A Void Dance in Far Horizons

18 04 2015

Congratulations to Far Horizons who are now a year old! It takes courage and determination to keep a magazine like this going. I take my hat off to you all!

The first chapter of my novel A Void Dance has been published by Far Horizons. Now you good people and computers and robots and aliens can see what my second, far more serious strand of science fiction is. I also like the literary interpretation of the picture they’ve picked. Wow! The editors got the essence in spades. Thank you to all at Far Horizons.

And even more science for science fiction to play with…

17 04 2015

We’ve all heard the hypothesis that a Mercury sized planet hit Earth to create the moon billions of years ago. Now here’s the proof that it really happened.

There are implications from this. The collision made the Earth’s core more radioactive, which  generated heat and a roiling iron core, which in turn created a magnetosphere, which in its own turn protected us from the Solar radiation, which in turn meant we could develop into a human society. Or putting it another way, without this collision, human civilisation as we know it would never have happened.

But there’s even more implications. It means that it is very much less likely that like, as we know, it will have developed elsewhere in the Universe. We could, as an intelligent species, really be alone. But even if that was not the case, the chances are that alien civilisation is far more sparse than we previously thought, therefore likely to be far more far apart distance-wise. That would make contact with aliens more difficult.

Science fiction has over the decades run the gamut of what and where we come into contact with intelligent alien species. But this piece of science has in effect indicated that a lot of the previously published science fiction is unrealistic.

Nothing wrong with that. We’ve been here before with faster than light travel, Mars having some atmosphere and life on the surface, and that the dark side of Mercury was the coldest place in the Solar System. These are all themes that are still accepted as science fiction if they were published before the discovery was made that they were wrong. Where stories that have the wrong science are published after the discovery was made, then people, quite rightly treat them more as fantasy.

So the scope of ‘real’ science fiction is continually narrowing.

Or is it?

Discoveries continue to be made. But a lot of these discoveries, like the one at the link, involve details when compared to the basic science discoveries in the previous centuries. What becomes headline news these days is if that detail proves something rather basic or fundamental.

But how does a science fiction pick out a detail like that and more it onto big implications in a story?

I was reviewing my stories this afternoon wondering what I should work on next. This ranged anything form just one-line ideas to a heavy editing session with mature-ish texts. This is when I noticed that all the basic premises for my stories were the detail leading to something big. You could say this is the butterfly effect of science fiction – the butterfly effect is based on the flap of butterfly’s wings in Brazil leading to a Hurricane in Caribbean saying.

But how do you identify such a starter as the flap of the butterfly’s wings?

In my case, it has often been by accident rather than deliberate planning. It’s more a case of keeping my eyes open for the opportunity and making a mental note of it when something passes by.

But sometimes I did go looking for it. Usually this involves having a large database to pull on and searching through. This is where the googles of this world has made things easier. They can do the searching for you. It would have taken me ages upon ages to find exactly the same fact in the old-fashioned libraries.

So I would say that the advent of the internet has changed what science fiction themes I write about in a very fundamental way.

Is this true of other science fiction writers?

Well, I can’t say I have seen any evidence to that effect. We are still following the old themes, even if they are mixed and matched more these days. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the stories, but where are the new science fiction ideas?

Meanwhile, I’d better go and get some supper before I start hitting the keyboard again…

Discoveries continue being made….

14 04 2015

It’s been a few weeks of exciting discoveries…

  1. They’ve found evidence of liquid water on Mars
  2. A star being born
  3. Chemistry says Pluto is likely yo be red

OK… the importance of water on Mars is twofold – it makes it more promising that microbial life could still exist on the planet. Also it will help humans settle there. It still does not solve the radiation problem for us. The best place to settle is still Callisto where Jupiter’s magnetosphere protects the moon’s surface from solar radiation… unless you can design a permanent flying home for the upper atmosphere of Venus.

The pictures of the star being born will help astrophysicists understand how stars are made, live and die better. This in turn helps us predict what our Sun is doing, which of course affects in many different ways.

And as for Pluto… why am I seeing red.

Any of these three discoveries could lead to a decent science fiction story… so go, write…

But I’m rather excited about an idea I’ve had for a story… it’s a real super-duper humdinger… now if only I can the words down….

Science Fiction in the Market Place

11 04 2015

As far as I am concerned, the behaviour of certain people has brought the Hugo Awards into disrepute, which to translate this from Britishness into plain words, the Hugo is no longer an award to aspire to. It’s dead, deceased, defunct. Which means one of the mainstays of Worldcons is gone. Whether the Worldcons can survive such a blow is a matter to be seen.

