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The biggest UK news for SF over the summer was that, after twenty two years, of David Pringle handing over his editorship of Interzone magazine to Andy Cox of the genre magazine The Third Alternative. Cox has confirmed that he will not be merging Interzone with any of his existing magazines. He is keen that Interzone should retain its SF lit focus. Contributing authors over the past 18 months have included: Gregory Benford, Eric Brown, Chris Evans, Tannith Lee, John Meaney, and Ian Watson. The UK SF community owes much to David Pringle for his stewardship of Interzone over many years. (But will former Concat' typesetter Paul Brazier continue to shape Interzone's look? We dare say we will find out shortly once Cox gets his feet under the table.)
The biggest US news over the summer was that, after nineteen years, Gardner Dozois is handing over the his editorship of Asimov's Science Fiction. Executive Editor Sheila Williams takes over. Dozois has been editor since the mid-1980s and is a multiple Hugo Award winner for 'Best Professional Editor'. He will still provide supporting services to Asimov's. Sheila Williams has been with Asimov's for 12 years is not thought to make major changes but may include some non-fiction articles. Of note is Dozois' excellent annual summation of the written SF year that appears in the Mammoth Book of Best New SF (published by Constable & Robinson in the UK and St Martin's Press in the US).
Over all in Europe the biggest SF news from the summer was that the 2004 European SF Society's Eurocon was held in Plodiv, Bulgaria, in August and was arguably the most successful Eurocon in terms of organization, programme and attendance since Dortmund, Germany in 1999. Notwithstanding the Bulgarian Presidential letter of welcome (surely a Eurocon first?), over 800 attended plus 70-80 foreign visitors from 20 European countries and the US. As such the Eurocon business meeting, at which the Eurocon Awards are voted, was one of the best attended with excellent national representation. The 2004 Awards were presented in all the usual categories, the winners being:
Best Author: Nick Perumov (Russia)
Best Artist: Otto Frello (Denmark)
Best Publisher: Minotauro (Spain)
Best Translator: Vladimir Bakanov (Russia)
Best Magazine: Science Fiction Reality (Ukraine)
Best screenplay writer/dramatic presentation: Timur Bekmambetov and Sergey Lukyankenko (for the movie Night Watch)
Best Promoter: Atanas Slavov (Bulgaria)
Best Fanzine: Emitor (Serbia) [This was an exception to the tradition of award going to a host nation zine which probably reflected the many nations present and/or that there was not a ESFS Officer chairing the meeting to remind folk of usual practice]
This year's Honorary award went to: The Science Fact & Fiction Concatenation (UK) [This was subsequently presented at this year's Festival of Fantastic Films].
The Eurocon Encouragement awards went to:
Brian Ronan Larson (Denmark)
Ivan Popov (Bulgaria)
Kirill Benediktov (Russia)
Martina ZrostlŪkova (Czech Republic)
Vladimir Arenev (Ukraine)
Yana Polevaya (Moldova)
We at The Science Fact & Fiction Concatenation are positively delighted at the award, our third Eurocon Award in little over a decade and in a third category too, but extremely disappointed that none of our core team or the rest of the crew could make it to Bulgaria. (Shows what can happen when we do not attend.) We think this reflects our endeavours not only as a web site but our hands-on activities at the European level not to mention our efforts with Timisoarans on the 1st International Week of Science and SF as well as the 2nd one. Eastern European projects which did not deter former International Week guests, Robert Sheckley (1st), Ian Watson (2nd) and Roberto Quaglia (1st & 2nd) from this year's Eastern European venued Eurocon. It is no secret that recognition by those at the European Science Fiction Society's Eurocon is important to us in facilitating our efforts that have their focus this side of the Atlantic. The recognition lends us a certain credibility when dealing with others and this can be truly a help especially given the tremendous and disparate range of SF activity going on in Europe. So our thanks go to all at this year's Eurocon and our sincere apologies for not having anyone there: usually we field two or three of the team at the Eurocon and indeed one or two of us have been special guests at three Eurocons, but alas circumstance conspired against us this year.
As for future Eurocons, bids for 2006 were made by Russia and Ukraine. The Ukraine won so the April 2006 Eurocon will take place in Kiev making it the most Eastern Eurocon to date which nicely contrasts with next year's (one of the most western) Interaction Eurocon in Glasgow. This last promises to have a Worldcon thrown in for good measure. We hope to add a full report of this year's Eurocon to our convention reviews shortly. Meanwhile there is more Eurocon and Worldcon news below.
Further to our Summer 2004 news, SFX: The SF Experience, was opened in June in Seattle but with a name change to Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. So the folk at the British SF magazine SFX can now breathe easy. The museum owes its existence to the Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen. Present were SF authors Greg Bear (Chair of the museum's Advisory Board whom Concat' recently interviewed), Greg Benford, David Brin, Octavia Butler and Neal Stephenson as well as Locus editor Charles Brown. It all went off rather well. The Museum's publicity machine was excellent (well, they kept Concat' posted as to developments). But this excellence was further excelled with substantial coverage in the 8th July issue of Nature by one Greg Bear.
Surreal Magazine is to be a new, quarterly magazine of tales of the supernatural, horror and occult. The planned debut date is January 2005. Each issue will consist of serial and short fiction, flash fiction, contests, artwork, author interviews and reviews of books, games or movies.
SF BOOK TRADE NEWS
Popular science fact publishers,Prometheus, are to lauch a new science fiction and fantasy imprint 'Pyr' for 2005. The link between science fact and fiction has not gone unnoticed by the US publishing house of educational and popular science books. They hope, with Pyr, to publish a dozen fiction titles annually. The question is whether the imprint will tread the science SF boundary? Jill Maxick of Pyr told Concat', "With Pyr, we will be favoring hard SF, but we are going to print other subgenres of science fiction as well, as well as some fantasy. We are primarily interested in books which depict science in a positive light, in keeping with our reputation, but we want to appeal to fans of all categories of SF&F."
Following the BBC's 'The Big Read' poll (see our Spring 04 news) a survey of 500 of the literally tens of thousands who attended Britain's biggest annual book fest at Hay identified 50 contemporary reads. ( Note the 'contemporary' as the BBC poll was an all-time poll). Genre recommendations include: Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy, Stephen King's Misery, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-five and Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale.As with the BBC's Big Read most of these have cinematic or other media version. (A point we make as one of Hay's sponsors, The Guardian (John Ezard), has said the opposite.)
John Jarrold (formerly SF editor at Simon & Schuster among other things) is now acting as a UK literary agent for the computer games company Sci Games. He will liaise with authors over novelizations of stories based on the company's games.
The 2004 National Book Festival in Washington DC, US, will have a science fiction and fantasy pavilion this October. It is free and open on Saturday October 9th, from 10.00 - 17.00 on the National Mall between 7th and 14th Streets.
US Manga Publisher, Tokyo Pop, has signed a UK distribution deal, with Littlehampton Book Services.
The Irish Consumers' Association has warned main Irish booksellers to offer competitive prices or lose to the internet. The ICA described the Irish market as 'essentially a monopoly with an illusion of choice'. Apparently only the independent bookshops, such as Dublin-based Reads, do discounts up to 25% and it still makes a profit.
US sales of Isaac Asimov's I, Robot have soared and Bantam Spectra has printed 310,000 extra copies. In July USA Today reported that I, Robot was number 44 on the USA Today Best-Selling Books list. Asimov died in 1992 and he last time an Asimov book was on the list as in 1994 with Forward the Foundation. The I, Robot 1950 collection of nine robot short stories was the inspiration of the newly launched film (PG13) of the same name starring Wil Smith. Looks like the film could introduce a new generation to the good doctor.
Book stock buying for England's biggest newsagent chain, W. H. Smiths, has been re-organised... Well it could not get much worse. Smith's new Chief Executive, Kate Swann, is trimming central staff and providing a focus on basics - which could mean anything. The book-buying team has been reduced to 7 (from 13 in 2003). Scott Lynch has joined to deal with fiction. He has his work cut out for him. In fact it is just over 10 years since we noted (back in our print edition days) that there was little underpinning W. H. Smiths 1992 claim "to give good cover to books", and back then key W. H. Smith shop staff went on courses to familiarise themselves with the book world and had testifying certificates to adorn Smiths' walls. But also back then Smith's SF book-buying policy ignored fan rated books such a Hugo Award winners: the Hugo is essentially a poll of Worldcon book favourites and so is a measure of the pulse at the core of the market. In Smiths you would be lucky to be able to find more than one of the previous year's nominations for best novel. Ignoring the Hugo is somewhat strange for a company dependent on mass sales. Visit any branch of Smiths today and things remain the same. (Apparently, they said in 1992, because there are so many book awards... Really, how many can they name voted on by hundreds or thousands as opposed to a small judging panel?) So what are the chances, with a smaller buying team today, that Smiths might start to use market pointers such as the Hugo, or the Locus poll? If they did and publicly announced the policy then UK publishers would bring out European editions of US nominations in a flash (normally we have to wait up to three years for US nominations to cross the Pond). Smiths win. The publishers win. We the readers with access to good quality SF win. However we advise you not to hold your breath but that does not stop the stock buyers from other shops reading this from picking up on the tip...
Will the SF community rise to World Book Day scheduled for 3rd March 2005? This year for the first time it will focus on adults. We can't speak for outside of the UK but here this year some 1,622 booksellers were involved with contributions from 33 publishers. The up front costs are about £500,000. The Committee seems to have a major presence from Harper Collins. You are encouraged to send postcards (available free from participating outlets) and e-mails to friends or colleagues recommending SF books. Our advice is that you do this thoughtfully with a little appreciation for the sort of stuff (albeit TV or film) that your intended recipients like. Also that you bear in mind readability (for example recommending Blind Lake to a drinking partner in the UK is not helpful as the book aint out here yet (Autumn 2004). However if SF groups and book readers do decide to get an act together en masse then we could get a real shot in the arm for the genre. How about it folks?
MAJOR SF AUTHOR AND ARTIST NEWS
Arthur C. Clarke has become this year's recipient of this year's Heinlein Society's Robert A. Heinlein Award, for 'outstanding published work in hard science fiction or technical writings inspiring the human exploration of space'. The award presentation took take place at the Society's annual dinner at this year's Boston Worldcon, USA. This is the second time the Award has been given: it was only inaugurated last year at the Toronto Worldcon, Canada when it went posthumously to Virginia 'Ginny' Gerstenfeld Heinlein, Heinlein's widow and another to the author Michael Flynn. If running true to form next year's will go posthumously to Isaac Asimov, as Clarke, Asimov and Heinlein were the World's leading SF authors in the 1950s '60s and '70s.
Meanwhile Neal Stephenson won the 2004 Arthur Clarke Award for his novel Quicksilver. Which teaches you not to trust our attempts at prediction, or for that matter for us to attempt to make them (see previous item). In our summer news release, posted at Easter, we tipped Tricia Sullivan's Maul to win as it's the sort of thing the judges go for. (They just don't seem to like the stuff we enjoy - hard SF.). However we were in good company as just as our news was being posted the 'Not the Clarke Award' panel at this year's British Eastercon gave the same pointer with Maul meeting all the necessary 'Clarke Award' criteria but they felt that Baxter's Coalescent may get it as he has been nominated so many times. Moral: don't trust the so-called experts, ignore what we say and log off... Contrary to what you might expect, the Clarke Award does not honour the sort of SF a new, young Arthur C. Clarke might write today: which is one reason we thought Maul might get it. Quicksilver is even less Clarke-like being an alternative history novel: we should have sussed this. Meanwhile it has been suggested that J. G. Ballard did not want his novel Millennium People submitted and hence the reason for it not being short-listed by the 2004 Clarke panel. (Historical note:The first Clarke Award announcement, in its inaugural year (1987), was made at the UK national SF (Eastercon) convention (with which some of us on the Concat' team were associated and indeed at which the original Concat' print edition was launched: yes, the Clarke Award is as old as we are...). But in recent years the Clarke announcement has been made at the Science Museum to a smaller ensemble. However this year it moved again to English Heritage's lecture theatre off London's Regent's street, until last year a venue better known to the UK science community as the Royal Society of Chemistry's lecture theatre which actually hosted events across the entire science spectrum including those by members of the Concat' team... Circles etc.)
Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon won the 2004 Philip K. Dick Award and in the process picks up a cheque for US$1,000. The Dick Award is the US equivalent of the Clarke Award (or is it the other way around?) in that it is given for distinguished SF published in the US (as opposed to Clarke in the UK). Both Awards are judged by a panel. Though the cash prize is smaller, the Dick Award winners tend to be more firmly rooted in science fiction than the Clarke Award, and in that sense better reflect their namesake's own contribution to the genre. We rated Altered Carbon and so thoroughly welcome the win. We also recently reviewed Morgan's Broken Angels and "heartily recommend it" too.
Entries are now welcome for the 2005 James White short story competition. It is open to non-professional writers only and is viewed as a stepping stone for those thinking about going professional. The deadline by which 2-4 K submissions must be received is the beginning of May 2005. The Award will be presented at the 2005 Eurocon/Worldcon, Interaction.
Iain Banks' Inversions won a 2004 Italia Award for best novel translated into Italian. The Italias were presented at Italcon, the Italian Natcon held this year in Fuggi.
