Category Archives: Extract

Polly and Half Sick of Shadows

Saturn, from Cassini (NASA)
Saturn, from Cassini (NASA)

Today’s blog is primarily about the latest addition to book readings generated using Amazon’s Polly text-to-speech software, but before getting to that it’s worth saying goodbye to the Cassini space probe. This was launched nearly twenty years ago, has been orbiting Saturn and its moons since 2004, and is now almost out of fuel. By the end of the week, following a deliberate course change to avoid polluting any of the moons, Cassini will impact Saturn and break up in the atmosphere there.

So, Half Sick of Shadows and Polly. Readers of this blog, or the Before the Second Sleep blog (first post and second post) will know that I have been using Amazon’s Polly technology to generate book readings. The previous set were for the science fiction book Timing, Far from the Spaceports 2. Today it is the turn of Half Sick of Shadows.

Without further ado, and before getting to some technical stuff, here is the result. It’s a short extract from late on in the book, and I selected it specifically because there are several speakers.

OK. Polly is a variation of the text-to-speech capability seen in Amazon Alexa, but with a couple of differences. First, it is geared purely to voice output, rather than the mix of input and output needed for Alexa to work.

Kindle Cover - Half Sick of Shadows
Kindle Cover – Half Sick of Shadows

Secondly, Polly allows a range of gender, voice and language, not just the fixed voice of Alexa. The original intention was to provide multi-language support in various computer or mobile apps, but it suits me very well for representing narrative and dialogue. For this particular reading I have used four different voices.

If you want to set up your own experiment, you can go to this link and start to play. You’ll need to set up some login credentials to get there, but you can extend your regular Amazon ones to do this. This demo page allows you to select which voice you want and enter any desired text. You can even download the result if you want.

Amazon Polly test console
Amazon Polly test console

But the real magic starts when you select the SSML tab, and enter more complex examples. SSML is an industry standard way of describing speech, and covers a whole wealth of variations. You can add what are effectively stage directions with it – pauses of different lengths, directions about parts of speech, emphasis, and (if necessary) a phonetic letter by letter description. You can speed up or slow down the reading, and raise or lower the pitch. Finally, and even more usefully for my purposes, you can select the spoken language as well as the language of the speaker. So you can have an Italian speaker pronouncing an English sentence, or vice versa. Since all my books are written in English, that means I can considerably extend the range of speakers. Some combinations don’t work very well, so you have to test what you have specified, but that’s fair enough.

If you’re comfortable with the coding effort required, you can call the Polly libraries with all the necessary settings and generate a whole lot of text all at once, rather than piecemeal. Back when I put together the Timing extracts, I wrote a program which was configurable enough that now I just have to specify the text concerned, plus the selection of voices and other sundry details. It still takes a little while to select the right passage and get everything organised, but it’s a lot easier than starting from scratch every time. Before too much longer, there’ll be dialogue extracts from Far from the Spaceports as well!

Far from the Spaceports cover
Far from the Spaceports cover


Mostly about YouTube

Just a short post today to highlight a YouTube video based around one of the Polly conversations from Timing that I have been talking about recently. This one is of Mitnash, Slate, Parvati and Chandrika talking on board Parvati’s spaceship, The Parakeet, en route to Phobos. The subject of conversation is the recent wreck of Selif’s ship on Tean, one of the smaller asteroids in the Scilly isles group…

The link is:

While we’re in YouTube, here is the link to the conversation with Alexa about Timing…

It’s slow work, but gradually all these various conversations and readings will get added to YouTube and other video sharing sites.

More about Polly… and Pluto besides

Today’s blog is mainly about the mp3 conversation extracts from Timing, which I talked about last week. And right up front here are links to my favourite two…

  • On board Rydal’s ship, the Heron…
  • On board Parvati’s ship, the Parakeet…


While talking about Timing, it seems a good idea to remind everyone about a recent review which captured neatly a great deal of what  was trying to convey in the story: “a story that provides questions as well as answers, thrill and satisfaction, and an adventure that can’t be beat“.

