Science Fiction News & Recent
Science Review for the
Spring 2018

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

Season's Editorial & Staff Stuff Key SF News & Awards
Film News Television News Publishing News
Forthcoming SF Books Forthcoming Fantasy Books Forthcoming Non-Fiction
General Science News Natural Science News Astronomy & Space News
Science & SF Interface Rest In Peace End Bits

Spring 2018

Editorial Comment & Staff Stuff

 

EDITORIAL COMMENT

Well, that was 2017 and our 30th anniversary year. We had a number of celebratory events and took part in the 30th anniversary of the BECCON Eastercon reunion: BECCON '87 was the Eastercon at which SF² Concatenation was launched.  Importantly, we decided to carry on at least to our one-third century mark in three years time.  Such was the feeling at the end of the BECCON reunion, it was decided to have another but open it to SF fans in the area around Hitchin, Biggleswade and Letchworth early in this summer (2018).  If you fancy an informal SF gathering in a rural Bedfordshire pub with a large beer garden, 1-minute walk from a rail station the feel free to contact us.

And so it is now 2018 and Science Fiction's 200th year. Of course speculative fiction (the super genre covering both science fiction and fantasy [see the definitions in Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction]) has been around for thousands of years with fantasy and then proto-SF. However, many (including notably Brian Aldiss) consider the novel Mary Shelly's Frankenstein -- with a scientist as a protagonist and the use of technology at the story's core -- to be the first true work of modern SF.  It will be interesting to see how the SF community and its various conventions marks this anniversary.  Of course, 2018 sees a number of other SF anniversaries too (see the very bottom of this page).

And with that on to the staff stuff…

 

STAFF STUFF

The autumn saw Alan, Jonathan and Dan have had a visit from our long-standing, occasional contributor Roberto who came from SF writer Ian Watson's place in Spain. Without a convention to distract us there was much socialising and turns taken in sight-seeing tours. Roberto then left for an SF writers convention in Italy (the nation's only long-lived SF writers convention as other Italian cons have either a broader or a different genre focus) after which he went on to Genoa. Much travelled is our Roberto.

Meanwhile one of our book review panel members, Duncan Lunan, has had an abortive move to Ireland and is now back in Troon albeit at a different address. It looks like the return to Troon is fairly permanent. The problem is that his collection of books and writing is now at the University of Cork. All in all rather frustrating. Let's hope it all gets sorted satisfactorily.

Peter, Alan and half a dozen of their local SF enthusiasts in the new Northumberland Heath SF group (FaceBook page here) in December held the group's first anniversary meeting.  December also saw several of the group see the new Star Wars film including a party of four members.  Finally, a new member is due to attend their January meeting which brings the total number of locals involved up to ten.  If the group can double this in the next year then the group's healthy future will be assured. (If you are on FaceBook and live in London then do share an event post. That would help spread the word to other S.E. Londoners.)

And that's it.

Elsewhere this issue…
Aside from this seasonal news page, elsewhere this issue (vol. 28 (1) Spring 2018) we have stand-alone items on:-
          - My Top Ten Scientists - Andrew Bannister
          - SF Conventions Across Europe - Roberto Quaglia
          - Helsinki – The 2017 World SF Convention - Peter Tyers
          - British Fantasycon 2017 - Ian Hunter
          - 28th Festival of Fantastic Films 2017 – Great Britain - Darrell Buxton
          - The 2017 Hispacon – Spain - Cristina Jurado
          - The 2017 Celsius 232 – Spain - Peter Tyers
          - 2018 Diary of Major SF Conventions & Forthcoming SF Films of the Year
          - SF/F/H book reviewers wanted
          Plus over forty (yes, over 40!) SF/F/H standalone book reviews and an additional half-dozen non-fiction & science reviews (see the What's New page).  Hopefully something here for every science type who is into SF in this our 30th plus 1 year.

 

Season's Editorial & Staff Stuff Key SF News & Awards
Film News Television News Publishing News
Forthcoming SF Books Forthcoming Fantasy Books Forthcoming Non-Fiction
General Science News Natural Science News Astronomy & Space News
Science & SF Interface Rest In Peace End Bits

Spring 2018

Key SF News & SF Awards

 

Best SF/F books of 2017? Yes, it is the start of a new year and so once more time for an informal look back at the last one. Here are a few of the books that we rated published in the British Isles last year (obviously there are other worthy offerings as well as titles published elsewhere which also include some of these). We have a deliberately varied mix for you (alphabetically by author) so there should be something for everyone. So if you are looking for something to read then why not check out these Science Fiction and Fantasy books of 2017:-
          The Power by Naomi Alderman (science fantasy)
          Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill (SF adventure)
          The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard (fantasy/urban fantasy)
          The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin (fantasy)
          New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson (near-future SF)
          Artemis by Andy Weir (hard SF)
Last year's Best SF novels here.

Best SF/F films of 2017? Possibilities include:-
          Blade Runner 2049 (Trailer here)
          Ghost in the Shell (Trailer here)
          Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Trailer here)
          Wonder Woman (Trailer here)
Expect Blade Runner 2049 to be short-listed for the Hugo because it is a brilliant SF offering that treats its source material with respect.  Star Wars: The Last Jedi is also likely to do well in the Hugos and possibly be short-listed due to the Carrie Fisher effect.  Likewise Wonder Woman could well benefit from the American diversity vote in addition to being one of the best superhero SF/F cinematic offerings of last year.  Last year's Best SF/F Films here. (One of which won the Hugo and another short-listed for it.)

This season's major award news includes:-

The 2017 World Fantasy Awards have been presented at the World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio (US). The winners were:-
          Novel: The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North
          Novella: 'The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe' by Kij Johnson
          Short Fiction: 'Das Steingeschöpf' by G. V. Anderson
          Anthology: Dreaming in the Dark by (ed) Jack Dann
          Collection: A Natural History of Hell by Jeffrey Ford
          Artist: Jeffrey Alan Love
          Special Award – Professional: Michael Levy and Farah Mendlesohn for Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction
          Special Award – Nonprofessional: J Neile Graham for her work as Workshop Director of Clarion West
The World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Awards winners for 2017 were Marina Warner and Terry Brooks.
          +++ For last year's winners see here.

The British Fantasy Awards were presented at FantasyCon, Peterborough. The short list for each category was decided upon by nominations submitted by British Fantasy Society members. The winners were then decided upon by a different jury for each category. The winners were:-
          Best Fantasy Novel (the Robert Holdstock Award): The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky
          Best Horror Novel (the August Derleth Award): Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay
          Best Novella: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
          Best Anthology: People of Colour Destroy Science Fiction by Lightspeed Magazine
          Best Artist: Daniele Serra
          Best Collection: Some Will Not Sleep by Adam Nevill
          Best Newcomer (Sydney J. Bounds Award): Erika L Satifka for Stay Crazy
          Best Comic/Graphic Novel: Monstress, Vol 1: Awakening by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda
          Best Film/Television Production: Arrival
          Best Independent Press: Grimbold Press
          Best Magazine/Periodical: Tor.com
          Best Non-Fiction: The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley
          Best Short Fiction: 'White Rabbit’ by Georgina Bruce
          The Special Award (the Karl Edward Wagner Award): Jan Edwards
More on the 2017 British Fantasycon here.  +++ Last year's principal category winners are here.

Spain's 2017 Ignotus Awards were presented. at the Hispacon in Navacerrada near Madrid.  The Ignotus has been Spain's national SF Award since 1991, equivalent to the British SF Awards, and is presented at Spain's annual national convention, Hispacon, sponsored by the Asociacion Española de Fantasía, Ciencia Ficcion y Terror (the Spanish Association of Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror). The Award is voted on by association members, convention attendees and affiliates. The winners were:-
         Novel: La Polilla en la Casa del Humo [The Moth in the Smoke House];by Guillem López
         Novella: 'En Tierra Extraña' ['In a Strange Land']; by Felicidad Martínez
         Short Story: 'The Second Death of the Father ' ['La segunda muerte del padre '] by Cristina Jurado
         Anthology: La Mirada Extraña [The Strange Gaze] edited by Felicidad Martínez
         Article: ' Escritoras españolas de ciencia ficción, SuperSonic magazine 4&5' [' Spanish female Authors: Revisting SuperSonic 4&5'] by Lola Robles
         Non-Fiction Book: En Regiones Extrañas [In Strange Regions] by Lola Robles
         Magazine: SuperSonic
         Foreign Novel: El problema de los tres cuerpos [The Three-Body Problem] by Liu Cixin
         Comic / Graphic novel: Providence by Jacen Burrows & Alan Moore
         Audiovisual production: El Ministerio del Tiempo by [The Ministry of Time] TV series
         Illustration: Cover for Futuros perdidos [Lost Futures'] by Enrique Corominas
         Website: La tercera fundación [Third Foundation]
Also presented was the Domingo Santos Award, a special award in memory of legendary Spanish SF author Domingo Santos and decided on by a secret jury, was given to Sergio Mars for Ruedas dentadas de un reloj imaginario [Workings of an Imaginary Clock].
Note: This was the second year in a row that Guillem López has won the Ignotus 'Best Novel'.

Other SF news includes:-

Omni magazine has been re-launched. The late 1970s to mid-1980s, high-gloss SF and science, lifestyle, US magazine Omni has returned to the newsstands with old backing (Penthouse Global Media) and old staff: Pamela Weintraub (now as editor) and Ellen Datlow (now solely responsible for fiction as fiction editor). Formerly, it was a monthly but is now coming out as a quarterly.

George (1984) Orwell has returned to the BBC. The SF author spent a few years working as a journalist for the BBC and now the Beeb Beeb Ceeb has honoured the writer with a statue. The statue has been erected at London's Broadcasting House though Orwell himself worked at the BBC's former 55 Portland Place building. Appropriately, the corner where the statue has been placed has been an unofficial smoking area: Orwell himself smoked.
          The statue comes with a plaque that reads: "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."

Arthur C. Clarke's 100th anniversary of birth was celebrated in December (2017).  We sadly lost Clarke back in 2008 but had he lived he would have been 100 on 16th December.  This centenary was marked by BBC Radio 4's Inside Science that looked at his science and SF interface: something we at SF² Concatenation are vaguely into.  The anniversary was also marked with a screening of 2010: The Year We Make Contact at The Royal Observatory Greenwich (which includes – in the widescreen version only – a cameo of Arthur sitting on a park bench feeding the pigeons in front of the White House) -- trailer here.  Plus the Clarke (fiction) Award people are Kick Starting an anthology 2001: An Odyssey in Words where each story is exactly 2,000 words long.  Clarke was big on space travel and an active member of the British Interplanetary Space Society. So to celebrate what would have been Clarke's 100th year why not spend a couple of minutes watching the classic docking scene from 20001 (and keep an eye out for the pilot played by Ed Bishop who also was Ed Straker, the lead in U.F.O. as well as the voice of Captain Blue).

Galaxies publishes its 50th issue (or is it 92nd?). Galaxies is France's leading SF quarterly and bimonthly (every other month) since January 2014.  It is just publishing its 50th edition under its fourth editor, the SF author Pierre Gevart. January sees Pierre's 50th issue though it will be the 92nd (or is it 91st) edition since the magazine was founded in 1996 under the editor of Stephanie Nicot. (Or is it the 91st issue? The issue number 41, was edited and was to be dedicated to Joelle Wintrebert, but it never saw print.)  Anyway, happy 50th Galaxies.

H. G. Wells Society (Timisoara) publishes 45th anniversary edition of Paradox.  A brief puff for Timisoara's SF society, the H. G. Wells society whose magazine has just published its 45th edition.  Formed decades before the end of communism, the SF society was named after H. G. Wells who was a known socialist, so as to escape censure of the authorities (who could close down societies and terminate meetings on whim). The 45th edition contains book reviews, non-fiction SFnal essays, some fiction and an article by one of SF² Concatenation's founding team members, Tony Chester, in English.  Also included is a memorial article to the scientist and local SF fan Constantin ('Coco') Cozmiuc.  It is likely that an on-line, digital version will be available shortly. The paper edition was launched at the Carte de Nisip [Owls' Bookshop].

Judge Dredd Megazine – Now is a good time to try out this monthly.  Diving into a new franchise often represents something of a commitment: one risks getting hooked. However at this time (January 2018) there are four good reasons you might want to consider trying out the Judge Dredd Megazine for at least a couple of issues:  i) Judge Dredd has not had nearly as much on an airing (especially outside of the British Isles (Brit Cit, Cal Hab and the Emerald Isles /Murphyville)) but it has garnered quite a following over 4 decades in the weekly 2000AD and so is perhaps worth a look;  ii) the Judge Dredd Megazine is monthly, not weekly, and so the commitment in both time and cash is not that great;  iii) The monthly Megazine has companion strips set in the same Dredd universe, so you get more diversity bangs within the Dredd cannon for your buck/euro etc;  and iv) Three of the zine's four serials see a new story commence with the January 2018 edition with the commencement of a new Dredd tale, a new Cursed Earth (Koburn) judge story, and the start of the latest Dredd film (kind of parallel universe if you like) sequel. The Judge Dredd Megazine is available from all the major European and N. American specialist SF shops or you can order on-line at  shop.2000AD.com.  Splundig.&mnsp; (Note: due to the way the Megazine labels its cover issues a month ahead, the first issue you want to specify when you subscribe or buy is the February issue 392 that comes out 16th January 2018.)

This year's Eastercon has been trailing no Progress Reports.  Sending printed Progress Report booklets to early registrants is one way of rewarding them for registering early: a pound (dollar or euro) early is worth more to organisers than a pound (dollar or euro) later.  And this is important if you want to spend early registrants' money in promoting your convention beyond your usual crowd.  Yet, the British Eastercon (Britain's national convention) is a variable feast depending on the organisers' abilities and time they can devote prior to the event making all sorts of things happen. Consequently, numbers vary and in recent decades have ranged from a respectable 800 to a staggering 2,000 (which is large for a European residential event). However, if you are not going for the high end (more typically a London based Eastercon) but appealing to the core community of regulars, then are Progress Reports needed? This year's Eastercon: Follycon 2018 (not to be confused with the original Follycon Eastercon in 1988) has decided to ditch full-blown Progress Reports in favour of single, double-sided fact sheets available as PDFs. Registrants are e-mailed their (roughly half-yearly) fact sheet. Those who do not have easy access (secure and with good bandwidth) to the internet (and 10% of the adult UK working population do not, and even more who are retired) get sent the fact sheets by normal post.  So, has this worked? From an unscientific analysis of accounts, this system has worked. After all, if organisers are going for a smaller national convention then they will have less money to play with even if they can be assured that regulars will turn up regardless, and saving several hundred booklets' printing and postage costs four times will easily save £3,000 (US$3,900) and that will, say, cover the cost of a couple of transatlantic guests each with an extra jet lag hotel day stay.
          Of course, whether this will work for those aspiring for larger conventions remains to be seen? Yet, maybe here a significant number will be content with PDF progress reports on the grounds of environmental sustainability and lowering greenhouse emission through forgoing transporting bits of dead tree around the country. No doubt the British SF community will continue to debate this move for a while to come.  +++ See our convention diary page for the current year's national-level and international conventions.

The French 2018 Eurocon begins work on its programme.  There are to be four main themes:-
          - African SF
          - Jules Verne and European proto SF
          - Science and Science-fiction
          - Utopias today or tomorrow
There will also be a rather nifty 5th theme in the form of a Spanish open bar.  The mainstay of the film programme will be five newly restored films from the beginning of the 20th century and there will also be a more recent cinematic offering.  For those into gaming, there will be a contest open to all members of the convention.  As for the conference venue, Amiens University will be opening a new campus this spring and so the summer Eurocon could well be the first non-university event to be held there. However, in the event that due to some chance the new site is not ready, the ever future-conscious organisers have a back-up at the original Amiens University campus near the town's cathedral. In addition to the Guests of Honour previously announced, the sculptor Didier Cottier will be exhibiting his SFnal artworks together with an exhibition of European and African artists. There will also be a musical and a theatrical item too. Finally, it is hoped to publish some books in French and English.  So much for which to look forward including some of the best local wine since the 2001 Eurocon.  +++ For details of the current year's national (natcon) and international-level conventions see the current diary page.

The 2019 Eurocon will be in Belfast, N. Ireland, UK.  Previous news here.

There is one bid that we know of for the 2020 Eurocon. News previously announced here.

The 2017 Helsinki Worldcon has elsewhere on this site a standalone convention report.

The 2018 US Worldcon in San Jose has issued its first full Progress Report (PR) and launched its accommodation booking system… but problems soon became manifest.  Its PR1 came out a little late (October 2017) compared to most Worldcons (which normally get theirs out very early in the year). In it, there are profiles of the GoHs and a call for programme volunteers with much music promised (no mention of science), hotel information and exhibit hall description (of note free fan tables to those booking in advance).
          The convention's hotel booking scheme went live in November a couple of days before Thanksgiving Day (something similar to Britain's Harvest Festival of Thanksgiving but it is a formal public holiday in the US). It appears that the convention's hotel booking service is run by a commercial company whose staff decided to break early for Thanksgiving. This meant that the service had only been running for around a day before the hotel booking office closed for the long weekend: not exactly the best of timing on the convention's part.  However, those that did get through found that while there were plenty of rooms for the nights of the convention itself in all the hotels, alas all the cheap hotels were fully booked for the nights immediately before and after the convention. These before-after days are important for those arriving early to orientate themselves and do some tourism or to stay on for dead dogging and/or tourism; they are also vital for the small army of volunteers helping set up and dismantle the convention. Some 4,000 Worldcon registrants booked rooms within a few hours of the service going live. However the lack of rooms immediately before and after the convention may put off some latecomers.

The 2019 Worldcon will be in Ireland.  As we reported last season, Dublin won the site selection.  The latest news is that in addition to early registrants being able to nominate and then short-list vote on the Hugo Awards, the Dublin 2019 Worldcon will be running the 1944 Retro Hugo Awards. (Retro Hugos are run by some Worldcons to fill in the World War II years during which there was no Worldcon and pre-1953 Worldcon year as the Hugos were only established in 1953.)

The New Zealand 2020 Worldcon bid we extensively reported last time. We hope to have significant news next season but, meanwhile, mention this bid again now as not only is it currently the only bid for the 2020 Worldcon but it provides a rare, excellent opportunity for those of us in the northern hemisphere to have an SF holiday in the antipodeans islands. We understand that there may very well be SF gatherings in NZ immediately before and after the event and there are plenty of tourist opportunities both in Wellington itself (the likely venue city) and the rest of New Zealand (including places where The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit was shot). True, the travel cost from the northern hemisphere will be high, so if going it will be worthwhile spending more than just the five days of the Worldcon there. So the message for now is to consider this Worldcon and to start saving.

Odyssey writers' workshop opens summer registration. New and/or young writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror seeking to enhance their embryonic career attend Odyssey: Odyssey is for writers whose work is approaching publication quality and for published writers who want to improve their work. It is run for six weeks each summer in Manchester, New Hampshire, USA, for a class size restricted to 15. Authors, agents, and editors serve as guest lecturers. Advanced lectures, in-depth feedback, and one-on-one guidance help students make major improvements. From past years, some 59% of students go on to professional publication. This year's class runs from 4th June to 13th July (2018). The workshop is held at Saint Anselm College, one of the top small liberal arts colleges in the northeast US, and students live in campus apartments. Odyssey is funded in part by donations from graduates, grantors and supporters, and in part by student tuition. Tuition is US$2,025, and housing in campus apartments is US$892 for a double room and US$1,784 for a single. All applicants receive feedback on their writing sample.
          Beginning this year, George R. R. Martin is funding a scholarship for an Odyssey student. The Miskatonic Scholarship will be awarded to a promising writer of Lovecraftian cosmic horror. It will cover full tuition, textbook, and housing. As Martin notes, "We are not looking for Lovecraft pastiches, nor even Cthulhu Mythos stories. References to Arkham, Azathoth, shoggoths, the Necronomicon, and the fungi from Yuggoth are by no means obligatory...though if some candidates choose to include them, that's fine as well. What we want is the sort of originality that H. P. Lovecraft displayed in his day…. What we want are nightmares new and resonant and profound, comic terrors that will haunt our dreams for years to come."  Further details can be found at www.odysseyworkshop.org

And finally….

'Comic Con' is now legally a valid trademark of the San Diego ComicCon event founded back in 1970 in the US. The ruling was made by the Federal District Court in San Diego in the face of some 140 other events calling themselves ComicCon and principally the Salt Lake City Comic Con. San Diego has won the case but did not get the US$12 million in damages they sought but US$20,000. According to Forbes.com, the Salt Lake City event's two principal organisers awarded themselves bonuses of US$225,000 each while at the same time appealing to fans to help crowdfund their legal defence. The judge took a dim view of Salt Lake trying to mobilise fan anger to “escalate this into a case involving the world.”  +++ Leaving aside that the US has a very litigious society, the predominantly US organised (though it has been getting more international in recent decades) Worldcon has for a number of years trademarked the term 'Worldcon' as service marks of the World Science Fiction Society, an unincorporated literary society.  Over here in Europe, terms such as 'Eurocon' have not been trademarked and in recent years a European religious gathering has attracted an arguably greater profile than the original SF Eurocon in some parts of cyberspace (search 'YouTube' for example).

Season's Editorial & Staff Stuff Key SF News & Awards
Film News Television News Publishing News
Forthcoming SF Books Forthcoming Fantasy Books Forthcoming Non-Fiction
General Science News Natural Science News Astronomy & Space News
Science & SF Interface Rest In Peace End Bits

Spring 2018

Film News

 

The autumn's SF/F/H films appearing within the top five of the weekly box office top ten charts (which of course also include other non-genre offerings which we ignore) were, in the British Isles (Great Britain, NI and Irish Republic), in order of their appearance:-
          Kingsman: The Golden Circle (Trailer here)
          Blade Runner 2049 (Trailer here and see also next item but one below)
          It (Trailer here)
          The LEGO Ninjago Movie (Trailer here)
          Thor: Ragnarok (Trailer here)
          Justice League (Trailer here and see also a couple of items below)
          Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Trailer here)

The top earning film in British Isles of the past year (2017) was Beauty and the Beast. Beauty and the Beast beat Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Beauty earned £4.1m more in the British Isles. However Beauty and the Beast premiered in March and has long since left cinema screens; conversely Star Wars: The Last Jedi is still (January 2018) showing in many cinemas and so is still accruing British box office take. Beauty and the Beast was also the most popular film of 2017 globally: it earned £929m (US$1.26 billion) worldwide in 2017.

