Science Fiction News
& Recent Science Review for the
Summer 2021

(N.B. Our seasons relate to the northern hemisphere 'academic year'.)

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

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

Summer 2021

Editorial Comment & Staff Stuff



In Britain, vaccine rollout is going well.  The consequence for us is that hopefully this rollout sees a return to near normality as our news and reviews editor has been in digital lockdown. This means that the autumnal edition should see the return of a full seasonal news page of science and SF. There will also be the return of the Best of Nature 'Futures' short stories once we get the copyrights sorted.
          Even so, there is still much in this season's slimmed-down news page. True, fandom, film and television news is light but there are reasonably substantive Forthcoming SF Books and Forthcoming Fantasy Books listings so you can prepare yourselves for a return to the bookshops.  There's also plenty of science news including natural science and space stuff. And of course there is other content this season with articles and stand-alone book reviews elsewhere.  Splundig.
          Meanwhile, we look forward to seeing you again in the autumn with another seasonal edition, and to tide you over there will be a mid-summer 'Futures' short story.
          Wishing you all well and for some of us to see some of you at an SF event later this year.



A new book is out by one of our book review team.  Duncan Lunan has The Other Side of the Interface out from Other Side Books at £14.99, ISBN 978-8-696-81972-3.  It is a further collection of space travel and related stories that is in addition to From the Moon to the Stars which came out last year (2020). This collection, adding to previous collections, nearly completes the bringing together in collections all of his short fiction.  Do check it out.

A new anthology is out by another of our book review team.  Mark Bilsborough has a werewolf anthology of shorts out from the new Wyldblood Press. Though only £7.99, nonetheless it will make you appreciate the family silver…



Elsewhere this issue…
Aside from this seasonal news page, elsewhere this issue (vol. 31 (2) Summer 2021) we have stand-alone items on:-
          My Top Ten Scientists – Alastair Reynolds (astrophysicist & SF author)
          Moonrock 2021: a review prior to China's sample return mission – Duncan Lunan
          CoNZealand – The 2020 SF Worldcon – Simon Litten
          2020/21 (12 months to Easter) SF Film Top Ten Chart Deferred!
          (All archived annual film charts are indexed here)
          Gaia 2021 - Annual whimsical SF and/or science snippets and exotica
          Ten years ago. One from the archives: Top 10 (and worst 10) Horror Films of the 20th Century – Tony Chester

          Plus over twenty (20!) SF/F/H standalone fiction book reviews as well as an additional couple of non-fiction SF and popular science book reviews.  Hopefully something here for every science type who is into SF in this our 34th year. For full details of the latest contents see our What's New page.


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

Summer 2021

Key SF News & SF Awards



The Hugo Award shortlists will be announced after we post this seasonal news page.  Normally we post the Hugo shortlist principal categories with the seasonal news page covering the (northern hemisphere) academic year summer. However this year has been trying for our news editor in digital lockdown (UK cybercafés are not fully open yet). So this year when it can be done the short-lists for 'Best Novel' and 'Dramatic Presentation Long Form' will be posted on our home page and then in the New Year (2022) the Spring news page will cover both the principal category (usually we treat as those categories with over 1,000 people nominating): the Spring because this year's Worldcon has been postponed to December due to the SARS-CoV2 / CoVID-19 pandemic.  We'll only cover 'Best Novel' and 'Dramatic Presentation Long Form' in the interim on the home page as those are the only categories that those members of our local SF group who are not into Worldcon fandom ever express any interest.  Having said all that, no doubt most of our Hugo-interested regulars will pick up the news elsewhere, and not least from

The British Fantasy Society Awards have been presented.  The winners were:-
          Best Fantasy Novel (the Robert Holdstock Award): The Bone Ships by R. J. Barker
          Best Horror Novel (the August Derleth Award): The Reddening by Adam Nevill
          Best Novella: Ormeshadow by Priya Sharma
          Best Short: 'The Pain-Eater's Daughter' by Laura Mauro
          Best Anthology: New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction for People of Color edited by Nisi Shawl
          Best Artist: Ben Baldwin
          Best Collection: Sing Your Sadness Deep by Laura Mauro
          Best Film/Television Production: Us
          Best Audio: PodCastle
          Best Independent Press: Rebellion Publishing
          Best Magazine/Periodical: Fiyah
          Best Graphic Novel: DIE by Kieron Gillen & Stephanie Hans
          Best Newcomer (Sydney J. Bounds Award): Ta-Nehisi for The Water Dancer
          Best Non-Fiction: The Dark Fantastic: Race and the imagination from Harry Potter to The Hunger Games by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas
          The Special Award (the Karl Edward Wagner Award): Craig Lockley for service to the BFS.

The 2021 Nebula Award nomination shortlists have been announced for 2020 works.  The Nebula Awards are run by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). The Awards themselves will be presented at the Nebula Weekend in May. The principal category (novel, novella, novelette, short story and dramatic presentation) nominations are:-
          Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
          The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin
          Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
          The Midnight Bargain by C. L. Polk
          Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
          Network Effect by Martha Wells
          'Tower of Mud and Straw' by Yaroslav Barsukov
          Finna by Nino Cipri
          This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
          Ring Shout by Djèlí Clark
          'Ife-Iyoku, the Tale of Imadeyunuagbon' by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki
          The Four Profound Weaves by R. B. Lemberg
          Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi
          'Stepsister' by Leah Cypess
          'The Pill' by Meg Elison
          'Burn or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super' by A. T. Greenblatt
          'Two Truths and a Lie' by Sarah Pinsker
          'Where You Linger' by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
          'Shadow Prisons' by Caroline M. Yoachim
Short Story
          'Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse' by Rae Carson
          'Advanced Word Problems in Portal Math' by Aimee Picchi
          'A Guide for Working Breeds' by Vina Jie-Min Prasad
          'The Eight-Thousanders' by Jason Sanford
          'My Country is a Ghost' by Eugenia Triantafyllou
          'Open House on Haunted Hill' by John Wiswell
The Ray Bradbury Award for Dramatic Presentation
          Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
          The Expanse 'Gaugamela'
          The Good Place 'Whenever You’re Ready'
          Lovecraft Country Season 1
          The Mandalorian 'The Tragedy'
          The Old Guard
The winners will be announced in June.  Full categories (including game writing and young adult) at

The Philip K. Dick Award shortlist and winners have been announced  The Award is given for distinguished original science fiction paperback fiction published for the first time during 2020 in the US.  The shortlisted titles were:-
          Failed State by Christopher Brown
          The Book of Koli by M. R. Carey (received a special citation)
          Dance on Saturday by Elwin Cotman
          Bone Silence by Alistair Reynolds
          Road Out of winter by Alison Stine (winner)
          The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Book of Koli and Bone Silence were cited by us back in January as one of our choices as to the best SF/F books of 2020. (Archive of previous years' Best SF/F Books and Films of the year is here.)

The 2021 British SF Association (BSFA) Awards have been presented at the 2021 virtual Eastercon.  In the 'Best Novel' category there was a six-way tie for fifth place and so the BSFA decided to include all and have ten in the shortlist. A six-way tie suggests a low level of nomination, so increasing the short-list was a wise move. The shortlist for Best Novel consists of:-
          Tiffani Angus – Threading the Labyrinth
          Suzanna Clarke – Piranesi
          M. John Harrison – The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again
          N. K. Jemisin – The City We Became
          Gareth Powell – Light of Impossible Stars
          Kim Stanley Robinson –The Ministry for the Future
          Nikhil Singh –Club Dead
          Adrian Tchaikovsky –The Doors of Eden
          Liz Williams –Comet Weather
          Nick Wood –Water Must Fall
And the winner is the author N. K. Jemisin and The City We Became.
Other categories and this year's winners are for artwork Iain Clarke, 'Shipbuilding Over the Clyde', the art for Glasgow in 2024 WorldCon bid,  non-fiction Adam Roberts, It’s the End of the World: But What Are We Really Afraid Of?  and short stories Ida Keogh for 'Infinite Tea in the Demara Cafe'.
          The awards are presented annually by the BSFA, based on a vote of its members and on and off over the years – currently by – members of the British national science fiction convention Eastercon.

The Bram Stoker Awards short-lists have been announced.  These are overseen by the Horror Writers Association and winners will be announced at the World Horror Convention, StokerCon (which this year will be virtual due to the CoVID-19 pandemic).The principal category short-lists are:-
          Jones, Stephen Graham – The Only Good Indians
          Katsu, Alma – The Deep
          Keisling, Todd – Devil’s Creek
          Malerman, Josh – Malorie
          Moreno-Garcia, Silvia – Mexican Gothic
First Novel
          Hall, Polly – The Taxidermist’s Lover
          Harrison, Rachel – The Return
          Jeffery, Ross – Tome
          Knight, EV – The Fourth Whore
          Reed Petty, Kate – True Story
          Bailey, Michael and Murano, Doug – Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities & Other Horrors
          Murray, Lee and Flynn, Geneve – Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women
          Kolesnik, Samantha – Worst Laid Plans: An Anthology of Vacation Horror
          Tantlinger, Sara – Not All Monsters: A           Strangehouse Anthology by Women of Horror
          Yardley, Mercedes M. – Arterial Bloom
          Koja, Kathe – Velocities: Stories
          Langan, John – Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies
          Lillie, Patricia – The Cuckoo Girls
          Murray, Lee – Grotesque: Monster Stories
          Taborska, Anna – Bloody Britain
Graphic Novel
          Archer, Steven (author/artist) – The Masque of the Red Death
          Brody, Jennifer (author) and Rivera, Jules (artist) – Spectre Deep 6
          Douek, Rich (author) and Cormack, Alex (artist) – Road of Bones
          Holder, Nancy (author), Di Francia, Chiara (artist), and           Woo, Amelia (artist) – Mary Shelley Presents
          Manzetti, Alessandro (author) and Cardoselli, Stefano (artist/author) – Her Life Matters
          Niles, Steve (author), Simeone, Salvatore (author), and Kudranski, Szymon (artist) – Lonesome Days, Savage Nights
          Amaris, Scarlett and Stanley, Richard – Color Out of Space
          Green, Misha – Lovecraft Country, Season 1, Episode 1: “Sundown”
          Green, Misha and Ofordire, Ihuoma – Lovecraft Country, Season 1, Episode 8: “Jig-a-Bobo”
          LaManna, Angela – The Haunting of Bly Manor, Season 1, Episode 5: “The Altar of the Dead”
          Whannell, Leigh – The Invisible Man
          Florence, Kelly and Hafdahl, Meg – The Science of Women in Horror: The Special Effects, Stunts, and True Stories Behind Your Favorite Fright Films
          Heller-Nicholas, Alexandra – 1,000 Women in Horror
          Keene, Brian – End of the Road
          Peirse, Alison – Women Make Horror: Filmmaking, Feminism, Genre
          Waggoner, Tim – Writing in the Dark
          Wetmore, Jr. Kevin J. – The Streaming of Hill House: Essays on the Haunting Netflix Adaption
NoteColor Out of Space and The Invisible Man we rated back in the New Year as two of the Best SF Films of the previous year. (Our New Year annual 'Best SF' has over the years occasionally been prescient as to some works that subsequently go on to win awards.)

C. J. Cherryh wins the 2021 Robert A. Heinlein Award.  The award is bestowed for outstanding published works in science fiction and technical writings that inspire the human exploration of space.

The online SF Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction is to become independent of Gollancz/Orion.  The is the up-to-date online expansion of the Hugo Award winning, print edition SF Encyclopaedia (1979). That first edition itself was a fairly weighty tome with over 700,000 words. The follow-up second edition in 1993 contained over 1.3 million words. The decision was taken to go on-line and this happened in 2011 with that, in around 3 million words, covered some 12,000 entries. The venture was sponsored by Gollancz the SF imprint of Orion and Britain's oldest specialist genre imprint. Gollancz linked the online SF Encyclopaedia to its simultaneously launched SF e-book imprint SF Gateway at  The SF Encyclopaedia's online launch garnered it a Eurocon Award (coincidentally the same year as one for SF² Concatenation). In 2013 the SF Encyclopaedia added book covers. By 2016 and the Encyclopaedia's and Gateway's 5th anniversary the Encyclopaedia had passed the 5.2 million words mark.
          October (2021) will see the SF Encyclopaedia's 10th anniversary and also its contract renewal with Gollancz.  Alas Gollancz have decided not to renew the contract. Let us hope that this is not a sign of Gollancz's commitment to back-list SF and that SF Gateway continues.
          The SF Encyclopaedia's principal editors, John Clute and David Langford, are planning to move the encyclopaedia to their own server and hope that the transition will be fairly seamless and unnoticeable by users. They also hope in time to introduce innovations. Meanwhile the SF Encyclopaedia remains the most detailed SF resource publicly available.

Interzone may soon be no more.  The British SF short story magazine had been edited by Andy Cox for a number of years. It was due to be transferred from TTA Press to PS Publishing.  Ian Whates, who is best known for running NewCon Press, was to take over as editor. It was also due to change from being bimonthly to quarterly and go solely electronic. However, apparently, there were not the resources to honour existing subscriptions and the transfer seems to have fallen through. It now seems that PS Publishing will launch a new, digital magazine, Par Sec with Ian Whates as editor.  Meanwhile Interzone will continue for a little while with three double issues a year of just fiction: the non-fiction film and news columns are being dropped. That the magazine apparently is not accepting new subscribers suggests that it will fold.

Terry Pratchett's former home is on the market for £800,000.  The Discworld author Terry Pratchett's four bed-roomed cottage was where he lived between 1970 and 1994 before he moved to what would be his final home for a little over two decades until his passing in 2015.  The cottage is located in Rowberrow in Somerset. Its owners apparently still get letters addressed to Terry and 'The Hogfather'.

The Man Who Fell to Earth hat fetches £18,500 (US$25,000).  The hat was worn by David Bowie, the 1976 film's protagonist, and the film itself was based on Walter Tevis' 1963 novel of the same title. The hat is a borsalino and features a band with the initials DB. It was auctioned by Omega Auctions in Merseyside, Great Britain.

Addams family artwork sells for £24,000 (US$33,000).  Three water colours that had been considered fake Charles Addams' Addams Family artwork were declared authentic. The pieces were originally bought buy a builder and given to his granddaughter in Falmouth, Cornwall. They date from the 1940s when the Addams Family cartoons appeared in The New Yorker magazine. Only in the 1960s did the spook horror fantasy family achieve broader fame with a television series.

Hugo Award nominees to be restricted. Oh, no they are not!  In January the 2021 Worldcon announced the nomination period for the Hugo Awards open.  However they also formalised the practice that any teams (such as fanzine editorial team or multi-editor teams for anthologies) would be limited to four to go on the ballot (but not on the website or archive): after all, the ballot sheet only has so much room. This had the presumption that only four awards would be given for works created by larger teams. The resulting online outcry soon saw the Worldcon organisers backtrack removing this restriction.

The US National Fantasy Fan Federation (N3F)opens to far right-wing fanatics.  They have opened their membership to recruit from Parler and Gab.  Parler and Gab are reportedly known for being a home to some far-right folk such as those behind the January march on the US Congress. The resulting outcry saw N3F fanzine announcements dropped from the Hugo Award winning e-Fanzines. Also Andrew Speakman, who had recently been honoured with an N3F life membership, decided to leave N3F after 40 years.


Other SF news includes:-

The Co-Chair of the forthcoming 2021 Worldcon, DisCon III, resigns.  Colette Fozard has resigned. This is a sad moment due to both her understandable reasons and the loss of con-running experience from the Worldcon community as she has over a quarter of a century of Worldcon experience under her belt. Over the years, she has become increasingly alarmed, and upset, at the level of abuse and vitriol spewed at the all-volunteer staff. She cites the example of the abuse CoNZealand staff received over Hugo Award finalists accessing the programme and also with the abuse Discon III received over the number of Hugo finalists per short-listed nomination on the ballot reported above.  That there is a (we like to thank small, albeit significant) minority of folk, some of whom really should know better, who are shrill and vent vitriol, sometimes claiming to speak for us all, is a sad fact. (Over here in Brit-Cit back in 2014 there was shameful abuse targeted at that year's proposed Hugo Awards' master of ceremonies. Colette Fozard's concerns are, sadly, all too real.)

This year's SF Worldcon, DisCon III, has been postponed from August to 15th - 19th December (2021).  The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is not over and it will be touch and go whether the US will see its adult population largely vaccinated by August.  The DisCon III organisers therefore conducted a poll on Facebook (on the presumption that over half its members are on Facebook and so a poll there would be representative). Given the choice of a virtual Worldcon in August or the high probability of an in-person, physical real one in December, two-thirds of respondents chose the latter.  Consequently, the Worldcon has shifted dates to December. Of course, it may be that a physical event will still not be possible and so a virtual, on-line version will still take place and, even if a physical version does go ahead, there will still be the virtual on-line dimension.
          This last is arguably a wise move as if an in-person event does take place, many from outside the US and N. America may not come due to on-going travel quarantine restrictions due to SARS-CoV-2 variants-of-concern. Furthermore, this move reflects those in the science (fact) community whose larger events are moving to being combined in-person and virtual.
          DisCon III's Attending Members who cannot physically attend will be allowed to convert their membership to a Virtual Membership and either receive the difference as a refund.

The 2022 Worldcon will be held in Chicago, USA.  It will be the 80th SF Worldcon. Its Guests of Honour will be: Charles de Lint (author), Floyd Norman (artist), Eddie Stern & Joe Siclari (fan), and Erle Korshak (first fandom). The Toastmaters will be Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders.

And finally….

Future SF Worldcon bids currently running  include for:-
          - Chengdu, China in 2023
          - Memphis, TN, USA in 2023
          - Glasgow, Great Britain in 2024
          - Brisbane, Australia in 2025
          - Seattle, WA, USA in 2025
          - Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 2026
          - Nice, France in 2026
          - Orlando in 2026, USA
          - Tel Aviv in 2027, Israel
The voting for the 2023 bids takes place at the 2021 Worldcon in December.  It should be noted that human rights and crimes against humanity concerns have been expressed about holding a Worldcon in China or in Saudi Arabia. These bids are unlikely to gain much traction among the broader Worldcon community.


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

Summer 2021

Film News


Sadly no cinema releases due to CoVID-19 lockdown. So not much news this season.

Cineworld shares have quadrupled in value (mid-March 2021) as investors see the long-term picture.  The cinema theatre closures last October (2020) subsequently saw the chain lose £720 million and a fall in its share price. Since then they have quadrupled.  The chain runs 536 theatres in the US and its 127 cinemas in the UK. Globally, the chain lost £2.2 billion (US$3 billion). However, investors seem to feel that the prospect of vaccine success combined with a backlog of blockbuster releases, together with a hankering for folk to get out of lockdown augers well.
          Regal Cinemas in the US (which are part of Cineworld group) are reopening and have an exclusive deal to show Warner Brothers films. The US represents about 75% of the Cineworld chain's business.

Zack Snyder's Justice League is a darker take than Joss Whedon's and is now out.  Only partly due to creative differences with the studio (more to do with a personal familial tragedy) Snyder left the film before it was released. It was then re-worked by Joss Whedon with much of the original material unused. When the Whedon version of the film was released in 2017 it was panned by the critics and, though in the weekly box office top ten, did not make the substantive profit that Hollywood hoped – it was though still very profitable. Yet fans hankered after Snyder's take. This has now been released on TV. At four hours long it is almost twice the length of Whedon's 2017 film. Fortunately, Snyder still had several hours worth of film on his server and only needed what ended up as six minutes of new material from a re-shoot. The result is a very different film.  See the trailer here

Not long to the Black Widow release in May (2021). This is the first film in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is directed by Cate Shortland and produced by Kevin Feige. See also this teaser here.

The Suicide Squad trailer #2 now out. You can see it here. The US release date is provisionally 6th August 2021.

Alien comic mini-series to be based on the first two (1979 & 1986) films .  Issue 1 of the new series is now out. The series comes from Marvel and so marks a switch from Dark Horse that had previously produced the Alien comics but this new series will not further, or reference, the Dark Horse Alien universe. Instead, as reported last season this series features a Weyland-Yutani mercenary named Gabriel Cruz. He is disturbed by some of the things he has had to do in the past and is being encouraged to take early retirement. However, just as he is leaving, he takes on a final mission…

Joe Hill's Black Phone is to be a film.  The horror writer's novella is being adapted by Scott Derrickson with Ethan Hawke tipped to star.

George R. R. Martin's short story to be a film, In the Lost Lands.  The film will follow a queen, desperate to obtain the gift of shape shifting, who makes a daring play: She hires the sorceress Gray Alys (Jovovich), a woman as feared as she is powerful. Sent to the ghostly wilderness of the “Lost Lands,” Alys and her guide, the drifter Boyce (Bautista), must outwit and outfight man and demon in a fable that explores the nature of good and evil, debt and fulfilment, love and loss… Director and the film's script-writer Paul W.S. Anderson is joining Resident Evil lead Milla Jovovich and Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) in the venture… having said that, the venture has been in development hell for six years but perhaps a director and lead cast augers well?

Court decides that The Shape of Water was created by Guillermo del Toro!  The Shape of Water has had much SF and critical acclaim including being short-listed for a Hugo 'Best Drama Long Form'.  Then in 2018, the family of a playwright cried plagiarism.  The news now is that the court has dismissed the case and the plaintiff has accepted this.

More delayed film releases due to SARS-CoV-2.  Further delays to this year's releases include:-
  - A Quiet Place: Part 2 to September.
  - The Kings Man to September.
  - Morbius to March 2021.

And finally…

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

Film clip download tip!: Is the film Titanic about time travel?  Titanic is a film that has stood the test of time… and has one of the BIGGEST unanswered questions of any movie. No, not could they both fit on the door if Rose had just moved over a little? The question is Jack a time traveller sent to make sure the Titanic sinks? Yes, that age old question. Well Theorists, today we are going to answer that once and for all!  You can see the musing here.