Sometime in the next couple of weeks they’ll be uploaded to YouTube, but for now they are just audio links included below and on the appropriate blog page. You’ll find more about this below. In passing, there’s a small prize available for the first person who correctly spots what’s wrong with the voice selection for Chandrika! Also, and unrelated to that, you’ll hear that not all of the voices are equally successful. I shall continue to tweak them, so hopefully the quality will steadily improve.

But before that, NASA just released two YouTube videos to celebrate the two year anniversary of when the New Horizons probe was at nearest approach to Pluto and Charon. They have turned the collection of images and other telemetry into flyby simulations of the dwarf planet and its moon, as though you were manoeuvring over them. Both the colours and the vertical heights of surface features have been exaggerated so you can get a better sense of what you are seeing, but that aside, it’s as close as most of us will get to personally experiencing these places.

  • Pluto:

  • Charon:

OK, back to Polly. As well as specifying which of several different voices you want, you can give Polly some metadata about the sentence to help generate correct pronunciation. Last week I talked about getting proper nouns correct, like Mitnash. But in English you also get lots of words which are spelled the same but pronounced differently – homonyms. The one which I ran into was “minute”, which can either be a unit of time (min-nit) or something very small (my-newt). Another problem case I found was “produce” – was I expecting the noun form (prod-yuce) or the verb (pro-deuce)?

In all such cases, Polly tries to guess from context which you mean, but sometimes guesses wrong. Happily you can simply add some metadata to say which you want. Sometimes this is simply a matter of adding in a tag saying “I want the noun”. Other times you can say which of several alternate senses of the word you want, and simply check the underlying list until you find the right one. And if all else fails, there’s always the option of spelling it out phonetically…



Half Sick of Shadows – some extracts and the cover

Draft Cover - Half Sick of Shadows
Draft Cover – Half Sick of Shadows

I thought for today that I would put together several snippets from Half Sick of Shadows, together with a good draft of the planned cover. Both picture and writing may change a little over the next couple of months, but they’re pretty close now to final version. All being well, I am hoping to release the book around or just after Easter this year.

Half Sick of Shadows is a fantasy, of novella length rather than full-length novel, and owes a great deal to Tennyson’s poem, The Lady of Shalott, which itself is based on 13th century material concerning Elaine of Astolat. However, I have taken the plot in what I suspect is an entirely different direction than the earlier authors had in mind.


First extract – from quite near the beginning

From that point on the lady sang each day, whether the people were in view or not. It made her self-conscious at first, and she felt riddled with doubt about the quality of her voice. But then she reasoned that since neither could hear the other, it could hardly matter. The main thing was to join herself in spirit with them. One day in the future, when she finally met them and learned how they spoke, she would concern herself with matching their tone.

But all unknown to her, her voice slipped out from behind her walls, and spilled like a faint echo of the river’s song across the eyot and over to the further shore. Passers-by listened to the leaping sounds, and whispered to each other of places where another world came close.
“It is a goddess of the running waters,” said some, “a queen in exile,” said others, and a few just sighed, aching in their heart for the loss of a place they had never known.
She did not hear that, but she saw how people came out from the village to look at her walls, or kneel with arms outstretched and faces turned up to the sky. A cairn of pebbles started to grow where the bank came closest, and when it was waist-high they left gifts there, little offerings out of their meagre possessions.

Second extract – further on

Unquenchable hunger seized her again. She tried not to eat, but it was stronger than gravity, irresistible as wind, and she could not deny it. Great helpless tears rolled down her face even as she tore at great strips of leaf and swallowed brimming bowls of sap.

Heavy, and feeling full to bursting, she wallowed on her couch, desperate for nightfall to come. Would she have even one more day before the unstoppable urge to sleep overwhelmed her?

They came that evening, and held up the infant again so she could see it. She sang again for them, and her song was full of both the beauty and the sorrow of the passing world. She watched the glow of wonder on their faces as they heard her. She knew what they could not, that this would be the last time she would see them, and she sang to bless them as the shortening day eased into night.

