Thursday, 9 July 2020

Old Man in a Spacesuit

I launched a new book this week. Old Man in a Spacesuit is a near future sci-fi, that's light hearted, but also has a serious side.

Harry Burton – HB to his friends.
Ex-author: old, knackered, and psychologically fragile.
As a candidate for First Man on Mars, HB isn’t just the wrong stuff; he’s the wrong stuff that got lost in the post.

But they’ve sent for him anyway.
Others, too. Others nearly as unqualified and unwilling as him.
And while HB would rather sit in a coffee shop and pretend to write…
He’s curious.

You can find it on Amazon here.

This one started out in the Odeon cinema in Bromborough, a year or so ago. I was looking a film post that showed an old cowboy, I don't even remember what the film was, and I started imagining the character in a spacesuit. I filed it away. Then a few months later I found myself in Utrecht, in the Netherlands, and came back to that Old Man idea. I started creating a character who lived in Utrecht. I decided which street his house was in. I walked the route he would walk, or cycle, into town. I had coffee in the coffee shop that would be his regular haunt (after a bit of geographic relocation). Then I wondered about the circumstances that would get Harry Burton into space. I got on a train to Cologne and Frankfurt, a trip Harry would make.
And it all came together.   

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Ad Astra

Went to see Ad Astra yesterday. Yeah, I know, I'm a little late to the party, but I'm an Odeon Silver Cinema addict, where those of us of a certain age, and can do daytime cinema, go to watch a film that came out a few months earlier for just three quid, and there's tea and biscuits thrown in for free. What's not to love about that? 


Anyway, I digress. Ad Astra. Brad Pitt et al. It's had mixed reviews. I went along with a nagging feeling that I'd be in for a long afternoon, wondering when it might end. I got a surprise. I loved it! Sure, there are issues: like how come the 1/6 lunar gravity only applies outside? Ditto for Mars. And if they could build a radio transmitter that reaches up to LEO why not strap a lift (elevator) on the side and save on a few trillion tonnes of rocket fuel? And then there's... Okay, there were other things. But I'm staying off that road, because the film, overall, as an entertainment, was so good. The images and moodiness. The music. The sense that there are goodies and baddies in the near future, but who are they and what do they want? Which are we? The psych testing – something that will be coming to an app near you, soon, I'm sure of it – and the general sense of disorientation that pervaded the whole thing. This was a film in which to immerse, to lose a whole afternoon. Great stuff. Wish there were more like it.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Sansevieria slickerii

I found this in Ikea of all places. It's a Sansevieria. Okay, it's not quite the same species as the Sansevieria slickerii that appears in The Spherical Trust – I'd have to travel two hundred light years to Pinky Space to find one of those. I'm not sure if they'd have a branch of Ikea out there, either.

Anyway, when you come across the plant that forms the main plot focus for your series finale, and it looks kind of alien, much how you imagined it, and even though you're only there for the veggie meatballs and maybe for a new drainer for the kitchen sink, well, you just have to buy it don't you?

It's sometimes called Snake Tongue, and... yeah I see it.


Monday, 23 July 2018

The Size of the Universe

I'M IN OXFORD at one of my favourite museums, the Oxford Natural History Museum. Apart from the fact that it is a beautiful building, it's also full of the most fascinating collections. I could spend weeks here, looking at all the fossils and crystals and bones... Every time I visit I find something new.






I just noticed this (see photo below) which seems oddly out of place here, amongst all the ammonites and sabre-toothed tigers, but maybe this is the perfect place for it, after all. There's a model of the sun sitting on the balcony. Nothing special, just a football-sized golden globe. But then on the opposite balcony is a case with a model of the Earth and the Moon, which are to scale in terms of size and distance from each other, and also to scale in terms of their distance to the sun model on the other side of the museum.


In the photo, I've tried to show all three. The Earth and moon are at the bottom, tiny dots – the Earth is the size of a petit pois pea – held on bits of wire; it's the dark area of the photo, with the circle showing the Moon's orbit. Now look across the gallery, between the third and fourth columns counting from the left, and you'll see a golden ball, the sun. That is to scale. Impressive, huh?


