Frisson-Nation

I always get a frisson of delight when I’ve helped progress the understanding of science, which is where I’m at now. It was only a minuscule contribution, but a contribution nevertheless to which I can point to and say I helped with that. So colour me purring loudly.

As I think this is not the end of this particular science adventure for various reasons, I will not say any more for now and wait until the dust has settled before I do.

This is not the first time I’ve helped out. By a bit of stubbornness of getting something sorted I ended up along the way being a guinea pig for eye tests for research towards the end of the last century. I was not sure at the time where it would lead to, but was told afterwards that my tests (among other people’s tests I hasten to add) had contributed to at least eleven international research papers and helped considerably with diagnosing glaucoma. So in my small way I feel I have helped save some people’s sight.

Those are the research areas I can talk about. There are many others are under commercial confidentially clauses that means I can’t talk openly about. What all these results have in common is the excitement of discovering something new that is a contribution to building on the science canon.

It’s no different when you go into the unknown (for both the author and the science fiction global library so to speak). There is that excitement of something novel, the ability to change things in new ways and doing something hitherto that seemed impossible. This is what gives a true science fiction author the buzz.

Can such an author tap going into the true fictional unknown on demand?

Hell no. If they could they would be minting it in.

O.K. Let me put this another way. I have found so much new stuff to be discovered in the science fictional worlds that it’s a choice of riches. I find myself stuck in a nation of frissons! The real trick comes in identifying a plot that hinges on whatever novelty you choose to play with.That’s right – it’s coming up with a decent plot that’s the difficult part.

Now if only we could classify the types of novelties into groups and apply standard plots to each group, then we would have a a science fiction story production line.

But where would the fun be in that?

 

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To go into Space…

The USA is busy building up its Space Force with applications for posts being opened on 1st May. Its mission description (taken from their official website) is:

The USSF is a military service that organizes, trains, and equips space forces in order to protect U.S. and allied interests in space and to provide space capabilities to the joint force. USSF responsibilities include developing military space professionals, acquiring military space systems, maturing the military doctrine for space power, and organizing space forces to present to our Combatant Commands. 

The USA also has NASA whose mission statement reads:

Drive advances in science, technology, aeronautics, and space exploration to enhance knowledge, education, innovation, economic vitality and stewardship of Earth.

It also has various private enterprises trying to get into space like Virgin Galactic with its Spaceship 2 (yes, this is an Amercian company) and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

What does the UK have in the way of space enterprises? Yes, I dare to ask the question.

Through the offices of the UK Space Agency, it is encouraging the building of a space port at Newquay in Cornwall for runway liftoffs and returns, and another on the Moine peninsular in Sutherland Scotland for rocket launches.

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And then there is the work going into Skylon. It had initially been hoped Skylon could enter service in 2020 – hold on a second – we are in 2020 and still no sign of a prototype vehicle, though engine development and tests continue, albeit at a slower pace than initially envisaged. In fact I’m beginning to think that the development pace has slowed down so much, the owners of the firm who starting working on it will be forced to sell their intellectual property abroad and this country will never get its own designed space vehicle this century or next.

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As you are aware, my short story, Slivers of Hope, will be published in the Space Force: Building the Legacy anthology due out on 25the May. (Amazon link here if you want to pre-order the kindle – there will be a print version as well.) I’m not going to tell you what the story is about and spoil it for you, but I will say this: there is no way I can see it happening in the UK, or Europe for that matter. I think it is to do with the public attitude to space in these countries. It’s conservative and lacks the adventurous spirit.

I can think of only one way to change this attitude. Write science fiction stories about British space flight – oh wait I did that with Tyrell’s Flight, which Kraxon magazine kindly published. It was originally due to be published on 1st November 2014. Unfortunately Spaceship 2 crashed on 31st October killing the co-pilot. Rumours about the cause of the crash were live-wiring across the global internet. Prevalent among these was a fuel leak and Tyrell’s Flight included a fuel leak. Naturally I was a nervous wreck worrying about the reaction my story would get, even though it had been written well before the crash. Fortunately the editor of Kraxon had a story in reserve and I am thankful to this day he delayed publishing my story by a month.

But the point remains – we need science fiction stories about this country getting into space to help inspire not only youngsters to join the national space industry, but also to inspire the government to back the industry.

Otherwise Britain will get left behind in the race for mineral mining on the asteroids… with serious long term detrimental economic consequences.

 

 

Silver Honourable Mention in Writers of the Future Contest

Wow! What a lovely surprise – I received a Silver Honourable Mention in the fourth quarter of the Writers of the Future contest. Yep – I’ve reached new heights having already obtained nine Honourable Mentions in previous competitions!

