Friday, December 30, 2011

Another Interview

Here's a recent interview with me conducted by Douglas R Cobb. I'm probably repeating a lot of stuff considering how many of these I've done.

Different SF writers have different names for their interstellar civilization. Ian M Banks has the Culture, Star trek has the Federation and the Dominion, empires and kingdoms have been used too. The Polity was my own particular take on this. I wanted something big, sprawling and complicated in which I could set just about any SF story. Its inception was in numerous short stories where similar technology might be used, similar alien life, agents, characters and gradually grew almost like a crystal forming. Runcible gates where a hat-tip to the ansible, but grew into a science whose nomenclature evolved from the poem The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear (a tachyon, for example, is called ‘pea-green’). I wanted my Polity linked up by spaceships and instantaneous matter transmission and the runcible gates are the latter, giving people the ability to step across light-years in an instant.


Nice review of Conflicts here.

Neal Asher's "The Cuisinart Effect" is a romp equal to the earlier story from Andy Remic. A hard-nosed officer leads a group of soldiers into the distant past in order to foil their enemy's plot to kidnap dinosaurs and use them as weapons of mass destruction. (Wow. The sentences I type sometimes.) The dinosaurs are, of course, awesome. And they provide an excellent backdrop for the story's real conflict: the inhuman "by the book" officer versus the flawed but empathetic soldiers. I'm not familiar with Mr. Asher's other work, but got the impression that this was linked into an existing world. I'm sure I missed a few nuances because of that, but, whatever. Dinosaurs.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Where's My Robot Butler?

I’ve been watching some You Tube videos and reading up on some stuff about the ‘technological singularity’. Vernor Vinge’s ideas about this relate more to an explosion in technological development brought about by artificial intelligence, but there are other definitions out there. I was watching one video in which someone tracked the doubling of technological development from two thousand years ago and posited that the first doubling came in about 1600 (I think) and that successive doublings have been getting closer together so we’ve now reached the point where it happens once a year. Following this exponential curve we can suppose that we’ll reach a point where we get doublings every hour.

Without artificial intelligence we’re getting a ramping up of technological development through the Internet. Scientist, technicians and engineers can now communicate instantly, all over the world, which is certainly accelerating things. Ideas can propagate worldwide as fast as someone can type. Admittedly this can also apply to silly ideas following the axiom that a lie can circle the world faster than the truth can get its boots on, but silly ideas can also be torn apart quickly because a lot of brains are at work – the stupidity of crowds is countered by the synergetic intelligence of the Internet (a kind of artificial intelligence, if you like).

But putting all this aside I began pondering on how often now I keep getting those, ‘Hang on a minute’ moments. I love reading the kind of stuff that can be found on The Next Big Future, just as I enjoyed reading about them in science magazines a few decades ago. But my wish is to see these wonderful things actually reaching people and more and more now I’m seeing it happening. Yes, we have the Internet, all those mobile phones and all that instantly accessible data; all that computing power, music, graphics and games. But where’s my robot butler? Where are the physical as opposed to media/communication advances? Where is the hardware that does more than just shuffle about information and actually uses it in the physical world? Deep Blue might have beaten Kasparov at chess, but was incapable of moving its own pieces.

Some car adverts spring to mind. We have the cars that don’t need keys, use voice recognition, can recognize traffic signs and can park themselves. This is quite stunning for someone whose first car was a Vauxhall Viva loaded with filler and driven to the scrapyard after three months. This springs to mind. I used to run and program a big CNC milling machine, which was cool, but now it seems the technology is being developed to ‘print’ solid objects. How long, I wonder, before we’ll be able buy something similar to connect up to a home pc? Then there’s exponential increase in the speed DNA is being sequenced

These are just a few of those developments, which I expect we’ll be seeing more of, where the virtual is becoming actual; where information technology is reaching out into the real world. I could spend days on the Internet finding more examples; where the computers are actually being given ‘hands’, but I won’t.

Can you think of some more?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Website Updates

I decided a number of days ago to put some extras on the website but for three or four days have been unable to upload anything. No explanations from Virgin - I suspect they were either overloaded or doing some maintenance.

I've now added a my SFF collection to Galleries and the 'scooby' ending on Gridlinked (this latter was an ending that was taken out during the editorial stages of the book because it was too much like a Scooby-Doo explanation).

Even with all the additions the website is only 11.4 megabytes so I will keep adding to it as time goes on. Any suggestions as to what you might like to see there?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Some Tech for the Girls

Or, being an equal opportunities blog, maybe for some of the boys too.

I just noticed Caroline putting on some nail varnish, which she acquired via Amazon. One coat goes on thinly and is allowed to dry, then next coat goes on thick and you hold the magnet over it.

I was reminded of a scene in Total Recall when a receptionist, in the office of the company selling those holiday experiences, was touching some kind of stylus to her nails and instantly changing their colour. I wonder how long it will be before that is a reality? See, advancing technology (well, innovation) is not all about I-phones, E-readers and and how big your RAM happens to be.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Nostalgia Trip.

After putting up that clip of the coming John Carter of Mars film, and then searching for the cover of the first of those Edgar Rice Burroughs books I got hold of, I’ve been pondering on the first SFF books I read. When I do interviews, I often chunter on about first having my mind distorted by E. C. Tubb’s Earl Dumarest saga, but maybe I chose that simply because of its connection to the first bit of creative writing I did in school (wholly derivative stuff about people having their brains removed). But I wonder which book was the first.

There are a few contenders. I know that the first E. C. Tubb book I read was The Winds of Gath. However, did I read that before one of the books my mother – a school teacher – was reading to her kids and kept at home: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. As an aside here I should mention that the second bit of SF I attempted to write, as a teenager, was something called The Crab, the Serpent and the Carpenter … shortly after something called The Planet of the Light Creatures, with drawings.

