Sunday, 27 December 2015

Book Review: The Day Without Yesterday by Stuart Clark

Once we recognise our limits, we can leap beyond them.

This is the third in Stuart Clark's trilogy, including The Sky'sDark Labyrinth, and The Sensorium of God. Each takes a pivotal moment in the evolution of science and dramatises it in fiction.

From The Back Cover

Berlin, 1914. Europe is marching blindly into war and the city is a storm of nationalist fervour and army recruitment.

Albert Einstein anticipates the carnage to come when his university colleagues begin to work on poison gas to 'shorten the war'.

Increasingly isolated, he finds that few people entertain his outlandish new way of understanding the universe, and he can't quite pull the mathematics together.

He needs hard evidence to prove his vision, but the man he was relying on to help him is caught by the outbreak of hostilities and is now facing execution.

Meanwhile, in the mud-soaked trenches of the Western Front, unbeknownst to Einstein, a devoutly religious Belgian called Georges Lemaître has the mathematical ability to help bring his new theory to a triumphant conclusion. But as the German war machine advances, Lemaître's survival looks increasingly unlikely…

The Day Without Yesterday by Stuart Clark

This is an excellent book, and a fitting conclusion to the Sky's Dark Labyrinth trilogy.

With this book, Dr. Stuart Clark has taken on a huge challenge. We all know something of Albert Einstein, and while many readers may not know much about his personal life, we all have a pretty good idea that he was one of, if not the, most influential scientist in modern times. The advances he brought about in science have made him universally admired and respected. But what was he like as a person? What sort of a life did he lead?

These are the questions Dr. Clark sets about answering in this book. The Day Without Yesterday is the story of Einstein's life around the time of the First World War, and tells of his family life, his relationship with other members of the scientific community, and the impact on himself and others of his ground-breaking theories.

The Day Without Yesterday is clearly well researched, and sensitively written by an author who is himself a scientist. He brings Einstein and those around him to life, and furnishes us with a taste of Einstein, both at his best and at his worst.

So, going back to my questions: What was he like as a person? What sort of a life did he lead? If you read this immensely enjoyable book, you'll find out.

About Dr. Stuart Clark, from his website:

Image courtesy: Simon Wallace,
Stuart Clark is a widely read astronomy journalist. His career is devoted to presenting the complex world of astronomy to the general public. Stuart holds a first class honours degree and a PhD in astrophysics. He is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and a former Vice Chair of the Association of British Science Writers. On 9 August 2000, UK daily newspaper The Independent placed him alongside Stephen Hawking and the Astronomer Royal, Professor Sir Martin Rees, as one of the ‘stars’ of British astrophysics teaching.

Currently he divides his time between writing books and, in his capacity of cosmology consultant, writing articles for New Scientist. He is a consultant and writes for the European Space Agency where he was Senior Editor for Space Science for some time. Over the years Stuart has written for amongst others: BBC Sky at Night, BBC Focus, The Times, The Guardian, The Economist, The Times Higher Education Supplement, Daily Express, Astronomy Now, Sky and Telescope and Astronomy. He has written text for an issue of stamps for the Royal Mail. He writes an online blog for the Guardian called Across the Universe, read all around the world.

Stuart Clark's website is, where you will find more information about his writing, fiction and non-fiction, his journalism and much more.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Coming Soon - Galactic Alliance: Betrayal

Folks, the wait will soon be over! My next novel is called...

Galactic Alliance: Betrayal

It is the story of a hapless young engineer who uncovers an alien plot to subject humanity to dehumanising servitude, but nobody will believe him.

I'm busy with edits now, and soon the book will be ready for publication.

Here's the cover blurb:

Vinny, unlike most people, does not like the presence of off-worlders. The Galactic Alliance has brought advanced technology and cheap electrical power to Earth. They are the benign operators of Earth's utilities and transit systems, and millions arrive every year as tourists. They promise to defend Earth as a valuable trading partner in the unlikely event of aggression. Most humans see the Galactic Alliance as their friend – after all, who needs to invest in world defences when the Galactic Alliance will do it for us?

Vinny thinks they're wrong.

Vinny believes we're too dependent on the Galactic Alliance, and that makes us vulnerable. But nobody will listen to him. Even when he stumbles upon a Galactic Alliance plot to take over Earth and subject humanity to brutal, dehumanising slavery.

He is inadvertently separated from his girlfriend, Myrtle, by thousands of light years. He sets out to save her in a small space shuttle, in the unwelcome company of a knife wielding Drangathian and a Vorth foal. Somehow he has to rescue Myrtle, and at the same time, find a way to save Earth from imminent enslavement.

