Commissioner Bellarbi’s administration of the Information Systems Investigation Authority isn’t going well. Communications networks are crumbling and a series of high-profile industrial and food production failures have threatened safety and cost jobs. He believes the global technology infrastructure is under attack from cyber-terrorists. With public protests rising and his job under threat, he needs answers fast. Leaving him only one choice: to seek help from her…
Mayrum Casteneda, the legendary founder of the Authority, is a relic from a bygone age who definitely doesn’t suffer fools. She might just be the only person who can help, but are the answers buried too deep?
Astrophysicist, Alec Myre, is researching the principles of Dark Energy and the nature of the Universe when he uncovers shocking evidence that questions the fundamentals of scientific theory. But given his history of mental illness, will anyone believe him? And is the truth more terrifying than even he imagines?
No, I’ve not gone into the predictions business. But there are some fantastic firsts coming up in 2015 that will provide a fascinating insight into how our solar system is put together and give us views on things we’ve never seen before.
In March (specially arranged by NASA to coincide with my birthday…) the Dawn spacecraft will settle into orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres. Ceres is the largest asteroid in the asteroid belt that spans the region between Mars and Jupiter. This mission will supply the first ever close up pictures of the asteroid and will no doubt provide a raft of useful data. Ceres featured heavily in much classic science fiction (Asimov’s “The Dying Night” Wendell Urth mystery and “Podkayne of Mars” by Heinlein to name just two examples). And to further spice up the Ceres legacy, as if it really needs it, there’s even a chance of finding life there..
Continuing on the dwarf planet theme, in July (neatly timed to coincide with my wife’s birthday…) the New Horizons probe will enter orbit around Pluto, again providing the first close-up view of that remote planet and it’s moon, Charon. Although Pluto was recently demoted in stature to a dwarf planet, I still find it hard to think of it like that. Again mentioned frequently in science fiction such as Heinlein’s “Have Space Suit Will Travel” and “Icehenge” by Kin Stanley Robinson and regardless of it’s official status, this icy world at the edge of the solar system will soon be laid bare for us to see in detail.
At the other end of the scientific scale the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will restart in March after a pause of two years. During this time, work has been completed to achieve double the energy levels it had previously. With collisions now possible at an immense thirteen trillion electronvolts, there will be opportunity to examine the new Higgs more closely, as well as search for other exotic subatomic particles. This research could confirm the standard picture of the universe or blow it out of the water completely.
With all that going on and much more, 2015 looks like it will be a bumper year for science!
Thirty years after it first appeared the space trading/combat game, Elite, is back in the new release “Elite Dangerous” and what a return it is. Stunning graphics, mind blowing levels of detail and more options than you can shake a high quality joystick at (more on that later).
I have to confess that I
wasted invested am awful lot of hours playing Elite when I was younger. The game was awesome even then. Sure the graphics were minimal (though advanced for the time) but it gave you an incredible sense of freedom, flying around the infinite volume of space; trading, fighting and bounty hunting – all while pursuing the lofty heights of “Elite” status.
Okay, so it wasn’t actually limitless. There were eight “galaxies”, each with two-hundred and fifty-odd star systems, so just over two thousand in total. But each one had individual data on planetary information, population and inhabitants and it certainly felt unlimited at the time when most games had a few dozen game levels or locations.
When I saw that the game was being remade by Frontier I was initially overjoyed, but then I remembered the failures of earlier sequels and thought they’d just screw it up yet again.
Nevertheless I did end up joining the beta program to get early access to the game. I was a bit put out that I had to pay $70 to become a “tester” but the whole development of the game was crowd-funded so this was obviously part of the financing model.
My first attempts at using the beta software were not encouraging. For several weeks I simply couldn’t run the software as it wouldn’t download and install. The Frontier servers seemed slow to the point of non-functioning at times and you couldn’t play the game without first signing in and receiving new updates (not even in single-player, which is what I was mostly interested in!).
Finally, after many frustrating attempts, I got on and started playing the game a little. I’m now playing the full non-beta version just released last week and my impressions were very mixed.