Blade Runner 2049 has a dismal N. American debut.  So a number of newspaper and websites screamed. Slightly bowel-loosening for Hollywood moguls was Blade Runner 2049 only taking US$31.5 million its opening weekend in N. America despite its US$150m production cost (well, that's the IMDB 'estimated' cost, other sources say US$185,000,000).  Reasons for this apparent disappointment include its US 'R' rating ('15' rating here in Britain); the rating is a little harsh as there is hardly any violence and only a little nudity / adult themes.  The other reason that may have put of N. American cinema go-ers is that the film is a sequel to the 1982 original and a third of a century interval since the original is a long time for N. Americans whose (non-native) history is just a couple of centuries.  The final reason could be its long running time at 2 hours and 44 minutes which (with adverts and trailers) means a 3 hour 15 minute trip to the cinema: possibly too long for today's SnapChat, InstaGram audience or N. American viewers whose television has advert breaks every ten minutes? Who knows?  However Hollywood execs need not fret: there is the rest of the world, the post-debut weekend box office revenue, DVD sales and television screen royalties. Indeed, the rest-of-the-world outside of N. America debut weekend revenue was US$50.2m making a total initial debut weekend revenue of US$81.7m which covers over half the film's (IMDB estimated) production cost. With rest-of-the-world revenue it made the rest easy by the end of the month with additional profit continuing to roll in: and the DVD has yet to be released.  +++ Our view?  Hollywood will be very satisfied with Blade Runner 2049's take as after a few months globally it broke even and so expect a possible Blade Runner 3 announcement either this year or next.  Also, remember that the original Blade Runner (1982) was not a huge, initial box office success but did make a profit after some weeks and slowly grew to cult status beyond SF fandom. Indeed by 18th December (2017) Blade Runner 2049 not only had it covered its US$150m costs but had made a profit of over US$100 million!

Is Ridley Scott trying to marry his Blade Runner and Alien universes?  There has been some discussion as to what Ridley Scott is up to and whether he is trying to establish some sort of links between his two major franchises? Easter eggs – small, passing details within films – within Blade Runner 2049 may provide the answer. You can see a short commentary on some here.

Justice League has a dismal N. American debut.  So a number of newspaper and websites screamed with headlines like ''Justice League' Is The Highest-Grossing Box Office 'Bomb' Ever' and even from SF sites such as SyFy: 'Justice League projected to lose $50-100 million for Warner Bros'.  But it was only very slightly bowel-loosening for Hollywood moguls was Justice League only taking US$93,842,239 million its opening weekend in N. America despite its US$300m production cost.  However Hollywood execs needed not fret: there is the rest of the world, the post-debut weekend box office revenue, DVD sales and television screen royalties. Indeed, after around just three weeks with rest-of-the-world revenue it made US$615, 000,000: over double its production cost. Since then additional profit continued to roll in: and the DVD has yet to be released.  You may by now be having a sense of déjà vous given the previous Blade Runner item above with many commentators seeking to create a story where none exists; we try not to do that here at SF² Concatenation mission control.

2001: A Space Odyssey extra 17 minutes footage found.  Discovered in Warner Brothers' Kansas salt-mine vault, the footage includes:-
          - an extra shot of primal man with the bone and the monolith in the background (as if we need the connection spelling out)
          - extra jogging around the discovery centrifuge (to ensure we get the artificial g)
          - a scene getting components from the stores prior to EVA replacement
extra EVA time (could be interesting?)
          Kubrick himself probably would not want these extra shots re-instated as he publicly said following the film's New York premiere that he deliberately made it shorter than it could have been for reason's of pacing. Warners has no plans at the moment to release an extended edition.

Frank Herbert’s Dune is to be made into a film, again.  It has been over a decade since the rumours of a re-make may take place and now it seems more concrete with the announcement of a director: though we must remember we have been here before with a 2008 announcement. Of course, David Lynch has cinematically done Dune in the reasonably respectable 1984 version. The latest director to be cited for a possible Dune film is Denis Villeneuve who did the remarkable Arrival and Blade Runner 2049.

Some cinemas are refusing to screen Star Wars: The Last Jedi due to new, onerous contracts. Disney is not only demanding a bigger box office royalty for this specific film but dictating minimum cinema run times.  Typically 55% or occasionally even 60% of a cinema's cash box office take for a new blockbuster in the US goes to the studio but, according to Wall Street Joural news, Disney are demanding 65% for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  Worse, especially for small cinemas, Disney demand that they screen the film daily for a whole month in each respective cinema's largest auditorium. For cinemas in small towns everyone who wants to see the film will do so in the first few days or couple of weeks at most. This means that such cinemas will be forced to screen it to largely empty theatres for weeks. There are also harsh penalty clauses if the cinema breaks Disney's terms. Consequently, a number of small cinemas in the US have decided that it is not simply worth their while showing the film.  YouTube report here.

The filming of the next Star Wars feature film has completed. Filming wrapped towards the end of October (2017) and it is now being edited with a title of Solo: A Star Wars Story. The film will look at Han Solo's (played by Alden Ehrenreich) and Chewbacca's (played by a mop Joonas Suotamo) early years before he met Luke Skywalker.  It is currently slated for release in late May (2018) in time for the school holidays.

New Star Wars trilogy green lit. Disney and Lucas Films have agreed to make a new Star Wars trilogy of films.  It will be helmed by Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson and his long-standing collaborator Ram Bergman as producer.  The new trilogy will move away from Skywalker and introduce new characters.  Disney shares that had just fallen by 1% on the announcement of an annual 4% fall in profits, rose by 1% following the announcement of the new trilogy.

Petition to strike Star Wars Last Jedi from the official sequence reaches over 45,000! Yes, the film has had a solid box office showing. Yes, the photography and effects are brilliant. Yes, it is a great family film for the kids.  But, it has divided fan reviews as well as mainstream media reviews let alone on sites such as Rotton Tomatoes: it's overly jokey, the story (arguably) ruins Luke Skywalker, and the white salt over the red whatever scene with the daft skimmers is just daft.  So Henry Walsh started a petition on Change.org which at the time of posting this news page has garnered just under 50,000 supporters calling Walt Disney to strike The Last Jedi from the official Star Wars canon.  Disney are too busy right now going to the bank following the film's box office receipts to comment.

The Star Wars Battlefront II  game stirs controversy and backlash.  The game has been criticised on two fronts. First, it is hard to gain, through winning games, enough credits to move onto the next level while at the same time it is possible to purchase credits by paying for them. This divides players into two groups: those who enjoy playing the Star Wars experience and those wealthy or profligate enough to buy progression through the game story.  Secondly, there is the way that cash payment for credits takes place. What happens is that players can buy 'loot crates' that contain an unknown content. Each crate costs the same but some contain a lot of game credits while others do not.  This, the argument goes, is simply gambling. Further, as the game's players include a substantial proportion of young players, the game is practically encouraging children to gamble.  And there is more. The game skews players to buying rather than playing for cash as there is a limit to the amount of credits that can be earned in a day through playing, but not through purchasing loot crates.  The firm Electronic Arts is behind the game based on the Disney franchise. Star Wars Battlefront II  costs between £49.99 - £69.99 in Britain and sells for around US$60 in N. America. It has been estimated that unlocking everything in the game costs over 4,500 hours of gaming or over £1,500 (over US$2,000).
          There is a fear that this might possibly be the start of a new trend in PC computer gaming.  Games played on mobile (cell) smartphones are usually free to buy but payments are needed to develop features or move to new levels: they only remain free at the most basic of levels.  The fear is that this economic model may be moving to PC computer games whereby the game – if not free could be sold at a reduced cost – with enhancement payments covering the manufacturers' costs.  It could be that free-to-play mechanics will encroach into full-price games.

The next Star Trek feature film could be directed by Quentin Tarantino. The Star Trek film franchise director and producer, J. J. Abrams is going to be busy with a forthcoming Star Wars film and so will not be available to direct the next Star Trek film.  The word has it that Quentin Tarantino is now set to direct the next Trek film.  Apparently he will use another writer but does want the film to have an 'R' rating and that Mark L. Smith (who worked on The Revenant). What is known is that Tarantino is a fan of the original, classic Star trek series.

YouTube short, Controller has been picked up by a major studio to become a feature film.  Iranian born US citizen Saman Keshavarz (a.k.a. Saman Kesh) has had his 2013 YouTube short, Controller, picked up by 20th Century Fox for a feature film.  Saman is to adapt and direct himself.  A girl that can control everything, hence feared by the authorities, perpetrates her own rescue by taking control of her boyfriend.  - You can see the 8-minute YouTube original here.

Short video clips (short films, other vids and trailers) that might tickle your fancy….

Film clip download tip!: The Beyond SF horror is being released in N. America as we post this seasonal news page.  Set in 2019, The Beyond chronicles the groundbreaking mission which sent astronauts - modified with advanced robotics - through a newly discovered wormhole known as the Void. When the mission returns unexpectedly, the space agency races to discover what the astronauts encountered…  You can see the trailer here.

Film clip download tip!: Annihilation is Alex Garland's forthcoming film. Brit director Alex Garland is, of course, known for scripting 28 Days Later, Dredd, and Ex Machina: the latter we rated back in January 2016 as one of the Best Films of the previous year and which subsequently was nominated to that year's Hugo short-list.  And Annihilation itself is Jeff VanderMeer's novel, the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy, that back in 2015 we cited as one of our choices as to the best SF books of the previous year and which subsequently was short-listed for the Locus Award as well as the Nebula which it went on to win. Annihilation is a joint Brit-US film due out in February (2018).  You can see the trailer here.

Film clip download tip!: Honest Trailers - Kingsman: The Secret Service. OK, so the sequel was probably not as good, but the first one was fun.  So how does that stand up to the Honest Trailer treatment?  Find out, you can see the Honest Trailer here.

Film clip download tip!: Iron Sky 3 (Iron Sky: The Ark is due out later this year.  Now, either you liked the politically irreverent first two, comedy action Iron Sky films or you hated them. Nonetheless, enough have enjoyed the first two indie Finn fan films for there to be a third slated to be released later this year!  A mysterious message is received from the Moon…  You can see the trailer here.

Film clip download tip!: Black Panther is the latest Marvel Comics franchise to hit the big screen.  It is due out next month, February (2018).  You can see the trailer here.

Film clip download tip!: Avengers: Infinity War first trailer attracts over 80 million views within first week!  There has been a glut of comic superhero films the past decade: some of which have been quite good; some of which – let's face it – very samey.  However, Avengers: Infinity War is stirring interest. In no small part this is because it I more than just The Avengers that assemble: Spiderman (Tom Holland), Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) is in the mix too.  Plus, at the trailer's end, another Marvel franchise!   You can see the trailer here.

Film clip download tip!: Batman Ninja is a new anime to come from Japan.  There's actually a fair bit of early interest in this forthcoming animé.  Batman, the Joker, Harley Quinn and Robin find themselves back in time in Japan in the Middle Ages. Will the Joker alter the timeline?  Batman Ninja screen story comes from the playwright and novelist Kazuki Nakashima.  You can see the trailer here.

Film clip download tip!: Alita: Battle Angel trailer now out.  An android is created but not everyone has her interests at heart.  James Cameron co-produces. Robert Rodriguez directs.  You can see the trailer here.

Film clip download tip!: Towards The Pantheon: Escaping Eternity, the SFnal computer game, has been released. A soldier wakes up in darkness with a headache - Where is he, and how did he get here?  You can see the launch video here.

Film clip download tip!: Honest Trailer - Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Long over due, Star Trek: Next Gen' gets the Honest Trailer treatment in this its 30th anniversary (hey, we're 30 too, don'tcha know?).  You can see the 8-minute film here.

Film clip download tip!: Blast from the past:  -- Audio of Harry Harrison talk at the 1971 British Eastercon.  The audio, with stills of people participating and/or mentioned, has been posted on YouTube by the very worthy FANAC Fan History folk.  Harry Harrison's talk at Eastercon 22 (Britain's 1971 national SF convention or natcon) includes a discourse on the introduction of sex into science fiction stories in the 1960s, with anecdotes about well-loved authors and editors including Brian Aldiss, Mack Reynolds, Ted Carnell and George O. Smith. In the mix there is how to get 'dirty bits' past editorial assistant Kay Tarrant. The last part is a rare perspective on John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding (later Analog magazine) and how it was to work with him. Audience interruptions include Anne McCaffrey and John Brunner.   You can hear the 50-minute audio with photographic stills here.

Want more? See last season's video clip recommendations here.

For a reminder of the top films in 2016/7 (and earlier years) then check out our top Science Fiction Films annual chart. This page is based on the weekly UK box office ratings over the past year up to Easter. You can use this page if you are stuck for ideas hiring a DVD for the weekend.

For a forward look as to film releases of 2018 see our film release diary.

Season's Editorial & Staff Stuff Key SF News & Awards
Film News Television News Publishing News
Forthcoming SF Books Forthcoming Fantasy Books Forthcoming Non-Fiction
General Science News Natural Science News Astronomy & Space News
Science & SF Interface Rest In Peace End Bits

Spring 2018

Television News

 

The 2017 Emmy Awards' genre wins dominated by The Handmaid's Tale and Black Mirror. The relevant category genre wins were:-
            Drama Series: The Handmaid’s Tale
            Directing, Drama: Reed Morano, The Handmaid’s Tale
            Actress, Drama Series: Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale
            Supporting Actress, Drama Series: Ann Dowd, The Handmaid’s Tale
            Writing, Drama: Bruce Miller, The Handmaid’s Tale
            Writing, Limited Series, Movie or Special: Charlie Brooker, Black Mirror 'San Junipero'
            Television 'Movie': Black Mirror
+++ See also Handmaid's Tale author Margret Atwood news in the Publishing News subsection.

Top 2017 genre TV in the US sees a surprise ratings win.  On the broadcast front Fox's Orville (the Galaxy Quest / Star Trek spoof) was the 21st most watched show of all television broadacast shows for the 18 – 49 age cohort.  However add to the broadcast channels the cable and internet services and HBO’s Game of Thrones was the most popular, followed by AMC’s The Walking Dead. Over here in the British Isles we lost The Walking Dead from FreeView channels a couple of years ago.  +++ Orville returns for a second season in 2018.

New series Star Trek: Discovery launched back at the start of the autumn (September 2017) gets a mixed reception.  as we reported last season, back in the summer doubts were being expressed by some fans.  Yet naturally many were curious and wanted to give the series a chance.  In the US nearly 10 million tuned in to CBS, while others without access to that channel turned to good, old-fashioned piracy. Towards the end of September the premiere episode became the twelfth most actively pirated show among users of the Pirate Bay. However this is not encouraging given the way other, commercially successful, genre shows are pirated (the Game of Thrones piracy being the notable example).  According top some fans, problems with Star Trek: Discovery include: Enterprise design; the unnecessary new look given the Klingons; over use of lens flare (an old problem that should have been avoided given the Abram's apology); the so heavy-handed gender politicisation (with – in LGBTIA terms – an LGB focus that is so 1990s and which should have been TIA focused if it was to be currently societally challenging, as was the interracial Uhura-Kirk kiss back in the 1960s).  And all this without considering episode plots: a crew member getting out of their own ship's brig by simply talking to the computer. Puleazzze!  Having said that, the series has attracted enough viewers, and the franchise has such a longstanding economic reputation, that Star Trek: Discovery has been granted a second season!  It seems that enough Star Trek fans took up a subscription to the CBS streaming service to make another season viable. Indeed, CBS has announced that new subscribers for its streaming service had reached their highest level to date.  It will be interesting to see if Star Trek: Discovery makes it beyond the second season.

The Magicians is a new fantasy series on SyFy.  In case you missed the first episode (out the same week we posted this seasonal news page), there's a new fantasy series on SyFy that has two strands: one set in the modern world and another in a fantasy dimension. A small group quest to bring magic back to the world.  You can see the trailer here.

Season 11 of The X-Files is due to be broadcast as we post this season's news (January 2018).  The six-episode season 10's ratings demonstrated that a further season was commercially viable (we previously reported back in the autumn of 2016 the go-ahead for a 10-episode season 11.  The news season sees a continuation of season 10's ending with season 11's overall arc seeing Mulder and Scully searching for their son against a backdrop of alien decimation of humanity…  You can see the season 11 trailer here.

Z Nation has been renewed for anther season Z Nation’s season 4 finale had barely been broadcast when hours later it was announced that the series had been renewed for another season. Good job as the season 4 finale saw something of a cliff-hanger with the beginning of the end of the world, again!

Counterpart is a new SF series out this month (January 2018)  Featuring an international cast, Counterpart sees a UN employee discovering that the agency he works for is actually hiding a gateway to a parallel dimension…  Initially it will be aired on the US subscription channel Starz but may be licensed further.  So far two 10-episode seasons have been ordered so we can expect some story arc.  You can see the trailer here.

Stargate Origins is a new SF web-series series starting mid-February (2018).  Set in World War II it covers the time the first Stargate was discovered. The series was created to mark the 20th anniversary of Stargate SG1 television series.  The web-series will consist of ten, 10-minute episodes and so, combined, make a feature film. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is behind the venture.  Teaser trailer here.

Tom Baker has just filmed a new scene for an unshot episode of an unreleased Dr Who episode in a replica of the 1970s' TARDIS set. The Douglas Adams scripted adventure 'Shada' was ditched after one episode as it could not be shot due to a strike at the BBC. Though the other episodes were filmed, budget constraints and scheduling prevented the final episode from being shot. However it has now been completed in the form of an animation with Tom Baker providing the voice. One scene was shot in real life with Tom Baker on a mock-up of the 1970s TARDIS (from which you might suspect that a 1970s TARDIS might feature in an episode this year (2018) of the new Doctor Who). The adventure 'Shada' sees the Doctor in Cambridge with Romana and a retired Time Lord, Professor Chronotis, to defeat the evil alien Skagra who is attempting to steal the secrets to the prison planet Shada.  Because the adventure was never used Adams later took the character Chronotis and parts of the plot for his novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. The restored and re-shot adventure is available on DVD from BBC Worldwide.

New Doctor Who season's further details. Further to last season's announcement of the new doctor being female, Jodie Whittaker's companions have revealed to be Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill. Bradley Walsh will star as Graham, Tosin Cole will play Ryan and Mandip Gill will play Yasmin. Jodie Whittaker debuted as the new Doctor taking over from Peter Capaldi in the recently aired Christmas (2017) episode. The new season with the new cast will air in the autumn.  Former pro football player (Brentford) Bradely Walsh is best-known for hosting quiz game shows like The Chase and Wheel of Fortune, and the long-running British soap opera Coronation Street playing Danny Baldwin (2004-06).  Mandip Gill was Phoebe McQueen in the soap Hollyoaks.  Tosin Cole has appeared in a sci-fi offering before, albeit a lesser part, as a Star Wars: The Force Awakens member of the Red Squadron.  The new autumnal season will be a little shorter than the previous 12-episode seasons being a 10-week run of 50-minute episodes in starting with a special hour-long launch show.

Doctor Who theme musician receives posthumous doctorate. The Doctor Who was composed by Ron Grainer who then worked with electrical sound engineer and musician Delia Derbyshire. It was she who took Grainer's written score and realised it as sound. Alas Derbyshire was effectively barred from recording studios such was the gender discrimination of the 1960s but made a home at the BBC. She died a few years ago but has now had a doctorate (PhD) conferred on her from Coventry University in recognition of her pioneering work. You can hear the theme here.

Altered Carbon TV series trailer is out.  Well NetFlix is just a tad slower than we perhaps thought last year it might as it due to commence airing 2nd February (2018). The series is based on Richard Morgan's set of novels.  It is set in a future where consciousness is digitised and stored in cortical stacks implanted in the spine, allowing humans to survive physical death by having their memories and consciousness 're-sleeved' into new bodies. The story follows specially trained 'Envoy' soldier Takeshi Kovacs, who is downloaded from an off-world prison and into the body of a disgraced cop at the behest of Laurens Bancroft, a highly influential aristocrat. Bancroft was killed, and the last automatic backup of his stack was made hours before his death, leaving him with no memory of who killed him and why. While police ruled it a suicide, Bancroft is convinced he was murdered and wants Kovacs to find out the truth.  See the trailer here.

French SF series Missions to come to BBC.  Missions was created by Henri Debeurme, Julien Lacombe and Ami Cohen.  The 10-part series concerns a private mission to Mars which, a day before planet-fall find out that a rival US team has just beaten them. However, after an 'exciting' landing they discover a human on Mars but, not from the US team, he is a Russian from a far earlier and unknown mission from way back in the 1960s…!  Missions will be broadcast on BBC4.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is to return to BBC Radio 4. The return in the form of a new series marks the 40th anniversary of the broadcast of what was to become the first season, written by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd.  The first season, and the subsequent solo Christmas episode, were hugely successful with the public and it was nominated for (short-listed) for a Hugo Award 'Best Dramatic Presentation'.  Such was its success that Douglas Adams subsequently wrote novelisations and there was a vinyl record version of the show as well as two theatrical plays (the first less successful), a television series and finally a film (based on Adam's contributions to the first season). The subsequent radio series seasons did not have the underpinning coherence beneath the seeming chaotic scenarios played out. Not surprisingly, they did not attract the ratings of season 1 and the Christmas episode.  Series three to five were co-written with those seasons' producer, Dirk Maggs.  Dirk Maggs is behind this new season which will be based on the sequel book by Eoin Colfer.  However, if you really want to celebrate Hitchhiker's 40th then you could do no better than re-visit the original first season and Christmas episode of the show. You will then be able to fairly judge how this forthcoming new season stands up. The good news is that Simon Jones will return as Arthur Dent, Geoff McGivern as Ford Prefect and Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod Beeblebrox.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency will not get a third season. The BBC has not renewed the series. It looks like the curse of Dirk Gently has struck again.

The Lord of the Rings is to come to Amazon TV. Yes, Amazon has jumped on the financial bandwagon given that the Peter Jackson trilogy has earned over £4 billion (US5.4 billion). The upcoming Amazon Prime Original will be available for Prime members to stream using the Amazon Prime Video app for TVs, connected devices including Amazon Fire TV, and mobile devices, or online with other Amazon Prime Originals online.  Amazon has an eye for money given their apparent: Amazon bullying small publishers; Amazon big-publisher dust offs such as the Hachette dispute in 2014; British book buyer backlash against Amazon that Christmas, theEuropean Commission ruling Amazon contract with publishers are anti-competitive and potentially illegal, employment conditions and, of course, tax concerns.  Given that in part The Lord of the Rings was a rallying cry against some of the social consequences of Britain's industrial revolution, one wonders what J. R. R. Tolkien would have made of it all?  The news of the Amazon deal comes as the 93-year-old Christopher Tolkien (Tolkien's son) stands down from the Tolkien estate. Christopher Tolkien has been known for ensuring that preserving J. R. R. Tolkien's literary heritage was the estate's principal concern, above that of making financial profit, but it could be argued that that strategy has itself had its long-term financial rewards.

Nightflyers, the 1980 novella by George R. R. Martin, is to be a TV series. The science fiction series – yes, it is not fantasy – will have a season of 10 episodes.  There has previously been a 1987 (released 1988) B-movie film (see the 1987/8 film trailer here).  A scientist hires a spaceship to get to the source of weird signals from deep space. But then things get lethal…  The novella is horror SF and Martin was wondering how they could expand the short novella to a 10-episode series but he has seen the script of the new series' pilot episode and seems happy.  SyFy is to broadcast.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch is set to return to television.  Based on the Archie Comics series of the same name, the original Sabrina the Teenage Witch television sitcom ran on ABC from 1996 to 2003 with Melissa Joan Hart in the lead. The series featured a 16-year-old high school student, Sabrina Spellman, who finds out she is a witch and is offered advice by her two aunts Zelda and Hilda. A pilot re-boot episode has been commissioned by the US television network The CW.

A Harley Quinn animated series is on the way. Harley Quinn, the Batman's Joker's 'girl friend', last appeared on the big screen in Suicide Squad (2016) and played by Margot Robbie (trailer here).  The word has it that Margot is being approached to voice Harley in the animated series. The series itself will follow Harley establishing herself in Gotham's underworld following splitting up from the Joker. The series will consist of 26 half-hour episodes and it is hoped it might hit our television screens by the end of the year.

Armando Iannucci (The Thick of It) is to write an SF comedy. The new comedy is apparently set in the future in outer space. It will be broadcast by HBO which has also produced Veep (trailer here) – a kind of US version of The Thick of It minus the strong language – created by Iannucci and co-written by him with a British team up to 2015.  Shooting of the new SF comedy is expected to begin shortly in London.

Stephen King's novella 'N' to become a mini-series.  'N' is a Lovecraftian tale concerning a psychiatric patient ('N') and an ancient circle of standing stones that features a dimensional portal on the other side of which is a monster. The patient's doctor at first presumes N to be delusional but then comes to suspect that there may perhaps be something there…  'N' first appeared in the Stephen King collection Just After Sunset (2008). Previously it was adapted to a Marvel comics mini-series and an animated version of this as a straight-to-DVD.  Now, Gaumont Television has picked up the rights and is developing the series as 8.

New Dr Who novelisation collection is to come out this April.  Great writers, big news. – See the story below in the Publishing and Book Trade subsection.

The Midwich Cuckoos dramatised on BBC Radio 4 and available online on the BBC i-Player. Yes, we know this is radio and not television, but we don't have a radio subsection… John Wyndham's 1957 novel (also filmed twice as Village of the Damned (1960 and 1995)) has been dramatised by the BBC.  The story concerns the impact of aliens implanting human-like embryos in the women of a village while the entire village's population was briefly rendered unconscious within a sort of force field.  The resulting children grow up to be hyper intelligent.  The new radio dramatisation has an entire cast that is disabled (with also a good ethnic mix).  The first episode was broadcast on 31st December 2017 and will be available for streaming on the BBC i-Player for at least a month.

Season's Editorial & Staff Stuff Key SF News & Awards
Film News Television News Publishing News
Forthcoming SF Books Forthcoming Fantasy Books Forthcoming Non-Fiction
General Science News Natural Science News Astronomy & Space News
Science & SF Interface Rest In Peace End Bits

Spring 2018

Publishing & Book Trade News

 

Margret Atwood wins German book trade 'Peace' award. She wins the €25,000 Peace Prize of the German Book trade equivalent of Britain's Publisher Association. The Canadian author won for her 'political intuition and clairvoyance when it comes to dangerous underlying trends and currents'.  +++ See also Atwood's Handmaid's Tale television series Emmy wins in the Television subsection above.

Philip Pullman along with 148 other authors of juvenile fiction, have written to the Education Secretary regarding the 'shocking decline' of school libraries. The children's authors wrote to Education Secretary Justine Greening calling her to state she supports the 'value of literacy'. Currently it has been estimated that a quarter of Britain's schools have no school librarian. The authors also point out that while the provision of staffed public and prison libraries is a legal requirement, the provision of staffed school libraries is not. School libraries (as well as public libraries) have seen significant cuts since the 2007/8 global financial crash. Also England has lower rates of teenage literacy compared to some other similar developed nations. The government has responded saying it is funding schools but it is up to schools as to how they spend their budgets. The counter to the government's counter might be that while school budgets overall have (only) recently been maintained in real-terms, they have not on a per pupil basis as the number of school children has risen.  +++ Previous Philip Pullman news includes that authors should be properly paid to attend events.

British library closures continue. The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy report that the 12 months to April (2017) saw a cut in local government funding of some £66 million resulting in the closure of 105 public libraries (2.7% of the total). There are now 3,745 public libraries in the UK.

Last Paddington Bear book to be published in 2018.  The final book will be called Paddington at St Paul's and its publication will coincide with the 60th anniversary of A Bear Called Paddington as well as being a year on from the author's demise last June. The reason for the Paddington adventure centring around St Paul's cathedral is that Michael Bond was involved in last year's National Service of Thanksgiving for the Queen's 90th birthday and at which an essay by Michael Bond was read out by Sir David Attenborough FIBiolPaddington at St Paul's sees Paddington mistaken for a choirboy.  Harper Collins is publishing.

New Doctor Who ‘Target Collection’ of books by all-star writers due out in April.  For many years (some breaks aside) since the first Doctor who back in the 1960s, there have been Doctor Who novelisations with the imprint Target being somewhere in the mix. Recent novelisations have come out via the BBC Books imprint from the publisher Penguin Randomhouse, but BBC Books are now harking back to the original Target this April (2018) with a series of novelisations called the ‘Target Collection’.  And have they a line up of writers for you…  Award-winning writer and Who episode screenstory writer Paul Cornell and the author Jenny Colgan are adapting the 2017 Christmas episode and the first full David Tennant episode.  Ecclestone and Tennant era Dr Who helmsman Russell T. Davies and Capaldi era series overseer Steven Moffat will pen novelisations of the first of the new era of Who episodes with the first Ecclestone adventure, and the 50th anniversary three doctor (Tennant, Smith and Hurt) episodes respectively.  These four novelisations take us from “Nice to meet you, Rose. Run for your life!” to Capaldi's final 'Twice Upon a Time' Christmas episode.  Dare we say it, but this all sounds better than fish fingers and custard.

Britain's book publishers punch above their weight in the global market. According to the Livres Hebdo/Bookseller ranking, the UK's top five publishers have a revenue of £10.3 billion (€13.2 bn) that accounted for 24.5% of global turnover in 2016/7 publishing (note: these are publisher receipts and not bookseller receipts).  The nearest rival to this is the US top eight publishers who took 27.7% of global publisher turnover of €14.5 billion. The US top eight publishers clearly take more that Britain's top five but this comparison has to be borne in context of the US population being nearly five times that of the UK's.

Emma Newman has been signed by Gollancz. Gollancz has bought four novels in Newman's 'Planetfall' universe (see three listed in the forthcoming SF boks subsection below). Emma Newman is well known in North America and her Planetfall books were or riginally published by Ace Books in the US. After Atlas was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke (Book) Award in 2017. Emma Newman writes dark short stories and science fiction and urban fantasy novels.

Amazon must pay its tax, says European Commission.  Among a number of issues, there has been long-standing concern over Amazon's tax arrangements by the public as well as an all-party Parliamentary Select Committee.  Now the European Union has ordered Amazon to pay£221 million (€250m; US$293m) in back taxes after the European Commission said it had been given an unfairly lenient tax deal in Luxembourg. This is further to a 2016 ruling that that Amazon's Irish tax benefits were illegal.
          No mistake, Amazon has become a giant that affects both book publishing and tradition, bricks-and-mortar booksellers. Back in 2003 Amazon's global turnover reached around US1 billion, in 2016/7 it had a turnover of US$44 billion: its business practices and ethics cannot be ignored.  +++  Apparent concerns of other Amazon practices include: bullying small publishers, claims as to Amazon employee conditions, concerns over Amazon's domination of the market place and disputes with major publishers. Not to mention fears that its market impacts have helped cause high street bookshops to close and its unfair contracts with book publishers.

This year's Frankfurt Book Fayre saw reported (Bookseller 20th October 2017) concerns over Amazon seeking global rights.  Books are sold globally within different rights territories. This is necessary because: different nations' currencies have different purchasing parity; distant nations (such as Australia and New Zealand) have more expensive books; and some nations receive developed nations publisher discounts (such as being sold titles at little over print run-on costs and lower royalties).  But Amazon has introduced the Amazon Global Store and if Amazon secures global rights then it can sell editions at the lowest rights territory rate anywhere in the world Amazon is located making the book rights territories leaky, and eat further into publisher margins which also impacts on author royalties (authors typically receive a percentage of publisher receipts). Amazon, of course, denies that there is a problem.

Authors are being imposted on Amazon.  Authors have been reporting that they have found themselves associated with titles they have not written on Amazon. It is possible to sign up for an Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing account, upload an e-book and have it on sale in minutes. There is no check that the person signing up is who they say they are. So what better way for the scurrilous than to associate their fake book with a real author and so get sales from the real author's reader base.

Bricks and mortar bookshops and nations' economies are undermined by large on-line booksellers' data shows.  The Centre for Economics & Business Research has published a report, commissioned by the Booksellers Association, titled Bookselling Britain.  It concludes that UK bookshops contribute more than £1.9 billion (US$2.5 bn) to the economy, supports 46,000 jobs paying £415 million (US$0.54 billion) in wages, and pays £131 million (US$170m) in tax including £12 million in corporation tax.  This means that traditional bricks-and-mortar booksellers pay tax of 91p per £100 turnover. This compares with the on-line retailer Amazon that pays just 8p per £100 turnover. Our books may be cheaper from large online book retailers but we pay for it in having to make up tax shortfall or increased national debt on which interest has to be paid.  +++ Separately, relating to Amazon European Commission tax concerns above, the EC has noted that technology companies (such as Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook) pay less than half the tax of their counterpart bricks-and-mortar businesses.

UK decline in independent bookshops possibly ceases decade trend! The Bookseller Association made a preliminary announcement (subject to data checking) saying that the number of independent bookshops in the UK has not declined in 2017. For 11 years the number of independent bookshops has declined year-on-year: there were 1,535 in 2005 but only 867 in 2016. The Booksellers Association will make a detailed announcement shortly.

Book World Inc. is closing all its bookshops in the Mid-West US. 45 bookshop closures will take place. Book World blames on-line book retailing undermining the bricks-and-mortar book trade.  +++ Previous news – Barnes & Noble plan to close bookshopsOver 200 US bookshops closeBookshop closures undermine overall booksalesNumber of UK bookshops falls below a thousand

Roughly half working in the UK book trade subject to harassment and/or abuse survey suggests. The Bookseller trade magazine conducted a survey that saw 54% of women and 34% of men experienced harassment in the workplace.  The Bookseller's editor admits that this may very well be an inflated figure: there were only 388 respondents to the voluntary survey compared to the many thousands working in publishing and bookselling. Nonetheless this is a worrying result. Apparently there is a trend and it seems that senior staff and/or authors (both men and women) are taking advantage of junior staff. That there are more men in senior positions may part explain the gender bias. Men are not exempt from unwanted touching and being felt up by senior women. The greatest risk was among publicists which is a high turnover profession consisting largely of young staff who also are often the sole publisher representative on tour with authors: 66% of publicist respondents claimed they had experienced harassment. Another risk group is those working in bookstores as customers can feel that the service demeanour is an invitation.

Season's Editorial & Staff Stuff Key SF News & Awards
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Forthcoming SF Books Forthcoming Fantasy Books Forthcoming Non-Fiction
General Science News Natural Science News Astronomy & Space News
Science & SF Interface Rest In Peace End Bits

Spring 2018

Forthcoming SF Books

 

Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen by Douglas Adams and James Goss, BBC Books, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-785-94105-4.
A lost Doctor Who adventure by Douglas Adams, based on recently discovered material in the Adams archive.  Intergalactic war? That’s just not cricket … or is it? The Doctor promised Romana the end of the universe, so she’s less than impressed when what she gets is a cricket match. But then the award ceremony is interrupted by eleven figures in white uniforms and peaked skull helmets, wielding bat-shaped weapons that fire lethal bolts of light into the screaming crowd. The Krikkitmen are back.

Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet by Douglas Adams and James Goss, BBC Books, £7.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-849-90678-4.
The classic Doctor Who adventure by Douglas Adams, novelised at last for the first time in mass-market paperback. The hugely powerful Key to Time has been split into six segments, all of which have been disguised and hidden throughout time and space. Now the even more powerful White Guardian wants the Doctor to find the pieces. With the first segment successfully retrieved, the Doctor, Romana and K-9 trace the second segment of the Key to the planet Calufrax. But when they arrive at exactly the right point in space, they find themselves on exactly the wrong planet – Zanak.

Ivon by Michael Alwin, Reddoor, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-910-45346-9.
This is a debut novel. Set in 2144 and the world is powered by sport. Each community owes its prosperity to the success of its teams and a person's class is determined by their attitude to sport...

Planet of the Apes: Omnibus 4 by William Arrow, Hard Case Crime, £7.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-785-65395-7.
Three novelisations of episodes from the 1970s television series.

The Secret Loves of Geeks edited by Margaret Attwood, Dark Horse, £12.50, pbk, ISBN 978-1-506-704473-9.
A graphic novel follow-up anthology to The Secret Lives of Geek Giants.

The Redemption of Time by Baoshu, Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-788-54220-3.
The 'Three Body Problem' books have been franchised out to other authors and first up is Baoshu, or ‘divine tree’. It is the pen-name of Li Jun who studied philosophy at Peking University and who wrote 'Three Body Problem' fan fiction.  At the end of the fourth year of the Crisis Era, Yun Tianming, riddled with cancer, chose to end his life. His decision was the first step in a journey that would take him to the end of the universe and beyond. His brain was extracted from his body, flash frozen, put aboard a spacecraft and launched on a trajectory that will intercept the Trisolarian First Fleet in a few centuries. It is a desperate plan, almost certain to fail. But there is an infinitesimal chance that one day Tianming may, somehow, be able to send valuable information back to Earth. And so he does. His broadcasts from the Trisolarian fleet reveal the secrets of faster than light propulsion and the ultimate defence of black domains. This is Tianming’s story. It reveals what happened to him when he was intercepted by the Trisolarians. It reveals the true nature of the struggle that has created the universal ‘dark forest’, and the ultimate fate of the Universe…

Iron Gods by Andrew Bannister, Bantam, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 97-0-857-50336-7.
Space opera worthy of Iain Banks. The Spin is an ancient and artificial assemblage of 22 stars and 88 planets. Many of these last are the home of various human civilizations: some advanced; some less so. But the advanced worlds at the Spin’s core are in decline for a number of centuries. Staving off this decline has warranted some drastic measures including the creation of some worker colonies: slavery on an industrial scale.  A small band of slave from one such 'Hive', against the odds, escape taking an ancient battleship, the last of the great ships that used to abound in the Spin.  Click on the title link for a full standalonereview.

Xeelee: Redemption by Stephen Baxter, Gollancz, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-473-21721-8.
Not so much wide-screen space opera but IMAX screen space opera.  The Xeelee are back for the last time… Michael Poole finds himself in a very strange landscape . . . the centre of the Galaxy where the Xeelee have built an immense structure. The Belt has a radius ten thousand times Earth’s orbital distance. It is a light year in circumference and rotates at near lightspeed. The purpose of the Belt is to preserve a community of Xeelee into the very far future, when they will be able to tap dark energy, a universe-spanning antigravity field, for their own purposes. But it has attracted populations of lesser species. And Poole, at last, finds the Xeelee who led the destruction of Earth… This follows on from Xeelee Vengeance.

The Forge of God by Greg Bear, Gollancz, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-473-22266-3.
This 1987 novel joins Gollancz's SF Masterworks series.  Set in the then future of 1996, Europa (one of Jupiter's moons) disappears. Shortly after, a mysterious mound is found in the Californian desert and turns out to be a disguised spaceship. Beside it lies a dying alien which, when approached, says 'I'm sorry, but there is bad news…' Recommended.

Outer Earth by Rob Boffard, Orbit, £12.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51000-2.
This is an omnibus edition of the 'Outer Earth' novels Tracer, Zero-G and Impact.  Outer Earth is a giant, crowded and dirty space station orbiting the ruins of Earth.

Zero Day by Ezekiel Boone, Gollancz, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-473-21523-8.
The first hatching was defeated, the second wave of spiders ended civilisation, now something else is coming… The world is on the brink of apocalypse. Zero Day has come. The only thing more terrifying than millions of spiders is the realisation that they work as one. Question: kill all the spiders, or gamble on Professor Guyer’s theory that only the Queens need to die? For President Pilgrim, it’s an easy answer. With two dozen US cities nuked, the country torn asunder – the only answer is to believe Guyer. The Military disagrees, raising a new question: what’s more dangerous, the spiders or us?

Black Mirror Vol. 1 by Charlie Brooker, Cory Doctorow, Claire North and Sylvain Neuvel, Del Rey, £12.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-785-036743-1.
Shorts inspired by the excellent, dark SF television series.  Now that the series has moved from a FreeView channel (Channel 4) and is behind a subscription service, Netflix, for some of us this is a chance to assuage our Black Mirror habit.

The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey, Orbit, £7.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-50356-1.
Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy. The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world. To where the monsters lived…  Set in the world of The Girl with All the Gifts.  Click on the title link for a standalone review.

Charlatans by Robin Cook, Macmillan, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-447-2985-0.
Medical technothriller. A hospital's internal investigator is looking into an unusual number of death's on the hospital's operating tables and uncovers an intense feud between the staff.

The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett, Pan, £7.99, pbk, ISBN 978-150-983355-9.
Space opera and a women flees to the colony worlds to escape a plague virus.

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich, Corsair, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-472-15336-4.
The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on Earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. Thirty-two-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant. Cedar feels compelled to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, to understand both her and her baby's origins. As Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fuelled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity. There are rumours of martial law, of Congress confining pregnant women, of a registry and rewards for those who turn these wanted women in.  Don't be surprised if this gets short-listed for a juried SF award or two.

The Blood of the Hoopoe by Naomi Foyle, Jo Fletcher Books, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-782-06924-9.
Science fantasy. This is the third in the 'Gaia Chronicles'.

Stained Light by Naomi Foyle, Jo Fletcher Books, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-782-06925-6.
Science fantasy. This is the fourth in the 'Gaia Chronicles'. An infertility crisis is threatening the survival of humankind and mining disturbs the spirit of the Earth…

Star Wars: The Last Jedi by Jason Fry, Century, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-780-89841-4.
Rey continues her epic journey with Finn, Poe, and Luke Skywalker in this novelisation of the Star Wars: The Last Jedi film.

Star Wars: Battlefront II – Inferno Squad by Christie Golden, Arrow, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-784-75294-1.
Set in the aftermath of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, this prequel to the hotly anticipated videogame Battlefront II introduces the Empire’s elite force: Inferno Squad. After the humiliating theft of the Death Star plans and the destruction of the battle station, the Empire is on the defensive. But not for long. In retaliation, the elite Imperial soldiers of Inferno Squad have been called in for the crucial mission of infiltrating and eliminating the Partisans—the rebel faction once led by notorious Republic freedom fighter Saw Gerrera. Click on the title link for a standalone review.

The Quanderhorn Xperimentations by Rob Grant and Andrew Marshall, Gollancz, £12.99, hrdbk, ISBN to be confirmed at time of posting.
England, 1952. Churchill is Prime Minister for the last time. Rationing is still in force. all music sounds like the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. People like living in 1952. Few have noticed it’s been 1952 for the past 65 years… Join Professor Quanderhorn and his associates as they do their best to defeat Mole People, Martian Invasions and Beatniks from under the sea. And all with a stiff upper lip! – Tie-in novel to a new six-part BBC Radio 4 comedy show.

The Forever Ship by Francesca Haig, Harper Voyager, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-007-56316-6.
In a world of Alphas and their weaker Omega twins, Cass and Zach have the power to change the world…  Apparently Dreamworks have the option rights for a film.

Rogue Trader: The Omnibus by Andy Hoare, Black Library, £15, pbk, ISBN 978-1-784-96681-2.
Space opera concerning trader operating in uncharted reaches of the Galaxy…

The Smoke by Simon Ings, Gollancz, £16.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-0-575-09844-2.
Science fantasy.  New ray has split the human family into different species. Each kind of human is looking for a place to be itself, alone. For you that means a train journey back to Yorkshire, where factories churn out parts for gigantic spaceships. You’re done with the pretentions of the capital. You’re done with the people of the Bund, their easy superiority and unstoppable spread from the City of London to south of the Thames. You’re done with Georgy Chernoy, his magical medicine and his defeat of death. You’re done with his daughter. You’re done with Fel, and losing all the time. You’re done with love.

The Dark Judges: Tainted - Fall of Deadworld by Kek-W & David Kendall, 2000AD, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-781-08603-2.
Graphic novel.  Yes, this came out back in November and, yes, we mentioned this last time, but back then the pre-publication promotion had incorrect author details. Besides all this, we can now confirm that the David Kendall artwork is simply brilliant. This graphic is a kind of prequel that adds to the Judge Death story arc that began with The Dark Judges way back in 1980 and which has its latest continuation just (December 2017) end in the monthly Judge Dredd Megazine. Having said that, it is sufficiently complete in itself that it can be read as a standalone. The story concerns a parallel Earth before the Dark Judges exterminated all human life (under the rationale that only the living commit crime). Deadworld (in a parallel dimension) was once a planet similar to Earth, until Judge Death and his brothers Fear, Fire and Mortis deemed that as only the living could break the law, life itself should be a crime. As the Dark Judges set out to bring extinction to this parallel world, Judge Fairfax and a family of farmers attempt to escape the chaos. Is it possible for the living to evade to cold, icy grasp of Death? This chilling collection also features the Dreams of Deadworld strips, giving an extraordinary insight into the undead psyches of the internationally famous super-fiends. Excellent science fantasy.

Exodus by Alex Lamb, Gollancz, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-473-20615-1.
One hope remains for humanity that has been all but wiped out by hive mind AIs and machines… See also the review for Lamb's Roboteer.

Remembrance of Earth’s Past by Cixin Liu, Head of Zeus, £100, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-788-54028-5.
A limited collector's edition omnibus of the Hugo-winning 'Three Body' trilogy. By turns sombre, lyrical, and hopeful, the Remembrance of Earth’s Past omnibus comprises The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forestand Death’s End. Not only a remembrance of Earth’s past but a reflection on humanity’s future, the trilogy weaves a complex web of physics, philosophy and history, taking the reader from the Cultural Revolution to the heat death of the universe. Cixin Liu’s vision has gained a cult following all around the world, not only hard-core SF fans but also tech titans and presidents.  This is a numbered and signed one-volume edition of the books.

Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald, Gollancz, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-473-20227-6.
This is the follow up to 2015’s Luna: New Moon that sees a near future battle for power between competing family businesses on the moon. New Moon was Dallas meets Game of Thrones, and Wolf Moon is just the same, but with added teeth and claws…  Click on the title link for a full standalone review.

