Science Fiction News
& Recent Science Review for the
Summer 2023

(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 2023

Editorial Comment & Staff Stuff

 

EDITORIAL COMMENT

What special Hugo Award category for the 2024 Glasgow Worldcon?  In addition to the set Hugo Award categories, such as Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form, Best Short Story, Best Novel etc., each year that year's committee organising the Worldcon gets the right to choose a category of their own.  Past such Hugo categories have included things like Best Game or Best Art Book.  Not all committee-proposed special categories in the past garnered sufficient nomination interest for them to appear on the Hugo Short-List ballot.  So really the trick is to come up with a special category that will engage with Hugo Award voters (Worldcon Attending registrants).  Here we have an idea…
          Why not have the 2024 committee special category for Best Fantasy Novel!  After all, the Hugo Awards are technically according to the rules the "Science Fiction Achievement Awards", yet works of fantasy are – again according to the rules – eligible.  So, here's the thing, novels like Harry Potter or films (Dramatic Presentation Long Form) like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, that have no discernable SF content whatsoever, can win a Hugo (those ones did) and fantasy novels can and do knock off SF novels off the Hugo short-list.  Having a special category 'Best Fantasy Novel' would not only be popular (the 'Best Novel' category tends to have one of the most nominators and also short-list voters) but it would free up the 'Best Novel' category to focus on science fiction books.  Indeed, if this one-off 'Best Fantasy Novel' category ended being really popular, then there could be a formal move in the near future to permanently split the 'Best Novel' category into 'Best SF Novel and 'Best Fantasy Novel'.  Finally, for those that say that there are too many Hugo Award categories, then why not trim off those not very popular categories that typically get less than a score (not thousands that 'Best Novel' gets) nominating to end up on the short-list: do we really need any category that needs just a couple of dozen or so nominating works for them to get on the short-list ballot? (Something for the Worldcon business meeting to discuss.)
          Come on Glasgow 2024, why not give it a shot?

Small print: Possible problems solved? Article 3.2.8 of the WSFS constitution allows stories to be moved at the administrators' discretion between categories. While this is ostensibly for length reasons there is nothing to say that it could not be done for other reasons (nothing specifically excludes this). This means that works nominated for Best Novel and the putative Best Fantasy Novel could be moved as appropriate. This would enable Article 3.2.9. be met – no work shall appear in more than one category. Of course, some might consider this a sleight of hand but if it is (and others may argue it isn't) it is far less an issue than the site selection for 2023 failing to meet Article 4, section 4.4 and going against the clarification guidance of that year's WSFS business meeting. And we are living with the consequences of that… Just saying.

 

STAFF STUFF

And the fourth place in this year's International Griffith Observatory Seidel essay competition goes to Duncan Lunan.  Duncan's essay is titled 'Waverider - a Spacecraft in Waiting, Newly Topical'. This is the competition's 11th year for creative articles in astronomy, astrophysics, and space science. There is a small cash prize attached to the award sponsored by Joan and Arnold Seidel.  Our congratulations to Duncan.  Duncan also has an article on 'Oumuamua coming up in the May/June 2023 edition of Analog; a topic on which Duncan has previously written about in SF² Concatenation.  Duncan's latest contribution to SF² Concatenation is an article in this season's edition on Space Launch Costs in the New Era.

Arthur Chappell has two vampire short stories coming out.  'Student Exchange' will be published in BHF's volume 9 Atlas of Abominations horror anthology.  Also, his 'The Last Speck' flash fiction, which has good old Dracula himself involved in a story set in the future, which had previously appeared courtesy of Bunbary Press, will get another airing courtesy of Wicked Shadow Press.

Mark Bilsborough has an anthology coming out.  From the Depths is coming from Wyldblood Press. (Details below here).

 

Congratulations one and all.

 

Elsewhere this issue…
Aside from this seasonal news page, elsewhere this issue (vol. 33 (3) Summer 2023) we have stand-alone items on:-
          Best Science Fiction Novels Then (1987) and Now (2022) – Jonathan Cowie
          Space Launch Costs in the New Era – Duncan Lunan
          32nd Festival of Fantastic Films 2022 - Great Britain – Ian Taylor
          SF/F/H book reviewers wanted
          Gaia 2023 - Annual whimsical SF and/or science snippets and exotica
          Ten years ago. One from the archives: Eurocon 2013 – Kiev, Ukraine – Jim Walker
          Twenty years ago. One from the archives: Reading SF for the Blind (2003)
          Thirty years ago. One from the archives: Fact 'n Fiction 'n Me – John Gribbin (1993)
          Plus well over twenty (20!) SF/F/H standalone fiction book and non-fiction SF and popular science book reviews.  Hopefully something here for every science type who is into SF in this our 36th 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 2023

Key SF News & SF Awards

 

The 2022 BSFA Awards have been presented.  The announcement took place at the 2023 British Eastercon (the national convention) in Birmingham. The 'Best Novel' category shortlist consisted of :-
          City of Last Chances by Adrian Tchaikovsky
          The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard
          The This by Adam Roberts
          Stars and Bones by Gareth Powell
          The Coral Bones by E. J. Swift
          And the winner was City of Last Chances by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Details of other categories at bsfa.co.uk

The 2023 Nebula Award nomination shortlists have been announced for 2022 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) shortlisted titles are:-
Novel
          Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree
          Spear by Nicola Griffith
          Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher
          Babel by R. F. Kuang
          Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
          The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler
Novella
          A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers
          'Bishop’s Opening' by R. S. A. Garcia
          I Never Liked You Anyway by Jordan Kurella
          Even Though I Knew the End by C.L. Polk
          High Times in the Low Parliament by Kelly Robson
Novelette
          'If You Find Yourself Speaking to God, Address God with the Informal You' by John Chu
          'Two Hands, Wrapped in Gold' by S. B. Divya
          'Murder by Pixel: Crime and Responsibility in the Digital Darkness' by S. L. Huang
          'A Dream of Electric Mothers' by Wole Talabi
          'The Prince of Salt and the Ocean’s Bargain' by Natalia Theodoridou
          'We Built This City' by Marie Vibbert
Short Story
          'Destiny Delayed' by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki
          'Give Me English' by Ai Jiang
          'Rabbit Test' by Samantha Mills
          'Douen' by Suzan Palumbo
          'Dick Pig' by Ian Muneshwar
          'D.I.Y' by John Wiswell
The Ray Bradbury Award for Dramatic Presentation
          Andor 'One Way Out'
          Everything Everywhere All at Once
          Nope
          Our Flag Means Death
          The Sandman: Season 1
          Severance
The winners will be announced in May.  Full categories (including game writing and young adult) at www.sfwa.org.

The 2023 Philip K. Dick Award winner has been announced.  It is given for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States. It was announced at the 2023 Norwescon who sponsor the juried award.  The winner was The Extractionist by Kimberly Unger.  A special citation went to Tade Thompson for The Legacy of Molly Southbourne.

The Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize 2022 winner has been announced. Last season we reported on the short-list. Now Young judges from 500 UK schools, science clubs and groups declared their winner and it is If the World Were 100 People by Jackie McCann and Aaron Cushley. Have you ever wondered how many people have red hair, a safe place to call home, or speak the same language as you? If the world were 100 people explores the differences, similarities, challenges and privileges experienced by people across the world. In it the Earth’s population is distilled into a village of 100 people, and every person represents 80 million people in the real world. This offers a unique way to understand complex topics from genetics to medicine and technology.  The winning authors shared a £10,000 (US$12,100) prize.

 

Other SF news includes:-

The Sci-Fi London SF film fest sees a return to central London venues. The venues will be Prince Charles, Picturehouse Central, Rich Mix and the Garden Cinema. And the dates have changed to 31st May - 6 June. Check www.sci-fi-london.com for details. For those interested for now just keep your diaries free for the dates and then check the website for the programme in May.  If you are new to Sci-Fi London then it tends to focus on recent, often independent films a good number of screening of which will be UK premieres. There are always some gems in the mix.

The Dead by Dawn horror film fest sees its long-time venue close.  The Filmhouse in Edinburgh has closed and is boarded up for sale. The Filmhouse has been the venue for Dead by Dawn for 29 years. Edinburgh which is known for its arts events such as the Fringe, has seen Scottish government support for its arts but alas in this instance has not saved a venue greatly valued by horror genre fans.

The 2023 Worldcon, Chengdu, China, has changed its dates (again) and changed its venue! The latest dates are now 18th – 22nd October and the venue is now the Chengdu Science (Fiction?) Museum in Jingrong Lake, Pidu District, Chengdu. This Worldcon already comes with multiple issues including (its Guests ethical stances), lengthy delays in releasing its Progress Reports. Tough luck on those who cleared their holiday dates with their employers and/or who booked their air flights early to get discounts using the former dates. But hey, given China has, for example, rolled back on the commitments it gave in its Hong Kong governance agreement with Britain, China is at least true to form rolling back on its dates, venue and obligations to keep its members informed in a timely way. It is currently unclear whether the new venue is a Science Fiction Museum or a Science Museum (which has not yet been finished being built (see the next item below).

The first Progress Report is now out from the 2023 Worldcon in Chengdu, China.  First up, this Progress Report is late: Progress Report 1 (PR1) usually comes out four or five months after a Worldcon wins its bit at site selection two years before the actual event – Chengdu's PR1 came out over a year after it won its site selection bid. (For comparison, the 2024 Glasgow Worldcon released its PR1 four months after it won its bid.)
          Second up, all the pictures of the venue are architects artists' impression as the construction of the venue (let alone safety checks) have yet to be completed. Also there is a discrepancy between Chengdu's initial announcement of their venue change to a Science Fiction Museum and that in their PR1, a Science Museum.
          Third, the hotel listing says that the nearby hotels house under 1,600 rooms which is arguably not nearly enough for a typical Worldcon. Further, apart from one hotel that has 255 guest rooms almost next to the venue, all the rest of the hotels are two to over three miles away…

Visa arrangements for the 2023 Worldcon, Chengdu, China.  The 2023 Worldcon has informed us that China allows a 6-day (specifically a 144 hour) visa-free transit for Chengdu for those coming from country 'A' to China (country 'B') and then travelling on to country 'C'.  Note: country 'A' and country 'C must be different countries.  So, for example you can travel from the UK to Chengdu but cannot return directly to it but must return via another country, say the Republic of Ireland.  Similarly, North Americans from the US will need to return via another country such as Canada.  Those taking advantage of this visa-free option must only stay in the in the administrative districts of Chengdu and the Port of entry and exit has to be Chengdu Airport.
          The Worldcon is a 5-day event so while this visa-free transit option will suffice for those going to the convention, it does not allow a few extra days for tourism and does not allow for tourism beyond Chengdu. So, for example, no visiting the Great Wall of China, which his something that will disappoint fans of Donald Trump.  If you want to do tourism you will need a proper visa.

The 2023 Hugo Award nomination process is now open.  Those Chengdu Worldcon members with WSFS (World Science Fiction Society membership) and 2022 Chicago Worldcon members can nominate novels, short-stories, films, fanzines, editors etc until 30th April (2023).

The first Progress Report is now out from the 2024 Worldcon in Glasgow, Great Britain.  Actually, this is the second Progress Report (PR) as there was a PR0 that came out after Glasgow won the 2024 site selection vote back in 2022.  Unlike PRs prior to CoVID, this one is only available electronically (sensibly as a PDF) and not in physical, carbon storage, paper form as have all PRs prior to 2020.
          This PR features much what you would expect/need and, indeed, want at this early stage, plus there is a bit of a quarter-page meal out of the use of the term 'Access' and Accessibility' (some may consider the nomenclature important but actually it is the delivery that counts).  There is also an interesting piece by Guest of Honour Ken MacLeod on discovering SF fandom and the 1995 Glasgow Worldcon which included a panel titled Cyberspace Beginners - Logging On and Loading Up. (What Is This Internet Thing Anyway? How do you take the first few steps onto it?) A programme item that illustrates how much the world has changed the past quarter of a century and our SFnal present.  The convention's 'Code of Conduct' gets a double mention (pages 8 & 13): these are now a feature of some major conventions the past couple of decades and, given the disgraceful treatment of a much loved celebrity and SF aficionado by a strident few at the last British Worldcon, demonstrably Worldcons these days undoubtedly need them.
          PR1 also features pictures of the tartan created for the event.  There was also an interesting article on the 1957 and 1965 Worldcons (both held in London) and both single programme-track events (today Worldcon typically sees between several and a dozen parallel programme tracks but then Worldcons today are typically ten times larger).
          The next PR will, the organisers anticipate, be out in August (2023): they say that they hope to have six PRs in all but it is not clear whether or not this includes PR0.  Finally, a reminder that 1st May (2023) see the Full Adult Attending membership rate rise from £170 to £190 (with cheaper rates for children and Supporting Members: those who only want Hugo voting rights and the print Souvenir Programme book without attending).  Attending membership gets you a pass that gives you access to all programme items subject to there being space to get in (overcrowding was a bit of an issue at the last London Worldcon (2014), worse at Helsinki (2017), and inexcusably atrocious at Dublin (2019) – we can but hope that the next Glasgow PR will be reassuring by letting us know what firm measures they have taken to avoid overcrowding).
          If you have not been to a Worldcon before, the earlier one registers the cheaper it is so the message is to register early.  And remember, the Worldcon only comes to Blighty (Brit Cit and Cal Hab) roughly once a decade, so the next one will not be until the 2030s.

The 15th North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFic) – Pemmi-Con – has its first Progress Report (PR1) out.  The NASFic is held those years that the SF Worldcon takes place outside of N. America. As the 2023 Worldcon will be held in China, so a NASFic needs to be held in N. America. The host city will be Winnipeg and this itself is something of a landmark as it is the first time the NASFic has been held in Canada.
          The NASFic is a four-day event (one day shorter than Worldcons) and will be held 20th –23rd July (2023) at the RBC Convention Centre in the heart of downtown Winnipeg. The principal hotel will be the Delta which is next door to the RBC and connected by a sky-walk.  Programming will be hybrid (audience in the programme room as well as online).  Pemmi-Con will be a “big tent” affair, offering an art show, exhibits, events and multiple tracks of programme covering a broad range of interest areas within our genre. As is the first NASFiC hosted in Canada, and attendees can expect themes, voices and flavours Canadiennes in almost every aspect of the convention.  Programme planning is well underway for four days of talks, panels, workshops, gaming, readings, book signings, small group events, and filk performances. There will be a masquerade on Saturday night.
          Here in Britain, as we were the first nation to have a CoVID-19 vaccine roll-out, we are probably a little ahead of North America in adjusting to post-CoVID life. Pemmi-Con will be requiring all attendees to be vaccinated and to mask when indoors or in crowded spaces. The exception will, of course, be if you are currently eating or drinking. Walking through a crowd with your meal or with a drink in your hand does not qualify for an exemption. Those with a medical exemption for mask wearing must provide a doctor's letter (presumably the convention will provide you with a mask exemption badge/pendant.)  Attendees vaccination status will be verified at Registration at the convention. Vaccinations must not be more than one year prior to the convention and not less than two weeks before the first day of the convention. Anyone who has a medical exemption for vaccination must provide medical evidence at Registration.  What the PR does not say is what is the policy for programme participants? Will panellists be maskless with 2 metre separation, or will they be masked? Ditto talk speakers a few metres from the audience?
          Currently Pemmi-con has some 500 members from seven countries but this is likely to have increased by a few hundred by the time of the event.
          Pemmi-Con's PR1 also has details of a number of bookstores in the area. The Guests of Honour are: Philip John Currie, Waubgeshig Rice, Julie E. Czerneda, Nisi Shawl, George Freeman, Lorna Toolis, John Mansfield, Katherena Vermette, and Tanya Huff will be the Toastmaster (Mistress of Ceremonies). Further details at: https://main.pemmi-con.ca/.

Wiscon on hold for 2024.  Wiscon, the annual US convention with a feminist theme, will not be taking place in 2024. The more-or-less standing committee are few and recent years there have been CoVID problems, let alone the somewhat toxic state of US politics. This has meant that the committee feel that they need a break to re-assess matters. Meanwhile, anyone interested in joining the team that puts on the convention would be welcome. The 2023 convention in May is still on, with Guests of Honour, Martha Wells and Rivers Solomon and no doubt this matter will be discussed at the con.

First Fandom is re-organising!  Given the last original member of the US SF fan organisation, First Fandom, Bob Madle, died in October (2022) its associate members (who have been in fandom for over three decades) have been polled as to whether the organisation should continue, merge with another, or wind up. 75 questionnaires were sent out and 57 responded. The results were announced in Scientifiction, First Fandom's quarterly newsletter. An overwhelming majority of respondents said that it should continue as an organisation but possibly under a new name.

Ukraine air raid warnings voiced by Luke Skywalker actor Mark Hamill.  He urges people to take cover and signs off with 'may the Force be with you'.

And finally….

Future SF Worldcon bids and seated Worldcons currently running  with LGBT+ freedom percentage (Equaldex.com ) scores in bold, include for:-
2023
          - Chengdu, China (seated Worldcon) 42%
2024
          - Glasgow, Great Britain in 2024 (seated Worldcon) 82%
2025
          - Brisbane, Australia in 2025 - Now 2028
          - Seattle, WA, USA in 2025 82%
2026
          - Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 2026 (civil rights concerns noted two years ago)
          - Cairo, Egypt in 2026 (replaces Jeddah above) 12%
          - Los Angeles in 2026, USA 82%
          - Orlando in 2026, USA 82%
          - Nice, France in 2026 - Bid folded
2027
          - Tel Aviv in 2027, Israel 74%
2028
          - Brisbane, Australia in 2028 84% (but is so silent it might have died)
          - Kampala, Uganda in 2028 (all be there civil rights concerns*) 15%
2029
          - Dublin in 2029, Republic of Ireland 74%
2031
          - Texas in 2031, USA 54%
          The LGBT+ equality percentages come from File770 which in turn came from Tammy Coxon pointing out the Equaldex.com equality rankings. We added the UK score that was not included in the original File770 August 2022 posting.
*Uganda has recently passed an Anti-Homose&Chiuality Bill that can mean life imprisonment for those that identify as gay and in certain circumstances the death penalty. Apparently there is a lot of blackmail with criminals threatening to report people as gay unless they are paid. Individuals or institutions which support or fund LGBTQAI+ rights’ activities or organisations, or publish, broadcast and distribute pro-gay media material and literature, also face prosecution and imprisonment. Some are arguing that the bill is unnecessary as its elements are already enshrined in Ugandan law.

Future SF Eurocon bids currently running  include for:-
          - Aland, Finland (2025)
          - Berlin, Germany (2026)
          - Zagreb, Croatia (2028)

 

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 2023

Film News

 

Bruce Willis has revealed that he is suffering from dementia.  The sad news is that the Die Hard, The Sixth Sense and Armageddon Hollywood actor (aged 67) has fronto-temporal dementia.  Bruce Willis' diagnosis of fronto-temporal dementia is relatively rare.  It is also unusual as it largely affects people in midlife, whereas most other forms (such as Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies) are found in old age.

China ends ban on Marvel superhero films! The ban was imposed by the regulators the China Film Administration back in mid-2019. No reason was given for the ban which was lifted in January.

The 2023 Razzie short-lists have been announced.  We've listed below only the genre relevant films in the various categories below. (Morbius comes of badly appearing in five categories.):-
Worst Picture
          Disney’s Pinocchio
          The King's Daughter
          Morbius
Worst Actor
          Pete Davidson (Voice Only) Marmaduke
          Tom Hanks (As Gepetto) Disney’s Pinocchio
          Jared Leto / Morbius
Worst Actress
          Bryce Dallas Howard / Jurassic Park: Dominion
          Kaya Scodelario / The King’s Daughter
Worst Remake/Rip-Off/Sequel
          Disney’s Pinocchio
          Firestarter
          Jurassic World: Dominion
Worst Supporting Actress
          Adria Arjona / Morbius
          Lorraine Bracco (Voice Only) Disney’s Pinocchio
          The King’s Daughter
Worst Director
          Daniel Espinosa / Morbius
          Robert Zemeckis / Disney’s Pinocchio
Worst Screenplay
          Disney’s Pinocchio / Screenplay by Robert Zemeckis & Chris Weitz
          Jurassic World: Dominion / Screenplay by Emily Carmichael & Colin Treverrow, Story by Treverrow & Derek Connolly
          Morbius / Screen Story and Screenplay by Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless

The Oscar nomination short list have been announced.  The genre interest the nomination shortlists include Everything Everywhere All at Once with 11 nominations, including 'Best Picture'.  Avatar: The Way of Water is also up for Best Picture, and is nominated in three other categories.

Everything Everywhere All at Once scoops 7 Oscars!  Of the 23 awards presented it won seven including for 'Best Film', 'Best Original Screenplay', 'Best Director', 'Best Lead Actress' and 'Best Film Editing'.  +++ At the start of January (2023) we at SF² Concatenation selected Everything Everywhere All at Once as one of the best SF films of 2022. Previous years listed here and scroll down.

Rogue Squadron is even further in development hell. Last year we reported that it had been delayed. With the new forthcoming Star Wars films list released by Lucasfilm, there is no mention of Rogue Squadron. So if it happens at all it will be after 2025.

The Marvels' release has been delayed.  It was due to come out in April but will now be released in November.  You can see the trailer here.

The new, 9th Alien film sees shooting commence.  Further to last season's news shooting has commenced in Budapest, Hungary.  Fede Alvarez is directing the film from a script he co-wrote with Rodo Sayagues. Ridley Scott is on board as a producer with Michael Pruss.  Fede Alvarez's previous directorial films include Don't Breathe (2016), Evil Dead (2013) and The Girl in the Spider's Web (2018).  Alien 9 is independent of the putative Alien TV series.  It is reported that Alien 9 will likely go straight to the streaming service Hulu (Disney's more adult streaming service). We can but hope for at least a limited cinematic release.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife sequel will see all the surviving cast members of the original Ghostbusters.  Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver and Dan Aykroyd are all set for roles. The sequel will also see the action shift from New York to London: well, Brit Cit has more ghosts.

Forthcoming Spider-Man to feature the villain Hypno-Hustler.  The villain first appeared in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man no. 24 (1978).  His real name was Antoine Delsoin, the leader of a pop band called the Mercy Killers who used hypnosis technology in his instruments on his audience in order to rob them.  Hypno-Hustler is not considered one of Spider-Man’s top villains and it is thought that this will free Myles Murphy (the son of the actor Eddie Murphy) who is developing the screen story.

A tranche of DC comics films is coming. Forthcoming titles include a new Superman movie due in 2025 Superman: Legacy and The Brave and the Bold. The latter will feature Robin alongside Batman.  Meanwhile Henry Cavill will not be playing Superman. Superman: Legacy will reportedly focus on Superman balancing his Kryptonian heritage with his human upbringing.  Other films include Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow and a more horror-themed origin movie for DC character Swamp Thing.

Henry Cavill is now attached to a film adaptation of the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game.  He will star in and executive produce the franchise for Amazon Prime Video, which acquired the global rights to the IP from Games Workshop. Games Workshop will continue making the popular mini-figures for the tabletop game.  Warhammer 40,000 is set in the far future, where humanity stands at the edge of what might be its brightest future, or its darkest age. The threats to humankind’s empire are many – traitors driven by the fires of ambition, alien empires sworn to reclaim the stars, and the corruption of reality by malevolent gods…  ++++ A live action television series Eisenhorn, set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, has long been in production and is still apparently going ahead.

The Keep is being re-made, and this is a good thing!  The original film was based on the novel and has a synoptic promo blurb as follows: Something is murdering my men.' Thus reads the message received from a Nazi commander stationed in a small castle high in the remote Transylvanian Alps. Invisible and silent, the enemy selects one victim per night, leaving the bloodless and mutilated corpses behind to terrify its future victims. When an elite SS extermination squad is dispatched to solve the problem, the men find something that's both powerful and terrifying. Panicked, the Nazis bring in a local expert on folklore–who just happens to be Jewish–to shed some light on the mysterious happenings. And unbeknownst to anyone, there is another visitor on his way–a man who awoke from a nightmare and immediately set out to meet his destiny…  The first film adaptation was by Michael Mann back in 1983 (trailer here) and starred a young Ian McKellen, as well as Scott Glenn.  However, Paramount heavily edited down this version of the film. 100 minutes were said to have been axed from his cut, leaving us with a 96-minute version that doesn't quite come together. Which makes sense, given that half of the film is missing. Greg Nicotero is behind the forthcoming remake.

Five Nights at Freddy’s may at last be about to be made!  Moves to get this film made date back to the mid-2010s. Apparently Matthew Lillard and Josh Hutcherson have been given roles. So, now that casting has started the prospects for finally seeing the film appear good.

The new Escape from New York film will not be a re-make but a sequel.  The filmmaking trio Radio Silence, which is comprised of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, and Chad Villella, have revealed (via EW) that their planned Escape from New York project is not a remake. Instead, the movie will much in the same vein as their recent Scream 4 movie. The rumour mill has it that Kurt Russell might even reprise his roles as Snake Plissken… But we don't advised holding your breath.

