North Sea Eco-Friendly Energy Generation

A long, long time ago … 1993 to be precise… I wrote a small descriptive science fiction piece about the North Sea. The edited version is below:

The View

That strange interregnum between the last of the winter storms and the first blossoming of spring held sway over the land. The dull clouds portended yet more rain, dampening the air and drowning the hope of better things to come.

Occasional beams of sunlight broke through. One such shone on the extensive glasshouse canopy to the southeast, turning it into a solitaire diamond on a low grassy plateau.

From it, a black line of road curved down and made a beeline for the west. Behind it a yellow sandbank, with its grey-green patches of saltwort and marram grass, rose up to the abrupt horizontal line of the seawall’s hidden rampart. Without either sandbank or wall, the land would have long since sunk beneath the battering waves of the North Sea. The road disappeared into a wind farm that, at this distance, had the aerofoils looking like delicate white toy windmills, their blades ceaselessly turning.

The road reappeared, to come northward on a ridge to a village, where the orderly terrace houses with their immaculate vegetable plots and scrappy chicken runs surrounded the village hall, general store and hotel. All were bedecked with the dark blue sheen of solar panels, much needed to ward off the biting cold of the winds. At the northern end of the village, the preserved wreck of a wooden ship stood with quiet dignity beside a long low hut that housed a maritime museum.

Spurs of gravel embanked tracks led off the road to various farmhouses and barns. Their owners were custodians of the precious green and brown acreage that stretched out in every direction, even encroaching to the very edge of the nearby fish pools. This agricultural land was broken into regimented squares and rectangles by dark chilly-looking canals, a lot mere drainage ditches, but a few were large enough to carry barges. Near some farms, power-generating waterwheels fitted snugly in the step down in levels along the canals.

Fields were linked at one or two corners by grass covered bridges wide enough to hold farm gates whose design had stood the test of centuries. On the odd green field slowly wandered the white, cream and black blobs of sheep, ducks and geese. Most of the fallow fields were lined with the furrows from the plough and were awaiting their spring seeds. Here and there, were lines of trees; straight bare plane trees were lower down whilst the gnarled and twisted willows were higher, acting as wind breaks.

The four fish pools, remnants of the days when this was just a fish farm, were covered by a fine translucent netting to ward off the ever-squawking, wheedling gulls. The wind ignored the obstacle to make the pools ripple and dance in pretty patterns.

Such was the view now through the window of the old lighthouse on Dogger Isle, once the Dogger Bank twenty metres and more below the North Sea.

Now comes the news that the National Grid are in talks over a plan for an energy island in the North Sea. (See link here.)

It seems to be just a wind for now, which given my description above is disappointing. After all, why not use other mechanisms in the same sea space to maximise the energy output? It would make a lot of sense from the engineering and maintenance viewpoints. For instance, they could use the same transmission cables to transfer the energy. And if they’re going out there to do maintenance anyway, why not add some fish farms or shellfish infrastructure. Then they could minimise the number of journeys made.

Yes I applaud the idea of a wind farm in the North Sea, provided it is done with respect to the sea habitat. But where is the joined up thinking with other potential industries to maximise the use of the infrastructure that they will have to put in place?

This is where science fiction could have helped, had the above piece been published. (Oh yes, I did try to get it out there – but that is another story not for this post.) After all, science fiction is the speculation about what is possible in the future. Now I fear the plans are too far advanced to be able to do anything about the energy island.

What is Science Fiction Really About?

There seems to a flurry of interest in science fiction involving climate change in the UK. This is not surprising given that the UK is going to host the COP26 in Glasgow shortly. It leaves me thinking that the push for ‘cli-fi’ is a combination of taking advantage of a business opportunity and politics.

After all cli-fi has been around since at least the 1960s when John Ballard wrote The Drowned World. People have had sixty years to take notice of what science fiction was saying about climate change. Maybe a few people have, but the majority definitely not.

So it begs the question of, ‘Why do we write science fiction?’

Well, it is a repository of ideas for different circumstances. If a certain situation comes along, the human race does not have to work out what to about it from scratch. They can, and some do, turn to science fiction to see what the genre has said about it. You could call science fiction the library or encyclopaedia of speculation.

Now, the world today is a complicated place. There is no easy way of coming up with a single indexing system where you can slot today’s topics of importance in an easily order to be looked up as required. When you add the ideas of science fiction to the encyclopaedic list, it becomes even more of jumble.

