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HEADLINES: HITCHHIKER'S FILM, ASIMOV'S SLURRED + NEW DR WHO
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy film is in pre-production (at last after many years of rumours). Bill (Underworld) Nighy and Martin (BBC's The Office) Freeman are set to star. Apparently, Nighy says (so we know who to lynch first if it doesn't happen) the script is, "really, really faithful." Shooting will not start for a while yet but we understand that Garth Jennings will direct. +++ Meanwhile, the new BBC radio series of Hitchhiker's Guide was due for broadcast in February now has been indefinitely postponed. Major cock-up at the Beeb Beeb C apparently.
Asimov's SF magazine has been portrayed by Michigan TV's Kristi Andersen as 'an adults-only magazine ... full of sexual content ... stories about sex, drugs, and molestation'. Also that this is being pushed to children. Naturally this is gutter press fabrication. See the March Ansible (Asimov's porn scandal) for more. Meanwhile Asimov's have posted a response at http://www.asimovs.com/_issue_0403/response.shtml.
BBC's Dr Who is to return to the small screen on Saturday's next year (2005) with the Christopher (28 Days Later) Eccleston, Shakespearian actor, in the lead role. So dashing the rumour that Eddie Izzard might take on the part; though Eddie's own website was always silent on the subject but admirably shows what we might have had... Stepping into the shoes of the principal original Dr Who writers (Terry Nation, David Whitaker and John Luccarotti) the lead writer for the news series is Russell T. Davies, who screenplays include Queer As Folk and The Second Coming, the latter which also starred Eccleston. But is Davies competent handling the science references believably and accurately when, as it frequently is, appropriate? What is known is that reportedly that the series will have a bigger budget than it did when it ended its original 1963 - '98 run: Well there is 26 years of inflation to take into account. Apparently (The Guardian), Beeb folk ask us to, think Buffy or Smallville, which suggests hints of sexual innuendo and teenage angst. We might do without the latter, and pray that the police box is retained. What about the Daleks? The list of concerns could go on... The BBC has an excellent track record in SF (cf. Quatermas, A For Andromeda (from which the film Species paralleled much of its plot), Hitch-hikers' Guide..., The Flip Side of Dominick Hyde, Red Dwarf...), albeit frequently undermined by poor effects budgets (cf. Blake's 7 and Star Cops). It will need the healthy budget promised to reflect Dr Who's proven international market, as well as good humour and some excellent scripts (but will they approach established hard SF writers for episodes?). The challenge is a tough one.
SF BOOK TRADE NEWS
Now that the UK book industry has compiled its data, time for a brief look at how British SF paperback publishing did last year. Genre titles did not do particularly well of all the books sold in the UK throughout last year: normally Terry Pratchett makes the of top 100 paperbacks sold but not this time even though he would have done well in terms of aggregate sales across all his titles. Nor did any Harry Potter book, undoubtedly because the paperback release of the latest came out so late in the year. The person who did the best was unconnected with SF (though some may disagree...) Dr Robert Aitkins, who not only came top with his Dr Aitkins' New Diet Revolution, selling 1,117,999 books in the UK and with UK exports of 27,714 together valued at £9,154,247, but he also sold three other titles coming in at 44 (£1,109,607) out of the top 100 UK titles, 48 (£1,826,802) and 75 (£1,2587,722). Michael Crichton's Prey came in at 33 with 210,115 UK sales and 57,819 UK exports which together were worth £2,258,645. Stephen King's From a Buick 8 made it to 46 with 207,738 UK sales and 57,819 UK exports together making £1,856,243. Disney had a good time with its Finding Nemo: Book of the Film following close on King at 47 with total sales (home and export) form its UK publisher being £1,826,802. While the author of the juvenile genre title Shadowmancer, G. P. Taylor, reached 58, with 238,435 sold bringing in £1,428,226.
Britain's top two book outlets, the bookshop chain Waterstones and newsagent chain W. H. Smiths, are forecast to have made £422.4m and £357.0m respectively for the 2003/4 financial year, comfortably up from £406.2m and £354.2m respectively for the financial year 2002/3. The 2003 calendar year for total sales (as monitored by Booktrack) saw real growth in the market with a nice surprise at the year end. The pre-Christmas week to December 27th saw high street book sales of £44.3m which represents a 14.4% increase over 2002 with unit sales up 5.1 million (up 12.5%). Nonetheless the big publishers are trimming their lists in the hope that fewer titles will individually make more sales and so more than proportionally boost profits. Tough luck for budding authors. HarperCollins has already reduced its list of new adult titles by about 20% over the past three years and HC-General Managing Director, Amanda Ridout, says that this trend may well continue for a further three years. Similarly Time Warner sees a reduction, from having had 600 new titles in 1999, to around 380 in 2003/4. Meanwhile Pan Macmillan has reduced its list by 5% in 2003 and expects a reduction of a further 7% in 2004. These trends are not specific to SF but will undoubtedly have some affect on genre publishing.
All ISBNs will change in 2007. The one thing common to all Concatenation reviews is the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) which has been run by the International ISBN Agency out of the State Library in Berlin and the global standard since 1970. The ISBN is that 10 digit number on books' copyright pages and, frequently, on their back covers. The big change, that will affect all who use ISBNs to catalogue books, will be to move from a 10-digit format to 13 digits on January 1st, 2007. From then all ISBNs issued must be in the new format and publishers will need to be able to accommodate the new format as well as re-calculate their old 10 digit numbers. The new 13 digit format has three components. i) a three-digit EAN 'Bookland' prefix which will initially be 978 but become 979 when that is exhausted. ii) a nine digit number representing the registering group (publisher), imprint prefix and product number. Finally, iii) (as now) a single check digit. EAN is the body that promotes product ID systems Worldwide and this new system will mean that the ISBNs will become identical to a book's EAN barcode. However, apart from this benefit to the bookseller, the main outcome will be securing sufficient ISBN capacity for the future. In addition to these changes, the way ISBNs are overall managed will alter and there are governance proposals being drawn up by International ISBN for consultation this year.
The Locus recommended reading list from 2003 SF releases was published in February. (In case you are not aware of the multi-Hugo-winning Locus it is actually probably the best guide as to what is happening in book SF on the planet.) Of the score or so of SF novel recommendations nearly half are titles that, or are from authors whom, we have recommended in Concatenation's detailed reviews. Books both Concat and Locus have liked include: Ilium by Alastair Reynolds and Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson. We seem to regularly give good reviews to the authors of the following Locus 2003 recommendations: Coalescent by Stephen Baxter, Darwin's Children by Greg Bear, Nothing Human by Nancy Kress, Omega by Jack McDevitt, Absolution Gap by Alastair Reynolds, and Natural History by Justina Robson. So if you believe in double recommendations, and your shelves are light in 2003 releases, then the afore could well be your answer. Meanwhile some of you are no doubt asking why we have not reviewed more of 2003's good stuff? The answer is that we undoubtedly will, but that Locus primarily reviews US editions which tend to come out 6 months to a year in advance of those in Europe (our centre of ops). Consequently we only reviewed the robotic ground breaking Kil'n People, exotic Redemption Ark last year (2003) and are only now getting round to reviewing Greg Bear's probiotic Vitals though Locus had already recommended these as the best of 2002. This 6-12 month delay leads us to tectonically suggest that the US and Europe are between half a light year and a light year apart: bad news for those crossing the pond to go to the World SF convention this year in Boston or the other way to Glasgow in 2005 - some sort of FTL drive is probably in order.
MAJOR AUTHOR NEWS
William Gibson, author of the 1984 novel Neuromancer and last year's Pattern Recognition, is now fed up with American politics but, we are told, was originally turned on to SF by Judith Merril's annual collection, The Year's Best SF, as well as Dick, Leiber and Bester, having had an initial baptism with Asimov, Heinlein and Bradbury... All according to a Financial Times news cutting (January 17th, 2004) thoughtfully sent us by occasional correspondent Jim Walker. Reassuringly, it all kind of sounds familiar to those of us the wrong side of 40.
Robert Sawyer (author of the recent Hugo winner Hominids whom we recently interviewed) has established (May 2004) Robert J. Sawyer Books a specialist SF imprint of Red Deer Press. The venture is backed by Canadian Governmental funding to publish mainly Canadian authors. We suspect Sawyer's name is involved because he is currently arguably Canada's most commercially successful SF author. The imprint will focus on adult SF (not fantasy).
Reportedly, according to the March SF Crows Nest.com, J. K. Rowling is thinking about turning to SF after Harry Potter! Apparently she'll write an adult variation of Harry first. (The mind simply boggles.) Then she'll move onto literati Atwood type SF... Ho hum.
The French mainstream writer who penned some notable SF works, Robert Merle (b 1908) died in March. A History teacher who wrote in his spare time, he was noted for Week-end a Zuycote which received the Goncourt Prize in 1948 and a film was shot in the sixties with Jean-Paul Belmondo. Some of his works were certainly SF even if in the main he was working totally outside the SF world. His story MALEVIL was also turned into a film. Alain le Bussy reports.
The 2004 World SF Convention, Worldcon, has appealed for a more active interest in the Hugo Awards that never were. This is because this year's Worldcon, Noreascon 4 in Massachusetts, is running retro-Hugos for 1953. Retro-Hugos are comparatively recent and are a Worldcon's attempt to extend earlier in time the history of the World SF Achievement Award or Hugo. The Hugos began half a century ago in 1953 at the 11th Worldcon. However there was not the full complement of Award categories back then as there are today. Alfie (working class) Bester did though win the 1953 Hugo for Best Novel with The Demolished Man which is about telepathic police (hence in Babylon V the character Bester was in the telepathic police service but you knew that). However if all of today's categories had existed back then who would have won? Well we will never know, but we can get a feel for those works whose appeal has stood the test of time with retro-Hugos. So in addition to the usual Hugo Awards for the last year's (2003) best novel, artist, dramatic presentation etc., the Noreascon 4 Worldcon will be organising some retros for 1953. These will be voted on by members of this year's Worldcon. Ideally we should have alerted you to this before as the deadline for nominations will have just passed by the time we post this summer's news column (one of the problems of only posting news three times a year). But, to spark your interest, who do we think will get nominated for say Best Dramatic Presentation and for whom you can vote this summer? Well there are a number of worthy candidates but first let's dismiss The Twonky which is a weak film about an alien shaped like a TV. If it does get nominated it will be because the screenplay was based on an SF tale by the excellent Henry Kuttner writing as Lewis Padget and the nomination will be due to elderly (or SF cognoscenti) expressing interest but it is unlikely to have popular appeal. Robert Heinlein fans might go for Project Moonbase complete with a soppy wedding in space, even if some of the effects for its time were good and there was a female US President. The film The War of the Worlds might well get some support especially as the Worldcon in 2004 is in the US (if it had been in the UK, as it will next year, it probably would not get the same support due to the mangling of Well's classic). So what else is likely to have a strong showing? In the interests of meeting Noreascon's wishes for interest in the retros we will now inject a modicum of controversy...Well John Clute's largely excellent SF: The Illustrated Encyclopedia rates Donovan's Brain, Donovan being a millionaire and his brain being bottled. Hmmm. Conversely, the Illustrated Encyclopedia only gives It Came From Outer Space one star! Well our fantastic film buffs beg to differ. They point out that not only did Ray Bradbury provide the treatment on which the Harry Essex screenplay was based but, according to Brosnan's The Primal Scream, Bradbury helped out with the screenplay too. As for the plot itself, It Came From Outer Space was one of the first films not to have the aliens as invaders (though that is what they are initially taken for). It also was an alien-human-form-takeover movie but it predated The Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the '50s Freudian I Married a Monster From Outer Space. It also was the first film portrayal of aliens impersonating humans behaving stiffly and without emotions... (cf. Spock). As for which retros (and indeed last year's offerings) will be nominated, we should know mid-summer and these will be announced on the Noreascon 4 Worldcon website at noreascon.org. Voting on the current and retro Hugos will then take place by those registered for the Worldcon and the Hugos themselves announced at the 2004 Worldcon, Massachusetts, on September 5th.
