Science Fiction News
& Recent Science Review for the
Autumn 2021

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

This SF & science news page builds on the
seasonal science fiction news previously posted.

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

Autumn 2021

Editorial Comment & Staff Stuff

 

EDITORIAL COMMENT

The 2021 Worldcon has a new Chair who deserves best wishes from all in the SF Worldcon community.  We need to remember, she has taken over following the successive resignations of the convention's former co-chairs one of which was due to the continued abuse conrunners and others are receiving from a minority of self-righteous, perfervid, strident Worldcon fans.
          Of course, it is not just convention runners, this year one major author who has given much to the Worldcon community – in both time, effort and cash over many years – has received disparaging attention due to what is arguably a non-malicious misjudgement unfortunately made at last year's Worldcon. The maltreatment this well-known author has received includes a nasty little article whose title uses profanity against its target (the article's writer was unable to marshal her argument with calm logic). Sadly, there were enough of these strident fans for it to be short-listed for a Hugo Award to be presented at this year's Worldcon. That the article contains both a profanity and the author's name – the target of her abuse – means that it clearly runs contrary to the Worldcon convention's own code of conduct, yet the Worldcon committee has decided to do nothing: the least it could have done would have been to censor the offending words and explain why.
          Such Worldcon abuse from a minority of fans is not new, in fact it seems to be increasingly regular.  Indeed the last time the Worldcon had been held in our neck of the woods in Brit Cit there was a volatile reaction to the proposed host for the Hugo ceremony that was both unwarranted and totally over-the-top that even spilled over into the mainstream press.
          And so it will be interesting this year to see whether the Hugo will go to a hate-mongering work or whether the majority of Worldcon's Hugo voters will take a stand?
          The Worldcon is next likely to come to our neck of the woods in 2024; that is if the Cal Hab Worldcon bid for that year wins.  Let's hope that by then the braying, vociferous minority will have moved on so that that event can be tantrum free.

 

STAFF STUFF

Some change in our book review panel.  Stepping down from the panel we have Jane O'Reilly and Allen Stroud: Jane is juggling raising a family with writing, and Allen has his spare time full recently being elected Chair of the British SF Association.  They have both given a few years reviewing for SF² Concatenation.  Maybe – as has often happened with past reviewers and article contributors following a suitable break – we will be seeing them again at some stage in the future?  Meanwhile we wish them well and all the best in their SFnal endeavours.
          Replacing them, we are pleased to welcome: Steven French, Ash Millard, Roseanna Pendlebury and Mark Yon.  We hope they enjoy their stint with us.

Our original home city's population has passed nine million.  Though having a defined, green-belted border, London is huge with its outer boroughs stretching in to the home counties of Surrey, Sussex, Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Essex and, of course, Kent. Before its core staff's diaspora a couple of decades ago, many of our SF² Concatenation team were located in London's border in Kent and some maintain links there including with its local SF group.  But London has not always been growing.
          Back in 1988 London's population hit a post-war low of 6.7 million having fallen from a previous peak of 8.6 million in 1939 just before World War II.  It then went into 40 years of decline. Since 1988 we have had 33 years worth of growth to where we are now, with the population of London officially at 9,002,488.
          There is plenty to see and do in London and hopefully when some of you from overseas come to Britain's next SF Worldcon (should it win the bid) in 2024 you will also be able to spend a few days in the city.

 

Elsewhere this issue…
Aside from this seasonal news page, elsewhere this issue (vol. 31 (4) Autumn 2021) we have stand-alone items on:-
          Getting Published -- From MS to print – Sue Burke
          My Top Ten Scientists – Ken MacLeod (zoologist & SF author)
          Fictionalising Science and CoVID -- Will politicians be held to account? – Jon Cowie
          The Solar System’s First Interstellar Visitor ’Oumuamua Revisited – Duncan Lunan
          Universes all the way down (1-page PDF short story) - Matt Tighe
The aliens are more advanced and occasionally like to give a helping hand with things like, say, understanding the nature of the universe...
          Ten years ago. One from the archives: How long? -- Should there be really thick SF novels? – Peter Tyers

          Plus forty (40!) SF/F/H standalone fiction book and non-fiction SF and popular science book reviews.  Hopefully something here for every science type who is into SF in this our 34th year. For full details of the latest contents see our What's New page.

 

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

Autumn 2021

Key SF News & SF Awards

 

 

The short-listed nominations for the 2021 Hugo Awards for 'SF achievement' covering the year 2019 have been announced. We normally only give the results for the principal categories: unless they are diehard SF reader fans, few are interested in things like 'best editor' (normally voted from a small poll of US editors) and this is reflected in the numbers nominating in each category. We deem principal categories as those with over 1,000 Worldcon registrants nominating. Whether or not it due to the CoVID pandemic, this year only one category, 'Best Novel', attracted over 1,000 nominating registrants. However, because in the past 'Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form' has also been popular, and because many are interested in films, we have included that category. So, the short-lists for the principal -- 'Best Novel' and 'Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form' -- categories were:-
Best Novel
          Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
          The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
          Harrow The Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
          Network Effect by Martha Wells
          Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
          The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal
Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form
          Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
          Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
          The Old Guard
          Palm Springs
          Soul
          Tenet
Voting on the final ballot, by members of this year's SF Worldcon, DisCon III, will begin in late April and will close 19th November, 2021. The winners will be announced at a ceremony at DisCon III, which will be held 15th -19th December, 2021 in Washington, DC, USA.
          The film Tenet was cited back in January (2021) by SF² Concatenation as one of the best SF films of 2020.
          Full details of all the Hugo Award categories can be found over at www.thehugoawards.org.

The 35th Arthur C. Clarke Award short-list has been announced.  It is a juried award with a £2,021 cash prize. The short-list consists of:-
          - The Infinite by Patience Agbabi
          - The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez
          - Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang
          - Edge of Heaven by R.B. Kelly
          - The Animals in that Country by Laura Jean McKay
          - Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes
This is the first time that the entire short-list consists of debut novels.

The 2020 Kitschies Award shortlists have been announced.  The prize, sponsored by Blackwell’s, is given to “the year’s most progressive, intelligent and entertaining fiction that contain elements of the speculative or fantastic."  These are juried awards with £2,000 in prize money. The shortlists are by category:-
Novel
          - A Tall History of Sugar by Curdella Forbes
          - The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin
          - The Lost Future of Pepperharrow by Natasha Pulley
          - Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
          - The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson
Debut novel
          - Sharks in the Time of Saviours by Kawai Strong Washburn
          - The Animals in that Country by Laura Jean McKay
          - The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
          - Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
          - Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
Cover art
          - The Arrest by Jonathan Lethem, Cover Design by Allison Saltzman and Illustration by Dexter Maure
          - Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin, Cover Design by Ben Summers
          - Monstrous Heart by Claire McKenna, Cover Design by Andrew Davis
          - The Harpy by Megan Hunter, Cover Design by Lucy Scholes and Illustration by Amy Judd
          - The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin, Cover Design by Lauren Panepinto
N.B. At the beginning of the year we cited The Ministry for the Future as one of the best SF books of 2020.

The six-title 2021 International Booker Prize shortlist includes four works of genre interest.
  - At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop
  - The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enríquez
  - When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut
  - The Employees by Olga Ravn
Is SF positively becoming mainstream????

The Locus Awards have been announced.  The short-listed works and winner in the principal SF category, Best SF Novel', were:-
          Machine by Elizabeth Bear
          Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow
          Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott
          Agency by William Gibson
          The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal
          War of the Maps by Paul McAuley
          The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson
          The Last Emperox by John Scalzi
          WINNER Network Effect by Martha Wells
          Interlibrary Loan by Gene Wolfe
Other principal category wins were:
          Best Fantasy Novel: The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin
          Best Horror Novel: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
          Best First Novel: Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger
          Best Non-Fiction: The Magic of Terry Pratchett by Marc Burrows
For details of all the other categories (including Best Novelette, Best Short, Best Editor, Publisher etc.) see locusmag.com.

The Nebula Awards have been announced.  From the previously announced short-list, the principal category wins, as voted by SF Writers of America, were:-
          Novel: Network Effect by Martha Wells
          Novella: Ring Shout by Djèlí Clark
          Novelette: 'Two Truths and a Lie' by Sarah Pinsker
Also presented was the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation the winner was The Good Place 'Whenever You’re Ready'
Details of all the category wins can be found at www.sfwa.org.  This year's full short list we reported last season.  +++ Last year's principal win Nebulas here.

The Horror Writers' Association Bram Stoker Awards were announced online instead of at the World Horror Convention that was SARS-CoV-2 cancelled this year.  The awards are named in honour of the author of the seminal horror novel Dracula. The principal category wins were:-
          Novel: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
          Debut Novel: The Fourth Whοre by E. V. Knight
          Graphic Novel: Mary Shelley Presents by Nancy Holder (author), Chiara Di Francia (artist) and Amelia Woo (artist)
Full details of all the category wins can be found at www.horror.org.  +++ Last year's principal category winners here.

The Zsoldos Péter Awards for both 2020 and 2021 have been announced.  (The 2020 Awards were postponed due to the SARS-CoV-2 / CoVID-19 outbreak.)  The award was inaugurated in 1997 in honour of the 20th century Hungarian SF grandmaster author Zsoldos Péter, and was presented at Hungary's natcon until 2015.  It is a juried award.  The wins were:-
          Best Novel 2021: Eldobható Testek by Brandon Hackett
          Best Short 2021: 'A világ helyreállÍtása' by Veres Attila
          Best Translated Novel 2021: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
          Best Novel 2020: Irha és Bor by Moskát Anita
          Best Short 2020: 'Rossz beszéd' by Sepsi László
          Best Translated Novel 2020: A Nap Magja by Johanna Sinisalo
Also announced were the Readers' Choice Awards that are voted on by Hungarian fans.
          Readers' Choice 2021: Eldobható Testek by Brandon Hackett
          Readers' Choice 2020: Az Ellopott Troll by Szélesi Sándor

Canada's Aurora Awards short-list announced.  The awards are nominated by members of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association, for Science Fiction / Fantasy works done in 2020 by Canadians. They will be presented at this years CanCon in October. The 'Best Novel' category short-list consists of:-
          Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed
          A Connecticut Gumshoe in King Arthur’s Court by Randy McCharles
          Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
          The Oppenheimer Alternative by Robert J. Sawyer
          A Stitch in Time by Kelley Armstrong

The World Fantasy Awards short-list has been announced.  The principal category short-lists are:-
Novel
          - Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
          - Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson
          - The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
          - Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
          - The Midnight Bargain by C. L. Polk
Anthology
          - Edited By, edited by Ellen Datlow
          - The Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories, Vol. 1, edited by James D. Jenkins and Ryan Cagle
          - Shadows & Tall Trees 8, edited by Michael Kelly
          - The Book of Dragons, edited by Jonathan Strahan
          - The Big Book of Modern Fantasy, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
Collection
          - The Best of Jeffrey Ford by Jeffrey Ford
          - Velocities: Stories by Kathe Koja
          - Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoka Matsuda
          - We All Hear Stories in the Dark by Robert Shearman
          - Nine Bar Blues: Stories of an Ancient Future by Sheree Renée Thomas
The juried awards will be presented at the 2021 World Fantasy Convention to be held in Montreal, Canada 4th – 7th November.  ++++ The 2020 World Fantasy Award winners are here.

The Dragon Awards have been announced.  The Awards are presented at the US Daragoncon and voted on by its advanced registrants. They are for works released between 1st July 2020, and 30th, June 2021, which means the award largely covers the time between the end of voting before the convention one year and the next. It also means that titles released early in the summer will get overlooked as folk will not have had time to read them especially it the mass market paperback hasn't yet come out.  Anyway, the principal categories (SF, fantasy and horror novel, TV and film) are:
SF Novel
          - Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (WINNER)
          - Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow
          - Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
          - The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson
          - Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
          - Machine by Elizabeth Bear
          - A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine
Fantasy Novel
          - Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
          - Battle Ground by Jim Butcher (WINNER)
          - The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
          - Dead Lies Dreaming by Charles Stross
          - Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
          - Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson
Horror Novel
          - The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
          - True Story: A Novel by Kate Reed Petty
          - The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher (WINNER)
          - Synchronicity by Michaelbrent Collings
          - The Taxidermist’s Lover by Polly Hall
          - Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay
SF/F Film
          - The Old Guard by Gina Prince-Bythewood (WINNER)
          - Justice League by Zack Snyder
          - Space Sweepers by Sung-hee Jo
          - Tenet by Christopher Nolan
          - Godzilla vs Kong by Adam Wingard
          - Wonder Woman 1984 by Patty Jenkins
          - Bill & Ted Face the Music by Dean Parisot
SF/F TV Series
          - Loki, Disney+
          - The Nevers, HBO
          - Resident Alien, SYFY
          - WandaVision, Disney+
          - Star Trek: Discovery, Paramount+
          - Shadow & Bone, Netflix
          - The Expanse, Amazon (WINNER)
There were 15 categories in all including things like media tie-in books, computer and mobile games.
          The Ministry for the Future was January 2021 cited by the SF² Concatenation team as one of the Best SF novels of 2020  and  Tenet and Wonder Woman 1984 Best SF films of 2020.

The 2021 Women's Prize for Fiction has gone to Susanna Clarke for Piranesi.  The prize comes with £30,000 (US$40,800).  Piranesi is a fantasy mystery about a man living alone in a labyrinthine house.  Piranesi lives mostly alone in the House, with its labyrinth of vast halls and thousands of statues, with tides that surge through its staircases and clouds that move through the upper rooms. In his notebooks, Piranesi makes a careful record of what he sees… (…and there is a delightful twist at the end.)  Having written the Hugo Award winning Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell back in 2004, 17 years on this is Clarke's second novel.  She fell ill while promoting her first book and was eventually diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, dedicated her win to other women "incapacitated by long illness".  At the award ceremony in London she said: "As some of you will know, Piranesi was nurtured, written and publicised during a long illness," adding, "It is the book that I never thought I would get to write. I never thought I'd be well enough. So this feels doubly extraordinary."  Established in 1996 to celebrate fiction by women, the Women's Prize for Fiction is open to any woman writing novels in English.

ParSec magazine has been launched.  Building on last season's news, PS Publishing has now launched ParSec magazine of SF short stories edited by Ian Whates. The first two issues saw contributions from: Dan Abnett, Ken MacLeod, Ramsey Campbell and Mike Carey, among others. In the mix was an interview with Christopher Priest. Ian Whates has said that future issues will also feature non-fiction articles and book reviews.

Batman's Robin has come out as biseχual.  First, a bit of a re-cap for our older regulars who may have missed out on goings-on over the years.  Robin was originally created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson, to serve as a junior counterpart to the DC Comics' superhero Batman – becoming the dynamic duo – as a way to attract younger readers. The character's first incarnation, Dick Grayson, debuted in Detective Comics #38 (April 1940).  Dick went on to become Nightwing and replaced by Jason Todd in 1983. Jason was then killed off by the Joker in 1989 and in turn was replaced by Tim Drake.  (For a while Tim had a stand-in Robin – Drake's girlfriend Stephanie Brown before she became Bat Girl – and then Tim was temoarily succeded by Damian Wayne in 2019 before he returned as Robin.)  Phew, now back to the news story…
          In the August (2021) edition of Batman: Urban Legends, Robin, aka Tim Drake, has revealed his seχual identity when he accepts a date from another boy.  Tim is 'bi'.  Writer Meghan Fitzmartin said she spent "a lot of time and a lot of prayer" on making sure that the moment and manner in which he came out was just right.  She confirmed the character will continue to go on his own journey of personal discovery, while also focusing on his day job as a crime fighting caped crusader; Batman will be totally cool with his sidekick's revelation.

 

Other SF news includes:-

The 2021 Worldcon, DisCon III, has a new Chair, the immediate Past-President of the SFWA, Mary Robinette Kowal.  DisCon III started out with two co-chairs, however, Colette Fozard resigned in January and Bill Lawhorn resigned in June (the latter it is thought due to the backlash on the then Hugo ceremony policy limiting numbers on finalists who consisted of large teams). Mary Robinette Kowal has had experience as a neutral arbitrator reconciling issues with other Worldcons.
  Joining her are Marguerite Smith and Lauren Raye Snow as Vice Chairs. Marguerite will be returning to the Worldcon team, having been a DisCon III World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) Deputy Division Head earlier in 2021.  Lauren Raye Snow is currently serving as Art Director for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and presumably is assisting DisCon III with its art show (the DisCon III press release is unclear).  ++++ The DisCon III 2021Worldcon will see the presentation of the Hugo Awards (see the principal category Hugo short-lists earlier above).

The 2021 Worldcon has announced its CoVID-19 policy.  Attendees must have proof of vaccination and masks must be worn at the convention.  The former necessitates having photo ID (such as driving licence or passport as proof that the name matches with the vaccination certificate).  At the moment children under 12 are not currently eligible for vaccination but this may change. Under 12s are eligible for a membership refund as are those unwilling to be vaccinated. The event is held later in the year that usual, 15th – 19th December (2021).

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

The 2024 bid for a British Worldcon in Glasgow is still on….  But given the increasing overcrowding problems at recent European Worldcons (London in 2013, Helsinki in 2017, culminating in a jam-packed Dublin in 2019) it seems that the current generation of European Worldconrunners are unable or (worse?) unwilling to curb numbers to fit their venue's size.  It would arguably be helpful if the Glasgow 2024 bid team gave a clear steer as to its planning policy on avoiding overcrowding so that those contemplating registering having attending the programme (as opposed to the socialising) as a big draw can decide whether or not to commit a four-figure investment in registration, travel, accommodation and food to attend.

Super Mario game sells for record amount.  An unopened Nintendo Super Mario 64 from 1996 was auctioned in Texas, USA, for £1.12 million (US$1.56m). The previous record holder for most expensive game was earlier in the season when Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda sold for £625,000 (US$870,000).

And finally….

Future SF Worldcon bids currently running  include for:-
2023
          - Chengdu, China in 2023
          - Memphis, TN, USA in 2023
          - Winnipeg, Canada in 2023
2024
          - Glasgow, Great Britain in 2024
2025
          - Brisbane, Australia in 2025
          - Seattle, WA, USA in 2025
2026
          - Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 2026
          - Nice, France in 2026
          - Orlando in 2026, USA
2027
          - Tel Aviv in 2027, Israel
The voting for the 2023 bids takes place at the 2021 Worldcon in December (2021).

Future SF Eurocon bids currently running  include for:-
          - Rotterdam, The Netherlands (2024)
          - Aland, Finland (2025)
          - Berlin, Germany (2026)
          - Zagreb, Croatia (2028)

 

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

Autumn 2021

Film News

 

Amazon to buy MGM to secure films for its streaming channel.  The move is subject to regulatory approval but if it goes ahead it will cost Amazon an estimated £6.25 billion (US$8.45 billion). It will provide it with some 4,000 films and 17,000 hours of television shows. Franchises involved include RoboCop and James Bond.

A Quiet Place: Part II release in the US signal cinemas beginning to return to normal.  The release over the US's Memorial Day Weekend took US$57 million (~£44m) which is close to the US$60 million (~£46m) which the John Krasinski-directed sequel was anticipated to reach over its three-day opening pre-pandemic estimate.  A fortnight later it became the first film released during the pandemic to pass US$100m (~£77m) in US revenue.  Remember, this is the US market we are talking about, globally things have been different: for example, last year Tenet made over US$200 million globally (~£150m)A Quiet Place: Part II had been slated for a March release before, due to SARS-CoV-2, being deferred to September before being brought forward (presumably due to the success of the vaccine roll-out) again.  (Trailer here.)

Greenland II makes the biggest sale at this year's Cannes virtual market.  STX picked up global distribution rights for US$75 million (£56.5m). Greenland came out in 2020 during CoVID-19 cinema lockdown with a limited cinematic release distributed by STX but did well on streaming. It concerned an asteroid shower colliding with Earth and starred Gerard Butler. Greenland II has been reported as being called Greenland: Migration.  You can see the trailer to Greenland here.

N. K. Jemisin's 'Broken Earth' trilogy is to become a cinematic trilogy.  The 'Broken Earth' trilogy consists of: the Hugo Award-winning The Fifth Season, the Hugo Award-winning The Obelisk Gate and the Hugo Award-winning The Stone Sky.  N. K. Jemisin secured a seven-figure US dollar deal with Sony’s TriStar Pictures. She will be adapting the films herself.

Campaign to bring Iron Man back to life is unlikely to succeed.  Two years ago now – so hopefully this is not a spoiler to anyone – Iron Man died in Avengers: End Game. There has since been a campaign to bring Iron Man and Tony Stark back to life. There has been a social media account and a billboard to encourage Marvel fans to use the hash-tag #BringBackTonyStarkToLife.  However, the Russo Brothers behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe have spoken about the importance of real stakes, and that includes death scenes. Tony Stark’s death wrapped up the character’s arc, and showed the real sacrifices that come with saving the galaxy.

Soul may have been short-listed for a Hugo Award this year but it is far from perfect.  See Everything Wrong With Soul in 17 Minutes or Less.

The Eternals is part of a slew of forthcoming Marvel films.  Loosely based on the original Jack Kirby (story and pencils) Marvel Comics series (1976-'8) is concerns a secret ancient race of humanoids.  They are an offshoot of the evolutionary process that created sentient life on Earth. The original instigators of this process, the alien Celestials (in part inspired by Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End) intended the Eternals to be the defenders of Earth, which leads to the inevitability of war against their destructive counterparts, the Deviants…  Subsequent to the original Kirby run there were a number of other Eternals stories including a mini-series by Neil Gaiman (2006).  The Eternals were subsequently all killed and recently resurrected as part of a new comics series (2021).  The forthcoming film itself is set after the events of Avengers Endgame.  Its budget is reported as being around US$200 million (£145m).  The film is slated for November (2021) as part of a tranche of Marvel Cinematic Universe films.  See the trailer for the tranche of films here and The Eternals trailer, by itself, is here.

Don't forget, Denis Villeneuve's Dune is coming shortly, 22nd October 2021.  Denis (Arrival & Blade Runner 2049) Villeneuve's Dune: Part I is the first of a planned two-part adaptation of the 1965 novel of the same name by Frank Herbert. It concerns the planet Arrakis, also known as Dune, whose desert sands are permeated by spice, a drug that enables mutant/evolved humans warp space for interstellar travel. The Emperor of Earth space keeps his power by playing one House off against another. As part of this, he decides to give one House, House Atreides, tenure of Arrakis, relieving House Harkonnen. However, one of those taking over, the House's heir Paul, seems to have some sort of connection with the planet… Accompanying the film will be a television series, Dune: The Sisterhood, for WarnerMedia's streaming service, HBO Max.  You can see the film's trailer here.

Don't forget, Lana Wachowski's Matrix Resurrections is coming 22nd December 2021.  The cast includes Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jada Pinkett Smith, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Jonathan Groff, Christina Ricci and Neil Patrick Harris.  You can see the film's trailer here.

DC League of Super-Pets gets Dwayne Johnson as star.  The animated film is based on the DC Comics Legion of Super-Pets with: Superman's dog, Krypto;  Batman's dog, Ace the Bat-Hound;  Wonder Woman's kangaroo, Jumpa;  and Supergirl's cat, Streaky the Supercat.  Dwayne Johnson will star as the voice of Krypto.  Kevin Hart voices Ace the Bat-Hound.  The film is currently tentatively slated for May 2022.

Aquaman in the Lost Kingdom is coming in December 2022.  It is intended to be the sequel to Aquaman (2018) and the thirteenth film in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU).  Dolph Lundgren is reprising his role as King Nereus, as is Amber Heard as Mera.

The Boys From County Hell, the vampiric, celtic, comedy horror, came out last month (August, 2021) on general release.  It actually came out in 2020 and during that year did the film and fantastic film circuit. Last month it went on general cinematic release in the British Isles and is available for streaming in N. America on Shudder.  The Boys From County Hell concerns the strange events that unfold in Six Mile Hill – a sleepy Irish town that claims to have been visited in the past by Bram Stoker, the famed author of Dracula.  When construction on a new road disrupts the alleged grave of Abhartach, a legendary Irish vampire said to have inspired Dracula, you can be sure it is not good.  Deadly and sinister forces terrorise the work crew led by Francie Moffat and his son Eugene, a free-spirited young man who prefers pints to pickaxes. They are forced to fight to survive the night while exposing the true horror that resides in the town’s local myth…  Hard work never killed anyone. Until now…  You can see the trailer here.

Army of the Dead was an early summer hit.  From Zack Snyder – director of Man of Steel and Dawn of the Dead – a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas is contained. Las Vegas, being the gambling capital of the USA, has much money lying about for which the zombies have no use. So a group of mercenaries take the ultimate gamble, venturing into the quarantine zone to pull off the greatest heist ever attempted…  Available from Netflix in addition to an early summer cinematic release.  On Netflix it garnered 72 million people in its first four weeks, that at the time landing it in the streamer’s top 10 most watched films.  See the trailer here.

The Tomorrow War was a mid-summer military SF hit for Amazon Prime.  Hopefully this will migrate to other platform's in the months to come.  The world is stunned when in the middle of a football match, a group of time travellers arrive from the year 2051 to deliver an urgent message: Thirty years in the future mankind is losing a global war against a deadly alien species and facing extinction.  The only hope for survival is for soldiers and civilians from the present to be transported to the future and join the fight.  Among those recruited is high school teacher and family man Dan Forester (Chris Pratt). Determined to save the world for his young daughter, Dan teams up with a brilliant scientist (Yvonne Strahovski) and his estranged father (J.K. Simmons) in a desperate quest to rewrite the fate of the planet...  Produced with Skydance and Paramount.  See the trailer here  and  the final trailer here (where you get to see more of the aliens).

Russia's The Superdeep came out over the summer.  A small research team went down below the surface to find out what secret the world's deepest borehole was hiding. What they have found turned out to be the greatest threat in history. And the future of humanity is in their hands.  See the trailer here.

Oxygen was the French SF Netflix hit of the summer.  After waking up in a cryogenic unit, Liz fights to survive and remember who she is before her oxygen runs out.  With no escape, no memory and 90 minutes to live, Liz is running out of oxygen and time, in order to survive she must find a way to remember who she is.  See the trailer here.

The disappointment of the summer was Godzilla vs. King Kong.  There were expectations for the cinematic monster legends to collide: Godzilla and Kong, the two most powerful forces of nature, clash. As a squadron embarks on a perilous mission into uncharted terrain, unearthing clues to the Titans' very origins and mankind's survival, a conspiracy threatens to wipe the creatures, both good and bad, from the face of the earth forever…  See the trailer here.

Stowaway the mundane SF space opera came out over the summer.  On a mission to Mars, an unintended stowaway accidentally causes severe damage to the spaceship’s life support systems.  Facing dwindling resources and a potentially fatal outcome, the crew is forced to make an impossible decision…  Directed by Joe Penna and starring Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, Shamier Anderson and Toni Collette.  On Rotten Tomatoes, Stowaway holds an approval rating of 77% based on 88 reviews, with an average rating of 6.6/10. Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 62 out of 100, based on 21 critics, indicating "generally favourable reviews.  See the trailer here.

Blood Red Sky, the vampiric action horror, came out on Netflix over the summer.  Not Snakes on a Plane but 'vampires on a plane'.  Nadja and her ten-year-old son are on an overnight flight from Germany to New York when a group of terrorists violently take control of the plane and threaten the lives of the passengers. Suddenly Nadja faces an impossible choice - should she reveal her dark side and the inner monster she has kept hidden from her son for years in order to save him?  Cue cliché: the hunters become the hunted…  See the trailer here.

Werewolves Within, the fantasy comedy thriller, came out over the summer.  When a killer terrorises the snowed-in residents of a small town, it falls to the new forest ranger to find out who - or what - lurks among them in this fantasy horror whodunnit.  See the trailer here.

Synchronic, the space-time bending thriller, is now out on DVD.  Two New Orleans paramedics' lives are ripped apart after they encounter a series of horrific deaths linked to a designer drug with bizarre, otherworldly effects.  See the trailer here.

Love and Monsters, the post-apocalyptic monster adventure released on Netflix, is now out on DVD.  Seven years after the alien monsters came to Earth, all of humanity has been forced to live in underground colonies. When Joel Dawson (Dylan O’Brien) reconnects over the radio with his high school girlfriend Aimee, who has been living on the coast 80 miles away, he begins to fall for her again. Joel realizes that there's nothing left for him underground, and despite all the danger that stands in his way, he decides he must venture out to find his true love…  Love and Monsters was short-listed for the Best Visual Effects Oscar.  See the trailer here.

Indiana Jones 5 filming has commenced at Britain's Pinewood studios.  News of the fifth film as announced at the end of last year.  Mads Mikkelsen (Another Round), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag), Boyd Holbrook (Logan), Shaunette Renée Wilson (The Resident) and Thomas Kretschmann (Avengers: Age of Ultron) are also in the cast.  James (Logan) Mangold is taking over directing from Steven Spielberg, who still is serving as a producer. John Williams, who has worked on every score in the 40-year-old franchise, is also returning as composer.  The film's slated release date is currently July 2022.

Disney+ is making Muppets Haunted Mansion.  It will be the Muppets’ first-ever Halloween special. Apparently, Gonzo is challenged to spend one night in the Haunted Mansion…  Katie Dippold is penning the script. Dan Lin and Jonathan Eirich are producers.

Travis (Bumblebee) Knight is to direct the vampire film Uprising.  It is based on Raymond Villareal's novel A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising.  It concerns a global pandemic of a virus that starts turning people into vampires.  CIA agent, Lauren Webb, races against time to uncover the truth and a cure before humanity is wiped out…  Netflix is involved.

The forthcoming Thor: Love and Thunder is to dilute Norse gods Valhalla with Greek Olympian gods. And they have got Russell Crowe to play Zeus.  This has led to speculation, given their prominence in the Marvel Comics whether future Marvel films will see Ares and Hercules (Zues' sons)?  Taika Waititi is directing. Taika Waititi was behind Thor: Ragnarok that was short-listed for a Hugo.  The film currently is slated to be released May 2022.

Crater has now moved to casting.  The forthcoming film concerns a boy raised on a lunar mining colony who, with four friends goes on a journey to explore a mysterious crater.  The cast will include Mckenna Grace, Isaiah Russell-Bailey, Billy Barratt, Orson Hong, and Thomas Boyce.  It looks like the film's initial release in 2022 will be on Disney+.

Brandon Cronenberg's Infinity Pool casts Alexander Skarsgard as lead and shooting has begun.  Actually, it is a little incestuous, Skarsgard, whose credits include Big Little Lies and The Northman is also an executive producer. The film concerns James and Em who are young, rich, in love, and on vacation at an all-inclusive resort replete with island tours and gleaming beaches. However, outside the hotel gates something dangerous and seductive awaits.

In the Lost Lands now out of development hell and fully financed.  We previously reported on the casting of the film based on a George R. R. Martin short story.  However, back then the film was still in development hell without full funding. The latest news is that funding has now been obtained by Film Nation selling international rights at this year's European Film Market. Over US$55 million (£40 m) has been raised.

Captain America 4 is having Falcon and the Winter Soldier creator, Malcolm Spellman, as writer.  This speaks to a closer tie between the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Disney+ Marvel television series.

Christopher Pike's novel, The Season of Passage (1992), is to be a film.  Universal is asking Mike (The Haunting of Hill House) Flanagan to direct.  The Season of Passage is an science fantasy horror.  An American expedition to Mars primarily too search for a missing Russian mission, finds one survivor. He leads the team into danger. Finally, the last remaining make it back to Earth but are they alone..?

Batgirl is apparently to be an HBO Max original.  DC’s comics originally introduced Batgirl as the alter alias of Betty Kane in 1961, the character was later reintroduced in the Adam West Batman series as Barbara (Yvonne Craig), the daughter of Gotham City Commissioner, Jim Gordon. This incarnation first appeared in the comics with Detective Comics #359 (January 1967).  Subsequently there have been other incarnations but it is the Barbara Gordon version featuring in this film.  Though the character has not appeared in a live-action film since she was portrayed by Alicia Silverstone in Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin.  Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah are co-directors.  (NOTE: Not to be confused with Batwoman who debuted in a 1956 edition of Detective Comics, Batwoman was Kathy Kane, a rich Gotham socialite and former circus performer who uses her money and skills to fight crime. However all that changed with the DC Comics universe Infinite Crisis' of the mid-1980s when she became Kate Kane, a Jewish LBGTQ character and that version made it to the first season of the recent Batwoman TV series. Best be clear about these things.)

Starlight the cinematic adaptation of the comic series gets Joe (Attack the Block) Cornish as director.  The comic series by Mark (2000AD, Swamp Thing & Superman: Red Son) Millar concerns Duke McQueen who, forty years ago, was the space hero who saved the universe. But then he came back home, got married, had kids, and grew old. Now his children have left and his wife has died, leaving him alone with nothing except his memories... Until a call comes from a distant world asking him back for his final and greatest adventure… 20th Century Studios is behind the film.

Lightyears is to star J. K. (Tomorrow War) Simmons with Sissy Spacek.  Lightyears follows Franklin and Irene York, played by Simmons and Spacek, a couple who years ago discovered a chamber buried in their backyard which inexplicably leads to a strange, deserted planet. They’ve carefully guarded their secret ever since, but when an enigmatic young man enters their lives, the Yorks’ quiet existence is quickly upended…and the mysterious chamber they thought they knew so well turns out to be much more than they could ever have imagined.  Shooting began over the summer and the film is to enter post-production this autumn (2021). It will air on Amazon.

The Bride is to star Nathalie Emmanuel and Garrett Hedlund.  Nathalie Emmanuel is known for The Game of Thrones.  The film is a contemporary horror thriller of a young woman who is courted and swept off her feet, only to realise a gothic vampire conspiracy is afoot… Jessica M. Thompson is directing.

Sony is creating its mini-Marvel Cinematic Universe with Kraven the Hunter.  Disney and Marvel Studios own all the rights to Marvel comic character with the exception of Spiderman and his foes that are owned by Sony.  (Only a special deal between Disney/Marvel and Sony allowed Tom Holland's Spiderman to appear in an Avengers film and Iron Man in a Spiderman film.)  So, though Spiderman's foe, Kraven the Hunter never had his own Marvel comic, he is now getting his own film. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is to play the character.  Kraven the Hunter is currently slated for a January 2023 cinematic release.

The Lord of the Rings is getting an anime prequel.  The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim is set 250 years before the events of The Lord of the Rings. It tells the story of Helm Hammerhand, a legendary King of Rohan who appears in the appendices of J. R. R. Tolkien's novel.  It is being produced by New Line Cinema and Warner Brothers.  Voice casting and animation began over the summer (2021).

Christine is being remade.  The Stephen King novel, about a possessed car, has previously been adapted by John Carpenter in 1983.  Hannibal and Star Trek: Discovery creator, and working on the American Gods TV series, Bryan Fuller is reportedly to make his feature film directorial debut with this remake. Bruyan Fuller previously adapted King's novel Carrie as a 2002 TV movie for NBC, which David Carson directed.

The Munsters is being re-adapted to a feature film.  The 1960s US comedy, spoof horror series is can been described as a light version of The Addams Family which was also a 1960s series. Rod Zombie is behind the adaptation. He has been wanting to do this for 20 years.  You can see the original series opening and closing credits here.

The Hunger may be getting a second cinematic adaptation.  Whitley Strieber's 1981 novel is a science fiction treatment of the vampire trope which was immediately adapted to a film (1983) starring David Bowie. Vampires, though looking like humans, are a separate species. They feed off humans and can also choose to keep humans immortal by giving them some of their blood. However, these immortal humans do not remain young forever and at some point remain alive forever in a withered husk state…  Warner Brothers is considering making a new adaptation and has gone as far as to approach Angela Robinson to direct and Jessica Sharzer to undertake the screenstory.

Red Sonja has Hannah John-Kamen as lead.  The Ant-Man and the Wasp star also appeared in Brave New World, Tomb Raider and Ready Player One.  Now, this film has been in the works for a while and was originally announced a decade ago! The new film will be directed by Joey Soloway, who co-wrote the script with Tasha Huo (Tomb Raider, hmmm, a connection?). It will be produced by Millennium.

The Highlander reboot simply will not die.  We first reported on a Highlander reboot three years ago. Back in 2012, Ryan Reynolds was in line to star in a Highlander remake of the 1986 original, but he left the project.  Lionsgate is currently behind the remake and have announced that it is talks with Henry Cavill to star. Cavill previously starred in Man of Steel and Mission: Impossible – Fallout. He is also starring in Netflix’s The Witcher series which is having a second season.  Having said that, with regards to the Highlander re-boot, perhaps there 'can only be one'.

Artemis is slowly moving through development hell.  The cinematic adaptation of the Andy Weir novel Artemis (2017) by 20th Century Fox has a screen writer Geneva Robinson-Forret and directed by Phil Ward and Chris Miller. Artists are doing preliminary visualisation sketches.

Hail Mary film preparations are underway.  The cinematic adaptation of the Andy Weir novel Hail Mary (2021) has begun.  MGM have bought the rights reportedly for US$3 million (£2.25m). Ryan (First Man, Blade Runner 2049) Gosling is currently slated to play the lead.  It looks like being directed by Phil Ward and Chris Miller (see item above) who previously directed Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018).  Andy Weir himself is a co-producer in a purely investment capacity. Geneva Robertson-Dworet is writing the screenplay.  ++++ The film adaptation of Andy Weir's novel The Martian grossed over US$228 million in the US and over US$630 million globally at the box office for 20th Century Fox.

Nemesis film closer to realisation.  The cinematic adaptation of Mark Millar and Steve McNiven's, 2010 comic mini-series continues to progress.  The original's premise in essence was "What if Batman was the Joker?" Back in 2010, 20th Century Fox was going to adapt it but in 2015 Warner brothers took over. Mark Millar has revealed that Oscar winner Emerald Fennell has now written the latest draft of the screenplay. Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman are involved in its production.

Atlas will be co-produced by Jennifer Lopez and helmed by Brad Peyton.  It will be Lopez's third Netflix original and is a military SF offering.  It concerns Atlas, a military intelligence officer who has spent years pursuing intergalactic terrorist Harlan who murdered her family during an attack on her agency’s headquarters on Earth. Now she is in space to oversee a mission to capture Harlan at his remote planet hideout. Things go south quickly when their ship is struck by missiles and she’s forced to don an AI driven mechanical armoured suit. The high-action film concerns her interactions with this AI suit.

Last Voyage of the Demeter Dracula film gets January 2023 release date.  The film is meant to be based on a single chapter, the Captain's Log, from Bram Stoker's classic 1897 novel Dracula.  The story is set aboard the Russian schooner, Demeter, which was chartered to carry private cargo – twenty four unmarked wooden crates – from Carpathia to London.  It details the strange events that befell the doomed crew as they attempt to survive the ocean voyage, stalked each night by a terrifying presence on board the ship.  When it finally arrived near Whitby Harbour, it was a derelict; there was no trace of the crew…  The film stars: Corey Hawkins, David Dastmalchian, Liam Cunningham, Aisling Franciosi and Javier Botet.

Stephen King's Firestarter re-boot gains momentum with casting.  The re-boot of the 1984 film is again based on the Stephen King novel (1980) that concerns a young man who must protect his daughter after she develops pyrokinesis and is hunted by a secret government agency known as 'The Shop' that intends to capture and control her..  The re-boot has the involvement of the 1984 version's producer Martha De Laurentiis.  The cast leads are: Sydney Lemmon, Ryan Kiera Armstrong and Gloria Reuben.  The original Stephen King novel was short-listed for 'Best Novel' for the British Fantasy Award, Locus Poll Award, and Balrog Award. A miniseries follow-up to the 1984 film, Firestarter: Rekindled, was released in 2002 on the Sci-Fi Channel.  This re-boot was announced at the end of 2019 and is currently tentatively slated for a 2023 release from Universal.

Star Trek 4 gets its director.  Paramount and Bad Robot’s J. J. Abrams have secured Matt Shakman to direct the fourth Star Trek re-boot film.  Previously Matt Shakman was director of The Great, and helmed episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Fargo and Game of Thrones.  Also, the film has a script by Lindsey Beer and Geneva Robertson-Dworet; this the first Star Trek film to be written by female screenwriters.  Production is due to begin in early 2022 and is currently, tentatively slated for a 2023 release.

Attack the Block II is being mooted.  Attack the Block was short-listed for a nebula Award.  Studiocanal, Film4, Complete Fiction Pictures & UpperRoom Productions are now looking to make a sequel. The original's director, Joe Cornish, and star John Boyega, are reportedly onboard.  Following the original, Boyega went on to star as Finn in the Star Wars sequel Rise of Skywalker.

Chariot graphic novel to be a film.  Joseph Kosinski will direct from a script by Julian (Jack Ryan) Meiojas.  The graphic novel and film is an SF thriller about a top-secret project from the Cold War that saw the government provide its star agent with a unique weapon -- a state-of-the-art sports car.  The Chariot, as it soon became known, sank into the ocean decades ago along with said agent, but now a petty criminal looking to reform his life has stumbled upon the Chariot, and he's about to discover that the agent's consciousness is still controlling it…  There is also a star-crossed romance at the center of the film, which the makers pitch as a cross between True Romance and The Matrix.  21 Laps, the production company behind Stranger Things are producing.

