Science Fiction and Legislation…

29 11 2015

images-1Once upon a time, in 1875, a law was passed in the United Kingdom that restricted the use of gunpowder and explosives for safety reasons. Everyone at the time thought is was a good progressive law to pass, because it limited the use of dangerous materials to things like warning flares.

The longer term implications painted a very different story. The Germans without the hindrance of such legislation developed with their V2 bombs. The Americans and Soviets did as well, with the German scientists only enhancing their knowledge. And from there we had the space race culminating in the Apollo missions landing on the Moon. And the United Kingdom? They eventually made what turned out to be a half hearted attempt with the Black Knight programme.

The moral of the story is that legislation can change we can develop as a society.

Fast forward to next week. There will be a summit in Washington discussing whether or not to band gene editing worldwide. See here for details.

Gene editing can help people who would otherwise cripples or have other nasty diseases. So why should the society stop what is good for society in general? Why should we make these people’s lives miserable when they can be happy?

The trouble is where do you draw the line for gene editing? Why should a rich person get themselves a designer baby with all the good aspects when others can only get the basic gene repairs on the national health? What would be considered a disability in the future? Not having high bone cheeks or blond hair?

Now here’s a couple things to consider:

  • We as a species have always been developing ‘better’ specimens through breeding programmes. The cattle of today have been breed for their efficiency to produce good milk and meat. The flowers of today have breed to produce lovely scents and delicate petals of all colours and hues. So gene editing in many ways is a fast track to changing a species. The only real difference is that we humans have more chance to get used and find ways of dealing with new species’ developments.
  • If we do gene-editing en masse, we are in danger of losing some basic gene material. That gene material could have helped the human race to survive in the past and if those conditions return, we would not have the natural defences to deal with them.
  • Even if there was a worldwide ban on gene editing, we still know how it is done. It means that people can do gene editing illegally. In these circumstances, there would not be the oversight to see that it is done properly with safeguards in case things go wrong. Is it not better to have that oversight rather than force things like this into the criminal fraternity?

Ever since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and H G Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau, we have been well aware of the potential for breeding monsters. Science fiction has in effect written about the proposals, nuisances and discussions about what is acceptable and not.

So how much notice are the scientists at the Washington summit going take from science fiction? I have a nasty suspicion not a lot, but I could be very wrong.

In any event, relevant science fiction stories should be included in debate because they articulate the ‘What if?’ scenarios. These in turn would inform the debate.

One thing that does really worry me is the apparent lack of interest by the UK government in working to produce and maintain good legislation with respect to technologies.

Let me give you another example. President Obama has signed into law the right for US citizens to own and commercially exploit (in the first instance this will mean mining) property in space such as asteroids. See here for details. Can a UK citizen do that? I mean own and commercially exploit space minerals? It means we as a country are at commercial disadvantage compared to the Americans. Certainly this is not good news for British citizens.

And again, asteroid mining has long since been part of the science fiction cadre. So it’s not that we don’t know some of the ins and outs of the issues involved.

There is a whole wave of new technology heading our way. Some of it is already catered for by legislation, but as we’ve seen above there are significant chunks that still need a ‘legislative sorting out’.

And yet… it seems to me that a vast majority of science fiction being published today tends towards the fantasy end of the spectrum, just when we need the more scientific end of the genre to help us decide our future the most.

Part of the problem is there are so few speculative fiction writers who can draw on deep scientific knowledge to produce the cutting edge thoughts about what technology could really bring in the future. Anther part is the lack of encouragement by the publishing industry to write such stories. Yes, there are places such as Nature Futures that ask for short stories, but they are few and far between.

At this rate the human race as a whole will end up heading blindly into a disaster by creating and using a new technology, just because it did not look at ahead to understand the full implications of doing so. Yes, some the incoming technology could be that dangerous.

I wish I was kidding, but I know the latest short story I’ve written is only the tip of an extremely large and dangerous technology iceberg. And there are other icebergs waiting to be explored.

New Novels Trends for SF, Fantasy, etc.

26 11 2015


Above is the graph of new novels published in various genres. It uses the numbers presented in Gardner Dozois’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction books, which in turn are taken from Locus Magazine’s statistics.

Basically the last few years have seen

  • a steady rise in new science fiction novels
  • a stabilising of fantasy and horror novels
  • a continuing decrease in paranormal romance

For the combined genres, the decrease continues since 2012. So by increasing science fiction is taking a greater share of the market.

But having said that, the overall numbers reflect what I have seen of how bookshops handle the genres – less space and less prominent settings for the genres.

As to why this is happening, I can only speculate. What I do know is that there has been a push for science fiction in the market place from people interested in science. This will have obviously contributed to the recent success of science fiction. By how much, I don’t know.

Even More Science… Plants this time

22 11 2015

There have been two articles about plants. Scientists have been able to produce electric circuits in roses. Yes roses! The first step to cyborg plants!

Whilst the experiment in itself is of little value, what it could lead onto could be of significant value. For instance a plant could be used to monitor environmental conditions in a greenhouse. If it is linked to the heating or lighting circuits we could engineer how to keep those conditions at optimum for the plants. It would mean less waste.