Kevin Smith is thinking about making Moose Jaws.  The film will be exactly what it sounds like based on the title Jaws but with a moose…

The novel Paul Martin and the Magic Magnifying Glass is to be adapted as an animated film.  Creation Entertainment Media and Magic Frame Animation are coming together to make the adaptation of Georges Alexander Vagan’s detective adventure book series. The five-novel detective fantasy series follows young Paul Martin as he traverses a land of perpetual Christmas and snow. Paul Martin and the Magic Magnifying Glass sees Paul find Saint Nicholas’ magic magnifying glass and undergoes trials of good and evil as both parties contend for his very soul…

Marjorie Finnegan, Temporal Criminal is coming to the big screen.  This is an adaptation of Garth Ennis’ (The Boys, Preacher) graphic novel that concerns a thief as she loots her way through history.  All Marj wants to do is race up and down the time-lanes, stealing every shiny-gleamy-pretty-sparkly thing she can lay her hands on. But her larcenous trail draws the beady eye of the Temporal PD, whose number one Deputy Marshall is now hard on her tail – and taking things extremely personally...  Ruben ( Venom, Zombieland) Fleisher is behind the adaptation. Garth Ennis is pleased with this project.

Twisters - the sequel to Twister - is currently slated for a 2024 release.  The original Twister starred Helen Hunt and the late Bill Paxton. They played two storm-chasing scientists who tried to collect data from a series of dangerously powerful tornadoes…  It is thought that the film will likely follow the daughter of Hunt and Paxton's characters who takes after her parent's love of storm-chasing… The original film was executive produced by Steven Spielberg and co-written by Michael Crichton with Anne-Marie Martin and earned nearly half a billion US dollars, also garnering Oscar short-lists for Best Visual Effects and Best Sound.

Riddick 4: Furya is still on and may have a 2024/5 release. This was film first mooted half a decade ago and in 2019 it was thought that shooting might begin in 2021 but then CoVID happened. Writer and director David N. Twohy (who did the other Riddick films) has teased that the new film will take Riddick back to his home-world, and that the Furyans are a lot more like Riddick than Vin Diesel's character expects… In case you can't wait, here's a reminder of the character with the trailer for the third Riddick film.

Them is to be re-made.  The giant ant film Them (1954) is being re-made. Oscar-winning Up composer Michael Giacchino will make his big-screen directing debut. The composer has been responsible for music in a number of films including Spider-Man: No Way Home, Star Trek: Star Trek Into Darkness, Mission: Impossible III, The Batman and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Last year he directed the Marvel Studios/Disney+ special Werewolf by Night which follows a lycanthrope superhero who fights evil using the abilities given to him by a curse brought on by his bloodline.

Nosferatu re-make gets additional cast. The film already has a director, Robert Eggers, as reported last year and as reported last season, a principal cast.  Now, joining Bill Skarsgard as the titular vampire, and Lily-Rose Depp as the main subject of the blood suckers' attention, are Willem Dafoe and Nicholas Hoult. The original Nosferatu was a 1922 silent film and a 1979 remake (the 1922 Nosferatu trailer here).

Spider-Man 4 is coming.  Tom Holland will again star. Spider-Man made his MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) debut in Captain America: Civil War (2016). One of the romours doing the rounds is that it will see the big-screen return of Matt Murdock a.k.a. Daredevil (Charlie Cox). After the cancelation of his TV series on Netflix and the expansion of the MCU’s multiverse, there was a lot of speculation about Daredevil’s official arrival to the MCU, which was confirmed in Spider-Man: No Way Home when he briefly appeared to help Peter Parker clear his name and have all his charges dropped.

Deadpool 3 is coming.  Following the successes of Deadpool and Deadpool 2, another in the series was almost inevitable. Apparently the film will see Hugh Jackman reprising his Wolverine role along with the film's star Ryan Reynolds. Shawn Levy is directing.

George R. R. Martin's Hunter's Run to get a cinematic adaptation.  The film, based on the novel of the same name (written by Martin, Gardner Dozois and Daniel Abraham). The plot follows Ramon Espejo, who leaves Earth to prosper on a new distant planet, but things turn out to not be as good as he hoped. He escapes working as a labourer but then finds himself on the wrong side of the law, accused of murdering an interplanetary diplomat. During his time on the run he encounters an alien race who are trying to remain hidden, but forces are threatening to expose them all.

New Tron film coming.  The new film is tentatively titled Tron: Ares.  Disney is in early negotiations to set Norwegian Joachim Ronning to direct. The plot is set to follow the events of Tron: Legacy (2010) which grossed £330 million (US$400m) globally. The script will be by Jesse Wigutow.

Sting spider shocker coming soon.  The film stars Ryan (House of the Dragon) Corr, Alyla (Three Thousand Years of Longing) Browne, Penelope (Hellboy) Mitchell, and Robyn (Top of the Lake) Nevin.  The film opens on One cold, stormy night in New York City when a mysterious object falls from the sky and smashes through the window of a rundown apartment building. It is an egg, and from this egg emerges a strange little spider. Found and secretly looked after by Charlotte, a rebellious 12-year-old girl, her new pet (she calls 'Sting') grows. Soon, neighbours’ pets start to go missing, and then the neighbours themselves… Weta Workshop are handling the special effects: Weta being behind the films Blade Runner 2049, King Kong and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

New Hellboy reboot coming.  Hellboy1 and 2 (2004 & 2008) did well at the box office but the 2019 offering was a disappointment. Now it looks like we will see a return of Mike Mignola's comic strip character Hellboy with Hellboy: The Crooked Man. The film will be a period piece set in the late 1950s and primarily taking place in the desolate woods of the Appalachian mountains. There, Hellboy finds an injured woman, the victim of some sort of witchcraft or curse. The mystery deepens with the arrival of Tom Ferrell - a local drifter who claims to know the source of this dark magic. The duo, consisting of Hellboy and Tom Ferrell, discovers the true threat in Appalachia can be traced back to the one calling himself the Crooked Man - a former tax collector who cheated the hangman's noose and become a soul collector in service of the Devil.  Brian (Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) Taylor is directing. Mike Mignola is also reportedly involved in the screenstory development.

New Lord of the Rings films coming.  The new films will come from a collaboration called Middle-earth Enterprises and be released through Warner Brothers New Line Cinema. The first Lord of the Rings trilogy, helmed by Peter Jackson, grossed nearly US$3 billion worldwide; Jackson’s follow-up trilogy based on Tolkien’s The Hobbit ball-park matched that figure. (Meanwhile Amazon owns the TV rights.) Peter Jackson is not formally attached to the new films but , reportedly, is in the discussion loop.

Everything Everywhere All At Once props auctioned raises US$555,725 (£460,000) for charity.  A24 Auctions in the USA sold 43 items from Everything Everywhere All At Once including Jobu's Elvis costume. The entire proceeds went to the Asian Mental Health Project, the Transgender Law Center and the Laundry Workers Center charities.

And finally…

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

Film trailer download tip!: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 trailer is now out. It has a May (2023) cinematic release.  You can see the trailer here.

Film trailer download tip!: New War of the Worlds film gets trailer.  Though long awaited, the 2019 BBC mini-series The War of the Worlds was a huge disappointment.  So nobody is expecting any great shakes from a new British take on the H. G. Wells' classic. This new version is called War of the Worlds: The Attack.
          This new film is a British offering and set in the present day with three young astronomers get caught up in the Martian invasion. The film's IMDB entry credits the principal writer/director as Junaid Syed with no mention of H. G. Wells, but the trailer clearly cites Wells.  The film is reportedly to have a limited cinematic release late April (2023) shortly after this seasonal news page is posted.  You can see the War of the Worlds: The Attack trailer here.

Film trailer download tip!: The Evil Dead Rise is having its general release shortly after this season's news page is posted.  This is the fifth film in the Evil Dead franchise. The original The Evil Dead came out in 1981 and was remade in 2013. This film is its sequel and sees the action shift from a remote cabin in the countryside to a small Los Angles apartment. The Warners film stars Lily Sullivan and Alyssa Sutherland as two estranged sisters trying to survive and save their family from demonic creatures. Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols, and Nell Fisher appear in supporting roles.  You can see theEvil Dead Rise trailer here.

Film trailer download tip!: Simulant has just had a limited (sadly) release.  A humanoid A.I. android's attempt to win over a widow's heart places it in the path of a government agent trying to stop the rise of machine consciousness…  This has had a release in the US but, as we post this seasonal edition, it does not seem to have a UK release, so one for checking out at your regional SF film fest or getting the DVD.  You can see Simulant's trailer here.

Short film download tip!: The BackSpace short film came out almost a year ago and has racked up over three-quarters of a million views!  This short is somewhat Star Wars-esque an sees a contracted soldier and his AI robotic scout evade hostiles while seeking a crashed pods cargo.  You can see BackSpace here.  See also the next short film below…

Short film download tip!: BackSpace's sequel has just been posted.  Like the original, this one is proving popular and it may well be that we will have another next year?  It's only getting deadlier.  You can see BackSpace short sequel here.

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

For a reminder of the top films in 2022 (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 2023

Television News

 

Red Dwarf dispute now over – loads of new content anticipated!  Rob Grant and Doug Naylor who created the series have been in dispute for decades having dissolved their partnership in the 1990s. Rob Grant has continued to write the Red Dwarf novels and Naylor the TV series.  But in 2021 Naylor launched a High Court action against Grant over the rights to the show.  Now things have moved on. They say that Rob Grant and Doug Naylor are delighted to announce that the ongoing dispute over the Red Dwarf rights has been resolved. Moving onwards and upwards, Rob and Doug hope to launch separate iterations of Red Dwarf across various media, working again with the cast and other valued partners, and wish each other the very best. "Smoke me a kipper, Red Dwarf will be back for breakfast!!"

Blake's 7 45th anniversary sees new novelisations.  Marking 45 years since the original broadcast of the first season's final episode is the complete first season of Terry Nation's classic sci-fi adventure series will be published as a collection of brand-new hardback novelisations, featuring lavish photos and artwork, and released as a single hardback box set limited to just 1,500 copies. These books are available to buy separately. Each adaptation comprises two stories from the TV series including one by Paul Cornell – 'The Way Back/Space Fall'.
          The box set consists of seven novelisations:
  – The Way Back/Space Fall by Paul Cornell
  – Cygnus Alpha/Time Squad by Marc Platt
  – The Web/Seek-Locate-Destroy by Gary Russell
  – Mission to Destiny/Duel by Jacqueline Rayner
  – Project Avalon/Breakdown by Steve Cole
  – Bounty/Deliverance by Una McCormack
  – Orac/Redemption by James Goss
          Unlike conventional novelisations, which tend to be written before a TV show or movie has been completed, these are all informed by the available reference materials, 45 years of the show, and the inventiveness of our authors. Where appropriate, the publishers Big Finish stayed faithful to the original series. The Nation Estate very helpfully allowed them to see original drafts written by Terry, some hand annotated, to reference as the origins of the TV show. Along with BBC filming, camera, and rehearsal scripts, those early drafts have informed these brand-new novels for all thirteen episodes of that first season. And with 'Redemption' as the conclusion of Terry Nation's original fourteen-story run, it is the first time that any of the second season has been novelised!
          Check out Big Finish's website  www.bigfinish.com

Disney loses 1% of streamer subscribers.  The last quarter of 2022 saw Disney lose 2.4 million subscribers. Last year Disney's streaming service lost US$1.1 billion (£900 million). It now plans to lose some 7,000 jobs, 3% of its workforce.

The TARDIS may have aged for the autumnal series of Doctor Who specials. A fan, Darren Griffiths, seems to have stumbled across the TARDIS while out walking in Wales. The windows are dirty at the bottom and the Police Box sign at the top was also dulled down. It seems as if the TARDIS has aged. It is not known how significant this is for the forthcoming plot line.

Doctor Who's U.N.I.T. may get a spin-off series. With Russell T. Davies' return to Doctor Who's the news of a possible spin-off series (such as was Torchwood) became possible. Now, an article in Radio Times (the BBC associated TV schedule weekly magazine) hints that a series based on U.N.I.T. may be in the offing. It is suggested that Jemma Redgrave will star as head of scientific research Kate Lethbridge-Stewart; a role she has played off and on since 2012.

Picard season 3 fails to be a hit despite it being the best season by far!  Seasons 1 and 2 of Picard apparently failed to wow fans and so, looking at the streaming chart top ten site Flix Patrol, the viewing figures for season 3 – the last ever Picard season – have arguably been disappointing.  A successful series would likely appear in a streaming platform's top ten on the day of its release. Yet Picard failed to be on Paramount+'s top ten for TV series (as opposed to film top ten) on 23rd March 2023 in the USA. Further, looking at Paramount+ TV series worldwide charts and Star Trek: Discovery at no. 16 beats Picard as does Star Trek: Strange New Worlds coming in at 27, ten ahead of Star Trek: Picard which only made it to 37.  Now, it could be that Picard also being available on Amazon Prime could be affecting matters, diluting Paramount+ streams. Even so, this does not explain how other Paramount+ shows that are also available through other streaming platforms, are higher than Picard: they do not seem to have suffered this multi-platform availability diluting effect. The bottom line is that Star Trek: Picard does not seem to be performing well.
          Why is this?  Well, some felt that season 1 was badly written and season 2's plot ark possibly left something to be desired, especially not delivering on the Q front especially given the teasers Paramount+ gave.  This dissatisfaction may have alienated a significant proportion of Trekies and Trekers. Fool me once, fool me twice etc.
          The YouTube Channel SciTrek thinks that this is so.  It carried out a poll of its subscribers. In under a day, 489 SciTrek subscribers (who one must presume are very largely Trekies or Trekers) responded. Around 62% said that they were enjoying season 3 of Picard and only 4% said that they were not.  All well and good, but the interesting result was that 34% were not watching it at all. From the polls comments it seems that for some of these 34% are not watching it because they were so disappointed with season's 1 and 2 and were not going to fall for it for a third time!
          For those of us without either a Paramount+ or Amazon Prime access, we now know not to bother with season's 1 and 2 but to go get the DVD of season 3.
          You can see what SciTrek have to say on their 12 minute video here. Meanwhile the trailer for season 3 of Picard is here. The season stars LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Jeri Ryan, and Michelle Hurd star alongside Patrick Stewart.

Jean-Luc Picard swearing alarms fans.  The character has largely been presented as genteel, erudite and, at times, quite buttoned up. Yes, he has been known to lose his temper but he has never, never sworn. Yet in a season 3 episode of Picard he says, “ Ten fu¢k¡ng gruelling hours.”  The next couple of days saw “Star Trek” Twitter afire with comments that it was totally out of character and the Gene Roddenberry would not approve…  This issue seems to have caused a lot of tribble.

The 5th season of Star Trek: Discovery will be the last.  The Paramount+ will see season 5 air in 2024. Paramount+ is though reportedly working on new Star Trek content.  Meanwhile the first teaser for season 5 of Star Trek: Discovery is here.

The 5th season of Ghosts will be the last! Shock, horror, drama, probe.  The BBC comedy series has oodles of charm.  It centres around a couple who inherit a mansion, Button House, but just the wife can see that it is haunted with ghosts including: Robin a cave man, a First World War army officer, overly chummy, naive Georgian noblewoman, Lady Stephanie 'Fanny' Button – A pompous, overbearing Edwardian ghost; a renaissance poet, a 1993 politician who died literally with his trousers down, Patrick ‘Pat’ Butcher a 1984 scout master and Mary a superstitious Stuart era witch trial victim among others.  If you want an angle on the series' feel the Tim Burton film Beetlejuice is said to have provided the writers a "useful tonal reference".  Huge fun.  Season 5 has just wrapped filming for airing later this year (let's hope they also give us a Christmas special).  You can see the season 4 trailer here.

The 4th season of The Umbrella Academy will be the last.  The Umbrella Academy is based on Gerard Way’s comic books of the same name.  Season 5 will see new cast members with the addition of real-life couple Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally who will play as a pair of mild-mannered Midwestern community college professors. These new characters are original creations for the series having never appeared in the comics.  Meanwhile, season 4 has yet to air, so we have a little way to go.  The Season 3 trailer is here.

The 8th season of Outlander will be the last but the prequel series gets a tentative release date.  Currently, we are about to see season 7 of Outlander this summer but the previously reported prequel series, Blood of my Blood now has a tentative release window of late 2024 or early 2025.  Blood of my Blood will tell the story of Jamie Fraser's parents, Brian and Ellen, and how they fell in love in the years before Jamie, his brother William (who died when he was little) and his sister Jenny were born. The series will be set roughly two decades before the first season of Outlander.  The Season 6 trailer is here.

Doom Patrol has been cancelled after its 4th season by HBO. HBO ensured that the show's producers knew that the fourth season would be the last so that plot arcs could be resolved.  Doom Patrol season 4 trailer here.

Titans has been cancelled after its 4th season by HBO. HBO ensured that the show's producers knew that the fourth season would be the last so that plot arcs could be resolved.  Titans season 4 trailer here.

The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself has been cancelled which for some is surprising. The present-day set British/Western European fantasy The Bastard Son and The Devil Himself is based on Sally Green's YA fantasy novel Half Bad.  It launched on Netflix at the end of October and was cancelled at the end of December (,small>2022). While it made the top 10 most-watched Netflix shows in over 70 countries, and got great reviews, it did not maintain a top ten presence for a full month which Netflix considers to be a fairly important metric. Nonetheless, why is Netflix being so harsh?  While the summer (2022) had seen Netflix's performance bounce back previously, following eight years of sustained growth, the first half of 2022 saw it haemorrhage subscribers.  Netflix decided to cut its spending and consequently a number of shows including The Bastard Son and The Devil Himself even if it was a close call.  Fans are undoubtedly upset, particularly as there are a number of unresolved plot threads and that the show runners had planned a second series.  You can see the show's trailer here.

Pennyworth has been cancelled after its 3rd season.  The show is currently on HBO Max but was originally launched on Epix in 2019 and then hit by CoVID lockdowns.

Snowpiercer has been cancelled after its 3rd season.  In fact season 4 was going to be the show's final season, so expect unresolved plot arcs not least season 3's cliff-hanging ending.  The show, which stars Jennifer Connelly, Sean Bean and Daveed Diggs, is effectively a quasi spin-off of the film Snowpiercer which itself was an adaptation of the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige.  There is still a vague possibility, the show's producer Tomorrow Studios feel, that another platform than TNT will carry it… Brit Cit viewers can catch the first three seasons on Netflix.

Avenue has been cancelled after its 2nd season.  The Armando Iannucci 'comedy' series Avenue 5 from HBO and Sky UK has been cancelled. It arguably the worst thing Iannucci and star Hugh Laurie have done.  The series takes place in the not-so-distant future when space tourism is a booming business. When a ship is thrown disastrously off-course, turning what was meant to be an eight-week cruise into an eight-year journey. The series has arguably received middling (but – given the show – kind) reviews upon its release and generated only modest ratings.  You can see the trailer for the second series here.

Has The Orville been cancelled?  The Orville saw some changes for its third season in 2022. Not only did it move from Fox to Hulu, but it also rebranded as The Orville: New Horizons. However since season 3 concluded in August 2022, there gas been no news of a fourth season.  The Orville season 3 trailer here.

Rick and Morty star, producer and co-creator has been dropped from the show.  Justin Roiland, co-creator, executive producer and star of Adult Swim’s SF flagship animated series Rick and Morty, is no longer with the Warner Bros Discovery brand following serious domestic violence allegations against him. Following his departure, Rick and Morty continues but with the title roles, that had been voiced by Roiland, recast.  Co-created by Roiland and Dan Harmon, the series received a massive 70-episode order in 2018 when Adult Swim also signed new long-term deals with Roiland and Harmon. The show, which has been renewed through Season 10, has completed six seasons of the current ten commissioned, with four more to go.

The Nevers gets a reprieve, sort of.  In the autumn (2023) HBO cancelled the show mid-season and removed episodes from its platform. As we suspected last season, another platform in the US, Tubi, has picked it up.

Forthcoming Agatha: House of Harkness has been renamed as Agatha: Coven of Chaos.  This series follows on from the events in WandaVisionWandaVison‘s Jac Schaeffer returns as executive producer and head writer. Kathryn Hahn returns to play the titular Marvel Cinematic Universe witch Agatha Harkness. Joining her is Emma Caulfield Ford, who will reprise her role as Dottie for the Disney+ show.

Stranger Things season 5 will be the last but spin-offs are in the making.  Stranger Things season 5 (trailer here due to stream in 2024) may be the last but the Duffer Brothers (Ross and Matt) are planning spin-off ventures including an anime series Stranger Things Tokyo. Other projects of Stranger Things include The Talisman and the Death Note live-action adaptation of the anime series.

The Peripheral has been renewed for a second season.  From creator Scott B. (Westworld) Smith an starring Chloe Grace Moretz, the quasi-time travel series has been renewed for a second season at Amazon Prime Video.  It is based on the novel of the same name, The Peripheral by William Gibson. The series made Nielsen’s top 10 streaming chart once, the week of its finale. (Amazon, like other streamers, does not release viewership data.)  You can see the first season trailer here.

The Last Of Us has been renewed for a second season.  The series is based on the computer game and sees the world torn apart by a fungal infection that turns humans into zombie-like creatures. The first season adapts the first video game and the story continues in the second game, The Last of Us Part II so there is still plenty of original material for the HBO series to mine. The series' first season scored 97% among critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Its first season premiere episode was HBO’s second-most-watched series debut in a decade and has since climbed to 22 million viewers across all platforms.  You can see the first season trailer here.

Reginald The Vampire has been renewed by SyFy for a second season.  The comedy drama is based on the 'Fat Vampire' book series by Johnny B. Truant. It follows Reginald Andres, who, in a world populated by beautiful, fit and vain vampires, tumbles headlong into it as an unlikely hero who will have to navigate every kind of obstacle – the girl he loves but can’t be with, a bully manager at work and the vampire chieftain who wants him dead. Fortunately, Reginald discovers he has a few unrecognized powers of his own.  Season 1 trailer here.

The Rig has been renewed by Amazon for a second season.  Season one of this British drama was sufficiently popular world-wide that a second series was likely. Iain Glen, Martin Compston, and Emily Hampshire will all reprise their characters. Production will take place by FirstStage Studios in Edinburgh.  You can see the season 1 trailer here.

Velma has been renewed for a second season.  The HBO Max series' renewal is a little surprising as it has had mixed reviews. It has also had some criticism due to the titular character being biseΧual South Asian-American. However, other criticisms have centred around its meta-humour, cynicism, and overall departure from feeling like a Scooby-Doo show.  The clincher for the renewal is probably the first episode managed to be HBO Max’s most-watched animated debut, and the series appears to have scored a loyal audience.  You can see the season 1 trailer here.

Mayfair Witches has been renewed for a second season.  The series is set in the Anne Rice Immortal Universe on AMC and AMC+. Its premiere episode was the most viewed debut on the streamer and overall the first season had the highest monthly rating ever on AMC+.  You can see the season 1 trailer here.

Dead Boy Detectives is moving platforms.  The Warner Bros. Discovery-backed show is based on the Neil Gaiman and Matt Wagner DC comics. It was on HBO max and has moved to Netflix. Apparently, didn’t fit James Gunn’s new vision for the DCU (DC Universe) and that opened the possibility for Netflix to pick it up instead. This is another Netflix series involving Neil Gaiman after the mega-hit The Sandman from 2022, which was renewed for a second season.
          Dead Boy Detectives concerns Edwin Payne and Charles Rowland who are no different than most boys. They love adventure, games and spending time outdoors. They’re curious about girls, curious about life and particularly curious when it comes to mysteries. This is because Edwin Paine and Charles Rowland happen to be two of the best detectives in England. Note, not living in England. That’s because Edwin and Charles aren’t living in England. In fact, they’re not living at all. Edwin (died 1916) and Charles (died 1990) met their ends early in life. And that’s when things started getting interesting… Since their deaths, the young detectives have solved some of the most harrowing mysteries to hit the hallowed halls of St. Hilarion’s School for Boys. However, there’s one great mystery they haven’t yet cracked – the mystery of their own deaths…

Silo launches 5th May 2023 on Apple+.  In a ruined and toxic future, thousands live in a giant silo deep underground. After its sheriff breaks a cardinal rule and residents die mysteriously, engineer Juliette (Rebecca Ferguson) starts to uncover shocking secrets and the truth about the silo… You can see the trailer here.

Mythic Quest has a spin-off series, Mere Mortals.  The Apple TV+ comedy Mythic Quest has had three seasons and now looks to have a spin-off series, Mere Mortals.  The US comedy Mythic Quest concerns a fictional video game studio as chaos ensues as the employees prepare for the next big update for its popular game.  The series follows everyone in the company from the owner and creator, to the programmers, to play-testers. Now, Mere Mortals is primed to expand that focus. The new series will be an eight-episode 'extension series' that will 'explore the lives of employees, players, and fans who are impacted by the game.' Mere Mortals is created by Ashly Burch, John Howell Harris, and Katie McElhenney. All three are writers for Mythic Quest so there will be continuity between the two series. Meanwhile, Mythic Quest, which is popular in the US, has already been renewed for a fourth season.  See the Mythic Quest season three trailer here.