Fever by Deon Meyer, Hodder, £7.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-473-61444-4.
Most of humanity has been wiped out by a virus and a fathers is searching for a place of refuge…

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller, Orbit, £12.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51002-6.
After the climate wars, a floating city was constructed in the Arctic Circle. Once a remarkable feat of mechanical and social engineering, it has started to crumble under the weight of its own decay – crime and corruption have set in, a terrible new disease is coursing untreated through the population, and the contradictions of incredible wealth alongside deepest poverty are spawning unrest.  Into this turmoil comes a strange new visitor – a woman accompanied by an orca and a chained polar bear. She disappears into the crowds looking for someone she lost thirty years ago, followed by whispers of a vanished people who could bond with animals. Her arrival draws together four people and sparks a chain of events that will lead to unprecedented acts of resistance.  Miller is known for his fantasy and have been nominated for the Nebula, World Fantasy and Theodore Sturgeon Awards plus he is a winner of the Shirley Jackson Award. Now he turns to SF.  From the competitive pricing, and that this is one of the few hardbacks Orbit are publishing this spring, the publishers must reckon that this could do well.

Into the Fire by Elizabeth Moon, Orbit, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-50630-2.
When Admiral Kylara Vatta and a ship full of strangers were marooned on an inhospitable Arctic island, they uncovered secrets that someone on Ky's planet was ready to kill to keep hidden. Now, the existence of the mysterious arctic base has been revealed, but the organisation behind it still lurks in the shadows, doing all it can to silence her.  It is up to the intrepid Ky to force the perpetrators into the light, and uncover decades' worth of secrets – some of which lie at the very heart of her family's greatest tragedy.

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51122-1.
Debut SF. Earth, 2144. Jack is an anti-patent scientist turned drug pirate, traversing the world in a submarine as a pharmaceutical Robin Hood, fabricating cheap medicines for those who can't otherwise afford them. But her latest drug hack has left a trail of lethal overdoses as people become addicted to their work, doing repetitive tasks until they become unsafe or insane.  Hot on her trail, an unlikely pair: Eliasz, a brooding military agent, and his indentured robotic partner, Paladin. As they race to stop information about the sinister origins of Jack's drug from getting out, they begin to form an uncommonly close bond that neither of them fully understands.  Billed as 'Autonomous is to biotech and AI what Neuromancer was to the Internet'.

After Atlas by Emma Newman, Gollancz, £8.99, pbk, ISBN to be confirmed at time of posting.
Return to the universe of Planetfall (see below)…One man’s murder is much more than it seems. Gov-corp detective Carlos Moreno was only a baby when Atlas left Earth to seek truth among the stars. But in that moment, the course of Carlos’s entire life changed. Atlas is what took his mother away; what made his father lose hope; what led Alejandro Casales, leader of the religious cult known as the Circle, to his door?

Before Mars by Emma Newman, Gollancz, £8.99, pbk, ISBN to be confirmed at time of posting.
Set in the Planetfall (see next book below) universe this standalone is a dark tale of a woman stationed on Mars who slowly starts to doubt her own memories and sanity. After months of travel, Anna Kubrick finally arrives on Mars for her new job as a geologist and de facto artist-in-residence. She’ll be on Mars for over a year. Throwing herself into her work, she tries her best to fit in with the team. Then Anna finds a mysterious note written in her own handwriting, she can’t remember writing. Her wedding ring has also been replaced by a fake…

Planetfall by Emma Newman, Gollancz, £8.99, pbk, ISBN to be confirmed at time of posting.
A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Renata Ghali believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown. More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone.

84K by Claire North, Orbit, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-356-50737-8.
A vision of a world where nothing is so precious that it can't be bought . . . What if your life were defined by a number? What if any crime could be committed, so long as you could afford to pay the penalty fee? Theo works in the Criminal Audit Office. He assesses each crime that crosses his desk and makes sure the correct debt to society is paid in full. But when Theo's ex-lover Dani is killed, it's different. This is one death he can't let become merely an entry on a balance sheet. Because when the richest in the world are getting away with murder, sometimes the numbers just don't add up.  Claire North is a pseudonym for the Carnegie Award-nominated British author Catherine Webb. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was her first novel published under the Claire North name.

Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer, Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-786-69951-0
The second episode (following Too Like the Lightening ) in the 'Terra Ignota' series from the John W. Campbell Award Winner.   It is 2454. Humanity has engineered a hard-won golden age, forged in the aftermath of a bitter conflict that wiped both religion and nation state from the planet. Now seven factions or ‘hives’ co-govern the world by technological abundance, oracular statistical analysis, censorship and just a little blood. For centuries, the price of peace has been a few secret murders, mathematically planned. Convict Mycroft Canner knows more about this conspiracy than he can ever admit, but he also conceals a much greater threat to the seven hives – a wild card no degree of statistical analysis could have prophesied. This threat takes the unlikely form of a thirteen-year-old called Bridger. For how will a world that has banished God deal with a child who can perform miracles?  Intellectually brilliant!

Humans, Bow Down by James Patterson, Arrow, £7.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-784-75433-4
A dystopian science-fiction thriller. In a world run by machines, humans are an endangered species. The Great War is over. The robots have won. The humans who survived have two choices: they can submit and serve the vicious rulers they created, or be banished to the Reserve – a desolate and hopeless slum camp. Now, following the orders of their soulless leader, the robots are planning to finish what the Great War started and conquer humanity's last refuge. Six, whose family was killed with the first shots of the war, is a young woman with nothing left to lose. Escaping the Reserve with her friend Dubs, Six knows she must find a way to stop the robots, before they wipe humans off the face of the Earth.

The Store by James Patterson, Arrow, £7.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-784-75381-8
The Store doesn't just want your money – it wants your soul. Imagine a future of unparalleled convenience. A powerful retailer, The Store, can deliver anything to your door, anticipating the needs and desires you didn't even know you had. Most people are fine with that, but not Jacob and Megan Brandeis. New York writers whose livelihood is on the brink of extinction, Jacob and Megan are going undercover to dig up The Store's secrets in a book that could change the entire American way of life. But after a series of unsettling discoveries, Jacob and Megan's worst fears about The Store seem like just the beginning.

From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters, Gollancz, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-473-21476-7.
A man gathers all the data, images, video, recordings etc., of his dead wife so as to create an AI simulacrum which he hope will help him uncover the truth behind her death…  Click on the title link for a standalone review.

From Distant Stars by Sam Peters, Gollancz, £14.99, hrdbk, 978-1-473-21480-4
The sequel to From Darkest Skies off-world thriller. Keon Rause has finally put the ghost of his dead wife behind him. Now he’s trying to return to his old job as FBI agent on a distant colony planet. But someone impossibly is killing in a pattern, and Keon’s investigation might lead him to uncomfortable truths about his wife.

Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, £18.99, hrdbk, 978-0-575-09058-3.
One citizen died a fortnight ago. Two a week ago. Four died yesterday . . . and unless the cause can be found – and stopped – within the next four months, everyone will be dead. For the Prefects, the hunt for a silent, hidden killer is on... Alastair Reynolds has returned to the world of The Prefect (reissued as Aurora Rising) for this stand-alone SF mystery in which no one is safe. The technological implants which connect every citizen to each other have become murder weapons, and no one knows who or what the killer is – or who the next targets will be. But their reach is spreading, and time is not on the Prefects’ side.  Alastair returning to his 'Revelation Space' sequence has got to be the British SF book event of the year given the years since we last had such a story.  Wide-screen space opera at its best.

Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-473-21843-7.
This is a novella; it received a Locus Award and made the short list for a Hugo in 2016.  The war which raged across the regions of space occupied by man has finally come to an end. There being no method of instant communication, the news has to be spread by sending skipships to all corners and the warring factions persuaded that it is all over and they can go home in peace. It is on such a mission that Scur is captured by a renegade war criminal and left for dead. She awakes to find herself in a hibo capsule on a Peacekeeper military transport ship though clearly something is wrong; one is normally awoken at the end of the journey but hers and other capsules have opened themselves and there is the sound of fighting in the distance.  Click on the title link for a standalone review.

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson, Orbit, £8.99, pbk. ISBN 978-0-356-50878-8.
Stan gives us his vision of a future New York. Though he has his feet firmly in SF, his writing considers present day issues of sustainability and environment. So this could go one of a number of ways, but whichever it is this latest offering from a Hugo-Award-winning author is bound to be interesting.  Click on the title link for a standalone review.

Doctor Who: The Missy Chronicles by Cavan Scott, Jac Rayner, Paul Magrs, James Goss, Peter Anghelides and Richard Dinnick, BBC Books, £9.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-785-94323-2.
Collection of shorts. Know your enemy.  ‘I’ve had adventures too. My whole life doesn’t revolve around you, you know.'  When she's not busy amassing armies of Cybermen, or manipulating the Doctor and his companions, Missy has plenty of time to kill (literally). In this all new collection of stories about the renegade Time Lord we all love to hate, you'll discover just some of the mad and malevolent activities Missy gets up to while she isn't distracted by the Doctor.  So please try to keep up.

The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch, Headline, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1472-21498-0.
Years after the brutal killings, while working undercover, Moss stumbles across a witness from the Mursult case who unwittingly tells her far more than she had at the time. Inspired by this retrospective progress, Moss gets the opportunity to travel through time – not to the past but – to a host of potential futures to track down the killer and close this cold case once and for all… From the author of Tomorrow and Tomorrow.

Born by Jeff Vandermeer, 4th Estate, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0008-15921-4.
Amidst a ruined city in the future, Rachel finds a strange creature…

Artemis by Andy Weir, Del Rey, £12.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-091-95694-3.
OK, so this came out last season (autumn 2017) and the paperback is not due out until the next (summer 2018) but in case you missed it this is a cracking mundane SF thriller from the author of The Martian (which was also a cinematic hit).  Welcome to Artemis. The first city on the Moon. Population 2,000. Mostly tourists. Some criminals…  Click on the title link for a standalone review.

The Feed by Nick Clark Windo, Headline, £1699, hrdbk ISBN 978-1-472-24190-0.
Click on the title link for a standalone review.  Headline are pushing this title in the New Year.  “What will you do without it? Your knowledge. Your memories. Your dreams. If all that you are is on the Feed, who are you when the Feed goes down?”  Tom sees the dangers of The Feed, he has got good reason too, and he is trying to wean his pregnant wife Kate off it, but she is addicted, with two hundred million followers for her last poll. How can she beat that?  They go for a meal, a simple thing, but not so simple. They want a real menu, something to hold, they actually want to order food, using that old-time thing called speech. The waiter can hardly believe it, and he can hardly talk anyway. Who talks these days? To the other patrons in the restaurant he looks different from his real self, the one that the off-Feed Tom and Kate can see. He is projecting another physical body through the Feed, like a skin a computer game character might wear, and while they argue and wait for their food something is happening on the Feed, they can tell by the reaction of the other diners and the waiter and they jump back in to see President Taylor being assassinated and then the Government takes over the Feed telling everyone to go home, there is a curfew, go home, there is a curfew, go home, there is…

Season's Editorial & Staff Stuff Key SF News & Awards
Film News Television News Publishing News
Forthcoming SF Books Forthcoming Fantasy Books Forthcoming Non-Fiction
General Science News Natural Science News Astronomy & Space News
Science & SF Interface Rest In Peace End Bits

Spring 2018

Forthcoming Fantasy Books

 

The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch, Gollancz, £7.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-473-22243-4.
A PC Grant tale bringing fantastical supernatural wrong-doers to book.  Click on the title link for a standalone review.

The Black Tide by Keri Arthur, Piatkus, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-349-41826-1.
Urban fantasy saga concludes with the shape-shifting tiger race against time to save humanity from annihilation.

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden, Del Rey, £12.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-785-03106-9.
A magical story inspired by a Russian fairy tale. A blend of historical fiction and magical realism.  For a young woman in medieval Russia, the choices are stark: marriage or a life in a convent. Vasya will choose a third way: magic.  The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest. Meanwhile bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince and his trusted companion come across a young man riding a magnificent horse. Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior's training, recognises this 'boy' as his younger sister, thought to be dead or a witch by her village.

Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51081-1.
Mild-mannered headmaster Thomas Senlin has always wanted to see the Tower of Babel. Immense as a mountain, the ancient tower is the greatest marvel in the world, comprising unnumbered ringdoms stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. Lured by the grand promises of a guidebook, Senlin takes his new bride, Marya, on the honeymoon of their dreams. But no sooner do they arrive at the Tower than Senlin loses her in the teeming throng. Senlin's search for Marya carries him through madhouses, ballrooms and burlesque theatres. He must endure betrayal, assassination attempts and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to ever see his wife again, Senlin will have to do more than just survive – this quiet man of letters must become a man of action.  (See also below for sequel.)

Arm of the Sphinx by Josiah Bancroft, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51083-5.
Follows on from Senlin Ascends above. Forced by necessity into a life of piracy, Senlin and his eclectic crew struggle to survive aboard their stolen airship. Senlin's search for his lost wife continues, even as her ghost haunts his every step. But the Tower of Babel proves to be as difficult to re-enter as it was to escape. In desperation, he turns to a rumoured legend of the Tower, the mysterious and dangerous Sphinx. But help from the Sphinx does not come cheaply, and one of his crew already knows the terrible cost.

Blood of Assassins by R. J. Barker, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-50525-1.
THE KING IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE KING... The assassin Girton Club-foot and his master have returned to Maniyadoc in hope of finding sanctuary, but death, as always, dogs Girton's heels. The place he knew no longer exists.  War rages across Maniyadoc, with three kings claiming the same crown – and one of them is Girton's old friend Rufra. Girton finds himself hurrying to uncover a plot to murder Rufra on what should be the day of the king's greatest victory. But while Girton deals with threats inside and outside Rufra's war encampment, he can't help wondering if his greatest enemy hides beneath his own skin.

A Veil of Spears by Bradley Beaulieu, Gollancz, £16.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-473-20307-5.
Third in the epic fantasy series, the 'Song of the Shattered Sands' saga, of mystery, prophecy and death within the ancient walled city of the Twelve Kings. The Night of Endless Swords nearly destroyed Sharakhai; the Kings have come down hard on the Moonless Host. Hundreds have been murdered or captured. Hundreds more have fled. Onur, the King of Sloth, has returned to the desert to raise an army…

Spring Tide by Chris Beckett, Corvus, £14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-786-49050-6.
A collection of short stories. Includes a man discovering a labyrinth beneath his house and an angel alone at the end of the Universe.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, Tinder Press, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-472-24498-7.
A travelling psychic claims to be able to tell anyone the date they will die. Four siblings, too young for what they are about to hear, sneak out to hear their fortunes. We then follow the intertwined paths the siblings take over the course of five decades and, in particular, how they choose to live with the supposed knowledge the fortune-teller gave them that day. This is a story about life, mortality and the choices we make: is it better to live a long and cautious life, or to burn brightly, but for the shortest time?

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett, Jo Fletcher Books, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-857-05359-6.
This is the follow-up to The City of Stairs and The City of Blades.

Heart of Fire by Amanda Bouchet, Piatkus, £13.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978—0-349-41262-7.
Part one of the 'Kingmaker Chronicles'.

Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-50600-5.
Mated werewolves Charles Cornick and Anna Latham face a threat like no other – one that lurks too close to home…  They are the wild and the broken. The werewolves too damaged to live safely among their own kind. For their own good, they have been exiled to the outskirts of Aspen Creek, Montana. Close enough to the Marrok's pack to have its support; far enough away to not cause any harm.  With their Alpha out of the country, Charles and Anna are on call when an SOS comes in from the fae mate of one such wildling. Heading into the mountainous wilderness, they interrupt the abduction of the wolf – but can't stop blood from being shed. Now Charles and Anna must use their skills – his as enforcer, hers as peacemaker - to track down the attackers, reopening a painful chapter in the past that springs from the darkest magic of the witchborn…

Firebrand by Kirsten Britain, Gollancz, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51016-3.
The 6th in the 'Green Rider' sequence.  Click on the title link for a standalone review.

Olympus Bound by Jordanna Max Brodsky, Orbit, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-50730-9.
The Immortals is a re-imagining of classical mythology.  Manhattan has many secrets. Some are older than the city itself. Summer in New York: a golden hour on the city streets, but a dark time for Selene DiSilva. Her father has been kidnapped and her friends are being targeted by a murderous cult hungry for an ancient power. If she wants to save the ones she loves, Selene must finally face the past she's been running from – a past centuries longer than most, stretching all the way back to when her name was Artemis and her family ruled from atop Mount Olympus.

The Black Elfstone by Terry Brooks, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0356-51016-3.
This is the first in a four-part conclusion to the Shannara series.

Iron Gold by Pierce Brown, Hodder & Stoughton, £1.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-509-81294-3.
The start of a new SF trilogy set in the world of 'Red Rising' ten years after the events of Morning Star.

The Wolf by Leo Carew, Wildfire, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-472-24700-1.
Debut novel and the first in the 'Under The Northern Sky' series.  Violence and death have come to the land under the Northern Sky. The Anakim dwell in the desolate forests and mountains beyond the black river, the land under the Northern Sky. Their ancient ways are forged in Unthank silver and carved in the grey stone of their heartland, their lives measured out in the turning of centuries, not years. By contrast, the Southerners live in the moment, their vitality much more immediate and ephemeral than their Anakim neighbours. Fragile is the peace that has existed between these very different races - and that peace is shattered when the Southern armies flood the lands to the north. These two races revive their age-old hatred and fear of each other. Within the maelstrom of war, two leaders will rise to lead their people to victory. Only one will succeed.

The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter (with an introduction by Carmen Callil), Little Brown, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-349-01031-1.
Part of the Virago Modern Classics 40th anniversary editions.  The 1967 novel is something of a minor fantasy classic concerning Melanie who is growing up and becoming more aware of those around her and – as with some other of Carter's works – her own developing maturity.  Incidentally, the novel was cinematically adapted by Carter herself for a 1987 film directed by David Wheatley.

The Defiant Heir by Melissa Caruso, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51062-0.
Across the border, the Witch Lords of Vaskandar are preparing for war. But before an invasion can begin, they must call a rare gathering of all seventeen lords to decide a course of action. Lady Amalia Cornaro knows that this Conclave might be her only chance to stifle the growing flames of war, and she is ready to make any sacrifice if it means saving Raverra from destruction. Amalia and Zaira must go behind enemy lines, using every ounce of wit and cunning they have, to sway Vaskandar from war. Or else it will all come down to swords and fire.

The Erstwhile by Brian Catling, Coronet, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-473-63640-8.
The second in the 'Vorrh' trilogy. Here is a standalone review of the first, The Vorrh.

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, Harper Voyager, £12.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-008-23939-8.
Debut.  The first in an epic fantasy set in the Middle East in the 18th century. It draws on the history of the Mughal Empire, Persian and Indian folklore, and Islamic tradition.

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton, Gollancz, £10.99, trdpbk, ISBN yet to be determined at time of posting.
Juvenile fiction. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born grey, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle can they transform and be made beautiful. It’s not enough for Camellia to be a Belle. She wants to be the Favourite of the Queen of Orléans. But behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets..

The Coffin Path by Katherine Clements, Headline Review, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-472-20427-1.
A gothic, seventeenth century ghost story set on the dark wilds of the Yorkshire moors. For fans of Michelle Paver, Helen Dunmore or Daphne du Maurier.  Maybe you’ve heard tales about Scarcross Hall, the house on the old coffin path that winds from village to moor top. They say there’s something up here, something evil.  Mercy Booth isn’t afraid. The moors and Scarcross are her home and lifeblood. But, beneath her certainty, small things are beginning to trouble her. Three ancient coins missing from her father’s study, the shadowy figure out by the gatepost, an unshakeable sense that someone is watching.

Siege Line by Myke Cole, Headline, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-472-21194-1.
This is the final in the military fantasy trilogy that is billed as being not so much 'sword & sorcery' but 'guns & sorcery'.

The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman, Ebury Press, £7.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-785-03243-1.
Thirty years ago, something terrible happened to Luna’s mother. Something she’s only prepared to reveal after her death. Now Luna and her sister have a chance to go back to their mother’s birthplace and settle her affairs. But in Brooklyn they find more questions than answers, until something impossible – magical – happens to Luna, and she meets her mother as a young woman back in the summer of 1977.  At first Luna’s thinks she’s going crazy, but if she can truly travel back in time, she can change things. But in doing anything – everything – to save her mother’s life, will she have to sacrifice her own?

Clockwork City by Paul Crilley, Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-73-63163-2.
This is the sequel to Poison City. An investigator is aided by a re-animated assistant and a hellish, sweary, alcoholic demonic dog…

The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard, Gollancz, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-473-21261-9.
The 'Dominion of the Fallen' saga continues as the great houses of Paris, ruled by fallen angels, fight for control of the capital. This series has attracted some acclaim in the SF/F community. Click on the title link for a standalone review.

The Toy Makers by Robert Dinsdale, Del Rey, £12.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-091-95694-3.
Do you remember when you believed in magic? It is 1917, and while war wages across Europe, in the heart of London there is a place of hope and enchantment. The Emporium sells toys that capture the imagination of children, and adults alike: patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy boxes that are bigger on the inside, soldiers that can fight battles of their own. Into this family business comes young Cathy Wray, running away from a shameful past. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own. But Cathy is about to discover that the Emporium has secrets of its own…

Covert Game by Christine Feehan, Piatkus, £13.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-0-349-41973-2.
The latest in the Ghostwalker series.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi by Jason Fry, Century, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-780-89841-4.
The novelisation of the recent film.

American Gods: Shadows by Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell, Headline, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-472-25136-7.
American Gods by international bestseller, and creator of Sandman, Neil Gaiman is an award-winning novel and also a TV series starring Ricky Whittle, Ian McShane and Gillian Anderson.  Now, for the first time, the series has been adapted in stunning comic book form. This is the first of three bind-up editions.  Shadow Moon gets out of jail only to discover his wife is dead. Defeated, broke, and uncertain where to go from here, he meets the mysterious Mr Wednesday, who employs him to serve as his bodyguard - thrusting Shadow into a deadly world where ghosts of the past come back from the dead, and a god war is imminent.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, Bloomsbury, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-408-89195-7.
Tales of Thor, Odin, Loki and Freya, by the master fantasy writer.

Shroud of Eternity by Terry Goodkind, Head of Zeus, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-786-69167-5.
In a spin-off from the Sword of Truth series comes the second book of 'The Nicci Chronicles', where new alliances are forged and old enemies return.  The formidable sorceress and one-time Sister of the Dark, Nicci and her companions – the newly powerless Nathan and the youthful Bannon – set out on another quest after driving ruthless Norukai slavers out of Renda Bay. Their mission: restore Nathan’s magic and, for Nicci, save the world. Guided by the witch-woman Red’s mysterious prophecy, the trio makes their way south of Kol Adair towards a wondrous city shrouded behind time, Ildakar. But the grotesque omens on their path to Nathan’s salvation – severed Norukai heads on pikes, a genetically modified monster, and a petrified army of half a million – are just a taste of the unimaginable horrors that await…

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton, Harper Voyager, £12.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-008-28187-8.
Debut.  Epic fantasy based on Shakespeare's King Lear. The erratic king is obsessed by prophecies. The king's tree daughters know that the realm's only chance of resurrection, and the restoration of wild magic, is to crown a new sovereign. But who will the king choose as an heir?

