Category Archives: Far from the Spaceports

Trial blurb for Far From the Spaceports

It’s a good week for science fiction, what with the film version of The Martian coming out in a few days. Not that I am cashing in on that or anything, and the draft itself is not quite finished, but here is a first cut at the back-cover promotional blurb for Far From the Spaceports. It may well change over the next few weeks… comments welcome.

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. They are a good home to a varied and unique group of settlers. But now, someone is accumulating credit by fraud on a large scale out here. Nobody knows how or why, and the reputation of the islands is under threat.

Meet Mitnash Thakur and his virtual partner Slate, sent out from Earth to find out what is happening, and fix it in the best way they can. Their colleagues on Earth 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 to trust. Then, as soon as they start their investigation, the threat gets personal.

For fun, here’s a NASA picture of the asteroid Ida, which to everyone’s surprise turned out to have its own little moon, Dactyl.

NASA picture of asteroid Ida and its moon Dactyl
NASA picture of asteroid Ida and its moon Dactyl

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

Pluto flyby special blog!

NASA - Pluto from less than half a million miles away
NASA – Pluto from less than half a million miles away

In celebration of the NASA New Horizons spacecraft making its closest approach to Pluto today, I thought I would celebrate with a short extract from Far from the Spaceports. The action takes place in the asteroid belt which is still a very long way from Pluto but is at least en route.

Mitnash, the main character, is actually on a group of asteroids in closely linked orbits named after the Scilly Isles. He is actually there to investigate financial fraud but has a cover story of prospecting for minerals. He has just arrived on Bryher.

I looked round the room, and noticed a man’s picture through the open door.
“And is that your husband, Mrs Riley?”
She followed my gaze and nodded.
“Oh yes, Mister Mitnash, that’s Riley. He’s a miner, you know, he’s out near Jupiter somewhere just now. Comes back once a year to see us all here on Bryher.”
“Oh yes? What does he go for? I’m here to do some mining myself. Rare earths. There’s a good patch out here near the Scillies. At least, I think there is.”
She snorted.
“And who have you left back home waiting all the long hours in the night for you to get back? Still, if you doing it keeps her out of want then maybe it’s a good thing. Now Riley there, he goes out for the heavy metals. Anything heavy at all, really. He brings back huge great lumps in tow behind his ship. The Selkie, he called her.”
She laughed. “That’s what he calls me, too, his selkie, when he’s had a few jars. That he does. But it’s the metal that glamours him, not my own self, I’m thinking.”
She looked at the picture for a few moments, then sighed and glanced back at me.
“I’m also thinking you don’t look much like a miner, Mister Mitnash.”

More news regarding Far from the Spaceports will follow through the summer. Meanwhile, congratulations to the entire New Horizons team for the culmination of effort spanning well over a decade. At the time of writing, they are still waiting for the craft to come out of its radio silent mode…