The Deep, Nick Cutter's novel, is to be a television series.  Billed as The Abyss meets The Shining, the novel The Deep (2015) concerns a strange plague called the 'Gets' is decimating humanity on a global scale. It causes people to forget--small things at first, like where they left their keys...then the not-so-small things like how to drive, or the letters of the alphabet. Then their bodies forget how to function involuntarily...and there is no cure.  But now, far below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, deep in the Mariana Trench, an heretofore unknown substance hailed as "ambrosia"'--a universal healer, from initial reports--has been discovered. It may just be the key to eradicating the 'Gets. In order to study this phenomenon, a special research lab, the Trieste, has been built eight miles under the sea's surface. But when the station goes incommunicado, a brave few descend through the lightless fathoms in hopes of unravelling the mysteries lurking at those crushing depths...and perhaps to encounter an evil blacker than anything one could possibly imagine.

Stinger novel to be adapted to a series for Peacock.  Robert McCammon's 2015 novel takes place during a single twenty-four hour period in the town Inferno, Texas. Inferno is in trouble, driven to the brink by racial tension, gang violence, and a collapsing economy. But things can always get worse, and they do so with astonishing speed when an unidentified spacecraft crash lands in the desert outside of town, followed by a second craft bearing the alien being who will soon be known as Stinger. Stinger is a kind of interstellar hunter on a mission he intends to complete, whatever the cost. He brings with him an endless array of technological marvels and an infinite capacity for destruction that threaten the existence of Inferno, its inhabitants, and the larger world beyond…  The series has not yet been given a title but Ian McCulloch (Yellowstone) writing and executive producing.

The Penguin (working title only) Batman spin-off series coming. HBO is making an 8-part drama centred around the Batman foe, the Penguin. From Warner Bros Television and DC Studios and on HBO Max the series will star Colin Farrell who reprises his role from the recent The Batman (2022) film. Production began in February (2023).  You can see the scene in which Batman meets the Penguin in the film here.

Escape to Witch Mountain is to be a television series.  The Escape To Witch Mountain (1975) film was adapted from the 1968 novel. The new series will follow two teens that develop strange abilities and discover their sleepy suburb may not be as idyllic as it seems…  A pilot is currently being made starring Bryce Dallas Howard alongside Isabel Gravitt, Levi Miller, Bianca “b” Norwood and Jackson Kelly.

God of War to be an Amazon Prime series.  The game based on Norse mythology is being adapted by Wheel of Time showrunner Rafe Judkins.

Standing By is to be a new Hulu series that follows the lives of a group of eternally bound, irritated guardian angels.  The series is billed as about the hilarity, embarrassment and melodrama of everyday life as observed by a team of judgmental, gossip-starved guardian angels…  It will be an animation with voices by: David Tennant, Natalie Palamides, Glenn Close, Poppy Liu and Samira Wiley.

Tomb Raider to be a TV series.  Phoebe (Fleabag) Waller-Bridge is scripting. Waller-Bridge will not be starring in the franchise, which included 2001 and 2018 film adaptations starring Angelina Jolie and Alicia Vikander, respectively, as the adventurous archaeologist, Lara Croft. The series will be on Amazon.  However, Waller-Bridge will be staring opposite Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones 5 and she co-wrote the James Bond No Time to Die.

Crouching Tiger to be a TV series.  The film Crouching Tiger (2000) won a Dramatic Presentation Hugo Award. Writer and producer Jason(Lucifer, The Expanse) Ning has signed an overall deal with Sony Pictures Television.

Roger Zelazny’s novels ‘The Chronicles Of Amber' to be a TV series.  US comedian Stephen Colbert, a noted fantasy fan, is helping develop and produce a series adaptation. 'The Chronicles of Amber' features two series of five books each – The Corwin Cycle and The Merlin Cycle – with a number of short stories and prequels also in the series.  It follows the story of Corwin, who awakens on Earth with no memory, but soon finds he is a prince of a royal family that has the ability to travel through different dimensions of reality, called shadows, and rules over the one true world, Amber. The books, which have sold over 15 million copies.

A series inspired by the classic film Metropolis is to be made.  Apple TV+ are to make the film inspired by Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1926) film, so expect loads of art deco. It will be helmed by Sam (Mr Robot) Esmail.  You can see the original film's trailer here.

The Creatures of Sonaria game is to be adapted to a TV series.  Wind Sun Sky Entertainment (WSS) will be teaming up with Productivity Media to create an episodic scripted series based on Roblox game Creatures of Sonaria. The recent success of HBO's The Last of Us has been reported as the reason for WSS for picking up the adaptation rights.

A Spider-Man noire series is in the works.  The untitled series will follow an older, grizzled superhero in 1930s New York City. Rumour has it that the show will be set in its own universe and the main character will not be Peter Parker.  This is the second known project based on the Sony-controlled Marvel characters at Amazon Prime Video and MGM+. Apparently Sony currently controls over 900 Spider-Man related characters. (We never knew there were that many!). It is likely that the series will be based on the Spider-Man Noir comics originally debuted in 2009 as part of the Marvel Noir universe. That version of Spider-Man lives in New York during the Great Depression. He is bitten by a spider hidden inside a stolen artefact, causing him to have visions of a spider-god who grants him superpowers…

Stan Lee's birth 100th anniversary to be celebrated by a major documentary.  It will debut on Disney+ this Christmas season (2023).  The anniversary will also see the launch of a new online store (shop.stanlee.com), featuring products from the Stan Lee Centennial Collection. The store exclusively features three collections: Stan Lee Comic, Stan Lee Retro and Stan Lee Centennial, with additional product categories to debut.

 

And finally, a couple of TV related vids…

How Stranger Things should have ended.  Alternate endings for each of the four seasons of the show.  You can see the 4-minute video here.

Extrapolations is a new series that just began airing last month (March, 2023).  It takes a look at some of the issues that may arise by 2070 with continued global warming.  It is a new drama series from writer (Contagion), director and executive producer Scott Z. Burns.  It explores a near-future where the chaotic effects of climate change have become embedded into our everyday lives. Eight interwoven stories about love, work, faith and family from around the world explore the intimate, life-altering choices that must be made when our warming world is changing faster than the population can adapt. Each story is different, but the fight for our future is universal.  And when the fate of humanity is up against a ticking clock, the battle between courage and complacency has never been more urgent.  Are we brave enough to become the solution to our own undoing before it’s too late?  The series stars Meryl Streep, Kit Harington, Edward Norton and Tobey Maguire.  See the trailer here.

The Power series has just launched.  Based on Naomi Alderman’s novel, it is set in our world, but for one twist of nature. Suddenly, and without warning, teenage girls develop the power to electrocute people at will. The Power follows a cast of remarkable characters from London to Seattle, Nigeria to Eastern Europe, as the Power evolves from a tingle in teenagers’ collarbones to a complete reversal of the power balance of the world…  The series is on Amazon but best get the DVD box set instead.  Trailer here.

Doctor Who 2023 season trailer. Well, there are always a few who miss such things and in case you are one of them you can see the 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 2023

Publishing & Book Trade News

 

Twenty early Terry Pratchett stories found.  The twenty stories were discovered following Terry Pratchett fan, Chris Lawrence, alerting Terry's estate that Terry had been writing stories under the pseudonym in the Western Daily Press local paper. The other fans, Pat and Jan Harkin, went through decades’ worth of old newspapers to find the other stories. All the stories are pre-Discworld but elements of Discworld are there. The stories will be published in a collection, A Stroke of the Pen: The Lost Stories by Transworld.

The Ukraine is still publishing SF despite Russia's invasion – SF is mightier than Putin!  Max Kidruk a rising, young Ukrainian author of a few books has had his latest published, New Dark Ages: Colony, despite the war.  The author is also well known in Ukraine as the host of the Improbability Theory podcast on Ukrainian Radio.  Coloney begins with humanity on Earth has not yet recovering from Clodis disease, which led to the largest pandemic in half a century, when a new pathogen appears that infects exclusively pregnant women. A group of immunologists is trying to find out what it is and whether its appearance is related to the neutrino bursts recorded around the planet.  Meanwhile, population of the Martian Colonies exceeds one hundred thousand, and a third of them were actually born on Mars. They lose out to super-specialists from Earth in the race for jobs in the knowledge-intensive economy of Mars and are forced to work almost as slaves in low-skilled manual jobs. The more they come of age, the more they yearn for change, not realising that these changes threaten the very existence of the Colonies…  The story's theme is one of humanity, despite all his achievements, does not change, and neither the increase in life expectancy, nor even the transformation into a two-planet species, does not guarantee humanity's salvation…
          The book's launch saw a reading to a hall at the Yanukovych Heliport, Kyiv, with a few hundred attending. The book promises to be the first in a series set in this universe.

China's SF/F paper publishing grows by 34.7% and digital 34.7% in a year.  Given that this year's SF Worldcon is in China we thought it would be interesting to have a look at China's SF/F publishing. It grew substantially between 2021 and 2022. In 2022 SF/F paper book publishing had a revenue of 2,700 million yuan (£322.8 million, US$390.5m). Meanwhile digital SF/F publishing was 1,010 million (£120.7 million, US$146.1 million).  It should be noted that 2021 was a CoVID lockdown year which was harsh in China so this growth is not that remarkable. Data from China's Research Centre for Science and Human Imagination at the Southern University of Science and Technology.
          For comparison, assuming that the UK SF/F publishing is roughly 8% of overall paper fiction publishing, then the 2021 UK equivalent was £58.6 million (US$70.9 million) and that in turn works out at £1.06 per capita (US$1.28) – the per capita figure for China is £0.23p (US$0.28¢). In short, China's gross SF/F paper book sector is financially bigger than the UK's but on a per person basis is smaller.
          With regards to China's SF in relation to the rest of the world, in the 2021 year 132SF/F works translated and published abroad for the first time or re-released. Having said all of this, you will be hard pressed to find any time travel story published in China: the People's Party doesn't like notions of alternative timelines and realities…

The world's first comic strip may have been discovered. An 11,000-year-old carving in Turkey is the earliest known portrayal of a narrative scene. Eylem Ozdogan at Istanbul University in Turkey found the panels carved on the side of a limestone bench while excavating a building at the Sayburc archaeological site. The right panel features a male figure f.

Tintin drawing sells for record £1.9 million. An artwork by Tintin creator Hergé has set the world record for the most valuable original black and white drawing by the artist after selling at auction for more than €2m. The drawing, 'Tintin in America' – created in 1942 – was used for the colour edition of the Belgian cartoonist’s 1946 graphic novel of the same name. It sold for €2,158,000 (£1.9m / US$2.23m).

Puffin edits Roald Dahl's books for offensive language. The words 'crazy', 'mad', 'fat', 'black', 'white' and 'ugly' have been removed from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG as they are considered out-dated and offensive to modern readers; they have been updated to be more suitable for modern readerships.  So now the BFG's coat is no longer black; while Mary in The BFG now goes "still as a statue" instead of "white as a sheet".  Children's author John Dougherty said: "There's no reason the BFG shouldn't have a black cloak. That just seems absurd. And Augustus Gloop, for instance - the whole point of the character is that he's hugely overweight because he won't stop eating - he's greedy. Now, there might be an argument that that's offensive in today's world," Dougherty continued. "I think if you're going to decide that, then the only answer is to put the book out of print. I don't think you can say, 'So let's change Dahl's words but keep the character'."  The British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak has criticised changes to Roald Dahl books saying works of fiction should be "preserved and not airbrushed".  Borrowing a word Dahl invented for playing with language, the PM's spokesman said: "When it comes to our rich and varied literary heritage, the prime minister agrees with the BFG that we shouldn't gobblefunk around with words."
          Because of all the brouhaha, the following day Puffin announced 'The Roald Dahl Classic Collection' to keep author’s classic texts in print in their original form.  The seventeen Roald Dahl titles will be published under the Penguin imprint, as individual titles in paperback, and will be available later this year (2023). The books will include archive material relevant to each of the stories.  Puffin is the biggest children’s publisher globally with stories for children from 0-12.
          A spokesperson for Dahl’s U.S. publisher Penguin Young Readers told PW that there are no plans for similar revisions in the US.  Dahl’s Dutch publisher De Fonte and French publisher Gallimard are also declining to make changes at this time.

Ursula LeGuin's new edition of her Catwings books sees 'offensive' language changed.  Her son, Theo Downes-Le Guin, is responsible for the late author's literary estate. He agonised over whether or not to make changes and so compiled a focus group. In the end he decided to substitute safer words for: “lame,” “queer,” “dumb,” and “stupid,” a total of seven instances across three books.

R.L. Stine’s new editions of his 'Goosebumps’ children’s horror series sees 'offensive' language changed.  Over 100 edits have been made such as a character being described as “cheerful” rather than “plump”, references to villains making victims “slaves” have been removed and “crazy” has been changed to “silly”. Publisher Scholastic Books reportedly undertook the changes without consulting or informing the author.

The James Bond novel Casino Royale is being edited to remove racist comment.  This comes as 2023 sees the 70th anniversary of Casino Royale, Ian Fleming's first Bond novel.

New Doctor Who Target collection coming from BBC Books.  BBC Books is delighted to announce that it will be expanding the Doctor Who Target range with five new titles in Summer 2023, all publishing on 13th July, each with newly commissioned cover artwork by Anthony Dry. The new titles celebrate Target publishing Doctor Who books for half a century. The 2023 collection celebrates the dramatic return of David Tennant and showrunner Russell T. Davies to the programme. Both 'The Waters of Mars' by Phil Ford and 'The Planet of Ood' by Keith Temple are iconic Doctor Who episodes from the Tenth Doctor era. Fans will also be able to add a Twelfth Doctor adventure, as played by Peter Capaldi, to their collection with The Zygon Invasion by Peter Harness and a Thirteenth Doctor novelisation with Kerblam! by Peter McTighe. Stephen Gallagher’s Warriors’ Gate and Other Stories

Amazon has stopped selling Kindle magazine and newspaper subscriptions.  Last season saw Amazon about to replace its Kindle subscription service with Kindle Unlimited. This meant that instead of users subscribing to a single magazine, with the magazine's producers getting a nice slice of income, users could get unlimited access to many magazines all of whom would get a smaller slice of the pie.  As of last month (March 2023) Amazon have stopped selling Kindle magazine and newspaper subscriptions. This is ahead of their previous announcement of ending their Kindle Publishing for Periodicals Program in September 2023. Amazon have said that Select digital magazine subscriptions will be available in Kindle Unlimited.
          ++++ Related Amazon stories previously covered elsewhere on this site include:
  - Amazon to lay off 10,000 jobs (Spring 2023)
  - Amazon's worker monitoring criticised by UK all-party Select Committee
  - Cory Doctorow explains that he will not let his books appear on Amazon Audible
  - Alleged intimidation by Amazon causes a second vote on whether workers in Alabama can have a trade union
  - Authors removed from Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing
  - Pirated copy of the Hugo-winning Blindsight is finally taken down from the Amazon website.
  - Amazon fined by European Union
  - Amazon pays a little more tax as sales rise by 50%
  - Amazon destroys millions of items of unsold stock
  - Audible – the audiobook sales outlet for Amazon’s company ACX – seems to be ripping off publishers and authors
  - Concerns as to Amazon's staff work conditions and rights
  - Amazon workers launch protests on Prime Day
  - Staff at Amazon's Swansea warehouse 'treated like robots'
  - Amazon warehouse accidents total 440
  - Amazon workers praising conditions are accused of lying
  - Amazon breaks embargo on Atwood's The Testaments
  - Amazon's UK tax paid substantially down despite a great profit increase
  - Amazon must pay its tax, says European Commission
  - Amazon tax wrong says UK Booksellers Association
  - 110,000 submit Amazon tax petition to Downing Street
  - Amazon and Google lambasted by Chair of House of Commons Accounts Committee
  - Amazon UK avoiding substantial tax says report in The Bookseller.

Artificial Intelligence is beginning to impact publishing.  There are a number of stories on this below in our science and science fiction interface section beginning here.

The 2023 Heinlein Award winner has been announced. The juried award is given by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society (USA) for outstanding published works in science fiction and technical writings that inspire the human exploration of space.  The winner is John Scalzi

Harper Collins global revenues fell 14% the last quarter of 2022. Its global income fell by US$531m (£439m) compared with the last quarter of 2021. The majority of the reduction was due to lower sales mainly in the US market. Harper Collins US aims to cut its workforce by 5% by mid-summer (2023).

The Harper Collins (USA) strike now over.  The strike had been going on since November (2022). On 25th January (2023) Harper came to an agreement with its employees' union to go to independent mediation. The announcement, from the Vice President of Harpers' 'Human Resources' (sort of equivalent to 'Personnel Department in civilised circles) contrasts with Harper US's CEO previous hard-line tone.
          Then in February both Harper and the trade unions came to an agreement.

Two US publishing houses – HBG and Macmillan – have increased their starting salaries. And the new rates are identical: spooky huh?  Starting salaries will now be US$47,500 (£40,000).

The Tor (US) SF imprint sees changes.  Michelle Foytek has been promoted to associate director of publishing operations. Alex Cameron has been promoted to associate director of publishing strategy. Isa Caban has been promoted to assistant director of marketing. Andrew King has been promoted to assistant marketing manager. Finally, Yvonne Ye has been promoted to advertising/promotion coordinator.

US book chain Barnes & Noble are to expand.  Just a decade ago we reported that they were planning to close 200 stores over the next ten years. Well, it now seems that the tide has turned. The chain now plans to open 30 stores this year (2023). Barnes & Noble sales have been rising, and last year (2022) grew more than 4%.

Florida (US) is seeing teachers remove books from their classrooms.  Some US States believe that the best education is to ban some books from school libraries. In the past books banned have included those that relate to non-binary and LGBTQ+ perspectives. However, now Florida's State Board of Education has ruled that not only must some titles be banned from school libraries but also they must be banned from the classroom. Under the guidelines, books must be “free of pornographic material” and “appropriate for the age level and group” and also books with “unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination.” A teacher could face up to five years in prison and a US$5,000 (£4,160) fine for displaying or giving students a banned book.  Welcome to the land of the free…

Kyiv has removed Russian books from its public libraries. It has removed some 19 million Russian or Soviet era books from its libraries. This is a significant cut as they made up 44% of titles.

Writers Beware warns of a new scam facing authors.  Writers have been receiving messages from the United Writers Organization (UWO) saying that they have been nominated for an award! A “complimentary nomination certificate” is yours for the asking–you don’t even have to pay! Although of course it would be nice if you became a UWO member, which will cost you a mere US$99 (£82)…  Writers Beware (www.unitedwriters.org) is a group that alerts authors to scams and poor publisher practice. The UWO infers it was established in 1957 but its website was only registered in January 2023.

Bloomsbury has donated its entire audio-books catalogue to Talking Books for the Blind.  Bloomsbury has donated its entire audio-book catalogue, an estimated 600 titles, to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) Talking Books Library. They include popular titles such as the fantasy include Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. Bloomsbury has said it will contribute its future audio-books to the library.
          Bloomsbury is not the first publisher to donated its audio list to the RNIB. For example, in 2021 Penguin Random House UK donated all its audio titles, some 6,000 titles. Talking Books for the Blind lends out around 1.33 million talking books a year to blind and partially sighted people. RNIB produced the first audio-book (or "talking book") in 1935. The library now has over 33,000 talking books in its collection.

The legal dispute in the US between the Internet Archive and major publishers sees an initial judicial ruling.  As we reported last year major publishers consider the Internet Archive scanning and then lending an e-book copy to borrowers as piracy "masquerading as a not-for-profit library".  However the issue is contentious and authors, including some SF writers, have supported the Internet Archive.  Which brings us to the present and a judicial ruling by a federal judge in favour of the publishers.  Expect this story to rumble on especially as the Internet Archive have announced their intention to appeal.

The SF library at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has had major damage due to a water pipe burst.  Water pipes in the MIT Student Centre in Boston froze and burst, causing significant damage throughout the building including to the fourth floor where the MIT Science Fiction Society club library is housed. The MITSFS Library, the world’s largest public openshelf collection of science fiction, had an inch of water in it.  Over a thousand volumes were damaged and had to be thrown away.

 

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

It's all the YouTube channel Media Death Cult this season…

Alan Dean Foster 50 minute interview.  Moid Moidelhoff has interviewed author, SF novel and SF film noveliser Alan Dean Foster over at Media Death Cult.  Find out, among other things, how Alan Dean Foster had to write the novelisation of Alien before the cinematic release and without having been shown a picture of the alien.  You can see Alan's interview here.

Ray Naylor one-and-a-half-hour interview.  Moid Moidelhoff has interviewed author of the newly released The Mountain in the Sea, Ray Nayler, over at Media Death CultThe Mountain in the Sea (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) is getting serious attention from a number of SF reviewers.  You can see Ray's interview here.

Mike Carey interview.  Moid Moidelhoff has interviewed author of The Girl With all the Gifts, over at Media Death Cult.  Mike also wrote the screenplay for the cinematic adaptation.  Find out where he set the end of the world… (coincidentally our Graham Connor's home patch – we know it well).  You can see Mike's interview here.

Alastair Reynolds – What will he do next?  The prolific author, including of the recent novel Eversions, is interviewed by Moid Moidelhoff over at Media Death Cult, as to what he has done since, what is coming out and what he is about to write.   You can see Alastair's 50-minute interview here.

Is Watership Down science fiction?  The wag Moid teases us with this question in his first on location video shot at Watership down.  And today there really is a development threatening the bunnies' homes…!  You can see the short, nine-minute video here.

 

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

Summer 2023

Forthcoming SF Books

 

Conquest by Nina Allan, Riverrun, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-529-42078-4.
Rachel’s boyfriend Frank is different from other people. His strangeness is part of what she loves about him: his innocence, his intelligence, his passionate immersion in the music of J. S. Bach. As a coder, Frank sees patterns in everything, but as his theories slide further towards the irrational, Rachel becomes increasingly concerned for his wellbeing. There are people Frank knows online who he is determined to meet face to face.  When Frank disappears, Rachel is forced to seek help from Robin, a private detective who left the police force for reasons she will not reveal. Like Frank, Robin is obsessed with the music of Bach. Like Frank, she has unexplained connections with the criminal underworld of southeast London.  An obscure science fiction story from the 1950s appears to offer clues to Frank’s secret agenda, but not to where he is. As Robin and Rachel draw closer in their search for the truth, they are forced to ask themselves if Frank’s obsession with an alien war, against all logic, might have a basis in fact.

Ascension by Nicholas Binge, Harper Voyager, £14.99, hrdbk, ISBN not provided.
A fast-paced modern science fiction thriller set in the midst of a mountain expedition with big heart, big questions and a grip of arctic terror.  When a mountain mysteriously appears in the middle of the ocean, a group of scientists are sent on a secret mission to investigate it – and discover what is at the summit. Told through letters written by one scientist during the mission, the reader watches as time and space begin to bend around the climbers.  A higher power and a higher purpose has sent them there: what will they discover about themselves and their world as they rise?  A story about time, fatherhood, ambition and the limits of faith and science.

Light Bringer by Pierce Brown, Hodder, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-473-64680-3.
The Reaper is a legend, more myth than man: the saviour of worlds, the leader of the Rising, the breaker of chains. But the Reaper is also Darrow, born of the red soil of Mars: a husband, a father, a friend. The worlds once needed the Reaper. But now they need Darrow. Because after the dark age will come a new age: of light, of victory, of hope.

Queen High by C. J. Carey, Quercus, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-41207-9.
The sequel to Widowland.  When Eisenhower announces that he will be making a state visit, Rose is tasked with briefing Queen Wallis. She finds Wallis in a state of paranoia, claiming she has information that could blow the Protectorate apart. But will she pull the trigger?  Click on the title link for a stand-alone review.

Infinity Gate by M. R. Carey, Orbit, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51801-5.
The first novel in a thrillingly original, high-concept new science fiction duology about the multiverse from the bestselling M. R. Carey.  The Pandominion: a political and trading alliance of a million worlds – except that they’re really just the one world, Earth, in many different realities. And when an AI threat arises that could destroy everything the Pandominion has built, they’ll eradicate it by whatever means necessary, no matter the cost to human life.  Scientist Hadiz Tambuwal is looking for a solution to her own Earth’s environmental collapse when she stumbles across the secret of inter-dimensional travel. It could save everyone on her dying planet, but now she’s walked into the middle of a war on a scale she never dreamed of. And she needs to choose a side before it kills her…  Click on the title link for a stand-alone review.

Sleepwalk by Dan Chaon, Corsair, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-472-15792-8.
A high speed and darkly comic road trip through a near future America with a big-hearted mercenary.  Sleepwalk’s hero, Will Bear, is a man with so many aliases that he simply thinks of himself as the Barely Blur. At fifty years old, he’s been living off the grid for over half his life. A good-natured henchman with a complicated and lonely past and a passion for LSD microdosing, he spends his time hopscotching across state lines in his beloved camper van, running sometimes shady often dangerous errands for a powerful and ruthless operation he’s never troubled himself to learn too much about.  Out of the blue, one of Will’s many burner phones heralds a call from a twenty-year-old woman claiming to be his biological daughter. She says she’s the product of one of his long-ago sperm donations; he’s half certain she’s AI. She needs his help. She’s entrenched in a widespread and nefarious plot involving Will’s employers, and for Will to continue to have any contact with her increasingly fuzzes the line between the people he is working for and the people he’s running from. With his signature blend of haunting emotional realism and fast-paced intrigue, Dan Chaon populates his fractured America with characters who ring all too true…

Pines by Blake Crouch, Pan, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-41713-5.
The first in the 'Wayward Pines' trilogy from the master of the contemporary SF thriller.