A Time of Dread by John Gwynne, Macmillan, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-509-81294-3.
Sword & Sorcery set in the world of 'The Faithful and the Fallen'.

The Exile by David Hair, Jo Fletcher Books, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-857-05362-6.
The third in the 'Return of the Ravana' series that retells the classic Indian epic.

The Empress of the Fall by David Hair, Jo Fletcher Books, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-784-29098-6.
First in a new quartet. The Empire is threatened by a power vacuum following the death of the Emperor.

Prince of the Spear by David Hair, Jo Fletcher Books, £30, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-784-29096-2.
Sword & sorcery. Sequel to Empires of the Fall and the second in the 'Sunsurge' quartet.

Haunted by Charlaine Harris & Christopher Golden, Jo Fletcher Books, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-848-66963-5.
Graphic novel, part of the 'Cemetery Girl' trilogy.

Scourged by Kevin Hearne, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-50448-3.
Two-thousand-year-old Druid Atticus O'Sullivan travels to Asgard and faces off against the Norse gods to try and prevent Ragnarok in the final battle for the fate of mankind.

The Triumph of the Dwarves by Markus Heitz, Jo Fletcher Books, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-784-29440-3.
Sword & sorcery.

Firestorm by Lucy Hounsom, Pan, £7.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-509-84651-9.
The final in the 'worldmaker' trilogy.  Kyndra has mastered her starborn powers but assassins pose a new threat by trying to remove Kyndra from the timeline before she was born.

The Fatal Gate by Ian Irvine, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-50525-1.
The cruel Merdrun, the greatest warriors in the void, have invaded Santhenar but their portal failed, leaving them stranded. They're desperately trying to regain contact with the summon stone so they can reopen the portal and begin the slaughter of humanity. Llian, hurled through another portal, sees the summon stone wake and knows the allies have but one chance to destroy the Merdrun – though it will involve an alchemical quest that has always ended in ruin, a mad invasion in untested sky ships with untrained pilots and the most unequal battle in all the Histories.

The Silenced by Stephen Lloyd Jones, Headline, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-472-22892-5.
Supernatural thriller.  Mallory Grace just killed a man. To survive the next hour, she’ll have to kill again. To survive the night, she’ll need a miracle. Obadiah Macintosh doesn’t seem like a miracle. He is a recluse who works alone at an animal sanctuary, and he has a secret. When the dogs in his care alert him to intruders hidden by the darkness, he knows they are coming for him. Mallory and Obadiah were strangers, brought together for one purpose. To give new light to a terrifying world. But now they are on the run, and evil intends to find them.

Deadmen Walking by Sherrilyn Kenyon, Piatkus, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-349-41218-4.
The start of a new historical fantasy series set in the 'Dark Hunter Worlds'. An ancient, dark warlord returns to the human realm…

Wolf’s Mate by Celia Kyle, Piatkus, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-349-41680-9.
Fantasy romance.

The Night Lies Bleeding by M. D. Lachlan, Gollancz, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-575-12969-6.
Norse myths, werewolves and World War II collide in the final volume of the bestselling series which began with Wolfsangel. World War I and for one immortal werewolf, the London Blitz means little. Soon he will have to give up his identity and begin a new life before the wolf emerges. Meanwhile, in Germany, a weak-willed doctor is entangled in the Third Reich’s fascination with the occult and Norse myths, believing the runes will bring them power. If they succeed, Ragnarok will come…

Generation One by Pittacus Love, Penguin, £7.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-405-93422-0.
The start of a new series set in the worlds of I am Number Four in which a human is sent to an academy to control her power.

The Man from the Diogenes Club by Kim Newman, Titan Books, £7.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-781-65741-1.
A collection of shorts from the author of the Anno Dracula series featuring a secret wing of the government agency that deals with supernatural threats.

Wrath of Empire by Brian McClellan, Orbit, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-50931-0.
Magic and gunpowder collide in Wrath of Empire, the explosive second novel in the 'Gods of Blood and Powder' series.  The country is in turmoil. With the capital city occupied, half a million refugees are on the march, looking for safety on the frontier, accompanied by Lady Flint's soldiers. But escaping war is never easy, and soon the battle may find them, whether they are prepared or not.  Back in the capital, Michel Bravis smuggles even more refugees out of the city. But internal forces are working against him. With enemies on all sides, Michael may be forced to find help with the very occupiers he's trying to undermine.  Meanwhile, Ben Styke is building his own army. He and his mad lancers are gathering every able body they can find and searching for an ancient artefact that may have the power to turn the tides of war in their favour. But what they find may not be what they're looking for…

Mississippi Roll edited by George R. R. Martin, Harper Voyager, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-008-23956-5.
A return to Martin's shared universe, with other authors, of his universe of superheroes.

The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville, Picador, £7.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-447-29655-3.
An alternate history where the Nazis control Paris in the 1950s and surrealist art comes to life…

Twice Bitten by Lynsay Sands, Gollancz, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-473-22157-4.
A return of the light sexy romance featuring the Argeneau vampires. For someone who’s been around for over a hundred and forty years, immortal Elspeth Argeneau hasn’t done a whole lot of living. Now away from her controlling mother, she’s tracking down rogue vampires and enjoying some overdue freedom. A fling would be fun. A life mate can wait. Yet to Elspeth’s surprise, her landlady’s hot grandson ticks both boxes.

The Lady of the Lake by Andrzej Sapkowski, Gollancz, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-473-21160-5.
there is a TV series in the offing).

Season of Storms by Andrzej Sapkowski, Gollancz, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-473-21844-2.
The Witcher returns! A new novel set in the early days of the 'Witcher' saga. Geralt – the witcher whose mission is to protect ordinary people from the monsters created with magic. A mutant who has the task of killing unnatural beings. He uses a magical sign, potions and the pride of every witcher – two swords, steel and silver. But what would happen if Geralt lost his weapons?

The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon, Bloomsbury, £7.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-08-87783-8.
This is the third in the dystopic 'Bone Season' series and a rebel has become London's criminal underqueen who has to deal with new technology that could doom the clairvoyant community…

The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith-Park, Harper Voyager, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-008-20418-1.
Debut.  A company of soldiers crosses the desert to kill the decadent emperor of the richest empire…

Godblind by Anna Stephens, Harper Voyager, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-008-21592-7.
Debut.  The kingdom is vulnerable following the death of the king's wife…

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylorm, Hodder, £7.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-44-78895-2.
War orphan and junior librarian, Lazlo Strange, gets the chance to travel to a mythical, lost city…

The Infernal Battalion by Django Wexler, Head of Zeus, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-786-69644-1.
Conclusion to 'The Shadow Campaigns'.  The Beast, imprisoned beneath the fortress-city of Elysium for a thousand years, has been loosed upon the world and is spreading like a plague through the north. Queen Raesinia Orboan and soldiers Marcus D’Ivoire and Winter Ihernglass face a betrayal they never could have foreseen: their general, Janus bet Vhalnich, has declared himself the rightful Emperor of Vordan. Chaos grips the city as officers and regiments are forced to declare for queen or emperor. As Raesinia struggles to keep her country under control, she risks becoming everything she has fought against, while Marcus must take the field against his old commander. And Winter knows that the demon she carries inside her might be the only thing standing between the Beast and the end of the world...

The Ember Blade by Chris Wooding, Gollancz, £20.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-473-21844-2.
A land under occupation. a legendary sword. A young man’s journey to find his destiny. Aren has lived by the rules all his life. He’s never questioned it; that’s just the way things are. But then his father is executed for treason, and he and his best friend Cade are thrown into a prison mine, doomed to work until they drop. But what lies beyond the prison walls is more terrifying still. Rescued by a man who hates him yet is oath-bound to protect him, pursued by inhuman forces, Aren slowly accepts that everything he knew about his world was a lie. The rules are not there to protect his people, but to enslave them. Revolution is brewing, and Aren is being drawn into it, whether he likes it or not.

Season's Editorial & Staff Stuff Key SF News & Awards
Film News Television News Publishing News
Forthcoming SF Books Forthcoming Fantasy Books Forthcoming Non-Fiction
General Science News Natural Science News Astronomy & Space News
Science & SF Interface Rest In Peace End Bits

Spring 2018

Forthcoming Non-Fiction SF &
Popular Science Books

 

Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, Transworld, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-857-52370-9.
Neuroscientist and Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award winner, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore has revolutionised the way we think about the brain. In this her book debut, she explains the adolescent brain, its transformations, and how it ultimately shapes the adults we become. The brain creates every feeling, emotion and desire we experience, and stores every one of our memories. And yet, until very recently, scientists believed our brains were fully developed in childhood. Now, thanks to imaging technology that enables us to look inside the living human brain at all ages, we know that this isn’t so – that the brain goes on developing and changing right through adolescence into adulthood. So what makes the adolescent brain different? What drives the excessive risk-taking or the need for intense friendships common to this age group? Why does an easy child become a challenging teenager? And why is it that many mental illnesses – depression, addiction, schizophrenia – begin during these formative years.

The Life and Death of Sherlock Holmes by Mattias Bostrom, Head of Zeus, £10, pbk, ISBN 978-1-786-69126-2.
Dual biographies of Holmes and Conan Doyle as well as actors that have portrayed the detective.

Take Control of Your Type 1 Diabetes: A comprehensive guide to self-management and staying well by David Cavan, Vermilion, £12.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-785-04093-1.
Cavan is a clinician, and this is a step-by-step plan to take control of type 1 diabetes published in partnership with diabetes.co.uk.  Around 500,000 people in Great Britain and N. Ireland have type 1 diabetes – about 10% of the global total with diabetes. It can develop at any age, but often in previously very healthy children and young adults. This is the first book in many years that has been published to support people with type 1 diabetes in managing their condition.

Anatomica: A Compendium of Blood, Bones & Bodies by Mary Dobson, Head of Zeus, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-784-97500-5.
A more-ish medical miscellany – dripping in bloody gore and arcane lore – that is as striking to look at as it is intriguing to browse. Crammed with curiosities from every area of medical practice and illustrated with images from Andreas Vesalius’ De Humani Corporis Fabrica, Anatomica offers a wealth of stories and anecdotes of medical advance and failure across two millennia of history, from the humoral theory of the ancients to the microbial discoveries of Pasteur, and from the era of unanaesthetised battlefield amputation to the wonders of modern-day transplant surgery.  Reeking of pus, putrefaction and gangrenous tissue, and featuring appalling maladies, bizarre medical implements and unspeakable surgical techniques, Anatomica marries rigorous research with the morbid allure of death and disease to create a freewheeling, ghoulishly fascinating and endlessly informative overview of the history of medicine.

Loos of London: Capital Toilets Worth Giving a Crap About by I. P. Freely, Pop Press, £8.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-785-03751-1.
Welcome to London’s best bogs. Get behind closed doors all over the city, from the fancy facilities at The Shard, to the oldest pub toilets in Covent Garden, enter the most secret room in the Cabinet War Rooms, or spend a penny onboard HMS Belfast. Arguably a must for Londoners and of interest to anyone who gives a shit.

The Wheel of Time Companion by Robert Jordan, Orbit, £12.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-50612-8.
All the information – short articles and entries – you could want on Robert Jordan's fantasy series of novels and stories in his acclaimed 'Wheel of Time' sequence.

The Physics of Everyday Things by James Kakalios, Robinson, £12.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-472-14151-4.
What's the simple science behind motion sensors, touch screens and toasters? How do we enter our offices using touch-on passes or find our way to new places using GPS? Breaking down the world of things into a single day, physics prof. Kakalios engages our curiosity about how our refrigerators keep food cool, how a plane manages to remain airborne, and how our wrist fitness monitors keep track of our steps. Each explanation is coupled with a story revealing the interplay of the astonishing invisible forces that surround us.

How to Fix the Future: Staying human in the digital age by Andrew keen, Atlantic, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-786-49164-0.
How do we protect ourselves from the dark side of the digital future? This book has an international perspective looking at problems and best practice from India to Estonia, Germany to Singapore.

The Geek's Guide to SF Cinema by Ryan Lambie, Robinson, £12.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-472-13985-6.
Why do SF movies matter? What do they tell us about the interests of storytellers and the changing tastes of cinema-goers? How have SF movies evolved with film-making technology over the past 110 years? SF cinema is explored through key turning points in its history through 30 significant films.

Dreams Must Explain Themselves and Other Essays 1972–2004 by Ursula K. Le Guin, Gollancz, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-473-20594-9.
An essential collection of astute and powerful essays from one of modern literature’s most original voices. Ursula K. Le Guin has won or been nominated for over 200 awards for her fiction, including the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy and SFWA Grand Master Awards. But her talents do not stop at fiction. Over the course of her career, she has penned numerous essays around various themes including anthropology, environmentalism, feminism, social justice and literary criticism. This selection of Le Guin’s non-fiction reveals an agile mind, an unparalleled imagination and a ferocious passion to argue against injustice.

Common Sense, the Turing Test and the Quest for Real A.I. by Hector J. Levesque, The MIT Press, £14.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-262-53520-5.

Frankenstein and the Birth of Science by Joel Levy, Deutch, pbk, £20, ISBN 978-0-233-00535-5.
2018 and it is the 200th anniversary of the publication ofFrankenstein. This book connects that novel with the then new science of the 18th and 19th centuries.Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine by Alan Lightman, Corsair, £12.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-472-15282-4.
As a physicist, Alan Lightman has always held a purely scientific view of the world. Even as a teenager, experimenting in his own laboratory, he was impressed by the logic and materiality of the Universe, which is governed by a small number of disembodied forces and laws. Those laws decree that all things in the world are material and impermanent. But one summer, while looking at the stars from a small boat at sea, Lightman was overcome by the overwhelming sensation that he was merging with something larger than himself - a grand and eternal unity, a hint of something absolute and immaterial. Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine is the result of these contradictory impulses…

Human Origins: 7 million years and counting by New Scientist, John Murray, £12.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-473-62980-6.
Part of New Scientist's 'Instant Expert' series.

WTF?: What's the Future and Why by Tim O'Reilly, Random House, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-847-94186-2.
Renowned as ‘the Oracle of Silicon Valley’, Tim O’Reilly has spent three decades exploring the world-transforming power of information technology. Now, the leading thinker of the internet age turns his eye to the future – and asks the questions that will frame the next stage of the digital revolution:-
         - Will increased automation destroy jobs or create new opportunities?
         - What will the company of tomorrow look like?
         - Is a world dominated by algorithms to be welcomed or feared?
         - How can we ensure that technology serves people, rather than the other way around?
         - How can we all become better at mapping future trends?
Tim O’Reilly’s insights create an authoritative, compelling and often surprising portrait of the world we will soon inhabit, highlighting both the many pitfalls and the enormous opportunities that lie ahead.

Is the Universe a Hologram? by Adolfo Plasencia, The MIT Press, £14.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-262-53525-0.
33 scientists are interviewed to look at the state of play in various areas of science research from quantum computing to exoplanet discoveries.

How to Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price, Trapeze, £12.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-409-17626-8.
Is your phone the first thing you reach for when you wake up? And the last thing you see before you sleep? Do the hours slip away as you idly scroll on social media? Do you look at your phone when having a meal (and even in the pub or restaurants)? If the answer is 'yes' to one or more of these questions then you may be reluctant to accept that you are addicted to your phone. If so, How to Break Up with Your Phone is here to help. How to Break Up With Your Phone is a smart, irreverent guide packed full of useful tips and advice to help people break their phone addiction and to decide how they actually want to be spending their precious time. Rather than encouraging us to get rid of our phones forever, this book aims to help us cultivate a new, healthy and more mindful relationship with our screens. Drawing on research into addiction, habits and neuroplasticity, scientist and science writer Catherine Price presents a concrete action plan for breaking your phone addiction and taking back your life – in just 30 days.

The Birth of the American Horror Film by Gary D. Rhodes, Edinburgh University Press, £19.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-474-43086-9.
An interdisciplinary analysis of the American horror film genre's origins with reference to theatre and literature.

Know Your Shit: What Every Type of Turd Says About Your Health by Matt Roach, Vermilion, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-785-04184-6.
At the 1990 Worldcon in the Hague, biologist Jack Cohen CBiol FIBiol explained to fans why there was a shelf in the convention centre's toilets: it was for excrement inspection.  Your poo says a lot about your health but how well do you know your shit?  This witty and handy colour swatch book is your entertaining and informative guide to every possible bowel movement. Arranged by consistency and colour, you’ll learn fascinating facts about your faeces: why floaters float, why stinkers stink and what you need to eat if you’re pooping pellets like a rabbit. Based on medical information and full of popular culture gags and quirky health facts, if you give a crap about your health (or if you just like toilet humour), this guide is for you.

Tamed: Ten Species that Changed our World by Alice Roberts, Windmill, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-786-09001-0.
For hundreds of thousands of years, our ancestors depended on wild plants and animals for survival. Then during the Neolithic revolution our hunter-gatherer ancestors changed their interaction with other species in a crucial way: they began to tame them. And the human population boomed; civilization began. This is the story, encompassing hundreds of thousands of years of history, archaeology, biology, anthropology and palaeontology, of the species with which humanity has co-evolved: dogs; apples; wheat; cattle; potatoes; chickens; rice; maize; and horses.

Close Encounters With Humankind: A palaeoanthropologist investigates our evolving species by Sang-Lee, Norton, £22, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-393-63482-2.
Answers questions such as whether or not we are inherently cannibals, and were human hobbits real?

Doctor Who: Who-ology (Regenerated Edition) by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright, BBC Books, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-785-94302-7.
The official miscellany, celebrating over 50 years of Doctor Who, this edition has been fully updated and revised to cover the 12th Doctor's final series and the 12th Doctor's final episode. Includes tables, charts and illustrations. Packed with facts, figures and stories from the show’s run, this unique tour of space and time takes you from Totters Lane to Heaven itself, taking in guides to UNIT call signs, details of the inner workings of sonic screwdrivers, and a chart covering every element of the TARDIS.

Heavens on Earth by Michael Shermer, Robinson, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-472-14061-6.
Shermer sets out to discover what drives humans' belief in life after death. For millennia, the awareness of our own mortality and failings has led to religions concocting comforting notions of an afterlife, of heaven and hell, utopias and dystopias and of the perfectibility of human nature.Heavens on Earth explores the numerous manifestations of the afterlife - a place where souls might go after the death of the physical body. Religious leaders have toiled to make sense of this place that a surprisingly high percentage of people believe exists, but from which no one has ever returned to report what it is really like. Shermer details recent scientific attempts to achieve immortality by radical life extentionists, extropians, transhumanists, cryonicists and mind-uploaders, along with utopians who have attempted to create heaven on Earth.  Dr Michael Shermer is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University where he teaches Skepticism 101.

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Forthcoming SF Books Forthcoming Fantasy Books Forthcoming Non-Fiction
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Spring 2018

General Science News

 

The 2017 Nobel Prizes for science have been announced. The science category wins were:-
          Physics: Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish (all US) for the detection of gravity waves.
          Chemistry: Jacques Dubochet (Swiss), Joachim Frank (German) and Richard Henderson (British) for cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) that is able to picture bio-molecues.
          Medicine: Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young (all US) for work on how our bodies tell time: the body clock or circadian rhythm. The time gene makes a protein called PER. As levels of PER increased, it negatively feedbacks turning off its own genetic manufacture instructions. As a result, levels of the PER protein oscillate over a 24-hour period. If PER manufacture is more stable then the clock ticks more slowly. The stability of PER is one reason some are morning larks and others are active into the night.
          Literature: Kazuo Ishiguro. We do not normally list 'Literature' Nobels as they are not science and rarely authors with significant genre contributions (Doris Lessing's Nobel win being a notable exception), but Japanese born British author Kazuo Ishiguro is one such. His genre-related novels include Never Let Me Go (2005) which was adapted for cinema.
          For last year's 2016 Nobel Prizes, see here.

The 2017 Royal Society Book Prize winner has been announced.  Previously known as the COPUS Book Prize, the Rhône-Poulenc Prize, the Aventis Prize, the Winton Prize, and now the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize (it's a sponsor thing), this year's winner has been announced in this the awards' 30th year. It is Cordelia Fine's Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of Our Gendered Minds.  It looks at the biology behind modern gender myths.
          Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of Our Gendered Minds won from a short-list previously reported.

The Jon Maddox Prize for 2017 has been awarded.  The prize goes to a scientist who champions scientific evidence in the face of hostility.  This year the winner is Riko Muranaka of Kyoto University, Japan. He promoted evidence about the human papilloma virus (HPV) that triggers cervical cancer. Japan had had an HVP vaccination programme with take-up rates of 70% but this fell to 1% following widespread misinformation.  Riko Muranaka faced hostility including litigation.

A new type fusion discovered with quarks (not whole atoms).  Fusion, the process that powers stars (and Doc Emmett Brown's flying De Lorean) relies on the 'fusing' of light atoms to form a heavier atom with the release of 'binding' energy. earlier this year, experimentalists working at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, detected the Xi-cc++ particle, which comprises one up and two charm quarks.  The Xi-cc++ particle is stable, which implies that its two charm quarks are strongly bound. Marek Karliner (Israel) and Jonathan Rosner (US) have determined that the quarks fuse and in the process, they theorise, give rise to the existence of a tetraquark – an exotic particle comprising four quarks. If this does exist – and the theory and limited experimental evidence so far does support this – then a very high-energy releasing fusion process involving the tetraquark should be possible. The fusing quarks release about 12 million electronvolts (MeV) – an amount similar to that gained from fusing Helium-3 – but the fusion involving the tetraquark theory predicts should produce around 200MeV, more than ten times the energy! The one problem is that the very short lifetimes of the quarks will be an obstacle for any practical applications… for now.  (See Karliner, M. & Rosner, J. L., 2017, Nature, vol. 551, p89–91 and a review article Miller G. A, 2017, Nature, vol. 551, p40-1.)

There has been a record surge in atmospheric carbon dioxide while the ability to reduce emissions declines.  It is a conflation of different bad news on the greenhouse front.  i) Emissions of CO2 from human activities were again at record levels in 2016 at 403.3 parts per million. (In 2012 the first monitoring station recorded levels above 400ppm as part of the annual fluctuating cycle. Then in 2015 the global average level reached 400ppm. And in 2016 no part of the annual cycle fell below 400ppm.)  ii) These emissions, together with the 2015 and 2016 natural emissions related to El Niño, have contributed to the record annual increase in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.  Finally, iii) The gap between the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and the reductions needed to reduce the potential for warming to so-called 'safe' limits has never been greater the UN warns.
          The Paris Agreement adopted in 2015 set the specific goal of holding global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (°C) compared to pre-industrial levels, and of pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C. Yet while a shift in technology and investment has in recent years demonstrably shown the potential to reduce emissions, such is the marked existing energy trend – with fossil fuels and cement production still accounting for about 70% of greenhouses gases and fossil carbon some 88% of global energy production – that the gap between the levels of emissions and the reductions needed is at a record high.  The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), recommends that there is an urgent need for accelerated short-term action and enhanced longer-term national ambition, if the goals of the Paris Agreement are to remain achievable! (See UNEP, 2017, The Emissions Gap Report 2017: A UN Environment Synthesis Report and WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin No. 13.)