SO how do we sort out science fiction sub-genres? Or putting it another way, how do you minimise the any other pile of science fiction of stories that do not come under a label in the indexing system? Here’s the rub, as Shakespeare would say. You can’t stop science fiction writers thinking out of the box and coming up with ideas and stories do not fit into the indexing system – if we had one of those. The pile for the stories that can’t be labeled will outgrow any of the labeled piles, sooner or later by a very large margin.

And a good job too. Otherwise science fiction would be un danger of becoming repetitive of theme and boring to the readers.

Thiever by David M Allan

I am delighted that David M Allan has had the second novel in the Quaestor series, Thiever, e-published by Elsewhen. (UK Amazon link here.) I had the pleasure of beta reading parts of it. Though it is fantasy, it is quite something.

The Blurb:

After the events in Jotuk at the end of Quaestor, Anarya is no longer a Sponger but is now a Thiever – when she takes someone’s magic talent they lose it until she can no longer hold on to it. Worryingly, the power also brings a desperate hunger to take others’ talents, just as the false god did. As Anarya struggles to control the compulsion, Yisul is fraught with worry and seeks help for her lover. But Jotuk is in upheaval; the Twenty-Three families are in disarray, divided over how the city should be governed.

In Carregis, the king takes advantage of the deaths of the Three, the cabal who previously controlled him, and seeks to establish himself as an effective ruler. First, though, he must work out whom he can trust.
Meanwhile, the priestesses of Quarenna and the priests of Huler are having disturbing dreams…

Thiever is the much anticipated sequel to David M Allan’s Quaestor.

Does its Golden Age Overshadow the Rest of Science Fiction?

Science Fiction’s Golden Age cannot not be pinned to definitive publications for its start and end. But everyone agrees it happened somewhen between 1938 and the end of the 1950s. It saw an outpouring of ideas and enduring science fiction stories that grabbed the attention of the person in the street. Authors like Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Alfred Bester, Ray Bradbury, James Blish and Robert Heinlein became household names. Stories like Nightfall, Childhood’s End, Starship Troopers, The Martian Chronicles were must reads. Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics became a byword.

According to one Science Fiction’s historians, Adam Roberts, “the phrase Golden Age valorises a particular sort of writing: ‘Hard SF‘, linear narratives, heroes solving problems or countering threats in a space-opera or technological-adventure idiom.” In other words the stories were straightforward and solved or at least identified technological problems with ‘new’ science or gizmos. This was all during the era of fast technological change. World War II started with armies relying heavily on horses and the 1950s ended with launch of satellites such as Sputnik into space. Science fiction and science were closely intertwined to make such progress happen.

Then the pulp market disappeared in favour of cheap mass produced novels. Straightforward stories were no longer the writers’ bread and butter. Stories became literary in style. They veered away from the techno-gizmos to the psychological impacts. Simultaneously the apparent progress of science slowed down.

There are still stories today that follow Adam Roberts’ Golden Age template, but finding them in among the New Wave, Cyberpunk, anything-punk and literary stories from authors outside the genre is a Herculean task. To get a gizmo tory published these days, the writer has to come up with something new that will make a significant difference. Even then, the chances of getting the story published are slim verging onto nothing.

And yet… there is that nostalgia for the Golden Age Science Fiction. In part it is brought on by the invented gizmos of that heyday still waiting to become reality today and in the future. We want the true humanoid looking AIs, the ability to visit and live elsewhere in the Solar System, the cure-alls for diseases and so much more. They are in-built to our global psyche that we no longer need to remind ourselves of what can lie ahead. We expect these things to happen because some of science fiction’s gizmos have already become a reality – like landing a man on the Moon.

And this is the issue. The person in the street is stuck in believing the future will be along the lines of the Golden Age’s inventions – the inventions of the middle of last century, over seventy years ago.

Science has changed a lot since the 1950s. Yes it continues to deliver on the promises of Science Fiction’s Golden Age. But science has opened up new possibilities that are hardly touched upon in modern science fiction. Where are the stories about the impact of graphene on our society? What will happen to international politics and power when we fully understand the mechanisms of climate change? How will finding new minerals formed in near-zero gravity change our industrial base?

These questions are only a very tiny sample of those we authors should be pulling from current science innovation. There is one exception to this – the information revolution with all its computers and chips. The Cyberpunk movement saw to that. But even here, the one opportunity to use data to help invent gizmos has been missed.