The October publication of The Algebraist Iain Banks' first SF novel for four years, was heralded in the Bookseller (20.8) with an interview article. Now Banks referred to himself as 'a slacker' in his Desert Island Discs for working just a few months of the year. In this interview he affirms this saying he normally writes a book in 2-3 months, but for his latest he took 3 months just to make the preliminary notes. And - no boasting now - it is a big one weighing in at some 200,000 words. The plot takes place around a gas giant and the lead character belongs to a long-lived race famous for hunting its own young. Then the local wormhole portal fails, which means it takes 130 years to get in touch with the neighbours. The book is not part of the Culture series, with which Banks was beginning to paint himself into a corner. Consequently he found a certain freedom with this one. Will this book form part of a new series? 'Probably' not, but note the 'probably'. However he does say that he will, "definitely write at least one more Culture book." Good man.
Dan Simmons' Ilium won the 2004 Locus Award for Best Novel as voted for by readers of Locus. Runners up included: 2) Pattern Recognition by William Gibson; 3) Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson; 4) Darwin's Children; and 5) The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon. The 'Best Anthology went to The Year's Best Science Fiction by Gardner Dozois (for a review of last year's version published this side of the Pond check out this link).
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (81) received an honorary doctorate from Lehigh University. Congratulations.
The summer saw the announcement of this year's Bram Stoker Awards for superior achievement in horror by the Horror Writers Association. The winners were: Novel: Lost Boy, Lost Girl, Peter Straub (Random House); First Novel: The Rising, Brian Keene (Delirium); Long Fiction Closing Time, Jack Ketchum (Peaceable Kingdom); Short Fiction Duty, Gary A. Braunbeck (Vivisections); Fiction Collection Peaceable Kingdom, Jack Ketchum (Subterranean Press); Anthology Borderlands 5, Elizabeth & Thomas Monteleone, Ed. (Borderlands Press); Non-Fiction The Mothers And Fathers Italian Association, Thomas F. Monteleone (Borderlands Press); Illustrated Narrative The Sandman: Endless Nights, Neil Gaiman (DC Comics); Screenplay Bubba Ho-Tep, Don Coscarelli (Silver Sphere); Work For Younger Readers Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, J. K. Rowling (Scholastic); Poetry Collection Pitchblende, Bruce Boston (Dark Regions Press); Alternative Forms The Goreletter E-Zine [www.gorelets.com], Michael Arnzen; Specialty Press Award Earthling Publications (Paul Miller); Life AchievementAnne Rice And Martin H. Greenberg.
(Historical note: Co-incident to the Clarke Award, being established in 1987 the Stoker is as old as Concatenation. (What a year that was, and with a national BECCON too.) The winners have our congratulations: doubly so as the Award is determined by the Association's membership and not a small panel. As the membership consists of writers the nearest equivalent in SF terms is the Nebula.)
Jack McDevitt's Omega (Ace) won this year's John W. Campbell Memorial Award (not to be confused with the J. W. Campbell Award) for best SF novel of the previous year published in English. McDevitt is a hard SF favourite of ours whom we reviewed a number of times when we were a print magazine, and still do electronically (see Moonfall, Slow Lightning and Deep Six). Justina Robson's Natural History (MacMillan) came second (whose Mappa Mundi we also liked) and third place went to Philip Baruth's The X-President (Bantam US). The award is judged by a panel, this year chaired by Elsie Gunn and including authors Gregory Benford and the recent 2nd International Week of SF western guest author Ian Watson, as well as the academic Tom Shippey.
Ray Bradbury has allegedly ripped into US filmmaker Michael Moore for using Fahrenheit 9/11 as the title for his new Bush-bashing movie, an obvious takeoff of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. The report appeared in English on the net on World Net Daily that in turn based on an article in a Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter. The quotes emerging from this story are colourful. In Concat science and SF terms they relate to anatomy and sexually transmitted disease. Moore's film won the Palme d'Or award at the Cannes Film Festival of which Bradbury was reportedly dismissive allegedly saying: "I have won prizes in different places and they are mostly meaningless." A thought for prospective Dick and Clarke Award judging panels then? +++ Bradbury has also testified to a US commission welcoming Bush's proposals to go to Mars.
Michael Moorcock is to write just one book a year. Apparently the author is retiring (he will be 65 at this year's end) and will spend half his time in the US (he has been living in Texas for a few years) and the other half in Europe.
Not to be out done, Terry Pratchett has vowed, 'to slow down a bit.' For the past couple of decades he has been doing two books a year and there is no need for him to do this. The problem is that when he takes a break he finds himself writing... Meanwhile his first seven Discworld books have just (September) been re-launched in 'B' format to mark 21 years of Discworld. Happy birthday.
But Robert Sawyer is ages from slowing down and over the summer turned in the manuscript for his sixteenth novel to Tor. Although some knew it had the working title of Action Potential, Tor's marketing department did not like that, so it will be published as Mindscan. Look for it in hardcover in January 2005 in North America, but only as an import in Europe. Alas Tor UK seems to be mainly fantasy orientated so getting North American hard SF over here remains difficult.
J. K. Rowling wrote to the Czech President and Prime Minister calling an end to the "horrible" practice of caged beds in psychiatric hospitals. The Czech Health Ministry has ordered an immediate ban on their use. Marvellous to see top selling authors using their profile for good.
J. K. Rowling is writing Potter VI. Which is probably of zero surprise. She started it before her baby and has resumed after a year's break. The news, though, is that it is really the first part of what could be considered a two-parter with book VII being the concluding half. More info on the Rowling website and news that she is again expecting.
Just missing our pre-summer update came the tragic news that the 13-year old son of a major Russian fantasy author, Andrei Belyanin had been killed in a bungled ransom attempt. Police arrested another 13-year old and his 21-year old brother Ivan Kostalyev when an attempt was made to pick up US$100,000 ransom. However Ivan Belyanin had already been strangled and left on the outskirts of Astrakhan, just north of the Caspian Sea. Andrei Belyanin has written 15 novels some of which have sold over 2 million copies. Among his most popular are the 'Jack' series including Jack and the Mad King.
Author Andre Norton (92) continues to have ill health and has changed careers. Sue Stewart takes over from Rosemary Wolf.
Former SF publishing maestro (Gollancz), and now Deputy Chief Editor at Orion, Malcolm Edwards had a double page spread in the 9th of July Bookseller. It is all reasonable fare but the Bookseller's comment that, "Gollancz is now a science fiction and fantasy imprint," is a tad perplexing. Who did the Bookseller think published all those yellow jacketed hardbacks in the 60's and 70s? However one can sympathise with Edwards himself when the Bookseller quotes him on his years of publishing Philip K. Dick: "for ages no-one was interested. Now virtually everything he wrote is either optioned in Hollywood or in development." Them's the breaks.
We only learnt in the summer that Mel Hunter (1929-2004), the US artist responsible for many science fiction magazine cover paintings since 1953, died earlier in the year from bone cancer on 20 February. The last of his Fantasy & Science Fiction 'robot' series covers appeared in May 2003. This was the issue kindly donated by F&SF to the 2nd International Week of Science & SF last year which contained the Bob Sheckley short story that was inspired by his visit to Romania being guest at the 1st International Week. Mel's cover was in fact part of a series of 15 paintings featuring a lonely robot in post apocalyptic settings. He was nominated for a Hugo for Best Professional Artist in 1960, '61, and '62.
Since Easter we are saddened to report the deaths of:
Johannes Berg the Norwegian fan who in recent years did much liaison between Norwegian and UK fandom (media, books and comics), after a short illness having been diagnosed with cancer last November, aged 48.
Francis Crick, British scientist and co-elucidator of DNA's structure aged 88. His work with Wilkins (the one many forget), Franklin (the one equal opportunity scientists remember) and Crick (the one many remember) largely provided the foundation for molecular biology in the latter half of the last century and which led to the Human genome project and our current burst of genomics, proteonomics, bioinformatics, and pharmacogenetics. On the shoulders of giants...
Thomas Gold, mechanical scientist and polymath. A maverick thinker Gold worked with Fred Hoyle and Hermann Bondi on the expanding/steady-state universe and came up with spontaneous creation, and Bondi on Earth magnetism and space. He also worked on human hearing predicting frequency filters three decades before physiologists cottoned on, and predicted micrometeorite lunar dust that influenced pre-Apollo NASA. He hypothesised that regular flashing radio sources might come from a dense, fast spinning object (the now accepted explanation for pulsars), and recently (and again contentiously) that geologically there are vast abiogenic methane reserves, a concept which is of energy importance and to the question of life on Mars.
Max Rosenberg (1914-2004), US producer of many low-budget horror films, died. His first feature was The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) which then cost £270,000 but took £4 million so sparking Hammer's gothic revival of fantastic films. Of note on the science fact front he made a series of 39 do-it-yourself television science programmes in 1954for children called Junior Science, which won numerous awards and which was shown worldwide.
Dilip M. Salwi, an Indian scientist, science populariser and SF author, died in April in New Delhi of a heart attack aged 52. He wrote over 50 science books, mainly for the youth market, and numerous science articles. He also authored some SF stories and his Fire on the Moon sold more than 300,000. His postgrad studies were in astrophysics and he worked for the Indian research community.
Remus Simian a newly graduated physicist and member of the Timisoara SF community died of a stroke while scuba diving in the Danube. The Romanian SF community has had an extremely difficult time adapting to post-communism so desperately needing a new generation of leaders and those with an interest in all forms of SF. Many of the young generation are seduced by western consumerism they see by satellite TV leaving few to engage in voluntary activities. Remus was one hope in Timisoara (western Romania), complementing another from Bucharest (eastern Romania) attending last year's 2nd International Week of Science and Science Fiction. His interest to the broader SF community is pointedly illustrated by the fact that at the time of posting, other than the convention's Romanian agent's family, he was the only (resident) Romanian registered to attend next year's Eurocon-Worldcon) in Glasgow.
John Maynard Smith, British evolutionary biologist whose major contributions include: the 'two-fold cost of sex' problem (why don't asexual species grow twice as fast), and why don't competing species kill each other? He was a clear thinker. Died aged 84.
Johna Springborg, a Danish scientist (a chemist working in veterinary science) died of a heart attack in March aged 58. He wrote two successful SF novels Hjernehallen and Kopien, and was working on a third.
Basil (Eugene) Wells (1912-2004) US author of a couple of scores of short stories, some of which were collected into two volumes in 1949 and 1951
The summer also saw us lose: Anthony Ainley actor who played Dr Who's nemesis The Master (the second one) aged 71; Richard Biggs actor who played Dr Stephen Franklin in Babylon 5 and Crusade at just 43; Jerry Burge one of Atlanta Science Fiction's founders and a fan artist; Gill Fox US comics artist, editor, and writer (cf. `Plastic Man') aged 89; Nelson Gidding screenwriter whose credits include The Haunting, The Andromeda Strain and The Mummy Lives, aged 84; Gerry Goldsmith composer of over 400 film and TV scores whose genre credits include: Alien, Capricorn One, The Man From UNCLE, The Planet of the Apes, and Runaway, aged 75; Robyn (Meta) Herrington Canadian writer, commissioning editor, fan and conrunner, aged 43; Robert Lees, aged 91 a former US screenwriter whose credits include Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein Poe's The Black Cat and episodes of the series Land of the Giants, of note he refused to name names at the McCarthy witch hunts; Shirley (Grandma Trek) Maiewski leading light of US Trek fandom, aged 83; Brian McNaughton horror author aged 69, George Widmer Thorn, clinical researcher who pioneered kidney transplants and artificial kidneys as well as discoverer of the cure for Addison's disease, aged 97; Basil Wells SF author aged 85; Fay Wray to whom Merian Cooper reportedly said, I will give you the tallest, darkest lead in Hollywood.
An introductory paragraph for new-comers. The Eurocon is the annual event, usually 3-4 days, bringing together fans, artists and writers from many European nations and occasionally further. Size varies from 200-2,000 (though sometimes programme items can be open to more people (like in 1994 for 100,000 for the Eurocon city-centre square rock concert!). Eurocons usually have two or three parallel programme streams. They are a bit of an adventure and this in itself is fun for those seeking new civilizations etc., but English is always catered for together with the host language. The Worldcon is the annual gathering of the SF clans Worldwide. It usually attracts 4,000-6,000 and has 10 or more parallel programme streams. It is almost always an Anglophone event. Both Eurocons and Worldcons have a focus on written SF but also include cinematic and TV SF, as well as exotic science, Forteanna, and regular dips into fantasy. Both are non-profit and volunteer organised. Both have dealers rooms art show and exhibitions. Something for everyone with an interest in the genre and to be tried at least once (which for most usually turns into twice or more). Both have many decades of history behind them. SF enthusiasts who miss such an event in their patch will almost inevitably later regret it. The section below features news on these fronts...
Going to a Worldcon for the first time? Concat's advice to (older) first timers is more concise:-
i) View the event as a holiday not restricted to the convention. Local tourist sites and entertainments can be checked out in advance and make for a great diversion if it all gets too much.
ii) Spend an hour going through the programme timetable as soon as you get it and mark out the things you want to see. A properly run Worldcon (or Eurocon) will only have just one or two programme changes a day and the daily programme update sheets are available each morning. Marking out what you want to see in advance helps you deal with unexpected diversions.
iii) Do recognise that Worldcons are gatherings of all the SF clans so there may be many whose interests are not your own. Even if this is 90%, then just 10% with similar interests to you amount to 500 out of a convention of 5,000. You can meet these people by turning up early to specific programme items that interest you (hence like-minded souls) and suggest having a drink with them after.
iv) Should you wish to meet someone again, arrange specific rendez-vous times and places in advance. Worldcons are so large it is easy to lose people.
v) To get the most out of a Worldcon talk to people from far flung countries.
vi) Appreciate the range of humanity present, go with the flow, relax and have fun.
