Science Fiction & Science News for the Spring 2004

This is an archive page. Go here for the latest seasonal science fiction news.

This news builds on the: News for the Autumn 2003, News for the Summer 2003, Spring 2003 News, November 2002 News and the Forthcoming book news to December 2002.

Riddle for the New Year: At what time of day did the Anglo-Eurasian Ameri team, who floated across the International Dateline early on 31st December, celebrate the New Year?... [The answer is at the bottom of the page.]

[SF News | Forthcoming Science Fiction Book Releases | Forthcoming Fantasy & Horror | Forthcoming Science Fact and Non-Fiction | Forthcoming TV & Film tie-ins | Science News]

SF News

So here we are safe and sound in 2004. Bye bye 2003. But we must conclude unfinished business from the year in that we at Concat forgot that 2003 was the centenary of John Wyndham's birth. (Tut, tut.) If you have not read the man then his The Midwich Cuckoos (1957 - also published as Village of the Damned) , Chocky (1968), The Chrysalids (1955) and The Day of the Triffids (1951) have all recently been in print. Aunty, the BBC, celebrated this anniversary with a Radio 4 serial dramatization in December of The Midwich Cuckoos, and followed that up with a half hour documentary 'Beware the Stare' (which had ghastly voice-overs getting in the way of contributors such as Brian Aldiss). One of the things from this programme we did not know was that Wyndham did not like the term 'science fiction' applied to his works. We suspect, with the benefit of hindsight, that this was because at the time the genre was dominated by rocket and ray gun fiction from the US. Wyndham thought he wrote 'logical fantasies'. Wyndham therefore was joined in 2003 by Ray Bradbury who said that he wrote fantasy with only one work of SF under his belt, Fahrenheit 451. Similarly SF disavowing, Margaret Atwood of whom in 2003 Cheryl Morgan in Emerald City considered that Atwood's attitude was due to her strict definition of SF as opposed to any distain for the genre as we usually consider it. Finally, 2003 saw Greg Bear's UK edition of Darwin's Children marketed as a thriller and through Harper Collins and not its speculative fiction imprint 'Voyager'. (Bear joins Michael Crichton whose SF has long been marketed as 'adventure' - see below.) We also missed 2003 being the 100 anniversary of George Orwell's birth, but at least his 1984 made the top 100 in the BBC 'The Big Read' poll.

So in case we forget, 2004 is the 100th anniversary of George Melies Voyage a Travers L'Impossible [Voyage Across the Impossible] a 30 minute comic epic with a railway that becomes a space ship and other futuristic modes of transport. Let's hope that the broadcasters give this an airing. 2004 also sees us 100 years on since the publication of H. G. Wells The Food of the Gods. Long overdue for a re-print we'd say.

And to get ahead of the game, 2005 will be the 100th anniversary of that great English SF writer Eric Frank Russell. We mention his nationality as many Americans did not realise that he was British! Anyway, now is the time for a publisher to bring out a new edition of his brilliant short stories. 2005 also marks 100 years since the death of Jules Verne. Stacks of material here for a documentary. But are broadcasters sufficiently clued up? We'll see.

Norman Spinrad has a new novel, He Walked Among Us, out in cyberspace. Actually it has been out for several months but for some reason (our fault) it laid buried among one of our team members' in-trays. It concerns a man who claims to be from the future, or is he just a publicity seeking SF nut? The first chapter is definitely intriguing and available free through Norman's website The complete He Walked Among Us is available from his e-publishers in a variety of formats and possibly a print on demand book may now be available. He also has an historical novel out. This is a new departure from SF for the man. See Forthcoming Fantasy & Horror releases below.

Farscape may well be reprieved....(?) No official announcement at the time of the writing of this bulletin but Save Farscape that there will be a four hour mini series in 2004. It will tie up the story arc. We will keep you posted.

The Stargate franchise has been extended to a new series. Production on Stargate Atlantis begins in 2004 with a possible summer launch.

Worldcon News. The 2004 Worldcon, Noreascon 4, has announced that it is beginning to develop its programme streams. Suggestions and volunteers are wanted. Noreascon 4 has as Guests Brits Terry Pratchett and Pete Weston, the fan who organised the 1979 Brighton Worldcon and who makes the Hugo Award rockets.

Meanwhile if you have not yet registered for the 2005 Glasgow Worldcon, Interaction, then best do so. The rates have already risen substantially since Britain won the bid, and they increased again in December. They will rise even further between now and the event itself. If past Worldcons are anything to go by then the 5 day ticket would increase to some $210 or £132 up to the event and could be as much as $300 or £185 on the door for a five-day ticket pass (complete with programme pack). So the message is to join now and beat the rate rises with the current rates. Early registrants also get mailed progress reports (roughly half yearly) up to the convention. There is an instalment plan for those who blew too much on Christmas and the New Year.