Film clip download tip!: How Wonder Woman 1984 should have ended! See the short video here.

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

For a reminder of the top films in 2019/20 (and earlier years) then check out our top Science Fiction Films annual chart. This page is based on the weekly UK box office ratings over the past year up to Easter. You can use this page if you are stuck for ideas hiring a DVD for the weekend.

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


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

Summer 2021

Television News


A new television series is a modern take inspired by The War of the Worlds.  H. G. Wells' 1898 novel has been twice adapted to a Hollywood film, made into two poor straight-to-video films, as well as having a television series that was meant to be a sequel to the first Hollywood production, and finally 2019's three-part BBC mini-series that was a huge disappointment.  This new series is not called The War of the Worlds but honestly states that it is 'inspired' by Wells' novel.  Titled Invasion it seems similar to the recent French mini-series: Aliens invade Earth with chemical weapons in a bid to take the planet's resources.  It will stream on Apple TV next year. With filming taking place in London New York, Jordan and Japan, this will be Apple's most expensive production to date.

How does The Falcon and the Winter Soldier fit in to the MCU?  Most people do not have Disney+ than do and so may miss out on how the new Disney+ six-part series fits in with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). This, in essence, is what you need to know.  At the end of Avengers: End Game, Captain America (Steve Rogers) decides that he is going to retire. He asks Falcon (Sam Wilson) to take up the vibranium shield. However Sam is reluctant as he does not feel he is up to it but agrees to take care of the shield for now.  Sam then teams up with the Winter Soldier (Bucky Barnes). This mini-series walks the line as to who will become Captain America if Steve Rogers does properly retire.  Given that Steve Rogers was bio-engineered to be super strong to become Captain America but Sam Wilson (Falcon) was not, and that Bucky Barnes was re-engineered to become the Winter Soldier, there are no prizes for guessing who is going to become the new Captain America.  In the The Falcon and the Winter Soldier mini-series, both Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan reprise their respective roles as Falcon and Winter Soldier from the films Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War.  The series became available to stream from Disney+ from late last month. You can see the trailer here.

Tribes of Europa new series now streaming on Netflix.  It is the year 2074. In the wake of a mysterious global disaster, war rages between the Tribes that have emerged from the wreckage of Europe. Three siblings from the peaceful Origines tribe – Kiano (Emilio Sakraya), Liv (Henriette Confurius) and Elja (David Ali Rashed) – are separated and forced to forge their own paths in an action-packed fight for the future of this new Europa.  You can see the trailer here.

Outlander's season six of the time travel fantasy is now being shot?  The season will see life for the Frasers continue on the ridge. After the fallout from the end of season 5 is dealt with, the War of Independence looms.

Debris is a new series out in the US and soon to come to Britain.  Orbital, is a coalition between the CIA and MI6 charged with collecting debris from a destroyed alien ship: debris which has fallen across the Earth and strangely contaminating humans. The series seems to be shaping up as a standard format with a debris piece of the weekly episode contaminating differently being explored. However, apparently the season will eventually give bigger answers as to what was the alien ship doing, how did it get destroyed and why was it coming to Earth?  Let's hope we get them. The last thing we want is another Lost.

For All Mankind season 2 sees a Cuban missile-type crisis in space. If you have not seen season 1, the premise is Stephen Baxter-ish with an alternate history of the 1960s in which Russia led the space race so ensuring that the Americans had a long-term, well funded space programme. Season 2 not only has the aforementioned missile crisis in space, but it is set in the 1980s with Nixon getting a second term. On the Moon the two moon-bases (one US, one Soviet) are expanding.  See a special behind-the-scenes featurette here and the trailer for season 2 here.

The Irregulars is a new series that sees a Holmes and Watson supernatural spin-off.  In the Sherlock Holmes stories, the Irregulars were street urchins who were his eyes on the street. This series focuses on a gang of five of these, though Holmes and Watson are there in the background. It has recently launched on Netflix.  See the trailer here.

The Handmaid's Tale season 4 launches later this month (April 2021).  It airs in the US on Hulu and no doubt will come to Channel 4(?) sometime in the UK.  See the trailer here.

The Walking Dead is seeing an extension to series 10. Season 11 will be the last.  The final episode to season 10 was to be episode 16 but six new episodes have been added. Season 10 started to air in March (2021). Meanwhile Fear the Walking Dead and Walking Dead: The World Beyond are continuing. Plus there is an anthology series in the works. There is also a Walking Dead film being made that will see Andrew Lincoln reprise the role of Rick.  Meanwhile you can see the trailer for season 11 here.

Babylon 5 has been re-mastered!  Nearly thirty years after its first broadcast and close to twenty since its DVD release, Babylon 5 has been re-mastered.  It has been scanned from the original camera negative. The film sequences were scanned in 4K and then 'finished', or downscaled, back to HD, with a dirt and scratch clean-up, as well as colour correction. The show’s CGI and composite sequences, meanwhile, have been digitally up-scaled to HD with only some minor tweaks where absolutely necessary.  In order to maintain visual quality and fidelity between the show’s filmed and effects-heavy sequences, the new version is only available in 4:3. That’s the same format that the show was originally broadcast in, rather than the widescreen DVD releases.

Star Wars: The Bad Batch – Trailer 2 now out  From Disney+, you can see it here.

The prospective Wonder Girl series has been cancelled.  news broke of the proposed series was only released last season.  CW have decided not to green light it. Had it gone forward it would have been the first superhero series with a Latina lead.


And finally, some TV related vids…

Picard, season 2 trailer out.  And it looks like Q will be making an appearance. You can see the trailer here.

Superman & Lois began last season.  In case you missed it (on CW in the US), and want to check it out, the trailer is here.

Loki series trailer out.  The series will be available on Disney+ in June (2021).  You can see the trailer here and also second trailer here.


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

Summer 2021

Publishing & Book Trade News


Penguin Random House teams with Rebellion to publish 2000AD audio books.  The first off the block is an adaptation of the classic Judge Dredd story America with Dredd voiced by Joseph Fiennes. Other audio books will include that based on Judge Dredd: The Pit, a Slaine audio book and an adaptation of The Ballad of Halo Jones by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson.

New Scientist magazine has been bought by the Daily Mail and General Trust's (DMGT) Daily Mail Group Media.  The weekly New Scientist has a circulation around 120,000 with about half of it outside of the UK.  It was bought for £70 million (US$91m). The DMGT owns the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday newspapers which is somewhat ironic given the standard of science coverage those papers afford.

Bloomsbury continues to do very well. Further to last season's news, the spring saw the publisher twice raise it annual profit forecast. Its big new genre successes include Sarah J. Maas consistently popular novels with the latest being A Court of Silver Flames. It concerns Nesta Archeron who has always been prickly, proud, swift to anger, and slow to forgive. And ever since being forced into the Cauldron and becoming High Fae against her will, she’s struggled to find a place for herself within the strange, deadly world she inhabits. Worse, she can’t seem to move past the horrors of the war with Hybern and all she lost in it…  Bloomsbury have been pushing this title with a major trade advertising promotion that has included a Publishers Weekly cover and a six-figure consumer advertising campaign.  (However, not so major as to send us a review copy… and so it goes…)

An imposter of His Dark Materials author Phillip Pullman has been answering readers' questions on Good Reads.  Readers asking how he felt his characters were portrayed by the HVO series, and how did he name his characters, had these and other questions answered by an imposter posing as the author. Phillip Pullman complained about Good Reads on his Twitter account. The imposter's replies have since vanished from Good Reads.

Tintin book cover artwork goes for £2.3 million.  Back in 1936 it was given to Hergé's editor's, then seven year old, son – Jean-Paul Casterman – was given it by Hergé as it could not be used because it had too many colours.

First issue of Batman sells for US$2,220,00 (£1,600,000)!  The near-mint edition of the 1940 comic sees the first appearance of the Joker and Catwoman. The price beats the the previous Batman record holder, a copy of 1939’s Detective Comics #27, which introduced the character to the world and sold for US$1.5 million (£1.1.m).

First edition Harry Potter fails to fetch anticipated US$50,000 (£38,500).  Not only did it fail to attract the anticipated US$50,000 (£38,500) at a Los Angeles, USA, auction but it failed to get a single bid over the reserve price of US$42,500 (£32,700). The failure to reach the minimum bid price has been put down to author J. K. Rowling's social media comments some view as transphobic. However, over here in Great Britain first editions of have exceeded these prices. Just last season saw one first edition fetch £75,000 (US$94,000) while another went for £50,000 (US$66,000). It would therefore seem to be well worthwhile for those North Americans who in the future wish to sell their Potter first editions to spend US$1,000 for a couple of days holiday in the United Kingdom and auction their copies over here.

First edition Harry Potters, yours for a five-figure sum!  The bookshop, St Mary's Books, in Britain has just one of the 1997 first edition hardbacks of The Philosopher's Stone for sale: only 500 were ever printed.  The asking price is £95,000 (US$123,000) despite the copy have being passed around schools.  There is also a first edition paperback which is going for £12,000 (US$15,500).  The shop advises that the copies are not kept on the premises for security reasons.
          Related stories previously covered elsewhere on this site:-
  - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone sold for £75,000 (US$94,000)
  - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone sold for £50,000 (US$66,000)
  - Philosopher's Stone sold, but its original owners want it back
  - Potter tops UK deep back-list
  - Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has sold for a record amount
  - Second hand Harry Potter valued at between £20,000 (US$25,0000) and 30,000 (US$37,000)
  - Harry Potter topped 2016 fiction chart
  - Harry Potter book sells for £150,000 (US$225,000)

Ursula K. LeGuin is being honoured with a US postal stamp.  The stamp will picture the late author Ursula K. Le Guin together with the depiction of a scene from her Hugo Award-wining The Left Hand of Darkness.

J. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis' pub to close.  One casualty of the SARS-CoV-2/CoVID-19 pandemic is that lockdowns have increased pub closures. Alas one such victim is the Lamb & Flag in Oxford that used to be the watering hole of authors J. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. The pub had been serving beer for over 450 years.

And finally, some of the spring's short SF book related videos…

The late Robert E. Howard's (the creator of Conan the Barbarian) home video tour.  The YouTube tour of his home in Cross Plains, Texas is conducted by Howard scholar Rusty Burke.  You can see it here.

SF grandmaster author, Frederik Pohl has an archive interview now on YouTube.


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

Summer 2021

Forthcoming SF Books


Jack Four by Neal Asher, Tor, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-04997-8.
Jack Four is one of twenty clones, created to be sold. But he possesses information no clone should have. And he plans to escape his fate – whatever it takes.  Created to die – determined to live…  Jack Four – one of twenty human clones – has been created to be sold. His purchasers are the alien prador and they only want him for their experimentation program. But there is something different about Jack. No clone should possess the knowledge that’s been loaded into his mind. And no normal citizen of humanity’s Polity worlds would have this information. The prador’s king has been mutated by the Spatterjay virus into a creature even more monstrous than the prador themselves. And his children, the King’s Guard, have undergone similar changes. They were infected by the virus during the last humans-versus-prador war, now lapsed into an uneasy truce. But the prador are always looking for new weapons – and their experimentation program might give them the edge they seek. Suzeal trades human slaves out of the Stratogaster Space Station, re-engineering them to serve the prador. She thinks the rewards are worth the risks, but all that is about to change. The Station was once a zoo, containing monsters from across known space. All the monsters now dwell on the planet below, but they aren’t as contained as they seem. And a vengeful clone may be the worst danger of all.

The Steel Claw by Ken Bulmer & Jesus Blasco, Rebellion, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-781-089064.
Classic graphic collection of shorts of The Steel Claw strips that appeared in the comic Valiant in the 1960s. Louis Crandel finds that when is mechanical steel hand gets charges with electricity he goes all invisible. What mischief could he do? He was the classic anti-hero who sometimes did the right thing for the right people.  Click on the title link for a review of the Titan edition published a decade and a half ago.

Artifact Space by Miles Cameron, Gollancz, £16.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-473-23260-0.
Midshipper Nbaro has enlisted on a spaceship for the very first time. It’s something she’s trained for her whole life, and she’s more than capable of rising through the military ranks. But she’s also being blackmailed by her jealous, manipulative shipmate.  So begins a cat-and-mouse game, as Nbaro uses her every skill and ability to serve her shipmates…while passing on the credit to others and waiting for the perfect moment to strike back.  And there’s also the issue of a very real impostor on board.

Widowland by C. J. Carey, Quercus, £14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-41198-0.
An alternative history with a feminist twist.  London, 1953, Coronation year — but not the Coronation of Elizabeth II.  Thirteen years have passed since a Grand Alliance between Great Britain and Germany was formalized. George VI and his family have been murdered and Edward VIII rules as King. Yet, in practice, all power is vested in Alfred Rosenberg, Britain’s Protector. The role and status of women is Rosenberg’s particular interest.  Rose Ransom belongs to the elite caste of women and works at the Ministry of Culture, rewriting literature to correct the views of the past. But now she has been given a special task.  Outbreaks of insurgency have been seen across the country; graffiti daubed on public buildings. Disturbingly, the graffiti is made up of lines from forbidden works, subversive words from the voices of women. Suspicion has fallen on Widowland, the run-down slums where childless women over fifty have been banished. These women are known to be mutinous, for they have nothing to lose. Before the Leader arrives for the Coronation ceremony of King Edward and Queen Wallis, Rose must infiltrate Widowland to find the source of this rebellion and ensure that it is quashed.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers, St Martin's Press, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-250-23621-0.
It has been centuries since the robots of Panga gained self-awareness and laid down their tools; centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again; centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend.  One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honour the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of "what do people need?" is answered.   But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how.  They're going to need to ask it a lot.  In a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?

Billion-Dollar Brain by Len Deighton, Penguin Modern Classics, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-241-50516-8.
Technothriller. Reprint. British spook Harry Palmer investigates a mysterious artificial intelligence that threatens to disrupt cold war Europe…

Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow, Ad Astra, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-838-93999-1.
Returning to the world of Little Brother and Homeland, Attack Surface takes us five minutes into the future, to a world where everything is connected and everyone is vulnerable.  Masha Maximow has made some bad choices in life — choices that hurt people. But she’s also made some pretty decent ones. In the log file of life, however, she can’t quite work out which side of the ledger she currently stands.  Masha works for Xoth Intelligence, an InfoSec company upgrading the Slovstakian Interior Ministry’s ability to spy on its citizens’ telecommunications with state-of-the-art software (at least, as state-of-the-art as Xoth is prepared to offer in its middle-upper pricing tier).  Can you offset a day-job helping repressive regimes spy on their citizens with a night-time hobby where you help those same citizens evade detection? Masha is about to find out.  Pacy, passionate, and as current as next week, Attack Surface is a paean to activism, to courage, to the drive to make the world a better place.

Star Wars: Shadow Fall by Alexander Freed, Del Rey, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-10144-7.
Alphabet Squadron's hunt for the deadliest TIE fighters in the galaxy continues in this Star Wars adventure! News of the New Republic's victory still reverberates through the galaxy. In its wake, the capital ships of the newly legitimized galactic government journey to the farthest stars, seeking out and crushing the remnants of imperial tyranny. But some old ghosts are harder to banish than others. And none are more dangerous than Shadow Wing…

Star Wars: Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed, Del Rey, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-10138-6.
In the wake of Yrica Quell's shocking decision-and one of the fiercest battles of their lives-the remnants of Alphabet Squadron seek answers and closure across a galaxy whose old war scars are threatening to reopen. Soran Keize has returned to the tip of Shadow Wing's spear. Operation Cinder, the terrifying protocol of planetary extermination which began in the twilight of the Imperial era, burns throughout the galaxy. Shadow Wing is no longer wounded prey fleeing the hunters of the New Republic. With its leader, its strength has returned, and its Star Destroyers and TIE squadrons lurk in the darkness between stars, carrying out the fallen Emperor's final edict of destruction-as well as another, stranger mission, one Keize has championed not for the dying Empire, but for its loyal soldiers.  Alphabet Squadron's ships are as ramshackle and damaged as their spirits, but they've always had each other. Now, as they face the might of Keize's reborn juggernaut, they aren't even sure they have that. How do you catch a shadow? How do you kill it? And when you're finally victorious, who pays the price?

This Virtual Night by C.S. Friedman, Ad Astra – Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-800-24539-6.
Wide-screen space opera taking place in the second age of stellar colonisation. The sequel to the This Alien Shore.  A suicide assault has destroyed the life support system of a major waystation. All that is known about the young men responsible is that in their last living moments they were receiving messages from an uninhabited sector of space, and were playing a virtual reality game.  Two unlikely allies have joined forces to investigate the incident: Ru Gaya, a mercenary explorer with a taste for high risk ventures, and game designer Micah Bello, who must find the parties responsible for the attack in order to clear his name. From the corridors of a derelict station lost to madness to an outlaw stronghold in the depths of uncharted space, the two now follow the trail of a foe who can twist human minds to their purpose, and whose plans will bring about the collapse of outworld civilisation.

Outbreak by Frank Gardner, Transworld, £12.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-787-63238-7.
Former SBS officer and now MI6 operative Luke Carlton, races against time to confront the all-too-real horrors of 21st century bio-terrorism.  Deep within the Arctic Circle, three environmental scientists from the UK's Arctic Research Station trudge through a blizzard landscape in search of shelter. There's a cabin ahead. It appears abandoned. No lights or tell tale smoke. No snow-cat parked outside.  The first thing the team's medic, Dr Sheila Mackenzie, notices when she enters is the smell. It's rank, rotting. And then there's movement.  A man, barely recognisable, lies on a sofa, his face hideously disfigured by livid pustules, rivulets of blood run from his nostrils, his chest covered in black bile. Momentarily Dr Mackenzie can't comprehend what she's seeing. Then the alarm bells begin to ring. These are signs of chronic, deadly infection…  But the man is trying to say something. She edges closer to him, and it's then that the convulsions begin. He coughs suddenly, violently, vomiting out a rank mix of blood, bile and mucus…  Contaminating Dr Mackenzie and her two companions. Setting in train a terrifying chain of events that threatens millions with a deadly contagion.

The Library of the Dead by T. L. Huchu, Tor, £14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-03945-0.
Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghost talker – and she now speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children – leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honour bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world.  She’ll dice with death (not part of her life plan…) as she calls on Zimbabwean magic and Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. For Edinburgh hides a wealth of secrets. And in the process, she discovers an occult library and some unexpected allies. Yet as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?

The Trigan Empire: vol. 2 by Don Laurence, Rebellion, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-781-08775-6.
Classic graphic collection of short stories from the comic strip The Trigan Empire. Think of the Roman Empire with hovercraft and jet planes. This was originally published in Look & Learn back in the 1960s. Don Laurence also drew for the comic TV Century 21 and the strip (literally) Carrie in Mayfair.

Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu, Ad Astra, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-838-93762-1.
From the author of The Three-Body Problem, a collection of award-winning short stories – a selection of diamond-hard science fiction.  Click on the title link for a review of the hardback.

Resistance: A graphic novel by Val McDermid & Kathryn Briggs, Profile, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-788-16355-2.
It’s the summer solstice weekend, and 150,000 people descend on a farm in the northeast of England for an open-air music festival. At first, a spot of rain seems to be the only thing dampening the fun – until a mystery bug appears. Before long, the illness is spreading at an electrifying speed and seems resistant to all antibiotics. Can journalist Zoe Meadows track the outbreak to its source, and will a cure be found before the disease becomes a pandemic?

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine, Tor, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-00162-4.
A Desolation Called Peace is the sequel to A Memory Called Empire, winner of the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novel.  An alien terror could spell our end.  An alien threat lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is supposed to win a war against it.  In a desperate attempt to find a diplomatic solution, the fleet captain has sent for an envoy to contact the mysterious invaders. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass – both still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire – face an impossible task: they must attempt to negotiate with a hostile entity, without inadvertently triggering the destruction of themselves and the Empire.  Whether they succeed or fail could change the face of Teixcalaan forever.

The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray, Arrow, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-787-46361-5.
2059. The world has stopped turning.  One half suffers an endless frozen night; the other, nothing but burning sun.  Only in a slim twilit region between them can life survive. In an isolationist Britain, scientist Ellen Hopper receives a letter from a dying man. It contains a powerful and dangerous secret. One that those in power will kill to conceal… Click on the title link for a standalone review of the hardback.

This Eden by Ed O’Loughlin, Riverrun, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-41285-7.
Techno-thriller with an SFnal riff, billed by the publisher as is a smart modern-day adventure reminiscent of both the cyber noir novels of William Gibson and the golden age of espionage fiction.  When Michael’s coder girlfriend dies, he is inexplicably headhunted by sinister tech mogul Campbell Fess, who transplants him to Silicon Valley. There, a reluctant female spy named Aoife lures him into the hands of Towse, an enigmatic war-gamer, who tricks them both into joining his quest to save the world, and reality itself, from the deadliest weapon ever invented.

Nineteen Eighty-Four: The graphic novel by George Orwell & Fido Nesti, Penguin, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-241-43649-3.
Hidden away in the Record Department of the sprawling Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith skilfully rewrites the past to suit the needs of the Party. Yet he inwardly rebels against the totalitarian world he lives in, which demands absolute obedience and controls him through the all-seeing telescreens and the watchful eye of Big Brother, symbolic head of the Party. In his longing for truth and liberty, Smith begins a secret love affair with a fellow-worker, Julia, but soon discovers the true price of freedom is betrayal.