Zack Snyder will co-write and direct an intergalactic adventure inspired by Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa and Star Wars.  Znyder has had recent viewing figure success with Netflix's Army of the Dead.  The new film, Rebel Moon, will be co-written with Army of the Deadco-screenwriter Shay Hatten and Kurt Johnstad who co-wrote jack Snyder's 300Rebel Moon concerns a peaceful colony on the edge of the galaxy but it is threatened by the armies of a tyrannical regent named Balisarius.  Desperate, the colonists dispatch a young woman with a mysterious past to seek out warriors from neighbouring planets to help them make a stand…

Star Wars memorabilia auctioned for far more than estimated!  When the late David Prowse souvenirs were auctioned by his local auctioneers in Bristol, Star Wars items went for far more than expected.  A Darth Vader helmet sold for £2,200, more than five times the top estimate, and a signed picture of Alec Guinness in his Obi-Wan Kenobi robes fetched £3,100, treble that anticipated.  A prototype light-sabre went for £9,000 East Bristol Auctions had been judged to might bring in £80-£120.  The auction took place on May the 4th…, naturally.

And finally…

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

Film video download tip!: Black Widow gets the Honest Trailer treatment.  You can see the Honest Trailer here.

Film short SF film download tip!: Boléro sees the government use telepathy…  In a future where telepaths are used by the government to monitor the public and root out insurgents, a non-speaking teen seeks to avenge her father by hunting down and killing the man responsible for his death.  You can see the 17-minute short here.

Film trailer download tip!: The alien invasion film Occupation: Rainfall came out early this year in Australasia. It released elsewhere over the summer.  Two years into an intergalactic invasion of Earth, survivors in Sydney, Australia, fight back in a desperate ground war. As casualties mount by the day, the resistance and their unexpected allies, uncover a plot that could see the war come to a decisive end. With the alien invaders hell-bent on making Earth their new home, the race is on to save mankind.  You can see the trailer here.

Film trailer download tip!: The demonic horror Don't Let Her In came out earlier this year as a video on demand on the internet.  An attractive young couple rents out a room in their spacious loft to an eccentric, beautiful female artist. But they soon come to regret it…  You can see the trailer here.

Film trailer download tip!: The SF film Settlers came out over the summer.  It concerns a family settled on an alien world, but someone wants them out of their homestead… And not everything is as it seems…  You can see the trailer here.

Film trailer download tip!: The SF film Reminiscence came out over the summer the month before posting this autumnal edition of SF² Concatenation.  Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman), is a private investigator of the mind, who navigates the darkly alluring world of the past by helping his clients access lost memories.  Living on the fringes of the sunken Miami coast, his life is forever changed when he takes on a new client, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson).  A simple matter of lost and found becomes a dangerous obsession.  As Bannister fights to find the truth about Mae's disappearance, he uncovers a violent conspiracy, and must ultimately answer the question: how far would you go to hold on to the ones you love?  You can see the trailer here.

Film related video download tip!: Remember The Flight of the Navigator (1986)?  VFXcool: Flight of the Navigator looks at its special effects.  The Flight of the Navigator was a charming juvenile SF film that is a great SFnal family watch. The premise is that an alien spaceship which itself is an artificial intelligence, loses its navigator and so finds a human kid to take on the role. (It's a brain interface thing that enables the ship to move through space-time). The boy is returned eight years later not having aged (Einsteinian relativity or some variation thereof). NASA is after him so there is nothing for it but for the boy to re-enter the ship and get it to take him back to his own time… That's it in a nutshell.  The thing is, even today, it is a solid family watch from Disney.  At the time its special effects were decidedly above average.  This documentary vid explores how they were done.  You can see VFXcool: Flight of the Navigator here.

Film trailer download tip!: A new documentary on the cinematic character King Kong will air this November.  The Legend of King Kong premieres in November.  You can see the documentary's trailer here.

Film related video download tip!: Godzilla vs Kong, 'How It Should Have Ended'.  You can see the short video here.

Film trailer download tip!: Ghostbusters: Afterlife has a second trailer out. The film is slated for a November release.  You can see the trailer here.

Film trailer download tip!: Spider-Man: No Way Home has a trailer out.  The film is slated for a December (2021) release.  You can see the trailer here.

Film trailer download tip!: Moonfall has a trailer out.  A mysterious force knocks the Moon from its orbit around Earth and sends it hurtling on a collision course with life as we know it. With mere weeks before impact and the world on the brink of annihilation, NASA executive and former astronaut Jo Fowler (Halle Berry) is convinced she has the key to saving us all – but only one astronaut from her past, Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) and conspiracy theorist K.C. Houseman (John Bradley) believe her. These unlikely heroes will mount an impossible last-ditch mission into space, leaving behind everyone they love, only to find out that our Moon is not what we think it is.  The film is slated for a February (2022) release.  You can see the trailer here.

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

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

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

 

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

Autumn 2021

Television News

 

Jodie Whittaker is to step down from Doctor Who 'in the autumn. Jodie Whittaker was the second woman to play the Doctor, debuting in 2018. (The first, of course, being Joanna Lumley towards the end of a two-part adventure, 'The Curse of Fatal Death', for Comic Relief in 1999 (it is on YouTube).  Jodie's three years in the role were only marred by show-runner Chris Chibnal whose heavy-handed episode moralising had all the subtlety of a miners' outing. Fortunately, Chibnal is also leaving the show. The only shame is we will not be able to see whether Jodie would have flourished more with a different showrunner.
          Jodie will complete her autumnal season and then next year (2022) there will be three Doctor Who specials beginning with one on New Year's Day. The last of these (autumn 2022) will see a regeneration. The episode will also be part of the BBC's centenary celebrations.
          Word has it that the autumnal season will not consist of standalone episodes but a clearly defined plot arc. If so, this is something to look forward to. Season plot arcs takes us back to the Tenant years.  You can see the teaser trailer here.

Doctor Who fan fiction comes under attack by the BBC.  A number of fan fiction writers posting stories based on the BBC show Doctor Who's characters have been told by the BBC to stop posting their fiction online. It calls on them to remove their work from the public domain, arguing that they are infringing on copyright. The BBC advises that while anyone is, “welcome to write Doctor Who fiction for your own enjoyment, but [it] reminds you that it is not permitted for you to publish this work either in print or online.” The BBC are also targeting the fan creators of Who audio adventures and homage videos that use clips from the show. This last includes clips for review purposes. In copyright law, the use of excerpts from books and book covers is copyright free for review purposes.

The Lord of the Rings will be the most expensive TV series by far!  Amazon Studios will spend roughly NZ$650 million (£340 million / US$460) for just the first season.  This is far more than the previously reported estimate for the cost being an already record-breaking NZ$500 million for multiple seasons of the show.  For comparison, Game of Thrones cost roughly £74 million to produce per season, with its per-episode cost starting at around £4 million for season one and eventually rising to around £11 per episode in season eight.
          The Lord of the Rings TV series is set in Middle Earth before the events of Tolkien's books but explores references made in them.

The Lord of the Rings shooting to move to Great Britain.  Season one has been largely shot and is now in post-shooting production, slated for an autumnal 2022 airing.  Much of the shoot was in New Zealand with just some in Britain.  However Amazon has taken the decision to base future production in the United Kingdom.  This seems to be a studio availability plus cost thing (there are tax breaks for any TV series production in the UK with a budget in excess of a million US dollars per episode). Having said that, New Zealand was to give NZ$33 million (£17 million, US$23.1 million) in support.  Though some worry that the New Zealand scenery feel to the franchise may be lost.  Filming for season two begins in June (2022) and studios are being checked out. Studios in Leith, Scotland, are being talked about.  Other Amazon shows, including Good Omens, are also being shot in Britain.

The Simpsons Marvel episode will not have a Stan Lee cameo despite a recording of his voice.  The long-standing tradition of Stan Lee having a short cameo appearance in every Marvel Comics film, television show and video game has come to an end – The Simpsons' showrunner, Al Jean, has said that Marvel prevented them from adding a cameo appearance of the comic book legend in their new animated short, 'The Good, the Bart, and the Loki'. It would have been possible given the discovery of unused audio files, of the creator of a number of Marvel super heroes, from a previous engagement with the show.

Netflix's Jupiter’s Legacy mini-series was the non-Marvel Comics superhero success of the summer.  It is the television adaptation of Mark (Kingsman, Kick Ass and much else) Millar MBE comic series.  Jupiter’s Legacy explores the generational conflict between a group of aging superheroes known as the Union, who used the powers they gained in 1932 for the betterment of mankind, in particular their leader, Sheldon (the Utopian) Sampson, and their children, who are daunted by the prospect of living up to their parents' legacy.  See the trailer here.

Wellington Paranormal at last came to Britain and the US over the summer.  The series first aired in New Zealand back in 2018. It is a spin-off from the 2014 mockumentary film What we Do in the Shadows (trailer here). Sky has licensed the three seasons for streaming on Now and Sky Comedy in the UK.  In the US the CW has been airing the series with episodes made available to stream on HBO Max.  It stars police officers Minogue and O'Leary who appeared in What we Do in the ShadowsSeason trailer here.

What We Do in the Shadows has just returned on FX in the US.  A look into the daily (or rather, nightly) lives of four vampires who have 'lived' together for hundreds and hundreds of years in Staten Island. Hopefully we will get it (on the BBC?) over here. See the trailer here and here.

The Neighbor's second, and final season, has proved popular on Netflix given it is a Spanish production with English subtitles.  It is based on the comic series El Vecino by Santiago García and Pepo Pérez.  The Neighbor follows the story of a hapless man, who one day inadvertently gains superpowers from an alien. With the help of his friendly neighbour, he begins to master his newfound abilities to fight evil and at the same time, conceal them from the public eye, including his suspicious ex-girlfriend…  See the trailer here.

The new series Sweet Tooth landed on Netflix this summer.  In the not too distant future a virus wiped out much of humanity. But its wake saw the birth of human-animal hybrids. This post-apocalyptic fairytale concerns one such a hybrid deer-boy and a wandering loner who embark on an extraordinary adventure… See the trailer here.

The Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness mini-series came out over the summer.  The quality artwork anime series is set after the events of the first two films. Federal agent Leon S. Kennedy teams up with TerraSave staff member Claire Redfield to investigate a zombie outbreak. Based on the popular video game series of the same name by Capcom.  See the trailer here.

American Horror Story: Double Feature season 10 came out over the summer.  It essentially consists of two stories: one by the sea, one by the sand.  You can see the season 9 trailer here and season 10 trailer here.

Y: The Last Man is a new series based on the 2002 award-wining comic series and collected graphic novels.  Following a pandemic that wipes out males, there is one male survivor… Society is plunged into chaos as infrastructures collapse, and the surviving women everywhere try to cope with the loss of the men, and the belief that, barring a rapid, major scientific breakthrough or other extraordinary happening, humanity is doomed to extinction.  Yorick Brown is the only male survivor. Yorick's mother, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, commissions Agent 355 to protect Yorick. The two travel to meet geneticist and cloning expert Dr. Allison Mann, who works to discover why Yorick survived and find a way to save humankind… Y: The Last Man received three Eisner Awards.
          The TV series launches a few days after we post this autumnal 2021 edition of SF² Concatenation and in N. America is available for streaming on Hulu's FX.  You can see the trailer here.

 

The new series Foundation premieres a week following this seasonal page's posting (September 2021).  First, some background… The 'Foundation' series of novels by Isaac Asimov; originally appeared in Astounding Science Fiction magazine from 1942-1950. They were set in the declining years of a galactic empire run from the planet Trantor, and featuring the ‘psychohistorian’ Hari Seldon. The original Foundation trilogy – Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), and Second Foundation (1953) – charts the attempts of a group to limit the ‘dark ages’ that will follow the collapse of galactic civilisation using the science of ‘psychohistory’ – a sort of sociological statistical analysis that attempts to anticipate future events through the study of large groups of people. These Foundations (there are two and one is initially unknown by the other) follow the Seldon Plan, and frequently come into conflict with local planetary neighbours, not to mention the waning Empire itself.  Loosely based on Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Asimov was encouraged to develop this universe by mentor and Astounding editor John W. Campbell jnr.  The trilogy won a ‘special category’ Hugo in 1965 for Best All-Time Series.  During the 1980’s, Asimov began the ambitious task of melding together his 'Robot' and 'Foundation' series with mixed results, though Foundation’s Edge (1982) did win a Hugo and topped the Locus annual readers poll. The other books in the series include: The Robots of Dawn (1983), Robots and Empire (1985), Foundation and Earth (1986), Prelude to Foundation (1988), and the posthumously published Forward the Foundation (1992). Despite some criticism, these novels all sold well and, following Asimov’s death, the Foundation stories were continued by Gregory Benford, David Brin and Greg Bear (all of whom are Hugo Award winning authors in their own right). However, while a solid exercise in nostalgia or a tribute to Asimov these may be, they do not significantly add to the original series.
          Which brings us on to the forthcoming television series that, for what it's worth, has Robyn Asimov as one of half a dozen executive producers.  Foundation premieres 24th September (2021) on Apple TV in the US. It stars Jared Harris as Dr. Hari Seldon.  Such is the esteem with which the original novels are held by seasoned SF fans that, if the series does not follow the stories of the original trilogy, there could be considerable disappointment. Will Robyn Asimov have done a decent job in keeping control of Isaac's heritage?
          Apple has renewed Foundation for season 2 ahead of its season 1 premiere. Indeed, shooting has already commenced in Ireland and will continue till May (2022).  The second season of the show will also have 10 episodes like the first.  Apparently showrunner David Goyer wants up to five seasons so as to be able to tell the who Foundation saga.
          You can see the season 1 trailer here.

Doom Patrol season 3 launches this month (September 2021).  Originally from DC Comics, a super-powered gang of outcasts time travels to save the world.  You can see the HBO Max season 3 trailer here.

The 4400 reboot series launches next month (October 2021).  The original series (trailer here) ran for four seasons (2004 – 2007).  It concerns a group of 4,400 people in the Cascade Range foothills near Mount Rainier, Washington, United States. Each of the 4,400 had disappeared in a beam of white light in 1946 or after. None of them have aged from the time of their disappearance.  Confused and disoriented, they have no memories of what transpired prior to their return.  Some begin to exhibit strange powers…  The original series gets a 95% approval on the Rotton Tomatoes aggregator and 7.3/10 out of 43k scores on IMDB.  The re-boot series sees the kidnapping episodes take place in 1956 and other years and their return in 2021.  The series is set to premiere on the CW on 25th October (2021) in the US.  You can see the season 1 trailer here.

The Wheel of Time series launches in November (2021).  The series is based on the 'Wheel of Time' sequence of fantasy novels by Robert Jordan. The series of novels is set in an unnamed world that, due to the cyclical nature of time as depicted in the series, is simultaneously the distant past and the distant future Earth. In the latest iteration of an eternal cycle of battle between the forces of light and darkness, the Aes Sedai--an order of women able to channel the power of magic--try to find the latest reincarnation of the Dragon, the light's champion. Servants of the Dark One (a cosmic force of evil in the universe), also scour the countryside in search of the Dragon Reborn. A party, including three youths who might be the reincarnated champion, flee from the agents of darkness. The party is frequently split into different groups and must pursue different missions to further their cause.  The Wheel of Time TV series premieres on Amazon Prime Video 19th November (2021) and stars Rosamund Pike, Josha Stradowski, Marcus Rutherford, Zoe Robins, Barney Harris and Madeleine Madden.  You can see the trailer here.

The Witcher 2nd season is coming in December (2021).  It is based on the Andrzej Sapkowski novels set on a fictional, medieval-inspired landmass known as "the Continent", it explores the legend of the a magically enhanced monster-hunter Geralt of Rivia (a 'witcher') and the magical Princess Ciri, who are linked to each other by destiny.  The Witcher, in its first season's US debut, it was the third most "in demand" original streaming series, behind Stranger Things and The Mandalorian.  See the season 2 trailer here.

The Mandalorian season 3 is coming in 2022.  The Star Wars prequel TV series has been something of a hit for Disney. Let's hope the first season migrates to other channels in the not too distant future.  Meanwhile, here is the trailer for season 3.

Film clip download tip!: Obi-Wan Kenobi is a forthcoming television series.  Set in the period before the first Star Wars film, Obi-Wan Kenobi is watching over Luke Skywalker on Tatooine, ten years after the events of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005).  Ewan McGregor executive produces and stars as the title character, reprising his role from the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Hayden Christensen also stars, reprising his role as Darth Vader. Apparently McGregor is excited to play a version of the character that is closer to Alec Guinness' portrayal from the original Star Wars film than his own younger version from the prequel trilogy.  Obi-Wan Kenobi is directed by Deborah Chow, who directed two episodes of The Mandalorian, Season 1.  The mini-series will be six episodes long and initially available on Disney+ sometime next year (2022).  You can see the teaser trailer here.

Castlevanla has been cancelled.  The American anime-influenced adult animated series from Netflix, and created by Warren Ellis, has ended with its fourth season.  The series has been successful: Netflix reports that in season 2 the show had a worldwide audience of 30 million. Instead, a new series set in the Castlevania universe is in the works which will focus on Richter Belmont, a descendant of Trevor and Sypha, and Maria Renard during the French Revolution.

Irregulars has been cancelled after one season.  We reported on this new series last season.  It had been thought it would go to a second season but Netflix decided to pull the plug.  Why is a bit of a mystery as it seemed to get reasonable reviews and some compared it to Sherlock Holmes meets Stranger Things. It also ranked as a top ten Netflix series in terms of views at the end of April (2021). It is possible that CoVID and key cast career options affected matters.

Cursed has been quietly cancelled after one season…!  Based on Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler’s graphic novel, Cursed was a re-imagining of the Arthurian legend as told through the eyes of the young woman, played by Katherine Langford, who would become the Lady of the Lake.  Cursed explored such themes as: obliteration of the natural world, religious zeal and oppression, senseless war and finding the courage to lead in the face of the impossible.  Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler were also the series' executive producers.  You can see the trailer for the first season here.

Lovecraft Country has been cancelled after one season…!  Helped by a small but faithful fan base, the series starring Jurnee Smollett and Jonathan Majors grew, with the Season 1 finale hitting a series-high audience on HBO (1.5 million) and, on its first day of availability, becoming the most watched new episode of an original series on HBO Max.  By the time the finale was released in October (2021), the premiere episode had crossed the 10 million viewers mark.  The first season was short-listed for a Ray Bradbury (given with the Nebulas), and its screenplay for episodes 1 and 8 short-listed for a Stoker.  However, season 1 was based on Matt Ruff’s novel, which served as a roadmap for the series.  Despite trying to come up with a fresh story faithful to the spirit of the novel, after careful consideration, HBO made the decision not to proceed with a second season.  You can see the trailer for the first season here.

Resident Alien has been renewed for season 2 by SyFy.  Based on the Dark Horse comic of the same name by Brits Peter Hogan and Stephen Parkhouse, Resident Alien follows Harry (Alan Tudyk), an alien that crash lands on Earth and passes himself off as a small-town human doctor. Arriving with a secret mission to kill all humans, Harry starts off living a simple life, but things get a bit rocky when he’s roped into solving a local murder and realizes he needs to assimilate into his new world so as to blend in with the other residents of a small Colorado town in order to avoid detection while he searches for vital components of his spaceship that are now buried in snow on the neighbouring mountains.  During his time spent getting to know the small town's residents, Harry learns about humanity and begins to have doubts about his mission.  However, one young boy, Max Hawthorne (Judah Prehn) is unlike the rest of the townsfolk as he possesses a rare gene that allows him to look past Harry's assumed human form and see him in his natural alien state. But, of course, no one believes him.  The renewal for the comedy drama came just ahead of the first season finale.  The series premiere had reached 9.3 million viewers across all platforms.  See the series' original teaser trailer here.

'Q' to appear in season 2 of Picard.  Paramount has revealed that John de Lancie is to reprise his role from Star Trek: The Next Generation as Q in season 2 of Picard.  Apparently, he will appear at a traumatising moment.  The season also sees the return of the Borg Queen which first appeared in the film Star Trek: First Contact only this time she will be played by Annie Wersching.  The series has had a third season green lit to allow seasons 2 and 3 to be filmed back-to-back.  Season 2 will air on Paramount+ next year (2022). See the Picard teaser here.

Good Omens is to have a second series.  Crowley and Aziraphale are coming back, again on the BBC and this time also on Amazon Prime, with stars Michael Sheen and David Tennant returning.  Also returning is Neil Gaiman as show-runner and co-writer with John Finnemore (well known in Britain as a comedy writer and actor on BBC Radio 4).
          Following the 2019 six-episode series already covered the entirety of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s original novel. So much so that both Gaiman and Rhianna Pratchett, Terry’s daughter, shot down any continuations beyond the scope of the book in 2018.  Terry sadly died in 2015 and that, we all thought, was that. However, Terry and Neil had been kicking around ideas for a follow-up novel beginning with a chat at a World Fantasy Convention.  Although the two did not manage to actually publish it before Pratchett’s death in 2015, Neil said: “I got to use bits of the sequel in Good Omens - that’s where our angels came from.” He added, “Terry’s not here any longer, but when he was, we had talked about what we wanted to do with Good Omens, and where the story went next. And now, thanks to BBC Studios and Amazon, I get to take it there.” Terry was absolutely in favour of that story being told.
          Apparently the second series sees us back in Soho, and all through time and space, solving a mystery, which starts with one of the angels wandering through Soho, with no memory, on their way to Aziraphale’s bookshop.
          The original series garnered a Hugo for 'Best Dramatic presentation – Long Form' as well as a Bradbury Award (presented with the Nebulas).
          You can see the first season trailer here.

Superman & Lois has been renewed for season 2 by the CW.  This follows the series' strong first week ratings and so is one of the fastest renewals for a new series.  The 90-minute series premiere of the present-day drama based on the DC characters lifted The CW to its best night of primetime in over two years, since January 29, 2019, according to Nielsen. Additionally, the debut saw the largest day-one streaming audience for a new series in the history of The CW.  The series scores 7.9 at IMDB by over 11,000 voters.  The series stars Tyler Hoechlin as Clark Kent/Superman, Elizabeth Tulloch as Lois Lane.  See the trailer here.

Casting the leads for The Time Traveller's Wife series has been completed.  Audrey Niffenegger’s best-selling sci-fi romance novel The Time Traveller’s Wife has already been cinematically adapted in 2009, starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana.  HBO is producing the forthcoming TV series and has got former Doctor Who showrunner and writer Steven Moffat to helm.  The leads will be played by Theo (Divergent) James and Rose (Game of Thrones) Leslie.

She-Hulk sees Jameela Jamil cast as the super-villain Titania.  The canst already has Tatiana Maslany (as Jennifer Walters / She-Hulk), Mark Ruffalo (as Bruce Banner) and Tim Roth (as The Abomination).  The premise is that attorney Jennifer Walters is the cousin of Bruce Banner, who grants his Hulk powers to her via a blood transfusion…  Roth returns as The Abomination, the villain he previously portrayed in The Incredible Hulk (2008) that starred Edward Norton in its leading role.  She-Hulk is scheduled to be released in 2022, and will consist of ten episodes. It will be part of Phase Four of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).  She-Hulk is one of several MCU productions in the pipeline, including Hawkeye, Secret Invasion, Ms. Marvel, and Moon Knight. These follow Marvel Studio's Loki that came out over the summer (2021).

Star Wars: Andor is on track for a 2022 release.  The 12-episode series is a prequel to Rogue One (2016) following the rebel spy Cassian Andor five years before the events of the film, during the formative years of the Rebellion.  Diego Luna reprises his Rogue One role as Cassian Andor. Filming has been taking place at Pinewood Studios, London, and on location around England and Scotland.

Casting has begun for the The Man Who Fell to Earth.  The series is based on the 1986 film (trailer here) that starred David Bowie and in turn based on the novel The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis.  Chiwetel Ejiofor will star as an extraterrestrial who arrives on Earth, Jimmi Simpson will play CIA agent Spencer Clay, a man consumed by his obsession with discovering the alien's true identity.  Naomie Harris will play Justin Falls, a brilliant scientist and engineer who must battle her demons to help save both the alien's world and her own.

Beacon 23 is a new series based on Hugh Howey's 2015 novel of the same name.  For centuries, men and women have manned lighthouses to ensure the safe passage of ships. It is a lonely job, and a thankless one for the most part. Until something goes wrong. Until a ship is in distress. In the 23rd century, this job has moved into outer space. A network of beacons allows ships to travel across the Milky Way at many times the speed of light. These beacons are built to be robust. They never break down. They never fail. At least, they aren't supposed to. And so Astor ends up as an unintentional visitor to one that is manned by Halan. Halan, who is used to and likes his lonely job, is suspicious of Astor's arrival…  The series is being helmed by Zak (Ready Player One)Penn.  Lena Headey, fresh from The Game of Thrones stars as Astor.  This forthcoming series is from Spectrum Originals and AMC Networks.

Wednesday is a forthcoming series with Tim Burton directing.  Wednesday is the schoolgirl Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family. In the new series, she is now a student at Nevermore Academy and is attempting to master her emerging psychic ability. However it transpires that she also must thwart a monstrous killing spree, and solve a supernatural mystery from her parents' past twenty-five years ago…  Tim (Planet of the Apes and Edward Scissorhands) Burton is the series' director in his first televisual directorial role. Alfred Gough and Miles Millar are the series' showrunners. Jenna Ortega is to star.

Young Constantine is to be a forthcoming series with J.J. Abrams (Westworld, Lovecraft Country, the Star Trek reboot and Mission Impossible III) developing.  Based on the DC Hellblazer comics and a character that first appeared in Swamp Thing, John Constantine is a cancer sufferer, world weary, alcoholic detective who combats evil, righting supernatural wrongs…  Constantine has been screened before: there was the poor 2005 film Constantine starring Keanu Reeves and nine years later (2014) the short-lived NBC series Constantine with Matt Ryan.  This forthcoming series is from HBO Max and apparently will be a re-visualisation of the character and presumably(?) covers his pre-cancer and heavy booze days. Whether or not it will have a Justice League crossover dimension is anybody's guess.

The Last of Us to be a television series. Kantemir Balagov is to direct the pilot episode.  The Last of Us is a multi-award-winning computer game that in the seven years since its launch up to 2020 sold over 20 million units.  It is set in a post-apocalyptic near-future in which an outbreak of a mutant Cordyceps fungus ravages the United States, transforming its human hosts into aggressive creatures known as the Infected. In the suburbs of Austin, Texas, Joel flees the chaos with his brother Tommy and daughter Sarah…  Twenty years later, civilisation has been decimated by the infection. Survivors live in heavily policed quarantine zones, independent settlements, and nomadic groups, leaving buildings and houses deserted. Joel works as a smuggler with his partner Tess.
          The 'Infected', a core concept of the game, were inspired by a segment of the BBC nature documentary Planet Earth (2006).
          A four-issue comic book miniseries, The Last of Us: American Dreams, was published by Dark Horse Comics (2013) written by one of the game's creators Neil Druckmann. There was to be a film but this fell through after Sony had a creative disagreement with Neil Druckmann.  The TV series came about as a collaboration between is a joint production between Sony Pictures Television, the games company behind the game and HBO.
          Kantemir Balagov is the Cannes Best Director Award and FIPRESCI prize winning director for the film Beanpole (2019).

Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam is to be a television series.  The series will be based on Atwood's trilogy of novels: Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam. It follows the events leading up to the near destruction of mankind and civilization by a malicious bioengineered pandemic. The catalyst for it all is Crake, a brilliant and complicated young man so disturbed by the injustices of the world that he spends his young life developing a virus that will wipe out humans and replace us with a new species of hominid. The series not only looks at the events that lead up to that big moment, referred to in the books as the “waterless flood,” but also what happens after — including who and what shall inherit the Earth.  Producing MaddAddam will be Paramount Television Studios, Anonymous Content and Makemake Entertainment, for Hulu streaming service.

A Terminator anime series has been ordered by Netflix.  Apparently, The new animated series will explore the Terminator universe in a new way.  Mattson (Project Power) Tomlin will serve as showrunner and executive producer.  The series is being produced in partnership with Production I.G , who Netflix has had a production line deal with since 2018. Production I.G’s past anime credits include Ghost in the Shell, B: The Beginning and Eden of the East.  The Terminator franchise has been wildly successful, with the six films to date having grossed over £1.5 billion (US$2.1 billion) worldwide

Code 8 sequel miniseries on Quibi falters but the prospects for a feature film sequel are back.  First the background to the Code 8 (2016) short and 2019 feature Canadian film written and directed by Jeff Chan.  It concerns a man with superpowers who works with a group of criminals to raise money to help his sick mother. It is set in the early 20th century when the public becomes aware of people with superhuman abilities, known as Powers. This results in the government passing a law requiring all Powers to register their abilities. They quickly become a key component of the economy, notably in constructing Lincoln City as the "City of Tomorrow". As the Second Industrial Revolution begins, Powers are marginalized in the face of increasing mechanization, leading to severe prejudice as they become second-class citizens. By the 1990s, a crime syndicate known as The Trust has flooded the streets with an addictive drug called Psyke, made from the spinal fluid of desperate or trafficked Powers. Police departments begin using advanced drones, named Guardians, and facial recognition software to combat Power-related crime while a city-wide Powers ban is debated…  Code 8 is no Hollywood movie, but a bona fide independent being crowd-funded. By the end of 2019 US$3.4 million (£2.6m) had been raised. The film was very well received…  All of which brings us onto a possible sequel that has had a rocky development hell with a possible and unusual mini-series of 10-minute episodes. This fell through with the demise of Quibi. However it now seems that Robbie and Stephen Amell may reprise their roles in a sequel titled Code 8: Part II with backing from Netflix.  Apparently Code 8: Part II follows a girl fighting to get justice for her slain brother by corrupt police officers. She enlists the help of an ex-con and his former partner….  You can see the original Code 8 trailer here.

Bryan Talbot’s classic The Adventures of Luther Arkwright graphic novel is to be adapted for television.  Luther Arkwright is super-spy who traverses between alternate Earth's that are under threat by time-line disruptors. He is aided by fellow agent Rose Wylde, a telepath who can communicate with her many alternative selves across the multiverse. The series is being produced by Jonathan Drake, CEO of Three River Studios, with Bryon Talbot attached as executive producer.  The graphic novels have been previously adapted into an audio play starring David Tennant. Bryon is also currently writing a new instalment of Arkwright’s saga, The Legend of Luther Arkwright slated for 2022.

There's to be a TV series based on the Alien films.  It is in development for FX on Hulu, with Noah (Fargo) Hawley and Ridley Scott being involved. It will be set on Earth in the near future, and the first in the franchise to see the aliens uncontained (not on a space ship or on an isolated planet).  Noah Hawley says it’s about time for the face-huggers and xenomorphs to sink their claws into the white-collar executives who have been responsible for sending so many employees to their doom.  Ripley will not feature in the series. Reportedly the scripts for a few episodes have already been written and shooting is anticipated to commence the spring of 2022.

Intergalactic: the worst new series of the summer?  With an IMDB rating of 3.7 out of 10, and a Rotten Tomato audience rating of 29% at the time of posting this page, could Intergalactic have been the worst new SF series of the summer?  On the outskirts of outer space 124 years into the future, Ash Harper, a fearless young cop and galactic pilot, has her sparkling career ripped away from her after being falsely accused of treason and convicted to exile in a distant prison colony. While aboard the transport ship, Ash's fellow female prisoners stage a mutiny and seize control, intent on reaching Arcadia – a mythical paradise occupied by ARC resistance where criminals can be free…  Despite some good effects (they had a budget), the basic concept – criminals become pirates – is old. There's nothing wrong with that but Intergalactic did not build on it and used two-dimensional shallow characters, a plot that does not engage. This is not so much SF as sci-fi (for those that remember that old debate).  You can see the trailer here.

 

And finally, some TV related vids…

TV series trailer download tip!: Solos was an anthology SF mini-series out over the summer.  Seven unique character-driven stories. Each character will set off on a thrilling adventure in an uncertain future and they'll come to reckon that even during our most isolated moments, we are all connected through the human experience…  Starring: Anne Hathaway, Anthony Mackie, Uzo Aduba, Nicole Beharie and Morgan Freeman.  You can see the trailer here.

In Search of Tomorrow is a television documentary on SF films of the 1980s. It came out over the summer.  The 1980s were a golden age for cinematic SF in which effects were just becoming good enough to take cinematic sense-of-wonder to a new level.  The documentary comes from journalist and filmmaker David A. Weiner and it’s a “four-hour-plus retrospective of 1980s SF films featuring interviews with actors, directors, writers, SFX experts, and composers.” They have over 75+ interviews and there are a lot of stories and revelations that come to light.  You can see the trailer here.

The Walking Dead season 11 began a couple of weeks ago.  It is airing on AMC in the USA and streaming on AMC+.  You can see the season trailer here.

Falcon and the Winter Soldier gets the Honest Trailer treatment.  You can see the Honest Trailer here.

 

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

Autumn 2021

Publishing & Book Trade News

 

Phillip Pullman has given up writing!  Shock, horror, drama, probe….  No, panic not, he is not giving up being an author.  To date the 'His Dark Materials' author has penned his books by hand. However due to growing arthritis he has had to give up writing by hand and go digital using a keyboard, which is something he hates. He also misses making corrections by hand, something he has done for fifty years saying, "it works, I know it works." Analogue power.

Disney have settled with Alan Dean Foster.  Alan Dean Foster is the author of a number of SF film novelisations, but, when Disney took over the rights to the Alien and Star Wars franchises, they reportedly refused to pay him royalties for his books.  The SF Writers of America (SFWA) reports that Alan Dean Foster’s missing royalties owed by Disney have been resolved, however, about a dozen additional authors have requested assistance from the organization, including the authors of Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Indiana Jones, and multiple other properties. SFWA has provided Disney with the names of authors who are similarly missing royalty statements and payments going back years.  The SFWA has formed the #DisneyMustPay Joint Task Force with the Authors Guild, Horror Writers Association, National Writers Union, Novelists, Inc., International Thriller Writers, the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers, Romance Writers of America and Sisters in Crime to identify and guide authors who might be owed money.  The task force seeks Disney to:
Disney needs to:
1. Honour contracts now held by Disney and its subsidiaries.
2. Provide royalty payments and statements to all affected authors.
3. Update their licensing page with an FAQ for writers about how to handle missing royalties.
4. Create a clear, easy-to-find contact person or point for affected authors.
5. Cooperate with author organizations that are providing support to authors and agents.
          Franchises affected also include: Spiderman, Predator, Stargate, Indiana Jones and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Apparently, Disney has declined to cooperate with the task force in identifying affected authors, they seem to be reluctant to engage with authors who have a lower profile.  Should you wish to support the campaign then the social media hash-tag is #DisneyMustPay.

Alan Moore signs on with Bloomsbury.  Though having announced his retirement from writing comics Alan Moore – the author of the graphic novels The Ballad of Halo Jones, V for Vendetta and Watchmen – has signed with Bloomsbury for a six figure sum for two projects. One is a fantasy quintet titled Long London, which will launch in 2024. The series will move from the “shell-shocked and unravelled” London of 1949 to “a version of London just beyond our knowledge”, encompassing murder, magic and madness. Bloomsbury said it “promises to be epic and unforgettable, a tour-de-force of magic and history”.  The second is a collection of short stories.

Alastair Reynolds has delivered his next book to Gollancz: it is due out in the latter half of 2022.  Called Eversion becomes his eighteenth novel from Hachette's Orion SF/F imprint Gollancz.  It is the ninth novel in the ten-book deal he has s with Gollancz/Orion/Hachette. It's his nineteenth if you include his Doctor Who title, and his twentieth if allowing for the collaboration, The Medusa Chronicles.
          Eversion is a standalone novella outside of any of his sequences, such as 'Revelation Space'.  It is a first contact story with a "big dumb (or not so dumb) object" but it's a fair bit weirder than that summary might make you think, with what he says is an unusual approach to both theme and narrative viewpoint. It starts on a sailing ship in the at the very beginning of the 19th century when the ship's surgeon appears to be in a 12:01 or Groundhog Day situation…  He added, he wanted 'wanted to try delivering a short, sharp, shock of SF.'  ++++ More Alastair Reynolds at the end of this Books & Publishing section.

George R. R. Martin has been awarded a doctorate from the college of which he is an alumni.  In 1970, Martin earned a degree in journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Illinois, graduating summa cum laude; he went on to complete his Masters in journalism in 1971, also from Medill.
          In his acceptance speech he noted that the US was divided back then as it is today.  Today we have racism as an issue, back then it was called civil rights.  Sexism, back in the 1970s it was women's liberation.  Today's income inequality was decades ago called poverty.
          However, the biggest issue of the 1970s was the Vietnam War.  This had been pitched to the US as necessary for if they did not defeat Viet Cong in Vietnam then they would be fighting them in the US… George R. R. Martin had not questioned matters until he was given a class assignment on the origins of the war.  The deeper he looked into the subject the more uncomfortable he became: this was not the story he had been told.  It was the facts that changed his mind. (He became a conscientious objector.)  Unless you get your facts right, you have no hope of arriving at the truth.  If a journalist gets a fact wrong, even a small, trivial one, then those that pick it up will wonder what else is wrong in the story. Those that fail to pick it up will be mislead: either outcome is unsatisfactory.  Falsehoods are never acceptable in a news story; either intentional or unintentional.
          George said that he is so fearful of where we are today in this world. He said he would never have guessed that the US would become more divided than it was in 1971, yet it is.  Yet, back then readers might not like what they read in the editorials of a newspaper with a particular political leaning, but they trusted the front page news columns.  Those days have gone.  Broadcast news has become politicised.  Opinions, once confined to editorial have migrated into news columns.  The concept of objectivity belongs on the species endangered list.  All of this has eroded the public's faith in journalists.
          George said that in his fiction he has written about dragons, vampires and faster-than-light space travel, but none are as fantastical as the conspiracy theories that many today subscribe.  He never wanted a journalist to tell him what to think – he could think for himself – he just wanted to be informed of the facts.  The internet is the greatest depository of human knowledge but is also the home of the BIG lie and a thousand of little lies, and millions of little mistakes and bumbles.  We have to do better, you cannot build on a foundation of mis-truths.  This is up to the generation graduating today…
          You can check any errors in our summary coverage by watching his 21 minute speech here.  (And, of course, the rise of fake news is one reason we provide the primary research citation reference in our science news coverage on these seasonal news pages.)

Harper Collins sees huge global growth of nearly 17%.  The end of last year's (2020) final quarter saw Harper Collins' global growth up 23% and £75.5 million (US$102m) over the same quarter the previous year.  Since then Harper have published the end of their financial year results (to 30th June 2021) that revealed that full-year revenues increased £229 million (US$319m) to £1.4 billion (US$2bn), from £1.2 billion (US$1.7bn) the previous year: growth of 16.7%.

Orbit UK has a new Editorial Director.  Orbit's Senior Commissioning Editor, Jenni Hill, has been promoted to Editorial Director of Orbit UK. Jenni is behind the success of authors like Ann Leckie, N. K. Jemisin, Tade Thompson, Tasha Suri, C. L. Clark, among others.  Our congratulations.

Bloomsbury to celebrate Harry Potter's 25th anniversary.  2022 sees the 25th anniversary of the first 'Harry Potter' book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J K Rowling.  In January (2022) the paperback edition of the book, illustrated by Jonny Duddle, will be updated with silver foil.  As part of the celebrations, Harry Potter Book Night in February will have 'Magical Journeys' as its theme, and a raft of promotions, partnerships and digital advertising will be deployed around the 2022 World Book Day (23rd April).  February will also see Bloomsbury launch four Hogwarts House Edition Box Sets.  Each set will spotlight one of the Hogwarts' Houses and include all seven books with new covers and illustrations created by artist Levi Pinfold.  In March, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, illustrated by Chris Riddell, will also be getting a new paperback edition with a new cover and exclusive artwork of Harry, Hermione and Ron.
          In June, a commemorative hardback of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone will be published.  The hardback will have the original cover and artwork by Thomas Taylor, but it will also include never-before-seen bonus material.  Only 500 hardback copies of the book were released in 1997; however, it quickly became a best-seller, and since then, over 500 million copies have been sold in over 80 languages.
          Special events will celebrate Harry Potter's birthday on 31st July and extend through September to mark the yearly return to Hogwarts.

