Thursday, 18 September 2014

Foundation for a Universe

Long before I started writing the first Astronomicon novel, I began planning the universe in which the stories are set. Although I always planned to write novels and short stories set within the Astronomicon universe, it was never the primary reason for creating such a large and detailed scenario. I was originally working on a computer game, a multi-player real-time strategy game where players choose which species to play, before setting about annihilating all the other species through space exploration, technological development and military proliferation.

After several attempts to create the game established that it was a far larger project than could be realised with my resources, I decided that the only practical way to proceed was to write novels set within the universe.

With 12 alien races planned out in detail, a wide range of technological development and a projection of Earth history covering the next 200 years, there was a huge amount of potential material for an exciting science fiction novel. The first problem was picking where to begin.

The most obvious place isn't always the most interesting, but in this case most of the potential stories were not going to make much sense unless I introduced the Astronomicon itself, the mysterious device which links all the books. More than that, the title of the entire series needed to be explained, otherwise it would seem oddly abstract. The best way to do that had to be to cover its discovery. Better still, the group of humans who discovered the Astronomicon itself had a back story which was ideal for some classic science fiction. The first book took shape, named Astronomicon: The Beginning, and covering the first interstellar space flight by humans, seeing them survive a concerted effort to thwart their mission to build the first extrasolar colony.

The second novel, Distant Relatives, seemed to be a natural progression, in that it was set immediately after the first one. It shifts the focus back to Earth and opens with a huge alien invasion of the solar system. We get our first taste of  more advanced technology and the human race begins to the see the bigger picture and how they fit into the universe. The colony from book one turns out to be a key element in the ongoing story, uncovering a plot with serious implications for the inhabitants of Earth.

By the end of the second book, my aim was that readers would have a clear measure of the starting technology level and be fully aware of the approaching threat, but would still have no real idea of what technology they might be up against in future. Readers would discover that Earth's history up to the present day is not quite we have been led to believe.

After the universe and style of technology were both established, that left me free to explore other stories. Astronomicon: Those Left Behind was originally a contender for launching the whole series, but I think it worked much better as a prequel to the whole story. It filled in the reason for the Eridani race travelling to Earth, revealed some of their motivations and, for the very first time, gave a sense of the scale of the alien threat. We see how the relentless invasion of their home-world and ruthless extermination of their population drive them to execute a vast and daring escape plan. Only a tiny percentage of the population have a chance of getting away, but millions have to make the ultimate sacrifice to make it possible.

I believe that this is the best novel I have written so far. The emotions and motivations of the central characters are stronger than ever before. The "hero" has to overcome fear itself, avoid an alien menace and even go against his own people to save his children from extermination. Although this book is very much a prequel to the first two novels in the series, it also works perfectly well as a stand-alone novel. It's a good way of trying out the Astronomicon series without committing to a series.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Sci Fi Short: Boundary

You Shall Not Pass

“John, what have you found?” Ann asked, running up the sandy path between the dunes.

“I don't know.” John replied.

He stood just staring at the view across the dunes as the wind whipped up his blond hair and billowed his knee-length khaki shorts. She caught up with him and stopped a few steps behind.

“So why have you stopped?”

“Because I had to. I can't go any further.”


“Not really. It's strange, there's some kind of invisible barrier.”

“Invisible what?” she said, peeling some stray hairs away from her eyes.

“Look at this.”

She watched him bend over and scoop a handful of sand from the dune underfoot. Loose, dry sand ran between his fingers and blew away in the strong sea breeze. He closed his fingers around the sand, raised it up and tossed it quickly at the path ahead of them. Some blew away but much of it flew in a loose cloud for a couple of feet and then simply vanished, in mid air.

Ann stared in disbelief. It looked for all the world as if the sand had just spontaneously ceased to exist. John walked back a few feet and picked up a dried out stick that was embedded in the dune. He moved back to where he was standing before and flung the stick into the air. Again, after a couple feet, it just blinked off.

“That's crazy!” she said.

“Look at this then.” he replied and leapt forwards with as much force as he could muster.

Ann shrieked and reached out for him, expecting him to vanish too, but instead he just seemed to hit a soft barrier, stopping him gently and then letting him drop vertically back to the ground. He turned around to face her and shrugged.

“What the hell is it?” she asked.

“I haven't got the faintest, but we can't continue in this direction.”

“Do they have technology to do this now?”

“It's been 180 years since we were frozen. Who knows what technology they have?” he replied.

