Science Fiction Writer

dmk

I’ve finally finished my debut novel and I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished. But it’s involved far more work than I would have ever imagined.

The delay in getting it into production has been a mixture of work related stress, lack of time to work on it, plus my many doubts about my ability. You see, this isn’t my first novel. Depending on how you count it, it’s actually my fourth (or maybe three-and-a-half’th!) So, what happened to the others?

For that, we’ll have to go back to the beginning.

I’ve always wanted to write stories, ever since I was in school devouring every book I could get my hands on. I’d take every possible opportunity to turn class assignments into an opportunity to write a story. This was frowned upon by my teachers and I certainly wasn’t encouraged in my “literary” efforts–quite the opposite in fact.

So I put the idea away and tried to do other “normal” things though it was always latent. I was part of an early games company start-up and as well as programming, 3D, and the other duties (we did everything in those days!), I was always the one writing backstory, creating the world environments and fictional histories.

Jump forward a few years and I found myself commuting to work by train. This journey was supposed to take around forty-five minutes but in reality was usually closer to double that. So that was two or three hours a day of mind-numbing boredom. Something had to be done.

I could have put in extra work for my job, but as I wouldn’t get paid for that or receive any other benefit, that wasn’t going to happen. (If I could have done job work and had a shorter day because of it, I’d have happily taken that option.) So, after some thought, I decided I would try my hand at writing.

I had no real plans at this point as to Continue reading

It’s finally here! The day the world has been waiting for! After many eons in development, Mathematics Of Eternity, the first in an explosive SF thriller series is available! Be the first kid on your block to get your hands on a copy! 🙂 It’s got everything: flying cars, mysterious women,spaceships, genetic engineering, sinister space villains, and a conspiracy that’ll make your hair curl! (Did I get in enough exclamation points? 🙂 )

Ebook and paperback now available on Amazon.

Meet former space engineer, Joe Ballen. These days, he’s scraping a living flying cabs in flooded-out Baltimore, trying to avoid the clutches of his boss and the well-meaning advice of an old friend. When one of his passengers suffers a grisly death, Joe is dragged into a dangerous web of ruthless academic rivalry centered on a prototype spaceship.

As the bodies pile up, Joe becomes suspect number one, and his enemies will stop at nothing to hide the truth. With the help of an enigmatic scientist, a senile survivalist, and the glamorous Ms Buntin, can Joe untangle the conspiracy and prove his innocence before it’s too late?

Mathematics Of Eternity: The future’s about to get a lot more action-packed!

Watch the book trailer

Chapter One

“Negotiations between the assembled Earth nations and Atoll negotiators broke down today, with no relaxation of the restrictions on Earth-based extra-orbital operations. General Chadwick, from the combined Atoll security forces, stated there would be a vigorous response to any attempt by Earth to increase operations outside Low Earth Orbit, other than the Mars mining operation. He also said that this boycott included the starship—”

I stabbed the off-button hard enough to make the plastic click sound like a gun had gone off inside the car. The news shouldn’t have bothered me, but it did. The fact that I used to work in space was part of it—the fact that I couldn’t any longer was another. But mostly it was because the Atolls were right—we didn’t deserve another chance.

I pulled up outside The Kase waiting for the traffic lights to change. The rain on the windshield distorted the garish neon and holo-projections from the bar into painful tracks that burned ghostly afterimages on my retina. I rubbed my face to ease the ache in my eyes, a two-day growth of beard rasping against my palms. Time to polish yourself up a bit, Ballen, otherwise someone’s going to think you stole this cab. It had been that kind of night. The only thing keeping me going was the thought that my tour was over for another twelve hours.