J. K. Rowling seriously considered writing Harry Potter under a pseudonym and confirmed she conceived his series on a delayed, crowded rail train.  The Poet Laureate has Gone to his Shed is a BBC Radio 4 series in which the Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, talks to poets and writers in his garden shed.  An episode at the end of July had J. K. Rowling as the guest.  She revealed that she too writes in a shed-like outhouse in her garden. Like Simon's, it too is devoid of internet access so as to rid distraction.  She revealed that she had seriously considered writing Harry Potter under a pseudonym using the name 'Oliver'. She also said that she and her publisher decided to use the gender neutral 'J. K.' abbreviation as boys as well as girls would likely enjoy the Harry potter books.  She confirmed the story that the idea for Harry Potter came to her on a long-delayed and crowded train from Manchester to London.
          Before Potter was published, she wrote in cafes. Alas that option is not open to her now. She has, though, given some cafes some publicity in return for all the time she spent there writing and not eating.
          She said that she always wanted to be a writer ever since she realised that the stories her mother read to her were written by someone.
          With regards to writing, she says that her drafts are all hand written and outlines are in notebooks (which nobody has ever seen). The advantage, she said, of hand writing drafts is that using a word processor sees early versions deleted and once gone, are gone. The problem here is that sometimes she finds dialogue or a scene simply has not worked and that she realised that an earlier version had a better staring point for taking in a slightly different direction. Hand-written records are therefore very valuable. Simon Armitage confirmed that he too writes by hand. He said it was important for a writer to access the archaeology of the writing process.
          As to criticism of – not her work but – her views, being famous means that anything she says will reach many. Rowling said that one of the quotes she has on her writing wall is Kinglsely Amis's "if you are not going to annoy somebody then what is the point of writing." Having said that, she does not go out of her way to annoy snowflakes but she does not want success to make her cowardly.
          Subsequent to the 'Potter' books, J. K. Rowling had been writing crime novels as Robert Galbraith. (The lawyer who outed her was fined £1,000 for breaching privacy rules.) Initially, though the Galbraith books had had critical acclaim, they had no commercial success, that came following the outing.  Simon Armitage asked Rowling as to choose her favourite of two other well-known crime writers: Ruth Randall or P. D. James. Rowling, with difficulty went for P. D. James.
          You can hear the programme here.

Stephen Hawking's collection to be preserved.  The entire contents of Stephen Hawking’s office will be preserved as part of the Science Museum group collection and the Cambridge University Library, with selected highlights going on display at the Science Museum in 2022. Also included is a large collection of photographs, papers and correspondence showing how, from his home in Cambridge, he communicated with popes, US presidents and leading scientists of the age, including Nobel Prize winners Kip Thorne and Roger Penrose as well as his scripts from The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory.  The University of Cambridge hopes to digitise the collection in the Cambridge Digital Library, where Hawking’s work will be featured side by side alongside Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

Stanislaw Lem centenary celebrated in Vienna. The summer saw the Austrian capital celebrate the Polish science-fiction grandmaster Stanislaw Lem, who was born a century ago.  Lem's centenary is being celebrated in Poland as the Year of Lem, and Vienna, the writer's home in the 1980s, joined in over the summer, staging a series of musical events collectively dubbed the Lem Festival.

Amazon to open US department stores.  Amazon already has some physical bookshops in the US; the first being in Seattle in 2015, before creating grocery and gadget shops.  Earlier this year (2021), the online retailer had overtaken Walmart as the biggest seller of clothes and footwear in the US, partly due to the CoVID-19-linked boom in online retail.  The first Amazon department stores are expected to be located in Ohio and California, with retail spaces expected to be around 30,000 square feet. Although this is much smaller than most department stores, which typically occupy around 100,000 square feet, the new stores would still be larger than the company's current physical shop spaces.

Following Amazon inaction, fans get pirated copy of the Hugo-winning Blindsight taken down from the Amazon website.  If you are going to rip off a science fiction book then steal a good one, which is what pirates did to Peter Watts Blindsight.  Peter launched a copyright infringement notice through Amazon's official channels, but Amazon was "being its usual dickish self in terms of acting on it". Nor could he post reviews on the pirated copy's page alerting prospective buyers to the book's fraudulent provenance as he had "not met the minimum eligibility requirements" (i.e. had not given them enough money). So Peter used social media to ask his readers for help. Fans posted reviews alerting prospective buyers and a day later Amazon took the pirated book page down.
          That is they took down the pirated book page down but then accused some legitimate book dealers of piracy… Peter assumes that this is because Amazon's bots don't speak English very well, and when he said "here is the link to the copyrighted material, and over here is the link to the material that infringes upon it" they just mindlessly lumped all links together as "infringing". As he opined, you can't really blame Amazon for not hiring actual people to deal with these issues; why, that might reduce their profit margin by some fraction of a percent… So he then had to try to get these legitimate enterprises unblacklisted.

The European Union has fined Amazon with a record-breaking €746 million (£668 / US$888 million) for abusing its users data protection rights.  Luxembourg's National Commission for Data Protection (Commission nationale pour la protection des donées or CNPD) fined Amazon for alleged violations of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”). As we reported a couple of years ago there has been concern over some large firm's, including Amazon's, data protection practice. Based on press reports and Amazon’s public statements, in this instance the fine appears to relate to Amazon’s use of customer data for targeted advertising purposes. Amazon is appealing (not an adjective normally associated with Amazon). ++++  Related story previously reported elsewhere on this site: New European data protection rules cause a little upset.

Amazon pays a little more tax as sales rise by 50%.  Amazon's total sales in the UK, rose to £20.63 billion (US$28 billion) during 2020 - up by more than 50% from £13.73 billion (US$18.7 billion) in 2019.  Last financial year (2020/1) the firm paid £492 million in direct taxation, up by more than two-thirds compared with the £293 million (US$399m) it paid in the previous year.  Yet Amazon's key UK business reportedly paid just £3.8 million more corporation tax last year than in 2019/20.  ++++ French tax authorities recently settled disputes with Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon over their operations in the country over the last decade.

ITV News has reported that Amazon is destroying millions of items of unsold stock every year, including items that were new and unused.  ITV, undercover filming from inside Amazon's Dunfermline, Scotland, warehouse revealed smart TVs, laptops, drones, hairdryers, headphones, computer drives, books and thousands of – amazingly in the middle of a global pandemic – unused sealed face masks sorted into boxes marked ‘destroy’!  Why is this happening? Well, many vendors choose to house their products in Amazon’s vast warehouses. But the longer the goods remain unsold, the more a company is charged to store them. It is eventually cheaper to dispose of the goods, especially stock from overseas, than to continue storing the stock. Apparently, similar investigations in France and Germany have found evidence of the practice in other Amazon warehouses. (See itv.com/news/2021-06-21/amazon-destroying-millions-of-items-of-unsold-stock.)  ++++ Related stories elsewhere on this site and others include:-
  - Audible – the audiobook sales outlet for Amazon’s company ACX – seems to be ripping off publishers and authors
  - Concerns as to Amazon's staff work conditions and rights
  - Amazon workers launch protests on Prime Day
  - Staff at Amazon's Swansea warehouse 'treated like robots'
  - Amazon warehouse accidents total 440
  - Amazon workers praising conditions are accused of lying
  - Amazon breaks embargo on Atwood's The Testaments
  - Amazon's UK tax paid substantially down despite a great profit increase
  - Amazon must pay its tax, says European Commission
  - Amazon tax wrong says UK Booksellers Association
  - 110,000 submit Amazon tax petition to Downing Street
  - Amazon and Google lambasted by Chair of House of Commons Accounts Committee
  - Amazon UK avoiding substantial tax says report in The Bookseller.

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

SF/F Grandmaster Ray Bradbury loved comics.  We lost Ray nearly a decade ago. Yet for those that knew him his memory of the man (not just the works we all love) continues.  Here, the staff from the Ray Bradbury Experience Museum share behind-the-scenes views of the museum and stories of Bradbury’s love of comics in this 90-minute video Ray Bradbury and Comics.  ++++ Related from the past, a two-and-a-half minute video, made while Ray was alive and which he appreciated as a homage. You can see the Hugo Award short-listed  F*%k Me Ray Bradbury song here.  Also, a reminder of the tributes to Ray on his passing.

Author Andy Weir is interviewed about his writing, science, and things spacey.  Andy Weir is noted for being the author of The Martian.  He is a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of such subjects as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight.  His latest book is Project Hail Mary.  You can see the interview here.

N. K. Jemisin Teaches Fantasy and Science Fiction Writing.  The winner of the Hugo Award for three consecutive years for her 'Broken Earth' trilogy, N. K. Jemisin will now teach prospective writers how to create a world from scratch, develop compelling characters, and get published.  You can see the trailer for her master class here.

Alastair Reynolds on his latest book, Inhibitor Phase, in two YouTube interviews.  First up, a half-hour interview by Forbidden Planet.  Then there's an hour's worth of interview and some brief explorations of his garden work place with an interviewer not knowing the 'Galileo 7'… in an MDC video. This last is rather good so worth making a cup of tea/coffee and settling down to watch it.

 

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

Autumn 2021

Forthcoming SF Books

 

Galaxias by Stephen Baxter, Gollancz, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-473-22886-3.
What would happen to the world if the Sun went out?  By the middle of the twenty-first century, humanity has managed to overcome a series of catastrophic events and maintain some sense of stability. Space exploration has begun again. Science has led the way.  But then one day, the sun is extinguished. Solar panels are useless, and the world begins to freeze. The Earth begins to fall out of its orbit. The end is nigh.  Someone has sent us a sign.

Tomorrow by Chris Beckett, Corvus, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-786-49935-6.
Tomorrow I’m going to begin my novel…  A would-be author has taken time out from life in the city to live in a cabin by a river and write a novel.  And not just any novel. A novel that will avoid all the pitfalls and limitations of other novels, a novel that will include everything.  At first these new surroundings are so idyllic that it’s hard to find the motivation to get started. And then, in all its brutality, the outside world intervenes...  Ranging constantly backwards and forwards in time and space, Tomorrow becomes a restless search for meaning in a precarious and elusive world.

The Shattered Skies by John Birmingham, Ad Astra - Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-789-54595-1.
Wide-screen space opera. Part two of a violently energetic, three-part military SF extravaganza.  Centuries after they were defeated and exiled to Dark Space, the Sturm have returned. Disgusted by the new technologies humankind have come to depend on, they intend to liberate us, by force if necessary.  With their advanced tech rendered null by the Sturm’s attack, humanity face certain annihilation. Their only hope lies with a few brave souls who survived the initial onslaught: the Commander of the Royal Armadalen Navy’s only surviving warship; a soldier sentenced to die; a young royal, forced to flee when her home planet is overrun and her entire family executed; the leader of an outlaw band; and the infamous hero of the first war with the Sturm hundreds of years ago.  If they are to stand any chance of survival, these five heroes must shed their modern technology and become the enemy. Their resistance might be humanity’s only hope.

Star Wars Visions: Ronin by Emma Mieko Candon, Del Rey, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-10195-9.
An original novel inspired by the upcoming Star Wars Visions animated anthology series.

The Key to Fury by Kristin Cast, Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-838-93394-4.
Billed by the publisher as for fans of Vox, The Handmaid's Tale and The Power comes the second book in Kristin Cast's dystopian series.  Safety comes with a price. Change comes with a cost.  The Key Corporation has kept Westfall safe from pandemics for the last fifty years. But that's not all they've done...  After discovering the shocking truth behind the Key Corporation, Elodie and Aiden have managed to escape in search of New Dawn - the stronghold for the Eos resistance movement. There, they can fight for a better world, one where everyone can decide their own futures.  But things aren't always as they seem, and as they navigate the tricky paths between perception and reality, freedom and fighting for survival, the two young rebels must discover who they can trust, even as they learn more about who they really are…

Viral by Robin Cook, Macmillan, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-05937-3.
family's exposure to a rare yet deadly virus puts them at the centre of a terrifying new danger to mankind – and pulls back the curtain on a healthcare system powered by greed and corruption.  Brian Murphy and his family are enjoying a relaxing summer vacation when his wife, Emma, comes down with mild flu-like symptoms. Their leisurely return home to New York City quickly turns into a race to the ER when her condition dramatically deteriorates. At the hospital, she is diagnosed with Eastern Equine Encephalitis, a rare and highly lethal mosquito-borne viral disease caught during one of their evening cookouts. Worse still, Brian and Emma’s young daughter exhibits alarming signs of the same illness.  An already harrowing hospital stay turns even more fraught when Brian receives a staggering hospital bill that his insurer refuses to pay out on, citing dubious clauses in his policy. Forced to choose between the health of his family and bills he can’t afford, and furious at both an indifferent healthcare system and the lack of public awareness about a virus that poses a growing threat, Brian vows to seek justice.  As he uncovers the dark side of a historically ruthless industry that preys on the sick and defenceless, it becomes clear he must take his revenge against those responsible by whatever means necessary.

Leviathan Falls by James S. A. Corey, Orbit, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51039-2.
The final book in the 'Expanse' series of which there is a TV series. Gritty space opera set when Earth has spread out into the Solar system and encountered…

Our Child of Two Worlds by Stephen Cox, Jo Fletcher Books, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-787-47161-0.
In rescuing Cory from those wanting his powers for their own ends, Molly and Gene Myers fell in love with each other, and this remarkable child. Now, with war raging in Vietnam and superpowers threatening annihilation, there is even worse danger approaching from the stars. Cory’s people are their only hope against the terrifying invaders – but their arrival means Cory’s departure… which will break Molly’s heart.

The Silence by Don DeLillo, Picador, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-785-94664-6.
The author completed The Silence just weeks before the devastating advent of CoVID-19. This timely and compelling novel is the story of a different catastrophic event.

Doctor Who: The Essential Terrance Dicks Volume 1 by Terrance Dicks, Target – BBC Books, £25 / Can$53.95, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-785-94735-3.
Terrance Dicks became Script Editor of Doctor Who in 1968, co-writing Patrick Troughton’s classic final serial, 'The War Games', and editing the show throughout the entire Jon Pertwee era to 1974. He wrote many iconic episodes and serials for the show after, including Tom Baker's first episode as the Fourth Doctor, Robot', 'Horror at Fang Rock' in 1977, 'State of Decay' in 1980, and the 20th anniversary special, 'The Five Doctors' in 1983.  This is the first of a two-volume set, and contains: Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth, Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen, Doctor Who and the Wheel in Space, Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion and Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks. This also has a foreword by Frank Cottrell-Boyce.

Doctor Who: The Essential Terrance Dicks Volume 2 by Terrance Dicks, Target – BBC Books, £25, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-785-94735-3.
Volume Two contains, complete and unabridged: Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks, Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars, Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng-Chiang, Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock and Doctor Who and the Five Doctors.  This also has a foreword by Robert Webb.

The Most Important Comic Book on Earth by DK, DK, £15.45 / US$30, trdpbk, UK ISBN 978-0-241-51351-4 / USA ISBN 978-0-744-04282-5.
This graphic collection brings together the best comic strips in the Rewriting Extinction project, a global collaboration for planetary change, bringing together a diverse team of 300 leading environmentalists, artists, authors, actors, filmmakers, musicians, and more to present over 120 stories to save the world.  Whether it's inspirational tales from celebrity names such as Cara Delevingne and Andy Serkis, hilarious webcomics from War and Peas and Ricky Gervais, artworks by leading illustrators David Mack and Tula Lotay, calls to action from activists George Monbiot and Jane Goodall, or powerful stories by Brian Azzarello and Amy Chu, each of the comics in this anthology will support projects and organizations fighting to save the planet and Rewrite Extinction….  See the news item in our science and SF interface section below

Minecraft: The Dragon by Nicky Drayden, Del Rey, £12.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-15031-5.
Take flight with the ender dragon in this official Minecraft novel!  When a desert town is threatened by pillager raids, a young adventurer turns to a newborn dragon to save her home.  Zetta is the best potion-maker in the village of Sienna Dunes. Okay, maybe she's the only potion-maker in the village of Sienna Dunes. And maybe her potions don't exactly work like they're supposed to all the time. But when her village is menaced by a pack of illagers, only Zetta can see that the traditional ways won't keep Sienna Dunes safe anymore.  Zetta journeys to her eccentric aunt's workshop outside town to search for an answer and finds a lot more than she bargained for. A mysterious egg hatches into a scaly creature with purple eyes, black wings, and poisonous breath. It can't possibly be the mythical ender dragon… can it? And if it is, can Zetta raise it to be the saviour her village needs?  The threat of the illagers is growing fast, and Zetta's accidental dragon is growing even faster. With the help of her two best friends and her daydreaming little cousin, Zetta must train the scariest (and scaliest) baby in the Overworld. But when the dragon is fully grown, will it save Sienna Dunes? Or will it spell the village's end?.

Furious Heaven by Kate Elliott, Ad Astra - Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-800-24324-8.
Action, space battles and intrigue abound in the second in a galactic-scale, gender-swapped space opera trilogy inspired by the life of Alexander the Great.  Princess Sun and her formidable mother, Queen-Marshal Eirene, have defeated and driven out an invading fleet of the Phene Empire. Their joint command has proven effective and their enemy appears cowed, though success is not without its price.  Their once-mighty fleets depleted, Sun and Eirene must work together to rebuild and consolidate their victory. But on the eve of a bold attack, unexpected tragedy strikes. Princess Sun will have to step out of her mother's shadow and take charge, or lose the throne for good. But, will she be content with the pragmatic path laid out by her mother? Or will she forge her own legend despite all the forces arrayed against her?  All the while, the Empire remains strong and undeterred. Their rulers are determined to squash the upstart republic once and for all – by any means necessary.

Never by Ken Follett, Macmillan, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-07693-6.
A thriller with an SFnal edge, the prospect of World War III.  Expertly researched and set against a global stage, Never takes you on a high-stakes journey from the heat of the Sahara Desert to the political arenas of North America, East Asia and beyond, and sees a world edging closer to an unprecedented global crisis…

Deep Wheel Orcadia by Harry Josephine Giles, Picador, £10.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-529-06660-9.
Deep Wheel Orcadia is a first: a science-fiction verse novel written in the Orcadian dialect, it is also the first full-length book in the Orkney language in over 50 years.  comes with a delightfully readable and witty English translation that allows us to get up close and intimate with a tongue very unfamiliar to most of us: as a result, we have the sense not only of immersion in a new landscape and community, but of learning a new language as we go.  The rich and large cast of Deep Wheel Orcadia weaves a compelling tale around themes of place and belonging, work and economy, generation and gender politics, love and desire – all with the lightness of touch, fluency and musicality one might expect of one the most naturally talented poets to have emerged from Scotland in recent years. Harry Josephine Giles hails from Orkney, and is already widely known as a fine poet and spellbindingly original performer; Deep Wheel Orcadia, however, unquestionably goes where no poet has gone before…  The author is a writer and performer from Orkney, living in Edinburgh, whose collection Tonguit was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, and The Games for the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award and Saltire Prize for Best Collection.

The Apollo Murders by Chris Hadfield, Quercus, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-40685-6.
The far side of the Moon, 1973. Three astronauts are trapped in a tiny Apollo module, and one of them has murder on the mind…  From astronaut Chris Hadfield comes an exceptional Cold War thriller from the dark heart of the Space Race. As Russian and American crews sprint for a secret bounty hidden away on the Moon’s surface, old rivalries blossom and the political stakes are stretched to breaking point back on Earth. Houston flight controller Kazimieras ‘Kaz’ Zemeckis must do all he can to keep the NASA crew together, while staying one step ahead of his Soviet rivals. But not everyone on board Apollo 18 is quite who they appear to be.

The Black Locomotive by Rian Hughes, Picador, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-07442-0.
A mysterious alien artefact lies below the city of London.  London is built from concrete, steel and the creative urge.  Old technology gives way to the new. Progress is inevitable - but is it more fragile than its inhabitants realise?  A strange anomaly is uncovered in the new top-secret Crossrail extension being built under Buckingham Palace. It is an archaeological puzzle, one that may transform our understanding of history - and the origins of London itself.  And if our modern world falls, we may have to turn to the technology of the past in order to save our future.

XX by Rian Hughes, Picador, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1509-88967-9.
A novel with loads of graphics.  Wrapping stories within stories, Rian Hughes’ XX unleashes the full narrative potential of graphic design. It uses the visual culture of the twentieth century to ask us who we think we are – and where we may be headed next.  At Jodrell Bank a mysterious signal of extraterrestrial origin has been detected. Jack Fenwick, artificial intelligence expert and on the autistic spectrum, thinks he can decode it. But when he and his associates at Hoxton tech startup Intelligencia find a way to step into the alien realm the signal encodes, they discover that it’s already occupied – by ghostly entities that may come from our own past.  Have these ‘DMEn’ (Digital Memetic Entities) been created by persons unknown for such an eventuality? Are they our first line of defence in a coming war, not for territory, but for our minds?  Including transcripts from NASA debriefs, newspaper and magazine articles, fictitious Wikipedia pages, a seventeenth century treatise called Cometographia by Johannis Hevelius, and a spread on the so far undeciphered written language of Easter Island, Rongorongo, from a book called Language Lost: Undeciphered Scripts of the Ancient World. There is no book quite like this.  The battle for your mind has already begun.

AI 2041: Ten visions for our future by Kai-Fu Lee & Chen Qiufan, Ebury, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-0-753-55901-7.
In this ground-breaking blend of imaginative storytelling and scientific forecasting, a pioneering Artificial Intelligence (AI) expert and a leading writer of speculative fiction join forces to answer an imperative question: How will artificial intelligence change our world within twenty years?  AI will be the defining development of the twenty-first century. Within two decades, aspects of daily human life will be unrecognizable. AI will generate unprecedented wealth, revolutionize medicine and education through human-machine symbiosis, and create brand new forms of communication and entertainment. In liberating us from routine work, however, AI will also challenge the organizing principles of our economic and social order. Meanwhile, AI will bring new risks in the form of autonomous weapons and smart technology that inherits human bias. AI is at a tipping point, and people need to wake up both to AI's radiant pathways and its existential perils for life as we know it.  In this provocative, utterly original work of "scientific fiction," Kai-Fu Lee, the former president of Google China and bestselling author of AI Superpowers, joins forces with celebrated novelist Chen Qiufan to imagine our world in 2041 and how it will be shaped by AI. In ten short stories, set twenty years in the future, they introduce readers to an array of 2041 settings: In San Francisco, a new industry, "job reallocation," arises to serve displaced workers;  In Tokyo, a music fan is swept up in an immersive form of celebrity worship;  In Mumbai, a teenage girl rebels when AI gets in the way of romance;  In Seoul, virtual teachers offer orphaned twins new ways to learn and connect;  In Munich, a rogue quantum computer scientist's revenge plot imperils the world.

Elsewhere by Dean Koontz, Harper Collins, £6.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-008-29129-7.
Jeff Coltrane is raising his daughter Amity on his own, ever since his wife Michelle went missing seven years ago. Then one day his friend Ed hands into Jeff’s care a small box containing ‘the key to everything’. Giving in to temptation, he opens the box and activates the key. It offers three options: HOME, SELECT or RETURN. Somewhere out there in the multiverse, Michelle is still alive. But dare Jeff and Amity use the key to track her down?

The Arrest by Jonathan Lethem, Atlantic, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-838-95217-4.
The Arrest isn’t post-apocalypse, or dystopia, or utopia. It’s just what happenswhen much of what we take for granted stops working... Written with unrepentant joy and a dash of dread.

Beyond the Hallowed Sky - Lightspeed Trilogy 1 by Ken MacLeod, Orbit, pbk, £8.99, ISBN 978-0-356-51479-6.
When a brilliant scientist gets a letter from herself about faster-than-light travel, she doesn’t know what to believe. The equations work, but her paper is discredited – and soon the criticism is more than scientific.  Exiled by the establishment, she gets an offer to build her starship from an unlikely source.  But in the heights of Venus and on a planet of another star, a secret is already being uncovered that will shake humanity to its foundations. Award-winning science fiction author Ken MacLeod begins a new space opera trilogy by imagining humankind on the precipice of discovery - the invention of faster-than-light travel unlocks a universe of new possibilities, and new dangers…
          Ken trained as a scientist and elsewhere in this season's (autumn 2021) edition he lets us know the 10 scientists of the 20th century that inspired him.

Radio Life by Derek B. Miller, Jo Fletcher Books, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-40861-4.
A political thriller set in a post-apocalyptic world: will ignorance save us – or doom us for ever? When Lilly was first Chief Engineer at The Commonwealth, nearly fifty years ago, the Central Archive wasn’t yet the known world’s greatest repository of knowledge, its scribes copying every bit of found material and sending them by Archive Runners to hidden locations for safe-keeping.  But times change. Recently, the Keepers have started gathering to the east of Yellow Ridge – thousands upon thousands of them – and every one of them is determined to burn the Central Archive to the ground, no matter the cost. The tribe is possessed by an irrational fear that bringing back the ancient knowledge will destroy the world all over again – and this time, for good. To prevent that, they will do anything.  Fourteen days ago the Keepers chased sixteen year- old Archive Runner Elimisha into a forbidden Gone World Tower and brought the entire thing down on her. Instead of being killed, she found herself in an ancient unmapped bomb shelter, with a cache of food and fresh water, a two-way radio like the one Lilly’s been working on for years…  and something else. Something that calls itself ‘the internet’.  Click on the title link for a standalone review.

The Origins of Science Fiction by Michael Newton, Oxford University Press, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-198-85361-9.
Anthology.  A selection of science-fiction tales from the close of the ‘Romantic’ period to the end of the First World War. It gathers together classic short stories, from Edgar Allan Poe’s playful hoaxes to Gertrude Barrows Bennett’s feminist fantasy. In this way, the book shows the vitality and literary diversity of the field, and also expresses something of the potent appeal of the visionary, the fascination with science, and the allure of an imagined future that characterised this period.

Notes from the Burning Age by Claire North, Orbit, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51475-8.
There was a time when the world burned… Now, many years on, some want to set the fire again. Once, the spirits of the mountain, sea and sky rose against humankind. They punished us for the heresies of the Burning Age – the time when we cared so little for the world that it went up in flames. We learned to fear them, honour them, and in the centuries of peace which followed, the spirits slept. When Ven, a holy man, gets caught up in the political scheming of the populist Brotherhood, he finds himself in the middle of a war. And as the land burns again, the great spirits stir…  Click on the title link for a standalone review.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini, Tor, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-04652-6.
Space opera.  During a routine survey mission on an uncolonised planet, exobiologists Kira Navárez finds an alien relic that thrusts her into the wonders and nightmares of first contact. Epic space battles for the fate of humanity take her to the farthest reaches of the galaxy and, in the process, transform not only her, but the entire course of history.

Inhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-0-575-09072-9.
From the depths of space to the ruins of empire, this is a stealthy space opera…  Fleeing the ‘wolves’ – the xenocidal alien machines known as Inhibitors – Miguel de Ruyter has protected his family and community from attack for forty years, sheltering in the caves of an airless, battered world called Michaelmas. But when a one-way mission, with a destructive mandate, goes wrong, Miguel will find the lone survivor knows far more about him than she’s letting on… This is a return to Revelation Space and the late phase in the sequence.  It has been written as a standalone but there are places and societies that Reynolds' regulars will recognise.

Black Sci-Fi Short Stories edited by Tia Ross, Flame Tree Press, £20 / Can$40 / US$30, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-839-64480-1.
Dystopia, apocalypse, gene-splicing, cloning and colonisation are explored here by new authors and combined with writing of an older tradition (by authors such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin R. Delany, Sutton E. Griggs, Pauline Hopkins and Edward Johnson) whose first-hand experience of slavery and denial created their living dystopia.  With a foreword by A Temi Oh and an introduction by Dr. Sandra M. Grayson, author of Visions of the Third Millennium: Black science fiction novelists write the future (2003). This focuses on an area of science fiction which has not received the attention it deserves. Many of the themes in science fiction reveal the world as it is to others, show us how to improve it, and give voice to the many different expressions of a future for humankind…

Star Wars: The Rising Storm (The High Republic) by Cavan Scott, Del Rey, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-10189-8.
The heroes of the High Republic era return to face a shattered peace and a fearsome foe, following the dramatic events of Light of the Jedi.  In the wake of the Great Hyperspace Disaster and the heroism of the Jedi, the Republic continues to grow, bringing more worlds together under a single unified banner. Under the leadership of Chancellor Lina Soh, the spirit of unity extends throughout the galaxy, with the Jedi and the newly established Starlight Beacon station at the vanguard. In celebration, the chancellor plans The Republic Fair, a showcase of the possibilities and the peace of the expanding Republic-a peace the Jedi hope to foster. Stellan Gios, Bell Zettifar, Elzar Mann, and others join the event as ambassadors of harmony. But as the eyes of the galaxy turn toward the Fair, so too does the fury of the Nihil. Their leader, Marchion Ro, is intent on destroying this unity. His storm descends on the pageantry and celebration, sowing chaos and exacting revenge. As the Jedi struggle to curb the carnage of the rampaging Nihil, they come face-to-face with the true fear their enemy plans to unleash across the galaxy-the kind of fear from which even the Force cannot shield them.

Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson, Harper Collins, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-0-008-40437-6.
Neal Stephenson’s sweeping, prescient new novel transports readers to a near-future world where the greenhouse effect has inexorably resulted in a whirling-dervish troposphere of super-storms, rising sea levels, global flooding, merciless heat waves, and virulent, deadly pandemics. One man has a Big Idea for reversing global warming, a master plan perhaps best described as ‘elemental’. But will it work?

Invisible Sun by Charles Stross, Tor, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-447-24759-3.
Two parallel versions of America are trapped in a cold war. Two versions of America are locked in conflict.  America is caught in a deadly arms race with its rival, the USA. And this parallel world enemy has technology decades ahead of its own. Yet America might just self-combust first, as the Republic's leader has died. And he leaves a crippling power vacuum.  Without the First Man’s support, Minister Miriam Bernstein must face her oldest government adversary as he accuses her of treason. It seems Miriam is trying to resurrect the monarchy. However, the truth is far more complex – and all factions will soon face a disaster of even greater proportions.  In their drive to explore other timelines, hi-tech America has awakened an alien threat. This force destroyed humanity on one version of earth. And if the two superpowers don’t take action, it will do the same to both their timelines.

The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird, Harper Collins, £12.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-0-008-40793-3.
Written in 2018 and acquired by the publisher in February 2020, The End of Men is a prescient novel about the effects of a global pandemic, but goes further to look at what happens when the virus is gender-specific, and 90% of the male population has died.  Reimagining our world through a female lens, the novel explores the impact of the end of men on fertility, governance, politics, technology and more, while the careful and poignant portraits of love and relationships bind the science of this novel into something utterly human, and all too real…  Glasgow, 2025. Dr Amanda Maclean is called to treat a young man with a mild fever.  Within three hours he dies. This is how it begins.  The mysterious illness sweeps through the hospital with deadly speed.  The victims are all men.  Dr Maclean raises the alarm, but the sickness spreads to every corner of the globe. Threatening families. Governments. Countries.

Screams from the Void by Anne Tibbets, Flame Tree Press, £20 / Can$32.95 / US$24.95, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-787-58573-7.
For two years in deep space, the freighter Demeter and a small crew have collected botanical life from other planets. It’s a lesson in patience and hell. Mechanics Ensign Reina is ready to jump ship, if only because her abusive ex is also aboard, as well as her overbearing boss. It’s only after a foreign biological creature sneaks aboard and wreaks havoc on the ship and crew that Reina must find her grit – and maybe create a gadget or two – to survive...that is, if the crew members don’t lose their sanity and turn on each other in the process

Catalyst Gate K. B. Wagers, Orbit, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51225-9.
Intergalactic politics and rogue AI collide in the third and final book in this space opera series.

Judge Dredd: Guatemala by John Wagner, Colin McNeill et al, 2000AD – Rebellion, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-781-08895-1.
Graphic novel. The latest Judge Dredd, full-colour graphic compilation, this time away from Mega City 1. Zarjaz.

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy (Book 3: Lesser Evil) by Timothy Zahn, Del Rey, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-15008-7.
For thousands of years The Chiss Ascendancy has been an island of calm, a centre of power, and a beacon of integrity. Led by the Nine Ruling Families, their leadership stands as a bulwark of stability against the Chaos of the Unknown Regions.  But that stability has been eroded by a cunning foe that winnows away trust and loyalty in equal measure. Bonds of fidelity have given way to lines of division among the families. Despite the efforts of the Expansionary Defense Fleet, the Ascendancy slips closer and closer toward civil war.  The Chiss are no strangers to war. Their mythic status in the Chaos was earned through conflict and terrible deeds, some long buried. Until now. To ensure the Ascendancy's future, Thrawn will delve deep into its past, uncovering the dark secrets surrounding the ascension of the First Ruling Family. But the truth of a family's legacy is only as strong as the legend that supports it. Even if that legend turns out to be a lie.  To secure the salvation of the Ascendancy, is Thrawn willing to sacrifice everything? Including the only home he has ever known?

 

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Autumn 2021

Forthcoming Fantasy Books

 

The Wisdom of Crowds by Joe Abercrombie, Gollancz, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-0-575-09597-7.
Concluding the Age of Madness trilogy.  Some say that to change the world you must first burn it down.  Now that belief will be tested in the crucible of revolution: the Breakers and Burners have seized the levers of power, and all must submit to the wisdom of crowds.  With nothing left to lose, Citizen Brock is determined to become a new hero for the new age, while Citizeness Savine must turn her talents from profit to survival before she can find redemption.

Kingdom of Souls Trilogy (2) – Reaper of Souls by Rena Barron, Harper Collins, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-008-30232-0.
Set in a West African world of magic and legend. Billed by the publisher as perfect for fans of Tomi Adeyemi and Sarah J. Maas.  After years yearning for the gift of magic, Arrah has what she’s always wanted – but it came at too steep a price. Now the last witchdoctor, she’s left to pick up the pieces of a family that betrayed her, a kingdom plunged into chaos, and a love that can never be. While Arrah returns to the tribal lands to search for survivors, Rudjek hunts down the remnants of the demon army – and uncovers a plot that would destroy what’s left of the world. The Demon King wants Arrah. If he can’t be stopped, he will destroy everything, and everyone, standing in his way…

Absynthe by Bradley Beaulieu, Ad Astra - Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-801-10192-9.
Billed by the publisher as Inception meets Metropolis, by way of The Great Gatsby, in a deco-punk tale of unchecked technology, and the unforeseen costs of utopia.  The Great War has been over for years, and a brave new world forged. Technology has delivered the future promised at the turn of the century: automata provide, monorail trains flash between mega-cities, medicine is nothing short of magical.  Liam grew up poor, but now working for one of the richest families in Chicago, he reaps the benefits of his friendship with the family’s son and heir. That’s why he’s at Club Artemis. It’s a palace of art-deco delights and debauchery, filled to bursting with the rich and beautiful – and tonight they’re all drinking one thing. Absynthe. The green liquor rumoured to cause hallucinations, madness, even death.  While the gilded youth sip the viridescent liquid, their brave new world is crumbling beneath its perfect surface. Their absynthe is no mere folly. Some it kills, others it transforms. But in Liam something different has taken place. A veil has lifted and he can see the world without its illusion – and it isn’t the perfect world the government want the people to believe…

A Desert Torn Asunder by Bradley Beaulieu, Gollancz, £18.99, trdpbk, , ISBN 978-1-473-23346-1.
The conclusion to 'The Song of the Shattered Sands' series fills its desert setting with world-building and action.  The plans of the desert gods are coming to fruition. Meryam, the deposed queen of Qaimir, hopes to raise the buried elder god, Ashael.  Sailing for their ancestral home to bring the traitor, Hamid, to justice, Çeda and Emre instead discover the desert tribes have united under Hamid’s banner in a crusade to annihilate Sharakhai.  Ashael means to journey to the land that was denied him an age ago. Çeda must unite the desert tribes, the people of Sharakhai and the city’s invaders for survival.

The Winter Garden by Alexandra Bell, Del Rey, £14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-10082-2.
On the night her mother dies, 8-year-old Beatrice receives an invitation to the mysterious Winter Garden. A place of wonder and magic, filled with all manner of strange and spectacular flora and fauna, the garden is her solace every night for seven days. But when the garden disappears, and no one believes her story, Beatrice is left to wonder if it were truly real.  Eighteen years later, on the eve of her wedding to a man her late father approved of but she does not love, Beatrice makes the decision to throw off the expectations of Victorian English society and search for the garden. But when both she and her closest friend, Rosa, receive invitations to compete to create spectacular pleasure gardens - with the prize being one wish from the last of the Winter Garden's magic - she realises she may be closer to finding it than she ever imagined.  Now all she has to do is win…

Winterlight by Kristen Britain, Gollancz, £16.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-473-22649-4.
Set in the of the Green Rider universe, this follows the adventures of Karigan G’ladheon as she fights dark magic and a looming war.  After being captured by Grandmother and the Second Empire, Karigan G’ladheon is making halting progress towards recovery. Karigan takes on increasingly dangerous missions, haunted by the spectre of her torturer, Nyssa.  Meanwhile, the forces of the Second Empire are moving on Sacoridia and their target guards a crucial mountain pass.  As war nears Sacoridia, Karigan must discover what it means to be a Rider and a hero – and the sacrifices necessary to heal her past.

Somebody’s Voice by Ramsey Campbell, Flame Tree Press, £20 / Can$32.95 / US$24.95, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-787-58608-6.
Alex Grand is a successful crime novelist until his latest book is condemned for appropriating the experience of victims of abuse. In a bid to rescue his reputation he ghost-writes a memoir of abuse on behalf of a survivor, Carl Batchelor. Carl’s account proves to be less than entirely reliable; someone is alive who shouldn’t be.  As Alex investigates the background of Carl’s accusations his grasp of the truth of the book, and of his own involvement, begin to crumble. When he has to testify in a court case brought about by Carl’s memoir, this may be one step too far for his insecure mind…  The latest from the author of The Wise Friend.

Alice Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll, Oxford University Press, £5.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-198-86150-8.
Originally published in 1871, Alice Through the Looking-Glass describes Alice’s further adventures. A masterpiece of carefree nonsense for children which embodies layers of satire, mathematical, linguistic, and philosophical jokes. This new edition focuses soley on Through the Looking-Glass, with an informative introduction by Zoe Jaques.

Play of Shadows by Sebastien de Castell, Jo Fletcher Books, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-787-47146-7.
Damelas Chademantaigne picked a poor night to flee a judicial duel, but he has precious little hope of escaping the wrath of the Vixen, the most feared duellist in Jereste – until he stumbles through the stage door of the magnificent Operato Belleza and inveigles his way into the company of actors, so he can call on an archaic law to provide a temporary respite from his troubles.  But he’s not a very good actor and is quite used to fumbling his only line – until one night a ghostly voice in his head causes Damelas to do far worse: he inadvertently blurts out what might even be a dreadful truth. But could Jereste’s most legendary and beloved hero truly be a traitor and a brutal child murderer?  With only the help of his lusty, boisterous friend Bereto, a beautiful assassin whose target may well be Damelas himself, a mouthy Bardatti and a company of misfit actors who would just as soon see him dead, this failed grandson of two Greatcoats must somehow find within himself the courage to dig up some long-buried truths – before a ruthless band of bravos known as the Iron Orchids come to crown him with iron.

The Queen of the Cicadas by V. Castro, Flame Tree Press, £20 / Can$32.95 / US$24.95, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-787-58603-1.
Belinda Alvarez has returned to Texas for the wedding of her best friend Veronica. The farm is the site of the urban legend, La Reina de Las Chicharras – The Queen of The Cicadas.  In 1950s south Texas a farm worker – Milagros from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, is murdered. Her death is ignored by the town, but not the Aztec goddess of death, Mictecacíhuatl.  The goddess hears the dying cries of Milagros and creates a plan for both to be physically reborn by feeding on vengeance and worship.  Belinda and the new owner of the farmhouse – Hector, find themselves immersed in the legend and realize it is part of their fate as well.

The Daevabad Trilogy (3) – The Empire of Gold by S. A. Chakraborty, Harper Collins, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-008-239527.
Daevabad has fallen. After a brutal conquest stripped the city of its magic, Nahid leader Banu Manizheh and her resurrected commander, Dara, must try to repair their fraying alliance and stabilize a fractious, warring people. As peace grows more elusive and old players return, it seems that in order to remake the world, they may need to fight those they once loved… and take a stand for those they once hurt.

The Untold Story by Genevieve Cogman, Pan, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-00063-4.
Return to the world of dragons, Fae and Librarian spies in this instalment of the 'Invisible Library' series.  After the shocking revelations from her previous adventure, Librarian Spy Irene has her work cut out for her. She’s tasked with a dangerous solo mission to eliminate an old enemy, which must be kept secret at all costs. But more worrying news is on the way. Multiple worlds are disappearing – and the Library may have something to do with it.  Determined to uncover the truth behind the vanished worlds, Irene and her friends must descend into the depths of the Library. And what they find will change everything they know. This may be Irene’s most dangerous assignment of all.

Down By The Water by Elle Connel, Wildfire, $16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-472-27257-7.
Seven friends. A castle in the woods. An uninvited guest…  Seven friends gather at a castle in the Scottish Borders. One last girls’ weekend before Georgina’s wedding. Near the castle, through a path in the woods, is a loch. After a few bottles of Prosecco, the girls head down to the water to take photos. The loch is wild, lonely, and stunningly beautiful. They set their camera to self-timer and take some group shots. Later, looking back at the pictures, they see something impossible.  Behind them, eyes wide, a small, drenched boy emerges from the water.  How did he get there; where is he now; and what does he want?  The girls thought they knew each other’s darkest secrets, but one of them has been hiding something terrible. Consumed by grief, she’s been waiting for the perfect moment to wreak her revenge.

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

A Clockwork River by J. S. Emery, Ad Astra - Head of Zeus, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-800-24992-9.
A sister searches for her missing brother as a new power rises amid the splendour and the squalor of a once great city in this steampunk fantasy epic.  In a once fashionable quarter of a once great city, in the once grand ancestral home of a family once wealthy and well-known, live the last descendants of the city's most distinguished engineer, siblings Samuel and Briony Locke.  Having abandoned his programme in hydraulic engineering, Samuel Locke tends to his vast lock collection, while his sister Briony distracts herself from the prospect of marriage to a rich old man with her alchemical experiments. One night Sam leaves the house carrying five of his most precious locks and doesn’t come back...  As she searches for her brother, Bryony will be drawn into a web of ancestral secrets and imperial intrigues as a ruthless new power arises. If brother and sister are to be reunited, they will need the help of a tight-lipped house spirit, a convict gang, a club of antiques enthusiasts, a tribe of troglodytes, the Ladies Whist Club, the deep state, a travelling theatrical troupe and a lovesick mouse.

