Missing Worlds

29 06 2015

Sadly, Falcon 9 has recently failed to launch properly. I’m sure there will be an investigation into what went wrong, but speaking as an engineer, I’ve never liked liquid fuel rockets. Why? Because they need need more engineering to make sure they are safe. It kind of goes against the engineering principle of keeping things simple. That said, they would not go to all this engineering ‘complexity’ without gaining some performance advantages. After all, Falcon 9 has done 18 safe launches and even with this last one exploding mid-air nobody was hurt.

This comes on top of the SpaceShip2 last October.

Space travel is still a dangerous business. Respect to all involved: those who actually put themselves in more dangerous positions, and those who have to deal with the frustrations of things going wrong and do.

But given the dangers and the problems the space industry is currently suffering, I am surprised there are not more science fiction stories about very near term space travel. I still remember there was a whole heap of novels about Mars just before the Viking lander made it to the planet’s surface, all them speculating what they would find there.

Mars has an intrinsic radiation problem for us humans, so I’m surprised that there aren’t more novels about inhabiting one of the few radiation safe places in the Solar System – Callisto (one of the big four moons around Jupiter).

With two planned space missions to Europa (one by ESA, the other by NASA), I’m surprised that we haven’t heard more about what we could find there science fiction-wise.

And as for father out in the Solar System – there are some very fascinating places.. believe me… I’ve been writing about them. And I’m not talking about C.A.T.’s adventures here either. I’ve got some really wild places.

But getting these stories published? There is a distinct lack of interest by the publishing community. [And just to be clear, we are talking good polished stories, not first exploratory drafts etc.]

This is a chicken and egg situation. Without the imagination from the science fiction community to egg on the space industry, the politicians who control the purse strings will not be persuaded to do the exploration of the wider Solar System. This in turn means that the space industry will not inspire more science fictions tories.

Personally speaking… I have now got a story for each of the eight planets. Five of those (Mercury, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Neptune) have been published. The Venus story, although accepted, looks likely that it will not be published. The Saturn story is currently doing the rounds. The most exciting and new in terms of things that could happen story belongs to Uranus. And this is the one that has had the consistent thumbs down by publishers. I know its length is problematic, but even so…

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I feel very very sad that these exciting phenomena are not being put in front of the readership to give them a sense of wonder. And there are many more phenomena to be had.

Where do these ideas of what could be come from? Well they are all based on obscure scientific facts. They are real, all too real…

…and the space scientists would benefit from the insights from these stories if they were made available.

 





Flame of Desire…

24 06 2015

I am delighted to say that Kraxon magazine have accepted a short story of mine – Flame of Desire. They hope to publish it at the start of August. And here’s to fingers crossed that not another disaster will delay its publication.

My last story that Kraxon published was, quite rightly, delayed a month. The speculation surrounding the cause of the SpaceShip2 crash at the end of October 2014 was too close to part of Tyrell’s Flight (see here). In the end they ruled out that particular cause, but at the time it not only would have been disrespectful to the grieving family and friends, but could quite easily have added fuel to the rumours. So good on Kraxon’s editorial team for taking the right decision to delay publication.

Interestingly, this will be my third story with them, and all them have been set in the near future. And like two other Earthbound stories (Ripple Effect and Cold Pressure) they foretell a future where Earth has not suffered from drastic climate change. Not a single one of them went dystopian with the subject.

Could this really happen? Could we really avoid the disastrous effects of climate change? After all a day does not seem to pass without some extra new warning about how we are going to suffer or that the predictions of climate change are myth.

The real problem with climate is that there are many factors that can and do affect it. Their interactions are complex and take a lot of sifting through to understand what will happen next. Yes, we can build the computers and models to work out what will happen. But there is a further issue. We don’t know all the physics behind it. Take the latest comments about the possibility of a mini ice age within decades… see here… it shows you that we need to know more about how our Sun works  in order to understand its impact on our climate. Another area of uncertainty is how the Earth’s molten core works and what are its impacts on volcanoes sending up dust into the atmosphere to cool our air.

So I reckon we know how what the man-made mechanisms are to control our climate. What we don’t know is all the impacts of natural factors that affect our climate. Until they are and modelled on super-computers, we won’t know mechanisms to deploy to control our climate to ensure it stays in the happy range of human comfort.

So bottom line is – we need more research into understanding which factors control out climate, and how. Once we have that, the rest of the problem to sort out is going to comparatively easy.