He walked back to stand beside her.

“So what do we do now?” she asked.

“I think exploring in this direction is strictly off the menu. Maybe if we head down to the water's edge again and head along that way? I can't imagine this barrier extends over the water.”

“Excuse me!” called a voice from a distance down the path behind them, “Excuse me!”

They turned to see who was calling, surprised to find a weasely-looking man, dressed in what looked just like a lab coat. He was stumbling over uneven sand wearing inappropriate black leather shoes. He trudged closer to them and then tried to shake the sand off his shoes.

“Who are you?” asked John.

“I'm not. At least...don't worry about that. I won't be here long.”

“Where did you come from?” asked Ann, visually sweeping the beach for his footprints, but they appeared to simply start from where he first called to them.

“You shouldn't be here.” the odd man said.

“Why? Is it private property?” asked John.

“I don't see any signs.” added Ann.

“Look, just turn round, head back down to the beach and don't come this way again. Just forget about it.”

“Forget about it?! You've got an invisible barrier – how can we forget about that?”

“I really don't want to have to explain this.” said the man.

He looked extremely stressed, and rubbed the sides of his face while looking back at the beach and then back to them.

“This isn't supposed to happen. You two have walked almost twenty kilometres from the nearest settlement. There's nothing here at all! What made you walk this far?”

“The scenery.” replied Ann, “Look at the view. The peace. Nobody else around for kilometres. Getting to walk where no-one has set foot, possibly for years.”

“Or ever, in this case.” replied the odd man.

“Ever!” she exclaimed.

“How can you possibly know that.” laughed John, “You know that things thrown towards this barrier just vanish without trace?”

“Yes, yes, but that's not important. I'm corrupting the program just being here, but we need to persuade you to leave here and go back the other way. Come back in a few days then there will be somewhere to go.”

“A few days?” said Ann, “Are you switching off the barrier then?”

“No. Yes. Not really. It's not a barrier as such.”

“Well it stops us passing this point.” said John, “I want to walk over there and it won't let me. That sounds like a barrier to me.

“No. You can't walk over there because there is no over there.”

“No over there!? I can see over there!” said John.

“No, there isn't.” replied the man beginning to sound irritated. “It just looks like there is an over there. It's necessary to maintain the illusion.”

“What illusion?” asked Ann.

“Is there actually something here, being hidden by stealth technology?” asked John.

“No, there's really nothing there at all. It does not exist.”

“How can it not exist?” laughed John.

“Now I'm saying much more than I should. Can't you just move away from there, set off in the other direction along the beach and simply forget about this. It will be much easier for all involved.”

“You're serious, aren't you?” asked John.

“Yes. It's the end of my shift in less than twenty minutes and I'm going to get in trouble for this. You ignored all the cues and now it's a problem.”

“What do you mean by cues?” asked Ann.

“The temperature dropping, the wind picking up. We made it look like it was about to rain.”

“You made it?”

“I'm really making a mess of this. I am going to get into so much trouble. I'm not even supposed to be in here.”

“In here?” said John.

“There I go again. I think we're going to have to extract you, adapt your memories and put you back somewhere better.”

“What are you talking about? I want to know just what is going on.”

“Okay, if I show you, will you agree to make no fuss when we put this right.”

“No fuss? I'm not going to agree to anything before I know who and what you are.” replied John.

“I've really messed this up.” said the odd man.

“So who are you?”

“Okay. Don't freak out on me or anything. My name is Brak, I work for Cryonics International Inc.”

“The company we had our death insurance with.” said John.

“The same. After your death we had your head on ice for 179 years.”

“Yes, I know that. You defrosted me and sorted out a new body last year.”

“Yes. Well, no. We didn't. That wasn't deemed ethical or practical.” replied Brak.

“So what's this?” asked John, jabbing his own chest with his fingertips.

“That is the same as everything else around here. It's a simulation within a powerful computer network in the basement of our head office building.” He pulled a small tablet computer out of one of his pockets and tapped on the screen several times. To their utter amazement the vista behind them of rolling dunes giving way to darker, greener hills just blinked off, leaving a flat, pink blank area.

“Simulation?” said Ann.

“Yes. Earth, the Moon and Mars all have too many people already. It was deemed unethical to add thousands more people to the population just because they paid to be preserved. The last thing we need is more people.”

“So this isn't real?” said John.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

What is The Point of The Human Race?

Many people ask themselves what is the point to it all? What's my reason in life? Why are we here? Well I'd like to share a theory that I have yet to hear anyone put forward.