Nobody apart from the competition organisers know how many entires are received, the suspicion being that if they gave out the numbers, it would scare off entries. What is generally accepted is that Honourable Mentions are given out to 5% – 10% of entries.  So a Silver Honourable Mention is a much more exclusive club!

Of course it is not a winner or a finalist or even a semi-finalist – that is reserved for the top 16-ish stories. But it is basically a pat on the back saying the story is worth reading and can probably be sold – the ‘probably’ meaning its subject matter has to be of interest to the publisher.

The Writers of the Future contest is there to encourage budding science fiction writers in various ways, the most important in my view is being to get into the rhythm of writing. I do so hope they continue this service, for which thank you.

The badge for my previous Honourable Mention is here – they’ve obviously had a recent change in design!

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Slivers of Hope

Oh the excitement, the ecstasy and the euphoria…. I have a new short story coming out on Memorial Day – the day the USA remembers its veterans – May 25th – Slivers of Hope in the Space Force: Building the Legacy anthology.

I feel privileged that Slivers of Hope is included in this anthology to commemorate setting up of the Space Force in United States.

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The Blurb:

Tenere Altum. Hold The High Ground.

These are the stories of the first 100 years of the United States Space Force created by then U.S. President Donald J. Trump. Within this new anthology of military sci-fi short stories you will find stories of service and incredible sacrifice. Stories of the one sacrificing a few to save the many, and of the one sacrificing himself for all.

But mostly these are tales of the men and women to come, who will patrol the harsh, cold blackness of space. Those that willingly place themselves in harm’s way to protect a solitary blue marble and all that call it home.

Tenere Altum!

Background:

Inspiration for this story came one winter’s night when I was driving home. I looked up to the starry moonlit sky and saw a thick con-trail, and had one of my What if? moments. Slivers of Hope is the result. Enjoy!

Every one of my stories is special to me, each for a different reason. This one contains one of those inventions that could one day in the not too distant future really exist, despite its seeming improbability. All the fundamental technologies already exist and it is case of putting them together in the right way. Systems engineering at its best. The techie in me regrets I could not go to town describing the engineering of it – it would have ruined the story – I just describe what it does!

Amazon UK link here.

Amazon US link here.

 

Sciency Science Fiction Novel Pick for May

Well, what choice to have when a Murderbot diaries book is coming out – so the pick for May is:

Network Effect

(The Murderbot Diaries Book 5)

by Martha Wells

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The Blurb:

Murderbot returns in its highly-anticipated, first, full-length standalone novel, Network Effect.

You know that feeling when you’re at work, and you’ve had enough of people, and then the boss walks in with yet another job that needs to be done right this second or the world will end, but all you want to do is go home and binge your favorite shows? And you’re a sentient murder machine programmed for destruction? Congratulations, you’re Murderbot.

Come for the pew-pew space battles, stay for the most relatable A.I. you’ll read this century.

I’m usually alone in my head, and that’s where 90 plus percent of my problems are.

When Murderbot’s human associates (not friends, never friends) are captured and another not-friend from its past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action.

Drastic action it is, then.

The Reason:

Well, it’s Murderbot, isn’t it! So what more could anyone want?

Amazon UK Link here.

The Difference in Author Background Shows in SF!

Well it looks like the transcribing of the UK rainfall records on zooniverse has reached its goal of having four transcriptions for every record. They are now allowing further transcriptions for those records that are in dispute between the copies. Whichever way you look at it, it is a magnificent achievement to have completed the task since March 26th. But then, the British always did like talking about the weather.

Talking of natural phenomena – the Krakatoa volcano has just erupted, which will probably help relieve the pressure of the magma building beneath it. Fortunately nobody was killed, unlike when it erupted in 1883 killing something like 36,000 people. Also there have been something like in excess of 8,000 earthquakes on the Reykjanes peninsular in southwest Iceland. This could suggest an eruption is imminent. The last time this area erupted was in the 10th century and it last for three centuries – and happened to coincide with the Medieval Warm Period – make of that what you will.

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Dust from volcanoes is known to affect out weather. You only need to look at 1816 which as Mary Shelley put was an uncongenial summer. Jane Austen recorded in one of her novels that the cherry blossomed in June. It is known as the year without summer. This was due to the dust from the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. Incidentally – there were rainfall records from 1816 included the transcription work on zooniverse. It should be an interesting study to see what the rainfall effects were post that eruption! I do so hope they do the research into this now they have the data just to see how bad the effect was. For one thing it might help inform climate change studies because it will be looking at the effect of particulates in the atmosphere.

