The Oddest UFO I've ever seen

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There is a lot of material about UFO's on the web. Usually, the UFO concerned takes the form of a disc-shaped aircraft, or possibly a cigar-shaped one. I think, to be honest, that it's a bit dull that UFO's would mostly be disc-shaped aircraft. In a way, it's more likely that such craft aren't alien visitation vehicles, on the simple grounds that if an alien civilisation does visit us, they're likely to be thousands or millions of years ahead of us in terms of technology and would have abandoned metallic, aerodynamic vehicles long ago. It's more likely that such disc-vehicles are the property of advanced human groups on Earth, who have secretly taken a few leaps ahead of the rest of us in technology and come up with these disc-shaped vehicles.

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But one UFO sighting doesn't follow the standard disc-vehicle pattern at all. In the following video, a man in Portsmouth, UK, shows the footage he'd been amassing over years, documenting the activity of very strange flying objects near his home. For those viewers who are surprised that Portsmouth would be a hot-bed of such activity, it's worth noting that the town is a key U.K. military naval port. One particular piece of footage, recorded by the man, is especially fascinating, as it shows the oddest UFO I've ever seen and it shows the object in impressive detail. I definitely recommend readers viewing the footage. The documentary is a little long-winded, so it might be worth skipping forward now and then. Here it is:



Isn't it fascinating? What is that device? I have no idea but it does seem to possess an ability to hover and move through the air without any need for wings or rockets or a jet engine or propellers even a gas bag. In a sense, it's the best UFO I've ever seen footage evidence for because it is completely alien. No one would come up with such a flying device. This sort of encounter I think shows why it's so hard to be a responsible science-fiction writer, because there seems to be advanced stuff out there that makes no sense at all, so how can one write believably about it? I think I'll stick to writing stories about people in metal boxes; it's so much easier.

George Monbiot and Logan's Run

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The election of Donald Trump in the United States has had a huge effect on global feelings about our future on this planet. The slight warm, fuzzy feeling that the Paris Climate Agreement gave people - which was an event big on holding hands but small on legally binding targets - has gone.

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A good example of such gloom is an article in the Guardian newspaper this week from George Monbiot. George’s article is headed with a still from the film ‘The Road’, based on the brilliant but extremely depressing novel by Cormac McCarthy, which describes a post-collapse USA, freezing cold and inhabited by roving bands of violent cannibals. George makes it clear that the combination of Trump and his team, plus the far right surge in Europe, combined with climate change and the dwindling life in our over-worked soils, makes for a very grim future. He ends his article by saying:

“So the key question is not how we weather them [the problems listed so far] but how – if this is possible – we avert them. Can it be done? If so what would it take?” Read More...

'Arrival' film review

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I'd been looking forward to watching 'Arrival' for the last few months and, fortunately, it didn't disappoint. I do like thoughtful science fiction movies and although Hollywood can produce some absolute turkey sci-fi films, along with a steady stream of macho-xenophobic-US-centric tosh, they can also make some excellent offerings. Contact with Jodie Foster was excellent, so was Gravity (which was actually filmed mostly in London's Soho), along with the Stephen Soderberg remake of 'Solaris'. I even liked Matt Damon's 'The Martian', or at least until the schmaltz and woefully impossible orbiting times in the latter half of that movie tarnished the story.

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Arrival revolves around Amy Adam's character, an academic linguist who studies language structures as well as knowing multitudes of languages fluently. Although the film is supposed to be about the aliens, it's really about her as a mother, (mild plot spoilers) overcoming a family tragedy. For anyone who blurts out 'but that's exactly the premise of Sandra Bullock's character in Gravity!' I can only say that it seems to currently be the view in Hollywood that the only type of woman who can reach out to the stars and be intelligent and resourceful has to have seriously suffered as a mum. Read More...

The Pink Robots of Loving Death - first two chapters sample

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As I've reached the 50,000 word mark on my science fiction comedy novel 'The Pink Robots of Loving Death', I thought it would be fun to make available the first two chapters as a sample (which is about 27 pages; they're snappily quick chapters!).

For those readers who can't even face downloading and opening a pdf to check out its contents (what is the world coming to?), here's the first few pages' worth of text:

Chapter 1: Onager

A skinny man and an athletic woman stood in an underground chamber on a desolate planet, facing a pair of enormous, stone doors. The doors were each forty-foot high, made of granite and covered with carvings of cryptic figures; they were also closed.

The skinny man looked at the carvings. He ran his hand through his mop of unkempt, brown hair and shivered. “We’re going to die.”