I was also disappointed by the BSFA awards. I’ve read Anne Leckie’s Ancilliary Sword. I found it enjoyable and a good read, but, and this is the important point for me, it did not have the ‘Wow factor’, the kind that makes my eyes pop out and want to read more. It did not have that extra special ‘je ne sais quoi‘. In fact the Arthur C Clarke award shortlist backs me up on this as Ancilliary Sword did not reach the shortlist.

To me the voted awards are in total disarray, driven by cliques rather than quality of the imagination. And that means all is not well with the science fiction community.

This is all the more disappointing because there is a whole heap of discoveries on its way (think New Horizons probe to Pluto and the restarting of the Hadron Collider), inventions being developed (think Skylon space plane and continuing development of robotics), and technology continues to be introduced into society (think Apple Watch and automatic vacuum cleaners, let alone the massive advances in medicine because of genetics). Yet, despite all this influx of science, science fiction does not seem to interest the ordinary person in the street. You would think it is only natural that people would be asking ‘what could be next for us?’

The world in ten, twenty years time will be a very different place from what it is today. Think back to 2005. Clunky heavy laptops, cars built like heavy tanks to save people’s lives should accidents occur, lighter and more fuel efficient aircraft, and the list could go on. Think twenty years ago… the internet was only just starting and available to a specialised few, mobile phones were heavy bricks and digital photography was in infancy.

Admittedly there have been attempts to look at what’s coming around the corner technology-wise and how it would impact people. Nature Futures is one such place. The Hieroglyph Project another. But they have not attracted the interest that I would have expected. People just do not seem to want to know.

Part of the problem is the dystopian of ‘the world will end’ emphasis we have seen in science fiction lately. It’s the kind of modern dungeons and dragons gaming of the late 1970s and early 1980s or the chess playing leagues around in the mid-1970s or the wargaming with model soldiers that used to exist earlier last century. Dystopias don’t look at modern technology, don’t want to either. Science fiction dystopias were initially warnings of what could go wrong in the future, but have since morphed into gaming, a sort of trap to snare the unwary science fiction writers.

Another part of the problem is that there is too much technology entering society. How do you combine improvements in medicine with improvements in data processing with improvements in transport with improvements in materials with improvements in miniaturisation with ad nauseum? It’s a nightmare for the writer to get right. Consequently the track record of predicting aspects of the future has got worse. Result has been that the readership are losing interest. in fact we are really left with the far future space operas that are so remote from today that the feel more like fantasy that science fiction. I would even include Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 in this space opera category.

Another part is the belief by some people that all the likely near future science technology development has been covered in science fiction. That is an assumption that is so wrong that I find it incredible. I find no shortage of ideas and developments to write about. In fact there have been times when I’ve been writing about one idea when another idea comes into the story. But what I can understand is that writers new to craft of developing science fiction stories tend to examine and explore the old ideas first. It’s called learning the craft and understanding what is already out there. It does boil down to having to take longer to develop one’s capability. But honestly, there is so much possible new technology, let alone natural phenomena to explore, that there is no shortage of material to draw on.

I can understand why Andy Weir’s The Martian has attracted such interest. It is a possible near future book that could take hold of the near term imagination and hope. But Andy had to effectively self-publish it before it got noticed by the publishing industry.

Which to me points to the publishing industry strangling off this valuable resource. Yes I call writing about near future a valuable resource for society because it helps the scientists and technologists to develop new things by showing the way and warning of problems that need solving. The industry has got itself into what I call the pure entertainment ghetto, and ghetto is the right word. It’s difficult to escape from and it’s limited to the current population of the readership. Or putting it another way, the science fiction industry has become so risk adverse to new stuff that it frightened of publishing anything that is untried and untested in the market, which means nothing really new.

It’s at this point I’d like to say that there is a thirst in the international science fiction market for identifying new technology. And yet the publishing industry has dismissed this market opening altogether.

This has been going on for so long that it is now going to take a major new initiative and financial backing to break the logjam to get near future realistic science fiction back into the readership’s focus. Is this going to happen?

Of course not… It’s going to take more successes like that of Andy Weir’s before publishers will sit up and take notice. And that will take time. Which is why the professional ‘hard’ science fiction writers have to give up in order to earn their wages from elsewhere.

But do you remember what I said earlier in this post about the development and introduction of technology?