Perhaps The Stars by Ada Palmer, Ad Astra – Head of Zeus, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-786-69960-2.
The long years of near-utopia have come to an abrupt end. Peace and order are now figments of the past. Corruption, deception, and insurgency hum within the once steadfast leadership of the Hives, nations without fixed location. The heartbreaking truth is that for decades, even centuries, the leaders of the great Hives bought the world’s stability with a trickle of secret murders, mathematically planned. So that no faction could ever dominate. So that the balance held. The Hives’ facade of solidity is the only hope they have for maintaining a semblance of order, for preventing the public from succumbing to the savagery and bloodlust of wars past. But as the great secret becomes more and more widely known, that facade is slipping away. Just days earlier, the world was a pinnacle of human civilisation. Now everyone – Hives and hiveless, Utopians and sensayers, emperors and the downtrodden, warriors and saints – scramble to prepare for the seemingly inevitable war…  This is the conclusion of the 'Terra Ignota' series that began with Too Like the Lightening, that was followed by Seven Surrenders and The Will to Battle.

The Ninth Metal: The Comet Cycle Book 1 by Benjamin Percy, Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-473-69007-3.
SF thriller.  A powerful new metal arrives on Earth in the wake of a meteor shower, triggering a massive new ‘gold rush’ in the Midwest and turning life as we know it on its head.

We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker, Ad Astra – Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-800-24388-8.
Everybody’s getting one.  Val and Julie just want what’s best for their kids, David and Sophie. So when teenage son David comes home one day asking for a Pilot, a new brain implant to help with school, they reluctantly agree. This is the future, after all.  Soon, Julie feels mounting pressure at work to get a Pilot to keep pace with her colleagues, leaving Val and Sophie part of the shrinking minority of people without the device.  Before long, the implications are clear, for the family and society: get a Pilot or get left behind. With government subsidies and no downside, why would anyone refuse? And how do you stop a technology once it’s everywhere? Those are the questions Sophie and her anti-Pilot movement rise up to answer, even if it puts them up against the Pilot’s powerful manufacturer and pits Sophie against the people she loves most.

Inhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-575-09071-2.
This is the book many Alastair Reynolds readers have been waiting for: a return to the Revelation Space Universe.  We all like a bit of Reynolds.  And this epic, stand-alone Science Fiction adventure is well worth the wait.  Welcome to Michaelmas. An airless, crater-pocked world whose caverns shelter a tiny band of humans. They’re hiding, like the other last survivors. And they’re being hunted. One man has given them hope, guiding them through the hardest of times: Miguel de Rutyer. But those times are about to get harder still…

Kingdoms of Death by Christopher Ruocchio, Gollancz, £18.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-473-21835-2.
Hadrian Marlowe, a man revered as a hero and despised as a murderer, chronicles his tale in the galaxy-spanning Sun Eater series, merging the best of space opera and epic fantasy. In this fourth instalment of the epic series, we see the legendary figure, as he finally finds – and is at once captured by – the mysterious alien Cielcen, in a story which the publishers say will delight fans of Dune.

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley, Flame Tree Press, £10.99 / Can$19.99 . US$14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-839-64477-1.
Gorgeous Collector’s Edition. Victor Frankenstein is a man of science obsessed with creation. However, on achieving a miracle, Frankenstein finds himself horrified by the creature of his own making. With a new introduction, two short stories (‘Transformation’ and ‘The Mortal Immortal’, Aeschylus’ ‘Prometheus Bound’, a biography and Glossary of Gothic, Victorian & Literary terms.

Phase Six by Jim Shepard, Quercus, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-41507-0.
A novel about a disastrous pandemic that reads like a fictional sequel to our current crisis. In a tiny settlement on the west coast of Greenland, 11-year-old Aleq and his best friend, frequent trespassers at a mining site exposed to mountains of long-buried and thawing permafrost, carry what they pick up back into their village, and from there Shepard’s harrowing and deeply moving story follows Aleq through his identification and radical isolation as the likely index patient.

Star Wars High Republic: Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule, Century, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-12464-4.
Two hundred years before the events of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, in the era of the glorious High Republic, the noble and wise Jedi Knights must face a frightening threat to themselves, the galaxy, and the Force itself….

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde & Other Tales by Robert Louis Stevenson, Flame Tree Press, £10.99 / Can$19.99 . US$14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-839-64476-4.
A welcome reprint of a classic. A suspense-filled masterclass of horror. A repulsive creature stalks the streets and he’s becoming harder to control by the charming Dr Jekyll who couldn’t be more different to the violent, depraved Mr Hyde – until, that is, he takes a potion of his own concoction. This new edition features a new introduction and five dark-themed companion tales.

Blindspace by Jeremy Szal, Gollancz, £16.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-473-22747-7.
Vakov has been to hell and back, but he’s never faced anything like this…  Stormtech is the most powerful drug out there. Derived from dangerous, alien DNA, it was used to create supersoldiers – like Vakov himself. But now it’s on the streets, it’s incredibly addictive . . . and it’s lethal. Worse: Harmony – the outfit which dosed Vakov to begin with – needs help to end the epidemic on the streets, before it spirals out of control…  This continues the story begun in Stormblood.

Bear Head by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Ad Astra – Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-800-24154-1.
In a sequel to Dogs of War, Honey the genetically engineered bear takes a ride in Jimmy the Martian’s head and starts a revolution on the Red Planet. Mars. The red planet. A new frontier for humanity: a civilization where humans can live in peace, lord and master of all they survey. But this isn’t Space City from those old science-fiction books. It’s more like Hell City, built into and from a huge crater. There’s a big silk canopy over it, feeding out atmosphere as we generate it, little by little, because we can’t breathe the air here. I guess it’s a perfect place to live, if you want to live on Mars. At some point I must have wanted to live on Mars, because here I am. The money was supposed to be good, and how else was a working Joe like me going to get off-planet exactly? But I remember the videos they showed us – guys, not even in suits, watching robots and bees and Bioforms doing all the work – and they didn’t quite get it right...  Click on the title link for a stand-alone review.

The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Macmillan, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-509-86591-8.
The walls between many worlds are collapsing and only a handful of people are in on this secret. But how can they stop the end of the universe? Click on the title link for a standalone review of the hardback.

Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Tor, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-05188-9.
The war is over. Its heroes forgotten. Until one chance discovery… Idris has neither aged nor slept since they remade him in the war. And one of humanity’s heroes now scrapes by on a freelance salvage vessel, to avoid the attention of greater powers. After Earth was destroyed, mankind created a fighting elite to save their species, enhanced humans such as Idris. In the silence of space they could communicate, mind-to-mind, with the enemy. Then their alien aggressors, the Architects, simply disappeared – and Idris and his kind became obsolete. Now, fifty years later, Idris and his crew have something strange, abandoned in space. It’s clearly the work of the Architects – but are they returning? And if so, why? Hunted by gangsters, cults and governments, Idris and his crew race across the galaxy hunting for answers. For they now possess something of incalculable value, that many would kill to obtain.

The Best of World SF edited by Lavie Tidhar, Ad Astra – Head of Zeus, £25, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-838-93764-5.
Lavie Tidhar is well known as an author (A Man Lies Dreaming, The Violent Century – which we previously cited as one of the best novels of 2013 – and the World Fantasy Award-winning Osama). From 2009, for four years he ran the World SF blog that promoted English translations of non-Anglophone SF: so the man has international SF contacts. He has previously produced international SF anthologies before, but by small presses. Nothing wrong with small press publication, but now we get one from a major publisher. This anthology features some stories by well known names including Aliette (The House of Sundering Flames) de Bodard and Tade (Rosewater) Thompson, as well as those with less of a profile among British and American genre readers, but equally deserving of an English-speaking readership. This is one of those books in our seasonal listing that warrants doing well. Some may say Lavie is doing foreign writers a favour. He's not. He's doing English-speaking readers one.

Osama by Lavie Tidhar, Ad Astra – Head of Zeus, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-800-24510-5.
From the author of By Force Alone, A Man Lies Dreaming and The Violent Century.  This is the 10th anniversary edition of Lavie’s World Fantasy Award-winning metafictional novel, including two new chapters.  A private detective is hired by a mysterious woman to find a man…  The quarry? An obscure author of pulp fiction novels featuring one Osama Bin Laden: Vigilante... Our detective pursues his quarry from the backwaters of Asia to the Capitals of Europe, the New World, and into a realm of shadows. Here he finds the refugees, ghostly entities haunting reality. Where do they come from? And what do they want?

Andrea Víctrix by Llorenç Villalonga, Fum d'Estampa Press, £13.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-916-29394-6.
First published in 1974, Andrea Víctrix is something of a Spanish SF classic. Originally published in Catalan, it is now out in English.  It is a dystopian depiction of Palma, Mallorca, in the year 2050.  The novel's narrator, in 1965 places himself in cryostasis to awaken in 2050. The novel presciently explores gender, big business, environmental disasters consumerism and politics. The narrator meets the androgynous Andrea Víctrix, the so-called Director of Pleasure, who challenges the narrator's 1960s' values.

Body of Stars by Laura Maylene Walter, Hodder Studio, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-529-34920-7.
Welcome to a world where women own the future but not their own bodies.  Like every woman, Celeste Morton holds a map of the future in her skin, every mole and freckle a clue to unlocking what will come to pass. Celeste’s brother Miles dreams of becoming an interpreter and Celeste’s markings have always been his practice ground. When Celeste’s marks change, she learns a devastating secret about her brother’s future that she must keep to herself – but Miles is keeping a secret too and when the lies of brother and sister collide, Celeste determines to create a future that is truly her own.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir, Del Rey, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-10061-7.
When astronomers notice the Sun is losing its brightness, Earth realises it only has thirty years before the planet freeze. A mission is mounted to save the planet, but something goes seriously wrong, and a scientist wakes up in a spaceship with amnesia, and his two colleagues dead.

The War of the Worlds & Other Tales by H. G. Wells, Flame Tree Press, £10.99 / Can$19.99 . US$14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-839-64479-5.
Gorgeous Collector’s Edition of H.G. Wells’ classic tale of invasion. Cylinders land on earth and invaders from Mars begin to destroy houses, then whole cities, creating panic and mass evacuation before a foul black smoke is released by the aliens. Includes a new introduction, the short story ‘A Dream of Armageddon’ and The First Men in the Moon.

This Fragile Earth by Susannah Wise, Gollancz, £14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-473-23232-7.
What would you do to protect your family if the world stopped working?  Not long from now, in London, Signy and Matthew lead a dull, difficult life. They’ve only really stayed together for their 6-year-old son, Jed. But they’re surviving, just about. Until the day the technology that runs their world stops working. Then people start going missing. Soldiers are on the streets. London is no longer safe.  Soon, Signy and Jed are on the run. Signy will do almost anything to get Jed to safety. But she has no idea what is waiting for them outside the city...


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Summer 2021

Forthcoming Fantasy Books


Queen’s Assassin by James Barclay, Gollancz, £16.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-473-20246-7.
Her life is dedicated to healing, on the battlefield and off. The troops love her. Her ability is nothing short of miraculous . . . because it’s magical. Which is a problem, in a country where anyone with her powers has been killed.  And now her secret has been discovered, she has a choice: be revealed, tortured and executed. Or go to court, to be the Queen’s personal physician. The same queen who ordered her family killed. A queen whose life will now be in her hands…

Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett, Quercus, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-786-48790-2.
Orso Igancio and his star employee, former thief Sancia Grado, are accomplishing brilliant things with scriving, the magical art of encoding sentience into everyday objects, but the massive merchant houses of Tevanne are willing to do anything to crush them.

The Call of the Wyld edited by Mark Bilsborough, Wyldblood, £7.99, pbk, ISBN: 978-1-838-15299-4.
Twelve grisly new tales of fur and fury in this brand new anthology of werewolf stories. 'The Mortsafe' is full of gothic darkness, 'Werewolf’s Lament' (because werewolves have feelings too). 'Howling on the Moon': werewolves in space – and right in the place where it all happens for them, full moon all the time. 'Ivanwolf' tells a very human story of some decidedly inhuman happenings. 'Rabbit Ears in the Laundry' helps us face up to some of the more troublesome consequences of living with a werewolf, but the mood swiftly darkens with the tense suspense of the unsettling 'Rewilding'. 'The Lodger' explores what happens when the new guy in the spare bedroom suddenly has more fur than a landlady has a right to expect. A tale of doomed love in 'The Wolf is Always at Your Door'. Meanwhile 'To Prey' is nothing to do with going to church. 'Walking Dog' is quirky. ' Werewolf Eulogy' is a lupine love story. Then full circle with 'The Big L', which, like the opener 'The Mortsafe' is a story of how to tame the curse, but with a very different outcome…  If you are into werewolves then there are just two recommended books this year: the non-fiction The Werewolf in the Ancient World from Oxford U. Press and this anthology, The Call of the Wyld.

The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman, Gollancz, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-473-23115-3.
A traveller walks down a forest road alone. A thief waits by the roadside.  But today, Kinch has chosen the wrong mark. Galva is a knight, and a survivor of the brutal goblin wars. She is searching for her missing queen, whom no one has seen since her city fell to giants.  After Kinch’s failed robbery, his fate becomes locked to Galva’s. Thief and knight must traverse lands where goblins hunger for kynd flesh, krakens hunt in dark waters and the gods only laugh when you ask them for help…  The author's first novel, Those Across the River, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award for best novel in 2012.

The Splinter King by Mike Brooks, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51392-8.
The second volume in the 'God King Chronicles', The Splinter King is the sequel to The Black Coast, and tells an epic fantasy tale of gods and thieves, kings and assassins, of dragons and the warriors who ride them into battle

The Searching Dead by Ramsey Campbell, Flame Tree Press, £20 / Can$32.95 / US$24.95, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-787-58558-4.
1952. On a school trip to France teenager Dominic Sheldrake begins to suspect his teacher Christian Noble has reasons to be there as secret as they’re strange. Meanwhile a widowed neighbour joins a church that puts you in touch with your dead relatives, who prove much harder to get rid of. As Dominic and his friends Roberta and Jim investigate, they can’t suspect how much larger and more terrible the link between these mysteries will become. A monstrous discovery beneath a church only hints at terrors that are poised to engulf the world as the trilogy brings us to the present day…

Somebody’s Voice by Ramsey Campbell, Flame Tree Press, £20 / Can$32.95 / US$24.95, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-787-58558-4.
Alex Grand is a successful crime novelist until his latest book is condemned for appropriating the experience of victims of abuse. In a bid to rescue his reputation he ghost-writes a memoir of abuse on behalf of a survivor, Carl Batchelor. Carl’s account proves to be less than entirely reliable; someone is alive who shouldn’t be.  As Alex investigates the background of Carl’s accusations his grasp of the truth of the book, and of his own involvement, begin to crumble. When he has to testify in a court case brought about by Carl’s memoir, this may be one step too far for his insecure mind…

The Fall of Koli by Mike Carey, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51349-2.
The third and final novel in the 'Rampart' trilogy that began with The Book of Koli – an original series set in a strange and deadly world of our own making, from the author of the million-copy selling The Girl with all the Gifts.

The Trials of Koli by Mike Carey, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51349-2.
This follows The Book of Koli and is set generations after a nuclear and environmental holocaust.  Koli is a teenage boy in the village community of Mythen Rood (Mytholmroyd) in the Calder Valley in Yorkshire.  Now he’s reaching out to claim his property, and Ingland is facing something it hasn’t seen in three centuries.  War!

Nostalgia by Mircea Cartarescu, Penguin Modern Classics, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-241-44891-5.
A mesmerizing novel about the magical and gritty world of Bucharest in the 1980s by a celebrated Eastern European writer.  A dreamlike novel of memory and magic, Nostalgia turns the dark world of Communist Bucharest into a place of strange enchantments. Here a man plays increasingly death-defying games of Russian Roulette, a child messiah works his magic in the tenements, a young man explores gender boundaries, a woman relives her youth and an architect becomes obsessed with the sound of his new car horn – with unexpected consequences. Blending reality and symbolism, time and myth, this is a cult masterwork from Romania’s most celebrated writer.

The Keymaker by Beth Cartwright, Del Rey, £12.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-10069-3.
What would you give for the chance to say goodbye?  High on a hill, beneath a tumble of snowflakes, sits an old, faded house above a beautiful garden which blooms bright from tears of grief. Rooms cannot be rented here and visits are by invitation only. It is a place for people haunted by the memory of loss. It is the chance to say goodbye to the person you love.  When Liesl receives an invitation to the house, she thinks there must be some mistake. The letter instructs her to bring three objects with her: one belonging to her, and two from the person she has lost - only Liesl has never experienced the loss of a loved one. Her curiosity stirred, she decides to accept the offer, and makes her way to the house.  When she arrives, she meets Miltos, the enigmatic key maker; Vivien, a beautiful, austere woman whose glare leaves Liesl unsettled; and Amos, the old gardener who tends the flowers that grow in the garden. Liesl must discover why she has been called to this place – but the house won’t give up its secrets so easily…

The Unbroken by C. L. Clark, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51623-3.
In a political fantasy, debut author C. L. Clark spins an epic tale of rebellion, espionage, and military might on the far outreaches of a crumbling desert empire…

Illusionary by Zoraida Córdova Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99 hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-473-67762-3.
Reeling from betrayal at the hands of the Whispers, Renata Convida is on the run. With few options, she joins forces with Prince Castian, her most infuriating and intriguing enemy. Their goal: find the Knife of Memory, kill King Fernando, and bring peace to the nation. Together, they can save everything, if only they can set aside their feelings for each other. But the greatest danger is within Ren – her fortress of stolen memories is crumbling, threatening her grip on reality. She’ll have to control her magics to unlock her power and protect the Moria people.

The Wood Bee Queen by Edward Cox, Gollancz, £16.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-473-22686-9.
In another world, a queen has been killed. Her investigators: a thief with a mythical sword, and a librarian who doesn’t believe in magic.  Ebbie, the local librarian of a small English town, is about to lose his job. Meanwhile, in another realm entirely, the Queen of House Wood Bee has been murdered, throwing the Realm into chaos. The sword stolen by Bek Rana might just hold some answers, but all Bek wants to do is sell it – she’s no hero.  As the Realm tumbles into anarchy, Ebbie and Bek must face their destinies, stop the destruction of House Wood Bee and just maybe save themselves as well. But all victories have a cost…

Play of Shadows by Sebastien De Castell, Jo Fletcher Books, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-787-47147-4.
Swordplay, magic, intrigue and friendships stronger than iron…  Damelas Shademantaigne picked a poor night to flee a judicial duel.  He has precious little hope of escaping the wrath of the Vixen, the most feared duellist in the entire city, until he stumbles through the stage doors of the magnificent Operato Belleza and tricks his way into the company of actors. An archaic law provides a temporary respite from his troubles – until one night a ghostly voice in his head causes Damelas to fumble his lines, inadvertently blurting out a dreadful truth: the city’s most legendary hero may actually be a traitor and a brutal murderer.  With only the help of his boisterous and lusty friend Bereto, a beautiful assassin whose target may well be Damelas himself, and a company of misfit actors who’d just as soon see him dead, this failed grandson of two Greatcoats must somehow find within himself the courage to dig up long-buried truths before a ruthless band of bravos known as the Iron Orchids come for his head.  Oh, and there’s still that matter of the Vixen waiting to duel him…

The Hollow Ones by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan, Del Rey, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-10096-9.
From the Oscar-winning director of Pan's Labyrinth, The Shape of Water and Hellboy comes a new paranormal thriller billed by the publisher as X-Files meets Ben Aaronovitch.  Odessa Hardwicke's life is derailed when she's forced to turn her gun on her partner, Walt Leppo, a decorated FBI agent who turns suddenly, inexplicably violent while apprehending a rampaging murderer. The shooting, justified by self-defence, shakes the young FBI agent to her core. Devastated, Odessa is placed on desk leave pending a full investigation. But what most troubles Odessa isn't the tragedy itself-it's the shadowy presence she thought she saw fleeing the deceased agent's body after his death.  Questioning her future with the FBI and her sanity, Hardwicke accepts a low -level assignment to clear out the belongings of a retired agent in the New York office. What she finds there will put her on the trail of a mysterious figure named John Silence, a man of enormous means who claims to have been alive for centuries, and who is either an unhinged lunatic, or humanity's best and only defence against unspeakable evil.

The Tyrant by Seth Dickinson, Tor, £10.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-00327-7.
After years of service to the corrupt Imperial Republic of Falcrest, Baru Cormorant finally knows how to destroy it. She’s discovered a deadly, weaponised blood plague. And if she releases it, the epidemic will kill millions.. not just in Falcrest, but worldwide. As her divided mind turns on itself, Baru’s enemies close in. She must choose between genocidal retribution and a harder path. All she has to do is defeat a conspiracy of kings, spies and immortals, manipulate the outcome of two great wars, and steal the greatest riches in the world. If Baru triumphs, she can force Falcrest to abandon its colonies and make right its crimes. But does she want a slim chance at justice — or certain revenge?

Paris By Starlight by Robert Dinsdale, Del Rey, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-10047-1.
Every city has its own magic...  Every night on their long journey to Paris from their troubled homeland, Levon’s grandmother has read to them from a very special book. Called The Nocturne, it is a book full of fairy stories and the heroic adventures of their people who generations before chose to live by starlight.  And with every story that Levon’s grandmother tells them in their new home, the desire to live as their ancestors did grows. And that is when the magic begins…  Nobody can explain why nocturnal water dogs start appearing at the heels of every citizen of Paris-by-Starlight like the loyal retainers they once were.  There are suddenly night finches in the skies and the city is transforming: the Eiffel Tower lit up by strange ethereal flowers that drink in the light of the Moon.  But not everyone in Paris is won over by the spectacle of Paris-by-Starlight… Billed by the publisher that it will appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman and Erin Morgenstern.

Terrifying Ghosts Short Stories edited by Clare Frances Elliott, Flame Tree Press, £20 / Can$40 / US$30, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-839-64481-8.
Ghastly castles, haunted mansions, shadowy forests and long, dark corridors... This new addition to the Gothic Fantasy series is packed with tales of terror, bringing together the new and the familiar, the unusual and the unexpected. Featuring many stories from open submissions by new writers. Master storytellers featured include A.C. Benson, E.F. Benson, Ambrose Bierce, Amelia B. Edwards, Lafcadio Hearn, Henry James, M. R. James, Sheridan Le Fanu and Edith Wharton.