The cab bucked and I grabbed the shuddering controls, wrestling the car into a level attitude. The door hissed open as someone slid in the back. The turbines whined as the stability systems fought to compensate for the shift in weight distribution and for a second I thought we were going to plummet to the ground. […] Read More

It’s incredibly interesting to see the newest developments in nanotechnology. The research holds so much promise for development in materials’ science that the possibilities are almost boundless. Imagine for example, clothes (or even buildings!) that can never get dirty. Imagine super-strong, super-light conductors that could rewire electricity grids and make them fifty times more efficient. Or how about adaptive armor materials that could be strong light and flexible, and yet protect a soldier from a bullet–or a car’s occupants in a collision.

One of the fantastic possibilities in this area is the development of molecular self-assembly, where materials actually grow into objects”spontaneously” because they are designed to do that. We see this effect in nature in the formation of everything from chemical molecule to crystals and even entire galaxies, but now we’re on the verge of being able to control and shape these processes directly into creating things that are useful to us.

In Mathematics Of Eternity, I imagine a community of space-living humans who dominate the Earth from giant “Atolls.” These Atolls are not built in the traditional way, but instead are grown through a self -organizing process, much like crystals are created but on a much larger scale. The idea is that as the population of the Atoll increases, they would “bud” new areas to provide room for the extra people.

The new volumes would create themselves from a “seed” and a supply of the appropriate raw materials, forming chambers, walls, and basic infrastructure components such as ducts, walkway,s and partitioned spaces. Once the growth is complete, people and machines would move in and finish the process to make the space habitable. How much of the basic construction could be achieved this way? That’s hard to speculate on, but in my imagination I think something in the order of sixty percent.

I imagined the Atolls looking like a kind of futuristic snowflake, the growth process constantly being extended in multiple directions to maintain a balance to the structure, and each new section being grown on to existing sections. Here’s a render of what was in my head when I came up with the idea.

While much of this is fanciful, architecture as a whole is on the verge of an explosion of new ideas and concepts, only made possible through the use of these new materials. A few years ago almost no-one had heard of 3D printing and now not only can you buy small desktop versions for the same price as a computer but we also have the first 3D printed buildings.

Imagine the process as the crystalline buds grow, organizing themselves in to the shapes and forms needed to create a station in space. Swarms of robots, both at a macro level but also at the nano-scale, guiding and nurturing the process.The end result? A building, or a skyscraper, or a space station.

Perhaps my vision isn’t so far off after all.

It’s really exciting to see more developments on the flying car front and demonstrations such as the autonomous flight displayed by the Cormorant from Urban Aeronautics. For SF obsessed people like myself, the concept of flying cars has been a dream for at least the last fifty years. And who can possibly forget the Jetsons?

Unfortunately, reality has been a few steps behind the dream for quite a while. But now we’re on the verge of breakthroughs in materials technology, computational capability and lightweight power-sources hat will finally turn these symbols of the future into everyday conveniences!

From my perspective, this is not only something I’ve waited to see since being a kid. It’s also an idea that features heavily in my up-coming novel Mathematics Of Eternity, in which my lead character flies cabs in twenty-second century Baltimore.

In my future vision, flying cars–or aeromobiles as I call them–are common-place, partly for convenience, but also because coastal cities have been flooded to a greater or lesser extent, due to rising sea levels and as a result moving around on the ground is seen as a somewhat risky endeavor.

The first of the links above talks about some of the challenges involved with such vehicles. Don’t expect these to be controlled solely by humans. By necessity they will be semi-autonomous, with the drivers “guiding” them, but also paired with traffic management systems to cope with the mass of low level air-traffic. As well as avoidance systems within the vehicles, there would undoubtedly need to be some kind of centralized coordinating system to ensure safety of the vehicles themselves, as well as general safety of the populace. I envisage different control zones, where the cars are allowed to be more independent outside urban zones and more controlled over cities and dense population areas, in much the same way that we have more rigidly defined (and enforced) regulations covering regular cars at the moment.

