Monday, 23 December 2019

Merry Christmas 2019


And I sit here typing these words, wondering where the heck did December go?

But they have flown by, so it must be time to wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

See you all on the bounce.

Friday, 13 December 2019

Dead Authors Dinner Party

 

The other night I awoke thinking about which dead authors I would like to talk to.

The first one would be Isaac Asimov. Having my bum pinched by him would be a small price to pay for talking to the man who aroused my interest in science. Besides it's apparent that he was a damaged person whose neuroses impacted him, if I could go back and offer him therapy, who knows how it may have changed him.

After that it would Robert A. Heinlein, the first science fiction author whose books I bought as a lonely child, to pass the time during a wet summer holiday in Ilfracombe, where my family went every year (BTW: William Shatner's comment about Ilfracombe makes me laugh). He was a survivor of tuberculosis and a life long stammerer.

Arthur C. Clarke, who I saw once and met at a one day convention in London, back when it was possible to meet authors at really tiny events. It would be nice to sit down and talk to the man who has probably inspired my writing the most. The pillars in my Gate Walker series are a homage to the Monoliths of 2001. Another author who struggled with prejudice.

After that, A. E. van Vogt would be the next author I would've liked to have met and talked to. Much derided by Damon Knight, which destroyed van Vogt's reputation, his story The Black Destroyer, which I read in The Voyage of the Space Beagle, stands as a testament to how wrong Damon was.

Then Cordwainer Smith, pseudonym of Paul Linebarger. Gosh, I imagine a great discourse ranging from his Godfather Sun Yat-sen to his work in American intelligence, psychological warfare, and perhaps even talking about his experiences with psychotherapy.

Also Robert E. Howard, along with Novalyne Price. I would admit that the temptation to do couple therapy with them, and help Howard with his depression would be a thing. Imagine if they'd married, and he had lived.

Finally, H. P. Lovecraft and Sonia Greene, again this would be one of those situations where I would be tempted to do couple counseling, and help the very damaged Lovecraft with his crippling neuroses to live a happier life.

Sweet dreams are made of this.

PS: A takeaway from this is that all the authors I admire were products of their time and damaged in some way or another.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

The Fermi Paradox



I imagine that most science fiction fans will be familiar with the so called Fermi Paradox. From Wikipedia that quotes the Hart-Tipler argument:
1. There are billions of stars in the galaxy that are similar to the Sun, and many of these stars are billions of years older than the Solar system.
2. With high probability*, some of these stars have Earth-like planets, and if the Earth is typical, some may have already developed intelligent life. And some of these civilizations may have developed interstellar travel, a step the Earth is investigating now (but we would only see these aliens only if they have faster than light travel).
3. Even at the slow pace of currently envisioned interstellar travel, the Milky Way galaxy could be completely traversed in a few million years.**
I don't think there is an actual paradox, and I'm not the first to come to this conclusion. I'd be shocked if I was.

The Argument

But here's the thing I realized.

A first order approximation for going around our galaxy at light speed, assuming you don't stop, would take 314 thousand years. The minimum if stopping once (as in go halfway around the galaxy and colonize one planet), and you would have to quadruple that to allow for acceleration and deceleration, which means 1,236,000 million years have passed.

Okay, that doesn't sound so bad, but assuming you want to stop at all the planets that can support life (minimum approximation 100,000***), then one has to make a decision how many expeditions can be sent at the same time.

This leaves a range that falls between a minimum of 1,236,000 million years up to 123,600,000,000 one hundred and twenty-three billion years (1 to 100,000 expeditions) to colonize the galaxy. Not a very useful range, but hopefully you can where I'm going with this?

But I seriously doubt that one can colonize the galaxy at a one-to-one equivalent of light-speed.

Therefore, starting again with the assumption that the galaxy can be colonized, then it will have to be done at sub-light speeds. The best theoretical drive would be a black hole (the interesting stuff in the video start at around 8 minutes). For a more detailed explanation of a black hole drive aka Torch engine.

Even so, my best guess for the maximum speed would be 0.5c or 0.25 average for a journey to allow for deceleration again. But that's a highball number, 0.1c or 0.05c average might be more realistic (for definitions of realistic when applied to engineering that's way beyond our current level).

So a minimum of 4,944,000 million years up to 494,400,000,000 four hundred and ninety-four billion years and change.

At 0.1c then the quickest the galaxy can be colonized (100,000 worlds) is 12,360,000 million years up to a staggering 1,236,000,000,000 one point two trillion years.

If we take an average of the highest and lowest times then it would roughly take 31.4 billion years to colonize the galaxy.

So, the universe hasn't been around long enough for us to meet aliens.

NB: When I finished this I realized that there was yet another way to calculate the time to explore/colonize the galaxy and that was work out the average distance between habitable star systems, which a ball park figures comes out to 3,126 light years.****

So running the numbers will depends on how many expeditions you send out. The minimum would again be quite modest 3,142 years, but I don't think it's feasible to travel that fast.

Assuming 0.1c, then the minimum would rise to 31,400,000 and obviously rise higher since the assumption is sending 100,000 expeditions out at once. Your guess is as good as mine about how many expeditions would be sent and how much time would occur between them.

So again I'm left with the conclusion that we haven't been around long enough to have met or discovered aliens.

Addendum: There is another explanation for lack of contact too. It's by Geoffrey A. Landis and is called, The Fermi Paradox: An Approach Based on Percolation Theory. It comes to the conclusion that given how large space is, not all possible planets will be colonized (physic theory of percolation).

In conclusion, this is what I research when writing. Enjoy.

* The Drake Equation.
** Not feasible unless you have faster than light travel.  
*** No one really knows (see The Drake Equation for the assumptions) as there could be one or two trillion stars in our galaxy (1,000,000,000,0000 to 2,000,000,000,0000 stars).
**** Figure derived from a first order approximation of the volume of the galaxy divided by the number of habital star systems to arrive at an average distance between them.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

The Divisiveness Around Transgendered People


Disclaimer

This is a long response, to a furore on another blog. A fellow writer, who is a good man with a lovely wife. I posted a version of this on his blog, but I have no wish to troll him with continued comments there.