The God is Not Willing by Steven Erikson, Transworld, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-787-63286-8.
Many years have passed since three Teblor warriors brought carnage and chaos to the small lakeside settlement of Silver Lake. While the town has recovered, the legacy of that past horror remains, even if the Teblor tribes of the north no longer venture into the southlands.  One of those three, Karsa Orlong, is now deemed to be a god, albeit an indifferent one. In truth, many new cults and religions have emerged across the Malazan world, including those who worship Coltaine, the Black-Winged God, and - popular among the Empire's soldiery - followers of the cult of Iskar Jarak, Guardian of the Dead.  A legion of Malazan marines is on the march towards Silver Lake. responding to intelligence that indicates the tribes beyond the border are stirring. The marines aren't quite sure what they're going to be facing but, while the Malazan military has evolved and these are not the marines of old, one thing hasn't changed: they'll handle whatever comes at them. Or die trying.  Meanwhile, in the high mountains, where dwell the tribes of the Teblor, a new war leader has risen. Scarred by the deeds of Karsa Orlong, he intends to confront his god, even if he has to cut a bloody path through the Malazan Empire to do it. Higher in the mountains, a new threat has emerged, and now the Teblor are running out of time.  The long feared invasion is about to begin. And this time it won't be three simple warriors. This time thousands are poised to flood the lands of the south. And in their way, a single legion of Malazan marines…

Farewell to the Liar by D. K. Fields, Ad Astra - Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-789-54256-1.
The final instalment of 'The Tales of Fenest', an upmarket fantasy crime trilogy from two rising stars in the genre.  There's power in stories. But power can be deadly…  Detective Cora Gorderheim is a detective no longer. Stripped of her badge by the corrupt chief inspector, Cora’s job now is to protect her sister, Ruth, the new Wayward storyteller.  Ruth must tell her tale of the Tear widening if people are to know the truth of what’s happening in the Union of Realms. But Lowlander Chambers Morton wants the Wayward to change their election story, and will stop at nothing to achieve this – including murder.  Keeping Ruth alive in Fenest is hard enough, but when the sisters set sail for West Perlanse the dangers come thick and fast. And slowly Cora realises she must make a terrible choice: her sister's life, or the future of the Union.  D. K. Fields is the pseudonym for the writing partnership of David Towsey and Katherine Stansfield.

The Firemane Saga (2) — Queen of Storms by Raymond E. Feist, Harper Collins, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-007-54136-2.
Hatushaly and his young wife Hava are living a good life, working to reopen the burned out Inn of the Three Stars in the prosperous trading town of Beran’s Hill. But there is a great deal more to this bucolic scene than meets the eye. Both Hatu and Hava were raised on the secret island of Coaltachin, and though they may appear to be no more than a young couple in love, they are in fact assassins on a mission, awaiting instructions from their masters in the Kingdom of Night… Horrific events are approaching Beran’s Hill, bringing death and devastation to the peaceful town as unknown and monstrous forces are unleashed.  This is the second book in the new 'Firemane' series, a follow-up to the epic 'Riftwar Cycle' saga.

Witch Bottle by Tom Fletcher, Jo Fletcher Books, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-848-66263-6.
Daniel likes the easy monotony of being a milkman in the remote northwest – but things are changing: bad things are happening. A local witch is making protective wards – but not everyone's happy to find people meddling with witch-bottles…

The Free Bastards by Jonathan French, Orbit, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51553-3.
The final in the trilogy following The True Bastards.

The Hand of the Sun King by J. T. Greathouse, Gollancz, £13.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-473-23288-4.
My name is Wen Alder. My name is Foolish Cur. I am torn between two legacies: that of my father, whose roots trace back to the right hand of the emperor. That of my mother’s family, who reject the oppressive empire and embrace the resistance. Or I can seek a better path… a magical path, unbound by empire or resistance, which could rock the very foundations of the world. But my search for freedom will entangle me in a war between gods.  Debut.

The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath by Ian Green, Ad Astra - Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-800-24410-8.
An action-packed fantasy set in a world of brutal juntas and ancient animism, where gruesome medieval warfare and strange magic are the tactics used in the name of freedom.  Protect your people. Fight for your family. Destroy your enemies.  The endless rotstorm rages over the ruins of the Ferron Empire. Floré would never let the slavers of the Empire rise again. As a warrior of the Stormguard Commandos, she wrought horrors in the rotstorm to protect her people. She did her duty and left the bloodshed behind.  Floré’s peace is shattered when blazing orbs of light cut through the night sky and descend on her village. Her daughter is abducted and Floré is forced into a chase across a land of twisted monsters and ancient gods. She must pursue the mysterious orbs, whose presence could herald the return of the Empire she spent her entire life fighting.  Now, Floré must take up a role she had sworn to put aside and become the weapon the Stormguard trained her to be, saving not only her daughter, but her people.

Map's Edge: The Tethered Citadel Book 1 by David Hair, Jo Fletcher Books, £10.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-40192-9.
Follow a renegade sorcerer off the edge of the map…  Raythe Vyre has run out of places to hide from the all-conquering Bolgravian Empire – until the sorcerer discovers istariol, the rare mineral that fuels magic. But the empire is not about to let anyone defy it.

World's Edge: The Tethered Citadel Book 2 by David Hair, Jo Fletcher Books, £16.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-529-40205-6.
Renegade sorcerer Raythe Vyre sought riches and redemption, but found the impossible: a vanished civilisation – and possible eternal damnation!  Raythe Vyre’s ragtag refugees from imperial oppression have discovered Rath Argentium, the city of the long-vanished Aldar. They also found the Tangato, the Aldar’s servants, who believed everyone else was killed in the last great war. Although the legendary fortress floating above them is forbidden to all, Raythe will break the taboo – but does the lair of the last Aldar king promise wealth beyond measure – or unending death…?

The Russian Cage by Charlaine Harris, Piatkus, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-349-41809-4.
Billed by the publisher as The Dark Tower meets True Blood and for fans of The Walking Dead, Westworld or True Blood?  A woman fights unimaginable odds to keep her people alive after the disintegration of America… Lizbeth Rose takes on one of her most dangerous missions yet: rescuing her estranged partner, Prince Eli, from the Holy Russian Empire…

The Library of the Dead by T. L. Huchu, Tor, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-529-03947-4.
Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghost talker – and she now speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children – leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honour bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world. She’ll dice with death (not part of her life plan…) as she calls on Zimbabwean magic and Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. For Edinburgh hides a wealth of secrets. And in the process, she discovers an occult library and some unexpected allies. Yet as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?

Storyland: A new mythology of Britain by Amy Jeffs, Riverrun, £30, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-40797-6.
Soaked in mist and old magic, Storyland is a new illustrated mythology of Britain, set in its wildest landscapes.  It begins between the Creation and Noah’s Flood, follows the footsteps of the earliest generation of giants from an age when the children of Cain and the progeny of fallen angels walked the Earth, to the founding of Britain, England, Wales and Scotland, the birth of Christ, the wars between Britons, Saxons and Vikings, and closes with the arrival of the Normans.  These are retellings of medieval tales of legend, landscape and the yearning to belong, inhabited with characters now half-remembered: Brutus, Albina, Scota, Arthur and Bladud among them. Told with narrative flair, embellished in stunning artworks and glossed with a rich and erudite commentary. We visit beautiful, sacred places that include prehistoric monuments like Stonehenge and Wayland’s Smithy, spanning the length of Britain from the archipelago of Orkney to as far south as Cornwall; mountains and lakes such as Snowdon and Loch Etive and rivers including the Ness, the Soar and the story-silted Thames in a vivid, beautiful tale of our land steeped in myth. It illuminates a collective memory that still informs the identity and political ambition associated with these places.  In Storyland, Jeffs re-imagines these myths of homeland, exile and migration, kinship, loyalty, betrayal, love and loss in a landscape brimming with wonder.

The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings: A medieval ghost story by Dan Jones, Head of Zeus, £9.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-801-10129-5.
Horror novelette.  A chilling medieval ghost story, first written by a 15thcentury monk and now retold by bestselling historian Dan Jones. Published in a small-format hardback,.  One winter, in the dark days of King Richard II, a tailor was riding home on the road from Gilling to Ampleforth. It was dank, wet and gloomy; he couldn’t wait to get home and sit in front of a blazing fire.  Then, out of nowhere, the tailor is knocked off his horse by a raven, who then transforms into a hideous dog, its mouth writhing with its own innards. The dog issues the tailor with a warning: he must go to a priest and ask for absolution and return to the road, or else there will be consequences...  First recorded in the early fifteenth century by an unknown monk, 'The Tale of the Tailor' and the 'Three Dead Kings' was transcribed from the Latin by the great medievalist M.R. James in 1922. Building on that tradition, the historian Dan Jones now retells this medieval ghost story in crisp, creepy prose.

The Khorasan Archives (4) – The Bladebone by Ausma Zehanat Khan, Harper Collins, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-008-17175-9.
Armed with the powerful sorcery of the Bloodprint and supported by the Talisman, the oppressive, patriarchal One-Eyed Preacher is on the verge of conquering all Ashfall. Yet all is not lost for Sinnia, Arian and the Citadel of Companions. If these brave warriors can find an ancient magic weapon known as the Bladebone, they can defeat the Preacher and crush his cruel regime…

Empire of The Vampire by Jay Kristoff, Harper Collins, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-0-008-35044-4.
It has been twenty-seven long years since the last sunrise. For nearly three decades, vampires have waged war against humanity; building their eternal empire even as they tear down our own. Now, only a few tiny sparks of light endure in a sea of darkness.  Gabriel de León, half man, half monster and last remaining silversaint – a sworn brother of the holy Silver Order dedicated to defending the realm from the creatures of the night – is all that stands between the world and its end. Now imprisoned by the very monsters he vowed to destroy, the last silversaint is forced to tell his story…

Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn, Gollancz, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-473-23452-9.
Hardback edition. See trade paperback details below.

Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn, Gollancz, £13.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-473-23453-6.
Debut – a high-stakes heist novel set in a gritty world of magic and malice. Billed by the publisher as perfect for fans of Six of Crows.  For six years, a deadly secret has kept Ryia Cautella hiding from the Guildmaster – sovereign ruler of the five kingdoms of Thamorr. But even the most powerful men can be defeated. Not alone, though. Against every instinct she has, Ryia is forced to team up with a crew of miscreants, smugglers and thieves to best him. If she succeeds, she wins her freedom. Though, unfortunately for Ryia, her new allies are nearly as selfish as she is…

The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren, Piatkus, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-349-42689-1.
Jess Davis is a numbers genius, but when it comes to love she’s had to accept there is no magic formula. And when another date ends in disaster, she’s prepared to give up on love for good. But then she hears about GeneticAlly, a buzzy new matchmaking company that claims to find you The One using a DNA equation. Suddenly, love doesn’t seem quite so far out of reach…

The Rose Daughter by Maria Lewis, Piatkus, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-349-42723-2.
She never meant to be a hero. In fact, Dreckly Jones has made a point her whole life to be exactly not that. The daughter of a forbidden union between an earth elemental and a selkie, her rare powers have meant she has always had a target on her back. When she meets a determined group of rebels who desperately need her help, she finds herself wanting to stick her neck out for the first time in a long while. Yet is she ready to be noticed? Is Dreckly willing to use her powers to stand up when it could cost her everything?

The Veiled Throne by Ken Liu, Ad Astra - Head of Zeus, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-784-97329-2.
Ken Liu returns to his fantasy series, drawing on a tradition of great epics from the Aeneid to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.  Princess Théra entrusted the throne to her younger brother in order to journey to Ukyu-Gondé to war with the Lyucu. She has crossed the fabled Wall of Storms with a fleet of advanced warships and ten thousand people. Beset by adversity, Théra and her most trusted companions attempt to overcome every challenge by doing the most interesting thing. But is not letting the past dictate the present always possible or even desirable?  In Dara, the Lyucu leadership as well as the surviving Dandelion Court bristle with rivalries as currents of power surge and ebb and perspectives spin and shift. Here, parents and children, teachers and students, Empress and Pékyu, all nurture the seeds of plans that will take years to bloom. Will tradition yield to new justifications for power?  Everywhere, the spirit of innovation dances like dandelion seeds on the wind, and the commoners, the forgotten, the ignored begin to engineer new solutions for a new age…

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske, Tor, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-08088-9.
Billed by the publishers as an historical romp, perfect for fans of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and The Invisible Library. In a magical Edwardian England, two magicians must unravel a mysterious contract that could have dire consequences for Britain.  Robin Blyth has more than enough bother in his life. He’s struggling to be a good older brother, a responsible employer, and the harried baronet of a seat gutted by his late parents’ excesses. When an administrative mistake sees him named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society, he discovers what’s been operating beneath the unremarkable reality he’s always known.  Now Robin must contend with the beauty and danger of magic, an excruciating deadly curse, and the alarming visions of the future that come with it – not to mention Edwin Courcey, his cold and prickly bureaucratic counterpart, who clearly wishes Robin were anyone and anywhere else.  Robin’s predecessor has disappeared, and the mystery of what happened to him reveals unsettling truths about the very oldest stories they’ve been told about the land they live on and what binds it. Thrown together and facing unexpected dangers, Robin and Edwin discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles – and a secret that more than one person has already died to keep.

A Song of Ice and Fire — Fire and Blood by George R. R. Martin, Harper Collins, £6.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-008-46378-6.
300 Years Before A Game of Thrones (A Targaryen History). The history of the Targaryens comes to life in the first volume of the definitive two-part history of the Targaryens in Westeros. This essential chronicle, as related by a learned maester of the Citadel, features more than 80 all-new black-and-white illustrations by artist Doug Wheatley. Fire and Blood gives readers a whole new appreciation for the dynamic, often bloody and always fascinating history of Westeros.

The Shadow People by Graham Masterton, Ad Astra - Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-800-24336-1.
Jerry Pardoe and Jamila Patel hunt down a ritualistic cult inspired by Neolithic cannibals in the new chilling horror from Graham Masterton.  Detective Sergeant Jamila Patel and Detective Constable Jerry Pardoe have reluctantly acquired a reputation in the Metropolitan Police for their ability to tackle bizarre and apparently supernatural crimes. Now they have been called back together after three bodies are found in a London basement… Bodies which have been taken apart, roasted and eaten.  The markings on the wall suggest this might have been done by some kind of religious cult - and as more people are kidnapped and cannibalised, Patel and Pardoe realise they are dealing with a group of devil-worshippers invoking an ancient god who has not been worshipped since the Neolithic age…

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Jo Fletcher Books, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-529-41561-2.
Welcome to Mexico City, an oasis in a sea of vampires. Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is just trying to survive its heavily policed streets when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood-drinkers, is smart and beautiful – and very dangerous. Domingo is mesmerised. Atl needs to escape the city quickly, to get far away from the rival narco-vampire clan relentlessly pursuing her. Her plan doesn’t include Domingo, but little by little, she finds herself warming to the scrappy young man and his undeniable charm. As the trail of corpses stretches behind her, local cops and crime bosses both start closing in. Vampires, humans, cops and criminals collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Atl and Domingo stand little chance of making it out alive before the city devours them both – but they are determined to try...

Divine Heretic by Jaime Lee Moyer, Jo Fletcher Books, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-787-47925-8.
Jeanne d'Arc hears the voices of saints – but they're lying…  The shepherd’s daughter was five when her voices declared Jeanne the Warrior Maid of Lorraine, fated to free France and crown a king. Resistance has a terrifying price. Not everyone is born a hero – but sometimes there’s no choice.

Fury of a Demon by Brian Naslund, Tor, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-01622-2.
The land is in chaos as a hero heads for war.  Things are looking exceedingly grim for Bershad and Ashlyn. Pinned in the Deepwood by monstrous alchemical creations and a relentless army of mercenaries, they are running out of options and allies.  With every wound, Bershad gets closer to losing his humanity forever. And as the fight continues, the exile-turned-assassin-turned-hero isn’t sure if being human is even something he wants. But he does want to save his land and those he loves…

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik, Del Rey, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-10088-4.
The dark school of magic has always done its best to devour its students, but now that El has reached her final year -- and somehow won herself a handful of allies along the way -- it's suddenly developed a very particular craving…  For her.  As the savagery of the school ramps up, El is determined that she will not give in; not to the mals, not to fate, and especially not to the Scholomance. But as the spectre of graduation looms -- the deadly final ritual that leaves few students alive -- if she and her allies are to make it out, El will need to realise that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules.

Ashen Torment (3) – Nightfall by Den Patrick, Harper Collins, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-008-22824-8.
The sky is filled with dragons: the people are ready to burn the regime to the ground. The seas churn with monsters and the tide is changing: revolution is coming. Steiner has at last realised the part he will play in this fight. Kimi knows now what it is to lead, but must learn to overcome differences if she is to unite and defeat the dragon factions…

Winnie-the-Pooh: Once There Was A Bear [95th Anniversary Prequel] by Jane Riordan, Farshore, £14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-755-50073-4.
In honour of the 95th anniversary of Winnie-the-Pooh, author Jane Riordan has created a wonderful collection of stories, written in the style of A. A. Milne, that take us back to when it all began, when Winnie-the-Pooh was first purchased for baby Christopher Robin. This timeless story collection is a real tribute to the world’s most famous bear and the perfect opportunity for everyone to revisit these favourite friends and find out how they become the larger-than- life characters that we all know and love.  These new stories are decorated with illustrations of Winnie-the-Pooh and friends created by Mark Burgess in the style of E. H. Shepard.

The Pariah by Anthony Ryan, Orbit, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51455-0.
Born into the troubled kingdom of Albermaine, Alwyn Scribe is raised as an outlaw. Quick of wit and deft with a blade, Alwyn is content with the freedom of the woods and the comradeship of his fellow thieves. But an act of betrayal sets him on a new path – one of blood and vengeance, which eventually leads him to a soldier’s life in the king’s army. As dark forces, both human and arcane, gather to oppose Evadine’s rise, Alwyn faces a choice: can he be a warrior, or will he always be an outlaw?

Mile High with a Vampire by Lynsay Sands, Gollancz, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-473-23056-9.
The latest book in the Argeneau sequence, an immortal and her mortal pilot are on the run from hungry vampires Jet Lassiter likes being a pilot for Argeneau Inc. But then his plane goes down in the mountains and four of his passengers are gravely injured. They need blood to heal . . . and Jet is the only source.  Quinn Peters never wanted to be immortal. Once a renowned heart surgeon, now she has to drink blood to survive. One of the few survivors of the plane crash, can Quinn take the mortal pilot to safety before her fellow immortals succumb to blood lust?

Warriors of God by Andrzej Sapkowski, Gollancz, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-473-22617-3.
The second volume of the Hussite trilogy.  Reynevan begins by hiding away in Bohemia but soon leaves for Silesia, where he carries out dangerous, secret missions entrusted to him by the leaders of the Hussite religion. At the same time, he strives to avenge the death of his brother and discover the whereabouts of his beloved. Sapkowski’s deftly written novel delivers gripping action full of numerous twists, seasoned with elements of magic and Sapkowski’s ever-present sense of humour.

The Watchers by A. M. Shine, Ad Astra - Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-801-10212-4.
A unique and claustrophobic horror adventure set in the remote, unknown forests of Galway, where mysterious creatures keep humans as pets for observation, from debut Irish author A. M. Shine.  The letters were sharp and tortured, and reiterated so many times that they scored deep into the plaster: Stay in the light.  This forest isn’t charted on any map. Every car breaks down at its tree line. Mina’s is no different. Left stranded, she is forced into the dark woodland only to find a woman shouting, urging Mina to run to a concrete bunker. As the door slams behind her, the building is besieged by their screams.  Mina finds herself in a room with a wall of glass, and an electric light that activates at nightfall, when the watchers come above ground. Mina joins three survivors who gather at the mirrored pane when darkness falls, so that all of those unseen eyes can watch them. They say there’s no way out, but Mina is determined to escape, despite all their warnings…

The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox, Gollancz, £13.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-473-23075-0.
Who better to solve a murder than a dead detective?  Billed by the publisher as Line of Duty meets Rivers of London – a supernatural crime debut where a detective must solve his own murder. When Detective Inspector Joe Lazarus storms a Lincolnshire farmhouse, he expects to bring down a notorious drug gang; instead, he discovers his own body and a spirit guide called Daisy-May.  She’s there to enlist him to The Dying Squad, a spectral police force who solve crimes their flesh and blood counterparts cannot.  Lazarus reluctantly accepts and returns to the Lincolnshire Badlands in his quest to discover the identity of his killer – before they kill again…

Last Guard by Nalini Singh, Gollancz, £13.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-473-22817-7.
Fantasy romance. In a destabilised world with countless lives at stake, two people defined by their aloneness must stand together to stave off ultimate destruction. This is set in her psy-changeling world.

The Empire's Ruin by Brian Staveley, Tor, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-509-82300-0.
One soldier will bear the hopes of an empire.  The Kettral were the glory and despair of the Annurian Empire – elite soldiers who rode war hawks into battle. Now the Kettral’s numbers have dwindled and the great empire is dying. Its grip is further weakened by the failure of the kenta gates, which granted instantaneous access to its vast lands.  To restore the Kettral, one of its soldiers is given a mission. Gwenna Sharpe must voyage beyond the edge of the known world, to the mythical nesting grounds of the giant war hawks. The journey will take her through a land that warps and poisons all living things. Yet if she succeeds, she could return a champion, rebuild the Kettral to their former numbers – and help save the empire. The gates are also essential to the empire’s survival, and a monk turned con-artist may hold the key to unlocking them.  What they discover will change them and the Annurian Empire forever – if they survive. For deep within the southern reaches of the land, a malevolent force is stirring.

The Stone Knife by Anna Stephens, Harper Collins, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-008-40404-8.
For generations, the forests of Ixachipan have echoed with the clash of weapons, as nation after nation has fallen to the Empire of Songs.  Now, only two free tribes remain. The Empire is not their only enemy. As battle looms, fighters on both sides must decide how far they will go for their beliefs and for the ones they love.

The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart, Orbit, £12.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-356-51499-4.
The sequel to The Bone Shard Daughter.  A tale of magic, revolution and mystery, where a young woman’s sense of identity will make or break an empire…

Threadneedle by Cari Thomas, Harper Collins, £12.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-0-008-40701-8.
Within the boroughs of London, nestled among its streets, hides another city filled with magic. Anna’s Aunt has always warned her of the dangers of magic. Its twists. Its knots. Its deadly consequences. Now Anna counts down the days to the ceremony that will bind her magic forever. Until she meets Effie and Attis. They open her eyes to a London she never knew existed. A shop that sells memories. A secret library where the librarian feeds off words. A club where revellers lose themselves in a haze of spells. But as she is swept deeper into this world, Anna begins to wonder if her Aunt was right all along. Is her magic a gift… or a curse?

The Hood by Lavie Tidhar, Ad Astra - Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-838-93131-5.
The second, (following By Force Alone) in the Anti-Matter of Britain sequence from one of fantasy's most original and iconoclastic voices.  God bless you, England, in this glorious Year of Our Lord, 1145.  Don’t cross the Templars. Everybody knows that. But Will Scarlet, back from the crusades, hopped up on khat and cider, did. Stabbed thrice in the belly but somehow still alive, he’s heading home to Nottingham.  And things are not right in Nottingham.  It's the wood, you see. Sherwood. Ice age ancient, impenetrable, hiding a dark and secret heart. As the ancient sages say, if you go into the woods today, you may not come out tomorrow, and the person who comes out may not be you…  The Hood is Lavie Tidhar’s narcotic remix of an ancient English myth, a tale knotted from legends lost to time, shredded and restitched for each passing century.  A tale for today.

Collector's special
The Lord of the Rings [Deluxe Single-Volume Illustrated Edition] by J. R. R. Tolkien, Harper Collins, £150, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-008-47129-3.
For the first time, a very special edition of the classic masterpiece, with the complete text printed in two colours and illustrated throughout in colour by the author himself.  This comes in a slip-cased deluxe edition, limited to a worldwide first printing of just 5,000 copies, quarterbound in red leather with black motif and gold lettering.

The Lord of the Rings [Single-Volume Illustrated Edition] by J. R. R. Tolkien, Harper Collins, £60, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-008-47128-6.
As above but not leather bound. Grey cover, black and red design with red lettering and some golden coloured script.

The Nature of Middle-Earth by J. R. R. Tolkien, Harper Collins, £25, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-008-38792-1.
The first publication of J.R.R. Tolkien’s final writings on Middle-Earth, perfect for those who want to learn more about his magnificent world.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: With Pearl and Sir Orfeo translated by J. R. R. Tolkien, Harper Collins, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-008-43393-2.
The fully reset text of three medieval English poems, translated by Tolkien for the modern-day reader, plus for the first time the complete text of his lecture on ‘Sir Gawain.

Tales from the Perilous Realm by J. R. R. Tolkien, Harper Collins, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-008-45334-3.
Back in print after many years, this is the definitive collection of Tolkien’s five acclaimed modern classic ‘fairie’ tales in the vein of The Hobbit.

Tolkien Calendar 2022 Harper Collins, £9.99, ISBN 978-0-008-47791-2.
Illustrated by Ted Nasmith, Introduction by Brian Sibley.

The Infernal Riddle of Thomas Peach by Jas Treadwell, Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-34732-6.
A novel of necromancy, secrets, and a world on the brink of the modern age.  It is the year 1785, and a gentleman of modest means has left London for the countryside, to look after his ailing wife. Among his new neighbours, tongues begin to wag. Why does he keep a locked chest under the stairs? Is it really full of forbidden books? And what exactly is the matter with his wife? For the most part, though, the couple live in peace – until they are faced with the prospect of penury – and perhaps worse. The gentleman rides out in search of some means to save himself. But fate has other plans for Thomas Peach.

Night of Demons & Saints by Menna van Praag, Transworld, £14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-787-63168-7.
Three years ago, the sisters Grimm confronted their demon father in that strange other-world called Everwhere. It was a battle that ended in devastating loss, and the scars they carry seem to have slowly pushed the sisters apart…  One sister, still raw with grief, is now a near recluse but determined to use her powers to resurrect what she has lost.  Another has made the journey to learn more of her family, her culture and her roots.  And the third seems to have turned her back on what she possesses and opted to lead a more normal life.  But now the sisters are being drawn together once more. Because when the clock strikes midnight, when October ticks into November, when Autumn wilts into Winter, when All Hallows' Eve becomes All Saints' Day, the sisters Grimm turn twenty-one and reach the zenith of their powers. And on this night, at this time, in this place called Everwhere, anything is possible.

The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig, Del Rey, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-10107-2.
When Nate's father dies, he leaves behind a final gift for his son: his childhood home. Married now, Nate decides to move in with his wife, Maddie, and their son, Oliver, seeking peace from the chaos of the city. But it doesn't take long before things get strange in the night and even stranger by day.  Because Nate was a child being abused by his father, and has never told his family. Because Maddie was a little girl who saw something she shouldn't have. Because something sinister, something hungry, walks in the tunnels and the mountains and the coal mines of this town in rural Pennsylvania... And now, what happened all those years ago is happening again, and this time, it is happening to Oliver. When he meets a strange boy with secrets of his own and a taste for dark magic, he has no idea that what comes next will put his family at the heart of a battle of good versus evil…  Wendig was short-listed for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Blood of the Chosen by Django Wexler, Ad Astra - Head of Zeus, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-788-54322-4.
Standing on opposite sides of a looming civil war, two siblings discover that not even ties of blood will keep them from splitting the world in two in the second instalment in Django Wexler’s epic new fantasy series.  Four hundred years ago, a cataclysmic war cracked the world open and exterminated the Elder races. Amid the ashes, their human inheritor, the Dawn Republic, stands guard over lands littered with eldritch relics and cursed by plaguespawn outbreaks. But a new conflict is looming and brother and sister Maya and Gyre have found themselves on opposite sides.  At the age of five, Maya was taken by the Twilight Order and trained to be a centarch, wielding forbidden arcana to enforce the Dawn Republic’s rule. On that day, her brother, Gyre, swore to destroy the Order that stole his sister... whatever the cost.  Twelve years later, brother and sister are two very different people: she is Burningblade, the Twilight Order’s brightest prodigy; he is Silvereye, thief, bandit, revolutionary.

Empress of Flames by Mimi Yu, Gollancz, £12.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-473-22314-1.
In this dark, sweeping fantasy two princesses must save their home, no matter the cost.  Princess Lu knows that the throne of the Empire of the First Flame rightfully belongs to her. But Lu will need to face down a major obstacle: the current sitting empress, her once beloved younger sister.  Princess Min used to live in Lu’s shadow. But now, bearing ancient magic, Min is determined to use it to forge her own path and a strong future for the empire. But Min’s magic isn’t entirely under her control, and she must tame it before it consumes the entire realm…

 

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Autumn 2021

Forthcoming Non-Fiction SF &
Popular Science Books

 

The Living Planet: A portrait of the Earth by David Attenborough, Harper Collins, £16.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-0-008-47785-1.
Nowhere on our planet is devoid of life. Plants and animals thrive or survive within every extreme of climate and habitat that it offers. Single species, and often whole communities, adapt to make the most of ice cap and tundra, forest and plain, desert, ocean and volcano. In The Living Planet, David Attenborough’s searching eye, unfailing curiosity and infectious enthusiasm explain and illuminate the intricate lives of the these colonies, from the lonely heights of the Himalayas to the wild creatures that have established themselves in the most recent of environments, the city. He also addresses the urgent issues facing our living planet: climate change, pollution and mass extinction of species. This new edition includes, with the help of zoologist Matthew Cobb, the most up-to-date discoveries of ecology and biology, as well as a full-colour 64-page photography section.

The Hydrogen Revolution: A blueprint for the future of clean energy by Marco Alverà, Hodder Studio, £25, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-36027-1.
A comprehensive manifesto on the missing link between us and truly clean energy: hydrogen. Marco Alverà, a pioneering voice in this field, will explore the market-based solutions that hydrogen offers, from introducing it as a hot commodity to exploring how existing infrastructure can be adapted to embrace hydrogen. This book is aimed at everyone: for the policy maker, for the business person, for the curious, and for the activists because if there’s one lesson to take away, it is this: there is hope, for us and our planet...  The author is CEO of Snam, Europe’s largest natural gas pipeline company, and has been making forays into hydrogen fuel.

Beer: A Global Journey through the Past and Present by John W. Arthur, Oxford University Press, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-197-57980-0.
Over the decades beer, specifically real ale, has been a regular dimension to British SF conventions for half a century or more. In the UK science fiction groups regularly meet in the pub (in the US coffee house meets are more common).  In Beer, archaeologist John W. Arthur takes readers on an exciting global journey to explore the origins, development, and recipes of ancient beer. This unique book focuses on past and present non-industrial beers, highlighting their significance in peoples’ lives through four themes: innovating new technologies, ensuring health and well-being, building economic and political statuses, and imbuing life with ritual and religious connections.

Exponential: How to Bridge the Gap Between Technology and Society by Azeem Azhar, Random House Business, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-847-94290-6.
We are entering the Exponential Age. Between faster computers, better software and bigger data, ours is the first era in human history in which technology is constantly accelerating. Azeem Azhar understands this shift better than anyone. Technology, he argues, is developing at an increasing, exponential rate. But human society - from our businesses to our political institutions - can only ever adapt at a slower, incremental pace. The result is an 'exponential gap' - between the power of new technology and humans' ability to keep up. In Exponential, Azhar shows how this exponential gap can explain our society's most pressing problems. The gulf between established businesses and fast-growing digital platforms. The inability of nation states to deal with new forms of cyberwarfare. And the sclerotic response of liberal democracies to fast-moving social problems.

Psychedelic Apes by Alex Boese, Pan, £10.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-509-86052-4.
A collection of the weirdest and wackiest theories from science and history, from parallel universes to atomic dinosaurs…

A Very Nervous Person’s Guide to Horror Movies by Mathias Clasen, Oxford University Press, £14.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-197-53590-5.
The author Mathias Clasen delves into the psychological science of horror movies to bust some of the worst myths about the genre and its supposed harms as he shows that horror movies can, in fact, have beneficial effects on their viewers.

How to Make an Apple Pie from Scratch: In search of the recipe for our universe by Harry Cliff, Picador, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-02619-1.
‘If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.’ Carl Sagan.  We all know what an apple pie is made of: flour and apples and butter. They are made of fats and cholesterol and proteins. They, in turn, are made of molecules of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen and other chemical elements. But what are they made of?  If we are truly to understand something as everyday and ordinary as an apple pie, we will in the end not only need to know what are the constituents of the chemical elements, but what fundamental matter the universe is made of, what banged in the Big Bang, and how matter arose from nothing into the world in which we live.  Inspired by Sagan’s famous line, Harry Cliff begins his exploration of the nature of the universe by burning an apple pie to see what he can learn of its chemical makeup, before setting out in pursuit of answers to these bigger questions and others even more ambitious: Where does matter come from?  Why does the universe exist?  Cliff ventures to the largest underground research facility in the world, deep beneath Italy's Gran Sasso mountains, where scientists look into the heart of the Sun using the most elusive of particles, the ghostly neutrino. He visits CERN in Switzerland to behold the ‘Antimatter Factory’, where this stuff of science fiction is manufactured daily (and we're close to knowing whether it falls up).

Viruses: The invisible enemy (2nd edition) by Dorothy H Crawford, Oxford University Press, £9.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-192-84503-0.
Humans have long faced an invisible enemy in the form of deadly viruses, and the CoVID-19 pandemic shows what devastation they can wreak. As we face the prospect of more such viruses emerging, this major new edition of Dorothy Crawford’s work explains the nature of viruses, how they cause disease, and how modern science is learning to counter them.

The Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft and Magic by Owen Davies, Oxford University Press, £19.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-192-89778-7.
Telling the story from the dawn of writing in the ancient world to the globally successful Harry Potter films, this book explores a wide range of magical beliefs and practices, the rise of the witch trials, and the depiction of the Devil-worshipping witch.

A Supernatural War: Magic, divination, and faith during the First World War by Owen Davies, Oxford University Press, £12.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-198-86265-9.
Owen Davies explores early twentieth-century society in the West, the psychology of the supernatural during wartime, and the extent to which the war cast a spotlight on the widespread continuation of popular belief in magic.

Extinct: Tyrannosaurus rex by Richard Dawkins, Head of Zeus, £15,, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-838-93538-2.
An unique exploration of the end-Cretaceous extinction and its affect on the iconic Tyrannosaurus rex that once populated our planet.  The worst day in Earth’s history: roughly 66 million years ago the End Cretaceous mass extinction began when a whopping asteroid 6km across crashed into Earth. With a shock wave that shook the whole planet and devastating acid rain, 75% of life was destroyed. Like all life forms larger than a fox, the Tyrannosaurus rex was made extinct. Among the largest land predators ever, Tyrannosaurus rex weighed as much as three elephants, was as long as a bus and had the most powerful bite of all the dinosaurs.

Flights of Fancy: The biology and technology of flight by Richard Dawkins, Head of Zeus, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-838-93785-0.
Do you sometimes dream you can fly like a bird? Gliding effortlessly above the treetops, soaring and swooping through the third dimension. Computer games, virtual reality headsets, and some drugs can lift our imagination and fly us through fabled, magical spaces. But it’s not the real thing. No wonder some of the past’s greatest minds, including Leonardo da Vinci’s, have yearned for flying machines and struggled to design them.  Flights of Fancy explores all the different ways of defying gravity, from the mythical Icarus to the sadly extinct bird Argentavis magnificens to the British Airways pilot. But it also means flights of digression into more general ideas and principles that take off from a discussion about flying. Lucidly and elegantly written, and embracing forms of flight as diverse as Leonardo’s helicopter, the Wright Flyer, gannets, boobies, Stukas and the 747.

Fire, Storm & Flood: The violence of climate change by James Dyke, Head of Zeus, £25, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-800-24249-4.
Violent geological events have ravaged the Earth since time began, spanning the vast eons of our planet’s existence. These seismic phenomena have scored their marks in rock strata and been reflected in fossil records for future humanity to excavate and ponder. For most of the preceding 78,000 years, Homo sapiens simply observed natural climate upheaval. One hundred years ago, however, industrialization stunningly changed the rules, so that now most climate change is driven by us.  Fire, Storm and Flood is an unflinching photographic record of the epic effects of a violent climate, from the earliest extinction events to the present, in which we witness climate chaos forced by unnatural global warming. It uses often emotional and moving imagery to drive home the enormity of climatic events, offering a sweeping acknowledgement of our crowded planet’s heartbreaking vulnerability and show-stopping beauty.

Future Morality by David Edmonds, Oxford University Press, £10.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-198-86208-6.
This tackles the ethical challenges posed by scientific and technological advancement in the 21st century.  The world is changing at such speed that it’s hard to know how to think about the new kinds of dilemma that are springing up: Can robots be held responsible for their actions?  Can science predict crime--and prevent it?  Is the future gender-fluid? David Edmonds has put together a philosophical task force to get to grips with challenges like these.

The Compendium of (Not Quite) Everything by Jonn Elledge, Wildfire, £14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-472-27647-6.
A treasure trove of random knowledge. Covering everything from the furthest known galaxies to the murky origins of oyster ice cream, inside you will find a discussion of how one might determine the most average-sized country in the world; details of humanity’s most ridiculous wars; and, at last, the answer to who would win in a fight between Harry Potter and Spider-Man.  Bizarre, brilliant and filled with the unexpected, The Compendium covers the breadth and depth of human experience, weaving its way through words and numbers, science and the arts, the spiritual and the secular. It’s a feast of facts for a hungry mind.  Includes entries on the cosmos, the human planet, questions of measurement, history/politics, the natural world, leisure and many ‘oddities’ that don’t fit elsewhere.

The Smart Neanderthal: Bird catching, cave art, and the cognitive revolution by Clive Finlayson, Oxford University Press, £12.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-198-79752-4.
Evidence that Neanderthals caught birds and used their feathers for decoration, along with recent discoveries of Neanderthal cave art, are challenging our preconceptions of the cognitive gap between Neanderthals and modern humans. Clive Finlayson draws on new evidence to overturn the old image of the Neanderthal, and our relationship with them.

The First Ghosts: Why the belief in ghosts is what makes us human by Irving Finkel, Hodder & Stoughton, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-30326-1.
Ghosts – the spirits of the dead – have walked by our side since time immemorial. In The First Ghosts, author Irving Finkel looks at ghosts from a standpoint quite different to that of most spectral literature. Drawing on evidence from the very earliest pre-human archaeology and the very earliest writing and literature, Finkel suggests that belief in and experience of ghosts emerges as a central component of humanity since its inception.  The author is Assistant Keeper of Ancient Mesopotamian (i.e. Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian) script, languages and cultures Department: Middle East at the British Museum.

The Last Winter: The search for snow and the end of winter by Porter Fox, Wildfire, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-472-27090-0.
As the planet warms due to greenhouse gas emissions, winter as we know it is disappearing. In the last fifty years, the Northern Hemisphere lost a million square miles of spring snowpack and in the US alone, snow cover has been reduced by 15-30%. On average, winter has shrunk by a month in most northern latitudes.  Journalist Porter Fox travels along the edge of the Northern Hemisphere’s snow line to track the scope of this drastic change, and ultimately, predict what the future of winter-or lack thereof-will look like.

A (Very) Short History of Life On Earth: 4.6 billion years in 12 chapters by Henry Gee, Picador, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-06056-0.
For billions of years, Earth was an inhospitably alien place – covered with churning seas, slowly crafting its landscape by way of incessant volcanic eruptions, the atmosphere in a constant state of chemical flux. And yet, despite facing literally every conceivable setback that living organisms could encounter, life has been extinguished and picked itself up to evolve again.  Life has learned and adapted and continued through the billions of years that followed. It has weathered fire and ice. Slimes begat sponges, who through billions of years of complex evolution and adaptation grew a backbone, braved the unknown of pitiless shores, and sought an existence beyond the sea.  From that first foray to the spread of early hominids who later became Homo Sapiens, life has persisted, undaunted….  Henry Gee was the first editor of Nature's 'Futures' SF short stories the best of which are posted in SF² Concatenation.

Vaxxers: The inside story of the Oxford vaccine and the race against the virus by Sarah Gilbert & Catherine Green, Hodder & Stoughton, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-36985-4.
Our future hangs on the success of the Oxford vaccine. This is the story of its creation, its makers and how science will beat the virus, told by the scientists behind the vaccine. This is one of the most epic and pioneering moments in history, comparable to the race to put a man on the moon. Sarah and Cath share the heart-stopping moments in the eye of the storm; they separate fact from fiction; they explain how they made a safe vaccine in record time with the eyes of the world watching; and they give us hope for the future.

