Explorations: Through the Wormhole – coming soon

23 08 2016

A date has been set for the publication of Explorations: Through the Wormhole anthology – September 2nd. Oh the excitement…

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I have got hold of ARC and it’s looking good. There’s some exciting stories in there… but then I’m biased, aren’t I?

PS If anyone wants to to do a review, ping me an e-mail and we’ll take things from there. (Yes, the catch is you have to know my e-mail address, so I know who you are… I’m obviously picking up some of C.A.T.’s bad habits – talking of which, earlier this month I reached the half way mark with the first full draft of C.A.T.’s novel!)





The Science keeps rolling in… Time for Science Fiction…

14 04 2016

With one thing and another it has been a very sad time. Perhaps the saddest news is that I found one of my cats, ‘Rufus the Poofus’ dead in my garden just outside the backdoor under the decking. He died suddenly and up until that point he had been a very healthy active cat.

Rufus’s antics had provided some of the inspirations for C.A.T. – though I have yet to include the twitching of the upright tail as he walks out of the room gesture in one of my stories. If you want to buy the C.A.T. story, or just read the first part – go here.

Clearly I haven’t had the heart to be up to much. I have managed to keep an eye on the science, which continues to gather pace…

There’s been an article about super-DNA that protects people from hereditary diseases. Unfortunately because the evaluation was done from anonymous donors, further work with the people concerned cannot be done – they are trying to track them down, but whether they succeed remains to be seen. See here for more details. In one way, this should not come as a surprise. If bad DNA can produce horrible hereditary diseases, why not have good DNA that can prevent them? Sometimes postulating the opposite can be the basis for a good science fiction story.

Then there’s the recent announcement that a billionaire wants to invest in the development of wafersats to go to our nearest star, Alpha Centauri. These wafersats will be propelled by laser from close to Earth. See here for details. This has engineering challenges, and may not succeed. But there are other projects including  we should not forget the rival project the Icarus project with its Firefly spacecraft. See here for details. Either of these could find out more about Alpha Centauri and whether there are any habitable planets there. Again this could be an interesting area to explore through science fiction asking the crucial what ifs.

Further news on Planet IX – more evidence has been found that it could exist. A seventh Kuiper Belt object also shows signs of having been perturbed by the a mysterious gravitational tug out there – which could be Planet IX. They are actively looking for it. And they have put together soem ideas on what it would look like… See here for details. Picture below from the article, just to whet your appetites.

 

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But given the recent results from the New Horizons about Pluto, this diagram might be rather too conventional in its make-up. Yes, it’s all too possible, but given the highly eccentric orbit Planet IX should be taken I would expect expect some strange cyclic effects to change the composition in ways that we have not yet thought about. Again another area for the science fiction exploration.

There are so many opportunities for good stories here for science fiction… go write…





Innovative and Fresh Science Fiction Writing?

26 02 2016

Like all science fiction writers, I have ended up with bunches of stories linked to a single universe. It’s only natural. Once you’ve built a universe, it’s easier to write stories about that universe. So I put together a graphic of how my published (black titles) and some of the mature unpublished stories (orange titles) hang together. There are a few stories that don’t belong to any universe – kind of oddballs in their own way – which have been placed outside of the boxes. Whilst these are nice stories, I don’t see any of their ideas being carried forward into something else.

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Note that whilst the orange horizontal lines represent time, they are not drawn to a uniform scale, not is there any correlation in time between the three boxes on the right hand side. 

I’ve mentioned three of these universes before – the near future, the Neptune Universe and the Uranus Universe. Each of the latter two is concentrates on thrashing out the consequences of a fundamental science premise.

[Hint: If you want to know what the premise for the Neptune Universe is, go and read Agents of Repair. I’m not going to discuss the premise for the Uranus Universe, because even though the first chapter of A Void Dance is published, the premise is not explained until later in the book.]

But whilst I’ve not been looking another universe has been slowly and insidiously sneaking into my subconscious. I’ve called it the Angel Universe, though the angels are none of the standard definitions that you would find in the Oxford English Dictionary. It gives me the deja vu feeling. The premises of both the Neptune And Uranus universes snuck up on me too.

Each universe takes its time to grow and be fleshed out, and it really can’t be rushed. Let’s take the Neptune Universe as an example. I was busy writing, in many respects, a standard space opera novel. I needed to liven up a certain at that time dull character, so I gave him a robo-cat. The robo-cat was supposed to be a walk-on-walk-off part and that was it. Then I found in a later scene I had a use for that robo-cat. Then again in another scene. That darned robo-cat was taking over my novel. So I came to an agreement with it. It could have its own story, provided it left my novel alone. That’s when Agents of Repair was written. So I went back to my novel thinking I could get on with it, but I didn’t feel comfortable with it. It was kind of humdrum and boring, and besides that robo-cat had quite a few questions hanging over it. So I wrote a second background story, which turned into C.A.T. This time the robo-cat became a really interesting character. So interesting that it took over my novel. I threw most of the old novel away and started afresh. For very good storyline reasons it is divided into none major stories. I’ve completed the first three to a good first draft standard, with the first two getting an Honourable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest.