I also remember my first visit to a library and, when asked by mother what I would like to read, I mentioned that I had enjoyed a story a school teacher had been reading to my class. Knowing the author she directed me to the relevant shelf. The story mention was The Hobbit, and the book I picked up was The Two Towers by Mr Tolkein. But was I already reading the previously mentioned books before that.

Then we get back to John Carter. I picked up A Princess of Mars out of my brother Martin’s collection of books (mostly Louis L’Amour cowboy books), but was I already reading the skiffy stuff then? I don’t know … had I by then started picking up those Robert E. Howard Conan books? And how long was it before I started in on Larry Niven and my first taste of Ringworld Engineers?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Snow in the Desert

Here's another Christmas read for anyone who is interested.

Short Reads, which were first launched for Christmas 2010, are designed to be eye-catching titles at a low price that enable new ebook device owners to sample some of the best Pan Mac writers when they are hunting around for something to read on Boxing Day.

The 2011 list, with each ebook retailing at 99p, comprises three new titles from three bestselling Pan Macmillan writers – Christmas is for the Kids by Peter James (who has already had huge success with The Perfect Murder ebook, which was in the Top 10 chart in iBooks for much of 2010 and has been in the Top 100 consistently since), Three and a Half Deaths by Emma Donoghue and Bedlam by Andrew Lane. Also now available as Short Reads are Minette Walters’ Chickenfeed, Neal Asher’s Snow in the Desert and Water from the Sun and Discovering Japan by Bret Easton Ellis.

It can be found on Amazon Kindle here.

John Carter (2012) Trailer 2 HD 1080p

Okay. I watched one trailer and wasn't convinced, but seeing this one I now know I've got to see this. I think John Carter of (on?) Mars was about one of the first SFF books I ever read. It was the big four-armed green bugger on the cover that attracted my attention.


I was looking round for the cover picture of 'John Carter of Mars' which shows you how your memory plays tricks with you. The first of these books I read was 'A Princess of Mars'.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Here we go. Andy Remic contacted me about maybe submitting a story to Vivisepulture. Now, I don't really have any Polity related short stories that haven't already been published somewhere, but I do still have a few nasties in my files, so I sent him one called Plastipak. You'll find the kindle version here. I'm told:

The official release date is 20th December, and the antho will be going out for the special Christmas price of £0.99p (to try and get it up those Amazon charts!!). On 26th December it will revert to £1.99.

                                  Edited by Andy Remic and Wayne Simmons
Welcome to our anthology, a collection of weird and bizarre tales of twisted imagination by Neal Asher, Tony Ballantyne, Eric Brown, Richard Ford, Ian Graham, Lee Harris, Colin Harvey, Vincent Holland-Keen, James Lovegrove, Gary McMahon, Stan Nicholls, Andy Remic, Jordan Reyne, Ian Sales, Steven Savile, Wayne Simmons, Guy N. Smith, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Jeffrey Thomas, Danie Ware, Ian Watson and Ian Whates. Artwork by Vincent Chong.
The anthology is dedicated to the late Colin Harvey, with great affection.
In the tradition of Poe, Kafka, Borges and H. G. Wells, this collection of weird stories are written with the primary drive of presenting twisted deviations of normality. Whether it's the deviant factory workers of Neal Asher's Plastipak™ Limited, the pus-oozing anti-cherub of Ian Graham's Rotten Cupid, the acid-snot disgorging freak of Andy Remic's SNOT, or Ian Watson's alternate zombie-crucifixion, each story will drag your organs up through your oesophagus and give your brain a chilli-fired beating.
Vivisepulture is an EBOOK original anthology edited by Andy Remic and Wayne Simmons. Vivisepulture can be purchased from in PDF, EBOOK and MOBI formats.
EPUB versions can also be read on your PC/MAC by installing Adobe’s Digital Editions for free. Check out:


So I think to myself I’ll call the main character David Spear (second name chosen because of that cool character in Band of Brothers) then I wonder: haven’t I used David before? Of course I have – David McCrooger in Hilldiggers – so I need a rethink. In a piece I wrote off the cuff, prior to starting Penny Royal, I used a Scandinavian name and, glancing at it again, I thought yes, something like that. The first one to pop into my head was Thorvald, and I decided to do a search on it. Now, bearing in mind that this is about the black AI Penny Royal, a monster (sort of), it was interesting to come up with this is relation to the name Thorvald:

Thorvald the slayer of Nidhogg

Then a search of Nidhogg comes up with:

In Norse myth, Nidhogg ("tearer of corpses") is a monstrous serpent that gnaws almost perpetually at the deepest root of the World Tree Yggdrasil, threatening to destroy it.


(Malice Striker, often anglicized Nidhogg)

And thus the imagination feeds.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Penny Royal

I think I can say firmly that I have now started Penny Royal (or Pennyroyal – I still haven’t decided). A week or so back I started making some notes, but then got distracted by my old website and reworked that. (Incidentally, if you haven’t noticed there are galleries and a forum there so, as far as the latter is concerned, if you have something you want to say that you feel is off-topic, pop over there.)

Yesterday, however, I sat down determined to get back on track and wrote my first 2,000 words. It’s nice to know when I’ve actually started a book. Checking my journals I see that I’ve always noted when I’ve finished one, or rather, finished the draft I send off to the publisher, but the start point has always been vague. Maybe after this one I’ll have a definite maybe answer to that perennial question, ‘How long does it take you to write a book?’

So, the state of play at the moment is this: Zero Point is at the publisher and I’ll soon be seeing it again to deal with the copy edits; Jupiter War is slowly fermenting on my computer and I’ll give it another try next year, to see if the taste has improved and what additives might be required; and my idea about doing some short stories is on hold for the moment. That’s all for now – I must get back to work.

Monday, December 19, 2011


John Scalzi has asked those who read his site what they prefer reading about so, never being one to be shy of nicking a good idea... What have you enjoyed reading about and found interesting here? And what bugs you?