Blackheart Knights by Laure Eve, Jo Fletcher Books, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-41191-1.
Imagine Camelot, but in Gotham City, where knights are the celebrities of the day, riding on motorbikes instead of horses and competing in televised fights for fame and money.  Imagine a city where a young, magic-touched bastard astonishes everyone by becoming king.  Imagine a girl with a secret past undertaking the brutal training to become a knight, so vicious and punishing that only one in fifty succeeds – for the sole purpose of vengeance.  Imagine a city where magic is illegal but everywhere, in its underground bars, its back-alley soothsayers – and in the people who have to hide what they are for fear of being tattooed and persecuted.  Imagine a city where electricity is money, power the only game worth playing, and violence the most fervently worshipped religion.  Welcome to a dark, chaotic, alluring place with a tumultuous history, where dreams come true if you want them hard enough – and are prepared to do some very, very bad things to get them…

Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan, William Heinemann, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-434-02331-8.
Stories tucked away on every floor. No. 10 Luckenbooth Close is an archetypal Edinburgh tenement. The devil’s daughter rows to the shores of Leith in a coffin. The year is 1910 and she has been sent to a tenement building in Edinburgh by her recently deceased father to bear a child for a wealthy man and his fiancée. The harrowing events that follow lead to a curse on the building and its residents – a curse that will last for the rest of the century.  Over nine decades, No. 10 Luckenbooth Close bears witness to emblems of a changing world outside its walls. An infamous madam, a spy, a famous Beat poet, a coal miner who fears daylight, a psychic: these are some of the residents whose lives are plagued by the building’s troubled history in disparate, sometimes chilling ways. The curse creeps up the nine floors and an enraged spirit world swells to the surface, desperate for the true horror of the building’s longest kept secret to be heard.

The Stitcher and the Mute by D. K. Fields, Ad Astra, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-789-54254-7.
The second novel in a fantasy trilogy about murder, politics, and the power of stories.  Detective Cora Gorderheim has found the man who strangled the Wayward storyteller. But he was just a small part of a much bigger tale. Someone powerful ordered a murder on Cora’s patch. That someone still lurks in the shadows. But as she continues her investigations, Cora is warned not to pry into the great and good of Fenest.  Too stubborn to know better, Cora keeps digging and begins to piece together a conspiracy that reaches from the gutter dwellers of the Union of Realms right to the top: the Chambers.  As the Audience hear the Torn and Perlish tales, Cora realises she must return to her own story, to its very beginning, if she’s going to have any say in its end…  D. K. Fields is the pseudonym for the writing partnership of novelists David Towsey and Katherine Stansfield.

Eye of the Sh*t Storm by Jackson Ford, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51466-6.
The new novel in the fun and action-packed 'Frost Files' series which began with The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with her Mind.

The Coven by Lizzie Fry, Sphere, £14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-751-57759-2.
A world in which witchcraft is real and their power used for good, but a populist President decides that all witches must be imprisoned for their own safety…

The Children of D’Hara by Terry Goodkind, Ad Astra – Head of Zeus, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-789-54133-5.
Richard Rahl and Kahlan Amnell confront an apocalyptic nightmare. The insatiable hunger of Golden Goddess... The irresistible power of a Witch’s Oath... A fracture in the world of life... An opening in the world of death... Richard Rahl and Kahlan Amnell face the perfect storm. The Children of D’Hara picks up immediately after the conclusion of the 'Sword of Truth' series.

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne, Orbit, £18.99, hrdbk, 978-0-356-51418-5.
The gods are dead... but their power remains. After the old gods warred and drove themselves to extinction, the cataclysm of their fall shattered the land of Vigrio. Now a new world is rising from the ashes of the old. A world where power-hungry jarls carve out petty kingdoms and monsters stalk the woods and mountains.  The author's debut novel Malice won the David Gemmell Morningstar Award in 2012.

The Broken God by Gareth Hanrahan, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51436-9.
Set in a world of dark gods and dangerous magic, The Broken God is a darkly inventive fantasy, from the series that began with The Gutter Prayer.

Honeycomb by Joanne Harris, Gollancz, £25, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-473-21399-9.
A collection of dark, captivating fairy tales from the author of Chocolat.  That’s the beauty of stories; you never know where they will take you. The toymaker who wants to create the perfect wife; the princess whose heart is won by words, not actions; the tiny dog whose confidence far outweighs his size; and the sinister Lacewing King who rules over the Silken Folk. These are just a few of the weird and wonderful creatures who populate Joanne Harris’s first collection of fairy tales.

Paper & Blood by Kevin Hearne, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, 978-0-356-51524-3.
The second book in the new Ink & Sigil series, set in the world of the Iron Druid Chronicles.

Bleeding Hearts by Ry Herman, Jo Fletcher Books, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-40631-3.
It’s hard enough holding down a relationship – but when one is on the wrong side of dead and the other possesses powers definitely not of natural origin? Angela and Chloe overcame almost impossible odds to be together, but if they don’t deal with Angela’s biting problem, Chloe will probably die.  Is there a solution, or is the divide between the living and the dead too wide for them to cross?

Sistersong by Lucy Holland, Macmillan, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-03903-0.
In a magical ancient Britain, three sisters become entangled in a tale of treachery, love and murder. This story retells folk ballad ‘The Two Sisters’, through the eyes of the one the tale forgot.  535 AD. In the ancient kingdom of Dumnonia, King Cador’s children inherit a fragmented land abandoned by the Romans. Riva, scarred in a terrible fire, fears she will never heal. Keyne battles to be seen as the king’s son, when born a daughter. And Sinne, the spoiled youngest girl, yearns for romance. All three fear a life of confinement within the walls of the hold – a last bastion of strength against the invading Saxons. But change comes on the day ash falls from the sky, bringing Myrdhin, meddler and magician, and Tristan, a warrior whose secrets will tear the siblings apart. Riva, Keyne and Sinne must take fate into their own hands, or risk being tangled in a story they could never have imagined; one of treachery, love and ultimately, murder. It’s a story that will shape the destiny of Britain. This novel retells the folk ballad, ‘The Two Sisters’, through the eyes of one the tale forgot. It’s a powerfully moving story, billed by the publisher as perfect for fans of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale.

The House of Always by Jenn Lyons, Tor, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-509-87968-7.
What if you were imprisoned for all eternity? In the aftermath of the Ritual of Night, everything has changed. The Eight Immortals have catastrophically failed to stop Kihrin’s enemies, who are moving forward with their plans to free Vol Karoth, the King of Demons. Kihrin has his own ideas about how to fight back, but even if he’s willing to sacrifice everything for victory, the cost may prove too high for his allies. Now they face a choice: can they save the world while saving Kihrin too? Or will they be forced to watch as he becomes the very evil they had all sworn to destroy? The House of Always is the fourth book in Jenn Lyons’s series A Chorus of Dragons.

The Memory of Souls by Jenn Lyons, Tor, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-509-87960-1.
Kihrin draws closer to his ultimate destiny, as battle lines are drawn in his quest to save the world. Billed by the publisher as perfect for fans of Joe Abercrombie, Robin Hobb and Patrick Rothfuss.

Priest of Gallows by Peter McLean, Jo Fletcher Books, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-41131-7.
Gangster, soldier, priest. Governor. Queen’s Man. Tomas Piety has everything he wanted.  But everything has a price.  The wealthy, respected, happily married Governor is a Queen’s Man, working in secret for his country. Just as Tomas fought for his Pious Men, he now bends his wit and hard-won wisdom to protect his queen – but with his boss increasing his grip on the throne, he can’t always tell if he’s on the right side.  What is the price of power – and is it one Tomas is willing to pay..?  This follows Priest of Bones and Priest of Lies in 'The War for the Rose Throne' quartet.

We Cry for Blood by Devin Madson, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51411-6.
The third book in a dark epic fantasy quartet billed as perfect for fans of Mark Lawrence, Anthony Ryan, and Brian Staveley.

The Children God Forgot by Graham Masterton, Ad Astra – Head of Zeus, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-800-24020-9.
A new horror from the author of Ghost Virus. A rash of strange and horrifying births sweeps through London. A young woman is rushed to the hospital with stabbing pains. The chief surgeon performs a C-section, and delivers a catastrophically malformed foetus that is somehow alive... Sewage engineer Gemma is plunged into a ghostly darkness in the tunnel where she works. She escapes, but her boss goes missing in the chaos. He is later found alive... but his legs have been severed and his eyes pulled out.  DC Jerry Pardoe and DS Jamila Patel team up once more to solve the mystery and save the city. But, if they are to succeed, first they must delve into the dark arts of witchcraft...  In 2019, The author was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Horror Writers Association.

Elric: The Eternal Champion Collection by Michael Moorcock, James Cawthorn & Philippe Druillet, Titan Comics, £17.99 / US$19.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-785-86955-6.
A graphic novel version of two classic Elric sword and sorcery stories.  Iconic sword-and-sorcery author Michael Moorcock weaves magic, heroism, and wonder as his legendary Eternal Champion Elric features in two rarely seen adventures illustrated by French artist Phillippe Druillet and veteran Moorcock interpreter James Cawthorn.  In Druillet’s 'Return to Melniboné,' Elric, armed with his sentient runeblade Stormbringer, returns to the Dragon isle of Melniboné and to his cousin and lover Cymoril. Unbeknown to Elric, dark forces are gathering and there is a sinister conspiracy to steal Stormbringer and bring chaos to Melniboné.  James Cawthorn’s 'Stormbringer' sees Elric’s wife, Zarozinia, kidnapped by servants of Chaos and ransomed for the runeblades, Mournblade and Stormbringer. Elric must enter the World of Chaos and confront Chardros the Reaper, Mabelode the Faceless, and Slortar the Old – the three most powerful Lords in the Realm of Chaos – and fight not just for the life of Zarozinia, but for all of mankind.

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Jo Fletcher Books, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-41560-5.
A neo-noir reimagining vampire lore.  Welcome to Mexico City, an oasis in a sea of vampires. Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is just trying to survive its heavily policed streets when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood-drinkers, is smart and beautiful – and very dangerous. Domingo is mesmerised.  Atl needs to escape the city quickly, to get far away from the rival narco-vampire clan relentlessly pursuing her. Her plan doesn’t include Domingo, but little by little, she finds herself warming up to the scrappy young man and his undeniable charm. As the trail of corpses stretches behind her, local cops and crime bosses both start closing in.  Vampires, humans, cops, and criminals collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Atl and Domingo stand little chance at all of making it out alive before the city devours them all – but they are determined to try…

Occulta by Maya Motayne, Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99 hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-473-67603-9.
Sequel to Nocturna.  After saving Castallan from an ancient evil, Alfie and Finn haven’t seen each other in months. Then Finn is made a Thief Lord and forced to preside over the illegal Oculta competition, while Alfie finally steps up to his role as heir and begins preparing for an International Peace Summit. Then the syndicate responsible for Alfie’s brother’s murder resurfaces. Their newest target: the summit. As these events converge, Finn and Alfie must work together to preserve Castallan’s hopes for peace. But will they be able to stop these sinister foes before a new war threatens their kingdom?

Shadowed Steel by Chloe Neill, Gollancz, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-473-23060-6.
In the third instalment in the 'Heirs of Chicagoland' series, the vampires in Elisa Sullivan’s world are out for blood.  Elisa Sullivan is the only vampire ever born, and she bears a heavy legacy. After a sojourn with the North American Central Pack of shifters in the wilderness –where she turned a young woman into a vampire to save her life – Elisa returns to Chicago.  But no good deed goes unpunished. The ruling body of vampires, the Assembly of American Masters, is furious that Elisa turned someone without their permission, and they’re out for her blood.

The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni, Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-36038-7.
Seventeen-year-old Kiva Meridan has spent ten years working as the prison healer in the notorious jail, Zalindov. But when the Rebel Queen is captured, Kiva is charged with keeping her alive long enough to undergo the Trial by Ordeal. Aware that this will kill the sickly queen, Kiva volunteers in her place. If she succeeds, they will both be granted freedom. But no one has ever survived. With an incurable plague sweeping Zalindov, a mysterious new inmate fighting for Kiva’s heart, and a rebellion brewing, Kiva can’t escape the feeling that her trials have just begun.

Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, 978-0-356-51582-3.
Orbit is launching a new blockbuster epic fantasy series. Set in a world inspired by pre-Colonial West African empires, the 'Nameless Republic' trilogy is billed as being perfect for fans of Brent Weeks, Evan Winter and James Islington.  A young scholar’s ambitions threaten to reshape an empire determined to retain its might in this epic tale of violent conquest, buried histories, and forbidden magic.

Holes in the Veil by Beth Overmyer, Flame Tree Press, £20 / Can$32.95 / US$24.95, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-787-58583-6.
Having killed his lifelong enemy, Aidan Ingledark finds himself in possession of a map to the Questing Goblet, one of the Goblets Immortal that gives the drinker luck beyond measure. Meraude seeks this Goblet to wipe out magic-kind. Aidan and his travelling companion are determined to find it first but they must battle through illusion and doubt. Jinn’s a Sightful seeking the Summoner. She wants to kill her mother, but her foresight ends in darkness. Can she enlist Aidan’s help and change her fate?

The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid, Del Rey, £14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-10073-0.
When the Woodsmen come to claim a sacrifice, Évike has little fear that she will be chosen. As the only girl in her isolated pagan village unable to heal, forge or summon fire, her lack of magic keeps her safe.  But when the villagers surrender her to the soldiers, Évike is thrust into a hostile world that has abandoned her gods. Determined to protect her people despite their betrayal, she strikes a reluctant bargain with her captor, the disgraced prince Gáspár Bárány. In exchange for the pagans’ safety and her freedom, she will help him seek out a powerful creature of myth and win back his father’s favour.  Their journey takes them from the Far North, where the terrifying magic of the old gods run wild, to the political mire of the capital, where the growing power of a vengeful cleric threatens to destroy them both.

The Light of Midnight Stars by Rena Rossner, Orbit, £14.99 hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51146-7.
Deep in the Hungarian woods, the sacred magic of King Solomon lives on in his descendants. Gathering under the midnight stars, they pray, sing and perform small miracles – and none are more gifted than the great Rabbi Isaac and his three daughters. Each one is blessed with an unique talent – whether it be coaxing plants to grow, or predicting the future by reading the path of the stars. When a fateful decision to help an outsider ends in an accusation of witchcraft, fire blazes through their village…

Meant to be Immortal by Lynsay Sands, Gollancz, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-473-23054-5.
The Argeneau vampires are back, in another steamy encounter…  Contrary to belief, vampires (or as they prefer – immortals) can be killed. When Mac Argeneau’s house goes up in flames– with him still inside – he knows it was not an accident. But why would anyone want to kill him? CJ Cummings – from the Special Investigative Unit – is pulled into the case due to a lack of police officers. She too is convinced that Mac is in danger, but she’s also convinced he’s hiding something. If only she wasn’t so distracted by the way her body seems to crave his...

The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox, Gollancz, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-473-23074-3.
Debut novel.  Detective Inspector Joe Lazarus always believed he could solve any murder, until it came to his own.  When Lazarus storms a Lincolnshire farmhouse, he expects to bring down the drug gang inside; instead, he discovers his own bleeding-out body and a spirit-guide called Daisy-May.  She’s there to enlist him to The Dying Squad, a spectral police force who solve crimes their flesh and blood colleagues cannot.  Now it’s up to Lazarus to discover the identity of his killer – before they kill again.

The Queen of Izmoroz by Jon Skovron, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51486-4.
The second book in Jon Skovoron’s fantasy trilogy about two siblings on opposite sides of a magical war.  Billed by the publisher as a must-read for fans of Robin McKinley and Mercedes Lackey.

The Sword Falls by A. J. Smith, Ad Astra – Head of Zeus, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-786-69692-2.
From the author of The World Raven.  A man of the Dawn Claw will be the Always King. It will ever be so. They will always rule... but they will not always lead. Prince Oliver Dawn Claw, heir to the Kingdom of the Four Claws, is thrust into a world he doesn’t understand as he waits for his father to die. Away from home, with few allies, and too many enemies, he faces a new and otherworldly threat to the Eastron from beneath the sea. Alliances break and masks fall as the Dark Brethren reveal their true master.  Meanwhile, Adeline Brand, called the Alpha Wolf, refuses to wait, and becomes the edge of the sword that swings back at the Dreaming God. Assembling allies and crushing resistance, she enters a fight she doesn’t know if she can win, as the sea begins to rise.

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon, #Merky, £12.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-11873-5.
Vern, a Black woman with albinism, is hunted after escaping a religious compound, then she discovers that her body is changing and that she is developing extra-sensory powers. Alone in the woods, she gives birth to twins and raises them away from the influence of the outside world. But something is wrong – not with them, but with her own body. It's itching, it's stronger, it's... not normal. To understand her body’s metamorphosis, Vern must investigate not just the secluded religious compound she fled but the violent history of dehumanization, medical experimentation, and genocide that produced it. In the course of reclaiming her own darkness, Vern learns that monsters aren’t just individuals, but entire histories, systems, and nations.

Dracula, A Mystery Story by Bram Stoker, Flame Tree Press, £10.99 / Can$19.99 . US$14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-839-64478-6.
The gripping gothic tale that led to the birth of a legend and stoked the imagination of film-makers, artists and novelists. When Jonathan Harker visits the remote Transylvanian castle of Count Dracula, little does he know he’ll become a captive of the undead. A gorgeous collector’s edition, with a new introduction and the short story ‘Dracula’s Guest’.

The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex, Picador, £14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-04731-8.
This is the story of three men who vanish from a remote lighthouse. The entrance door is locked from the inside, the clocks have all stopped and the table is set for dinner. The Principal Keeper’s weather log describes a mighty storm, but the skies have been clear all week.  Twenty years later, the mystery of their disappearance still haunts the heartbroken women left behind.  The sea has kept its secrets, until now.  Billed as being rich with the salty air of the Cornish coast.

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, 978-0-356-51564-9.
One is a vengeful princess seeking to depose her brother from his throne. The other is a priestess searching for her family. Together, they will change the fate of an empire…

Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura, Transworld, £12.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-0-857-52728-8.
Seven students are avoiding going to school, hiding in their darkened bedrooms, unable to face their family and friends, until the moment they discover a portal into another world that offers temporary escape from their stressful lives. Passing through a glowing mirror, they gather in a magnificent castle which becomes their playground and refuge during school hours. The students are tasked with locating a key, hidden somewhere in the castle, that will allow whoever finds it to be granted one wish. At this moment, the castle will vanish, along with all memories they may have of their adventure. If they fail to leave the castle by 5 pm every afternoon, they will be eaten by the keeper of the castle, an easily provoked and shrill creature named the Wolf Queen.  This novel is the winner of the Japan Booksellers Award voted for by the booksellers across Japan. One million copies have been sold in Japan.

Night of Demons & Saints by Menna van Praag, Transworld, £14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-787-63168-7.
The second book in The Sisters Grimm trilogy.  There is a moment, while the clock strikes twelve, when October ticks into November, as All Hallows’ Eve transforms into All Saints’ Day, that the sisters Grimm are born and anything is possible…  It is almost 3 years since the fours sisters Grimm confronted their father in that strange place called Everwhere. In a month, sisters Goldie, Scarlet and Liyana will be twenty-one. Goldie is still mourning Leo, her waking life barely bearable and she is becoming increasingly estranged from her sisters.  Unbeknownst to anyone, she plans to enact a ritual on the night of demons and saints: her intention is to draw on her powers over earth and growth and resurrect Leo’s spirit and soul, channelling both into the body of a soldier she’ll sacrifice for the purpose.  Meanwhile, Scarlet is happily married and newly pregnant and Liyana is in Zimbabwe, learning more of her family, her culture and history. On her return to England, she learns about Goldie’s plan and persuades her sister to try another method of resurrection. The sisters return to Everwhere to perform a voodoo ceremony to bring Leo back. It goes catastrophically, horrifyingly wrong. And during the ritual, something or someone took an unwelcome interest in Scarlet. Returning to our world, her behaviour begins to change. And Liyana too is disturbed by demons of her own - a darkness that calls out to her, whispering, wanting her to do wicked things…  And so on the eve of their 21st birthdays, three tormented sisters Grimm - Goldie, Liyana and Scarlet - will meet in Everwhere. There to confront each other, to learn what they have become, to face mortality, and discover the wonder of new and unexpected life…

The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng by K. S. Villoso, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51450-5.
The Bitch Queen is back in this conclusion to K. S. Villoso’s epic fantasy series that began with The Wolf of Oren-Yaro.

Ashes of the Sun by Django Wexler, Ad Astra – Head of Zeus, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-788-54316-3.
The first book in a new fantasy series from the author of the 'Shadow Campaigns' series.  Long ago, a magical war destroyed an empire, and a new one was built in its ashes. But still the old grudges simmer, and two siblings will fight on opposite sides to save their world in the start of Django Wexler’s new fantasy trilogy.  Gyre hasn’t seen his beloved sister since their parents sold her to the mysterious Twilight Order. Now, twelve years after her disappearance, Gyre’s sole focus is revenge, and he’s willing to risk anything and anyone to claim enough power to destroy the Order.  Chasing rumours of a fabled city protecting a powerful artefact, Gyre comes face-to-face with his lost sister. But she isn’t who she once was. Trained to be a warrior, Maya wields magic for the Twilight Order’s cause. Standing on opposite sides of a looming civil war, the two siblings will learn that not even the ties of blood will keep them from splitting the world in two.