The same thing is happening with the Uranus Universe. I wrote the novel from the viewpoint of someone learning about their environment. She was definitely not the most interesting character. Far from it. There was another character in that novel who was far more complex. The scenes he appeared in were only really glimpses of his outwardly nature, even though I had in my mind backfilled his history.

Yep! You’ve guessed it. I started re-writing the novel from his point of view. Only this time there was another problem to overcome. His character is complex, moulded by the environment he has lived in and twisted by the experiences he has undergone. So I took time out, not to write about his history or explain him, but to write about a completely different character who for good storyline reasons needed to learn to understand people like him. Enter stage right Torvinne. Her story will end up being a novella in due course.

So enter a new idea and a new universe. I’ve called the Angels Universe for a very obscure reason. The background idea year and it’s busy gaining description and character. But yes, I’m going to have to do some exploratory writing about that universe. Hopefully along the way I dream up some interesting characters and conflicts that need resolving.

It occurs to me that if I’m taking this long to come up with a universe that’s ready to be written about, how do the more professional science fiction writers do it?

Well, the answer is that they mostly don’t. How many science fiction writers do you know that have series of novels published about the same universe? Quite a few, if not the majority.

There comes a point when the professional author is being pressured to produce a novel and is forced to rely heavily on the universe they’ve built before to get that manuscript out of the door. They don’t have time to develop more universes. And here is me, sitting with three of them in various stages of development. (I’m not counting the Near Future one here as the stories I write for this are based on interested science / technology extrapolations.)🙂🙂🙂

This does beg the question of how many top notch authors are there in science fiction today who feel tired and aren’t able to produce?

Well, Elizabeth Hand over on Charles Stross’s blog, has admitted she needed a break from writing. I say good for her for standing up, being honest and being counted. It’ll result in much better novels coming from her in the longer term.

But in its own way it does beg a lot of questions about how science fiction writers are being treated by the publishing industry.

Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy writing my novels in peace and quiet while I can.

 





And the science keeps on rolling in…

12 12 2015

Well, the avalanche of new science just keeps on rolling in…

First off is the news that they’ve run the first test to get nuclear fusion working at Max Planck Institute in Germany. See here for details. This is still at the experimental stages, bit so far so good. Of course there are other hot fusion experiments being done and prepared around the world. It’s now a case of who gets there fast enough to corner the market in the technology. But the bottom line is that the use of fossil fuels will be consigned to history within this century.

Then there’s those bright spots on the dwarf planet, Ceres.The scientists say they are due to salts. Most likely salt is the magnesium sulphate.

 
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Not sure what the implications are of this (except this will disappoint those who were hoping it was an indication that aliens exist).

NASA has put together a visualisation of the space weather that New Horizons had to pass through to get to Pluto. By all accounts it was a stormy ride. See here for details.

The Japanese probe, Akatsuki, has finally made into orbit around the planet, Venus. (Which given other circumstances, is rather appropriate timing, but more about that in a future post.) See here for details.

And finally for this post, comes that news that Tesla’s boss, Elon Musk, along with Linkedin co-founder Reid Hoffman and Paypal Co-founder Peter Thiel, are creating OpenAI, a nonprofit organisation devoted to “[advancing] digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return.” Of particular interest is the idea that AI should be used to save the world from advanced AI. See here for details. 

Does this last item sound familiar? If not let me give you a clue:

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As you know from my previous post, I’m working on the C.A.T. novel. (C.A.T.’s still purring about the Honourable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest for his 5th C.A.T. story by the way…). And yes, the theme of AI protecting humans from AI is going to developed further in that novel, but it is not the major theme, though if does have significant consequences in the novel… Hey… maybe I ought to… well I’ll leave your imaginations to finish the sentence.

 





A couple of news items

5 12 2015

I’m absolutely delighted that I have got an Honourable Mention in the 4th quarter of the 2014/15 Writers of the Future contest. It’s for my 5th C.A.T. story – Eternal Vigilance.

This is the 2nd Honourable mention, the first being for my 4th C.A.T. story – Space Blind. What this does mean is that the first two major chapters of my C.A.T. novel have received this award! Yes I did say chapters, with their all their lose ends a-dangling, and not the full allowable length so that the imaginative scope was limited. So well pleased.