The team behind the 2005 Worldcon, Interaction in Glasgow, Scotland, held an open afternoon at the Windmill Pub, Regents Park, London, in February to answer questions from the SF community and anyone already registered or thinking of registering. Two weeks later there was a staff weekend in Swindon. No news arising from either other than a second hand report of welcome tidings that there will be a science programme stream. +++ STOP PRESS: News just out that the US, Canadian and Polish registration rates are to go up from 1st June 2004. The rest of us yet to register can breathe easy as this rise is just to allow for recent exchange-rate changes. The changes are: USA - US$170 (currently US$155); Canada - CDN$235 (currently CDN$225); Norway - 1220 NOK (currently 1160 NOK); Poland - 680 PLN (currently 630 PLN). However the rates have already gone up since Britain won the bid (as is usual to attract early funds and reward early registrants). They will go up again so the advice is to register early. (5 smug souls on the Concat' team did so last year attracting considerable savings.) Registrants get a eight page progress report mailed to them every five or six months up to the convention. There is also an easy-payment-by-instalments plan.
The 2007 team bidding for Columbus, US, to host the Worldcon in 2007 reports that they now have a new look website and other news. They say: "A most important milestone has been reached: We're on the ballot - it's being printed now! [Easter 2004]. The Columbus in 2007 Worldcon bid is looking forward to Noreascon4, the 2004 Worldcon, early in September; we're planning one of the best parties we've ever hosted - we will be in the Sheraton beginning on Wednesday of Worldcon week.
"We now have over 900 pre-support members, and many of those members are upgrading to our "Best Friend" level; what a show of support that is! Noreascon4 is just around the corner; members are upgrading and arranging for their personal memberships to Noreascon so they will be eligible to vote. It's absolutely marvellous to watch all of this building towards a Columbus Worldcon - we've never had one before, and are looking forward, very hopefully, to hosting it in 2007.
"The City of Columbus is also looking forward to helping us host the Worldcon in 2007. They are sending a representative to Noreascon4, as is the Hyatt. Everyone will be available at our bid table at Noreascon for questioning; so if you are there then please stop by and talk with us.
"Fans that have seen our facilities have agreed - they were built for a World Con. Don't forget: Wear your Columbus dragon t-shirt at Noreascon, support the Columbus Bid!"
The Columbus, US, bid to host the 2007 Worldcon is up against one from Japan. Japan has never hosted a Worldcon before so there was a feeling at the 2003 Worldcon, Toronto, Canada, by some that it was their turn. However, as of the end of March there was no further news from Japan other than they have updated their website with a list of new pre-supporting members since the September 2003 Worldcon in Toronto. Slightly worrying as we thought Japan 2007's communication problems were over. We did try e-mailing them (twice)... One of the Concat' team is a supporting member so if we get news via that route then we'll let you know.
Looking ahead to 2008, if you can that far (but then you are SF folk) a bid has been launched for the Worldcon to be held in Chicago. Early days as yet so details are understandably sparse. They reason they give for the international SF community to support this bid is that: "Chicago has hosted more Worldcons than any other city. We are good at it and we enjoy it." And the only reasons so far against this bid is that 'Chicago has hosted more Worldcons than any other city'.
EUROCON + MAJOR CONVENTION / EVENT NEWS
The European SF Society's Eurocon will in 2004 be held in Plodiv, Bulgaria, 5th - 8th August inclusive. Though Eastern European events suffer from even greater vagaries compared to their western counterparts, this year's Eurocon could make for one of the more unique SF experiences since - dare we say it - the Concat' was a lead sponsor of the 2nd International Week of SF on the Romanian, Hungarian, Serbian borders to the north west of Bulgaria itself. As such, all with a genuine interest in the genre and seeking fresh perspectives, not to mention a sense of adventure (cousin to sense of wonder), might do well to give this Eurocon serious attention. The Eurocon itself will be combined with Bulgaria's national convention and the organisers promise traditional panels with authors from many countries and a small art show. They also will cater for war and role-playing gamers and interestingly plan an SF film fest with all films being bi-lingual with English translation (something we have not had to date at western Eurocons). Eurocon 2004 will be held in Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second largest city with a population of 400,000. From a distance Plovdiv looks a bit of a mess with industry and a motorway to the north, however old Plovdiv has many 19th century buildings and reputedly (from various tourist guides) much charm. The disadvantage is that we understand that to get there you need to fly into Sofia the capital (direct from the US, London, Frankfurt or Milan) and then some 130 miles by train to Plovdiv. Our Eastern European experience tells us you need to arrive so as to get the train a day earlier than you anticipate and similarly extend your journey on the return to allow a full clear day before your flight back. The problem is that occasionally (rarely but often enough for you to need to plan for it) trains are cancelled. So allow for the time and if you do not need it then spend the time exploring Sofia. (Besides on the return leg you'll be able to do this with other visiting SF fans, personalities and authors.) This is all part of the adventure. Bulgaria is a small country. Like Romania on its northern border, for centuries it has been a buffer state between the Christian west and Islamic east. However, unlike Romania it missed out on the Renaissance and as a result retained more of its eastern character than Hungary or Romania. It is a small country and so therefore is its SF community about which we have previously reported; so the Eurocon itself will be small. Therefore expect, and enjoy, a different take on SF compared to the standard western Anglophone perspective. Be fascinated by a country that, until the 1990 normalisation on international relations was isolated from WWII on. Become confused when the locals nod their heads to mean 'no' and shake their heads in the affirmative. Enjoy the friendly nature of the locals but beware of the administrative tourist officials who view visitors as an inconvenience. Do not expect Worldcon glitz, but a more parochial and cosy affair. With three course restaurant evening meals and a few beers costing around £5 (US$8) or less, you'll find the time economical. But how successful the event will be for western visitors will be down to the translation services the Eurocon organisers provide. The Timisoara Eurocon, 1995, made a hugely successful move when it paid local university English and French course students a few pounds to act as guides for groups of four or five westerners who in turn bought the students beer and coffee. Timisoara also provided English language editions of the souvenir booklet and programme timetable. These services were paid for by the few extra pounds charged western fans when they registered. This was excellent value and really added to the international dimension of the event, and indeed lasting relations of which the International Weeks are a testimony. If the Bulgarian organisers can assure us of good translation services early on, then the 2004 Eurocon could (as did Timisoara) result in foundation work with the west. Looking ahead to 2005, we can hope that the 2005 Eurocon/Worldcon in Glasgow will have a clear non-Anglophone SF thread so as to introduce (non-English) European SF to a wider audience. After all there is more than Verne and Lem to the mainland continent.
Regarding the 2006 Eurocon Apparently the Ukraine, is bidding to hold the event in April '06 in Kiev. The 2006 site will be voted on at the European SF Society's (ESFS) 2004 business meeting at this year's Eurocon in Bulgaria (see above). ESFS told Concat' that the proposed venue is Kiev which has an international airport and good rail links with Russia, Poland, Hungary and Romania. If it wins, Kiev 2006 will be the most Eastern Eurocon for over a decade (since Riga, 1985) which contrasts nicely with Glasgow 2005 as the most western since Dublin, Ireland in 1997.
And as for the 2007 Eurocon, there are murmurings from Ireland that they are considering "tentatively" putting forward a bid. As of Easter 2004 it is early days, though it is not clear from the discussion to date as to the bidders' Eurocon experience and whether a proper Eurocon is being considered or a souped-up national convention - the latter are more common in Central and Easter Europe where resources are unfortunately scarce. However, that venues both in the north and south are being considered is decidedly good news.
News just in that the French National SF Convention is to be held Thursday 19th to Sunday 22d of August at L'ISLE SUR LA SORGUE (30 km from Avignon, 100 km from Marseille.) Guests to include: Jean-Pierre Andrevon (writer), JoŽlle Wintrebert (writer), Philippe Caza (graphic artist) and Yann Minh (artist). Details from: baujer [@] gti-sud.com. Progress report 1, Alain le Bussy says, is now out.
The Festival of Fantastic Films is moving to the Manchester Conference Centre for its 15 incarnation the weekend of August 20th - 22nd, 2004. The conference centre has two proper cinema theatres one seating 300 and the other 130. These, together with an 80 seat standard room will be used for screenings. And of course there is a restaurant and there are bar areas. Guests include the character actor Dick Miller who is perhaps best known starring role as the mentally unstable beatnik artist Walter Paisley in A Bucket of Blood, a character he reprised in a number of bit parts such as the diner owner in The Twilight Zone: The Movie. Other guests include Tudor Gates who wrote The Vampire Lovers and Lust for a Vampire and the actor Patrick Mower. Guests are subject to availability but one and a half decades of Fests suggests that the majority do make it. Naturally several of the usual genre personality regulars are likely to attend including the author Ramsey Campbell and director Norman Warren. In addition to those you are likely to meet, the Fest is one of those extremely rare opportunities where you can see many films of the 1950s-70s as they were intended to be seen on the big screen. This year the films will focus on a clutch of themes and the organisers are positively trying to avoid those that are readily available on video and DVD. The Fest as usual will start at 4pm the Friday (though naturally the organisers will be there a few hours earlier) and kick off with a feature length showing of the serial King of the Rocket Men. While the Fest has a strong horror focus, there will also be several science fiction films shown. These include Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome where our super sleuth meets a mad scientist (Boris Karloff) who has discovered how to freeze time. Continuing the time theme there will be a new Technicolor print screening of Rod Taylor in World Without End (a forerunner to the classic The Time Machine). One special offering on Sunday will be clips of previously unseen, and banned items as well as a few oddities. Another will be a rarely seen Fritz Lang film - could this be Le Testament Du Dr Mabuse? Independent movie makers, both professionals and also separately amateurs, are encouraged to submit entries for the short film competitions. This year also sees a showcase of some of the past winners many of which are quite simply brilliant. But will the Fest organisers release a video compilation? Fest registration is £70 for the entirety of the two and a half days (a badge ticket gives you free movement about the Fest), advance registrant progress reports (there are usually two or three) and the programme pack. On site accommodation is £45 for a single and £75 for a double including breakfast. We all thought that the Fest might end a couple of years ago with the demise of its founding powerhouse, Harry Naddler (past 1970s Eastercon organiser, Knight of St. Fanthony, and friend of Concatenation), but the Fest still continues. However the organisers did originally consider that a run of 15 Fests would be enough before the core organisers retire. Given that this is the 15th Fest and that next August (2005) sees the Glasgow Worldcon, the question once again arises as to whether this will be the last such gathering in Manchester? We will keep you posted.
CONVENTION ORGANISERS NOTE: We welcome news from you in early August relating to Worldcon, Eurocon and National SF Convention events and planning for our Autumnal (September-December news pages). So make a note in your diary for August to inform us (see 'contact' link at the bottom of the page). (However we do not cover other events, such a small regional or TV science fiction events as there are simply too many.)
Continuing with genre film fests, February's Sci-Fi London3 was "the UK's only film festival dedicated to the science fiction and fantasy genres" according to the organisers who broadcast their myopicism regarding genre film fan events such as the above internationally recognised Festival of Fantastic Films (which, though close to the end of its run, has been going for the best part of one and a half decades), the Bradford Fest (which as yet has only a few events under its belt), not to mention numerous other happenings such as the Norman Warren-organised screening days like his 2002 Hammer Fest. The other thing to note is that Sci Fi London3 was not restricted to 'sci fi' but covered science fiction film in the broadest sense as well as fantasy. (Hooray!) And, despite the organisers' somewhat individual perspective of the landscape, the event was a most worthy one. Sci Fi London3, as its title suggests, was the third such fest. It took place in the last weekend of January/first weekend of February at London's The Curzon Soho as well as The Other Cinema. To its credit the fest screens films across SF less frequently seen, hence the first one deliberately shunned Star Wars and Star Trek movies: a welcome policy given there is plenty of opportunity to see these, but a strange move for a fest with 'sci fi' in its title. (See Clute and Nicholls' The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction entries on 'sci fi' and 'sf', and the Feb issue of Ansible for another current example of SF misnomer as sci fi and the confusion it can cause, if you are perplexed.) The SF London3 organisers have also gone out of their way to show first screenings. Last year's event had half a dozen premieres and this year's did not disappoint with UK premieres of Spectres, Luminal, Sirens of the 23rd Century and Natural City. It also had an all-night programme with complementary ice cream, beer and breakfast. It can afford to do this for unlike most other film fests you don't pay to register rather you pay for each film you see. With prices typically ranging from £8 - £10 perscreening it can be expensive for the punter out to see six or eight films over the weekend and stay in London but such costs are probably largely unavoidable. The fest also features the Douglas Adams' Memorial Debate. One fun innovation is a competition to make a trailer for an imaginary films. Also, like the Festival of Fantastic Films, there is a stream of shorts from around the World. Sci-Fi London, we have been told, is commercially organised as that is apparently 'the only way these things can be done'. (So don't tell the volunteer Worldcon crews with their several hundred thousand pound turnovers.) These points about the SF landscape are not trite. It is quite clear that SF London3 could easily become something very special indeed. True, volunteer fan-run events and commercial ones tend to shun dialogue with each other, but the larger fan events and the (for want of a word) 'buff'-orientated commercial ones, like SF London3, are both half-way houses that should be talking to each other if only as to mutual promotion, but how can they unless both parties recognise the value of the other... Meanwhile the good news is that we gather there are plans for a fourth fest in 2005. It would also be interesting to see whether the organisers attempt to further foster a loyal customer base with two or three social gatherings, in addition to the other non-film screening functions they currently hold during the weekend as these - we have been told - were successful. Meanwhile if living in the UK, or north west Europe, and you are into genre films then keep the last weekend in January 2005 free. You can check out the programme of this year's and previous events from their website. SF London may not be the largest SF film fest in Britain either in terms of numbers of films shown or length of Fest time, but it is certainly one of the bigger players in terms of total numbers attending and a welcome addition to the UK science fiction scene - just don't go expecting much sci fi.
