The Rings of Power

Two episodes in and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has me well and truly hooked. The production looks beautiful. Shot in New Zealand, of course, and with an eye-watering per episode budget that means the CGI, sets and costumes are spectacular, no-one could fault the visuals. It also has the feel …

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Society from mythology

Any decent worldbuilding, particularly where it posits an imaginary alien species, needs to delve into the social structure and belief system that exists. When I considered creating ‘the alien’, I knew I couldn’t go ‘too alien’. There are – no doubt – aliens out there in the vastness of space that we will never understand …

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Themes

One of the things I’ve realised in working through the development of this story cycle is just how malleable plot is. The origins of the Lenticular books led me to write a bunch of short stories – a serial in fact –  published on the Nuketown website in the late Nineties. I look at those stories now …

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Origins

Way back in the 20th Century, 1996 to be exact, I was on a tram, riding home from the Aurealis Awards ceremony that was held that year in Justin Ackroyd’s Slow Glass bookshop in Swanston Street (yes, it was THAT long ago) when I had a flash of an image. An alien held down on a bench …

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C3PO – Slave or Tool?

Someone on Facebook was bemoaning the robotic slavery inherent in the Star Wars movies recently, which got me thinking: is C3PO a tool or a slave? When I watched Star Wars in late 1977, I wasn’t aware of the term ‘Artificial Intelligence’. Although ‘robot’ comes from the Czech word for ‘forced labour’, the robots of the popular …

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Life in the extreme

 It seems life can be found everywhere. Recent reports from the International Space Station have even found sea plankton living quite happily on the outside of the station’s windows. While Earth today is mostly benign to life, there have been a number of mass extinction events, most famously the meteor strike 65 million years ago …

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Planet building

 a lot of the grunt work in good science fiction goes into imagining the worlds that space travellers visit. The way I see it, there are four key elements in creating a believable world to serve the needs of the story: spatial location  physical attributes  geological past, and  current environment.  To make sure my crew …

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Inside a transhuman

One of the most interesting themes in science fiction, and one of the most exciting advances happening in medical research today, is how humans will become augmented through interfacing with technology. In the real world, there are amazing advances that enable paraplegics to control the environment around them. In 2012 in the UK, a woman …

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Snowball Earth

Science fact and science fiction walk hand in hand, and this particular cross-fertilisation affected me directly. Imagine planet Earth locked in a never-ending ice age: a giant, lifeless snowball encased in 3-kilometre-thick ice sheets with an average temperature of minus 50 degrees Celsius at the equator. It almost happened a number of times in our …

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The real life PALs

In Horizon, each of the stellarnauts have their own PAL, a ball-shaped personal assistant that hovers in the zero G environment using small fans and allows the stellarnauts to talk to each other via video and audio link as well as acting as a recorder. It’s a cool concept and, like pretty much everything in the …

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Heavy Time – CJ Cherryh

Heavy Time by C.J. Cherryh My rating: 4 of 5 stars The Klondike days of asteroid mining are long over and it’s getting harder to make a living with the government and corporations slapping regulations over routes, assays, claims, flight certification. A lot of it the name of safety, but really it’s all about Earth …

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Engage engines

When I imagined the mission of the explorer ship Magellan to the Iota Persei star system thirty-four light years from our own planet, I knew I had to work out how the ship could get there. I wanted the trip to be short enough so the crew would still be relatively young when they reached their destination. …

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Futureshock

While the main focus of Horizon is the tense drama that plays out between the crew in the cramped confines of the ship, a lot of the grunt work in good science fiction goes into imagining the world of the future and how future events shape characters and create a believable background. The explorer ship …

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Welcome aboard Magellan

In my post Engage engines, I talk about the theoretical drive that boosts the explorer ship to an appreciable fraction of the speed of light in order to reach the Iota Persei system in a reasonable time — i.e. before my ‘stellarnauts’ grow too old. But the drive is only one part of the ship, …

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Meet the crew

Horizon is my debut science fiction novel published by HarperVoyager Impulse. It’s an SF thriller centred on a deep space exploration mission that goes very wrong, with repercussions for the future of all life on Earth. A lot of the action in Horizon takes place inside the cramped confines of the Magellan explorer ship, so the interactions …

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The internet is not your friend

Frederik Pohl and CM Kornbluth’s classic novel The Space Merchants posited a future where it was impossible to escape advertising, with marketing messages beamed directly onto our retinas. But they didn’t foresee how big data could be used, or misused, in the real world. Or how lethal the whole system could become. Your mobile phone carries a …

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Deadly supernovas

Richard Cowper’s 1974 science fiction novel The Twilight of Briareus is one of the weirdest alien invasion stories I’ve read. It made a big impression on me as a teenager, and the central idea of the book is still very strong (although when I re-read it recently its storytelling hadn’t stood the test of time). …

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Trust

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about an element of creative writing that isn’t often spoken about. It’s the writing equivalent of ‘ask and ye shall receive’. And really it’s what I like to think of as a matter of trust. I’ve been writing for quite a number of years now and in the past …

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Will AIs Want to Kill Us?

There’s a lot of fear around about Artificial Intelligence. South Koreans recently flipped out when Google’s AlphaGo defeated their Grand Master at the national board game. But will AI usher in the end-times for humanity? Certainly Hollywood seems to think so. Cue: Skynet, Age of Ultron, Transcendence, The Matrix, War Game; or, even earlier, Colossus: The Forbin Project; hell, even as …

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The Art of Worldbuilding

For me, the key to ‘worldbuilding’ is what your characters take for granted.” Ian MacDonald, author of Luna and Brasyl On the face of it, worldbuilding is closely associated with science fiction and fantasy. Think of the millennia-spanning mythology of elves, dwarves, ents and human tribes that informs JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings books, or Iain M Banks’s …

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