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Some week...Updates

Posted by C. John Fri, April 14, 2017 17:23:09

This is mostly a blog about SF and Science, I live in a sleepy suburb of Stockholm and nothing much happens around here. Last week, however, was something else.

It started last Friday with work colleagues getting strange texts from their loved ones and it ended this Friday (today) with sub-machine guns in the garden. Between times it was fairly quiet, though...

Last Friday was the end of one of our more dramatic domestic weeks. Things that can go wrong in a house were going wrong. The boiler cut out leading to cold showers and a blockage in the main drain caused a flood of things that normally go down the toilet visiting our basement bathroom. No danger of even a cold shower until it was fixed by 24 hour plumbing service that our house insurance didn’t cover. So it was TGI Friday until the aforementioned texts.

The texts started just after three o’clock with reassurances from family members that all was okay when, of course, everything should be okay. Social media and the internet were consulted and the enfolding drama of the lorry attack in central Stockholm reached us.

My wife was returning from abroad, so I tried to locate my daughters. No answer from their phones. I warned my wife and it transpired both girls were out and about in central Stockholm, but thankfully unharmed. One wisely heads out of town on a bus before all public transport is stopped. The second gets trapped in the Central railway station and needs to be rescued. A long walk for father and daughter ensues. Thinking we were at a safe distance from similar events in London a few weeks before, it was quite a shock to have it happen so close to home. Though if you track back a few years the same street was subject to a potential suicide bomber, who only succeeded in blowing themselves up, rather than their intended targets.

So today, Good Friday and a public holiday, we were hoping for relaxation. And then a police car appears. The number of police cars visiting our neighborhood in the last 20 years is less than the number of fingers on my hand –and they never have their sirens blazing or their lights flashing like this one did. It is soon joined by another, and then an unmarked police car arrives and blocks off our road.

We stare out of our front windows and observe a large police van loitering just round the corner. What is going on? We hear the helicopter above and thus almost miss the initial appearance of the police dog scampering unhindered through our garden/yard. It is immediately followed by a posse of police officers in and out of uniform but all armed with sub-machine guns. They rendezvous outside our front gate, leaving it wide open. (This leads to a wild theory that we have now discovered why we often find the aforementioned gate open at the end of the day when it is closed in the morning smiley)

We try to attract the policemen’s attention but they are focused on the task in hand. Local media gossip reveals that a car that was involved in a robbery a mile kilometre or so up the road has crashed close by and the thieves have dispersed into our immediate neighbourhood. We are saying goodbye to an American friend from Chicago, so she leaves with a different impression of Sweden from the one she might have had. Though she is hardly fazed by the drama, given her home city.

Making WavesUpdates

Posted by C. John Mon, February 15, 2016 22:16:22

This week, on Thursday, I shattered Swedish social conventions and started a conversation with a total stranger on a bus. Hence the title? Perhaps, but other waves were the focus of my attention and the attempted bus conversation.

My area of science is focused on the intricacies of small molecules in living cells, however, I sometimes look up to the “Big Science” going on around. And with my renewed interest in SF, I find myself drawn to important events especially in astronomy. Last week there was an announcement that some commentators (scientists not journalists!) have said is as big as the discovery of the Higgs Boson or DNA. The last statement shows it was a physicist rather than a biochemist speaking. Watson and Crick only discovered the structure of DNA, not its existence.

My newsfeed had alerted me to the fact that something big about the possible detection of gravitational waves was going to come on Thursday. But my story begins on the commuter bus on Wednesday.

When I get on the bus I usually have to stand. At the next stop most of the passengers disgorge and I go and find a seat for the rest of the journey. On Wednesday I sat behind somebody who is working hard on his laptop. Due to the positioning of the seats I was perched above him and could clearly see the screen. In contrast the usual Excel spread sheet or Word document that my fellow passengers wrestle with on the way to work, this was a Powerpoint presentation relating to aspects of astronomy. It looked really interesting—but of course, you would never break out of your own little world and cross the gulf greater than intergalactic space to another human being. So I didn’t.

Thursday was a repeat of the previous day. And again I found myself behind the astronomer. This time on the screen were slides relating to gravitational waves and I remembered the announcement that should come on this day. Something in my gut was telling me to use this announcement to open a conversation. Nonetheless, the journey was half completed before I launched forth in Swedish, excusing myself. He wasn’t comfortable in Swedish and we switched to English, which suited me fine.

I found myself in an enthusiastic conversation about the significance of the waves (the final proof of one of the predictions of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity) and the likely possibility that the announcement would be significant. My astronomer was working on gamma radiation from black holes and black holes—or the collision thereof—were the likely source of the gravitational waves. So a better person to talk to about this, I could not find. And he had insider hints that this really was going to be the big one and not the damp squib that happened last year with the gravitational waves and Big Bang (see postscript).

So on Thursday two momentous events occurred. The final observation of gravitational waves, sealing General Relativity and a conversation between two strangers on a Swedish bus.

P.S. I have long been mulling on a story tentatively titled “The Beginning of Everything” and now perhaps there is a validated method to take the steps back to the Big Bang via gravitational waves. This was a promise that had been made and broken in the previous year A story that metaphorically and literally had turned to dust when the observations were discovered to be an artifact of galactic dust and not gravitational waves from the Big Bang.









A view on Star Wars on the 14th of December 2015Updates

Posted by C. John Tue, December 15, 2015 08:41:26

The date is very significant. It is a view written before the general release of The Force Awakens. And it begins with a prediction: a predication about the reviews that will come following the release if the film. No spoilers here.

Whilst there will be some that say this is the best Star Wars yet, that the mythology has been fully restored, and JJ is destined for sainthood, there will be others wishing him to fall on his sword-and if he cannot provide his own they’ll willing help out, at least metaphorically.

But I suspect the majority will say it’s not as good as the originals, but at least a whole lot better than the prequels. I have some further comments to make on those demonized films later--but this prediction may seem blindingly obvious. Yes it is, but a more interesting question is why?

I think the mythos surrounding Star wars is about recovering childhood dreams. Or not.

Were the originals made for children (as has been suggested about the first of the prequels)? Well, I remember a quote taken from George Lucas (and I paraphrase) “I never expected to end up making films for children” So possibly. But the originals and the prequels too were a reflection back to the experience of Saturday Matinee cinema established for kids where we find Flash Gordon looming in shades of grey. An interesting aside relating to this comes from the blog of SF author, Peter F. Hamilton. He took his young son to the 3D version of the Phantom Menace. The son liked it, and when asked for a highlight the boy mentioned the funny guy, you know Binks. So what I am suggesting is that your view point will reflect the age you first experience the films. I was just out of school and experiencing my first attempt at living away from home when I saw the original film, so still a big kid at heart. It is clear nobody and nothing is going to be able to recapture that moment. So the prequels were destined to fail for the generation that grew up with the originals.

Now to a confession. I actually quite enjoyed them, and I might say though the first trilogy’s Empire Strikes Back is something of a high watermark (I saw it at the massive Leicester Square Odeon cinema in London - and it blew me away). The Return of the Jedi, with Ewoks.... Hum.

So what was it that appealed to me about the prequels? Well I actually thought that Ewan McGregor cut a dashing young Alec Guinness and then there was the art. Now my favourite game when I was younger was Myst and particularly its sequel, Riven. I thought those games should have been reclassified as a work of art. I love the realism that 3D computer art brought in to my dream worlds making them concrete. I remember Andy Serkis and Gollum here, not Jar Jar.

Visually, the original Star Wars used 2001 special effects to tell a story which my Dad (a westerns buff) reported back was “Cowboys in Space”. The space fantasies I had dreamed about as a child were there on the big screen and looked real. Though to the discerning eye they were limited by the technology of the day. By the time the prequels came along 3D computer art was reaching new heights and we saw this on the screen. So my appreciation here comes perhaps more for the artwork and less for the story telling. Nonetheless I really enjoyed “Attack of the Clones”.

As a post-script to these comments I just watched a rescreening of the original Star Wars on TV (part of the media hype to the Force Awakens). Maybe it was because it was on the small screen, maybe it’s because I have become old and jaded, but the magic wasn’t there any longer for me. Let’s see what this new film awakens



Supernatural ColoradoUpdates

Posted by C. John Sun, February 01, 2015 16:58:31


There has been a long hiatus on this blog smiley.

In the pipeline is a WorldCon report many months after the event and a piece on one of my favourite SF shows of recent years.