Furthering the (ahem) 'sci fi' theme... The city of Bristol (UK) saw a spring invasion of, not triffids but, John Wyndam's book of the same. Publishers Penguin donated some 6,000 copies, including junior versions, to Bristol libraries and schools as well as 10,000 reader's guides as part of what is called the Great Bristol Reading Adventure. The adventure lasted from January through to March 4th, World Book Day. The aim was to encourage everyone in the city to read and discuss The Day of the Triffids. The city, whose population far exceeds the copies, saw many passing on of books hence the additional copies of reader guides. Even so other methods were required to promulgate the event which included media coverage of what in essence was a local authority organised SF convention on the weekend of 20-21st February: though the local organisers and their PR company kept referring to it as 'sci-fi' (probably due to a subconscious urge to team up with London's film fest above). This event included the screening of vintage SF classic films as well as panel discussions with scientists and writers including, their promotion says, the "prolific sci-fi author" Brian Aldiss (whose Billion Year Spree history of SF says, "only would-be trendies use sci-fi") and Andy Sawyer of Britain's Science Fiction Foundation. This venture was the second of its kind. Last year's event focussed on Treasure Island. There is no news of any future plans.
From Bristol UK above, to Seattle US this summer with SFX - The Science Fiction Experience. which bills itself as 'a first of its kind science fiction hyper-museum'. Sounds exciting and as 'a first of its kind' how will it compare to the former Ackermansion, US, or its longstanding European counterpart the Maison d'Ailleurs [The House of Elsewhere], Switzerland? However, because worthy luminaries such as author Greg Bear and artist Tim Kirk support the venture, it is likely to be a bona fide claim and have such a new take on being an SF museum that it could well justifiably be 'a first of its kind'. It should not be confused with the British SFX SF magazine and its recently-created annual event. Meanwhile you can find out more about Greg Bear who only recently granted Concatenation an interview or check out the man's own website.
Following The Lord of the Rings film exhibit moves from the Science Museum, Kensington, London, to the Singapore Space Centre in March it is due to hit the Museum of Science in Boston in August (in time for the 2004 World SF Convention) and then the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, in October. Apparently the film company is having difficulty in getting permission from Tolkein's estate for a permanent museum in Wellington and so is contemplating commissioning some statues instead. Meanwhile there's The Hobbit film to follow.
Collectormania 5 will apparently attract thousands of SF, fantasy fans who will see over 30 guest stars from blockbuster movies and cult TV plus 300 stalls, exclusive movie screenings, displays and talks. The event will be held in Middleton Hall, Milton Keynes, England, from Friday 30th April - Monday 3rd May. The success of the previous four events has meant that the organisers have only circulated the SF press 6 weeks in advance. (Almost didn't make our seasonal update lads.)
FILM, GRAPHIC NOVEL + TV NEWS
Marcus Nispel is director of another a remake of Frankenstein, for the USA Network, says that his forthcoming TV movie updates the classic SF tale with modern science and genetic engineering. The script is by thriller author Dean Koontz, reverses the creator and the monster. "The monster discovers a soul, while the creator turns more and more into the monster," Nispel said. "And this whole idea of a disciple becoming the master and the master becoming disciple was always interesting to me. I'm always interested in coming-of-age stories or rites-of-passage stories, baptism under fire." Frankenstein began shooting in May in Toronto. From the Nispel coverage it all sounds a bit like a variation of Robin Cook's 1987 novel Mutation (in which a GM enhanced human is born and grows up abusing his enhancements) as much as it does Mary Shelley's classic (in which a scientist forsakes his responsibility to his creation who reacts appropriately to the abuse). It is mildly interesting to contemplate that Cook's work is still under copyright even if Shelly's isn't...
Horror writer and film director Clive Barker is set to work on a new film, Tortured Souls, based on his novella series.Battlestar Galactica is set to return in a new production for UK transmission on Sky One Sci Fi Channel (US), in association with Sky One (UK), in the autumn. This is the follow-through of the December mini-series based on the 1980s series which itself came about due to the commercial success of the original Star Wars movie showing that space opera had a market (and, in the case of Battlestar, opera that could be done with a comparatively low budget). All the principal cast from the mini-series will reprise their roles for the series, including Edward James Olmos (Commander Adama), Mary McDonnell (President Laura Roslin), Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck), and Tricia Helfer (Number Six), among others. Ronald D. Moore (Carnivale, Mission Impossible 2) returns as executive producer as well as writer. Yes Starbuck's a woman! British broadsheet papers usually have a schizophrenic reaction to SF and sci fi but The Guardian's comment (Feb 14th) seemed vaguely pertinent that, 'The Cylons have gone all cyberbabe? No robo-pets? Come back Dirk - all is forgiven!' For further details check the Sky website.
Star Wars: EpisodeIII will be released in the United States and Canada on Thursday, May 19, 2005, with the rest of us getting it later. Huge shame that Europe gets it late, considering the first movies were made down the road from the Hatfield PSIFA SF society in Elstree, England. So altogether now: "Prowse is Vader!".
Now you can access new mini-Judge Dredd adventures World-wide! But only up to mid-June. What's happened is courtesy of the free commuters' newspaper Metro which has 800,000 copies distributed Monday to Friday at stations across London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh. The will be running five-part short story strips (a strip line a day) each week of 2000AD's top law-keeper. Importantly for non-UK urban commuters and non-Brit Concat regulars, you can see them at www.metrocafe.co.uk shortly after publication. Borag Thungg Earthlets.
Still on Dredd matters, the editor of the 2000AD's Judge Dredd Megazine has taken a swipe at the makers of the film the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. (Remember, some of the League's original graphic novel creators have their roots in the 2000AD stable.) The Megazine editor can (reluctantly?) accept that there would need to be changes for an American audience and Fu Manchu "bless him" is "probably beyond the pale these days". But Tom Sawyer would have been in his 60s in 1899 and Professor Moriaty "as a silly spiv? No. No, it wont just do". He says: "It's not just about respect for the creators' vision; it's about respecting the intelligence of your audience. And they know, even the least travelled, most insular of them, that you don't find graveyards in Venice." He continues: "how many mugged punters went away thinking that this was faithful to the comic [and] had all the prejudices about the 'crassness' of our medium reinforced?" To which we at Concat can only sympathise. And add what a pity they also left out Miss Rosa Cotes Correctional Academy for Wayward Gentlewomen or the incidental framing of the story with Wellsian newspaper headlines in the background of volcanoes on Mars and shooting stars overhead at the end. Oh well...
And talking of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, volume II of the graphic novel is apparently now out. We've yet to get hold of a copy but we understand it does begin with the Martian invasion, so some of us at this end are delighted with the prospect.
The Batmobile is tops of fictional cars according to a spring UCI survey of a 1,000 film fans to promote the new Starsky and Hutch film which features the detective duo's famous red and white Ford Gran Torino, the top ten fictional cars apart from one (Greased Lightening) all the cars are related to SF/Fantasy or techno-thriller adventure films (remember The Italian Job is based on computer caused traffic mayhem clogging a city centre). The top cars were:
1 Batmobile (Batman, 1989)
2 Aston Martin (Goldfinger, 1964)
3 Mini Cooper (The Italian Job, 1969)
4 Herbie (The Love Bug, 1969)
5 DeLorean (Back to the Future, 1985)
6 Greased Lightning (Grease, 1978)
7 Ford Mustang (Bullitt, 1968)
8 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, 1968)
9 Lotus Esprit (The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977)
10 Plymouth Fury (Christine, 1983)
Charles Roven, producer of the upcoming Batman Begins film, says the story returns to its roots and bases it in reality. "The whole concept of this Batman is that it ... will be different from the other Batmans, because it's going to be much more reality-based," adding, "Everything that the character does, a living person today could evolve to do. And everything - all of the equipment, the plane, the car, the cape, everything - it's got a real scientific, practical reason for being. ... And you're going, 'Gee, that could happen today.'" Shooting has begun with Christian Bale starring as Bruce Wayne and Gary Oldman as Lt. James Gordon, for an anticipated release next summer (2005).
There is a new Batman short movie on the internet, Batman: Dead End. The (not very reliable) word on the ground around our way says it is from a small special effects company and that this movie is to showcase their work. It is only short at 8 minutes but shows what can be done with a few tens of thousand dollars as opposed to the multi-million dollar budget the Batman movies cost. There has been much favourable comment on the web despite the limited (or lack of) plot, due to its imagery, the old Batman suit (no body armour), and ethos. (Link removed due to net rot.) We rate it as an excellent bit of fun.
SCI FI has announced it will be bringing back Farscape, confirming the rumour we reported in the Spring. It will be all-new mini-series called Farscape: Peacekeeper War and will hopefully be aired in the autumnal run-up to Christmas. The four-hour miniseries picks up where the cliff-hanger series finale left off and will reunite John Crichton (Ben Browder), Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black) and the rest of the Moya crew. That's a relief.
Star Trek: Enterprise was rumoured early in April to have won a UPN contract for a fourth season but only of 12 episodes. Apparently the ratings are not up to UPN expectations but if they improve there could be a yet another 12. The word is we are likely to know by May.
William Shatner to return to Star Trek - in his dreams and those of fans. Bless. Shatner has announced that he has scripted his return possibly into an episode or two of Enterprise. He will not go into details but he claims Trek-fan support. There is certainly a Trek following for Kirk, for example there is bringbackkirk.com; but being a .com surely this signals 'commercial'? Anyway, there is also a short nine minute film doing the rounds which sees Spock bringing Kirk back and they bump into Capt. Archer... It is digitally compiled and computer massaged from scenes from the various TV series and films. You can download it of the bottom of http://bbk.darthdavid.com.
Shades of C. M. Kornbluth's 1951 story Marching Morons, a new series is in the making called 3001. A test person for a suspended animation project wakes up in ten centuries time to find a dumbed-down world. As of the end of March it appears, at least from our search of the web, that no-one else seems to have spotted the Kornbluth connection - so you again hear it from Concat' first. However unlike the Kornbluth story which had a very dark side to it, we understand 3001 is purely a comedy.
There's to be a pilot for Point Pleasant, a sort of Peyton Place meets The Omen. What is it with US TV this year and horror soaps?
Ditto a UPN pilot for Silverlake in which a record store owner who can talk with the dead helps them resolve problems they left behind. (Like why are there so many TV pilots while successful series are axed?)
Wonderfalls is the latest new genre TV series to hit the air waves. A Niagra Falls souvenir shop clerk Jaye (played by Caroline Dhavernas) finds that inanimate objects begin talking to her... (Same writers as Silverlake then?) 13 episodes are in the can and we will have to see what the ratings-determined verdict is as to whether the show will continue. +++ STOP PRESS: It's been axed.
The US TV series Joan of Arcadia has won a People's Choice Award. The series concerns a young girl who hears voices, or the voice, of God, from unlikely bodies... (Same writers as Wonderfalls then?)
