, into the alternate economy of Notchcoin and blockchains. The people who build the games also program the surveillance networks—she just needs an introduction, and the skills to play.

Turns out, she has very valuable skills, and some very surprising friends.

The Reason:

A lot of new novels about near future surveillance by computers are being published at the moment. We’ve had surveillance mechanisms for a long time. What we haven’t had is  the artificial intelligence backup to do pan network reliable analysis, which is now in its infancy. People are only just waking up to that potential and its effects on the people in general. From the blurb, this seems to be a novel extrapolating the current trend of technology and society. It will be interesting to see what take Karl’s novel takes.

UK Amazon link here.

US Amazon link here.

May the Fourth be With You!

Of course this is the Star Wars’ birthday as recognised by so many fans around the world. And yes, I was mad enough to cite Jedi as my religion in 2001 UK census, thereby helping it to be granted official religion status in this country. And yes, I did the same for the 2011 census. Which all goes to show I have been a long time fan of the science fiction franchise – well ever since I first saw A New Hope in 1978!

But the date also has another significance for me – it’s the date my parents got married! This was long before Star Wars was even a glimmer in George Lucas’ eye! It’s not surprising i’m into science fiction!

But the term ‘May the Fourth be With You!’ can be read in an entirely different way. I have four literary projects that I am actively developing at the moment.

I’m not talking about my C.A.T. novel or the Distaff anthology, both of which I consider to be in the admin phase. In the case of the C.A.T. novel, it’s doing the rounds of agents at the moment (I should add that I have had some nice, but not my cup of tea replies). I’ve done editing the final version of my story for Distaff after comments were received from the lovely Sam (thank you). It’s now a case of doing the admin of compiling, publishing and other admin stuff with the help of my co-anthologists.

What are the four projects?

  1. A not so short story about a long-suffering rogue
  2. Editing my novella that was based on an idea I had when on holiday in Switzerland
  3. A rewrite of a novel from a different and more interesting point of view
  4. Developing the theme, plot and characters for a completely new novel

I couldn’t work on four pieces of fiction if they weren’t in totally different places, with totally different characters, doing totally different things and at totally different stages of production. But there is more to it than that.

The short story is currently being written in coffee shops, a paragraph then, another one later type touch. It is very much in its embryonic state. Apart from typing up the odd paragraph now and then, it doesn’t really intersect with the way I normally write. What drives me to write this story is that it develops a completely new microcosm of human living. It takes time to sort the nuances of such a place out – yes there are certain drivers to the microcosm that are that new. Which means care must be taken to make the whole plausible and self-consistent. The lesson here is give your story idea time to mature – in this case it really is working.

The novella I’m editing is written, but it needs toning up. It started out with a wouldn’t it be lovely if we could that type question. Of course it’s impossible. Well, doing that would go some way towards it. Um… what if we added this into scenario? That would help too. Of course there’s a ready made area that would also help… you get the picture, bit by bit the impossible was eaten away until it became possible. The lesson here is don’t throw away science fiction idea because at first glance it is impossible – sometimes chipping away at it with various helpful contributions can make all too feasible.

Turning now to rewriting the novel from a different point of view character. Well to be honest the original novel was written from a point of view character that was learning about her world. She didn’t have as much character-baggage as the two the principle characters. But it did help me build the world she was in – this world has some real way-outness which is why I needed that character point of view in the first place. Even then it didn’t turn out to be enough. But some intervening short stories later, I now feel at home in world I’m describing. I mean really at hoe in the sense that if I come with a new place, it gets pictured in mind and described fast. I don’t have to sit there to work things out. The lesson here is make sure you feel at home in the world you’re describing before you write about it.

Now we come to the exciting project – well all new projects are exciting. I’ve now done two novels where I wrote the novel from the point of view of someone learning about their new world, and had to rewrite from a different character. (The first was the C.A.T. novel where in the first draft C.A.T. appeared as a walk-on walk-off part – I kid you not. The second was the novel I’m rewriting as noted above.) I certainly don;t want to do that again. This time, it’s examining ideas under an overall theme. I’ve written a story about one aspect that helped me explore the character inter-relationships. End result of that is that it has made my ideas of that aspect of the novel more complex and consequently more rounded. And I know when I get round to writing the first draft of my novel, I’ll be able to more readily pick a more satisfying plot and set of characters. The lesson here is explore your tentative ideas before starting to draft your novel – it’ll be richer, more rounded and more interesting as a result.

To summarise the lessons:

  1. Give your story idea time to mature.
  2. Don’t throw away science fiction idea because at first glance it is impossible – sometimes chipping away at it with various helpful contributions can make all too feasible.
  3. Make sure you feel at home in the world you’re describing before you write about it.
  4. Explore your tentative ideas before starting to draft your novel – it’ll be richer, more rounded and more interesting as a result and save you a lot of time!

May the four be with you!

Science Fiction – Worlds to Explore?

In a previous post I looked at areas where science fiction could usefully explore possible solutions or give suitable warnings about potential future issues:

  • novel solutions to the prevention or coping with dealing with global volcanic dust, the magnetic poles flip and solar flares
  • identifying reasons for colonising space en masse (as opposed to a few people for specialist reasons)
  • effects of global layered tribalism.

