Category Archives: Scenes from a Life

Bits and Pieces (2)

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A follow-up to my earlier post this week, catching up on some more news. But first, here is a couple of snaps (one enlarged and annotated) I took earlier today in the early morning as I walked to East Finchley tube station.

Jupiter and Mars, annotated
 The Moon, Jupiter and Mars, annotated
The Moon, Jupiter, and Mars
The Moon, Jupiter and Mars

All very evocative, and leads nicely into my next link, which is a guest post I wrote for Lisl’s Before the Second Sleep blog, on the subject of title. Naturally enough, it’s a topic that really interests me – how will human settlements across the solar system adapt to and reflect the physical nature of the world they are set on?

In particular I look at Mars’ moon Phobos, both in the post and in Timing. So far as we can tell, Phobos is extremely fragile. Several factors cause this, including its original component parts, the closeness of its orbit to Mars, and the impact of whatever piece of space debris caused the giant crater Stickney. But whatever the cause… how might human society adapt to living on a moon where you can’t trust the ground below your feet? For the rest of the post, follow this link.

And also here’s a reminder of the Kindle Countdown offer on most of my books, and the Goodreads giveaway on Half Sick of Shadows. Here are the links…

Half Sick of Shadows is on Goodreads giveaway, with three copies to be won by the end of this coming weekend.

All the other books are on Kindle countdown deal at £0.99 or $0.99 if you are in the UK or US respectively – but once again only until the end of the weekend. Links for these are:

Science fiction series
Far from the Spaceports UK link and US link
Timing UK link and US link

Late Bronze Age historical fiction
In a Milk and Honeyed Land UK link and US link
Scenes from a Life UK link and US link
The Flame Before Us UK link and US link

And I haven’t forgotten about the upcoming Alexa news, following recent activity coding for the new Alexa Show (the one with the screen). But that’s for another day…

Bits and pieces

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It’s been an exceptionally busy time at work recently, so I haven’t had time to write much. But happily, lots of other things are happening, so here’s a compendium of them.

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

First, Half Sick of Shadows was reviewed on Sruti’s Bookblog, with a follow-up interview. The links are: the review itself, plus the first and second half of the interview. “She wishes for people to value her but they seem to be changing and missing… She can see the world, but she always seemed curbed and away from everything.”

 

Secondly, right now there’s a whole lot of deals available on my novels, from oldest to newest. Half Sick of Shadows is on Goodreads giveaway, with three copies to be won by the end of next weekend.

All the other books are on Kindle countdown deal at £0.99 or $0.99 if you are in the UK or US respectively. Links for these are:

Science fiction series
Far from the Spaceports UK link and US link
Timing UK link and US link

Late Bronze Age historical fiction
In a Milk and Honeyed Land UK link and US link
Scenes from a Life UK link and US link
The Flame Before Us UK link and US link

Pretty soon there’ll be some more Alexa news, as I’ve been busily coding for the new Alexa Show (the one with the screen). But that’s for another day…

Half Sick of Shadows and a giveaway…

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

Tomorrow (May 1st 2017) is the release date for the Kindle version of Half Sick of Shadows, to be followed by the paperback version in a couple of weeks once the final details are sorted out.

For reference, here are the preorder links, which should still continue to redirect to the final purchase links as soon as the book goes live!

Who is The Lady?

In ancient Britain, a Lady is living in a stone-walled house on an island in the middle of a river. So far as the people know, she
has always been there. They sense her power, they hear her singing, but they never meet her.

At first her life is idyllic. She wakes, she watches, she wanders in her garden, she weaves a complex web of what she sees, and she
sleeps again. But as she grows, this pattern becomes narrow and frustrating. She longs to meet those who cherish her, but she cannot.
The scenes beyond the walls of her home are different every time she wakes, and everyone she encounters is lost,
swallowed up by the past.

But when she finds the courage to break the cycle, there is no going back. Can she bear the cost of finding freedom? And what will
her people do, when they finally come face to face with a lady of legend who is not at all what they have imagined?

A retelling – and metamorphosis – of Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott.

And to celebrate the release, I am running an Amazon reduced price offer on all my previous books, science fiction and historical fiction alike, timed to start on May 1st and run until May 8th. So you can stock up for the reduced cot of 99p / 99c for all of these. Links are:

Far from the Spaceports:

Timing (Far from the Spaceports 2)

In a Milk and Honeyed Land

Scenes from a Life

The Flame Before Us

Enjoy the whole experience!