Denying to the Grave: Why we ignore the science that will save us (revised and updated edition) by Sara E. Gorman & Jack M. Gorman, Oxford University Press, £22.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-197-54745-8.
Rampant misinformation and science denial are wreaking havoc on our health and safety. Never before has accepting science been more important, and yet more and more people are refusing to believe what scientists have to tell us. Denying to the Grave sheds light on why we often choose to ignore scientific evidence, pointing the way toward a new understanding of how science should be conveyed to the public in order to save lives with existing knowledge and technology.

The Secret Lives of the Elements by Kathryn Harkup, Quercus, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-41274-1.
When we think of the periodic table we picture orderly rows of elements that conform to type and never misbehave.  In this book Dr Harkup reveals that there are personalities, passions, quirks and historical oddities behind those ordered rows, and shows us that the periodic table is a sprawling family tree with its own black sheep, wayward cousins and odd uncles.  The elements in the periodic table, like us, are an extended family – some old, some newborn, some shy and reticent, some exuberant or unreliable. Physical and behavioural traits run through the periodic table, but each member is still an individual with their own unique way of being.  From the explosive and inherently destructive powers of oxygen to the changeable and peacock-like chromium and the role of nitrogen in the too-little-discussed guano wars of the 1850s. Dr Kathryn Harkup tells the stories of 52 misunderstood and overlooked elements with tales of discovery, inspiration and revolution, from the everyday to the extraordinary.

39 Ways to Save the Planet: Real-world solutions to climate change and the people who make them happen by Tom Heap, Ebury, £12.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-785-94697-4.
Accompanying a landmark Radio4 series in partnership with the Royal Geographic Society, an exploration of the work being done round the world - right now - to help stop climate change.  We got ourselves into this. Here's how we can get ourselves out.  We know the problem: the amount of biodiversity loss, the scale of waste and pollution, the amount of greenhouse gas we pump into the air... it's unsustainable. We have to do something.  And we are resourceful, adaptable and smart. We have already devised many ways to reduce climate change - some now proven, others encouraging and craving uptake. Each one is a solution to get behind.  In 39 Ways to Save the Planet, Tom Heap reveals some of the real-world solutions to climate change that are happening around the world, right now. From tiny rice seeds and fossil fuel free steel to grazing elk and carbon-capturing seagrass meadows, each chapter reveals the energy and optimism in those tackling the fundamental problem of our age.  It is a roadmap to global action on climate change, it will encourage you to add your own solutions to the list.

The Fight for Climate after CoVID-19 by Alice C. Hill, Oxford University Press, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-197-54970-4.
The world’s experience with the CoVID-19 pandemic has vividly demonstrated not only the untold cost on human and economic health associated with a failure to prepare, but also the significant power of collective action to alter the spread of the disease.  The Fight for Climate after COVID-19 uses the lessons of 2020 to argue, unequivocally, why the time to scale up resilience to the mounting effects of climate change is now.

Climate, Catastrophe, and Faith: How changes in climate drive religious upheaval by Philip Jenkins, Oxford University Press, £22.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-197-50621-9.
This draws out the complex relationship between religion and climate change. The author asserts that the religious movements and ideas that emerge from climate shocks often last for many decades, and even become a familiar part of the religious landscape, even though their origins in particular moments of crisis may be increasingly consigned to remote memory.

The Dawn of Language: Axes, lies, midwifery and how we came to talk by Sverker Johansson, Maclehose, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-529-41140-9.
Who was “the first speaker” and what was their first message?  Drawing on evidence from many fields, including archaeology, anthropology, neurology and linguistics, Sverker Johansson weaves these disparate threads together to show how our human ancestors evolved into language users. The Dawn of Language provides a survey of how grammar came into being and the differences or similarities between languages spoken around the world, before exploring how language eventually emerged in the very remote human past.  Our intellectual and physiological changes through the process of evolution both have a bearing on our ability to acquire language. But to what extent is the evolution of language dependent on genes, or on environment? How has language evolved further, and how is it changing now, in the process of globalisation? And which aspects of language ensure that robots are not yet intelligent enough to reconstruct how language has evolved?  Johansson’s far-reaching and research-based approach to language is brought to life through dozens of astonishing examples, both human and animal, in a erudite and entertaining volume for anyone who has ever contemplated not just why we speak the way we do, but why we speak at all?

Powers and Thrones: A New History Of The Middle Ages by Dan Jones, Head of Zeus, £25, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-789-54353-7.
The Game of Thrones is in essence an historical saga of political and military power. But what of the real world?  Powers and Thrones is a thousand-year adventure that moves from the ruins of the once-mighty city of Rome, sacked by barbarians in AD 410, to the first contacts between the Old and New Worlds in the sixteenth century. Blending his trademark gripping narrative style with authoritative analysis, Dan Jones shows how, at each stage in this story, successive western powers thrived by attracting – or stealing – the most valuable resources, ideas and people from the rest of the world. It casts new light on iconic locations – Rome, Paris, Venice, Constantinople – and it features some of history's most famous and notorious men and women.  This is a book written about – and for – an age of profound change, and it asks the biggest questions about the West both then and now.  Where did we come from?  What made us?  Where do we go from here?

Move: How Mass Migrations Will Reshape the World – and What It Means for You by Parag Khanna, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-474-62084-0.
Between now and 2050, billions of people will have moved. Leading global strategist Parag Khanna explores how and why that will happen, and what it means for our future.  2020 saw the strictest lockdown in history, freezing international migration. Yet the forces that compel us to uproot are accelerating labour shortages, political upheaval, economic crises, technological disruption and climate change.  We have grown accustomed to several hundred million people relocating to start a new life abroad. But what happens when billions of people are on the move? Where will you live in 2030? Where will your children settle in 2040? What will the map of humanity look like in 2050? Today’s migrations are just one piece of a far grander narrative of the evolution of human civilisation. This is the ultimate story: the future of our geography.

Mustn’t Grumble: The surprising science of everyday ailments by Graham Lawton, Headline Home, £14.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-472-28362-7.
This book concerns the multitude of minor ailments that humans live with every day of the year, and what we can learn about them.  One of the many strange effects of the 2020 SARS-Cov-2/CoVID-19 pandemic has been to make us much more vigilant about the state of our health in general and about minor symptoms in particular. And this, in turn, has made us more conscious that we all feel slightly out of sorts a great deal of the time; maybe even every day.  This book is not about what happens when we’re ill with something sufficiently serious to send us to the doctor or confine us to bed. Instead, it focuses on the multitude of mild, irksome, distracting illnesses, aches and pains that we all put up with constantly.  Covering 120 ailments, Graham explains the latest scientific thinking about everything from blackheads to chilblains; dead legs to haemorrhoids; ear wax to hiccups; and hay fever to heat stroke. It’s a mixture of science and history, with a light touch, and provides practical information about each ailment for the reader.

Until Proven Safe: The history and future of quarantine by Geoff Manaugh & Nicola Twilley, Picador, £25, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-509-86740-0.
Quarantine has shaped our world, yet it remains both feared and misunderstood. It is our most powerful response to uncertainty, but it operates through an assumption of guilt: in quarantine, we are considered infectious until proven safe. An unusually poetic metaphor for moral and mythic ills, quarantine means waiting to see if something hidden inside of us will be revealed.  Until Proven Safe tracks the history and future of quarantine around the globe, chasing the story of emergency isolation through time and space – from the crumbling lazarettos of the Mediterranean to the hallways of the CDC, to the corporate giants hoping to disrupt the widespread quarantine imposed by CoVID-19 before the next pandemic hits through surveillance and algorithmic prediction.  Yet quarantine is more than just a medical tool: Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley drop deep into the Earth to tour a nuclear-waste isolation facility beneath the New Mexican desert, strip down to nothing but protective Tyvek suits to see plants stricken with a disease that threatens the world’s wheat supply, and meet NASA’s Planetary Protection Officer tasked with saving the Earth from extraterrestrial infections.

A Spectre Haunting Europe by China Miéville, Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-786-69203-0.
Non-fiction, it is worth emphasising as China Miéville is best known for his speculative fiction. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Arthur C. Clarke Award (three times), the British Fantasy Award (twice), and the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel (four times).  Now he turns to a non-fiction topic.  In 1848 a strange political tract was published by two emigrés from Germany. Marx and Engels’ apocalyptic vision of an insatiable system that penetrates every corner of the world, reduces every relationship to that of profit, and bursts asunder the old forms of production and of politics, is still a picture of a recognisable world, our world, and the vampiric energy of the system is once again highly contentious.  The Manifesto is a text that shows no sign of fading into antiquarian obscurity. Its ideas animate in different ways the work of writers like Yanis Varoufakis, Adam Tooze, Naomi Klein and the journalist Owen Jones.  China Miéville is not a writer who has been hemmed in by conventional notions of expertise or genre, and this is a strikingly imaginative take on Marx and what his most haunting book has to say to us today.

The Dragon in the West: From ancient myth to modern legend by Daniel Ogden, Oxford University Press, £30, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-198-83018-4.
This is billed as the first serious and substantial account in any language of the evolution of the modern dragon from its ancient forebears.  Daniel Ogden’s detailed exploration begins with the drakõn of Greek myth and the draco of the dragon-loving Romans, and a look at the ancient world’s female dragons. It brings the story forwards though Christian writings, medieval illustrated manuscripts, and the lives of dragon-duelling saints, before concluding with a study of dragons found in the medieval Germanic world, including those of the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf and the Norse sagas.

Planetary Systems: A very short introduction by Raymond T. Pierrehumbert, Oxford University Press, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-198-84112-8.
For many decades, we were only familiar with our own system of planets, the Solar System, orbiting our Sun. Now we know that it is just one among a vast range of planetary systems around distant stars. This book explores the nature and variety of planetary systems, how they are formed, and how they die.

Scenes from Prehistoric Life From the Ice Age to the coming of the Romans by Francis Pryor, Head of Zeus, £35, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-789-54414-5.
A substantive trance of fantasy fiction, from the Arthurian legends to Conan and The Lord of the Rings is set either in the ancient past or in an alternative ancient past with magic. But what of the real ancient past?  In Scenes from Prehistoric Life, the archaeologist Francis Pryor paints a vivid picture of Britain’s prehistory. Whether writing about the early human family who trod the estuarine muds of Happisburgh in Norfolk circa 900,000 BC or the Iron Age denizens of Britain’s first towns, Pryor brings the ancient past to life: revealing the daily routines of our ancient ancestors, and how they coped with both simple practical problems and more existential challenges. We travel from a Britain dominated by forests, moors, heaths and open floodplains to a landscape recognisable to many people living today: one demarcated by roads, fields, farms and villages.  At a time when the relationship between lifestyle and landscape is more fraught than ever before, it is crucial to look to the past to inform our present, and to help us to cope with the challenges of the future…

Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot by Rob Reich, Mehran Sahami & Jeremy M. Weinstein, Hodder & Stoughton, £20 / US$27.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-006-306488-1.
This is an 'urgent' manifesto on the future of technology by three Stanford University professors.  How big tech’s obsession with optimization and efficiency has sacrificed fundamental human values and outlines steps we can take to change course, renew our democracy, and save ourselves.  A a naive optimism about technology’s liberating potential has given way to a dystopian obsession with biased algorithms, surveillance capitalism, and job-displacing robots. Yet too few of us see any alternative to accepting the onward march of technology. We have simply accepted a technological future designed for us by technologists, the venture capitalists who fund them, and the politicians who give them free rein.  It doesn’t need to be this way.

The Future of Food: How to feed the planet without destroying it by Matt Reynolds, Random House Business, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-847-94328-6.
With a global population estimated to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050 we face a huge challenge in feeding everyone on the planet. How is that to be achieved?  Wired journalist Matt Reynolds assesses the limits and drawbacks of current food production and looks at the ways in which they can be tackled. He considers the potential for lab-grown meat to replace inefficient livestock farming. He talks to the scientists hoping to perfect more productive and disease-resistant crops. He explores initiatives to make agriculture less environmentally damaging and to reduce food waste. And he addresses the fundamental question: how do we feed more people while using fewer of the Earth's resources?

The Oracle of the Night: The history and science of dreams by Sidarta Ribeiro, Transworld, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-787-63381-0.
A ground-breaking history of the human mind told by a neuroscientist through our experience of dreams - from the earliest accounts to current scientific findings - and the essential role of dreams in the formation of who we are and the world we have made.  What is a dream? Why do we dream? How do our bodies and minds use dreams?  These questions are the starting point for this unprecedented, astonishing study of the role and significance of dreams, from the beginning of human history. An investigation on the grand scale, encompassing literature, anthropology, religion, and science, it articulates the essential place dreams occupy in human culture, and how they functioned as the catalyst that compelled us to transform our earthly habitat into a human world.  From the earliest cave paintings - where the author finds a key to humankind's first dreams, which contributed to our capacity to perceive past and future - to cutting-edge scientific research, Ribeiro arrives at startling and revolutionary conclusions about the role of dreams in human existence and evolution.  He explores the advances that contemporary neuroscience, biochemistry and psychology have made into the connections between sleep, dreams, and learning, before revealing what dreams have taught us about the neural basis of memory and the transformation of memory in recall. And he makes clear that the earliest insight into dreams as oracular has been confirmed by contemporary research.

Rutherford and Fry’s Complete Guide to Absolutely Everything (Abridged): 30 ways science proves your intuition wrong by Adam Rutherford and Dr Hannah Fry, Transworld, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-787-63263-9.
The presenters of BBC Radio 4's flagship show, The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry, set about explaining why the world is as it is, and celebrate how we know what we know (even while we get so much wrong).  In Rutherford and Fry’s comprehensive guidebook, they tell the complete story of the universe and absolutely everything in it – skipping over some of the boring parts. This is a celebration of the weirdness of the cosmos, the strangeness of humans and the fact that amid all the mess, we can somehow make sense of life.  Our brains have evolved to tell us all sorts of things that feel intuitively right but just aren’t true: the world looks flat, the stars seem fixed in the heavenly firmament, a day is 24 hours… This book is crammed full of tales of how stuff really works. With the power of science, Rutherford and Fry show us how to bypass our monkey brains, taking us on a journey from the origin of time and space, via planets, galaxies, evolution, the dinosaurs, all the way into our minds, and wrestling with some truly head-scratching questions that only science can answer: What is time, and where does it come from? Why are animals the size and shape they are? What is a thought? How horoscopes work? (Spoiler: they don’t, but you think they do.) Does my dog love me? Why nothing is truly round? Do you need your eyes to see?

Meltdown: The Earth without glaciers by Jorge Daniel Taillant, Oxford University Press, £22.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-190-08032-7.
This takes readers deep into the cryosphere and connects the dots between climate change, glacier melt and the impacts that receding glacier ice brings to livability on Earth, to our environments and to our neighbourhoods. e walks us through the little-known realm of the peri-glacial environment, a world where invisible subsurface rock glaciers with solid ice cores that will outlive exposed glaciers in our warming climate, but will they suffice to maintain our cryosphere and climate ecology in balance? In two closing chapters Taillant looks at actions that can help stop climate change and save glaciers and also contrasts how society, politics and our leaders have responded to address the COVID-19 pandemic and yet largely failed to address the even larger looming and escalating crisis of climate change.

The Star Builders: Nuclear Fusion and the Race to Power the Planet by Arthur Turrell, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £14.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-1-474-61159-6.
What is nuclear fusion, and could it really be the answer to the climate emergency? Fusion exists already in the stars that fill our universe with light, but can we harness that power here on earth? This is the question The Star Builders seeks to answer.  Filled with the remarkable stories of the scientists and entrepreneurs who have dedicated their lives to a seemingly impossible dream, The Star Builders is an insight into the future of life on our planet.

Cryptocurrency: How Digital Money Could Transform Finance by Gian Volpicelli, Random House Business, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-847-94327-9.
The past decade has seen the relentless rise of cryptocurrency as an alternative form of digital currency. But what precisely is it and what potential does it have to change the world of money?  Wired Senior Editor, Gian Vopicelli, explains everything you need to know about cryptocurrency. He outlines its development and describes precisely how it operates. He demystifies the jargon it has spawned, from blockchain, Bitcoin and stablecoins to mining, smart contracts and forking. He looks at the political and economic ideologies that drive it. And he addresses the central question: will cryptocurrency have the transformative economic and social impact that its champions claim for it.

Beyond: The astonishing story of the first human to leave our planet and journey into space by Stephen Walker, Harper Collins, £16.99, trdpbk, ISBN 978-0-008-37251-4.
9.07 a.m., April 12, 1961. A top secret rocket site in the USSR. A young Russian sits inside a tiny capsule on top of the Soviet Union’s most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile – originally designed to carry a nuclear warhead – and blasts into the skies. His name is Yuri Gagarin and he is about to make history. Beyond tells the story behind that epic flight on its 60th anniversary.

Liquid History: An Illustrated Guide to London’s Greatest Pubs by John Warland, Transworld, £12.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-787-63489-3.
In case you are wondering what a book about pubs is doing in an SF non-fiction and popular science forthcoming books listing, it is because in Britain most local SF groups meet in pubs and many SF fans enjoy real ale as is testimony to many of the UK national SF conventions (Eastercon) having a real ale bar.  So here we have an illustrated guide to London's best pubs and their extraordinary history, presented by the founder of the world -famous Liquid History Tours.  Pull up a stool for a thirst-quenching trundle through London's liquid history in search of the city's greatest pubs. We pop in for a pint in Shakespeare's local, raise a toast at Jack the Ripper's bar and push open the bloodstained doors of the Bucket of Blood.  Liquid History is a beautifully illustrated love letter to London's finest hostelries, written by the city's leading pub tour guide and host of the celebrated Liquid History Tours. Profiling over 50 timeless boozers, this book tells the story of London's history and the taverns that have hosted, harboured and refreshed its leading characters.  Exploring the watering holes of London's writers and artists, its most notorious criminals and celebrated figures, we move from architectural marvels to secretive backstreet boozers to join the dots for London's ultimate knees-up.

Have You Seen Me? (2021) Alexandra Weis, Vesuvian Books, £18.99 / US$19.95, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-645-48075-4.
Spooky, southern gothic, goings-on at a boarding school.  Lindsey Gillet is missing. And she's not the first girl at Waverly prep to vanish without a trace. To help cope with the tragedy, history teacher, Aubrey LeRoux organises a small pupil investigation team. But when members start turning up dead across campus, Aubrey suspects that there's more going on than anyone's prepared to admit.  The murdered students all have something common with Lindsey.  They shared a secret. And what they uncovered could threaten the future.  At Waverly Prep, someone wants to keep the past buried along with anyone who gets in their way.

The Book of Kells by Victoria Whitworth, Head of Zeus, £25, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-788-54180-0.
The Book of Kells is a mystery.  It is distinct from all copies of the gospels from the early Middle Ages, not only in the quality and amount of its decoration but also in the peculiarities of the ordering of its contents, the oddness of its apparatus, the appearance of the script, the interplay of text and ornament, and the erratic forms of its Latin. Scholars cannot agree on the number of scribes and artists involved; establish the purpose of the book; or decide whether its oddities are the result of incompetence or carelessness, and how those oddities relate to the minutely careful and deeply meaningful art.

The Maths of Life and Death by Kit Yates, Quercus, £8.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-787-47925-8.
Yates shows how mathematics is often a matter of life and death. Exploring life-changing events in which mathematics has played a critical role, he arms us with simple rules and tools that can help us make better decisions in our lives.

Life's Edge: The search for what it means to be alive by Carl Zimmer, Picador, £20, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-529-06941-9.
what is life? What does it mean to be alive?  We all assume we know what life is, but the more scientists learn about the living world – from proto-cells to brains, from zygotes to pandemic viruses – the harder they find it is to locate the edges of life, where it begins and ends. What exactly does it mean to be alive? Is a virus alive? Is a fetus?  Carl Zimmer investigates one of the biggest questions of all: What is life? The answer seems obvious until you try to seriously answer it. Is the apple sitting on your kitchen counter alive, or is only the apple tree it came from deserving of the word? If we can’t answer that question here on earth, how will we know when and if we discover alien life on other worlds? The question hangs over some of society’s most charged conflicts – whether a fertilized egg is a living person, for example, and when we ought to declare a person legally dead.  Charting the obsession with Dr Frankenstein’s monster and how Coleridge came to believe the whole universe was alive, Zimmer leads us all the way into the labs and minds of researchers working on engineering life from the ground up.

 

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Save leading British learned scientific societies urges Sir David Attenborough FIBiol, FGS, FLS, FRAS.  Burlington House, located near Piccadilly in central London's west end, is the home to the Geological Society, the Linnean Society, the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry.  They were given a peppercorn rent from the government in 1874.  However, recently the government has been increasing the rent the past decade and wants to have a new deal for the future that will see an 8% rise per annum for the next five years at a time when the past five years has seen inflation well below 2%.  The Burlington learned societies feel that with this deal they will simply have to move out of their historic home and that means moving away from central London with its direct transport links to the capital's main railway stations and airports.  They will also lose the synergistic benefits of being near each other, close to the central London universities and research institutes – synergies enjoyed for 150 years. Naturalist Sir David Attenborough is a fellow of the Geological Society and Linnean (which examines the diversity and relatedness of species) has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson pointing out that these learned societies are learned charities and are having to divert income away from scholarly practices to pay the increasing rent. If they leave central London "this will severely damage the contribution that they are able to make to both the public's understanding and the planet's welfare". A government spokesperson said that it had made a "generous offer" which "unfortunately was rejected".

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published its sixth Assessment Report's (AR6) science working group (WGI) outcome.  Its analogous to Business-as-Usual (current trends of increased fossil fuel use through to the latter two decades of the century) warming forecast give a warming of nearly 4.8°C above late 18th century temperatures for the end of the century. This is almost the same as the fifth Assessment Report (AR5).  What is different is the language.  The AR6 science working group says: "It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land."  This compares with AR5 and: "Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850."
          AR6 also says: "Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe," and "global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered. Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades."  This compares with AR5: "Human influence on the climate system is clear" as well as "global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900" and "continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions."
          In short, it is a similar message but phrased more strongly.  For example "will" instead of "is likely".
          AR6 also warns of even more intense climate extreme events that will occur more frequently.  It cautions that many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia.  It states that with further global warming, every region of the world is projected to increasingly experience concurrent and multiple changes in climatic impacts.  Finally, it expounds the need to reach net zero carbon emissions.  ++++ See also the next eight following news items.

The summer's North American Pacific Northwest region heatwave has been attributed to climate change.  has seen with records broken in multiple cities by several degrees Celsius with peak daily temperatures far above 40ºC including setting a new all-time Canadian temperature record in the village of Lytton, at which a temperature of 49.6 ºC was measured on 29th June (2021) and where wildfires spread on the following day. Given that the observed temperatures were so far outside historical experiences and in a region with only about 50% household air conditioning penetration, there was excess mortality over what would normally be expected.
          With such major and record-breaking heatwaves, the question asked is whether or not they are part of weather’s natural variability, or were part of climate change. In the case of this event the international collaboration of climate scientists, called the World Weather Attribution, who specialise in attributing events to natural variation, climate change or a combination, provided an assessment. Based on the historic record and climate modelling they concluded that the event was virtually impossible without human-caused climate change. The observed temperatures were so extreme that they lie far outside the range of historically observed temperatures. This made it hard to quantify with confidence how rare the event was. In the most realistic statistical analysis the event they estimated to be about a 1 in 1,000 year event in today’s climate. (See Philip, S. Y., Kew, S. F., van Oldenborgh, G. J. et al. (2021) Rapid attribution analysis of the extraordinary heatwave on the Pacific Coast of the US and Canada June 2021. World Weather Attribution. http://www.worldweatherattribution.org/wp-content/uploads/NW-US-extreme-heat-2021-scientific-report-WWA.pdf)

There is an increasing probability of record-shattering mega-heatwaves.  Society has often been surprised by the magnitude by which recent climate extremes exceeded previous observed records, such as during the extreme rainfall of Hurricane Harvey, the 2020 warm anomaly over Siberia or the 2003 European and the 2010 Russian heatwaves that caused tens of thousands of heat-related fatalities, let alone this summer's (2021) NW American heatwave.  Climate researchers have used the Community Earth System Model version 1.2 computer climate model and then compared the results with other major climate models.  They found that week-long heat extremes that break records by three or more standard deviations are two to seven times more probable in 2021–2050 and three to 21 times more probable in 2051–2080, compared to the last three decades. In 2051–2080, such events are estimated to occur about every 6–37 years somewhere in the northern mid-latitudes. For comparison, this summer's NW American heat-wave has been described as a one in a thousand year event. (See Fischer, E. M., Sippel, S. & Knutti, R. (2021) Increasing probability of record-shattering climate extremes. Nature Climate Change, doi.org/10.1038/s41558-021-01092-9.)

Iran is heading towards a long-term water crisis an analysis reveals, and this will affect its feeding itself.  Groundwater provides about 60% of the total water supply in Iran, where agriculture is responsible for more than 90% of water withdrawal. Iranian environmental scientists together with others from around the world have looked at 12,230 piezometers, 14,856 observation wells, and groundwater extraction points in Iran between 2002 and 2015. Iran’s non-renewable groundwater withdrawal was about 66 million cubic metres in 1965, which cumulatively grew – more than doubling – to approximately 133 × 103 million cubic metres in 2019. Groundwater decline due to extensive overexploitation of non-renewable groundwater and rising salinity levels are documented in almost all sub-basins, pointing to dire, worsening water security risks across the country. Already, the water available for irrigation in Iran has been in slow but steady decline since 2009. (See Noori, R. et al (2021) Anthropogenic depletion of Iran’s aquifers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 118 (25), e2024221118.)

How much will the Earth warm with additional carbon dioxide?  You may think that this question had long been sorted by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC). Well, not quite.  It is a complex question that in part depends on computer models and part on real-life data.  But, in essence, it all boils down to climate sensitivity. Here, climate sensitivity is a measure of how much the Earth's climate will cool or warm after a change in the climate system, for instance, how much it will warm for doubling in carbon dioxide concentrations.  The IPCC's 5th Assessment (AR5) in 2013 gives a climate sensitivity (ECS) range of between 1.5°C and 4.5°C, and this range in turn leads to a key part of the uncertainty in the IPCC's scenario warming forecasts.
          Within the broader climate science community outside of the IPPC, there are a range of climate sensitivity estimates. We reported on a high estimate a few years ago. That research estimated it to be 9°C with a high-low range of 7 - 13°C which is outside of the IPCC AR5 (2013) range. If this were so then with the emissions we have already made then we would easily exceed the Paris Accord goal of at the worst keeping warming below "°C and preferably below 1.5°C. (Snyder (2016) Evolution of global temperature over the past two million years. Nature, vol. 538, p226-8.)  More recently, an elegant analysis of real life present climate variation that fed into computer model variation gave a climate sensitivity estimate of 2.2 - 3.4°C, with a central estimate of 2.8°C which is within the latest (AR6, 2021) IPCC range. ( Cox, P. M., Huntingford, C. & Wlliamson, M. S. (2018) Emergent constraint on equilibrium climate sensitivity from global temperature variability. Nature, vol. 553, p319-322.).
          Even more recently, last year, an analysis of over 1,800 geochemical climate signature from sea bed samples dating back to the last glacial maximum (the peak of the last ice age when carbon dioxide levels were lower) and using that to inform climate model runs gave a climate sensitivity estimate of 3.4°C; (high-low 2.4 – 4.5°C;).  This is higher than the IPCC median estimate but within the IPCC high-low estimates of 1.5°C and 4.5°C. (Jessica E. Tierney< J. E., Zhu, J., King, J. et al (2020) Glacial cooling and climate sensitivity revisited. Nature, vol. 584, p569-573.).  If a sensitivity 3.4°C; was true then the IPCC need only increase its median scenario warming forecasts a little, but not so much as to exceed its current high-estimates.
          The afore research was based on marine samples. The latest development this summer is research that looks at a new land-based past climate proxies from the last glacial maximum (LGM) when carbon dioxide levels were lower.  This new proxy is based on the fact that noble gases (inert elements neon, argon, krypton and xenon) capability of dissolving in water is temperature dependent. They measured these in 30 natural underground water reservoirs (aquifers) that filled up during that last glacial maximum.  They concluded that sub-tropical and tropical latitudes were back then some 5.8°C cooler. Adding in already known polar ice core data, this low-latitude and land based data gives a climate sensitivity close to the above marine study of 3.4°C;. (Seltzer, A. M., Ng, J., Aeschbach, W. (2021) Widespread six degree Celsius cooling on land during the Last Glacial Maximum. Nature. vol. 593, p228-232.).
          Though the methodology used for this study was developed two decades ago, it is rarely used. Indeed, this is the first application to ancient aquifers from the LGM, and so and so others will need to replicate the work and consider possible flaws. However, if climate sensitivity is near 3.4°C; then the IPCC will have to increase its mid-estimates for its various warming scenarios. Alas its sixth Assessment science report (Working Group I) was being finalised when this research was published and so was not included. Though even if it was it, at this stage it could only be as a caveat subject to replication and verification.

The United Kingdom's climate change has been charted by the Royal Meteorological Society.  Recent decades have been warmer, wetter and sunnier than the 20th century. Year 2020 was third warmest, fifth wettest and eight sunniest on record for the UK. No other year has fallen in the top-10 for all three variables for the UK. The UK has warmed at a broadly consistent but slightly higher rate than the observed change in global mean temperature. 2020 was the third warmest year for the UK in a series from 1884, and also third warmest for Central England in a series from 1659. All the top 10 warmest years for the UK in the series from 1884 have occurred since 2002. With regards the effect on plants, first leaf dates in 2020 were particularly early (on average 10.4 days earlier than the 1999–2019 baseline) for a range of common shrub/tree species, associated with mild conditions through January and February and some notable warmth and sunshine in April. Overall, the 2020 leaf-on season was extended by 6.2 days on average compared with the 1999–2019 baseline.  (Kendon, M. et al (2021) State of the UK Climate 2020. International Journal of Climatology, vol. 41 (S2), p1-76.)

The worst carbon dioxide polluters from electricity power stations contribute disproportionately to greenhouse gas emissions.  Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder, USA, have looked at 29,078 fossil fuel power stations from 221 countries. They found that the top 5% percent of polluters were all cola-powered stations and they contributed 73% of all electricity-based carbon dioxide emissions. If the electricity from these stations were generated from natural gas instead then global electricity-based carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by over 29%. If the electricity instead was generated by renewables then electricity-based carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by over 49%. (See Grant, D. et al (2021) Reducing CO2 emissions by targeting the world’s hyper-polluting power plants. Environmental Research Letters, https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ac13f1.)

Ozone reduction treaty is curbing global warming and could save 0.5 – 1.0°C by the end of the century (2100).  Synthetic chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were first identified as a risk to the ozone layer in 1974 so letting more ultra-violet (UV) reach the ground.  In 1987 (coincidentally the year in which SF² Concatenation was founded) the Montreal Protocol was signed to limit CFC production.  Had it not been implemented CFC use would have continued and likely grown. Had this happened plant growth would have reduced so less carbion dioxide would have been absorbed: increased UV damages plants. CFCs are also powerful greenhouses.  British researchers have now looked at increased UV's global impact on plant growth that would occur has the Montreal Protocol not been implemented. They conlude that the Earth could warm by and additional 0.5 – 1.0°C by the end of the century (2100). This would be in addition to the 4.8°C above late 18th century temperatures for the end of the century the latest IPCC report predicts for 2100.  The researchers note that their work is confined to estimating the reduced carbon uptake from increased UV damage to plants: it does not take into account other factors such as increased carbon dioxide from the action of increased UV on organic matter or the increased decomposition of methane to carbon dioxide.  (See  Young, P. J. et al (2021) The Montreal Protocol protects the terrestrial carbon sink. Nature, vol. 596, p384-8.)

Plastic: Factual breakdown. Only in recent years has the problem of global plastic pollution become a mainstream issue. A factual breakdown is arguably warranted… and sobering:
Global production
  - Began just before 1960
  - 1980 it was just under 1 billion tonnes
  - 1990 it was just under 2 billion tonnes
  - 2000 it was just under 4 billion tonnes
  - 2010 it was just over 6 billion tonnes
  - 2020 it was just over 8 billion tonnes
Destination following use
  - Recycled 6%
  - Incinerated 8.5%
  - Still in use 30.1%
  - Discarded 55.4%
Of which 3% enters the seas
Use
  - Electrical 4%
  - Building & construction 4%
  - Transportation 6%
  - Consumer products 12%
  - Other 13%
  - Textiles 14%
  - Packaging 47%
(See Smith, J. & and Vignieri, S. (2021) A devil's bargain. Science, vol. 373, p33-4.)

A quantum entanglement transfer from solid to photon and back has been developed, as has a quantum booster. Both represent overcoming a major hurdle to enabling the wide-spread use of quantum technology has been overcome.  Fast developing quantum simulation and computation centres, as well as secure communication systems, will soon require a reliable network for the distribution of entanglement.  Entanglement has been successfully achieved in solid state systems which is ideal for computing. Entanglement has also been achieved between photons which is ideal for telecommunication. A small team in Spain led by Dario Lago-Rivera and Samuele Grandi has now successfully transferred a solid-state entangled state to a photon which was sent down an optic fibre where it entangled with another photon to continue its journey ending up transferring the entangled state to another solid state system.  This demonstrates the principle for a functional quantum repeater link that could be realised by creating two chains of entangled memories, hence long-distance ground-based (optical fibres see signal degradation compared to lasers to orbit) quantum communication between solid-state quantum computers. (See Lago-Rivera, D. et al (2021) Telecom-heralded entanglement between multimode solid-state quantum memories. Nature, vol.594, p37-40.)  Meanwhile, independently a research team in China has developed a quantum repeater that overcomes the approximately 100 kilometre limit of conveying an entangled photon along an optical fibre. This paves the way for high-speed quantum networks. (See  Liu, X. et al. (2021) Heralded entanglement distribution between two absorptive quantum memories. Nature, vol. 594, p41-45.)

Particles brought down to average energies that are close to the lowest energy state. Bounce a photon off a particle to measure its energy and some of the photon's energy is transferred to the particle – this is a Heisenberg thing. Silica particles about the size of a virus (100–200 nanometres in diameter) and containing billions of atoms, have been brought almost to their lowest energy state by two independent teams of researchers. Silica particles are charged, which means that instead of using an optical trap controlling their position with photons, an electromagnetic field was used by one of the teams. The particle's energy can then be measure with other low-energy photons. The other team used the rhythmic swaying of the particle to predict where it was and cooled their experiment to 60° kelvin.  This precision control has practical applications that could increase the sensitivity of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) that detects gravity waves through light path differences over 4 km that are less than the width of an atom. It may also have applications in quantum gravity experiments should quantum gravity theory be correct. ( See the review piece Monteiro, T. S. (2021) Feedback offers quantum control of nanoparticles. Nature, vol. 595, p357-8  and the primary research papers Magrini, L. et al. (2021) Nature, vol. 595, p373–377  and  Tebbenjohanns, F., Mattana, M. L., Rossi, M., Frimmer, M. & Novotny, L. (2021) Nature, vol. 595, p378–382.)

An exotic four-quark particle has been detected. The two most common quarks in nature are called ‘up’ and ‘down’; their possible combinations include neutrons (one up and two downs) and protons (two ups and one down).  Protons are the only hadrons known to be stable in isolation — neutrons are stable only when they are incorporated into atomic nuclei. All other hadrons form only fleetingly, from the collision of other particles, and decay in a fraction of a second. The large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva (famous for detecting the Higgs Boson that garnered Peter Higgs a Nobel) creates new kinds of hadron by causing high-energy collisions between protons.  Normally hadrons have two or three quarks, a few that have four – tetraquarks – have been found before but these are thought to have been composed of two quark couplets.  However, this one could be a tightly bound quadruplet. If it is it will be a first.  In nature, tetraquarks probably existed only during the first instants of the Universe, when all matter was compressed in an extremely tight space. But creating them artificially helps physicists to test theories of how particles interact through the strong nuclear force. And this has implications for what is known as the 'standard model'.  (See Castelvecchi, D. (2021) Exotic four-quark particle spotted at Large Hadron Collider. Nature, vol. 596, p330.)

Social inequality can be detected by satellite. Social inequality – how income is distributed through a population – is an indicator of a number of things including longevity and crime rate. Measuring it is therefore important for economists and geographers among others.  Research now shows that it can be measured using satellite observations combined with population density data.
          Usman Mirza and Marten Scheffer of the Netherlands, led a small team that used data from the United States Air Force Defense Meteorological Satellite Program to look at night time artificial illumination. Clearly, heavily populated areas have more artificial light at night time. However, they also hypothesised that more wealthy areas would have more night-time illumination than poorer ones. They could distinguish between rich cities and poor ones by the light emitted compared to that calculated from their respective population sizes: if it was less than predicted, its citizens would be poorer.
          They compared their results with known inequality (using Gini coefficients) both globally (by nation) and locally (by USA county). While the results were not perfect, there was a broad agreement using the satellite data to determine income equality and socio-political data.  Night-time illumination combined with population density information can therefore provide a rough indication of social equality both across large scales and smaller, more local ones.  (Mirza, M. U., et al (2021) Global inequality remotely sensed. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., vol. 118, (18) e1919913118.)

A pattern to global marine litter pollution has been revealed.  Litter pollution in the oceans is a major problem and plastic in particular. As far back as 2010 the total plastic waste generated was estimated to equal the global production of plastic materials, with around 8 million metric tons of plastic waste entering the ocean from land-based sources!  Now, an international team has analysed and standardised various data sets on litter pollution. 12 million litter items retrieved from 7 major environments globally were classified according to their material composition, type of product and probable origin. It reveals a distinct pattern.
          Nearshore waters saw around 90% of the litter waste have a food, drink and takeaway source with the shoreline seeing around 80% of its waste from this source. Horrifyingly, this proportion is also found on the deep sea floor!  Conversely, in the open seas it is fishing ropes and nets that take up around 80% of the litter waste found. Open waters saw over 95% of the litter being plastic as were near-shore waters. Shorelines see about 80% of its litter being plastic. The environments with the least plastic in its litter are river beds where only around half the litter is plastic.
          There also seems to be some sorting of litter as it moves, or not, between environment types: from river to near-shore and shore to open waters and the deep sea bed.
          Overall, eight out of ten macro-litter items were made of plastic. Single-use bags, bottles, food containers and wrappers are the four most pervasive macro-litter items (44% of the total items across environments).           The combination of irresponsible production of single-use plastic goods, inappropriate behaviour by end users and flaws in recovery systems has resulted in disproportionate leakage of plastic items to nature. The researchers also recommend encouraging consumer responsibility on essential take-out products, such as through a deposit–refund levy. Such insights into how plastic enters and moves in the marine environment are crucial to making progress towards a circular economy and the sustainable production and consumption of plastics and other materials contributing to marine litter. (See Morales-Caselles et al. (2021) An inshore–offshore sorting system revealed from global classification of ocean litter. Nature Sustainability, vol. 4, p484–493.)

 

CoVID-19 is being used as an excuse for universities cutting academic jobs.  The CoVID-19 pandemic has reduced universities receiving fees from oversees students (which are typically greater than for domestic students and industrial funding.  In the UK a survey last year (2020) of over a thousand academics feared for job cuts, extra work without remuneration, and university administrations that do not consult.  However these concerns precede CoVID-19. Another survey of nearly 6,000 academics carried out back in 2017 found that almost nine out of ten academic faculty and staff members did not have faith in their institution’s senior-management team citing a lack of accountability, poor leadership and an over-reliance on performance metrics, among other issues.  The fear is that universities are using CoVID as a cover for financial streamlining and managements' long-time desire for greater control over academics.  Similar stories are emerging from the US and Australia. (Nature, vol. 596, p307-8.)

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

The new crisis in cosmology!  There is good news and bad news. Bad news first: two years ago PBS Space-Time reported on the Crisis in Cosmology. Since then, it’s only gotten worse. And actually, the good news is also that the crisis in cosmology has actually gotten worse, which means physicists may be onto something!  The most exciting thing for any scientist is when something they thought they knew turns out to be wrong.  So it’s no wonder that many cosmologists are starting to get excited by what has become known as the Hubble tension, or the crisis in cosmology.  The “crisis” is the fact that we have two extremely careful, increasingly precise measurements of how fast the universe is expanding which should agree with each other, and yet they don’t.  You can see the eighteen-minute episode on how time causes gravity.

 

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Forthcoming SF Books Forthcoming Fantasy Books Forthcoming Non-Fiction
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Autumn 2021

Natural Science News

 

Another putative multicellular fossil dating from the Proterozoic found so challenging the tradition co-evolution of life and planet theory.  The traditional theory has it that only with the oxidation of the atmosphere (from around 2% to around 20% oxygen) could multicellular species flourish. This they did, following the oxidation event of 720 – 635 million years ago (mya), with the Avalon and Cambrian booms of species. However fossil remains have been found much older than this; fossils that look like the remains of multicellular species but few on land. Now, adding to these is the discovery of microfossils at the Diabaig Formation at Loch Torridon in Scotland, that appear both multicellular and are non-marine in origin. Even though they look like little more than clumps of cells, this adds to the new narrative being developed that multicellular species, including small animal species developed before 720 mya and on land freshwater systems. Indeed, these new Scottish fossils date from a billon years ago. (See Strother, P. K. (2021) A possible billion-year-old holozoan with differentiated multicellularity. Current Biology, vol. 31, p1-8.)