Hence this post where people can kick the ball in my playpen.

For my British readers, I'm being aware of different sensibilities between myself and Americans.

Conditional Assumptions

I look up to the American Constitution in amazement.

I wish I were an American, but life events have left me unable to realize my dream of being a citizen of the greatest force for good in the world. Without you guys we'd all be speaking German or Russian, and with all due to respect any German or Russian readers, no thank you.

The preamble to the Constitution begins:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
These assumptions get us/me to...

The affirmation that the government of the United States exists to serve its citizens, and safeguard the interests of majority rule and minority rights of liberty and equality, and of the federal and state governments.

I disavow communism, because it's a utopian ideology. Homo sapiens didn't evolve to live in utopias. For communism to work, humanity would have to stop being human beings.

For the record, I regard myself as a pragmatic humanist. A flawed human being like everyone else.

Issues Arising

There are a number of issues, but this should not be thought of as a complete list of all the issues.

1. The refusal to use he for she and vice versa, because it's a lie, and therefore an ethical problem.

People who believe this must be an absolute blast to live with. Imagine when their wife/girlfriend asks, "Does my bum look big in this dress?"

Parties must be a total hoot too, when you truthfully tell friends and family what you really think.

2. The refusal to be forced to use a gender pronoun, restricts the freedom of speech.

I agree with the right for people to have of freedom of speech. But right to say what you want comes with the responsibility for any offense you cause. In my experience, a lack of politeness often leads to a smack in the mouth.

Even Jordan Peterson calls transgendered women she. I've seen him do it.

3. Tired of facts being twisted for political correctness. There are two genders, not 54. Your sex comes from the chromosomes that cannot be changed. Getting a boob job and a choppadickoffame surgery is simply cosmetic surgery.

I agree that gender reassignment surgery doesn't change a persons sex.

I agree that gender reassignment surgery is cosmetic.

If by genders you mean what is observable, measurable, and can be replicated, then the science establishes that sex isn’t so much binary, but a bimodal distribution that appears to be binary at coarse scales.

Therefore science or facts are irrelevant when you say you are presenting yourself as a member of the opposite sex.

So, I support trans rights, but it’s fundamentally not a fact based scientific issue.

4. Wanting to change your gender is a mental illness

Vague, unscientific, wishy-washy and meaningless dog whistling.

5. You can call yourself (insert choice of: gorilla, attack helicopter, etc.)

Gorillas in the room often go unseen. But the argument is fallacious, because they're aimed at straw gorillas that don't exist.

6. They're Trannies.

This is a slur against cross-dressers. Feel free to use slurs, but again you must take responsibility for what you said, and not be surprised when someone smacks you in the mouth.

7. It's insanity, this means War!

Over the top hyperbole, because it isn't a war, yet. And let's hope the current madness in American politics doesn't degenerate into war. The last time you guys had at it, more American died than had been killed in all the wars up until the recent one in Afghanistan.

8. It's a perversion that can't be excused.

The agenda that drives this argument goes against everything that makes America and Americans great.

9. Luring men into sex with men who look like women or vice versa.

Here's a link to an openly transgendered woman

So I can see that being tricked might make you feel ashamed, or disgusted. These are powerful emotions. But feelings are not facts, as I've discussed above, so just mind your own business.

Besides, I seriously doubt that the first thing on any man's mind when he looks at her is whether she has XX chromosomes.

I think she looks like a woman. Pretty too. I wouldn't kick her out of bed. I'm a lesbian, go figure.

Conclusion

If you've got this far, and you agree with me, excellent. If I've triggered an emotional response sorry, but it's not my problem. If you use any of the arguments above to justify your opinions about transgender issues, I'm afraid to tell you this, but you are ill informed.

However, all is not lost, if you go away and challenge your beliefs

Start with this question: How do you know?

Saturday, 23 November 2019

SnakeBots


I found this snake robot climbing a tree, and just love how some of the whacky ideas I had for my Gate Walker setting are coming to fruition.

Of course, I'd heard of flexible robots before writing my novels, and just thought "wow, that's cool," I've got to have them in my story.

Moving on. The last couple of weeks have been difficult.

Full of unexpected obstacles that stole from my writing time, and the worries of juggling stuff outside of my control, have left me drained with fewer new words written than I would like.

But despite all that, I've been putting together a short novel.

It's a collection of my three novelettes set in the World of Drei AI cybertank universe with an additional prologue I wrote. Reviewing the text I found a shed load of typos that I'm in the process of correcting.

Once that's done then I just have to sort out a cover. It is what it is.

Friday, 8 November 2019

Two Moons Progress


When writing a story I prefer to start with the seven point novel structure.

My first three novels were action adventures. This means you have a leader who is surrounded by a team to solve the problems they face.

Two Moons, and my other novel The Bureau, are effectively mysteries.

So a center person solves the puzzle, and has others do the physical action, provide humour and perspective, with a fixer, and a boss that the team reports to. This has totally discombobulated me.

Last time I mentioned Two Moons, I was at 14,856 words. I've stalled and restarted this work several times over the last few months just because the narrative is driven by a different set of needs.

Who would've thought, huh!?

Anyway, I'm now entering the middle of the story, running at 32,714 words. Here's a taste of the opening of Two Moons.
TRANSCENDENCE 
I wake in the darkness, stretched out on a cold surface. The air musty from the passage of time. Only the sound of my breath fills the silence.
   "Is anyone there?' My voice echoes around me.
   A soothing voice replies, "You are safe."
   Emotions rush through me. A sadness that is full of grief and loss. "Are you my mother?"
   "No, I am a machine. You can call me mother, if you wish."
   My senses adjust, the reality of the room coalesces around me. Machinery lines the walls, and in the center I lie on a table, with tubes that snake up from my body into a machine.
   Confused, I ask, "What is happening? Where am I?"
   "You are being cared for. The facility exists to create life."
   The answer triggers a flood of jumbled memories.
   This is where we changed the genetic heritage of my kind. A place where the seeds of all life can be shaped. A place where our learning is recorded for all time.
   I am last of my kind, trapped in a secure facility, all alone, waiting to die.