Long after they had gone, she lay looking at the riverbank where they had stood. The world was made up of shadows now. When her brother and sister next came, when they held up the infant for her to see, she would no longer be there. She would be lost in her own world of slumber and transformation, and the quick years of the world would roll unseen around her.

How long would they continue to come, she wondered, once the sound of her singing was gone? Would they think that she was lost to them, lost somewhere in the shadows? She watched herself stuffing food into her body, slithering awkwardly, heavily, into her chamber, and she felt that her heart was breaking.

Third extract – towards the end

The lady saw, and passed softly among the raucous din to stand near him.
“You know it too, don’t you? You know that you should be with her. Not this king, for all the food that fills his larder.”
He shivered and looked around. The man beside him asked a question, but he shook his head, puzzled, took a pinch of salt and tossed it over his shoulder. The lady withdrew, and his anxiety retreated again


The king gestured to the minstrel and sat again. The room hushed in anticipation.
His singing was beautiful, she realised. The assistant kept the rhythm steady and flowing on the longer strings, as the master sang out the tale, plucking out higher riffs and ornaments here and there. She watched with admiration as his lay unfolded, not knowing the words but appreciating the patterns. And her own voice lifted up and joined him, even though her body lay on the couch within her chamber.
The lady moved among the guests, less than a shadow among them, step by step up to the musicians. She stood in front of them, basking in the melody. The singer’s words never faltered, but his gaze followed her as she came up to him. She had no idea what he saw of her – perhaps some extra brightness against the firelight, or a flicker of movement like a hidden bird within a thicket – but something in him knew that she was there.
The people heard his song, though not hers, and they were wild with delight as he finished, stilling the strings with the flat of his hand. The king took a ring from his own hands to give to the minstrel, but he shook his head. Instead, he stood and bowed very low before the lady. The room was silent now, waiting to see what happened. She wanted to lift him up: this adulation was altogether too much. But she knew that the desire was fruitless, and that she could not touch him.
The king spoke, a note of puzzlement in his voice, and the minstrel stood upright again. His answer was quiet, respectful, and he gestured to where the lady stood. The king, eyes narrowed, glanced here and there, but could not see her. She looked beyond him to the queen, and her face was alive with interest. She was aware, and so was the king’s right-hand man, who had moved across behind the queen to protect her.
There was a growing noise in the room, a buzz of speculation, and suddenly the focused attention became too much. The lady fled the room in haste, pulled herself from the couch and its loom, and pattered to and fro in the courtyard, slowly being soothed by the sights and scents of her garden.
Finally, she curled up on a bench in the pale sunshine. She could only face a few people at a time, she realised.


Not too long to wait now…

A short extract

I have had major broadband problems this week as BT have struggled to get their equipment working properly. So today is just a short post, mainly to say that Far from the Spaceports is on Kindle countdown offer for the next few days.

Far from the Spaceports cover
Far from the Spaceports cover

This means from ( it is just 99p, and from ( just $0.99. Both prices go back to their regular values in the middle of next week, so don’t delay!

Meanwhile, I am preparing the sequel Timing for release later this year, probably in the early autumn, and here is a short extract to be going on with.

Rydal opened her door just as we turned into the little access corridor down to her door. Slate had signalled Capstone, presumably. Like a lot of the entrances I had already passed since the dock, the approach was decorated with murals. She had chosen a butterfly theme, and I touched the delicate blue wings of one as I passed.

My greeting was awkward, and whatever words I chose didn’t sound at all fluent, but she didn’t appear to notice. It finally occurred to me that her anxiety about the coming crisis was back in the ascendant, and she didn’t have much emotional space left to be attuned to my problems. She hugged me in a sisterly way, and turned back inside.

“You’re a bit earlier than I thought, Mitnash. Come in for a few minutes while I finish getting ready.”

We went in. She had suspended gauze in loops and strands from the ceiling to soften the bluntness of the original drilling. For some reason it gave the sense of being in woodland. She gestured towards the back wall.