Progressive Science Fiction – Developments

20 06 2015

I produced the following graphic in a previous post showing roughly the main interest in science fiction over time…

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And I also produced this as a mind-map of what the influences on the science fiction can be…

Slide1

I would not claim either to be comprehensive, but they certainly do bring out main points. It’s time to start working out the implications of combining these maps, or at least attempt to do so.

On the latter graphic is ‘Explaining Why People Do Things’, which to me aligns with the Classic SF-to-New Wave and New Weird. These also align with the the ensuing popularity in fantasy. Coincidence? Probably not. Fantasy avoids technical explanations of gadgetry in the world building that slows the pace down. But to me it also means that people are looking inward to society, not how society relates to the environment it lives in.

If we look at when innovative technology was very much a focus in the general public, you can see

  • Golden Age when significant advances in science were being made available to the general public – think cars, TVs, fridges etc.
  • Star Wars dominant or military SF become predominant at the beginning of the end of the Cold War, and indeed some would argue science fiction had a crucial part to play in ending the Cold War
  • cyberpunk start at the time the computers and internet started to work their way into households

Exploring places has since the start of the last century been mainly technology driven. After all we need sensors and probes to explore space and improved submersibles to explore the depths of the oceans.

The Sense of Wonder and Inspirational Vision are really art commenting and predicting on where society might go. Socio-economic factors are dealing with issues that society has in order to survive and make life more comfortable. All these can happen at any time. So they appear intermittently in science fiction canon.

We have, relatively speaking, been through a period of comparative stability for about the last twenty-odd years. Yes, there are things like driverless cars and the eradication of malaria on the horizon, but they have the feel of being some way off to Joe Bloggs in the street. Why? Because people are naturally reluctant to take on board change.

But there is a problem with this. Progress is being made in research and development. Some of it, like improving the life of batteries are continuing to enter society. They are however within the framework of what we know and love, only a little better.

But the pace of research has now for some time been accelerating away from what is getting to market. We are seeing things like the Skylon spaceplane, mining space asteroids and nuclear fusion energy. They feel as if they are far off and therefore people are not bothering about them. But they could be here sooner than you think. And more and more stuff is being developed in the labs.

There will come a point when the promise of the benefits of change will far outweigh the reluctance to undergo change. Then, rather than the evolution we are continually experiencing at the moment, there will be a technological revolution. The world in twenty years time will be a very different place from what we are envisioning now.

And what is science fiction doing about this?

At the moment, with probably a few obscure exceptions, nothing.

One of science fiction themes we desperately need now is how to deal with ‘sudden’ technology improvements in our lives, no matter what the form of that change is.





Science Moves On Relentlessly… and So Does Science Fiction…

14 06 2015

Absolutely delighted to hear that Philae woke up today… (yes the little probe that landed on a comet) and even better it sent some more data. So fingers crossed that it will be able to continue its mission.

But why is it so important?

Two reasons: we will find out more about the Solar System’s origins and that will help to predict what will happen in the Solar System in the future; and we will know more about comets so that if ever a comet is on impact collision with Earth, we have a better understanding how to defend against one. There are also purely commercial reasons. Once we get into space properly, we can mine comets, asteroids for their minerals and ice. Also, we can hitch ride on passing comets and use whatever materials they have to offer instead of lugging stuff up out of Earth’s gravity well.

The results, when the analysis is finally done, will make some science fiction stories out of date because the writers ‘got their predictions wrong’. But it does mean that the new knowledge can lead to new science fiction stories.

In the meantime the New Horizon probe heading out towards Pluto has sent in some early pictures, which have got the scientists intrigued. Just what is that stripe across its face? They have also determined that Dwarf Planet’s moons orbit it ‘chaotically’. I’m sure there’s a decent science fiction story that can be written about that. I’ve never seen a story that uses chaotic lunar motion as the basis of a story. So there is certainly scope there for come up with new stories.

nh-hazards

Have fun writing them… I have other stories to write… exciting ones…





Ashamet – Desert Born – Win a Free Copy!

9 06 2015

[Update – two reviews up on amazon – both 5-stars! – told you it was good!]

Want to win a free print copy of Terry Jackman’s Ashamet, Desert Born? Then go to here.

And guess what the critics are saying? Yeah! The novel is a good ‘un!

Ashamet-Cover





BSFA and SFF Mini-Con – What was it like?

7 06 2015

Yesterday was a lovely sunny day when you would expect people to be outside. Instead quite a few of us were at Imperial College attending the British Science Fiction Association’s, Science Fiction Foundation’s and Imperial College Science Fiction Society’s mini-convention at the Blackett Laboratory, Imperial College… and it sure was a good one to attend…

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The guests of honour were Pat Cadigan and Brian Aldiss, and it took the usual format of two panels and two interviews.