The article can be found here.

We’ve been aware for quite a few years now about the wood wide web – yes I did write WOOD WIDE WEB. It’s the association between trees and fungi in the wood. It not acts as a warning network of danger, but also as a transport system of resources. The article can be found here.


Add to this the previously reported discovery that plants have a quantum mechanics network, we can start to see that there is a very complex communication and logic laws acting in Earth’s plant-life. It begs many questions like:

  • Are all plants in communication with their neighbours?
  • What kind of intelligence do they have? [There are different systems of logic laws and whilst we humans tend to follow one, the plants may for good reason follow another – we just don’t know the answer to this.]
  • Do plants have a kind of hive intelligence? [In which case the research into swarm mechanisms, e.g. how birds fly in a flock, becomes even more important.]
  • Is the idea of Gaia really the wood wide web?

All these ideas could be placed in science fiction stories. But experience suggests that if you write about these ideas, people (editors and readers) find them so strange that they cannot come to terms with them. They are well and truly thrown out of their comfort zone, and seem to automatically refuse to even look at this section of science fiction.

This worries me. There is, as you’ve seen from previous posts, a whole wave of science rolling into our lives. How we live twenty, ten years from now will be very different from today. And yet, as far as I can see, only the big corporations are peddling anthologies about how they see their products are developing. It’s a kind of futuristic advertising.

We need the independent science fiction writers to show a more balanced futuristic picture. 

There are reasons why this is not happening at the moment. These include risk adverse publishers, fantasy being more popular because it offers escapism from the realities of today, and the scientists and engineers amongst us writers earn more in our day jobs as well as there being a skills shortage, so we’re rarely out of job.

A further complication is that science fiction is the natural home of sections of the community that feel, for whatever reason, shunned by the rest of society. They want their voice to be heard. I have sympathy for many cases, but the consequence is that the futuristic science fiction writing gets swamped out of existence.

It is in these kinds of situations that government funding for the arts is useful, but under the current economic climate this does not happen. Nor can I see it happening in the future wither because of the many up and coming demands on government finances.

So we are left with the

  • big mega companies pushing out science anthologies biased towards their products and ensuring their own future
  • few brave scientists and engineers who write science fiction, but in order to get their work published they have to tune out the unusual.

Is this where we really want to be as a society?

And even more science rolls on…

14 11 2015

It’s like an avalanche at the moment… So I’m going to do things in sections:

Phobos is breaking up: See here for more details. Given what is my short story Space Blind (unpublished, but a few people have seen it), this does not come as a surprise. What is interesting is the striations are a sign of imminent (in astronomical timetables) break-up. A useful snippet for a science fiction writer somewhere perhaps?


Pi and Quantum Mechanics Connection:

In 1655, an English mathematician, John Wallis produced the following formula for calculating pi – you know that pesky little number associated with calculating various properties of circles – which is:

 \prod_{n=1}^{\infty} \left(\frac{2n}{2n-1} \cdot \frac{2n}{2n+1}\right) = \frac{2}{1} \cdot \frac{2}{3} \cdot \frac{4}{3} \cdot \frac{4}{5} \cdot \frac{6}{5} \cdot \frac{6}{7} \cdot \frac{8}{7} \cdot \frac{8}{9} \cdots = \frac{\pi}{2}

Well, apparently a couple of clever physicists noticed this formula popping up in equations to do with the energy levels of an electron in a hydrogen atom. More details here.

This one has me particularly excited (no pun with electron energy levels intended) because I was working on a follow-on novel to my Miranda novel that involved quantum physics at this smidgen level, and it involved hyperspheres, which of course would involve pi…

[As I haven’t found anyone interested in publishing the Miranda novel, the follow-on novel has also quite naturally been laid to rest.]

Asteroid Mining Law: The senate has voted to pass the Space Act of 2015 that legalises asteroid mining. Details here. This of course is the USA. I’m not familiar with the details, but I hope that it takes due account of other countries’ interests. The question is: Why is this not being considered by our parliament in the UK?

New Dwarf Planet at Edge of our Solar System:

Up to now, Eris at 97 Astronomical Units (AUs) has been the farthest out of the dwarf planets in our Solar System [The other designated dwarf planets are Ceres, Pluto, Haumea and Makemake.] But they’ve found  one at 103 AUs, about three times as far as Pluto is from the Sun. Estimated at between 310 and 620 miles wide, it is half the size of Pluto. More details here.

Again this does not surprise me. I have written a short story (which was subbed in 2013 and haven’t had a response yet – sigh) that touches on the legal implications of this. It makes for interesting thoughts all round, and would actually be a basis for some darned good science fiction novels.

Well, that should give you all something interesting to write about if you were short for ideas for science fiction stories.

And that science keeps on rolling in…

4 11 2015

Well, there’s been a whole slew of new stuff found out about the solar system and trying to keep up with it all is going to be quite a task…

As expected New Horizons keeps on downloading new images of Pluto and its moons. Here’s a better image of the crescent…


You can just about make out some of the layering in the atmosphere!