“We’re not going to die, Murk,” said the woman. She sighed, looked at the doors, then examined one of her sheets of paper. On it was a dense collection of hand-written notes and diagrams.

“We’re going to die, Aura,” Murk repeated, “and I’m not talking eventually, in our beds. I mean soon, while we’re awake and
really paying attention.”

“We are not going to die!” She snapped back. “We’ve been working for here for a year and the evidence,” she waved her notes, "shows that beyond those doors is the Vault of the Tau Gifts; a collection of perfect gifts created by a benevolent ancient race, thousands of years ago."

“A race who are dead,” said Murk. “That’s the key thing, Aura, the dead bit.” He waved his arms. “Those ancients died, like every other civilisation in this galaxy. The Dark God Hubris gets all the clever people and we’re next on the list!” His breath frosted in the chamber’s cold air. He rubbed his gloved hands. “They probably suffered a battery catastrophe.”

Aura rubbed her forehead. “Okay, Mr Gloom, I give in, what is a battery catastrophe?”

“One of the most notorious ways for a civilisation to die,” explained Murk. “You’ve never heard of a battery catastrophe?”

“No.”

Murk frowned. “Have you been taking forgetting pills again?”

“I do
not take forgetting pills!”

“But how would you
know?” Murk added; “That’s your biggest problem, Aura, overconfidence.”

“I do
not take forgetting pills,” she said, emphasising each word. She glared at him. “Then again,” she added, closing her eyes, “having spent the last year with you, they sound tempting.”

“A battery catastrophe is a very simple, but terrible event,” said Murk, paying no attention. “As a civilisation advances in technology, they inevitably build more and more powerful batteries. Always desirous of greater power, they
continually accept the inflated claims of their battery salesmen that the latest generation of batteries are entirely safe, as well as being very quick to charge. Eventually, one day, as a result of a combination of several rare but critical circumstances, one of their hyper-batteries fails all its safety checks and explodes.” He mimed an explosion. “In their dense cities, the explosion inevitably hits other hyper-batteries, causing them to blow up too. A terrible hyper-battery chain-reaction is created; a superbova. It emits an electromagnetic pulse of such strength that all the batteries in the planet’s other cities blow up too!” He lowered his head; his voice grew grave. “In one brief, horrible event, that entire civilisation is destroyed, its achievements gone, its population decimated.” He shook his head. “A few, pitiful citizens survive, struggle out of the ruins and flee to the forests. There, they regress to a more primitive existence, living on, their knowledge and history gone. All they have left is a few myths, some strange trinkets and a deep and profound fear of heavy rectangles.” He put his hands together.

Aura crossed her arms. “You talk such crap.”



If all goes well, the novel should be finished by Spring of next year.

Graphic novel nearing completion

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It's a misty day here in London, the day after Halloween, and I thought it would be fun to post a misty, atmospheric page from the graphic novel I'm currently working on (which is currently entitled 'The Great Secret'). We're having an unsettlingly warm Autumn here in the South East of England (breaking news: the hottest ever November day in Britain was recorded today)
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but otherwise, it does look very Traditionally English weather in the foggy streets beyond my window. 'The Great Secret' graphic novel will be finished soon, which I'm very pleased to announce, partly because I'm keen to see what people think and also because the book has taken AGES to make and it'll be a huge relief to sign it off as complete.

I have also been working on a science fiction comedy novel this year; its current working title is the Pink Robots of Loving Death (which gives you a good idea of what it'll be like). I've reached the half-way point on writing it; I've done all the story development and written 40,000 words. I'll post the first chapter of the novel soon on this website, so people can have the opportunity to read a sample. So much to do…

Two decades of great science-fiction movies

I think it was so much better in the olden days… No! That's not true! I do not want to be an old, boring moaner with rose-tinted spectacles! (At least not all the time) That being said, I do want to say that there really was a brilliant twenty-year period in U.K. and North American science-fiction cinema that started in 1962 and ended in 1982. For various cultural and historical reasons, it just seemed to be a time when film-makers had the freedom, opportunity, motivation and inspiration to create a lot of clever, inventive, disturbing and memorable science-fiction ideas and scenarios. It really was a golden age. I was going to waffle about each film, but that would take a lot of time, so I thought I'd just show the posters in rough date order, one for every year. Here goes:
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'The Day After Roswell' - book review Part II

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After writing my recent review of 'The Day After Roswell' by Philip J. Corso, I remembered two more interesting things in the book that I didn't cover in my first review. Neither of them are actually about U.F.O.'s or aliens, which, I think, shows how much stuff is present in Corso's book; it really is a treasure trove of thought-provoking material.
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First off, in between the hard-to-believe alien stuff in Corso's book, Corso also touches on an oddity in America's space exploration programme; why haven't the United States put a base on the moon? I wrote an article on this subject a while back. In the article, I described some of the military benefits of having a base on the moon and why it is a major mystery why the United States or Russia still don't have a base on our moon.