Global warming could be warmer according to a new analysis.  Patrick Brown & Ken Caldeira, from the Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford, US, have looked at coupled atmosphere–ocean–land global climate models top-of-atmosphere energy budget and satellite observations as to what is really happening. They looked at many models for various UN IPCC climate scenarios and 37 models for the greatest warming. They found that warming under what is effectively business-as-usual emissions was about half a degree warmer than the IPCC concluded in its most recent (2013) Assessment: 4.8°C (Celsius) rather than 4.3°C for the year 2090.  If this work is corroborated, then it is a significant increase in the warming estimate since the IPCC's 2007 report (but still within the rather wide error-range given in the IPCC's first (1990) Assessment).  What this means is that even greater emission reductions will be needed than the 2015 Paris Accord afford if warming is to be kept below 2°C.  (See Brown & Caldeira, 2017, Greater future global warming inferred from Earth’s recent energy budget, Nature, vol. 552, p45-50.)

Hurricanes this late summer have badly hit the Caribbean and the US, as well as most significantly (though under-reported) Asia.  This begs the question as to whether climate change global warming) is the cause?  Officially, the answer is a 'low confidence' yes from the IPCC (the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) in 2013. In 2007, the IPCC's previous Assessment Report noted that 'intense' tropical cyclones have increased since 1970 with warming.  Beyond the IPCC, in 2001 research showed that the period 1995-2000 saw the highest level of N. Atlantic activity on record with a 5-fold increase in hurricanes affecting the Caribbean over the previous 24 years,1971 –' 94 (Goldberg et al, 2001, Science, vol. 293, p474-9).  Satellite data tied to model simulations suggests a link between tropical precipitation events and heavy rain events (Allen & Soden, 2008, Science, vol. 321, p1481-4). But the IPCC remains, as always, cautious saying "The frequency of the most intense storms will more likely than not increase substantially in some [ocean] basins."  But the IPCC's own Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters (2012) that it is likely that tropical cyclone wind speeds will increase with warming, but that the frequency of cyclones may stay the same.  What this means is that, for example the total number of cyclones may not increase, but within that number, the number of cyclones with intense wind speeds will likely increase. (See also Cowie, J, 2013, Climate Change: Biological and Human Aspects (2nd edition), pages 332 -333 and 414-5. Cambridge University Press.)

A gravity wave detection reveals Universe's heavy element production mechanism.  The detection was made back in August but now analysis has been complete and it seems that the waves were the result of two neutron stars colliding.  Unlike previous wave detections involving colliding black holes, colliding neutron stars see some matter ejected in events that their peak brightness would be about 1,000 times that of normal supernovae: so it could be visible.  Astronomers visually detected this in a galaxy 120 million light-years away and labelled it EM170817. The event's spectra revealed heavy elements (such as gold and platinum) that formed through rapid explosive nucleosynthesis (called the r-process). This result confirms the previously only-theorised r-process of nucleosynthesis that creates the Universe's supply of heavy metals. (See: Kasliwal et al., Science 10.1126/science.aap9455 (2017);  Evans et al., Science 10.1126/science.aap9580 (2017);  Hallinan et al., Science 10.1126/science.aap9855(2017); and Coulter et al., Science 10.1126/science.aap9811 (2017).)

Nitrate time bomb threatens global underground water reserves. Aquifers (geological strata water used by humans) are monitored for nitrate but this is hiding a global time bomb say British geologists.  But before nitrate gets to aquifers it spends many years (often many decades) up to 180 million tonnes of nitrate are stored in rocks worldwide - perhaps twice the amount stored in soils. And when this nitrate finally reaches the aquifers it can contaminate them necessitating drinking water be subject to costly treatment. What is needed is for nitrate to be measured in water in the rocks before it reaches the aquifers – when the water is in the vadose zone – if we are to identify where problems lie and take measures (such as reduce the agricultural use of nitrate). This is doubly important as with a growing global population there is increasing pressure for additional agricultural output.  The problem is currently greatest in North America (and especially the Mississippi basin), China and Europe. The geologists argue that in these areas use of conventional nitrogen budget and monitoring approaches is inappropriate. (See Ascott et al, 2017, Nature Communications, vol. 8, 1416. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-01321-w.).

Thunderstorms result in nuclear reactions: experimental confirmation in the field has now been made. The idea that the huge magnetic fields in thunderstorms (which result in lightning) could force atoms to undergo nuclear reactions was first proposed by the Scottish physicist and meteorologist Charles Wilson in 1925. But then we new little about atoms; neutrons were not event discovered until 1932. Neutrons associated with thunderstorms were detected in 1985 but other explanations (such as cosmic rays) could not be ruled out. Since then there have been other detections but always possible alternate explanations. Now Japanese researches who had radiation monitoring stations around a nuclear power station considered a range on likely photonuclear reactions expected that result in positron-electron annihilation in a gamma ray specifically of 0.511 MeV and an appropriately quick decay time. This all four of their detectors picked up during a thunderstorm.  It seems that thunderstorms really do result in nuclear reactions. (See Enoto et al, 2017, Nature, vol. 551, p481-484, as well as a review piece by Leonid Babich, p443-4.)

Calling Mac users – Public Service Announcement.  Just on the off chance that a handful of our regulars are Apple Mac users with the new High Sierra operating system have not heard, a BIG security flaw was found at the end of November.  Macs using the High Sierra operating system can be logged in by anyone as 'root' without a password or a user name. Once logged on the person can open and delete any file in any account on that computer. Apple has asked users to add a password for the 'root' user name.  +++ Uber has had the personal details of 2.7 British users stolen in 2016 it has recently been revealed. Overall some 57 million account details worldwide were stolen including names, addresses and e-mails.

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Forthcoming SF Books Forthcoming Fantasy Books Forthcoming Non-Fiction
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Spring 2018

Natural Science News

 

Possible ecological mega-crisis foreshadowed by 27 year German study showing three-quarters flying insect decline! This is some news that has not had the media profile it warrants concerning the flying insect decline in Germany as revealed by a comprehensive study of 63 nature protection areas in Germany over 27 years.  Flying insects are of critical ecological importance being key to ecosystem function. For example, 80% of wild plants are estimated to depend on insects for pollination, while 60% of birds rely on insects as a food source.  To put this into context The ecosystem services (the economic value of pollination etc) provided by wild insects have been estimated at US$57 billion annually in the USA.  The European team, led by Caspar A. Hallmann, involved in the long-term study, estimates a seasonal decline of 76%, and mid-summer decline of 82% in flying insect biomass over the 27 years of study. They show that this decline is apparent regardless of habitat type, while changes in weather, land use, and habitat characteristics cannot explain this overall decline. (See Hallmann et al., 2017, More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. PLoS ONE vol. 12 (issue 10): e0185809.)  The estimated decline is considerably more severe than the only comparable long term study on flying insect biomass that took place in Britain between 1973 and 2002: it was a less detailed study but was longer-lasting. That showed a showed a biomass decline at just one of the four sites only.
          The cause of the decline in the new German study is unclear but the authors suggest a link to agriculture (agricultural land surrounds all the protected nature reserves that were studied.  Needless to say this is a most serious ecological problem arguably necessitating greater political attention and warranting public interest.

SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) origins found.  Back in 2003 there was an outbreak of an highly infectious and lethal flu-like virus, SARS. That was over a decade ago and in 2005, with no more cases, SARS dropped from media and political attention with the public memory of the outbreak dimming. But research has continued with the source linked to a Chinese bat cave Kunming city, Yunnan province.  Ben Hu and colleagues now report that SARS-related coronaviruses elements have been found that relate to highly similar to human SARS-CoV. Their work suggests that SARS variants capable of direct transmission to humans are circulating in horseshoe bats in this cave. (See Hu et al, 2017, Discovery of a rich gene pool of bat SARS-related coronaviruses provides new insights into the origin of SARS coronavirus. PLoS Pathogens vol. 13 (11): e1006698.)

Cure for type-2 diabetes found. A controlled trial of 306 people saw 46% in remission from type-2 diabetes from the treatment group: no patient in the control group (who did not undergo the treatment) stopped having diabetes.  So what is this cure?  Loss of weight to become slim.  This should not come as a surprise as being overweight has long been known to trigger the onset of diabetes.  And the cure works well. True, only 46% saw remission but break down that group and we see that those that only 7% who lost 5 kg saw diabetic symptoms vanish, whereas 86% who lost 15 kg or more saw symptoms disappear.  The experiment lasted three years and those who kept the weight off saw no return of symptoms; those who put weight back on saw symptoms return. Those who lost the most weight spent up to five months on a low-calorie diet of soups and shakes to trigger massive weight loss. Once the weight is off, daily light exercise (such as daily walking to the station and shops) meant a return to more normal diet. (See Lean et al, 2017, Primary care-led weight management for remission of type 2 diabetes. Lancet, dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(17)33102-1.)  Tips for losing weight after the initial soup and shakes weeks include: avoiding all canned and takeaway food as they very often have hidden sugar and fats; do eat plenty of fresh vegetables and pulses (lentils etc.)

Two new nucleic acid editors take us a long way beyond CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing.  The past three years has seen a revolution no less in gene technology with the gene-editing tool, CRISPR-Cas9. It has been used to tackle some of the most challenging areas in biology including: antibiotic resistance, gene drives and even human gene modification (only in few-day old embryos for ethical reasons).  It is such a powerful tool that USA intelligence has identified it as having the potential to manufacture weapons of mass destruction.
          Two independent teams, both from the Broad Institute (US), have had papers on their respective new, more advanced, nucleic acid editing tools published: one in Nature and the other in Science with both being developments of the CRISPR system.  The first edits single DNA bases: conversely, CRISPR-Cas9 edits several base-pair triplets that code for either a small protein or a short length of a longer protein chain.  Given that a protein is made up of a series of amino acids, editing a single base pair can change which amino acid is coded for by a single base-pair triplet.  David Liu and his team is behind this development. While last year they developed another single-base pair editing tool, it could only undertake two kinds of pair conversion: a cytosine (C) into a thymine (T) or a guanine (G) into an adenine (A). The new tool, published in Nature, converts the other way: T to C or A to G.  Conversely the other tool, developed by Feng Zhang and colleagues, is used on RNA (the nucleic acid that takes the DNA coding information to where proteins are made in the cell outside the nucleus). This means that a disease causing mutation can be temporarily nullified without changing the cell's DNA (as the DNA is by-passed): in short it could, for example, ultimately be used to test, or try out, different types of gene-therapy on a patient so ascertaining which gene-therapy is needed. Or it could be used instead of gene therapy but it would necessitate the patient repeatedly having the treatment (much like diabetic patients regularly need insulin). This tool is based on Cas-13 (as opposed to the usual Cas9) and it turns an A into inosine (I), which is read as a G by the ribosomes that read the RNA and make cells' proteins. (See doi:10.1038/nature24644 doi/10.1126/science.aaq0180)
          It has to be remembered that it has only been roughly half a century since the structure of DNA was elucidated by the British scientists Francis Crick, Rosalind Franklin, Maurice Wilkins and James Watson, and just 16 years since the human genome was drafted with funding by the British charity Wellcome and Government, and the private, US company led by Craig Venter.  The coming decade is bound to be remarkable. +++ See also following item below.

New CRISPR tools edit RNA.  RNA (RiboNucleic Acid) is the nucleic acid that takes the information from the genetic DNA in the nucleus and ultimately out of the nucleus into the cell's cytoplasm where it can be used to make proteins.  Researchers at MIT in the US have now developed CRISPR based editing tools that can edit multi-nucleotide base-pairs (not just single base pairs) of RNA.  One of these new systems is called REPAIR (RNA Editing for Programmable A to I Replacement).  Both RNA editors use CRISPR-associated Cas13. This may seem a small bit of technical news but it is a significant development and all part of the critically important CRISP revolution that has swept molecular biology the past couple of years.  (See explanatory article by Yang & Chen in Science, vol. 358, p996-997 and the two papers themselves are in the same edition one by Cox et al and the other by Abudayyeh et al.)

New CRISPR tool turns genes on.  One problem with CRISPR is that no matter that it precisely cuts DNA, once the DNA is cut unless the edit is inserted promptly then something else can get in and so a mutation results. Now a new CRISPR tool has been develped that does not cut DNA but lines up with precise sequences and then turns genes on. Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jollaand colleagues developed this tool. They successfully turned on the gene for insulin production in mice increasing insulin production and so combating diabetes. Genes for muscular dystrophy and kidney function were also successfully switched on. This is a major breakthrough and seems to be a low-risk use of CRISPR. (See Liao et al, 2017, In Vivo Target Gene Activation via CRISPR/Cas9-Mediated Trans-epigenetic Modulation. Cell, dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2017.10.025.)

Key photosynthesis enzyme artificially assembled in a bacterium. This is probably the hottest science news you are unlikely to have heard the past season. RuBisCo (ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase oxygenase) is central to fixing carbon dioxide in photosynthesis and is the most common protein on Earth. However, most forms of it are not very efficient, so genetically modifying it and inserting into a bacterium (effectively to act as a pseudo-chloroplast) would be a major step in the path to improving crop productivity. German scientists have now managed to insert functional plant RuBisCo into a bacterial host. (See Aigner et al, 2017, Plant RuBisCo assembly in E. coli with five chloroplast chaperones including BSD2. Science, vol. 358, p1,272-1,278.)

Modern humans diverged from primitive humans between 350,000 and 260,000 years ago. Swedish and South African researchers led by Carina Schlebusch analysed genomes from the remains of three 2,000year old Stone Age hunter-gatherers in S. Africa.  They estimate the first modern human population divergence time to between 350,000 and 260,000 years ago. (See Schlebusch et al, 2017, Science, vol 358 p652-655.)  This is in line with the previous discovery last year of anatomically modern human remains found in Morocco that date from 254,000 and 350,000 years ago.

Primitive women had hugely bulging biceps. 'Bulging biceps and a lock of tousled hair falling over a bronzed forehead' is usually associated with the world's most fabulous man (that's a Kenny Everett Captain Kremon thing if you want the SF reference). However research on the skeletons of prehistoric Central European women agriculturalists and living European women of known behaviour (athletes) reveals that Central European agriculturalist women 7,000 years ago to over a thousand years ago reveal that these women between 7,000 years ago and 2,000 years ago had bigger biceps than modern women rowing athletes. Indeed Neolithic, Bronze Age, and Iron Age women were most similar to those of living semi-elite rowers. Conversely, the past thousand years has seen increased automation beginning with windmills for grinding from over a thousand years ago. (See Macintosh et al, 2017, Prehistoric women’s manual labor exceeded that of athletes through the first 5500 years of farming in Central Europe. Science Advances, vol. 3, eaao3893.)

The Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs featured sever years of a largely frozen Earth. Researchers from Imperial College in London and the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona used new constraints on the Chicxulub impact angle and target composition, they estimated that 325 ± 130 Giga tonnes (Gt) of sulphur and 425 ± 160 Gt CO2 were ejected and produced severe changes to the global climate. Plugging these figures into the SOVA hydrocode global climate model and they deduce that surface temperatures were likely to have been significantly reduced for several years and ocean temperatures affected for hundreds of years after the Chicxulub impact. So after the shockwave, near hemispheric ejecta debris and acid rain, there would have been several years of global winter. (See Quantifying the release of climate-active gases by large meteorite impacts with a case study of Chicxulub. Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 44. https://doi.org/ 10.1002/2017GL074879.)

Further evidence to Earth's first life 3.95 billion years ago (bya) shortly after, if not during, the Late heavy Bombardment.  The implication is that life is common in the Universe.  Japanese researchers, led by Takayuki Tashiro, have discovered likely organic carbon in the form of graphite from Canadian Archaean strata.  The isotope carbon-13 (13C) is discriminated against by life processes such as photosynthesis, compared to the common carbon-12 isotope: it is a vibrational thing as the heavier 13C vibrates more slowly and so undergoes biologically-mediated reactions differently to 12C.  The researchers found that the 3.95 bya graphite was made of carbon with a 13C depleted signature that one would expect if the carbon had been processed by life. (See Tashiro et al, 2017, Early trace of life from 3.95 Ga sedimentary rocks in Labrador, Canada. Nature. vol. 549, p516-8.).  +++ This builds on last season's likely evidence for life 3.7 bya and First life on Earth could have begun between 3,770 million and 4,280 million years ago by different teams.  The Late Heavy Bombardment of the Earth took place 3.8 – 4.1 bya.  There has been previous speculation that as the entirety of the Earth was never completely destroyed during the bombardment, that early life had it got going could have survived the bombardment with in just a few million years of the oceans forming. (See Abramov, O. & Mojzsis, S. J. (2009) Microbial habitability of the Hadean Earth during the late heavy bombardment. Nature, vol. 459, p419-422.)  This latest news seems to support that theory.  The implication of all this is that given an Earth-like planet, the beginning of life is an evolutionary 'easy' step and therefore that life (albeit simple bacterial-like life) could be very common in the Universe.

Two age-related genes found in nematode worm.  Nematode worms are very common in nature (many are microscopic and many live parasitically inside animals and on animals and plants as well as in soil).  Caenorhabditis elegans is a favourite for biologists to study ageing as its life span is only two weeks.  Now, Chinese researchers have elucidated that the expression of variations (DNA polymorphisms) of two genes from C. elegans, rgba-1 (regulatory-gene-for-behavioural-ageing-1) and npr-28 (neuropeptide receptor-28), that seem to affect ageing and possibly ultimately have implications for Alzheimer's. (See Yin et al., 2017, Nature, vol. 551, p198-203, and a short review piece McGrath, 2017, , Nature, vol. 551, p179-180.)

Cholera genomes reveal continual Asian source. Two papers published in the journal Science (the US equivalent to Britain's Nature) reveal that cholera has its origins in Asia and that has been introduced to Africa at least 11 times since 1970 as well as Central America. Latin America has experienced two of the largest cholera epidemics in modern history; one in 1991 and the other in 2010: both epidemics were the result of intercontinental introductions. Also, cholera has mutated into local lineages in Central America but these present as different diseases. Both papers show that there are no long-term local reservoirs of true cholera and outbreaks are not necessarily linked to climate events. (See Domman et al, 2017, Science, vol. 358, p789-793, and Weill et al, 2017, Science, vol. 358, p785-789 as well as a review article by Kupferschmidt in the same issue on pages 706-7.)

First transgenic skin replacement made, and it covers early the whole body. European (Austrian, German and Italian) bioscientists successfully used genetic manipulation to treat a even-year-old child with an aggressive case of junctional epidermolysis bullosa (JEB) caused by mutations in the gene laminin β3 (LAMB3) in the skin's stem cells, that results in the skin blistering. They took a sample of the patient's skin and then replaced the faulty gene with a properly functioning version. They then cultured the skin and grafted it back. Checks were made to ensure that the healthy gene insertion was not in an area of DNA known to turn other genes on and off and this should avoid future skin cancers arising from the treatment, however observation will be required. So far things look very promising.  (See Hirsch et al, 2017, Regeneration of the entire human epidermis using transgenic stem cells, Nature vol. 551, p327-332, and review piece in the same issue Aragona & Blanpain, 2017, Transgenic stem cells replace skin, Nature vol. 551, p306-7.)

Genetically modified (GM), unbruisable apples are now on sale in the US. This means that in the US you will be able to get bags of sliced apple!  Though there have been others (notably Golden Rice) the ‘Arctic apple’ is one of the first foods to be endowed with a GM trait to please consumers as opposed to farmers. Such produce may well be changing the nature of the public debate around GM crops.

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Spring 2018

Astronomy & Space Science News

 

Massive black hole at Galaxy's centre glimpsed. It has long been theorised that a large black hole lies at the heart of our galaxy. We have seen from the trajectories of stars near the galaxy's centre that they are orbiting something massive, but it itself has not been seen. Now, Tomoharu Oko of Keio University in Yokohama in Japan and his team have used the ALAMA radio telescope in Chile to see the (previously known) cloud of gas swirling around a point. They have now seen that point as a source or radio emission itself surrounded by gas. The observations are in line with the black hole being some 100,000 times as heavy as the Sun. (see Nature Astonomy, DOI.org/ccsb (2017).)

Super nova lasts 600 days. Super novae are massive explosions of stars usually at the end of their main-sequence life. They typically shine for a few days before they dim and a neutron star results.  Sometimes, with large stars the energy released can be tremendous (equivalent to that of about 100 million Suns) with an explosive shine that can last for roughly 100 days, before fading: few last more than 130 days.  Now a super nova has been detected, iPTF14hls, that has lasted for over 600 days, though its brightness varied by 50% on an irregular timescale.  The astronomers hypothesize that the star must be repeatedly exploding shedding shells and these shells then collide emitting more light. Having said that, this hypothesis does not explain the super nova's near constant temperature. (See Arcavi, I. et al., 2017, Nature vol 551, p210–213, and a review piece Woosely, S., 2017, Nature vol 551, p173-4.)

Common red dwarf stars may kill life.  Red dwarf stars are small (less tan half the mass of the Sun) cool hence long-lived, which in turn means that there are many of them in the Galaxy's spiral arms and that they are the most common of main sequence stars. Such stars with planets in their habitable zone are candidates for places that could possibly harbour life. Following that line of thought, they could be the most common star systems to harbour life.
          The arguments against include that red dwarves are so cool that habitable planets have to be so close that they could become tidally, or near-tidally, locked and so not have the more uniform planetary surface temperature conducive to life being potentially common on most of the surface.
          Now, Kristina Kislyakova of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Graz, Austria, and her colleagues suggest that there could be another factor precluding life on such Earth-like planets in red dwarves habitable zones: electromagnetic induction heating!  Electromagnetic induction heating occurs when the star's magnetic field changes as the planet orbits through it. This commonly could occur in the star's magnetic field was inclined to the star's rotation, hence not perpendicular to the star's planetary plane.  In such cases, what the electromagnetic induction heating would do would be to turn the planet's mantle and crust molten.
          The researchers suggest that this might be happening in the planetary system TRAPPIST-1.  TRAPPIST-1 is just 39 light years from Earth and last year was found to contain an number of exoplanets including some in the habitable zone. (See Kislyakova et al, 2017, Magma oceans and enhanced volcanism on TRAPPIST-1 planets due to induction heating. Nature Astronomy, doi:10.1038/s41550-017-0284-0.)