The 2005 Eurocon-Worldcon, Glasgow (Interaction's) Progress Report 2 is now out. It contains: a useful summary of where the plans have got to; a pointer for resources for those with mobility and other difficulties; welcome information on travelling to Glasgow from abroad (though no doubt Eastern Europeans would have welcomed cost estimates for ferry and tunnel entrance to the UK for both cars and mini-coaches); a valuable item on SF/F events either side of the Worldcon (presumably again this will be expanded on UK-wide in future PRs as convention plans for the year are finalised for those wishing a fortnight's holiday making the most of an airfare); and most useful of all, accommodation information (an early release(?) but possibly an indication of likely demand, anyway it gives advance supporters first crack at the whip). Much assurance is given that things are in-hand and the reports do seem positive. With the registration rate due to go up in November and again in 2005 (let alone even more on the door), the message has to be for you to check Interaction out now and register. The Worldcon is only this side of the Pond once a decade. Other contents include an article on programme preparations and it is really encouraging to learn that they are planning ahead. This means that participants stand a chance of having a decent time to prepare audiovisuals etc., something about which one or two past Worldcons have been lax. Of course we at the Science Fact & Fiction Concat' welcome the news that there will be a science stream and look forward to hearing of developments. The lit-crits are already preparing their stream which has the perhaps surprising theme, for an international con, 'the Matter of Britain'. 'Perhaps surprising' because it will be interesting to see how they are relating this in a Worldcon-Eurocon to non-Anglophone and continental European SF. Finally, those into juggling and reproducing their DNA (without the use of PCR or restriction enzymes) will be pleased to learn that the convention has childcare facilities largely sorted. PRs 3-6 can be expected quarterly from the end of the year and getting them is another reason for registering sooner rather than later.
Organizational news: Colin Harris become Interaction's Co-Chair alongside the current Chair, Vincent Docherty. The change to a Co-Chair arrangement is part of the natural evolution of Interaction's organisational structure and enhances its team's ability to manage one of the largest purely volunteer-run events in the World. Vince Docherty has worked hard on the Worldcon and has never shied from representing the project. For example, at last year's 2nd International Week of SF he took six flights to get there and six back! With help from Colin not only will Vince's load be lightened but more ground can be covered.
News from the 2004 World SF Convention, Worldcon, Boston, will be posted with our New Year news review as alas timing means that it just missed our early September site update.
Ditto news concerning the 2006 Worldcon, L.A. con IV, Los Angles, across the road from Disney.
Similarly news as to who won the 2007 Worldcon bid at the above 2004 Worldcon will just miss our September site update. However if you cannot wait to the New Year then check out the bidders' websites.. [deleted as now off-line]
Looking ahead to 2008, if you can that far (but then you are SF folk) a bid has been launched for the Worldcon to be held that year in Chicago. More news with our New Year update but meanwhile there are details on their www.chicagoworldcon7.org website.
Regarding the 2006 Eurocon The Ukraine, won the vote at this year's Bulgaria Eurocon. See above for a report from Bulgaria. Their website (as of our Autumnal update in September) has only just been obtained, and is yet to have any details. It may have by now. See www.eurocon.kiev.ua.
And as for the 2007 Eurocon, there were provisional markers put down for Ireland , Denmark and Sweden at the 2004 European SF Society business meeting in Bulgaria. Let us hope that the Ireland bid embraces the Eurocon concept choosing a venue with an international airport and having continental Europeans as the mainstay of Guests rather than us Brits seeing old western friends. A point we make because the last time (1997) Ireland hosted a Eurocon, despite there being two Guest of Honours and 20 Special Guests, not one was from continental Europe and few Eurocon regulars were involved! In this regard, alas, the 1997 Eurocon was unique. Denmark and Sweden have never seen a Eurocon but have, naturally, hosted Scancons. As such they are used to having a mix of continental and Brit guests as well as from the US. So their challenge will be to involve the Eastern Europeans. The actual decision as to which will host 2007 will be taken at the 2005 Interaction in Glasgow which is also a Worldcon.
The Festival of Fantastic Films was held in late August and yet again a huge success. It survived its new venue and there is no doubt, despite previous rumours, that another will be held next year. We will add a full review to our convention listing shortly, but for now two newsy items. At the opening ceremony Jim Walker, hot from the 2004 Eurocon in Bulgaria, presented Jonathan, on behalf of all the team and associates, with Concatenation's Eurocon Award. Meanwhile in the audience Graham attempted to activate a cloaking device and Charles concealed himself temporally, deferring attendance until the next day. As for the convention gossip... There was some debate among attendees about when the organisers might hold the Fest in 2006 as it potentially clashes with next year's Eurocon/Worldcon. The organisers of both events will need to get their heads together very soon (well before Christmas) so as to alert folk before air fares are booked and seize the rare opportunity of a European Worldcon to build on each other's very considerable strengths.
Concourse Britain's 2004 National SF Convention, the Eastercon, has taken place. (It happened just as we were uploading our summer news section.) None of us on Concat's core team went so we are relying on others' comments. Mixed reports have emerged including on the web (judge for yourself in Ansible and in Emerald City). The convention had its highs and lows with committee organization being neither brilliant (poor programme preparation) nor dire (they did not get in the way of people making their own enjoyment), but in no way as bad (according to at least one comment) as the infamous 2000 Eastercon, 2Kon. There were numerous programme reschedules which, should be unnecessary for even a basically prepared event, illustrated that things really were not at all right. But the idea of having an item on the 1950s radio show Journey Into Space went down well, as did the annual 'George Hay lecture' given this time by Francis Spufford. One fairly consistent theme emerging from comments was that now (due to drunks and violence) Blackpool joins Liverpool (with its thieving-from-the-hotel problems) in not being the place to go for a convention unless you are prepared to hole-up in the venue for the duration and any carry valuables with you. Having said this, apparently it was those fans attending an Eastercon business meeting that decided on the Blackpool venue over an expensive Heathrow airport hotel (a Devil's choice). Next year's Eastercon is in Hinkley, near Leicester. The venue is a tried and tested one that appears to be generally liked. Its only principal problems seem to be poor public transport access, going out for a bite to eat, and the difficulty in getting meals for vegans - shades of BECCON '87 which was deliberately isolated at the Birmingham airport Metropole as 1987 was a Worldcon year and a low-key, closely knit Eastercon enabled folk to focus on the big event. As 2005 is also a Worldcon year so no doubt Hinkley will see much pre-August 2005 Worldcon goings on. (And indeed Hinkley will see some of the Concat team.)
The 2006 British National Convention, Eastercon, is to be held in Glasgow. Apparently this is because the 2005 Worldcon (Glasgow) people are helping sort out a hotel contract and that the 2006 organisers came together at the last minute as nobody had until then stepped forward. Glasgow is a great city (a reasonably safe centre with bags of history, pubs and restaurants) and back in the late 1970s and early 1980s it was the venue for some really innovative Eastercons with memberships topping 1,000: the days prior to the Elydore split when the Eastercon could be said to attract a broader spectrum of Britain's SF clans. These days Eastercon has almost solely a book SF perspective (which is perfectly fine if that's where your SF interest begins and ends) and, as the above links to reviews of this year's Eastercon illustrate, Eastercon organization can be fairly ropey. So why should SF fans should support the 2006 proposal? Glasgow is certainly one reason, but the committee will need to make a really positive effort to convince folk beyond core-Eastercon fandom that they have the organising skills if they wish to attract and retain new blood (or even old blood that has long given up on the event). The 2006 organisers do have one opportunity very much in their favour in that they can conduct a promotional blitz at the Interaction Eurocon-Worldcon in Glasgow 2005. The Worldcon does traditionally cater for a far broader spectrum of the SF community than the British Eastercon does today which virtually ignores films, comics, media, etc, and it has been ages since it had a big guest other than a lit author or artist. But will the 2006 Eastercon capitalise on access to this broader spectrum? If the 2006 folk can get a firm grip on matters, set out a broad stall and proactively approach the various SF clans, then it has a real chance to invigorate the Eastercon by broadening its appeal attracting new, and younger, blood. If it does not, then the Brit Eastercon's attendance will continue its overall downward trend, be introspective and its participants to age. Potentially interesting and pivotal times which we at Concat' will be following; after all, our conception and early years were as a direct result of the Brit Eastercon.
The 2004 World Horror Convention was held over Easter, Phoenix, US. Some 350 attended with Guests of Honour Douglas Clegg (author), Caniglia (artist), Stephen Jones (editor), Dee Snider (media) and author David Morrell (the con's Toastmaster). Its organising committee was headed up by Mike Willmoth and Doreen Webbert. The convention had a high proportion of writers present including William Gagliani (also President of the Horror Writers Association) and British writer Ramsey Campbell (also President of the Society of Fantastic Films). Appropriately because of this last there was a screening of the British independent film London Voodoo whose director, Robert Pratten, was also present. It all went off rather well. Mike Willmoth told Concat': "Everyone I spoke with had a great time. Some even said that it was the best one ever. We're used to hearing that here in Phoenix since we did in 1994 and again in 1998. As long as folks enjoyed themselves we were successful." The World Horror Convention is organised under the auspices of the World Horror Society and next year's will be held on 7 - 10th April 2005 (which is not Easter) at the Park Central Hotel, New York. The organising committee is led by Monica O'Rourke and the Guests will include Joe Lansdale and Jack Ketchum.
Conflux, the 43rd Australian National Science Fiction convention, was held in Australia's Canberra in May 2004 and reports are positive. It was a multi-streamed event, but of particular interest to Concat' surfers Conflux also featured a 'real science' stream. Total attendance was well over 300 including 34 professional authors. The Aussie professionals included Sean McMullen, Fiona McIntosh and Trudi Canvavan. Visiting professionals included Guest of Honour Greg Benford and another US author, Jack Dann, who seems to have put down roots in Melbourne. A full conrep is available here. (For reports of other conventions see the convention index.)
Finncon XI (10th - 11th July) was combined with Finland's Animecon and, being held in Jyvaskyla university, it was also part part of the Jyvaskyla Arts Festival that lasted all week. Guests were: British fantasy and SF writer Gwyneth Jones; Finland's Eurocon Award-winning SF (Tahtivaeltaja) magazine editor Toni Jerrman; US fantasy writer Robin (Megan Lindholm) Hobb; Canadian (Brit-located) SF encyclopaedist John Clute. The Animecon Guest of Honour was Japan's Yoshitoshi Abe who has worked on Serial Experiments Lain, Niea 7 and Haibane Renmei, and the fan guest was the anime fan-expert, Jonathan Clements. Finncons are both Finland's national convention and one of the two foremost SF events in northern (and possibly northwestern) Europe (the other being Scancon), though they have more of a Central European feel to them. There were roughly five parallel programme streams for the well-over-1,000-or-so warm-body count (after allowing for the double count over both days and inclusive of 'SF-tourists' (non-fans with more of a passing interest in the genre)). As you would expect most programme items were in Finnish but there was always something in English, so Anglophones were not left out. Because the English items were so few, and by the time had been allowed for guest items and readings, there was little room for much else in English. There were just two science items: 'Sex and Parallel Universes' and 'Shall Ecological SF Save the World?'. Unfortunately not much science evident in either, though the latter (for which clearly the answer is 'no') did provide eclectic suggestions for reading. The former had more to do with eroticism than the benefits of meiosis to, say, the evolution in the Galaxy, or sexual co-evolution and its implications for explorers from one bioclade to another or even the basics such as sexual dimorphism & eroticism. However this lack of science really was the only unduly negative point. By and large the anime-SF hybridisation of the event worked with enough sampling others' interests despite some rough edges between the two. In common with a number of continental European cons there were also some film-related items including fan film screenings (the only screenings in English) and events for media fans. As such Finncons continue to bring together the various SF clans, which is something we in Britain lost over a decade ago with no signs of getting back. Next year will not see a Finncon due to the 2005 Glasgow Eurocon cum Worldcon , but the Finncon in 2006 will be in Helsinki.
The 35th Comic-con International was held in July in San Diego, US, and was deemed a success. Comic-cons are big, tens of thousands attend and so there are many guests (as many as some Eurocons with their 'special guests'). There were also some from the SF World, namely: Harry Harrison (author who started life as an artist), Ray Bradbury (fantasy author), Greg Bear (author and former Comic-con committee member), Forest J. Ackerman (fan), Kevin Anderson and Rebecca Moesta (both TV/film book adaptors). Comic professional guests included: Jack Adler (DC head of production), Roger Dean (artist), Roman Dirge (artist), Will Eisner (author artist), Donato Giancola (artist), Tom Gill (artist), Sid Jacobson (editor), Geoff Johns (writer), Bruce Jones (writer), Batton Lash (cartoonist), Patrick McDonnell (artist, writer, historian), Aaron McGruder (artist, writer), Mike Mignola (artist), Bill Plympton (cartoonist, animator), Eduardo Risso (artist), Mike Royer (inker), Stan Sakai (artist, writer), Louise Simonson (writer, editor), Walt Simonson (writer, artist), Frank Springer (artist), Craig Thompson (artist, writer) Adrian Tomine (artist, writer), John Totleben (artist), Serena Valentino (writer) and a special appearance of Jean Schulz (wife of Charles). Sadly James warren could not make it. Film/TV guests included: Tim Thomerson (actor - Trancers series) and June Foray (actress). Next year Comic-Con is in San Francisco, Feb 18-20. The only significant problem was with the fan films.