Then one of its moons came up with a ‘surprise’ – Kerberos which from the image below looks like two ice-rocks close together.


That there are moons like this does not come as a surprise to me… let’s just say I’ve written a story that is as yet unpublished about such a moon, only it’s more complex than two ice-rocks. But the interesting point is that the such a configuration is stable – which means their mutual gravitational attraction is greater than the gravitational tidal forces due to the planetoid and its other moons.

And then there’s the intriguing craters on Charon. Roughly the same size and fairly close together. But one, Organa, has higher concentration of ammonia in the ice than seen anywhere else. Skywalker on the other hand is rich in water ice. The high ammonia picture showed up in the 2.2 micron filter.


Expect pictures from Cassini on its latest flyby of the moon Enceladus, through the plumes from the outgassing at its southern hemisphere.

Tomorrow (Thursday 2pm EST) NASA are going to make an announcement about what they’ve discovered about the Martian atmosphere. By all accounts they have the high profile leaders from the MAVEN probe ready to face the journalists. So it must be something significant.

And to add to the intrigue the Rosetta probe has found oxygen in the atmosphere surrounding the comet 67P. It’s come as rather a surprise to the scientists as oxygen is a highly reactive element. They are obviously trying work out why it’s there. So watch this space.

Reaction Engine Ltd has now got the go ahead to develop the SABRE with a grant of £60million from the government. This is on top of BAE Systems purchasing 20% of the company for £20.6million. This is big money indeed. But that SABRE engine, intended for the Skylon space plane, will also help fly a plane from London to Sydney in four hours.


OK so I got a soft spot for Skylon – it’s even been mentioned in my science fiction story Neptune’s Angel – no I won’t tell you what I did with it – go and enjoy the story.

Also expect an announcement soon about relationship between general relativity and quantum mechanics soon… not sure what it’s going to be – but here’s the link explaining more.

There is definitely a bundle of news here, all of which would inspirational for writing science fiction stories…

Short SF Stories…

31 10 2015

I was in Waterstones while in Bristol today, checking out science fiction books… as you do… when I noticed that there was something missing from their shelves – anthologies of short stories.

Admittedly I put it down to just one of those things. That was until I also checked out Foyles. Exactly the same. No science fiction anthologies.

You can still get anthologies on Amazon or if done by a local writing group, from that writing group. So have science fiction anthologies stopped being brought into book shops? Only time will tell, but I suspect the answer is yes. This is in part due to the cost in time, money and resources to producing an anthology. Which means novels are more profitable. So it’s not surprising anthologies could be disappearing from book stores.

I’m also pleased to say that Jupiter Issue 47 with my short story, Air of Freedom, is now available on Amazon as an e-publication. The link is here. Enjoy.


Following in the footsteps of a giant?

24 10 2015

I sat down with my second cup of coffee after breakfast to add a few sentences or paragraph to my current work in progress. Five hundred plus words and another one of those ‘where the heck did that come from?’ moments later, I realised that this story is one of those that sparkles with ideas. But I had to ask myself ‘why is this happening to this particular story?’

The work in progress concerns my third novel. My first I have long since abandoned because it is a beginner’s novel, the one where you write out your mistakes and ditch. It also has what I call the standard science fiction themes and action. My second is a serious novel where the main characters develop, albeit as a result of what happens to them rather than them actively progressing forward themselves. The third, which admittedly is being written alongside the second? Well, that just goes from strength to strength, surprising and delighting at every turn.

At this point, the penny drops. Another author took a similar path a long long time ago (but not in a galaxy far far away). I am of course talking about Jane Austen.


Her first novel was Northanger Abbey and written, tongue in cheek, in the gothic style that was popular at the time. It was published posthumously. And it would never have got published had not Jane Austen been a famous author by that time.

Her second novel was Sense and Sensibility, which Jane had to publish herself. This examines the interplay between common sense and emotions, which many people would consider opposites. My second novel also works through what many people would consider opposites in science fiction. The heroine, like Marianne Dashwood, gradually moves from one extreme to the other over the course of many ‘adventures’ during the novel.

Austen’s third novel was Pride and Prejudice. That just examines the social attributes of the time, as Jane herself put it, it sparkles.

So more by dint of accident than design, I’m kind of following a similar development curve to Jane Austen. Two key differences are:

  • Jane Austen was dealing with contemporary novels whilst my genre is science fiction
  • I don’t pretend to be as great a writer as Jane Austen

But the pattern is interesting:

  • 1st novel – imitating what is already being sold, but also commentating on it
  • 2nd novel – dealing with basic opposite characteristics
  • 3rd novel – examining variations on themes

Austen’s fourth novel was Mansfield Park, which has been described elsewhere as a moral tale. The fifth was Emma which is about an anti-heroine which the last was Persuasion, to my mind a commentary on the politics of the then society.

Will I continue to follow the Jane Austen pattern?

Only time will tell, but how really don’t see how the idea for my fourth novel would ever develop into a moral tale.

Now to get back to that sparkling novel.


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