The 4400 is a forthcoming series about when 4,400 human abductees-by-aliens return to Earth. Some have been missing years, others decades, but none have aged. All standard fare so far. For what it's worth, there are those from the Star Trek: Deep Space 9 stable behind this series' creation.
The Angel TV series has been cancelled by Warner. The series, a spin-off from Buffy The Vampire Slayer concerns a vampire with a soul who runs a detective agency (though mainly deals with the supernatural rather than straight crime). The sudden news begs the question as to whether the remaining episodes will allow for some story-arc conclusion? A fan campaign is underway at www.saveangel.org. +++ Meanwhile Warner Bros are reported to be revamping (geddit?) Dark Shadows which aired on ABC 1966-'71 with a short-lived revival in 1991. Not that well known outside of N.America the show was a soap with a witch, vampire, werewolf etc. What is Warner playing at? Perhaps they did not like Buffy moving to UPN and feared that Angel might? We are speculating.
The Robot Wars TV series has been cancelled. The British series featuring home built robots battling each other has been popular with a number of SF fans and groups, some of whom (such as one loosely associated with London's League of the Non-Aligned (LOTNA) group) submit their own robot. Apparently the TV staff have had their contracts ended and robot-builder Laurie Calvert in The Contact clubzine, has tried to get in touch with the organizers but no joy.
Sci-Fi Channel has apparently given the go-ahead for a TV movie, Anonymous Rex>based on the novel with the same title and part of Eric Garcia's series of books. (A single author creation bodes well for holistic plot integrity and competence.) A high tech private investigator is in fact a dinosaur disguised as a human (as are other dinosaurs who have mingled with humanity since the dawn of civilization).
There are rumours of a new Highlander TV series being considered! Apart from an interesting original film and passable third film, the Highlander franchise lacked any conceptual coherence (probably due to too many writers and producer control?). The first and third films held the promise of there being immortals co-existing with humanity whose psychic energy periodically cumulates to a critical mass creating a super-psychic. However the second movie introduced aliens, while the fourth saw the original star killed in the 20th century which begs the question of how he survived to be in the second film's future? Blah, blah, blah... Then there was the spin-off TV series that was formulaic with virtually nil story-arc. Would that the franchise take the original film's advice of burning brighter for shorter.
A new Wonder Woman TV series may be in the offing. Apparently Buffy stars are being short-listed for consideration...
The filming of Asimov's Foundation saga is in now in pre-production. 20th Century Fox is likely to release this in two parts, Foundation and Second Foundation. However it's early days yet. Remember how long it took to get Dune and Hitch-hikers from first pre-production to actual production.
A fourth Harry Potter film (Goblet of Fire) is in pre-production while the third (Prisoner of Azkaban) is in post-production. All the previous stars are onboard. Surprise.
A Scanner Darkly, Philip K. Dick's 1977 novel, may well be filmed for Warner. The word has it that it will be shot live action and then animated... For a while we were getting quite excited.
Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea saga is to be filmed as a four-part mini-series for Sci-Fi Channel. Shawn Ashmore (X-Men), Danny Glover (Predator 2) and Kristin Kreuk (Smallville) are set to star.
Rumour has it that an Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars story, A Princess of Mars is to be made into a feature film. Apparently Robert Rodriguez is to direct and the success of the Lord of the Rings movies was the prompt.
SF COMPUTER GAME NEWS
Back in the 1970s, pre RSI (repetitive strain injury), we had Space Invaders. Yes, back then men were men and little furry creatures... you know the rest. Back then Japan as a nation succumbed to the space invaders through, apparently, running out of coins! To celebrate a quarter of a century of the grande dame of computer gaming. Empire have released the 25th anniversary edition for Playstation 2, (£30). You get nine versions of the game from the original to the 3D changeable viewing angle version. Time for dad to show junior real skill in gaming.
Midnight Nowhere is a new SF/horror game from Oxygen Interactive that bills itself as 'the most disturbing adventure game of the year'. You (the game player) wake up in a body bag in a town in which there is a serial killer on the loose... So it is a sort of murder mystery, but there is SF buried in there too. Apparently Midnight Nowhere slipped between the censors due to a technical loophole and we can say it is not for the squeamish. Though early days, it has had some critical acclaim in the gaming world. We do not generally review games but will see if anyone on the team is up for it. If they are, and the visits to the appropriate pages indicate a demand, then we will review more. Meanwhile until we do do reviews, below is a short news snippet of another new offering...
Perimeter is a new SF, shoot-'em-up, battle game launched on 21st May 2004 from Codemasters at http://www.codemasters.com. Set in a future universe where the Earth is dying, multiple civilizations are in a race across a newly discovered galaxy to colonise the only suitable planet... There are 27 scenario driven missions, 30 single player maps and 5 multiplayer maps (1-4 LAN and online).
And finally, shortly after this summer page is posted the 2004 A. C. Clarke Award winner of a cheque for £2,004 will be announced. Short-listed are: Coalescent (Baxter), Darwin's Children (Bear) (coincidently with whom we've just had an interview), Pattern Recognition (Gibson), Midnight Law (Jones), Quicksilver (Stephenson), and Maul (Sullivan). The award is judged by a small panel and, though patroned by its namesake, Arthur Clarke, past winning books have tended to avoid hard SF. So tough luck Bear. Gibson's offering is not one of his hard SF stories and so could be in with a chance. Baxter's book is hard SF but buried beneath an 'alternate' history, so is also in with a chance. Tricia Sullivan's Maul, followed by Gwyneth Jones' Midnight Law, was our drunken pub discussion view of the panel's choice if they stick to past form. Your own view? Announcement in May once the organisers have sorted out their venue problems since the Science Museum (Kensington) raised its charges.
If you have news then do tell us. We focus primarily on national and international level SF news (not usually local) but if you do not tell us in good time for our thrice-yearly news updates then it simply will not get included. Contact us and don't forget web addresses. News for the autumn should be sent to us in August. If you want to contribute a convention review, promoting a national or international convention, providing books for review and other information, please look at our contrubutors' page.
[SF News | Forthcoming Science Fiction Book releases | Forthcoming Fantasy & Horror | Forthcoming Science Fact and Non-Fiction | Forthcoming TV & Film Tie-ins| Last Quarter's Science News Summary]
A Forest of Stars by Kevin Anderson, Pocket, pbk, £6.99. ISBN 0-743-43066-2. This is the second book in the 'Saga of the Seven Suns'. Quite likely we wont be reviewing this one if only because we can't find anyone on the core team willing to take up the challenge, especially after the first in the series. But Anderson's Star Wars and X Files novelizations do sell and the 'Seven Suns' series (not a film spin-off) has attracted some uncritical quotes, so buyer beware. The third book in the Saga is already out in the US. +++ EXTRA +++ Anderson is far better at spin-offs and he has now signed up to Tor in the US for two final Dune books: Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune. Apparently these are based on an outline left behind by the elder Herbert before he died. Reportedly this brings the Dune saga to an end. Looking further ahead, a non-fiction book Road to Dune is beginning to be drafted. It is said it will contain a few lost chapters as well as publisher rejection slips for the original Dune novel.
For Love and Glory by Poul Anderson, Tor, pbk, 0-812-54039-5. Alas no price as this announcement is simply advance notice for Europeans of the US publication of a new SF novel from one of SF's grandmasters, so you need to order it specially.
Millennium People by J. G. Ballard, HP, pbk, £7.99. ISBN 0-006-55161-0. Society is in collapse as violent rebellion comes to London's middle classes. With appeal to both mainstream and SF, this one's going to move but you may need to check your bookshops mainstream shelves as well as the SF ones. We have reviewed Ballard's Rushing to Paradise elsewhere on this site.
Iain Banks has a new SF novel out in September, Orbit, hdbk, £17.99, ISBN 1-841-49155-1. Unfortunately we don't know the title despite e-mailing those who run his website for him twice... However we know a little about its plot, namely: The perceived decadent dwellers of an isolated system live in a highly developed state of barbarism and await their wormhole connection, as one does. As our regulars know, we rate Banks highly and it is always a fight to review his books. The rest of us have to make do. Check out: Against a Dark Background, The Business, Dead Air, Excession, Inversions, Look to Windward, and Whit.
Coalescent by Stephen Baxter, Gollancz, pbk, £6.99. ISBN 0-575-07553-8. Spanning the centuries, this alternate history fits in with his Xeelee universe timeline. The book has had some critical acclaim and has been short-listed for the Arthur (see SF News above). We will be reviewing this one in the near future. We have a mixed view of Baxter's work (which is surprising as when the core team discuss him it is usually with respect) as you can see from our previous reviews of Origin, Moonseed, Space, Time, Titan, Traces, and Vacuum Diagrams. But do join us in encouraging the man and some other recent hard SF authors to expunge, 'regolith', 'caldera', 'tsunami' and now 'actinic', from their works. ('Actinic' means relating to the properties of actinium (element no. 89). Whereas 'actinic radiation' is ultra violet that has an enhanced biological effect through inducing chemical change...)
Shadow Warrior by Chris Bunch, Orbit, pbk, £8.99, ISBN 1-841-49332-5. Space opera which brings together the 'Shadow Warrior' trilogy into a single volume.
Shadow Saga 4 by Orson Scott Card, Orbit, hdbk, £17.99, ISBN 1-841-49205-1. Nothing to do with the previous book. As the title suggests, this is the fourth in the parallel saga to the original 'Ender' trilogy. We rate these even if Card is in danger of wearing out the concept. See our previous review of Ender's Shadow We recommend Enders Game and Speaker for the Dead from the original series.
The Sentinel by (now Sir) A. C. Clarke, iBooks, pbk, £5.99, ISBN 0-743-47975-0. A re-release of his short story collection (first published 1985) with stories from 1946 - '79 that still delight. They of course include The Sentinel (1951) which subsequently inspired the 1968 Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey with Clarke doing the screenplay. Other Clarke books reviewed on this site include: The Other Side of the Sky, The Wind From the Sun, The Light of Other Days - with Stephen Baxter, Rama Revealed - with Gentry Lee, A Fall of Moondust, and 3001: Final Odyssey.
Code Noir by Marianne de Pierres, Orbit, pbk, £6.99, ISBN 1-841-49257-4. The next (number 2) in the series following Nylon Angel. Need anything else be said.
Pattern Recognition by William Gibson, Penguin, B format pbk, £7.99. ISBN 0-140-26614-3. More techno-thriller than SF. A market researcher investigates a video clip on the internet that has a cult following. The size of the cult following is such that it is of marketing relevance. One thing leads to another and before we know it there are terrorist connections. See our review of another of his works, Idoru.
Felaheen by John Courtenay Grimwood, Pocket, pbk, £6.99, ISBN 0-671-77370-4. Billed as 'fantasy' by the Bookseller UK trade mag, it was one of the Locus best recommended 'science fiction' US novels of 2003: indeed it is SF. (So beware UK book and newsagent chains may place this one on their fantasy/horror shelves.) It is the 3rd in the series of Ashraf Bey mysteries. See elsewhere in this site our reviews of Effendi, and Pashade. A Concat review is in the pipeline so see our 'G' (for Grimwood) fiction index in due course.
River of Gods by Ian MacDonald, Simon & Schuster, hdbk, £17.99, ISBN 0-743-25669-7. Its 2047 and India sees civilization in flux. We liked MacDonald's Desolation Road back when we were a print magazine. If this title is true to past performance then you will buy this for MacDonald's colourful writing style (which is great) and less the story.
Moving Target by Elizabeth Moon, Orbit, pbk, £6.99, ISBN 1-841-49169-1. Space opera with a military cadet aboard a space trader. Moon used to be a US marine so it will be interesting to see how she brings her real life experiences to her fiction.
The Time Travellers' Wife by Audrey Niffenger, Jonathan Cape, hdbk, £12.99. ISBN 0-224-07191-2. This is the UK release of the US edition (ISBN 1-931-56164-8). Henry and Clare are a couple but when Henry meets Clare in a Chicago library Henry does not know her, though she does him. The reason is that in his life he has been travelling from his future to her past while she has been doing it the conventional way. Of course the idea that a life can be lived other than as a uniform progression travelling forward in time has been done before (for example Vonnegut's Slaughter House 5) but Niffenegger's treatment has received some critical acclaim (though one mainstream reviewer on BBC Radio 4 found it 'complicated' (which usually means for SF readers it is 'interesting')). It was also cited as one of the best US 'first novels' of 2003 by Locus.