Clue as to how woody seed-bearing species evolved into flower species is found in a drawer. You may think that clues as to the origins of species are always made by some Indiana Jones type scientist finding fossils out in the back of beyond. However recently researchers found their clue in a fossil locked in a drawer.
          The origin of flowering species (angiosperms) from seed-bearing species (gymnosperms – plants such as conifers, and cycads) is a long-standing question in biology. In a letter to the botanist J. D. Hooker, Charles Darwin described the origin of flowering plants as an “abominable mystery”. The 'new' fossils found are of extinct seed gymnosperm plants close to the known ancestor of angiosperms. They are a sort of botanical missing link and bring us closer to knowing how flowering plants evolved.
          The fossils were collected almost a century ago, deposited in museum collections and only recently unearthed for a second time (this time, from museum drawers by the researchers. (See Chi, G. et al (2021) Mesozoic cupules and the origin of the angiosperm second integument. Nature, vol. 594, p223-6  and the review article  Soltis, D. E. (2021) Seed for thought. Nature, vol. 594, p185-6.)

How many Tyrannosaurus rex animals were there; what was their global population?  An impossible question you might think given we do not know how many that died successfully became fossils for us to find.  However biologists in California have found a way to get a handle on the question.  First they had to estimate, from the T. rex fossils that have been found, their size. They also had to figure out how much energy they burned. Additionally, they needed to determine the maximum and minimum area of their habitat. Finally, they needed to work out how long the species had been around to calculate how many had ever lived.  With regards to this last, it turns out that the era of T. rex was just a couple of million years before the end-Cretaceous asteroid strike.
          What the biologists then did was to employ Damuth’s Law.  Loosely, this states that the population density of a species is inversely related to body mass (with a modification for energy burn) through a power factor. So, elephants are large and have lower population density than mice that are small and having a higher population density.
          The biologists calculated that at any one time there were on the continent they lived somewhere around 20,000 individuals. The median estimate translates into a population size of 3,800 T. rex in an area the size of California, and just two individuals in an area the size of Washington, DC.  Further, that over their time on Earth there were a total of around 2.5 billon individuals. This means that overall only one in 80 million became fossils, though the rate is higher – one in 16,000 – where fossils of the species are most abundant. (See Marshall, C. R., Latorre, D. V., Wilson, C. J. et al. (2021) Absolute abundance and preservation rate of Tyrannosaurus rex. Science, vol. 371, pp284–287.)

How do birds sense magnetic fields to migrate?  It has been known for some time that birds can sense the Earth's magnetic field, but how remains a mystery. There are currently two main hypotheses. First, through the oxidized-iron compound magnetite (Fe3O4). Second, through some biomolecule that has a magnetic moment. It should be said that both ideas are not mutually exclusive: it could be a combination of the two. Past research has theorised that cryptochrome proteins in birds' eyes do not equally flip between two quantum states when they absorb a photon of light. The new research, by an international collaboration led by British and German scientists, on night migrating robins, shows that this also happens in the presence of a magnetic field. With one quantum state dominating, the metabolic product from the protein changes yielding of reaction products that would be needed for magnetosensory signalling. (See Xu, J. et al (2021) Magnetic sensitivity of cryptochrome 4 from a migratory songbird. Nature, vol. 594, p535-540  and the review article  Warrant, E. J. (2021) Unravelling the enigma of bird magnetoreception. Nature, vol. 594, p497-8.)

Cuttlefish brains do not age.  Episodic memory (remembering where you left your keys) declines during aging in humans, as it does in non-human mammals. By contrast, semantic memory (remembering learnt knowledge like how to ride a bicycle) remains relatively intact with advancing age.  This age-related decline in episodic memory likely stems from the deteriorating function of the hippocampus in the brain.  Researchers have used cuttlefish that had to learn that the location of a food resource was dependent on the time of day: cuttlefish are molluscs that lack a hippocampus.  Tey found that contrary to other animals, episodic-like memory is preserved in aged cuttlefish.  (Schnell, A. K. et al (2021) Episodic-like memory is preserved with age in cuttlefish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, vol. 288, 20211052.)

Orang-utans join the small band of self-learning tool users.  Few animals use tools. For example, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) have used stones to crack nuts.  Orang-utans (Pongo abelii and Pongo pygmaeus) have the second most extensive tool-use repertoire among the great apes (aft-er chimpanzees). Yet orang-utans have not been observed cracking nuts in the wild, perhaps because their jungle habits provide limited opportunities for nut-cracking.  Researcher have now shown that just leaving wodden hammers and nuts with orang-utans without showing how to use them, that the orang-utans can spontaneously undertake nut-cracking using the wooden hammers.  (Bandini, E. et al (2020) Naive orang-utans (Pongo abelii and Pongo pygmaeus) individually acquire nut-cracking using hammer tools. American Journal of Primatology, vol. 83, e23304.)

Sharks almost went extinct 19 million years ago in a mysterious event.  Two US researchers have presented evidence for a previously unknown major extinction event in sharks that occurred in the early Miocene, ~19 million years ago. There is no known climatic and/or environmental driver of this extinction: its cause remains a mystery. During this event, sharks virtually disappeared from the open-ocean, declining in abundance by >90%. This compares with the decline in sharks due to the dinosaur extinction when shark losses were just 30%. Records of this extinction, come in the form of shark scales, called denticles, found in seafloor samples from the Pacific Ocean. Geometric denticles, which tend to belong to slower-swimming sharks among modern species, collapsed at 19 million years, while other scale types persisted. Could it be that there was a predator hunting open ocean sharks which only faster moving sharks could elude? Last season we reported that Sharks and rays have declined by 71% since 1970. Could it be that shark species are ecologically vulnerable in a way we do not know? (See Sibert, E. C. & Rubin, L. D. (2021) An early Miocene extinction in pelagic sharks. Science, vol. 372, p1105-1107.)

An ancestor species to Neanderthals and archaic human species in Europe and Asia has been discovered.  Two research teams have discovered the remains of an early human, previously unknown to science, who lived in the Levant at least until 130,000 years ago, in excavations at the Nesher Ramla site, near the city of Ramla, Israel. It was also discovered that they mastered stone-tool production technologies, previously known only among H. sapiens and Neanderthals.  Recognising similarity to other archaic Homo specimens from 400,000 years ago, found in Israel and Eurasia, the researchers reached the conclusion that the Nesher Ramla fossils represent a unique Middle Pleistocene population, now identified for the first time.  (See Zaidner, Y. et al (2021) Middle Pleistocene Homo behavior and culture at 140,000 to 120,000 years ago and interactions with Homo sapiens. Science, vol. 372, p1,429-1,433  and  Hershkovitz, I. (2021) A Middle Pleistocene Homo from Nesher Ramla, Israel. Science, vol. 372, p1,424-1,428.)

An cousin species to Neanderthals and modern human species has been discovered in China.  The skull of an archaic human species was discovered in China in 1933 by a railway construction worker but, due to political upheaval, went unreported to the scientific community until 2018. Various analyses have now been completed and this summer it was announced that the remains were probably of a new species of archaic human named Homo longi.  It lived around 148,000 years ago. It is considered as an offshoot to modern humans and Neanderthals and so is likely a cousin species, as opposed to ancestral species, to modern humans and Neanderthals. (See Ni, X., Ji, Q., Wu, W., et al. (2021) Massive cranium from Harbin establishes a new Middle Pleistocene human lineage in China. The Innovation, vol. 2, 100130;  Shao, Q., Ge, J., Ji, Q., et al. (2021) Geochemical locating and direct dating of the Harbin archaic human cranium. The Innovation, vol. 2, 100131;  and  Ji, Q.,Wensheng, W., Yannan, J. et al. (2021) Late Middle Pleistocene Harbin cranium represents a new Homo species. The Innovation, vol. 2, 100132.)

Mouth bacteria reveal ancient, humans had a cooked starch diet.  An international collaboration of European and N. American researchers have looked at the genome of bacteria found in the remains of humans and Neanderthals spanning the past 100,000 years, modern humans, gorillas and chimpanzees. While there are some similarities between the bacterial species in the mouths of chimpanzees and humans (close evolutionary species), the greatest similarities were between Neanderthals and modern humans including streptococci associated with starch digestion. They suggest that starch-rich foods, possibly modified by cooking, first became important early in Homo spp. evolution prior to the split between Neanderthal and modern human lineages more than 600 thousand years ago.  (See Fellows Yates, J. A. et al. (2021) The evolution and changing ecology of the African hominid oral microbiome. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., vol. 118 (20), e2021655118.)

Historic, sustainable agriculture has left its mark on tropical rainforests.  By 13,000 years ago all tropical rain forests had human occupation, including the Amazon. As human societies accumulated knowledge, practices, and technologies, they spread domesticated species and landscapes. For instance, the Brazil nut tree (Bertholletia excelsa) has been cultivated by Indigenous peoples for millennia and today is one of a number of dominant species in the Amazon basin. Today, in Amazonia, with the decline of indigenous communities with the arrival of Europeans and their diseases, many of these forest communities vanished.  However, they can still be discerned ecologically today though patches of increased abundance in edible species. In managed landscapes, plant communities become dominated by multiple edible species clumped together around ancient settlements. These ancient people knew how to manage the forest sustainably. However, where Indigenous and local peoples cease to have access to the forest, their ancient ecological knowledge fades away over a few generations. In the long run, natural ecological and evolutionary processes could reduce the abundance of edible species by up to 80%. With fewer fruits and seeds in the forest, the cascading effects on other, non-human, ecological interactions could negatively affect the populations of fruit-eating and seed-eating vertebrates. (Flores, B. M. & Levis, C. (2021) Human-food feedback in tropical forests. Science, vol. 372, p1,146-7.) +++ See also the next item…

Domestication of Canηabis sativa revelled from genome.  An international collaboration led by Swiss based biologists have sequenced the genome of Canηabis sativa and unravelled the history of its domestication. They found four main genetic groups of the plant: basal, hemp type, feral drug and drug type.  From the genome it appears that the species evolved and spread with its population growing and reaching a peak one million years ago.  It is suggested that early domesticated ancestors of hemp and drug types diverged from basal canηabis roughly about 12,000 years ago. This is when the world left the last glacial (a cold part of our present ice age). This indicates that the species had already been domesticated by early Neolithic times. This coincides with the dating of cord-impressed pottery from South China and Taiwan (12,000 years ago), as well as pottery-associated seeds from Japan (10,000 years ago). Archaeological sites with hemp-type Canηabis artefacts are consistently found from 7,500 years ago in China and Japan, and pollen consistent with cultivated Canηabis was found in China more than ,5,000 years ago. (It had previously been though it had been domesticated in central Asia.) Ritualistic and inebriant use of Canηabis has in turn been documented in Western China from archaeological remains at least 2500 years ago. The first archaeobotanical record of C. sativa in the Indian subcontinent dates back to around 3,000 years ago. Over the next centuries, drug-type Canηabis travelled to various world regions, including Africa (13th century) and Latin America (16th century), progressively reaching North America at the beginning of the 20th century and later, in the 1970s, from the Indian subcontinent. Meanwhile, hemp-type cultivars were first brought to the New World by early European colonists during the 17th century and later replaced in North America by Chinese hemp landraces by the middle 1800s. (See Ren, G. et al (2021) Large-scale whole-genome resequencing unravels the domestication history of Canηabis sativa. Science Advances, vol. 7, eabg2286.)

Parts of the Amazon rain forest have ceased being a carbon sink (absorbing more carbon each year than it emits) and have become a carbon source.  Uciana Gatti, Luana Basso and colleagues, mainly based at the São José dos Campos in Brazil, have directly measured the atmosphere in four regions across Amazonia for nine years (2010–2018). They also used data from several sites on remote islands and coastal headlands around the South Atlantic Ocean to establish background concentrations of gases. They found that South-eastern Amazonia, in particular, now acts as a net carbon source (total carbon flux minus fire emissions) to the atmosphere especially in the dry season. The overall trend for deforestation, warmer and drier dry seasons, drought stress, fire and carbon release in eastern Amazonia critically threatens the Amazon carbon sink.  Here there is an added twist. Overall, globally forests act as a carbon sink. Worldwide, the land carbon sink has absorbed around 25% of all fossil-fuel emissions since 1960 to near the end of the 2010 decade. This is in part because increased atmospheric carbon dioxide encourages further photosynthetic drawdown of carbon. In higher latitudes, the increased growing season with warming, further encourages drawdown. An additional factor for mid-latitude forests is increased nutrients from human activities have spurred growth. However, for tropical forests it is the extra carbon dioxide that has spurred drawdown. Here’s the thing, if we cease adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere (which we undoubtedly should) then this means that tropical photosynthetic rates are unlikely to increase. Factor this in with the Gatti – Basso team’s results (driven by land-use, climate change and fire) and it is most likely that much if not all of Amazonia will become a net carbon source later this century. (See Gatti, L. V., Basso, L. S., Miller, J. B. et al (2021) Amazonia as a carbon source linked to deforestation and climate change. Nature,vol. 595, p388-393  and the review piece  Denning S. (2021) Southeast Amazonia is no longer a carbon sink. Nature,vol.595, p354-355.

Global vegetation has been changing faster the past 4,000 years to today than any time in the past 18,000 years.  A collaboration primarily between University of Bergen, Norway, and University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, looked at a global set of over 1,100 fossil pollen records: cores from bog and lake sediments that reveal which plants grew nearby in the past.  These more recent changes are even more rapid than the climate-driven vegetation changes associated with the end of the last glacial period 18,000 to 11,000 years ago.  This work suggests that 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, humans were already having an enormous impact on the world and that continues today. An implication from this work is that in the past, the periods of ecosystem transformations driven by climate change coming out of the last glacial and those driven by land use were largely separate. But now, intensified land use continues, and the world is warming at an increasing rate due to the accumulation of greenhouse gases. As plant communities respond to the combination of direct human impacts and human-induced climate change, future rates of ecosystem transformation may break new records yet again.  The importance of this work is that given that recent dramatic change the past century or two, but that we had significant and discernable, widespread light touch on the terrestrial landscape the previous three or four thousand years, we might learn from traditional management sustainability lessons.  However, our large early 21st century global population – in excess of seven billion and growing – is a hurdle to overcome.  (See  Mottl, O. et al (2021) Global acceleration in rates of vegetation change over the past 18,000 years. Science, vol. 372, p 860-864.)  See also the next item below…

The UK reflects the global picture of biodiversity decline, an all-party Parliamentary Select Committee concludes.  The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has looked at biodiversity in the UK.  15% of UK species are threatened with extinction. Of the G7 countries, the UK has the lowest level of biodiversity remaining. At a minimum, the UK has failed to meet 14 of the 19 Aichi biodiversity targets, the global nature goals the UK committed to meet by 2020. The Aichi Biodiversity Targets were agreed by 196 countries under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 2010. The Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020, which contained the Aichi Targets, aimed to halt the loss of biodiversity globally by 2020.  The Committee notes that the UK government's policies are a welcome start, but in their current form do not represent the transformative change required to bend the curve of biodiversity loss. As a result, nature will continue to decline and the next generation will inherit a more depleted, damaged natural environment. Action needs to be stepped up in scale, ambition, pace, and detail. To do this it needs to: address the UK's severe skills shortage in ecologists;  establish a natural capital baseline to measure progress against biodiversity goals;  the need for a holistic biodiversity strategy with coordinated components; ensuring designated biodiversity conservation areas are properly managed; track illegal marine fishing;  adequately factor nature into governmental thinking;  value biodiversity and ensure it is on school curricula.  The committee also plans to produce an accompanying report that examines the UK’s impact on international biodiversity and the measures. (See House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (2021) Biodiversity in the UK: bloom or bust? House of Commons: London.)

Double whammy on insect pollinators worldwide revealed.  It has been known for some time that insects, especially in agricultural landscapes, have been in decline: in 2017 a German study showed a three-quarter reduction in flying insects in that country in under three decades and that globally over 40% of insect species are threatened.  A new study throws light on why this is happening.  Biologists, primarily based at the Royal Holloway University of London, have looked at 90 studies in which bees were exposed to combinations of agrochemicals, nutritional stressors and/or parasites.  They found that, while non-lethal threats (nutritional stressors – such as poor pollen availability – and parasites) showed an additive effect, lethal factors (such exposure to multiple pesticides) showed a synergistic effect (an effect greater than the sum of individual effects).  The researchers conclude that assuming just additive effects leads to underestimating threats. Underestimating threats in turn will lead to the continued decline in bees and their pollination services, to the detriment of human and ecosystem health.  The next challenge is to look beyond these parasite–nutrition–agrochemical interactions to consider other risks to pollination. Future studies must ultimately consider, through a combination of correlative and experimental approaches, the interplay of nutrition–pathogen–agrochemical interactions alongside the effects of other human-driven changes (such as climate change, pollution, land-use changes and the spread of invasive species). Although such assessments would be difficult, they will be vital for understanding. (See Siviter, H. et al (2021) Agrochemicals interact synergistically to increase bee mortality. Nature, vol. 596, p389-392  and  the review piece  Vanbergen, A. J. (2021) A cocktail of pressures imperils bees. Nature, vol. 596, p351-2.)

Dinosaur poo reveals intact insects.  Palaeontologists have discovered a 230-million year old beetle species in fossilised dinosaur poo. Researchers used powerful x-rays to scan the Triassic poo thought to be from a beaked dinosaur. This is the first time a complete beetle has been found in dinosaur poo – conversely finding insect fragments is common – and it is a new species to boot. At just 1.5 millimetres in length, the researchers have named the beetle Triamyxia coprolithica (or Tramyxia shit-stone). Studying preserved species in dung informs about insect evolution and past food webs. Research not to be sniffed at. (See Martin Qvarnstrom, M., Fikácek, M., Wernstrom, J. V. et al. (2021) Exceptionally preserved beetles in a Triassic coprolite of putative dinosauriform origin. Current Biology, vol. 31, 1-8.)

Ancient poo reveals modern gut bacteria change and is suggestive of human evolution.  We humans have changed over thousands of years, and our way of life has altered dramatically the past thousand years.  This is reflected in a number of ways, one of which is the type of bacteria we have in our intestine.  It is known that the gut microbes in humans living today in industrial countries differs greatly to those living in non-industrial nations. For example, the guts of those living in industrial nations harbour microbes that tend to be more resistant to antibiotics.  The latest news is that a research collaboration has now compared the gut microbial community from modern humans with those that lived between a thousand and two thousand years ago. They managed to extract reasonable microbial genomes from 498 samples of ancient shiτe and poo found in the US and Mexico. 181 of these the researchers are confident of being of human gut origin. They then compared these with the genome of modern human gut microbial genomes.  They found that all the ancient human gut microbes differed from those in modern humans living in industrialised countries. Instead, they were all similar to those in the present-day living in non-industrial nations. Further, in looking at the genetic variation in a specific bacterial species, Methanobrevibacter smithii, they were able to back-track and estimate its past evolution. Their limited analysis reveals that it changed markedly between 75,000 years ago and 25,000 years ago. This was during the last glacial (the cold part of our current ice age) during which there was considerable diversity in small populations of our Homo species. This work lays open great potential in a new area of ancient poo science. This is not to be sniffed at. (See Wibowo, M. C. et al (2021) Reconstruction of ancient microbial genomes from the human gut. Nature, vol.594, p234-9 and a review paper Sonnenburg, J. L. & Olm, M. R. (2021) Ancient human faeces and gut microbes of the past. Nature, vol.594, p182-3.)

A hunter-gatherer 7,850 years ago in SE Asia has some Denisovan ancestry in his genome.  The remains of the hunter-gather were from the limestone cave of Leang Panninge in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Genetic analyses show that this pre-Neolithic forager shares most genes with present-day Papuan and Indigenous Australian groups, yet represents a previously unknown divergent human lineage that branched off around the time of the split between these populations approximately 37,000 years ago. Even though the Denisovan genetic component is small, it is significant and suggests ancestral breeding with modern humans probably over 150,000 years ago and is further evidence that Denisovans genetic footprint extends beyond the Siberian and Himalayan region. ( See Carlhoff, S. et al (2021) Genome of a middle Holocene hunter-gatherer from Wallacea. Nature, vol.596, p543-7.)

Life in Denisovan cave determined from environmental DNA.  Die, and there is the chance that some of your cells can be preserved in sediment. This is what anthropologists have found in the Denisova Cave in southern Siberia.  Previously in that cave mitochondrial DNA and nuclear DNA have been recovered from eight hominin fossils, enabling four to be assigned to Denisovans, three to Neanderthals and one to the child of a Neanderthal and a Denisovan. However, anthropologists have now recovered human and animal mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from the cave's sediments enabling them to determine who lived when and with which animals.  The earliest evidence for hominin mtDNA is of Denisovans, and is associated with early Middle Palaeolithic stone tools that were deposited approximately 250,000 to 170,000 years ago; Neanderthal mtDNA first appears towards the end of this period. We detect a turnover in the mtDNA of Denisovans that coincides with changes in the composition of faunal mtDNA, and evidence that Denisovans and Neanderthals occupied the site repeatedly—possibly until, or after, the onset of the Initial Upper Palaeolithic at least 45,000 years ago, when modern human mtDNA is first recorded in the sediments. Studies have suggested that Pleistocene mammals migrated from southeast Asia, along the eastern foothills of the Himalayas, to the northwest Altai. These animal migrations may have spurred the dispersal of Denisovans into the region in which their remains were first discovered. (See Zavala, E. I. et al. (2021) Pleistocene sediment DNA reveals hominin and faunal turnovers at Denisova Cave. Nature, vol. 595, p399-403.)
          Related news previously covered elsewhere in this site includes:-
  - Denisovan and Neanderthal Y chromosomes have been sequenced
  - Neanderthals and Denisovans diverged between 381,000 and 473,000 years ago
  - Modern humans on Flores exhibit dwarfing genes
  - New early human species found Homo luzonensis
  - New Denisovan fossil indicates these early humans were more widespread and adapted to high altitude living
  - Denisovan and Neanderthal DNA found in modern Icelander genomes

Humans have shaped most of the planet's land for twelve thousand years, but only recently non-sustainably. A return to historic traditional management of the land could help..  The current biodiversity crisis is often depicted as a struggle to preserve untouched habitats. Researchers have now combined global maps of human populations and land use over the past 12,000 years with current biodiversity data to show that nearly three quarters of terrestrial nature has long been shaped by diverse histories of human habitation and use by Indigenous and traditional peoples. Even 12,000 y ago, nearly three quarters of Earth’s land was inhabited and therefore shaped by human societies, including more than 95% of temperate and 90% of tropical woodlands.  However, only recently in the 20th century, concomitant with a rise in global population, has there been a biological environmental crisis as land-use has become non-sustainable.  Global land use history confirms that empowering the environmental stewardship of Indigenous peoples and local communities will be critical to conserving biodiversity across the planet.  (See Ellis, E. C., et al (2021) People have shaped most of terrestrial nature for at least 12,000 years. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., vol. 118 (17), e2023483118.)
          Related global and related ecological news previously covered elsewhere in this site includes:-
  - Sharks and rays have declined by 71% since 1970!
  - The population abundance of thousands of vertebrate species globally has seen a decline of 60% between 1970 and 2014
  - Marine ecosystems set to collapse under double whammy of climate change and acidification
  - Species assemblages – not just single species – could regionally, suddenly go extinct with climate change
  - Over 40% of insect species are possibly threatened with extinction over the next few decades
  - Possible ecological mega-crisis foreshadowed by three-quarters flying insect decline
  - Amphibian extinctions likely to increase
  - A survey of N. American birds reveals a decline in abundance of 29% since 1970
  - A survey detailing the state of British nature reveals that since 1970 more than a quarter of UK mammals are facing extinction
  - The global trade in wildlife is likely to place 8,775 species at risk of extinction
  - 2017 sees record tree loss
  - Last northern white rhinoceros dies
  - 10% of the planet's wilderness area gone in two decades
  - Another 10% of the planet's wilderness area has gone estimate
  - City birds and plants in worldwide decline
  - Around 1 million species face extinction; many within decades, unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss, says UN agency report
  - While the global area of biologically protected land (nature reserves, national parks etc) has increased, the status and level of protection has decreased.

37% of summer heat deaths are caused by climate change.  A large international collaboration of climate and biomedical scientists have looked at death records from 732 locations across a quarter of a century between 1991 and 2018. The team related heat death mortality to temperature. They then ran climate models without human greenhouse gas additions using the same temperature to heat death relationships at the 732 locations: there were fewer heat-related deaths. The team concluded that 37% of present-day, summer heat-related deaths can be attributed to human-induced climate change. (See Vicedo-Cabrera, A. M. (2021) The burden of heat-related mortality attributable to recent human-induced climate change. Nature Climate Change, vol. 11, p492-500.).
          Previously reported elsewhere on this site – Global warming will make where a fifth of the population live almost uninhabitable without air conditioning and Further evidence of declining habitability of a globally warming world.

Educational attainment does not influence brain aging!  It had been thought that the more educated a person was that old age dementia would be delayed. Perhaps, the more educated you were you had more to lose and so go before dementia became apparent?  To test this hypothesis an international collaboration of European scientists scanned the brains of over 4,000 individuals of varying ages and educational attainment. They used two criteria as likely indicators of dementia: cortex and hippocampus volume as these reduce when atrophied.  They found that these volumes decreased equally in both those groups who had higher education (had at least a degree) and those whose education ended with school.  (See Nyberg, L. et al (2021) Educational attainment does not influence brain aging. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., vol. 118 (18), e2101644118.)

New Alzheimer's drug is expensive, and is far from a cure, but it does reveal a promising approach to future pharmaceuticals.  Alzheimer's was virtually unknown to the public until the 1980s, yet now it is alone among the ten most common fatal diseases of developed nations in lacking a disease-modifying treatment.  The cumulative financial cost to society of late-life dementias (of which Alzheimer's comprises ~60%) is estimated to exceed those of heart disease and cancer.  Yet, the recent approval of the first disease-modifying anti-amyloid immunotherapy, aducanumab, for Alzheimer's Disease has proven controversial.
          A problem has emerged in that the traditional way used to measure Alzheimer drug effectiveness, does not show the new drug aducanumab as being particularly good. But it did show amyloid plaque lowering in mice and significantly less cognitive decline in humans. Also, the initial price of aducanumab (~US$56,000/year) is very high. Yet the secretase class of potential pharmaceuticals, of which aducanumab is one, is understudied. For many chronic diseases, the initial therapeutic compounds have limited effectiveness and are often steadily replaced by more potent drugs. So, it is very early days, but there may be hope. (Science, vol. 373, p624-6.)

The US has a widespread and unjust drinking water and clean water crisis.  Many households in the United States face issues of incomplete plumbing and poor water quality.  Using data from the American Community Survey and the Environmental Protection Agency between 2014 to 2018, research shows that there are 489,836 households lacking complete plumbing, 1,165 community water systems in Safe Drinking Water Act Serious Violation, and 21,035 Clean Water Act permits in Significant Noncompliance.  Further, water hardship is associated with rurality, poverty, race, education, and age – representing a nationwide environmental injustice! (See Mueller, J. T. & Gasteyer, S. (2021) The widespread and unjust drinking water and clean water crisis in the United States. Nature Communications, vol. 12, 3,544.)

 

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

Global CoVID-19 fatalities officially top 4 million but could have exceeded 8 million!  July (2021) saw the World Health Organisation (WHO) declare total CoVID-19 fatalities exceed 4 million. However, researchers from the US-based Centre for Global Development used three data sources to estimate the excess deaths in India between January 2020 and June 2021 over that in similar periods prior to the pandemic. India's official CoVID-19 death toll is 414,000 but most accept this as a gross underestimate. The Centre for Global Development puts the excess deaths in India at between 3.0 million and 4.7 million. Add this to the official deaths elsewhere and the global death rate from the disease could exceed 8 million.
          India's Narendra Modi was a joint 2020 IgNobel Award winner for 'Medical Education', specifically, for "using the CoVID-19 viral pandemic to teach the world that politicians can have a more immediate effect on life and death than scientists and doctors can".  Russia's Putin, Britain's Boris Johnson and the US's Donald Trump were co-laureates.

England's Boris Johnson's CoVID-19 'Freedom day' – Scientists had grave fears.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been slow to lock down and quick to ease up with the previous three waves of CoVID-19. Despite Britain's science base and pharmaceutical collaboration being quick to develop a vaccine and the UK's National Health Service's effective vaccination rollout which saw over half the adult population having at least one vaccine shot by midsummer, cases have been rising with hospitalisations mainly the unvaccinated under 40s (the at-risk elderly were vaccinated first), Boris Johnson had a roadmap to his 19th July 'Freedom Day'.  On that day, mask wearing would cease to be compulsory on public transport and in shops, and nightclubs and theatres would reopen.
          The government had said that relaxation of restrictions would be guided by “data, not dates”, and that each stage of the plan would happen only if certain criteria were satisfied. Yet on 11th July, there were 31,000 recorded new cases of CoVID-19 with total infections around 300 per 100,000 people and cases were rising.  Only vaccination of the elderly was keeping deaths low, hospitalisations were beginning to rise. Vaccines do not offer complete protection against hospitalisation due to the Delta ('India' or scientifically named B.1.617) variant. For England's widely used Oxford-AstraZeneca (ChAdOx1 nCoV-19) vaccine, the protection has been found to be about 92%,  Despite this, Boris Johnson went ahead with his 'Freedom Day'.
          This sparked criticism from leading clinicians and biomedical scientists such as Peter English (former chair of the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine Committee), Azra Ghani (an epidemic modeller at Imperial College London) and Richard Tedder (virologist at Imperial College London). Around a hundred clinicians wrote a critical letter, published in The Lancet on 7th July (over a week before 'Freedom Day') that said that the government was “embarking on a dangerous and unethical experiment”.
          Experience has shown that early easing up creates more infections. This is also true elsewhere. In the Netherlands, where most restrictions were dropped on 26th June, infections quickly began to soar, so the Dutch government was forced to reintroduce some safety measures from 10th July.
          Scientists were concerned not only for a fourth UK wave but that allowing shopping and public transport without compulsory mask-wearing and social distancing then infections would rise. Here, infections of the vaccinated provide the means for the rise of vaccine-resistant variations. It is a recipe for potential disaster.
          Numbers may seem low over the summer but could increase after schools and universities return in September.
          Britain's Boris Johnson was a joint 2020 IgNobel Award winner for 'Medical Education', specifically, for "using the CoVID-19 viral pandemic to teach the world that politicians can have a more immediate effect on life and death than scientists and doctors can". (See Ball, P. (2021) Why England’s CoVID ‘freedom day’ alarms researchers. Nature, vol. 595, p479-480.)

United Kingdom's third wave of CoVID-19 sees young affected more than in the first or second waves due to success of vaccines.  Without the vaccines the third wave would have been worse due to variants. It is now clear that if it were not for the vaccines the third wave of CoVID would see more cases of CoVID-19 than in the first of second waves.
          The second wave peaked early in January (2021) in England (the most populous nation of the UK) with those aged 20 to 29 and 30 to 39 years-old most affected with 900 out of 100,000 in those age cohorts having cases of CoVID (about 0.9%). Those aged 60 to 69 in England saw a case rate of about 500 per 100,000 (about 0.5%): they were lower not because they were less vulnerable (they were more vulnerable) but because they were sheltering or social distancing.
          Conversely, the third wave, which peaked towards the end of August (2021), saw those aged 20 to 29 affected most with case rates of 1,200 per 100,000 (about 1.2%).  Peaking the second most were 10 to 19 year olds at 1,000 per 100,000 (about 1%).  30 to 39 year olds almost peaked as much in the third wave (at 800 per 100,000) as they did in the second wave (at 900 per 100,000).   All over 40s peaked less in the third wave: pre-retired (hence still working) 50 to 59s peaked at under 800 per 100,000 in the second wave but only under 400 in the third.  60 to 69s peaked at nearly 500 per 100,000 in the second wave but only under 200 in the third.
          With UK vaccination roll-out of the majority of over 30s between the end of January and mid-August, and with the elderly the most vaccinated (over 95% of over 70s and over 90% of over 60s by late May), the third wave was hitting the unvaccinated younger generations the most.  Clearly, the vaccines were working well!
          However, the more infectious alpha (Kent - B.1.1.7) and delta (India - B.1.617) variants were making matters worse. It is therefore clear that without the vaccinations the overall case rate in England – and likely the rest of the UK – would most likely have exceeded 1,200 per 100,000!
          By early August a fifth of all those on National Health Service (NHS) hospital CoVID wards were aged between 18 and 34: four times more than in the second wave, said the NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard.  (Age cohort data from Public Health England.)

WHO investigation reveals UN agency too slow and unclear about SARS-CoV-2 and CoVID-19 pandemic onset.  Last year (2020) the annual World Health Assembly asked that the World Health Organization (WHO) arrange for an independent review of how the pandemic unfolded and determine lessons to be learned.  This review has now reported identifying February 2020 as the critical month in which WHO should have been bolder in its warnings. Even though there was not the evidence that later emerged, WHO should have adopted the precautionary principle especially with advice to wear masks: those countries that adopted mandatory mask wearing early, such as many Asian countries, fared much better.  It concludes that the global pandemic alert system is not fit for purpose.  The report also calls for the creation of a council of world leaders devoted to fighting pandemics. (See Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (2021) Second report on progress. WHO on behalf of the World Health Assembly, Geneva.)  This builds on another report on the pandemics' origins that concludes that based on molecular sequence data, the outbreak may have started between before mid-November and early December 2019 and most likely from species spill over and least likely from a laboratory accident. (See Joint WHO-China Study (2021) WHO-convened Global Study of Origins of SARS-CoV-2. WHO: Geneva.)

A SARS-like virus has been detected in a horseshoe bat in Britain, suggesting that horseshoe bats worldwide are a potential SARS-like virus pool.  A large number of genetically diverse SARS-related coronaviruses (SARSr-CoV) have been detected in multiple species of horseshoe bats (genus Rhinolophus) from different areas of China and Europe. A SARS-like virus has now been detected in a lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros) in Gloucestershire, Great Britain. The receptor binding domain within the virus's protein spike has an amino acid sequence that is 68% the same as SARS-CoV (the original 2003 SARS virus) and 67% the same as SARS-CoV-2 (that gives rise to CoVID-19).  This new SARS-like virus is called RhGB01 (Rhinolophus hipposideros, Great Britain 01) representing the first detection of a SARS-like virus (sarbecovirus) from R. hipposideros in Great Britain. This suggests that horseshoe bat species worldwide have the potential to be a reservoir of SARS-like viruses. (Crook, J. M. et al (2021) Metagenomic identification of a new sarbecovirus from horseshoe bats in Europe. Scientific Reports, vol 11, 14723.)

Do coronavirus genes merge with human chromosomes.  A pre-print last December (spring 2020) suggested just this but their notion was severely criticised including on non-scientific grounds that it played to vaccine sceptics.  However, the authors of that paper have shored up their hypothesis that the reverse transcriptase enzyme could convert coronavirus RNA to DNA which could then merge with a human chromosome. This might explain why some, a very few, CoVID patients can recover from COVID-19 but then test positive for SARS-CoV-2 again months later. This new evidence has appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and discussed in the journal Science. (See Cohen J. (2021) Do coronavirus genes slip into human chromosomes? Further evidence supports challenged claim, but significance remains unclear. Science, vol. 372, p674-5.)

The UN's World Health Organisation (WHO) changes the common name nomenclature for SARS-CoV-2 variants for the snowflake generation.  WHO apparently feel that the current colloquial naming of variants after the locations where they first gained dominance is derogatory, "stigmatising and derogatory".  The new terms are:-
  - Kent (scientifically called B.1.1.7) to be now known as Alpha
  - S. African (scientifically called B.1.351) to be now known as Beta
  - Brazillian (scientifically called P.1) to be now known as Gamma
  - Indian (scientifically called B.1.617) to be now known as Delta
          Given that SF² Concatenation began in Kent and that some of its team still reside there and have connections with the local SF group, we did a quick poll of Kent-based SF fans.  Not one ever felt 'stigmatised' or 'discriminated' against by the term Kent variant. Which suggests that possibly WHO might be catering for the 'snowflake' generation.

Kent (sorry 'Alpha') variant of SARS-CoV-2 more lethal.  British biomedical scientists have found that the so-called Kent variant (B.1.1.7. or 501Y.V1 variant), which emerged last year, is 55% more lethal than the original strain. They analysed 2,245,263 positive SARS-CoV-2 community tests and 17,452 deaths associated with CoVID-19 in England from 1st November 2020 to 14th February 2021. This corresponds to the absolute risk of death for a 55–69-year-old man infected with CoVID and expressing symptoms increasing from 0.6% to 0.9%. (See Davies, N. G. et al (2021) Increased mortality in community-tested cases of SARS-CoV-2 lineage B.1.1.7. Nature, vol. 539, p270-4.)

Kent (sorry 'Alpha') variant of SARS-CoV-2 more transmittable.  British biomedical scientists have found that the so-called Kent variant (B.1.1.7. or 501Y.V1 variant), which emerged last year, has a transmission advantage over other lineages, with a 50% to 100% higher reproduction number.  They examined whole-genome SARS-CoV-2 sequences from randomly sampled residual materials obtained from community-based COVID-19 testing in England, collected between 1 October 2020 and 16 January 2021. These included samples from 31,390 who had the Kent variant. (See Volz, E. et al (2021) Assessing transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2 lineage B.1.1.7 in England. Nature, vol. 539, p266-9.)

Some convergent evolution is taking place with SARS-CoV-2 variants.  Researchers mainly based at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute, Durham, in the USA, have looked at a number of variants to see how the SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins are evolving.  Previously, it seemed that there was some convergent evolution going on with variants in that some same spike structural mutations were arising in different variants.  It now appears that variants are using different mechanisms to arrive at the same mutation so confirming convergent evolutionary pressures. (See Sophie M.-C. Gobeil, S. M-C., et al (2021) Effect of natural mutations of SARS-CoV-2 on spike structure, conformation, and antigenicity. Science, vol. 373, eabi6226.)

California variant has simple mutation similar to India variant. The California (CAL.20C or B.1.427/B.1.429) variant was detected in the autumn of 2020 in the USA.  Research shows that it has a single peptide (protein) mutation called the L452R mutation.  This mutation is also found in the India (or delta variant B.1.617 and fellow delta sub-variant B.1.617.2). More convergent evolution.  (See McCallum, M. et al (2021) SARS-CoV-2 immune evasion by the B.1.427/B.1.429 variant of concern. Science, vol. 373, p648–654.)

Both the Oxford-Astra-Zeneca and Pfizer vaccines are effective against the Kent SARS-CoV-2 (sorry 'Alpha') variant.  Trial shows that the Oxford–AstraZeneca (ChAdOx1 nCoV-19) vaccine is in preventing CoVID-19 and the Kent (UK) variant. A single dose conferred significant protection against severe CoVID and a second dose protected against milder CoVID. (See Bernal, J. L. (2021) Effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines on covid-19 related symptoms, hospital admissions, and mortality in older adults in England: test negative case-control study. British Medical Journal, vol. 373, n1088.)

India Delta variant B.1.617 now dominant in that country.  A variant B.1.618 had been dominant in West Bengal but by May B.1.617 became dominant across all India and had spread to about 40 other nations. WHO (World Health Organization) classifies B.1.617 a 'variant of concern'. Its subtype, B.1.617.2, is a variant of concern in the UK. (Vaidyanathan G. (2021) Coronavirus variants are spreading in India – What scientists know so far. Nature, vol. 593, p321-2.).

India Delta variant B.1.617 diverges spawning a further two sub-variants, one of which is becoming dominant.  The India Delta variant B.1.617 is found beyond India in many countries including the USA and UK.  Because of the two new sub-variants, variant B.1.617 is now being re-named B.1.617.1.  The two new India Delta variants are called B.1.617.2 and B.1.617.3.  The UK has been doing very well continually genetically sequencing variants of CoVID-19 patients.   At the start of June around half of all infections in England were of B.1.617.2 which was becoming the dominant strain superseding the Alpha Kent B.1.1.7 variant.  B.1.617.2 has mutations including 452R and 478K that are linked to increased transmissibility. Both these mutations alter the spike protein the virus uses to latch on to and enter human cells.  It also contains what is called an 'S gene' marker not found in the Kent variant and this can be seen in some PCR tests.  However it seems as if the original B.1.617.1 carries a mutation called 484Q which is associated with vaccine resistance: fortunately, so far B.1.617.1 is less dominant than B.1.617.2 though whether this will change as the majority of the population are vaccinated remains to be see.  Also fortunately, no B.1.617 variant or sub-variant is associated with increased severe CoVID-19.  (See Adam, D. (2021) The rush to study fast-spreading coronavirus variants. Nature, vol. 594, p19-20.)

Why is the India Delta variant B.1.617 so successful. According to current estimates, the Delta variant could be more than twice as transmissible as the original strain. To find out why, epidemiologist Jing Lu at the Guangdong Provincial Center for Disease Controland Prevention in Guangzhou, China, and his colleagues tracked 62 people who were quarantined after exposure to COVID-19 and who were some of the first people in mainland China to become infected with the Delta strain. They found that the virus was first detectable in people with the Delta variant four days after exposure, compared with an average of six days among people with the original strain, suggesting that Delta replicates much faster. Also People infected with Delta also had viral loads up to 1,260 times higher than did people infected with the original strain. Both factors contribute to the increased spreadability of the variant.  (See Anon. (2021) How the delta coronavirus variant achieves its ultrafast spread. Nature, vol. 595, p631.)