 

Kindle Countdown offer – historical fiction

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Cover - In a Milk and Honeyed Land
Cover – In a Milk and Honeyed Land

I was nearly set up to start a series of blogs on Kindle formatting, having been reading a lot about that recently. But those aren’t quite ready yet, so instead I am just advertising that a Kindle Countdown offer is now running on my historical fiction series.
So all this week, up until Monday 12th, you will find the following books at reduced price on the Amazon UK and US stores;

 

In a Milk and Honeyed Land

Scenes from a Life

The Flame Before Us

 

Timing now available on preorder

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Timing Kindle cover 480x640
Timing – Kindle cover

Well, Timing, the sequel to Far from the Spaceports, is now available on preorder from Amazon stores worldwide. Release day is October 14th so there’s not long to wait. Paperback copies will be available at round about the same time but I don’t have an exact date yet.

It’s set about a year on from the end of Spaceports, and begins out at the group of asteroids called the Scilly Isles. But there’s more solar system travel this time around including, as the cover would suggest, a trip to Mars and the larger of its two moons, Phobos.

Preorder links are:

To celebrate this release, all my previous novels are going on Amazon countdown offer from 14th. The length of time varies for each depending on Amazon’s rules for such things – but on 14th you can get not only Far from the Spaceports, but also the historical novels In a Milk and Honeyed Land, Scenes from a Life, and The Flame Before Us all at reduced prices.

Meanwhile, here are links to an author reading on YouTube (and Daily Motion in case the You Tube one has not yet distributed). It’s the same reading at both sites but more will be uploaded before too long…

 

Basic elements – Communication

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Today’s basic element is communication, and thousands of years of human development has shown that this indeed is a crucial feature in building society.

Before that, though, a quick mention of some author readings for Far from the Spaceports – whether you like YouTube, Daily Motion or Vimeo, you’ll be able to find them.

c.2400BC cuneiform tablet from the high-priest Luenna to the king of Lagash, relating the news of his son's death (Wiki)
c.2400BC cuneiform tablet from the high-priest Luenna to the king of Lagash, relating the news of his son’s death (Wiki)

So, communication. It’s fair to say that as a species we have been quite obsessive in extending the scope and accuracy of our attempts to communicate. What began as an immediate interpersonal exchange has grown in range, variety, and diversity over the years. Nowadays, many people find themselves disoriented and frustrated when they cannot, virtually instantaneously, access the information they want.

Wind back to the Late Bronze Age, and things were very different. The majority of people stayed within a short distance of their birthplace, and had direct contact only with the towns and villages in the neighbourhood. There were exceptions, and we do know that some people were well-travelled. Messengers, envoys, scribes, and traders would all be acquainted with a much wider scale of vision.

Egyptian topographical list
Egyptian topographical list

An army commander or religious leader might be called upon to travel to, or describe, remote locations, and the accuracy with which they could do this might make a world of difference to the outcome. We have topographical records and route lists from the ancient world, itemising the important features of a strange land, and how to navigate from the familiar into the unknown. And “travellers’ tales”, with vivid and usually speculative descriptions of other lands, have been a favourite story-teller’s ploy throughout history. I sometimes wonder if this accounts for today’s popularity of science fiction and fantasy – with so few unknown places left on the planet we know, we are easily persuaded to look into other realms.

Greatest extent of Persian (Achmaenid) empire, c.350BC (Wiki)
Greatest extent of Persian (Achmaenid) empire, c.350BC (Wiki)

There was, essentially, no way to send a message to some distant place other than making a physical journey, either in person or by proxy. On a battlefield, some orders might be signalled by horns or other instruments, or by flags and banners, but the intent had to be simple and easily understood. Right through until the modern era, the dust and confusion of battlefields has led to endless confusion and lost opportunities. On the political scale, the various empires of the ancient world struggled to keep a balance between the expansionist mindset of rulers, and the sheer practical difficulty of keeping hold of territories once acquired. The Persian empire – which would be swept away by Alexander the Great – had a complex and largely effective system of messengers and roads, but an independently-minded ruler of a remote city-state would still enjoy a very large degree of freedom.

It is hard for us to comprehend just how vast the world has seemed throughout history, if you think in terms of sending a message. Less than a century ago, some of my family members were posted to Singapore for a time. The rest of the family treated the event as though it was a permanent goodbye. True, there was surface mail, but it was extremely slow, and erratic at best. So it was safest to assume that this could be a one-way journey. Fast forward to 2015, and I was able to use my mobile phone to call my parents in England, from a hotel room near Delhi, India, to make sure that they had made a safe transition from place to another. The worst problem I faced was that the connection was a bit crackly.