The Last Town by Blake Crouch, Pan, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-09982-9.
The second in the 'Wayward Pines' trilogy from the master of the contemporary SF thriller.

Wayward by Blake Crouch, Pan, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-09985-0.
The second in the 'Wayward Pines' trilogy from the master of the contemporary SF thriller.

The Landing by Mary Gentle, Gollancz, £18.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-0-575-08353-0.
The British Science Fiction Association award-winning author returns with her first novel in ten years.  Aeris Warren-Finch is NASA’s Acting Director of the New Earth Object Lab, overseeing the transit of a large unidentified object past Earth’s orbit.  But what was one object becomes three, seven, nineteen. Nineteen different modules land across the planet.  When the nearest module creates a dome and leaves Aeris and her unlikely companions stranded within its confines, they’re left to wander in search of safety. But when every direction reveals new and strange geographies, which way is the right way to go?

These Burning Stars by Bethany Jacobs, Orbit, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-52007-0.
Space opera.  Jun Ironway – hacker, con artist, and only occasional thief – has gotten her hands on a piece of contraband that could set her up for life: a video that implicates the powerful Nightfoot family in a planet-wide genocide seventy-five years ago. The Nightfoots control the precious sevite that fuels interplanetary travel through three star systems. And someone is sure to pay handsomely for anything that could break their hold. Of course, anything valuable is also dangerous. The Kindom, the ruling power of the three star systems, is inextricably tied up in the Nightfoots’ monopoly – and they can’t afford to let Jun expose the truth. They task two of their most brutal clerics with hunting her down: preternaturally stoic Chono, and brilliant hothead Esek, who also happens to be the heir to the Nightfoot empire. But Chono and Esek are haunted in turn by a figure from their shared past, known only as Six. What Six truly wants is anyone’s guess. And the closer they get to finding Jun, the surer Chono is that Six is manipulating them all-and that they are heading for a bloody confrontation that no one will survive unscathed.

In the Lives of Puppets by T. J. Klune, Tor, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-08802-1.
In a strange little home built into the branches of a grove of trees live three robots – fatherly inventor android Giovanni Lawson, a pleasantly sadistic nurse machine, and a small vacuum desperate for love and attention. Victor Lawson, a human, lives there too. They’re a family, hidden and safe.  The day Vic salvages and repairs an unfamiliar android labelled ‘HAP’, he learns of a shared dark past between Hap and Gio – a past spent hunting humans.  When Hap unwittingly alerts robots from Gio’s former life to their whereabouts, the family is no longer hidden and safe. Gio is captured and taken back to his old laboratory in the City of Electric Dreams. So together, the rest of Vic’s assembled family must journey across an unforgiving and otherworldly country to rescue Gio from decommission, or worse, reprogramming.  Along the way to save Gio, amid conflicted feelings of betrayal and affection for Hap, Vic must decide for himself: can he accept love with strings attached?  Inspired by Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, In the Lives of Puppets is a standalone fantasy adventure.

Translation State by Ann Leckie, Orbit, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51791-9.
The first novel in a new series set in the world of the Hugo, Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke award winning Ancillary Justice.

Beyond the Reach of Earth by Ken MacLeod, Orbit, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51480-2.
Space opera. This is the follow-up to Beyond the Hallowed Sky. And the author is one of the Guest of Honours at the 2024 SF Worldcon.

Our Hideous Progeny by C. E. McGill, Bantam, £14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-857-52904-6.
When Mary - a scientist struggling to make her mark in 1850s London - discovers journals belonging to her great uncle, Victor Frankenstein, she embarks on what might be the greatest adventure of all....  'It is not the monster you have to fear, but the monster it makes of men.'  Mary is the great-niece of Victor Frankenstein. She knows her uncle disappeared in mysterious circumstances in the Arctic but she doesn't know why or how. She and her husband are trying to make a name for themselves as palaeontologists but, in 1850s' London, scientific success requires wealth and connections - neither of which they possess. But then Mary discovers some old family papers that allude to the truth behind her great-uncle's past, of his attempts to create a living being and the creature that ultimately killed him. Perhaps this idea will prove to be their salvation... Their quest takes them to the wilds of Scotland and to a game of cat and mouse with a rival who is out to steal their secret.

The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-399-60047-7.
Our recommended SF pick of the season.  Murders, various artificial intelligences, a hacker and a marine biologist come together when a new form of intelligence is detected…  When pioneering marine biologist Dr Ha Nguyen is offered the chance to investigate a highly intelligent species of octopus, she doesn’t pause to look at the fine print. But the stakes are high: the octopuses hold the key to unprecedented breakthroughs in extra-human intelligence and there are vast fortunes to be made by whoever can take advantage of their advancements.  And no one has yet asked the octopuses what they think. Or what they might do about it.  Click on the title link for a standalone review.

The Blighted Stars by Megan E. O’Keefe, Orbit, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51737-7.
She’s a revolutionary. Humanity is running out of options. Habitable planets are being destroyed as quickly as they’re found, and Naira Sharp thinks she knows the reason why. The all-powerful Mercator family has been controlling the exploration of the universe for decades, and exploiting any materials they find along the way under the guise of helping humanity’s expansion. But Naira knows the truth, and she plans to bring the whole family down from the inside.  He’s the heir to the dynasty. Tarquin Mercator never wanted to run a galaxy-spanning business empire.  He just wanted to study geology and read books. But Tarquin’s father has tasked him with monitoring the settlement of a new planet, and he doesn’t really have a choice in the matter. Disguised as Tarquin’s new bodyguard, Naira plans to destroy the settlement ship before they make land. But neither of them expects to end up stranded on a dead planet. To survive and keep her secret, Naira will have to join forces with the man she’s sworn to hate. And together they will uncover a plot that’s bigger than both of them.

Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Graphic Novel by George Orwell, Penguin Classics, £12.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-0-241-43652-3.
A spectacular graphic adaptation of the greatest dystopian novel ever written, now in paperback.

Braking Day by Adam Oyebanji, Jo Fletcher Books, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-41713-5.
A science fiction thriller.  The Archimedes has been hurtling through space for more than five generations. But now the ageing starship is preparing to brake, for it is arriving at Destination Star: Tau Ceti.  But not everyone is excited to be reaching journey's end.

Fractal Noise by Christopher Paolini, Tor, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-035-00111-8.
The prequel to the space opera To Sleep in a Sea of Stars.  On the planet Talos VII, twenty-three years before the events of To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, an anomaly is detected. A vast circular pit, with dimensions so perfect that it could only have been the result of conscious design. So a small team is assembled to learn more – perhaps even who built the hole and why.  Their mission will take them on a hazardous trek to the very edge of existence.  For one explorer, this is the opportunity of a lifetime. For another, a risk not worth taking. And for exobiologist Alex Crichton, it’s a desperate attempt to find meaning in an uncaring universe. But every step they take toward that mysterious abyss is more punishing than the last. Ultimately, no one is prepared for what they will encounter.

Airside by Christopher Priest, Gollancz, £22, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-399-60883-1.
Hollywood actress Jeanette Marchand was beautiful, talented and beloved by audiences. During a time of personal crisis, she declared she was going to take a vacation in England. She never returned to the USA. She never even left the airport – at least no one saw her leave.  Years later, a film student finds himself digging into Jeanette’s disappearance. Where did she go? Is she dead? Who was the mysterious man who sat beside her on the flight across from New York?

Star Wars: The Princess and the Scoundrel by Beth Revis, Penguin, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-804-94036-5.
You are cordially invited to the wedding of Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo.

Starter Villain by John Scalzi, Tor, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-08295-1.
Inheriting a family business is never easy, especially when it involves underwater volcanoes, minions, sentient cats and supervillains.  Sure, there are the things you’d expect. The undersea volcano lairs. The minions. The plots to take over the world. The international networks of rivals who want you dead. Much harder to get used to are the sentient, language-using, computer-savvy cats. And the fact that in the overall organization, they’re management.

Lords of Uncreation by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Tor, £22, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-05198-8.
Lords of Uncreation is the final high-octane instalment in the 'Final Architecture' space opera trilogy.

Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51718-6.
All her life Kyr has trained for the day she can avenge the destruction of planet Earth by an all-powerful, reality-shifting weapon known as the Wisdom. Raised in the bowels of Gaea Station alongside the last scraps of humanity, she is one of the best warriors of her generation, the sword of a dead planet.  Then Command assigns her brother to certain death and relegates her to the nursery to bear sons until she dies trying and she knows she must take humanity’s revenge into her own hands. But she soon learns that not everything she’s been raised to believe is true and the Wisdom is far more complex and dangerous than she could ever have imagined.

The Final Rising by A. E. Warren, Penguin, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-10137-9.
The conclusion to the 'Tomorrow’s Ancestors' series

Paradise-1 by David Wellington, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51822-0.
It was meant to be a routine job – a voyage to Earth’s first deep space colony, Paradise-1, to carry out standard checks and surveys. Or at least that’s what Special Agent Alexandra Petrova thought.  Instead she wakes from cryogenic sleep to find an alarm blaring. Her ship, The Artemis, is under attack by one of the colony’s own ships, which makes no attempt to communicate.  Something has gone very, very wrong...

The Best of Roger Zelazny by Roger Zelazny, Gollancz, £10.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-473-23500-7.
Our recommended vintage, short collection of the season.  A collection of short fiction and novelettes from acclaimed Science Fiction and Fantasy writer Roger Zelazny, including the award-winning titles ‘The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth’, ‘Permafrost’, ‘The Last Defender of Camelot’ and ‘Home Is the Hangman’.

 

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Summer 2023

Forthcoming Fantasy Books

 

The Lost War by Justin Lee Anderson, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51953-1.
With a ragged peace in place, demons burn farmlands, violent Reivers roam the wilds and plague has spread beyond the Black Meadows. The country is on its knees.  In a society that fears and shuns him, Aranok is the first magically-skilled draoidh to be named King’s Envoy.  Now, charged with restoring an exiled foreign queen to her throne, he leads a group of strangers across the ravaged country. But at every step, a new mystery complicates their mission. As bodies drop around them, new threats emerge and lies are revealed, can Aranok bring his companions together and uncover the conspiracy that threatens the kingdom?

Gods of the Wyrdwood by R. J. Barker, Orbit, £18.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51723-0.
Cahan du Nahare is known as the forester – a man who can navigate the dangerous Deepforest like no-one else. But once he was more. Once he belonged to the god of fire. Udinny serves the goddess of the lost, a goddess of small things; when she ventures into the Deepforest to find a lost child, Cahan will be her guide. But in a land where territory is won and lost for uncaring gods, where temples of warrior monks pit one prophet against another – Cahan will need to choose the forest or the fire – and his choice will have consequences for his entire world.

Master of Souls by Rena Barron, Harper Voyager, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN not provided.
Arrah has paid many prices in her battle against the demon king.  Now, forced to give up the gift of magic she’d sought for so long, she has finally reached the survivors of the demons’ attack on the tribal lands. But when she comes to them without the power of the chieftains’ kas, the new tribal leaders are suspicious of Arrah’s motives, and her connection to the Demon King.  While her heart is loyal to Rudjek, Arrah cannot deny that her soul is bound to Daho – through herpast life as the orisha Dimma, the years they spent together, and the child the orishas destroyed. And as a ruthless Efiya regains her strength and begins to sow rebellion in the demons’ ranks, Arrah, the Demon King, and the orishas must form an uneasy alliance to restore peace to their worlds. But peace may require the ultimate sacrifice...

The Way Home by Peter S. Beagle, Gollancz, £16.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-399-60702-5.
Two Novellas from the world of The Last Unicorn.  The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone…  . so she ventured out from the safety of the enchanted forest on a quest for others of her kind. Joined along the way by the bumbling magician Schmendrick and the indomitable Molly Grue, the unicorn learns all about the joys and sorrows of life and love before meeting her destiny in the castle of a despondent monarch – and confronting the creature that would drive her kind to extinction.

Locklands by Robert Jackson Bennett, Jo Fletcher Books, £12.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-41410-3.
Sancia Grado is used to long odds…  Sancia Grado was a thief with a grudge and a talent. When she learned how to use that talent, she won, even against the merchant houses of Tevanne. But how can she win the war she’s fighting now?

Blood Debts by Terry J. Benton-Walker, Hodder, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-399-71587-4.
Young adult fiction. Thirty years ago, a young woman was murdered, a family was lynched, and New Orleans saw the greatest magical massacre in its history. In the days that followed, a throne was stolen from a queen. On the anniversary of these brutal events, Clement and Cristina Trudeau – twin heirs to the powerful, magical, dethroned family – are mourning their father and caring for their sick mother. Until, by chance, they discover their mother isn’t sick – she’s cursed. Cursed by someone on the very magic council their family used to rule. Someone who will come for them next.

From the Depths edited by Mark Bilsborough, Wyldblood Press, £7.50, pbk, ISBN 978-1-914-41715-3.
A new anthology of shorts. Fifteen brand new stories of the murky depths with monsters, selkies, mermaids, sea creatures, pirates and a variety of distinctly fishy goings on in the latest collection from Wyldblood Press. We've got uplifting stories, unnerving stories and tales that are just downright bizarre. And who's to say this is fantasy? Four-fifths of our oceans have yet to be explored and we can barely imagine what might exist own where the pressure would crush you instantly and the midnight black goes on for ever.  After you’ve read these stories you’ll never look at the sea in the same way again.

One For My Enemy by Olivie Blake, Tor, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-035-01157-5.
In New York City, two rival witch families fight for the upper hand.  The Antonova sisters are beautiful, cunning and ruthless, and their mother – known only as Baba Yaga – is the elusive supplier of premium intoxicants.  Their adversaries, the influential Fedorov brothers, serve their crime boss father. Named Koschei the Deathless, his enterprise dominates the shadows of magical Manhattan.  For twelve years, the families have maintained a fraught stalemate. Then everything is thrown into disarray. Bad blood carries them to the brink of disaster, even as fate draws together a brother and sister from either side. Yet the siblings still struggle for power, and internal conflicts could destroy each family from within. That is, if the enmity between empires doesn’t destroy both sides first.

The Tale of Truthwater Lake by Emma Carroll, Faber, £7.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-571-33286-1.
It’s the near-future and Britain is having yet another heatwave. Of course, the government have put in the usual curfews for this kind of weather, and shops are forced to shut again. For Polly, it’s the sort of heat that makes her do wild, out-of-character things just to cool down.  Like face her fear of deepwater. Essential when she and her brother have been sent to their aunt’s eco lakeside house for the summer.  But Truthwater Lake is drying up. As the water level diminishes, a lost village emerges. Swimming over the rooftops at midnight, Polly dives down and is suddenly able to breathe, to hear church bells and bird song . . . could this be an underwater gateway to the past?

The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty, Harper Voyager, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN not provided.
A tale of pirates and sorcerers, forbidden artefacts and ancient mysteries, and one woman’s quest to seize a final chance at glory…  A pirate of infamy and one of the most storied and scandalous captains to sail the seas.  Amina al-Sirafi has survived backstabbing rogues, vengeful merchant princes, several husbands, and one actual demon to retire peacefully with her family to a life of piety, motherhood, and absolutely nothing that hints of the supernatural.  But when she’s offered a job no bandit could refuse, she jumps at the chance for one final adventure with her old crew that will make her a legend and offers a fortune that will secure her and her family’s future forever.  Yet the deeper Amina dives, the higher the stakes. For there’s always risk in wanting to become a legend, to seize one last chance at glory, to savour just a bit more power… and the price might be your very soul.

Scarlet by Genevieve Cogman, Tor, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-08372-9.
In Revolutionary France, the aristocrats are vampires – and they face the guillotine. However, the Scarlet Pimpernel, a disguised British noble, is determined to rescue them. These predators are being offered sanctuary by their aristocratic British kin, but at great cost to London’s ordinary people. Then an English maid discovers the only power that could stop them. Assuming she survives.

The Blood Gift by N. E. Davenport, Harper Voyager, £8.99, pbk, ISBN not provided.
It’s all about blood.  Blood spilled long ago between the Republic of Mareen and the armies of the Blood Emperor, ending all blood magic.  Now there is peace in the Republic – but there is also a strict class system, misogyny, and racism. Her world is not perfect, but Ikenna survived in it. Until now.  With the murder of her grandfather, Ikenna spirals out of control. Though she is an initiate for the Republic’s deadly elite military force, Ikenna has a secret only her grandfather knew: she possesses the blood magic of the Republic’s enemies.  Ikenna throws herself into the gladiatorial war games at the heart of her martial world: trials that will lead her closer to his killers. Under the spotlight, she subjects herself to abuse from a society that does not value her, that cherishes lineage over talent – all while hiding gifts that, if revealed, would lead to execution or worse. Ikenna is willing to risk it all to find out who killed her grandfather…  So she can end them.  Magic, technology, and rebellion meet in this stunning debut – part one of a duology that sees a young Black woman rise through misogyny and racism to become an elite warrior.

A Silent City by Sarah Davis-Goff, Tinder Press, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-472-25524-2.
Orpen has always been an outlier in Phoenix City - the only outsider ever admitted to the ranks of the banshees, the female warriors who enforce order, and protect it from the skrake - the ravening creatures that have laid waste to the rest of the country, and gather at the city walls.  Unrest is building in the city - a deadly sickness is spreading through the workers, while an unspoken disillusionment is creeping amongst the fighting women, weary of enforcing the all-male management’s patriarchal rule, and of the cost, to their sisters, and to young new recruits, of upholding this order.  Rumour has it that banshees have been taking matters into their own hands, and taking swift and violent revenge. When Orpen’s troop leader falls under suspicion it becomes clear that Orpen will need to muster all her courage and prowess if she and her fellow banshees are going to be able to find a way to escape, and rebuild a society worth fighting for.

The First Bright Thing by J. R. Dawson, Tor, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-035-01819-2.
Welcome to the Circus of the Fantasticals.  Ringmaster – Rin, to those who know her best – can jump to different moments in time as easily as her wife, Odette, soars from bar to bar on the trapeze. With the scars of World War I feeling more distant as the years pass, Rin is focusing on the brighter things in life. Like the circus she’s built and the magical misfits and outcasts – known as Sparks – who’ve made it their home.  Every night, Rin and the Fantasticals enchant a Big Top packed full with audiences who need to see the impossible.  But while the present is bright, threats come at Rin from the past and the future. The future holds an impending war that the Sparks can see barrelling toward their Big Top and everyone in it. And Rin's past creeps closer every day, a malevolent shadow Rin can’t fully escape. It takes the form of another Spark circus, with tents as black as midnight and a ringmaster who rules over his troupe with a dangerous power. Rin’s circus has something he wants, and he won't stop until it’s his.

Her Majesty's Royal Coven by Juno Dawson, Harper Voyager, £8.99, pbk, ISBN not provided.
Hidden among us is a secret coven of witches. They are Her Majesty’s Royal Coven. They protect crown and country from magical forces and otherworldly evil. But their greatest enemy will come from within.  There are whisperings of a prophecy that will bring the coven to its knees, and five best friends are about to be caught at the centre. Life as a modern witch was never simple… but now it’s about to get apocalyptic.

The Malevolent Seven by Sebastien De Castell, Jo Fletcher Books, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-529-42278-8.
Picture a wizard: skinny old guy with a long straggly beard, wearing iridescent silk robes. The hat’s a must, too, right? Big, floppy thing, covered in esoteric symbols – wouldn’t want a simple steel helmet that might, you know, protect the part of him most needed for conjuring magical forces from being bashed in.  Now open your eyes and let me show you what a real war mage looks like. You’re probably not going to like it. We’re violent, angry, dangerously broken people who sell our skills to the highest bidder, be damned to any moral or ethical considerations.  At least, until such irritating concepts as friendship and the end of the world get in the way.  My name is Cade Ombra and I currently make my living as a mercenary wonderist (I used to have a far more noble-sounding title – until I discovered the people I worked for weren’t as noble as I’d believed). Now I’m on the run and my only friend, a homicidal thunder mage, has invited me to join him on a suicide mission against the seven deadliest mages on the continent.  Time to recruit some very bad people to help us on this job…

The Battle Drum by Saara El-Arifi, Harper Voyager, £14.99, hrdbk, ISBN not provided.
Sequel to The Final Strife.

Forge of the High Mage by Ian C. Esslemont, Bantam, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-787-63255-4.
After decades of warfare, Malazan forces are now close to consolidating the Quon Talian mainland. Yet it is at this moment that Emperor Kellanved orders a new campaign far to the north: the invasion of Falar. Since the main Malazan armies are otherwise engaged in Quon Tali, a collection of orphaned units and broken squads has been brought together under Fist Dujek - himself recovering from the loss of an arm - to fight this new campaign. A somewhat rag-tag army, joined bya similarly motley fleet under the command of the Emperor himself. There are however those who harbour doubts regarding the stewardship of Kellanved and his cohort Dancer, and as the Malazan force heads north, it encounters an unlooked-for and most unwelcome threat - unspeakable and born of legend, it has woken and will destroy all who stand in its way. Most appalled by this is Tayschrenn, the untested High Mage of the Empire. He is all-too aware of the true nature of this ancient horror - and his own inadequacy in having to confront it. Yet confront it he must, along the most unlikely of allies… And then the theocracy of Falar is itself far from defenceless – its priests are in possession of a weapon so terrifying it has not been unleashed for centuries. Named the Jhistal, it was rumoured to be a gift from the sea-god Mael. But two can play at that game, for the Emperor sails towards Falar aboard his flagship Twisted - a vessel that is itself thought to be not entirely of this world… Here, then, in the tracts of the Ice Wastes and among the islands of Falar, the Empire of Malaz faces two seemingly insurmountable tests - each one potentially the origin of its destruction… These are bloody, turbulent and treacherous times for all caught up in the forging of the Malazan Empire.

Immortal Longings by Chloe Gong, Hodder, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-399-70042-9.
Fantasy retelling inspired by Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra. Each year in San-Er, the palace hosts a set of games. Competitors fight for unimaginable riches. Princess Calla Tuoleimi has been in hiding for five years, since the massacre that killed her parents. The palace trained her to be a fierce warrior, and now, she plans to finish the job of destroying it. The last person standing in the games will receive an audience with the reclusive King Kasa, and she will stop at nothing to win and use the opportunity to assassinate him. Calla finds both an unexpected alliance with Anton and help from King Kasa’s own son, August.

The Thief of Farrowfell by Ravena Guron & Alessia Trunfio, Faber, £7.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-57-137117-4.
Welcome to a fantasy world where edible magic is the hottest commodity, traded between those who can pay or – in the case of Jude Ripon, the youngest thief in Farrowfell – those who can steal it!  Twelve-year-old Jude Ripon has never been taken seriously by her family of magic-stealing masterminds. To them, she’s just the youngest, only good for keeping watch while they carry out daring heists.  Desperate to prove her worth, Jude decides to steal valuable magic from the fanciest house in town…  But Jude’s stolen prize was protected by a curse which threatens to wreak havoc on the family business.  While attempting to untangle the mess she’s made, Jude discovers just how far her family will go to stay at the top of the criminal world.  Suddenly, her quest to become a true Ripon isn’t straightforward any more…

The Sword Defiant by Gareth Hanrahan, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51653-0.
Now, when Aelfric – keeper of the cursed sword Spellbreaker – learns of a new and terrifying threat, he seeks the nine heroes once again. But they are wandering adventurers no longer.  Yesterday’s eager heroes are today’s weary leaders – and some have turned to the darkness, becoming monsters themselves.  If there’s one thing Aelfric knows, it’s slaying monsters. Even if they used to be his friends.

A Curse of Krakens by Kevin Hearne, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-50962-4.
This is set in the fantasy world of Plague of Giants with warring giants and elemental magic.

The Valkyrie by Kate Heartfield, Harper Fiction, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN not provided.
Brynhild is a Valkyrie: shieldmaiden of the All- Father, chooser of the slain. But now she too has fallen, flightless in her exile.  Gudrun is a princess of Burgundy, a daughter of the Rhine, a prize for an invading king – a king whose brother Attila has other plans, and a dragon to call upon.  Yet in the songs to be sung, two others bind them: Sigurd, a warrior with a sword sharper than the new moon and Gunnar, a man without fear.‘… to be sung, it is another who binds them: Sigurd…’  For as the legends will tell, they are destined rivals, fated enemies. But here on Midgard, legends can be lies. Not all heroes are heroic, not all monsters monstrous. And a shieldmaiden may yet find that love is the greatest weapon of all.

Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James, Penguin, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-241-31443-2.
In this mighty follow-up to Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Man Booker-winner Marlon James once again draws on a rich tradition of African mythology, fantasy and history to imagine a mythic world, a lost child, a 177-year-old witch, a deadly regal chancellor, and a mystery with many answers...  Part adventure tale, part chronicle of an indomitable woman – the witch Sogolon – who bows to no man, this is an unforgettable exploration of power, personality and the places where they overlap, set in a world at once ancient and startlingly modern.