Ringworld's Children by Larry Niven, Orbit, hdbk, £16.99, ISBN 1-841-49170-5. This one is going to sell, guaranteed. It is bound to delight many and possibly infuriate a few. Niven established himself in the 1970s as a writer of concise, scientifically consistent, stories, many of which were set in his 'Known Space' universe and of which Ringworld is perhaps the best known. Then in the 1990s he drifted into fantasy and even his SF began to read like fantasy. He lost some of his regulars, but added to those he retained with a new fantasy following: so his fall from hard SF has not been reflected in sales. However what it does mean is that if you are unaware of his past work you need to decide whether or not you are a hard SF reader or fantasy, or can devour both equally? If either of the former, you need to decide in which mode has this latest offering been written? Known Space completists, of which there are a few, will go for this regardless. Anyway, Louis Wu is back and the Ringworld is dying. It does not help that the Galaxy is wracked by war and that the Ringworld is no longer a secret. He who controls Ringworld controls the Galaxy. And of course as we all know Larry Niven controls Ringworld then he controls... So now you know who to blame for the price of beer. Check out our two, yes 'two, reviews of Ringworld Throne and one review of Rainbow Mars. Both Jonathan and Graham add their endorsements to the latter. Irrespective of all of the afore, do get Ringworld which was re-released a couple of years ago also by Orbit (so you may need to get your book shop to order it: ISBN 1-857-23169-4 should Orbit's regional sales reps fail to inform bookshops or it be omitted from their catalogue). Now is also the time for Orbit (or whoever has, or can get, the rights) to re-release Tales From Known Space, and if these do well The Protector and Ringworld Engineers in the Spring.
A Sterkarm Kiss by Susan Price, Scholastic, £12.99, ISBN not provided. Time travellers from the 21st century raids the barbaric 16th century Anglo-Scottish border history of a close parallel Earth for riches. This is the sequel to The Sterkarm Handshake which came out in 1999, but equally stands reasonably well by itself. It has had some good reviews, although it might have been easier to open a portal in the vault of a parallel Fort Knox.
Singularity Sky by Charles Stross, Orbit, £12.99, ISBN 1-841-49333-3. In the near future we create an AI called the Eschaton which then drives through an era of huge technological advance but bans time travel making it a death sentence crime. (Obviously perps can't be made to do time.) Centuries later humanity has spread to the stars and all is well until a data plague arrives known as the Festival and technologies are literally dropped from the sky. The military plans to destroy the Festival but not everyone agrees. Though this is a debut novel Stross is known in SF circles and he might well go far. The advance publicity blurb does sound interesting.
The Poison Master by Liz Williams, Tor, pbk, £6.99. ISBN 0-330-41248-5. SF (it is set on an alien world) this reads like a fantasy. Could be popular.
DC Comics: A Celebration of the World's Favourite Comic Book Heroes by Les Daniels, Virgin, £25, trd pbk. ISBN 0-753-50905-9. This looks like an updated version of a 1995 Bullfinch Press, Time Warner publication. Les Daniels is the Les Daniels artist who has been three times nominated for the World Fantasy Award, so this should be very good. With full colour throughout and gloss art paper, the production standards are high. We hope to review this one in detail in the near future so keep an eye on our non-fiction reviews index and what's new. What's the betting our Tony gives it the thumbs up?
2000AD graphic novels just out have a goth, gore and gardening theme. They include futuristic vampire Durham Red: The Vermin Stars and Judge Dredd: Aliens Incubus. Durham Red is well known in 2000AD circles as a spin-off from Strontium Dog. Durham is a mutant with certain vampire-like abilities. Her adventure is in an 80 page paperback at £9.99. Meanwhile Judge Dredd needs little introduction save to say that this time he and Mega City One's finest are up against aliens as in the Alien movie. This graphic novel is in the form of a 104 page hardback at £13.99 and reportedly features a deleted scene. The final 2000AD collection now out is Banzai Battalion. An 88 page paperback retailing at £9.99. ISBN were not provided to us but all are in colour and you can buy them on-line.
Meanwhile a new Judge Dredd audio CD is now out called War Planet at £9.99 for UK addresses and £11.50 overseas (which we guess includes off-planet domiciles lest our brave souls on the international space station are not to be disenfranchised). Justice One takes Dredd and Psi Judge Karyn on a mission to the Boranos System to apprehend Efil Drago San. However, not too surprisingly, they are soon caught up in local mayhem. Sorry we can't tell you more than this. Though we have two 2000AD - Starlord buffs and another with casual interest on the Concat team, none have gotton off on the CDs, and we have yet to establish a relationship with Rebellion's PR department (our fault because as said two buffs already on the team etc., etc.). Anyway you can order the CDs from www.bigfinish.com.
Late news. Tower Beyond Time, by John Light, Photon Press, pbk, £5 (US$12 inclusive of air postage). ISBN 1-897968-24-8. Was published at the end of last year. Juvenile SF (or science fantasy) for a readership too young for us to review (we are waiting for Simon and Elaine's Luke to get a little older). Tony says its readership will be for up to 10 - 12 year olds, so if you have kids or are stocking for a library... Further information from Photon Press, 37 The Meadows, Berwick-upon-Tweed, TD15 1NY, England.
Ditto Eoin Colfer's The Supernaturalist, Puffin, £12.99, ISBN 0-141-38040-3. Juvenile SF set in a future where human experiments are conducted and blue parasites adhere to the sick and wounded.
In depth reviews of fiction books can be found off the reviews index.
Publishers' marketing departments note: Virtually all major UK publishers already regularly send us material. We a) List forthcoming season's SF releases and b) also separately review SF books. We list fantasy releases less completely as a courtesy and because many SF readers like fantasy - however we are primarily an SF site and tend not to review much fantasy. We do not generally review material from the US unless we positively wish to encourage European marketing. (Locus are the people with excellent coverage of US book releases.) If you feel your marketing department should be sending us material then contact us. (See the 'contact' link at the bottom of the page.) If we agree we will send you a postal address and site details. The purpose of this note is because over the past year a couple have been unclear as to how to get the most out of us and also because we have been receiving some material not suited to this site. Remember we are a volunteer site run by SF and science enthusiasts who have made a significant investment of time over the past one and a half decades, so we unashamedly leave it up to you professional marketers to help us get it right - Cheers.
[SF News | Forthcoming Science Fiction Book Releases | Forthcoming Fantasy & Horror | Forthcoming Science Fact and Non-Fiction | Forthcoming TV & Film Tie-ins | Last Quarter's Science News Summary]
Midwinter Nightingale by Joan Aiken, Jonathan Cape, pbk. This is the latest in the series that began with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. It is set in an alternative 19th century in which the Stuarts still rule and the Hanoverians plot and werewolves are not unknown. Though part of a series this stands on its own two feet reasonably well with back story explanations. Joan Aiken died early this year, but next year her final book will be published, The Witch of Clattering Shaws.
Prisoner of Ironsea Tower by Sarah Ash, Bantam Press, trd pbk, £10.99, ISBN 0-593-04984-5. Classic sword and sorcery. Book 2 of the Tears of Artamon series from the author of Moths to a Flame. That Ash lives down the road from Concat's mission control is not the reason for the team's current diaspora from the Heath.
Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold, Voyager, pbk, £6.99, ISBN 0-007-13849-0. Her second epic fantasy from an author (until now?) better known for her SF. This is the first UK paperback publication. This one was recommended by Locus as one of the best US fantasy novels of 2003.
The Treasured One by David and Leigh Eddings, Voyager, hdbk, £16.99, ISBN 0-007-15761-4. The second instalment of the 'Dreamers' series.
Swords of Night and Day by David Gemmell, Bantam Press, £17.99, hdbk, ISBN 0-593-04447-9. This is his second Skigannon novel.
The Ghost Writer by John Harwood, Jonathan Cape, £10.99. ISBN 0-224-07113-0. A young Australian boy opens a locked drawer to discover a manuscript of ghost stories written by his great-grandmother in the 1890s.
Nobody True by James Herbert, Pan, pbk, £6.99, ISBN 0-330-41167-5. Jim True is brutally murdered. No problem save for him being out at the time, and 'out' being an out-of-body experience... See elsewhere on this site our review of this book and also reviews of Herbert's Once and Others.
Necessary Evil by Shun Hutson, Time Warner, hdbk, £16.99, ISBN 0-316-72593-5. An armoured van is robbed before sinister goings on at a British research institute become relevant.
Dark Terrors 6 edited by Stephen Jones and David Sutton, Gollancz, pbk, £6.99, ISBN 0-575-07407-8. A collection of horror shorts from writers such as Michael Smith, Christopher Fowler and Tanith Lee. It even has a short by Stephen Baxter who is better known for his hard SF. Our Tony has previously rated the Dark Terror series as a good sampler and 'a must for all horror fans'. Check out our reviews of Dark Terrors 3 and Dark Terrors 4.
The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah by Stephen King, Hodder & Stoughton, hdb, £25, ISBN -340-8718-1. This is the penultimate tale in the series. Our congratulations to King on his (US) National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished contributions to American Letters last November. He reportedly donated his US$10,000 prize back to the NBF for its education programme. Reviews of other of his books on this site include: Bag of Bones, Black House, Dream Chaser, Everything's Eventual, From a Buick 8, The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Wizard and Glass: The Dark Tower 4 and Wolves of the Calla.
The Witches of Chiswick by Robert Rankin, Gollancz, pbk, £6.99, ISBN 0-575-507545-7. A 23rd century boy uncovers the disturbing fact that a cabal of Victorian witches re-wrote history. Rankin is a comedy science fantasy writer. Wry, pun-filled British humour. We have reviewed him before back in our print days, but strangely not recently. To cut to the chase, his books are a bit of an acquired taste and even so each can take a little while to get into before they begin to come into focus. Do give him a try. Our Jonathan rates him, but then he has a Goon-ish sense of humour. Rankin has an almost cult following in some SF reader circles. (For non-Brits: 'Chiswick' is a south-west suburb of London, as is Brentford, where many of his books are nominally set.)
Polystom by Adam Roberts, Gollancz, pbk, £6.99, ISBN 0-575-07541-4. This is the normal-sized paperback of the last year's trade paperback release. A few of us have read a couple of his books so to be honest we haven't yet made up our minds about Roberts - see our review of Salt and just now Stone. It is early in his SF career. He is certainly 'interesting' and definitely worth keeping an eye on. This one is a 'science fantasy'(?) in which a fantastical world/environment actually has a fantastical science explanation.
Jaws of Darkness by Harry Turtledove, Pocket Books, pbk, £6.99, ISBN 0-743-46852-X. This is the small format paperback release of the 5th volume in his 'Darkness' series which is apparently a bit like World War II but for artillery and bombers read magical fire and dragons... His alternate histories have proved popular but our review wasn't quite taken with American Empire: The Centre Cannot Hold.
In depth reviews of fiction books can be found off the reviews index.
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The End of the Line: How Over-Fishing is Changing the World and What We Eat by Charles Clover, Ebury, hdbk, £14.99, ISBN 0-091-89780-7. The author is the environment correspondent for the UK Daily Telegraph broadsheet.
Vanity, Vitality and Virility: The Chemistry Behind the Products You Love To Buy by John Emsley from Oxford University Press (OUP), 240pp, £18.99, hdbk, ISBN 0-192-80509-6. The chemistry behind the way beauty and pharmaceutical products work including those that claim to improve your looks, health and sex life. Emsley's an established science writer.
Edward Teller: The Real Dr Strangelove by Peter Goodchild, from Weidenfeld & Nicolson, hdbk, £25.00, ISBN 0-297-60734-0. This is an authoritative text aimed at the proverbial New Scientist level market. Teller, of course, being one of the lead physicists that developed the nuclear bomb and who was concerned about its ethical and political implications, not to mention more recent developments such as the so-called Star Wars initiative of the 1980s and 90s. This is an engaging work and will be welcome by all those with an interest in great minds and the history of science. It was written by a past editor of BBC's Horizon back in the days when it didn't dumb down as much as it often does today. We hope that our physicist on the team will review this shortly, so keep an eye on our non-fiction reviews index. A must for libraries but let's hope it makes it to paperback.