So what is a Worldcon? This is a fair question given that Worldcon attendance varies between 4,000-7,000 depending on the venue country, and given that the number of visitors we get per quarter update greatly exceed this, we thought that some of you might like to know: especially Brits as by 2005 it'll have been a decade since we will have seen a Worldcon within our shores. Also we thought a number of you might ask this question as an examination of current Worldcon websites suggests that many have simply nicked other's fairly uninspiring summary descriptors. OK. So if you do not know already you'll learn about the Hugo Award, the masquerade and other stuff, when you go (or check out the Worldcon websites). All you really need to know is that the Worldcon is the five-day global gathering of the SF clans. As indicated thousands go including hundreds of SF professionals (writers, editors, agents, model makers, game programmers, etc) and scientists. So Worldcons tend to be held in national standard conference centres that can easily cope with the number. Usually there are several (or more) programme streams running simultaneously which means that those of you into SF: books; films; science; TV series; role-playing games; fantasy or whatever your bag, you will have something to do virtually all the time. If that is not enough then you can take time out to visit the art show (which is usually features much talent), or the book room (which is extensive covering all tastes), or the fan stall area. Then there are the book signings, personality coffee meetings and fringe events. You are most unlikely to have the same tastes as almost everyone else present if only because so many people have a different take on the genre. (Indeed, some like just one or two aspects of SF whereas others have a broader range of interests.) Even if it turns out that you have little in common with 90% of those who go, just 10% of the 5,000 or so expected to attend Glasgow in 2005 still represents some 500 possible kindred spirits for you to encounter. Finally, because Worldcons are held in large cities there is also plenty to do and see outside the convention. For this reason some SF enthusiasts view occasionally attending a Worldcon as one of their major holidays for the year. So if perchance you are living somewhere in Europe then do give the 2005 Worldcon some consideration. Indeed if you are from further a field and wish to combine it with a holiday in the UK the Worldcon could be one focus for your trip? But if you are reading this and you are living in the Glasgow area, what's stopping you from registering now? Here endeth the plug.

James ('Spike' in Buffy) Marsters, having completed filming for the Angel series, will be flying to London in May for the launch of a new series of concerts as the lead singer with Californian rock band 'Ghost Of The Robot'. This follows the band's success in Europe last year when they played sell-out dates in Germany, England, Wales and Scotland, including two shows at the Cavern in Liverpool. The band also released their debut album 'Mad Brilliant' last year and will be kicking off their European tour with a concert at the Carling Academy Islington in London on Wednesday, May 5. Further concert dates to be announced.

Britain's leading fan organization devoted to the cult TV series The Prisoner, 'Six of One', appears to be having some internal troubles. It's all a bit grim as you can see for yourself.

Weird new book titles abound this time of year. For 2003 the UK trade magazine Booksellers' short-list includes three that might easily be fantasy titles and one that might have been mentioned in a 'Carry On' film. This last is not The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories but Hot Topics in Urology, while 277 Secrets Your Snake Wants You to Know and The Voodoo Revenge Book could easily be genre related.

Concatenation congratulates Ina Shorrock on winning the 'Best Fan' Nova Ward. It was presented to her by author Harry Harrison at the Birmingham (UK) SF groups Novacon towards the end of last year. The 'Best Fan' is an occasional category. It was awarded to Ina for her 50 years in fandom. Ina was well known to some of the Concat team through a mutual friend, the late Harry Nadler (who co-sponsored with Charles partington the print of Concatenation's first edition in 1987), and she made the Anglo-Romanian Science and SF cultural exchange visitors most welcome to the 1996 Festival of Fantastic Films which Harry founded and ran for 12 years. Her participation in UK fandom has been considerable and she must be one of the few Brit fans to attend all four British venued Worldcons. With a fifth in the offing, see you in Glasgow 2005?

Meanwhile China Mieville, picked up the British Fantasy Award for 'Best Novel' for his The Scar. This novel was a hot contender for the Hugo 'Best Novel' at the Toronto Worldcon last year but didn't quite make it. Many will appreciate this new recognition.

Just before Christmas the actor David Hemmings died aged 62. Most famously, recently he starred in Ridley (Alien) Scott's Oscar winning Gladiator. However his SF fame is confined to being one of the actors in arguably the best cinematic SF sex scene to date - the other actor being Jane Fonda. Hemmings played the revolutionary in Barbarella (based on the French SF comic tale) who was not 'an animal' and wanted to make love the way you do on Earth. You know, with the pill... He died in Bucharest, Romania, with his wife Lucy. He was, of course, there for a film shoot.

The winner of the BBC 'The Big Read' viewer survey of the most popular 100 novels read in the UK was also announced just before Christmas. As mentioned, last time (scroll down when you get there) over a third of the entries were genre related (SF, fantasy or horror). Prior to the announcement The Guardian (a quality UK paper) tipped The Lord of the Rings to win. It seemed an obvious cert, what with two blockbuster films already out and the current launch of the final one in the trilogy. They were right. Lord of the Rings won hands down with some 174,000 votes of a shortlist of the top ten and 39,000 ahead of number 2 (Pride and Prejudice). The top ten included three genre offering including a Harry Potter (HP titles were effectively limped together into one token nomination). The other was Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Originally only some 14,000 people nominated some 6,000 titles out of which the top 100 list was formed. Then in the autumn there was a weekly series of short documentaries on each title and the voting began in earnest. Publisc interest was raised and over 750,000 voted for those in the top ten. Now that the 'Big Read' is over, The Guardian also (rightly) advised that Spring 2004 will see many bookshops discounting top 100 books. We are sure that our regulars are well read but, for our younger surfers and those new to what the genre has to offer, we recommend you check the New Year sales for the Top 100 Book Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932). With GM humans and literally opiates for the masses, it is a classic utopian dystopia: or is it the other way around?