Pluto at close range (NASA)
Pluto at close range (NASA)

Moving on again, into the time of Far from the Spaceports, we have again lost the possibility of talking real-time to people. Even when the Apollo spacecraft were going to our moon, we had to learn to get used to about a second and a half lag in the signal. As we go further out, the lag gets longer, as signals travel at the speed of light back from the craft. When the New Horizons probe was passing Pluto and sending images back, the signal lag was about 4 1/2 hours. The corresponding time for Voyager, much further out again, is about 18 hours. Even the relatively modest distances that Mitnash and Slate have travelled out to the asteroid belt mean that they have somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 hour delay each way, depending on the relative positions in their orbits. It can take an hour for Mit to get an answer to a simple query.

How will we readjust to a lifestyle where almost instant communication is no longer possible? It’s a strange middling position between our present day, when we can chat in real time without hindrance to a person anywhere in the world, and where we were before radio, when carrying a message to another country could take weeks or months. It is clearly a limitation that science fiction film makers find frustrating.

Cover - Rocannon's World
Cover – Rocannon’s World

The universe of Star Trek, while acknowledging that physically going from place to place takes time, tends to show instantaneous real-time chat between the ships concerned and the headquarters back on Earth.  For Trek geeks, there is a lot of online chatter about how this might happen, most of which seems to me to simply push the problem around without solving it. The basic idea that moving objects takes time, but moving information happens without delay, seems to go back (at least in fiction) to Ursula LeGuin’s Rocannon’s World, when Rocannon sends an instantaneous message back to Earth with the coordinates of the enemy base: “They can send death at once, but life is slower…” (it’s a fine book, and well worth reading for lots of reasons).

Mitnash and Slate, however, work within the constraints of what we know. I have not assumed that some extraordinary scientific breakthrough will change all this just yet (though I aware of, and intrigued by, current ideas for using quantum mechanical entangling to send instantaneous signals). So their world is one that has to manage with chat lag – and this affects their personal relationships as well as the simple acquisition of information. What kind of friendship and intimacy is possible when every communication is frustrated by long gaps? People – and I suppose artificial intelligences – can handle enforced separation for long periods of time and remain loyal to each other. But what about situations where you can almost have a conversation, but not quite?

Earthrise, from the Moon, taken from Apollo 8 (NASA)
Earthrise, from the Moon, taken from Apollo 8 (NASA)

Samples and downloads

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Over the last few weeks I have been working to get all my books into a place where free sample downloads are available in a variety of formats. So for downloads of all different kinds you can check out the downloads area of the Kephrath site, or Goodreads, or Leanpub, or Kobo books – everything on Kobo is at 50% off until Jan 31st, so long as you use the discount code JAN1650, which in my case includes In a Milk and Honeyed Land and The Flame Before Us – or Google Play, or the iBook store. To read online check out my Issuu listings – also there are links to the individual publications from several of the pages on this blog or the Kephrath web site. All in all, I have put out sample material in a lot of different places and formats!

Along with that, I have widened the distribution of The Flame Before Us to include several ebook stores as well as just Amazon, and for simplicity am in the process of making the Kindle and ePub price of all of my historical fiction books the same. That is not quite finished yet, but will be before too long.

In a Milk and Honeyed Land - new cover
In a Milk and Honeyed Land – new cover

Finally, I have released In a Milk and Honeyed Land under the Matteh Publications banner now, so after a suitable pause you can expect to see the listings change slightly at various online bookshops.

Oh yes, there’s also a short radio advert going out for Far from the Spaceports on the Christian radio station KATZ – here’s a link to the ad, at offset 33 minutes and 46 seconds.

Exciting times for a new year!

Back in the past – the first known use of end-rhyme

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Horus in Roman Costume - British Museum picture
Horus in Roman Costume – British Museum picture

I thought for today I would jump back into the past, and in particular writing. I recently visited the British Museum’s “Faith after the Pharaohs” exhibition. This is well worth a trip if you get the opportunity – it is on display until February 7th, so there’s a bit of time left yet.

Now, among other things I noticed a fragment on display from the Cairo Genizah. This is regarded as the world’s most important and comprehensive store of historical Jewish documents, and consists of around 300,000 fragments. It is a vast and perplexing mix of overtly religious material, together with secular works and everyday documents, and so has illuminated many different aspects of Jewish middle eastern life.

Now, some of the fragments – and in particular the one I saw – were written by a Jewish poet called Yannai. He is variously said to have lived in the 5th, 6th or 7th centuries CE (AD) and was a highly creative innovator in the field of piyyut – Hebrew or Aramaic poetry composed either in place of or as adornments to Jewish statutory prayers. His innovations include:

  • He was the first Hebrew poet to sign his works (albeit with an acrostic rather than direct name)
  • He was one of the first to write for regular weekly services rather than specific religious events
  • He took the practice of payyetan from a very broad-based set of loose constraints into a tightly structure art-form in several innovative ways, and

– the thing I found most immediately interesting –

  • he was the first to use end-rhyme as a poetic device.
Lieber on Yannai - Hebrew Union Monograph cover image
Lieber on Yannai – Hebrew Union Monograph cover

So he not only used traditional devices like alliteration, parallel word pairs, and the like, but also introduced end-rhyme to help structure the poem as a whole. His rhymes were frequently not just the final syllable, but extended over complete words at line ends, and added the possibility of word-play in addition to the rhyme. Laura S. Lieber, one of the major authorities on Yannai, says “As literary works, his poems are as dazzling as they are complex, rich with sound and play, allusion and linguistic beauty.”

Unsurprisingly, his work influenced Hebrew poetry for generations after his death, starting in the Middle East but eventually shaping the way Hebrew poets in Spain created their work as well. So it was very pleasing to see this fragment of his writing on display!

Also back in the world of ancient writing, it’s the time of Scenes from a Life and The Flame Before Us to have Goodreads giveaways. At the time of writing they are pending approval by the Goodreads team, but check out the page links above to find out more, or navigate to the Goodreads listings at Scenes from a Life  and The Flame Before Us to enter, once they go live on January 11th.

Scenes from a Life cover The Flame Before Us cover

Covers – Scenes from a Life and The Flame Before Us

Next week – back to the theme of elements necessary for life, and the subject of Air.

 

A busy few days

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It has indeed been a busy time, with all kinds of things going on. Monday evening saw a lively Facebook event celebrating the launch of Far from the Spaceports, with a lot of people joining in, and a lot of questions, comments, and general good humour. The paperback giveaway is still up for grabs as nobody has yet answered the challenge! There’s still time, so if anyone wants to have a go, here are the questions. All answers can be found in the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ feature, or in the slightly larger free sample downloads available at the Kephrath site.

Scilly Today interview picture
Scilly Today interview picture
  1. What is the name of the main computer at Mitnash’s workplace on earth?
  2. What London underground station did Mitnash use after being recalled to the office?
  3. What did Mitnash assume that the duty porter meant when he talked about parakeets?
  4. What snack did Mitnash treat himself to on arriving at St Mary’s
  5. What did Slate mean when she talked about Plan B?
  6. Name 4 of the 5 main asteroids/islands in the Scilly Isles

Talking of giveaways, I am experimenting with one on Goodreads next week, so if interested pop over to the Goodreads site and add your name., on or after December 15th .

After that, I spoke with Radio Scilly and they turned our chat and some extra blurb into an article. That was a lot of fun, though naturally after we had finished I thought of all kinds of other things I might have said.

I am still following up on contacts arising from that, and hopefully will be for some time to come.

Over in the world of ancient history, the countdown special offers are still going for Scenes from a Life and The Flame Before Us. They run out after the weekend so don’t miss the opportunity. Navigate to Amazon and search by name…

One of the questions that Radio Scilly asked me was what features of the real Islands had proved difficult or impossible to incorporate into the asteroid version. I thought about it, and decided that it had to be the effect of running water. This has been – still is – a hugely critical factor in the real islands, but has never been an influence out in that part of space. To be sure, ice has turned up in all sorts of places in our solar system, but hardly ever in liquid form. So that has prompted me to think of a series of articles on the influence of the elements through history – water, air, light, heat, and so on, in the past, present and future. More of that next week.

NASA image - near the south pole of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus
NASA image – near the south pole of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus

A historical offer to match the science fiction release

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Blog readers will know all about tonight’s Facebook celebration of the release of Far from the Spaceports: a Facebook launch event for Far from the Spaceports, 7pm-9pm UK time (banner below).

But alongside that I have set up Amazon countdown offers on the Kindle versions of Scenes from a Life and The Flame Before Us, so that historical fiction readers can enjoy the season too. Prices are at 99 pence / 99 cents just now, and slowly rise until getting back to normal price in a week’s time.
ScenesFromALifeCoverSmall
Cover - The Flame Before Us

Links are:

Facebook event banner
Facebook event banner

Enjoy!