I'll keep you posted, and let you know when I have a publication date.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Book Review - 2016 An Astronomical Year (UK Edition)

2016 An Astronomical Year (UK Edition) – A Reference Guide to 365 Nights of Astronomy

Who doesn't love to gaze at the sky on a clear night? Whether you have a telescope, binoculars, or are just using your naked eye, there is always plenty to see when the clouds clear. The sky not only changes from hour to hour as the Earth rotates, but from day to day and month to month as the Earth works its way around the Sun. What's not so easy is knowing what to expect to see on any particular day.

That's where 2016 An Astronomical Year comes in. It is essentially a day-by-day calender of astronomical events, what to see and whether to look for it in the evening sky or the pre-dawn sky. Here,  I'm reviewing the UK Kindle edition. There is also a US edition for those of you who live across the pond from here. There's some useful introductory information about how to use the guide, and an excellent glossary.

The main body of the book is a monthly guide, giving an in-depth account of what to see during the month. This includes a sky diagram; naked eye highlights; lunar phases; pre-dawn planets and asteroids; what's not visible; evening planets & asteroids; meteor showers; constellations; bright stars; deep sky objects.

Within each month's guide there's also a day-by-day account of events to see. Naked eye objects are highlighted for easy reference, and there are plenty of excellent graphics and images to help with identification of objects.

All in all, my conclusion is that this is an excellent book, and it's 'the book I've wanted all along'. A go-to reference guide for beginner or experienced sky-gazer.

It may seem a little early to be thinking of the night sky in 2016, but get it now, because when the time comes, this will be the guide to own. Meanwhile, how about getting 2015 An Astronomical Guide – A Reference Guide to 365 Nights of Astronomy, also by Richard J Bartlett. You know you want to…

Sunday, 7 June 2015

The DARPA Robotics Challenge Final, 2015

The Final of the DARPA Robotics Challenge took place on June 5th and 6th - the final challenges of the competition were completed yesterday, and spectators were treated to a mixture of exciting robotic action and a lot of waiting around.

It's certainly true to say that robots have come a long way in the last few years, and the challenge, which took place in LA, California, gave people a chance to see some of the latest, most sophisticated robot machines to date.

25 teams from all over the world qualified for the finals, and at the end of two days of gruelling challenges, the South Korean team, Team Kaist, took victory.

In the Team Kaist feature video, Jung Woo Heo tells us a little about the team's entry to this year's competition.

One thing that particularly interested me was that many of the entrants were humaniod bipeds. This is a supremely challenging configuration. We humans make it look easy, but the control needed is ridiculously complex. The robots have to keep their balance while they walk, navigate uneven terrain, climb in and out of a vehicle, and perform the other challenges, If you watch some of the videos on the DARPA Robotics Challenge website, it'll soon become clear just how challenging that is.

Congratulations to all the teams who brought their innovative work to the competition, and particularly, congratulations to Team Kaist for their well-deserved win.

I'm looking forward to seeing what the next decades will bring in advancing this technology.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Tidbits - An amazong new alloy, Cheap books, Music, and more...

An Amazing New Alloy


Amazing new memory alloy

When my lovely wife Margo makes her sterling-silver chain-maille jewellery, she has to make each little ring that goes into a chain. One of the problems with bending metal, though, is that if it's bent too many times, it becomes brittle. That's called work-hardening. It's a change in the metal's crystal structure that results from all that bending, and it makes the metal brittle, rather than pliable. The problem is one you've probably come across yourself, albeit perhaps not with sterling silver, and the solution is a heat-cycling technique called annealing. But what if you could bend it ten million times before it got brittle? In this article, you can read about the new memory alloy that's set to enable some amazing new products. Even though it's unlikely to change the world of chain-maille jewellery, it could be a game-changer for pacemakers and other more mechanically demanding products.


Compromise for the Thirty Meter Telescope


Go-ahead for protest-hit Thirty Meter Telescope, but with fewer future sites on Mauna Kea

This is one of those situations nobody wants to see happen. On the one hand are the plans to build the Thirty Meter Telescope on Hawaii's highest peak, Mauna Kea. On the other hand, native Hawaiians have protested that its construction is a desecration of their spiritual and cultural pinnacle.

Science in conflict with culture.

Happily, a compromise has been reached, and construction can go ahead, but with fewer sites, and with the release of associated land, and the decommissioning of other facilities.

This may not be seen as ideal, but it's a compromise in which both sides have given ground and gained ground. Let's hope that despite being far from ideal, it is at least acceptable to all concerned.

That old Banjo


Recently my banjo fell off the wall, took a chip out of Beethoven's shoulder (actually, a bust of Beethoven), and landed on the piano. The bit of string that I'd used to hang it up broke clean through. This immediately reminded me of an old song my dad introduced me to a long, long time ago. It was the b-side of the better known Green Green by the New Christy Minstrels, and it's called The Banjo. Here it is for your enjoyment...

