A Hazard of being a Writer

22 05 2015

While on a recent holiday, I treated myself to a back massage… well what else can you do while on a cruise on the Queen Victoria across the Atlantic? Lots actually, but I wanted to do some serious chilling out!

And I was shocked. My shoulder muscles had knotted themselves into steel balls that just refused point blank to return to relax mode.

I discussed this with several people since. The bottom line is that having a desk job means your shoulder muscles will naturally tense up and stay tense! There’s too much lactic acid that needs to get out of the tissue. Desk job? But all writers are basically doing a desk job. So that means… yep, you got it… all writers end up with tensed up shoulder muscles, unless they do something about it.

Of course not everyone can afford the luxury of professional massage. So what to do?

You can to a certain extent massage the shoulders yourself or you can get your partner to do so. But remember to do it with some oil, and to drink water or green tree with a dash of lemon afterwards. The latter is to help flush out the waste lactic acid from your body.

Of course being a science fiction writer, facts like these are grist to the mill. You never know where a nice little scientific fact can produce a story. But in this case, this scientific fact could help people realise why they are uncomfortable and what to do about it.

This kind of story may actually increase the popularity of the genre, because it is not only relevant to tomorrow, but also very pertinent to today’s way of life.

State of Science Fiction Today

17 05 2015

I have been saying for some time now that publishers are publishing what they know has sold well in the past and therefore likely to sell well in the future. Damien Walter has taken this analysis a step further. See here. Basically what he is saying that in the fantasy sector the multi-volume series has dominated the market place to the detriment of single standalone novels. He’s calling them mega novels, a good description me thinks. The consequence? Well we get the same universe and main characters. We always hear about people writing trilogies, some of which extend into a longer series. There are less new ideas coming to market. It’s worse than the reader having less choice. The reader will not see the fantasy genre progress in interesting ways. There is a spillover into science fiction. Ann Leckie’s novels, for instance, are part of a trilogy. Alastair Reynolds has just written a trilogy. And so it goes on. But science fiction is the genre of ideas, isn’t it? Alastair Reynolds has recently written an essay about space travel being limited to below the speed of light. See here. What he says is science-wise spot-on for the current thinking. Only my mind goes but, But, BUT… We know that Scholz’s star passed through our Solar System 70,000 years ago (and this was only discovered in the last year or so). At the other extreme of size, the Andromeda galaxy is due to collide with our own galaxy in 4 billion years time.


So why can’t we hop from Solar System to another that is passing close by? Admittedly this requires a certain amount of luck to have something glide by that has a suitable planet or moon to live on. We could start doing the calculations now to find those passers by and concentrate our efforts on those in terms of finding the new planets. And this is only a start for an interesting line of stories, which could see humans eventually populate the stars. See what I’ve done here? I’ve taken the current wisdom, applied to a problem and looked for a situation where that problem could be overcome without relying on the the science. I’m sure other science fiction writers have thought of the same scenario. But are there any stories or novels featuring this? Not that I know of. This is an example of a theme of what could have been published, were it not for the pressure on publishers to make profits. There are other examples – it would become a long and, for many readers, tedious post if I listed them and their backgrounds. So I’ll leave this interesting exercise to the reader. This does point to the need for a shake up in the science fiction industry if it is to be a vibrant genre. I’m not sure how it can be done. All I know is the science fiction industry cannot continue as it is – leaning towards fantasy, taking on other styles such as literary or going all nostalgic. P.S. Just hours after I published, io9 comes up with an interesting article about recent discoveries concerning the collision between our galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy. See here.

Exciting Debut Novel – Ashamet Desert Born – 30th May 2015

9 05 2015

Being excited about this book is the understatement of the year! I had the privilege of reading some of the draft excerpts some time ago and you just knew this was Terry’s special novel… Ashamet Desert Born is going to be more than just a darned good read. Its publication date is 30th May. Put it in your diaries. You can pre-order from Amazon here. Ashamet-Cover

Rather than give any spoilers, I’ll just give you what the blurb says (heck, I don’t want to marr your enjoyment)…

A desert world. A warrior nation that worships its emperor as a god. But for Ashamet, its prince, a future filled with danger… Ashamet is confident his swordsmanship, and his arranged marriage, will be enough to maintain the empire’s peace. But when a divine symbol magically appears on his arm, closely followed by an attempt on his life, he no longer knows who to trust. Worse, the strange attraction he feels toward a foreign slave could be another trap. As events unravel, too fast, Ashamet must find out if this innocent young male is a tool for his enemies–or the magic key to his survival.

Good Science Fiction?

6 05 2015

What makes good science fiction these days?

Indeed, what made good science fiction in the past and what lessons can we learn from that?

Let’s list some of the accepted classics that are read and reread even today:

  • Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
  • 20,000 Leagues under the Sea – Jules Verne
  • The Time Machine – H G Wells
  • The Invisible Man – H G Wells
  • The Island of Doctor Moreau – H G Wells
  • The War of the Worlds – H G Wells
  • The Last and First Men – Olaf Stapledon
  • The Star Maker – Olaf Stapledon
  • The Caves of Steel – Isaac Asimov
  • Foundation – Isaac Asimov
  • Childhood’s End – Arthur C Clarke
  • Rendezvous with Rama – Arthur C Clarke

…and of course I could go on. But I notice that all these novels have one attribute in common – a fundamental cosmos-shattering idea at the time of writing.

Have we seen anything similar in recent years?

Well, I think Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep and Iain M Banks’ Culture Series have deep significant aspects to them. So I would say yes to the question.

Could there be more?

This is where I really do hesitate. There are ideas out there of similar imagination and significance. It’s just I do not believe the publishing industry has nerve to go for something that big. After all, their main aim is to make a big enough profit to stay in business, and in a culture of recession and austerity that we are seeing at the moment, even more so.

But there is another common aspect to the classic novels I’ve mentioned above. Each and every one of them was influenced by knowledge and factors of circumstance outside of science fiction. A good example is that Frankenstein would never have come into being if it were not for a bet. Another good example is the Isaac Asimov robot series came about as a result of John Campbell pushing for the laws of robotics. So if there is one of those outside influences lurking in the background, there may be hope yet.

But as to what makes good science fiction these days? To me, it’s usually a mix and match of the great ideas in novel ways. After all, did not Asimov himself combine his Robot series with his Foundation series? Yes, they are interesting in themselves, but they do not have the draw of the classics. Nevertheless, this is what is considered good science fiction these days.

So in comparison to the past science fiction, we are falling behind the real hopes of the readership, which is why, I suspect, some people say science fiction is dying.

I suspect this has been recognised by Tor, which is why I suspect they are wanting to push the novella. They have a call out for unsolicited submissions here. They are hoping to boost the science fiction side of things by using the natural advantages of the novella length. To quote Robert Silverberg:

it allows for more extended development of theme and character than does the short story, without making the elaborate structural demands of the full-length book. Thus it provides an intense, detailed exploration of its subject, providing to some degree both the concentrated focus of the short story and the broad scope of the novel.

It will be interesting to see how the Tor novella initiative pans out.

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….


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