Next month, 4th August, a spacecraft will be making that trip. The Parker Solar Probe will be launched on a Delta IV Heavy and by 1 November it will make its first close pass, about 30 solar radii from the sun's surface, then getting closer and closer with each orbit until it's about 6km from the surface, and within the sun's atmosphere, the corona. I was impressed by that even before I saw the scale model of the distances involved.

There's one other fact that really blew me away though. At these scales, if we wanted to include Alpha Centauri, our nearest stellar neighbour, where do you reckon we would have to position the model star? Across town in the Ashmolean? No. How about where I'm staying, in Abingdon, a half-hour bus ride away? No. Okay, then, what about putting it in London, in the Science Museum, about 50 miles away? No, not even close. At these scales, we'd need to position our Alpha-Centauri model about 1 million kilometres away. That's about three times the distance of the Earth to the moon. And Alpha Centauri is our nearest star.
Oh yes. Space is big!
This has nothing to do with Alpha Centauri. It's a T Rex, and too cool to leave out.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Electric Vehicles, Driverless vehicles – the future is backwards

In a few years, we’re all going to be jumping into our electric cars and putting up our feet while we’re driven to work. We might even read a book on the way, or our car might do the reading for us while we gaze with bleary eyes at the passing scenery, not quite awake from our slumber. Sci-Fi would have us think this, but there’s a sci-fi future that looks a little different. Technology does not always move in the direction we expect.

Take your morning bowl of cereal, for example. Perhaps in the future our milk will come to us, fresh each morning, delivered by an autonomous, intelligent drone with a super-low-carbon footprint.
Well, a century or so ago that’s exactly what happened. The vehicle was a horse-drawn milk cart. It knew the route; the driver/milkman didn’t need to guide the vehicle, it knew the way. Then, when they reached a row of houses the four-legged AI processor was able to keep the cart moving, in pace with the human, who took the bottles to each doorstep. Very efficient. No noise apart from the restful clippity-clop of hooves, and low carbon emissions from the 100% bio-fuel power unit.

Then we had technological progress. Enter the electric milk float in the early 1900s. Yep, that’s right, 1900 and we had electric vehicles. In fact, by 1967 the UK had more electric vehicles on its roads than the rest of the world put together. They were nearly all milk floats. But now the milkman had to stay awake and drive his milk round because he’d lost the AI module at the front. But still, milk floats were quiet – with their open or sliding door – they non-polluting, and they were efficient.
Then we had more technological “progress”. The milk companies started to switch to diesel vans. So not only did the milkman have to stay awake, he ensured that everyone else on his round, his customers, were awake also. Jolted from their dreams by the steady knock-knock of the idling diesel, the revving engine, the opening and slamming of the van door outside every house. And if the window was open they could smell the fumes, blue and oily, and laced with particulates. 


Progress didn’t end there. Now we drive to the supermarket in our own cars and load up with a week’s supply of milk. The milkman is virtually extinct. Electric vehicles – gone. Artificial intelligent guidance systems – gone. Until Google re-invent them.





I’m not knocking science fiction, I love science fiction. You want to try some of those futures? Here’s a chance to read 58 science fiction stories and novels, for free, courtesy of BookFunnel. Click on the link, here, for free e-books.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Interview with Author, Bonnie Milani



I always enjoy seeing how other writers go about the process of creating their fictional worlds. Each has their own approach to plotting, planning, character and setting, and their own likes and dislikes. Here's an interview with Bonnie Milani, an award-winning US author with a background in journalism.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a Sci-Fi writer?

About the time I figured out how to put words together.

What authors and books inspire your writing?
Wow, that's a tough one. Dickens (baaaaadddd style to copy but addictive reading), Austen, the Bronte sisters, up through Heinlein, Asimov, Pohl, Anderson, Norton, and the writer who quite literally got me to actually start writing Sci-Fi, C.J. Cherryh.

Are you an extrovert or introvert? How well do you like book signings and other interaction with readers?
Total extrovert. LOVE meet'n greets! LOVE signings - it's just that I'm here in LaLa land, so there're neither many bookstores left nor people willing to show up for a signing unless that person's a 'face'.

What is unique about writing in your genre?
Sci-Fi, to me, is a technological society's answer to the ancient world's mythology. We can't believe in anthropomorphic gods anymore; even accepting miracles is a challenge these days. Yet to be human is to need to let your imagination roam, to create, to explore. Sci-Fi is the one medium that lets us do so by exploring the possibilities in the tech we're beginning to create.

Have you ever created a character with an actor or a person you know in mind?

Only before I actually started working with the Industry.

What inspires you to write?
Life. News magazines. History. Politics. Religion. Crazy relatives...

Are you Self-, Indie-, or Traditionally published? Why?
Both traditionally (small press) & indie. I'm glad I went small press to start; my publisher was able to get my debut Sci-Fi novel, 'Home World' onto the shelves at Barnes & Noble, as well as into Canada's Indigo chain. I wouldn't change the experience for anything. But working Indie requires me to learn to understand the business side of publishing, and I think that's a necessary piece of knowledge for all writers. Besides, I LIKE working on cover art!

Do all authors have to be grammar perfectionists; or do you use a Copy Editor?
With a Master's in Communication from Stanford, I don't typically find grammar to be my greatest challenge in writing. There's such a wealth of alternatives...


“Writing is a get-rich-quick scheme.” And, “All writers are independently wealthy.” How true?
Hah! To quote Stan Lee: "'nuff said!"

Plotter or Pantser (free flowing)? Do you write from an outline, or just start writing and go with the flow?
I tried just going with the flow when I first started writing waaaaayyyyy back in the day. Never got a story finished that way; always landed myself in a corner with no place for the plot to go. It was terribly difficult to teach myself to outline, but I've found the discipline of making myself work out the whole story to be invaluable. Even if the final product winds up bearing no resemblance to the outline at all!

What is the secret to becoming a best-selling author?
You tell me we'll both know. In truth, I believe it's a combination of producing professional caliber work with a systematic, consistent dedication to market identification and outreach.

Do you write book reviews? How important are reviews for your work?
Definitely! I generally won't review a book I couldn't finish, but I believe reviews are essential to indie authors' success. Me, I am ALWAYS hungry for more reviews! Not that I'd stoop to hinting or anything...

Do you have a favorite book or series you have written? Which one?
Each story I write is my favorite until the next one comes along. But I have to admit to a special fondness for 'Liquid Gambit'. It's the Casablanca tie-in, y'know?

What are you working on next?
I'm trying to clear my decks to dive back into 'Home World' and get the series going. I have a generation of stories in my head for that universe!

Thank you, Bonnie. Good luck getting back to the Home World series. To find out more about Bonnie Milani visit her website at www.Bonniemilani.com.

You'll also find her on Facebook and Twitter: @homeworldnovel 





Friday, 12 January 2018

Antipodean Review

If I were to go out into the garden and dig straight down until I came out on the other side of the world I’d find myself in New Zealand. Well, almost New Zealand. In fact, I’d come out in the South Pacific, about 250 miles east of Campbell Island, so my hole would fill up with water and I’d get quite wet. This, after being crushed by terrible pressures and evaporated in the 6000C heat of the Earth’s outer liquid core, and then ruining my shovel chipping through the solid nickel-iron inner core.

But I’m getting off the point. My intention is to point out that New Zealand is about as far from the Wirral, UK as it is possible to get. This week I had a review of my Power for Two Minutes and Other Unrealities book, from a reviewer in New Zealand. I’m blown away by this. I once flew to California, which, at five and a half thousand miles, is less than half the distance to New Zealand. California was far enough, and it helps me appreciate just how big the world is, and how far away New Zealand is, and to think that someone is out there, reading my book and taking the time to say nice things about it, is, to me, mind-blowing.

Here’s a link to the review – it gets a mention about halfway down – and to Alan Robson, a big thank you, and enjoy the rest of your summer. Here in the UK we’ll be keeping the central heating on for a while.

For anyone wishing to read Power for Two minutes and Other Unrealities, you can grab a copy for free by hopping over to mjkewood.com and signing up for my newsletter, or you can just buy a copy, which is cool, too.