Do vaccines work against the India Delta variant?  The preliminary (limited and as yet un-peer-reviewed) research indicates that current vaccines do confer some protection against the India Delta variant but not as much as they do against other current variants.  Still, protection at around 80% against that of over 90% for needing hospitalisation, is still good though not ideal.  Further, an analysis of some 365,000 households in the United Kingdom, estimated that infected individuals were 40–50% less likely to spread the infection of Delta if they had received at least one dose of either AstraZeneca Oxford ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 or the Pfizer BioNTech's BNT162b2 vaccines.  (See Mallapaty, S. (2021) CoVID vaccines slash viral spread – but delta is an unknown. Nature, vol. 956, p17-8.)

Qatar study affirms Pfizer-BioNTec vaccine is effective against the South African Beta SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern.  The study demonstrates that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech BNT162b2 vaccine makes it 75% less likely for people to develop serious CoVID-19 from the South African 501Y.V2, or B.1.351, variant of concern. (See Abu, I. J. et al (2021) New England Journal of Medicine.) It also appears that the vaccine confers 90% protection against the Kent variant (B.1.1.7. or 501Y.V1 variant).  BioNTech is currently developing an updated mRNA vaccine that targets B.1.351 conferring even greater protection. This should be available later this autumn.

The Novavax vaccine is effective against the S. African SARS-CoV-2 Beta variant.  Trial shows that the Novavax (NVX CoV2373) vaccine is in preventing CoVID-19 and the S. African B.1.351 variant.  The vaccine was demonstrably more effective for those that did not have HIV (the virus that results in AIDS). (See Shinde, V. et al (2021) Efficacy of NVX-CoV2373 Covid-19 Vaccine against the B.1.351 Variant. New Eng'. Journ'. Med'., vol. 384, p1,899-1,909. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2103055)

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is effective against the S. African SARS-CoV-2 Beta variant.  Trial shows that the Oxford-AstraZeneca (ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine) vaccine is in preventing CoVID-19 and the S. African B.1.351 variant.  Two doses regimen of the vaccine did protect against serious CoVID but did not show protection against mild-to-moderate Covid-19 due to the B.1.351 variant.  (See Madhi, S. A. et al. (2021) Efficacy of the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 CoVID-19 vaccine against the B.1.351 variant. New Eng'. Journ'. Med'., vol. 384, p1,885-1,898.)

The World Health Organisation's (WHO) regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, is optimistic of vaccines to protect against current early-summer 2021 coronavirus variants.  He said, 'All CoVID-19 virus variants that have emerged so far do respond to the available, approved vaccines.'  The list of WHO-approved coronavirus vaccines currently (summer 2021) include: BioNTech-Pfizer, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca (including those Covishield doses manufactured by the Serum Institute of India), Janssen, Johnson & Johnson and Sinopharm.

China's CoronaVac vaccine has been approved by WHO.  he World Health Organization (WHO) has approved a second Chinese vaccine for emergency use. CoronaVac was found to be 51% effective at preventing COVID-19 in late-stage trials. Its overall protection is lower than that provided by seven other vaccines already listed by the WHO. But, importantly, trials suggest that CoronaVac — an inactivated-virus vaccine produced by Beijing-based Sinovac — is 100% effective at preventing severe disease and death. It may be used when other vaccines are not available. (See Mallapaty, S. (2021) China’s CoronaVac jab set to boost global immunization campaign. Nature, vol. 594, p161-2.)

ZyCoV-D is the first DNA vaccine against CoVID-19.  It uses circular strands of DNA (plasmids) coded with the virus' protein spike together with a promoter sequence for turning the gene on. Once the plasmids enter the nuclei of cells, they are converted into mRNA (messenger RNA), which travels to the main body of the cell, the cytoplasm, and is translated into the spike protein itself. ZyCoV-D has been found to be 67% protective against symptomatic CoVID-19. This is not as good as the BioNTech-Pfizer, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca Janssen, Johnson & Johnson vaccines, but nonetheless 67% is not bad.  If DNA vaccines prove to be successful, this will be something of a breakthrough because they are easy to manufacture.  (See Mallapaty, S. (2021) India’s DNA CoVID vaccine is a first – More are coming. Nature, vol. 597, 161-2.)

Russia's Sputnik V (vaccine) may be safe, it is beginning to look.  Russia's Sputnik vaccine is used by nearly 70 nations, but its take up has been slowed by questions over rare side effects, and it has yet to obtain World Health Organisation (WHO) or European Medicines Agency (EMA) approval.  Developed by scientists at the Gamaleya National Research Centre of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, the vaccine was authorized for use by the Russian Ministry of Health on 11th August 2020, more than a month before phase I and II trial results were published, and before the phase III trial had even begun. And when some trial data was released some were suspicious.  Some of that concern was allayed when the phase III trial results, published in February 2021 by the vaccine’s developers, suggested that it is 91.6% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infection and 100% effective at preventing severe infection. However, Russia has still to release the trial's full raw data.
          Sputnik V is an adenovirus vaccine, using an engineered adenovirus — a family of viruses that generally cause only mild illness — as a delivery mechanism for inserting the genetic code for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein into human cells.  It is similar to theOxford-AstraZeneca (ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine) vaccine and Janssen, Johnson & Johnson vaccines. But instead of using one engineered adenovirus, as those two vaccines do, Sputnik V uses different adenoviruses, called rAd26 and rAd. This two adenovirus approach may be what makes Sputnik V so effective. However, the lack of trial raw data is a concern especially as in Russia patients are reluctant to call doctors unless they really have to, and some may attribute blood clots to a stroke and not the vaccine: side effects may go unreported. Studies are in progress both in, and outside of, Russia.  (See Nogrady, B. (2021) Mounting evidence suggests sputnik CoVID vaccine is safe and effective. Nature, vol. 595, p339-340.)
          Related story previously reported elsewhere on this site – Fake Sputnik V vaccines received from Russia.

Can you mix vaccines? What happens if you have your initial (prime) shot using the Pfizer mRNA vaccine and your second (the booster) shot using an Oxford-Astra-Zeneca adenovirus vaccine?  Because of safety concerns, several European countries are already recommending that some or all people who were given a first dose of the University of Oxford-AstraZeneca adenovirus vaccine do not get an mRNA vaccine (such as the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine) for their second dose.  Further, the ability to mix and match vaccines could make vaccination programmes more flexible and address supply issues.  Research now suggests that using two different vaccines for the prime and boost shots does give significantly enhanced protection, more so than having two shots of the same vaccine. Further, looking ahead with variant boosters to come, adenovirus vaccines such as Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) and Oxford-AstraZeneca lose their effect as the body's immune system adapts even though these vaccines tend to be cheaper and easier to store. So it could be that mixing these vaccines mRNA vaccines could help make adenoviruses vaccines go further?  The only down side is that having different vaccine shots does increase the risk of side-effects such as fever or a headache, but not seriously so.  So far mixing vaccines seem safe but as we are looking for severe adverse effects that only show up in one-in-ten-thousand or one-in-a-million, the trails so far have been far too small. (See Leidford, H. (2021) Could mixing CoVID vaccines bolster immune response? Nature, vol. 590, p375-6  also  Callaway, E. (2021) Mixing CoVID vaccines triggers potent immune response. Nature, vol. 593 p491-2.  and  Lewis, D. (2021) The case is growing for mix-and-match CoVID vaccines. Nature, vol. 595 p344-5.)

The mRNA vaccines are safe for pregnant women.  preliminary research in the US on the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines BNT162b2 (Pfizer–BioNTech) and mRNA-1273 (Moderna) vaccines indicates that the vaccines are likely safe for pregnant women to have. Of those vaccinated in the US in the official roll out up to February (2021) some 40,000 were pregnant. Looking at the proportion of subsequent healthy, live births, these were comparable to pregnancies in 2019 in the US prior to the SARS-CoV-2/CoVID-19 pandemic across age classes However, as the roll out back in February was skewed to the more elderly (the more CoVID-19 vulnerable), these are preliminary results only. (Shimabukuro, T. T. et al. (2021) Preliminary findings of mRNA Covid-19 vaccine safety in pregnant persons. New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 384 (24), 2,273-2,282.)

Breast feeding and SARS-CoV-2 / CoVID-19 vaccines.  The rather good news is that early studies suggest that the vaccines are safe.  Additionally, a study of 84 lactating health-care workers found that their breast milk contains substantial levels of antibodies to the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 for several weeks after they were vaccinated. However, what is not known is whether these confer any immunity to babies as they would likely be digested in their guts. (See Hall, S. (2021) Breast feeding and CoVID vaccines. What the data say. Nature, vol. 594, p492-4.)

Engineered immunoglobulin antibody promises to be an effective treatment for CoVID-19.  Even the vaccinated can get CoVID-19 though hospitalisation is rare, so treatments are needed. Researchers based in Texas, USA, have engineered an immunoglobulin antibody that can be delivered by nasal spray. (Most monoclonal antibody treatments are by injection and need a high dose but even so have a minimal effect in the respiratory tract.) Test in rats, getting two doses a day for five days, show it to be effective.  (See Ku, Z. et al (2021) Nasal delivery of an IgM offers broad protection from SARS-CoV-2 variants. Nature, vol. 595, p718-723.)

Over 100,000 lives had been saved in England due to the National Health Service vaccine roll-out.  The data comes from Public Health England for the end of August (2021) and applies only to England (not other parts of the United Kingdom (UK): Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).  With regards to UK as a whole, as a snapshot on Thursday 26th August there were 38,281 new cases but only 140 new deaths that day. This compared with 1,662 deaths on 20th January prior to substantive vaccine roll-out.  ++++  Teachers and parents have been warned of outbreaks of the winter vomiting bug (norovirus) as schools' autumn term commenced in September. Hand-washing is really important.

Overseas holidays were behind the 2020 autumnal wave of CoVID.  European epidemiologists tacked the spread of variants across Europe last summer (2020). A rise in CoVID case in Spain of SARS-CoV-2 variant, 20E (EU1) in June spread the virus to visiting holiday-makers who then carried the infection back to their own countries. The researchers estimate that 20E (EU1) was introduced hundreds of times to European countries by summertime travellers, which is likely to have undermined local efforts to minimize infection with SARS-CoV-2.  In the preceding first wave (of the original variant) France, Italy and Spain were the main exporters of virus. (Hodcroft, E. B. (2021) Spread of a SARS-CoV-2 variant through Europe in the summer of 2020. Nature, vol. 595, p707-711  and  Lemey, P. et al (2021) Untangling introductions and persistence in CoVID-19 resurgence in Europe. Nature, vol. 595, p713-7.)

Face masks effectively limit the probability of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.  Airborne transmission by droplets and aerosols is important for the spread of viruses. Face masks are a well-established preventive measure, but their effectiveness for mitigating severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) transmission is still under debate. An international collaboration of bioscientists have shown that variations in mask efficacy can be explained by different regimes (airborne concentrations) of virus abundance and are related to population average infection probability and reproduction number. For SARS-CoV-2, the viral load of infectious individuals can vary by orders of magnitude. They find that most environments and contacts are under conditions of low virus abundance, where surgical masks are effective at preventing virus spread. More-advanced masks and other protective equipment are required in potentially virus-rich indoor environments, including medical centres and hospitals. Masks are particularly effective in combination with other preventive measures like ventilation and distancing.  However, high compliance and correct use of masks is important to ensure the effectiveness of universal masking in reducing the reproduction number for CoVID-19. (Cheng, Y. et al (2021) Face masks effectively limit the probability of SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Science, vol. 372, p1439-1443.)

Those with asymptomatic CoVID-19 express as many viruses as those ill with CoVID and those severely ill (hospitalised).  German researchers examined 25,381 cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in Germany, including 6,110 from test centres attended by pre-symptom, asymptomatic, and mildly symptomatic subjects, 9,519 who were hospitalised. They found that asymptom folk (people infected but not showing symptoms) shed as many viral particles as those with symptoms.  This is why it is important that indoors in crowed places (such as shops and public transport) it is vital to continue to where a mask even if you are feeling fine.  The researchers conclude that social distancing and mask wearing have been key in preventing many additional outbreaks. (See Jones, T. C., Biele, G., Muhlemann, B. et al. (2021) Estimating infectiousness throughout SARS-CoV-2 infection course. Science, vol. 373, eabi5273.)

People who have had CoVID-19 probably only need just one shot of two-shot vaccines.  Research with mRNA vaccines – such as the Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccines – has shown that people who previously had CoVID-19 get as good an immunological response with a single shot of the vaccine as those who have not had CoVID-19 but had two shots of the vaccine. Preliminary work on the University of Oxford-AstraZeneca suggests that the same may be true for changed adenovirus vaccines.
          This discovery is incredibly important as billions of people around the world are awaiting vaccination. If those who have had CoVID-19 need only one vaccine shot then that frees up vaccine for others.
          The mRNA vaccine research was published online in June and in print in July. We wait to see how long it will take politicians to include these findings in vaccination programmes…! (Dolgin, E. (2021) After CoVID is one vaccine dose enough? Nature, vol. 595, p161-2.)

Vaccine trials tend to miss seχ detail.  It is known that men suffer more from CoVID-19 and rare adverse effects from the University of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine appear to strike women more frequently, whereas those from the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines more often affect young men. Yet despite this gender and age disparity most vaccine trial omit gender detail. Danish researchers have found that most omit seχ detail.  Out of 45 CoVID-19 randomised controlled trials whose results were published by December 2020, only eight reported the impact of sex or gender. The researchers conclude that investigating seχ differences can highlight otherwise ignored mechanisms and should, hence, be an essential component of robust, reproducible, and socially relevant research. (See Brady, E. et al. (2021) Lack of consideration of seχ and gender in CoVID-19 clinical studies. Nature Communications, vol. 12, 4015.)

Immunity to SARS-CoV-2 could be long-term. Getting vaccinated confers considerable immunity to SARS-CoV-2 infection but how long does it last? Two new pieces of research suggests it last for over a year.  There are various ways immunity is measured such as antibody response. However, some ways measure a person's acute response but this fades with time. Other ways measure a long-term response such as memory plasma cells. One team has clinical evidence, from people who have had CoVID-19, that long-lived, memory plasma cells that produce antibodies are generated in the bone marrow and do so for at least a year.  Another team looked at memory B cells in the blood. Their data suggests that immunity in convalescent CoVID patients will be very long lasting and that convalescent individuals who receive available mRNA vaccines will produce antibodies and memory B cells that should be protective against circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants for at least a year. We do not know if these effects will last longer because the pandemic is only over a year old. As these studies continue, we will find out. (See Wang, Z. et al. Naturally enhanced neutralizing breadth against SARS-CoV-2 one year after infection. Nature, vol. 595, p426-431,  Turner, J. S. et al. (2021) SARS-CoV-2 infection induces long-lived bone marrow plasma cells in humans. Nature, vol. 595, p421-425  and a review piece  Radbruch, A. & Chang, H-D. (2021) A long-term perspective on immunity to CoVID. Nature, vol. 595, p359-340.)

Long CoVID affects 38% of those who have had CoVID and an even greater proportion of those hospitalised. The 38% figure is based on a UK study of half a million of those who have had CoVID. Long CoVID can be experienced by all age groups and not only those with acute severe disease. The debilitating symptoms are wide-ranging, multisystemic, and predominantly fluctuating or relapsing. There is still much to understand about Long CoVID, but what is not well understood should not be ignored. Many previously healthy and active people described persistent symptoms of the acute illness that fluctuated, with new symptoms appearing weeks later. There is some indication that having more symptoms at the start of the illness is linked to the development of Long CoVID. The most prevalent symptom of Long CoVID is commonly called “fatigue.” This is often mistaken for tiredness, but it is better described as a feeling of utter exhaustion, energy drain, or bodily dysfunction that is not necessarily triggered by exertion and is not always relieved by rest. The prevalence of fatigue is followed closely by symptoms of cognitive dysfunction, including poor memory or concentration, confusion, and “brain fog”. Chest pain or heaviness, breathlessness, headache, muscle aches, dizziness, and palpitations are also common. (See Alwan, N. A. (2021) The road to addressing Long CoVID. Science, vol. 373, p491-3.)

Long CoVID affects children. Children are less likely to develop full-blown CoVID-19 from SARS-CoV-2 infection, however some do. It also appears that some get long-CoVID: long COVID can last for months — maybe years; nobody yet knows.  Estimates of how common long COVID is in children vary wildly as so far surveys have been small. One study of 129 children aged 6–16 years found that more than one-third had one or two lingering symptoms four months or more after infection, and a further one-quarter had three or more symptoms. Insomnia, fatigue, muscle pain and persistent cold-like complaints were common — a pattern similar to that seen in adults with long COVID.  Meanwhile, the UK Office of National Statistics (ONS) in February and updated in April showed that 9.8% of children aged 2–11 years and 13% aged 12–16 years reported at least one lingering symptom five weeks after a positive diagnosis. The numbers reported are not as high as they are for adults: about 25% of 35–69-year-olds had symptoms at five weeks   Another UK study found a similar rate. Of more than 1,700 schoolchildren who tested positive 4.4% had symptoms, such as headache, fatigue and loss of smell, that persisted; 1.6% had symptoms that remained for at least 8 weeks. Though getting a firm handle on exact numbers is elusive, what is clear is that children can get long CoVID.  (Lewis, D. (2021) Long CoVID and kids: scientists race to find answers. Nature, vol. 595, p482-3.)

Related SARS-CoV-2 / CoVID-19 news, previously covered elsewhere on this site, includes:-
  - Lead vaccine scientist receives Albert Award
  - Pros and cons of single shot vaccine strategy
  - More is being learnt about the new SARS-CoV-2 mutations
  - What makes the B.1.1.7 SARS-CoV-2 variant more transmissible?
  - China's Coronavac vaccine has a disappointing Brazil trial
  - The new Novavax vaccine has near 90% efficacy
  - Hospital worker study of the Pfizer vaccine shows strong results
  - Elderly protected by Pfizer BioNTech vaccine
  - Scottish phase IV trial reveals high vaccine effectiveness
  - Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is highly effective according to a US study
  - Britain's Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine seems to reduce, and possibly prevent, transmission
  - Pfizer vaccine may suppress transmission of SARS-CoV2
  - The US approves third vaccine
  - Fake Sputnik V vaccines received from Russia
  - Vaccines may reduce long-CoVID-19
  - The SARS-CoV-2 vaccine side effects are rare and minimal
  - European nations temporarily ban Oxford Astra-Zeneca vaccine
  - Is the planet heading for a second peak?
  - UK dexamethasone steroid treatment for CoVID-19 successful
  - Worry less about SARS-CoV2 contaminating surfaces; worry more about aerosol transmission
  - First vaccine deployed - BioNTech's BNT162b2
  - The Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine
  - The Janssen Ad26CoVS1 vaccine
  - The AstraZeneca Oxford ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine
  - Russian SARS-CoV-2 vaccine data is suspicious
  - Vaccine unknowns
  - Life will not return to normal in spring 2021
  - An alternative to the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine
  - Synchronising lockdowns
  - Masks not only reduce viral load…
  - Racoon dogs can catch SARS-CoV-2
  - Pet dogs can catch SARS-CoV-2 off of owners
  - Minks can catch SARS-CoV-2 off of farm workers
  - A new variant of SARS-CoV-2 has emerged in the south-east of the UK
  - A second new variant
  - So, what is the situation with vaccines and the new strains?
  - Two viruses related to SARS-CoV-2 (not variants of SARS-CoV-2) have been discovered outside of China in horseshoe bats
  - The spikes from the SARS-CoV-2 virus have now been directly seen
  - No symptom transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is less significant than symptomatic
  - Kenya has a surprisingly low death toll for its infection rate
  - Those who have more Neanderthal genes are at greater risk of severe CoVID-19
  - Some people may be naturally immune to SARS-CoV-2 and so do not get severe CoVID-19
  - Why men are more prone to CoVID elucidated
  - Healthcare workers and their households are at greater risk from SARS-CoV-2
  - Restaurants are high risk places for the spread of SARS-CoV-2
  - Big data and a simple epidemic model estimates SARS-CoV-2/CoVID-19 transmission rates
  - Hydroxychloroquine use against SARS-CoV-2 does not work
  - CoVID-19 fatality risk factors confirmed
  - SARS-CoV-2 can be spread by aerosols
  - Review concludes that masks are necessary to reduce spread of SARS-CoV-2
  - Social distancing and school closures are key to lowering the spread of CoVID-19
  - Genomic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 reveals how the epidemic spread in New York, US
  - Cruise ship SARS-CoV-2 containment informs on the virus
  - The free market has failed to lay the groundwork for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine
  - A new, highly pathogenic, coronavirus has emerged in China
  - How Eastercon and Worldcon fandom survived CoVID-19 lockdown
  - SARS-CoV-2, CoVID-19 and the SF Community Briefing

 

 

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Autumn 2021

Astronomy & Space Science News

 

The age of the dawn of the first stars has been estimated.  It is thought that the first stars were very big and only made of hydrogen (Population III stars). Being big they were short-lived (with a lifetime of a few million years as opposed to ten billion like our Sun) and made up most of the stars in early galaxies. By working out the proportion of different types of stars in a galaxy it is possible to determine its age. Knowing the galaxy's red-shift it is possible to calculate how long ago it was that the light we see from it began its journey to us. Knowing both these it is possible to subtract the age of the galaxy from the age of the universe in which we see it and so estimate when the first stars began to shine. This is what British astronomers Nicolas Laporte and R. A. Meyer, and colleagues from the USA and Germany, have done looking at six ancient galaxies. Though their sample size is small, they estimate that these galaxies lit up when the Universe was between 250 and 350 million years old. This is earlier than previous estimates. Could this represent the age of the 'Cosmic Dawn'? We should know more with the forthcoming James Webb telescope. (See Laporte, N., R. A. Meyer, R. A., Ellis, R. S. et al. (2021) Probing cosmic dawn: Ages and star formation histories of candidate z ≥ 9 galaxies. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, vol. 505, p3,336–3,346.)
          Related stories previously covered elsewhere on this site:-
  - The beginnings of a galaxy have been detected 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang
  - Ancient stars inferred by Europe's Planck satellite
  - The first stars got going just 180 million years after the Big Bang
  - Ancient galaxies lack dark matter
  - Ancient galaxy cluster observation affirms inference of early stars

Third release of preliminary data from ESA's Gaia mission.  This is the third release since the start of the nominal operations in July 2014. The distances and motion for nearly 1.5 billion objects have been calculated. The more time that passes since Gaia's first tranche of data, the greater accuracy is achieved. The have also provided a well-characterised catalogue of objects within 100 parsecs (326 light years) of the Sun. With the preliminary release of data, astronomers can sift through to elucidate patterns. Expect a tranche of papers from next year (2022). The previous data releases have revealed: fast-moving, dead zombie stars, a large stellar nursery, confirmation that the Galaxy is larger than thought, that our galaxy was perturbed between 300 and 900 million years ago and that our galaxy was hit by another 10 billion years ago. (See Various (2021) Gaia Early Data Release 3 – Special Issue. Astronomy & Astrophysics. vol. 649.)

Over 500 extremely high energy cosmic rays (PeVatrons) have been detected.  These are atomic nuclei travelling close to the speed of light. PeVatrons have energies around 100 times that of the particles generated in CERN's Large Hadron Collider. They have been detected before but their source is something of a mystery. This is because magnetic fields in space bend their trajectories. However, when they interact with the interstellar medium they generate gamma rays and these do travel in a straight line. The researchers have identified one source, the Crab Nebula. They have detected a dozen γ-ray sources associated with PeVatrons so doubling the known PeVatron sources. These sources seem to lie along the Galactic Plane and so suggest that the PeVatrons originate in out Galaxy. Sources could be other supernovae remnants, pulsar winds and related to the Galactic centre black hole: we just don't know. However, we may learn more when the Cherenkov telescope Array in Chile and the Southern Wide-field Gamma Ray Observatory in S. America come on-line. (See Cao, Z. et al. (2021) Ultrahigh-energy photons up to 1.4 petaelectronvolts from 12γ-ray Galactic sources. Nature, vol.594, p33-6  and the review piece  Huentemeyer, P. (2021) Hunting the strongest accelerators in our Galaxy. Nature, vol.594, p30-1.)

Largest and most magnetised white dwarf found.  Using the Zwicky Transient Facility and also the 200-inch Hale telescope, a collaboration of US based astronomers have found the largest white dwarf rotating extremely fast with a rotation period of just 6.94 minutes. It is the size of Earth's Moon and if it was any bigger then it would collapse into a neutron star or black hole. It also has an extreme a magnetic field ranging between 600 megagauss and 900 megagauss over its surface. Called ZTF J1901+1458, it is 134 light years (41 parsecs) away.  It is thought to have arisen through the merger of two white dwarfs previously in a binary system. This would explain both its size and high rotation as well as its strong magnetic field. (See Caiazzo, I. et al. (2021) A highly magnetized and rapidly rotating white dwarf as small as the Moon. Nature, vol. 595, p39-42.)

Star repeatedly dims by 97%.  A collaboration of mainly British based astronomers has discovered a star on the other side of the Galaxy that regularly dims to almost nothing for a few hundred days. This is unlike pulsating and other variable stars. The most likely explanation is that it is being obscured by something orbiting it. However this mysterious object is invisible and very large: if it were our sun, its radius would extend to a quarter the distance to the Earth.  The astronomers have been observing this star for 17 years. They have found two other stars that exhibit somewhat similar behaviour. They suggest that there could be a new class of orbiting binaries in which one is a large and optically invisible object. (See Smith, L. C. et al. (2021) VVV-WIT-08: the giant star that blinked. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, vol. 505 (2), 1992–2008.)

Betelgeuse's recent behaviour has puzzled astronomers. They now think there is an explanation. The red supergiant star is very noticeable in our night sky. For starters, it's a BIG star 900 times the size of the Sun, and if it were our Sun its surface would almost touch Jupiter and it would certainly encompass all the inner Solar system planets. It is also only 724 light years away. As such it is one of the few stars discernable through a telescope as a disc.   The puzzling mystery was that back early in 2020 it began dimming and by mid-February of that year it had become just 35% of its normal brightness. Its southern half was especially dim.  Two theories abounded as to why this happened. First, red giants do see some variation in temperature. Could it be that convention cell change in its southern half could have caused the star to cool?  Secondly, could there have been a cloud of dust temporarily obscuring our view of the star?  Now an international collaboration, led by European astronomers think they have the answer and that this involves both theories in a connected way.  They think the change in convection not only resulted in cooling but also allowed the star to eject a small amount of mass. As this drifted away – towards us in the line of sight – it cooled and condensed out as dust obscuring the star. Mystery solved. ( See Montargès, M. et al (2021) A dust veil shading Betelgeuse during its great dimming. Nature, vol. 594, p365-8  and  Levesque, E. M. (2021) Great dimming of Betelgeuse explained. Nature, vol. 594, p434-5.)

Most comets give off iron and nickel vapours.  Using the very Large Telescope in Chile, two teams have independently determined that most comets give of iron and nickel vapours: up till now these elements have not been detected in vapour and dust tails. One detection was in a Solar system comet and the other in a visitor to the Solar system. The latter had a high concentration of CO gas suggesting that it formed from a Pluto like object or around a smaller and colder star than our Sun. (Manfroid, J., Hutsemekers, D. & Jehin, E. (2021) Iron and nickel atoms in cometary atmospheres even far from the Sun. Nature, vol. 593, p372-4,  Guzik, P. & Drahus, M. (2021) Gaseous atomic nickel in the coma of interstellar comet 2I/Borisov, Nature, vol. 593, p375-8  and the review piece  Bodewits, D. & Bromley, S. J. (2021) Iron and nickel vapours in most comets. Nature, vol. 593, p349-350.)

Venus may have mini-plates even if no plate tectonics as on Earth.  Venus has been thought to possess a globally continuous crust, in contrast to the mosaic of mobile tectonic plates that characterises Earth. However, the Venus surface has been extensively deformed, and convection of the underlying mantle, has been suggested as a reason. The extent of surface movement on Venus is driven by mantle convection, however, and the style and scale of this movement has been unclear.  New research now reports a globally distributed set of crustal blocks in the Venusian lowlands that show evidence for having rotated and/or moved laterally relative to one another, This is like a jostling pack ice. The astronomers suggest that this may offer parallels to interior-surface coupling on the early Earth, when global heat flux was substantially higher, and the crust generally thinner, than today. (See Byrne, P. K. et al. (2021) A globally fragmented and mobile lithosphere on Venus. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 118 (26), e2025919118.)

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is on its way back to Earth with asteroid sample.  Having successfully obtained samples last season from asteroid Bennu, the OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) Back in the early summer, it fired its main engines at full throttle for seven minutes. This burn thrust the spacecraft away from the asteroid at 600 miles per hour (nearly 1,000 kilometres per hour), setting it on a 2.5-year orbit about the Sun towards Earth. It is due to reach Earth 24th September 2023. Upon return, the capsule containing pieces of Bennu will separate from the rest of the spacecraft and enter Earth’s atmosphere. The capsule will parachute to the Utah Test and Training Range in Utah’s West Desert, where scientists will be waiting to retrieve it.
          Related asteroid sample-return news previously covered elsewhere on this site includes:-
  - Hayabusa 2 reveals that the asteroid 162173-Ryugu's surface boulders are highly porous
  - Sample from 2nd celestial body makes it back to Earth
  - Hayabusa [Falcon] arrived at the 500m-long, nickel-iron asteroid Itokawa

First controlled aircraft flies on another planet.  NASA's Perseverance mission on Mars has seen the launch of the helicopter drone, Ingenuity.  Because of Mars' thin atmosphere, Ingenuity's solar-powered, counter-rotating blades have to spin at 2,400 revolutions per minute (40 per second).  The drone cost US$85 million (£62m).  ++++ NASA is currently constructing a car-sized octocopter to fly on Saturn's moon Titan in a mission slated to launch in 2027.  ++++  Note: Russia's Soviet Vega 1 and 2 Venus were balloon flown probes in the Venusian atmosphere in 1985.

China's Tianwen's lander – Zhurong – touches down on Mars.  Tianwen-1 entered Mars' orbit as we posted last season's news page.  This is China's first mission to Mars and the third nation (after the USA and Russia) to successfully land a craft on it.  Zhurong is named after a Chinese god of fire.

There is no phosphine in the Martian atmosphere, or if there is it is below detectable limits.  This is sort of important as phosphine is a potential biomarker and has recently been discovered in the Venusian atmosphere.  With regards to Mars, we know that there have been past floods and a sea on the planet, that there is still water on Mars at its poles and in places in the ground. Intriguingly methane has been detected and Martian methane may indicate life.  More intriguingly, oxygen has also been detected.  So if phosphine had been detected then that would have added to the case for there being extant life on Mars.  As it is, the Atmospheric Chemistry Suite on the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter is capable for detecting phosphine yet it was not observed in the 192 observations made over a full Martian year.  If there is phosphine it must be at a level below the detection limit of 0.1–0.6 parts per billion (about 2% of the value of phosphine first thought to have been detected – though that figure has now been revised down).  (See Olsen, K. S., Trokhimovskiy, A., Braude, A. S. et al (2021) Upper limits for phosphine (PH3) in the atmosphere of Mars. Astronomy & Astrophysics, vol. 649, L1.).

The interior of Mars is beginning to be revealed.  We previously had some news but he summer saw the detailed release of the first findings published in a peer-reviewed journal of the interior structure of Mars based on data from the NASA lander InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport).  After landing two years ago the InSight lander has spent the intervening time relaying data to Earth.  These studies provide the first direct observations of the crust, mantle, and core structure on another rocky planet.  Marsquakes detected from the seismometer deployed during the mission enabled mapping of the planet's interior. The results suggest that Mars likely has a 15 – 45 mile (24 – 72 km) -thick crust with a very deep lithosphere close to 500 kilometres. Similar to the Earth, a low-velocity mantle layer probably exists beneath the lithosphere. The core of Mars is liquid and large, with a radius of around 1,450 miles (1,830 km), which means that the mantle has only one rocky layer rather than two like the Earth has.  (See Khan, A. et al (2021) Upper mantle structure of Mars from InSight seismic data. Science, vol. 373, p434-438,  Knapmeyer-Endrun, B. et al (2021) Thickness and structure of the Martian crust from InSight seismic data. Science, vol. 373, p438-443,  Stähler, S. C. et al (2021) Seismic detection of the Martian core. Science, vol. 373, p443-448  and the review piece  Cottaar, S. & Koelemeijer, P. (2021) The interior of Mars revealed. Science, vol. 373, p388-389.)

There is not enough water in Venus' atmosphere for life, research concludes.  An international collaboration of biologists led by British based John Hallsworth, María-Paz Zorzano and Philip Ball, have determined that the water-activity values of sulphuric acid droplets, which constitute the bulk of Venus’s clouds, of ≤0.004, two orders of magnitude below the 0.585 limit for known extremophiles. Water activity is the ratio of a liquid's water vapour presses compared to that of pure water. Some fungal species on Earth can survive in an environment with a water activity of 0.585. However the water activity in the Venusian atmosphere is less than 0.004, two orders of magnitude below the 0.585. They also calculate that the water activity in Martian clouds is close to the Earth extremophile limit (which means that the briny surface water must be within the limit. Further, part of Jupiter's atmosphere may have enough water for life. (See Hallsworth, J. E., et al (2021) Water activity in Venus’s uninhabitable clouds and other planetary atmospheres. Nature Astronomy. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-021-01391-3.)

G7 world leaders make space junk a priority to make sustainable use of space.  G7 Leaders’ Summit in Cornwall, Great Britain, made space debris a priority and called on other nations to follow suit.  We at SF² Concatenation covered space junk in our first (print) edition back in 1987. There are more than 28,000 routinely tracked objects orbiting Earth. The vast majority (85%) are space debris that no longer serve a purpose. These debris objects are dominated by fragments from the approximately 560 known breakups, explosions, and collisions of satellites or rocket bodies. These have left behind an estimated 900,000 objects larger than 1 cm and a staggering 130 million objects larger than 1 mm in commercially and scientifically valuable Earth orbits. Back in 1987, when we first covered this, there were only(!) 40,000 items over 1 cm across.  And what goes up must come down. Currently, between 100 and 200 tonnes of human-made hardware re-enters Earth’s atmosphere every year in an uncontrolled way. One day, something is going to land on someone's head.  Further, the satellites slated to be launched over the next five years will surpass the number launched globally over the entire history of spaceflight. Congestion in space is only going to get worse. (See Editorial (2021) A sustainable use of space. Science, vol. 373, p259  and Anon. (1987) Space junk problem. Science Fact & Fiction Concatenation, issue 1, p6.)

Three taikonauts went to China's space station being assembled in orbit.  Launched by a Long March-2F Y12 rocket, the Shezhou-12 craft docked with what will be the main module of the Tiangong station in a 236 mile high orbit. The taikonauts will stay there for three months. Two more modules will be added next year (2022).

Six 63-foot-long solar panels have been added to the International Space Station.  They were installed by NASA's Shane Kimbrough and France's Thomas Pesquet. They will provide a much needed electrical boost.

 

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

Autumn 2021

Science & Science Fiction Interface

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

 

Big Brother can now track you through a crowd.  For many years now it has been possible to pick out, and then identify through face recognition software, a person in a crowd. However, following a person through a crowd is difficult, people and objects periodically get in the way. Also, while computers can simultaneously track more objects than humans, they usually fail to discriminate the appearance of different objects. This can lead to the algorithm to mix up objects in a scene and ultimately produce incorrect tracking results. Not any more due to a new development by researchers at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology in Korea mentored by Moongu Jeon and led by Y-C Yoon. They have developed a new tracking model based on a technique they call ‘deep temporal appearance matching association (Deep-TAMA)’. It incorporates deep learning techniques into a multi-object tracking framework.  In addition to public surveillance, the technique has applications for driverless cars.  (See Yoon, Y-C et al (2021) Online multiple pedestrians tracking using deep temporal appearance matching association. Information Sciences, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ins.2020.10.002.)

Orwell's 'news-speak' has become a reality with fake news. Facebook has been fighting back.  Facebook has removed hundreds of fake accounts that reportedly have been linked to an advertising agency. Registered in the UK but operating out of Russia, Fazze used 65 Facebook and 243 Instagram accounts to spread safety fears over the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines. One wild claim was the vaccines would turn a person into a chimpanzee.

SETI should look for quantum signals when searching for extraterrestrial intelligence.  The suggestion comes from a German astronomer, Michael Hippke.  Since the 1960s, the vast majority of all SETI (search for extra-terrestrial intelligence) experiments have been done in the microwave electromagnetic band. A smaller number of searches have been made in the optical: the signal assumption for that being that the aliens would be using a pulsed laser.  The new quantum signal suggestion is made for four reasons: 1) the aliens use quantum to keep primitive technological civilisations out of the loop; 2) information security – you would need a quantum key to decode it; 3) you can do better computing with quantum technology; and 4) a quantum channel can deliver more classical information per unit energy than a classical channel.  Quantum coherence is feasible over interstellar distances and so a theoretically possible means of communication. Michael Hippke suggests we adapt some commercially available telescopes and receiver equipment to look for Fock state photons or squeezed light or Fock state photons. We might not be able to decode such quantum signals but we could detect them as unnatural phenomena. (See  Hippke, M. (2021) Searching for Interstellar Quantum Communications. Astronomical Journal, vol. 162, 1.)

How many alien worlds could detect our small rocky plant, the Earth?  We can detect some exoplanets. So intelligence on some of these could surely detect us. But how many?
          One of the best ways we currently detect exoplanets is when their orbit intersects our line of sight with their host star: these exoplanets transit their star and that star dims. As said, this only works when observer, planet and star are all aligned.  However, just as we can this way detect exoplanets, so exoplanets about stars in the plane of our Earth orbiting the Sun can similarly detect the Earth!  Assuming aliens have at least the same technology as us, how many of these are there?
          Two US astronomers, using data from the Gaia mission that takes into account the movement of stars, have worked out how many stars could detect an Earth transit of the Sun.
          It turns out that over the past 5,000 years there were some 1,715 stars within 100 parsecs (~350 light years) of the Earth that could detect us using the transit method. Currently, today, there are 1,402 stars that could detect the Earth using the transit method with our level of technology. Of these 128 are G type stars like our Sun.
          The astronomers also estimate, taking a pessimistic view of our current exoplanet catalogue, and applying a probability based on that, that there 508 rocky planets in the habitable zone of these stars.
          Finally, assuming that we have been generating significant radio waves for about a century, they calculate 29 of these potentially habitable rocky planets could, were there aliens there listening, be in a position to also detect our radio signals. (See Kaltenegger, L. & Faherty, J. K. (2021) Past, present and future stars that can see the Earth as a transiting exoplanet. Nature, vol. 594, p505-7.)

First fully crewed Virgin Galactic trip to the edge of space has been undertaken.  Virgin owner, Sir Richard Branson, was along for the ride. The Virgin Galactic VSS Unity took off from New Mexico's Spaceport America to reach a speed in excess of Mach 3 to reach an altitude of over 53 miles (85 km). The whole journey lasted an hour which included 4 minutes in zero g. In future, tourists are expected to pay £180,000 (US$240,000) for a similar trip.  Following his journey he appeared on the US's Stephen Colbert show with advice for the next billionaire to go sub-orbital.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos went to space in Blue Origin's New Shepherd rocket.  He was accompanied by an 82-year old, NASA trained, astronaut who never went to space, Wally Funk, as well as his brother Mark and 18-year old Dutch student Oliver Daemen. Funk and Daemen become the oldest and youngest respectively to journey to space. The trip took place nine days after Branson's (above) and reached 66 miles (106 km).
          On his return Jeff Bezos Tweeted thanking 'every Amazon employee and customer' saying 'because you guys paid for this all'. This quickly engendered a backlash from Amazon workers about whom there have been concerns as to their pay and working conditions.  Meanwhile US democratic Senator Bernie Sanders himself Tweeted: 'Am I supposed to be impressed a billionaire went to space while he paid zero income tax some years and workers at his company struggle to afford medical bills, rent and food for their kids?"  While fellow Democrat Elizabeth Warren posted: 'Jeff Bezos forgot to thank all hardworking Americans who paid taxes to keep the country running while he paid nothing.'
++++ Related stories elsewhere on this site and other sites include:-
  - Amazon is destroying/dumping unsold goods
  - Amazon's Audible seems to be ripping off publishers and authors
  - Concerns as to Amazon's staff work conditions and rights
  - Amazon workers launch protests on Prime Day
  - Staff at Amazon's Swansea warehouse 'treated like robots'
  - Amazon warehouse accidents total 440
  - Amazon workers praising conditions are accused of lying
  - Amazon breaks embargo on Atwood's The Testaments
  - Amazon's UK tax paid substantially down despite a great profit increase
  - Amazon must pay its tax, says European Commission
  - Amazon tax wrong says UK Booksellers Association
  - 110,000 submit Amazon tax petition to Downing Street
  - Amazon and Google lambasted by Chair of House of Commons Accounts Committee
  - Amazon UK avoiding substantial tax says report in The Bookseller.

