Pick of New Sciency Science Fiction Novel for October

The pick of new novels for October is a welcome return for an author after eight years absence from the genre…

Thin Air

by Richard Morgan


The Blurb:

Richard Morgan has always been one of our most successful SF authors with his fast-moving and brutal storylines, blistering plots and a powerful social conscience behind his work.

And now he’s back, with his first SF novel for eight years . . . and it promises to be a publication to remember.

An ex-corporate enforcer, Hakan Veil, is forced to bodyguard Madison Madekwe, part of a colonial audit team investigating a disappeared lottery winner on Mars. But when Madekwe is abducted, and Hakan nearly killed, the investigation takes him farther and deeper than he had ever expected. And soon Hakan discovers the heavy price he may have to pay to learn the truth.

The Reason:

Richard Morgan is the author of the Altered Carbon series, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. But there is more to this choice. Based on personal experience I know that a lull between producing stories ends up with the later story being all the better for it. So I’m expecting great things from this novel.

Amazon UK Link.

Amazon US Link.


New Novel Stats up to 2017

Here is last year’s new science fiction, fantasy, horror and paranormal romance statistics updated for 2017. They come from Gardner Dozois’ ‘Best of Science Fiction’ summary, which in turn comes from the Locus Magazine’s statistics.


As you can see there has been a slight drop in all categories except the paranormal romance, which is recovering from the severe drop since 2010. Similar all three category falls were recorded in 1992, 1997, 2000 and 2008, years which on the surface of it seem to have nothing in common.

However, my suspicion is that this time the drop in the three categories could be the start of a reaction to seeing market saturation for new novels or the limitations of the publishers Locus Magazine monitors.

The Eye of the SF Inspiration Storm

The eye of a storm produces calm for a brief few moments from the battering of the cyclone, hurricane, tornado, whatever form of storm happens to be passing by. It’s no different for those writers who just come up with one idea or inspiration after another. There is always that brief interlude of calm before the writer hurtles words onto their blank page.

So what do I mean by all this? Let me give you an example.

Last year I completed a short story, which was for the plot line too short. I had cut it off in its prime and I knew it. So sensibly I put it to one side, letting it wither in the ‘retired stories’ heap. Only it kept calling to me. It had that spark at the start that pointed to something better, much better. Still I ignored it until a few weeks ago, when I sat down to extend it.

First scene, minor edits, tick. Second scene, heavy editing, but plot stays the same. Third scene, completely written from scratch. The typing had taken on a life of its own, taking the story in a direction I had not anticipated. I suddenly found my protagonists had deeper motivations that were overtaking the ones I had written in the original version. The story was becoming richer and far more human. Worse, I was even improving the details. For example – I had the doctor wearing glasses for psychological reasons, but decided that glasses were also acting as life sign monitors of the patients he was talking to, which added a richness to the world building. But the writing for now has ground to a halt while I try to work out where the heck the story is heading. Its main plot line is no longer the same. Then original version’s main plot line has turned into a subplot! I know that while I sit back, this is the calm of the eye of  the storm.

While I am in this ‘calm’, my writing really is in the doldrums. Nothing wants to find its way onto the page for fear I’m taking the plot on yet another tangential ride or that it turns into a plot idea that has been done all too well and published widely by the great science fiction writers. Yes, I’m still working out what the main plot line is. It’s kind of nibbling at my brain, but won’t articulate itself. All I can do is sit and wait for something to hit my conscious thoughts. I know from experience that when that happens, I will by typing on hot keys (kept that are tapped so often they actually warm up).

But I hear some writers ask, ‘how do you get the inspiration in the first place?’

Several years ago I worked out four basic rules for encouraging inspiration (and yes there is a very long story behind that, which I’m not going to go into here). At the time I produced the summary slide below.


Every author has a natural leaning to one, perhaps two of these mechanisms. But these mechanisms in themselves do not create a flood of inspirational ideas.

What does is the ability to mix, match and compound these mechanisms. And once the author has got into the habit of darting about between these mechanisms, the ideas do not stop coming until the point you need to put some structure or order on them. And we are back to the eye of the inspirational storm – it is the taking all these ideas, picking the important ones and working them into the story line.