Let me know in the comments below...

The Quantum Thief -- Hannu Rajaniemi

In a way this was more like a fast tour of the post singularity world rather than a story set in it. I’ve been reading science and science fiction for a very long time, but I often felt the need to hold up a finger and say, ‘Hang on Hannu, if you could explain –’ … but no, he’s gone like a tour guide on speed. The ideas hit you like cars in a motorway pile-up giving you no time to deal with them, absorb them. And, of course, while the ideas are hitting you like that you’re not properly processing the plot and can fail to engage with it. My feeling is that before he leapt through the next q-dot membrane to begin his next adventure in some gaming virtuality he needed an editor to catch hold of his collar and force him to stop and smell the roses, even if those roses were laced with an optogenetic virus.

Now for the however... This was all very enjoyable, bubbling with fascinating technology and its resultant life-styles, and a book that really does feel like a glimpse into a post Vingean singularity world. I found myself caught up in the author’s enthusiasm with it all and by the end of it wondered if someone has slipped amphetamines into the printer’s ink. For me it is a book I would like to read again, but with the Internet running so I can track down and nail all that glorious weirdness. And in the end, just like with the previous book I reviewed here, the answers to the questions are mostly 'yes'.   

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Lost Fleet 'Dauntless' -- Jack Campbell

There’s a whiff of antiquity about this book that reminds me of E.E. Doc Smith and other books I read at about the same time I read the Skylark series. This feels like WWII but with space ships and could easily have been written in the 50s. I felt momentary cringes at the name of the character ‘Black Jack Geary’ at the use of ‘hell lances’ and ‘grape shot’ and at crewmen being called ‘sailors’. The technology felt daft, as if the electronics aboard the ships might have employed thermionic valves, as if the corridors were full of steam pipes and the gunners were hand-loading shells. I half expected someone to pull out a slide rule at some point to calculate vectors.

Why shouldn’t a beam weapon be called a ‘hell-lance’ and why shouldn’t ‘grape shot’ fired at relativistic speeds be perfectly acceptable? How different is the former to a maser or particle beam, and how different is the latter to rail-gun missiles? And why shouldn’t the kind of command structures seen in our navies be used? Such arguments I tried on myself as I devoured this book. What retired naval officer John G Hemry (his real name) has done here is combine his experience of military service with an obvious (and probably dated) love of science fiction.

To sum up: all of the above is true, but in reviewing a book I have to ask some very simple questions. Did I care about the characters? Did I want to know what happened next? Did I enjoy reading this book? Was it a good read? Will I buy the next book in the series?

The answer to all these questions is ‘yes’, and this book must be included in that long list called ‘guilty pleasures’.   

Friday, December 16, 2011


Right, I've stuck a forum up on my website here. Why not pay it a visit (all you IT buggers) and let me know what I'm doing wrong. I'm sure there'll be something...

Oh, and as I mentioned in one of my previous comments, I've now added a Galleries Page.

Go Completely Digital?

Here's an email I recently received. Perhaps those visiting here would like to address some of his points? I do have some answers, but let's see what others have got to say....

You should put a section on your blog so people can raise questions without resorting to emailing.

This is a question that's been annoying me for a while. I grew up with books and with tapes, then CD's then crappy windows media player and now all my music's on a 300Gb hard drive as well as every important (and unimportant) photo from my life.

I feel good that all my music's accessible this way and I've binned, or sold all my old CD's. That was easy.

I also threw all my books prior to 5 years ago away, which at the time seemed good but now is a niggling regret. Mainly because my daughter has just started reading ravenously and a lot of the stuff I had she'd love (she got into fantasy via Harry Potter!)

Should we throw away books in favour of digital text? I'd love to think this is progress but most of the writing I've discovered is through browsing bookshops. I buy books from Amazon from time to time
but I don't ever discover anything via that. Discovery's are always made in bookshops, be it from a cover or a few first pages etc... I have never found that from a web based system.

I bought a beautifully bound and illustrated edition of "the secret garden" for my daughter as well as a new edition of Philip Pullman's "Northern lights" Which I know she'll enjoy (she's 7 I can't subject
her to the wonders of masada yet)

A year ago I had this conversation with my partner while considering buying an e-reader. She was horrified that I'd consider sending our books the way of our CD's and at the time I thought that was
ridiculous however now I'm wondering how people will find new fiction without bookshops? I'm happy that I can access medical journals for work instantly and without wasting tons of paper a year plus emissions related to moving articles to me only 5% of which I want to keep and I don't know how I'd work without Zotero to catalogue my articles now but I just can't get comfortable with the loss of bookshops.

Sci-fi never really touches this, writers always just seem to accept that all information is always permanently available at minimal cost to anyone who want's it but never get into how people might access fiction or even look for it? The only time I've heard mention of libraries properly is Ian Banks in "The Algebraist" where the dwellers keep vast uncatalogued libraries stretching back millennia and

Is the future just a library of information where fiction is controlled only by corporations such as Apple and Amazon who "Recommend" the fiction they know you'd like (scary). Or is it vast
quantities of fiction churned out by anyone who feels they can be an author dumped into a huge repository where no one can discover anything of quality? Either way it looks pretty shit for my children or grandchildren.

Sci-fi seems to be comfortable with future tech but lacks depth in social problems. Do you think someone should try writing from that angle?

Kind regards



From Andy Plumbly:

They're terrified on Masterchef now.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


I found this while sorting through my files. I'm sure I was told not to put it up until it was used, then forgot about it. Nice bit of ego inflation:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Updated Website

Okay, for all you techy minded IT guys. I've rebuilt my website using the program Webplus X4. I still need to do a lot more work on it. A lot isn't displaying as well as it should, it could do with navigation bars and I've yet to make the 'video clip' page.

You can find it here.