Stop for a moment and ask yourself what the human race is best at? What sets us apart from the other creatures on this planet? Of course there are several things, but one of the most important is our ability to adapt. Most species try to make the best of their environmental niche. Evolution allows them, over sometimes vast periods of time, to take advantage of other niches too. Life has spread to very nearly every part of our wonderful planet, adapting to incredible extremes, but humans are the only single species which have been so versatile as to be able to explore the coldest areas, the hottest areas, the depths of the oceans and even into the vacuum of space. We have bypassed the need to evolve to conquer these environments.

Unlike all the other species, we have rapidly advancing technology. Each new generation in the developed countries live in a world of technology that their parents could only dream about when they were the same age.

An important ability we share with many other species is proliferation. Clear proof of this is that there are now too many of us for the planet and population is increasing at an all too alarming rate. We have conquered a huge number of diseases and illnesses, developed technologies to increase food production and have an extraordinary network to distribute food (albeit not fairly) around the planet and have made many other advances that increase average lifespan and reduce mortality rates.

Like every other life-form on Earth, our purpose is to multiply, to spread and take best advantage of any environment we can. As a species we can no longer comply with that as the very fact we have been so successful at this means we have outgrown our planet. We are like a plant which, having grown well, desperately needs a bigger pot.

So how do we get a bigger pot? Our technology already has many of the answers for that but does not yet have the resources to apply that solution. To thrive and continue to spread we simply must, as a species, colonise other planets, other star systems and ensure the survival of the human race.

As individuals we often say that having children gives life true meaning. It is a drive on a genetic level and much of what we do is for our descendants. The campaign to reduce the effects of global warming is for the benefit of our children, and their children. Most of the projections put the significant changes around 50-100 years in the future. The chances are many of us will not be around then, but we still have a fundamental drive to ensure that our genes survive.

If we continue to confine ourselves to one small planet with limited resources then either a terrible environmental disaster threatens us or draconian drops in population in future populations are needed and that simply goes against human nature.

We owe it to our children to put the resources into space travel and the colonisation of other worlds. If we don't do it a future generation will, if only out of dire necessity, but the longer we leave it the worse things will get here on Earth.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

iWatch? Obviously not!

So Apple have finally launched their smart watch product line, ending the bizarre speculation that it was going to be branded "iWatch". I could never see them going for that name as it would leave them wide open to far too many jokes and cause obvious problems with names for future variants.

If in future they, like the other smart watch manufacturers, move away from the 80s style rectangular slab design and produce a line of watches specifically for women, iWatch would immediately become the "iWatch Ladies". Not a good image conjured up by that one.
And what if they launched a kids or teenagers version? Apple Watch Kids has got to be a better option than "iWatch Kids".

The silly thing is we went through this before when a touchscreen iPod was just a rumoured future product. What was ultimately launched as the iPod Touch was rumoured to be named the iTouch. That would have completely ruled out a ruggedised kids version.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

OMG I'm going to Die!!

In an idle moment last night, I did some thinking about the future, more specifically MY future. I considered where I am in life right now and what I still hope to achieve. It's been a busy few years and I suspect I haven't given the subject any thought for a few years, probably over a decade.

And that's the problem. Time goes by, life is busy, work, chores, duties all seem to take up more and more time and many of the things I aim to do in the future are just as far away as they were ten years ago. This would be fine except I now have ten less years to achieve them. In fact, once I start thinking about it, I don't have all that long left to achieve them.

It's taken me over four decades to get where I am so far and I'm not even halfway through the list! How much time do I have left? Medical science is always advancing and I have no reason to assume I won't make 80, maybe 90, but beyond that? Okay so the way lifespans are increasing I might live to 120 or more, but will I still be effective and mentally sharp for most of that?

Then there's the element of luck. I could get run down and killed next time I cross a road. The next plane I fly on could be hijacked by a foreign power, flown to a secret airbase for a couple of weeks before being flown to an Eastern European country and then being blown up as though it was hit by an enemy missile. Okay, that one was a little convoluted, but I write science fiction thrillers, so what do you expect!?

However I go, I'm probably about halfway through my effective time on this planet. If I want to achieve the rest of my aims in life, I need to get a move on. Do I want to be lying on my death bed (or in a burning airliner plummeting to the ground) thinking about all the stuff I always wanted to achieve but never even tried?

Stop procrastinating. If you want to achieve something, start work on it!