In his book, Corso discusses, at length, the U.S. military's interest and plans in setting up a moon base, a plan hatched in the late fifties and designed to be completed by the mid-sixties. Corso makes it clear that General Trudeau, his commanding officer, was involved in a plan to land on the moon and then establish a base there, with the moon landing being simply one step in a larger process. The reasoning laid out in Corso's book is more extensive than my comments in my article, which not surprisingly for a major U.S. military project, but the essential premise is the same. The moon is the high ground and anyone who establishes a base on it will have a huge military advantage. Corso dedicates an entire chapter to the project and adds an appendix with photocopied briefing documents, detailing what became known as Project Horizon. But, as we all know, there is no moon base. Corso explains why; his answer is logical but it involves UFO's, so its veracity is a matter for debate. Read More...

'The Day After Roswell' by Philip J. Corso - book review

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A few months ago, I began a fresh look into the U.F.O. topic, as a result of aimless youtube wandering. It was a very interesting experience. After watching several of the Sirius Disclosure testimonies, I was amazed at the number of testimonies from respected professional, educated, senior people, including a Rear Admiral, stating that U.F.O.’s do exist but that the secret services and military sections of the major governments of the world have been hiding the facts from the general population for the last seventy years (or more).
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Following on from that surprising claim, I sought out and read ‘The Day After Roswell’ by Colonel Philip J. Corso. This book is about the United States' military’s encounters with U.F.O.’s since the Second World War and, in particular, Corso’s own involvement. By his own, account, Corso was very much in the thick of it. He received artefacts from crashed alien spacecraft and passed them on to private defence contractors so that they could examine the advanced technology and replicate it, thereby developing valuable new technologies. All of this was done in secret and, according to Corso, was responsible for huge advances in key technologies on Earth. It’s astonishing stuff and I can imagine many people would simply reject it as a lie. But is it?

Let's be logical

Corso' book is certainly official 'kook' territory but, before judging and sentencing it, let’s think rationally about the likelihood of its key assertions. Firstly, it's become clear to all of us in recent years that the intelligence agencies and militaries of the world are definitely hiding things from their citizens. After Edward Snowden’s recent revelations about the N.S.A. and G.C.H.Q.’s email and phone snooping, along with a whole host of recent scandals in which the western military and spy establishments ignored laws, due process, peoples’ lives and other rather important things, it’s pretty much a ‘given’ that our spooks are hiding stuff from us.
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We're in a holo-deck reality

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Yes, I know the title of this article sounds nuts, or at least pointlessly nerdy, but actually, it might be true (or at least, sort of true). In this article, I'm going to show scientifically how the idea that 'our reality is a holo-deck construction' is a strong, scientific and logical theory for our existence. My explanation will be comprehensive, in-depth and not at all bonkers.
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Clearly, such an outlandish idea does need a lot of evidence to back it up, so I'll pose a series of sensible questions and answer each in turn. If I can answer all the questions with a 'yes', then I hope that'll show the validity of the theory. Here goes…
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UFOs: Lord Admiral speaks

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Here's another post on the subject of UFO's, following on from my earlier post about the evidence for aliens on Earth (or at least aliens popping over and saying 'hello'). The UFO phenomenon is a fascinating area, but it's a tricky one to study, as it's a swamp of information of varying credibility.

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To avoid as much baloney as possible, I've been looking for witnesses and/or commentators with impeccable backgrounds. My earlier post examined comments from a former Chief of Staff to the Clintons and from a former cabinet minister in the Canadian government. This post is all about an interview with a British Lord Admiral, NATO committee chairman and British Defence minister. His name is Lord Peter Hill-Norton, and I'd say he's about as impeccable a witness as you could possibly get.

In the interview, Hill-Norton talks about the Bentwater incident, in which a UFO supposedly landed at a UK airbase in 1956 (an incident similar to the later Rendlesham forest incident. Hill-Norton discusses the matter in a logical, matter-of-fact way, using clear and straightforward arguments and his thought-provoking conclusions are sound. The interview isn't too long, and it's interesting all the way through. I heartily recommend it.