But all that is on hold now to announce my second published story, Catharsis at Steamboat Springs, which is in Dana Bell’s new anthology, Supernatural Colorado. Originally open to just Colorado writers, and with the mandate that it must be set in Colorado, I squeezed in with a story based on my very first visit to the US. First visits to any country tend to be memorable and so I tapped into my experiences of Steamboat Springs to write this short piece. In my conscious mind I am a SF writer, but a more honest reflection of my so far unpublished output finds several stories which sit comfortably in the fantasy genre. This is one.

As before with the Different Dragons anthology, an introductory offer allows for 25% discount on the price. And if you would like to review it, I can send a link to a free e-version.

A second published story helps to dispel the illusion that the first was just a flukesmiley. I have currentlyy got several more in the pipeline, one of which was workshopped at the World Science Fiction convention in London this year. That was an education…

A message from the publisher, Wolfsinger Publications follows below with links for discounts, note the short time limit.

From now until 15 February

you can direct readers to the CreateSpace link above and give them discount code: TGERED9J for a 25% discount.

https://www.createspace.com/5259782

For your readers who prefer eBooks – you can direct them the Smashwords link and give them coupon code: BE24L for a 25% discount

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/513268






Different DragonsUpdates

Posted by C. John Mon, May 06, 2013 20:36:43

Blog image

In my writing journey I have now reached the SF/Fantasy professional borderlands, as my first paid sale has just appeared in a print anthology, Different Dragons. The story is a present day hard SF tale set in Antarctica, and so somewhat of a contrast to many of the other stories you will find in the anthology which is rich in variety. As the title suggests the editor encouraged dragon stories which move away from the traditional fantasy tropes. I think its a great idea, but "the proof of the pudding is in the eating", and I'm too close to the project to make that judgment

My story was inspired by Lake Vostok, the huge lake hidden two miles under the Antarctic Ice sheet.

It's unusual for me as its the first story I have written to a specific "call" and subject. There is the possiblity of a sequel if it is well received...

More details follow:

Story "HC SVNT DRACONES"

In: Different Dragons, edited by Dana Bell and published by Wolfsinger Publications.

The publisher has given me a couple of links where I can offer 25% discount up until the 15th of May,

One is for an ebook (many different file formats) and the other is for the paper back

E-book-many different formats to choose from.

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/309412

discount code is: TY73G

Paperback

CreateSpace: https://www.createspace.com/4263866

discount code is: TGERED9J

Overall a very small step for mankind but a giant leap for this man...

It's also available on Amazon as paperback and Kindle (USA and UK) and probably Barnes and Noble too...

USA

http://www.amazon.com/Different-Dragons-ebook/dp/B00CHXTYHI/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1367441605&sr=1-3&keywords=Different+Dragons

UK

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Different-Dragons-Dana-Bell/dp/1936099454/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1367864814&sr=8-2&keywords=Different+Dragons

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Different-Dragons-ebook/dp/B00CHXTYHI/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1367864893&sr=1-1&keywords=Different+Dragons



A triptych of lamentsUpdates

Posted by C. John Sat, May 04, 2013 13:25:34

Gerry Anderson

Just before Christmas my childhood arrived packed in 3 boxes. They contained DVD sets of Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlett. Sadly, shortly after Christmas their creator, Gerry Anderson departed. These three series of Supermarionation were probably one of the greatest influences on my developing an interest in science fiction. It seems I am not alone in this, as I have heard them mentioned by several notable British SF writers, e.g. Stephen Baxter, Peter Hamilton & Ian MacDonald.

I fairly quickly watched the pilots of all three. There is a jump of sophistication from Stingray through to Captain Scarlett, but my favourite vehicle is still Stingray, followed by Thunderbird 2 and the Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle (SPV). Most revealing was the added commentary by Gerry himself.

Iain M. Banks

An unfolding tragedy is the terminal cancer announced by Scottish SF and literary author Iain Banks.

I was introduced to him by a friend when we found we shared a mutual interest in SF. In exchange, he learned all about Gene Wolfe, my particular favourite. Through this interest in Bank's work I later discovered the British wave of the New Space Opera, adding Stephen Baxter, Peter Hamilton and then Alastair Reynolds (and most recently John Meaney ;)) to my reading lists .