Over at SFF Chronicles, Kraxon e-magazine is holding a vote for the favourite story of the year. My short story – Flame of Desire – is eligible. You have to be a member of SFF Chronicles to be able to vote. See here for details. Even if you’re not a member, go and read the stories – they’re all something rather special. Enjoy!

 





Vacancy – Science Fiction Role

17 10 2015

The rumblings about the potential dangers of developing technologies has got the attention of the United Nations. The event, organized by Georgia’s UN representatives and the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), was set up to foster discussion about the national and international security risks posed by new technologies. There was a focus on artificial intelligence. See more about the article here.

This does not come as a surprise to me. You only need to look at my short stories – Agents of Repair (in Jupiter Issue 29 – Thyone) and Neptune’s Angel.

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This is a good example of what I mean about progressive science fiction – pointing out the potential impact of the way science and technology could develop.

But there is far more to the impact of artificial intelligence than I have portrayed in these stories.

  1. I knew the potential dangers of what I was writing about and was very careful to miss out some of the crucial technology bits. This was in part not to scare the knowledgable readers and in part not to encourage the development of artificial intelligence along certain ‘promising’ lines of development that could lead to problems.
  2. I have since been trying to predict how things could go with the ever increasing capabilities of artificial intelligence. It’s not as straightforward as it might at first appear. There are a lot of ifs and buts knocking around. More work needs to be done by the professionals in this area to get a better of handle on the matter. I just know enough to know how complicated and convoluted the debate will become.
  3. A crunch point will come when a fundamental decision about a matter of principle needs to made. Do we continue to develop artificial intelligence or do we curtail its abilities? Experience with other technologies suggest you can’t stop technology being developed that has the capability for being used for nasty purposes. What you can do is ring fence the technology for it being used for beneficial activities.
  4. But that requires the necessary legislation to be put into place.
  5. Whatever happens with artificial intelligence, it is going to affect the way we live. You only need to look at the difference home computers have made since the 1980s and the internet since the 1990s to our lives.

This is where science fiction has a crucial role to play. It can let people know what is coming around the corner with technology and point out what should be done with it to avoid disasters. It’s a kind of education process for the person in the street who does understand technology-speak (I refuse to use the word technobabble here because it is not babble).

Yes there are some science fiction stories being published about various forms of artificial intelligence. A few of them are even in the near future, but they are too few and far between all the other science fiction stories. There is definitely a vacant role within science fiction that is not being satisfied – portraying potential near future artificial intelligence roles in society and their consequences.





Water, water everywhere….

30 09 2015

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The news channels have been full of it – that water occasionally flows on the surface of Mars. The scientists have deduced this is possible by the changing patterns of dark streaks on the planet’s surface over the past 15 years. Even better they have identified salts lying on the surface that induce the water (magnesium perchlorate, chlorate and chloride) to drop the freezing point of water to 80 degrees and the vaporisation by a factor of 10. It is thought these salts actually pull water out of the thin Martian atmosphere. Which all adds to liquid water sticking to the surface. 

But what about the implications that where there’s water there’s likely to be microbial life? Will they not contaminate any humans who happen to drop by? And what us contaminating Mars?

Well here’s the thing…

We have for a long time been receiving meteorites from the Martian surface. Although a lot of material is open to vacuum during flight that would kill off air-breathing microbes, we know some microbes exist that don’t need to breath any air. These microbes could have tucked themselves into the meteoroid’s deep crevices and made the journey to Earth. That means Mars’ ordinary microbes could have found themselves still alive after reaching Earth. Either way cross-contamination will have occurred between Earth and Mars. So there should be no problem with sending humans to Mars.

But how can we find out for sure?

The scientists could re-examine the meteorites known to have come from Mars to Earth for any evidence of the transfer of microbial life. There would know far better than I what evidence to look for.

It’s the obvious next step, so I’m surprised that I haven’t found any announcement to that effect amongst all the fanfare.

The data download from New Horizons continues to amaze. Quite a lot more detail has been identified on Pluto and its biggest moon Charon.

Whilst there are 17 known solid crystalline phases of water, the only one that is likely to found on the surface is Ice XI – An orhtorhombic low-temperature equilibrium form of hexagonal ice. It is ferroelectric i.e. has a spontaneous electric polarisation that can be reversed by the application of an external electric field. Ice XI is considered the most stable configuration of ice Ih

I’d love to know what the electromagnetic interaction between the solar wind and Ice XI is, and how it is affecting Pluto, particularly as it has such an eccentric orbit around the Sun and actually spins on its axis. This is a major difference from Triton, which comprises similar materials, but within Neptune’s magnetosphere.

[I have an interest in Triton because of the C.A.T. series of books, so it’s only natural that I should do a comparison.]

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What this solar wind to Ice XI connection means is there is room for an interesting short story. I’m sure someone somewhere must be writing one…








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