Jain Tech on the Way

I love it when a rush of articles like this appear on TheNext Big Future. Here we have a microscopic engine:

"We've developed the world's smallest steam engine, or to be more precise the smallest Stirling engine, and found that the machine really does perform work,"

Here we have further efforts at miniaturization using carbon nano-tubes:

Three dimensional integration is a hot field within electronics since it offers a new way to package components densely and thus build tiny, well-functioning units. When stacking chips vertically, the most effective way to interconnect them is with electrical interconnects that go through the chip (instead of being wired together at the edges) – what are known as through-silicon vias.

Here we have nano-springs:

In order to exploit the particular material properties that appear at the nanoscale, it is first necessary to fabricate materials with nanoscale structures in a controlled and repeatable fashion. Reliable methods for the fabrication of simple shapes such as nanorods, nanocubes and nanotubes are now available, but more complex shapes still pose a challenge. Sungho Park and co-workers from Sungkyunkwan University in Korea have now reported a promising method for the synthesis of palladium nanosprings.

Quantum entangled photons:

Researchers from the University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei in collaboration with colleagues in Germany and Austria have now demonstrated a system that allows photons to be entangled and stored in a manner suitable for quantum computing.

And photonic chips for quantum processors:

A multi-purpose optical chip which generates, manipulates and measures entanglement and mixture - two quantum phenomena which are essential driving forces for tomorrow's quantum computers - has been developed by researchers from the University of Bristol's Centre for Quantum Photonics. This work represents an important step forward in the race to develop a quantum computer.

Of course with steady developments like this we might end up with some sort of self-replicating technology that grows like a plant, or a fungal mycelia…

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Out in the Wilderness!

Apparently David Cameron has cast us into isolation and the icy wilderness outside Europe, if you swallow whole the propaganda belched up by the BBC. As someone noted, on one blog I was reading, this is the kind of isolation of the one passenger who failed to board the Titanic on its maiden voyage. Of course the piles and piles of bullshit here are high and ripe. First off, Britain is not the one out of twenty-seven as the BBC would have us believe. And as far as I can gather (I’m no expert) he said ‘no’ at a meeting to discuss having a meeting to work out some way of promoting stability. There was, in fact, no treaty to veto but a draft treaty. If you want more detail, check here.

However, one wonders why sticking a financial transactions tax in there which will screw money out of Britain’s economy has to be part of the deal. Could it possibly be a further power grab that actually has no effect on the vast amount of money countries owe and how, economically, they are rapidly heading down the toilet? Could it be a little bit of payback for Britain’s failure to kowtow to Brussels and join the Euro? Could it also be Merkel, Sarkozy and crew looking for someone to blame –Britain – when it all goes tits-up as it inevitably will?

Nice to note the BBC telling outright lies too. How the financial sector is just an insignificant part of Britain’s economy when it actually accounts for 10% of national income. Meanwhile the reporters all looked like they wanted to be wearing black arm bands as they promoted doom and gloom about Britain not going ‘Baaa!’ with the rest of the sheep. They then delayed for as long as possible before letting Cameron put his side of, ‘We’re not in the Euro, these changes are against our national interest, so I said no, okay?’ Of course I’ve no doubt that later that ‘no’ will become a sort of ‘no’ and eventually slide into being a ‘yes’ because Cameron is as big a europhile prick as most chiselling politicians.

Incidentally, what are these sanctions they're talking about for profligate governments? It hardly seems logical to financially penalize a government that's overspent: Hey, I find you guilty of shooting yourself in the foot. I am, therefore, going to punish you by shooting you in the other foot.

Friday, December 09, 2011

New Book

Right, I’ve finished with the Peter Lavery edits of Zero Point, have read through it once more, and I’ve now sent it off. Of course this is not the end, because a copy editor will go through it next and doubtless have queries for me and, if I wished, I could now return to Jupiter War and start working it over again. However, I’ve decided it’s time to look at something different.

This afternoon I opened a new file and titled it Pennyroyal, stared at a blank page for a moment and then typed in that same word as the title. I’m now halfway down the page making notes – putting down things I’ve churned over in my mind on and off for a number of months. Here’s the first thing I wrote:

The traveller keeps a piece of Pennyroyal inside his own ship: a black spine a metre and a half long, the width of an arm at its base and tapering to a needle point, pentagonal in cross-section and with corners of atomic sharpness, a ribbed tentacle extending from its base, with a tentacle junction box a handbreadth down it, and a metre of tentacle beyond – torn off at the end with optics and esoteric electronics protruding.

This may be something I’ll use or it may be something to key me into the book and which I’ll discard later. Other ideas are fermenting and bubbling to the surface. There’ll be connections here to the Prador-Human war, but it will be set after The Technician. A spider-thrall might be involved, and I’m considering a guest appearance by Jebel U-cap Krong. I also see one of those giant AI-dreadnought manufacturing stations, maybe a wartime atrocity…

Hey, this post is longer than the notes I’ve made...

Back to work!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Windup Girl -- Paolo Bacigalupi

My opinion about this book is difficult to nail down. It was rich and textured and engaged all the senses, the characters were fascinating, too, and the extrapolation and some of the ideas were excellent. I particularly liked the kink-spring technology and the semi-retro tech based on it, like the disc guns that are a reminder of a childhood toy. I enjoyed the genetic manipulation and the wind-up girl herself, though of course there were shades of Blade Runner there. However, what gave me pause was the heavy reliance on scares generated by the ‘green’ movement and the MSM, but of course, in present day establishment thinking, it is right on.