I have never been tempted to read his literary works after a plot summary and some selective reading on the radio of 'The Wasp Factory'. Although when you read 'The Use of Weapons', you can see that he's that same guy. Personal favourites are the Culture books ' Player of Games' and 'Excession'and the non-Culture books: 'Feersum Endjinn' and 'The Algebraist'. The last few of his books have been all bought in hardback as I couldn't wait for the paper back... I haven't yet read my copy of 'The Hydrogen Sonata' so, uncomfortably, the last book I read was 'Surface Detail' with its focus on a rather grim afterlife. This accentuated for me the feeling of loss and tragedy on hearing his recent anouncement. His literary weight is probably also responsible for showing that Space Opera was cool again and made me realise that the SF I could write people might be interested in ...

Keith Marsh

The death of a classic British character actor, Keith Marsh in January got flagged on a SF website because of his role in a Dr. Who spinoff film starring Peter Cushing: ´Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.' He also had a small part in the orignal Quatermass and the Pit. However, he is most famous for his recurrent role in the seventies sit-com ´Love Thy Neighbour´ where he played Jacko- the permanent feature of the local pub- whose catch phrase was "I'll 'ave half". He was also the gardener in the late-sixities Sid James/ Peggy Mount sit-com ´George and the Dragon´ as well as bit parts in several other Britsh sit-coms, dramas and many, many TV adverts. I know about most of them because Uncle Keith (as we knew him) sent his Aunt (my Gran) advance notice of all his appearences so she could watch him. He also faithfully sent flowers on her birthday, no mean feat since she lived to 98.

The big surprise, when meeting him in the flesh, was that his normal speaking voice wasn't the perenial Northern accent he used in much of his acting career, but a refined BBC English, gained presumably in Drama school...A fuller list of his appearances in many classic British TV series can be found here http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0550595/?ref_=tt_cl_t4

Interestingly, in a short story I'm developing at the moment, I will feature a set of events he was involved in depicting as an actor-forgotten until I checked the list above. Watch this space!



Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Quest for the Green LochUpdates

Posted by C. John Sat, October 20, 2012 08:53:08

Despite the title, this is not a wind-up. It’s a true story about a walk in Scotland in August this year.

We were visiting my wife’s extended family in a gathering to celebrate her sister’s birthday. Her Dad is doing pretty well for a man in his early eighties and he decided to join us in a relatively easy walk to the Green Loch, close to the Cairngorm mountains. Unfortunately, whilst we four adults had visited the Loch before, it was probably twenty years since any of us had done this journey. We did take advice from the tourist information who instructed us to follow the path marked with blue posts. After the challenge of finding somewhere to park we set off following the blue trail. That is, until we came to a fork in the track where the markers plunged off down a small path to the right leaving the main track to go on ahead. My wife and her Dad were pretty convinced the main track ahead was the way to go. My sense of direction gene is seriously corrupted and so my opinion was not solicited. However, I am capable of retracing a single track, and so volunteered to go back to the car. There at least we had a large scale map which would be better than nothing.

About halfway back I met a group coming in the opposite direction. I wondered about asking them for help when the leading man, equipped with a map in hand, greeted me with a cheery salutation--as you do in the mountains. I seized the opportunity and asked if I could look at his map and explained our dilemma. This was no problem, and we looked together at the map. He looked vaguely familiar, but I was sure we hadn’t met before. In his wake were traveling a shorter woman and a group of kids, one of whom was of Asian origin. Taking up the rear was a bearded guy who had a child on each arm and was happily swinging them.

The woman was very friendly and chatty and I confessed we were only visiting from Sweden and didn’t come here often because I wanted to put her at her ease as I was starting to have suspicions about who I was walking with. Her origin was difficult to place but the two guys were Scots. I looked at the bearded guy intermittently, wondering. Fairly quickly we caught up with my family who were still pondering the conflicting information.

“Is that your party ahead?” asked my new guide.

“Yes, that’s them.“

The two groups converged and the map reader engaged in cheerful discussion with the rest of the adults of our party. Due to my aforementioned short-comings, I held back. The bearded guy--who I was now studying intently--was occupying his children. By now I was fairly convinced who we had met up with, but then I was faced with another dilemma. Do you say anything or not? In the end I thought it best to leave him in peace. None of the rest of my family seemed to have clicked at all. And you never know how people will react in such circumstances, especially your children. In the end the deliberations of the party leaders resolved that the Green Loch lay on the wide road ahead but the other party were following the blue trail. So we separated and walked ahead.

When they were out of earshot, I turned and smiled at our group “It’s not every day that you meet someone famous, is it?”

“Who?” they all chorused. For the benefit of my children I replied, “Obi-wan Kenobi” to the adults “Ewan McGregor.”

My sister-in-law’s countenance immediately lit up, she was fairly convinced too. Later, a quick Google confirmed my hypothesis as we looked at photos of Ewan, his wife and his brother, Colin—an airforce pilot possibly based close by to the Cairngorms and the leader of their group. The Asian looking girl was Ewan’s adopted daughter from Mongolia. And since the family decamped to California several years ago, the statistical chance of this meeting was quite low. The only remaining mystery was did Ewan realize I recognized him or not?

Will our paths cross again? I doubt it- my name is not Luke and it is not my destiny!

Curiouser and curiouser...Updates

Posted by C. John Sun, August 12, 2012 21:54:54

Well a week overdue and a new post. And I turn to two curious incidents…

Curiosity itself

Firstly, the obvious one. What I promised for last Sunday, actually happened Monday morning European time. Curiosity successfully landed on Mars.

It was a fascinating experience. Often what carries the emotional impact of an event is not the incident itself, but how people react. Watching human mirrors responding to events often gives us a deeper connection to them. So it was with the Mars landing. What follows are my impressions from watching NASA TV live.

We were in the control room at the JPL and immediately I was thrown back to watching the moon landing-yes that old! Long rows of people engaged in keeping the spacecraft on track-mostly men, and a few women –but with a big range of age and appearance. And some evidence of ethnicity. From those looking like they’re in their 30’s (and with suitably trendy haircuts) to many greyed or balding individuals or even one greying ‘hippy’ with long hair and a full beard.

As events unfold and reports come in from the different control stations there is polite applause as each step is successfully negotiated by the ship.

The concentration and tension mount as the spacecraft enters the atmosphere and has to do the various complicated somersaults to set the one ton landing rover on the surface. A picture of scientists at work: methodical, with carefully controlled actions and precise reporting one to the other.

Then Curiosity successfully lands.

And there is complete pandemonium.

The whole control room is an explosion of human emotion. They are on their feet in seconds, embracing, cheering, screaming and shouting. I was quite prepared to see the odd somersault too.

The human mirrors faithfully reflect the magnitude of the event.

As a new phase in space exploration was beginning, an old one ended-- and with it a curious omission.

Sir Bernard Lovell

Sir Bernard Lovell, father of the Jodrell Bank telescope and pioneer in radio astronomy passed away at the age of nearly 99. As a youngster my brother and I were dispatched to Cheshire during the school holidays to stay with family friends in a big house in the countryside. Two things left a lasting impression: Jodrell Bank and Manchester Airport.

There was good coverage in the media and much celebration of his life, achievements and his contribution to science. A Hero of Science: the media loves a Hero of Science. We live in an Age of Science, and rationality. Superstition is banished (except in newspaper horoscopes-- and anything that will sell copy or get good viewing figures).

Wikipedia reports in its entry Lovell’s all-round interests : a scientist that can engage with the Arts too. He loved music and played the church organ. But it hints at “An inconvenient truth…”, a church organ A deeper dig with Google will reveal passages like this from a book on the Big Bang Theory*—“Astronomer Bernard Lovell, for example, a devout Christian, believed that continuous creation of matter required by the theory, was as good a sign of God’s activity as any-” Whoops! Well, of course a Hero of Science cannot believe in God, it just doesn’t fit, so it’s best to bury the fact and not mention it at all. If it’s not in Wikipedia and the media hasn’t reported it, it has no material presence in this universe.

The other inconvenient truth is, of course, the fact that the huge investment to find evidence of life (at least at some time) on Mars-- which rests on Curiosity’s strong metal back-- might draw a blank, as other ventures have.

Notwithstanding Life on Mars, the excitement of Curiosity for me, along with the practicing science itself, is in the journey. As a scientist I am both detective and explorer in a world without previous human footprints. As Richard Feyman said “It’s the joy of finding out..” Hopefully this time people (especially high impact scientific journals) will be a little more circumspect about interpreting microscope rock formations as bacteria. But when you want to believe in something enough…

In complete contrast the next entry will be entitled “Obi-wan Kenobi and the Quest for the Green Loch “- a true story and nothing to do with fan fiction at all. Really! Until then…

*The Big Bang theory. What it is. Where it came from. And why it works Karen C. Fox (2002) p 84, John Wiley & Sons, New York.