UFOs: Something strange is going on

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Unidentified Flying Objects are fascinating. I can't imagine anyone who's interested in science-fiction not being interested in flying saucers; they're mysterious, alien, advanced and a little bit scary. What's more, the possibility of aliens visiting Earth, using advanced technology, is perfectly feasible too. From a statistical point of view, the chance that we're entirely alone in the galaxy is virtually nil and the chance that a sentient species on a nearby star has reached a level of technology that enables them to visit us is extremely high.

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I used to be sceptical of UFO's being real, because I thought that interstellar travel was physically impossible because of the Laws of Relativity, but after reading a recent paper on manipulating space-time to travel at faster-than-light speeds, I'm now happy to accept that superluminal travel is feasible. If the physics of superluminal travel are fine, then it would be very strange indeed if no aliens had visited us in the past or were visiting us now. Therefore, according to logic and probability, there should be aliens visiting our planet right now and it's highly likely they've been visiting our planet for a long time.

But if that's true, then either those aliens are keeping a very low profile or the powers-that-be leading our countries on Earth know about them and they're keeping the fact a secret. This second possibility shouldn't really come as a shock to anyone. 'Knowledge is Power' goes the old adage and powerful people like to be as powerful as possible. We're therefore left with two possibilities; there are no aliens visiting Earth (which is statistically highly unlikely) or there are aliens visiting Earth and our governments are keeping it secret (which is statistically highly likely, but hard to prove). Which is it? Read More...

Weird facts create great fiction

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a prediction about what would happen to us in the next thousand years. It wasn't exactly heart-warming or utopian but with climate change gathering pace, I find it hard not to be pessimistic. I could poo-poo global warming or predict that we would use our amazing technological skills to find a way to reverse the effects of climate change, but that would be bollocks, since we're currently, every year, producing billions of tonnes of CO2, along with methane (fifty times more warming than CO2) and Flourine-based chemicals (ten thousand times more warming than CO2).

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Also, the average westerner burns up 200,000 calories of energy a day (not in his or her food, but the energy he or she burns). No human machine can undo this scale of heat and chemical pollution. This human-created chemical output isn't even going down. For example, India has made it clear it plans to ramp up its coal burning in the next few decades as part of a programme to increase its GDP. Oh dear.

But rather than looking at our future from an emotional and ethical point of view and get depressed, why not look at our near future as a great opportunity for a science fiction story? We don't even need to create any weird aliens, sinister secret government groups and hidden, powerful cults for our story, we can simply make use of the aliens, sinister government groups and hidden, powerful cults that many people say already exist on Earth. If you want useful sources on these topics, try the writings of Peter Levenda, Jim Marrs, Richard Dolan and Mark McCandlish. We can even throw in some 'super-powers'. For example, in an earlier blog post, I described my experiences when I tried remote viewing. A lot of people don't believe this ability is possible, but I certainly experienced an information gathering ability that was way above chance, and RV has a highly developed history, so I'm comfortable with it. Also, scientifically, RV is fine, at least if you accept the consequences of the Influence Idea. Read More...

In praise of 'Galaxy Quest'

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I spotted a little nugget of news this week that's reporting that the 1999 science fiction comedy film 'Galaxy Quest' may be made into a T.V. series some time soon. It got me thinking and I've come to a strange and surprising conclusion:

'Galaxy Quest' is the best-written science fiction movie ever made.

I know, it sounds barmy. 'Galaxy Quest' is a fun, tongue-in-cheek sci-fi romp that came and went in the annals of sci-fi moviedom. Why am I choosing it over '2001: A space odyssey'? Or 'Star Wars', or 'Battle beyond the stars'? (okay, maybe not 'battle beyond the stars') Or 'Solaris'? The list is long. The thing is, 'Solaris' and '2001' and 'Star Wars' are wonderful movies. 'Solaris' and '2001' have brilliant ideas. 'Star Wars' has brilliant acting, top-notch production values and cutting edge special effects that haven't actually been bettered in terms of immersive involvement. But I won't be swayed, 'Galaxy Quest' is the best-written science-fiction movie I've ever watched. Read More...

Science Fiction Future at the BFI in London

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At the end of this month (Sunday May 30th), Simon Ings from the New Scientist magazine is hosting an afternoon of talks and short films on the subject of our ‘science fiction future’ and ‘why stories, games and falsehoods may be our best guide to tomorrow'. This event is part of the 'Sci-Fi-London' festival. The highly successful science fiction writer Alastair Reynolds will be giving the keynote talk and that’ll be followed by short films and panel discussions. The event is taking place on the South Bank in London at the British Film Institute.