The British Fantasy Society's Christmas open meeting in Holbourn, London attracted a full house including a dozen authors (and two Concat team members together with a friend of Concat). David Howe presided over the proceedings, which included readings from newly released small press books, and announced the news that BFS Award nominees who fail to win would receive lapel pins for having been nominated. This brings it into line with the practice for Hugo Award nominees. However, most generously so as not to disappoint previous year's nominees, the BFS have provided pins for nominees for previous years.

One of the more disquieting aspects of last Christmas' commercialisation manifested itself with Barbie and Ken starring as Arwen and Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. We are told that, "Barbie as Arwen the elvish princess looks serenely beautiful with porcelain coloured skin. She wears a wonderful pale green medieval inspired velvet gown with silver trim on the bodice. The dress features long open sleeves characteristic of the period, which are lined in white chiffon. Her ethereal elegance is completed with a beaded butterfly-patterned headdress." While "Ken is handsome and regal as the dashing heartthrob King Aragorn, wearing an elaborate costume featuring a rich black velvet cloak and gold and black body armour. His outfit is finished with a crown and sword. He is ready to face battle and bring stability back to Middle Earth!" We bet you feel reassured already, but don't be too quick to knock this. Buying these and storing them unopened for several years could well be an investment. Given that both Lord of the Rings and 'Barbie' have longevity in the public mind, this might be one of the more certain speculative investments to make...

If you have SF news, a convention report or whatever, then do let us know. This site currently gets over 200 unique visits a day (many more hits than that) which equates to over 18,000 unique visits per quarterly update, and this is increasing as news of this site spreads. We also are beginning to compile a list of British SF group meetings due to take place the month before and after the 2005 European Worldcon in Glasgow. So if your group has a regular monthly meeting then do let us know where and when as well as the nature of the group/meeting. Many SF fans visiting the UK will be having a holiday while they are here and may well like to drop in on a local meeting. So why not let us know and give your group a bit of promotion while you are at it? For details of how to submit material to the site then see our contributors' page.

[SF News | Forthcoming Science Fiction Book releases | Forthcoming Fantasy & Horror | Forthcoming Science Fact and Non-Fiction | Forthcoming TV & Film tie-ins| Science News]

Forthcoming Science Fiction book and graphic novel releases

The Line of Polity by Neal Asher, Tor, pbk, £7.99. ISBN 0-330-48435-4. Space opera and war with the emphasis very much on the hardware. Great fun if you are into military equipment catalogues.

Cowl by Neal Asher, Tor, hdbk, £17.99. ISBN 1-405-00137-2. A lethal creature is loose in the Universe... is all we know about this one.

Darwin's Children by Greg Bear, Harper Collins Publishing (HCP), pbk, £6.99. ISBN 0-007-13238-7. This is the UK paperback release from a brilliant hard SF author. But why are HCP not publishing this under their SF and Fantasy Voyager imprint? You find reviews of Legacy and a collection of SF shorts he edited, New Legends elsewhere on this site.

Long for this World by Michael Byers, Granta, hdbk, £15.99. ISBN 1-862-07645-6. A research geneticist working with Hickman's syndrome (which causes premature ageing and death in children) finds a mutation in the gene that could lengthen life. Ethical decisions abound. This has the potential to be good as it taps into long lasting ethical questions relating to animal experimentation and human trials... However we have yet to see this one and we note that few authors handle such issues well.

Meq by Steve Cash, Tor, pbk, £6.99, ISBN 0-330-49315-9. The Meq are an ancient race of near immortals who appear to be just 12 years old. The story is set in 1881. The author intriguingly ss one of the country and western playing Cash family.

Nylon Angel by Marianne de Pierres, Orbit, pbk, £6.99/ CAN$12.00, ISBN 1-841-49253-1. This is the first in a series with a female protagonist set in an ultra violent future controlled by the media. The author has a BA in 'Film and Television' so the media content of the book should be good. That she is currently completing a 'graduate certificate' (presumably some Australian qualification?) in writing and editing, and that the book has a map, is less encouraging. A sequel is promised later in the year but we may have a detailed review of this one by then.

Dante's Equation by Jane Jensen, Orbit, hdbk, £12.99, ISBN 1-841-49305-8. Clocking in with a large page count, Dante's Equation is an SF thriller. The mystical kabala, politics and physics all come together when a US freelance reporter investigates missing persons. Meanwhile a secret agent uncovers a threat to national security...

Midnight Lamp by Gwyneth Jones, Gollancz, £10.99, ISBN not provided. The third in a series of five novels, the first of which won the A. C. Clarke Award. Realities jive for position making Britain an (even more(?)) interesting place to live. Gwyneth is well known in UK SF circles both for her adult and children's genre fiction.

The Birthday of the World by Ursula K, Le Guin, Gollancz, pbk, £6.99, ISBN 0-575-07539-2, is a collection of shorts set in the Hamish universe. We previously reviewed her Four Ways to Forgiveness not once but twice.