We have the scares about global warming and sea-level rise here, and you all know my opinion on them. Yes, we do have global warming, and we’ve had it since the Little Ice Age and it hasn’t come close to being as high as in the Medieval Warm Period and has flat-lined for over a decade. As for sea-level rise, putting aside Al Gore idiocy and desperate IPCC spin, the last time I looked it was few millimetres a year (as it has been for 8000 years), and if we can’t cope with a metre rise in sea-level in three or four centuries then we might just as well give up right now (it has also been dropping for the last three years). However, the clue is in the label. This is science fiction so writing about a future globally-warmed and flooded world is valid, though, extrapolating from historical climate cycles, and writing about a new Ice Age, would be more so.

Then we have the scare about genetic modification or, more specifically, the fear of GM under the control of the evil corporations (sigh). Here we seem to be going into Daily Mail ‘Frankenfoods’ territory, combined with the ‘capitalism is evil’ shibboleth of the left. I am a little doubtful about the idea that our scientists are going to abruptly pull masses of world-devastating monsters out of their arses that billions of years of competitive evolution has failed to manage. But whatever, again this is valid for science fiction, and is of course a very useful spanner in the SF toolbox. I also get tired of that constant portrayal in fiction and film of the evil corporation. It strikes me that corporations seem to come up with most of what improves our lives, while it’s the governments that enjoy bombing people back into the Stone Age.

(I also have to wonder … where are the windmills and tide-generators supplying if not electricity then joules for those kink-springs? Where, with such advanced biotech, are the tank-grown hydrocarbons and the CO2 absorbing microbes? Where, also, are the nuclear power stations? Maybe in the rest of the world?)

Thereafter, if the scares were true, the extrapolation in the book is on the button. I do see Luddite environmental police (white shirts much like Hitler’s brown or black shirts) destroying illegal and dangerous technology and pillorying those who are profligate in energy use. I do see an economy based on calories, and the kind of life-styles depicted in this book. And I do see human life being cheapened.

Now I have to add something more. I have, over time, started to make it a rule that I won’t review books I either don’t like or don’t finish. That I finished this book, considering my personal opinions, is testament to how much I enjoyed it. It’s a valid look at a future from one point of view and, unlike what I have seen in other SF books that venture into this sort of territory, the characters are people struggling to get on with their lives in difficult circumstances, and are not vessels created just to deliver righteous homilies.

Cue the visits by trolls to enlighten me in the ways of correct political thought.   

Higgs Boson

It appears that the good people at CERN have either discovered or are close to discovering the Higgs boson or ‘God particle’:

Rumors swirled today that data may have been found that supports the Higgs boson at ~126 GeV. Reliable sources have speculated the data will show a certainty, that something’s there, to about 4.2 sigma, the threshold for official detection is 5 sigma, but that only triggers many rounds of attempted confirmation.

Physics blogs are alive with chatter about a possible sign of the Higgs boson – or perhaps an entirely unexpected particle – in data from the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland. But the claim has not gone through the experiment's vetting process and could easily turn out to be wrong, physicists say.


Why does this matter? I submit that knowledge for its own sake is a good thing, but also, who knows what sort of technologies such a discovery would lead to? Similarly, what kind of territory are we being led into by those FTL neutrinos? Here’s an article that purports to explain why the Higgs boson matters but, for myself, one of the commenters nailed my feelings about both this particle and those neutrinos:

Translation: the standard model describes a universe that doesn’t actually exist, and so instead of conceding some fundamental defect in the standard model, they assume it must be right and instead there is a missing piece of the puzzle. Much like dark matter and dark energy, the Higgs boson is another epicycle.

And for illuminaton:

Slang for bad science
In part, due to misunderstandings about how deferent/epicycle models worked, "adding epicycles" has come to be used as a derogatory comment in modern scientific discussion. The term might be used, for example, to describe continuing to try to adjust a theory to make its predictions match the facts.

Yup, there's a lot of that about.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Late Turner Prize Entry?

Apparently a late Turner Prize entry said to depict the failure of capitalism in the modern world didn't quite make the grade:

A fleet of Ferraris and a Lamborghini Diablo have been involved in one of the most expensive accidents in history after a high speed pile-up in Japan.
Meanwhile it is rumoured that an early visitor to the gallery was arrested for planking on the prizewinning exhibit:

Monday, December 05, 2011

Roddy and the Muffin Men

Here's a guy we know out in Crete - he's the guitarist at the back. He's addicted to my chilli sauce and rather likes a drink of raki. His wife, Ruth, makes costumes for panto and recently for The Game of Thrones.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

What Diet?

As is usual during the winter, when comfort food tastes so good and exercise outside doesn't seem like a great idea, I'm starting to put on weight. I really do try not to eat too much, but sometimes the temptation is too strong:

After watching a movie we ventured into a Mexican restaurant that serves some huge profitaroles... 

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Aaargh! Bloody Computer

Could not load file or assembly sorttbls.nlp or one of its dependencies. The system file cannot be specified.


Friday, December 02, 2011

Kardashev Scale

Noting this article on Next Big Future reminded me about the Kardashev Scale, and reading up on it again can certainly be a stimulus for the imagination.

The Polity, I suspect, is merely a Type I civilization, perhaps sliding into Type II territory with the construction of a Dyson sphere. The Heliothane, of Cowl, are also edging into Type II territory with New London sitting over the sun and tapping energy from it. Go check out the links to get your mind blown … so to speak.

The picture here is one from Halo, which seems to have some seriously cool artwork.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Books in Foyles.

Caroline nipped off shopping to the huge new shopping centre Westfield in Stratford and, as is becoming traditional now, she found a book shop and took photos of my books. Oddly there was no Waterstones there and she found these in Foyles. I have to wonder what Christina Foyle would have thought of this. Many years ago I used to cut a field of grass beside Beeleigh Abbey where she lived. I even got invited in once for a cup of coffee and it was like stepping back a hundred years: manual worker invited into the big house to be inspected by the lord and lady, led through by a maid into an enormous room full of antiques and ancestor paintings. I managed to suppress the urge to tug my forelock, dip my head and clutch my cheesecutter hat against my chest.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

More From Crete.