The title and strap-line for the event has got me thinking; what is our science-fiction future? More broadly, since a lot of people think science-fiction is about the future, with special emphasis on techie stuff, the question really becomes: What is our future? (note: remember to talk about techie stuff).

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Warp drive isn't science fiction!

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Since I've been knee-high to a grasshopper, I've been a huge fan of Star Trek, both the original series, the Next Generation series and the recent J.J.Abrams movies. Quality stuff. But recently, since I've becoming a budding science fiction writer, I've felt duty bound to write science fiction that is based on solid science. In other words, if the technology in a story is not evidently scientifically sound or no attempt is made to explain how it is scientifically sound, then I can't write about it as it's not science-fiction, it's fantasy fiction.

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This is where Star Trek has become a big problem to me, because Einstein, in his famous Theory of General Relativity, makes it clear that no material object can go faster that the speed of light. Knowing this, it becomes obvious that travelling between the stars is an impossible task. You either go so fast that you're rapidly smeared all over your pilots chair like a coating of gravy, or if you go slow enough to stay in one piece and end up dying of old age or being turned into a biological colander by endless cosmic ray bombardment, or both, or all three. We all may be used to the crew of Star Trek zooming between the stars in a few hours, enough time to develop a slow-burning romance, or play an odd version of chess, or play an instrument that neatly doubles up as a kitchen implement, but that doesn't mean it's scientifically okay. Read More...

Star Wars XVCXIIIVXCVX trailer 2

The second teaser trailer for the new Star Wars film has appeared and it's good! (I still have a hang up or two about the original film, but I love it all the same) Check out the wrecked Star Destroyer! Check out Harrison Ford! and Carrie Fisher's hand! (possibly) and Mark Hammil's mechanical replacement hand! (possibly) and a-stormtrooper-that's-not-a-cardboard-bad-guy! I'm not excited, I'm very excited…

My hang-ups with Star Wars: Part 2

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What is Star Wars about? A lot of people would say it's about courage and action and ability and the Force, but maybe that's being a bit too idealistic. I think, in truth, it's about much more basic stuff. I think Star Wars is about cool technology and sex. On that level, its story is as follows:

Sexy woman's in danger. Robots tell young, frustrated man that sexy woman's in danger. Young man travels in cool machine to tell old bloke the news. Old bloke gives young man an impressive weapon and tells him to go for it. Both men then travel to a spaceport and meet an even cooler man who uses his weapon, then they all escape in a really cool spaceship. They reach a super-impressive space station and find the sexy woman. They fire their weapons, rescue the sexy woman, hug her repeatedly, then escape on their cool spaceship from the super-impressive space station. Afterwards, they chat about which of them fancies her.

But it's the finale of the film which is really, really about sex. This might be hard to spot at first glance. The attack on the Death Star by the Rebel Alliance X-Wings seems, on the face of it, to be about a bunch of fighters attacking a space station and destroying it, but in fact, it's a vast, detailed allegory about conception. Here's that climactic scene described in symbolic terms: Read More...

My hang-ups with Star Wars: Part 1

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Yesterday evening, I watched the original Star Wars movie again. It's still brilliant. But this time when I watched it, something happened that had never happened before. I was watching the film and I suddenly thought:

‘What on Earth is an underwater monster doing in a trash compacter on a metal space station??’

I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this before; I’ve seen the film probably fifty times. But what on Earth is it doing there? Not only that but that space station is pristine. Totally pristine! There aren't even any wastebaskets on it! Where did all that rubbish come from? Also, why is the trash compacter two-foot deep in water? How does that help compacting trash? Read More...

Google and Max Planck

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In last week's New Scientist magazine, Hal Hodson wrote an interesting article reporting on Google's project to try and weed out what New Scientist magazine often refers to as 'fruitloopery'. Google's plan is to assess websites' statements for accuracy by comparing them to its own store of knowledge. If that website's 'facts' don't match Google's own official facts, then Google will lower that website's ranking accordingly, so that viewers won't be exposed to spurious information. This sounds great, but there is a problem. Here's the letter I wrote in response:

Hal Hodson reports that Google's software for ranking pages on their trustworthiness will make its judgement by drawing on a store of facts gathered from the internet. Isn't this circular logic? How would the Google system handle a statement such as "glass is a liquid"? On the internet, the notion that glass is a slow-moving liquid, resulting in medieval windows that are thicker at the bottom, seems far more prevalent than the truth – that glass is a solid and medieval glaziers placed the thicker end of blown glass sheets at the bottom. Since nothing on the internet is unanimously agreed, Google's software would have to take the majority consensus. If this happened, there is a good chance that any site dispelling a popular misconception would appear far down the list of search results, making it harder, not easier, for people to learn the truth. Popular fiction would dominate because the software would add it to the Knowledge Vault and use that reference point to downgrade the truth. Intelligent people can make clever software, but no one makes intelligent software.


