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.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Bullet Journal

It could be said that I have a lot of notebooks. Do not ever let me near another stationery shop. Ever! Sew up my pockets. I wonder if there's such an organisation as NA (Notebooks Anonymous) that I might join.

Well, after getting up at four AM this morning, with a burning urge to start indexing all the material in my notebooks, I realised I needed help, (although I found some cracking story ideas that I'd forgotten about).

Anyway, I'm trying something new. Not just another notebook, this time I'm trying a different kind of notebook. I'm trying a Bullet Journal, and New Year's Eve seems as good a time as any to start.

So what is a Bullet Journal?

Well, I couldn't help it. I've spent money on the official, shop-bought, bullet journal layout, but really it can be done with any notebook because it's a method more than a physical item. Bullet journalling appears to be a cross between a diary and a notebook. A word of caution, though. I haven't started yet, so anything I say here can, and probably is, wrong. But maybe there is no such thing as wrong. Maybe there are just different ways. But, hey, there's a website with videos you can watch that explain the process far better than I can, here.

In short, it's all about rapid logging, which uses bullet symbols to categorise and organise all the different kinds of notes, such as tasks, migrated tasks, scheduled tasks, etc. There are three types of log: The Future log, the Monthly Log, and the Daily Log. Items from the short, bulleted monthly log are either actioned, scheduled or pushed forward. The whole thing is flexible and can contain notes sketches, appointments... anything. My daily log already has sections for story ideas, blog ideas, writing goals for 2018, and for recording my daily writing progress. There is no limit to how the system can be used. And central to it all is an index system – and this is a big deal for me – in which you can find the notebook entries that you know you made and can't remember where you put them. Only this week I spent hours searching for some notes I made about my ongoing travel book project. I can't remember which notebook they're in (and I have more than the small stack shown above, believe me) or they could be in one of my many Evernote notebooks – which should be easier to find if I could remember the right tag words.

Anyway, depending on where in the world you're reading this, 2018 is here or drawing close. I've written my resolutions in my Bullet Journal, and I'm even nuts enough to share them below.

All that remains is for me to wish you all a Happy and Prosperous New Year!


Mjke Wood is the author of the Sphere of Influence series. Deep Space Accountant and The Lollipop of Influence are available now. The Spherical Trust will be published in 2018. Visit www.mjkewood.com for details of how to get your copy of his short story collection, Power for Two Minutes and Other Unrealities, for free.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Vintage Radio


This Thursday, I'm to be interviewed by Will Redfearn for Vintage Radio's community hour. I've done this slot a couple of times before and I'm very much looking forward to it. I'm hoping to talk about The Lollipop of Influence, and about the Sphere of Influence series in general, as well as a host of other random things that Will might throw at me.

It's a little like a Desert Island Discs session, too, because I get to choose the four or five pieces of music that punctuate the show. I need to get searching through my CDs, right now.

You can find Vintage radio on the internet, here.

Of course if it was me listening, I'd just ask Alexa to play Vintage Radio on Tune In. Oh yeah I haven't mentioned my thoughts on the Echo and other home assistants yet, have I? I might just bring it up on Thursday, and how they're leading us to imentor faster than we knew.


Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Jim Baen Memorial Award: The First Decade

Writers of SciFi have another great bundle of FREE books and stories to offer. It's available now through to the end of September. Click here to access your free downloads.


Launching in November is The Jim Baen memorial Award: The First Decade. It's an anthology of 16 optimistic short stories that present a plethora of futures beyond Earth.

My own story, A Better Sense of Direction, was the first winner of the award back in 2007. It's a story I've included in my own collection, Power for Two Minutes and Other Unrealities.
I'm super excited to be included in this book. All the stories are from past winners, and I get to rub shoulders with some top award-winning authors. The anthology has been edited by Nebula-award-winning author, William Ledbetter, who has administered the Jim Baen Award right from the start.

Here's a pre-publication review by Publishers Weekly which should help the book to hit the ground running on launch day. I've had a sneak preview of the proofs, of course, but I decided to wait until I have the book itself in my hands before I read the other stories. I can't wait.

In two days I'm off to Peterborough, for Fantasycon, the annual bash of the British Fantasy Society. It's a great place to meet up with fellow writers, and has been a regular event on my calendar for several years now. I'm very much looking forward to it. But with all fun things there comes a penalty: I need to get ahead on my word count for The Spherical Trust (Book 3 in the Sphere of Influence series) so that I'm not having to play catch-up when I come back. Hey ho!