Monday, 21 October 2019

HyperStealth


In my Gate Walker series I call this concept ChameleoFlage, and World of Drei series I call it Adaptive camouflage. Either-way, meta-materials might well be a game changer.

If you follow the link above you can see that this stuff interferes with thermal imaging, which I thought wasn't possible.

Friday, 18 October 2019

First Generation Power Armour

 

Here's a link to Onyx from Lockheed Martin, a further development of their earlier HULC system. For those of us who have dream of power armour and exoskeletons this is exciting news. While Onyx is only a lower torso enhancement it does look promising.

There was a thread on the Heavy Gear FB group about the practicality of mecha – larger walking power armour. I posted this:
In general to the OP. It all depends on your assumptions whether or not large bipedal combat suits make sense. When writing my novels I made some assumptions on how they developed (basically a step on from riding a mechanical horse), to use (dense terrain), and factored in adaptive camouflage (reduce chance of being seen).
So it's all about the assumptions. Open field advances across the steppes of Russia, not so much. Lurking around in urban areas providing fire support for infantry and able to keep up with vehicles, possibly what's needed.

The last couple of weeks I have been writing more, working on my novel Two Moons, which will give the readers more information on where the series story arc is going that the characters will have to work through. I'm excited.

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Black Holes


Black Holes have been in the news lately, and I've been working to get my head around why a Black Hole looks the way it does, because quite frankly it was doing my head in. The above image, which you can click on to enlarge, explains why a black sun looks like this.

This link will take you to an article with further explanation.

Besides research, because I'm always looking for nifty new science, I've been writing more. This week was the first time in a long while where I managed to beat my target of 200 words a day.

In other news, the world seems to have gone insane, by world I mean the news on the internet, not the planet.

Another Twitter user seems to want to muckrake a dead SF author, which caused me a certain amount of sense of humour loss, because the author was cleared after a Police investigation, and the primary motivator seems to be that awards shouldn't be named after people.

Other than that, I've been reading more. I will have to compile a list of books I've enjoyed and post them here at some point. That's all, catch you on the bounce.

NB: New links first one explains the above. Second explains rotating black holes.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Keeping Up With Tech


I found this on New Scientist; Spies and soldiers might soon be able to go behind enemy lines using a parachute or glider made from a polymer that vanishes on exposure to sunlight.
The idea was that these sensors could be spread across a battlefield, say, and used to collect information for the army. “But you don’t want anyone to discover it and take it apart and see how it works,” says Kohl.

That’s why he and his team wanted to invent a self-destructing material. They began with polymers that have a low ceiling temperature, which is the point at which the key bonds holding the substance together begin to break.

Lots of polymers break down slowly when they reach this temperature because many bonds have to be broken. But Kohl designed his material so that as soon as one bond breaks the whole thing rapidly unzips.
Those of you who have read Strike Dog will remember the scene where the drop sleds are deployed and what happens after they land. So it was cool to see an article describing this tech.

Monday, 2 September 2019

September Already

 

I could say where has the year gone, but I already know the answer to that.

The Bank holiday and this weekend were spent shooting my new longbow. The one I made back in January that was too strong for me to pull. Now home after Master Bowyer Pip Bickerstaffe fettled the tillering to bring the poundage down to my level.

So all is good with my bow. The fact that my shooting fell off a cliff is down to me. Good news I have an appointment in early October for a scan and injection to fix my left wrist. Fingers crossed it does the job.

I'm currently researching archaeology, getting the lowdown on how it is done from a friend who is an archaeologist. So the next block to moving forward with the novel is about to be breached.

Other than that, I've been reading a lot. I will at some point put a list I recommend checking out. Until then, see you all on the bounce.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Just Another Furore in Fandom


Jeanette Ng made a statement at this years Worldcon when receiving her award for best new writer. I stand by her right to say whatever she pleases.

But while Jeanette Ng can say whatever the hell she wants, she is responsible for what she says.

John W. Campbell was a bad father of modem science fiction. The Hugo awards named after Hugo Gernsback, likewise. I don't disagree that both men were horrible. The more I read history the more I find that it's filled with unpleasant people.

Take other historical figures, like Freud for example, who is considered the father of psychology and psychotherapy. To say he's a bad dad is a humerous understatement.

Alfred Noble is another historical figure who is probably known for the award named after him. He was no angel.

They all share the fact that their lives cast a shadow cast over the prizes named after them.

History is full of people who had views that it would make any conversation with them difficult. But, in the bigger scheme of things, they're all low hanging fruit of unpleasantness.
 
Because there's very little in this world that's completely black or white.

All prizes have value that is greater than who or what they are named after. The Campbell Award is important because of who it has been awarded to, not because it's named after John W. Campbell.

As an SF fan I've read countless stories where people's opinions are used to sway public opinion. A recent example is a season one episode of The Orville in the episode called Majority Rule about the effects of a democracy run by upvoting/downvoting.

The current trend in fandom to create mobs is not something to be admired. The conversations that have followed her statement have done nothing but fuel the divisiveness and hate in fandom.

I think this very bad thing.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Some Progress

 

In a couple of weeks I will see my rheumatology consultant for a review. It's been a year since she started me on medication and roller-coaster ride doesn't really quite capture the picture of what is has been like. For those of you old enough to remember corporal punishment at school, think being smacked across the back of your hand everyday while riding a roller-coaster.

OK. Perhaps that's over egging it a bit.

So what little I've done is disappointing at one level, but the fact I've done something at all is a testament to my sheer bloody mindedness.