White Devils by Paul McAuley, Simon and Shuster, hdbk, £12.99, ISBN 0-743-23885-0. A scientific thriller in which a humanitarian team is slaughtered in Africa. The survivor, a charity worker, must unravel a web of corporate cover-ups as someone's been up to a bit of illicit bio-engineering. We've reviewed Pasquale's Angel, Red Dust and The Secret of Life before. He used to be a biologist so the bioengineering bits should be solid enough.

Dragon's Kin by Anne and Todd McCaffrey, Bantham Press, hdbk, £16.99, ISBN 1-593-05287-0. The latest Pern novel and a first joint outing with mum for son Todd. Looks like learning from Herbert's son they are getting the heritage business going early. The Pern dragon novels have been very kind to McCaffrey and if Todd properly picks up the ropes the series could have considerable longevity. This is (strictly) SF but the Pern series reads like fantasy.

Broken Angels by Richard Morgan, Gollancz, pbk, £6.99, ISBN 0-575-07550-3, is the paperback release of his sequel to Altered Carbon some 50 years on with espionage against a backdrop of future war.

Absolution Gap by Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, £12.99. ISBN not provided. Gollancz appears to have left us out of the loop on this one. However it is set in the same universe as two of his titles we have previously reviewed Revelation Space and Redemption Ark. Maybe it was something we said?

Natural History by Justina Robson, Pan, pbk, £6.99. ISBN 1-844-08028-5. A far future tale in the time when many humans are 'forged' into birds or space ships and normal humans are the 'unevolved'. When we did a detailed review of Justina's Mappa Mundi we liked it. This is the paperback release of the hardback we have not seen but understand to be above average.

Ilium by Dan Simmons, Gollancz, pbk, £6.99, ISBN 0-575-07560-0. Check out the afore link review. Our Tony simply loved this one. This edition is the UK paperback release.

The Affinity Trap by Martin Sketchley, Simon & Schuster, trd pbk, £10.99, ISBN 0-7432-5734-0. In the 24th century, social breakdown and environmental decay mean that most live in giant habitat towers, and controlled by a benign(?) dictator. (Sounds interesting...) Then there are the aliens encountered among the stars with odd sexual biology, and we are all set for political intrigue and a series of books. (Oh dear...) This is Sketchley's first novel so we'll be making a point of going beyond the publicity blurb and back cover by reviewing it in full shortly.

In depth reviews of SF books can be found off the reviews index.

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Fantasy and Horror book releases

Affairs at Hampden Ferrers by Brian Aldiss, Time Warner, £16.99, hdbk, ISBN 0-316-72581-1. A tale of an obscure country village is transformed by magic. Brian's been writing for ages, which begs the question as to how many more new offerings we can expect. This is clearly fantasy as opposed to some of the more harder SF he has written and worth checking out. He has slowed down a tad in recent years but we reviewed his first novel Non-Stop elsewhere.

Dime Store Magic by Kelly Armstrong, Orbit, pbk, £6.99, ISBN 1-841-49323-6, is a supernatural thriller complete with witches.

Crusade by Anslem Audley, Earthlight, pbk, £6.99, ISBN 0-7434-1503-5. The final book in the trilogy that began with Heresy and Inquisition sees Cathan take refuge from the Domain but the growing Domain will inevitably reach him. So Cathan studies the mystery of the storms that in the past wrecked havoc on the planet. Anselm was just 19 when Heresy was published and he his now reading ancient and modern history at Oxford. With such a flying start he is an author who deserves watching but will his talents develop or will he get pigeon-holed? Time will tell but he is an author SF commissioning editor John Jarrold took on board and that says something.

Pride and Promiscuity: The Lost Sex Scenes From Jane Austen by Arielle Eckstut, Canongate, £8.99. ISBN not provided. This is fantasy twice over, in both the erotic and imagination senses. Eckstut has drafted the scenes that Austen only implied in her novels. Remember they were written at a time when the upper middle classes only alluded to sex and never discussed it outright, but inevitably even in gentle romance books of the period it is there in the margins. The book's preface even has an imaginary scene where Eckstut goes to a manor house where Jane's sister is supposed to have stayed. There Eckstut supposedly finds lost manuscripts portraying the erotic goings on.. Bingley's lesbian sisters, Lydia Bennet and Wickham, and Mr Collins and Charlotte, they are all there. Of course this is a work of 'fantasy', but some Austen puritans are bound to view it with 'horror'.

The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker, Simon and Schuster, trade pbk, £10.99, ISBN not provided with press information or in the proof copy sent. This is the author's first novel. It is an out and out fantasy set 2,000 years after an apocalypse. But No-God is returning and a second apocalypse is nigh. With maps, a glossary, a page count that has got to be well over 500 pages (the proof copy is not numbered) and it being part one of a series, this has all the superficial trappings of a fantasy bestseller. Whether it becomes one we will no doubt find out. Fantasy is not our prime focus but we'll see if we can get this properly reviewed for the next site update.

The Portable Door by Tom Holt, Orbit, pbk, £6.99, ISBN 1-841-49208-6, is a comic fantasy. Will be popular with his regular fans. We previously reviewed his Paint Your Dragon.

The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers - Volume 2 by Gilbert Shelton and Paul Mavrides, Knockabout/Rip Off Press, £19.99. ISBN not provided. Members of the SFDA of the 1970s early '80s will welcome this compilation that brings together material published disparately from 1982. You have to have hippy blood in you to enjoy this one. If you have then it's essential.

