Going round in Rings

17 10 2016

Science does not sleep and discoveries continue to abound. One of the latest concerns the exo-planet with ginormous rings – yes I mean the one in orbit around the young star, J1407 located 420 lightyears from Earth in the constellation of Centaurus (yep, similar direction to Alpha Centauri).

The boffins scientists have worked out that this system can be stable for a 100,000 years or so if the rings rotate in the opposite direction to the planet.

So we (I mean the human race) might have a chance of getting there before the rings disburse even at sub-light speeds.

For more details see here.

Talking of planetary rings, some clever spark took another look at the Voyager 2 data on the rings of Uranus. They found wavy patterns in the of the rings (alpha and beta) that imply the presence of two hitherto undiscovered moons. If these moons exist, they are quite dark, which begs the question about what they are made of. One other dark moon comes to mind – Callisto. This is covered in silicates and organic compounds (as well as the more traditional ice and carbon dioxide). Below is the photo Voyager 2 took of Uranus, and below that a schematic of its rings. More details can be found here.





Add to the dark moons and organic compounds, the extended planetary corona with all its electromagnetic activity, and I get shades of Frankenstein – or at least aliens so alien to our understanding of aliens that science fiction publishers would never accept any story based on them.

Talking of aliens… where are they? Given that faster than the speed of light is probably doable some time in the future (see a previous post), then you would have expected them to have arrived here by now. Brian Cox did suggest that there are so many obstacles to developing an extremely advanced civilisation, that they have all died out. Some of these obstacles we are already aware of – viral diseases (e.g. Black Death), climate change (e.g. what Venus has become) and wars of annihilation (e.g. what the Cold War could have become). Some causes have been speculated about e.g. Reynolds’ black cubes that kills off any life in his way or computers going rogue and killing their makers.

You know what? I don’t believe any of these explanations any more. I haven’t come across a single or group of circumstances that makes sense. It really is time for the science fiction writers to become more speculative about why the aliens have not contacted us.

Great Northern Exhibition 2018

13 10 2016

I was absolutely delighted to see that Newcastle and Gateshead have been awarded the Great Northern Exhibition for 2018. Not only will they receive £5million for the exhibitions themselves, but also £15million pounds towards legacy projects. Some of these will no doubt go to the upkeep of some special museums they have up there, which I know are struggling to keep going.


The area has a proud history of innovation – they are hoping to borrow George Stephenson’s Rocket steam engine from the National Science Museum – which was built on Tyneside. The area also saw the first hydroelectricity plant at Cragside House. Then there was the alternating current production at Wallsend – another first. Of course there was also the invention of the turbine – Turbina the first ship that had turbine engines can be found in the Discovery Museum not far from the Newcastle’s main railway station. More recently there has been the invention of low cost DNA scanning machines by QuantuMDx.

In other words it has been a powerhouse of innovation. As to why? Some of it was borne of necessity – it is said that rails (for railways) were invented to shift heavy loads of coal to the dockside. Others because people had the inspiration and the wherewithal to work on their dreams e.g. Turbina.

But could it also be an inspiration for science fiction writers?

Well the exhibition is to include art and design – additional elements that go to make good science fiction.

In one sense, I suppose, I beat them to the announcement. My latest published story – AI Deniers in the Explorations: Through the Wormhole anthology has part of it taking place in Beamish Museum – an open air museum that started out representing the coal mining era of 1913.

However, I do feel there is more science fiction potential to be had from Tyneside – if you’ve read some of the traditional and later stories, you’d understand they is a lot of imagination bubbling up around the Tyne – especially when you consider that the title of the Great Northern Exhibition is:

The Blazing World – The Fires of Invention

Enlightening Science Fiction

23 09 2016

Space is a normally a very dark place. Unless you are close to a star, you won’t see much light. That thought made me wonder what phenomena exist on Earth to change or generate light…

(1) Aurora – both the northern and southern lights. Here the solar wind interacts with the atmosphere to produce the lights. 20150409-10-sebastiansaarloos

(2) Rainbows – refraction through raindrops spreads white out to produce the different colours.


(3) Bioluminescence – when plankton and fireflies become agitated, chemical reactions in their bodies produce light.images-2

(4) Firefall – Around the second week of February, the setting sun hits Horsetail Fall in Yosemite Park (USA) at just the right angle to illuminate the upper reaches of the waterfall. And when conditions are perfect, Horsetail Fall glows orange and red at sunset.


(5) Persistent Luminescent Material – the first famous example was the Bologna Stone – It was discovered in 1603, at the base of a dead volcano near Bologna. When treated with heat, and exposed to sunlight, it would glow for hours—sometimes days. It was made by an Italian shoemaker Vincenzo Cascariolo.


(6) Nasturtiums – here is a beautiful rumor about the unique and beautifully round and green leaves and the bright orange flowers of the T. majus nasturtium which the daughter of Carl Linnaeus and even Goethe have observed. They said that the leaves and flowers have the property of phosphorescence, and will even go so far as to actually emit electric sparks or flashes which are generally observed in the dim light of dusk. I personally have never seen such a thing but it was stated that “the whole leaf seemed to twinkle with points of light” (Phosphorescence p 80-82 by Thomas Lamb Phipson 1862) (Hm… no wonder some people believe in very small fairies… hm…)


(7) Lightening – basically a discharge of ions through the air.


Every one of these lightening phenomena has given rise to myths, legends or fairy tales because they were seen as acts of power. Think Thor, the God of Thunder for instance. They all belonged to the realm of things we did not understand.

And of course they can be an inspiration for science fiction. For instance, what can happen if you find a Bologna Stone on a starless planet and it starts glowing? You would have to ask where the triggering light came from and what cause that light to appear? Could it be triggered by the focussing of starlight for instance? Hm… I feel a short story coming on….

But talking of enlightening things, I’ve been watching the Amazon ratings on the recently published anthology Explorations: Through the Wormhole. (Well I do have an interest in the matter and have a thing about numbers!)

The anthology has and continues to be high up in the Amazon ratings in USA, Australia and Germany, but has dropped down in the UK ratings for about a week now. Not by that much, I hasten to add, but the difference between the UK Amazon and the others is noticeable.

It makes me wonder if the UK science fiction market has different tastes to the rest of the developed world. And if so just what are those differences?

I know it’s only one science fiction book, but it does beg the question.

And to end on a happier note… I received my certificate for the Honourable Mention in the 2nd Quarter of 2016 for my story ‘Dust in his Eyes’. Here’s the photo…


This makes it three out of four chapters in my C.A.T. novel have got an Honourable Mention so far… Here’s a powerpoint-ish graphic to illustrate this and progress to date on the novel…


It kind of looks encouraging for the novel, doesn’t it? It certainly helps spur me on to finish it… a kind of enlightenment on its own, because it says other people, independent of me, think the stories are good (especially given that each of the stories had lose ends as they were chapters, which would have lost them marks).

Tidying Up Bits and Bobs

9 09 2016

There’s been a buzz of excitement to do with the launch of the Explorations: Through the Wormhole anthology. It has been doing rather well in the Amazon Best Sellers ranks around the world. Yes, I did say the world!

In the meantime, I’ve heard a draft of the audio of my story – all I’m going to say is that the reader was awesome. I’ll let you good people know with the anthology’s audio book is coming out. I know the paperback version is being worked on and hope it’ll be out within a few weeks. Again I’ll let you know.

In the meantime I have been updating my reference maps. First off is the mind map of the universes I have been working in. Of course AI Deniers is outside of the main three, but I’ve also added the latest titles of the C.A.T. stories… So here it is…


As usual title in black means it’s published. In orange, let’s just say awaiting a suitable home. Oh by the way the Angel Universe does not refer to the traditional angels we all know and love. It’s just my protagonists are named after the archangels – there is a reason behind that, but let’s put it down to my warped mind for now.

I’ve also updated my Europe map as a lot of AI Deniers happens in the North East of England. So here it is…


I’ve just heard there is now a video to accompany the anthology. It can be found here. 

And something rather nice arrived in the post the other day. The Writers of the Future certificate for my Honourable Mention in the 4th quarter of 2015 for Eternal Vigilance – the second main chapter in my C.A.T. novel. Yes, I did say chapter. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be a short story contest. Which is why I was so chuffed it got an Honourable Mention – there were a few lose ends that I didn’t tie up that would have lost it some marks! Here’s the proof of the certificate….



Phew… that was a dollop of news, wasn’t it? Ah well, the break is over and it’s back to writing for me.

Explorations – of all Sorts

4 09 2016

Yesterday’s Facebook Launch Party for Explorations: Through the Wormhole was good fun, which everyone seemed to enjoy. This has obviously helped the anthology to reach the giddy heights of no. 3 in the Amazon best sellers for anthologies – it is currently sitting at no. 7 on the UK list – a nice reward for all who worked so hard to publish this very interesting anthology.

The link to the Amazon UK version is on the sidebar – just click on the cover.

Woodbridge Press have set up a website for the science fiction news and articles – scifiexplorations – they are planning a series of explorations anthologies. The next one, Explorations: First Contact is already in preparation.

As with all parties, it’s useful to bring a contribution along. Mine was what I call a doodle –

Faster then Light Methods

Well, I had to put the wormholes box in yellow as it was the star of the show. But one interesting thing jumped out at me from this ‘doodling’. The green ones are where serious scientific progress has recently been made. Of the three items, two of them were lead by British inventors (Alcubierre Drive by Alcubierre and Em-Drive by Robert Shawyer).

News broke a few days ago that there are serious plans to test the Em-Drive in space. See here for the news.  A peer-reviewed paper on Em-drive is due to be published in December. If it works, and it is still a big if, it means astronauts can go to Mars in 10 weeks.

It would certainly drastically reduce the impact of radiation and bone-wasting problems. But if they land on Mars, astronauts will continue to be impacted by both as Mars has not magnetic field to deflect solar radiation and the gravity is much weaker.