Looking back over the last year this is where I am:
Two Moons: 16,146 words
Red Dog: 9,581 words
Dead Dogs: 3,443 words
The Bureau: 67,943 words
I've mentioned previously that I was up to around 20,000 words on Two Moons, but realized I was mixing up my stories and have spent a lot of time breaking apart what scenes went with which story. Hence I now have three novels as works in progress.

The Bureau has grown but I haven't gotten around to finishing the revision, which has mostly been driven by what I learnt after three months of doing various online writing courses with Dean Wesley Smith and Kathryn Kristine Rusch. Their workshops are excellent.

My target was to write 1,400 words per week. We are at week 33, which means I should have 46,200.

If I'm generous, I've managed 25,328 words. Though if I take twelve weeks off for the courses then that comes 16,800 lost, so a revised target number would be 29,400 words.

Short by four thousand and a bit words. It is what it is.

Friday, 9 August 2019

Grim Dark Kittens


We've been watching season two of Westworld, which was intense and compelling. So much so that we've gone back to rewatch season one. As a result we've been talking about the complexity of the narrative in Westworld.

What has this to do with Grim Dark Kittens?

I'll get there, just hang onto to your horses.

I've always agreed with the notion that there's SF and then there's other genres. SF to be truly science fictional mustn't just be westerns in space, because it's not exploring the effects of science on society.

And yet, here we are watching an SF western. And boy does it meet the criteria of science affecting society. So I've come to the conclusion that the paradigm of space westerns are not science fiction is not true for all cases.

But still what has this to do with kittens?

Imagine if kittens wrote stories. Given the memes on the internet I imagine it would do with being ignored and not being fed. A grim dark tale for kittens would have an empty food bowl and a starving kitten mewling. Or a kitten sitting before a door that has is barrier to freedom and choice, and the wail of the cosmic horror of kitten existence. Or the above.

OK. It amused me.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

State of the Writer

 
I've been very quiet of late.

Lots of good reasons, which are in fact not so good. Health issues have been a bit of a strain. However, I have been working on parts of my craft doing online courses with Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathyrn Rusch here.

I recommend all my writing friends to check them out.

The picture is for those readers who want to know what the Conex boxes of Alpha Base look like. This is the kitchen unit.

NB: a couple of links:

3-IN-1 Foldable Shelter Deployment

3-IN-1 Expandable Shelter

Friday, 5 July 2019

Science in Science Fiction 2019

 

Last year I didn't go to this event run by Dr. David Clements and hosted by Imperial College London as I was in France. So it was nice to be back to listen to experts in their fields present their latest findings.

You can find more info on Science in Science Fiction over here. Check it out.

I didn't take my camera, so there's no pictures of the event, but I did make a connection with Mark Hempsell, director of Hempsell Astronautics Limited who is designing a spaceship to be presented in the British Interplanetary Society journal. It's designed for Earth–Lunar operations with the capability of Mars and Venus missions. The picture of his proposal graces this post.

Very exciting to see this. It may not be obvious from a casual glance but this ship rotates around its central axis to provide centrifugal force for the crew (tumbles rear-over-front).

You can find out more about Mark Hempsell here. And here's his brief:
To immediately satisfy any glimmers of interest and intrigue I have attached a few images.  The technical paper describing the vehicle is very close to completion and hopefully will be published in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, although it is not a Society project.
The ship is called the Scorpion.  It is build and serviced using the Skylon launch system (and lots of in orbit assembly).
Key features – 107 m long, unfuelled mass 230-240 tonnes Maximum fuel mass Hydrogen 400 tonnes oxygen 110 tonnes crew 6 people – and (here’s the boring bit) is it intended to mostly be used in Earth Moon space although it can reach Venus and Mars orbits. In the case of Mars with two landers.  Not immediately obvious is that it can land on the Moon’s surface using four LH LOX chemical engines, it can also be spun to provide artificial gravity for the crew.
The engine is another piece of genius from Alan Bond which he calls Serpent.  It indirectly thermodynamically heats hydrogen using a fission reactor. It then augments that heating with arc jets in the 4 thrust chambers.  The thrust is 200 tonnes and the SI 12,760 N s /kg.  The picture is a little misleading in its detail the components are real and connected up correctly but the shape and pipe sizing of the secondary stuff is artistic interpretation.
For those interested in spaceships I would refer you to check out the Atomic Rockets website.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Decomposing CO2

http://toughsf.blogspot.com/2019/06/thermal-decomposition-of-co2-with.html 

Climate change: everyone thinks they have the answer. I think it's more complicated than that. Here's a link to an article proposing a solution, and a couple of comments on why said solution is only a part of the answer.  Link to article.

In other news, writing is taking a back seat while I'm doing a bunch of studying and revision.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Writing Update

 

As one of my friends commented, I've been missing in action over the last few weeks. A combination of things involving medication, other demands, stuff like archery (well out of practice after an enforced four month break).

However, things are starting to look up. I've been practicing my craft and have done a couple of online writing courses that have helped me be more objective about my writing.

Last time I wrote, I'd reached 16,294 words into Two Moons, at one point I went up to nearly 20K. But after having an insight into how the story would unfold I put those words into the sequel. So now I stand at 18,998. It is what it is.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

AI Visual Processing


An observation about visual processing. dancing ballerina / spinning dancer optical illusion made easy.

A personal anecdote.

One evening, I remember walking up St. Martin's Lane on my way home from work. I had a moment where my brain failed to understand what I was looking at. I saw a person with no face. The eyes nose and mouth were missing, the face was blank flesh. It was just for a moment, then the eyes, nose and mouth appeared.

I suspect this illusion happened due to tiredness and the level of light.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Holographic Quantum Gravity



Holographic Quantum Gravity is one of those outré ideas that's rather intriguing, but whether or not it's true is another matter. However, I liked it enough to use the idea to underpin the workings of the pillars in my Gate Walker series. You can read more about it here.