The long shadow of Golden Age Science Fiction built into our global psyche is preventing us as a species looking at what can now be done in the future, which is far more than we could have believed possible in the middle of the last century.

Women Science Fiction Readers – Where Are They?

I went into Foyles in Bristol here in the UK yesterday to pick a science fiction book I had ordered – Network Effect by Martha Wells. The shop assistant remarked that I was unusual in buying a science fiction novel. How so? Well it was unusual for any woman to buy a science fiction book.

Of course I was shocked. But here he was in a bookstore giving the benefit of his experience. What he was saying had to be true.

At this point my impishness came out to play and I informed him I wrote science fiction. We ended up having a good laugh about it.

As it turned out the shop assistant was on loan from another Bristol bookstore to help out with staff holidays. So not only was I getting the experience he had in Foyles, but also that of another major chain of bookstores.

But the lack of women buying and reading science fiction bothers me for all sorts of reasons. Think of the various biases that could be and are set up in the genre as a consequence. These biases are self-perpetuating – after all publishers want to publish what they believe will sell and they only have historical track records to go by. So unless a publisher is willing to go on a limb to publish unusual, then we will get more of the same. It will stifle the variety we could see in the genre. Need I say more?

Nights Are Drawing In – Time for More Science Fiction

As we’ve had the Last Night of the Proms, Autumn is officially here – well it feels like Autumn with the last fruit and vegetables being harvested from the garden and the nights drawing in. It also means more time for writing and reading science fiction!

Looking back over the last 18 months of the pandemic, it feels like the publishing world has been turned upside down, inside out and backwardingly forward!

If anyone had told me at the start of the pandemic one of my stories would have ended up in the Best of British Science Fiction 2020 anthology, I really wouldn’t have believed them. But Rings Around Saturn made the grade (thank you Donna and Ian).

If someone had told me that writers would have months taken out of their creativity, I would have thought they were crazy. But many writers’ imaginations dried up, judging by comments I’ve heard on the media. Mine seemed strangely unaffected, but then I had a massive editing job to hide from the fact. When I came out of that editing phase, my creativity went into superdrive. End result is that I now have about five times as many stories doing the submission rounds than I normally do – with currently two having been accepted and awaiting publication.

Which all goes to show that unusual times produces unusual events. However, some things stay normal. Novel no. 3 is still being rejected by agents, when they bother to reply. I’ve given up on getting novel no. 2 published. So why the heck have I started novels no. 4 and no. 5? Surely with all the effect of writing and re-writing novels no. 2 and no. 3 I ought to have learnt my lesson and given up.

Novel no. 5 is at the stage where I can very easily turn it into a standalone novella – my brain hurts even thinking about what new stuff is in those chapters. So I’m giving my subconscious time to think about what to do with it for a few months and getting on with novel no. 4. My brain is going through nearly impossible logic loops on this one.

But the real question is what else is going to change as we emerge from this pandemic?

Some things are predictable and inevitable. As people return to work, they will have less time for writing. But they will also have more inspiration because they are out, seeing things. Once the pandemic hump of stories is done with the rate of submissions will return to normal. Except there are less opportunities because unfortunately some publishers have had to reduce their throughput and others have had to close.

Science fiction conventions will have more placed online because they are now set up to give such services. Gone are the days when people complained online offerings were not really satisfactory. True they’re not the same as attending the convention, but they are getting closer to doing so.

But what of the unpredictable? Who knows? My best guess it will be something completely out of the blue!

Charlie’s Fireworks

Absolutely delighted 365tomorrows has today published my flash story, Charlie’s Fireworks. You can read it here.

Sometimes the story of how the story came to be written is stranger than fiction, and this is very much the case with this story. All I’m going to say is the comment was actually said, and those who read the story will know which comment I mean.

BSFA’s Fission #1 – Etaerio

Yesterday’s publication of the British Science Fiction Association’s newsletter included epub and mobi files of their new annual magazine of short stories, Fission. It includes my short story, Etaerio.

I understand the pdf version will follow shortly. For now only BSFA members have access to the new magazine – as it should be!

What is the story about? Let’s just say it is not about a normal topic at all! As far as I’m aware, this topic has not been tackled in science fiction, or if it has the stories have long since been lost to obscurity. For those who can get access to it, enjoy!