"Sci-Fi-London", the surprise science fiction film festival is to return for a fourth outing in London, in January. The fest covers a refreshingly wide range of SF with the surprise being the exception of recent (past couple of decades) sci fi: so don't go expecting the likes of Battlestar Galactica or Trek. The Fest does widely cover the rest of the genre from both the UK, US (obviously) and from other countries as well as independent offerings and shorts. In lieu of convention progress reports you can subscribe to a free e-newsletter. Sci-Fi-London is one of just two or three UK genre-related film events of the fantastic film calendar. That their newsletter acknowledges (and is supportive of) other events demonstrates their increasing awareness of the UK fantastic film landscape. If they continue to develop the social side to Sci-Fi-London, they will find they have nurtured an extremely solid fan base on which they can count in future years. As they say, watch this space.
If you want a quick analysis of Hugo Award nominees then Nicholas Whyte's site has a very useful Hugo section covering the written SF Hugo categories. His reviews are fairly perceptive and he helpfully links in with other web reviews (such as Concat's) of the nominated books, grouping these into those who loved, liked, or hated the work. We will probably be linking to this site in the future when we cover Hugo nominations.
The British Fantasy Society's summer open meeting was a lively free-form affair and held upstairs in the Princess Louise pub (73 yards west of Holburn underground, London) first Friday in June. As this was the venue for their autumnal open meeting (first Friday in December if true to form) it may be worth Brits pencilling in their diaries. Small Press books abounded as did promotional leaflets, such as for Stuart Young's Spare Parts and Diana Wynne Jones' 1970 hardback Changeover now out for the first time in paperback from www.moondustbooks.biz. Being an open day there were visitors. Two first-timers from LOTNA felt that someone saying a few words of explanation would have been helpful if not welcoming. The evening was, though, most enjoyable.
CONVENTION ORGANISERS NOTE: We welcome news from you in late November relating to Worldcon, Eurocon and National SF Convention events and planning for our New Year (December-March) news pages. We also welcome reviews of national conventions and those with an international dimension. So make a note in your diary for November to inform us at info [at] concatenation [dot] org. (However remember we do not cover other events, such a small regional or TV science fiction events as there are simply too many.)
FILM, GRAPHIC NOVEL + TV NEWS
See Sci-Fi-London film fest above - in case you missed it. We could have as easily placed that news in this section instead..
The X-Files' first episode's 10th anniversary is to be marked with an interactive event on the FX289 (Fox) channel in September. For four weekends, starting 18th/19th September, FX289 will give control of its schedule to viewers by allowing them to choose which of their favourite episodes will be shown. Each weekend, six different episodes will be up for selection under four different categories: "The Best Mulder Episode", "The Best Scully Episode", "The Scariest Episode" and "The Weirdest Episode". The two most popular choices will be broadcast on Saturday and Sunday at 8pm. Voting costs £1 which is a bit of a rip off.
Further to previous, Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars will screen on SciFi in the US, October 17 and 18, 21.00 ET/PT. No news yet as to UK terrestrial broadcast though SciFi Europe almost certainly will screen it before Christmas.
Work on the Underworld 2 script has started. And Kate Beckinsale, will reprise her role of the vampire Selene with her real-life fiance, director Len Wiseman, writing the script. The first Underworld was a dark love story with vampires and werewolves locked in a centuries-old conflict. Co-star, Scott Speedman, has also already signed on to reprise his role.
Fan films of popular superheros are under threat. The first major casualty is Comic-con International which Warner Brothers (owned by Time Warner that owns DC) has requested not to show fan films featuring DC characters such as Superman and Batman that are intellectual property. The concern is that Comic-con charges an entrance fee and so 'theoretically' it could be claimed to make money from the screenings. A worrying development for amateur film makers who value such screenings. What next: no spoofs such as the BBC Del Boy and Roders Batman?
Star Trek producer Rick Berman is now developing an 11th Trek movie. At least that is what he told the British Dreamwatch magazine. The movie would be a prequel. Trek films have been in doubt since the poor box office returns from Nemesis.
James Doohan (the actor playing Scotty in Star Trek) made what was billed as his last convention appearance, 28-30th August 04, in Hollywood. Planet Xpo sponsored the extremely commercial (by European standards) convention, called 'Beam Me Up Scotty... One Last Time' . Many of the original cast attended. Doohan also got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was billed as his last appearance as apparently the man is not well, Alzheimer's.
J. Michael Straczynski (creator Babylon 5) has announced that he and (Dark Skies creator) Bryce Zabel filed a story treatment with Paramount on a new Star Trek series. Whether or not Paramount will take it on is anybody's guess but Straczynski is responsible for the Babylon V being the best space opera TV series to date and so could be a shot in the arm for Trek. However, given that Straczynski's Crusade (a Babylon V spin off series) was never given a real chance, and axed half way through its first season just as it was beginning to show promise, you had best not hold your breath.
Following our Easter news that Shatner wants to return to Star Trek apparently Enterprise producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga told Starburst magazine that they are interest in having Shatner guest star. Corsets on stand by.
Brent Spinner (Data) is to do three episodes of Enterprise. He will not play Data but his creator's (Dr Noonien Soong's) great-great-grandad.
Star Trek: Voyager star Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine) has alleged that she was pressured to have sex in front of other patrons at swingers' clubs by her ex-husband, Illinois Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jack Ryan, according to newly released divorce documents reported on CNN. She refused Jack Ryan's requests for public sex during the excursions, which included a trip to a New York club "with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling," according to the court documents. It is all rather messy with the allegations made in documentation submitted to child custody proceedings back in September, 2000. A judge has only just allowed them released to the media. Apparently Senator Jack Ryan has repeatedly claimed that his divorce file, portions of which were sealed in 2000 and 2001, contained no embarrassing information that would harm his chances against Democratic nominee Barack Obama. The Ryans were married in 1991 and filed for divorce in November 1998. The divorce case is history but several journalists were after the sealed documentation because of Jack Ryan's political campaign and public interest. Jeri Ryan issued a conciliatory statement, saying that she now considers her ex-husband "a friend" and has "no doubt that he will make an excellent senator." Alas to no avail as Jack Ryan has now dropped out of the Senate race.
It seems the Daleks will now be in the new Dr Who. Problems with the executors of Dalek creator's estate, Terry Nation, were resolved 4th August.. The earlier news was that the BBC wanted to change the Daleks without the approval of the Nation estate meant that they were not going to appear in the new Dr Who series. This earlier news was so shocking it was even broadcast on BBC national radio! Only last year a survey of over 3,000 Good Morning TV viewers nominated the Daleks as the number one evil villains on TV. The Daleks are radiologically scarred mutants created to survive a nuclear war which they can do encased in a cybernetic giant pepper pot equipped with an eye stalk, handling rod and ray blaster. They have complete loathing for everything other than their own kind and are out to conquer the Galaxy. From their meticulous records the Daleks soon cottoned on that Dr Who was a character-changing time traveller and so later Daleks were on the lookout for him. The original sticking point was to do with editorial control. The result was that everyone lost out including BBC viewers for whom the BBC owes their state-monopoly existence. The original series' finest moments were with the Daleks.
Here is a very short Dalek animation. We thought you might need a little something after the previous item.
The new Dr Who now has an equally new assistant called Rose Taylor to be played by Billie Piper. Better known in the UK as a former pop star and wife of radio DJ Chris Evans (and not the SF author), Piper has appeared in films such as Orlando Bloom and Things To Do Before You Are 30. The Dr Who Appreciation Society's Antony Wainer welcomed the announcement. Christopher Ecclestone said that there may be some love interest, but then that has been said of all the forthcoming Doctor assistants since the mid-1970s.
Following our Easter news of the new mini-series The 4400, the 11th July US launch was a huge success with the highest ever viewers for a purely cable premiere of 7.4 million. Sky One has exclusive UK rights. If the show continues to do well then a weekly series will result.
Starship Troopers 2 is now out straight to video (so you may have missed it). The director Phil Tippet has gone for more of a SF horror approach to the sequel of Paul Verhoevan's 1997 film very loosely based on the classic Heinlein novel. Tippet did the special effects in the first movie and this is his directorial debut. +++ Of historic note. We have been led to understand that Verhoevan had hoped to make his Starship Troopers I film closer to Heinlein's book but the cost of the battle suits would have meant that there would be little left for other effects.
Paramount is working on a remake of The Crazies, George Romero's 1972 SF horror-thriller film of an accidental bio-weapon release in a small US town that is subsequently isolated by the military. The film aims to update the original. But 'how?' we ask since the first movie was fairly time-proof and still stands today. Maybe they will change the setting? The good news is that Romero is the executive producing.
Ditto Westworld, but this proposal has yet to secure a studio.
The 1970 Hugo Award winning, and Locus poll-topping novel Ringworld will be turned into a four-hour mini-series on the 'SciFi' Channel. The Ringworld, not surprisingly, is a huge ring, so large that it encircles a sun. It has atmosphere on its inner surface, held in place by the centrifugal force from the ring's spinning. With the ring's surface width roughly an Earth diameter wide and with a diameter of the ring itself some hundreds of millions of miles, its habitable area is the equivalent of several thousand Earths. Visiting explorers have to find out if anyone is living there, who built the Ringworld and why? How author, Larry Niven's 'known Space' back story will be portrayed will be integral to the series success.
There's a rumour that Darren Aronofsky will direct a proposed film version of Alan (2000AD) Moore's graphic novel Watchmen of ageing superheros. David (X-Men) Hayter has written the screenplay of the movie for Revolution Studios. Aronofsky will begin work on Watchmen after he completes his current SF film, The Fountain which is in pre- production.
Superman may return to the big screen. Warner Brothers is apparently finalising arrangements for production to start this autumn. (Pre-production took place in the summer.) The current script apparently centres on Superman and Lex Luthor with a Kryptonian also after the man of steel. It looks like they are hoping to ape the success of Superman II by aping a number of its plot elements. Ho hum.
Stargate's Teal'c (played by Christopher Judge) undergoes one notable change in the forthcoming eighth season: He is to have hair. "Yes," Judge said. "It took a lot of years of begging and grovelling for me to finally get it." Judge, who is not naturally bald, said that seven years of daily head shaving really took its toll. "I got really tired of it... Just shaving my head every morning. And by three quarters of the way through the season it was really painful to actually shave. So, you know, this is very welcome. Very welcome. Hopefully the fans will like it." Well you know what they say, 'hair today, gone...'
David Boreanaz and James Marsters, Angel and Spike from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, will be appearing on stage together for the first time in a World exclusive two day special over Halloween weekend in London, York Hall. This is being billed as 'a convention special' though it looks more of a convention in the US media SF sense than the fannish SF sort. It is billed as to mark the end of both the Buffy and Angel series and we can't say whether it will be as good as London's Babylon 5 wrap party a few years ago. However die hard Spike and Angel fans are bound to love it. Details on James Marsters' site.
Rumour has it that Terminator 4 has been scripted but without Arnie whose brain is engaged in US politics (if that does not sound too oxymoronic). The script writers are apparently the ones that did Terminator 3. The film may come out in 2006 if all goes well.
Hammer films The Creeping Flesh and Night of the Big Heat have now been released on video and DVD from DD Video. Both star Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. The Creeping Flesh is horror science fantasy with two brothers (Cushing and Lee) who discover a mysterious skeleton and start to experiment on it. Night of the Big Heat is vintage SF. Temperatures soar on an island off the British coast. It takes a while to find out why but they do and then they have to address matters. Both videos/DVDs come with a booklet as well as an audio commentary extra. As we have noted before, more than once, DD Video is doing a service keeping these old fantastic films going..
Celebrating 35 years of The Prisoner, McGuffin have released a special video of a special 2002 celebratory event and a documentary Portmeirion - The Place and Its Meaning. Special guests included leading British character actor Kenneth Griffith, stuntman Frank Maher and film librarian and director Tony Sloman who all reminisced in depth about their time working on the show. The author Robert Fairclough was also in attendance to discuss his book The Prisoner - The Official Companion To The Classic TV Series.
The original (but re-mastered and up-graded with extra scenes in the late 1990s) Star Wars trilogy (episodes IV-VI) will be available on DVD for the first time on 20th September as a four-disc box set. We don't normally plug mass-market, high street products but in this instance from the variety of publicity sent us it appears that whole-sale distributors seem to have advance-ordered in such bulk at huge discounts that a number are passing these on to customers. The savings are considerable so our message is to shop around.
The other sub-sections within SF News above to which you can jump are: SF Book Trade News; Major SF Author and Artist News; Eurocon/Worldcon News; Fandom; and Film, Graphic Novel + TV News.