Currently I'm taking an online writing course as a way to refresh my creative voice, which has been bashed around a bit by health issues.

Catch you all on the bounce.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Ytterbium Con Report

A very sunny and warm Easter weekend.
Well I'm home after a weekend at the 70th British National EasterCon: Ytterbium. We had a good time and went and saw a bunch of panels that, all bar one, were entertaining.

Briefly met John Scalzi who turned out to be more human than his online persona, and had a whole bunch of interesting conversations with people, though I singularly failed to meet up with long time friend Geoff Ryman to talk about my novels that he so kindly expressed an interest in hearing about.

GoH: DC, Frances Hardinge, and John Scalzi (Sydney Padua not present) being introduce by the Con chair and moderator.
The opening ceremony kicked off the convention, though we felt that Friday's programme was a bit thin on alternative choices, the rest of the weekend had plenty of things to choose from.

Made some new friends too. Shout out to Daniel M. Benson, Emil Minchov, and Kimberley Moravec who we went to dinner with.

Daniel Benson, myself, Karen Furlong (moderator), and Aya Eloise (Gareth L. Powell unable to attend).
The first panel I was on was the Mental Health: Fiction vs. Reality, which seemed to go down well.

We discussed various misconceptions in the portrayal of mental health in fiction and film. In short, multiple personality disorder is bogus, Freud was a "bad dad" who left a lot to be desired when he founded psychotherapy, and very few films and or books are an authentic portrayal of mental health.

Virginia Preston (moderator), Dr. Bob, and myself.
The second panel I was on Military SF: Good, Bad, and Ugly.

By this point of the con I was totally brain dead (I hadn't slept well the night before as I was mulling over how to address the negative assumptions of the panel blurb). However, I was able to steer the topic away from the underlying assumptions by presenting a quote from a friend:
"Look, there's a question as to whether these wars (or some other set of wars) are justifiable or not, and almost regardless of the answer, isn't SF one of the best means of exploring the question and having the debate?"
And on that note, we had a fruitful discussion of Mil-SF. We discussed what made the genre good, what might be bad, and the occasional ugly parts. I emphasized that a lot of Mil-SF is mildly military, and about the only misstep was our failure to talk more about space battles, as both myself and Dr. Bob are aficionados of "boots on the ground" stories.

This panel was very much a dead dog item, being at the very end of the weekend. But despite that the room was pretty full, which actually made a pleasant change from when it was totally packed to the gunnels, which tested the air conditioning to its limits.

 So, after it finished we made our weary way home.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Ytterbium British National Convention


EasterCon is coming this weekend. I'm on two panels.

Mental Health: Fiction vs. Reality
Sunday April 21: 16:30 - 17:30 (1 hour)

Have you ever read a book and thought “is it really possible to have 25 completely different personalities”? Well if you have then this is the panel for you. Whether you’re living with mental health issues, just interested or simply walked into the wrong room.

Join us as we discuss the difference between how mental health is portrayed in stories and what it’s like to live with a mental illness and consider the challenges of writing about mental health. We will be exploring what it’s like to live in a world where mental health is a priority but where our entertainment industry considers it a commodity.

Military SF: Good, Bad, and Ugly
Mon, Apr 22: 12:45 - 13.45 (1 hour)

We are used to thinking of military SF as gung-ho jingoism, as the last bastion of the glories of space opera, as the one place where we can destroy aliens without moral qualm. But there have always been analytical and critical voices from both left and right: authors such as Ursula LeGuin and Joe Haldeman challenged the motivation for military adventure, David Drake and Karen Traviss asked us to consider how we treat the troops.

Military SF has often reflected the polarisation and anguish about the latest overseas adventures as newer authors seek to construct a moral high ground in a politically ambivalent and complex world. This panel considers what authors we think rise to the challenge of writing complex, believable military SF while avoiding the traps of jingoism and imperialism... or not.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

A Journey to the End of Time




Found this while meandering around the internet. It runs a little under half-an-hour, but the visual representation of going forward to the end of time is stunning. Truly awe inspiring.

It's existential stuff like this that drives my fictional scientific extrapolation behind my stories, which probably makes me a bit weird.

In the meantime I've been busy. First with a presentation on anxiety and depression for Imperial College, London. The talk went well, and as it was recorded it may even appear on YouTube at some point.

Writing is progressing slowly.

I've taken the running total of Two Moons from 14,856 to 16,494 words, over the last couple of weeks. A combination of distractions: the presentation, hospital tests, and researching information to be able to write convincingly about astrophysics and archaeology, which I enjoy for the simple pleasure of learning new stuff.

One final thing, I have an author GoodReads page here. That's all for this week, catch you on the bounce.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

What is Good?

The future of all books, to be sold on a secondhand stall.

And not only that, but what is remembered?

The latter question is probably more important than the former, because if writer's and or their works are not remembered, then no matter how good they may or may not be, no one will read them.

A thought triggered after I came across an article bemoaning the fact that bookshops don't stock new authors. 

In the past, works have been lost for lots of different reasons. Fires, earthquakes, and other disasters have played their part. I posit that in the future that quantity will also play a part in works being lost, for the simple reason that so much more is being written now than was written even just a hundred years ago.

I propose Pollard's Law:
Ninety-nine percent of everything written, and the names of their creator's, will be forgotten, lost in time.
Besides that, what is good is down to the assessment of others yet to come. Or if you prefer, what is good is a matter of taste, and tastes change. Patricia Wrede has a piece here, but there are many other writers who have said similar things too.

So, looking back over the last week what have I been doing?

I've gotten back my draft of The Bureau with a list of corrections: errors and omissions that need to be addressed.

In the meantime, I'm writing a creation myth for an alien race that appears in my next novel, Two Moons, which is tasking me. That's it for now, catch you on the bounce.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Now Watching


Now that The Bureau is with my Alpha reader, so after a long break I'm in the process of reacquainting myself with my Bad Dog universe. I've started writing Two Moons, and I've got 14,856 words knocked into shape.