This project also reminded of the physicist Max Planck's comment about new ideas. He said:

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

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SETI and sci-fi expectations

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The New Scientist magazine's letters page this week includes some more discussions about SETI and alien contact. This topic was discussed a while back and I wrote in about it, but there's always something new to add. This week's discussion includes my response to an earlier letter on the subject of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligences:

In your letters page (21st Feb 2015) John Bailey concludes that since we haven’t been bombarded with self-replicating alien robots or seen huge heat signatures in space, there probably aren’t any advanced civilisations in our galaxy. He seems to think that advanced races will have a ‘more is better’ philosophy, but climate change is showing us that a ‘less is better’ philosophy is the only intelligent long-term strategy. If this is correct, then the more advanced a race is in the galaxy, the less visible they’ll be. It’s the quiet ones that are clever, not the shouters.


John Bailey's expectation that advanced alien civilisations will be huge, star-spanning confederations with big, powerful ships and zillions of self-replicating robots is, I think, because of how they're currently depicted in mainstream fiction. We pick whatever seems cutting-edge and exciting at the moment - nano-technology, robotics, ion-drives - and multiply them by a thousand or a thousand million and, voila, that's your advanced alien civilisation. A century-or-so ago, H.G.Wells came up with the idea of Cavorite, a substance that could negate gravity. Using this discovery, two Englishmen travelled to the moon. From a scientific point of view, Cavorite is just as believable as a warp drive or a hyperdrive but it's now seen as quaint, silly and unscientific. I'd bet that self-replicating robots will be seen as just as daft in a century's time.
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'The Lost Emotion' sci-fi short story

As it's been at least six months since 'The Lost Emotion' won the Arc Science Fiction magazine short story competition and was published in their magazine, I can pop it on my website for people to read. It's now available here.

Science fiction predictions

In my last blog post, I talked about science fiction ideas and how they can come about. As a follow-on, here's a video on the same topic from PBS digital studios project called 'It's Okay to be Smart'. I found out about it from a recent Brainpickings article:



The video is lots of fun and it does a good job of celebrating how many predictions such science-fiction authors as H.G.Wells, Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Douglas Adams got right about our modern world. As the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Nils Bohr once said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future." :-)

A military moon

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A moon catapult

One fun thing about writing science fiction is looking at what’s happening now in the world and extrapolating. Sometimes though, you don’t need to extrapolate and come up with far-fetched ideas. Instead, you can work out what could already present but hasn’t been made public. This is science-fiction drifting close to a technical analysis; it's a fiction only in the sense that it hasn’t been proved. By comparison, science-fiction that speculates on a possible distant future is plausible fiction; it will probably never happen, but it’s still interesting.

This article is aimed at the former category and it’s to do with our moon.

Much has been written about the recent burst of activity in moon exploration by our planet’s major powers. The Chinese currently have a robot on the moon, nicknamed ‘Jade Rabbit’ which is attracting huge interest among Chinese citizens as it explores and analyses the moon’s surface. India is also investing large sums of money in visiting the moon and according to this Daily Telegraph article, both China and India plan to land people on the moon in the next ten years. The United States, who have already been to the moon, are talking about a new programme of exploration and there are reports Japan also wants to be involved.

An interesting question to ask is; why are they all doing it? It’s true that a country gains a lot of kudos if it completes a successful mission, but it’s a very expensive endeavour. According to this NASA website, it costs about $500,000,000 to send a robot to the moon. Another way of estimating the cost is per kilo of payload. According to some science websites, it costs about two million dollars for every kilogram you put on the moon. In other words, if you want to put a bicycle on the moon (probably a folding one), you’ll need to spend about twenty-million dollars. These prices don’t include all the efforts put into developing new technologies, the cost of failed missions and other related issues.

Along with the sheer expense, there is also the unedifying fact that the moon has already been landed on and it’s not an exciting place; it’s a dead, airless lump of rock. No nation is going to stay up into the small hours to see a robot land on the Sea of Tranquility. But there is a possible and very viable reason why the big nations of our planet, particularly the emerging superpowers, are racing to put robots, people and eventually bases on the moon, and it’s do with height.