[SF News | Forthcoming Science Fiction Book releases | Forthcoming Fantasy & Horror | Forthcoming Science Fact and Non-Fiction | Forthcoming TV & Film Tie-ins and Computer Games| Last Quarter's Science News Summary]
Horizon Storms by Kevin Anderson, Simon and Schuster, pbk, £10.99. ISBN 0-743-256719. The third in the Saga of the Seven Suns. Pot-boiler space opera. ( We reviewed the first in the saga Hidden Empire: The Saga of the Seven Suns and we have a different reviewer currently tackling the second one.).
Recursion by Tony Ballantyne, Tor UK, £12.99, ISBN 1-405-0504139-0. The enemy conspires to usurp their human creators.
Exultant by Stephen Baxter, Gollancz, £18.99, hdbk. ISBN 0-575-074280. The second book in the Destiny's children series. We have previously reviewed his Origin, Moonseed, Space, Time, Titan, Traces, and Vacuum Diagrams.
The Algebraist by Iain Banks, Orbit, £17.99, hdbk. ISBN 1-841-49155-1. We reported on this one back in the Spring when the publication date then was billed as September and its title was referred to as 'a novel'. Then in the summer trade publicity referred to it as The Alegraist! So who knows what it is called? Our summer enquiry to the publishers, and also those who run Banks' website, drew a zero response: therefore no apology our end for any error (and we wont bother citing that web address). Anyway, the launch now appears to have slipped to October so we mention it again. As we said back in the Spring: "its plot apparently concerns the perceived decadent dwellers of an isolated system that live in a highly developed state of barbarism and who await their wormhole connection, as one does." As our regulars know, we rate Banks highly and it is always a fight to review his books. The rest of us have to make do." Meanwhile just as we are posting this news page we have picked up Banks' Bookseller interview. Check out our reviews of: Against a Dark Background, The Business, Dead Air, Excession, Inversions, Look to Windward, and Whit.
A Planet for the President by Alistair Beaton, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £9.99, hdbk. ISBN 0-297-84776-7. The planet in question being the Earth as the US president spreads a deadly pathogen around the World in a bid to remove the surplus population. If this is based on genomics then it will be one of the first post-human genome SF novels.
Dead Lines by Greg Bear, Harper Collins, £17.99, hdbk. ISBN 0-007-12976. An SF ghost story from a hard SF master. This actually came out in May and so should have been in our forthcoming book news column back in Easter: the UK publishers are marketing this as horror (it is in fact horror-SF), hence we missed it, but fortunately Greg Bear tipped us the wink. Other works of his reviewed on this site include: Legacy, New Legends, Dead Lines and Darwin's Children..
Tanequil by Terry Brooks, Simon and Schuster, hdbk, £17.99, ISBN 0-743-25674-3. The second book of the High Druid of Shanna series.
New York Dreams by Eric Brown, Gollancz, £6.99, pbk. ISBN 0-575-07494-9. Volume 3 of the Virex trilogy. The previous in the series have been engaging, SF-noir type, Chandleresque, detective stories set in a future where the US is a shadow of its former self and virtual reality makes for great escapism. Other works of Brown's previously reviewed include: New York Blues, New York Nights and Penumbra.
Shadow Warrior by Chris Bunch, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 1-841-49332-5. The trilogy, The Wind After Time (1996), Hunt the Heavens (1996) and The Darkness of God (1997) brought together in one volume. Military SF saga of alien war.
Catwoman: The Movie and Other Cat Tales, Titan Books, £8.99, pbk. ISBN 1-840-23991-3. Graphic novel of the film.
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists by Gideon Defoe, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £17.99, hdbk,. ISBN 0-297-848852. A humorous yarn of pirates going to London after a chance encounter with Charles Darwin in the Galapagos. No doubt finches substitute for parrots...
The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 17 edited by Gardener Dozois, Robinson, £9.99, pbk. ISBN 1-84119924-9. A cross section of some of the best short SF published in 2003 across the board. There is something for everyone no matter your taste in the genre, and when you find it it is great. Dozois also includes his very useful review of the past Anglophone written SF year. See our review of last year's edition.
Glyph by Percival Everett, Faber, £6.99, pbk. ISBN 0-571-22112-2. This little gem might easily get overlooked as it is being marketed as mainstream. It concerns a 10 month old baby who can comprehend everything and reads science, maths and philosophy. He communicates not by speaking but by writing notes. His father is a limp academic of English whose marriage is strained. He is abducted by an unhinged psychologist before a secret US agency get hold of him. The book is written part tongue in cheek and part thriller. It largely works and many of the set pieces are crafted with flare. That this will not be on bookshops' SF shelves does not matter, it is new wave science fiction.
Whiteout by Ken Follett, MacMillan, £17.99, hdbk. ISBN 0-333-90841-4. It's Christmas and the snow lies thick on the ground. A family gathering in an isolated house could not be more seasonal. The head of the family is also at the head of a pharmaceutical company, so it is only appropriate that Christmas is shared with a deadly virus under the roof...
Creatures of the Night by Neil Gaiman, Titan Books, pbk, £10.95. ISBN 1-840-23911-5. Graphic novel of two of the stories from the collection of shorts, Smoke and Mirrors. ( See American Gods, Sandman: The Dream Hunters, Midnight Days and Stardust.)
The Sandman: Endless Nights by Neil Gaiman and Frank Quitely, Titan Books, pbk, £10.99. ISBN 1-84023784-8. Gaiman and the Sandman, it's bound to be popular.
The Battle of Corrin by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson, Hoddor & Stoughton, hdbk, £18.99. ISBN 0-340-823364. The 3rd and final book in the Legends of Dune series.
The Journey of Niels Klim to the World Underground by Ludvig Holberg. University of Nebraska Press, pbk, £12.50. ISBN 0-803-27348-7. Apparently there is a planet orbiting a miniature star at the Earth centre awaiting for Klim to discover it, and the planet is inhabited...
The Taking by Dean Koontz, Harper Collins, hdbk, £17.99. ISBN 0-007-13075-9. A small Californian town finds itself cut off from everywhere else by some decidedly odd weather... A brolly is probably in order?
Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb, Titan Books, pbk, £9.99, ISBN 1-840-23718-X. Graphic novel.
Wordstorm by James Lovegrove, Gollancz, hdbk, £17.99. ISBN 0-575-07387-X. Science Fantasy of a world where everyone has super-normal powers. We have reviewed another of his works, Days.
Wordstorm by James Lovegrove, Gollancz, £10.99, pbk. ISBN 0-575-07388-8. . The trade paperback release of the above.
Newton's Wake by Ken Macleod, Orbit, pbk, £6.99. ISBN 1-841-49184-1. Space opera, gritty, a dash political, and recommended. (See our reviews of his The Cassini Division, Cosmonaut Keep, Dark Light, The Sky Road, The Star Fraction - Ken MacLeod and The Stone Canal).
Iron Council by China Mieville, Pan MacMillan, hdbk, £17.99,. ISBN 0-333-98972-4. Third in the City of the new Crobuzon series.
Knees Up Mother Earth by Robert Rankin, Gollancz, hdbk, £9.99, ISBN 0-575-07315-2. A prequel to the Brentford Triangle. We regularly used to review Rankin, back when we were a print publication and he was with Transworld, but we have not received much publicity on him in recent years. However a couple of the team says he is still on form for which read a somewhat muddled sense of wry humour as if you tangled the Goons with Python. He can take a bit of getting used to but you'll find out if you get on with it two-thirds the way through the book, so stick with it. If you do, the story will gel, the man's comedy start to shine incandescently and you'll be hooked. Everyone into humorous SF/fantasy should try him. The Brentford Triangle is one of Rankin's earliest works back in the early 1980s. Many of Rankin's books have an interconnectedness so if you do like this then there are a score of others for you to enjoy.
The Well of Stars by Robert Reed, Orbit, pbk, £6.99. ISBN 1-84149256-6. Hard SF space opera sequel to Marrow (previously reviewed). He has been writing short stories since 1986 and appears to be slowly acquiring a good reputation.
Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, hdbk, £14.99. ISBN 0-575-07436-1. Hard SF noir type thrillery space opera of the sort we generally like and our Tony seems to go for. (See Chasm City, Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days, Redemption Ark and Revelation Space).
The Snow by Adam Roberts, Gollancz, hdbk, £16.99. ISBN 0-575-07180-X. A post-apocalyptic tale under the snow. (Elsewhere we have reviewed Roberts' Stone and Salt.)
The Snow by Adam Roberts, Gollancz, pbk, £9.99. ISBN 0-575-07181-8. The paperback release of the above.
Edenborn by Nick Sagan, Bantam Press, hdbk, £12.99, ISBN 0-593-05191-2. Continues Idleworld's theme of genetic engineering.
Idlewild by Nick Sagan, Bantam, pbk, £6.99. ISBN 0-553-81597-0. The paperback release.
Legends II by Robert Silverberg (ed), Voyager, pbk, £6.99. ISBN 0-007-15436-4. 11 novelas set in the worlds of their authors. Anne McCaffrey does one set in Pern, Tad Williams in Otherland, etc. Other works of Silverberg previously reviewed include: Roma Eterna and Son of Man.
Veniss Underground by Jeff Vanermeer, Tor, pbk, £6.99. ISBN 0-330-41892-0. The paperback release of the far future novel.
The Sundering by Walter Jon Williams, Pocket, pbk, £6.99. ISBN 0-743-42898-6. Space opera with Book II of Dread Empires Fall.
In depth reviews of fiction books can be found off the reviews index.
[SF News | Forthcoming Science Fiction Book Releases | Forthcoming Fantasy & Horror | Forthcoming Science Fact and Non-Fiction | Forthcoming TV & Film Tie-ins and Computer Games | Last Quarter's Science News Summary]
Industrial Magic by Kelly Armstrong, Orbit, pbk, £6.99, ISBN 1-841-49340-6. Book 4 in the supernatural series.
The Mammoth Book of Sorcerers' Tales edited by Mike Ashley, Robinson, £7.99. ISBN 1-841-19935-4. An excellent collection of excellent short stories.
Abarat by Clive Barker, Voyager, pbk, £6.99, ISBN 0-006-51370-0. This is the paperback release of the hardback we previously reviewed. We also have reviewed the following of his: Coldheart Canyon and Galilee.
The Raven Warrior by Alice Borchardt, Bantam, pbk, £6.99. ISBN 0-553-81513-X. An Arthurian sequel to the Dragon Queen that has received a considerable welcome from some within the fantasy crowd.
Jonathan Norrell and Mr Strange by Susanna Clark, Bloomsbury, hdbk, £17.99, ISBN 0-747-57055-8. At 800 pages this really is a heavyweight fantasy involving two rival magicians and the Napoleonic Wars in the style, the publicity says, of Jane Austin.
The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: The Runes of the Earth by Stephen Donaldson, Gollancz, hdbk, £20, ISBN 0-575-075988. We list this as fantasy though apparently those on the team that read fantasy say there are some SF tropes underpinning aspects of the work. Either way this is part of a 4 volume follow-up to the 6 volumes published between 1977 and 1983 that sold 3.5 million copies in the UK alone.
The Prefect Ghost Story, introduced by Helen Dunmore, Piccadilly, pbk, £5.99. ISBN 1-853-40799-2. For four years not the Guardian (a UK broadsheet newspaper) and Piccadilly have run a teenage ghost story competition. Here are 10 winning entries.
The Treasured One by David & Leigh Eddings, Voyager, hdbk, £18.99. ISBN 0-007-15761-4. The second book in the 'Dreamers' series complete with map, not to mention half a dozen decent line drawings by Geoff Taylor.
Exile's Return by Raymond Feist, Voyager, hdbk, £18.99. ISBN 0-002-24683-X. Political intrigue and violence in the fantasy world of Midkemia. Comes with map.
The Water Room by Christopher Fowler, Doubleday, £12.99, hdbk. ISBN 0-385-60554-4. A gothic crime story set in Victorian London.
Naked Empire by Terry Goodkind, Voyager, pbk, £7.99. ISBN 0-007-14559-4. The adventures of a wizard called Richard Cypher.
Hound by George Green, Bantam, pbk, £6.99, ISBN 0-553-81534-2. Actually this already came out back in August but we missed it from our Summer's forthcoming books list posted at Easter. This is a fictional historical novel set in Ireland 2,000 years ago. Green is Irish and the backdrop to the story demonstrates the author has done his research.
Fool's Fate by Robin Hobb, Voyager, pbk, £7.99, ISBN 0-006-48603-7. Final book in the best-selling trilogy.
The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, edited by Stephen Jones, Robinson, pbk, £7.99, ISBN 1-841-19923-0. An excellent collection of excellent shorts by an excellent commissioning editor and stalwart of the British Fantasy Society. Stephen Jones has editied other horror collections which we have reviewed before, see Dark Terrors 3 and Dark Terrors 4.
The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower by Stephen King, Hoddor & Stoughton, hdbk, £25, ISBN 0-340-82721-1. The final in the series. Reviews of other of his books on this site include: a recent review of Song of Sussanah the penultimate part of the 'Dark Tower' series. Other King reviews include: Wolves of the Calla, Bag of Bones, Black House, Dream Chaser, Everything's Eventual, From a Buick 8, The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Wizard and Glass: The Dark Tower 4 and Wolves of the Calla.
Babylon Rising by Tim Lattaye and Greg Dinallo, Hodder, pbk, £6.99. ISBN 0-340-86314-8. An Indiana Jones type tracks down Biblical artefacts and confronts evil.