Two Moons is a side-story or spin-off from the main story and so it doesn't focus on combat armour suit action. The plot is basically a mystery, so this is very much a new challenge for me.

In the meantime, we've been rewatching an old favourite, Babylon 5. Hard to credit that the original pilot was shown in 1993 and that the series ended in 1998. However you count the years, it's a lot.

There's even been mention of Babylon 5 on Geek dot com. I'm not sure that I agree with the assessment of it being an intimidating show, or the need for a must watch episode list, but whatever floats people's boat – if it gets them into the show.

While the CGI is lacking by today's standards, the story remains compelling. We're pretty much mainlining three episodes each night and are currently halfway through season four. Got to love the Shadow ships, which remain one of the most interesting bad guy ships ever seen on screen.


I'd forgotten how good the story was/is. It's also recharging my creative juices, as in giving me a lot to think about in terms of where I want my story to go. My motto now being, think bigger! Think evil!

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

RAFAEL's Advanced Suite for AFVs




Found this on the web: RAFAEL's Advanced Suite for Armoured Fighting Vehicles - A Quantum leap in Armored Vehicles Transformation. There's an interview about the project here.

People who have read my novels will know that the combat armour suits have AI/expert system interface that allow the pilot to get on with the mission, which is the foundation for their nicknames.

The Marine suits are called DOGS, which stands for: Dispersed Operation and Guidance System.

The Army version are called APES, which stands for: Autonomous Pilot Expert System.

This YouTube video pretty much nails what I described in my stories. It's really hard to stay ahead of what can be done, let alone predict what might be doable in the future.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

World Book Day


Having finished my current novel, well doing edits, I'm enjoying the chance to read a bit more. I was also reminded that it's World Book Day. Yay!

Books I've recently finished are:

Shambleau by C. L. Moore, which is a collection containing: Black God's Kiss; Shambleau; Black God's Shadow; Black Thirst; The Tree of Life; and Scarlet Dream. That's two Jirel of Joiry tales, and the rest feature her other famous character Northwest Smith.

A very different story telling style to what I normally read or the current fashion. Besides enjoying the stories, it left me thinking about how I write. Recommended.


I've also read the next two book in the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher: White Knight and Small Favor. Urban fantasy is not my go-to genre (I like rockets, robots, and rayguns too much),  but I've enjoyed the stories for what they are.

However, these last two reads have blown my socks off. Great stuff, but I can't imagine that anyone needs a recommendation from me, but recommended anyway.

  

Another book that knocked my socks off is Beholder's Eye by Julie Czernada the first of a trilogy called the Web Shifters. We had read her Species Imperative trilogy omnibus collection, and I had been most impressed by her alien biology and world building so I was on the look out for another novel from her.

Beholder's Eye starts slow, but by page 60 I couldn't put the book down.


And another, new to me author, I've read recently is the first book in the Diving Universe series, Diving Into the Wreck by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

Her writing is as smooth as silk, and her ability to provoke emotions in the reader was awe inspiring. So again recommended.

Currently I'm reading Cibola Burn by James S. Corey, book four in The Expanse series. What I've read so far has grabbed me, making me want to read more. So, wishing you all a very Happy World Book Day, and let me know what you're reading.


Tuesday, 5 March 2019

The Bureau: Draft Finished

Susan working on her longbow.

We were away this weekend on a longbow making course run by Pip Bickerstaffe and Ben Lamb of Bickerstafee Bows at the The Longbow Shop in Birkenhead. It was a long drive up on Friday due to the number of roadworks. It seems there's a drive to make our motorways "smart," which will be great when its done, but now is not so great.

Anyway, the two day course saw us shaping our bows from pre-prepared laminated staves, and you can see more pictures here.

In other news, I have for all intents and purposes finished the first draft of my next novel, The Bureau.

For definitions of finished that means it's heading off to my Alpha reader for feedback. It may come back with requests to expand the story, because I have a tendency to write terse descriptions that can leave out details that a reader needs. Deborah Chester would no doubt call it bland description.

Writing, it has a learning curve.

We shall see.

Monday, 25 February 2019

Finish What You Start

Made me laugh.

The words they torment me. Squiggling words that elude my search. But, words I must write if I am ever to finish the work before me. As you can guess, still not finished.

Excuses you ask? I have a few.

I went to the Schrödinger Lecture 2019: The Cassini Spacecraft Mission at Saturn at Imperial College, which ate into my writing time (I'm so not a morning person, and do most of my writing in the afternoon and evening).

Then I managed to spend a day noodling what to do with my World of Drei series. Thinking about when I will compile a print version? Vellum had an update, and I spent time checking out the new features.

After that I spent some time over on Patricia Wrede's blog. Lots to read and think about. This post in particular struck a cord.

So last week I only managed to write 1,036 words. I now have one chapter to revise, and one to finish.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

PicoCon 36

 

The first SF convention I've been to in a year, and the first of two I shall be going to this year.

There were four talks. The first was on game design theory by Alexis Kennedy (the guy on the far right of the picture) and Lottie Bevan (sitting on his right). I found his talk interesting, but he had a tendency to mumble his words, which made following what he said difficult. I would have liked to have seen them both presenting the first talk as it was clear from the last panel that Lottie had a lot to say.

The second talk by Gavin Smith (second from left) was about V for Vendetta, which unfortunately was a talk that was undermined by the power point slides; as in he repeated what was on the slides, which lessened his presentation. A good example of what is meant when one says, death by power point.

The third talk of the morning was by Andrew Bannister (on the left) on the history of life etc and SF. I enjoyed this because it contained personal anecdotes about the subject and how Andrew became an author.

After lunch, we listened to Simon Morden (centre–insert Babylon 5 joke here) who gave a presentation on space law and the commons. A well illustrated talk on the problems of exploiting space and the pros and cons of laws and the idea behind "the commons."

Finally, there was the panel discussion that was a question-and-answer session, which was a lot of fun. So that was it for another PicoCon. After reviewing the history of the convention, I feel very old when I realized that PicoCon 16 was twenty years ago, and that wasn't my first, either. Which means I've been going to them for more years than I care to remember.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Not Yet Done

Picture of the sky taken by Susan. Look at all those stars.
This week I managed 2,249 new words; running total for The Bureau, 66,012 words. The novel now runs in at 41 chapters, and I don't think I will need to add anymore, I just need some more words to round out the plot.

So yay, way to go!

Yes but, I've failed to finish, again. Clearly the stars are not right! As you can see, there are a lot of them.

What I have learnt this week, is never overestimate how close to the end of a story you may think you are, because the chances are you have further to go than you think. 

For The Bureau, this problem is largely down to writing new words that required me to go back and put foreshadowing details earlier in the story. From this one can infer that I'm a just in time world builder, which came as a surprise to me.

I tend to think of myself as a person who thinks about setting. I read and research stuff, but in this case, The Bureau's gestation has been so long that I've moved on as a writer. So, one big problem is making sure that the bits I wrote earlier match those bits I've written later.

It's a tough life. Ha!

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Opportunity Gone

In memory of Opportunity Rover, posted as it falls under robots and my dream of living in a SF future.
Not much to say really, apart from it saddens me to see the end of this project, but what a ride it has been. Ninety days turns into a 14 year mission. I can truly say, they don't make them like that anymore.

Of course we still have Curiosity, the last one of the four Rovers sent to Mars, still carrying on with the exploration of the planet.


Monday, 11 February 2019

Twitter and Writing

This picture of Ultima Thule excites me. My SF dream of living in a future of robots, rockets, and rayguns. This comes under rockets.
Over on Twitter there's a thread going around about how writers write. Since my goal is to write more, such conversations are of interest, because you never know if you'll learn something new.
1. Write at the same time each day, not when you feel like it.
2. Finish the project before starting a new one.
3. Reward yourself, otherwise you’ll slowly grind down and be unable to write.
I've broken these rules time-and-again, but you just have to pick yourself up and get back in the saddle. So last week, still not finished The Bureau, but I'm confident that I've started the actual last chapter that needs writing. Though with the added caveat, I'll probably end up cycling back to add bits to foreshadow the ending.

Words, all new, 1,772 for the week (I reset my daily goal to 250, but still reached it).

In other news, for definitions of news that's a bit vague, treated myself to a couple of Star Wars X-Wing models when buying my godson a Y-wing. Been reading the Heavy Gear Blitz rules as there's an interesting thread on the Dream Pod 9 forum about rules updates. Both of those were treats, as was a lovely meal out with friends at Wagamama in High Street, Kensington on Friday night.

And watched Hugo in 3D. Susan bought it as a bargain price 3D film. It's slow to start, rambles on a bit, but is absolutely charming, and a must watch for all fans of the history of movies.

So that's it for another week.

Breaking News:

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Watching TV Series


12 Monkeys Season 3. Just finished watching this, and wow, just wow. The story kept twisting and turning. The acting was compelling, and the writers took full advantage of the time travel MacGuffin to drive the plot forward.

So if you haven't caught it I can recommend checking it out.

 

Star Trek Discovery. The much talked about revamp of the Star Trek franchise. Personally, I enjoyed this and couldn't see what all the trash-talk was about? We also watched The Orville.

 

Again we enjoyed this. It was a loving homage that combined the best of the original series and Star Trek: The Next Generation. I understand Seth MacFarland isn't everybodies cup-of-tea, but The Orville didn't offend us.

Finally, we caught up The Agents of Shield season 5. This was a bit of a roller coaster ride.

 

Any recommendations from my readers. Don't do cable or subscription, but I'm always up for a good series to buy and binge on.

Monday, 4 February 2019

The Stars are Not Quite Right

The London night sky, and no you can't see that many stars with the naked eye.

My first version of The Bureau was written as a graphic novel, planned to be a six-issue series, I wrote three 28 page episodes. When I word processed the script this became 15,214 words, but only 7,905 words of that were prose. The reduction came from the removal of frame descriptions (size and placement instructions etc.).

My first draft grew to 12,285 words when I created the first Scrivener document, and I expanded it to 46,803 words, and before I went back to a day job it had grown to 51,008 and 37 chapters. My goal for January has been to finish the project.

I've failed. Hence the the title of this piece. But, even in failure there is progress.

I now have 39 chapters and 62,053 words down. I'm so close to finishing the story, but the ending is proving elusive.

Every time I think I have it, I remember I must go back and add an element to foreshadow what I want to describe. In the process of doing so I keep finding errors, typos and missing words, which of course throws me out of my creative writing.

This means I need to push a bit harder and get the job done. Wish me luck.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Progress Report

I have an American first edition, alas unsigned.

So as we come to the end of January I'm still writing. Very slowly by my standards or expectations, but I am writing again. I even had an idea for a short story, which is unusual for me as I don't really do short stories.

Last week I beat my target and more importantly, I managed to get my current novel to a point where it looks like I can finish this week. We shall see.

I spent last week reading Neil Gaiman's and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens, which lightened my mood, and this weekend I re-read Wolf in Shadow by John Lambshead, which remains a delight with its witty observations of wargamers in watching an intrusion from the otherworld at the ExCel centre. It made me laugh.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Writing Mojo Week 2

Reflections of light to match my reflections on writing.

Last week was a bit mixed. Tuesday I went out with my beloved to pass through Parliament Square on the day of the Brexit vote, and then to take in an exhibition at the British Museum about Ashurbanipal the last king of Assyria, which meant when we got home I was too tired to write.

Wednesday I struggled to wrest 200 words, but did so late in the day. I realised I'd allowed myself to get distracted. The lure of editing distracting me from my need to write new words.

Thursday, half the day was spent at the hospital with two appointments. Everything checked out OK, which is good, but the loss of time and feeling drained from it all was bad. So last week I managed to write 1,473 words, meeting my basic target, but not really getting into a good writing streak.

I came across Patricia C. Wrede's blog, which helped me to put some difficulties into perspective. If you're into writing then I recommend checking it out. Link here.

Next week I shall try and put some of her ideas in practice to get my writing streak going.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Writing Mojo Week 1

Jupiter and three moons, taken by Susan from our flat.

This entry is for me. A record to remind myself that things are getting better.

Last week I started writing everyday. My target set at 200 hundred words. Set low because I still can't face the prospect of writing more without fearing I've lost what it takes to write. Even though rationally I know one just sits down at the keyboard and type.

In an ideal world, the words will flow. They don't have to flow fast, but practice and they will come. One after another.

It's almost like magic, but really it's just about letting go and being creative. Making stuff up as you go along. Like we did when we were children, telling ourselves stories as we played. if you can do that then the words come out.

So last week I started. I managed to write new words for my stories. I recorded a total of 2,436 words. I also wrote some non-fiction words, which I haven't counted up yet. So I'm pleased.

Now I start week two.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

2018 Reading round up

Bought a copy of this when I found it cheaper on AbeBooks. The film is one of my all time favourite movies, and the novelization was a fascinating read.

I started the year with 31 books in my to be read pile, but got distracted when I went back and re-read some old favourites to cheer myself up.
The Compleat Bolo by Keith Laumer.
Which I read when I started writing my cybertank stories, because it's always good to go back and look at the source material before doing one's own homage.

Over the course of the year I read a bunch of books. All mentioned in passing here.
Adiamante by L. E. Modesitt Jr.
Into the Guns (America Rising Book #1) by William C. Dietz.
Seek And Destroy (America Rising Book #2) by William C. Dietz.
Battle Hym (America Rising Book #3) by William C. Dietz.
Altered Starscape (Andromedan Dark Book #1) by Ian Douglas.
Darkness Falling (Andromedan Dark Book #2) by Ian Douglas.
The Human Division by John Scalzi.
The End of All Things by John Scalzi.
Alliance of Shadows (Dead Six series) by Larry Correia & Mike Kupari.
Monster Hunter Siege by Larry Correia.
The Two Moons (Inherit the Stars & The Gentle Giants of Ganymede) by James P. Hogan.
The Two Worlds (Giants' Star & Entoverse) by James P. Hogan.
Mission to Minerva, by James P. Hogan.
When I was acclimating to the medication I found myself reading more and and what I said can be read here.
The Heritage Trilogy, Semper Mars by Ian Douglas.
The Heritage Trilogy, Lunar Marine by Ian Douglas.
The Heritage Trilogy, Europa Strike by Ian Douglas.
Soda Pop Soldier by Nick Cole.
A Hymn Before Battle by John Ringo.
Gust Front by John Ringo.
When the Devil Dances by John Ringo.
Hell's Faire by John Ringo.
Harry Dresden Files, Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher.
Then as the year came to a close I reviewed my friend Alex's book and some others I had read too, here.
A Fistful of Elven Gold by Alex Stewart.
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey. 
Caliban's War by James S. A. Corey.
Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks.
Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks.
The Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein.
The Big Jump by Leigh Brackett.
Warlord of Kor by Terry Carr.
Forbidden Planet by W. J. Stuart.
I make that a total of 34 books read this year if one counts both the Hogan compilations as being two books each. Looking at my to be read pile I have 22 books left. I better go out and buy a few more books.

I also read the following non-fiction books, but I only reviewed one, which is linked below.
J. M. Bickham Writing the Short Story.
Dwight V. Swain Techniques of the $elling Writer.
Leonard Bishop Dare to be a Great Writer.
John Ross GURPS: Russia
Stephen King On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. 
So, just put this up as a place holder, to remind myself what I've read and enjoyed over the last year.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

New Year, New Goals


Wow, what a year. My life has been a bit rough, what with one thing and another. It has been one of those years that when you look back you can see loads of good intentions that were not met. I've been keeping up with archery as it's an enjoyable way to exercise, but as I said when reflecting on my writing, I haven't been writing enough.

So I made a decision.

Since it has been six months since I lost my writing mojo, I've decide to set an easily reached goal and I plan to write 200 hundred words per day. This is to set myself up for success with baby steps, but I will review my goal again in three months to check whether I've set the bar too low.

I hope that by doing so I can finish writing The Bureau, my Cthulhu mythos story, and make inroads on my next SF novel, Two Moons. And if luck should favour me, and I find I get my writing streak back, then another couple of episodes in The World of Drei series too.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Reflecting on 2018


I went out last night to celebrate the new year with my friends Pum & Jay, and got to see some other long time friends of mine: Glenn, Robin, Ian & Jane. As a result we didn't get home until the early hours of the morning, and as a result I've been struggling today from not having slept at all well, which is why this post is going up so late in the day.

Looking back on the year let's see how I did. Words wise, I failed to meet my goal of writing three new novels.

I only managed 77,079 words of new fiction, which is pretty miserable, and a reflection on how miserable I've been feeling. I also wrote 18,799 words for this blog, and 8,287 words for my wargaming blog. In addition, I wrote eight articles for Galactic Journey, which came to 8,650 words.

That comes to a grand total of 112,815 words. The majority of which I did in the first six-months of last year.

This has largely been down to how ill I've been since July. However, I do note that saying this I have managed to write more than the 57,407 words than I wrote in 2017, which I'm going to take as another win, even though back then I had the excuse of having a day job.

However, while I may have spectacularly failed to meet my writing goals I did get my three novels out the door. So I'm counting that as a win. Also, I wrote three novelettes, which are also out of the door. Another win.

So my plan is simple, take the time to get better and then start writing new words.

To finish, as dinner is about to served, I wish all my readers a happy new year.

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