A close, Earth-sized planet (Ross-128b) has been found by European astronomers.  It was detected using the high-precision HARPS (High Accuracy Radial-Velocity Planet Searcher).  Orbiting Ross-128, it is just 11 light years away.  Ross-128 (also known as Proxima Virginis, GJ447, HIP 57548) is a red dwarf like Proxima Centauri that is 4.26 light years away around which a little larger than Earth-sized planet orbits was discovered last year.  Unlike Proxima Centauri, Ross-128 is a more stable red dwarf less prone to flares and so likely to be more conducive to life if, that is, the planet is in the system's habitable zone; at the moment that calculation has not been made as more data is required but approximations place it close to the inner edge of the conventional habitable zone and so it can be considered temperate.  Ross-128 at 11 light years may not be the closest star to Earth compared to Proxima Centauri that is 4.26 light years away, but it is moving in our direction and will be the closest in some 79,000 years time.  . (See Bonfils et al, 2017, A temperate exo-Earth around a quiet M dwarf at 3.4 parsecs. Astronomy & Astrophysics.)
          +++ Dust cloud detected around Proxima Centauri. The mass of this cloud is similar to that of our Solar System's Kuiper belt 30 – 50 AU (Astronomical Units – the distance from the Earth to the Sun), but Proxima Centauri's is between 1 and 4 AU. If this belt is analogous to the Kuiper belt then this would be expected as is Proxima Centauri than our sun. (Anglada et al 2017, ALMA Discovery of Dust Belts Around Proxima Centauri, Astrophysical Journal Letters, arXiv:1711.00578.)

A star's planets are broadly similar to the star's type.  The past half a decade has seen a huge growth in the number of exoplanet detections, but the planetary systems vary considerably both in planet type (including super-Earths and super gas giants) and in their distribution around their parent star. At first glance, there seems little similarity between star-type and the planetary system around it. However, now Sarah Millholland, Songhu Wang and Gregory Laughlin of Yale University (US) have conducted a detailed analysis of stars with known exoplanets. They have found that while planetary systems do vary, and do vary with different star types, the similarities of planetary systems around the same type of stars is greater than the differences: there is a degree of correlation between star type and the planets it sports. The suggestion is that with more data it might emerge that we may broadly, in a loose sense, be able to somewhat predict the likelihood of a star system's planets just from the star's type. ( Millholland et al, 2017, Astrophysical Journal Letters, vol. 849, L33.)

Rivers and lakes on Mars possibly explained?  Research published in Nature Geoscience overcomes the paradox that while sediments suggest that water flowed on Mars between 3.6 and 3 billion years ago (a 600 million year window), yet other strata suggests that the planet was mainly dry at this time. The new suggestion is that not only back then was Mars atmosphere a little thicker, but that occasionally Mars angle of tilt becomes extreme so providing high seasonality. This would enable parts of Mars where there are methane hydrates in the soil to release their methane and so warm the world for up to a million years at a time within this 600 million year window. Water could then flow to form the river and lake geomorphology seen. (Kite et al, 2017, Methane bursts as a trigger for intermittent lake-forming climates on post-Noachian Mars. Nature Geoscience, vol. 10, p737-740.)

Clays are widespread on Mars but need substantial water to explain their formation: a new theory could explain matters.  Clay minerals, known as phyllosilicates, preserve a record of the interaction of water with rocks dating back to the Noachian period of Martian history, which lasted from about 4.1 billion years ago to 3.6 billion years ago. US researchers led by Kevin Cannon have produced a model based on their laboratory experiments to account for the widespread clay formation that does not necessitate widespread water on the early Mars. They say that during the very early Mars its surface was a magma ocean that could well have interacted with its atmosphere to form clay. The magma then cooled to form a solid mantle, volcanoes then resurfaced the crust burying the clays.  Meteorites from the late heavy bombardment would then have churned the surface leaving patches of clay all over the planet.  According to their simulations, the primordial clay layer remains as a mostly continuous layer buried at depths of 15–25 kilometres under volcanic and impact ejecta, but exposed near impact craters.  Their buried primordial clay layer theory could also explain the anomalously low density of the Martian crust.  While this theory – if true – is a blow to those who hoped that water was widespread on the early Mars, it may not explain all the clays found on the Martian surface today; it still could be that there were localised areas where water was abundant enough for clays to form more like they do on Earth. Also, similar clays to the proposed primordial Martian clays could have formed on the early Earth but have seen been lost due to plate tectonic re-working of the surface. (See Cannon et al, 2017, Nature, vol. 552, p88-93, and a review piece the same issue by Laura Schaefer, Nature, vol. 552, p37-8.)

The LED revolution has not dimmed the Earth's night side which is brighter than ever. The Earth's night side as seen from space is speckled with lights from our modern, technological civilisation. However, it had been thought that the low-energy LED (light emitting diode) revolution across the world replacing the higher energy and brighter sodium lamps would dim the Earth's night sky as seen from space. Not a bit of it: any saving has been wiped out by the increase in the number of lights shining at night.  German, British and US researchers used Earth-observation satellites to find that between 2012 and 2016 the Earth’s artificially lit outdoor area grew by 2.2% per year and though LEDs are not so bright, this increase in area has meant that there has been a total radiance growth of 1.8% per year. Light pollution is getting worse.  (See Kyba , 2017, Science Advances,vol 3, e1701528.)

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Spring 2018

Science & Science Fiction Interface

 

The man who saved the world from nuclear war died unnoticed for months! See the item in our RIP section below.

SF authors tell scientists of the genre's relevance. The weekly science journal Nature's annual Christmas/new Year double edition for 2017 saw Nature ask six SF authors as to the relevance of the genre to our highly changeable times what with artificial intelligence, cyber warfare, fake news and the like that have embellished the past year. SF/fantasy authors Lauren Beukes, Kim Stanley Robinson, Hannu Rajaniemi (himself a physicist), Ken Liu, Alastair Reynolds (an astrophysicist), and Aliette de Bodard al agreed that SF was never more relevant. To greatly distil their core messages: SF helps us look at often controversial ideas at arms length and provides a test bed as to possible implications of new developments. We really do need SF more than many think. (Being a non-science part of Nature there is free access to non-subscribers. See Nature, 2017, vol. 522, p331-3.)

Global civilization-threatening volcanic super-eruptions are more likely than previously thought.  Volcanic super-eruptions of (1,000 Giga-tonnes [billion tonnes] TNT, or M8) can cool the Earth by 3-5° C for up to 5 years and so significantly disrupt the annual global harvest resulting in global food shortages and widespread regional famine. Previous estimates of volcanic super-eruptions suggested that they took place roughly once every 45,000 and 714,000 years. This was comforting as the last super eruption was Taupo in New Zealand some 25,600 years ago.  However a new analysis of the volcanic database, by British geoscientists together with a mathematician (the lead author) based at Bristol University, estimates the gap between such eruptions as being between 5.2 and 48 thousand years with a best guess estimate of every 17 thousand years. This means that we are overdue for such an eruption. (See Rougier et al, 2017, The global magnitude–frequency relationship for large explosive volcanic eruptions, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2017.11.015.)

J. R.R. Tolkien to be made a saint? A Catholic Traditional Low Mass was held at the Oxford Oratory to mark the anniversary of the death of the Catholic writer J. R.R. Tolkien of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings note.  The Mass included prayer for his Cause for Beatification to be opened. This therefore marks an early, necessary step if Tolkien – in Catholic terms – is to become a saint. (Having said that, just because the road to sainthood has begun, it does not mean it will be achieved.) This is not the first time an effort has been made for Tolkien to be elevated to sainthood.  +++ A conference in Rome in December (2017) to promote the idea of canonising Tolkien was cancelled following unspecified opposition from on high…

People will be on Mars by 2024 via Moon Base Alpha. At least, that is what Elon Musk – the founder of Space-X – says.  Space-X (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation) to now focus on just one type of vehicle, the BFR, which could do all of the firm's current work as well as a Mars trip.  This will bring major cost savings. Space-X is currently stockpiling its existing, proven Dragon capsules for intermediate use.  Some are worried that moving away from the proven Dragon capsule technology will risky.  Along the way to Mars he proposed to construct a Moon staging post which he will call Moon Base Alpha after the Gerry Anderson Space 1999. +++ Previous related news: First private spaceship to service a Governmental space mission completed its runPrivate rocket does two orbitsIain Banks' Culture incorporated into latest Space-X achievement.

First extra-solar object detected passing Earth orbit. Could it be something like Arthur C. Clarke's object Rama?  In October, NASA detected an object approaching the Sun.  Nothing unusual about that as very many asteroids and comets have already been detected. What was unusual was that it was on a hyperbolic trajectory.  This, and that its path was perpendicular to the plane of the ecliptic (along, if not close to, which the orbits of all the planets are found), suggests that the object came from outside of the Solar system. If this is so (it seems likely) then it is the first extra Solar object detected passing through our system. However, NASA evidently refrained from calling it 'Rama' going for the prosaic 'A/2017U1' ('A' for 'asteroid') but then altered to 1I/2017 U1 (the 'I' standing for 'interstellar' once its extra-Solar origins had been deduced. A month later it was given the non-numerical alternate title 'Oumuamua'. ('Oumuamua', means "a messenger from afar arriving fast" in Hawaiian and was given due to the discovery being made by Hawaii-based astronomers.)  It measures around 180m by 30m and is cigar or, as we prefer to say, Tin-Tin style rocket-shaped. Its size and reddish colour make it similar to a number of asteroids in the Solar system. This is the first direct evidence that planetary systems around other stars ejected objects as they formed.
          However, its long thing shape is reminiscent of a possible interstellar-ship design. With this in mind, billionaire Yuri Milner has financed a radio telescope scan of the object by the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, USA. The aim was to see if they can detect any electromagnetic leakage from any technology. (As this seasonal news page is posted, no results from this scan have been published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature,)  Meanwhile, research published in Nature Astronomy (doi:10.1038/s41550-017-0361-4) by researchers based at Queen's University Belfast say that the object has both a visible light and infra red signature similar to icy asteroids covered by a carbonaceous layer half a metre or more thick. The object – 10 times longer than it is wide – is of a shape not before seen in asteroids and is probably about the size and shape of the Gherkin skyscraper in London. However there is no evidence that it is artificial.
          The object entered the Solar system unobserved. It passed the Sun and only then passed the Earth less than 0.25 Astronomical Units (actually it came much closer, as close as 18 million km), so if it was artificial and wanted a covert peek at our planet then it was on not that a bad trajectory. It was only then noticed by astronomers on 19th October (2017).
          From its light curve, that varies with a regular, double-peaked curve, the object appears to be rotating with a period of 7.34 hours. However it is not known whether it is rotating end-on-end or about its longitudinal axis. If the former then it cannot consist of a line of boulders or even two elongated boulders, and must be a cylinder of some integral strength to counter the centrifugal reaction.
          As for what it is, assuming it is not an artificial construct (an unlikely, albeit enticing hypothesis), it has been contemplated that it originated from the debris disk around Vega. If it did then its journey to get here took around 600,000 years, and this is considered unlikely given the vagaries of stellar dynamics and the likelihood of some interaction with another small body over this length of time. Another notion is that the wanderer is in fact a long-period comet perturbed by an unknown distant planet in our system, but for that to work the planet must be large and, for it not to have already been discovered, it must be near the ecliptic plane (the plane of our Solar system's planets). Alas, that does not pan out for the trajectory. What is known is that its incoming velocity and direction is comparable to the velocity and direction of local stars. As its out-going velocity and direction is different, then if it does have a near local star origin, the Sun must be Oumuamua's first encounter with another star. The discovery of such an interstellar object (ISO) passing through our Solar system suggests that previous estimates for ISOs are woefully low. That could be disturbing as incoming ISOs have a larger velocity than Solar system objects, so any impacting the Earth would cause far more damage than an impact from a comparably-sized Solar system object. Conversely, a meteorite striking an ISO cleaving off a chunk that falls to Earth would have an age inconsistent with Solar system objects and so far none have been found. (See Meech et al, 2017, Nature, vol. 552, p378-381.)
          Yet another theory is that it is an object ejected from a planetary system during the chaotic process of that system's formation. If there is such an interstellar population then taking a Monte Carlo (probablistic) approach given the volume of space we can scan for such objects the past five years we have been watching, then there should be a higher density of such objects than the Oort cloud density of objects in interstellar space and that in turn would see 2 to 12 such objects a year come within the Earth's orbit: the only reason we spotted 1I2017 U1 (Oumuamua) was because it came this side of the Sun and close enough for our astronomers' kit to detect it. If this density estimate is broadly correct, then we should see with current appropriate telescopes another ISO in about five years time (and so possibly before SF² Concatenation comes to the end of its currently anticipated one-third century run).
          However, none of this speculation explains the object's shape...
          The mystery continues.
          See also the 11-minute video from the rather good PBS Space-Time folk here.

The evolution of large herbivore animals helps keep nutrients on land. There are significant exobiology implications! Chris Doughty from the Northern Arizona University has shown that there are lower levels of phosphorous and other plant nutrients in coal from the Pennsylvanian sub-period (323 - 299 million years ago) compared to coal from the Cretaceous period (145 - 66 million years ago).  Coal comes from plants decaying in regularly flooded (hence flood plain and low-lying coastal areas) land.  Nutrients such as phosphorous originate in rocks and, weathered out ultimately, end up in the sea.  But why does Cretaceous coal have more plant nutrients?  The answer, Doughty says, is that by then large herbivores had evolved. (Today large herbivores include cows, antelopes, elephants and buffalo, whereas back then there were large dinosaur herbivores.) Instead of nutrients being washed away from flood plains into the seas, plant nutrients were recycled by the large herbivores defecating inland. This meant that there were more plant nutrients in the later Cretaceous coals.  Doughty also compared a non-plant nutrient component, aluminium, which is not concentrated by plants hence not concentrated in herbivores and their dung. The aluminium showed comparatively little change in coals from the Cretaceous and Pennsylvanian. (See Doughty, C. E., 2017, Herbivores increase the global availability of nutrients over millions of years. Nature Ecology and Evolution. DOI: 10.1038/s41559-017-0341-1.)
          So how does this relate to exobiology?  Well, the evolution of complex multicellular life is considered a necessary step for the rise of true sentient intelligence. Along the way, large herbivores should evolve. If the evolution of large herbivores helps keeps plant nutrients on land then that will help both terrestrial large herbivores and their predators thrive. It is a positive feedback step on the way to the evolution of terrestrial sentient intelligence.

The Yeti has been determined as a bear, and the analysis reveals local bear evolution.  The idea that the mythological yeti is actually a bear is not a new cryptozoological theory, but now an analysis of 24 field-collected and museum specimens, including hair, bone, skin and faecal samples, collected from bears or purported yetis in the Tibetan Plateau–Himalaya region confirm the idea. The results have come back showing that the purported Yeti is in fact a bear.  What's more, comparison of the samples' mitochondrial DNA reveal that the Himalayan (mountain living) and Tibetan (plateau living) brown bear were once a single species, an offshoot of the Arctic bear. The Himalayan (Ursus arctos isabellinus) and the Tibetan (U. a. pruinosus) brown bear have distinct skull features and the Himalayan brown bear is characterized by its paler and reddish-brown fur, while the Tibetan brown bear has generally darker fur with a developed, white ‘collar’ around the neck. The new genetic analysis of the samples shows that the species diversified in the quaternary glacials (cold bits within ice ages) between a million and 100 thousand years ago with a major diversification event around 475,000 years ago. (See Lan T., et al, 2017, Evolutionary history of enigmatic bears in the Tibetan Plateau–Himalaya region and the identity of the yeti. Proceedings of the Royal Society Transactions B, vol. 284, 20171804.).  +++ Our climate change bod comments that it is likely that it is not so much the glacials but the interglacials that have caused the speciation with the populations migrating to different lowland areas during glacials on different sides of the Himalayan mountain and plateau complex: the interglacials exacerbate migration to different upland zones. The speciation probably began a little earlier in Quaternary's Pleistocene than the researchers genetic estimate as initially there would be no distinction between the two populations. A whole genomic analysis (rather than just mitochondrial DNA analysis) would be more revealing.

Go-playing artificial intelligence (A.I.) improves an order of magnitude (roughly 10-fold) in two years. Despite Google's AlphaGo intelligence being put into retirement, research into improved A.I.  At the beginning of last year it was revealed that there was a new version of the A.I. that beat Go champions.  Now a new A.I., AlphaGo Zero, is an even better player by an order of magnitude yet has fewer neural net chips. AlphaGo Zero differs from the earlier AlphaGo A.I> in a number of respects. The earlier A.I. was taught the game Go by playing with other humans.  Conversely, AlphaGo Zero can play with itself and learn doing so: a method called reinforcement learning.  What is more the new AlphaGo Zero learnt to play in 4.9 million training games compared to 30 million with the earlier AlphaGo.  It also took three days of training and not several months. Finally, the new AlphaGo Zero has just 4 tensor processing units (TPUs; specialised chips for neural-network training) as opposed to the old AlphaGo that has 48 TPUs. In short, the new A.I. is roughly an order of magnitude (power of ten) better.  So how did the old AlphaGo fare against the new AlphaGo Zero? No contest it would seem: in 100 games the new A.I. beat the old in every game!  All this has caused Andy Okun and Andrew Jackson of the American Go Association to say: "The time when humans can have a meaningful conversation with an A.I. has always seemed far off and the stuff of science fiction. But for Go players, that day is here."  (See: research paper by Silver et al, 2017, Mastering the game of Go without human knowledge. Nature, vol. 550, p354-9;  review article by Singh, 2017, Learning to play Go from scratch. Nature, vol. 550, p336-7;  and a comment by Okun and Jackson, 2017, Conversations with AlphaGo. Nature, vol. 550, p337.)

Artificial Intelligence passes Turing Test with commercial implications!  Yes, this is true, but equally is a bit of a tease of a headline.  If you are something of a computer IT geek you will probably know of the 'Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart'. If ymu don't then how about 'Captcha'?  Captcha is the mechanism by which users verify that they are human by answering a multiple choice question that a bot would likely fail.  The question could simply be something like 'select the positive answer' from a series of options such as: 'May be', 'blue', 'sometimes', 'yes' and 'no'. Or increasingly it could be 'select all the pictures with road vehicles in them' from a series of images.  Captcha is sufficiently difficult that, according to Google, even humans can only solve it 87% of the time (which is why users are allowed three or four goes).  Now research, conducted by Vicarious - a Californian A.I. firm funded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg – have developed an algorithm that imitates how the human brain responds to visual clues to solve visual Captchas. They did it by using what they call a Recursive Cortical Network (RCN): software which mimics the processes in the human brain yet which requires less computing power than a genuine neural network.
          Now this is not entirely new news. In 2013, Vicarious announced that it had cracked text-based Captcha tests used by Google, Yahoo, PayPal and Captcha.com with a 90% accuracy. Since then the new visual Captcha tests are even harder such as with Google's reCaptcha. For instance the question may ask to 'select all the pictures of road signs' but throw in the mix door signs. The new RCN algorithm can now pass the reCaptcha test the majority, 66.6%, of the time.           OK, you may say, all this is a far cry from what we as SF fans might consider real A.I., but add this into the mix of other A.I. research and sentient A.I. robots when they are built will be visually canny and less likely to be fooled.
          The machines are coming...

Saudi robot has more citizen rights than Saudi women. The Saudi robotic android Sophia was unveiled to the public in Riyadh. She was created by Hong Kong company Hanson Robotics. She was immediately given Saudi citizenship in front of hundreds of delegates at the Future Investment Initiative in October. But she did not have a male guardian accompanying her in this public presentation, something that women have to have under the Saudi guardianship system. Nor was she wearing an abaya or cover up.  Meanwhile others commented on the speed she was granted citizenship saying 'This robot has gotten Saudi citizenship before kafala workers who have been living in the country their entire lives'. In Saudi law, foreign workers cannot leave the country without the permission of their employers. This just one element of the Gulf system of kafala, which limits the human rights of foreign workers.
          The machines are coming...and winning in Saudi Arabia…

We might get an idea of how Sherlock Holmes may have really looked!  'Hang on,' we hear you cry. 'Wasn't Sherlock Holmes a fictional character?'  Well, yes, he was but that did not prevent Sidney Paget artistically depicting the man in 1893.  But was that depiction accurate?  Eric Altschuler, of the Metropolitan Hospital in New York, has written to Nature (vol. 551 p33) pointing out that in Doyle’s ‘Adventure of the Greek Interpreter’, Holmes mentions that his grandmother was “a sister of Vernet, the French artist”.  Now, in real life Émile Jean-Horace Vernet (1789–1863) and his grandfather Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714–1789) were both painters. There are several self-portraits by Émile Jean-Horace Vernet and there is a striking portrait of Claude-Joseph Vernet by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (1788) at the Louvre Museum in Paris.  These paintings show that Sherlock Holmes’s purported great-uncle and his great-great-grandfather share an aquiline nose and piercingly intelligent eyes - two of the characteristics featured in Paget’s illustration. And one of the self-portraits by Émile Jean-Horace Vernet shows the painter smoking a pipe.

Reading so called 'literary' works does not make you more intelligent than SF readers. This runs counter to the supposition made by David Kidd and Emanuele Castano of the New School for Social Research, New York, USA (in the journal Science in 2013). The new work is by Chris Gavaler and Dan Johnson who are psychologists at Washington and Lee University, USA, published in the Scientific Study of Literature (vol. 7 (1), p79-108). Their work is based on the different types of effort readers put into a piece of work written in a mundane (day-to-day) setting and separately an SFnal setting with variations that include greater 'theory of mind' (descriptor phrases explaining what people are thinking). Their work suggest that readers of literary fiction (in a mundane setting) focus on what people are thinking whereas people reading SF focus less on that but more on the setting. This means that readers of the SF version performed more poorly on comprehension as to the characters' actions and motivations. Readers’ expectations are triggered by setting tropes and these seem to be particularly potent determinants of literary quality perceptions, inference effort, and comprehension. The science-fiction setting (that overshadows character motivation and action) demanded far more inference of motivation and so greater effort to achieve comprehension.
          One thing to bear in mind, this research focussed on general readers. It would be interesting to see how a group of seasoned SF readers and die-hard literary fiction readers compared. Could it be that seasoned SF readers take the exotic scenery in their stride? After all, part of the difference between SF and mundane literary fiction is with SF the interest in the SF landscape and scenery as much as what character's are thinking. Conversely, with mundane literary fiction there is less interest in the scenery as it is what people are thinking behind their motivation that is at the heart of the story. SF is different: here it is the synergy between landscape/scenery/setting and people.

Yoda speaks an Hawaiian-like language. Queen Mary University of London is (according to the UK government's Research Excellence Framework) the leading UK university for linguistics. So with the release of the new Star Wars: The Last Jedi film their PR department sensed an opportunity and put out a press release 21st December (2017) entitled 'A bit like Hawaiian, Yoda’s language is' just in time to catch the last newspapers before Christmas. The red tops (the UK lower socio-economic class newspapers) such as The Sun and the Daily Mail covered it.  The story is essentially this… Yoda speaks English with 'predicate inversion', swapping the sentence's subject with its object clause (predicate). Yoda's parent language must therefore be similarly structured if he takes the linguistic rules from his primary language and imposes them on a language he subsequently learnt, such as English.  Some languages on Earth really are structured this way and here linguist David Adger cites Hawaiian.