Dragonfall by L. R. Lam, Hodder, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-399-715485.
Long ago, humans betrayed dragons, banishing them to a dying world. Thief Arcady scrapes a living on the streets. Desperate, Arcady steals a powerful artefact that holds the key to a new life. The spell connects to Everen, the last male dragon foretold to save his kind, dragging him through the Veil. Disguised as a human, Everen soon learns that to regain his true power and form and fulfil his destiny, he only needs to convince one little thief to trust him enough to bond – and then kill them.

The Treekeepers by Kieran Larwood & Chris Wormell, Faber, £7.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-571-36457-2.
Liska lives in Arborven, a city surrounding an extraordinary tree that gives all those living there special powers. As a shapeshifter, Liska is training as a warrior. When she discovers that the Tree is under threat, it is her duty to act – but she can’t convince anyone to listen to her. So with Lug, whose power over earthworms is dismissed as useless, and a ghost-girl, Elowen, she goes on an epic journey to defeat the worst threat their world has ever known. Illustrated by Chris Wormell.

Perilous Times by Thomas D. Lee, Orbit, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51852-7.
Mixing Arthurian legend with contemporary fantasy, this debut novel will – the publishers say – delight fans of Terry Pratchett and Ben Aaronovitch.  For hundreds of years Kay and his fellow knights of the round table have been woken from their long slumber whenever Britain had need of them; they fought at Agincourt and at the Somme. But now a dragon has been seen for the first time in centuries, the realm is more divided than ever, and what’s worse, there are rumours of Arthur himself returning. Kay just wants to go back to sleep. And Kay is not the only ancient thing to come crawling up out of the ground; Lancelot is back as well, with orders to track down Kay and stop him from doing anything stupid…

Greek Myths: Gods and Goddesses edited by Jean Menzies, Macmillan Collector's Library, £10.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-09334-6.
The stories of the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece are sprawling, dramatic and strange; lives intertwine and behaviours fluctuate wildly from benevolent to violent, from didactic to fickle, from loving to enraged.  Part of the Macmillan Collector’s Library; a series of stunning, clothbound, pocket-sized classics with gold foiled edges and ribbon markers. These beautiful books make perfect gifts or a treat for any book lover.  In Greek Myths: Godsand Goddesses Jean Menzies sets out to capture the magic of these stories and to make sense of the mythological world. Drawing on a wide variety of retellings, and with an entertaining commentary to guide the reader through them, Greek Myths: Gods and Goddesses is the perfect book for learning about the world of the Greek deities and a treat for all fans of Greek mythology.  Greek myths have been part of Western culture since they were first set down by the ancients. The fact that there is no one definitive account means that through the centuries the stories have been ripe for reinterpretation according to the politics and fashions of the time. Classicist Jean Menzies has carefully chosen each retelling from nineteenth- and twentieth-century published tales by writers, scholars and teachers to bring to life the stories of Zeus, Athena, Poseidon, Hermes, Pandora and many more.

The Witching Tide by Margaret Meyer, Phoenix, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-399-60586-1.
Set in East Anglia in 1645 and inspired by true events, The Witching Tide is the story of a midwife harbouring a secret and a community torn apart by fear Martha Hallybread has lived peacefully for more than four decades in her beloved village of Cleftwater. But when a sinister newcomer arrives, she becomes a silent witness to a witch-hunt that threatens her community and her own survival.  In desperation, Martha revives a poppet, a wax witching doll that she inherited from her mother, in the hope that it will bring protection. But the poppet’s true powers are unknowable, the tide is turning and time is running out..

The Evergreen Heir by A. K. Mulford, Harper Voyager, £12.99, hrdbk, ISBN not provided.
A court of revelry. A bookish heir. An impending marriage. And a dark new power rising in the world…  If she could, Neelo Emberspear would never leave the library. Reluctant to take the throne despite their mother’s faltering health, they crave escape from their arranged marriage to the fae warrior Talhan Catullus, no matter how charming everyone else finds him. But they know their duty can be put off no longer when their mother, the troubled queen, disastrously lights the castle on fire.  Fighting to save their mother’s life and keep her on the throne, Neelo is astonished when bonding over the written word brings them closer than ever to their cavalier, soon-to-be husband. But the heir’s growing affections may be cut short with witch uprisings threatening to topple the entire continent.  Can Neelo claim both love and dominion before their court is reduced to ash?

The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik, Penguin, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-10093-8.
The conclusion to the 'Scholomance' trilogy, from the author of Uprooted and Spinning Silver.

Painted Devils by Margaret Owen, Hodder, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-139-970219-5.
Young adult fiction. Vanja is on the run – until she tells one too many lies, and accidentally starts a cult… and discovers that the deity she invented might not be so imaginary after all.

A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland, Tor, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-09967-6.
A breathtaking fantasy romance set in an Ottoman-inspired world of courtly conspiracies and chivalric fealty, as Prince Kadou and his bodyguard Evemer investigate a counterfeiting operation that could topple their empire.

Atalanta by Jennifer Saint, Wildfire, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-472-29215-5.
The mesmerising story of the only female Argonaut. When a daughter is born to the King of Arcadia, she brings only disappointment.  Left exposed on a mountainside, the defenceless infant Atalanta, is left to the mercy of a passing mother bear and raised alongside the cubs under the protective eye of the goddess Artemis.  Swearing that she will prove her worth alongside the famed heroes of Greece, Atalanta leaves her forest to join Jason’s band of Argonauts. But can she carve out her own place in the legends in a world made for men?

Immortality: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz, Piatkus, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-349-43339-4.
Historical fantasy, young adult. Hazel Sinnett is alone. She’s half-convinced the events of the year before – the immortality, Beecham’s vial – were a figment of her imagination. She doesn’t even know if Jack is alive or dead. All she can really do is run her free clinic, helping people and maintaining Hawthornden Castle as it starts to decay around her. When saving a life leads to her arrest, Hazel seems doomed to rot in prison until a message intervenes: Hazel has been specifically requested to be the personal physician of Princess Charlotte, the sickly daughter of King George IV. Soon Hazel is dragged into the glamour and romance of a court where everyone has something to hide, especially the ladies of the princess’s close circle, who never seem to stay hurt for long... Meanwhile, Jack Currer has been trying to find a way to die. He’s been travelling across the Atlantic, hoarding any information that could cure his immortality and let him spend a normal life with Hazel. When he hears that Beecham has died, he immediately goes to London to find out how he achieved it – and reunites with Hazel once again. As their search for the immortality cure entangles them more and more with the British court, Hazel and Jack realize that a life together is not the only thing at stake. Malicious forces are at work in the monarchy, and they are very interested in living forever...

The Jaguar Path by Anna Stephens, Harper Fiction, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN not provided.
The Empire of Songs reigns supreme. Across all the lands of Ixachipan, its hypnotic, magical music sounds. Those who battled against the Empire have been enslaved and dispersed, taken far from their friends and their homes.  In the Singing City, Xessa must fight for the entertainment of her captors. Lilla and thousands of warriors are trained to serve as weapons for their enemies. And Tayan is trapped at the heart of the Empire’s power and magic, where the ruthless Enet’s ambition is ever growing.  Each of them harbours a secret hope, waiting for a chance to strike at the Empire from within.  But first they must overcome their own desires. Power can seduce as well as crush. And, in exchange for their loyalty, the Empire promises much.

Season of Skulls by Charles Stross, Orbit, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51695-0.
A new adventure begins in the world of the 'Laundry Files': in a nightmarish vision of a Britain where magic has gone mainstream and a governmental secret service is needed to keep a handle on things.

This Cursed Light by Emily Thiede, Hodder, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-399-70017-7.
Young adult fiction. Six months after Divorando, Alessa is returning from a diplomatic trip, eager to embrace her post-battle life and live happily ever after with Dante. But as the ship nears shore, a premonition of danger strikes. In their time apart, Dante has physically recovered from his brush with death and is grappling with the loss of his ghiotte powers. Desperate to regain them, he proposes the pair take a dangerous trip to find the long-banished ghiotte – but what they find at their destination could cost them each other – or the world.

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner, Hodder, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-38770-4.
Through scheming and outright theft, the Thief of Eddis has become the King of Attolia. Eugenides wanted the queen, not the crown, but he finds himself trapped in a web of his own making. Despised by his court, and apparently his bride, Eugenides ensnares a naïve young guard in the web of intrigue that surrounds him. Struggling to find his footing, the guard, Costis, knows he’s a pawn. What he doesn’t know is how the king means to play the game…

The Curious Affair of the Missing Mummies by Lisa Tuttle, Jo Fletcher Books, £16.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-529-42274-0.
Should you find yourself in need of a discreet investigation into any sort of mystery, call on Jesperson and Lane.  Miss Lane is puzzled by Jasper Jesperson’s interest in what seems a very minor theft – possibly even a prank – from the storerooms at the British Museum. But London in the 1890s is rife with secret organisations, cults and individuals eager to acquire some of the legendary magic of ancient Egypt. The deeper the detectives dig, the more hidden crimes they uncover, and the higher the death toll mounts. And at the centre of it all is the mystery mummy, known as Mummy X, recently acquired by the Museum.

Night Angel Nemesis by M. R. Carey, Orbit, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-356-52043-8.
Fantasy. No descriptor provided, though apparently the 'Night Angel' trilogy has sold millions of copies worldwide.

All The Hollow of the Sky by Kit Whitfield, Jo Fletcher Books, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-529-41494-3.
Jedediah’s father walked out of his life forty years ago. Now he’s back and, impossibly, he hasn’t aged a day.  If you asked the folks of Gyrford, they’d tell you Jedediah Smith looked up to his father. After all, Corbie Mackem was the Sarsen Shepherd: the man who saved the Smith clan from Ab, the terrifyingly well-meaning fey who blighted a whole generation with unwanted gifts.  Corbie was a good fairy-smith. And if he wasn’t a good father, well, that isn’t something Jedediah likes to talk about. Especially since no one knows where Corbie’s body lies: the day of his son’s wedding, forty-odd years ago, he set off to travel and was never seen again.  These days Jedediah is a respectable elder, more concerned with his wayward grandson John than with his long-buried past, and he has other problems on his mind. There’s the preparations for Saint Clement’s Day, and the odd fact that birds all over the county have taken to hiding themselves, and the misbehaviour of Left-Lop the pig – which has grown vegetation all over its back, escaped its farm and taken to making personal remarks at folks in alarmingly alliterative verse.  But then disaster strikes. Ab is back. And Corbie, thought long dead, returns to Gyrford – younger than his son.

The Night Field by Donna Glee Williams, Jo Fletcher Books, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-529-42268-9.
Welcome to The Real, where Pyn-Poi’s people live in harmony with nature – until an invisible stink threatens their whole world.  The trees have a job for Pyn-Poi. To succeed, she will have to be brave and strong and true, no matter what.  Pyn-Poi’s mother Marak wants her to grow up to be the matriarch of the tribe, to cook, to make medicines, to care for everyone. Pyn-Poi would rather be out among the trees with her father, learning how to persuade tree roots into bridges, to feel when shoots are too crowded, when drooping leaves need attention.  Then something starts going wrong in The Real: instead of nourishment and renewal, the rains bring an invisible, all-pervasive stink that’s poisoning people and plants alike. Pyn-Poi is the treewoman now: it’s her job to stop it. Their only chance is for her to climb to the land beyond the Wall, where the Ancestors live, to plead for their intercession.  She never expected to find a whole new world up there, with people who are very different from her own family and friends – a land where they are killing nature, and what they are doing to their plants is also killing The Real.  Pyn-Poi must learn how to live in this terrifying new world if she is to save her own world from total destruction.

Games For Dead Girls by Jen Williams, Harper Fiction, £14.99, hrdbk, ISBN not provided.
When Charlie was eleven, she created a monster…  For Charlie and her niece Katie, it’s supposed to be a quiet holiday in the peaceful, out-of-the-way seaside town of Hithechurch, England. Charlie is researching a book on the folklore of the area, and the gloomy sea and dangerous caves seem to offer up plenty of material, while Katie is just there to run wild and get some fresh air.  But Charlie’s research reveals a deeper, darker secret, one that uncovers her own, carefully hidden past. Because young women are going missing again: a teenage girl snatched from the beach in broad daylight, and before that, other girls through the decades have vanished from the area, their families left with no answers and no bodies to bury.  Charlie’s creation was a thing of felt, straw, fury, and a rusty pair of scissors in the dark. It couldn’t be her monster. Could it? Charlie is set on discovering the truth about the girls’ disappearances, but she’s about to encounter a force of pure, obsessive malevolence that threatens to destroy anything in its path.

 

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Forthcoming SF Books Forthcoming Fantasy Books Forthcoming Non-Fiction
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Summer 2023

Forthcoming Non-Fiction SF &
Popular Science Books

 

The Hidden Universe: Adventures in Biodiversity by Alexandre Antonelli, Ebury, £11.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-10917-7.
Everything you need to know about biodiversity - what it is, how it works, and why it's the single most important tool to battle climate change - from the Director Science at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew.  We don't know what we've got until it's gone...  variety of life in the world and in our own backyards - provides both the source and the salvation of our existence. Combining inspiration stories and the latest scientific research, Alex Antonelli reveals the wonders of biodiversity at a genetic, species and ecosystem level - what it is, how it works, and why it's the most important tool in our battle against climate change.  A deeper understanding of biodiversity has never been more important, as the slow violence of habitat loss has put the fate of almost one-fifth of all species on Earth at risk of extinction in the coming decades. These building blocks of life form a network that underpins almost every aspect of our lives, providing invaluable sources of food, medicine, fibre, clothing, building material and more. With simplicity and clarity, The Hidden Universe shows you not only what's at stake, but what can be done (and is already being done) to protect and restore biodiversity around the world.

The Jewel Box: How Moths Illuminate Nature’s Hidden Rules by Tim Blackburn, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-474-62453-4.
An ecologist and biology professor explores the hidden rules of nature using his moth trap. Every morning, Tim Blackburn is inspired by the diversity contained within the moth trap he runs on the roof of his London flat. Beautiful, ineffably mysterious organisms, these moths offer a glimpse into a larger order, one that extends beyond individual species of moth and into a hidden landscape. In The Jewel Box, Blackburn reflects on what he has learned in the last thirty years of work as a scientist studying ecosystems and demonstrates how the contents of one small box can illuminate the workings of all nature.

The Sadeian Woman by Angela Carter, Virago, £10.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-349-01741-9.
Representing the 1970s, this is a reprint of the fantasy author grandmistress Angela Carter’s highly acclaimed polemic enlisting the Marquis de Sade in an argument about women’s seΧual freedom.

Observational Astronomy: A Very Short Introduction by Geoff Cottrell, Oxford University Press, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-192-85670-8.
Unlocking the secrets of the Universe involves the critical application of the laws of physics to the observations. This Very Short Introduction describes how we are turning observations into knowledge and how theory, in turn, is inspiring new observations.

Blue Machine: How the Ocean Works by Helen Czerski, Transworld, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-911-70910-7.
The oceans are the engine of our planet. They directly influence every aspect of life: what we breathe, walk about on, eat, and use as raw materials, how species have evolved, and what the future will look like.  All of the Earth's ocean, from the equator to the poles, is a single engine powered by sunlight - a blue machine.  Human history has been dictated by the ocean: the location of cities, access to resources and the gateways to new lands have all revolved around water. We live inside the weather the ocean generates and breathe in what it breathes out. Yet despite our dependence, our awareness of its totality is minimal.  In a book that will recalibrate our view of this defining feature of our planet, physicist Helen Czerski dives deep to illuminate the murky depths of the ocean engine, examining the messengers, passengers and voyagers that live in it, travel over it, and survive because of it.  From the ancient Polynesians who navigated the Pacific by reading the waves to permanent residents of the deep such as the Greenland shark that can live for hundreds of years, she explains the vast currents, invisible ocean walls and underwater waterfalls that all have their place in the ocean's complex, interlinked system.

Not Just for the Boys: Why We Need More Women in Science by Athene Donald, Oxford University Press, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-192-89340-6.
This looks back at how society has historically excluded women from the scientific sphere and discourse, what progress has been made, and how more is still needed.  Athene Donald, herself a distinguished physicist, explores societal expectations during both childhood and working life using evidence of the systemic disadvantages women operate under, from the developing science of how our brains are – and more importantly aren’t – gendered, to social science evidence around attitudes towards girls and women doing science.  It also discusses how science is done in practice, in order to dispel common myths: for example, the perception that science is not creative, or that it is carried out by a lone genius in an ivory tower, myths that can be very off-putting to many sections of the population. A better appreciation of the collaborative, creative, and multi-disciplinary nature of science is likely to lead to its appeal to a far wider swathe of people, especially women. This book examines the modern way of working in scientific research, and how gender bias operates in various ways within it, drawing on the voices of leading women in science describing their feelings and experiences. It argues the moral and business case for greater diversity in modern research, the better to improve science and tackle the great challenges we face today.

Pseudoscience: A Very Short Introduction by Michael D. Gordin, Oxford University Press, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-190-94442-1.
This provides a historical tour through various theories, providing readers with the tools to think deeply about scientific controversies both past and present.

Quantum Physics Made Me Do It by Jeremie Harris, Wildfire, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-035-40208-3.
From Silicon Valley entrepreneur, quantum physicist, AI risk expert, and Hollywood “alternative reality” consultant Jérémie Harris, comes an entertaining and accessible look at the world of quantum physics.  The discovery of quantum mechanics has paved the way to just about every important innovation in the last half century: it has led us to the technology that powers microwaves, iPhones, and self-driving cars and is about to trigger a computing revolution that will either spell the end of the human species or propel us to heights we’ve never imagined.  But there’s another reason that quantum mechanics is so important: it is really the only way we can understand ourselves and each other. For the last hundred years or so, physicists have been feverishly debating what quantum theory has to say about you: what you’re made of, whether you have free will, what will happen to you when you die, and much more.

On the Origin of Time: Stephen Hawking’s final theory by Thomas Hertog, Torva, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-911-709084.
Perhaps the biggest question Stephen Hawking tried to answer in his extraordinary life was how the universe could have created conditions so perfectly hospitable to life.  Pondering this mystery led Hawking back to the origins of the universe, but his early work ran into a crisis when the maths predicted many big bangs producing a multiverse – countless different universes, most of which were far too bizarre to harbour life.  Holed up in the theoretical physics department at Cambridge, Stephen Hawking and his friend and collaborator Thomas Hertog worked shoulder to shoulder for twenty years on a new quantum theory of the cosmos. As their discoveries took them deeper into the big bang, they were startled to find a deeper level of evolution in which the physical laws themselves transform and simplify until particles, forces, and even time itself fades away. This led them to a revolutionary idea: the laws of physics are not set in stone but are born and co-evolve as the universe they govern takes shape.  On the Origin of Time takes the reader on a quest to understand questions bigger than our universe, peering into the extreme quantum physics of black holes and drawing on the latest developments in string theory. As Hawking's final days drew near, the two collaborators published a final theory proposing their radical new Darwinian perspective on the origins of our universe. Their theory profoundly transforms the way we think about our place in the order of the cosmos and may ultimately prove Hawking's biggest legacy…  Click on the title link for a standalone review.

Quantum Supremacy: How Quantum Computers Will Unlock the Mysteries of Science – and Usher in a New Quantum Era by Michio Kaku, Allen Lane, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-241-55566-8.
We are entering the Quantum Era. The rise of quantum computing – computing on individual atoms, rather than silicon chips – will have profound implications for our economy, society and way of life, and could leave Silicon Valley as a new Rust Belt, its technology obsolete.  In Quantum Supremacy, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku reveals the dazzling promise and potential pitfalls of the quantum computer. While digital computers are bean counters, keeping mindless track of our data, quantum computers may eventually unlock some of the greatest mysteries of our world – unravelling, atom for atom, the complex chemical processes that make life possible and run the Universe.

Pathogenesis: How infectious diseases shaped human history by Jonathan Kennedy, Transworld, £25, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-911-70905-3.
Disease has shaped humanity at every stage, from the first success of Homo sapiens over the equally intelligent Neanderthals to the fall of Rome and the rise of Islam. How did the Black Death lead to the birth of capitalism? And how did the Industrial Revolution lead to the birth of the welfare state?  Infectious diseases are not just something that happens to us,but a part of who we are. The only reason humans don't lay eggs is that a virus long ago inserted itself into our DNA. In fact, 8% of the human genome was put there by viruses. We have been thinking about the survival of the fittest all wrong: human evolution is not simply about our strength and intelligence, but about what viruses can and can't use for their benefit.  By confronting our ongoing battle with infectious diseases globally, sociologist Jonathan Kennedy shows how germs have been responsible for some of the seismic revolutions in human history, and how the crises they precipitate offer vital opportunities to change course.

Breathe: Tackling the Climate Emergency by Sadiq Khan, Hutchinson Heinemann, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-529-152784.
A seven-step guide to winning support for tough action on climate change – the first book from the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.  For years, Sadiq wasn’t fully aware of the dangers posed by air pollution, nor its connection with climate change.  Then, aged forty-three, he was unexpectedly diagnosed with asthma – brought on by the polluted London air he had been breathing for decades.  Scandalised, Sadiq underwent a political transformation that would see him become one of the most prominent politicians fighting (and winning) elections on green issues. Since becoming Mayor of London in 2016, he has declared a climate emergency, introduced the world’s first Ultra-Low Emission Zone and turned London into the first-ever ‘National Park City’. Now, Sadiq draws on his experiences to identify the seven ways environmental action gets blown off course – and offers practical tools to get it back on track.  Breathe demonstrates how anyone – whether voter, activist or politician – can win the argument on climate. It will help create a world where we can breathe again.

AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future by Kai-Fu Lee & Chen Qiufan, Ebury, £10.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-753-55902-4.
A non-fiction author joins forces with a science-fiction novelist to blend imaginative storytelling and scientific forecasting to ask how artificial intelligence (AI) will change our world over the next 20 years.  AI will be the defining development of the twenty-first century.  Within two decades, aspects of daily human life will be unrecognisable. AI will generate unprecedented wealth, revolutionize medicine and education through human-machine symbiosis, and create brand new forms of communication and entertainment. In liberating us from routine work, however, AI will also challenge the organizing principles of our economic and social order. Meanwhile, AI will bring new risks in the form of autonomous weapons and smart technology that inherits human bias. AI is at a tipping point, and people need to wake up-both to AI's radiant pathways and its existential perils for life as we know it. In this provocative, utterly original work of "scientific fiction," Kai-Fu Lee, the former president of Google China and author of AI Superpowers, joins forces with celebrated novelist Chen Qiufan to imagine our world in 2041 and how it will be shaped by AI. In ten gripping short stories, set twenty years in the future, they introduce readers to an array of eye-opening 2041 settings: In San Francisco, a new industry, "job reallocation," arises to serve displaced workers. In Tokyo, a music fan is swept up in an immersive form of celebrity worship. In Mumbai, a teenage girl rebels when AI gets in the way of romance.

Invasive Species: A Very Short Introduction by Julie Lockwood & Dustin J. Welbourne, Oxford University Press, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-198-81828-1.
Invasive species have become a major environmental issue in ecosystems across the world. Julie Lockwood considers how plant and animal species are introduced to new environments; the ecological, social, and economic impacts they can have; and approaches to managing them, against the broader backdrop of environmental change.

Genes: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan Slack, Oxford University Press, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-192-85670-8.
This is an exploration of the discovery, nature, and role of genes in evolution and development. Looking at how genes are understood as a concept, the nature of genetic variation, and how their mutation can lead to disease, this is an ideal guide for anyone curious about what genes are and how they work. This is a second edition.

Secret Worlds: The extraordinary senses of animals by Martin Stevens, Oxford University Press, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-198-81367-5.
Our senses are limited compared to some animals that see in the ultraviolet, communicate using electricity, or navigate vast distances with magnetic information. In Secret Worlds Stevens explores how other animals experience the world, how their senses were shaped by evolution, and the shocking impacts on wildlife of our bright lights and traffic noise.

Orwell: The New Life by D. J. Taylor, Constable, £30, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-472-13296-3.
A newly updated biography of one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century: George Orwell. Elegantly written and thoroughly researched, D. J. Taylor illustrates just how impactful Orwell’s work has proved itself to be: ‘Orwellian’ has become one of the key adjectives of the modern age; ‘Room 101’ and ‘Big Brother’ are used in everyday language; passages from Nineteen Eighty-Four are invoked in court rulings. Orwell, Taylor argues, is not merely a popular writer, but someone who quarried his way down into the heart of the human condition and, by doing so, managed to colonise the mental world both of his own age and the ones that followed.  Covering Orwell’s early beginnings through to his tragically early death, Orwell: The New Life is filled with interludes and new insights into the man responsible for some of the most important literary works in existence today.

The Secret Lives of Earth’s Smallest Creatures by J. Craig Venter & David Ewing Duncan, Robinson, £22, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-472-14417-1.
A story of scientific adventure weaving adventure, history and science into an entirely fresh look at the microbiome that underpins all life on the planet.  Dr Venter is best known for co-sequencing the first ever human genome. He later stunned the scientific world again by building from scratch the entire genome of an organism – Mycoplasma mycoides. The book covers a series of expeditions made over the last sixteen years on the one-hundred-foot yacht Sorcerer II, travelling over 75,000 miles, from Antarctica to Alaska, the Amazon Basin to the Black Sea, and the Golden Horn to volcanic vents near the Galapagos, with the aim of hunting down and identifying trillions of micro-organisms, fewer than one per cent of which had been studied before Dr Venter began this work in 2002. His work has already transformed the science of microbiology.