Another possibility could exist. Some time ago, NASA indicated that Callisto, a moon of Jupiter, does not have the radiation problem Mars has. It is protected by the magnetic field of Jupiter, which means people can live on its surface without the fear of cancer etc. Gravity would still be a problem, but there are ways to mitigate it.

This brings us to the other big news of the week – Juno – or rather the first close-up pictures it has sent back of Jupiter. See here for more details.


This is a picture of Jupiter’s North Pole, which is bluer than scientists had believed. It is also going to be interesting from a fluid mechanics point of view. Apparently, Saturn has a stable ‘hexagonal’ configuration of vortices, but Jupiter looks rather chaotic in comparison. My guess is that there is some  interesting research going to happen here.

In the meantime, work is going on to design and make laser propelled micro-spacecraft that can be flown to nearby star systems such as Proxima Centauri to explore their planets. This propulsion method will allow the satellites to reach the stars in decades rather than centuries!

And let’s not forget the more down to Earth ‘stuff’ like the Skylon space plane (which uses liquid hydrogen and oxygen as fuel) and the proposed space elevator off Japan.

Just what does all this mean for science fiction?

Quite simply – A REWRITE.


Explorations: Through the Wormhole – Out Now!

2 09 2016

Wow! This anthology is now published and already selling well… There’s even a review on the UK part of amazon that has a nice little sentence about my story…

Rosie Oliver’s time-travel saga is likewise a fun bit of fluff with wit, pace and clearly-defined characters.”

Me? Clearly-defined characters? (Need to lie down in darkened room to get over shock… (characterisation is my weakest writing point), but thank you Mr Reviewer – much appreciated).

The anthology has some awesome stories in there – but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone – so won’t say too much.

I’m getting ahead of myself here…

For those of you interested in buying it in the UK Amazon – go here or click on the cover in the sidebar to your right.

For those across the pond – err… using USA’s Amazon – go here. 

And for those who just want admire the gorgeous cover:


There will be an official Facebook Launch Party tomorrow – See here for invite. Please note that if you’re in the UK, that means between 5pm and 8pm. I’m not sure what a Facebook Party entails – but I’ve done a little bit of prep to make the conversation interesting… (said she with an evil smirk!)

I also understand that an audio version of the anthology is in preparation… this is a first for me – having a full story in an audio book… Wow! is all I can say.

This is intended to be a first of a series of Explorations anthologies. The next one ‘Explorations: First Contact’ is already in preparation.

My thanks got the WoodBridge Press’ Nathan Hystad, Ralph Kern, Sam Primeau and many more. You peoples are truly wonderful!

Science Fiction and Science – The Relationship

28 08 2016

The relationship between science and science fiction is a set of complicated multiple links. I have, as a first draft, tried to put the principle ones on what people call a mind map. See the picture below:


It needs further work to develop the intricacies, but I’m sure you can think of where most science science fiction novels and stories fit in this scheme.

The interesting thing about this diagram is that there are loops which you can go round multiple times. Some a simple like ‘Human Wish List’ to “Serendipity’ and back again. Others are very complicated with oodles of steps.

What does this mean for new science fiction? [I’m not talking about repeats on a theme here.]

It means it can have a feedback loop that builds up momentum to a crescendo or sinks momentum until there are no more new stories or, exceptionally rarely have a momentum that is stable.

As we have seen from statistics provided by Locus Magazine via the Best of SF by Gardner Dozois, new science fiction novels have been on the rise since about 2009 after being produced at more or less a steady rate.


2009 was when the films Avatar and Star Trek Reboot hit our screens. Both turned out to be very popular – one for its incredible graphics and message of hope, the other because it delivered on old themes with very much a modern look that people tuned into. This, in my opinion, started the interest in science fiction novels. But why has the graph continued to rise since then, especially as there was no follow-up to Avatar and a lot of films have veered to the fantasy end of speculative fiction?

There must have been some positive feedback loop at play. It may be one that I’ve identified in the mind map. It may be something completely different. Without doing the legwork of identifying theme threads through those years, it is difficult to tell.

However, there have been hints on the science fiction grapevine that science fiction novels are going to be curtailed in the near future. Adam Roberts for one has stated that he will not have a novel published this year and his short novel due out next year will be more commercially based. See here for more information. Added to this comes the news that SFF market is slightly contracting – see here for reference. Judging by the above graph, I suspect this is more to do with the fantasy end of the SFF spectrum than the SF side. Nevertheless, if does not bode well for SF as fantasy novels may take more of the share of the SFF market, because they have the bigger segment anyway and are more likely to produce powerful new novels to be published. Which means a dent in new science fiction novels should be expected over the next couple of years.

The question has to be what is the new feedback loop that has come into play here. I have my suspicions, but until I have the definitive proof, it would be pure speculation. My guess is that the wave of dystopias has started putting people off science fiction. You only need to look at popularity of Anne Leckie’s novels in comparison to others, to see this is a distinct possibility. This could easily lead to a detrimental feedback loop impacting the number of new novels being published.

But I have hopes that after a few years this trend will be reversed… but we’ll have to wait and see.