Futures- 50 years in Space: The Challenge of the Stars by David Hardy and Patrick Moore, from AAPL (Artistis' and Photographers' Press Limited), hdbk, £17.95, ISBN 1-904-33213-7. A spectacular collection of space art, some of which has a science fictional element: astronauts on Mars, views from alien civilizations, star craft etc. This deserves to be nominated for a Hugo, so let's hope AAPL ensure Locus give it coverage. (David Hardy is no stranger to the British SF convention circuit.) Yes, it probably is too early to think about Christmas but if you know anyone into space, astronomy or SF then this is something you might get for their stocking. Highly recommended for its broad appeal and polychromatic display. A stunning mix of science fact and fiction which will delight Concat' regulars. Jonathan has given it a rave review.
How Can We Save the Planet?, by Mayer Hillman, Penguin, pbk, £7.99, ISBN 0-141-01692-2. Urgent action is needed now. However the author is too late to save the planet from the biggest mass extinction since the dinosaurs, just that this one is taking three centuries (or 120 if you buy the anthropocene concept) and not one Tuesday afternoon. Still if you have got children, or have plans to breed, then better follow the advice given.
A Clone of Your Own: The Science and Ethics of Cloning, by Arlene Klotzko from Oxford University Press, 162pp, £12.99, hdbk, ISBN 0-19-280309-3. An excellent value hardback. Since Brave New World there has been much concern over human cloning. Well get used to it because the technology will undoubtedly be here in probably a matter of decades (irrespective of whether whether or not we use it), so we better start dealing with the ethics. Klotzko helps determine the ground.
Not on the Label: What Really Goes on Your Plate by Felicity Lawrence, Penguin, pbk, £7.99, ISBN 0-141-01566-7. It's not just what you buy and what's on the label or what the label says. Did you know that organic foods can come with artificial pesticides? Wash those veg.
King Arthur: Dark Age Warrior and Mythic hero by John Matthews, Carlton, hdbk, £14.99, ISBN 1-842-22934-6. The book behind the film (Touchstone) and TV series (Dreamworks) screened this summer.
The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe by Roger Penrose, Cape, hdbk, £30, ISBN 0-224-04447-8. Penrose is a most worthy scientist and also is SF friendly. At 1,000 pages this is quite a work of popular science. However the publicity blurb saying that the good man is "Britain's greatest scientist" is OTT and must be embarrassing the poor chap. (After all we all know that Jim Lovelock is Britain's greatest living scientist, Steve Hawking the most famous, and Harry Kroto the charismatic Nobel laureate... don't we?)
Chasing Science by Frederick Pohl, Tor, trd pbk, US14.95, ISBN 0-765-30829-0. An exploration of science for the interested lay person by a grand-master of science fiction. It is always interesting to see an SF author's take on science. We do not usually report on US releases but you i) hardly ever get a non-scientist SF writer discuss science at length, and ii) never in the UK these days do we get (they say) major specialist SF imprints publish non-fiction. So it looks like to get this Europeans will either need to order it as an import or pick it up at a major SF convention. (European book dealers note. Ditto dealers planning to attend the 2005 Worldcon, Interaction.
The End of Oil: The Decline of the Petroleum Industry and the Rise of a New Energy Order by Paul Roberts, Bloomsbury, £17.99, hdbk, ISBN 0-747-57075-2. A worthy book in principle with much comment that comes from sound thinking. Pity about the book's basis. Yes, cheap oil, in terms of crude oil price, will end in 30 years or so time. But the price you and I pay for petrol include all sorts of duty, tax and tariffs. There is stacks of orimuslion and other fossil fuel which could be made available to the consumer at the same real-term price as enjoyed today, though Governments would have to find another way of raising tax revenue. For other reasons (such as climate change and energy security) the oil companies will have to change. Interesting, but don't take this book at face value, we haven't seen the last of oil.
Science Fact Publishers Note: Our contacts with you are less formal, and more ad hoc than those with SF publishers. However hits on our various pages do show interest in this aspect of the site. Should you wish more coverage on this site the best way to proceed is to discuss with us your forthcoming releases first before we decide what to include. You may also care to note that some of us also review for science journals and, other than Forteana, our reviewers are qualified scientists either at postgraduate and above or at BSc level but section heads or above. We review popular science and also 1st year undergraduate texts we think our regulars will like especially covering: space related science, environmental issues, and future world issues (population explosion, energy crunch, genetic modification etc.). We also cover non-fiction books on science fiction. We do not include UFO books unless they relate to frauds, meteorological phenomena etc, but do welcome science works that examine the possibility of life elsewhere in the Galaxy.
In depth reviews of science and SF non-fiction books can be found off the non-fiction reviews index.
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The Making of Van Helsing from Harper Collins, pbk, £14.99, ISBN 0-007-18189-2. The book of the making of this summer's film Van Helsing.
Dr Who: The Dalek Factor from Telos Publishing, £10.00, ISBN 1-903-88930-8.
Tales From Development Hell by David Hughes, Titan Books, pbk, £16.99, ISBN 1-840- 23691-4, pulls back the curtain on that pre-production time in film development between when a film is commissioned and the shooting begins. This is 'development hell'. It's a time when film producers and writers clash. Neither understand the other yet both are apparently necessary for the process. The result is that films often get distorted. For a recent example of the end product you can see the 2000AD Megazine comment on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film above. Tales From Development Hell explains why Tomb Raider had no tombs let alone tomb raiding, why the proposed Total Recall 2 had too intelligent a script ('they' say), and how when 'they' consider what Clark will do when he might next turn into Superman costs millions of dollars before the actors go in front of the camera. Most interesting but very depressing.
Classic '60s sci fi from Irwin Allen with the release of the Lost in Space first series DVD from FoxTV. Of note this collection includes the pilot which has apparently never been broadcast (as opposed to the first episode). Strong points: Dr Smith and Robbie the Robot (both far better than the recent Lost in Space film). Weak points (typical of Allen's sci-fi) stereotype plots, no significant story arc, and nuclear family values. Point of actor interest: The actor playing the kid Will Robinson went on to play one of the leads in Babylon V.
Thunderbirds: X-ray Cross-sections, trd pbk, £7.99, ISBN 0-199-11249-5. This summer's release is timed to meet the anticipated interested in July's live-action Thunderbirds movie. It consists of full colour diagram breakaways of the Thunderbird craft much like those that used to appear in TV21 in the late 1960s and which were reprinted in Countdown in the mid-1970s. We have not seen an advance copy - just a glossy 4 page promo brochure - so it is difficult to say whether these are all new. However they do appear to have the 'look' of the old diagrams. Possibly this may become a collector's item.
DD Video in the UK have launched a series of three twin packs at £22.99 for a two fantastic film pack of Hammer productions. The film doubles are: The Quatermass Experiment and Quatermass II; The Abominable Snowman and X The Unknown; and Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell and Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter. All are SF with the exception of Kronos which is a humorous fantasy horror. Our autumn 2003 news reported that some of these were then released in VHS video format. The DVDs include original trailers and other extra features - would that video distributors generally include some of these. But usefully DD Video include a 24 page booklet by Hammer historian Marcus Hearn.
DD Video have also just released Survivors series two on video and DVD box set. Created by Terry (Dr Who) Nation for the BBC, this post-apocalyptic recovery saga ran for thee series from 1975. The World's population is dramatically reduced (by over 99%) due to a lab- escaped virus (from the opening shot the technician was not following germ-free procedure). The 'survivors' have to re-build but first deal with their peers and the mess.
More old TV, this time from the 1980s with the release of the Visionaries, Knights of the Magical Light, the kids science fantasy, DVD. Set on the planet Prysmos it concerns the post-apocalyptic, and post-techno, age adventures of a band of knights. Transformers series 2 is also out.
Trekkers, and even Trekies can enjoy 2005 early with the Star Trek calendar for 2005 by e-mailing Derek Searle Associates Ltd sales [at] dsassoc [dot] org.
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The big news from the year's first quarter came in the run up to Easter with NASA's announcement of a 'planet' (nominally called 'Sedna' and officially known as '2003 VB16') beyond Pluto. Sedna's diameter may be 1,243 miles, which makes it slightly smaller than the ninth known 'planet', Pluto, which is 1,429 miles in diameter. By comparison, Earth's diameter is 7,926 miles and the Moon's 2,100 miles). Pluto, Sedna, Quaoar and 2004 DW dwell in the Kuiper Belt, an icy debris field of comet-like bodies extending seven or more billion miles beyond the orbit of the planet Neptune. Those with some astronomical knowledge on the Concat team point out (contrary to much of the press hype) that many astronomers do not classify Pluto as a planet but a Kuiper body though Sedna is the biggest to date. Previous Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) size record holders before Sedna, Quaoar and 2004 DW were Varuna and '2002 AW197.' Each of those are about 550 miles across. Neither Pluto nor these other Kuiper bodies follow what is called Bode's Law (1772) which proportionally relates planets in the Solar system to distance from the Sun, a rule which using a different proportional constant also works for the main gas giant moons. Until recently it was thought that Bode's law was coincidence but it now looks like it could be a mathematically chaotic result of rotating dust cloud aggregation out of which the Solar system was born. Given all this and ever advancing astronomical technology, we will discover other such Kuiper bodies and some may be as big or bigger.
Body part trade has been discovered near home of SF author who explored the concept of body part theft.. A senior staff member of The Willed Body Program was arrested in March (2004) on suspicion of grand theft (Nature, v428:243). The University of California Los Angles uses the Willed Body program as a significant source of tissue for UCLA researchers. The theft is estimated to be valued around US$700,000. Though not involved in this actual incident, Hugo Award-winning SF author and Californian resident, Larry Niven used the concept of 'organ legging' in some of his 'Known Space' stories of the 1960s and 1970s. +++ At the last World SF Convention, Torcon (Toronto, 2003) Larry Niven received paperwork from Concat's principal editor relating to Prof Chris Arme (Keele University) discovery of an instance of a parasite infection generating a contraceptive effect. This happened to be a concept previously used in a novel by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Science Fiction can sometimes be predictive.
Shooting itself in the foot (again), the listening British Government has committed the UK to a knowledge-based economy and so has launched a major consultation into Science and Innovation: Working Towards a Ten-Year Investment Framework (see www.hm-treasury.gov.uk. Alas the consultation falls fouls (on a number of counts) of its own ("http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/regulation/consultation/code/index.asp") code of practice on consultations. Published in March 2004, the deadline is in April so we do not get the minimum 12 week consultation period. Not getting the minimum, a Ministerial statement should have been provided as to exactly why haste is required. Yet, despite an introduction from three Ministers (Gordon Brown, Charles Clarke and Patricia Hewitt), there is no explanation included. There are other code of practice problems with the consultation, which are all too typical since the day the code was first (not) applied, January 2001. The consultation itself makes for dismal reading as it asks questions that the Government has asked before in numerous consultations and then ignored the answers in numerous reports. Meanwhile UK scientists with an eye on policy are simply too tired to roll hysterically on the floor over consultation question 12 as to how the Government can improve the interaction between science and society, improve the promotion of science, and "improve the public's confidence in the use of science"? Government investment in British science has only just had investment levels restored to where it was in the mid-1980s - though science still has a massive backlog of infrastructure under-investment to make up. But Brit scientists are genuinely appreciative of this restoration of investment, even if it is suffering the effects of the backlog. The next step surely would be for Government to ensure it has a meaningful dialogue with scientists and society. No doubt it will come as a shock to Government and the Civil Service but this means listening before acting on the best arguments and explaining specifically why other arguments were not taken forward. Some hope! All but one of Concat's core editors and nearly all the rest of the team work in UK science and/or with technology, be it Governmental, charitable or industrial, so if you detect a note of bitterness it is because this news item comes from the heart.