The Shadow of Things to Come by Tad Williams, Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99 trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-473-64669-8.
The Shadow of Things to Come continues the story of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn which the publishers bill as the inspiration for Christopher Paolini and George R. R. Martin. Martin himself gives the Williams a promotional puff.


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Summer 2021

Forthcoming Non-Fiction SF &
Popular Science Books


The First Kingdom: Britain in the Age of Arthur by Max Adams, Head of Zeus, £30, hrdbk, ISBN 9781788543477.
This is a fascinating investigation of the most shadowy and most mysterious centuries in British history. Somewhere in the dim void between the departure from Britain of the Roman legions at the start of the fifth century and the days of the Venerable Bede in the early eighth, the kingdoms of Early Medieval Britain were formed. But by whom? And out of what? In The First Kingdom, Max Adams scrutinizes the narrative handed down by historians and chroniclers. He strips away the more lurid nonsense about Arthur and synthesizes forty years of scholarly research to tease out the strands of reality from the myth. His central theme evolves from an apparently simple question: How, after the end of the Roman state, were people taxed? Adams deploys a wide range of perspectives – from anthropology to geography – to reveal the emergence of distinct polities in the sixth century that survived long enough to be embedded in the medieval landscape, and which are recorded in the lines of river, road and watershed, and in our familiar place names.

Future War and the Defence of Europe by John R. Allen, Frederick Ben Hodges& Julian Lindley-French, Oxford University Press, £25, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-198-85583-5.
This is a major new analysis of how peace and security can be maintained in Europe, and provides a radical vision of a technology enabling future European defence. It weaves history, strategy, policy, and technology into a compelling analytical narrative that lays out the scale of the challenge Europeans and their allies face.

Exponential: How the next digital revolution will rewire life on Earth by Azeem Azhar, Random House Business, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-847-94290-6.
New inventions are created at a dazzling speed; our homes and workplaces are remade by technological forces we barely understand; centuries-old tenets of politics and economics are upturned by new technologies. It all points to a world that is getting faster at a dizzying pace.  This book offers a revelatory new model for understanding how technology is changing the world. This analysis is rooted in the idea of an ‘exponential gap’, in which technological changes outpace our society’s ability to deal with them. It shows that this divide can explain many of the social problems of our time – from political polarisation, to ballooning inequality, to unchecked corporate power. It delves into how the exponential gap is a near-inevitable consequence of the rise of AI, automation and big data. Yet there are possible policy solutions that can prevent the exponential gap destroying our societies…

Calling Βullshit: The art of scepticism in a data-driven world by Carl T. Bergstrom & Jevin D. West, Penguin, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-141-98705-7.
We think we know bullshit when we hear it, but do we? A spotter’s guide to bullshit in the wild from two contrarian scientists.

Artificial Intelligence: How machine learning will shape the next decade by Matt Burgess, Random House Business, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-847-94323-1.
The past decade has witnessed extraordinary advances in artificial intelligence. But what precisely is it and where does its future lie? In this, one-stop guide Wired journalist Matt Burgess explains everything you need to know about AI. He describes how it works. He looks at the ways in which it has already brought us everything from voice recognition software to self-driving cars, and explores its potential for further revolutionary change in almost every area of our daily lives. He examines the darker side of machine learning: its susceptibility to hacking; its tendency to discriminate against particular groups; and its potential misuse by governments. And he addresses the fundamental question: can machines become as intelligent as human beings?

Norse America: The story of a founding myth by Gordon Campbell, Oxford University Press, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-198-86155-3.
Tracking the saga of the Norse across the North Atlantic to America, Norse America sets the record straight about the idea that the Vikings ‘discovered’ America. The journey described is a continuum, with evidence-based history and archaeology at one end, and fake history and outright fraud at the other. In between there lies a huge expanse of uncertainty: sagas that may contain shards of truth, characters that may be partly historical, real archaeology that may be interpreted through the fictions of saga, and fragmentary evidence open to responsible and irresponsible interpretation.

Diary of an Apprentice Astronaut by Samantha Cristoforetti, Penguin, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-141-98954-9.
A memoir from an astronaut who spent six months in space.

Books do Furnish a Life: Reading and writing science by Richard Dawkins, Transworld, £25, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-787-63368-1.
A collection of Dawkins' introductions to the works of leading science writers including: Carl Sagan, Lawrence Krauss, Jacob Bronowski and Lewis Wolpert. Includes some of Dawkins' book reviews.

Friends by Robin Dunbar, Little Brown, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-408-71173-6.
Essential reading for us all – a fascinating and comprehensive exploration of friendship in all its forms, from the renowned anthropologist and psychologist of Dunbar number fame. Why do we seem to limit the number of our friends to around 150 people? What types of friend do we have? This looks at both the psychology and evolutionary pressures that shape us.

What the F*ck is 5G? by Kit Eaton, Hodder Studio, £9.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-35088-3.
Tin-foil-hat conspiracy theorists have unwittingly popularised this newest version of telecommunications. Yet 5G is going to change your life. Though it seems like phones are only good for TikTok and texting, 5G has the power to revolutionise how we interact with public spaces from concerts and gigs to coffee shops, paving the way for virtual and augmented reality; the missing link to push us into the future of self-driving cars and VR. And, why 5G doesn’t cause coronavirus…

What the F*ck is the Cloud? by Kit Eaton, Hodder Studio, £9.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-35085-2.
Everyone likes to talk about ‘The Cloud’, you hear it casually thrown around at work or slightly nerdier drinks parties. People joke with increasing disease about this mysterious entity where all our data is stored, accessible at the click of a button from anywhere on Earth. But what even is The Cloud? This book takes readers on a journey from the very first iterations of the internet to issues of data collection and storage (weren’t we all fooled by the ‘ten years on’ social media trend?) and that mysterious place where The Cloud actually lives…

What the F*ck is the Dark Web? by Kit Eaton, Hodder Studio, £9.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-35079-1.
We’ve all heard about 4Chan; Silk Road; Cryptocurrency. But did you know that Facebook and the BBC also exist on the dark web? This ubiquitous technology, ‘the internet’ that we use all the time, is a complete mystery. Join us on an adventure from the birth of the internet, to the nefarious deeds people use the dark web for (like hiring hitmen) to the surprisingly positive things it offers. Over half of us can’t remember a time before the internet – for those who do, it’s increasingly difficult to imagine life without it. It’s about time we understood more about it…

The Plant Hunter’s Atlas by Ambra Edwards, Greenfinch, £30, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-41011-2.
A lavishly illustrated volume telling some of the most extraordinary tales of horticultural discovery and exploring the characters behind the stories. Taking in the world’s inhabited continents and spanning the centuries, the stories range from tales of derring-do in the age of discovery to modern-day botanists working at the cutting-edge of science. The text explores how plant hunters have been inspired by everything from scientific curiosity to economic greed, and their own ingrained sense of adventure. Each entry is illustrated with botanical artwork from the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew’s unrivalled collection of historical illustrations. Among the plant hunters included are: Sir Joseph Banks, Charles Darwin, David Douglas, Reginald Farrer, George Forrest, Robert Fortune, Tadeas Haenke, Tom Hart Dyke, Alexander von Humboldt, the Lobb brothers, John Sibthorp and Ernest Henry Wilson.

Life after Gravity: Isaac Newton’s London career by Patricia Fara, Oxford University Press, £25, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-198-84102-9.
Newton is celebrated throughout the world as a great scientific genius who conceived the theory of gravity. But in his early fifties, he abandoned his life as a reclusive university scholar to spend three decades in London, a long period of metropolitan activity that is often overlooked. Enmeshed in Enlightenment politics and social affairs, Newton participated in the linked spheres of early science and imperialist capitalism. Instead of the quiet cloisters and dark libraries of Cambridge’s all-male world, he now moved in fashionable London society, which was characterized by patronage relationships, sexual intrigues and ruthless ambition. This is the story of Isaac Newton’s decades in London—as ambitious cosmopolitan gentleman, President of The Royal Society, Master of the Mint, and investor in the slave trade.

Doom: The politics of catastrophe by Niall Ferguson, Allen Lane, £25, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-241-48844-7.
Disasters are by their very nature hard to predict. Pandemics, like earthquakes, wildfires, financial crises and wars, are not normally distributed; there is no cycle of history to help us anticipate the next catastrophe. But when disaster strikes, we ought to be better prepared than the Romans were when Vesuvius erupted or medieval Italians when the Black Death struck. We have science on our side, after all. Yet the responses of a number of developed countries to a new pathogen from China were badly bungled. Why?  The facile answer is to blame poor leadership. While populist rulers have certainly performed poorly in the face of the pandemic, more profound problems have been exposed by Covid-19. Only when we understand the central challenge posed by disaster in history can we see that this was also a failure of an administrative state and of economic elites that had grown myopic over much longer than just a few years.  Why were so many Cassandras for so long ignored? Why did only some countries learn the right lessons from SARS and MERS? Why do appeals to ‘the science’ often turn out to be mere magical thinking?

A History of the Universe in 100 Stars by Florian Freistetter, Quercus, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-41010-5.
Astronomer Florian Freistetter has chosen 100 stars that have almost nothing in common. There are big stars, small stars, nearby stars and faraway stars. Some died a while ago, others have not even yet come into being. Collectively they tell the story of the whole world. In 100 short, fascinating and entertaining chapters, Freistetter not only reveals the past and future of the cosmos, but also the story of the people who have tried to understand the world in which we live.

On the Fringe: Where science meets pseudoscience by Michael D. Gordin, Oxford University Press, £14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-197-55576-7.
Michael D. Gordin guides readers along a bewildering array of marginalized doctrines, focusing on some of the central debates about what science is and is not, and how such controversies have shifted over the centuries. On the Fringe provides a historical tour through various theories, providing readers with the tools to think deeply about scientific controversies both past and present.

Sentient: A journey through the sensory worlds of humans and other animals by Jackie Higgins, Picador, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-03077-8.
An enthralling examination by a zoologist of some of the most remarkable creatures in the animal kingdom, and what they tell us about what it means to be human. Sentient assembles a menagerie of zoological creatures – from land, air, sea and all four corners of the globe – to understand what it means to be human. Through their eyes, ears, skins, tongues and noses, the furred, finned and feathered reveal how we sense and make sense of the world, as well as the untold scientific revolution stirring in the field of human perception. The harlequin mantis shrimp can throw a punch that can fracture aquarium walls but, more importantly, it has the ability to see a vast range of colours. The ears of the great grey owl have such unparalleled range and sensitivity that they can hear twenty decibels lower than the human ear. The star-nosed mole barely fills a human hand, seldom ventures above ground and poses little threat unless you are an earthworm, but its miraculous nose allows it to catch those worms at astonishing speed – as little as one hundred and twenty milliseconds.

The Future of Dinosaurs: The Continuing Search for What We Don't Know by David Hone, Hodder & Stoughton, £25, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-473-69224-4.
We have made more discoveries about dinosaurs in the last 20 years than we have in the previous 200, and there is a wealth of cutting edge research that has never been written about before, from their skin (some had feathers) to their extinction (the myth of the meteorite), much of which is David’s own personal research and discovery. In The Future of Dinosaurs David Hone shows us the extraordinary advances in palaeontological research that are starting to fill in these gaps, and sets out the future of dinosaurs for the next generation.

Extinct: Hallucigenia by Ben Garrod, Head of Zeus, £15.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-838-93526-9.
Hallucigenia was a tiny, weird, spiky, armoured worm that lived during the Ordovician period 443 million years ago. How do we know about its evolution, anatomy, behaviour, habitat and food chain? How do we know what led to its extinction?

Extinct: Trilobite by Ben Garrod, Head of Zeus, £15.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-838-93532-0.
50,000 species of trilobites survived over 300 million years and two mass extinctions. Then came the End Permian mass extinction, known as the Great Dying. The trilobites were some of the first arthropods. But then they were gone, with the greatest mass extinction ever leaving the oceans, lands and skies almost empty.

Horror – A Very Short Introduction by Darryl Jones, Oxford University Press, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-198-85583-5.
Fear is one of the most primal emotions, and one of the hardest to reason with and dispel. So why do we scare ourselves? Delving into the darkest corners of horror literature, films, and plays, Darryl Jones explores its monsters and its psychological chills, discussing why horror stories disturb us, and how they reflect society’s taboos. Previously published in hardback as Sleeping With the Lights On: The unsettling story of horror.

The Physics of Climate Change by Lawrence Krauss, Head of Zeus, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-800-24478-8.
This is from the physicist Krause who is also the author of The Physics of Star Trek.  The news is full of hotly debated and divergent claims about the impact and risks of climate change. Lawrence Krauss, one of the world’s most respected science populisers, cuts through the confusion by succinctly presenting the underlying science of global warming.  With a generous complement of informative diagrams and illustrations, The Physics of Climate Change allows readers to assess which climate predictions are securely based on analysis of empirical data, and which are more speculative.

The God Equation: The unfinished quest for the theory of everything by Michio Kaku, Allen Lane, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-241-48348-0.
The story is a quest: to find a Theory of Everything. Einstein dedicated his life to seeking this elusive Holy Grail, a single, revolutionary ‘god equation’ which would tie all the forces in the Universe together, yet never found it. Some of the greatest minds in physics took up the search, from Stephen Hawking to Brian Greene. None have yet succeeded. Physicist Michio Kaku guides us through the key debates in modern physics, from Newton’s law of gravity via relativity and quantum mechanics to the latest developments in string theory. It is a tale of dazzling breakthroughs and crushing dead ends.  The author is a Professor of Physics at the City University of New York and co-founder of string field theory

The Crowd and the Cosmos: Adventures in the Zooniverse by Trevor Chris Lintott, Oxford University Press, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-198-84223-1.
Chris Lintott describes the exciting discoveries that people all over the world have made without having to leave their homes, from galaxies to pulsars, exoplanets to moons, and from penguin behaviour to old ship’s logs. This approach builds on a long history of so-called ‘citizen science’, given new power by fast internet and distributed data. Discovery is no longer the remit only of scientists in specialist labs or academics in ivory towers; it’s something we can all take part in.  Click on the title link for a review of the hardback.

Quick(er) Calculations: How to add, subtract, multiply, square, and square root more swiftly by Trevor Davis Lipscombe, Oxford University Press, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-198-85265-0.
How fast can you calculate? Would you like to be faster? This book presents the time honoured tricks and tips of calculation, from a fresh perspective, to boost the speed at which you can add—whether a couple of numbers, or columns so long an accountant may faint. Find out how to subtract, multiply, divide, and find square roots more quickly.

Escape from Earth: A secret history of the space rocket by Fraser MacDonald, Profile, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-781-25971-9.
Lies, spies, sex-magic and socialism: the secret history of the first American rocket in space.

Conan Doyle's Wide World: Sherlock Holmes and Beyond by Andrew Lycett, Bloomsbury, £12.99 / Can$24.50 / US$18.00, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-788-31753-5.
Arthur Conan Doyle was not simply the creator of the world’s greatest detective; he was also an intrepid traveller and extraordinary travel writer. His descriptions of his journeys and adventures—which took him to the Arctic and the Alps, throughout Africa, Australia, and North America, and across every ocean in between—are full of insight, humour, and exceptional evocations of place. Until now, these captivating travelogues have never been gathered together. In this groundbreaking book, Andrew Lycett, Conan Doyle’s biographer, collects, and annotates the best of his writings from around the world, which illuminate not just the places he visited, but the man himself.

Colliding Worlds: How cosmic encounters shaped planets and life by Simone Marchi, Oxford University Press, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-198-84540-9.
Drawing on the latest research, Simone Marchi describes the vital role that collisions in space have played in the formation and evolution of the solar system and inner planets. Comparing the evidence from the surfaces of our planetary neighbours, he explains the impact of these strikes on the Earth and our Moon, and on the evolution of life itself.

The Four Horsemen: And those who seek to save us by Emily Mayhew, Quercus, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-40171-4.
An exploration of how the modern ways in which war, famine, pestilence and death affect our world. Emily Mayhew summons the four horsemen of the apocalypse; the collective threat to humanity bearing the names of War, Pestilence, Famine and Death. From their first appearance in The Book of Revelations they have remained in human consciousness.  The Four Horsemen examines how, despite our pessimistic view of the challenges we face, there are people from all walks of life – scientists, doctors, engineers, biologists, statisticians, app developers, historians, NGOs and volunteers – who are making the world a safer place, mitigating the horseman’s hold.  The author is a military medical historian, and is a Reader in History in the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College.

A Story of Us: A new look at human evolution by Lesley Newson & Peter Richerson, Oxford University Press, £22.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-190-88320-1.
Changes in the environment drive evolution, and it wasn’t until recently that scientists were able to unearth the changing environments that our ancestors faced. In A Story of Us, Lesley Newson and Peter J. Richerson take readers through human evolution and how our instincts have or have not been moulded by our ancestors over time.

Limitless: The Autobiography by Tim Peake, Arrow, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-787-46596-1.
The autobiography of the astronaut who inspired a generation of Brits.  Based on exclusive diaries and audio recordings from his mission, Tim Peake takes readers closer than ever before to experience what life in space is really like: the sacrifice that astronauts make in being apart from their families, the sights, the smells, the fear, the exhilaration and the deep and abiding wonder of the view from space…

The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It by Robert B. Reich, Picador, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-04372-3.
A readable look into the 2020 US presidential election campaign, The System argues that the USA has become an oligarchy, run by and for the benefit of a tiny minority of the super-rich, with consequences that impact on the entire world.  Millions of Americans have lost confidence in their political and economic system. After years of stagnant wages, volatile job markets, and an unwillingness by those in power to deal with profound threats such as climate change, there is a mounting sense that the system is fixed, serving only those select few with enough money to secure a controlling stake. The argument is that wealth and power have interacted to install an elite oligarchy, eviscerate the middle class, and undermine democracy.  The author's objective is not to foster cynicism, but rather to demystify the system so that American voters might instil fundamental change and demand that democracy works for the majority once again.  The author is the Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. His previous book, The Work of Nations, has been translated into twenty-two languages.

Secret Worlds: The extraordinary senses of animals by Martin Stevens, Oxford University Press, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-19-881367-5.
Our senses are very limited compared to those of other species; some animals see ultraviolet light, communicate using electricity, or navigate long distances with magnetic information. In this riveting new book, Martin Stevens discusses the remarkable senses in nature and what they are used for, uncovering how they work and how they are shaped by environment and evolution.

The Future of Medicine: How we will enjoy longer, healthier lives by James Temperton, Random House Business, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-847-94325-5.
By the end of this century, living beyond 100 will be the rule rather than the exception. What medical breakthroughs and new technologies will make this possible?  This book outlines the medical revolutions that are transforming healthcare. It looks at the burgeoning immune therapies that could one day cure such life-threatening diseases as cancer. It explores the science - and ethics – of genetic engineering and its potential to create 'designer babies'. It considers the role that cutting-edge medical research could play in the treatment of mental and neurological disorders ranging from depression to autism. And it addresses the fundamental question: could medical technology become so sophisticated that we witness the end of ageing?

Genesis: The Ultimate Origin Story by Guido Tonelli, Profile, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-788-16 510-5.
An account of the origin of the universe and creation of our world from the lead player in the hunt for the Higgs boson particle.  What if the ancient Greeks were right, and the Universe really did spring into being out of chaos and the void? How could we know? And what must its first moments have been like?  To answer these questions, scientists are delving into all the hidden crevices of creation. Armed with giant telescopes and powerful particle accelerators, they probe the subtle mechanisms by which our familiar world came to be, and try to foretell the manner in which it will end.  The result of all this collective effort is a complex story, stranger at times than even our most ancient creation myths. But its building blocks give us the power to work marvels our predecessors could scarcely comprehend.

The Star Builders: Nuclear fusion and the race to power the planet by Arthur Turrell, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-474-61158-9.
What is nuclear fusion, and could it really be the answer to the climate emergency? Fusion exists already in the stars that fill our universe with light, but can we harness that power here on Earth? This is the question The Star Builders seeks to answer.  Filled with the remarkable stories of the scientists and entrepreneurs who have dedicated their lives to a seemingly impossible dream.

Philosophy of Physics – A Very Short Introduction by David Wallace, Oxford University Press, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-198-81432-0.
Philosophy of physics is concerned with the deepest theories of modern physics — quantum theory, our theories of space, time and symmetry, and thermal physics and their strange, even bizarre conceptual implications. This book explores the core topics in philosophy of physics, and discusses their relevance for both scientists and philosophers.

I Wouldn’t Start from Here by Duncan Weldon, Little Brown, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-408-71316-7.
The UK is, at the same time, both one of the world’s most successful economies and one of Europe’s laggards. In terms of GDP per head it is a world leader but productivity levels (even before the last decade) were abysmally low compared to its advanced economy peers. The country contains some of Europe’s richest areas but also some that are more akin to the poorer areas of southern Europe than the more affluent parts of Germany or France. It’s really not much of an exaggeration to describe the UK, in economic terms, as ‘Portugal but with Singapore in the bottom corner’. In looking at how the British economy developed over the last two centuries, Duncan Weldon explores the choices taken (and not taken) by politicians and business people over the years, and reveals how those choices have shaped the outcomes and futures faced by us all.


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Summer 2021

General Science News


The 2021 Abel prize celebrates computer science with a joint win. Laslo Lovasz (Hungarian mathematician) and Avi Wigderson (Israeli computer scientist) will share the 7.5 million Norwegian kroner (£650,000 / US$886,000) prize considered the Nobel of the mathematics community.  Lovasz developed the LLL algorithm that breaks down a large vector of integer numbers into a sum of the shortest possible vectors.  Wigderson showed that if an algorithm using randomness runs efficiently, then a non-random algorithm must exist that runs almost (but not a quite as) as efficiently.  +++ Last year's Abel Prize win here.