 

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Forthcoming SF Books Forthcoming Fantasy Books Forthcoming Non-Fiction
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Summer 2023

General Science News

 

The 2023 Abel Prize for mathematics goes to Luis Caffarelli for work on the regularity of partial differential equation solutions.  Regularity means smoothness, so that the solutions don’t form kinks or run away to infinity. In mathematical physics, solutions are often expected to be regular because the equations model phenomena at macroscopic scales – where things such as temperature or pressure distributions seem to be smooth and where infinities would be unphysical. Originally from Argentine, and now a US resident, he is the first person born in South America to win the award.

Britain's government moves for the UK to become a "science superpower" by cancelling £1.6 billion (US$1.95bn)!  The UK was to be involved in the European Unions €100 billion Horizon Europe collaborative research programme. EU member nations and other nation participants each contribute funds which are then allocated to individuals or organisations by expert scientists based on the merit of their research proposal. This programme is open to non-EU nations who contribute and it was agreed that the UK would be included as part of the Brexit deal with £1.6 billion to be Britain's contribution. Alas, because of problems with the Northern Ireland trade conundrum discrepancy of terms with the Republic of Ireland on one hand and mainland Britain on the other, Brexit has not been fully implemented. As a consequence the UK is not yet a part of Horizon Europe.
          Despite Prime Minister Rishi Sunak previously promising, when he was Chancellor, that the funding would remain with science research, it has now been clawed back by the Treasury. This cut to UK science was not widely announced but buried on page 300 of the Treasury's Central Government supply estimates 2022/23. This despite the Government's stated mission to have the UK as a 'science superpower'. (Further details here.)

The Independent Review of the UK’s Research, Development and Innovation Organisational Landscape concludes that Britain underfunds its science research and has poor researcher career structures.  It states that UK research is in danger due to underinvestment in the sector by successive Governments. Total UK investment in Research and Development (R&D) is thought to be around the 2019 OECD average of 2.5%1, but lags behind commercially successful research-intensive nations such as South Korea, the United States and Germany, whose research spend was 3.2-4.6% of GDP in 2019. In 2019 it was between 2.6% and 2.7%, close to the OECD average of 2.5%. However stripping out industry and charity funding, the funding of R&D directly performed by UK government entities is very low, at only 0.12% of GDP, putting the UK below the estimated OECD average of 0.24% for 2019 and 0.26% for 2020, and far behind most other research-intensive nations. Further, Expenditure on all domestic R&D funded by the UK Government – including that by agencies and government departments outside the Science Base – is 0.46% of GDP, in 27th place in the 36 OECD nations, considerably less than the OECD average of 0.6%, and substantially lower than South Korea, Germany and the United States, which spend 0.66-0.96% of GDP on R&D.
          With regard to career structure, the report says that the UK needs to ensure there is high-quality training, tackling the perceived lack of long-term job prospects, and creating a better understanding of the range of opportunities to move careers between research organisations are important to ensure the sustainability Britain's research landscape. (See Nurse, P. (2023) Independent Review of the UK’s Research, Development and Innovation Organisational Landscape. Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, London.)

First woman appointed UK's Chief Scientific Adviser.  The post holder provides scientific advice to the government and has a constitutional right to instigate a meeting with the Prime Minister.  The new Chief Scientific Adviser is Prof Dame Angela McLean FRS, CBiol FIBiol who replaces Sir Patrick Vallance.  She is currently Ministry of Defence chief scientific adviser and an expert on the spread of infectious diseases, at Oxford University.

There are over 170 trillion plastic particles afloat in the world’s oceans.  Today’s global abundance is estimated at approximately 82–358 trillion plastic particles weighing 1.1–4.9 million tonnes. Researchers observed no clear detectable trend until 1990, a fluctuating but stagnant trend from then until 2005, and a rapid increase until the present. This observed acceleration of plastic densities in the world’s oceans, also reported for beaches around the globe, demands urgent international policy interventions the researchers say. (See Eriksen, M. et al (2023) A growing plastic smog, now estimated to be over 170 trillion plastic particles afloat in the world’s oceans – Urgent solutions required. PLoS ONE, 18 (3), e0281596.)

Cities were the best place to live in the late 20th century: for most places the countryside is the best place to live in 2020.  This is the conclusion inferred by data from 2,325 population-based studies, with measurements of height and weight from 71 million participants, to report the height and body-mass index (BMI) of children and adolescents aged 5–19 years on the basis of rural and urban place of residence in 200 countries and territories from 1990 to 2020.  In 1990, children and adolescents residing in cities were taller than their rural counterparts in all but a few high-income countries. By 2020, the urban height advantage became smaller in most countries, and in many high-income western countries it reversed into a small urban-based disadvantage. The exception was for boys in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa and in some countries in Oceania, south Asia and the region of central Asia, Middle East and north Africa.  This shows that in much of the world, the growth and developmental advantages of living in cities have diminished in the twenty-first century, whereas in much of sub-Saharan Africa they have amplified.  (See  NCD Risk Factor Collaboration (2023) Diminishing benefits of urban living for children and adolescents’ growth and development. Nature, vol. 615, p874-883.)

The Earth's inner core may have stopped spinning faster than the rest of the planet. Earthquake seismology has suggested that the Earth's inner core has been spinning faster than the rest of the planet. If this has been happening then this is because the inner core, which is about 4,300 miles (7,000 kilometres) wide, consists of a solid centre, made mostly of iron, inside a shell of liquid iron and other elements. This layer of liquid metal enables the inner core to spin faster than the rest of the planet (its mantle and crust).  Now, first off, not all scientists agree that the inner core is spinning faster. Second, even if it is, it is suggested that the inner core spin is faster only by about one-tenth of a degree per year.  The latest research from data of earthquakes, mostly from between 1995 and 2021, suggests that the inner core’s super-rotation had stopped in about 2009.  Which prompts SF² Concatenation's Gaia to ask whether or not the Earth moved form you?  (See Yang, Y. & Song, X. (2023) Pre-print here. Nature Geoscience  and the review article Witze, A. (2023) Has Earth’s inner core stopped its strange spin? Nature, vol. 614, p19.)

The Earth's core seems to have another inner core!  Two geoscientists from Australia have used earthquake seismological data gathered over the past decade. Their results suggest that there is a small, innermost inner core with a radius of 650 km (540 miles) within the Earth's inner core. (Remember, there is also a liquid – molten metal – outer core giving a total core radius of 2,150 miles (4.500 kilometres).) This work ties in with other tentative evidence as to there being a small, innermost inner core. (See Pham, T. & Tkalcic, H. (2023) Up-to-fivefold reverberating waves through the Earth’s centre and distinctly anisotropic innermost inner core. Nature Communications, vol. 14, 754.)

Small, stable, high transfer rate qubits, suitable for large scale quantum computers, have been developed.  A collaboration of British researchers (physicists and engineers) have developed the qubit chips that are less than 2cm square that are highly functional.  So far, small-scale trapped-ion quantum computers with up to 10s of qubits have been demonstrated that is good at conserving quantum states.  This new method will enable that number to be greatly increased and so pave the way for more commercial quantum computing.  (See Akhtar, M. et al (2023) A high-fidelity quantum matter-link between ion-trap microchip modules. Nature Communications, vol. 14, 531.)

How does one effectively train an artificial intelligence (AI)? Answer: get another AI to do the training!  One of the main hurdles to putting autonomous cars on the road is how to ensure the reliability of the artificial intelligence (AI) that replaces the human driver. Evaluating the safety of an AI driver to the level of a human in a naturalistic environment would require testing across hundreds of millions of miles – something that is clearly impractical. Researchers have now tackled this problem by training an AI to help test the AI in the driving seat. They used dense deep reinforcement learning to train the AI tester, which allowed the tester to ignore safe scenarios and instead build a testing environment that focused on potentially dangerous situations. The team then successfully tested a real car using augmented reality – while the autonomous vehicle drove round a track it had to cope with virtual dangers set by the tester. The researchers say the system can speed up safety evaluations by several orders of magnitude (roughly a million times faster).  Yes, the machines really are taking over.  Is this a sign of an imminent singularity?  (See Feng, S. et al (2023) Dense reinforcement learning for safety validation of autonomous vehicles. Nature, vol. 615, p620-7.)

 

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Summer 2023

Natural Science News

 

Surface hydrothermal pools 3.9 billion years ago were suitable for pre-biotic chemistry that might have led to life.  The researchers used zircons – natural silicate minerals in Earth’s crust – to determine the fluid geochemistry of ancient hydrothermal systems.  They found more oxidising fluids feeding hydrothermal pools than previously expected. They also were able to estimate the hydrothermals chlorine content and temperature. This enabled them to model the solubility and transport of catalytic metals that are hypothesized to be crucial for the origin of life. Indeed, had microbial life got going, such pools could sustain it. This also has implications for how minerals and organics may have formed in the time just after Earth’s accretion.  (See Trail, D. & McCollom, T. M. (2023) Relatively oxidized fluids fed Earth’s earliest hydrothermal systems. Science, vol. 379, p582-586.)

Pre-human species used and made tools!  This research pushes back the date for early tool-use by at least 600,000 years.  Tool use is mainly associated with Homo species such as H. habilis, H. neanderthalensis as well as H. sapiens. However it has been known that earlier (non-Homo) species also used tools but the sites providing evidence for this are few. This new discovery shows that tool use and tool making was earlier and also more widespread than had previously been thought.  The evidence comes from a site at Nyayanga, Kenya, that dates to 3.032 to 2.581 million years ago.  The site was the home to a precursor species to Homo species called Paranthropus. The tools were used to cut and butcher prey meat.  (See Plummer, T. W. et al (2023) Expanded geographic distribution and dietary strategies of the earliest Oldowan hominins and Paranthropus. Science, vol. 379, p561–566.)

Do we understand ape language?  Apes communicate through sign language accompanied by sounds. Humans evolved from apes. So, how come we do not understand ape language? Or do we?  Two researchers, Kirsty Graham and Catherine Hobaiter fro St Andrews University, Great Britain, crowd-sourced data from 5,656 participants through an online game, which required them to select the meaning of chimpanzee and bonobo gestures in 20 videos. They show that humans may retain an understanding of ape gestural communication (either directly inherited or part of more general cognition), across gesture types and gesture meanings, with information on communicative context providing only a marginal improvement in success. It appears that despite evolution, we humans have retained our ancestral system of gestures from our ape times. (See Graham, K.E. & Hobaiter, C. (2023) Towards a great ape dictionary: Inexperienced humans understand common nonhuman ape gestures. PLoS Biology, vol. 21 (1): e3001939.)

Fast-evolving DNA drives human brain development. Regions of the human genome that evolved rapidly after the separation between hominins and chimpanzees have now been charted. They contain genomic elements that are unique to humans and are linked to neurodevelopment and disease. US researchers have demonstrated that the fastest-evolved regions of the human genome, which they term ‘‘human ancestor quickly evolved regions’’ (HAQERs), rapidly diverged in an episodic burst of directional positive selection prior to the human-Neanderthal split. HAQERs are enriched for genes involved in gastrointestinal and neurodevelopmental tissues, and genetic variants linked to neurodevelopmental disease.  (See Mangan, R. J. et al. (2022) Adaptive sequence divergence forged new neurodevelopmental enhancers in humans. Cell, vol. 185, p4,587–4,603  and the review piece  Kun, E. & Narasimhan, V. M. (2023) Fast-evolving DNA drives human brain development. Nature, vol. 614, p37-8.)

When did we first wear clothes? At least 320,000 years ago new research suggests.  Up to now we only had evidence for bear skinning – presumably for obtaining the fur to wear – from Biache-Saint-Vaast (France; about 175,000 years ago) and Taubach (Germany; about 120,000 years ago). Now sites at Schoningen, Germany, have revealed delicate skinning of bear that date from 320,000 years ago. Bear skins have high insulating properties and might have played a role in the adaptations of Middle Pleistocene hominins to the cold and harsh winter conditions of Northwestern Europe. 320,000 years ago coincides with an interglacial (the warm part of an ice age like the time we are in now) and so early hominins could live in northwestern Europe. (See Verheijen, I. et al (2022) Early evidence for bear exploitation during MIS 9 from the site of Schöningen 12 (Germany). Journal of Human Evolution.)

Neanderthals lived in groups big enough to kill and eat giant elephants, or alternatively they could store food properly.  Meat from the butchered beasts would have fed hundreds.  On the muddy shores of a lake in east-central Germany between 800,000 and 100,000 years ago, Neanderthals gathered some 125,000 years ago to butcher massive elephants. With sharp stone tools, they harvested up to 4 tonnes of flesh from each animal, enough for , according to an archaeological study that is casting these ancient human relatives in a new light. The degree of organisation required to carry out the butchery – and the sheer quantity of food it provided – suggests Neanderthals could form much larger social groups than previously thought or store food. They calculated that 745 person-hours was needed for butchery, drying, and smoking of each African elephants included in their prey. This either required a large group of people or this could be done in 3 to 5 days, if just 25 individuals were involved. A ten tonne elephant would have yielded more than 2,500 daily portions, taking this constraint into account: i.e. minimally 2,500 adult Neanderthal rations of 4,000 kcal. So if a large group was not involved then some way of properly storing the meat was required. (See Gaudzinski-Windheuser, S. et al (2023) Hunting and processing of straight-tusked elephants 125,000 years ago: Implications for Neanderthal behaviour. Science Advances, vol. 9, eadd8186  and the review article Curry, A. (2023) Neanderthals lived in groups big enough to eat giant elephants. Science, vol. 379, p428.)

Arrow tips from 16,000 to 15,600 years ago point to Pacific Coast route into America. Now, it should be noted that signs of humans in America date to 23,000 to 21,000 years ago and so we know there were earlier humans. However, there are two likely routes for human entry to the Americas: by seas across the Pacific and by hugging the Pacific coast along the glacial ice age ice sheet before making their way inland. The site where the arrow heads were found is on the banks of Idaho’s Salmon River. It is thought that hunter gathers hugged the Pacific coast and then turned up the Columbia River. The Salmon River back then was ice free. It is hypothesised that the arrow heads were left by the ancestors of the Nez Perce tribe.

Direct evidence of Bronze Age drug use!  Ancient drug use has been assumed from the chemical product remains found in ancient vessels. Prehistoric SF&DAers circumstantial evidence has been found in Eurasia, North and South America.  However this is not hard evidence of hallucinogenic compound consumption by humans. Now, Spanish researchers have found direct evidence. This is not the first direct evidence but it is solid direct evidence (some earlier direct evidence is debatable if not controversial). Spanish researcher have now analysed hair from a Bronze Age burial and cult cave of Es Carritx, in Menorca (Balearic Islands) that date from over 3,000 years ago.  The alkaloids ephedrine, atropine and scopolamine were clearly detected. (Guerra-Doce, E. et al. (2023) Direct evidence of the use of multiple drugs in Bronze Age Menorca (Western Mediterranean) from human hair analysis. Scientific Reports, vol. 13, 4782.)

The cause for the Hittite empire's collapse confirmed.  Around 1,300BC the Hittite empire thrived in the area of modern-day Turkey and Syria and the same time of other Mediterranean civilizations of the Assyrians, Egyptians and Mycenaeans. Yet by 1,170BC the Hittite and Mycenaeans had gone (including the orderly abandonment of its capital city of Hattusa) while the Assyrians and Egyptians had a greatly reduced territory.  Why?  Well the long-established answer seems to have been famine, but what caused that?  Enter a small collaboration of US researchers who have looked at tree rings in timbers excavated from the ancient site of Gordion in central Turkey. They established that there was an unusually severe and continuous, three-year dry period from around 1,198 to 1,196BC in the eastern Mediterranean. This caused failed harvests and it was this that led to famine. This tree data ties in with earlier, separate pollen record data as well as historical records of poor harvests. (See Manning, S. W. et al (2023) Severe multi-year drought coincident with Hittite collapse around 1198–1196BC. Nature, vol. 614, p719-724  and the review piece  Durusu-Tanriover, M. (2023) Signs of climate crisis as an ancient empire unravelled. Nature, vol. 614, p625-6.)

Medieval east African genetics unravelled. Coastal E. Africans have an Asian medieval male ancestry.  Ancient DNA data was analysed from 80 individuals from 6 medieval and early modern (AD 1250–1800) coastal towns. It shows the Asian ancestry includes components associated with Persia and India, with 80–90% of the Asian DNA originating from Persian men. Peoples of African and Asian origins began to mix by about 1000AD, coinciding with the large-scale adoption of Islam. Before about 1500AD, the Southwest Asian ancestry was mainly Persian-related, consistent with the narrative of the Kilwa Chronicle, the oldest history told by people of the Swahili coast. After this time, the sources of DNA became increasingly Arabian, consistent with evidence of growing interactions with southern Arabia. Subsequent interactions with Asian and African people further changed the ancestry of present-day people of the Swahili coast in relation to the medieval individuals. (See  Brielle, E. S. et al (2023) Entwined African and Asian genetic roots of medieval peoples of the Swahili coast. Nature, vol. 615, p866-873.)

Global wetland loss since pre-industrial times has been estimated.  Researchers have now reconstructed the distribution and timing of wetland loss through conversion to seven human land uses between 1700AD and 2020, by combining national and sub-national records of drainage and conversion with land-use maps and simulated wetland extents.  They estimate that that 2 million miles² (3.4 million km²) of inland wetlands have been lost since 1700, primarily for conversion to croplands. Most of the loss has taken place since the beginning of the 20th century. This is equivalent to about 2% of Earth’s land surface area. This new analysis highlights the ongoing need to protect and restore the world’s remaining wetland ecosystems.  (See  Fluet-Chouinard, E. et al. (2023) Extensive global wetland loss over the past three centuries. Nature, vol. 614, p281-286  and the review piece  Murray, N. J. (2023) Extent and drivers of global wetland loss. Nature, vol. 614, p234-5.)

Most life living in reefs all around Australia has declined the past decade despite coral stability in some places.  The population trends of 1,057 common shallow reef species from multiple phyla at 1,636 sites around Australia over the past decade have been recorded. Most populations decreased over this period, including many tropical fishes, temperate invertebrates (particularly echinoderms) and south-western Australian macro-algae, whereas coral populations remained relatively stable. Population declines typically followed heatwave years, when local water temperatures were more than 0.5°C above temperatures in 2008. Following heatwaves.  More than 30% of shallow invertebrate species in cool latitudes exhibited high extinction risk, with rapidly declining populations trapped by deep ocean barriers, preventing poleward retreat as temperatures rise. Greater conservation effort is needed to safeguard temperate marine ecosystems.  (See  Edgar, G. J. et al. (2023) Continent-wide declines in shallow reef life over a decade of ocean warming. Nature, vol. 615, p858-865.)

What is the mass of the Earth's wildlife?  With biodiversity declining, and wildlife at threat, the question of how much we have is a pertinent point.  So, looking at just terrestrial (land-based) wildlife mammals, how much mass is there and which species make up the most of it?  Step up a collaboration of several Israeli zoologists and environmental scientists.  They have calculated a rough estimate of the total terrestrial wild mammals wet biomass of around 20 million tonnes (Mt) for all terrestrial wild mammals.  For comparison, humanity as a whole weighs in at around a whopping ≈390 Mt.  But if you think that is a lot, then look at the mass of our livestock of about ≈630 Mt (this includes pets).
          So, which terrestrial wildlife mammal species have the most combined mass?  The species with the greatest mass is the combined mass of 45 million individuals of White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) at 2.7 Mt, followed by the 30 million individuals of wild boar (Sus scrofa) 1.9 Mt, and the half million individuals of the African savanna elephant (Loxodonta Africana) 1.3 Mt. These are substantially ahead of the rest of the pack, beginning with the 20 million individuals of the Eastern gray kangaroo (Macropus giganteus) at 0.6Mt.  The greatest concentration of terrestrial mammal biomass is located in tropical and sub-tropical Africa which has around almost twice as much as that found in S. America, principally the north and eastern Amazon basin.  Why is this? Well, large animals in Africa co-evolved with, and so became wary of, humans; large mammals elsewhere did not.  An interesting point is that the mass of domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) is around ≈20Mt, similar to the combined biomass of all wild terrestrial mammals. (See Greenspoon, L. et al (2023) The global biomass of wild mammals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, vol. 120, (10) e2204892120.)

The healthiest human diets have been confirmed.  It has been known for some time that there are a number of healthy diets from Japan's fish, rice and vegetable diets, Inuit diets, indigenous southern African diets to the Mediterranean wine, olive oil, lamb and vegetables diet. The one thing all these diets have in common is their minimum food processing (well, wine excepted). Peilu Wang at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, and her colleagues analysed data from 205,852 health-care professionals in the United States who were aged between 25 and 75 years old when data collection began. For a period of up to 32 years, participants regularly reported details about their lifestyle, medical history and food intake.  The analysis found that individuals who adhered closely to guidelines for diets designed to lower the risk of inducing inflammation, high blood insulin levels or diabetes were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer than were people who did not follow these diets. People who drank higher amounts of coffee, eat whole grains or drank wine were at lower risk of chronic disease, particularly type-2 diabetes. By contrast, individuals who often consumed processed meats, low- and high-energy drinks, red meat or French fries were associated with a higher risk of chronic disease. (See Wang, P. et al (2023) Optimal dietary patterns for prevention of chronic disease. Nature Medicine, vol. 29, p719–728.)

Small particle pollution causes lung cancer in non-smokers.  Everyone know that air pollution is bad, but the past decade or so has shown that very, very small particles ≤2.5μm (particulate mater equal to or smaller that 2.5 micrometres, or PM2.5) do cause lung disease. However, this recent knowledge is often assumed to apply to those predispositioned to lung disease be it asthma or that associated with tobacco smoking. Now new research by a large international conglomeration of researcher has provided evidence for PM2.5 and smaller promoting lung cancer in non-smokers.  This is a topical issue as a number of cities are now rolling out low emission zones in which the most polluting cars have to pay a daily tariff: London is currently extending its Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) from just its centre to outer boroughs, four of which are challenging the move.  (See Hill, W. et al. (2023) Lung adenocarcinoma promotion by air pollutants. Nature, vol. 616, p159-167  and the review piece  Balmain, A. (2023) Air pollution’s role in the promotion of lung cancer. Nature, vol. 616, p35-6.)

Bird flu (H5N1) has now spread from birds to wild red foxes and other mesocarnivore species in Canada.  Following the (what fortunately turned out to be a minor) outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003, there has been concern that another bird flu coronavirus might transfer from bird to other animals and possibly humans. In 2006 a new bird flu, H5N1, was detected and the UN's world Health Organisation warned to prepare for a possible flu pandemic. By early 2006 H5N1 was found to have infected a large number of cats and dogs in Thailand.  By 2008 it had indeed transferred to humans resulting in over 100 deaths in Indonesia.  The latest news is that Canadian bioscientists and veterinarians have now detected H5N1 in wild red foxes, striped skunks, and mink in Canada, presumably following an introduction by migratory birds.  Gene sequences of the samples show mutations from other H5N1 samples previously sequenced in other countries.  The researchers speculate that the mesocarnivores likely caught the virus by consuming dead migratory birds.  The detections were in southern middle Canada as well as along much of Canada's east coast.  These detections reaffirm that the H5N1 virus can overcome interspecies barriers and evolve new variants.  (See  Alkie, T. N. et al. (2023) Characterization of neurotropic HPAI H5N1 viruses with novel genome constellations and mammalian adaptive mutations in free-living mesocarnivores in Canada. Emerging Microbes & Infections. vol. 12, 2186608.)

 

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

Racoon dog CoVID origin analysis sparks debate. Florence Débarre of CNRS, the French national research agency, looked at genetic sequences taken from samples at the wholesale animal market in Wuhan, China, where many of the first CoVID-19 cases were located. The sequences were digitally stored on the China curated virology database GISAID and they found both SARS-CoV-2’s RNA and racoon dog, Amur hedgehog, Malayan porcupine, hoary bamboo rat, Himalayan marmot, masked palm civet, Siberian weasel and hog badger mitochondrial DNA. However the racoon dog mitochondrial DNA was the most abundant suggesting that it could have been the intermediate host as the virus moved from bats. Previous model work based on samples from the market by George Gao and colleagues also suggested racoon dog involvement. However, shortly after that latest research was announced the GISAD database saw the relevant samples' data removed for reasons unknown. Meanwhile the George Gao work is currently being peer-reviewed and will hopefully be published in a few months time. Until then those that favour the lab leak hypothesis are continuing to criticise the racoon dog hypothesis, and everyone is disappointed that the GISAID virology database is being controlled. (See Cohen, J. (2023) New clues to pandemic’s origin surface, causing uproar. Science, vol. 379, p1,175-6.)