News, Serendipity and SF

I know it’s been a while since I posted here… it’s called being busy doing ordinary things like digging up the potatoes, lifting the onions, picking the fruit and beans, and all sorts of science fiction things. Also August is one of my least favourite months, too hot, too muggy or too rainy, never ever just right.

I heard the other day that Fragmented Aurora-Like Emissions reproach paper that I made a very minor contribution to is to be formally published – in other words it has cleared its peer reviews and is thought newsworthy enough to be formally published. It’s currently going through the polish-editing stages and should be out within a couple of months.

BristolCon is ramping up preparations and from what I can gather on their Facebook page there seem to be quite a few coming – at least against their pandemic estimates. Fingers crossed that it will all turn out all right for the weekend. I’m certainly looking forward to it as they have proposed some promising panels and Andy Bigwood seems to working miracles as far as the Art Room is concerned.

There will certainly be ay least one more short story from me to be published before the year comes to an end. It was one of those that started as a throw away comment that I never thought would be taken up. Only it was and I must say I’m rather pleased with the result. I’ll let you good people know when it’s out.

Just like with the short story, I think a lot of us underestimate the power of throw away comments. They are there to be ignored, except they refuse to be. They stick in someone’s memory and the next thing anyone knows is there are consequences. It happens when the person taking up such a comment examines it closely and finds something new to say and that something is useful. It’s called serendipity.

I have yet to understand exactly why and when serendipity strikes. It can be forced to happen, but the results usually disappoint because the triggers used are usually the wrong ones. Now if we can pick the right ones, think what an effect that would have on the imagination of science fiction. Humungous doesn’t even begin to describe it!

Yes, I’m serious. I’ve seen the results of serendipity and what the impact of it is on my writing. Did I hear a snigger over in that corner? If a certain story is accepted and gets published, that snigger will change into gawping amazement. Yes, I thought the idea was crazy at first, but with a little bit of judicial tinkering it’s feasible once we have the right manufacturing processes, and they’ll be with us within a few decades.

This of course means that future is not what the science fiction writers expect it to be.

But let’s get back to the present. The situation in Afghanistan is heartbreaking for many people. I’m especially concerned about how women and girls will be treated under the new regime.When I look at the history of science and its development, we wouldn’t be where we are today without the input of brilliant women. The AstraZeneca vaccine is a case in point, where one of the lead scientists who developed it is a woman. In the UK women got the vote because during World War 1, they took over men’s jobs while they went to fight on the front line. Nobody could argue after that women didn’t contribute significantly to society. If the women and girls in Afghanistan are forced to live like they had to under the old Taliban regime, Afghanistan’s a country will be much poorer for it in so many ways. I hope it does not come to pass.

Whether Afghanistan or other countries that have their own difficulties join the progressive future of the planet only time will tell, but there is such a future in store if only we can let own imaginations, willpower and practicality grab it,

Things Might Moving in Science Fiction Books

There is an interesting article about what boils down to the difficulties in the writing business in The Guardian today. It sings to me in so many ways, as it would to any struggling writer. The interviewee. Karen Jennings, talks about how her novel, The Island, got published during the pandemic. She has no agent, and the book run was 500 copies. Yet it has got long listed for the Booker Prize.

Karen says in her own words what I have been saying about the publishing industry so long. Let me give you a quote from the article:

“I think that the big publishers have to be very careful, because they are expecting authors to reduce themselves and their writing to stereotypes in order to be published, and then that is reinforcing the stereotype to readers, who are expecting certain stories. So, if the publishers are willing to take chances on different kinds of stories and different kinds of writers, then I think the public will, too.”

I see no difference in the science fiction genre. There are a few exceptions, by the small presses. One such that will be published tomorrow is Gardens of Earth by Mark Iles (Amazon UK link here). I had the privilege of beta reading most of draft. He takes military space opera as we all know and love, and does something rather fascinating with it that I have not seen anywhere else. (I’m avoiding spoilers here.) Much kudos goes to Elsewhen Press.

It seems even the big name science fiction writers might be getting fed up with the status quo in science fiction. A novella to look out for on this topic is Star Chaser by Peter F Hamilton and Gareth L Powell. It is out later this month. All I’m going to say is it is a true amalgam of both writers’ styles, and a damn good read. (UK Amazon link here.)

It looks to me as if there are artistic rumblings in the science fiction genre. Whether it builds into something interesting remains to be seen.