Computing pioneer and mathematician, Alan Turing is to appear on the new £50 note. The design includes 12 mathematical puzzles set by the UK GCHQ intelligence monitoring agency and based on Alan Turing's work as part of a treasure hunt. The note goes into circulation on the 23rd June (2021). Turing designed the computer a Bletchley Park that deciphered the German Enigma ciphers in World War II. In 2009 Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised for the 'appalling' way Alan Turing was treated for being gay. A few years later Alan Turing was posthumously pardoned.  Alan become the first gay person to appear on a British banknote.

A graphene analogue made of stable boron (brophane) has been created.  Graphene is a single atomic, hexagonal layer of carbon that has useful electrical conducting properties. Brophene is similar but made from boron that forms a single layer of hexagons and triangles. However, it has a drawback in that it readily oxidises in the air. A team at the Northwestern University (US) has now created a stable form of brophene that is covered with an inert layer preventing oxidation. This stable version of brophene is called brophane. Brophane may well have uses in electrical components and display-screen technology. (See (2021) Science, vol. 371, p1143-1148.)

Greenhouse gas emissions in much of the latter half of the 20th century were constant but subsequently soared by over 23%. An analysis by a team of US researchers have gone through nations agricultural records covering 1961 to 2017. They found that increases in productivity and efficiency kept global emissions constant to 2001 despite population increase (144%) and agricultural production per person in the population (58%). However between 2001 and 2017 emissions increased by nearly a quarter. The increase was largely driven by agriculture in Africa, S. America and SE. Asia. They conclude that the trends make current climate change targets difficult to achieve. ( See Hong, C. et al (2021) Global and regional drivers of land-use emissions in 1961-2017. Nature, vol. 589, p554-561.)

China seems to have clamped down on it illegal emissions of CFC-11.  In 2020 the Antarctic ozone hole returned with a vengeance. That same year scientists also called out China as the likely culprit responsible for the slowing of decline of CFC-11 between 2008 and 2012. By continuing to monitor atmospheric concentrations of CFC-11 in South Korea and Japan, and relate these to weather patterns at the time, scientists have shown that emissions from an eastern China peninsula greatly reduced in 2019. (Park, S. et al (2021) A decline in emissions of CFC-11 and related chemicals from eastern China. Nature, vol. 590, p433-7  and a news piece  Tollefson, J. (2021) Illegal CFC emissions fall after scientists raise alarm. Nature, vol. 590, p373-4.)

A new plastic is easily recyclable.  Currently we produce around 380 million tonnes of plastic a year and this is set to top 900 million tonnes by 2050. By then an estimated 12 billion tonnes of plastic could be in landfill or polluting the natural environment, little is recycled. Now, Stefan Mecking and colleagues from the University of Konstanz in Germany have developed a new type of polyethylene. Polyethylene is one of the most common types of single-use plastic. This new polyethylene-like plastic is made from natural oils from plants or algae. Its key feature is that the polymer has regularly interspersed 'break points'. These make it easy to turn the plastic back into monomers which can then make new plastic. This new plastic can be moulded and used in 3D printing. (See Hauβler, M., Eck, M., Rothaur, D. & Mecking, S. (2021) Closed-loop recycling of polythene-like materials. Nature, vol. 590, p423-7  and the review piece  Williams, C. K. & Gregory G. L. (2021) Closing the loop on recycling bioplastics. Nature, vol. 590, p391-2.)

Development in potentially detecting dark matter. Axions (A°) are theoretical particles thought to exist under quantum chromodynamics(QCD). The thing is that if they exist then according to QCD very many of them should have been produced by the Big Bang. They are very light, have no charge and would be difficult to detect. This makes them a good candidate for being dark matter. Dark matter is the name given to the missing mass of galaxies whose rotation indicates that they are heavier than the number of stars and interstellar gas (matter) makes them. Dark matter constitutes 27% of the Universe's energy density. (Just 4% is normal matter and the rest is dark energy.)  All well and good, but how to detect Axions? US physicists have now developed a detector they think should sense dark matter if they are axions. It is a metal container with a magnetic field that can be set to match the resonant frequency of the container. Any axion entering it might interact with a virtual photon and in the process produce a real photon which can be detected. The search has now begun. No results so far but there are plenty of resonant frequencies yet to explore.  (See Backes, K. M. et al (2021) A quantum enhanced search for dark matter axions. Nature, vol. 590, p238-242 and a news review item Irastorza, I. G. (2021) Shedding squeezed light on dark matter. Nature, vol. 590, p226-7.)

Antimatter in the proton is asymmetric. Physicists are at a loss for an explanation.  Protons and neutrons (nucleons) make up the nuclei of atoms and in turn account for 99% of the visible mass of the Universe.  If you look inside a proton then you will find that there quarks. There are also gluons and quark-antiquark pairs transiently appearing and disappearing. (Antiquarks are antimatter versions of quarks.)  Research at Fermilab in the US has unambiguously confirmed (what had previously been debatable) that there are more of 'down' type antiquark than the 'up'.  The physicists do not know why there is this asymmetry and as such this represents a distinct gap in quantum chromodynamic theory. (See Dove, J., Kerns, B., McCellan, R. E. et al (2021) The asymmetry of antimatter in the proton. Nature, vol. 590, p561-5  and the review piece  Gao, H. (2021) Antimatter in the proton is more down than up. Nature, vol. 590, p559-560.)

The helium nucleus has been measured with record precision. Normally this measurement is done with laser spectroscopy and with this new measurement the same way was used but with a trick. Julian Krauth and colleagues injected heavy, negatively charged muons into a cloud of helium. Some of the muons replaced one of helium's electrons. Because muons are 200 times the mass of an electron, their orbital about the helium nucleus is 200 times closer. As the light given off comes from the electron's, or in this case the replacement muon's, change in energy level which is reflected by how close it is to the nucleus, so the spectroscopy is about 8 million times more accurate enabling size estimates to be calculated within a thousandth the size of a proton. The root mean square of the alpha particle was found to be 1.67824 femtometres (10-15 metres).  (See Krauth, J. et al (2021) Measuring the α-particle charge radius with muonic helium-4 ions. Nature, vol. 589, p527-531  and the review Norterschauser, W. (2021) Helium nucleus measured with record precision. Nature, vol. 589, p516-7.)

Three new types of atomic clock have been developed. These have unprecedented accuracy.  Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, USA, have developed three new types of atomic clock. Atomic clocks work by light being emitted or absorbed by atoms at a specific, exact frequency. Currently, the standard atomic clocks use Caesium- 133 and have an accuracy of up to one part in 1016.  The researchers have now developed three new clocks based on Aluminium-27, Strontium-87 and Ytterbium-171. However, there are unexplained variations for some unknown reason. The researchers get around this by connecting them together in a network. This network of the three clocks has an accuracy so great that they have an uncertainty of just two parts in 10 18 or better. In other words, this means it would gain or lose no more than a second over the age of the Universe! Such a clock could, for example, test Einstein relativity predictions to an even greater level.  (See  Boulder Atomic Clock Optical Network (BACON) Collaboration (2021) Frequency ratio measurement at 18-digit accuracy using an optical clock network. Nature vol. 591, p564-9  and the review article  Godun, R. M. (2021) Atomic clocks compared with astounding accuracy. Nature, vol. 591, p534-5.)

Gravity from just 180 milligrams detected bringing gravity measurements closer to quantum levels.  Tobias Westphal and fellow Austrian colleagues have detected the gravitational attraction of two small bodies of roughly only 91 milligrams in mass. They used a torsion pendulum with a Faraday shield between the masses to suppress and small electrostatic attraction that might exist. They then bounced a laser off a mirror on the pendulum's suspension fibre to detect deflection. It looks like Newton's laws of gravity (determined in 1687) still holds with such small masses. However, if similar experiments with even smaller masses, possibly down to a Planck mass, are conducted then this brings us into quantum realms.  The thing is that the attraction of two 91 milligram masses is about the same as just 9 picograms (10-12 grams) in the Earth's gravitational field. 9 picograms is already less than 0.01 milligrams, the Planck mass. So if we could measure the attraction between two 0.005 milligrams masses then that would be an illuminating test: would it tally with the equivalent in an Earth field?
          Newton's laws of gravity hold for small masses of a kilogramme and right up to stars. However, a better model is Einstein's general relativity. The only problems is that general relativity cannot be expressed in quantum terms. Another problem is that gravity is about 36 orders of magnitude weaker than the electromagnetic force. String theory addresses this by suggesting that much of gravity's strength exists in other space dimensions (than the three of space and fourth of time we know of). Another problem is that galaxies rotate differently to that Newtonian theory predicts. One explanation is that there is an invisible dark matter in galaxies (the evidence for this is quite strong as galaxies that collide seem to strip out the invisible dark matter that seem to be left between the two departing galaxies). Another explanation is that the inverse square law of Newtonian theory does not hold at large distances – this is called modified Newtonian dynamics. If it can be shown that Newtonian theory does not hold at very small distances and with low masses then it opens the possibility for modified Newtonian dynamics. (See Westphal, T., Hepach, H, Pfaff, J. & Aspelmeyer, M. (2021) Measurement of gravitational coupling between millimetre-sized masses. Nature, vol. 591, p225-228  and the review piece  Rothleiter, C. (2021) Ultra-weak gravitational field detected. Nature, vol. 591, p209-210.)

The Holocene climatic maximum 8 thousand years ago may be an illusion!  We are currently in an ice age composed of a series of cold glacials roughly 100,000 years long and shorter, warm interglacials (like the one we are in now) roughly 10,000 to 15,000 years or so long. Our current interglacial (the Holocene) began 11,700 years ago. It is viewed as a time of comparable climate stability (that is compared to glacial-interglacial transitions) and the Holocene temperature the past 10,000 years is thought to have stayed within a half-degree centigrade with there being a peak in Holocene temperature. This peak was of half a degree warmer than pre-industrial 19th century (or roughly a quarter of a degree warmer than today) some 8,000 years ago. This time is known as the Holocene thermal maximum.  However, it may never have existed!  The reason it is thought to have existed is based on two climate proxies: a marine species (a foraminifera) that takes up magnesium and calcium ions in a proportion that is temperature dependent and also what is known as alkenone analysis of plankton. However, computer climate models do not reflect the existence of a Holocene thermal maximum. For years the problem was thought to be with the models not with the foram climate or alkenone proxies. However Samantha Bova and colleagues have shown that the climate proxy species have a seasonal bias and do not reflect average annual temperatures. Taking this into account and the proxies and climate models agree suggesting instead a more gradual warming throughout the Holocene.
        So is this the end for the Holocene thermal maximum? Well, not entirely. First, the researchers suggest that there may be a seasonal Holocene Thermal Maximum even if there is not an annual mean Holocene thermal maximum. Second, the data only relates to one site in the Atlantic and the tropics. We need to know what happens at higher latitudes and on land. Having said that, this work does chime with past sea ice data.  ( See Bova, S. et al (2021) Seasonal origin of the thermal maxima at the Holocene and the last interglacial. Nature, vol. 589, p548-553  and the review  Hertzberg, J. (2021) A seasonal solution to a palaeoclimate puzzle. Nature, vol. 589, p521-2.)

And, before we move on to a round-up of recent natural science research in the next section below, here is a short science video…

Does time cause gravity?  For those into physics and who have a good school-level understanding of science (sorry if you are an arts only person), this is a fascinating question. Check out the interesting, and sometimes challenging, PBS Space-Time channel on YouTube and this ten-minute episode on how time causes gravity.


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Natural Science News


Two permafrost frozen mammoths have pushed back the oldest DNA to have been sequenced.  The previous oldest DNA sequence was from a 560,000 to 780,000 year old horse leg bone. Swedish researchers have now sequenced the genomes of two frozen mammoths that date from 1 million to 1.3 million and 1.1 million and 1.65 million respectively. The reason such old DNA was able to be sequenced was because it was frozen. Without freezing, over time DNA fragments into smaller and smaller sequences making it impossible with current technology to assemble. Consequently, the oldest DNA we can expect with current technology will be 2.6 million years as before then the Earth was too warm for permafrosts. The oldest human DNA sequenced is from a Neanderthal dating some 430,000 years ago. Knowing the Neanderthal genome and comparing it to humans we know that Neanderthals and humans interbred.  However researchers are not hopeful that they will sequence an archaic human species over 2 million years old as it is unlikely any will have died and become buried in permafrost.
          The mammoth research shows confirms that mammoths diverged from the African elephant around or over two million years ago as did the Asian elephant. This time saw the beginning of the severe glacials that saw much of the Earth's water locked up in ice sheets so lowering sea-levels and creating land bridges out of Africa. The research, when combined with more recent (less old) mammoth genomes also revels how two mammoth lineages interbred contributing to the rise of four mammoth lineages and the speciation to a fifth in the past half million years.  (See van der Valk, T., Pecnerova, P., Diez-del-Molino, D. et al (2021) Million-year-old DNA sheds light on the genomic history of mammoths. Nature, vol. 591, p265-9.)

Sharks and rays have declined by 71% since 1970!  This is the conclusion of researchers who looked at ray and shark data as an indicator of the state of the oceans. They attribute much of this decline due to and 18 fold increase in fishing pressure over this period.  They also note that in 1980 some two-thirds of ray and shark species were considered as being of least conservation concern but by 2018 over half the species were classified as either 'endangered' or 'critically endangered'. Further, while wildlife species have become increasingly threatened over recent decades, the decline in shark and ray species and their increase in vulnerability is greater than that for birds, mammals as well as amphibians. The researchers say that it is now urgent for governments to enforce sustainable catching quotas and that this is imperative.  (See Pacoureau, N., Rigny, C. L., Kyne, P. M. et al (2021) Half a century of global decline in oceanic sharks and rays. Nature, vol. 589, p567-571.)
          Related news previously covered elsewhere in this site includes:-
  - The population abundance of thousands of vertebrate species globally has seen a decline of 60% between 1970 and 2014
  - Marine ecosystems set to collapse under double whammy of climate change and acidification
  - Species assemblages – not just single species – could regionally, suddenly go extinct with climate change
  - Over 40% of insect species are possibly threatened with extinction over the next few decades
  - Possible ecological mega-crisis foreshadowed by three-quarters flying insect decline
  - Amphibian extinctions likely to increase
  - A survey of N. American birds reveals a decline in abundance of 29% since 1970
  - A survey detailing the state of British nature reveals that since 1970 more than a quarter of UK mammals are facing extinction
  - The global trade in wildlife is likely to place 8,775 species at risk of extinction
  - 2017 sees record tree loss
  - Last northern white rhinoceros dies
  - 10% of the planet's wilderness area gone in two decades
  - Another 10% of the planet's wilderness area has gone estimate
  - City birds and plants in worldwide decline
  - Around 1 million species face extinction; many within decades, unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss, says UN agency report
  - While the global area of biologically protected land (nature reserves, national parks etc) has increased, the status and level of protection has decreased

Grass leaf size is determined by climate. A new study of grass species worldwide has shown that their leaf sizes are dependent on the temperature of their climate. (See Baird, B. et al (2021) Developmental and biophysical determinants of grass leaf size worldwide. Nature, vol. 592, p242-7.) Now, previously (for some 2,300 years no less) it had been known that some plants (eudicotyledonous species) leaf sizes are determined by the climate in which they live. Hence, palm tree leaves are big compared to oak tree leaves: the former live in the tropics and sub tropics but the latter in temperate zones. This phenomena is useful in determining from fossil leaves the temperature of past climates. Now that we know that this also applies to grasses gives us another tool to determine past climates and this in turn helps us check climate change science theories.

Nearly a fifth of the World's food is wasted say UNEP and WRAP.  The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEO) and the UK-basted Waste and Resources Action programme (WRAP) report that some 931 million tonnes of food are wasted annually. Based on data from 54 countries, the organisations say that households contribute the most waste equating to 11% of global food supply. Take-aways and restaurants throw out 5% and shops 2%.
          Related news previously covered includes:-
  - Global food waste bigger than thought
  - Agricultural efficiency, more vegetarian and reducing food waste may stop agriculture further reducing biodiversity
  - Global agriculture may have to provide 80% more calories by 2100

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be caused by DNA repeats.  Roughly half the human genome consists of repeating sections of DNA, the repeatome. The repeatome includes over a million tandem repeats: many of the same repeats repeating one after the other. Some of these tandem repeats have been associated with diseases such as Huntingdon's and Fragile X syndrome. Now researchers at the University of California, using an informatics tool that reads genomes, have found that ASD – which affects 1–2% of children in the US – is associated with a mutation in a tandem repeat found in the child but not their parents. The mutation is located in a region of the genome involved with the expression of a gene associated with fetal brain development. (See Mitra, I., Huang, B., Mousavi, N. et al (2021) Patterns of de novo tandem repeat mutations and their role in autism. Nature, vol589, p246-250  and a review piece  Hannan, A. J. (2021) Repeat DNA expands our understanding of autism. Nature, vol. 589, p200-1.)

Are facial expressions universal or do they vary with different populations and cultures?  Facial expressions vary with how a person feels as well as the setting they are in (work, home, public etc). But do facial expressions relate to all these dimensions in the same way across populations and cultures? Researchers at the University of California collaborating with those at Google Research analysed 6 million YouTube videos from around the world using a neural network based machine learning. They divided the world into 12 regions and looked at 16 of people's facial expression in different social contexts (such as weddings). They found that people around the world make similar facial expressions in similar social contexts, irrespective of their culture. (See Cowen, A. S., Keltner, D., Schroff, R. et al (2021) Sixteen facial expressions occur in similar contexts around the world. Nature, vol. 589, p251-7  and the review piece  Barrett, L. F. (2021) Debate about universal expressions goes big. Nature, vol. 589, p202-3.)
          Elsewhere on this site - Artificial intelligence needs to be programmed with different morals in different parts of the world.


…And finally this section, the season's SARS-CoV-2 / CoVID-19 science primary research and news roundup.

The lead scientist behind the development of the AstraZeneca Oxford U. vaccine has been awarded this year's Albert Medal by the Royal Society for the Arts, Manufacture and Commerce.  Prof. Sarah Gilbert who led the research team that developed the AstraZeneca Oxford the AstraZeneca Oxford ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine has been presented with the award.  Previous Albert medal recipients have included Winston Churchill, Marie Curie, Alexander Graham bell, Stephen Hawking and Tim Berners-Lee.

Pros and cons of single shot vaccine strategy sparks debate.  Back in January, the United Kingdom announced that it would change its SARS-CoV-2 vaccine strategy to one where the second (booster) shot would be deferred from being three weeks later to as much as three months so as to enable more people to have the first vaccine shot and so have a greater proportion of the population have partial immunity to CoVID-19 as well as greater overall protection from having serious CoVID-19. Many countries looked on as they considered which strategy was best.
          The arguments against include that there was back in January no evidence for vaccine efficacy (effectiveness) beyond three weeks. Also that if only partial immunity is conferred, people may carry the SARS-CoV-2 virus without expressing symptoms and this could allow vaccine resistant trains to emerge much like happens with antibiotic resistance arises.  Finally, a single shot might leave the elderly – whose immune system is not quite as good at responding to vaccines and who tend to suffer more from CoVID-19 – more vulnerable.
          The arguments for include a greater proportion of the population would get partial protection and more would be protected from contracting CoVID-19 to a fatal degree including many of the elderly.  There is also a counter to the 'no evidence for efficacy beyond three weeks' argument. The reason there is no evidence is that the phase III trials did not last that long, they were stopped as soon as 90% efficacy was shown so as to get the vaccines approved and rolled out quickly. However, with previous, other vaccines, a delay of a few weeks between the initial shot and the second booster shot does seem to confer greater vaccine effectiveness: it seems to enhance the body's immunity memory.  As to the emergence of a vaccine-resistant variant, while there is a risk, the virus does seem fairly stable and mutate slowly.
          There is something to be said for the pros and cons of both strategies. We will, though, know more as time progresses. (See also  Editorial (2021) Publish evidence to support changing Vaccine strategies. Nature, vol. 589, p169-170  also  Ledford, H. (2021) Scientists divided over CoVID vaccine dosing strategies. Nature, vol. 589, p182.)
          However, it seems that the elderly who are immune depressed will need both vaccine doses so as to be better protected to SARS-CoV-2 variants with the E484K gene mutation (see below).