Friday, 29 May 2015

When Does a Pacifist Pick up a Gun?

What would it take to get a pacifist to pick up a gun? I guess before we try to answer that question I should begin by saying what I think a pacifist is.

According to CollinsDictionary, pacifism is: (1) the belief that violence of any kind is unjustifiable and that one should not participate in war, and (2) the belief that international disputes can be settled by arbitration rather than war.

The second definition seems rather narrow to me, so I'm going to stick with the first one. I'm also going to limit this to violence between people. Violence towards animals is a whole subject of its own, and I'm not going there today.

Some of my readers might think of themselves as pacifists, and others might be nothing of the sort, so hopefully that will bring a whole spectrum of views to the table.

So what we're talking about here is this. If someone believes that violence of any kind towards other people is unjustified, what would it take to make them pick up a gun and use it against somebody else?

That's a tough question to answer, so I'm going to begin by posing a different question. If the life of somebody you love were threatened, how far would you go to defend them? This is the question faced by Dominic in An Accident of Birth, when Baron Craig Drake deliberately threatens Francesca with a fate worse than death. What should Dominic, a dyed-in-the-wool pacifist, do? Dominic is many things, but he is not a coward, yet he firmly believes he should not resort to violence.

So what should a pacifist do in that situation? Obviously they would seek out every non-violent means at their disposal to save their loved one, but how about if I pose a more specific problem, and we'll see what we can do with it.

Suppose you're asleep in the depths of night, and you're woken by the sound of an intruder. Your loved one is right there, vulnerable to whoever has just broken in, and there's no way out without going past where the intruder is.

There are several things you don't know about the intruder. Are they armed? Are they willing to kill? Will they kill without hesitation, or would they negotiate? Will they find you in the next ten seconds or ten minutes? You simply don't know. Will you leave it to chance, and hope they won't respond to your presence by killing you and your loved one? Or will you act first, quickly, and take chance out of the equation? Hit before they know you're there? Kill first?

Plenty of people would say that of course you should kill first and not give the intruder the benefit of the doubt. But for some others it's a dilemma. Even though the stakes are high, it's still tempting to try to find another way out of the situation. But if you've only got seconds to think about it, perhaps a more visceral response might be inevitable. Is there a real alternative?

Perhaps then the dyed-in-the-wool pacifist might respond with violence?

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Book Release: Cutting The Bloodline by Angeline Trevena

Today I'm happy to be interviewing Angeline Trevena, author of horror, fantasy and dystopian fiction. Angeline's new dystopian novella, Cutting The Bloodline, will be released on 12th May, and can now be pre-ordered from Amazon. If you haven't read any of Angeline's stories before, this is your chance, and I know you won't be disappointed.

Cutting The Bloodline is a vivid portrayal of a scarily real future, and the man who risks his life to expose the truth. Insightful, original, imaginative, and a great read.

In the words of the author:

Not everyone is born innocent.

A generation of defective children were abandoned. They grew up on the fringes, without rights, without a way to change their fate.

Journalist Kenton Hicks is driven to tell their stories, but these are not stories everyone wants told. As he digs deeper, he finds that the discovery of the criminal gene, the foundation of their crime-free utopia, isn’t quite the salvation it promised to be.

Armed with a book that could bring down the government, Kenton finds the country’s future in his hands.

Some see him as a saviour, others as a traitor. It’s time for him to choose which he will become.

Cutting the bloodline can be pre-ordered until 12th May, and purchased on or after that date. Either way, follow this link:

And so, on to the interview. I asked Angeline a few questions, and here are her answers...
  1. What inspired you to write Cutting The Bloodline?
I came across an article, just randomly, about how someone had identified a criminal gene, and it got me thinking about the possible ramifications of that. We're a society that—no matter our spiritual beliefs—put a lot of faith in science. Since the dawn of modern medicine, we've repeatedly found ourselves pulled between our morals and our desire to move forward scientifically. The vaccination debate, animal testing, so-called designer babies, cloning. I wondered what might happen if we chose science over humanity.

Having previously worked in the justice system for several years, I hold absolutely no belief in a criminal gene. Your choices are your own, and it's people's situations that push them to break the law, their desperation, or their personal moral code. It's not genetics.
  1. This story is about institutionalised abuse of genetic processes – Is this something that troubles you about our own society?
I think it's an issue which will become more and more relevant as we move forward. We're so lucky to have the NHS in this country, but there's still a huge difference between those who can afford medicine and those who can't: cancer patients forced to sell their homes, families fund raising to send their children abroad for life-saving treatment. I can see the gap between those who have, and those who haven't, widening. Who knows what will be available to those who can afford it in the future, but it won't be available to all.