The Druid King by Norman Spinrad, Time Warner, £6.99, pbk. ISBN 0-751-53530-3. The acclaimed SF author turns his hand to more of a fantasy cum historical novel. Its set in 60BC and deals with the Roman invasion of Gaul. Norman is American by nationality but has been living in France for the best part of a decade now and so is well placed to have properly researched this story.

Maul by Tricia Sullivan, from Orbit, pbk, £10.99 ISBN 1-841-49312-0. A gang of teenage girls gets caught up in the violence around a shopping mall (hence the title pun), and who fight for the life of a man in another world who could possibly change the future. This has had great advance reviews in both literary and SF circles.

In depth reviews of fiction books can be found off the reviews index.

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Forthcoming Science Fact and Non-Fiction

What Does a Martian Look Like? by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart, Erbury, pbk, £6.99, ISBN 0-091-88616-3. This is a name change for the paperback release of Evolving the Alien, the hardback of which we have already reviewed. The publishers probably reckon that this will increase sales. The book challenges people to think outside the box regarding alien biology. Our life scientist at Concat (a friend of one of the writers and a manuscript science reader for the book) says that some life scientists who have looked at this topic may disagree with the authors but it is a stimulating read nonetheless.

A Devil's Chaplain by Richard Dawkins, Poenix, pbk, £7.99, ISBN 0-753-81750-0. An essay collection from the brilliant Oxbridge biologist (but strangely not a fellow of the Institute of Biology?) and rationalist. It did well in hardback.

Freedom Evolves by Daniel C. Dennet, Penguin Press, B format pbk, £8.99, ISBN 0-140-28389-7, an exploration of the evolution of the human mind. Apparently the hardback's had some good reviews.

The Millennium Problems: The Seven Greatest Unsolved Mathematical Puzzles of Our Time by Keith Devlin, Granta, hdbk, £20, ISBN 1-862-07686-3. The title says it all. Maths (as opposed to arithmetic or statistics) is largely undervalued by many of us so hopefully this will give the discipline a little puff.

The Earth An Intimate History by Richard Fortey, Harper Collins, hdbk, £20.00. ISBN 0-002-57011-4. How the Earth came to be the shape it is today. A crash course in geology for the lay man and lay woman.

Growing Up With Lucy: How To Build an Android in 20 Easy Steps, Steve Grand, Weidenfeld, hdbk, £16.99, ISBN 0-297-60733-2. An account of the self-taught author's attempt to build at home the World's most advanced robot.

The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time and the Texture of Reality by Brian Greene, Allen Lane, hdbk, £25.00, ISBN 0-713-99677-3. Greene fronted a recent UK Channel 4 TV series on string theory, which was OK as far as it went albeit a tad repetitious, and given string theory is just one contender in the game and is not some sort of Holy Grail as was made out. Notwithstanding this, the man has his moments. Here he suggests we need to confront our concept of reality and alter it radically to understand the meaning of our existence. We know just what he means. One of our life scientists and one electrical engineer on the Concat team are firmly into real ale when altering their concepts of reality. Our physicist (who had something to say about the TV series) and one of our IT people is into larger, while our other life scientist isn't fussed either way. And then there are the members of the team in the SF&DA... Sorry, we have difficulty taking this seriously as perhaps we should, but no doubt many of the team will be glued to the TV for the inevitable series.

Deep Simplicity: Chaos, Complexity and the Emergence of Life by John Gribbin, Allen Lane, hdbk, £16.99, ISBN 0-713-99610-2. A fascinating topic explored by a competent science writer.

Mutants: On the Form, Varieties and Errors of the Human Body by Armand Marie Leroi, Harper Collins, hdbk, £20.00. ISBN 0-002-57113-7. Based on a Channel 4 (UK) TV documentary series due to be screened in the Spring, it explores what happens when mistakes occur the way we grow and develop.

Right Hand, Left Hand: Origins of Symmetry in Brains, Bodies and Cultures by Chris McManus, Phoenix, pbk, £7.99, ISBN 0-753-81355-6, is the paperback release of last year's UK Aventis Prize for Science. It looks at symmetry and asymmetry from folklore to genetics.

Faster Than the Speed of Light by Joas Magueijo, Arrow, B format pbk, £8.99, ISBN 0-099-42808-3, suggests that the speed of light in vacuo may not be constant. Now the physicist on the Concat team has always told us that there is no evidence for this although there are things at the edge of theory that could on the right day with a following wind, etc., etc., perhaps possibly suggest that the speed of light in vacuo is not constant. Interesting if you really are into science periphera.

In depth reviews of science and SF non-fiction books can be found off the non-fiction reviews index.

[SF News | Forthcoming Science Fiction Book releases | Forthcoming Fantasy & Horror | Forthcoming Science Fact and Non-Fiction | Forthcoming TV & Film tie-ins | Science News]

TV and Film Tie-ins and Video

Matrix Warrior by Jack Horsley, Gollancz, pbk, £5.99, ISBN 0-575-07540-6, is the unofficial and witty handbook to The Matrix phenomenon, but risks being a tad pretentious with references to the teachings of Castaneda.

A new video set in the Dr Who universe is now out. Captain Douglas Cavendish and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart tackle the Daemos. Details from It is written by Dr Who stalwart David Howe (who for some unfathomable reason BBC books overlooked last year to edit their Dr Who 40 anniversary book).

[SF News | Forthcoming Science Fiction Book releases | Forthcoming Fantasy & Horror | Forthcoming Science Fact and Non-Fiction | Forthcoming TV & Film tie-ins | Science News]

Science News

Is Einstein right? NASA's Gravity Probe B is currently set to find out in 2004 with a spring/summer launch date. From its 640 kilometre polar orbit it will use highly sensitive gyroscopes test two key predictions of Einstein's theory of general relativity: (i) that the Earth's huge mass warps the very fabric of space time, and (ii) and that the Earth drags space-time around it as it rotates. The mission costs some $650m (£406m) and NASA has tried to cut it three times in 1989, 1993 and 1995 respectively. However each time Stanford physicist Francis Everitt has relentlessly lobbied Congress who then resurrected the project. So why the fuss? Well, Einstein himself was so sure of his theory that in 1919 he could not be bothered to stay up all night (as his peer Max Planck did) to hear reports of astronomers observing an eclipse to detect starlight being bent around the Sun as predicted by General Relativity. Einstein probably would not be arsed to stir for Gravity B too. The reason some scientists are fussed is that if the readings from Gravity B are not as exactly predicted then there may well be something wrong with General Relativity and if that is the case who knows what the implications might be? (At the exotic end these might possibly include the implication for the possibility for faster than light drive - and Concat regulars know only all too well what that will mean for the pizza supply industry! Warm pizzas over interstellar distances for one thing.)

Again to look forward for this coming year (2004) we have the Cassini-Huygens ESA-NASA probe enter into orbit about Saturn on July 1st after a 2 billion mile trajectory at 13.75 miles per second. This will mark the beginning of a 4-year exploration observing the planet and its moons, including the dropping of a probe onto the surface of the largest moon, Titan. Titan has a diameter of 4,800 km (compared to the Moon's 3,240 km) and it possesses a methane atmosphere. One big puzzle is how come. You see methane should become ethane under sunlight, so what is replenishing the methane? Either it is one heck of a reserve (like an ocean) of the stuff or (as our very own Earth system scientist indicated after a few pints) it could just perhaps be a sign of life?! Meanwhile Cassini-Huygens is already sending back stunning pictures of Saturn. See and

Just how big is the Solar System? The Sun's (Sol) solar wind dominates that of the interstellar medium well beyond Pluto (39.4 Astronomical Units (1AU = 1.5 x 10+8 kilometres = distance of the Earth to the Sun)). The boundary where the Sun's solar wind merges with that of the interstellar medium is often considered to be the outer limit of the Solar System and theory predicts that it should be about 100AU. Two Voyager probes were launched in 1977 and both are heading out of the Solar System on different trajectories with Voyager 2 being some 20AU closer in so providing comparison LECP readings. Anyway on 1st August 2002 when the Voyager 1 probe was about 85 AU its low-energy charged particle (LECP) instrument detected changes in the Solar wind. Could this be the boundary with interstellar medium? One team of scientists thinks so, but another disagrees saying it was simply pre-boundary turbulence. Both published their results in the journal Nature (v426: pp21-22, 45-48, 48-51). 2004 will see this matter resolved. (Though as Concat regulars will know, this means sod all to the pizza supply industry.)

So who will control the internet? A big question, huh? Which is probably why the UN has just deferred debating this topic to 2005. (Some might argue that it is already too late for meaningful discussion on this topic. But of course we couldn't possibly comment.)

Internet control on the spam front is having minimal effect. In December both the European Union and the US introduced anti spam legislation. More recent European legislation is tougher than the wimpy US 'can-the-spam' regulation that relies on the recipient stating they do not want further messages. This means that US companies can close down and start up again as a new guise. Meanwhile if the company is based outside Europe or the US there are no controls whatsoever. We at Concat support those attempting to reduce spam and one of our IT folk is a member of the Internet Society, so we do have a voice at one of the fora discussing this. Concat's own operational policy is that we do not even use cookies and we only occasionally mail a score of addresses such as the Worldcon foreign legion or leading conventions when gathering material. UK science fiction publishers (editors and publicists) also receive an annual summary report from us, but this amounts to only a couple of score and as we have an active two-way dialogue with the majority of these we are hardly a nuisance. Our activities are nothing compared to the literally millions of junk messages sent out each day. And then there are those ludicrous messages from Western Africa claiming that they need your help to access millions of dollars. The problem is that there are enough twits who fall for spam scams to encourage their perpetuation.

Biologist Richard Dawkins (of whom we may have mentioned above strangely is not a Fellow of the Institute of Biology) provided a scientific counter (Guardian 13.12.03) to the UK Government's proposals to lower the voting age to 16. He notes that neuroscientists (such as US's Jay Geidd) have demonstrated that the prefrontal cortex (the bit that enables us to think in the abstract such as weigh moral dilemmas) undergoes major reconstruction from puberty to the age of 20 and beyond. He also notes that psychologists (such as Peter Jensen) have observed that teenagers make poor decisions that seem obvious to adults. (We suspect that some parents may have noted this too.)

So do you look after yourself? Many don't, especially men. The award-winning website 'Malehealth' has now been relaunched in an easier-to-use format on A health A-Z section covers 24 common health topics and its user's guide to the male body offers an anatomy overview. The site was also highly commended in the British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards back in November.

In our report of the 2003 Worldcon we noted that it coincided with Mars' closest approach to Earth for thousands of years. Fortunately its rotation at this time was captured for us on film by astronomers. So here, belatedly, is the link.

Still on Mars, the Japanese have cancelled their first ever Mars probe just as it is about to arrive at the red planet. The probe, called Nozomi (meaning 'hope'), was to go into Martian orbit earlier in the New Year but had developed a major onboard electrical fault. This might have been a result of the solar flares back in May 2002 when the craft was en route and the flares were known then to have caused some damage. All attempts to repair the vehicle have failed and now the craft has been re-directed to miss Mars lest it contaminate the planet.

But, with the Brit Beagle 2 lander (from the Mars Express) touching down on Mars in the Isidis Planitia sedimentary basin in a former sea, what a Christmas we had! (Well, we squeezed in a check on mission control between the white port and too many calories to contemplate.) Will microbial life be discovered by the summer? Now you can follow the news as it breaks. Beagle 2 (named after Chaz Darwin's ship) has a 33.2 kg payload to test for water, carbonate and organics in the soil as well as analysing the atmosphere. Scientists are now posting news of the mission on the web. This was a godsend as no UK terrestrial or satellite channel covered the event over Christmas, and even teletext was stuck with the same message all day. (Shame on the media especially the BBC that has over the past year dumbed-down its science coverage!) The planned science components to the Beagle 2 mission were scheduled to have been completed around June. However at the time of writing, as we enter 2004, there has been no contact with the Lander and things do not look good. There were attempts to make contact via the 76-metre Lovell radio telescope at Jodrell Bank, as well as those from the US's 45-metre telescope at Stanford U., but these did not work. Of course if Beagle 2 did not land correctly (as is likely) then this would explain the problems. But there is a chance, the craft could have made it virtually intact but is obscured from direct line of sight from the Earth (say if it ended up against a crater wall). In which case communication via the orbiting Mars Express is likely to be the best bet for rescuing the mission, but this will work best once Mars Express has shifted into a polar orbit which will happen after we have posted this news update on the site. The polar orbit should get around the line-of-sight problem. Also a signal from the Lander will be boosted by Mars Express and so be more likely to be detected on Earth. Another option is to use NASA's Odyssey probe that's been in orbit about Mars since 2001. Meanwhile the good folk at the Open University have been sending commands to Beagle 2 blind (because we can transmit from Earth to it far more powerfully than the Lander can send to us). These commands instruct it to open its solar cells, a crucial move if the Lander is to have power beyond the short-term life of its batteries. However ESA's Mars Express, that carried Beagle 2 some 400 million km to 3 million km short of Mars, is Europe's first planetary mission and was so far doing very well. It carries a high-resolution camera to map the planet in detail and radar to search for sub-surface water down to 5 km. Further news in our post-Easter site update.

Two US NASA rovers are due to have joined Beagle 2 on the Martian surface early in 2004. The first, 'Spirit' is due to have landed on 2nd January, while 'Opportunity' should have made it by 25th January.

Just time to slip in news as our webmaster gets this to put up on the site that NASA's 'Stardust' space craft entered the dust cloud surrounding Comet Wild 2 on 2nd January. After five years since its launch, Stardust, will go closer to the comet nucleus than the first mission to a comet, Europe's Giotto to Halley, did in 1986. The dust trail behind Comet Wild 2 is less than that for Halley so we should get some excellent pics. Stardust will also trap some of the dust particles in a foam-like gel. The craft will bring them back to Earth in 2006.

2003 also saw several teams build a quantum 'controlled NOT' gate, and one made a 'rotation' gate. What's the betting we will have the basics for a quantum computer before the end of the decade?

More on extraterrestrials. Looking ahead to 2011, NASA has outlined a plan to explore Jupiter's moons for signs of life. The Jupiter Icy Moons orbiter (JIMO) will be the first spacecraft powered by an uranium reactor and be part of a nuclear series of ships in the Project Prometheus programme.

2003 comes top an end with the World Health Organization's report on human health for the year. Some of the news is sadly not unexpected. A girl born in Japan can expect to live for 85 years while one in Sierra Leone has a life expectancy of just 36 years. Also there were more than 20 million road accident casualties in 2003 of which nearly 1.2 million were fatalities. However there are surprises too. The afore road death figure exceeds that from violence. Further, a UK male at birth can expect to live for 75.8 years which is 1.2 years more than their US counterpart. HIV appears to be following a logistic type curve and is nearing its peak with around 40 million people Worldwide living with the virus (over half a percent of the global population). WHO also celebrates the reduction in polio, but misses out on the impact of obesity. This last is a major omission especially as it is imposing a huge health cost in the US, and the UK is fast following. Obesity costs in the US have overtaken that of tobacco related illness, but little is being done either politically or socially to combat it. This is strange because in the UK revenue from tobacco and alcohol pays for a third of UK health and associated governmental expenditure: far more than the health costs either alcohol or tobacco incur. However such is the scale of the problem it is only a matter of time before fast food outlets will be taxed specifically to address this. Remember, you heard it here first.

Time to look back on a year of science in 2003. Although not the longest ice core, one some 3.2 kilometeres long was extracted from Antarctica, but it did cover some 750,000 years of ice formation. It should contain (hemispheric - hence near global) climate details (proxies) covering some eight ice ages (glacial-interglacial cycles). There will be much interest in the interglacial some 450,000 years ago which is a time when the Earth's (Milankovitch) orbital parameter were similar to today's. So this time could infer to us what our planet would be like without human-induced global warming. (Concat's own climate person says its odds on that it will indicate that we would have been heading back into another glacial (ice age) but that burning fossil fuels has stopped this. Of course the problem is that we have overdone things.)

Our physicist highlights the science media gaff of the year in the BBC Horizon programme on time travel which echoes a general complaint at least a couple of others of us have made. It kept saying that Einstein's golden rule was that things could not travel back in time. We were unaware of this. To us Einstein's golden rule was that the speed of light appears constant to one's frame of reference. But then our general grumble is that Horizon has been getting bland. For instance it missed out on any meaningful exploration of the icy winters' impact likely to follow the shutting down of the Broecker (North Atlantic haline circulation) conveyor when it covered that story. The new style appears to be to inform every one three times, once in a summary introduction, then in the main body of the programme, and once again in a lengthy summary. Twice is enough in case you missed anything while making the tea. Three times is an insult to intelligence. Fair is fair though. Horizon did do one above-average episode on decoding the Bible debunking the myth-makers, so there is someone awake in the programme's office. So here is our new year present to the researchers in the Horizon office. Check out what happened to the 2002 'Pharmageddon Now' initiative by UK learned societies and industry (and echoed by scientists in Washington in a separate parallel intitiative). Find out which Government Departments and Agencies participated and which, 18 months on, actually picked up the ball and ran... Given this advance microbiological warning to deal with emerging resistance, now we have had SARS what is being done to ensure that the pharmaceutical industry can speedily develop new medicines?

The Japanese detected a new 'meson' sub-atomic particle at their Kek lab in November. It, the X(3872) particle, was subsequently confirmed by Fermi Lab in the US. What is strange about this 'meson' (the quotes indicate that we are hesitant about the nomenclature) is that while it is like other mesons - a hadron with a baryon number of zero - it contains four quarks (not two like other mesons). It also has a higher mass than predicted and the decay products are different from those anticipated. Our physicist on the Concat team says that this exposes a flaw in the standard model. In essence we either need to modify the theory of colour force or begin a new category of meson. We wonder how Stephen Hawking has taken the news?

Science farewells in 2003 included:

As for 2004, this year represents a number of scientific anniversaries. Including:

As for science predictions for 2004, Concat' foresees that: life will not be detected by 'Beagle 2'; scientists will find that the North Atlantic haline circulation is likely to shut down so making north west Europe ice bound during winters (which compares to the current view that the freshening of the N.Atlantic is not strong enough to do this - too much reliance on in-exact computer models and not enough on palaeo analogues (check out Jonathan's Climate and Human Change: Disaster or Opportunity? book from Parthenon); and finally that there will be another microbiological emergent scare be it a disease (cf. SARS), a farm pathogen, or a super antibiotic resistant strain beyond MRSA. Of course if you think that these predictions are tame then we'd be interested if you contacted us in hearing your own before the end of February. In any case the afore predictions are less obvious than one local newspaper's headline reported on BBC Radio 4's News Quiz (19th Nov) which read, 'Dead man found in cemetery'.

Two final predictions for the rest of 2004. First, we will be continuing to provide science and SF coverage which we hope will result in a continuing trend of increased interest in this site. Also remember that you too now have the option of getting involved and so raising the profile of SF of ventures with which you are associated.

The second prediction is that (if in London, Britain) you can meet at least two members of the Concat' team in March and April, 2004, respectively. The first will be on Saturday March 27th one of our IT people (Dan) will be giving a (PowerPoint illustrated) presentation on 'SF and the internet'. The meetings are free and sponsored by the LOTNA science fiction group. They will take place 7.30pm for an 8.00pm start at the Horseshoe Inn, Melior Street, 3 minutes walk from London Bridge underground and rail station. If you arrive early (6.30pm) you'll find a number of the regulars enjoying the hot pub food available. Of course while the meeting is free, you are responsible for your own food and drinks. The second meeting will be on The Probability of Alien Intelligence but the date has yet to be fixed. LOTNA is a friendly group concentrating mainly on media SF but many regulars are also into films and books. Consequently these science-orientated meetings (all be they SF-related) are apparently a bit of a departure for the group, but we hope an interesting one nonetheless.

More news after Easter for the Summer. Meanwhile ensure you've added the SF & SF Concatenation to your favourites. And why not send a message to yourself delay-timed for May alerting you to our post-Easter update?

Answer to our top-of-the-page riddle for the New Year: When did the Anglo-Eurasian Ameri team, who floated across the International Dateline early on 31st December, celebrate New Year?... Answer: The team was of course the British born American and the Russian astronaut and cosmonaut respectively aboard the International Space Station. They could have celebrated New Year at any time it was midnight 31st Dec' 2003 on Earth but did it at midnight Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

See also: News for the Autumn 2003, News for the Summer 2003, Spring 2003 News, November 2002 News and the Forthcoming book news to December 2002.

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