Biodiversity conservation took two steps forward and two back in February. A World Summit on biodiversity (to continue to implement the 1992 UN Biodiversity Convention) was held for 12 days in Kuala Lumpur. Much was agreed by 123 countries to set aside sufficient nature reserves to protect several thousand species (out of an estimate 12,200 endangered officially recognised) but some countries, reportedly Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Malasyia, and the US, were said by Greenpeace to put trade concerns ahead of conservation. The real problem is that it is not clear how all the £14bn needed for the conservation plans will be found. The second step forward was the World Health Organization announcing the membership of a new commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation, and the Public Health. This is badly needed not only to spur innovation as to how genomics (like human genome sequences) will be used commercially, to encourage industry to produce new medicines, but also to ensure that there is a mechanism allowing new medicinal plants products that generate revenue sees some return to conserve the environment from which the plants originally came. This could help conserve things like tropical rain forests and biodiversity generally which in the long run could mean more discoveries of medical value. Unfortunately the WHO remit does not include this last and the Commission's members do not contain a single applied ecologist, bio-prospector or conservation biologist. The only British member is Trevor Jones of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry whose background is in multinational pharmaceutical research.
Trials of the 'male pill' have begun in 14 European centres. The 'male pill' is a hormonal fertility control method for men. This follows a successful preliminary trial of 30 men by the Edinburgh Centre for Reproductive Biology. The pharmaceutical companies Organon and Schering are involved. Meanwhile the Vatican on hearing the news was not particularly welcoming and reportedly cited rising divorce rates and other societal ills since the female pill was introduced... as if orphanages, child abuse, high infant mortality, Henry VIII etc., etc., never existed.
Still on reproductive biology, but turning from contraception to human cloning. January saw the clinician Panos Zavos claim that he had cloned a human embryo with implantation into a 35 year old woman. February brought a second announcement that the pregnancy had not taken. Many official scientific bodies, as well as leading independent counterparts, condemn human cloning as unethical. Human cloning serves little purpose and negligible scientific benefit. However it should not be confused with so-called 'therapeutic cloning' of cells and tissues (a better term would be 'cell replication'). Therapeutic cloning of stem cells could eventually lead to replacement tissues and organs.
But human embryos were cloned using non-sex cell DNA (like the Dolly sheep clone) by South Korean researchers and an embryonic stem cell line derived. This ability to so generate stem cell lines brings closer the day we will be able to produce replacement tissues that will not be rejected by patients. There is absolutely no question that the researchers were working towards the cloning of a whole human being which is (currently) considered unethical for a variety of reasons by the majority of professional scientific bodies Worldwide.
And US researchers derived and identified 17 new stem cell lines in addition to the 15 currently known available to publicly funded US research. The new cell lines were derived from human embryos produced through in vitro fertilization for clinical purposes after informed consent from parents and approval from a Harvard University review board. This development is likely to prove controversy in the US where debate over the moral and ethical implications of using human embryos has been intense. The results were announced in The New England Journal of Medicine.
The above US controversy over the bioethics of embryonic stem cell research has prompted another stir when cell biologist Elizabeth Blackburn (the discoverer of the telomerase enzyme important in cell replication and ageing), of California University, failed to have her two-year term renewed on the (US) Council of Bioethics. She is reported as feeling this was due to her disagreements with the Council chair (as well as US President George Bush who is wary of such research). But the Union of Concerned Scientists as well as the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology are reported as being worried about this development.
One final repro-biol' snippet. Valentine's day in the UK was enlivened with a series of Government sponsored explicit adverts. This is to counteract the new rise in STDs. On cyberspace it manifests itself on the www.playingsafely.co.uk site. The campaign is part of a broader initiative costing £4m (US$7.4m).
The war against terrorism is turning North America into an isolated fortress. US science is suffering, and so could things like US-based Worldcons, but Europe could benefit. We at Concatenation are all too familiar with problems associated with cultural exchange and have even sponsored three, two-person, fortnightly visits from the former communist Europe to the UK to further science and science fiction cultural exchange as well as promoted both several science and SF cultural exchange ventures in Eastern Europe itself: in fact five of our core team have been to various Eastern European SF events as have three other occasional contributors to this site and there have been a number of science exercises too. However North America is becoming isolationist and science researchers are finding it increasingly difficult to get the necessary permits to study and research in the US and so are excluded. The journal Nature has highlighted this problem in a 6-page report (vol 427, pp190-195, 2004). We at Concat are also aware of the abysmal and dismissive treatment reported to us by one of our regular correspondents when applying for a one-week study grant and visa by the Canadian embassy in Moscow. (So its not just the US.) Nearly a quarter of US-PhD level scientists working in the States were born outside that country. The prestigious British Medical Journal has also entered the fray with a column headed 'Land of the free' by Trisha Greenhalgh (BMJ, vol 328, pp235, 2004) who, when applying for a US visa to give an invited conference-opening keynote lecture, found that her previous misdemeanour (when aged 19) of working as a lifeguard without a work permit, showed up in a computer search at the US embassy in London. She was ushered into a machine gun guarded room with other miscreants (a previous peace marcher, a parking ticket offender, and a fellow academic who had been caught eating grapes in a supermarket queue), kept for four hours without refreshment, then asked to pay a three figure sum. Several weeks later she was written to saying her visa application had been accepted and asked to send in her passport. She did. After weeks when nothing happened she found out from the post office that the envelope with her passport had been signed for by the embassy, but the embassy refused to accept this or deal with the matter by phone and so asked her to e-mail which they then ignored. She resorted to reporting her passport stolen in order to get a new one, but as far as she is concerned if any American wishes to hear her lecture then they can go to her. (And given that the BMJ has a print circulation in excess of 100,000 among mainly clinicians one wonders why London's US embassy is happy to upset its writers?) However, it is not just science that will be affected by such behaviour, so will SF. Further, recent insistence that new passport holders have biometric identification or have to have a US visa is going to impact on tourism. In Britain for example, there are only two places you can get a US visa, London or Belfast, and you have to attend in person. Given travel to, and accommodation costs in, London, let alone the price of a visa, it is likely that some (maybe many?) prospective tourists to the US will be put off. This could adversely impact non-N. Americans attending US-based Worldcons (i.e. 2 out of 3 World SF conventions). It also means that the rest of the World should make the most of the minority of occasions when the Worldcon is held outside of the US. Consequently, the 2005 European Worldcon in Glasgow really is worth checking out if you have not done so already. For first-timers, don't be put off by 2005's purely 'SF book' and 'Worldcon fan' orientated website, the convention will include a film stream, and undoubtedly TV SF discussion panels as well as provision for SF/fantasy role-playing gamers and those into science; indeed the art exhibition should appeal to almost everyone as will the dealers hall (it will be a hanger really). Meanwhile, back at the plot, if North America does not want talent nor cultural exchange then fair enough, others, such as those in Europe, will tap this resource to further science and forge international relations... Hey, in the UK they even waived basic checks on a huge cohort of visa applicants and then in March a Governmental minister resigned...
On the other hand hats off to the American Chemical Society (the professional and learned body for US chemists (Brit note: chemistry scientists not pharmacists). In February they decided to lift the moratorium since November on accepting science papers for publication from Iran, Lybia, Sudan and Cuba. This followed warnings from the US government that accepting manuscripts from these nations runs foul of embargoes. The American Chemical Society mentions something about some First Amendment which constitutionally allows something else called 'free speech'... Several scientific publishers are lobbying the White House and Congress to lift embargoes and legal action is being considered as a last resort.
US plague expert Dr Thomas Campbell Butler resigned his post as a professor at Texas Tech University early in the year, then in March was sentenced to 2 years in prison as well as fined over US$50,000. Reportedly there were questions over the protocols he followed in transport infectious material. Equally some might argue the 'bureaucracy' is a little impeding for genuine research. Nobel prize winner, and former Butler student, Peter Agre supports Butler saying that no bioterrorism was committed. Others say that the increased funding on bioterrorism research will counter any adverse effects. The journal Science has Butler news on its webzine at http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/feature/data/butlertrialprevious.shtml. A problem remains in that somehow some vials of plague have mysteriously gone missing and the authorities don't appear to be looking for them...
Brits are following North Americans in the obesity pandemic and need to do something about it leading health science organizations say. The Royal College of Physicians, the Faculty of Public Health, and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have submitted a report with suggestions as what needs to be done - which includes a long term sustainable strategy.
Meanwhile the British Government has launched an alcohol strategy. Apparently Brits per capita are now consuming twice as much alcoholic drink (by volume of alcohol) than during World War II. Most of this increase is in the form of wine and spirits. But Brits consumed even more than now before World War I. Nonetheless alcohol misuse is costing England £6.4 billion (US$11.6) a year in lost productivity.
Common health questions answered on the web from the newly launched "BestTreatments" website off of the UK National www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk Health Service Direct website. Currently it contains information on some 60 common chronic conditions including: cancers, back pain, depression, diabetes, and high blood pressure. There is also information on 16 common operations including: hip replacement, hysterectomy, grommets and colonscopy.
2000 British Gulf War veterans saw their case for compensation collapse due to a lack of scientific evidence. The legal services commission faces costs of £4m. Had this gone to court the tax payers could have spent a similar sum. Some British (and US) veterans suffer what is called 'Gulf War Syndrome': fatigue, headaches, cognitive (short-term memory) loss, joint and muscle pain, shortness of breath and skin rashes. Allegedly this might be due to the anti bio-weapon inoculations they were given. But did this treatment go through the normal trials and toxicological screenings that public medicines do?
SF computer gamers are in the process of recreating the World as a 3-D simulation for the US army. It is hoped that the model will be complete in September so we guess that we are all safe up till then. Meanwhile whatever, don't let anyone with a tape measure enter your house.
In February, the leading clinical journalThe Lancet learned that the newspaper The Sunday Times was investigating conflicts of interest for the researcher behind the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) combined vaccine scare. In 1998 The Lancet published a paper resulting in the scare causing parents throughout the UK to turn away from the vaccine. If the researcher did have a conflict of interest then the paper would not carry the same scientific weight. If nothing else the conflict of interest should have been declared. Learning of The Sunday Times investigation, The Lancet editor said that if he had known of the conflict of interest he would not have allowed the paper to have been published in its original form. The researcher was paid £55K (US$103K) to conduct a separate study into whether parents whose children had allegedly been harmed by the vaccine could sue the manufacturers. Though why the editor did not make this comment some months ago, when the research disclosed his financial interests in a supplementary letter to the journal, remains unclear and suggests that the editor would have not made the announcement had The Sunday Times not begun looking into the story. Surprisingly the media coverage of this incident did not refer to data 'tuning' - the subconscious massaging of data by researchers. Even if researchers are completely honest, it is important that all potential conflicts of interest are declared with the publication of research papers in case tuning takes place. Separate corroborating research by those with no known stake in the outcome is then required to validate the research. Given, in any case, that the scientific method demands independent replication of results, this is perfectly normal practice. Meanwhile the researcher has denied that the concerns are relevant and said that he did disclose his conflict of interest to The Lancet... three months after his paper was published. +++ Meanwhile the freelance journalist investigating the story is suing The Lancet for breaking confidentiality by speaking out before The Sunday Times could print his story so losing him a story sale. The journalist has a tape of him stressing the importance of confidentiality before discussions commenced. +++ The London-based Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) was established in 1997 to help clinical journal editors drafted a code of practice on its http://www.publicationethics.org.uk website with a final version expected this summer.
The Spring saw a continuation of Britain's heated genetic crop debate with the Government over-riding the views of its own public consultation with plans for the commercial planting of genetically modified (GM) crops. Countering this came a letter from various public organizations with a collective membership of some six million calling for a delay on commercial planting. This followed a report from the all-part Commons Environmental Audit Committee which also called for a delay until more research has been done. Given that the Government previously over-rode independent scientists' concerns, quietly dropped a MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) consultation on GM crop separation (while Blair said the public needed an open debate based on best science) after independent scientists said that existing protocols to prevent conventional gene movement should be imposed until GM technology was proven safe, and then there are the year-on-year real-term cuts in Government Departmental (MAFF/DEFRA) agricultural research for one and a half decades (despite BSE, bovine TB, foot and mouth etc)... You can guess what will happen next? Not a proper research programme nor the development of clear boundary rules, as to GM technology use, to reassure the public as there is with embryo research. That'd be too much to expect. Meanwhile the UK misses out on the technology, the public remain nervous, and agricultural R&D remains in decline. Brilliant.