Conqueror's Moon by Julian May, Voyager, pbk, £6.99. ISBN 0-007-12320-5. Part one of a series.
The Wheel of Yearning by Caiseal Mor, Pocket Books, pbk, £6.99. ISBN 0-743-46856-2. From the author of The Circle and the Cross. Guy d'Alville expelled from his knight order seeks vengeance from the Irish knight Robert FitzWilliam. But the Queen on Night is gathering armies to assault the realm of mortals. A prophetic monk is added to the mix to seek the mystical Well of Yearning. This is book one of the 'Wellspring' trilogy and possibly links Mor's 'Watchers' and 'Wanderers' trilogies.
Quicksilver Zenith by Stan Nicholls, Voyager, trd pbk, £12.99, ISBN 0-007-14151-3. Book two of the Quicksilver trilogy. Cursed with immortality and occasional bezerk rages, Reeth searches for a cure.
Going Postal by Terry Pratchett, Doubleday, hdbk, £17.99. ISBN 0-385-60342-8. The latest Discworld novel about its postal service. As one of us has just accidentally left a diary at a meeting and had it forwarded by post only to have the postal service lose it, there is obviously plenty of humorous mileage to be had from this theme.
Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett, Corgi, £6.99, pbk, ISBN 0-522-14941-1. And as noted above the first seven Discworld books were being relaunched in September to mark 21 years of Discworld.[Review elsewhere on site of Feet of Clay.]
The Soddit by Adam Roberts, Gollancz, £5.99, pbk. ISBN 0-575-07591-0. Piss-take a la style of Bored of the Rings.
The Druid King by Norman Spinrad, Time Warner, pbk, £6.99. ISBN 0-751-53530-3. A sweeping historical novel set in Roman Gaul. Spinrad is an accomplished SF author whose branching out into historical novels seems to be as assured. Graham is reviewing this for our next update (early New Year) but early reports are that it is quite good especially after the first couple of chapters. Apparently there are fantastical elements though ambiguous (they could be real, they could be magic...). However Graham says that the publisher's cover hype of one man against the might of Rome, is untrue. The protagonist has a whole army with him!
The Firebird's Vengeance by Sarah Zettel, Voyager, pbk £7.99. ISBN 0-007-11406-0. The final book in the trilogy. Has been likened to Hobb above.
In depth reviews of fiction books can be found off the reviews index.
[SF News | Forthcoming Science Fiction Book releases | Forthcoming Fantasy & Horror | Forthcoming Science Fact and Non-Fiction | Forthcoming TV & Film Tie-ins and Computer Games | Last Quarter's Science News Summary]
The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor, Egmont, hdbk, £12.99. ISBN 0-007-15251-5. This book apparently took five years to research and in so-doing uncovered a tale of love, revenge, murder and war. So much of it that this is the first part of a trilogy. Apparently Lewis Carol did not tell Alice Liddell the stories of Alice Through the Looking Glass and Alice in Wonderland: apparently she told him! The Alice books sold between 80 million and 100 million copies so if this has just a few percent of this success it will be phenomenal.
The Black Death 1346-1353: The Complete History by Ole Benedictow, Boydell Press, hdbk, £30. ISBN 0-851-15943-5. A more sober and certainly well-researched version of the Black Death than Scott's and Duncan's below, but not so sensational or controversial.. Fascinating nonetheless.
The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks, Duckworth, pbk, £8.99, ISBN 0-400-04962-8. How to keep alive in the face of the undead. This apparently did well in the States.
I know You Got Soul: Machines With That Certain Something by Jeremy Clarkson, Michael Joseph, hdbk, £18.95. ISBN 0-718-14729-4. An illustrated book about technology that gets little boys (the young at heart) or men's testosterone going.
The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life by Richard Dawkins, Weidenfield, hdbk, £25. ISBN 0-297-82503-8. Since the mid-1970s Dawkins has been the most lucid popular science writer on evolution in the English language in the World (well according to the two biologists on the Concat' team). This is billed as his definitive work and so could well be his monograph.
The Great Brain Debate by John Dowling, William Heinmann, hdbk, £17.99. ISBN 0-309-09223-X. Research indicates that neural pathways and brain function can change. Fascinating stuff.
Earth Song: Aerial Photographs of our Untouched Planet by Bernhard Edmaier, Phaidon, hdbk, £30.00. ISBN 0-714-84451-9. It does what it says on the can. (But then we've seen numerous cans that say 'open other end' and they never ever are.)
Weighing the Soul: The Evolution of Scientific Beliefs by Len Fisher, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, pbk, £12.99. ISBN 0-297-84716-3. Scientific ideas that initially sounded totally barmy but ultimately turned out wither to be right or led to a greater understanding of the phenomena in question. This book is surely one compelling reasons (out of a number) as to why research proposal, and science book proposal, referees should referee blind to the proposer/author's name. It is also hugely fun. Entertainment with a lesson! Surely a Christmas present must-buy for scientists who like SF (or even SF folk who like science).
Are Universes Thicker Than Blackberries? by Martin Gardner, WW Norton, pbk, £9.99. ISBN 0-393-05742-9. Gardener explores the multiverse theory (or theories). If you toss a coin then, according to multiple universe theories, in one universe the answer comes up 'heads' and another 'tails'. This applies to quantum events. There are variations on the theory. In some there is one main universe with other being weaker or short-lived collapsing back to reality as we see it. Either way, the nature of the universe, multiple or not, is central to concepts such as free will, pre-determination, and God. Gardener provides a competent navigation of such cosmological exotica. A bit of intellectual fun and Gardener does not mind letting us know where his preferences lie and is occasionally scathing of woolly thinking. Good on the man.
Tomorrow's People by Susan Greenfield, Penguin, B-format trade pbk, £7.99. ISBN 0-141-00888-1. How 21st century technology changes the way we think and feel. (Could be shades of John Brunner's seminal fiction Shockwave Rider.)
Digital Souls: Intelligent Machines and Human Values by Thomas George, Westview Press, pbk, £12.50. ISBN 0-813-34266-X. 'Artificial intelligence explained.' S they say in which case we would have it. However this is an increasingly important area and we are getting close.
The Life and Death of Smallpox by Ian and Jenifer Glyn, Profile Books, hdbk, £17.99. ISBN 1-861-97608-9. This disease once ravaged the World. Now the virus is extinct in the wild. However...
The Real Mars by Michael Hanlon, Constable, hdbk, £25. ISBN 1-841-19637-1. Contains over 100 surface and orbital pictures of the Red Planet. (No Martians spotted yet.)
Cyborg Democracy: Free, Equal and United in the Post-human World by James Hughes, Westview Press, pbk, £19.99. ISBN 0-813-34198-1. Again as we are beginning to see mechanisms by which we may enter a post-human world this is an interesting area.
A Reason for Everything by Marek Kohn, Faber & Faber, hdbk, £20. ISBN 0-571-22392-3. Six pioneering scientists (Is there any other kind?) pursue the meaning of life.
Why Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes and Cultural Diversity by Gary Paul Nabhan, Island Press, hdbk, £16.99. ISBN 1-559-63466-9. With SF fandom's propensity with gastronomy (and some even culinary arts) and hard SF fans enthusiasm for science - in short Concatenation regulars - this is surely to be a hit with our section of the market. One for digesting after the Christmas turkey.
The Darwin Awards III by Wendy Northcutt, Orion, pbk, £6.99, ISBN 0-752-85927-7. Another 100 misadventures of people who for the good of human evolution (accidentally) stupidly removed themselves from the gene pool. (Come on Orion, get Dawkins to do the introduction to the next volume.)
The Proteus Effect: Stem Cells and their Promise in Medicine by Ann Parsons, William Heinemann, hdbk, pbk, £19.99. ISBN 0-309-08988-3. With the developed world split over therapeutic cloning (the misnomer for stem cell treatments) this is your chance to get up to speed with this biotechnology.
Visions of the Universe by Raman Prinja, Mitchell Beazley, hdbk, £20. ISBN 1-840-00974-8. Spectacular astronomical pics and explanation.
Space Odyssey by Tim Raines & Christopher Riley, BBC Books, hdbk £20. ISBN 0-563-52154-6. Journey through the universe.
The Man Who Found Time: James Hutton and the Discovery of Earth's Antiquity by Jack Repcheck, Pocket Books, pbk, £7.99. ISBN 0-743-45087-6. Everyone knows of Chaz Darwin (two of us on the Concat team have even had tea round his house ) but do you know of James Hutton's contribution? You really should and, while Hutton's work is less accessible than Darwin's, Repcheck has provided a thoroughly stimulating overview of the man's work.
The End of Oil by Paul Roberts, Bloomsbury, hdbk, £17.99. ISBN 0-618-23977-4 An extremely lucid account of the end of oil, the dominance of oil in World politics, and the need for global change especially by those of us in the west. Highly recommended. (Incidentally in the UK both the House of Lords, and separately the House of Commons, Science and Technology Committees will be holding energy-gap related enquiries commencing in the next Parliamentary session 2004/5.)
Inevitable Surprises: A Survival Guide for the 21st Century by Peter Schwartz, The Free Press, trd pbk, £12.99. ISBN 0-743-23910-5. Horizon scanning (as it is known among policy makers) is the professional analogue to SF speculation. Here Schwartz provides an overview to some of the things we might expect in the coming decades and how to think about them. The Concat team has a diverse range of expertise and does not agree with everything herein, however there is much to commend this book and it is enjoyable ascertaining whether you concur with all, some or none and you're bound to learn something new.
Return of the Black Death: The World's Greatest Serial Killer by Susan Scott and Christopher Duncan, John Wiley, hdbk, £16.99/US$27.95. ISBN 0-470-09000-6. An odd (possibly off-the-wall) account of the Black Death that says it wasn't black rats and fleas after all but possibly an emergent virus... You are advised to see Benedictow's book above and have that for comparison should you get this.
From Here to Infinity by Joseph Silk, Oxford University Press, Hdbk, £18.99. ISBN 0-198-50510-8. A cosmological and astrophysical tour from the big bang to the end of the universe. If you have missed out on the past few years of progress then be amazed at the acceleration of the universes expansion and how we are closing in on dark matter.
Big Bang by Simon Singh, Fourth Estate, pbk, £20. ISBN 0-007-15251-5. Apparently it concerns "the most important discovery of all time and why you need to know about it." Really? Well it will be interesting to hear the answer to this last. (Sometimes the hype can be so over-egged as to be off-putting.)
Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin, by Francis Spufford, Faber, pbk, £8.99. ISBN 0-571-21496-7. The paperback release of the hardback previously reported. The author gave the Hay lecture at this year's UK Eastercon (as opposed to the New Zealand and other Eastercons lest you be confursed). The Hay lecture went down well and the book has had reasonable reviews.
Adam's Curse by Bryan Sykes, Corgi, pbk, £7.99. ISBN 0-552-14989-6. 'Are men an endangered species' says the publicity. This is probably the publishers and not the author but men are not a distinct species from women.
How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World by Francis Wheen, HP, pbk, £7.99. ISBN 0-007-14097-5. This is the paperback release. The hardback was extremely well received. Most highly recommended. If we can get a copy we will hopefully review this.
Human: The Definitive Guide To Our Species, editorial consultant Lord Bob Winston, Dorling Kindersley, hdbk, £30. ISBN 1-405-30233-X. The illustrations here are bound to be brilliant. If this follows Winston's area of expertise then it will be a whole-organism and cellular biology approach (with molecular biology thrown in). However it is unlikely there will be much human ecology let alone palaeo human ecology.
In depth reviews of science and SF non-fiction books can be found off the non-fiction reviews index.
[SF News | Forthcoming Science Fiction Book releases | Forthcoming Fantasy & Horror | Forthcoming Science Fact and Non-Fiction | Forthcoming TV & Film Tie-ins plus Computer Games | Last Quarter's Science News Summary]
FORTHCOMING TV & FILM TIE-INS
I Robot, Voyager, pbk, £6.99. ISBN 0-586-02532-4. Timed to coincide with the release of the film (starring Wil Smith) this classic Asimov could introduce a new generation to one of SF's fonts. As reported in the SF News (SF book news) section, sales have soared in North America. Please, please, please Voyager ensure that you have a few of the other Robot stories out at the same time and have a good Asimov bibliography as an appendix. If you are not familiar with the man then this is a book of some of his famous robot short stories and they are much better than the film. We have previously reviewed the following works of Asimov: Bicentennial Man, Buy Jupiter and The Gods Themselves.
Caught in the Web: Dreaming up the World of Spiderman II by Mark Cottaraz, Titan Books, Trade pbk, £14.99. ISBN 1-840-23916-6. The background to the film.
Heat by Nancy Holder, Pocket Media, hdbk, £12.99. ISBN 0-743-49250-1. Buffy and Angel against an army of the damned. No contest.