The XBB.1.5 offshoot of the Omicron variant may become the global dominant strain (for now). By early January (2023) the XBB.1.5 offshoot of BA.2 sub variant of Omicron variant made up around 28% of US CoVID-19 cases and is set to dominate global CoVID infections. It is more infectious than other variants due to a F486P mutation in the spike protein that improves the variant’s ability to attach to the human ACE2 receptor, which SARS-CoV-2 uses to invade cells. Vaccine effectiveness is reduced. XBB.1.5, like its predecessor XBB, is good at immune evasion. It carries numerous spike mutations that blunt the potency of antibodies raised by vaccination and previous infections, including infection with earlier Omicron strains. Bivalent vaccines boost levels of antibodies somewhat capable of halting XBB infection (and possibly XBB.1.5) in lab tests but not by much. However, while vaccines may be less effective at preventing infection or illness, they remain good at preventing serious illness and death. Because it is so infectious it will reside in many people at the same time so increasing the change of incubating new mutations and hence a new variant. (See Callaway, E. (2023) Is coronavirus variant xbb.1.5 a global threat? Nature, vol. 613, p222-3.)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) list of key variants of concern now include among others:
  - Kent (scientifically called B.1.1.7) to be now known as Alpha
  - S. African (scientifically called B.1.351) to be now known as Beta
  - Brazilian (scientifically called P.1) to be now known as Gamma
  - Indian (scientifically called B.1.617) to be now known as Delta
  - Californian (scientifically called B.1.429, B.1.427 and CAL.20C) to be now known as Epsilon
  - Philippines (scientifically called P.3) to be now known as Theta
  - New York (scientifically called B.1.526) to be now known as Iota
  - Peru (scientifically called C.37) to be now known as Lambda
  - Colombia (scientifically called B.1.621) to be now known as Mu
  - S. Africa / Botswana (scientifically called B.1.1.529 with offshoots BA.1, BA.2 (which in turn led to XBB.1.5) , BA2.75 (unofficially Centaurus), BA.3, BA.4 and BA.5) to be now known as Omicron

Related SARS-CoV-2 / CoVID-19 news, previously covered elsewhere on this site, has been listed here on previous seasonal news pages prior to 2023.  However, this has become quite a lengthy list of links and so we stopped providing this listing in the news pages and also, with the vaccines for many in the developed and middle-income nations, the worst of the pandemic is over.  Instead you can find this lengthy list of links at the end of our initial SARS-CoV-2 briefing here.  It neatly charts over time the key research conducted throughout the pandemic.

 

 

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Summer 2023

Astronomy & Space Science News

 

Evidence for black holes containing dark energy found!  Now, from the off it must be stated that this is not a new idea: Erast Gliner proposed novel ideas as to the nature of vacuum in 1966 and that there was energy in space (a vacuum energy), and this in turn contributed to our present understanding (albeit a minimal understanding) of dark energy and cosmic inflation.  Back in the present, a collaboration of astrophysicists has said that if black holes are dark energy then as the Universe is expanding faster and faster then so black holes should also be growing faster and faster, indeed, faster than they would otherwise grow by simply accumulating gas and other normal matter: this is called cosmological coupling.  What the team has done is to look at supermassive black holes at the heart of distant elliptical galaxies – black holes earlier in the Universe – and also supermassive black holes in elliptical galaxies near to us – black holes close to the present Universe. Comparing the two they claim to have found that the black holes have indeed grown faster than would otherwise happen from just accumulating normal matter, in other words that cosmological coupling exists.
          So is that it?  Has the source of dark energy been truly identified?  Well, the team's logic does stack up.  Though, there is a niggle in that supermassive black holes exist in the centre of galaxies whereas space-time expansion occurs everywhere (not just in the centre of galaxies), but there is a physics hack to get around that, albeit a rather speculative hack.  There is also a problem with there not being enough normal matter in the Universe to make sufficient black holes to account for dark energy, but there is a hack for this too, if one assumes that black holes also contain dark matter.  No, the problem comes with the astrophysicists' claims that their measurement of black hole evolution across billions of years fits predicted theory so precisely.
          In the TV show The Apprentice candidates often claim that they gave 101% of effort to their tasks, and in advertising there are similar claims such as such-and-such a disinfectant kills 99% of all known germs.  Really?  How were the percentages measured?  And here is the rub, the astrophysicists claim that their analysis of black hole evolution over billions of years has a 99.98% confidence of agreement with cosmological coupling. 99.98%!  Can this be true?  Well, alas the evidence for this really is extremely weak.  There have been a number of attempts over the decades to assess black hole evolution with that of galaxies over billions of years and the results have been highly variable: an indication of a lack of measurement precision.  Indeed, the astrophysicists' own raw data is clunky necessitating a best fit curve; it is this curve based on imprecise data that 99.98% agrees with the prediction from cosmological coupling.  Make no mistake, this new evidence is interesting but it is not hard evidence: nobody has actually observed a supermassive black hole over billions of years and we have to assume that the researchers' distant galaxy black hole sample is analogous to (is a truly representative precursor sample of) the nearby, present day sample of supermassive black holes.  This is a big assumption.  In short, note this research paper for now, but be open to new evidence and consider rival hypotheses.  (See  Farrah, D. et al (2023) A Preferential Growth Channel for Supermassive Black Holes in Elliptical Galaxies at z ≤ 2. The Astrophysical Journal, 943,133  and   Farrah, D. et al (2023) Observational Evidence for Cosmological Coupling of Black Holes and its Implications for an Astrophysical Source of Dark Energy. The Astrophysical Journal, 944, L31.)

The furthest exoplanet has now been detected at 17,000 light years away.  The data used was generated by data gathered from Campaign 9 of the Kepler K2 mission (K2C9).  Kepler mainly detects exoplanets by noticing how a star's brightness dims when an exoplanet partly eclipses it (which is the same principle as is being used by its successor TESS satellite). However, Kepler can also look at gravitationally lensed starlight. This is starlight that is brought into focus by the gravity of an intervening star.  Whereas Kepler's transit search looks at stars up to 3,000 light years distant ahead of us in our spiral arm, K2C9 looks at right-angles to this towards the Galactic centre. And using gravity lensing it can detect exoplanets it is though up to 20,000 light years away. Finding one 17,000 light years away is something of a record.
          The host star is a small red dwarf a little over half the mass of the Sun and the planet detected is similar in mass to Jupiter. Small stars do not engender planetary mass as much as heavier stars and it is thought that this exo-Jupiter is unusually close to the limit of this small star's ability to harbour Jupiter-sized planets.  (See Specht, D. et al, (2023) Kepler K2 Campaign 9: II. First space-based discovery of an exoplanet using microlensing. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, stad212.)

The James Webb Space Telescope had analysed the atmosphere of a planet 700 light years away. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was launched in December 2021 and now orbits the Sun, some 1.5 million kilometres from Earth. Five papers in Nature report analyses profiling the atmospheric chemistry of WASP-39b, a hot exoplanet 700 light years away with a Saturn-like mass. As WASP's host star's light shines through the hot exoplanet's atmosphere, the spectrum is affected by the atmosphere's constituents. This reveals the signatures of water, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sodium and potassium; determined the properties of clouds; and uncovered evidence of sulphur dioxide.  Elements heavier than hydrogen and helium are more abundant in the atmosphere of WASP-39b than they are in the Sun, whereas the ratio of carbon to oxygen is lower than that of the Sun and commensurate with that of Saturn.  The data comes from James Webb's Early Data Release.  The detection of sulphur dioxide marks the first direct evidence of light-induced (photochemical) reactions in an exoplanet atmosphere – a milestone in the quest for a truly habitable planet.  This early success bodes well for analysing the atmospheres of other exoplanets and the detection of atmospheric bio-signatures (such as the presence of oxygen and methane together. (See the review piece Seidel, J. V. & Nielsen, L. D. (2023) JWST opens a window on exoplanet skies. Nature, vol. 614, p632-3  and the following links to primary research papers  research paper 1, research paper 2, research paper 3, research paper 4 and research paper 5.)

How big does a planet have to be before it becomes a small, cool, star (brown dwarf)?  The current definition of a planet is an object that is below the mass required for thermonuclear fusion of deuterium, which is currently believed to occur at 13 Jupiter masses. But is this true? Meanwhile brown dwarfs are celestial bodies sometimes described as ‘failed stars’.
          An international collaboration of largely European astronomers (led by Sasha Hinkley at the University of Exeter, Great Britain) have now detected a large exoplanet orbiting the HD206893 star, which is a little hotter (F5V) than the Earth's Sun (a G-type star) and located 133 light years (40.7 parsecs) from Earth.  The planet is known as HD206893c and is 12.7 time the mass of Jupiter and orbits its star at a little over 3.5 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun (AU, Astronomical Units). This is right on the borderline between planets and brown dwarfs.  HD206893c is an example of an object narrowly straddling the deuterium fusion limit but unambiguously undergoing deuterium fusion. (It does not, though, undergo lithium fusion).  (See Hinkley, S. et al (2023) Direct discovery of the inner exoplanet in the HD206893 system: Evidence for deuterium burning in a planetary-mass companion. Astronomy & Astrophysics, vol. 671, L5.)

Exo-planet TRAPPIST-1b Earth-sized planet has no atmosphere… Actually, this is good news!  The TRAPPIST system is an M-type Red Dwarf star 12 parsecs (39 light years) from Earth and in 2017 it was discovered that it had seven near-Earth-sized planets. Now, the NASA / ESA / CSA James Webb Telescope (JWST) has discovered that the innermost planet, TRAPPIST-1b, has no atmosphere.  JWST looked at TRAPPIST-1 in mid-infrared wavelengths of light – 20 times redder than the human eye can see – to see how that radiation changed as TRAPPIST-1b moved behind. The results indicate that it has no atmosphere.  This discovery is good news for two reasons.  First, because the planet TRAPPIST-1b is so close to the TRAPPIST-1 star, it receives TRAPPIST-1 it is blasted by four times as much radiation as Earth receives from the Sun is also subject to stellar flares and other activity that sends radiation across its planets, potentially eroding away any atmosphere it may have had. The lack of atmosphere detected is therefore in line with astronomical theory.  Second, this was an operational test of JWST's exoplanet atmosphere capabilities.  As said, the system has six other planets and the outer two are in the star's presumed habitable zone. Results of current studies on these are expected in due course: the reason the results of the innermost came in first is because being the closest, it orbits the star in the shortest time and so there are more opportunities to see the planet in front of the star – which JWST did five times – as well as a little off to one side.  This is a good operational test of James Webb's atmospheric testing capabilities.  (See the review piece  Witze, A. (2023) JWST Gets Best View Yet of Planet in Hotly Pursued Star System. Nature, vol. 616, p18  and the primary research paper  Greene, T. P. et al. (2023) Thermal Emission from the Earth-sized Exoplanet TRAPPIST-1b. Nature advance pre-print.)

A ring around a distant dwarf planet puzzles astronomers.  Famously, the gas giant Saturn has rings and also (less spectacularly) Neptune and Uranus have too.  However, faint rings have also been spotted around some dwarf planets such as Chariklo and Haumea (non-planetary objects in the outer Solar System).  But these rings are all within the parent body's Roche limit, which is the point at which and orbiting moon becomes disrupted by tidal force and so breaks down to form a ring.  All well and good.  However a ring has been found around another dwarf planet, Quaoar and this is well outside the Roche limit!
          Quaoar has a diameter of 700 miles (1,110km) and has a moon, 100 mile diameter (160km), Weywot. This moon might be why a ring exists outside Quaoar's Roche limit. Quaoar’s ring orbits close to the Quaoar-Weywot 1/3 spin–orbit resonance and this resonance could be why the ring exists. (See Morgado, B. E. et al, (2023) A dense ring of the trans-Neptunian object Quaoar outside its Roche limit. Nature, vol. 614, p239-243  and the review piece  Hedman, M. W. (2023) A planetary ring in a surprising place. Nature, vol. 614, p232-3.)

How big was the cluster of new stars in which our Sun was born? It may have been much larger than previously thought.  The Sun was born within a cluster of stars. Seeking to estimate its size, Japanese researchers looked at aluminium-rich minerals found in some of the oldest dust particles in the Solar System. According to one theory, the isotope aluminium-26 was injected into the Solar System by a supernova. This injection could possibly have occurred during the first 100,000 years of the Solar System’s history. Using modelling, to determine the probability of a supernova occurring in a given period of time. It is possible to estimate how many stars were in the birth cluster to make it reasonably likely that one exploded at the appropriate time to supply the aluminium in the dust. The answer: 2,000–20,000 stars, depending on how long it took the Solar System to form. One of the best previous estimates was just 500 stars. (See Arakawa, S. & Kokubo, E. (2023) Number of stars in the Sun’s birth cluster revisited. Astronomy & Astrophysics, vol. 670, A105.)

A small asteroid photobombs a James Webb Space Telescope test picture in the smallest object discovered by space-based observation.  The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has spotted a small Solar System rock by chance during a calibration run.  The body is a roughly 9 miles wide (15-kilometre-wide) in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The photos were taken to measure how one of the telescope’s infrared cameras would respond. While analysing the data, the researchers also spotted what looked like a much smaller asteroid, which they estimated to be 100–230 metres across. If confirmed by subsequent observations, this would be one of the smallest objects ever seen by space-based observation – and JWST detected it at a distance of more than 130 million kilometres. The researchers think that by tweaking the instrumentation that James Webb might be able to detect asteroids in the asteroid belt as small as under 100 metres across. They also think that any James Webb picture looking a square 1° by 1° would capture on average one or two such asteroids. (See Muller, T. G. et al (2023) Asteroids seen by JWST-MIRI: Radiometric size, distance, and orbit constraints. Astronomy & Astrophysics, vol. 670, A53.)

Near-Earth asteroid Ryugu samples get a more detailed analysis.  Japan's JAXA space agency's Hayabusa-2 probe reached the near-Earth asteroid (162173) Ryugu in 2019. Pictures from the probe revealed its surface boulders are highly porous. Samples were returned to Earth on 6th December 2020 and now an international collaboration, but mainly consisting of Japanese researchers have undertaken a more detailed analysis.  Ryugu is a carbonaceous (C-type) asteroid. Noble gas and nitrogen isotopes were measured. Noble gases produced by galactic cosmic rays, indicating a ~5 million year exposure, and from implanted solar wind record the recent irradiation the history of Ryugu after it migrated to its current orbit has been tentatively deduced. Ryugu’s parent body formed in the early Solar System, incorporating primordial noble gases and nitrogen, followed by aqueous alteration ~4.56 billion years ago. Ryugu formed from the accumulation of fragments of the parent body ejected by an impact, at an unknown date. It seems Ryugu migrated to its current near-Earth orbit about five million years ago having left the main asteroid belt at least several million years ago. (Okazaki, R. et al (2023) Noble gases and nitrogen in samples of asteroid Ryugu record its volatile sources and recent surface evolution. Science, vol. 379, eabo0431.)

Venus has been revealed to be geologically active.  An examination of 30-year-old radar data from the Magellan mission has exposed a changed volcanic caldera in radar pictures taken 8 months apart. The investigator, Robert Herrick of Alaska University, had his observations and conclusions checked by Scott Hensley who is an expert in interpreting Magellan data.
          Up to now the conventional thinking about Venus is that an intense period of lava outflow half a billion years ago re-surfaced almost the entire planet and while a few large volcanoes had been seen they were thought to be dead. Unlike the Earth, there are no plate tectonics on Venus (which does not have lubricating oceans) and it had been thought that the crust provided a sealed lid over Venus' mantle. But there was a mystery: how did Venus lose its core heat?
          However there were some hints. In 2010 the European Space Agency’s Venus Express mission detected three anomalously hot regions. Then a couple of years later spikes of sulphur dioxide, suggesting it was supplied by a variable source, such as volcanoes. And in 2021, a reanalysis of Magellan data indicated large blocks of crust had been jostled around like pack ice. These hints prompted Robert Herrick to spend part of CoVID lockdown looking at radar images of Venus' volcanoes to see if any had changed with time. This new discovery conclusively shows that Venus is not geologically dead as had been thought. (See the review piece Voosen, P. (2023) Active volcano shows Venus is a living planet. Science, vol. 379, p1,076-7  and the primary research  Herrick, R. H. & Hensley, S. (2023) Surface changes observed on a Venusian volcano during the Magellan mission. Science, vol. 379, p1,205–1,208.)

The Moon could have formed in a single day, the latest models demonstrate! A small team of researchers primarily based at Durham University, Great Britain, have modelled the impact of a Mars-sized body (Theia) with the early Earth. The collision ejects a debris disk that can explain the Moon’s large mass, angular momentum, and tiny iron core, but it creates a Moon derived mostly from impactor material which is unlikely to have exactly the same composition as the Earth as Theia would most likely have formed elsewhere in the primordial Solar system dust cloud. Up to now, most collision models use 100,000 to 1,000,000 simulated particles. Here, the Durham model uses up to 10,000,000. They ran about 400 simulations varying conditions slightly and to see which ones gave us the Moon we see today. They conclude that the Moon formed as a distinct body within a single day, and that the Earth's magma ocean surface settled down within two days.  (See Kegerreis, J. A., et al. (2022) Immediate Origin of the Moon as a Post-impact Satellite. The Astrophysical Journal Letters vol. 937, L40.) Also see the PBS Space-Time episode on this topic.

The radio quiet of the Moon's far side could soon end and so prevent astronomy without radio pollution from Earth.  Radio-astronomers consider the far side of the Moon as the last unspoilt refuge in the Solar System. Planet Earth, and all the human-made electromagnetic noise it radiates out into space, stays permanently below the horizon, so that any radio observatories positioned there would have no interference so making radio-astronomy in those frequencies possible. Yet over 250 Moon missions are planned the coming decade. The first proper radio observatory is currently slated for 2026. (There was a Chinese one but it was not optimised for cosmological observation and the probe itself was a source of radio contamination.) This new one will be NASA's Lunar Surface Electromagnetic Experiment (LuSee) Night and it will take advantage of the far side's radio-quiet conditions. However, the growing number of Lunar missions will interfere with such observations, as will a planned Lunar satellite navigation system. In short, there is only a small window of a few years to either complete far side radio observation forever or, alternatively, come up with an international agreement for radio restrictions that absolutely everyone adheres to. (See Castelvecchi, D. (2023) Are Telescopes on the Moon Doomed Before They’ve Been Built? Nature, vol. 615, p383-4.)

Earth's water may have originated closer in the Solar System than previously thought.  It had been thought that Earth's water arrived in carbonaceous chondrites from further out in the Solar System beyond the 'snow line' beyond Jupiter. There water freezes. However two separate research papers now suggest that the water could have arrived in non-carbonaceous chondrites closer to the Sun.  The researchers looked at potassium and zinc isotopes. These isotopes are of comparatively light elements and where you find these you tend to find water. The problem is that any water-bearing non-carbonaceous chondrite entering the Earth's atmosphere would see its water heated off as it plummeted through the atmosphere, but zinc and potassium remain. They conclude that about 90% of Earth’s mass was contributed by non-carbonaceous inner Solar System material, whereas about 10% came from carbonaceous outer Solar System material. The latter source contributed about 20% of Earth’s potassium and half of its zinc. If Earth got its water from nearby then this means that Earth's in habitable zones are more likely to accrue water: the recipe for Earth is unlikely to be a one-off.  (See the review Voosen, P. (2023) Meteorite results bode well for exo-Earths. Science, vol. 379, p318-9.)  See also the next item…

Earth's water may have originated closer in the Solar System than previously thought… In fact it could have originated on, er…, Earth!  There are two questions about the Earth that have long been asked. 1) Why does the Earth's core appear to be less dense than it would be if it was made from solid iron. And 2) where did the Earth's water come from?  Three US-based astronomers have come up with a new theory that neatly answers both those questions. The early Earth could have had a hydrogen-rich atmosphere. This is not implausible as exo-planet observations are beginning to suggest that this might be common. If this is so then when the Earth was still a molten magma ocean chemistry between iron, hydrogen and silicate could easily generate water, enough to provide sufficient water for the Earth's oceans we see today. Magma convection would bring hydrogen and oxygen (separately) into the Earth's core and this would make lighter than it would otherwise be, which is what we see.  Hydrogen being so light, the primordial Earth soon (over hundreds of millions of years) lost its largely hydrogen atmosphere.  If Earth got its water this way then this means that Earth-sized planets in habitable zones are more likely to accrue water: the recipe for Earth is unlikely to be a one-off.  (See the review  Raymond, S. N. (2023) Earth’s molten youth had long-lasting consequences. Nature, vol. 616, p251-2  and the primary research paper  Young, E. D. et al. (2023) Earth shaped by primordial H2 atmospheres. Nature, vol. 616, p306-311.

Asteroid impacts could be a more hazardous threat than previously thought! Researchers predominantly based at the NASA Goddard Center have examined a number of old asteroid impact craters of the past million years using the latest remote sensing technology. They looked at four craters whose diameter had been assessed as being over 10km in diameter. Their new imaging suggests that in fact the craters' diameters were over twice that previously estimated. This means that they would be more destructive. Though they would not be mass extinction events (indeed we don't see these in the geological record), the researchers say that they would have a climatic equivalent of the past Yellowstone eruptions. (Garvin, J. B. (2023) Reassessing the Past Million Years of Neo Impact Cratering on Earth via High Resolution Digital Topography. 54th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. (LPI Contrib. No. 2806).)

Light pollution is surging and fewer stars are visible over cities!  A citizen science venture using tens of thousands of observers over the world has shown that star visibility between 2011 and 2022 has been decreasing by 7-10% a year (doubling under every eight years) even though light pollution has been increasing by only 2% a year. This discrepancy might be because the satellites currently used to measure light pollution do not detect blue light, yet blue light is more easily scattered in the atmosphere (which is why the day time sky appears blue). Also there has been a global switch from sodium street lights (monochromal yellow) to LED (light emitting diode) lights that have a multicoloured spectrum that includes blue. Together these factors serve to under-estimate the degree of light pollution while tens of thousands of human observers see fewer and fewer of the less bright stars. (See Kyba, C. C. M., et al. (2023) Citizen scientists report global rapid reductions in the visibility of stars from 2011 to 2022. Science, vol. 379, p 265–268.)

 

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Summer 2023

Science & Science Fiction Interface

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

 

Spock's world, Vulcan, has been lost!  Four year's ago astronomers thought they had found a new exoplanet orbiting 40 Eridani A: Eridani A being the star around which Star Trek's Spock's home Vulcan orbits. Alas astronomers looking carefully at the method used in the original detection conclude that the supposed detection was likely due to an artefact arising out of the star's rotation (it was a false-positive detection) and that there is no exoplanet there. (See  Laliotis, K. et al. (2023) Doppler Constraints on Planetary Companions to Nearby Sun-like Stars: An Archival Radial Velocity Survey of Southern Targets for Proposed NASA Direct Imaging Missions. The Astronomical Journal, vol. 165, 176.)

Artificial Intelligence (AI) may be the first to detect extraterrestrial sentience (as opposed to biology – see next item below).  In 2015, billionaire Yuri Milner funded the biggest SETI programme ever, in Berkeley, California: the Breakthrough Listen project to search one million stars for signs of intelligent life. The problem is that these searches yield a huge mass of data – including false positives produced by Earthly interference from mobile phones, GPS and other aspects of modern life.  Going through millions of observations manually isn’t practical. A common alternative approach is to use algorithms that look for signals matching what astronomers think alien beacons could look like. But those algorithms can overlook potentially interesting signals that are slightly different from what astronomers are expecting.  Enter machine-learning algorithms, which are trained on large amounts of data and can learn to recognise features that are characteristic of Earthly interference, making them very good at filtering out the noise. AI machine learning is also good at picking up candidate extraterrestrial signals that don’t fall into conventional categories and so might have been missed by earlier methods.  (See Witze, A. (2023) Will an AI be the first to discover alien life? Nature, vol. 614, p208  and also the primary research paper  Ma, P. X. et al (2023) A deep-learning search for technosignatures from 820 nearby stars. Nature Astronomy.)

Artificial Intelligence (AI) may be the first to detect extraterrestrial biology (as apposed to sentience – see previous item above).  An artificial-intelligence model trialled in Chile’s Atacama Desert could one day detect signs of life on other planets.  Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning could revolutionize the search for life on other planets. But before these tools can tackle distant locales such as Mars, they need to be tested here on Earth.  A team of researchers have successfully trained an AI to map biosignatures – any feature which provides evidence of past or present life – in a three-square-kilometre area of Chile’s Atacama Desert. The AI substantially reduced reduce the search area by up to 97% and increase the likelihood of finding life living organisms in one of the driest places on the planet by up to 88%.  Graham Lau, an astrobiologist at the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science who is based in Boulder, Colorado, worked on another Mars analogue in the Canadian Arctic as a graduate student, to study how biology influences the formation of rare minerals that can serve as biosignatures on other planets. “Ever since I first read Frank Herbert’s Dune as a young child, I was struck by this idea of applying ecology to planets,” he says. But up until the last decade or so, the tools and data weren’t available to address such questions with scientific rigour. (See Warren-Rhodes, K., et al. (2023) Orbit-to-ground framework to decode and predict biosignature patterns in terrestrial analogues. Nature Astronomy. Doi.org/10.1038/s41550-022-01882-x.)

Art imitates life while science and technology imitate art with Artificial Intelligence generated Science Fiction. Clarkesworld (one of the first to shout the alarm), Asimov’s and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science have been flooded by submissions of works of fiction generated by A.I. chatbots.  Those submitting chatbot-generated stories appeared to be spamming magazines that pay for fiction. Some have temporarily suspended accepting submissions.

Artificial Intelligence art tool makers are being sued for plagiarism.  Artificial Intelligence (AI) art tools generate pictures having 'learned' from a library of many, typically hundreds of thousands to millions, of human-drawn pictures. In a number of instances these have been data-scraped from the internet without the creators of the human art knowing let alone granting permission. In this sense, the AIs are plagiarising human work. Stability AI is the company behind the Stable Diffusion AI art generator and they are the latest being taken to court in London, this time by the photo agency Getty Images. Three artists are also bringing a class-action case against Stability AI. Some artists genuinely fear that their professional livelihoods will be taken away from them by AI tools that were trained by the human artists' own artwork!

The (USA) Copyright Office has revoked full copyright for a graphic novel that used AI-generated images.  The Copyright Office has said that it would reissue its registration for Zarya of the Dawn to omit images that 'are not the product of human authorship' – in this case the use of the AI Midjourney, and therefore cannot be copyrighted.  The key point being that the rest of the graphic novel can be protected by copyright.

Artificial Intelligence fools scientists!  The artificial-intelligence (AI) chatbot ChatGPT from OpenAI can generate scientific abstracts that are so convincing that scientists often cannot tell that they are fake!  Researchers have asked the chatbot to write 50 medical-research abstracts based on a selection published in JAMA, The New England Journal of Medicine, The BMJ, The Lancet and Nature Medicine. They then compared these with the original abstracts by running them through a plagiarism detector and an AI-output detector, and asked a group of medical researchers to spot the fabricated abstracts. The AI abstracts all successfully passed the plagiarism detector but the AI-output detector failed to spot a third of the AI-generated abstracts. The correctly identified only 68% of the generated abstracts and 86% of the genuine abstracts. They incorrectly identified 32% of the generated abstracts as being real and 14% of the genuine abstracts as being generated.
          This is extremely worrying as our economy is knowledge based and technical; science research under pins its innovation. Science also underpins much policy. If scientists are unable to tell the difference between AI invented research and real science then the consequences could be extreme. (See Else, H. (2023) Abstracts Written by ChatGPT Fool Scientists. Nature, vol. 613, p423-4.) ++++ See also next item below.

Some leading science journals are now insisting the ChatGPT use be disclosed and ChatGPT banned from being listed as a co-author.  Further to the previous item above, the Nature journals group, the Journals of the American Medical Association, the Committee on Publication Ethics and the World Association of Medical Editors, all state that now ChatGPT use must be disclosed and ChatGPT is banned from being listed as a co-author. (See Brainard, J. (2023) Journals take up arms against AI-written text. Science, vol. 379, p740-1.)

Artificial Intelligence has entered politics!  The Romanian Prime Minister, Nicolae Ciuca, introduced the new “honorary adviser” called Ion to the rest of his ministers in a demonstration, with a face and words appearing on a digital screen, responding to the prime minister’s prompts along with a computerized voice.  Ion was developed by Romanian researchers and will use artificial intelligence to “quickly and automatically capture the opinions and desires” submitted by Romanian citizens, Ciuca said.  He introduced the new “honorary adviser” called Ion to the rest of his ministers in a demonstration, with a face and words appearing on a digital screen, responding to the prime minister’s prompts along with a computerized voice.  Ion was developed by Romanian researchers and will use artificial intelligence to “quickly and automatically capture the opinions and desires” submitted by Romanian citizens, Ciuca said.

OpenAI has launched GPT-4, the latest iteration of the artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT.  ChatGPT only launched in November (2022) so this is a quick development.  GPT-4 can process up to 25,000 words, about eight times as many as ChatGPT. ChatGPT uses the publicly accessed (i.e. not pages behind a pay-wall) internet as it was in 2021 as its education training ground. It answers questions using natural human-like language, and it can also mimic other writing styles.  OpenAI says that GPT-4 has "more advanced reasoning skills" than ChatGPT but has warned that GPT-4 is still not fully reliable and may 'hallucinate' – a phenomenon where AI invents facts or makes reasoning errors. GPT-4 will initially be available to ChatGPT Plus subscribers, who pay US$20 per month for premium access to the service. It is already contributing to the Microsoft's Bing search engine. Meanwhile Google has a rival to ChatGPT called Bard.

The Writers Guild of America has proposed allowing artificial intelligence to write scripts. The idea (yet to be ratified) is that their use would be allowed as long as it does not affect writers’ credits or residuals.

The ChatGPT AI has been caught making up references to works that do not exist.  The Guardian had received a query from a reader about an article, as the reader could not find it. The Guardian staff, and the reporter who allegedly wrote it, found the title of the article plausible. However, after an exhaustive search of their records, they concluded that the article simply did not exist. At that point the reader informed the paper that ChatGPT had provided the reference.  The invention of sources by AIs is particularly troubling for trusted news organisations and journalists: citations' inclusion in stories adds legitimacy and weight but are completely worthless if they are fictitious. Could this be the beginning of the end for trusting the validity of citations?

Halt artificial intelligence roll out for six months call by 1,100 technologists.  Elon Musk and Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak are among the prominent technologists and artificial intelligence researchers who have signed an open letter calling for a six month moratorium on the development of advanced A.I. systems. The letter urges technology companies to immediately cease training any A.I. systems that would be “more powerful than GPT4, which is the latest large language processing A.I. developed by San Francisco company OpenAI. In part, the letter reads: "Contemporary AI systems are now becoming human competitive at general tasks, and we must ask ourselves: Should we let machines flood our information channels with propaganda and untruth? Should we automate away all the jobs, including the fulfilling ones? Should we develop nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us? Should we risk loss of control of our civilization? Such decisions must not be delegated to unelected tech leaders. Powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable". It stresses that if such a pause cannot be enacted quickly, governments should step in and institute a moratorium!

Italy bans ChatGPT artificial intelligence (AI) over privacy concerns.  Italy has become the first Western country to block advanced chatbot ChatGPT.  The Italian data-protection authority said there were privacy concerns relating to the model, which was created by US start-up OpenAI and is backed by Microsoft. It can answer questions using natural, human-like language and it can also mimic other writing styles, using the internet as it was in 2021 as its database. Microsoft has spent billions of dollars on it and it was added to Bing in February (2023). It has also said that it will embed a version of the technology in its Office apps, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. The Italian data protection authority said that not only would it block OpenAI's chatbot but it would also investigate whether it complied with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). GDPR governs the way in which Europe and the UK can use, process and store personal data. OpenAI could face a penalty of a fine of €20 million (£17.9m,US$21.7m) or up to 4% of annual revenues.  ChatGPT is already blocked in a number of countries, including China, Iran, North Korea and Russia.

The Mummy Returns so to speak, as the chemicals used in embalming mummies are elucidated.  A European and Egyptian research collaboration has analysed organic residues 31 ceramic vessels recovered from a 26th Dynasty embalming workshop at Saqqara. These date from around 664–525BC.  Some of the chemicals identified must have been imported. These include chemicals imported from both within the Mediterranean(for example, Pistacia and conifer by-products) and from tropical forest regions (for example, dammar and elemi) either Africa or, more likely, Asia including India.  Egyptian mummification was therefore built upon and fostered long-distance trade and routes.  (See Rageot, M. et al (2023) Biomolecular analyses enable new insights into ancient Egyptian embalming. Nature, vol. 614, p287-293.)

Interstellar visitor, 'Oumuamua's, strange motion is explained by a new theory.  First, a bit of a re-cap. At the back end of 2017 an interstellar visitor was detected passing the Earth. It was detected late because it was so small – about 400 metres long and 40 metres across – but its velocity and trajectory made it clear that it had come from interstellar space. Further, as it travelled near the Sun it seemed to change course. There have been a number of hypotheses, both natural and extraterrestrial with one of those garnering speculative interest from Abraham Loeb's solar sail idea. One idea was that 'Oumuamua came from another star's Oort Cloud and contained frozen hydrogen and nitrogen. Small quantities of these, especially if uncontaminated by significant dust (which we would see as we do with comets), could not be detected by the Earth-based astronomical observation technology used but evaporation of these (largely dust free) frozen gases could have nudged 'Oumuamua as seen.
          Now, Jennifer Bergner and Darryl Seligman have come up with a variation of this last hypothesis. They say that the cosmic ray bombardment 'Oumuamua received over the many 100,000s of years in its interstellar voyage would have dissociated water ice in the comet-like body. This would generate hydrogen which would be trapped in the ice. With warming of the surface few centimetres, this hydrogen with some water vapour would be expelled. The levels of water would be too small to detect by the observation methods used, but there would be enough hydrogen to alter 'Oumuamua's trajectory as was seen.  The reason why this is not seen in comets originating from our Oort Cloud that is that these are much larger and so have a bigger mass to surface area ratio and hence unaffected by this marginal effect. Traditional comets, rich in volatiles, of course do exhibit a noticeable tail but – kilometres across – are too heavy to be affected by any hydrogen gas release.  (See Bergner, J. B. & Seligman, D. Z. (2023) Acceleration of 1I/‘Oumuamua from radiolytically produced H2 in H2O ice. Nature, vol. 615, p610-3  and the review article  Micheli, M. (2023) A compelling explanation for an enigmatic object. Nature, vol. 615, p591-2.)
          If you don't remember 'Oumuamua then here is PBS Space-Time's 10-minute video reporting shortly after the original observation.

Using magnets to test meteorites destroys their magnetic field. Much of the science literature on related topics could be fictions! A quick and dirty way to test if a lump of rock is a meteorite or an Earth mineral is to see if a magnet will be attracted to it: meteors are rich in iron but mineral from the Earth's crust are low in iron as most of the iron has sunk to the Earth's core. However bringing a strong magnet close to a meteorite will wipe the meteorite's own magnetic field if it has one.  This is a problem for those studying meteorites' magnetic fields. Meteorites from Mars, for example, if old enough might have traces of Mars' ancient (now long gone) magnetic field. Studying meteorites' magnetic fields is also important if we are to ascertain how large an asteroid has to be in order to have generated a magnetic field in the past.  The irony (no pun intended) is that some Earth crust metals are rich in iron and so the magnet attracting test is no way an infallible way of seeing whether or not a rock is a meteorite.  So common is this problem, of meteorites' magnetic field being wiped and replaced with an artefact, that researchers are beginning to suspect that much of the scientific literature on the subject is false!  (See  Savitsky, Z. (2023) Magnets wipe memories from meteorites. Science, vol. 3800, p17-8.)

 

And to finally round off the Science & SF Interface subsection, here are some short videos…

What If Alien Life Were Silicon-Based?  Life as we know it is carbon-based, but does it have to be this way? There’s another element on the periodic table that shares some of the key properties of carbon but is far more abundant on most planets. I’m talking about silicon. So is there silicon-based life out there?  See the 21 minute PBS Space Time video here.

How Far Beyond Earth Could Humanity Expand?  The PBS Space-Time YouTube channel notes that we humans have always been explorers. The great civilisations that have arisen across the world are owed to our restless ancestors. These days, there’s not much of Earth left to explore. But if we look up, there’s a whole universe out there waiting for us. Future generations may one day explore the cosmos and even settle entire other galaxies. But there is a hard limit to how much of the universe we can expand into. So, how big can humanity get?  See the 16 minute PBS Space Time 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 2023

Rest In Peace

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

 

Garland E. Allen III, the US historian of biology and social justice activist, has died aged 86. Though he was an English graduate he began to specialise in the history of the development of biology. He co-edited (with Jane Maienschein) the Journal of the History of Biology from 1998 to 2006. He was also a political activist and this put his career advancement at risk.

David Allis, the US molecular biologist, has died aged 71. Following his biology degree studied enzymes in the freshwater protozoan Tetrahymena. He is most noted for his work on chromatin, the protein and nucleic acid in chromosomes. He showed how changes to chromatin affected histones, the proteins around which DNA wraps in chromosomes. This in turn affects gene expression.

Paul Berg, the US biochemist, has died aged 96. He worked on nucleic acids and is mainly noted for his contribution to the understanding of recombinant DNA. He was the first to incorporate DNA from one species into the genetic material of another – recombinant DNA. He received half the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1980 (the other half going to Walter Gilbert and Frederick Sanger for sequencing DNA). His postgraduate work used radioactive isotopes to elucidate how food nutrients are converted into cell materials. Berg is arguably most famous for his pioneering work involving gene splicing of recombinant DNA by inserting DNA from another species into a molecule.. Berg was the first scientist to create a molecule containing DNA from two different species. This gene-splicing technique was a fundamental step in the development of modern genetic engineering. After developing the technique, Berg used it for his studies of viral chromosomes.

Eric Brown, the British SF writer, has died aged 62. In recent years he had a monthly SF book review column in The Guardian. His novels include: Penumbra (1999), New York Nights (2000), New York Blues (2001), Kethani (2007), Helix (2007), Necropath (2008), Cosmopath (2009), Engineman (2010), The Guardians of the Phoenix (2010).

Valma Brown, the Australian fan, has died aged 72. She was a fanzine fan and editor. She and her husband, Leigh Edmonds, were fan GoHs at SunCon, the 1991 Australian National Convention.

Bill Butler, the US cinematographer, has died aged 101.  Though best known for Jaws (1975), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and three Rocky sequels, his genre credits include: Demon Seed (1977), Capricorn One (1978) and Damien: Omen II (1978).

Bruce Coulson, the US fan, has died. He attended conventions with his parents, the fans Buck and Juanita Coulson, in the 1960s and in the 1970 he was editor of ISFAnews (1974-6). He had an interest in role playing games.

Lee Emmett, the wife of author John Varley, has died aged 80. John is understandably distraught. He is also struggling financially as, well into retirement, his royalties from his past works are far from enough to sustain him. Further information and a way to donate is at www.varley.net.

Christopher Fowler , the British author, has died aged 69. He wrote mainly detective stories that were tinged with the supernatural, his first being Roofworld (1988). He is possibly best known for his Bryant & May mysteries, in which the two detectives, Arthur Bryant and John May, are members of the fictional Peculiar Crimes Unit. Before becoming an established writer he was a film promotion copywriter whose most genre-famous strapline was, "In space, no one can hear you scream" (though you probably never knew that it was he who devised it). He is a multiple British Fantasy Award winner, including for the novella Breathe.

Gerald Fried, the US composer, has died aged 95. He composed music for TV series including Mission: Impossible, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Star Trek. And for films including The Vampire (1957), The Return of Dracula (1958) and The Cabinet of Caligari (1962).

Joe Giella, the US comics artist, has died aged 94. His work includes that on: Batman, Flash Gordon, Green Lantern and the Phantom.

Bert I. Gordon, the US film-maker, has died aged 100.  Most of his work is in the idiom of giant monster films, for which he used rear-projection to create the special effects. He was nicknamed "Mr. B.I.G." by Forrest J. Ackerman, a reference to both his initials and his films' tendency to feature super-sized creatures.  His films include King Dinosaur (1955), The Cyclops (1957), The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), Earth vs. the Spider (1958), Attack of the Puppet People (1958), The Magic Sword (1962), Village of the Giants (1965) based on the H. G. Wells story 'The Food of the Gods' which he also turned into another film in 1976, The Witching (1972) and Satan's Princess (1990).

Rob Gustaveson, the US fan, has died. He was an active member of the Los Angles SF Society.

Piers Haggard, the British film director, has died aged 83. His films include The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), Quatermass/The Quatermass Conclusion (1979), The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980) and The Lifeforce Experiment (1984) among others.

Eve Harvey, the British SF fan, has died aged 72. She entered fandom in 1983 and was a founding member of the Leeds University SF group, She was an active member of the British SF Association in the late 1970s and early '80s including editing its zines Matrix and Vector.  She served as Secretary to the 1979 Worldcon, Seacon, in Brighton, and was the committee Chair for Channelcon (Eastercon 33) in 1982, again in Brighton.  She was married to fellow fan John Harvey. Their publications included the fanzine Wallbanger (1978-1997).

Al Jaffee, the US cartoonist, has died aged 102.  He is most noted for being a regular cartoonist in the genre-adjacent Mad magazine including many of its covers.  He retired just three years ago.  He also devised the fold-in art pictures that revealed a hidden picture when the middle was folded in. He holds the Guinness Book of Records record for longest career as a comic artist having stared working on Mad since 1955.

Astrid Kiendler-Scharr, the atmosphere physicist, has died aged 49. The focus of her work was aerosol physics, research into exchange and feedback mechanisms between the atmosphere and the biosphere, and the development of mass spectrometry methods for measurements in the atmosphere. She was chair of the German Climate Consortium and a chapter lead author of the Working Group I, Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2021). In 2016 she became director of the Institute for Energy and Climate Research and deputy chair of the Scientific and Technical Council at Forschungszentrum Julich, which she chaired between 2018 and 2021. She was Chair of the Board of the German Climate Consortium and one of the founding directors of the Centre for Earth System Observation and Computational Analysis (CESOC).

Elka Konstantinova, the Bulgarian literary critic and politician, has died aged 90. She was member of the Radical Democratic Party, she served as Minister of Culture from 1991 to 1992. She also wrote three wrote three non-fiction books on SF.

Lisa Loring, the US actress, has died aged 64. In genre terms she is most famous for playing Wednesday in the original Addams Family TV series (1964-'66) based on the Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons.

Claude Lorius, the French glaciologist and palaeoclimate scientist, has died aged 91.  He is best known for discovering in 1965 that Antarctic ice trapped bubbles of the atmosphere at the time a layer of snow solidified into ice. This led to the discovery that the warming Earth coming out of the last glacial and into our current interglacial was matched with increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane concentrations. His research revealed atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases going back 160,000 years: as far back as before the last interglacial. His research showed that over the current interglacial (the Holocene) greenhouse gas concentrations were more-or-less stable but began to rise after the Industrial Revolution. He was part of the UN IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) that led to its First Assessment Report's Working Group I science report in 1990. He was the first Frenchman to receive the Blue Planet Prize (2008) and his other awards include the Humboldt Prize (1988), the CNRS Gold medal (2002) and the Vernadsky Medal of the European Geological Union, (2006).

Lee Moder, the US comics artist, has died aged 53. He is noted for having co-created the Courtney Whitmore version of Stargirl with Geoff Johns in 1999.

Gordon Moore, the US chemist and physicist turned material scientist, has died aged 94.  He worked on developing semi-conductors. Aged 40, he co-founded the Intel Corporation microprocessor producer: “Intel Inside” processors can be found in more than 80% of the world’s personal computers.  He is possibly best known for Moore's Law which he espoused in 1965. It says that the number of components (transistors, resistors, diodes, or capacitors) in a dense integrated circuit will double approximately every other year and speculated that it would continue to do so for at least the next ten years.  Actually, Moore's Law has more or less held true through to the present and new research suggests that it will continue to do so for at least another decade.  As of February 2023, Moore's net worth was reported to be over US$7 billion (£5.8 billion).  In 2000, Moore and his wife established the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation with a gift worth about US$5 billion. Through the foundation, they initially targeted environmental conservation, science, and the San Francisco Bay Area. This evolved into support for environmental ventures elsewhere including a few abroad.

Alexander Müller, the Swiss physicist, has died aged 95. He is noted for being the co-discoverer, with Georg Bednorz, of high-temperature superconductivity in a class of ceramics known as cuprates. High temperature here being 35 K (35°C above absolute zero); prior to that superconductivity only was found a couple of degrees above absolute zero. This garnered the pair the 1987 Nobel Prize in Physics. Their discovery paved the way for materials that had superconductivity at temperatures close to 100K. High-temperature superconductivity has since been used in magnetic resonance imaging systems and in other specialized applications – yet physicist still have to find a satisfactory explanation for how such high temperature superconductivity works.

Sal Piro, the Rocky Horror Picture Show fan, has died aged 71. For decades he was the president of the Rocky Horror Picture Show Fan Club which he founded in 1977 just two years after the film debuted. He was a key figure in developing the film's cult status and a principal developer of the audience's reposts at screenings that have become cult famous.

Rachel Pollack , the US author, comic book writer, and expert on divinatory tarot woo-woo, has died aged 77. She wrote for DC's Doom Patrol (1993-5). Her Unquenchable Fire won the 1989 Arthur C. Clarke Award; Godmother Night won the 1997 World Fantasy Award; and Temporary Agency was short-listed for the 1995 Nebula Award.

Michael Reaves, the US novelist and scriptwriter, has died aged 72. His work includes that on: the films Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) and Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003); on television shows such as Pole Position (1984), Conan and the Young Warriors (1994) and Spider-Man Unlimited (1999-2001). He has written over a score of novels including those in 'The Time Machine', 'The Shattered World' and 'Star Wars' series. A number of his novels were co-authored with Steve Perry and three times with Neil Gaiman.

Norman Reynolds, the British film art director and production designer, has died aged 89.  He is best known for his production designer work on the original Star Wars trilogy and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Alien III (1992) and The Bicentennial Man (1999) and Sphere (1998).  As art director he also worked on Superman I & II (1978 & 1980).

Aleksey Slapovsky, the Russian SF writer, has died aged 65. His over a score of novels include some that are genre.

Leslie Smith, the US fan, has died aged 64.  She was active from the 1970s to 2000 and co-edited (With her husband, Ken Josenhans) Duprass fanzine.

Will Steffen, the US born Australian chemical engineer turned Earth system scientist, has died aged 75. Early in his career he worked on X-ray crystallography at the Australian National University in Canberra. He popularised certain concepts including the ‘Great Acceleration’, which describes the dramatic increase in human environmental impact since the 1950s, brought about by population growth and fossil-fuel burning. He was also one of those who advocated for the new term the Anthropocene. In 2016 he challenged the Australian government who did not want to focus on problems with the Great Barrier Reef and also then cuts to climate scientist staff. He was executive director (1998 – 2004) of the International Geosphere–Biosphere Programme. One of his last achievements was in 2022 when his evidence helped to block a proposed opencast coal mine in the Galilee Basin in Queensland on the grounds of unacceptable impacts on climate change and human rights, including those of children and First Nations peoples.

John Teehan, the US small press publisher, has died aged 55. He was also active in the Science Fiction Writers Association including for a decade and a half being the production editor of its bulletin.

Bill Tidy, the British cartoonist, has died aged 89. He was best known publicly for his humorous political cartoons in newspapers. In SF and science terms, his 'Grimbledown' strips (centred around a fictional research establishment) for New Scientist were of note.

David Vaughan OBE, FGS, the British glaciologist, has died aged 60.  His BSc was in natural science and MSc in geophysics. Much of his career was with the British Antarctic Survey. He was a coordinating lead chapter author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fourth and fifth assessment reports (2007 and 2013).  He died from stomach cancer exactly a week before the publication of a paper, for which he was a co-author, in the journal Nature. This paper was one of two in that issue of Nature concerning the instability of Antarctica's Thwaite's glacier; the glacier contributes 15% of the ice discharge from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Jeff Vlaming, the US television writer and producer, has died aged 63. His genre work was mainly on Weird Science, season 3 of The X-Files, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Xena: Warrior Princess and Battlestar Galactica among other SF/F series.

Christopher Walsh, the US molecular biologist, has died aged 78. An undergraduate student of E. O. Wilson, his early work was on fire ant pheromones. He is probably best known for his work on antibiotic resistance including on the mechanisms of drug resistance to the antibiotic vancomycin.

Raquel Welch, the US actress, has died aged 82.  In genre terms she is particularly noted for starring in the films One Million Years B.C. (1966) and Fantastic Voyage (1966). She also briefly appeared as Lust in the fantasy comedy Bedazzled(1967) as well as genre related television episode appearances in Bewitched 'Witch or Wife' (1964), Mork & Mindy 'Mork vs. the Necrotons' (1979), Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman 'Top Copy' (1995) and Sabrina the Teenage Witch 'Third Aunt from the Sun' (1996).

Joseph Wrzos, the US editor, has died aged 93.  He was the Managing Editor of Amazing Stories and Fantastic between 1965 and1967. He also edited the anthology The Best of Amazing (1967), selecting only stories from before he became editor. He also edited the collection In Lovecraft’s Shadow: The Cthulhu Mythos Stories of August W. Derleth (1998). He was a consulting editor on the re-incarnated Amazing Stories from 2012. In 2009 he received the Sam Moskowitz Archive Award from First Fandom and was elected to the First Fandom Hall of Fame in 2016.

Boris Zhutovsky, the Russian artist, has died aged 90. He was responsible for many SF book covers including many of Stanislaw Lem.

 

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 2023

End Bits & Thanks

 

 

More science and SF news will be summarised in our Autumn 2023 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, Fancylopaedia, File 770, Silviu Genescu, various members of North Heath SF, Julie Perry (Google Scholar wizard), SF Encyclopaedia, SFX Magazine, Boris Sidyuk, Peter Tyers, and Peter Wyndham, not to mention information provided by publishers. Stories based on papers taken from various academic science journals or their websites have their sources cited.  Additional thanks for news coverage goes to 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). :-)

Thanks for spreading the word of this seasonal edition goes to Ansible, File 770, Silviu Genescu, Caroline Mullan, and Peter Wyndham.

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