What has all this got to do with science fiction?

When it comes to world-building, seemingly unrelated aspects can actually have a significant interaction. This is not important for the purposes of many stories because the story takes place in a significantly short time period that it would not matter or the story takes place in a sufficiently enclosed space that the effects ‘outside’ will not be noticeable. But for many stories it does matter if the author is trying to give a realistic effect impression of the future.

But how does an author identify such interactions?

This is where the ‘nose-twitch’ comes in. Those with a broad enough scientific background will instinctively know something’s up and go rummaging around the data loads – they will know which direction to look in. An author who has only studied creative writing will not have that instinct and certainly will not know where to go digging.

And it shows. It really does. There is what I call a lack of depth in the background. The author does not have to write the detail of the background world, but does have to know when it impacts significantly on the story.

This is one of the reasons I prefer to read science fiction novels by people who have at least some science grounding. The quality is just there. And really does show.

Now here’s another interesting aspect to this discussion. How many science-based science fiction writers have studied creative writing?

Yes, that really does show as well!

 

Lockdowns and Butterfly Effects on SF

I have just had a delivery from Amazon via the post office – no not a book but something else small and non-perishable. The thing is it should not arrived until tomorrow at the earliest. The good news is that the postal system is definitely working in the UK. This does imply that the volume of post handled by the post office has reduced – not that bad a thing in that it allows the slack for their workforce to have any necessary leave for self-isolation purposes etc.

This is only one instance of the slow-down a lot of people are seeing outside of the essential services.

Another instance is that I’ve seen the publication dates of printed science fiction novels put back by several months. Again not a surprising development given that the printing establishments will want to impose minimum social distance requirements on their workers, the bookshops have closed and have had to resort to fulfilling orders on line, and unfortunately a section of the communities have had a fall in income and the first savings they make is in their leisure activities.

This is the situation now. What of a little way into the future? Again unfortunately we have seen some business go into administration – the epidemic was the last straw in otherwise difficult trading circumstances. Those with temporarily reduced incomes will be obliged to catch up on necessary household purchases or pay off debts they incurred while in lockdown. In short even after ‘life returns to normal’ there will not be as much spare household cash to pursue leisure activities as there was immediately before the epidemic hit. That means sales of science fiction books will take longer to recover.

Then there is the question of whether life will actually return to normal or anywhere near it for the longer term. Short answer is that this harrowing experience will have an impact on everyone, more particularly those of the younger generations who have not experienced national emergencies before. After World War II, we saw a kind of coming together of collective responsibility to build something better than the previous generations. In Britain, this entailed among other things standing up the NHS, nationalising the railways to revitalise them and a huge house-building programme to repair damaged houses and for new homes to house everyone.

I expect something similar to happen after we come out of lockdown and get back to a more normal life. Some of what that will entail is obvious: more resources given to the NHS to deal with any future pandemic and for getting more people treated sooner so that they are more likely to survive any such nasty infection; more working from home and using the internet to reduce the commuter travel and pollution than before the epidemic hit; and generally healthier lifestyles led by the people.

What about the not so obvious?

There will be more research funding into countering future possible epidemics which will make humanity more resilient to such disasters. After all we’ve seen the successful elimination or vast reduction in many diseases such as smallpox, polio, scarlet fever and tuberculosis. I expect some innovative methods to be discovered and worked on.

There will be a shift in the balance of what is being mined. There will for instance be less oil and gas required, but more in the way of rare earth minerals to help build up and maintain a big internet system. It is this latter requirement that will speed up the need for asteroid mining, which in turn will speed up the need for infrastructure development for the space industry as a whole. (I personally hope the British government puts more money into the development of the British Skylon project with its SABRE engine that does not run on oil!)

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Then there will be an increase in wildlife, not by that much, but noticeable. I’ve already during this lockdown seen a pheasant in my garden! Contributing factors include less traffic (not so much ‘badger kill’ on the roads), people taking more of an interest now that some have time on their hands and people being asked to stay away from national parks. This in the longer term is good for bio-diversity with all the consequences that come from this.

These are all themes science fiction could write about – and what is really needed are stories where a little difference now shows a large difference later on. If you are looking for a plot line, anything published that demonstrates the impact of the butterfly effect is worth examining and trying to apply to whatever effect the author is trying to demonstrate. Perhaps the most famous science fiction story covering the butterfly effect is The Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury, but any alternative history paradigm based on a different outcome in history when things could have gone either way is a good pointer.

I am just waiting for an anthology publisher to put out a call for a science fiction anthology based solely on the butterfly effects. It will come, believe me.