Just during the last few days I asked Mikalis, the guy who built our ruin, to do some work on the walls surrounding our house. It's nice to have someone we can trust to get things done and who sticks to an agreed price (something of a rarity there). Here's the pictures he recently emailed me of work in progress and completed

I've now managed to send him the money for this work, and I wonder if he'll immedately be pulling out of his bank and putting it under his bed, which seems advisable considering the state of the Greek economy...

Petrol Price

Oh isn't George Osborn generous in not putting up the tax on petrol. Now, when you buy a litre of fuel at the pump for £1.40 you're only paying at tax rate of 142% - that's 83p in tax. But of course you need to pay such huge rates to finance all those enormous and completely unfair public sector pensions. But we must also not forget the billions the DFID is throwing at other countries, what we are paying for more fucking useless windmills and for another climate change jolly somewhere, or the billions thrown at the corrupt and totalitarian EU, or that biased advocate of leftwingery the BBC, or the lazy fucks on welfare, or the overpaid jerks in our councils, or the... ok, I'll stop there.

Back to work so I can pay for all those dicks out there.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Foreign Editions

An email from one of my German readers has reminded me that I'm being neglectful of my foreign readers. I do have numerous books that can be bought, signed, in German and French, and a smaller number of them in Russian, Czech, Portugese and Japanese. Here's a selection:

Of course, perfectly demonstrating just how multilingual some nationalities are, an awful lot of my German readers don't bother with the versions in their own language and read them in English.

Monday, November 28, 2011


It’s been quite surprising to read what those who have been buying books in the recent sale have been saying. Some of them read my books from the library and now want their own copies. Some bought them for kindle and now want the material thing. A few have thanked me for how open I am on my blog, and I am also ‘the man’ or ‘I rock’. And one of the killers is those who have worn out their copy of their favourite and now want a replacement. Also, actions speaking louder than words, I’m astounded how some American readers are quite happy to pay extraordinary postage.

It’s quite humbling to have become an indelible part of some people’s lives. I know what that means when I open up one of my collection and remember the reading pleasure. It is quite an honour to be in that position. Aw, I’m getting all soppy now. Thanks people!

Now, I need to have a rant about something…

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

Books For Sale

Here’s a reposting of my reply (slightly edited) to one Neil who asked in the comments on a previous post why so many books are sent to the author:

It's in the contract, Neil: 10 hardbacks on first release and 20 paperbacks a year later when the mass-market paperback comes out. In my case the hardbacks go to family and friends but the paperbacks linger. I then get up to 10 of the foreign editions when I only really need 1. Tor US send me the 10 & 20 of my British contract on top.

If you're a writer who writes one book every two or three years, then that's probably okay. Since through Macmillan I've done about 15 books in 11 years (I think) I've built up a bit of a backlog.

Here are some pictures of that backlog, and why I fear the ceiling might collapse at some point.

So, it’s time I cleared a few of these out. If anyone wants to buy a signed copy of any of my books, well, my email is over on the right here at the bottom of my profile. I’m selling them at cover price (if $ then converted to £) plus postage and packing. Just detail what you want and I’ll check to see if I’ve got it – my aim in the end is to retain just two copies each of my English language books and one each of the foreign language ones.

Also, I’ve had requests for signed photos, so I can only assume someone wants something to scare their children with. I’ll be printing and laminating some of these shortly should anyone want to do likewise.

I've just checked on stuff in the loft and this is what remains available:

6 copies USA Paperback £6
8 copies USA Bookclub Hardback £14
5 copies USA Hardback £17

3 Copies UK Trade Paperback 2nd Edition £12
4 Copies USA Bookclub Hardback £14

7 Copies UK Paperback £8
1 Copies UK Trade Paperback £12
8 Copies USA Paperback £6
10 Copies USA Trade Paperback £12

4 Copies UK Paperback £8
1 Copies UK Trade Paperback £12
13 Copies Sullivan paperback £8
20 Copies USA paperback £6
7 Copies USA Bookclub hardback £14
20 Copies USA Trade paperback £12

9 Copies UK Paperback £8
10 Copies Sullivan Paperback £8

7 Copies UK Paperback £8
13 Copies Sullivan paperback £8

5 Copies UK Paperback £8

10 Copies Sullivan Paperback £8
9 Copies Limited Edition

3 Copies UK Hardback £15
7 Copies UK Paperback £7
25 Copies Nightshade edition £10

13 Copies Sullivan Paperback £8
4 Copies Trade Paperback £12

7 Copies UK Hardback £18
14 Copies UK Paperback £8

14 Copies UK Paperback £8

20 Copies UK Paperback £8

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Space Ships

There’s an interesting article over at the Register about the progression of the design of spaceships in science fiction. This comment struck me:

“The silliest thing about alien spacecraft, which are designed only to travel in space, is that they are made to look aerodynamic, which is of course unnecessary, since there is no air… remember the Apollo LEM? That is how aerodynamic a spacecraft needs to be...”

Well, no, actually. In fact that statement in and of itself shows a lack of imagination. Certainly, something that’s travelling slowly through vacuum doesn’t need to be aerodynamic, but if you’re nudging the speed of light it’s probably not a good idea to present a large flat profile to even disperse interstellar matter, in fact streamlining seems like a good idea. And who says ‘designed only to travel in space’? Why shouldn’t these ships also be designed to enter all sorts of atmospheres, penetrate dust clouds, even surf in the fire of a sun?

And let’s not forget that the statement above is all about utility, about what ‘needs to be’. If you are capable of building interstellar vessels I submit that you’ve probably moved a bit beyond that. Why shouldn’t you do the Klingon thing and make your vessel in the shape of a hawk or similar. Why shouldn’t you, if you want, build your starship in the shape of a sailing ship, a shark or even a Ford Fiesta?