Inside the World of Star Wars by James Lucenno, Rochard Chasemore and Hans Jenssen, DK, large format, £14.99/ US$19.99/ Ca$29.99. ISBN 1-405-30539-8... This might be the north American ISBN (the publicity does not say) so Europeans are best advised to ask after this at local bookshops by title and author. Apparently Dorling Kindersley is known as DK in these its Penguin Group days. Dorling Kindersley has, of course, a reputation for its illustrated books (indeed one of our Concat team members, Paul, who used to do our typesetting used to work for them, but all that is ancient history). Suffice to say, because we have been sent sample pages (from the north American edition?), we can confirm that high production standards have been maintained. The book consists of cutaway diagrams of the craft and settlements in the Star Wars movies, much like used to appear in TV21 (sigh, those were the days...). The authors have worked on other Star Wars titles so they know their craft... ('Craft', geddit.) What is not clear is how approved by Lucas film the art spreads are as the ones we were sent say 'NOT APPOVED', yet the Lucas Boooks' logo appears on the cover. Also not clear is whether the book just relates to the first trilogy of films. However we can say that some of the stills from the set are new. Star Wars fans will love this.
Hellboy by Yvonne Navarrow, Pocket Media, pbk, £6.99. ISBN 0-743-49289-7. The book based on the comic turned into the film.
Tales of the Slayer by various 'authors', Pocket Media, pbk, £7.99. ISBN 0-743-49249-8. Buffy shorts ('shorts' as in stories just in case you wondered).
FORTHCOMING VIDEO & DVD RELEASES
Series Two of the classic BBC 1970s science fiction series Survivors - created by Terry Nation - is to be released on video and DVD for the first time ever this Autumn. The plot follows the struggles of a lone group of survivors in the aftermath of a virulent plague that wipes out 99.9% of the World's population.
Nuclear Scare Stories of the Cold War is now out from DD Video both on video and DVD. A compilation of documentaries and public information films about nuclear attack and how the authorities wanted you to believe they could help you survive with their advice. Scary stuff. Recommended especially if you are under 25 and are unaware of the shadow of genuine fear under which many of us lived. Consequently it is a must buy for parents.
All of the Transformers series will be out on September 27th. Ditto the 1989 series Bucky O'Hare. Both are children's series in case you wondered.
THQ launched Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War on PC in September 2004. In the violent, post-apocalyptic universe of the 41st Millennium, there is only war. Mankind defends itself from ancient enemies. Hardened forces collide with just one goal in mind - the complete extermination of their opposition! Using Relic's revolutionary 3D engine, each titanic clash is certain to provide awe-inspiring, visceral frontline combat with amazing zooms offering levels of graphical detail unprecedented in a real time strategy (RTS) game. From slaughtered units' blood sprays to individual bullets and shells, players will feel so immersed in the battle they'll want to wipe the grime from their faces as they fight. The warhammer series has also spawned a number of spin-off SF novels, one of which was written by our 2nd International Week of SFguest Ian Watson who also happened to be the western Guest of Honour at this year's Eurocon in Bulgaria.
PC Game Midnight Nowhere Buka Entertainment, Published by Oxygen Interactive. Welcome to the town of Blacklake where serial killing seems to have become the norm. The game opens with a cut scene showing the escalation of bizarre and nasty murders in the town. Brief flashes from the crime scenes show mutilated corpses and we realise this isn't, despite the computer we're using, going to be a particularly PC game. The cut scene finishes and the hero unzips himself from a body bag. From now on, the format is pretty much standard point-and-click adventure with all of the frustrations that entails. It isn't that this format can't work; the puzzles of Myst and 7th Guest keeps you going quite well. All too often, however, self-consistency and internal logic are abandoned even though these should be the imperative of the game. The solutions (in this case, how to escape a morgue, then a hospital, then a jail followed by a finale) should follow logically! Some of the time they do, but a lot of the time bizarre rules apply. Despite this, I quite liked the game, especially the first two scenes (morgue and hospital), with their nasty little surprises and grotesque jokes. Overall it was let down by a dreary sequence in the jail where the music just irritated me. Be warned, however, that this game is probably targeted at a just tuned 16 male audience. There are pictures of naked ladies (snigger) to be seen and some bad language (tut, tut). I confess, it did laugh at some of the jokes. Not bad, but for me more emphasis should have been placed on logic rather than attempting a shock element.
Forever Worlds from Mindscape and The Adventure Company, is a new-release science fantasy. You are archaeologist Dr Jack Lanser seeking his mentor palaeontologist (don't ask) 'Doc' Maitland deep in the jungle. Maitland is thought to have discovered the secret of eternal youth. With Maitland's daughter Nancy in tow you get sucked into alternate worlds and time-lapses. Puzzles need to be solved before you can master the magic and technology (well we said it was science fantasy) so as to prevent the original chain of events from happening in the first place. There are some good effects and cinematic sequences. Our Graham will review this for Christmas if his PC is up to it.
[SF News | Forthcoming Science Fiction Book releases | Forthcoming Fantasy & Horror | Forthcoming Science Fact and Non-Fiction | Forthcoming TV & Film Tie-ins and Computer Games | Last Quarter's Science News Summary]
ASTRONOMY AND SPACE
Just time to squeeze in the news that a probe with samples from the Sun crashed. They were to have been picked up in mid-air as the Genesis space probe returned to Earth. The feat was to have been done by SF stunt helicopter pilots. One of them, among other things, Cliff Fleming and his helicopter whisked Pierce Brosnan off of a volcano in the geological thriller film Dante's Peak. At around 9.00am, September 8th he had hoped to have plucked the paraglide-assisted descending Genesis capsule from mid-air above the Utah desert. However a parachute failed to deploy and it crashed. Genesis has been collecting particles of solar wind in space for two and a half years. A water landing would contaminate the capsule and the shock of terrestrial landing would damage some of the delicate solar wind particle collecting arrangements. Scientists are keen to learn about the 1% of heavy (above hydrogen and helium) elements thought to be in Solar wind and which may tell us something about Solar system, and possibly general planetary system, formation.
NASA's MESSENGER (MErcury Surface Space ENvironmental, GEochemical and Ranging) mission has blasted off for Mercury and will be only the second probe to that planet: the first was Mariner 10 (1974). The problem with Mercury is that it is so far into the Sun's gravitational well that our probes falling to it will either crash or (as with Mariner) whiz by so that only half the planet can be surveyed. MESSENGER gets around this with breaking sling-shots around the Earth, Venus (twice), and Mercury itself (three times) before settling into orbit about Mercury in 2011. MESSANGER will therefore travel 4.9 billion miles even though Mercury's orbit is just 57 million miles from Earth's. Mercury surface temperatures are 427C in the Sun and -183C in the shade.
The New Horizons NASA mission to Pluto and the Kuiper belt could be delayed to a security bungle at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Post 9/11 security clampdown has meant that the Los Alamos National Laboratory has shut down until the theft of data and equipment has been sorted out. Similar carelessness has taken place at other US labs but they have not been suspended. Los Alamos was due to supply New Horizons' radioactive power source as the probe will be operating too far from the Sun for solar power. The January launch window may be missed so causing a 5-year delay to the next window and millions of dollars extra. New Horizons' spacecraft budget is $720m.
The Beagle 2 loss was blamed on Colin Pillinger (the project leader based at the Open University) shouldering too much responsibility earlier in the summer. Actually they said that ESA protocols for testing had not been followed and that Beagle 2 should have been treated by ESA as an integral part of Mars Express. Of course the reason it was not was because Pillinger had to spend so much time fund-raising so that things were done in a rush. Doing the decent thing, ESA's Chief Scientist David Southwood said, "I was irresponsible for not having taken responsibility." The lander had fewer parachutes than NASA craft and that and unseasonal weather conditions on Mars meant that the atmosphere was thinner. This is currently the lead reason favoured for the failure. Of course had it been a successful landing then the UK would have been the first nation whose first attempt at a landing worked! The mission also demonstrated that the UK can develop state-of-the-art probe analytical systems. The report's recommendations do not mention British Governmental investment in science which in real terms in the past seven years has slowly been returning to mid-1980 levels, but still has a decade's worth of infrastructure shortfall notwithstanding the recent spending review boost. The UK also has financial problems with a political adherence to the view that half its citizens are entitled to the opportunity of a university degree. This has imposed a crippling financial burden resulting in the erosion of student grants and record student drop out rates, not to mention a large arts student population who graduate to enter a job market that does not require this knowledge. Meanwhile apprentices for plumber, electricians as well as for electrical and mechanical technician engineers has dramatically fallen. So far neither politicians or academics have been prepared to grasp these nettles. Consequently among other things funding in key and flagship areas (like Beagle II) of science suffers, while graduates graduate with record debt.
An all-party Parliamentary inquiry into the Beagle II failure has begun. The word to Concat' (i.e. second hand but from an authoritative Westminster source) is that Beagle project leader Colin Pillinger positively welcomes this House of Commons Select investigation.
June's transit of Venus affirmed our place in the Solar System. Humanity had previously known only five such transits. The last one was in 1882 and the next will be in 2012 but no more after that till the next century due to Venus' orbit being inclined to the Earth's by a couple of degrees. Venus transits enables astronomers to determine the distance to the Sun provided you have a long base line. For this reason eighteenth and nineteenth century transits were the focus of numerous expeditions from many nations. If you like the first space race. Meanwhile members of the Concat' dug out their eclipse glasses from the 1st International Week. Fortunately for us the entire transit was visible in Europe (the last time this happened was 700 years ago) and also visible across much of the Eurasian continental complex. Only part of it, first thing at dawn, in NE America and much of South America. The 2012 transit will happen during the British night and those in the Pacific (and Pacific rim) will get the best view. Plenty of time for someone to organise a convention there then.
The NASA Cassini-Huygens probe reached the Saturn system and has sent back stunning pictures. The European (ESA) and NASA Huygens part of the mission will see a probe dropped onto Saturn's largest moon Titan. On its approach to Saturn, Cassini already sent back spectacular pictures of the planet and subsequently detailed ones of the rings.
India's space programme has a boost. Aside from the science budget increase which includes a new launcher for 2007, a lunar orbiter mission for 2008. There is also talk of a recoverable satellite mission that could be a precursor to a manned space programme.
Kazakhstan plans to enter the space race in its own right. The country hosts the Baikonur site used by Russia. Russia will continue to use the site and assist Kazakhstan with its programme. Plans include the development of an environmentally friendly replacement for Soyuz (whose exhaust has caused damage in Kazakhstan and nearby countries), to send a cosmonaut up in 2006, and to build a satellite.
'Dear ET... How to communicate with distant aliens,' made up the cover of Nature for an article by Christopher Rose & Gregory Wright (v431, 47-49). The article was supported by an interesting review by Woodruff Sullivan of Washington U., but as to why Nature did not got Greg Benford, astronomer and SF author, to do this heavens knows. (Perhaps he sensibly turned it down?) Anyway, the basic premise is that provided you do not care about how long it takes to get a reply, the best way to communicate is not by radio but by Arthur Clarke, 1951 style, sentinels (the review only refers to 2001). Therefore we should be looking for these in our solar system. Nature make a big deal of this paper because the authors have quantified the comparative effort (in terms of efficiency of information transfer) but clearly none of the editors in Crinan Street exhibit themselves to be versed in SF which only rarely deals with boring old, long-distance radio transmission, and notwithstanding that we've done the maths on the back of an envelope yonks ago. Von Neumann anyone? Nature gets full marks for coming up with an interesting paper, but next time something new please. (Now if you really want to communicate with aliens first you need to infuse SF tropes into the culture, then integrate with science, and then... But hey, we mustn't give the game away.)
HEALTH AND BIOMEDICINE
First UK human cell cloning application has been heard. In the UK embryo research is heavily regulated to meet ethical concerns. The Newcastle Fertility Centre for Life applied to the regulatory authority, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority for a licence for the cloning.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is part of the House of Commons all-party Science & Technology Committee's enquiry into the regulation of reproduction (and cell replication (cloning)) research. Research in this area is progressing so fast that new regulation is at risk of becoming outdated soon after it is implemented. In one sense the HEFA is game-keeper and poacher ethically regulating science and dealing with patients' queries. Therefore the smart money is currently on the Select Committee calling for the HEFA's remit to be modified with some of its functions to be separated out. The Select report is due either at the end of the year or early in 2005.
The Human Fertilisation Authority has given the go-ahead for considering applications for embryo screening for genetically compatible siblings if the other sibling is ill and needs tissue donation. The decision has caused much debate in the UK both ways.
Richard Smith has resigned from being the British Medical Journal's editor. He leaves to go to run the European side of the US company United Health Group. Temporary appointments were made to handle matters in the interim. Richard Smith has been editor since the mid-1980s and was formerly on the journal's staff and a 'TV' doctor. His principal achievements at the journal included ensuring that statistics have probability confidences stated, and a face lift. His down point was possibly the offloading of its book publishing (science book publishing generally is difficult). (Concatenation's interaction has been indirect through team member's independent activities. Jonathan's most significant contribution to the BMJ was to pick up errors on the journal's 'ABC' series on 'environment and health' for the subsequent book compilation. Meanwhile Alan allegedly appeared on the journal's cover in 2003. We wish the journal well.)
Six foreign health workers have been sentenced to death by firing squad in Libya. They were accused of deliberately infecting, by non-sterilised syringes, 40 children with HIV. The Bulgarian workers have already been held in prison for five years and reportedly had confessions extracted by torture. Furthermore during the trial no convincing evidence was heard affirming their guilt and the British Medical Journal (v328, p1153) reported that an in-hospital HIV infection had broken out before the accused medical started working there. Luc Montagnier (HIV co-discoverer) went to Libya to investigate on behalf of the health workers, concluding that the virus was spread by unsterile hospital practices rather than deliberately. However there was further confusion arose when it became apparent that there was the judgement was in part based on a mis-translation of the term 'recombinant' meaning a natural recombination of viruses. Instead this was interpreted as 'genetically modified' implying deliberate human manipulation. In 2001 Gadaffi argued that the health workers were part of a CIA plot. US Robert Gallo (the other HIV co-discoverer) and 28 leading scientists from France, Eqypt, Iran, the West Bank and Gaza have also spoken up on behalf of the condemned. The World Medical Association and International Council of Nurses continues to fight the case.
