Monday, 30 January 2017

Metallic Hydrogen Rocket Fuel

The creation of a chunk of metallic hydrogen just a few days ago should set pulses racing amongst sci-fi writers and space geeks. If it turns out that metallic hydrogen remains metastable once they start backing off the pressure, then the door might open, just a crack, for a rocket fuel to enable SSTO, Single Stage to Orbit, rockets.
It's actually better with a little sci-fi materials tech, because the more realistic options involve a diluted form of the fuel. Pure metallic hydrogen would need materials capable of withstanding 7000k temperatures. We don't have any yet. So diluting the metallic hydrogen with water or liquid hydrogen is required to bring temperatures down to something more manageable, and that, sadly reduces the specific impulse. Still way better than liquid hydrogen/oxygen fuels, though. But hey, what an incentive for someone to take a look at high temperature materials research.

There's more detail, with the maths, about metallic hydrogen as a rocket fuel here:

If nothing else it gives us a label to use in medium-future stories that can make hopping into a ship and flying off to the moon without having to scatter giant fuel tanks all over the globe, a little more realistic.
And I haven't even mentioned the sci-fi transportation applications for room temperature superconducting metallic hydrogen, giving us, amongst other things, super fast maglev trains. Fwoar!
I'll be watching the metallic hydrogen story with great interest.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Shh! Don’t use the R word: How not to Retire

A few years ago a friend of mine retired. He’d been looking forward to it for years. He bought a cottage on the isle of Anglesey, in Wales. He furnished it, then waited for the moment when he could walk away from forty-five years of work and drop down into his new patio lounger, glass in hand, and watch the tide coming in and out. The big day came. He moved over to his new home and a week later he dropped down dead.

It could have happened to anyone. We were all shocked and saddened. But so often we hear similar tales, and the common thread seems to involve that dreaded transition from being needed, respected, indispensable… to being surplus-to-requirements.

You are going to want to avoid this happening to you. Whether you are in your thirties, forties or fifties, the time to avoid the scourge of transition is now. This isn’t about planning for retirement, it is about planning for non-retirement.

Who wants to feel useless? All that training and knowledge gone to waste? I think cloud-watching could be an over-rated pastime.

The secret is: Do the thing. You know, the thing you always wanted to do. The career you couldn’t choose because you had a family to feed, a mortgage to pay. Photographer, artist, actor, musician, and in my case, author. And I suggest you do it now. Don’t wait. Don’t get to that big day and find yourself looking up at a learning curve that resembles The Eiger.

Of course your day job might also be your thing. If that is so then congratulations, and I have nothing here to offer by way of advice. But of course you have no plans to retire, anyway. Why should you give up doing the thing you love? The rest of us, well, we need to start now.

Begin to dabble. Start acquiring the skills. Take a little time to ease into your chosen creative world and learn the connections. There’s often a barrier to entry, a gatekeeper, and this could be the insider knowledge about how to submit to exhibitions, how to get into Musical Directors’ address books, becoming known in the local amateur theatre circuit or knowing where to submit stories. Get to know the gatekeeper early and get yourself a set of master keys. None of this has to detract from your career. There’s nothing wrong with hobbies. Except you know: it isn’t a hobby, it’s a beginning. It’s that thing that will grow and become all-consuming. Your raison d’ĂȘtre.

Then, when the time comes for you to make the transition – note we’re not using the R word anymore – you will find there is no transition. You are ready. You are accessing a supporting income, that some people call a pension, to allow you a moderately risk-free transition into the thing you always wanted to do. The old day job is no longer a precious jewel you have lost but an old thing you can at last push aside so you can get on with the real meaning of your life. If you can earn some income from your former-hobby/new-career, then great, every bit helps. If you don’t earn much, then no matter, you’re not going to starve.

All of this is subject to your own circumstances of course: having access to a reasonable pension, retaining your health, having a conducive domestic situation. These things matter and they are all part of your forward planning, not just your creative thing but taking exercise and being serious about financial plans. But if you haven’t done so already, now is the time to act. Find your thing and take those first steps.

Mjke Wood took his first steps more than thirty years ago, when he started writing short stories, submitting to magazines, collecting rejections, and learning the craft from his many mistakes. He now writes full time. His novel, Deep Space Accountant is available on Amazon and other platforms. His stories are available in many science fiction and fantasy magazines. One such story has been optioned for a motion picture on which script writers are working at this very moment.

Mjke now writes full time.  He doesn’t miss the day job.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Where Do Ideas Come From?

A question asked of every writer at some time is: where do you get your ideas?
Image credit:Pixabay
I usually have a flippant answer stored and ready to use. Ideas come through the plumbing in my house, because every time I climb into the shower the ideas flow, and of course this is the moment when I’m most separated from my notebook. So many times an idea has come while showering, only to be rubbed away in the towelling process soon after. I fixed that problem. I bought a waterproof notebook.

It’s a silly answer to the question of course, because ideas come at any time from any trigger. It is rare that I can even remember what triggered any single idea.

Deep Space Accountant is different, though. It’s one of the few story prompts I’ve had for which I can remember the exact thought process that gave rise to the idea. And no, I wasn’t in the shower.
For Deep Space Accountant I must thank the cartoonist, Gary Larson. I love Gary Larson’s cartoons and I have several books of his collected work. One cartoon in particular rang bells. It shows an accountant standing on a promontory with his briefcase. The caption reads Seymour Frishberg: Accountant of the Wild Frontier. (I’m not going to infringe copyright and post the image here, but here's a link.)

Straight away I wondered what a science fiction version of the Seymour Frishberg cartoon might look like. Pretty much the same layout except that he’d be in a spacesuit instead of a business suit. And maybe there’d be the odd ringed planet in the sky.

Then I started wondering about the accountant’s story. Why is an accountant in space? Deep space? And there it was. I even had my title - originally Nathaniel D Nicholson: Deep Space Accountant, I changed it to Elton D Philpotts midway through the first draft, then I dropped the name  part when I realised I’d have a tough time cramming it all onto the book cover.

You’d think, also, that my job as an accountant might have had an influence? Not true. The idea came to me in 1985, long before I ever considered accountancy as a career. Back then I earned my crust by compiling bus timetables and duty rosters.

So, I wrote a first draft, hand written on secretary’s spiral notepads. It was horrible. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t plot. I knew nothing about accountancy. I put it away in a drawer and carried on writing short stories.

Flash forward twenty-five years. I’d become an accountant. I’d started winning the odd award for my writing. I found Deep Space Accountant in a box.

It was still horrible.

I put it back in the box and buried it. And started again.
Different plot. Different characters. Different Result.

Want to know how it turned out? Find out here

Deep Space Accountant is the first book in the Sphere of Influence series, available in paperback and all major e-book formats.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

No Such Thing as Gravity

From Sarah Sparkes' The Ghost Formula. Apologies for the
 image, it's better without the reflection of my hands and
camera included.
An exhibition running at FACT in Liverpool asks, what is the nature of scientific truth? A group of artists have approached areas of science in a way that can create unease and controversy. I went to see No Such Thing as Gravity this week and came away confused and ill at ease. But it's art, so that's a good thing, yeah?

I can say up front that I often find the exhibitions at FACT to be… challenging. A common theme is a merging of scientific and artistic thought, and it is the artistic side of this partnership that can be difficult. Having said that, I rarely miss an exhibition, and even if I don’t understand much or anything about what’s going on, the images and exhibits will be guaranteed to unsettle me and give me cause to think deeply about the ideas long afterwards. Perhaps that is my problem. Maybe we are not meant to understand. Maybe the idea is to present a series of triggers designed to send our brains  skittering off on random courses to find their own understandings.

Unsettling is the best way to describe Helen Pryor’s exhibit, The End is a Distant Memory, upstairs in Gallery 2. This is an exploration of the ‘unknowable space between life and death’ and she uses a series of video presentations using chickens, from factory farm to supermarket shelf, and even beyond, where life of a kind has been seen to continue for several days within fibroblast cells of chickens taken from those same supermarket shelves. In another part of this gallery we see a man on a table. He is unconscious and limp, and being dragged, arranged and manipulated for some purpose. His body is lifeless but the movement is constant, and it is disturbing in a way that is hard to define. Like many of the other exhibits, it left a mark, perhaps even a scar, and I have no idea why.

I would recommend a visit to FACT if you are in the area. The exhibition will make you think… about something… but I cannot predict what.

Cafe’s good too. Pretty decent veggie and vegan fare. I had a falafel and guacamole sandwich. Mmm!

No Such Thing as Gravity runs until 5 February 2017. And it’s free.

Monday, 2 January 2017

The Sphere of Influence – Audio Excerpt.

Audio books are a brilliant way of keeping on top of your reading, while driving, gardening, doing DIY... waiting in A&E. 

My daily commute is history now that I have finished with the old 9 'til 5 job, but there are still plenty of opportunities for slotting a CD into the stereo and losing myself in a good book.

I thought it would be fun to share an audio excerpt from Deep Space AccountantIt comes with a health warning related to my non-thespian roots, but with that in mind here's a link to a reading taken from early on in Deep Space Accountant, where Elton D Philpotts is en route to an interview.
It is an important interview for Elton. He doesn’t know it yet, but the outcome will also have repercussions for the whole Sphere of Influence. His journey is not going well. Elton is not having a very good day.

Deep Space Accountant is the first book in Mjke Wood's Sphere of Influence Series. Why not give the ebook a try? Check out for links to Amazon Kindle, iBooks, Kobo and Nook, and also for the paperback edition. There's a free ebook up for grabs, too.