Yes… this is going to catch the publishing industry out and those writers brave enough to continue writing this type of science fiction will one day wake up to realise they are in demand.

Progressive Science Fiction – A Summary View

5 04 2015

It’s Easter Sunday and the BSFA awards will be announced this afternoon. When I look through the list, I don’t get that inspired feeling that I have had in other years. Maybe it’s a sign of my growing older, but my guess is that I’m demanding more from my science fiction these days.

This statement is backed up by my positive reaction to the new Thunderbirds Are Go series, the first episode of which was aired yesterday. Whilst it is still very much what I call a youngsters programme, it had touches of sophisticated reality (like Alan and Scott hiding under the table to avoid Grandma’s bad cooking!). So it as a concept has developed from the marionettes of the 1960s.

Which is why I was delighted to dig out an old doodle about progressive science fiction drivers and update it a little bit.


All of the drivers in this picture are not new, but it’s nice to see them all in one place. Obviously you can have the mix and match of them in any story.

One thing did rather strike about this map. The more traditional drivers for science fiction are on the left hand side under the pushing it into fiction, whilst the pull are more traditional drivers for general fiction. It kind of explains a lot of what is happening in science fiction today… the veer away from the science end towards the fantasy and the fact that more new fantasy novels get published than hard science fiction. What it shows to me is that, with a few notable exceptions, the science fiction writing and publishing industry does not have strong enough characters to make real science fiction happen.

As to the why… well I’ll leave that question for another time…

Gender Gap still exists in Science Fiction Published Writers

3 04 2015

Well, the science fiction book market has done it again. According to Strange Horizons 2014 SF count“…this year’s proportion of books by women/non-binary individuals is the lowest recorded in the SF Count to date…”

In the UK of the 195 novels counted, 134 were by men (68.7%) and 61 by women (31.3%).

This is an absolute disgrace. There are no other words for this situation.

I have argued in previous posts that the lack of women writers detracts from adding quality and variety to science fiction, due to the simple fact that the pool of stories to choose from is fewer – the rest follows because in the extra number of books there would have been some great stories and some different takes on science fiction. Simples!

What is really upsetting is that despite Strange Horizons bringing this issue to our attention with hard figures for five years now, nothing seems to have changed. Even at the slow pace the novel production industry has to work (for pragmatic reasons) no progress has been made on these totally illogical proportions.

The first step to sorting out a problem is to acknowledge that it exists. It seems to me that the science fiction novel industry, in general, is not even doing that. Otherwise we would have seen a shift in the numbers in the other direction by now, not a massive one, but a noticeable one.

So the more this issue can be aired or printed or ethered, the more likely the publishing industry will sit up and take notice. Hence this short, but to the point post.

Where next for the science fiction short stories?

28 03 2015

I recently completed writing the last of my Solar System Planets short story. It like the last but one short story is doing the submission rounds. I hope eventually to place them all in an anthology. The list is below, where published means it has been placed by independent publisher in a magazine. My thanks go to all those publishers who pushed my stories out into the big wide world!


The order of writing (not necessarily editing) has been Mars, Neptune, Earth, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Uranus, Saturn. The order of publication has been Mercury, Neptune, Earth, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, with the last two to be decided.

It is interesting to note that whilst not obvious from the stories themselves, Jupiter’s and Neptune’s are linked into one universe, as are Saturn and Uranus into another one.  Jupiter, Uranus and Saturn are all linked to my novel writing:

  • the first to my C.A.T. series (though it’s not immediately obvious)
  • the latter two to what I’m calling my Force trilogy.

Yes, I have written more Earth-bound stories than Cold Pressure, all based in Europe… so far, because it’s an area I know. It probably explains why my stories have been published in the UK and not in the USA.

Whilst I feel a sense of achievement, I also am left wondering what I should do next short story writing-wise. 

The obvious would be to do the Solar System’s dwarf planets: Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake and Sedna. It certainly would be a challenge, but at the moment as a theme, it does not call to me.

No I’m looking for what I call a fresh theme in science fiction.

…which leads onto a corollary question… where does hard science fiction get published these days? the obvious markets are:

  • Analog
  • Nature Futures
  • Jupiter
  • Perihelion

There may be others, but whatever I come up with as a theme, the story line has to fit what they want.

There are magazines that publish a mixture of what I call science fiction and fantasy, but I have noticed that they tend to shy away from what I call deep techie based stories, which is why magazines like Asimov’s and Interzone are not included in the above list.


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