There is a large gap between what you must do and what you can do. And, let’s face it, when it comes to interstellar flight, we’re a long way from knowing what needs to be incorporated.


Nice interview here at the Register on the same (sort of) subject: Gavin Rothery was visual effects supervisor on the British sci-fi smash Moon, and has been a creative force on a welter of hit video games, and so has a lot to say on the subject of spacecraft design.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mass-Market USA Brass Man

Blimey, it seems they are now printing or reprinting mass-market copies of Brass Man in the USA, which means I get my free books. This is great, I really love free books, but what the hell do I do with them? And how much longer before my loft collapses on top of us one evening? I guess I could try selling them as signed copies over the Internet. Mmm, perhaps it’s time to put up a list again of what I have available…

And here, of course, is a blog post demonstrating how I am trying to escape the mind-numbing tedium of editing. However, I should not complain! Because there’s a danger here of me turning into one of those effete writer pricks who complains about how he suffers for is art and how it is all such a terrible trial.

What I need to firmly plant in my mind is grafting all day digging a foundation hole in clay, for £30; strimming round trees and, because I was wearing goggles only and not a full-face visor, discovering what dog shit tastes like; pulling off a glove, after foolishly trying to reposition a running mower deck, and seeing the end of my finger split open and the bone frayed like a paint brush; never seeing the sunlight for most of the winter working in a machine shop, and perpetually stinking of coolant oil … I’ll stop there, you get the idea.

So, back to editing with joy in my heart!


Or maybe not. A friend of mine posted this on Facebook. It must be getting on for a quarter of a century old when I was young, and couldn't be bothered to shave...

It was a football match played for charity, but in an extremely muddy field with about fifty people on each team and a ball that was about six feet across. And no referees.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

FTL Neutrinos Update

Apparently the ftl neutrinos have been refuted:

Their claim is that in getting to superluminal velocities, the neutrinos should lose energy by producing photons and electron/anti-electron pairs (“e+e- pairs”), in a process “analogous to Cherenkov radiation” (the “blue glow” in nuclear reactor water, so beloved of movie-makers).

“A very significant deformation of the neutrino energy spectrum and an abundant production of photons and e+e- pairs should be observed,” the ICARUS group says.

This hasn’t happened, they assert: “We find that the neutrino energy distribution of the ICARUS events … agrees with the expectations for an undisturbed spectrum of the CERN neutrino beam.

“Our results therefore refute a superluminal interpretation of the OPERA result,” the group writes.

Okay, who can see the huge hole in the logic here? Let me explain: by conventional theories the neutrinos can't travel faster than light but, by conventional theory, if they do go ftl, they should do the above. This is what is known in physics as having your cake, the other guy's cake, and eating both while disappearing up your own arsehole.


You know, I still don’t know what to make of this. Search the Internet and you’ll find loads of articles, both for and against:

But the inventors do have something going for them. They have demonstrated the device publicly numerous times and their claims are looking more credible as more tests validate them. Video and reports of physicists who were present confirmed that electricity was produced.

The latest tests on the energy catalyzer by NyTeknik took place in Bologna on April 19 and 28. The test, as with previous tests, aimed to measure the net energy that the device generates as accurately as possible. The results of the tests from both dates showed a developed net power of between 2.3 and 2.6 kilowatts with and input electric power of 300 watts.

Either a couple of inventors have produced something totally game-changing, which of course I would love to believe, especially as that kind of thing is a science fiction trope, or they are completely deluded, or they are running a massive con.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bubble Metal is Old News

I picked up on the idea of bubble metal maybe twenty years ago (possibly in Omni Magazine) in an article about space industries. The simple idea was of foaming molten metal with inert gas in zero gravity, which would allow for an even distribution of the bubbles (they wouldn't float to the top), to produce a light and strong either closed or open cell metal. Great idea, and one I've used loads.

Now you've probably read about this already, but I feel it's worth a mention here just to prove my aphorism that nothing dates faster than science fiction:

 “The trick is to fabricate a lattice of interconnected hollow tubes with a wall thickness of 100 nanometres, 1,000 times thinner than a human hair,” said lead author Dr. Tobias Schaedler.

The resulting nickel matter has a density of just 0.9 milligrams per cubic centimetre.

Warp Factor One Million

So the guys at CERN did another test with their superluminal neutrinos:

By tweaking the experiment in an attempt to address a potential flaw in their original experiment, they again showed that the neutrons arrived at the Italian site some 60 billionths of a second faster than if they had been travelling at the speed of light.

I do have to wonder with measurements like this if they’re getting into some error bar, some tolerance limit on actually measuring the speed of light. It’s the kind of thing that rears its head quite often in science and is quite often ignored by the mainstream media. Anyone who has worked in engineering knows about tolerances and the impossibility of exact measurement.

Nevertheless it is all exciting stuff (for a nerd like me). The MINOS team at Fermilab are going to try and replicate the results, but it’s interesting that they had similar results before but which lay within a margin for error. So, what does this all mean? Some people are already speculating:


The new findings, available here, also further strengthen a particular scenario: The neutrinos do not travel with superluminal velocity all the way. They only ‘jump’ a small initial distance shorter than 20 meters, after which they settle back and travel as usual with speeds below that of the speed of light. This initial jump would occur at speeds that are more than ten times the speed of light, perhaps even millions of times the speed of light.

I don’t really have to elaborate on why I particularly like this speculation, do I?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Website Question.

