December’s Sciency SF Novel Pick

There are few novels being published December because of the holiday season. But there is one sciency science fiction novel amongst them:

Survival by Ben Bova


This is due to be published on December 26th, which makes me suspect it’s out in time to catch the sales.

The Blurb:

Ben Bova continues his hard SF Star Quest series which began with Death Wave and Apes and Angels. In Surivival, a human team sent to scout a few hundred lightyears in front of the death wave encounters a civilization far in advance of our own, a civilization of machine intelligences.

These sentient, intelligent machines have existed for eons, and have survived earlier “death waves,” gamma ray bursts from the core of the galaxy. They are totally self-sufficient, completely certain that the death wave cannot harm them, and utterly uninterested in helping to save other civilizations, organic or machine.

But now that the humans have discovered them, they refuse to allow them to leave their planet, reasoning that other humans will inevitably follow if they learn of their existence.

The Star Quest Trilogy
#1 Death Wave
#2 Apes and Angels
#3 Survival

From experience Ben Bova’s work tends to be an easy read, though he has a tendency to produce 2-D characters. However, the yarns are good entertainment. And he undoubtedly writes ‘hard science fiction’.


Science Fiction reader Groups

Which groups of people comprise science fiction writers today? This may be a strange question to ask, but the answer can be enlightening as to what is happening today in the world of science fiction.

There are of course the obvious groups, people who:

  1. have something to say about today’s politics and injustices, much in the mould of H G Wells and George Orwell;
  2. like playing games or having games to watch, which covers a lot of space opera and dystopian survival stories;
  3. hate science and technology and want to send it to damnation, much like what happens or nearly happens to their protagonists – the modern day luddites and often deal with the whatever-punk sub-genres; and
  4. are genuinely curious about the future and what new technologies will bring to it.

The politico SF-ers in (1) come and go with the hot topics of the day, though I must admit some topics, such as economic inequality, never seem to go away. We have recently seen a spate of LBGT orientated novels, protagonists, etc. Even the established big name writers have trodden this path, I suspect to get their book sales up. For me, it has got to the stage where the flood of such stories are too numerous and therefore have lost my interest. I’m sure that’ll come with the next hot politico topic, whatever that will be.

Playing games has been part of human society since whenever, and certainly since the mid-1800s. It distracts away from the misery of life or gives the readers / viewers some sort of enjoyment high. The thing with games is that after a while of playing the same old game, it becomes boring. Game variations, or entirely new games, are eagerly sought. But they are becoming more difficult to develop. The fallback is that there a quite a variety of such games available, that for a reader, there are plenty of tried and tested games to choose from to keep themselves amused.

The luddite band will always be with us. Have been in one form or another since 1675, though the term ‘Luddite’ only really came into existence in 1811. These people naturally fear for their jobs and can’t cope with new technologies. They are the gain-sayers of progress, because they can’t adjust to the new ways of life. They give reasons why technology shouldn’t happen. They’ve found a good cause of climate change, saying we should go back to the old way of life to save our planet.

That leaves the currently proportionately small group of techno-enthusiasts. This group was riding high in the 1940s and 1950s when so much technology was getting into and being used by ordinary people. Since then, the oil price has risen, dampening expectations in so many ways. New energy sources have been hard to develop, though some progress has been made. Oil isn’t the only resource that is problematical these days. Resources are getting scarce. And new technology needs access to resources. Which is why techno-SF has a tendency to veer to sorting the resource problem out and away from new ideas.

Readers of this blog are very likely to identify with one of these groups. Also, with very few exceptions, I’m sure you can pigeonhole the big name SF writers.

But what of the science fiction writing in the future?

Publishers have to live with ever decreasing profits margins per book sold. They have done all the financially sensible things like reduce payments to the authors, make the authors do more work for the same amount of money, changed the way they produce books from print runs to print on demand etc, only publish those books that have a probability of making a ‘decent’ profit and look for pragmatic sponsorship from outside of science fiction.

But there is one way they can get an edge in the market – pander to more than one of the above science fiction groups, preferably all four of them. It’s a rare piece of fiction that can do that, but they sure as heck can cover at least two of those groups. I suspect this might be why mash-ups are in vogue with so many publishers now.