More is being learnt about the new SARS-CoV-2 mutations.  Last season saw a new variant be detected in the SE of Britain and another emerge in South Africa the B151 variant.
          The SE Great Britain (Kent) variant is known as B.1.1.7 or alternatively 501Y.V1 (alternatively as 'Variant of Concern 202012/01 and SO1Y.V1').  Research by Imperial College London on detecting it in those tested for SARS-CoV-2 and how it spreads suggests it is roughly 50% more infectious.  Separate research by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine suggests it is 56% more infectious.  In November (2020), the UK went into a short lockdown which reduced the number of cases of the original SARS-CoV-2 but saw the B.1.1.7 variant continue to spread.  B.1.1.7 contains 8 mutations in the genes for the spike protein and several more in other genes.
          The South African variant is known as 501Y.V2 or B.1.351.  It too is about 50% more transmissible than most other variants in circulation.  501Y.V2 has nine changes in the spike protein. One of current interest is a mutated E484K gene. This mutation seems to reduce current vaccine effectiveness (efficacy).
          At the moment there is some attention given to one mutation that occurs in the spike protein for both variants: the N501Y mutation. This affects the spike protein's receptor-binding domain (RBD) which the virus uses to lock on to human cells.
          Two new variant strains were detected in Brazil.  Both these seem to be becoming the dominant variants in that country in early February. One of these, the P1 variant (or B., in Manaus, Brazil, grew from zero to form 87% of CoVID-19 cases in eight weeks to the end of February. By March, this variant of concern was detected in the UK, also the US, France, Germany, Spain and Canada among 25 countries in total. It is twice as infective as normal SARS-CoV-2. It is not yet known whether vaccine efficacy is reduced with these variants.
          There is evidence that SARS-CoV-2 might evolve antibody-resistance and that the aforementioned E484K gene seems to be involved. This antibody resistance may arise from some mutations common to both the UK B.1.1.7 and S. African 501Y.V2 (B.1.351).  The E484K gene mutation has also been found in both the Brazilian variants.
          Though there is concern, there is currently no hard evidence that vaccine efficacy is being substantially undermined by these variants. However, the eventual emergence of such a variant is seems a likelihood given that there is evidence for some minor undermining of vaccine efficacy with variants with the mutated E484K gene. The question is whether we can modify, or tweak, the current vaccines and roll them out in time. This may well be feasible.
          Late in January it was found that the British B.1.1.7 variant had changed and acquired the E484K gene mutation seen in the S. African 501Y.V2 mutation. It seems that those people who are already immune-depressed who contract variants the E484K gene mutation are slow to recover and get more serious CoVID-19. The early view is that if these variants do partially undermine vaccine efficacy, that it is important that those immune-depressed (such as the elderly) get both their vaccine shots.
          Different pandemic variants are evolving some same mutations.  In addition to the E484K gene mutation being found in both the UK B.1.1.7 and S. African 501Y.V2. (see above) a number of mutations have been arising in different SARS-CoV-2 lineages. For instance, the S:H69 mutation has appeared in five different lineages after the lineages diverged.  This suggests that there is some convergent evolution going on. While not all mutations appear in all lineages, that some of the same ones are may mean that a vaccine effective against a number of mutations might possibly be developed?
(See preprints Volz, E. (2021) at medRxiv;2021  and  Davies, N. (2020) at medRxiv;2020  as well as  Callaway, E. (2021) Could new CoVID variants undermine vaccines? Labs scramble to find out. Nature, vol. 589, p177-8.  Hodcroft, E. B. et al (2021) Want to track pandemic variants faster? Fix the bioinformatic bottleneck. Nature, vol. 591, p30-3)

What makes the B.1.1.7 SARS-CoV-2 variant more transmissible?  The B.1.1.7 (alternatively as 'Variant of Concern 202012/01') is thought to be roughly 50% more transmissible than the original SARS-CoV-2: why?  US researchers based in Massachusetts may have found out why. They have monitored the viral load of those with CoVID-19 and have found that those with B.1.1.7 express the virus for an average of a little over 13 days compared to over 8 days for those with normal SARS-CoV-2. If one assumes that the chances of a person-to-person encounter that transmits the virus are the same per day, then the longer time for expressing the virus would explain the apparent increased transmitability of B.1.17. This result also suggests that a longer quarantining period is needed.

China's Coronavac vaccine has a disappointing Brazil trial.  While the vaccine's trials in Turkey and Indonesia were more favourable, a trial in Brazil showed it to be only about 50% effective at preventing serious or mild CoVID-19. This might reflect an earlier assessment that Coronavac is primarily effective for those under 35 years of age.  The vaccine is made by the Beijing based firm Sinovac. It is an inactivated vaccine in which the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is killed or inactivated and this 'dead' virus used as a vaccine. However, the inactivation mechanism (in this case by exposing the virus to aluminium hydroxide) might alter the virus proteins sufficiently to undermine a human immune response to the active (or 'live') virus.

The new Novavax vaccine has near 90% efficacy.  It is different from the Pfiser BioNTech or BNT162b2, the Moderna mRNA-1273 and Oxford – AstraZeneca ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccines reported on last season.  This Novavax vaccine – designated NVX CoV2373 – is a solution of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and a matrix protein found in the virus's coat.  Like the other vaccines with UK regulatory approval it is about 90% effective. It will be manufactured in Teeside and the UK had an initial pre-approval order of 60 million doses. UK approval for use was granted mid-March (2021).

Hospital worker study of the Pfizer vaccine shows strong results.  A study of UK hospital workers who were vaccinated with the Pfizer BioNTech's BNT162b2 shows it prevented serious CoVID-19 with an effectiveness of 72% following a single and with a second booster dose a few weeks later 86%.

Elderly protected by Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.  A study by Public Health England has found that for the elderly (the over-80s), a single shot of the Pfizer BioNTech's BNT162b2 vaccine provided protection for the need for hospitalisation for CoVID-19 of over 75%.  Two doses would undoubtedly confer greater protection.

Scottish phase IV trial reveals high vaccine effectiveness.  Over a million (1.1m) vaccinated between 8th December 2020 and 15th February 2021 were followed having had just a single dose. The results show that after 4 weeks the Pfizer BioNTech's BNT162b2 and the AstraZeneca Oxford ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccines are respectively 85% and 94% effective against getting serious CoVID-19 (prevented the need for hospitalisation).

Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is highly effective according to a US study.  The study of 32,000 people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca Oxford ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 prevented 79% from getting CoVID in all age groups including the over-65s: 20% of those in the trial were over 65. It was 100% effective against the need for hospitalisation. (This is even better than the 94% effective against getting serious disease necessitating hospitalisation reported above. However, this difference may be due to different standards in determining the need for hospitalisation: the UK with its state-run NHS has a lower threshold than the US and it's predominantly private, and the world's most expensive, medical system.)  ++++ See side effects below.

Britain's Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine seems to reduce, and possibly prevent, transmission.  One of the vaccine unknowns is whether a vaccinated person is sufficiently protected to prevent virus transmission? A picture is now beginning to emerge.  February saw a preliminary study of those who have had the Oxford-AstraZeneca ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine (Changed-Adenovirus-Oxford-1 for novel CoVID-19). Viral particles in the nose and upper respiratory tract of those who still got mild CoVID were greatly lowered to the point where not only was the likelihood greatly reduced but it may be that the risk of transmission was almost eliminated. Given that the vaccine is over 90% effective, then there is only around a 10% chance of vaccine recipients getting (mild or asymptomatic) CoVID, and given that this study shows that with this cohort transmission is greatly reduced, overall it may be that transmission risks are almost zero.  Good news.

Pfizer vaccine may suppress transmission of SARS-CoV2.  The result comes from a survey of 23,000 UK healthcare workers who had the Pfizer BioNTech's BNT162b2 vaccine. (Pre-print only available at time of this posting.)

The US approves third vaccine.  The US Food & Drug Administration has approved a single shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.  The vaccine is similar to the AstraZeneca Oxford ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine but uses a different adenovirus.

Fake Sputnik V vaccines received from Russia.  Slovalia has received a shipment of 200,000 doses of the Russian vaccine except that the vials' contents do not match that approved by regulators.  Hungary is the only other European country to have placed an order for the Russian vaccine.

Vaccines may reduce long-CoVID-19.  Some people who have been ill with CoVID-19 and partially recovered, continue to show some symptoms (lethargy, breathing difficulties, etc) for many months. These are called 'long CoVID-19' sufferers. The BBC has reported that some long-CoVID patients have found that the vaccine seems to reduce symptoms. The BBC's 2nd March (2021) reporting noted the stories were anecdotal and that no formal study had been undertaken. Indeed, it would be difficult to undertake a randomised double-blind trial as that would involve a cohort being prevented from having the vaccine to act as a control: deliberately withholding the vaccine would be unethical.

The SARS-CoV-2 vaccine side effects are rare and minimal surveys of the vaccinated reveal. No one has died due to SARS-CoV-2 vaccination.  According to the US Vaccine Adverse Reaction Reporting System, the mRNA vaccines (such as Pfizer BNT162b2 and the Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccines) see largely very minor adverse reactions in 372 individuals per million or a 0.0372% chance of an adverse reaction. In the UK, the Yellow Card Scheme data once three million had been vaccinated indicated that 4,000 doses out of every million given led to an adverse reaction (a 0.4% chance of an adverse reaction). Most side effects seem to be the injection site being sore for a day or two or there being fatigue or a headache. Far fewer had fever for a few days. Only very rarely has someone had to be hospitalised and even those very few have all recovered. There have been no deaths clearly attributed to any SARS-CoV-2 vaccine to date despite several million being vaccinated at the time of reporting. A very few have had an allergic reaction with an incidence of anaphylaxis for the Moderna vaccine of three cases per million vaccinated, for the Pfizer five cases and Oxford Astra-Zeneca ten. All were easily treatable. Over 80% of the tiny minority who did develop anaphylaxis had a prior history of allergies. (See Remmel, A. (2021) CoVID vaccines and safety: What the research says. Nature, vol. 590, p537-8. This is an open access article, so feel free to search for it.)

European nations temporarily ban Oxford Astra-Zeneca vaccine over side-effect fears. France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Portugal and Spain temporarily suspended use of the UK created Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine amid fears that it encouraged blood clots. However, while there have been some cases of vaccinated people getting blood clots, by mid-March the European Medicines Agency affirmed that some 20 million people in the UK and European Union had been vaccinated with the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine yet there were less than 25 subsequently developing blood clots. Both the World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency affirmed there was no connection between having the AstraZeneca Oxford ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine and blood clots. The director general of Italy's medicines authority, Nicola Magrini, said that the decision to ban the vaccine was a 'political one'. Belgium continued to use the vaccine throughout the scare with its health minister, Frank Vandenbroucke, saying that they would by guided by the science and there was 'no reason to stop now'.
          The following week the European Commission of the European Union, in a remarkable about turn, threatened to ban exports from the European Union of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine made in Dutch and Belgium plants: suddenly the EU wanted it again. Meanwhile 14 million doses were stuck in fridges across the European Union.
          The United Kingdom's government funded the Oxford University research that devised the vaccine and then placed an early order with Astra Zeneca that paid for the production systems. Conversely, the European Union was slow to approve the vaccine, late in placing orders last summer and now has been vacillating over vaccination roll-out over the aforesaid fears. Mid-March saw CoVID-19 cases rise in 20 out of 27 EU countries with only Portugal having a death rate lower than Britain. Mid-March saw UK vaccination rates exceed half a million a day compared to France and Germany each doing less than a quarter of a million.
          Nonetheless, that several European countries temporarily banned the AstraZeneca Oxford ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine dented public faith. Polls mid-March (2021) revealed that 55% of people in Germany and 61% in France felt the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was unsafe. (See also Editorial (2021) Dial down the vaccine rhetoric. Nature, vol. 591, p502.)  Then at the end of March there was a new scare with blood clots on the brain affecting in Germany when it was revealed that Germany had registered 31 cases of blood clotting and that here, with the exception of two cases, all the blood clot cases were women aged 20 to 63. Germany therefore banned under 60s receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and announced that it would only be available to the over-60s. Canada, taking note of Germany's new ban, banned the use of the vaccine for those under 55. The measures were deemed as precautionary. Alas, following the first scare involving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, while documenting the monitoring of those receiving these vaccines was enhanced, it was not done for the other vaccines, nor (at the time of posting) was data available as to the incidence of brain blood clots in the general population prior to the pandemic.
          As a precaution the UK is allowing under-30 years of age subjects to opt out of the AstraZeneca Oxford ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine as the majority of those across Europe experiencing brain blood clots are female and young.

Globally CoVID-19 has had one peak, but is the planet heading for a second?  While the incidence of CoVID-19 cases has varied nation by nation, as a planet we are all in it together and the pandemic will not end until the virus has been controlled in all nations.  So, what has the global picture been?  Globally, there has been a steady rise in daily new cases up to 11th January 2021 when there was a peak of nearly 740,000.  Since then, new cases dropped until 23rd February 2021 when there were 360,000 new cases each day and a global death rate of just under 9,500.  Unfortunately, since then (latest figures up to mid-March 2021) have seen a rise to 438,000 new cases. Alas, while these figures are accurate as an 'official' number, accuracy is not guaranteed because some nations have not had an effective reporting regimen. The question therefore remains as to whether globally we are heading for a second peak. Vaccine roll-out is going to be a key factor: it is a race between vaccination and the virus.  (See also Mallapaty, S. (2021) Has CoVID peaked? Maybe, but it's too soon to be sure. Nature, vol. 591, p512-3.)

UK dexamethasone steroid treatment for CoVID-19 successful.  Mid-summer last year (2020) the cheap steroid was found to be effective following a small-sized trial by Oxford based biomedical scientists. A follow-up study by NHS England now indicates that it may have saved 22,000 lives in the UK and around a million globally.

Worry less about SARS-CoV2 contaminating surfaces; worry more about aerosol transmission.  With the original 2003 SARS it was known that the virus could survive on surfaces for a few hours and that transmission this way was possible.  Jumping forward to the current outbreak, last year there were a number of research papers reporting that the virus could 'contaminate surfaces' (fomites) for days if not weeks. Despite this there were a few that said that aerosol transmission was an important infection route. Some even opined that fomite transmission was so low that we should spend less effort on cleaning surfaces (such as in busses and at stations) but much more on ensuring social distancing and mask wearing.  Recent work is now confirming this view. It appears that a number of the studies that looked at fomites were using viral RNA detection. Yes, they detected viral RNA but it was not viable viral RNA, rather RNA fragments – the dead bodies, if you will, of the virus particles. Other studies that compared the longevity of viruses on different surfaces were carried out under laboratory conditions (with more uniform temperature and humidity and protection from being rubbed). However, there are hardly any studies carried out in the real world that show the virus remaining viable on surfaces for any length of time. Yes, there is still a risk of fomite transmission, but it seems we need to be much more concerned to ensure social distancing and mask wearing.  ( See Goldman J. (2020) Lancet Infectious Diseases, vol. 20, p892-3,  Ben-Shmuel, A. et al (2020) Clinical Microbiology and Infection, vol. 26, p1658-1662  and  Lewis, D. (2021) CoVID-19 Rarely infects through surfaces: so why are we still deep cleaning? Nature, vol. 590, p26-8.)

Related SARS-CoV-2 / CoVID-19 news, previously covered elsewhere on this site, includes:-
  - First vaccine deployed - BioNTech's BNT162b2
  - The Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine
  - The Janssen Ad26CoVS1 vaccine
  - The AstraZeneca Oxford ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine
  - Russian SARS-CoV-2 vaccine data is suspicious
  - Vaccine unknowns
  - Life will not return to normal in spring 2021
  - An alternative to the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine
  - Synchronising lockdowns
  - Masks not only reduce viral load…
  - Racoon dogs can catch SARS-CoV-2
  - Pet dogs can catch SARS-CoV-2 off of owners
  - Minks can catch SARS-CoV-2 off of farm workers
  - A new variant of SARS-CoV-2 has emerged in the south-east of the UK
  - A second new variant
  - So, what is the situation with vaccines and the new strains?
  - Two viruses related to SARS-CoV-2 (not variants of SARS-CoV-2) have been discovered outside of China in horseshoe bats
  - The spikes from the SARS-CoV-2 virus have now been directly seen
  - No symptom transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is less significant than symptomatic
  - Kenya has a surprisingly low death toll for its infection rate
  - Those who have more Neanderthal genes are at greater risk of severe CoVID-19
  - Some people may be naturally immune to SARS-CoV-2 and so do not get severe CoVID-19
  - Why men are more prone to CoVID elucidated
  - Healthcare workers and their households are at greater risk from SARS-CoV-2
  - Restaurants are high risk places for the spread of SARS-CoV-2
  - Big data and a simple epidemic model estimates SARS-CoV-2/CoVID-19 transmission rates
  - Hydroxychloroquine use against SARS-CoV-2 does not work
  - CoVID-19 fatality risk factors confirmed
  - SARS-CoV-2 can be spread by aerosols
  - Review concludes that masks are necessary to reduce spread of SARS-CoV-2
  - Social distancing and school closures are key to lowering the spread of CoVID-19
  - Genomic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 reveals how the epidemic spread in New York, US
  - Cruise ship SARS-CoV-2 containment informs on the virus
  - The free market has failed to lay the groundwork for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine
  - A new, highly pathogenic, coronavirus has emerged in China
  - How Eastercon and Worldcon fandom survived CoVID-19 lockdown
  - SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19 and the SF Community Briefing


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Summer 2021

Astronomy & Space Science News


The first part of what will be the Square Kilometre Array becomes operational.  Initially in Australia and South Africa, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will eventually comprise 2,000 parabolic dishes and up to one million antennas. It will have a receiving area of over a square kilometre (hence its name). Once complete it will be added to with other nations joining in. When fully operational at the one square kilometre level it is hoped it will provide insights on: dark matter, how galaxies form, and whether we are alone in the galaxy.  Though phase I of the SKA will not be completed until the end of the 2020s or early 2030s and will comprise 10% of one square kilometre, South Africa's MeerKAT 64 dish precursor array has just come into operation and taken one of the most detailed pictures of the centre of our galaxy.  Meanwhile Australia's AKA pathfinder telescope has already mapped the Universe charting three million galaxies in just 300 hours.

Gamma ray flare hints at nature of magnetars (magnetostars).  Gamma ray flares have been detected before in our galaxy, but they are so bright that they temporally blind orbiting gamma ray and x-ray telescopes. Three teams have now published papers (two in Nature and one in Nature Astronomy (Svinkin et al, and Roberts et al(2021) Nature, vol. 589  and  The Fermi LAT Collaboration (2021) Nature Astronomy.) that record the spectrum and change with time of a gamma ray burst that took place on 15th April last year (2020). It was triangulated to be seen to origin in a nearby (in astronomical terms) galaxy some 10 million light years away: the Sculptor galaxy, NGC253.  The energy released was tremendous, but still one thousandth that of colliding neutron stars that generate detectable gravity waves.
          The research results corroborate a tentative theory being assembled as to the cause of gamma-ray bursts. They could be due to magnetars (or magnetostars) that may be white dwarves slowly transitioning into neutron stars. Though these stars are far hotter than most stars, they actually have a frozen, or solid, component: a crust if you will. This solid-like crust is super-conducting, hence magnetars' extremely strong magnetic fields. Deformation of this crust is thought to cause the gamma-ray bursts. As such, gamma ray burst are cousins to Fast Radio Bursts (See the review piece  Thompson, T., (2021) Cosmic electromagnetic bombs laid bare. Nature, vol. 589, p199-200.)
          Related news previously covered elsewhere on this site includes:-
  - Repeating fast radio burst (FRB) detected
  - Fast radio burst enables Universe weighing
  - Fast Radio Bursts could be alien civilisation light sail boosters
  - More evidence that Fast Radio Bursts are caused by magnetars
  - First fast radio burst (FRB) observed in our galaxy

A hot Jupiter's atmosphere reveals cooler origins.  Hot Jupiters are giant planets, like Jupiter, that orbit close to their parent star. Many of theses oddities have been detected in recent years. One such hot Jupiter, HD 209458b, has a temperature of over 1,200°C. Ammonia had been detected but since refuted. Hydrogen cyanide, water vapour and carbon monoxide have previously been detected there. However, a new observation, using infra-red spectroscopy as the planet passes in front of its sun allowing light to pass through the planet's atmosphere, reveals all these molecules as well as methane and acetylene. As these molecules would have condensed in cooler conditions further out in the star's system, it suggests that the giant planet formed further out from its star and then migrated inwards, possibly due to interactions with other planets in the system.  (See Glacobbe, P. et al (2021) Five carbon- and nitrogen-bearing species in a hot giant planet's atmosphere. Nature, vol. 592, p205-208.)
++++  Related news covered elsewhere in this site includes:-
  - A new technique probes atmosphere of exoplanet
  - How many Solar system type planetary systems are there?
  - Flat planetary system sighted

Hopes for planet nine begin to fade.  Early in 2016 astronomers thought the orbits of some Oort Cloud bodies hinted at the presence of a ninth planet in the Solar System some five times the mass of the Earth. Hopes were further buoyed a year later. However, since then more trans-Neptunian Objects in the Oort Cloud have been found. This has enabled a fresh analysis of the data and allow for selection bias. The conclusion is that the original analysis was flawed and cannot prove the existence of a ninth planet. Frustratingly though, nor does this new analysis completely rule the possibility of a ninth planet… And so it continues.

Arab Emirates' Mars mission successfully enters Martian orbit.  The al-Amal (Hope) mission was launched last year (2020) from Japan. The mission will put a satellite into Mars orbit, around the 13th February 2021, to investigate the Martian atmosphere and the current and past climate. The release of the first tranche of data is expected in September (2021.)

China's Mars mission successfully enters Martian orbit.  The Tianwen-1 mission was launched last year (2020).  It will attempt to land a lander on the Martian surface in May.

NASA's Mars mission successfully lands the Perseverance rover on SF author Octavia Butler.  Following a seven month journey, the Perseverance mission has arrived at Mars and made a successful landing. The mission, launched last year (2020), will look for signs of life. Its landing on Mars used specialist parachutes made in Tiverton, Devon, Great Britain, to slow the probe down. It has touched-down in Jezero crater. Much of the crater floor was billions of years ago a lake complete with a river and its delta flowing into it. Had there been hot springs there, it is a likely place for life to have emerged.
  -         Its first month has seen Perseverance have its equipment tested. So far, so good.  It has also looked at its immediate surroundings and determined that several of the local rocks are volcanic and have been shaped by water and wind.  It will over the summer leave Octavia Butler and head for the remains of a river delta. However there is a hazardous dune field in between which Perseverance will have to navigate. At the time of posting, NASA is deciding which way to go. One way around is shorter but the other passes by more varied and interesting geology.
  -         ++++ Previous related news items elsewhere on this site includes:-
  - Europe and the US agree plan to bring Martian rocks to Earth
  - SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is impacting on space missions
  - Another way Mars loses its water has been observed
  - Mystery oxygen in Martian atmosphere
  - Curiosity launched
  - Curiosity Mars rover touches down
  - Evidence has been found for an ancient lake on Mars
  - Organic matter preserved in 3-billion-year-old mudstones at Gale crater
  - At least 66% of Mars' atmosphere has been lost since it was formed
  - Methane spike detected in Martian atmosphere: it could have come from a plume
  - A past flood on Mars has been deduced from geology
  - ESA's Mars Express has detected geological activity over the past billion years
  - ESA's Mars Express methane detection may indicate life
  - Mars' south pole has far more water than previously thought
  - Mars Express discovers a reservoir of water on Mars

The planet Mars's core is unexpectedly large.  NASA's InSight lander touched at the end of 2018 with a mission to look at Mars's interior through seismography.  Since then it has detected some 500 Martian-quakes and nearly 50 have been large enough – between magnitude 2 and 4 – to be used to analyse the planet's internal structure.  The results are that the upper mantle that surrounds the core extends to 437 miles (700 km) to 500 miles (800 km) below the surface where it meets denser material. This indicates that the core is 1,130 miles (1,810 km) to 1160 miles (1,860 km) in diameter. This is about half that of Earth's but is large for a planet the size of Mars. Because we know Mars's mass, this means that the unusually large core must contain lighter elements than iron and heavier elements that exist in the Earth's core.
          InSight itself is running out of time as sand is building up on its solar panels. It still hopes to get some data from a German-built thermal probe that aims to measure heat flow from the core to the surface. Unfortunately the tether connecting it to the main body of the lander is exposed and day-and-night fluctuations in temperature are affecting readings.  InSight is now using its scoop in an attempt to bury the tether and so insulate it from day-night temperature changes.