In a second previous post I explored the big unknowns of the cosmoverse –

  • Universe – the 14 billion lightyear wide verse we live in
  • Multiverse – the set of universes that obey our laws of physics
  • Otherverse – a universe that does not obey our laws of physics
  • Cosmoverse – the inflationary bubble that contains all universes

where the big questions are what is exactly beyond our known universe and how can we visit those place(s)? I know we haven’t yet got inter-galactic travel, let alone interstellar flight, but speculating what might be these is fun – we should have have more science fiction about these unknown place(s) too.

And yet… the novels I’ve been able to get my hands on* whilst interesting in their own right, have not covered covered any of these issues.

There have been multiverse novels since shortly after multiverses were first proposed as a realistic possibility way back in 1979 – usually they were parallel universes where that universe’s story line diverged from ours because of a small incident – the flapping of a butterfly’s wings syndrome. Heinlein published The Number of the Beast in 1980**. I suspect they were popular because it opened up various opportunities for good story lines. What I’m saying here is that even in the most popular subject area mentioned above, the exploration is limited.

But there maybe other causes for the lack of these stories – the lack of imagination, and even if the writer does have such an imagination, the lack of ability to put the ideas across in a simple manner so that the reader can understand and not be bore by the explanation.

This is taking the craft of science fiction writing up a level in skill – don’t get me wrong – it takes a lot of work to write a novel and some of them are exploring the socio-political hot topics of the day which is a useful and interesting thing to do – but the world-building is usually a few tweaks on standard scenarios. Which is a great shame really. Because when some new science discovery is announced, we have no idea what it could mean.

And we recently had such a discovery – our universe’s rate of expansion is faster than we expected – see here for a fuller article.

So what does it mean for us? Well, at the moment the scientists and astronomers don’t know. The National Geographic article on the subject says: If the universe really is expanding faster than thought, then some kind of new physics would have to provide the extra oomph. Is dark energy more exotic and turbo-charged than we thought? Is dark matter more complex than we imagined? Is there some other kind of unseen particle  in the cosmos, such as a “sterile neutrino” that interacts with other types of matter only via gravity?

But wouldn’t it have been nice if we had some science fiction we could point to on this subject, if only to work through the implications of the effects on us humans?

Yes, I know, it would be difficult to get a human story using this physics… I’m just hoping that Gareth L Powell’s third novel in the Embers of War trilogy to be published in 2020 might touch on this… well with a title of Light of Impossible Stars you never know***.

But it really is time we science fiction writers got the grips with dark matter, dark energy,   breaking-the-laws-of-physics-as-we-know-them universes, those scenarios closer to home mentioned above and more. For example, how about a universe where entropy does not exist?



* Including a trade paperback of Luna Moon Rising – it is published on kindle and in hardback in the USA. The paperback will be published next year, so the UK would not see this novel in paper form until then – except for the few trade paperbacks.

** On 1 February 2019, it was announced that a novel entitled ‘Six Six Six’ would be published from an unpublished Heinlein manuscript. The text of 185,000 words mirrors the Number of the Beast for the first third but then deviates from this.

*** No, I have no idea where Gareth will take the story – this is pure speculation and wishful thinking on my part.

Has Science Fiction become THE political literature of our time?

Over at the editor is saying that current submissions tend to be of a socialist nature. To me, this is a backlash against what I call the nationalist tribalism of the right wing that we are seeing in the Western world.

This right-wingism has been in part nurtured by the austerity post financial crash at the end of the last decade – people are unhappy and struggling, so they look to anyone who says they can give them a way out of their problems. This kind of promise has worked in the past with terrible consequences for far too many people.

So science fiction writers are taking on board the lessons of history and re-iterating them in their submissions. Good for those that do this.

This is by far not the first time science fiction has taken on political issues. The most reason main cause has been helping to stop the bigotry against LBGT. At one time it felt like the genre was swamped by novels that included LBGT (and more) characters. And it helped get greater equality for these people.

But why didn’t this latest political LBGT issue find its voice in more mainstream fiction?

Science fiction has admittedly got greater freedom to close place and culture than many other genres. It allows political ideas to be viewed through a lens of simplification, which gets them across more clearly (a classic example – H G Wells’ The Time Machine). Which makes a natural go-to genre for political issues of the day.

So yes, expect to see greater emphasis on socialism in newly published science fiction soon. And those who know will sense a but coming…

Technology, or to be more correct, the deployment of technology society-wide, is an enabler of placing political power in the hands of the many. This has been true ever sine the Middle Ages. What is currently not to the fore in science fiction, are what technology could exist to enable changes in the political landscape.

Yes, I’ve seen the idea about the implanted chip sending in votes to political questions on behalf of the person. I’ve also seen the hive-mind concept in various stories where people come to a consensus through debate etc.

These ideas have as far as I know only been portrayed idealistically. For example what if a rogue hacks the voting system to make votes go the way he wants? What happens if there is a spectrum of viable choices to answer a political where we go from here (like the Brexit debate in the UK at the moment)? There is certainly room to explore these and many more technology enhancement of the political world-scape at the moment. And not just towards a given type of politics part of the spectrum.

All food for thought. But the bottom line is that I believe that we will see a bias in science fiction in the next few towards trying to answer some of the big political questions of our time.


PS This is a little niggle – we have spectrum as a word to describe a linear-ish range of options. Is there a word that describes a similar idea in three dimensions?