“You go and talk to my pets for a while. I won’t be long.”

The idea of pets intrigued me. I thought of the parakeets that flocked around the St Mary’s market area, and wondered if she had a couple of those somewhere.

There was a clear panel, floor to ceiling, separating the living room from a separate, much narrower chamber. At first all I could see was vegetation, lots of leafy stems with exotic flowers. It was all too small and cluttered for parakeets, and I was perplexed.

Then something moved. I had thought it was a flower, but it had wings, and with an abrupt internal shift I realised that it was a butterfly. Now that I knew what to look for, I could see more in there, a couple of dozen, of several different varieties. Most were resting, others were eating some sort of syrup. All at once, with no signal that I could see, two of them took flight, wings alight with colour as they danced around the chamber for a while before settling again.

“So how do you like my little friends?”

Rydal had come back while I had been fascinated by the pair. I kept watching, hoping to see another one in flight.

“I have never seen anything like it. They are quite extraordinary.”

I caught my breath as another pair took to the wing and circled each other for a while.

“It must be difficult keeping the environment just right for them.”

I didn’t know much about butterflies, but I had heard that ones this large needed a lot of heat and moisture. She moved close to the glass, watching the pair flit about. I looked at her reflected face, peaceful in contemplation of flight.

“Not very different to us humans, when you compare it to what’s outside of here.”

She gestured towards the ceiling. The first time I had been on the Scilly Isles, I had been disturbed by the thought of airlessness so close. It had seemed different to the experience on board a ship, in some visceral way I could not explain. That had changed, and I was now unphased by the thinness of the skin which kept me safe here. Instead, I was captivated by her words, and was imagining us as human butterflies, straying out of our inner system home, moving away from the sun which had overseen our birth.

She turned suddenly, to catch me looking at her, and the spell was broken. Her anxiety and my shame resurfaced.

“Shall we go?”


Basic elements – Food

Cover - The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Cover – The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Here’s the next in the Basic Elements series – this time looking at food. Life needs food – human life just as much as any other kind of life. And for a great deal of humanity’s existence, finding an adequate supply of food has dominated communal needs. Douglas Adams, with his usual flair for insight, wrote of the three phases of every major Galactic civilisation, characterised by the questions “how can we eat?“, “why do we eat?“, and finally, “where shall we have lunch?“.  Many readers will probably think of themselves in the third phase, but it’s worth remembering that a huge number of people on Earth are still struggling at phase one.

After the glaciers of the last ice age retreated, about 12,000 years ago, hunter-gatherer groups followed the milder weather back north, resettling tracts of land which had been their distant ancestors’ homes long before. They followed not just the warmth, but also the herds and flocks as they migrated, and the seasonal yield of trees and bushes. Small migrant groups could eat off the land tolerably well, so long as they were willing to keep on the move, and retained a good pragmatic understanding of seasonal changes. They were self-sufficient.

The spread of farming through Europe - Eupedia
The spread of farming through Europe – Eupedia

Then farming came along, spreading across Europe from south east to north west. Farming communities have to stay put, not just season to season but also year to year. Fixed territory, and its ongoing fertility, become crucial. Our remote ancestors must have seen a clear advantage in this way of life, partly no doubt because it could support much greater populations, but it also brought risk. A bad year can signal disaster – and it is no longer possible just to follow the herds elsewhere. Your communal wealth can no longer easily be moved, and a good parcel of land somewhere nearby has probably already been settled. Either you stay put, and try to wait out the famine, or you go to war.

Agra Street Market
Agra Street Market

But another corollary of settled communities is that they typically have a surplus of some things – and a surplus can be traded for whatever you lack. So you hedge, accepting that you cannot grow or produce some goods, and relying on your neighbours who can. You grow less dependent on your immediate fields to give everything you need, but more dependent on the resources of a wider area.

The historical fiction I write is set in a place and time where the dependence on other places has not become too firmly fixed. Kephrath and her sister towns certainly make use of trade links, but for bulk supplies are largely self-sufficient. Four towns together, and their hinterland, can manage.