First of all the attention to detail is really incredible, the 3D graphics are incredibly well done and large structures like space stations and other ships are exquisite in their detailing. Space itself looks simply beautiful and you could be forgiven for just floating around for hours slack-jawed at the panoramas around you.
The features have been extended significantly from the original. For one thing when you dock at a space station you now actually enter it and can fly around inside. The effect is more like something you might expect to see in a movie or TV show not a game.
No matter how visually stunning though, it all comes down to how well it plays and here is where the first cracks started to appear for me. Not that the game plays “badly”, but the controls are incredibly complex. Sure, there’s a lot to control, as part of the “immersiveness” you kind of expect that, but it seems that they’ve retained the “realistic” flight-model from the sequels, rather than going back to the original simplified (but fun) version. This later flight-model received a lot of criticism years ago so it seems a strange choice.
That said, perhaps that’s what everyone wants now and it’s just me being an old fart, out of touch with modern game playing. After all I haven’t played a game “seriously” since… well, never mind when. It was a while back for sure.
I dragged out my old dust covered joystick and that imptoved things but still I felt like I needed a degree in spaceflight to be able to play the game effectively. I gave up several times but kept going back, trying to get familiar with the numerous controls and even managed to launch and dock successfully. But it was all far too frustrating (not to mention time consuming) for my taste.
It was a real shame. I wanted to like the game so much and wanted to play it but the experience wasn’t what I would call enjoyable. Perhaps it’s just that my priorities have changed too much and I can no longer justify putting so much time into something that is just a “game.”
So I decided it was time for something new. My old joystick was clearly limited in this new environment. So I decided to get a new stick and see if that would help. After much comparing and checking out reviews I selected the Saitek X55 Rhino HOTAS, hoping that it would be enough to at least get me past basic combat training. Did this revolutionize my Elite experience? Find out next time.
Here’s a sneak preview of an upcoming short story that will be available on Amazon as an e-book in the next few weeks:
“Commissioner Bellarbi’s administration of the Information Systems Investigation Authority isn’t going well. Communications networks are crumbling and a series of high-profile industrial and food production failures have threatened safety and cost jobs. He believes the global technology infrastructure is under attack from cyber-terrorists. With public protests rising and his job under threat, he needs answers fast. Leaving him only one choice: to seek help from her…
Mayrum Casteneda, the legendary founder of the Authority, is a relic from a bygone age who definitely doesn’t suffer fools. She might just be the only person who can help, but are the answers buried too deep?”
I have free copies available of two recently released stories (one fantasy, one science fiction) in exchange for reviews on Amazon and/or Good Reads. They are available in mobi, Epub and PDF formats (and remember you don’t need an ebook reader – just a computer, tablet or phone).
How Much Is That Doggy?
“Earl Duarte is at war. He’s fighting his aging body and dementia, not to mention his daughter’s efforts to move him into an “assisted living” community. Then an unexpected canine visit provides a peculiar dose of pet therapy with astonishing consequences.”
“It was Inser’s job to watch over the Complex. The distance from Earth made that seem somewhat pointless and he always suspected the motive was more political – the bureaucratic mind just couldn’t imagine a project costing billions without some form of security. More crucially he watched those working in the Complex for any signs of misconduct. Potential danger was far more likely to come from someone there officially, someone who had slipped through the screening process. So he watched them, scrutinized them…”
If you’re interested, please contact email me (email@example.com) with details of which story/stories and format you’d like to read.
Using nothing but a regular DSLR camera, a zoom lens and a home-made tracking base David Schneider was able to detect a planet orbiting another star – HD 189733 63 light years away. His set-up cost him just a few dollars.
He did it by looking for occlusion dimming, where the planet moves in front of the star and temporarily blocks it’s light . Although it was already known that a planet existed around that particular star, the possibilities are, literally, astronomic. just imagine a crowd-sourced exo-planet hunting project!