SFerics 2017 and C.A.T. business

sferics 2017 front only

The SFerics 2017 anthology has had its first review on Amazon. Wow! Thank you Eamonn Murphy. To be absolutely clear, I did not in any way solicit this review. So it’s a genuine review from someone who was interested enough to buy and read the anthology.

When it comes to reviews I follow the policy of:

  • Never commenting on the opinions in reviews. They are the reviewer’s reaction to the manuscript and everyone has different interests and preferences, and they have a right to have those.
  • Not soliciting reviews. Whilst reviews can be helpful with sales etc, I feel there are problems with the current reviewing set up. I’ve been told there are not enough lady reviewers, which has ended up in a bias away lady writers, with onward consequences about the lack of lady writers in science fiction.

In other news, I have just heard that I have another Honourable Mention from the Writers of the Future contest. This makes it the 5th in a row (thereby having gained one every quarter for there 2017 writing year) and the 8th for a chapter in my C.A.T. novel. In summary this means:


The chapter that didn’t get an Honourable Mention is entitled Belonging to Nowhere… kind of aptly named don’t you think? And that was a sheer fluke!

Of course this means that the C.A.T. novel has a complete draft available – and yes, I’m in the process of editing it. (Note to self… need to start looking for a possible home for this novel…)

C.A.T. here: How dare my author not tell me? This is my, yes MY NOVEL, not hers. MINE, ALL MINE. Excuse me, I’m going to have a very long conversation with her… 



BristolCon 2017

The last Saturday in October is usually BristolCon. And it was no different this year. One advantage of this small friendly convention is that it is five minutes walk away from Bristol Temple Meads railway station – quite a few of those attending chose to get there by rail rather than fight with the normally horrendous traffic jams that are so normal in Bristol’s city centre!

I made a point of attending those panels that were biased towards the science end of science fiction… only one slight snag… I was on the two most science-biased panels, one as a panellists and the other as a moderator – the first time for me.

I was a panellist on the Gert Lush Science 2017 where the first question was about what current technology was coming our way. All the panellists made suggestions – I think it was a mistake leaving me to the last – I read out a paragraph from Mike Hardwick’s short story in the SFerics 2017 anthology…

The resulting discussion covered a wide range of topics: medical advancements ranging from bespoke 3D printed joint replacements to nano-medicines to fight cancer cells; power generation using more efficient clear-glass solar windows to using pressure pads to harvest energy from footsteps and traffic; improving architectures from cyber-physical fabrication of structural housing for refugee camps to using flying drones to farm inaccessible areas like vertical ‘wall’ gardens; improving diagnoses from high-tech optical neuro-technology that read brain activity to using simple smart phones to make medical examinations in what was then the developing world. 

… and then went on to point out that a lot of inventions are already in labs or at the prototyping stage. It is economic factors that dictate whether inventions come to market or not.

[As an aside, Mike’s story, and indeed all the other short stories in the SFerics 2017 anthology look at the impact of near future technology on society… but Mike does some really interesting things with his stuff… things I haven’t seen elsewhere… and so do some of the other stories… see Amazon UK link here.]


The panel went on to examine further and further into the future, suggesting that eventually technology would take over all our jobs. One panellist postulated that the only thing left for people to do was to be human. Sorry, but had to disagree… what technology we develop is up to us humans, and legislation will dictate whether technology enters our society, or not, and of course we humans draft and enact legislation.

The panel I moderated was ‘Space Sick’, Space Healthy. Here, I concentrated on letting the panellists bring out their views. The topics covered topics like space radiation, the effects of the lack of gravity (including the effect on giving birth) and whether changes to our DNA would help. What I personally found intriguing was when someone in the audience noted that even if you placed spacemen in a centrifugal spaceship to give them artificial gravity, their bone structure was still adversely affected. My thanks to the panellists, Janet Edwards, Dr Bob, Dev Agarwal and DJ Cockburn for being a wonderful team and covering so many ifs and buts.

I’m afraid I don’t remember all that much about the first panel of the day I attended, ‘You are the Product.’ It was mainly about the impact of all the information gathering and analysis we see on the internet today and how that is extrapolated into the future. Or putting it another way, all the comments made were what I expected (that’s the trouble with knowing the subject area). But it was lighthearted and entertaining.

The panel on a ‘Fistful of Genres’ was about how the Western influenced SFF. This, for me, turned into more about a history of interaction between the genres than anything else, probably because I didn’t know much about the subject. There certainly were a lot recommendations for relevant novels.

I also attended the ‘Mapping SF and F’ panel which talked about maps, the need for them to keep the story consistent and how they helped the reader understand parts of the story. Some lovely maps were shown, including the standards like J R R Tolkien’s map for Lord of the Rings. This was both informative and entertaining.

The art show was very good this year, with people like Jim Burns and Andy Bigwood showing off their work.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time for any more panels – I had to be somewhere else for the evening.

Overall, it was another successful BristolCon, a credit to the organisers and all those who helped. Next year’s BristolCon will be on October 27th. Thoroughly recommend you be there if you can.


SFerics 2017 Published

SFerics 2017 is now available in both print and kindle versions from Amazon. Yay!


Sferics is a real word: the study of atmospherics, especially the radiolocation of lightning storms. Who could resist such a title for a science fiction anthology that illuminates possible innovations of the near future? I certainly couldn’t. But where do such stories come from?

BristolCon 2015 science fiction and fantasy convention saw me run a small workshop. I gave a report of the latest technology trends from an innovation conference from the week before and encouraged participants to develop story ideas.

The result is four short stories included in this anthology, one from a debut writer, Mike Hardwick. A further two stories were contributed by authors with similar near future science fiction interests.

Occasionally, a story’s main technical invention takes a major step towards turning into reality between the writing and the publishing. This proved to be the case for Amanda Kear’s short story. Let us hope all the good inventions in these stories appear in our lives soon!

Working on producing an anthology is a first time for me. It has been fun and, at times, scary. Above all, it has been a privilege to work with such a wonderful group of talented people. Thank you to the authors for allowing me to share their stories, Roz Clarke for editing and Andy Bigwood for the cover.

Full list of stories:

A Glitch in Humanity – Mike Hardwick
Positive Falsehoods – Gareth Lewis
Ivory Tower – a conspiracy of science – Amanda Kear
Cyber Control – Rosie Oliver
Angular Size – Geoff Nelder
Heart’s Trust – J S Rogers


Having just received my print copies, all I can say about the printed cover is Wow!

Amazon link here.

For those who are attending BristolCon on Saturday, I’m hoping to put a few paperback copies for sale on BristolCon authors table. (Please note that we are limited in the number we can sell on that table.)


SFerics 2017

I am delighted to say that I will be publishing a short anthology, SFerics 2017, very shortly. It grew out of a workshop I ran at BristolCon 2015, where I reported back on recent technology advances identified at a convention I had attended the week before.

The blurb: What will the future hold for our children and our grandchildren? How will developing technology change the way we live? Will we keep our humanity or become more like robots? Six stories – six possible future.

My thanks go to the authors, Roz Clarke for editing and Andy Bigwood for the cover.

Just to whet your appetites here’s the front cover, with thanks to Andy:

sferics 2017 front only

BristolCon 2017

The programme for BristolCon for October 28th is now out and it sure does look exciting. See here for details.

The organisers have kindly allowed me on to sit on two panels this year.

The first is in Room 2:

13:00 Gert Lush Science 2017 – Science is always on the march. In the first few months of 2017 alone, we’ve seen new exoplanets, companies laying off workers to replace them with AIs, flowers pollinated by robot bees, and maybe even an actual Dyson sphere. What do these discoveries mean for the future, and for SF?Dev Agarwal (M), Justina Robson, Paul McAuley, Rosie Oliver, GR Matthews

And the second is in Room 2:

16:00 Space Sick, Space Healthy – Health has been a primary human concern for ever. As we increasingly build our own environments and begin to move into new ones inimical to humanity, will we encounter new problems? Will an inability to adapt to new technologies be viewed as a handicap? How will you get on in the Martian colony if you’re claustrophobic? Could things currently viewed as problems be seen as advantages in the right place, and what might be lost in years to come?Rosie Oliver (M), Janet Edwards, Dr Bob, Dev Agarwal, DJ Cockburn

Yes, I’m the moderator on the second one – my first time as a moderator (and praying the panellists and audience will treat me gently).

Look forward to seeing you good people there.