A US whistle-blower on pharmaceutical company paying 'honorariums' to politicians has been sacked. Allen Jones was an investigator at the Pennsylvania Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and accused of talking to the press. Allen Jones is now filing a suit saying that the OIG's policy of not talking to the media is unconstitutional. Drugs being encouraged for prescription by the pharmaceutical funding include Risperdal that has recently been found to have lethal side effects.
Do you know what is a medical myth and can you spot quackery? Health fraud, quackery and intelligent discussion can now be found on www.quackwatch.org and not Pennsylvania's OIG.
Stefan Kruszewski, a psychiatrist from the Bureau of Program Integrity in the Pennsylvanian Department of Public Welfare, to protect against fraud and waste, was fired allegedly for whistle-blowing. He allegedly uncovered abuses including the death of four children and an adult in state care. The deaths were allegedly due to incorrect use of off-label potent atypical antipsychotic medications. Kruszewski has filed a suit against his employers. "They fired the messenger," he told the British Medical Journal (vol 329, p69).
McDonald's fast food comes off badly in the US witty documentary Super Size Me. Morgan Spurlock decides to find out what would happen if he ate nothing but McDonald's for a month. His nutritionist, physician and gastroenterologist all thought he would just put on a few pounds and get bored with the diet. 30 days later he is more than 11 kg (one and three-quarters stone (UK)) heavier, grumpy, depressed, and with chest pains together with high cholesterol and blood pressure. However restrict yourself to just two Big Macs a day and supplement this with other non-McDonald food and apparently you are likely to be comparatively all right, as Dan Gorske has done this for 30 years and appears none the worse for it. Super Size Me entered the US box office top ten in May. Will McDonald's take Spurlock to court?
You may recall from our New Year predictions our concerns over emergent diseases and citing avian flu. Research now shows that this virus is mutating becoming more dangerous to mammals (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences doi:10.1073/pnas.0403212101; 2004). Last year SARS shook the World. This new discovery reinforces fears of a human pandemic.
Two Hong Kong politicians have resigned following SARS report. Hong Kong's Secretary for Health and welfare and the Chairman of the Hospital Authority have resigned following a critical report from the territory's legislative council.
A Chinese clinician, Jiang Yanyong, who criticised the Chinese government for under-reporting the number Chinese SARS cases last year was placed in custody with his wife and being subjected to 'study sessions'. Both are aged 72. Apparently were to remain in custody "as long as their thoughts had not changed." They were released seven weeks later and Jiang Yanyong was awarded the 2004 Ramon Magsaysay award for public service by speaking out as to the incidence of SARS in China. The award is the Asian version of the Nobel. Yanyong has also been critical of Tiananmen Square.
British veterans of the Gulf War are marginally less fertile according to a new study. 2.5% never achieved a recognisable pregnancy (type I infertility) compared to 1.7% non-Gulf veterans, and 3.4% never achieved a live birth (type II infertility) compared to 2.3% among non-Gulf veterans. 732 (or 7% of) UK Gulf veterans have consulted doctors about fertility problems. Also pregnancies fathered by Gulf veterans took longer than non-Gulf veterans. The results are consitent with another study of Australian veterans.
The House of Lords ( Britain's second parliamentary chamber) is to hold an all-party inquiry into assisted dying. Should those terminally ill be able to request assistance to die in specific circumstances? It should report by either the end of the year or early in 2005.
The Italian popular science TV show Superquarks won a court case. Homeopathy can be considered to be 'substantially a medicine of emotions'. The 59 page conclusion was announced 26th April just after our last major site update. A July 2000 episode of the show featured clinicians who said that those with threatening illnesses could put their health in jeopardy if they spurned conventional treatments for homeopathy. The Italian Association of Medical Homeopathy sued. The Court concluded that the opinions of the guests were 'justified'. There has been much debate in the scientific literature over the effectiveness of homeopathy (as distinct from herbalism which in many instances has a genuine pharmaceutical rationale). However to Concat's knowledge (and some of us regularly scan the biomedical literature) no rigorous, statistically sound randomised, controlled, double blind has shown homeopathy dilutions to be effective. If anyone wishes to provide us news (with an exact academic (peer-reviewed) reference please) to the contrary then we would be interested. If anyone wishes US$1,000,000, then James Randi has a prize for those demonstrating such magical qualities. (We would prefer you to go to Randi first before approaching us.)
SCIENCE FUNDING A special one-off sub-section - Autumn 2004
David King, UK Governments Chief Scientific Advisor, published a landmark review of science funding and impact globally (Nature v430, p311-316). This built on his predecessor's 1997 paper in Science. Citation of research papers to a nations GDP per person exhibit a curved relationship. The top science nations are now getting even more citations per paper that they did over the previous 10 years and the bottom are getting less. King also notes that the countries that invest the least in science (including much of Africa and the Middle East) face severe socio-political problems hinting that the relationship may have a certain causality. Interestingly King's paper shows the UK to be strong in environmental research yet this was the one area that did badly that last time UK research was (RAE) assessed. Overall the UK leads the World in terms of citations and publications per scientist per unit of GDP spent. King ends saying: "From global terrorism and the spread of disease to the dangers of global warming, we are increasingly facing the sorts of threats for which governments everywhere will need to turn to their scientists."
UK science funding from the Government is to be boosted. The Science Base (Governmental research councils and university research funding) will see an increase in real-terms by 5.8% a year for three years. The announcement came as part of this year's comprehensive spending review. It is also part of a ten-year strategy to boost both Governmental and industry funded R & D from 1.9% of GDP to 2.5% by 2014. The signals from Westminster are that the Government is delivering its bit so now its up to industry.
UK science representation coalesces as it fragments. Last year the Science Minister welcomed the formation of the Biosciences Federation which brings together the Institute of Biology's (IoB) 60 or so Affiliated Societies with half a dozen non-Affiliates. This year the Government has funded a recent additional voice, the 1998 formed Academy of Medical Sciences with a 5-year core-funding grant of £1.75 million (US$3.2 million / 2.6 million euros): the Academy duplicates the representation of the IoB Biomedical Sciences Committee of Institute members and Affiliated Societies, the British Medical Association's Medical Academic Science Committee, and a plethora of medical colleges not to mention the Royal Society of Medicine, and the Academy has many members who are also fellows of the Royal Society. The Bioscience Federation itself has yet to achieve long-term financial security. Meanwhile the Privy Council has awarded Royal Charters to the Science Council whose principal members (the Institute of Physics, Biology and the Royal Society of Chemistry) already have Charter, as well as a Charter to the newly formed Society for the Environment (an umbrella body of half a dozen or so learned societies) that parallels much of the work of the IoB Environment Committee Societies. This State-sponsored fragmentation of representation runs counter to the Science Minister's and leading science Parliamentarian's stated desire for UK science to become more unified, speaking with fewer but more co-ordinated, voices. Given this confusion it is surely only a matter of time before there is a Select Committee enquiry into how the Government (both OST and Privy Council) have managed their relationships with the learned scientific community before matters continue to deteriorate.
India's science is to get a major increase of 52 billion rupees (£1.8 billion/US$3.3 billion). This will enable major projects to have a 15% rise. Perhaps worryingly atomic research and the development of a geosynchronous orbit delivery launch vehicle are the major beneficiaries. Assuming the launch vehicle will be used as stated, then should be able to deliver 4 tonne satellites by 2007.
The US National Institute of Health (NIH) may only get a 2.5% budget increase. This will not cover the cost of its work programmes and so tough choices could be ahead.
The 1.9 billion euro (£1.4 billion/US$2.4 billion) plan to identify and reward Germany's top universities has run foul of political disagreement. It is hoped that this will be sorted out this autumn but many fear that matters will not be resolved.
France's independent Pasteur Institute that researches microbiology and infectious diseases faces a financial crisis. The Government's tacit agreement to provide half the funding has not kept up with other expansions: donations last year were up 70% to 60 million euros (though whether this is one-off Concat does not know) and income from contracts and patents up 40% to 45 million euros. There is a possibility that the Government may provide some 'bonus' money.
Japan's Biomolecular Engineering Institute (formed in 1986 as the Protein Engineering Research Institute) announced it was to close in 2005 due to lack of funding despite science success. The problem is that the nation's science funding has been heavily supported by industry (far more so than other G8 nations) and not that things are more competitive businesses are funding their own R&D.
British funding of tackling AIDS in the developing world has increased with an injection of £1.5 billion (2.2 bn Euros or US$2.8bn) over three years. This is due to Taking Action: the UK's Strategy for Tackling HIV and AIDS in the Developing World.
Bush's President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief promises US$15 billion over five years (only a little more per year per head of US population than the UK plan above). But has come under sharp criticism for its emphasis on abstinence and discrimination against promoting condom use. Among the foremost critics are those from the Center for Health and Gender Equity.
SCIENCE AND SCIENCE FICTION
The climate change film The Day After Tomorrow has caused a stir among scientists. The film depicts the rapid onset of an ice age (they mean glacial) due to the collapse of ocean circulation apparently paradoxically due to global warming. The film's notoriety has been such that in the UK and US it has been mentioned on news programmes and in the UK even made it to BBC's Newsnight (a 'high brow' news analysis programme). Incredibly the Scandanavian scientist Bjorn Lomberg (who has in the past accused environmentalist concerns as being based on statistical misrepresentation, but whose own analysis has come under attack from both the lay greens and the science establishment for being out of context) himself attacked the film in a leading UK broadsheet (The Independent on Sunday). However others (such as in Nature v429, p347-8) say that the film raises awareness and that the vast majority of public are capable of telling a film from real life. One of us on the core Concat team (Jonathan) wrote the 1998 university primer text Climate and Human Change: Disaster or Opportunity? published by Parthenon who happened to be UNESCOs science book publisher and which covers ocean circulation breakdown. He says the events the film portrays are greatly exaggerated by being speeded up, but the take home message is the same as that from environmental scientists. All of us on the Concatenation team are acutely aware of the value of the science and SF interface: after all that has been one of the principal raison d'etres for our activities for nearly two decades now!
The climate change film Day After Tomorrow has caused a stir among at least one SF author. In June, Ubaldo DiBenedetto, 77, alleged in a German court that Roland Emmerich's film stole parts of his 1993 novel Polar Day 9, written under the pseudonym Kyle Donner. However later the court ruled that the case for similarity between the two was unfounded. (Further information at www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/06/17/entertainment/main624395.shtml )
The classic 1951 SF film The Man in the White Suit took a step toward becoming science fact with the discovery of a way to enable cloth clean itself! Reported in the Journal of the American Ceramic Society by coating cloth with nanoparticles of titanium dioxide with an anatase structure (the other two natural structures won't do) it is possible to catalyse the break down of dirt. It is speculated that one day this could lead to self-cleaning fabrics that tackle organic dirt, pollutants and even micro-organisms. (Pilkington have used a similar trick to make self-cleaning windows. Apparently...)
Representatives from 11 countries gathered in Newcastle (UK) early this summer to discuss ways to promulgate Cafes Scientifique activities. These are events where lay people meet scientists in a pub or cafe to discuss controversial science topics. The movement started in 1997 and is most worthy. But strange that it has cred value with leading organizations (such as the British Council and the British Association for the Advancement of Science) while similar science-popularizing SF activities do not! SF conventions have been bringing scientists and the lay public together for many decades now. Indeed as we have reported surveys of graduates have shown that SF (sometimes specific shows, films and authors) has inspired many youngsters to enter, for example physics, engineering, astronomy, computer science and stimulate interest in the biological sciences. However can you imaging the Royal Society's COPUS, BAAS, BC and other bodies seriously engaging with hard SF authors and scientists within the SF community to systematically capitalise on the genre's popularity with millions? Nope. Nor can we in the foreseeable future.
Irresponsible reporting of science results in science myths that frighten: mobile phones, MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) childhood vaccine and fried food (acrylamide formation) can cause cancer for example. People can't tell science facts from fictions. Now leading UK scientists on the Sense About Science panel have concluded that reports of research results to journalists must explicitly state which parts have been peer reviewed. However one problem is that separately a MORI poll this year showed that 75% of the public did not know what peer review was. It is therefore up to the scientists themselves to ensure this. Meanwhile the impact of scares can be serious. Cases of mumps are at their highest in England and Wales for a decade (over triple the annual mean). The Health Protection Agency says that this is mostly due to those missing out on the vaccine.
Irresponsible non-disclosure of scientists' interests is enabling hyped research get published says the US Center for Science in Public Interest. A study of 163 articles in four leading US biomedical articles published December 2003 - February 2004 showed that 13 failed to declare personal (including financial) interests separate from the science but dependent on research outcomes. This despite recent toughening of ethical standards generally.
More news in the New Year. Meanwhile ensure you've added the Science Fact and Fiction Concatenation - www.concatenation.org - to your favourites. And why not send a message to yourself delay-timed to mid-January alerting you to our Spring update?
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