As I’m currently on an enforced break, I’m taking the opportunity to make progress on my writing and it’s been really exciting and satisfying to do that. I find myself working all hours morning till night and don’t feel any kind of stress doing it. I guess the old idea of doing what you love is true.
So far I’e listed two of my short stories for sale on Amazon and am finalizing a couple more that will be available in the near future. I’ve also edited several others in preparation for both critiquing and/or publication. And all of these stories need blurbs writing and covers, so that’s my job too!
These days it’s vital for writers to pay attention to social media. So I’ve created a Goodreads Author profile and started posting more on there and other reader sites. I’ve also updated my website, which I think looks really fantastic and slic, even if I do say so myself!
I’m also working on putting together a collection of short stories and editing my upcoming novel “mathematics of Eternity”!
Talk about busy! But I love it so much that I almost don’t miss beer! Almost…
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I just published my first two short-stories on Amazon as eBooks. The books are listed as “Kindle Editions” and I’ve had people contact me saying that they don’t have a Kindle to read them. The good news is that you don’t need to have a Kindle!
Amazon’s Kindle is an eBook reader similar to an IPad or Android tablet except it’s dedicated to reading eBooks. The cheapest is around $80, while the latest, more featured versions cost about $200 – a lot of bucks to read books!
Fortunately, Amazon has also made available the Kindle Reader software app. This is great for people (and tightwads like me!) who don’t want to splash out on the Kindle tablet and/or have another device they prefer. And the really great news is that the Kindle Reader is available on all major platforms.
If you have an android phone, tablet or other android device, no problem. Download the Kindle Reader app from the Google Play Store. Got an iPad/iPhone/Mac? You can get it from the Apple Store. If all you have is a regular Windows PC or laptop, you’re still in luck – there’s a Windows version too.
If you prefer not to install an app or can’t for some reason, you’re still invited. There’s a free online “cloud based” version of the Reader too, so you can read your books through any web-browser.
So, there’s nothing to stop anyone from getting involved in the eBook revolution (and reading my stories, of course ). Welcome to the party!
At the weekend the big day arrived. Having crossed all the I’s and dotted all the T’s, the first two of my short-stories, “How Much Is That Doggy?” and “INSER”, went live on Amazon!
It’s been a lot of work getting to this point, with many hoops to jump through (some unnecessary…) but it’s been a great deal of fun too. Working towards that clear goal is a great way of focusing your mind and leading you on to get things done.
There’s still more to do, of course. This is just a stepping stone along the way, but it feels great to pause here and bask for a little while.
These are links for amazon.com, but they should be available in your “local” amazon too.
If you want to get a taste of my writing you can check out the excerpts through my writing page.
I don’t consider myself an “artist” (I leave that to my brother, who’s brilliant at graphic design!). But I do have some artistic flair and can knock up the odd image or two. I’m not necessarily very good at the raw creative side, but I can take an image or several and turn them into a creation that usually suits my purpose.
As I’m also pretty penny-pinching (at least in some ways) I don’t want to spend money on custom graphics and couldn’t afford to anyway. So I make use of pieces I can create myself along with stock images that I can purchase. (If you’re looking for stock images, sounds or video clips you might want to check out envato.com which offers a large selection of material at reasonable prices.
Armed with a few images I liked, I recently spent some time prototyping some different covers for my soon to be released short-story “How much is that doggy?”. This piece explores an unusual form of pet therapy involving an elderly man and a dog and I wanted the cover to reflect that while at the same time making it clear that it’s speculative fiction.
I tried a number of different mock-ups and variations, but eventually came up with these three that I felt were the strongest.
I liked the solo dog photo very much. It’s face is so expressive and has an uncanny human-like expression, but the first attempt (left, above) was a little indistinct at small sizes (Amazon thumbnail size). With the second (above, middle) I loved the vibrant colors and it featured both a man and dog in it so was definitely “on theme” but I still liked the solo dog and experimented further. The end result is the third version above. This was my favorite – vibrant colors, the expressive puppy and a hint of the mysterious.
I chose that one in consultation with my wife, who always gives me good advice, though I don’t always listen…
One step nearer to publication!