In the history of warfare, height has always been of huge importance. Tribes soon noticed that attacking downhill is a lot easier, and more successful, than attacking uphill. Millennia later, as soon as people could take to the air, they used airborne craft to gain a new height advantage, bombing and strafing their enemy on the ground. When both sides had airborne craft, those craft that could climb higher gained a crucial advantage. The latest stage in this war of altitude has been the development of satellites for reconnaissance and communication, which all major nations now have. More recently the technology to knock out those satellites has been developed, with successful tests by more than one superpower showing they can knock out their own ageing or erratic satellites, and if push comes to shove, someone else’s. This satellite stage in the war of altitude is now a crowded, well-established territory. To gain a singular advantage, someone has to take the next altitude step; the moon.

A base on the moon has several strategic benefits. Firstly, it’s a super-satellite. There are a huge number of commercial and military satellites currently orbiting the Earth. They are extremely vulnerable, delicate devices. As popularised in the recent movie ‘Gravity’, there are so many satellites orbitting our planet that the destruction of just a few could release so much debris that a chain-reaction could break a huge number of the satellites currently in geosynchronous orbit around the Earth. It is also perfectly possible, as mentioned earlier, for ground-based lasers and rockets to knock them out individually. By comparison, an installation of communication or reconnaissance equipment on the moon, protected by some sort of screen, would be far harder to knock out. The moon therefore becomes an ideal back-up location for military communication and reconnaissance hardware.

But this article focusses on a second and more dramatic use, that makes full and devastating use of the moon’s position as the ultimate high ground.

earth-moon-gravity-wells

Earth is big and, as a result, it has a strong gravity. By comparison, the moon is smaller and has less gravity, roughly one-seventh of Earth’s. If someone on the moon wants to attack a spot on the Earth, all they need to do is to throw a moon rock hard enough to leave the moon’s weak gravity well. The rock will then pass into Earth’s gravity well and fall down it, finally striking its appointed target on the Earth’s surface. This process is like a giant on a mountain tossing a boulder on to a fertile valley below. This is a kinetic weapon, as the damage it causes is entirely down to the speed at which it strikes the target, due to the extreme height from which the object has fallen.

To make such a weapon work on the moon, the attacker needs ammunition - rocks - of which the moon has loads, and some means to toss those projectiles in a guided way, in order for them to hit their intended target. Previous science-fiction stories have explored this idea, such as Robert Heinlein’s ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’, in which rocks coated in iron are launched from the Moon, at Earth, by an electromagnetic cannon. Although Heinlein’s book was a masterwork of speculative fiction, wrapping such rocks in iron as a way to propel them is a dated method and unfeasible. Iron is heavy and rare on the moon. There is a better alternative and it involves more modern technology, that of lasers and solar power.

To launch a rock from the Moon to the Earth, you need a) a power source of some kind for the launching and b) something that launches the rocks out of the moon’s gravity. The first requirement, power, can be supplied by solar power. The moon can receive the full intensity of the sun’s rays, uninterrupted, for long periods of time, making this an ideal spot for solar power generation.

The next thing needed is something to launch the rock. Lasers can carry out this task. A possible mechanism is as follows:

laser-propulsion-moon-rock

On the far side of the moon, a solar array is installed on its surface, along with a robot and several lasers. The solar array charges up the robot. The robot then digs a rock out of the lunar surface and places the rock in a harness hung from poles above the ground, placed in the centre of a circle of lasers. The robot retreats and the lasers, powered by the solar array, fire beams at the rock in the harness. The heat of the laser beams on the rock causes material on its surface to heat up and boil off. This emission of gases pushes the rock in the opposite direction to the gases it emits. Using this ‘action and reaction’ effect, the lasers ‘push’ the rock upwards, against the moon’s weak gravity. By altering the intensity of their beams and where they hit the rock, the lasers guide the rock upwards and entirely away from the lunar surface, accelerating it out of the moon’s gravity well. Once the rock is free of the lunar gravity, the lasers are turned off and the rock is left to fall down the Earth’s gravity well until it finally hits the intended target.

There are many practical benefits to investing in this type of weapon. It runs entirely from its own power source. It also has effectively limitless ammo. If it is placed on the far side of the moon, it is not even vulnerable to any Earth-based lasers’ attempts to disable it. It effectively becomes the most powerful catapult ever created, firing its shot from the highest-ever castle, behind the thickest-ever wall. Although the weapon’s location would make communication with it from an Earth-based command centre very difficult, the weapon’s computer could be semi-autonomous, or even receive its instructions from probes located further away from Earth than the moon, for example at one of the Sun’s Lagrange points, that have relayed instructions to it from an Earth-based command centre.

Is such a weapon on the minds of the super-states racing to explore and colonise the moon? I don’t know, but I would very be surprised if none of them have done a feasibility study. The idea isn’t new to science-fiction and recent developments in laser efficiency, solar power efficiency and robotics make it far more achievable than when Heinlein wrote about it, fifty years ago. Knowing what we do about human-kind, it's sensible to believe that one or more super-states will install such a weapon if they think it's worth the cost. Civilisation has followed a logical path for millennia and there’s no reason to think that will change, at least until natural factors bring it to a painful end. I think the moon will be a key piece in our next global war. Someone will establish a weapon on our moon and use this new high ground to devastating effect.

meteorite-shower

Note: Thinking about this again, a day later, I'm keen to check through some more of the technical aspects. For example, how big does a lump of rock that's travelled from the moon need to be to avoid being burnt up in Earth's atmosphere? This could be tricky to work out but I'll see what I can do.

'The Lost Emotion' is in the latest issue of Arc Science-Fiction magazine

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Good news! After a long break, Arc science-fiction magazine is back and my short story - 'The Lost Emotion' - is in its new issue, 'Exit Strategies'. This story won their last short-story competition, back in the winter of 2012-2013, for which I am very grateful. Arc science-fiction magazine is a digital publication, developed by the staff at New Scientist magazine. You won't see it on the shelves of WH Smiths, but you can buy a copy at zinio.com and download it to your computer or tablet device. It's also available for Kindle at Amazon.

'The Lost Emotion' is about the discovery of a lost emotion by a corporate researcher. In a future world where corporations can patent emotions, a gifted employee decides to seek out emotions lost to humanity. After finding what he can amongst the primitive tribes remote from civilisation, he stumbles upon an obscure piece of research. The science paper states that stimulating the muscles of a person's face can trigger an associated emotion for that person. For example, if someone makes a smiling face, they will actually feel happier as a result [this is perfectly true!]. To take advantage of this strange phenomenon, the researcher constructs a device that can stimulate any combination of a person's facial muscles. By systematically testing every combination of muscles on a test subject's face, he hopes to discover a muscle combination that will trigger, in that subject, a hitherto lost emotion. The researcher tests it on a young man, the narrator of the story. After many days fruitless testing, they discover a new emotion, one that profoundly changes the young man's viewpoint. Initially, the young man is overwhelmed by what he feels but, like Pandora's Box, this new knowledge brings all sorts of problems.

As ever, any and all feedback is most appreciated (but please don't swear too much… :-).

Arc Magazine 2.1 is due 22nd Jan 2014

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After quite a long wait and a fair bit of speculation, a date for the next issue of Arc Science Fiction magazine has appeared on the Arc blog. The next issue, entitled ‘Exit Strategies’, should be released on the 22nd January 2014. According to the information I have to hand, my short story ‘The Lost Emotion’ should appear in its pages. If there’s any change to this, I’ll post an update here. Exciting! :-)

02 4G article is now live

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Just to let everyone know that the thousand word article I wrote for the O2 mobile phone company is now available to read here. It’s part of their eBook collection of articles exploring the benefits of 4G wireless technology for small to medium businesses (SMB’s) and is mentioned on their site here. My article begins by explaining the difficulties of predicting future use of technology (with examples) but then has a stab anyway, focussing in particular on the importance of latency in multimedia communication and its effect of the psychology of those taking part. There’s also some funny sci-fi ideas to make the technology pill easier to swallow. I did enjoy writing the piece; having a technically solid framework and clear remit can really get the creative juices flowing. Enjoy!

Illustration for 'The Lost Emotion'

John Prindle has kindly sent me a copy of the illustration he recently made for my science fiction short story ‘The Lost Emotion’. This won’t be the illustration that appears in the Arc magazine issue but it’s a fine piece of work and I’m happy to show it here. John is primarily a writer and is currently contributing to the juke pop serials website with his story The Art of Disposal. Read More...

The film 'Star Wars' is really about... conception!

I loved the first ‘Star Wars’ film, I still do. I don’t think any film will ever have as profound affect on me as that movie. A big part of its influence was because of its timing. It came out when I was seven years old; a skinny kid living in suburban london who loved fantastic ideas and stirring stories. I wanted something big and awe-inspiring and slick and glorious and grandiose and absurdly naive. Read More...