Flying Iron Man breaks Guinness record.  British engineer Richard Browning has set the first world speed record for 'flying a body-controlled jet engine power suit'.  See youtube.com/watch?v=yPZ3goRCdWQ or below.

 

Our Big Brother story for the season: Microsoft Windows 10 and Netherland's privacy law breaches. The way the Windows 10 operating system processes personal information has fallen foul of the Dutch Data Protection Authority (DPA). The DPA says that Windows 10 users "lack control of their data" as the system reports what users are doing on their computer and reports back to Microsoft building a profile of each user. Microsoft has released a Windows 10 update that the opportunity to learn about privacy controls, and the company notes that users are informed in various documents and statements about why it processes personal data, including the performance of the device and apps installed. Microsoft also contests some of the DPA's criticisms.

And finally…

10 SF inventions that made it to the real world. In case you have not been paying attention (though surely you have), ideas from SF have been leaking into reality.  See the 11 minute video here.

Season's Editorial & Staff Stuff Key SF News & Awards
Film News Television News Publishing News
Forthcoming SF Books Forthcoming Fantasy Books Forthcoming Non-Fiction
General Science News Natural Science News Astronomy & Space News
Science & SF Interface Rest In Peace End Bits

Spring 2018

Rest In Peace

The last season saw the science and science fiction communities sadly lose…

 

Alfonso Azpiri, the Spanish SF/F comics artist, has died from cancer aged 69. He drew for the US Heavy Metal and the continental European comics Cimoc and Delta. British strips he drew included: the Bermuda triangle, dimensional trap 'Planet of the Damned' for StarLord (2000AD's original companion comic); and Tornado's 'Blackhawk', the Nubian gladiatorial slave in Roman times strip (that transferred to 2000AD when the comics merged). He is perhaps best known for the erotic take on the Star Wars style space opera with the Barbarella-like 'Lorna' series.

Jim Baikie, the Scottish comics artist, has died aged 77 in his home isle of Orkney where he was born. He worked on strips for the TV-related comic Look-In including Star Trek. However he is perhaps best known for his work with comics writer Alan Moore in 2000AD on the three Skizz about an alien originally stranded on Earth and hounded by the authorities. Again with 2000AD he collaborated with the writer John Wagner on half a dozen Judge Dredd strips.  He also worked for US companies including on Batman and The Spectre strips.  In 2000 he won an Eisner Award for 'best anthology' with Tomorrow Stories.

Ben Barres, the US neuroscientist, has died of pancreatic cancer aged 63.  Born Barbara he transitioned in 1954. He is best known for identifying that non-neuronal glial cells (te most common type of cell in the brain) play a crucial role supporting neural circuits. he is also noted among his working peers for championing women's, minorities' and young researchers' opportunities.

Rodney Bewes, the English actor, has died aged 79.  Though he was much loved for his co-lead role in the television comedy The Likely Lads (1964–66) and Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? (1973–74), he also played a number of genre roles including the 'Knave of Hearts' in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1972) and as 'The Other Squire' in Jabberwocky (1977). He also appeared as Quarter Master Sgt. Stien in the Doctor Who adventure 'Resurrection of the Daleks'.  This in addition to a stint (1968-1969) as the straight host, Mr Rodney, in The Basil Brush Show (boom, boom…).  Alas we will never see him as Digby, the co-pilot, in Dan Dare (starring James Fox) as only the pilot was made in 1981 especially as apparently the show's visual appearance was to be faithfully to comic artists, Frank Hampson’s, original 1950’s imagery and Les Edwards designed the look of the Mekon for the show.  Sadly Elstree studios financial woes of the time and ATV ceasing to broadcast, halted the project: Rodney Bewes would have been brilliant.

Nicholaas Bloembergen, the Dutch physicist, has died aged 97 back in September as we were finalising last season's edition.  Born Dutch, he survived the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands that disrupted his time at Utrecht University when one in ten of his college peers died either due to be caught as a member of the resistance, deported to camps in eastern Europe as Jews, or of hunger in the famine of 1944.  In 1946 he went to the US where he remained. This was just when the phenomena of atomic nuclei absorbing radio waves was discovered and over the subsequent months Nicholaas Bloembergen examined this phenomenon as his PhD thesis, deciding it could be used for imaging. And so Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) imaging was born.  He also worked on the maser (microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) – the precursor of the laser – discovering a way to practically generate a population inversion (in which far more of a given pool of atoms exist at a higher energy state) which is necessary for masers and lasers to work. Today we use lasers in a range of devices from bar code readers to DVD players.  In addition he took an interest in non-linear optics (the way in which a substance's refractive index actually changes with more light (its intensity) shining upon it and he realised that this could contribute to a substance's free energy and so that there is always one extra frequency in non-linear susceptibility as well as being a number of orders to non-linear optical effects.  Today, such phenomena are integral to long-range optical internet communication systems (such as sub-ocean cables). His contributions to lasers, medical magnetic resonance imaging and electronic communications did much to shape modern 21st century life, yet he is not that well known outside of science circles. This did not seem to matter to him and, according to the obit notices about him, he took pleasure in his students' achievements saying of himself that he was 'just lucky'.

Ronald Breslow, the US molecular biologist, has died aged 86. He spent most of his career at the chemistry department at Columbia University in New York City. He is credited with establishing the specialism of bio-organic chemistry. Distinct from biochemistry (which deals with the chemical reactions found in nature) and organic chemistry (the chemistry of carbon-based hydrogen and oxygen compounds), bio-organic chemistry uses laboratory reactions to replicate reactions found in nature. At 17, he was a finalist in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search (which is well known in the US). He elucidate the chemistry of the vitamin B1 cofactor ‘helper’ molecule. In 1958 he worked out how the carbanion between the nitrogen and sulphur atoms in vitamin B1’s thiazolium ring stabilizes the vitamin. He went on to make contributions to the study of delocalised electron bonding in aromatic (benzene ring) systems: ironically, modern chemical symbol nomenclature does no reflect this! Relatedly, his work also popularised the term 'antiaromatic'. In the 1970s he made major contributions to C–H activation; something of great relevance to synthesising pharmaceuticals. Finally, with Paul Marks, he helped develop the cancer drug vorinostat. Merck acquired the licence to manufacture vorinostat, and Breslow and his wife used the roylties to endow a chair in Columbia’s chemistry department.

Randy Byers, the US fan, has died aged 57 following being diagnosed with glioblastoma over a year ago.  Active in Seattle fandom, he co-edited (with Carl Juarez and Andy Hooper) the 2007 Hugo-wining fanzine Chunga among other zines. He also headed up the Lost World Fanzine lounge at 2015 Sasquan Worldcon in Spokane, US.

Dian Crayne, the US author (under her pen/maiden name Dian Girard, has died aged 75. She wrote mystery as well as SF shorts. She also wrote the non-fiction The Essential Users Guide to the IBM PC as part of the 'Pournelle Users Guide' series. She also had some of her stories published in anthologies compiled by Jerry Pournelle.

Alain Dartevelle, the Belgian writer, has died aged 66. Though Belgian, his novels were in French and so accessible to that country's readership. His first novel was Borg ou l'agonie d'un monster [Borg or the Agony of a Monster] (1983) which was a political fantasy of the last days of a bird-man, and his fascist drift in an imaginary Latin America.  Heis arguably best known for his 'Le cycle de Vertor' duology that began with L'astre aux idiots [The Star of Idiots] (1997). He also wrote many short stories and he was published in Compressed Era, Fiction, Imagine, The New Review, The Vivid, Marginal, Series B, Phoenix and Galaxies. Indeed, he played a key role in the creation of the latter, France's Galaxies magazine, in which he continued to provide a regular column on comics. Many of his shorts were published in several collections. At the time of his death he had just published his latest collection of shorts, the English translated title of which is Toy Boy and Other Lures.

Andy England, the British SF fan, has died aged 63. He was a familiar face at British Eastercons and also at the former Fantasy Centre bookshop.

Elizabeth Gilligan, the US Science Fiction fan and fantasy writer, has died. She was the SFWA's Secretary (2002/3). Her story ' Iron Joan' was shortlisted for a Nebula. With regard t her novels, the most well known arguably comprise the 'Silken Magic' trilogy.

Harvey Jacobs, the US author, has died aged 87. Much of his fiction borders with SF but has an urban fantasy riff. Arguably his most SFnal novel is Side Effects (2009) concerning the tribulations of a patient given a succession of drugs to alleviate the side-effects of the previous drugs. In the process he comes to the attention of major pharma interests.

Anne Jeffreys, the US actress, has died aged 94. she is noted in the US for playing Marion Kerby in the Topper (1953-1955) TV series based on the Thorne Smith (1926) novel that was turned into the hugely successful Cary Grant and Constance Bennett film (1937) that spawned two cinematic sequels, and which was the first black & white film to be digitally coloured. The series concerns a couple (the Toppers) who are haunted by the ghosts of another couple trying to do good deeds so as to move on to heaven. There were two series of the TV series with 78 episodes in all.

Annika Johansson, the Swedish fantasy and horror critic, has died aged 57.

Fotis Kafatos, the Greek biologist, has died aged 77. He established Faculties of Biology at the University of Athens and also Crete. He was the founding president of the European Research Council (ERC). He specialised in molecular biology and had an interest in cloning DNA as well as the malaria parasite and vector relationship. He was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society. He was also a recipient of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany[citation needed] and of the Greek Order of the Phoenix.

Yoji Kondo a.k.a. Eric Kotani, the US astrophysicist and SF author, has died aged 84.  He spent many years with NASA including running the astrophysics lab at the Johnson Space Center for the Apollo and Skylab missions, and, for 15 years, serving as director of the geosynchronous satellite observatory.  He co-authored (with John Maddox Roberts) the 'Island Worlds' series Act of God (1985), The Island Worlds (1987) and Between the Stars (1988). His non-fiction includes non-fiction Interstellar Travel and Multi-Generation Space Ships (2003) with Frederick Bruhweil, John Moore, & Charles Sheffield. He received in 2013 the Robert A. Heinlein Award for hard SF inspiring space exploration.

Umberto Lenzi, the Italian film director, has died aged 86. He is known for his fantasy and, especially, horror. His films include Eaten Alive! (1980), Ghosthouse (1988) and The Hell’s Gate (1989).

Bruce McCandless II, the US astronaut, has died aged 80.  He is noted for making in 1984 the first untethered spacewalk. To control his movement he used a large propulsion pack that almost looked like a giant, legless chair. During his EVA he said, "That may have been one small step for Neil, but it's a heck of a big leap for me."  Using it he travelled around a hundred yards from the space shuttle. His second mission in 1990 saw the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Julian May, the US fan and author, has died aged 86. She had two periods of fan activity: the 1950s and mid-1970s onwards. Notably, she chaired the tenth World Science Fiction Convention (Chicon II) and was the first female Worldcon chair. Her first sale was the short story 'Dune Roller' (1951) that ultimately became the B-movie The Cremators (1972) (trailer here).  She is perhaps best known for the four-book 'Saga of the Pliocene Exile' (1981-'84) and the six-book 'Galactic Milieu' (1987-'96) sequences. She also collaborated with Marion Zimmer Bradley and Andre Norton on the 'Trillum' series. In addition, she wrote non-fiction as well as juvenile fiction. Under the pen name Ian Thorne she wrote a number of cinematic novelisations including: It Came from Outer Space (1982) and The Blob (1982)

Heather North, the US actress, has died aged 71. She was the voice of Scooby-Doo's Daphne between 1970 and 2003.

Stanislav Petrov, the Russian military officer, died aged 77 back in May (2017). The demise of the man who saved the world from nuclear Armageddon went unnoticed until the German film-maker Karl Schumacher (who made a film about the incident) phoned him up in September to wish him happy birthday. Back in 1983 Petrov was on duty at an early-warning centre and refused to accept repeated computer warnings that Russia was under missile attack. Had he reported the warnings as real it would have been virtually inevitable that a nuclear holocaust would have ensued. Apparently Soviet satellites had mistakenly identified sunlight reflecting on clouds as the heat signature of intercontinental missiles.

Tim Poston, the British mathematician and SF author, has died aged 72. His SF he wrote with Ian Stewart and their last joint novel Rock Star (2017) has just been released. This was a sequel to The Living Labyrinth (2016) and there was meant to be a third book to make a trilogy.

Kit Reed, the US author originally named Lilian Craig Reed, has died aged 85. She wrote mainly fantastical horror short stories. Collections of her work include Mister da V. and Other Stories (1967), The Killer Mice (1976), Seven for the Apocalypse (1999) and The Story Until Now: A Great Big Book of Stories (2013). Her one clearly SF novel was Armed Camps (1969) that concerned an America on the point of collapse. Her close-to-SF novels included the technothriller The Baby Merchant (2006) and the science-fantasy Where (2015).

Patricia (Paddy) Russell , the British television director, has died aged 89.  She was one of the first female directors at the BBC.  Her work included on Dr Who and as such followed in the footsteps of one of the BBC's first woman producers, Verity Lambert. Paddy Russell worked on the show in the Tom Baker years and reportedly found the man was at first good to work with, but later more difficult supposedly because the role had reportedly somewhat gone to his head. She also worked on the BBC's 1953 The Quatermass xperiment and the 1954 adaptation of Orwell's 19 as well as Out of the Unknown (1965) and The Omega Factor (1980).

Petricã Sârbu (a. k. a. Don Simon), the Romanian writer, has died aged 56 following a battle with illness. This Romanian writer authored numerous short stories (some winning awards in Romania including Atlantykron 1993, RomCon 1994, Nemira Award 1995, and Atlantykron 1995) for a number of anthologies including most of Romania's principal anthology series such as Anticipatia Almanach and Supernova. If you had to pick a single story for which he was noted then it might be 'Ana' in the themed, shared-world anthology Moto-Centauri pe Acoperisul Lumii [Moto-Centaurs on the World 's Roof] in which in Roman times South American civilisations developed a technological civilization.  Petricã Sârbu's real name was Petricã Sârbu but everyone in Romania's SF community knew him as Don Simon.

Dudley Simpson. the Australian composer, has died aged 95.  His contributions include the theme to The Tomorrow People, Moonbase 3 and Blake's 7 as well as the documentary series The Ascent of Man. He also did much of the incidental music for Dr Who in the 1970s including the famous Douglas Adam's scripted 'City of Death'.

Milt Stevens, the US fan, has died aged 74. He was a longstanding member of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. He co-chaired LACon II, the 1984 Worldcon, as well as a couple of US regional conventions. He edited several fanzines including the Magazine of Obloquy and Low Derision and Opus.

Geoff Tootill , the British computer scientist, has died aged 95. He is noted for being part of the four scientists at the core of the team that developed 'Baby' (the Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM)) the world's first computer with a memory and so was a major progression from Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine in the 1830s. Baby ran its first program in 1948 and had a memory of 1 kilobyte (equivalent to 32 words).

Vladimir Voevodsky, the Russian born, US resident mathematician, has died aged 51.  He is especially noted for developing ‘motivic homotopy theory’, a branch of algebraic geometry. He came to maths through physics (which needs maths to understand it) and came to physics through chemistry (which needs physics to understand it): his father was a physicist and his mother a chemist.  In 1996 he came up with a proof for the famous 1970 conjecture formulated by John Milnor and this garnered Voevodsky the Fields Medal.

Paul Weitz, the US astronaut, has died aged 85.  He had tentatively been slated for the Apollo 20 crew but the programme was cancelled. He was the pilot on the first mission to Skylab (1973). He was also the first commander of the NASA space shuttle Challenger (1983), his second space flight and the sixth Space Shuttle mission: it was the first shuttle mission featuring a spacewalk.  He went on to become Deputy Director of the Johnson Space Center up to 1994 when he retired.

Heinz Wolff , the German-born British scientist, has died aged 89: he left Germany aged 11 in September 1939 escaping the Nazi regime the day WWII commenced.  He helped develop, and coined the term, 'bioengineering' in 1954 and in 1983 founded the Brunel Institute for Bioengineering. He was also was the scientific director and co-founder of Project Juno, the private British-Soviet joint venture to send (not a tourist but the most appropriate person) a British civilian into space. (Helen Sharman won that honour.) Among his achievements he invented gel pad electrodes as used in ECGs. He was well known on British television in the 1970s and '80s explaining science.  One of his TV appearances foiled participation in the Call My Bluff show. See it here.

Season's Editorial & Staff Stuff Key SF News & Awards
Film News Television News Publishing News
Forthcoming SF Books Forthcoming Fantasy Books Forthcoming Non-Fiction
General Science News Natural Science News Astronomy & Space News
Science & SF Interface Rest In Peace End Bits

Spring 2018

End Bits & Thanks

 

Well, that is 2017 done and dusted.  2017 was..:-
          the 10th anniversary of Captain America's assassination, and the reincarnation of the French SF magazine Galaxies.
          the 10th anniversary of the publication of the following SF novels: Divergence by Tony Ballantyne; Brasyl by Ian MacDonald; Cowboy Angels by Paul McAuley; Black Man by Richard Morgan; and The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds.
          the 10th anniversary of the publication of the following fantasy novels: Fatal Revenant: The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant Book 2 by Stephen Donaldson; Black Powder War by Naomi Novik; and Making Money by Terry Pratchett.
          the 10th anniversary of the general release of the following SF films: Exitz, I am Legend, The Last Man and 28 Weeks Later.
          the 10th anniversary of our losing the following:  Patrice Duvic, Leslie Flood, Freddie Francis, Verity Lambert, Kurt Vonnegut jr., Marion Van Der Voort, and Robert Anton Wilson.
          the 20th anniversary of the publication of the following novelsSlant by Greg Bear; 3001 by Arthur C. Clarke; Diaspora by Greg Egan; Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman; The Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons; and Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut.
          the 20th anniversary of the following filmsContact and Starship Troopers and of our losing Bob Shaw.
          ee the 30th anniversary of the first edition of the Science Fact & Science Fiction Concatenation (which we might have mentioned earlier).
          the 40th anniversary of 2000AD.
          the 50th anniversary of:  BBC Radio 4's Just A Minute (and over 900 episodes of often surreal comedy); the films  Barbarella, Quatermass and the Pit and The Power; and books The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany, The Last Castle by Jack Vance, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, and The Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny.
          the 60th anniversary of:  the booksTales from the White Hart by Arthur C. Clarke, They'd Rather Be Right by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley, The Cosmic Puppets and The World Jones Made by Philip K. Dick, Doomsday Morning by C. L. Moore, Slave Ship by Frederik Pohl, On the Beach by Nevil Shute and Big Planet by Jack Vance;  the films  The Incredible Shrinking Man and Quatermass II; and the BBC's The Sky At Night.
          the 60th anniversary of the launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik.
          the 80th anniversary of the first SF convention which was held in Leeds, Great Britain (in a public venue as opposed to a small gathering in someone's private home as took place in the US the previous year).
          the 100th anniversary of the films  Himmelskibet and the novel  A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It is also the 100 anniversary of Tolkien first putting pen to paper to draft what would become his Middle Earth sequence.
          the 100th anniversary of the births of Arthur C. Clarke, Will Eisner and Andrew Huxley.

And now we are firmly into 2018 and the 200th anniversary of Science Fiction (see 200th anniversary below)  2018 will also see a number of other anniversaries.  It will..:-
          see the 10th anniversary of the publication of: The Quiet War by Paul McAuley;  Incandescence by Greg Egan;  and House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds
          see the 10th anniversary of our losing the following:  Forrest J. AckermanBarrington J. BayleyKen CampbellArthur C. ClarkeChris CooperMichael CrichtonThomas Disch,  and Ken Slater
          see the 40th anniversary of the first radio broadcast of Douglas Adams' The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy.
          see the 50th anniversary of the publication of Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner, PhilipK. Dick's Do AndroidsDream of Electric Sheep and The Final Programme by Michael Moorcock.
          see the 50th anniversary of the films: 2001: A Space OdysseyThe Planet of the ApesCharly (based on Flowers for Algernon);  and The Night of the Living Dead.
          see the 60th anniversary of the USA's space administration NASA.
          see the 100th anniversary of the birth of Frank Hampson the artist behind Dan Dare, and the SF authors Philip José Farmer and Theodore Sturgeon.
          and notably see the 200th year since the publication of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. As Shelly's Frankenstein is often considered the first work of modern SF (before that there was proto-SF), 2018 can be seen to be the 200th anniversary of Science Fiction!

More science and SF news will be summarised in our Summer 2018 upload in April
plus there will also be 'forthcoming' summer book releases, plus loads of stand-alone reviews.

Thanks for information, pointers and news for this seasonal page goes to: Ansible, Silviu Genescu, Pierres Gevart, Pete Wyndham with separate articles elsewhere this seasonal edition by Andrew Bannister, Darrell Buxton, Ian Hunter, Cristina Jurado, Roberto Quaglia and Peter Tyers.   Additional thanks for news coverage goes not least to the very many representatives of SF groups and professional companies' PR/marketing folk who sent in news. These last have their own ventures promoted on this page.   If you feel that your news, or SF news that interests you, should be here then you need to let us know (as we cannot report what we are not told). :-)

The past year (2017) also saw articles and convention reports from: Tony Ballantyne, Darrell Buxton, Arthur Chappell, Tony Chester, Anthony Heathcote, Ian Hunter, Cristina Jurado, Marcin 'Alqua' Klak, Paul McAuley, Lee Murray with Dan Rabarts & Darian Smith, Ian Stewart, Peter Tyers, and Jim Walker.  Stand-alone book reviews over the year were provided by: David Allkins, Roland Amos, Mark Bilsborough, Arthur Chappell, Jonathan Cowie, Connor Eddles, Karen Fishwick, Susan Griffiths, Ian Hunter, Duncan Lunan, Andrew Musk, Sebastian Phillips, Allen Stroud, Peter Tyers and Peter Young.  'Futures stories' in 2017 involved liaison with Colin Sullivan at Nature, 'Futures' PDF editing by Bill Parry that included 'Futures' stories by: Wendy Nikel, Aaron Moskalik, Ian Stewart and Ninan Tan.  Additional site contributions came from: Alan Boakes (webmaster), Jonathan Cowie (news, reviews and team coordinator plus semi-somnolent co-founding editor), Dan Heidel (additional IT and site back-up), Boris Sidyuk (sponsorship coordinator, web space and ISP liaison), Tony Bailey (stationery) and Graham Connor (ex officio co-founding editor).  (See also our regular team members list page for further detail.)  Last but not least, thanks to Ansible, e-Fanzines, SF Signal and Caroline Mullan for helping with promoting our year's three seasonal editions.  All genuinely and greatly appreciated.

News for the next seasonal upload – that covers the Summer 2018 period – needs to be in before the 2nd week in March. News is especially sought concerns SF author news as well as that relating to national SF conventions: size, number of those attending, prizes and any special happenings.

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