The process of increasing specialisation of any one place, and increasing dependence on an ever larger area, has continued largely uninterrupted ever since. In both World War 1 and 2, arguably the biggest threat to the United Kingdom was the U-boat blockade cutting the nation off from resource supplies. There were great efforts to boost the domestic food supply, but a modern nation at war needs a whole array of raw materials which come from many sources – coal, oil, iron ore, rubber, exotic trace minerals, and so on. Without convoys bringing these in, the most abundant supply of food would still have lost the war.

Cover - Foundation
Cover – Foundation

Looking into the future, different authors have predicted different outcomes. In his Foundation series, Asimov reckoned that the trend of reliance on ever bigger areas would continue unchecked. Trantor, the capital planet of his Galactic Empire, grew no food at all, and depended on the agricultural wealth of multiple nearby star systems – an Achilles heel which was to prove fatal. Star Trek, on the other hand, assumes a technological solution in which energy can be converted into food from information templates in a replicator. The only thing you now need is an energy source – such a world is effectively reverting all the way back to hunter-gatherers foraging for supplies as they travel.

Guinea pigs - Wikipedia
Guinea pigs – Wikipedia

The solar system of Far from the Spaceports is more like Asimov’s model, though of course vastly smaller in scale. There are no food replicators or protein resequencers. None of the settlement domes has hinterlands of lush fields able to grow local crops. The best that can be done out in the Scilly Isles of the asteroid belt is hydroponic farming – small scale and energy hungry. Otherwise there’s imported goods, whether carried in fresh or (more compactly) freeze-dried. Or – perhaps amusingly but, I think, credibly – there are very small scale livestock solutions.


“Now, Mister Mitnash, were you wanting the chicken or the fish tonight?”

I hesitated, not being very sure. She laughed.

“No point spending too long deciding. It’s all guinea-pig anyway. I just prepare them a mite differently and you’d never know they’re the same animal. And it’s what you’ve been having everywhere else on Scilly.”


“To be sure. Tell me now, where did you eat when you arrived on St Mary’s?”


“And what did you have? His Venusian azure duck wrap?”

I nodded, and she carried on, “So did you honestly think he pays to ship real duck all the way out from Earth? Just to cook it and put it in a wrap? No, Mister Mitnash, all his menu is actually guinea-pig, but he’s very good at disguising it. For just me here, I only need one male and half a dozen females. Taji has three males and thirty females. Or something like that. So now, would you like the chicken or the fish?”

I thought about it and wondered if it would make much difference.

“I should like the chicken tonight, Mrs Riley.”


That’s it until next time!

Preorder time

Well, here we are. Far from the Spaceports is now queued at Amazon for preorder in Kindle format.

Preorder links are:

Far from the Spaceports cover
Far from the Spaceports cover

The actual release date is set at Monday November 23rd. The paperback copy will be along at about the same time depending on the vagaries of the process. And here also for your pleasure is the cover, created for me as usual by Ian Grainger. With real asteroidal textures from Vesta and elsewhere blended in to the image.

For those who can’t wait, there are free sample downloads in both Kindle mobi and general epub format, available at the Kephrath website ‘Downloads and Offers’ page. They contain the first portion of the story.

Here’s the general blurb:

Quick wits and loyalty confront high-tech crime in space

Welcome to the Scilly Isles, a handful of asteroids bunched together in space, well beyond the orbit of Mars. This remote and isolated habitat is home to a diverse group of human settlers, and a whole flock of parakeets. But earth-based financial regulator ECRB suspects that it’s also home to serious large scale fraud, and the reputation of the islands comes under threat.

Enter Mitnash Thakur and his virtual partner Slate, sent out from Earth to investigate. Their ECRB colleagues are several weeks away at their ship’s best speed, and even message signals take an hour for the round trip. Slate and Mitnash are on their own, until they can work out who on Scilly to trust. How will they cope when the threat gets personal?

 Not long to wait now for the complete story…

Celebrating a complete draft of Far From the Spaceports

A few days ago I finished a complete draft of Far from the Spaceports which I was happy with. It’s not quite a final version, and there’ll be another couple of edit sweeps, but it’s nearly there.

So to celebrate that, here’s a longish extract from near the start, as Mitnash discovers something of why he is being sent out from Earth to investigate some fraud. The scene takes place on Earth, at Mitnash’s place of work in Finsbury Circus, London. The actual release date is a few weeks away yet, as I run through final edits and the process of getting kindle, epub and physical copies ready.

Elias swirled an ident onto the wall screen. It dissolved away the ECRB logo to show instead a top-down view of the asteroid belt, unevenly coloured. There was a deep red area to the left, fading quickly through orange to yellow and green. There were a couple of other red patches, but nothing so striking as the first one. I looked at it for a few seconds. It seemed perfectly graduated at first glance, but as you studied it, little irregularities appeared here and there, anomalies in the superficial smoothness.

Little white blobs appeared roughly where you might expect them. Ceres was well away from the centre of the red area, about a radian anticlockwise. Mars was almost opposite Ceres, as well as a long way in-system. Jupiter and a whole shoal of moons were almost directly out into the cold from that red epicentre.

The Jovian data was almost all green, and bore no resemblance to the glaring red directly inwards. I blinked. Elias laughed.

“Funnily enough, we did think of comparing that ourselves. But full marks for thinking of it.”

“Why the difference?”

“There’s actually no reason they would be the same. The Jovians get a separate feed from any of the belt settlements, or Mars for that matter. Reutberg sends out EOD London rates and benchmarks to all the outstations at the same time, plus all of the calc methodologies to derive the rest. Of course the arrival time varies per station in exactly the way you’d expect, but there shouldn’t be time for anyone to take advantage.”

“This is just arbitrage?”

It sounded a disappointing end to what had started out as an interesting problem. Arbitrage was an old business – it went back at least as far as when our ancestors were trading goats for grain or shiny beads. If you were a shiny bead trader with a quick pair of feet and an appetite for moderate risk, you could juggle the trade in goats and grain to your advantage and – with a good dollop of luck – go home a richer man. But it was hard to do in a massively connected world, and friction in the margins meant that those who tried it today regularly lost the game.

There were no short cut alleyways that the modern shiny beadsman could take to get ahead of his more ponderous fellows. Reutberg sent all the information out in synchronised fractalised packages, all at the same time, and everything went at light speed. The fastest systems available kept all of the triangulated rates aligned. Unless somebody had quietly invented a wormhole, or figured out how to curve space to order, there was no way to get ahead of the system. And if someone had come up with such a thing, I was quite sure they would be using it for more than a bit of petty market fixing in the asteroid belt.

I leaned forward, touched the white blob closest to the red centre.

“I suppose I’m going there? Is that Pallas?”

“No, not even close. Pallas is round again from Ceres, in the bottom right of the plot. Those are called the Scilly Isles. There are a good number of people scattered on those rocks. It should be easy enough for you to blend in. Somewhere on those islands you should find the root of the problem. Or at any rate some good leads.”

“Who am I this time?”

“Bored coder, wannabe miner with what you think is a foolproof way to find precious metals. Rare earths in particular. Learn all you need to about commodities for the rest of today, from extraction to dealing. And it would do no harm to refresh on benchmarks too.”

He looked again at the timepiece.

“Time’s up. You have an orientation session on rare earths from one of our economists in twenty minutes on level five. Then another one with an ex-miner who will tell you all about detectors and display analytics. Then another one with me straight after that, when we’ll go over the details in the secure pod on level three. You leave tomorrow morning.”

Look out for Far From the Spaceports in just a few weeks now…

And here for fun is an ESA picture of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko as seen by the Rosetta probe…

ESA image of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko
ESA image of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

Matters of coding…

I am a little behind with the blog this week, largely because I have been making some necessary updates to the various websites that I am responsible for. Anyone who has been following the tech news over the last few years will be aware that the EU has insisted that any site using cookies should have a warning to users about this. They are tightening this right now to require that sites have some kind of popup which requires active user dismissal.

Now, along with most people in the techie world I think this is a silly regulation. There are far more effective and far less obtrusive ways that your online activities can be traced which do not involve cookies at all, so the whole mechanism gives a rather spurious sense of safety. And whatever you think of cookies, at least they can be inspected in your browser and deleted if you so choose. All the really big datasets that hold personal information about you – the ones you might conceivably be really worried about – are tucked away on remote servers to which you have no access.

But, whatever I think of it, it has to be implemented… which all takes a bit of time… which takes away from more exciting things.

Now, along the way I also discovered that several of the sites are way out of date! That is unequivocally my own fault, and I have been building up a rather long to-do list for the next few months.

So for today here is another extract from Far from the Spaceports. In this, Mitnash is also struggling with the travails of coding. Mitnash is not me, but I do have first-hand knowledge of the problems he faces! It’s a minor part of the plot, but will give him the opportunity in a few more pages to speak with a person who has information he needs.

It was time that I learned how to code the NuFleece API. So together Slate and I went through the documentation – as pitiful and contradictory as anything I had met before – and learned how to do it. This involved another trip to Aladdin’s, this time to buy a NuFleece wrap that I could practice on, and then most of the rest of the day first being baffled, then swearing at the painfully slow and irrational logic, and finally crowing with satisfaction.

Mrs Riley called me for dinner just as I got to that point. I bounced into her dining room waving the wrap about, and insisted she watch my trial template teapots drift across the surface of the wrap. They cycled through dimension and hue changes as they did so, and adapted contextually to the base colour stripes as they drifted over them. She watched them for a while as I tucked in to the soup she had brought me.

“Could you do that with pictures, Mr Mitnash? I was thinking it would be nice to have a wrap like that with pictures of the four of us on it. Riley, me, and the two children.”

I was on a real high with the afternoon’s successes.

“Drop the pictures onto this hand-held and I’ll have it done for you this evening.”

As always happens, the API work actually took a lot longer than I had expected. I promised myself again that I would stop giving ambitious estimates. So I worked into the night to get it done, and then at breakfast made a little show of presenting her with her finished wrap. She was delighted, and was still talking about it when I set off…

And here, just for fun, is another NASA image, this time of Saturn and (extremely small) the moon Tethys…

NASA picture of Saturn and the moon Tethys, taken by the Cassini probe
NASA picture of Saturn and the moon Tethys, taken by the Cassini probe

Extract – Far from the Spaceports

Here’s a bit of fun from the Work-in-Progress science fiction novel Far From the Spaceports. Mitnash is one of the main characters, and he is talking to the lady running the guest house on the asteroid Bryher where he is staying:

“Get away with you, Mr Mitnash. I’ll wager that can’t be done. Look now, were you wanting the chicken or the fish tonight?”

I hesitated, not being very sure. She laughed.

“No point spending too long deciding. It’s all guinea-pig anyway. I just prepare them a mite differently and you’d never know they’re the same animal. And it’s what you’ve been having everywhere else on Scilly.”


“To be sure. Tell me now, where did you eat when you arrived on St Mary’s?”


“And what did you have? His Venusian azure duck wrap?”

I nodded, and she carried on, “So did you really think he pays to ship real duck all the way out from Earth? Just to cook it and put it in a wrap? No, Mr Mitnash, all his menu is actually guinea-pig, but he’s very good at disguising it. For just me here, I only need one male and half a dozen females. Taji has three males and thirty females. Or something like that. So now, would you like the chicken or the fish?”

Look out for more extracts, and further news of Far from the Spaceports over the next few weeks. All being well, it will be published this year…

Meanwhile, here’s a recent NASA picture of the asteroid Ceres.

Recent image of Ceres from the Dawn probe, linked from NASA server
Recent image of Ceres from the Dawn probe, linked from NASA server