Of course flash stories only really have room for the one idea, which is why the table above is so good for inspiring the flash and shorter short stories. But non-literary science fiction stories about around about 3,000 words are likely to require command ideas to give it the ‘sense of wonder’ that every science fiction author dreams of writing. And as for novelettes, novellas, novels, trilogies etc, the inspirational storm needs to be bigger and more ferocious. And believe me, such storms can take it out of you.

Which is why when you look at the great science fiction writers of the past, you find that only one or occasionally two of their worlds keep being talked about.  With Asimov it’s the Foundation series and the robot series, which he later combined into one world. With Frank Herbert, it’s Dune (his subsequent books never came up to the standard of Dune itself IMHO). With Arthur C Clarke, it’s Rendezvous with Rama and The City and the Stars. With Alastair Reynolds, it’s Revelation Space. With Robert Heinlein, it’s A Moon is a Harsh Mistress (a lot of his novels are based on his military experience and it shows). With Richard Morgan, it’s Altered Carbon. I could go on… but these novels all have the super-sense-of-wonder in their different ways, which takes time and effort for an author to build.

With commercial pressures of full time authors it is not surprising that they return to the worlds they built time and again. They don’t need to put that extra time and effort in for that extra inspiration. This makes me suspect that after their initial hit, which they wrote and pulled together over a long time, they are forced to trim their writing to concentrate on fulfilling publisher and reader demands, and the easiest thing to cut back on is that inspiration side of things.

So, as far as my short story is concerned, it’s back off into the storm shortly….

Science Fiction novella open calls.

It seems novellas are the ‘in thing’ when it coms to requests by publishers. In addition to the markets authors can find on ‘the grinder‘, there have been a couple of open calls for novellas.

The first is at Castrum Press – they define novellas as between 20,000 and 74,999 words. Their open call started on 7th August and is for eight weeks, which is for those who have completed or are close to completing a novella. They will reopen again in October for those who are starting to write or far from finishing their novella. This system follows the open – close – open paradigm of the recent tor.com open call for novellas between 20,000 and 40,000 words. This seems to be a new press, which therefore has very little in the way of a track record when it comes to dealing with authors.

The second call comes from a press that has been around a while – Twelfth Planet Press – who are open to general novellas of between 17,000 and 40,000 words between 1st September and 30th November 2018.

Given my track record on rights for women over the years, I thought I’d share the photo below of my entry into a local flower show for a flower arrangement to represent women’s suffrage in white, shades of purple and green. I personally was pleased to see this class receive so many entries. The history women’s suffrage is a long struggle of step by step success despite the many setbacks – a role model for revolutions so beloved of science fiction stories.

It is also a role model of perseverance for aspiring writers…


What if in watery Science Fiction?

Well, so they have proved that water ice exists on the Moon at its North and South poles. This means it will be easier for us humans to set up a colony there because we don’t have to export water out Earth’s gravity well or send out robot spacecraft to haul lumps of water ice back from more distant parts of the Solar System. All three of these scenarios were foreseen by the science fiction writers of the golden age in the 1940s – 1950s e.g. Heinlein’s ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’, had ice being mined for the nutrient rich soils of the Moon or Isaac Asimov’s ‘The Martian Way’ where they got a chunk of ice from Saturn to provide water on a very dry Mars.

They recently discovered that there are two types of water. Every water molecule comprises an oxygen and two hydrogen atoms. The hydrogen atoms spin round the oxygen atom, as that is the heaviest atom. If both hydrogen atoms spin round the oxygen atom in the same way, it is called ‘ortho water’. If the hydrogen atoms spin round the oxygen atom in opposite directions it is called ‘para water’.


So what? Well, at room temperature, water molecules have enough energy for the ortho and para variants to swap back and forth. We Earthlings do not experience any real difference between them. But cool the molecules down, they stabilise into either state. Then it becomes apparent that there are differences because of their slightly different electric fields. The scientists showed that para water reacts 23% faster with a substance called diazenylium (N2H for the chemically literate).

To go geeky on you for one paragraph – Ortho water and para water can be separately studied as isolated freely-rotating molecules down to 5 K, whilst contained inside fullerene molecules. At this temperature, it exists as 100% para but at 15 K it exists as a 50% mixture whilst reaching an equilibrium mixture of 75% ortho at 40 K. The two forms of water have different reactivities.