Preserve the Moon's poles report urges.  The US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (the equivalent to Britain's Royal Society) has published a report calling for researchers to prioritise what they want to do on the Moon at its poles so as not to contaminate its water ice.  There are two theories as to the water lying in permanent shadow within craters at the Moon's poles. The first is that it was delivered early in the Solar System's history, and the second is that it also may be slowly accumulating through water-bearing meteorites and possibly by Solar wind. If this last is taking place, then the ice deposits will feature a history of the Solar System. Either way, the ice in these crates is of interest. However, rocket exhaust during landing and taking off releases water vapour which gets widely dispersed and this could easily contaminate the water ice. Indeed, some researchers fear that this may already have happened.  The international Committee on Space Research (CoSpaR), which provides guidelines for best practice, is considering the concerns.  One possibility would be to explore and use just one pole so as to try to preserve the other.
          Related news previously covered elsewhere on this site includes:-
- The Moon has two sets of ice poles suggesting it has changed its tilt
- There was water on the Moon

A space-junk-clearing satellite has been launched from Kazakhstan in a proof-of-concept mission.  The UK led, Harwell Campus based, mission is called ELSA-d (End of Life Services by Astroscale demonstration). It will lock on to spent satellites magnetically. Since 1957 around 10,680 satellites have been placed into orbit with 6,250 still there but only 3,700 are still operational.


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Summer 2021

Science & Science Fiction Interface

Real life news of SF-like tropes and SF impacts on society


NASA's Perseverance rover lands on SF author Octavia Butler.  Perseverance's landing site on Mars has been named 'Octavia Butler Landing'.  The late, Hugo and Nebula awards-winning Octavia Butler is of course the author of Kindred (1979), Parable of the Sower (1993) and Parable of the Talents (1998) among other novels. Her novel Wild Seed (1980) is currently being adapted by Amazon for TV.  News of the Perseverance mission so far is covered above.

Biologist and science writer, Richard Dawkins, is trying to write science fiction.  The biologist is best known for The Selfish Gene (1976) and its sequel (2016) as well as his rant against religion, The God Delusion (2006).  He has now decided to pen SF with a novel concerning the reconstruction of a three million year old genome with the aim of de-extincting an archaic human species.  Apparently, he is finding the going hard and so has turned to re-read classic writers to see how prose is done. Regarding the writing of SF author Aldous Huxley's "characters go on and on for page after page like fellows of All Souls". Conversely, Dawkins' characters talk science with each other rather than philosophy.

SF convention organisers may want to note that scientists want a virtual dimension to events to continue after the pandemic ends.  A poll of over 900 Nature readers has revealed that scientists want virtual dimensions to events to continue once the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic ends.  SF fandom successfully managed to go virtual during the 2020/1 SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and scientists found their events more popular and environmentally friendly with a virtual dimension.  This prompted the journal Nature to conduct a poll of its readers: 925 responded. 74% thought that events should continue to have a virtual component or for wholly-virtual events to continue. This despite 69% feeling that the biggest drawback of wholly virtual events was their poor networking opportunities and 12% time-zone problems.  Taking the results in the round suggests that the way forward is to ensure physical events have a virtual component.  Even prior to the pandemic, some SF conventions have been experimenting with YouTube.  These include the 2016 Eurocon in Barcelona (links to some of their programme vids here) and the 2017 Worldcon in Helsinki (links to some of the programme vids within coverage here).  In future, SF convention organisers might wish to make a point that their event has a virtual component.  Perhaps some auspice bodies – such as WSFS for Worldcon or ESFS for Eurocons – might establish a YouTube channel to archive videos of some conventions' programme items? In addition to increasing a convention's reach as well as enabling those at overcrowded conventions who could not get into an item to see it, creating an archive of programme item videos provides added heritage value to an event for future generations.  (See Remmel, A. (2021) Scientists want virtual meetings to stay after CoVID pandemic. Nature, vol. 591, p185-6.)

AI can verbally debate with humans.  An new artificial intelligence (AI) developed by IBM can verbally debate an argument with humans. Called Project Debater, it can directly engage with humans drawing on four million newspaper article, taking text from them and re-syntax (syntax repair) the words. Of course, it has its limits and can only debate on a hundred topics and the word flow is still not as good as a human. Nonetheless, two-thirds of people who saw it in action to evaluate it reckoned it exemplified a 'decent performance'. The system creates a four-minute opening speech to which a human responds with a speech of his or her own. It then reacts to this with a second four-minute speech. The human opponent then gets a chance to do a rebuttal. Finally, both The Debater and the human each get to give a two-minute closing statement.  This form of AI, the researchers argue, scores over game-playing (chess, go etc.) AIs as games have unambiguous rules and what is meant by winning and losing is clear. This is not so with verbal debates.  Though not perfect, this project provides a tantalising glimpse into a future in which web users might use such a system that monitors the vast database of the internet to discern the validity of news and warning of fake news. (Slonim, N. et al (2021) An autonomous debating system. Nature, vol. 591, p379-384  and the review piece  Reed, C., (2021) Argument technology for debating with humans. Nature, vol. 591, p373-4.)

SF film inspires Britain's vaccine strategy!  Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed that the 2011 film Contagion helped inspire him when he was developing the UK's vaccine strategy. One problem the film's protagonists faced was ensuring an adequate supply of vaccine.  No sh*t Sherlock. This is what a degree on Politics, Philosophy and Economics gets you!

The Earth is on the edge of safety from exploding stars an astronomical survey has revealed.  Apocalypses are a trope of science fiction and you cannot get more apocalyptic than the entire destruction of the Earth!  One real threat is that of a gamma ray burst from a nearby exploding supernova as close as 30 light years could destroy the Earth's ozone layer. A very close supernova could see the radiation strip the Earth's atmosphere. Italian astronomers have surveyed the Galaxy for this threat. It reveals that before 6 billion years ago the safest place to be an Earthlike planet was in the Galaxy's outer reaches. However, about 4 billion years ago (the Earth is over 4.5 billion years old) this safe zone shifted to a band 6,500 – 26,000 light years (2,000 – 8,000 parsecs) from the Galaxy's centre. As the Earth is some 28,000 light years (8,600 parsecs) from the Galactic centre we are on the outer edge of this safe zone. The astronomers calculate that there could have been one or two nearby supernovas the past 500 million years, with a gamma burst that could have affected life. This might explain the Ordovician–Silurian extinction 455 – 430 million years ago in which wiped out nearly 85% of marine species. (450 million years or so the land was dominated by plants; most animals resided in the sea.) One of the four most common explanations for this extinction is a gamma ray burst from a nearby supernova but, it should be noted, that some think that some of the other explanations are more plausible. (See (2021) Astronomy & Astrophysics, vol. 647, article A41.)

The Earth's planetary defence warning system has gotton into swing with record number of near-Earth asteroids detected in 2020.  Nearly 3,000 near-Earth asteroids were detected in 2020, up from less than a hundred in 1998 when NASA conducted the first large search. Since then, annual detections have steadily increased to 2,958 last year.  One of the 2020 asteroids was Apophis which is 340 metres across. It's trajectory has been plotted and it will return in 2029 to come within 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometres), just beyond the region of the outermost satellites' orbits, though NASA calculates that it will again miss the Earth itself and also again in 2068.  Of last year's near-Earth asteroids 107 of them were closer to the Earth than the Moon.  One of the smallest, 2020VT4 came in to below 250 miles (400 kilometres) but was not spotted until 15 hours after it had passed.  Ooops!

The Dyatlov Pass mystery solved.  Back in 1959, nine students on a 220 mile trek were found dead, badly mutilated in the Dyatlov Pass in Ural mountains, Siberia. Their deaths were a mystery and spawned many theories from secret military testing to their being victims of yetis. There was even a horror film about the incident. Now Swiss researchers think they have the answer with a computer model of the terrain and avalanche software. They think that they camped on a slope and that compact icy snow overlaid softer snow so allowing a slab of effectively ice to come crashing through the students' camp leaving horrendous injuries from which they died in the cold.

Geeks use crowd forum to outwit hedge fund managers of US$50 billion (£36 billion) .  They encouraged users of the chat forum Reddit to make small investments in firms such as the video game shop chain GameStop. The many small investments ended up as a big investment of US$1 billion (£730 million) and this caused the stock of these companies to increase: GameStop's increased by more than 1,000% (over ten-fold). Meanwhile, professional hedge fund managers had betted on these firms' stocks decreasing in value. It is estimated that these hedge funds lost around US$50 billion (£36 billion). Wall street sought to protect the hedge fund managers by curbing small dealer trading on platforms such as Robinhood and Interactive Brokers.


And to finally round off the Science & SF Interface subsection, here is a short video…

What would an Artificial Intelligence (AI) run government be like?  Iain Banks' 'Culture' series of books features a highly advanced, post-scarcity, interstellar civilisation of humanoids co-existing with artificial intelligence who quietly control things for the benefit of all… Last year we linked to Isaac Arthur's consideration of humans co-existing with AI. This year he looks at the question of AI run government… and its not the usual take.  You can see the half hour video here.


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

Summer 2021

Rest In Peace

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


Wanda Alexander, the US editor, has died. She was a freelance editor for Tor (US) for 22 years (1984-2006).

Michael Apted, the British film director, has died aged 79.  His genre films included Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010) and the Bond technothriller The World is not Enough (1999).

Akito Arima, the Japanese physicist, has died aged 90.  His work, especially with the Italian Francesco Iachello, on the atomic nucleus. They co-authored The Interacting Boson Model in 1987. He lobbeyed the Japanese government for a law for five-year science plans for the country. He then had a five-year stint as a governmental science advisor. He was also a haiku poetry enthusiast.

David G. Barnett, the US publisher and editor, has died. He worked on Necro Publications and edited Into darkness magazine between 1994 and 1996.

Allan Burns, the television producer and screenwriter, has died aged 85. In genre terms he was perhaps best known for co-creating (with Chris Hayward) and co-writing for the television sitcoms The Munsters (1964). He also co-edited (with Chris Hayward) the scripts for Get Smart.

Trisha Captain, the British fan, has died aged 64. She was a regular Star trek con-goer since the early Leeds Trek cons of the 1970s.

George Carruthers, the US astronomer and engineer, has died aged 81. Having been an avid devourer of science fiction and astronomy books when young, he went on to have a career building telescopes and making astronomical observations. He is especially noted for having built the first telescope observatory on the Moon with the remote controlled telescope deployed by the Apollo 16 mission. Seeing in the far ultraviolet (which can't be done beneath the Earth's atmosphere) he was able to obtain images of the Earth's upper atmosphere and its interactions with space. This work paved the way for space weather forecasting. He is also noted for confirming in 1970 the presence of molecular hydrogen in the interstellar medium. In addition to Apollo, he contributed to Skylab's science in 1973-4.  As an African American, he was acutely aware of the need for role models. There were black astronomers when he was young but they never attempted much of a public profile. Consequently, he relished the profile afforded him by his contributions to manned space missions so as to encourage those from ethnic minorities to become astronomers.

Meloney Chadwick, the US comics editor, has died aged 66.  She worked at Harris Comics on titles including Vampirella. She later worked at Dark Horse.

Storm Constanine, the British author, has died aged 64.  A regular at British Eastercons, she is known for the 'Wraethhu' trilogy. Her story 'Priest of Hands' was short-listed for the British SF Association Award in 1993, and -The Oracle Lips- was shortlisted for the Otherwise Award in 1998.

Paul Crutzen, the Dutch civil engineer turned meteorologist and atmosphere chemist, has died aged 87.  He is best known for demonstrating that nitrogen oxides could destroy ozone. In 1995 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Sherwood Roland and Mario Molina (who showed that chlorofluorocarbons destroy ozone). Recently he has become famous for coining, in 2000, the term the 'Anthropocene': the proposed geological age beginning with the time humanity first made a discernable impact on the geological record. Earlier in his career, in 1982 and with John Birks, he co-authored an article in Ambio subtitled 'Twilight at Noon' on how firestorms following a nuclear war could cool the Earth. This led Carl Sagan, Richard Turco and colleagues to publish the famous TAPS paper in Science which in turn galvanised Gorbachev and Regan to come to a nuclear arms agreement in 1987.

Jeffrey Dempsey, the UK publisher and editor, has died.  He worked for Crimson Alter Press between 1982 and 1991 and edited Dark dreams magazine 1984 to 1992.

M. A. Foster, the US author, has died aged 81.  Best know for a trilogy that began with The Morphodite (1981).

Penny Frierson, the US fan, has died aged 79.  She joined fandom in 1968 and co-founded the Birmingham (USA) SF group. She was also a member of the Southern Fandom Press Alliance.

Mira Furlan, the US actress, has died aged 65. In genre terms she is best known for playing Ambassador Delenn in Babylon 5 (1995-1998). She also starred in Lost (2004-2008).

Kathleen Ann Goonan, the US author, has died aged 68.  Her work has been short-listed for three Nebulas as well as a Clarke (book) Award. She won a Campbell Memorial Award for In War Times (2007). Other of her works include Light Music (2002) and Queen City Jazz (1998), both in the 'Nanotech Quartet'..

Don Harley, the UK comics artist, has died aged 93. He was part of Frank Hampson's studio drawing Dan Dare for the weekly Eagle comic (1951-1962).  He then moved to TV Century 21 to work on Gerry Anderson related Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. He then drew The Mark of the Mysterons in Solo before working on Anderson related strips in the mid-1970s weekly comic Countdown.

Jeffrey Hayes, the US producer, has died aged 68. he oversaw the production of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994). His other genre work includes The Lost World (1999-2002) and Time Trax (1993).

Jael (Ashton), the US science fiction/fantasy artist, has died aged 83. His work has been short-listed for no less than 8 Chelsea Awards.

Norton Juster, the architect but renowned as a children's author, has died aged 91. He his best known for The Phantom Tollbooth (1961).

Tim Lane, the US fan, has died aged 69. He co-edited the fanzine Fosfax that was short-listed for seven Hugo Awards.

Christopher Little, the British literary agent, has died aged 79.  He is best known for taking on the (then) unknown author, one J. K. Rowling, and persevered through a number of rejections before getting her first 'Harry Potter' novel published with Bloomsbury. He remained her agent through to 2011 when he retired.

Don Lundry, the US fan, has died. He started going to cons in 1967. He chaired two LunaCons and the 1977 Worldcon, SunCon in Miami.

John Mallard, the British physicist, has died aged 94.  He is best known for developing whole-body magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). He also helped contribute to developing positron emission tomography (PET).

Rowena Morrill, the SF and fantasy artist, has died aged 76. She won the British Fantasy Award for Best Artist in 1984, and was a four-time Hugo finalist for Best Professional Artist. Last year she garnered a Lifetime Achievement World Fantasy Award.

Jeremy Newson, the British film director and actor, has died aged 73.  His films include the classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and its quasi sequel Shock Treatment (1981).

Lou Ottens, the Dutch engineer, has died aged 94.  He is best known for inventing cassette tapes. Along with vinyl single and long-play (LP) records, for a quarter of a century cassette tapes were the most common way to listen to music and sound recordings through the 1970 to mid-1990s and still fairly commonly used in the early 2000s. Over 100 billion were made.  Lou Otten also contributed to the development of compact discs (CDs).

Darroll Pardoe, the British SF fan, has died aged 77. His fanzines included editing single issues of Dark Horizons and Vector.

penman, the British SF fan, has died aged 70. He was active in the 1970s NE SF Group and Gannet fandom. His fanzines included Armageddon and Oracle.

John Philpott, the British fan, has died aged 64. He was more into media SF and was a member of the Intrepid Star Trek group. He was also a past committee member of the Hitch-hiker Guide to the Galaxy ZZ9 Plural Alpha group.

Christopher Plummer, the Canadian actor, has died aged 91.  His many SF films include Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), 12 Monkeys (1995), Harrison Bergeron (1995), Dracula 2000 (2000) and Priest (2011).

Yvonne Rousseau, the Australian author, editor and fan, has died aged 75.  She is best known for The Murders at Hanging Rock (1980) and her work in the collective that published the Australian SF Review.

Olle Sahlin, the Swedish SF fan and translator, has died aged 64.  Authors he has translated have included Terry Pratchett, Phillip Pullman and Stephen Donaldson.

Ina Shorrock, the British SF fan, has died aged 92. She was active in fandom since the early 1950s and a member of Liverpool SF and occasionally attended MaD and BaD (Manchester & District and Bolton & District respectively) SF meets. She was a member of the Delta SF group that made fan films. Her husband Norman, was on the committee of the 1957-9 and 1972 Eastercons and that inevitably made her a staff member. She also served a term as a Chair of the BSFA. She was inducted into the Knights of St Fantony and was one of the sponsors of its fanzine Blazon. In recent decades, since 1990, she regularly staffed the reception desk at the Festival of Fantastic Films. She, and the ladies there, always ensured that first-time Fest attendees had someone chaperone them for a while in the bar making introductions. In recognition of her fanac, she received an Eastercon Doc Weir Award. In 2003 she garnered a Nova Award for Best Fan, and at the 2005 Worldcon she accrued a Big Heart Award. Until her husband's own passing, her and Norman's room parties at the Fest were always well catered for out of a well stocked, traditional wicker picnic hamper. Good times.

Si Spencer, the comics and TV script writer, has died aged 59.  His genre work includes that for Judge Dredd Megazine with The Returners and Plagues of Necropolis as well as graphic novel adaptations with Neil Gaiman of Gaiman's 'Books of Magic' universe stories. He was also a TV scriptwriter for non-genre shows such as East Enders and The Bill. His final The Returners story will be published in the Judge Dredd Megazine this summer.

Jack Steinberger, the German-born US physicist, has died aged 99. He is best known for a 1962 experiment which garnered him (and Melvin Schwartz and Leon Lederman) the 1988 Nobel Prize for Physics.  The experiment revealed two distinct types of the neutrino and which had been predicted in the 1930s. His family left Germany following the rise of the Nazi party. At college his supervisor was the Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi who also worked on neutrino theory. Having served in WWII, he had a spell at the University of California but left for the University in Columbia in part because he refused to sign an anti-communism oath. It was at Columbia that he and his colleagues conducted their neutrino detecting experiment. In 1968 he moved to CERN where he led work that showed that there could be no more than three types of neutrino. He stayed there until the mid-1990s. In 2015, he joined other Nobel laureates in a letter urging governments to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Patrick Tilley, the UK author and SF artist, has died aged 91.  His books include those in the 'Amtrak Wars' series.

Bill Titcombe, the British Comics artist, has died aged 81.  He drew for TV Comic, TV Century 21 and Look-In.

Louis Walpert CBiol, FIBiol, FRS, CBE, the British biologist, has died aged 91.  He worked on cell biology and embryo development in particular, at Kings College London before moving to University College London. The public knew him through his radio and television appearances including giving the televised Royal Institution Christmas lectures in 1986.  He wrote many popular science books. Later in life he went on to discuss the problem of depression from which he suffered greatly.

Norman Warren, the British film director, has died aged 78.  His films include Prey (1977), Spaced Out (1979), Inseminoid (1981) and Bloody New Year (1987). Quietly spoken but sociable, he was a regular at the Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films and will be much missed.

Dame Margret Weston, the mechanical engineer, has died aged 94.  She was a Director of the Science Museum (Kensington, London) noted for developing two medical wings to the museum in addition to extending the idea of there being buttons to push beyond the children's exhibits in the basement. She also took exhibitions outside London and was instrumental in establishing the railway museum in York. Formerly she had an apprenticeship at a Clydeside shipbuilder before moving on to General Electric. She arrived at the museum and worked here way through the ranks.


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

Summer 2021

End Bits & Thanks



More science and SF news will be summarised in our Autumn 2021 upload in September
plus there will also be 'forthcoming' autumnal book releases, plus loads of stand-alone reviews. (Remember, these season's relate to the northern hemisphere 'academic year'.)

Thanks for information, pointers and news for this seasonal page goes to: Ansible (and Dave Langford for mailing paper copies), Fancylopaedia, Pat Fernside (for File 770 info), File 770, Julie Perry (Google Scholar wizard), SF Encyclopaedia, SFX Magazine, and Peter Wyndham, not to mention information from various academic science journals or their websites cited.  Additional thanks for news coverage goes not least to the very many representatives of SF conventions, groups and professional companies' PR/marketing folk who sent in news. These last have their own ventures promoted on this page.  If you feel that your news, or SF news that interests you, should be here then you need to let us know (as we cannot report what we are not told). :-)

News for the next seasonal upload – that covers the Autumn 2021 period – needs to be in before 15th August 2021. News is especially sought concerns SF author news as well as that relating to national SF conventions: size, number of those attending, prizes and any special happenings.

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