Brian Aldiss is approaching his 90th birthday and, as you can imagine, was full of amusing anecdotes from his past. I think that writers, no matter what genre, may shy away from writing such characters into their stories because they take a lot of work, and time, to develop. There is no way I could recount those tales in detail, and hope, that in due course, someone writes a biography about him. What came out and everyone agreed on was that Brian Aldiss could not be pigeon-holed into on sub-genre, but wrote with excellence across many sub-genres.

I must admit I found Pat Cadigan the more interesting, partly because of where I am at in my writing (that’s another story for another post). The first panel talked about her Nebula winning novelette, The Girl-Thing who went out for Sushi.

Amongst many things that impressed the panel was how much world building could be compressed into such few words. Also whilst the slang was prevalent and not immediately understood, the story and where it was heading was. It also tackled subjects like transitioning and the law of transitioning (to sushi in this case), and pervasive surveillance, where in this case the reaction was that it was comforting to have around, because it guaranteed an immediate rescue would be launched if things went wrong in the the dangerous environment they were working in.

Pat herself admitted that she drew on what her friends who had transitioned told her. Pat went on to say that she had worked out that any military in space would not be as we see in many space operas with their battle cruisers etc, but rather they would be more like the coast guard, helping with rescues and doing policing activities. When she was trying to work out what forms her space-workers should take, she realised they had to deal with micro-gravity and also deal with the accelerations and therefore pressures of spaceflight. As life in the ocean was the closest we had to being weightless and also being able to deal with the pressure of the water, it was the best fit to her spaceflight and space-working needs. Further consequences were that the heart will adapt to space. Hearts in humans need to make an extra effort to pump blood upwards to the head against gravity. With little gravity in space there was no need for a skeleton to hold things in place. In space, bones would be replaced by cartilage. Given that space-workers needed to have quite a bit of manipulative dexterity, the octopus seemed to most fit the bill for a space-worker.

Now this is what I call working out your world-building!

The good news is that Pat is currently working on a follow-on novel. It is set a hundred years after this story and sounds very promising.

In her interview Pat talked about her short story, Cancer Dancers and how she had drawn on her personal experience. A lot of what she said about dealing with cancer rang true with me (my husband died of cancer). So without having read her story, I can recommend anyone having to deal with the horrible disease should read her story. You’ll feel less alone and realise that what you are experiencing are what other have in the past.

So it was a day mixed shades… Brian Aldiss’s lightheartedness, Pat Cadigan’s dealing with ‘difficult subjects’.





Why is interesting tidbits of science not in science fiction? Part 1

1 06 2015

O.K., I’m feeling a tad eccentric today… so here goes…

Words are to pictures what digitisation is to analogue computing.

What this means that words are like points on a picture and if you only have so many of them, then you will only get idea of some of the picture. Or putting it another way, if we don’t have enough words then we won’t get the picture. Similarly if we don’t have enough digits in a digital message, then we won’t get the message.

But we can the analogy further. Digital messages can use certain techniques to repair message (for the techies among you, a simple example is checksum). We can use extrapolative logic from the words to fill in the picture.

In each case we need a sufficient amount of the right material to be guaranteed to get the right picture / message.

But how do we know when we have sufficient?

It’s when everyone can agree and talk about what the words / digitisation said.

In the case of science fiction writing, how do you get to that state of global understanding, especially when you may be obliged to use obscure words e.g. while describing an obscure technical fact around which the story hinges.

Well, you can go into what I call the long descriptive definition. The disadvantage is that it breaks the tempo of the story, which can be very destructive to the reader’s entertainment.

Or you could add in a subplot before the main plot point to describe the necessary detail. Only that will make the story longer, and make the story feel tedious to boot.

Or you could do a series of stories where the first story is really written to discover what the word means and the second story is the originally written story. The snag with that is if the first story is not a success, the readers are unlikely to want to read a follow-on story.

Or you leave the story as is, and do an article alongside it to explain what the obscure technical word is all about. Taking this a step further, you could blog about said obscure technical word’s meaning the day the story in question is published.  So I find it intriguing that with all these blogs on the web, there is not more by way of such explanations.

To me, this shows that science, which ought to be at the heart of science fiction stories (at least in some of the sub-genres) is not as prevalent as I and perhaps many others would have hoped.

But there is a reason for that… find out when I publish the next part in this series…








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