So what? After all, what I have discussed so far, is a mere detail in the great scheme of things. But it may mean a change in our understanding of what happened in the development of the outer reaches of our Solar System – notice the word may here, which means it has yet to worked out. As every systems engineer, mathematician and historian knows, a detail here or there can have significant changes on the outcome.

And this is where science fiction writers can come to the fore – even if they use parallel universes paradigm, they can explore such differences.

Me? I’m scratching my head on this one – what if (yes the basic question of all science fiction) – what if the switching mechanism from ortho to para and back again has some sort of energy generating mechanism that would help the world reduce its energy pollution problems? What if that changing mechanism could be used on the ice-encased generation ships as battery storage of some sort? What if the different electrical properties of the types of water could be used to help steerage through interstellar space?

These are all hypothetical questions, which may come to nothing, but every so often, like the ice in The Martian Way and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the ideas come close to eventual reality and that is because we’ve been on the lookout for them.

New Sciency Science Fiction Novel Pick for September

The pick of sciency science fiction new novels for September is:


by Peter F Hamilton


The Blurb:

Know your enemy – or be defeated

AD 2204
An alien shipwreck is discovered on a planet at the very limits of human expansion – so Security Director Feriton Kayne selects a team to investigate. The ship’s sinister cargo not only raises bewildering questions, but could also foreshadow humanity’s extinction. It will be up to the team to bring back answers, and the consequences of this voyage will change everything.

Back on Earth, we can now make deserts bloom and extend lifespans indefinitely, so humanity seems invulnerable. We therefore welcomed the Olyix to Earth when they contacted us. They needed fuel for their pilgrimage across the galaxy – and in exchange they helped us advance our technology. But were the Olyix a blessing or a curse?

Many lightyears from Earth, Dellian and his clan of genetically engineered soldiers are raised with one goal. They must confront and destroy their ancient adversary. The enemy caused mankind to flee across the galaxy and they hunt us still. If they aren’t stopped, we will be wiped out – and we’re running out of time.

Salvation is the first title in a stunning science fiction trilogy, the Salvation Sequence, by Peter F. Hamilton

The Reason:

This is obviously a kind of space-time opera written with two intertwine story lines which the literaries among us like. Also it’s the first in a trilogy set in a new universe! So I would expect something very interesting to be said and developed.

UK Amazon link here.

US Amazon line here.

For those of you in the Bristol area on September 8th, Foyles in Cabot Circus is holding a reading, signing and answering questions event with Pete Hamilton. Details here. Be warned, numbers are limited because of the size of the venue.

Update on Space Stuff!

Every science fiction author runs the risk of having discoveries supersede the the science and technology stories. As soon as a new discovery in the area of interest comes, the heart goes all a flutter with the ‘will it, won’t it?’ query.

As you good people know, the C.A.T. stories are based on Triton, the largest moon of Neptune, which is (at the moment) the furthest out planet in our Solar System. Sitting just outside Neptune’s orbit is the Kuiper Belt, a kind of asteroid belt, but colder and less dense with objects.

News has recently come of research that suggests the ‘construction’ of the Kuiper Belt was due mainly to a passing star of between 0.3 and 1 times the ass of our Sun  that came within about 50 to 150 astronomical units (AUs) (astronomical unit = mean radius of Earth’s orbit around the Sun). See here for details. Of course, I followed through the trail to get at the actual research paper (the devil’s always in the detail).

Phew! It explains a lot about how the Kuiper Belt came to be, but not enough to make a difference to my C.A.T. novel! Panic over! (For now!)

I have amended my graphic of the Kuiper Belt accordingly…


In other news, I completely missed that the UK was going for a second spaceport! That’s right, SECOND spaceport. This one is at Newquay in Cornwall, where space vehicles will use a runway to take off and land. (Excuse me while I dream of Skylon and Lapcat… hm…. s’wonderful.)

However, they initially want to get Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip 2 to take off from there from about 2021 onwards. (At this point I have a shudderations about what happened to my short story Tyrell’s Flight – due to come out the day after the SpaceShip 2 crash, but postponed for a month because the cause of the accident in that story was too close to the speculation that was doing the rounds – and would you believe my spaceport was at Bristol, rather close in planetary terms to Newquay. How many more near coincidences is this story going to have?)

But isn’t nice to get things so close to being right? This is what makes this science fiction author rather happy. (All I can hope is that come aspects of my C.A.T. don’t come to pass… ever had to deal with a nagging cat?)