What’s kind of cool to me, is that while I was working on my novel I came up with an idea of what my lead character’s cab might look like and to my eye, it’s not too different in configuration from the Urban Aeronautics Cormorant! Take a look:

In my design, I shrouded the turbines (thinking of safety in an urban environment) but, overall I think they have a similar layout. Also remember that the current designs being tested are really at the dawn of flying car technology. I’ve no doubt they’ll evolve significantly the way cars have. But at least we’re finally seeing the first steps to flying car heaven!

Space is strange. Space is big–very, very big. It’s cold, it’s hot, it’s dangerous, it’s tranquil. It is everything and nothing. In short, it is so different from where we are now that only the noisiest of authorities would find it well received.

But above all else, scifi architecture is the strangest.

I’ve been doing some 3D modelling recently while putting together a trailer for my upcoming novel, and as a result I’ve been browsing a lot of concept art. There are some incredibly talented artists out there, but something that often baffles me is the vision of space architecture.

By that, I’m not talking about external ship design. We have no idea what such ships might look like–not having developed warp drive, hyperdrive, or any of the endless variants yet–so any guess is pretty much as good as any other (although most spaceships/starships will consist largely of fuel tanks and radiator fins, and as such are unlikely to have much in the way of pleasing aesthetics.) But when it comes to scifi interiors… Well, take a look at these:

The image on the left  is a Victorian era bedroom. Note the fancy arched doors, the ornate multilevel ceiling with complex carved wood and plaster detail. Can you imagine Continue reading

I mostly talk about writing and astronomy on this blog, as those are among my main interests, but these topics aren’t disconnected from the rest of events happening in the world. Astronomy not only gave us an unprecedented knowledge of space, it also provided us with our first real understanding of our position in the universe. And it was a humbling perspective.

In his famous “Pale Blue Dot” speech, Carl Sagan said:

“We succeeded in taking that picture, and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives.”

“To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

The fact is that now, over 20 years after he made this address we are still not looking after the world and the consequences of that are truly frightening.

Recent news is a mixed bag, in the Netherlands the national railway is now operating its trains on 100% electricity generated from wind power. A great example of hat can be achieved. Yet, at the same time, reports show that the global average tax  on petrol/gasoline has dropped by 13 percent over the last 12 years–leading to subsequent increases in consumption, and the release of even more greenhouse gases.

Despite the recent news that renewable energy supplies are now cheaper than fossil fuels, there are still only limited attempts to switch over. The obvious question is–why? The obvious answer is “powerful, vested interests” in the fossil fuels industry. This desperately needs to change.

Although astronomers have now identified over a thousand exo-planets, not one of these is known to be suitable for harboring life. Even if they did tease out the information that one of the planets can sustain human life, thy are so remote as to be unreachable in any but the most long-term view. Using our  current technology reaching Proxima–the closest star–would take us thousands of years. Even if we had some unexpected breakthrough, we would still be talking hundreds of years to transport people there.

Earth is it. Our only hope for the foreseeable future. We need to protect it, so that it can nurture us until we develop sufficiently to move into the stars. If we don’t, the result will be extinction.

Some people think we can’t afford to take the measures necessary, but the real question is–can we afford not to?

I’ve been working on various models for my book trailer and have tried to find a good way of creating panel lines for projects such as spaceships. This can be done with materials, but I’ve had better luck creating physical detail rather than using texturing.

Up to now, the method I’ve used has been slow and cumbersome, but after recently going through a bunch of tutorials on adding this kind of detail, I’ve found a method that seems to work well (at least for me) and is non-destructive to the base mesh. So I thought I’ share it for anyone interested. This introduces more polygons, so may not be suitable for models intended for real time rendering, but works fine for still images or video/animation.

Personally I find that a clearly written set of instructions is much quicker to follow than a video tutorial, so here goes:

  1. Add lines(edges) on model where panels wanted (might be able to use existing edges depending on surface)
  2. Mark desired panel lines as “sharp”
  3. Add “Edge Split” modifier, uncheck Edge Angle
  4. Add “Solidify” Modifier. Adjust Thickness to taste, check Only Rim to avoid back facing polys
  5. Add Bevel modifier, Adjust Width and Segments to taste.

You can now add or change panel lines by marking/clearing sharp on edges! Also, this method would allow you to turn off the panels completely if needed for a particularly complex scene render.

Here’s a shot of the modifier stack (Click to enlarge):

And an example before/after shot (click to enlarge)

Thanks to the following people for their helpful  youtube tutorials:

Andrew Price

Jason Clarke

Dan Brown CGI

I’ve speculated a couple of times on the possibilities of life on other planets (Life Everywhere and Water, Ceres and Life for example). Now we have more information to add to the growing likelihood that life is likely to be found anywhere that the right conditions exist, no matter how remote they may seem.

Recent discussion suggests that microbial life may exist in the dark clouds within the Venusian atmosphere, while other research shows yet more evidence that Mars may also have, at least at one time, been hospitable to life.

Planning for new missions to both worlds is currently underway and may finally confirm these speculations in the not too distant future. If it does, it will be a great day for the world and especially the exobiologists trying to determine the course that life may take outside the realms of our small planet.

Hopefully this will happen soon, and I stand firmly behind my “prediction” that we will find life everywhere. The nature of chemistry seems to naturally move in the direction of life-supporting compounds, making  and almost inevitably to life itself. Just imagine–the entire galaxy or even universe as one giant breeding ground for living organisms in all their myriad forms.

Just what might we find out there…? (Cue Twilight Zone music…)

Researchers at MIT have developed techniques for creating 3d graphene materials that are incredibly strong and lightweight. With tested strengths as much as ten times higher than steel while having only 5% of the weight (density).

The materials make use of structures called “gyroids”–a kind of sponge-like arrangement–to create three-dimensional structures with potential applications for building components for vehicles and other machinery.

Graphene has been known as a high tensile material for quite a while, but only in single-atom thick sheets that have limited practical uses. This new development could make it’s adoption far more widespread. It also may avoid some of the flaws caused by imperfections that naturally occur in such thin sheets.

The exciting thing here though is the potential for use in rocket and spacecraft design. When it comes to launching anything into space, the limit is always a case of the mass (weight) versus the thrust available. Simply put, the lighter the object you’re lifting, the easier it is to launch. So materials such as this could revolutionize space systems.

More than that though, the gyroid structure can be applied to other materials too, enabling the creation of lighter weight versions of things like actual steel, concrete, and others. With the world’s resources limited, it is only sensible to be as efficient as we can wherever possible.

We seem to be on the threshold of a whole new world of materials science where we can control and build materials down to atomic (and smaller?) levels–an exciting time for engineers everywhere as well as those of us who dream of seeing humans spread to other worlds.

I’ve been a little quiet for a while and as usual I’ve suspended my advertising posts for the holiday season. Like many people I get tired of the incessant over-commercialization of this time of year and don’t want to be part of it.

The past year has been a mixed one for me. I had more surgery, but that healed well and it looked like things might be stabilizing, but more recently the wound has re-opened again. Although it’s slight, it’s still stressful and worrying.

From a writing perspective, this has been a tough year. I’ve released several new short-stories, but mostly I’ve been grinding away at my novel, which has taken a lot more work than I hoped it would to get ready for publication. But it’s very close now, and should be released early in 2017. After that it’s straight to work on the sequel, which has been sitting in the wings for some time now.

Along with writing, I’ve been experimenting with open-source software for graphics production and have been very pleased with the results. The capabilities of both Blender and Gimp have been a very pleasant surprise and can easily rival products costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars. They both have a learning curve of course, but all software does. For the money saved, the effort is well worth it.

All in all this year has been good in many respects, and I’m just happy to be in a position to carry on developing my writing projects. That for me is the most important thing. There will be a lot happening in 2017, that’s for certain and I’m looking forward to it!

Thanks t my readers and fellow indie authors for your support this year. Best wishes and I hope everyone can enjoy a new year full of happiness!