Our Concat physicist highlighted an example of the BBC Horizon TV programme's declining standards in our Spring 04 news bulletin, which is something the rest of us also noticed. Anyway, apparently we are not the only ones with a grumble. The British Medical Journal (BMJ, vol 328, pp234) said that this year's Horizon programme on the Atkins Diet was made for those who did not have a long attention span, and was 'repetitive'. So a plea. If, BBC, the 2003/4 viewing figures do not show a marked increase can we please return to a more informative format on a regular basis? We know they can do it as they did a couple of weeks later with their ethical dilemma programme Thalidomide: A Second Chance?.
Still on the BBC, just days after the Hutton Report which (which many say unfairly) damned the Beeb for presenting a story (the publicising by a civil service whistle-blower on Iraq's lack of weapons of mass destruction who subsequently committed suicide) on too little evidence, BBC Radio 4's Shop Talk had extensive but completely one-sided coverage of astrology. Business as usual then?
The 2004 new year soon demonstrated Concat's ability to be on the ball with two (and a half) of our three predictions coming true in January and February no less! Unfortunately one was that the British Beagle 2 Martian lander would not detect life on Mars. 'Unfortunately' because [at Christmas] our biosphere scientist felt it 'odds on' that Mars is currently a dead planet as its atmosphere appears to be in chemical equilibrium (of course there could be semi-isolated microbial ecosystems inside geological strata but this is a bit of a long shot) [See 'That methane was detected..' below for the latest news overturning this analysis.] None of us foresaw that Beagle 2 would be a write off: we on the Concat team were all rooting for Beagle up to when Mars Express failed to make its second contact attempt once in a polar orbit. We did, though, send Prof Colin Pillinger a message of support, and he duly acknowledged this with thanks. (More on Mars below.) Meanwhile our second prediction was that 2004 would see "another microbiological emergent scare be it a disease (cf. SARS), a farm pathogen, or a super antibiotic resistant strain beyond MRSA." Boy, were we right, and twice over to boot! First, January saw the World Health Organization confirm the first new case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) since last year's outbreak that came under control in July after it affected more than 8,000 people and killed 774 in 27 countries. The new patient is a 32 year old journalist in China. Alarmingly genetic sequencing indicates that this is a new strain of SARS, one similar to that carried by civet cats and different from that causing last year's outbreak. This means that a new species jump has taken place. Secondly, our microbial prediction became doubly right with an outbreak among humans of a highly contagious bird flu (H5N1) that killed a dozen by the end of January, while February saw what is thought to be human-to-human transmission. Spring also revealed H5N1 avian flu to be more fatal than the 1997 outbreak in Hong Kong. The rates of between 60% and 70% mortality are much higher than the 30% back in 1997. The World Health Organization has renewed its former SARS partnership with the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the World Organization for Animal health (OIE).This whole area of emerging infections clearly needs more attention. At Concat we wonder whether in Britain the newly re-organised public health labs, and the associated Health Protection Agency, have the adequate resources to deal with an outbreak of a new lethal pathogen? British biologists have already voiced doubts but little is being done and probably wont until the news headlines are affected. Meanwhile Concat will continue to use its team's grass-roots science to help keep you ahead of the game. Finally, our third December 2003 prediction for 2004 has sort of come true with news of research by a Canadian - Japanese team (Nature v427, p825-827) that temperature changes in the deep waters of the North Atlantic have been detected 14 years after a similar survey. This suggests that water previously insulated from the atmosphere is now not so and this could be a possible indication of the shutting down of the Wally Broecker thermohaline conveyor so pushing the North Atlantic drift further south and plunging France, the UK, Netherlands and southern Norway into Canadian style winters...
Returning to flu, British bioscientists, led by John Skehel from the National Institute for Medical Research, have uncovered why the 1918 avian flu virus killed 20 million Worldwide - more than died in WWI hostilities - and infected an estimated half a billion (or half the World's population at the time). The paper was published in the US multidisciplinary journal Science. The problem was due to changes in the haemaglutanin molecule that sticks out from the virus in spikes and which locks on to receptor proteins on the surface of cells it is to infect. Normally human and bird virus haemaglutanins interact with different receptors, but the 1918 virus haemaglutanins changed slightly and could interact with both. The scientists found this out from the remains of an Inuit woman buried in the Alaskan tundra. All major flu pandemics in modern medical history (Spanish flu 1918, Asian flu 1957, and Hong Kong Flu 1968) resulted from viruses that came from birds. The techniques used, and knowledge gained, from this research could well help us in the future track and monitor changes in animal viruses to alert us to rising risks. However this is a little way off, and beside monitoring systems and rapid vaccine mass-production systems would be required, so this news is of little help with the current avian flu.
Europe can only immunise 25% of its population against a flu pandemic and then only assuming there is enough warning. A European Union strategy is now to be developed - http://europa.eu.int/comm/health/index_en.html.
Nutrigenetics is a new specialism relating genetics to nutrition. It is one of the (predictable) spin offs of sequencing the human genome. One of the new genes identified affecting the metabolism of fats has recently been discovered and reported in Nature Genetics. This gene, called ALOX5AP, is associated with an individual's propensity to strokes and heart attacks. It could be that dietary advice could help reduce such health risks for those with the gene. One can foresee a time, perhaps decades in the future, when everyone informed by their own gene profile might receive dietary advice to reduce a range of health risks. Some restaurants might even cater for the more common complaints as they do now for vegetarians. Bar codes including nutrigenetic information in supermarkets might be readable for cross checking against your own profile by your wrist PC and mobile. As such information is likely for many to only have a marginal benefit, eating information-blind at parties and such might for some have a little harmless frisson... The speculation of future potentials is endless...
Some (not all thankfully) SF book fans are snooty as to their media counterparts, other fans can't take even constructive criticism, and we all know the result - a fan feud. Fortunately most of us get on and enjoy comparing differences even if they can be marked. However in space, contrary to implications from its vastness, being fractious can cause problems. Which is why fearing a bout of space rage the Russian space agency have told cosmonauts Valery Tokarev (Russian) and Leroy Chaio, that they couldn't go to the space station in April. It was thought that problems might arise in the space station's cramped conditions at some stage in the 6 month tour. Apparently the cosmonauts don't get on.
Of course you do not need to go to space to encounter snootiness or the fractious in science. The Royal Society (the UK prestigious learned body) is unashamedly (rightly) elitist to promulgate best science. Having said that, some of those who have had to work with the Society have at times found some (thankfully not all) of its attitude a tad snooty. The latest such instance concerning a member of the great and the good arose out of criticism of Oxford pharmacology professor Susan Greenfield's nomination for Fellowship to the Society: she is better known publicly for her science communication articles and TV appearances. The UK multidisciplinary journal Nature (v427:p578) reported, '"Her science is not of the stature that would get her into the Royal Society," sniffs one fellow.' Greenfield herself is reported saying that, "it is a pity that those who do not have the courage to identify themselves can make unsubstantiated criticisms of both my science and my activities in public communication." A couple of years ago the head of the Royal Society's public understanding of science committee resigned after finding it difficult to get the Society to work with non-Society partners. Last year the UK Government replied to a House of Commons Select Committee report that it valued Britain's scientific learned societies and that they should apply for financial support on projects to the Royal Society as the RS is largely funded by Government, but alas little seems to have changed. Put this all together then is it surprising that there is a bit of a gulf between British science and the public?
'Road safety is no accident,' says the World Health Organization for its World Health Day, April 7th. Missed it? Well road safety is an issue you will be hearing more of in coming years. The World's first death by a car was a 44 year old, Bridget Driscoll, at Crystal Palace, London, on 17th August 1896, by a car witnesses said was going "at tremendous speed" possibly 8 miles an hour (13 km/h) though it should have been going at 4 miles an hour. At the inquest the coroner said, "This must never happen again." In 2002 it is estimated that road crashes killed 1.18 million and injured between 20 - 50 million more. In 1990, in terms of loss of expected days of healthy (non-disabled) life, road traffic injuries ranked 9th in the top 10 leading contributors to the Global burden of disease. In 2020 it is expected to have risen to the 3rd. In terms of per head of population for road mortality, Europe and Australasia is the safest place to be followed by North and South American countries. Africa is the worst place to be with double the risk of Europe.
Martian Forteana has begun appearing on the web. This link is from a Canadian University and a 'what if' exercise. Consider it debate stimulation.
The US Federal Aviation Authority has granted a licence to Scaled Composites for a sub-orbital launch of their SpaceShipOne rocket-plane. This clears the way for an attempt on the X-prize later this year of $10m (£5.4m) is for the first privately funded, non-governmental body that can launch a three-person craft into space twice in two weeks. To claim the prize entrants' craft will have to reach an altitude of 100 km, the 'official' boundary of space. Passports ready puleeze.
This quarter saw more activity on Mars than on Mount Everest's summit. NASA's two rovers seem to be doing well as does Mars Express.
This quarter saw more people see activity on Mars with hundreds a day phoning in to NASA to say that the probe's photograph's show pictures of bunnies and plants and stone tools and... It keeps them off the streets you know.
That methane was detected in the Martian atmosphere may indicate life was announced in the run-up to Easter. Methane's (CH4) trace was identified by two Earth-based telescopes and the ESA Mars Express space probe. (If Beagle 2 had landed successfully then it had equipment aboard to detect it too.) This news gave our bod with atmospheric science expertise renewed hope that there might be life on Mars after all (see above discussion on Concat's New Year predictions). ESA's Professor Vittorio Formisano was more cautious than our man stating that the methane could be volcanic in origin. Our man says that this comment is clever perching on the fence as: a) methane is not a major component of terrestrial volcanic gases (typically less than 1%) so not a first choice for an identifiable volcanic contaminant of the atmosphere, and b) because there is evidence to suggest that even that Earth's volcanic methane has a biological origin from marine sediments plate tectonically subducted (and a couple of years ago it was discovered that Mars was at least once tectonically active). That methane is in the Martian atmosphere demonstrates that the Martian atmosphere is not in chemical equilibrium and that something is perturbing it. Yes, it could be some abiotic geological reservoir released by volcanic action, but equally this last could have biological origins, and alternatively it could be anaerobic microbes acting like methanogens do on Earth. Just as the absence of a chemically disturbed Martian atmosphere made our man sceptical at Christmas of life on Mars, the Easter news that it is not in chemical equilibrium makes it far more encouraging that there may be, or was, life on Mars... More studies are required but please, please, please - sterilize those craft!
Talking of Martian robots, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, US, have inducted four robots into it Robot Hall of Fame and one of them was the Mars Pathfinder Surface Explorer.. Another is Unimate which, of course you knew, was the first industrial line robotic arm. (Potentially it might be thought capable of World domination 'cos it isn't 'armless'...) The other two come from SF and were Hal from the 1968 film 2001 and the other R2D2 from the 1977 Star Wars movie. +++ NASA has put out a call for robots to repair the Hubble Space telescope following the shuttle's grounding.
Britain in space? Well no. Though Brit science is possibly the best in the World, can they transfer it to technology? Nope: leave that to the Yanks, Japs and SE Asians. However Britain's space travel technology should not go unappreciated, especially as Blue Streak lives on in Ariane. So why not surf www.spaceuk.org.
Last (spring) quarter's science review over and time for a brief glimpse of this summer's happenings...
Saturn is currently having a close encounter of the human automation kind with NASA craft Cassini and its moon Titan the ESA Huygen's in a joint Euro-American mission. It has taken Cassini seven years since 1997 to travel the two billion miles to Saturn.
On May 18th Saturn's gravity takes hold.
On June 11th there's a 1,200 close encounter with the small moon Phoebe.
On July 1st it goes into a parking orbit in a dark (Cassini) band in Saturn's rings.
On Christmas day, it will release the ESA Huygens probe towards the largest moon Titan whose radius at 2,400 km is 38% greater than that of the Moon (but not as as big as Mars whose radius is 3,395 km).
On January 16th, 2005, if all goes to schedule, Huygens should plunge into Titan's atmosphere. Titan is thought to have lakes, or maybe seas, of methane and ethane.
Galileo was the first to vaguely observe Saturn's rings but Christian Huygens (optics expert and pendulum clock inventor (for navigation)) discerned their nature in 1655. The big dark gap in the ring system is known as the Cassini division. Check out the Cassini pics and the NASA Saturn mission sites.
More news in September. Meanwhile ensure you've added the Science Fact and Fiction Concatenation to your favourites. And why not send a message to yourself delay-timed alerting you to our autumnal update?
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