New brain interface enables thoughts to text writing.  Could we ever dispense with hands and just think to write? It now looks like we can!  Biomedical scientists, bio-engineers and neuroscientists in the US have developed the prototype technology. Brain–computer interfaces (can restore communication to people who have lost the ability to move or speak. So far, a major focus of research has been on restoring gross motor skills, such as reaching and grasping or point-and-click typing with a computer cursor. Now they have developed an intracortical brain-computer-interface that decodes attempted handwriting movements from thought and translates it to text in real time. A paralysed patient managed speeds of 90 characters per minute with 94.1% raw accuracy online, and greater than 99% accuracy offline with a general-purpose autocorrect. (See Willett, F. R., et al (2021) High-performance brain-to-text communication via handwriting. Nature, vol. 593, p249-254  and the review piece  Rajeswaran, P &. Orsborn, A. L. (2021) Neural interface translates thoughts into type. Nature, vol. 593, p197-8.)

Artificial Intelligence revolution on protein folding structure prediction.  Over the past five decades, biologists have experimentally determined the structures of more than 180,000 proteins and deposited them in the Protein Data Bank.  Despite this, the structures of hundreds of millions of proteins remain unknown, including more than two-thirds of those in the human proteome — the full set of proteins produced by our human genome.  scientists at DeepMind, Google’s London-based sister company, describe a machine-learning method, AlphaFold2, that predicts protein structures with near-experimental accuracy, and report its application to the human proteome. DeepMind has also announced that it has applied AlphaFold2 to the proteomes of 20 model organisms.  AlphaFold2 is the second iteration of a system that DeepMind introduced three years ago.  AlphaFold2 is free for academics to use and, in collaboration with the European Bioinformatics Institute in Hinxton, UK, DeepMind will make the predicted structures of almost all known proteins freely available to all. (See the review AlQuraishi, M. (2021) Protein-structure prediction revolutionized. Nature, vol. 596, p487-9  and the primary research papers  Jumper, J. et al. (2021) Highly accurate protein structure prediction with AlphaFold. Nature, vol. 596, p 583–589 Tunyasuvunakool, K. et al. (2021) Highly accurate protein structure prediction for the human proteome. Nature, vol. 596, p 590–596.)

Judge Says an Artificial Intelligence (AI) can’t be an inventor on a patent because it’s not a person.  US federal judge Leonie Brikema ruled that an AI can’t be listed as an inventor on a US patent under current law. The case was brought forward by Stephen Thaler, who is part of the Artificial Inventor Project, an international initiative that argues that an AI should be allowed to be listed as an inventor in a patent (the owner of the AI would legally own the patent).  He sued the US Patent and Trademark Office after it denied his patent applications because he had listed the AI named DABUS as the inventor of a new type of flashing light and a beverage container. In various responses spanning several months, the Patent Office explained to Thaler that a machine does not qualify as an inventor because it is not a person. In fact, the machine is a tool used by people to create inventions, the agency maintained.

SF is full of exotic substances from Cavorite to Corbomite. Now it has been discovered that the world’s first nuclear bomb test created 'impossible' quasicrystals. The previously unknown structure, made of iron, silicon, copper and calcium, probably formed from the fusion of vaporised desert sand and copper cables. Quasicrystals contain building blocks made up of arrangements of atoms that — unlike those in ordinary crystals — do not repeat in a regular, brickwork-like pattern. They have symmetries that were once considered impossible. Materials scientist Daniel Shechtman first discovered such an impossible symmetry in a synthetic alloy in 1982. He won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery. In subsequent years, materials scientists synthesised many types of quasicrystals, expanding the range of possible symmetries. In the aftermath of the Trinity test — the first detonation of a nuclear bomb in 1945 researchers found a field of greenish glassy material that had formed from the liquefaction of desert sand. They dubbed this trinitite. The bomb had been detonated on top of a 30-metre-high tower laden with sensors and their cables. As a result, some of the trinitite had reddish inclusions: it was a fusion of natural material with copper from the transmission lines. The quasicrystal recently found from this trinitite has the same kind of icosahedral symmetry as the one in Shechtman’s original discovery. (See Castelvecchi, D. (2021) First nuclear test created ‘impossible’ quasicrystals. Nature, vol. 593, p487.)

1I/‘Oumuamua is probably not an alien artefact but a Kuiper fragment.  Back in 2017 when what appeared to be a cigar-shaped, 180m by 30m, object fell into the Solar System to skirt the Sun, it seemed something like Arthur C. Clarke's object Rama.  It had a tumbling motion that even changed course slightly as it rounded the Sun. It was even considered by some in the astronomical community to be a discarded Solar sail (something that the former Chair of Havard University's Astronomy Department wrote about). It was odder than the subsequent extra-Solar comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov): the second extra Solar visitor ever detected.  However, Steven Desch of the Arizona State University has an idea what it might be and his colleague Alan Jackson crunched the numbers and they have published two papers in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.
          They considered several different ices and the push they would give ‘Oumuamua as they evaporated to explain the change of Oumuamua's course as it neared the Sun. They found that the best ice is nitrogen (N2), which would explain many of the observations. that ‘Oumuamua was small, with dimensions 45 metres × 44 m × 7.5 m and a high albedo of 0.64. This albedo is consistent with the N2 surfaces of bodies like Pluto and Triton.  They estimate that ‘Oumuamua was ejected about 0.4–0.5 billion years ago from a young stellar system, possibly in the Perseus arm.  They showed that orbital instabilities in which giant planets move around, as happened in our own outer solar system 4 billion years ago, could make and throw out large numbers of small pieces of nitrogen ice like ‘Oumuamua from the systems outer dwarf planets. ‘Oumuamua may be the first piece of an exoplanet brought to us.  Our Kuiper belt originally had much more mass than today, but an instability caused by Neptune's migration disrupted their orbits, ejecting most of this material from the Solar System, and simultaneously causing numerous collisions among these bodies. There were thousands of bodies like Pluto, with N2 ice (like the gas in Earth's atmosphere, but frozen) on their surfaces, and this instability would have generated trillions of N2 ice fragments. A similar fragment, generated in another solar system, after travelling for about a half billion years through interstellar space, would match the size, shape, brightness, and dynamics of the interstellar object 1I/‘Oumuamua.  There are hints that some N2 ice fragments may have survived in the Oort cloud of comets in our Solar System.  (See  Jackson, A. P. & Desch, S. J. (2021) 1I/‘Oumuamua as an N2 ice fragment of an exo-Pluto surface: I. Size and Compositional Constraints. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, vol. 126, e2020JE006706  and  Desch, S. J., & Jackson, A. P. (2021) 1I/‘Oumuamua as an N2 ice fragment of an exo-Pluto surface II: Generation of N2 ice fragments and the origin of ‘Oumuamua. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets vol. 126, e2020JE006807.)  Here is a twelve-minute explanatory videoSee also elsewhere this edition: The Solar System’s First Interstellar Visitor ’Oumuamua Revisited – Duncan Lunan, a review of some of the more exotic theories behind the object.

Russia may clone an army of ancient warriors says Russia's Defence Minister.  The Minister, Sergei Shoigu (who is also an ally of President Vladimir Putin) has suggested using the DNA of 3,000-year-old Scythian warriors to potentially resurrect them as clones.  The Scythian people, originally came from modern-day Iran, They were nomads who travelled around Eurasia between the 9th and 2nd centuries B.C., building a powerful empire that lasted several centuries. Two decades ago, archaeologists uncovered the well-preserved remains of the soldiers in a kurgan, or burial mound, in the Tuva region of Siberia.  Shoigu aired his suggestion in an online session of the Russian Geographical Society in May… Of course there are a number of technical as well as ethical, let alone legal obstacles to overcome. Though for Russia the last is the least of the problems as it easily ignores international law.

Societal collapse or change is an emergent trope in much SF, but how does one buffer against urban food shortages?  Give society a science fictional kick, be it from new technology gone wrong or a natural disaster, and one risk is a disrupted food supply. Globally, with half the population living in cities (estimated to be 68% of the population by 2050), it is urban food supply that is of concern. US researchers have developed a computer model of US city food supply and married it to real-life data from 2012 to 2015. These four years saw most of the country experience moderate to severe drought. (Of course, more recently we have had the initial CoVID-19 disruption that emptied shop shelves.) They conclude that the best way to avoid food shortage was to ensure a diversity of supply. The more diverse supply, number and mode of supply, the less risk there was to urban food shortages. (See Gomez, M., l Mejia, A., Ruddell, B. L. & Rushforth, R. R. (2021) Supply chain diversity buffers cities against food shocks. Nature, vol. 595, p250-4  and  and the review piece Mehrabi, Z. (2021) How to buffer against an urban food shortage. Nature, vol. 595, p175-6.)

New Borg life puzzles scientists.  Scientists analysing samples from muddy sites in the western United States have found unusual DNA structures that seem to scavenge and ‘assimilate’ genes from microorganisms in their environment, much like the fictional Borg — aliens in Star Trek that assimilate the knowledge and technology of other species.  These extra-long DNA strands join a diverse collection of genetic structures — including circular plasmids — known as extrachromosomal elements (ECEs).  These Borgs are a previously unknown, unique and "absolutely fascinating” type of ECE said one of the researchers. They seem to be associated with archaea, which are single-celled microorganisms distinct from bacteria. They seem linked to the Methanoperedens variety, which digest and destroy methane. And Borg genes seem to be involved in this process. (See Dance, A. (2021) Massive dna ‘borg’ structures perplex scientists. Nature, vol. 595, p636.)

Comic writers, comedians and actors are re-writing extinction to tackle global environmental problems.  This venture aims to take environmentalism out of the very dry, albeit worthy, science-driven space and into entertainment through comics. This project collects stories from the best environmental voices across the planet, to achieve help change behaviours, protect species and restore key ecosystems. Many comic writers and artists are onboard including Garth Ennis, John Wagner, Allan Moore, Peter Miligan, Si Spurrier and Rob Williams and actors Taika Waititi, Yoko Ono, Patrick Stewart, Judi Dench, Ian McKellan, Ricky Gervais and Andy Serkis as well as TV biologist Chris Packham. They are producing free, weekly online, environmentally related strips and jokes and distribute them by social media. There is an environmental theme every month, such as seas, rewilding, or animal cruelty. The best material will be compiled into a book, Rewilding Extiction: The most important comic book on Earth, in October, 2021, from DK Publishing.  The comics are free but there are donation platforms and donors can choose between projects to fund. The beneficiary charities are: Greenpeace; World Land Trust; Born Free, Reserva, The Wildlife Trusts, Rewild and Rewilding Europe. See www.rewritingextinction.com.

Satellite imaging, just five decades ago, was an SF concept. Yet today they predict a drowned future for many, and its starting now.  US researchers have developed a global flood database from satellite images taken between 2000 to 2018.  These images have a resolution of 250 metres by 250 metres.  They found that 2.23 million square kilometres have been flooded affecting between 255 to 290 million people.  What is more, between 2000 and 2015 the world population grew by 18.6% yet flood victims grew by 34.1%.  They estimate that between 2000 and 2015 those affected by floods increased by 58 to 86 million: an increase of 20% to 24%.  Plugging in climate change models suggests that the proportion of the population affected by floods will increase further.  Climate change induced flood risk increases are not something for the future: it's happening now!  The researchers hope that their database will improve vulnerability assessments and the accuracy of global and local flood models. (See Tellman, B. et al. (2021) Satellite imaging reveals increased proportion of the population exposed to floods. Nature, vol. 596, p80-6.)

 

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

Science & Futurism with Isaac Arthur celebrated its 300th Thursday episode in July.  If you have not come across Science & Futurism then it is a weekly, typically 30 – 40 minute-long, vlog (video log) on science and futurism: it does what it says on the can. Topics range from exotic power systems, through living in a high population future and interstellar drives, to the nature of aliens and apocalyptic scenarios. In short, there's a distinct SFnal riff. Isaac Arthur started off with irregular posts before settling down to a weekly, Thursday (US time) schedule. Because of this, two-parter and guest specials, he actually has closer to 400 episodes under his belt.  The 300th Thursday episode also came out exactly 2,500 days after the first episode almost 7 years ago.
          For the 300th celebratory edition what better a topic than 'The End of Earth'.  You can see the episode here.

The Fermi Paradox: Drake's Equation reviewed.  This is the well known paradox of given the 'small' size of the Galaxy (travelling at just 10% the speed of light you could traverse it over 22,000 times over the period of the Earth's history) yet given the number of stars (somewhere of the order of 200 billion), why has not an interstellar traversing civilisation arisen which we can detect today? Where are the aliens?  Drake's Equation lies at the core of the Fermi Paradox and SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, but is it a good guide in our search for aliens, and what does modern astronomy tell us about the probabilities of finding life on exoplanets?  Here is Isaac Arthur's take.  You can see the half hour video here.

It is never aliens, except when it is.  There’s one rule on PBS Space Time: It’s never Aliens. But every rule has an exception and this rule is no exception because: It’s never aliens, until it is. So is it aliens yet?  And in this edition of Space Time they have been examining all the best case scenarios for life beyond Earth… See the video here.

Recent research and the possibilities of faster-than-light warp drive.  That Einstein guy was a bit of a pain for our hopes of a star-hopping, SFnal future. His whole “nothing travels faster than light” rule seems to ensure that exploration of even the local part of our galaxy will be an excruciating slow. But Einstein also gave us a glimmer of hope. He showed us that space and time can be warped - and so the warp drive was conceived. Just recently, a couple of papers contend that these are not pure science fiction.  PBS Space Time has a 10-minute briefing video here.  This briefing builds on another PBS Space Time video from five years ago that introduces the notion of an FTL warp drive asking is the Alcubierre Warp Drive Possible?

Could Solar flares explain the Fermi Paradox?  The Fermi Paradox asks where are the aliens given that the Galaxy is only a couple of hundred thousand light years across and so could have been traversable a score of times throughout its history even at a tenth the speed of light? If an interstellar species does exist then we should have seen them.
          Isaac Arthur suggests that Solar flares could be one answer that would disable a technological civilisation… Our Sun constantly froths with sunspots and solar flares, many larger than our planet, and yet these are dwarfed by Coronal Mass Ejections, such as the Carrington Event of 1859, which would have wiped out our communication and electric grid had it occurred today. For all of that, our Sun is far less volatile than most stars, and this may be a factor in why Earth has a technological civilization.  See the 27 minute video here.

 

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

Autumn 2021

Rest In Peace

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

 

William Allen, the New Zealand born reproductive biologist, has died aged 80.  Though working in reproductive biology, he trained as a veterinarian and specialised in equine fertility. He spent much of his career in Britain before the past five years which he spent in the United Arab Emirates.

Sid Altus, the US fan and SF publisher, has died aged 71.  With Alex Berman he founded the small Phantasia Press (1978-1989). In addition to SF books he was a fantastic film fan and showed films on his television projector (large TVs did not exist in the 1970s). He was a member of the Detroit in '82 Worldcon bid. He worked on AutoClave and ConFusion, and ran a brief revival of art shows at Midwestcon.

C. Dean Andersson, the US horror and fantasy writer has died. His novels include Crimson Kisses and I Am Dracula. He was a Horror Writers Association (HWA) Bram Stoker Award 2007 Short Fiction Finalist for 'The Death Wagon Rolls on By'.

Austen Angell, the Australian borne, US chemist, has died aged 87.  He is known for his work on glasses and super-cooled liquids. His work had applications to battery and fuel-cell technology.  He was an avid symposium attender and noted for never shirking from asking hypothetical questions in Q&A sessions that sometimes provided fresh perspectives. This caused one colleague to quip, 'Angell rushes in where fools fear to tread'.

Andrew Barton, the UK fan, has died aged 67.

Charles Beeson, the British television director, has died aged 64. His credits include Afterlife (2005-2006), Timeless (2016) and Supernatural (14 episodes 2007-2020).

John Bush, the British editor and publisher, has died aged 101.  He oversaw the Gollancz SF list and chaired the company from 1963 until he retired in 1982. He was responsible for Gollancz's famed yellow jacketed SF books.

Ned Beatty, the US actor, has died aged 83.  His roles included the genre-related films: The Big Bus (1976), Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), Superman (1978), Superman II (1980), The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981), Captain America (1990) and Toy Story III (2010). He also had support roles in an episode of a score of TV shows.

Margaret Wander Bonanno, the US SF author, has died aged 71. Her first novel was the Star Trek tie-in Dwellers in the Crucible (1985) and who wrote the ‘Others’ (1991-1993) and ‘Preternatural’ (1996-2002) book series.

Alexander Bouchard, the US fan, has died following a car accident. His fanzines were Lightning Round and Scopus.

Bob Brown, the US book-dealer, has died of oesophageal cancer. He was well known in dealer halls on the US convention circuit.

Patricia Brown, the British code breaker, has died aged 103.  She was one of the Bletchley code-breakers, along with Alan Turing, in World War II at Bletchley Park. Her work was aided by her being fluent in both French and German. She was initially with the Government Code & Cipher School's Bletchley Park but then moved to the School's German diplomatic section, based in Berkeley Street in Mayfair, London and was its head. At Bletchley she made a leading contribution to the breaking the German diplomatic code, Floradora. This code was encrypted twice and so thought by Germany to be unbreakable. At the age of 24, she was head of her Bletchley section.  In 1941 Bletchley Park’s diplomatic and commercial sections moved to Berkeley Street. By May 1942 they were reading all the messages between the German embassy in Dublin and Berlin. She was reportedly subject to harassment from Frederic Freeborn who controlled some of Bletchley's calculators and rationed Patricia's time on them. Conversely, Alastair Denniston, the head of the Berkeley Street office, ensured she received credit for her work which included letters of commendation from the cabinet secretary, Sir Edward Bridges, and MI5.  Following the war she married and raised a family.

Ed Buckley, the British SF fan, has died aged 80. He was a regular particularly at Scottish conventions and also a renowned space artist.

Carol Carr (Carol Stuart), the US writer and SF fan, has died aged 82.  She had been the second, and subsequently life-long, wife of author, prolific anthologist editor and SF fan Terry Carr.  She was, though, a writer of her own short stories.  These have been collected in Carol Carr: The Collected Writings (2013).

Thomas Cavalier-Smith, the British evolutionary biologist, has died aged 78.  Hugely respected for his hypotheses and stringent consideration which included him sometimes disproving his own ideas, he was particularly interested in the rise of eukaryotes (species with cells that have distinct nuclei) from prokaryotes (simple, single-celled species like bacteria). He also looked at the rise of seχual reproduction.  His awards include the International Prize for Biology he received in 2004 from the Emperor of Japan.

Paul Campbell, the Northern Irish fan, has died aged 72. He also edited three issues of Extro magazine in 1982.

Michael Collins, the US astronaut, has died from cancer aged 90.  His first spaceflight was on Gemini 10 in 1966, in which he and Command Pilot John Young performed orbital rendezvous with two spacecraft and undertook two extravehicular activities.  Famously he was the third member of the Apollo 11 mission that saw Neil Armstrong and Buz Aldrin set foot on the Moon. This meant that Collins, in orbit over the far side of the Moon, was the second person to have the Moon between him and all of humanity (the first being the remaining in lunar orbit astronaut for Apollo 10). After retiring from NASA in 1970, Collins became an Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs in the Department of State. A year later, he became the director of the National Air and Space Museum, and held this position until 1978, when he stepped down to become undersecretary of the Smithsonian Institution. In 1980, he took a job as vice president of LTV Aerospace.

Dave Cunliffe, the British SF writer, has died aged 80. He mainly wrote short stories.

Stuart Damon, the US actor, has died aged 84. His best known genre work was the series The Champions (1968-1969) where he played one of the leads, Craig Stirling, and Gerry Anderson's Space: 1999 (1977) where in its second series he played the support character Guido Verdeschi. He also had bit parts in The New Avengers episode 'Trap' and the 'Mindbenders' episode of UFO.  Of cult TV note He also appeared with Roger Moore in an episode of The Saint ('The Ex-King of Diamonds'). which has been credited as the inspiration for the later series The Persuaders!, with his role being played by Tony Curtis.

Mike Don, the British SF fan, has died aged 77. Though a qualified geologist, his life was devoted to the alternate and counterculture book scence. From the 1970s he was part of the collective that ran the radical Manchester bookshop Grass Roots. He also occasionally attended MaD SF (Manchester & District SF) group meetings. In 1982 he launched his own mail-order SF business, Dreamberry Wine.

Richard Donner, the US film director and producer (arguably the father of the modern superhero film), has died aged 91.  His early careers was in directing television shows. Here, his genre work included episodes of Get Smart (2 episodes), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (4 episodes), The Wild Wild West (3 episodes), Tales from the Crypt (3 episodes) and The Twilight Zone (6 episodes).  His first direction of film was for X-15 (1961).  After directing his breakthrough film The Omen (1976), he directed Superman (1978) starring Christopher Reeve. It was he who insisted the subject of the comic book superhero should be treated "straight" rather than camp as had been the vogue.  (This approach was subsequently adopted for many subsequent superhero films.) He also shot much of Superman II (1980) which was made back-to-back but was fired due to difficulties with its executive producers. (However there is a Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006).)   He and his wife, producer Lauren, went on to form the production company The Donners' Company (formerly Donner/Shuler Donner Productions), best known for producing the and X-Men franchise. In 2000, he received the President's Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films.  Collaborating with comics book writer Geoff Johns he co-wrote the DC Comics' stories Last Son and Escape from Bizarro World (both 2009). His authorised biography is You're the Director... You Figure It Out: The Life and Films of Richard Donner (2010).

Edward de Bono, the Maltese psychologist, has died aged 88.  He is noted for originating the term 'Lateral Thinking' and his controversial views of creativity. He wrote 85 books with translations into 46 languages. He also wrote the introduction to George Hay’s The Edward De Bono Science Fiction Collection (1976) and contributed to Peter Nicholls’s Science Fiction at Large (1976).

Ruth Freitag, the US science, technology, and astronomy librarian, has died aged 96.  She was reference librarian at the Library of Congress for nearly a half-century. Though unknown to the public she was to those who relied on her services. These included Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov.

Penny Frierson, the US fan, has died aged 79. She founded the Birmingham (Alabama) SF club and chaired the 1986 Worldcon.

Bryan Fortey, the Welsh fan, has died aged 83. He published a number of fanzines but is best known for Relativity (1967-1977)

Marye Fox, the US organic chemist, has died aged 73.  She served as a science advisor to George W. Bush during his tenure as governor of Texas. She also served on President Bush's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Sally Miller Gearhart, the US author and political activist, has died aged 90.  Her feminist novels were The Wanderground (1980), The Kanshou (2002) and The Magister (2003).

Marty Helgesen, the US fan, has died aged 82.  He contributed to fanzines and his own, Radio Free Thulcandra ran from the mid-1980s to '90s.

Elizabeth Anne Hull, the US academic, activist and author, has died aged 84.  She was a past President of the Science Fiction Research Association from 1989-90, after editing the SFRA Newsletter from 1981-1984. She was recognised for service to SF research with the organisation’s Thomas Clareson Award.She was Professor Emerita of William Rainey Harper College in Palatine, Illinois, USA, where she taught English and science fiction for over 30 years. She was Frederik Phol's fifth wife.

Bernie Kahn, the US screenwriter, has died aged 90.  His genre credits include My Favorite Martian, Bewitched and Superboy.

Marvin Kaye, the US author and editor, has died aged 82.  He was an author of mystery and fantasy as well as SF.  In SF he is arguably best noted for co-authoring with Parke Godwin the 'Masters of Solitude' books.  He was a World Fantasy Award winner and was a past editor of Weird Tales Magazine.

Patricia Kennealy-Morrison, the US author, has died aged 75. Her ‘Keltiad’ sequence of Arthurian space operas began with The Copper Crown (1984).

Leo Kindt, the Dutch fan, has died aged 77. He co-founded the first Dutch SF society.

Erle Korshak, the US fan, has died aged 98.  He was one of the last two surviving attendees of the first Worldcon in 1939. He was also on the committee of the 1940 Worldcon. He was going to be one of the guests of honour at the 2022 Worldcon, Chicon 8. He was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame in 1996.

Sergei Kovalev, the Russian biologist and dissident, has died aged 91.  A biologist in an open letter he rejected the theory of genetics officially promulgated by the Soviet government. He became a public dissident by the late 1960s, co-founding the Action Group for the Defense of Human Rights in 1969.  He was sentenced in 1974 to seven years in a prison camp for “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda” and was then exiled to Russia’s far east for another three years. Exiled permanently from Moscow, his return in 1986 during glasnost required a decree from Gorbachev. He then helped found Memorial in 1990, Russia’s oldest human rights organisation, and became a prominent official, both as Russia’s human rights commissioner and as an MP in the Duma. He attacked Boris Yeltsin over the first Chechen war. Early in the millennium he warned of Vladimir Putin who he predicted once President would reverse Russia's democratic gains. In 2013 Memorial was cited as being a “foreign agent”.

Richard Lewontin, the US biologist, has died aged 92.  Lewontin and his colleagues showed how natural selection acts to shape variation, exploring its effect on genes, groups and individuals. Moving between mathematical and statistical analysis, fieldwork and laboratory experiment, they set the course of molecular population genetics.  Lewontin and, with Jack Hubby, published two landmark papers in the journal Genetics in 1966 that opened the way for the widespread application of electrophoresis and marked the beginning of molecular population genetics.  On finding unexpectedly large amounts of genetic variation in proteins in populations, Lewontin and Hubby suggested that much of it might be selectively neutral. In biologist Motoo Kimura’s hands, this idea evolved into the neutral theory of molecular evolution, which became the dominant paradigm in population genetics for decades to come. The unexpectedly similar levels of diversity across species revealed by these studies—the “Lewontin paradox”—remains a puzzle to this day.  Lewontin gave sometimes controversial critiques of science, often from a Marxist perspective, inspired new thinking on the relationship between science, politics and society. He was an outspoken critic of sociobiology and adaptationism (the idea that all traits evolved as adaptations of an organism to its environment). He despised the use of biology to justify racist ideology, especially with regard to IQ testing. He also spoke up against biological racism. His landmark paper ‘The Apportionment of Human Diversity’ (1972) found more variation within so-called ‘racial groups’ than between them, leading him to argue that such distinctions had no genetic basis. Celebrity.  Lewontin argued that, while traditional Darwinism has portrayed the organism as a passive recipient of environmental influences, a correct understanding should emphasise the organism as an active constructor of its own environment: ecological niches are not pre-formed, empty receptacles into which organisms are inserted, but are defined and created by organisms. The organism-environment relationship is reciprocal. Others (notably M. W. Feldman) have developed Lewontin's conception in more detailed models under the term 'niche construction'.  Much of his career was based at Harvard.  He received many awards, including the 2015 Crafoord Prize (shared with theoretical geneticist Tomoko Ohta).

Douglas Livingstone, the British actor and writer, has died aged 86.  In genre terms he is noted for the six-part television 1981 adaptation of John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids (1951). Other than setting it in the near-future and not the 1950a, this adaptation is the best visual (either cinematic or televisual) of the novel to date. Having said that the 1951 novel was set in the near future, just that three decades on the near-future had to be moved along. He was also an actor and his genre roles include playing the voice of Gimli the Dwarf in the BBC Radio 4 dramatisation of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

Yuan Longping, the Chinese agricultural biologist, has died aged 90. He is best known for creating high-yielding rice hybrids as part of the 'Green Revolution'. It is estimated that by the end of the 20th century, his rice strains fed an additional 100 million Chinese a year. He grew up during the Great Leap Forward of the late 1950s and witnessed the resulting famine that saw tens of millions starve to death. Later in the Cultural Revolution (1966) many Chinese biologists followed the doctrine of communist Russia's Trofim Lysenko (long since discredited as pseudoscience) but Longpin and his teacher mentors followed Mendel and the US biologist Thomas Hunt's theory of heredity. As such they were singled out for intellectual re-education. Indeed Yuan Longping was about to be incarcerated into a cowshed prison for intellectuals when word came from provincial and national leaders in praise of a paper Longpin wrote on improving rice yields: another teacher took his place in the cowshed. He went on to direct China's National Hybrid Research Centre. He was never admitted to the Chinese Academy of Science (China's equivalent to the Royal Society in Britain and the US National Academy of Science) as he never joined the Communist Party but was admitted to the US National Academy of Science. His work helped stimulate similar research in India, Vietnam and the Philippines. He continued to visit paddy fields up until early this year.

John McGlashan, the NZ cinematographer, has died aged 86.  His SF/F work includes BBC M.R. James adaptations (1971-1972), Doctor Who (1975-1977), The Green Man (1990) and The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells (2001).

Joe McKinney, the US horror and SF writer, has died aged 53.  He was short-listed eight time for the Bram Stoker Award and won twice, for The Flesh Eaters (2012) and his young adult novel Dog Days (2014). He was a past Secretary of the Horror Writers Association.

Jackie Mason, the US comedian, has died aged 93. Hugely popular as a comedian, he appeared in a couple of genre films including Sleeper (1973) and History of the World: Part I (1981).

Ed Meskys, the US fan, has died aged 85. His fanzine Niekas ran from 1962 for nearly four decades. It won a 1967 Hugo shared with the then co-editor Felice Rolfe. He was a founder of international Tolkien fandom and a President of the Tolkien Society of America (1967-1972). He was also one of the original rotating editors of the multi-Hugo-winning Locus.

Kentaro Miura, the Japanese manga artist, has died aged 54.  He is best known for the sword and sorcery Berserk (1989 – 2021), which he wrote and drew.  It ran to 40 volumes with more than 35m copies sold worldwide (available in English from Dark Horse Comics). It was also adapted into anime TV series, films and video games.

Jane Morpeth, the British SF editor and publisher, has died aged 61. She was with Headline initially in editorial, but then became managing director and then group Chair. Her authors included Neil Gaiman, Deborah Harkness, Dean Koontz and James Patterson.

Jill Murphy, the British children's fantasy author, has died aged 72.  She is best known for the 'Worst Witch' novels and the 'Large Family' picture books.  The 'Worst Witch' novels are the magical tales of an accident-prone girl attempting to navigate the magical codes and murky corridors of Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches.  They have sold more than three million copiesand were also made into a 1986 film and an ITV series (1998 - 2001).

Dinah Murray, the British psychologist, has died aged 75. She is best known for developing the theory of “monotropism” or “interest theory”. This is the idea that those on the autistic spectrum become highly focussed on one thing to the exception of all else which can become annoying distractions. In 2017, she received a lifetime achievement award from the National Autistic Society.

Ei-ichi Negishi, the Japanese chemist, has died aged 85.  Following graduation, and a short time in industry, he obtained a scholarship to study in the USA at Purdue University under Herbert Brown who himself went on to win a Nobel Prise in 1979. Ei-ichi Negishi is best known for his developing the Negishi cross coupling method of concatenating (joining) carbon atoms via a metal catalyst which revolutionised organic chemical synthesis. It has a wide range of applications from drug design to creating new anti-fungals. For this he received a Nobel in 2010 along with Richard Heck and Akira Suzuki who worked in the same area.  Outside of the laboratory he was a veracious reader and enjoyed karaoke and playing classical piano pieces. The American Chemical Society honoured Negishi in 1998 with the Award in Organometallic Chemistry and in 2010 with the Award for Creative Work in Synthetic Organic Chemistry. Britain's Royal Society of Chemistry awarded him the Sir Edward Frankland Prize in 2000. He received Japan’s Order of Culture in 2010.

William F. Nolan, the US author, has died aged 93.  Before becoming a professional writer, he joined fandom in the early 1950s when he published several fanzines, including Ray Bradbury Review. His perhaps best-known work to the broader public is the novel Logan's Run (1967) he co-authored with George Clayton Johnson. He wrote the subsequent in the series himself: Logan's World (1977), Logan's Search (1980) and Logan's Return (2001).  He also authored the 'Sam Space' books (1971-2008). He edited or co-edited over a dozen anthologies and collections in addition to writing hundreds of short stories.  In 2006 he garnered the honorary title of Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). In 2010, he received the Lifetime Achievement Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers Association (HWA). In 2013 he was a recipient (along with Brian W. Aldiss) of the World Fantasy Convention Award in Brighton, England by the World Fantasy Convention. In May 2014, Nolan was presented with another Bram Stoker Award, for Superior Achievement in Nonfiction; this was for his collection about his late friend Ray Bradbury, called Nolan on Bradbury: Sixty Years of Writing about the Master of Science Fiction. In 2015, Nolan was named a World Horror Society Grand Master.

Scott Allen Nollen, the US fantastic film expert, has died aged 58.

John Pelan, the US author and editor, has died aged 63.  The Colour out of Darkness (1998) and his anthologies the IHG award-winning Darkside: Horror for the Next Millennium (1996).

Carlos Rasch, the German born Brazilian SF author, has died aged 88.  He moved to Brazil at the age of six with his parents. In 1965 he became a full-time writer.

Richard Robinson, the US publisher, has died aged 84. He was mainly associated with Scholastic and became its Chief Executive. His authors included J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins.

Jean-Claude Romer, the French film critic and historian, has died aged 88.  He co-edited Midi-Minuit Fantastique magazine (1963-1971) and had cameos in many genre films, including being the Frankenstein monster in Cinémania (1978).

Humberto Maturana Romesin, the Chilean neuroscientist, has died aged 92. Hugely respected by colleagues in his country with contributions in neuroscience, cybernetics and cognition. He also championed social justice which is something to be noted given the political context in Chile the past decades.

Don Sakers, the US author and reviewer, has died aged 62.  His first short story appeared in 1981 and his first novel The Leaves of October in 1986 that had as aliens sentient trees (shades of Groot?). This novel developed into his 'Scattered Worlds' series.  From 2009 to his demise he was Analog magazine’s book reviewer.

Carolyn S. Shoemaker, the US astronomer, has died aged 92.  She held the record for the largest number of comets discovered by an individual, but by far her most famous discovery was comet Shoemaker–Levy 9. From16th to 22nd July 1994, fragments of this comet, travelling at some 60 kilometres per second, spectacularly collided with Jupiter. She never formerly qualified as a scientist but came to astronomy through her astrogeologist husband.  Among her honours, in 1996 she garnered NASA's Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal.  She and her husband were awarded the James Craig Watson Medal by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (the US equivalent of the Royal Society) in 1998.

Spencer Silver, the US chemist, has died aged 80.  He had a career and for many years was a Senior Chemist in 3M's Central Research Labs.  He started working in 1968 on trying to create a strong adhesive that could be used for aircraft construction. However, he failed in that objective and ended up developing a "low-tack" adhesive made of tiny acrylic spheres that would stick only where they were tangent to a given surface, rather than flat up against it. The adhesive's grip was strong enough to hold papers together, but weak enough to allow the papers to be pulled apart again without being torn. It could also be used again and again. The adhesive, acrylate copolymer microspheres, was patented in 1972 and described as suitable for use as a spray.  A chemical engineer, Art Fry, heard Silver speak at a symposium as a potential solution to a practical challenge, that of preventing paper bookmarks from falling out of his hymnal when he sang in church. Fry developed bookmarks using Silver's adhesive, preventing them from leaving residue, and sought to interest others within the 3M company in them. The adhesive notes were initially marketed under the name Post 'n Peel in four cities from 1977 and as Post-it Notes from 1980. However Alan Amron claimed to have been the actual inventor in 1973 who disclosed the Post-it Note technology to 3M in 1974. £M settled out of court. Some of the other products that he worked on included block copolymers and immunodiagnostics. Spencer Silver is cited in over 20 US patents.

L. Neil Smith, the US author, has died aged 75. He created the Prometheus Award. Though not well known this side of the Atlantic he wrote 28 books.

Una Stubbs, the British actress, has died aged 84.  Early in her career she was best known for her non-genre role as Rita, the daughter of the racist, populist, bigot Alf Garnet in Till Death Us Do Part (1966–1975)and follow-up series Till Death... (1981), In Sickness and in Health (1985–'92) as well as the 1969 spin-off feature film.  Her first genre role was a two-episode appearance as girl-in-the-park in the surreal The Strange World of Gurney Slade (1960) but she was best known for playing Aunt Sally in Worzel Gummidge (1979 –'81) and Worzel Gummidge Down Under (1987-'9). She also appeared in four episodes of Delta Wave (1996).  She ended the 20th century as co-starring in The Worst Witch (1998-2000).  She gartnered a new audience in the 21st century playing Mrs Hudson in Sherlock (2010-2017). She even had an association with Doctor Who voicing Flo in the audio adventure Doctor Who: Horror of Glam Rock.  One of her last genre roles was as Miss Chambers in A Ghost Story for Christmas: The Tractate Middoth (2013).

Dan Salah Tawfik, the Jewish Iraqi born enzymologist, has died in a mountaineering accident aged 63.  His insights into enzyme catalysis shaped a number of scientific areas, including marine biology, metabolic engineering, astrobiology and the origin of life. His work helped explain how complex protein structure and function could have emerged from ‘so simple a beginning’.  In 2020 he was awarded the EMET Prize for Biological Science by the Israeli government.  He championed the inclusion of women and under-represented minorities in science. On weekends, he would lecture at underserved schools throughout Israel, hoping to inspire disadvantaged students.

Lorna Toolis, the Canadian librarian, has died aged 69.  For many years she was the collection head of the Toronto Public Library’s Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy.  With her husband, writer Michael Skeet, she co-edited Tesseracts 4: Canadian Science Fiction (1992).

Henri Vernes (Charles-Henri-Jean Dewisme), the Belgian author, has died aged 102. He is best known for his ‘Bob Morane’ adventures that began with La Vallée Infernale (1953). These were more thrillers but many had an SFnal riff. There were over two hundred.

Evgeny Voiskunsky, the Russian SF author, has died aged 98.

David Wake, the US biologist, has died aged 84.  He was a pioneer in the fields of evolutionary morphology (species shape change across time), evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo), and species diversification. Following his PhD, he joined the faculty at the University of Chicago for five years and then moved to the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), where he was director of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology from 1971 to 1998 and professor of integrative biology until his retirement in 2003.  He was elected to the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences. In the late 1980s, he was an early proponent of action in response to the alarming global decline in amphibians. He chaired the first Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force and raised awareness of the predicament posed to amphibians by human changes to the climate and landscapes.

Steven Weinberg FRS, the US physcist, has died 88.  He worked on a variety of topics including: high-energy behaviour of quantum field theory, symmetry breaking, pion scattering, infrared photons and quantum gravity.  He proposed the unified theory of electromagnetism and weak interactions, which is still in use. This won him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979, shared with his school classmate Sheldon Lee Glashow, and with Abdus Salam.  The discovery, in the1980s, of the W and Z bosons had precisely the masses and other properties predicted by his model.  With regards to science policy, he testified before Congress in support of the Superconducting Super Collider, writing articles for The New York Review of Books, and giving various lectures on the larger meaning of science.  His own books on science written for the public combine the typical scientific popularisation with what is traditionally considered history and philosophy of science and atheism.  His first popular science book, The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe (1977), described the start of the universe with the Big Bang and enunciated a case for its expansion.  In terms of teaching policy, he opposed to a new law allowing the carrying of concealed guns in University of Texas classrooms: he announced that he would prohibit guns in his classes, and saying that he would stand by his decision to violate university regulations even if faced with a court case.  He has been described as one of the foremost physicists of the 20th century.  He was an overseas Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS).

David Whitaker OBE, the British book marketing maestro, has died.  He was the former chairman of the family firm J. Whitaker & Sons, having joined it in 1953. J. Whitaker & Sons for a time owned the British Isles trade magazine The Bookseller and was the main supplier of business information and bibliographical data to the book trade. David Whitaker was editor of The Bookseller (1977 to 1979).  He is sometimes referred to as “the father of the International Standard Book Number (ISBN),” he helped drive the development of Standard Book Numbering (SBN) and then the ISBN in the 1960s. He and his team managed to get all commercially produced, high street sold UK books numbered by the end of 1967.  Then in 1968, the US adopted the UK system.  He is noted for his support of women in the trade and, as editor of The Bookseller, he introduced a policy of promoting women in the trade through the way the magazine handled and commissioned stories.  There is no doubt that he was a pivotal player in global book publishing in the latter half of the 20th century.

Charlie Williams, the US comic bookshop owner and fan artist, has died. A member of the Knoxville Science-Fantasy Federation, his artwork appeared in Chat, Mimosa and Challenger. He was Guest of Honour at Imagincon ’81 (1981), Con*Stellation II (1983), and Roc*Kon 8 (1983).

Robin Wood, the US fan and artist, has died aged 68. He drew the artwork for several Dragon Magazine covers and illustrated Anne McCaffrey’s People of Pern (1988).

 

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Autumn 2021

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More science and SF news will be summarised in our Spring 2022 upload in January
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Thanks for information, pointers and news for this seasonal page goes to: Ansible (and Dave Langford for mailing paper copies), Fancylopaedia, Pat Fernside (for File 770 info), File 770, Julie Perry (Google Scholar wizard), SF Encyclopaedia, SFX Magazine, and Peter Wyndham, not to mention information from various academic science journals or their websites cited.  Additional thanks for news coverage goes not least to the very many representatives of SF conventions, groups and professional companies' PR/marketing folk who sent in news. These last have their own ventures promoted on this page.  If you feel that your news, or SF news that interests you, should be here then you need to let us know (as we cannot report what we are not told). :-)

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