There's so many great things that can be done through genetic research, so many inherited conditions that a lot of people would love to be eradicated. But where do you draw the line? And if you eradicate a certain condition, what are you saying about the people who have it? We can't advance medicine and science without needing to seriously re-evaluate our morals.
  1. You originally wrote this story as a stage play – do you have plans to see it performed?
It would be lovely to see it performed, but it's not something I'm planning to pursue. Even as a novella, it still has a very theatrical feel, especially through the dialogue which the entire story is hung on.
  1. As a dystopian author, how do you see our future shaping up?
The last few decades have seen connectivity leading everything, and I think that's something that will continue. We like to have internet access 24-7, have it on the go, be able to chat online wherever we are. But I love the thought that all it takes is one solar flare, one large asteroid, one random event, and all of that, all of our technology is gone. Mother Nature can devastate and, no matter how hard we try, we can't control her. I love wondering how humans would cope if they were suddenly thrown back to the stone-age. Me? I'd probably be dead in a few hours, but those with practical skills, initiative, problem-solvers, they'll thrive. Your university education, your bank balance, your exclusive golf club membership won't mean diddly-squat if you can't grow food to eat.
  1. What do you have coming next? Will there be a sequel?
Cutting the Bloodline was very much an experiment, just to see if I could self-publish, to see if I enjoyed it. The learning curve is very steep, but it's been so much fun. At the moment, I have no plans for a sequel to this, but maybe Kenton isn't done yet. I originally wrote this five years ago, and I still love him as much as I did when I first created him. So I'll never say never.

I'm planning an extensive dystopian series next. But that's all I'm going to say for now.
  1. Tell us about some of the stories you've had published.
My first short story was published in January 2011, and it was actually a spin-off from Cutting the Bloodline. Entitled 'The Vincent Orphanage', it's a gothic ghost story, so quite different. Attendees of my book launch party will be able to download an updated version for free, and after that it will be exclusively available to my newsletter subscribers.

Most of my short stories are horror, I find it easier to write horror in the short form. It also gives me more scope to experiment, and to have fun, without a huge time commitment if it doesn't work out. This July, I have a story, 'Order Up', in the upcoming anthology 'Sunny With a Chance of Zombies' from KnightWatch Press. Everyone should look out for that one, it is set to be an amazing anthology, and I think this is the best short I've ever written. Despite being set during a zombie apocalypse, it's an incredibly tender, beautiful story.
  1. As a work of dystopian fiction, do you see this appealing to a wider audience, such as contemporary fiction readers?
Absolutely. This is a story about people doing extraordinary things in an extraordinary situation. It's not heavy on the science-fiction, if anything, I worry that sci-fi fans picking it up will be disappointed! I think people will relate to the characters and their motivations, even if it is set 40 years into the future.
  1. Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what do you listen to?
Always. What I listen to depends very much on my intended style for what I'm writing at the time. When I write horror, I play much darker music; gothic rock, metal, something like that. But the band I play more than any other—and I think I probably listened to them through the entirety of this project—is Counting Crows. They've been my favourite band since I was 16, and the songs just inspire me so much.
  1. As the mother of a young child, how do you balance writing with the other calls on your time?
I'm very lucky that I get to be a full-time mum and writer, and I'm even luckier that my son is a really, really good sleeper. He always has been. At more than two and a half years old, he still has long afternoon naps. I generally get up between 5am and 6am in the morning, and write until he gets up, then again in the afternoon. If I have any energy left, I'll write in the evening too, but more often than not, I simply drop onto the sofa and stare at the TV! But it does leave me with a lot of the day that I can't be tied to the computer, so I always have a notebook on hand for those ideas that crop up while I'm watching yet another episode of Peppa Pig!

Angeline Trevena was born and bred in a rural corner of Devon, but now lives among the breweries and canals of central England. She is a horror and fantasy writer, poet and journalist. Cutting the Bloodline is her debut novella, and she has several short stories published in various anthologies and magazines.

In 2003 she graduated from Edge Hill University, Lancashire, with a BA Hons degree in Drama and Writing. During this time she decided that her future lay in writing words rather than performing them.

The most unlikely of horror writers, Angeline is scared of just about everything, and still can't sleep in a fully dark room. She goes weak at the sight of blood, can't share a room with a spider, but does have a streak of evil in her somewhere.

Some years ago she worked at an antique auction house and religiously checked every wardrobe that came in to see if Narnia was in the back of it. She's still not given up looking for it.

Here's that purchase link again in case you want to get on over to Amazon and pre-order or buy a copy of Cutting The Bloodline: