Saturday, November 15, 2008

Good News From Outer Space

These two photographs were taken by a small impactor just before it hit the lunar surface, apparently near Shackleton Crater at the south pole, after it was released by the Indian probe Chansrayaan 1 (via the Indian Space Research Organisation). That's a big first for India's space industry.

In other news, the Mars Rover Spirit has survived a bad dust storm and is up and running again. (Remember Spirit and Opportunity? They've been roaming the surface of Mars for four years now, long beyond the official date for the end of operation.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

More Gosh Wow

We knew exoplanets were out there, because of the slight variations in the brightness and orbital velocity of the stars they orbit. And in 2005 astronomers imaged a planet orbiting a brown dwarf star - a very young and hot Jupiter class planet) although it probably didn't form in the same way as the planets in the Solar System. And now, two seperate studies have imaged four exoplanets around two more stars. This is truly amazing stuff - real science fiction headline stuff. The first images were obtained by a team using the Gemini North telescope and W.M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea. They blocked out the light of the target star, a massive young star named HR 8799, and were able to image in infra red three planets (the picture shows two of them; all are super-Jupiters) - the first pictures of another planetary system.

And a second team, using the Hubble telescope, have tracked another planet in the dust ring surrounding Fomalhaut (above), a massive star just twenty-five light years from Earth. The planet is about the size of Jupiter, and orbits a long way out, with a period of more than eight hundred years.

Now, none of these planets can support life (or at least life as we know it). HR 8799 is a young star and its planets are young too, just sixty million years old, still glowing with the heat of their formation (which makes them easier to spot). The planet around Fomalhaut is a little older, but still much younger than the Earth and the other planets around the Sun, and because Fomalhaut is a massive star it will burn through its hydrogen in just a billion years. But still.

So far we've tallied about 300 exoplanets. Now we've seen five of them directly. It isn't a stretch to imagine that we'll soon have an image of a planet orbiting in a star in the zone where liquid water - and life - can exist. And then, like Macy Minnot, in The Quiet War, who spends some time with a crew who are observing an Earth-like planet, we may for the first time see a pale blue dot like our own, with clouds and oceans and continents. Such times we live in. Such times.

UPDATE: This is a pretty good article on the search for Earth-like exoplanets.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dude, Where's My Flying Car?

Here, sometime soon. Maybe.

This Just In

I'm pleased to announce that Pyr has bought The Quiet War for publication in the US. Hero editor Lou Anders tells me that it will probably hit the shops in September or October 2009.

I'm also pleased to announce that I'll be one of the guests of honour at NewCon 5 in Northampton, 26-27 2009, appearing with Pat Cadigan and Paul Cornell.


History Not Quite Repeating Itself

In the comments section of the previous post, Petey writes: ‘I've been meaning to ask you what the full list of Quiet War universe stories is.’

Glad you asked! There are ten of them, and here are their titles and where and when they first appeared.

‘Second Skin’ (Asimov's Science Fiction, 1997)
‘Sea Change, With Monsters’ (Asimov's Science Fiction, 1998)
‘The Gardens of Saturn' (Interzone, 1998)
‘Reef’ (Sky Life ed Gregory Benford and George Zebrowski Harcourt Brace, 2000)
‘Making History’ (PS Publishing, 2000)
‘The Passenger’ (Asimov's Science Fiction, 2002)
‘The Assassination of Faustino Malarte’ (Asimov's Science Fiction,2002)
Dead Men Walking’(Asimov’s Science Fiction, 2006)
‘Incomers’ (The Starry Rift, edited by Jonathan Strahan, Viking, 2008)

So I’ve been working on this for about a dozen years now. Good grief. How times flies when you’re having fun.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I think it’s worth pointing out again: the history and universe of the Quiet War in the stories is not exactly congruent with the history and universe in The Quiet War. By the time I got around to thinking very hard about the novels, I realised that it would be very difficult toreconcile events and situations and backgrounds in a bunch of disparate stories written in fits and starts over a decade. Also, Cassini had started beaming back hundreds of detailed pictures and reams of information about Saturn and its moons that, while it didn’t exactly invalidate the stories, inspired a new take on them. (One reason I took so long to get around to writing the novels was because I wanted to find out what Cassini discovered, and I’m glad I did.) So I rewrote history in The Quiet War, and Gardens of the Sun, and although parts of the latter are based on heavily modified characters and situations that first appeared in a few of the stories, the events in the stories and the events in the novels are from closely related but different alternate histories.

[Addendum: two idiotic howlers. Thanks to a spot by Peter Holo, I corrected the title of 'The Assassination of Faustino Malarte' (not Augustin Malarte, as my mind keeps insisting), and when I cut and pasted the list I wrongly included 'The Secret of My Success', which isn't part of the Quiet War canon. Clearly, I need a longer holiday.]

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gosh Wow

An awesomely (and I rarely use this word) beautiful short film about the Cassini space mission.


Members of my family on my mother's side fought in Palestine in the First World War. They were from Suffolk, and after their regiment was incorporated into the 74th (Yeomanry) Division they fought with Lawrence of Arabia, and eventually liberated Jerusalem. One of them - I think it was my grandfather, but like many he never spoke of his war-time experiences - took photographs that my grandmother kept all her life.

A knocked-out tank, probably a casualty of the Third Battle of Gaza.

A truck carrying all kinds of junk. Is that part of an artillery piece?

Men waiting to cross a waterway - note the pith helmets.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Possibly The Germans

From a review of Radio On I've just written for Crime Time:

When I first saw it, in Bristol’s Arnolfini on its release in 1980, its atmosphere seemed to be exactly congruent with the times; emerging afterwards, it was suprising to discover that the world yet retained some colour.
Is there a word for the psychological colouration that we retain and apply to the happening world after seeing a film?

Bringing It All Back Home

'The festive scenes of liberation that Dick Cheney had once imagined for Iraq were finally taking place — in cities all over America.' Frank Rich (via Daily Kos)
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