Okay, I know there are plenty of IT guys who visit here so I have a question. I built by website using FrontPage - a program I no longer have since changing computers. What would you recommend I use now? I want an OFFLINE website builder that's simple to use and doesn't require me knowing html. I'm not interested in free hosting, since I have my webspace. I'm not intersted in free email addresses and all sorts of other dangly pointless bits. I'm also, I have to add, not interested in paying large amounts of money for a website building program for a site that will essentially be just for reference - we all know that websites that are updated maybe monthly don't get a lot of traffic. It's all blogs now, well, in fact it's mostly social networking that gets that traffic. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Who Reads My Books: Chris Haringa

I am Dutch, 65 years of age and what Neal would call a ‘stinking old hippy’. I read heaps and heaps of SF until I was 20-something, then suddenly had enough, and never touched the stuff again apart from some fantasy. I studied chemistry without realizing what I was in for, then after half a year I found out, and dropped out. Since then I’ve worked as a labourer, factory worker, white van driver, salesman in a DIY shop, and a patient transporter for a hospital, but spent at least half of the time not doing shit but talk with me mates stoned out of my mind….

I got married in the UK to an English lady somewhere along the line and, when our first son was due to arrive, decided it was time to take life seriously. I went to a state subsidised school to become a carpenter, again without a clue what it meant to be a carpenter in everyday life. So there I was at 7 in the morning amongst my fellow carpenters, who could only talk about sex, cars and sports, which made me feel kind of lonely…but I was a responsible person now so had to hold on. I did so for 3 years until one November morning – zero degrees above zero, 7 in the morning, a touch of flu but not enough to call in sick, me standing on a ladder in the door opening of a vast building screwing in a rail to hold up big sliding doors, with wind howling past me. I felt so desperate I started to pray ( never saw a church from the inside hahaha), ‘Please dear god help me out of here, can’t stand it anymore!’ At that moment one of my co-workers came up to me and said, ‘Chris please step down from the ladder, I have something to tell you.’ So I did, and when I reached the ground he talked to me for a bit and then suddenly pushed me in the chest because he saw the big metal ladder being blown over by the wind and coming in our direction. It hit me on the big toe and broke it in two places, and would have smashed my head to bits if he would not have pushed me….

So there I was with my foot in plaster, right next to the heater being served nice cups of tea by my lovely wife… and I never went back. My next job was as an EEG/EMG technician in a general hospital. I went to evening classes for that for two years, and kept the job for ten years. Nice and warm inside the hospital, friendly people, but I got bored and, because the Misses was English and kind of homesick, we decided to give it a go and try to make a living in GB. So off we went with our, by that time with 5 kids, to a winter let in the Cotswolds.

We had a good friend there: a very successful graphic designer who promised us to set up a business together, but he failed to do so because his marriage sort of exploded. The only work available at that time was carpentry again, for much less money than I would have made doing the same in Holland. And apart from that I’d done that, seen that. So back to the Netherlands again where an old friend told me that a local comprehensive school, close to where I lived, needed a teacher to take care of the practical part of the physics lessons. To be honest I don’t think they would have hired me was it not for the fact that one of my closest friends was on the board of directors at that time…

So that’s what I did for the last 25 years and now, being 65 and all, the big holiday has started! Met Mr Asher and his wife in Greece a couple of years ago, didn’t know he was a writer at first, pleasant people to talk to over a pint or a glass of wine (contrary of what one would expect reading his blog….hahaha) One day he told me to read one of his books, but I had my doubts not being interested in SF anymore (I prefer modern American literature like John Irving, Tom Wolfe, Donna Tart and the like) but thought, whatever, I’ll give it a go. After a few chapters of Gridlinked I thought that I made the right decision a long time ago, enough SF, but I felt I should finish the book. The funny thing was that although I was not interested at all in the story, the writer managed to grab my attention so I turned a page and another page until I realized I had a page turner in my hands, well done Mister Asher!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dystopia Myopia

Okay, back to a bit of blogging every day. There’s an interview with me over here at Worlds in Ink where I ramble on about The Departure and where you’ll find the blurb for Zero Point. I also make some comments about ebooks, but nothing ground-breaking because I’m still undecided about the various issues that arise from piracy and DRM. I would like to believe that without DRM piracy would act as publicity and result in more sales for me, but I’m afraid I have a low opinion of human nature. Then again, this morning I got paid $40 by a reader who emailed me earlier in the week with this:

I need to send you some money, I "ahem" got your books at the library, and they are all fucking brilliant.

…so perhaps I shouldn’t be such a cynic?


What else? Oh yeah, we’ve had two democratically elected leaders ousted and replaced by ‘technocrats’. We now we have the BMA pushing the government to ban smoking in cars and doubtless the government will bow to this then to the later total ban on smoking i.e. your car will not be your own and later your house won’t be. Another one is the idea that unless you opt out your organs will automatically go for donation, so your body belongs to the government too. How long before you are legally obliged to keep that government property in top-notch condition? All of these are putting more power into the hands of the state, taking away our freedoms, and examples of how we move ever closer to the world of The Departure. As for the BMA, I think Underdogs Bite Upwards covers that organization in a recent post:

What is the point of going through medical school if you end up being less reliable in your diagnoses and advice than a rune-casting Druid? Alcohol units recommendations are made-up numbers. Five-a-day is a made-up number. Second hand smoke is entirely lies and third-hand smoke is beyond derisory from a profession that calls homeopathy bunkum. There is no science behind any of it. It is personal prejudice based on spite and malice and what is now called 'science' and the utter morons who now make up our government accept it all. The exclusion and demonization of huge tracts of the population is justified on the basis of... nothing.


I’m currently working through the Peter Lavery edits of Zero Point and finding that he hasn’t been quite so demonic in his application of his ‘scary pencil’. He tells me that this is because it doesn’t require so much editing, so hopefully this means I have learnt something from him over the last ten years.

Right, an hour of learning Greek now, then shopping, then back to work.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Neal Asher Video Clip 13/11/11

Here I am again fumbling and bumbling through the questions. If you have questions for me to answer on my next video clip put them in the comments below. Also, try to make your questions concise. If you want to comment about something leading up to a question or inclusive of one, please separate out the questions at the end. Cheers!

Updated Carousel

Here's an updated carousel of my books from the guy who signes himself here as Xanares: