Disturbing the Universe

David L Clements, science and science fiction


Infrared Astronomy Linkfest!

As the publication date for my Infrared Astronomy book gets ever closer (I am told it was sent to the printers this week) I’ve made some major updates to the webpage accompanying the book, which can be found here.

And if you have any links relevant to infrared astronomy that you think should be added, please list them in the replies to this post. Thanks!


Convention Apparitions

It looks as if I’m going to be quite busy at conventions in North America next year!

I’m going to be the science guest at two:

Boskone Feb 12 -13, Boston – Boskone is one of the longest established classic US conventions. I’ve never been to one but it’s been on my list of conventions I’d get to in an ideal world. And now I’m going!

Keycon May 14-17, Winnipeg – this isn’t a convention I’ve heard much about before, but this will be the 32nd in the series so they must be doing something right!

I’ll also be at the UK Eastercon, hope to be at 9 Worlds, and I have a cunning plan which might get me to Worldcon as well. This is all very good as I will have the Infrared Astronomy book to sell!

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Paradox Reviews

Reviews are beginning to appear for the Paradox anthology – click on the image to the right if you want to buy it!

Reviews include:

Amazing Stories – ‘the stories here are very good. Four or five are outstanding.’

The Financial Times – ‘a splendidly diverse collection of stories.’

And more reviews are coming!

Now, you really do want to click on that link and buy a copy, don’t you :-)

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Chocolate Tea Pots – The Next Generation

Some years ago I and several research colleagues conducted what turns out to have been a ground-breaking experiment in the empirical determination of the utility of chocolate teapots. This was reported in the award-winning Journal of Superfluous Technology:


and was refereed by a senior academic at Newcastle University:


Sadly, the major programme of research suggested by our esteemed referee was not possible owing to a lack of resources. I was therefore very pleased to read today that someone has taken up the challenge and has implemented our proposed increase in percentage of cocoa solids for chocolate teapots. This has resulted in the development of a usable tea pot, as described here:


My one disappointment is that our original study has not been referenced in this new research – truly unprofessional behaviour!

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New Publication: Paradox from NewCon Press!

Those of you paying attention will see that a new book cover has arrived on the right hand side. This is the book that includes my latest piece of short fiction, called ‘Catching Rays’, in it. The collection deals with the broad topic of the Fermi Paradox – if intelligent, space traveling aliens exist they should be here by now – and was launched by NewCon Press at LonCon3, just a few days ago.

Sales at the convention were brisk, and there are just a few of the hardback copies left. There are still plenty of paperbacks, though, so click the cover image to order your copy right now!


Two astro/cosmonauts and an obscure form of revenge on @spacegovuk

I got back from LonCon3, this year’s World Science Fiction Convention, LonCon3, this morning.

It was exhausting, exhilarating and hard work.

I had a blast.

I’ve mentioned here before that I was the organiser for the science programme at LonCon3. This meant putting together over a hundred different science-related items – talks and panels – along with helping sort out and set up several exhibition stands. It wouldn’t have been possible without my excellent co-head of science, John Bray, who is a much better details person than me. It was also the culmination of 2 years of work by us and by the larger posse of science programme advisors and programme organisers who helped.

The science programme went down very well, and I was congratulated on it by many people at the convention.

This weekend was also special for several other reasons, one of which was that I got to met two people who have been into space.

Back when we started, James Bacon, the head of programming for the convention, challenged me to get an astronaut along. Fine, I thought, I have some contacts. I work on ESA space missions and on UKSA (UK Space Agency, whose twitter handle is @spacegovuk) projects, and I know an ex-head of science at ESA who is sympathetic to the science fiction cause. Together we should be able to pull some strings and get someone over.

That plan didn’t survive contact with the enemy.

The replies I got from the relevant offices at both UKSA and ESA, while polite, made it clear that science fiction wasn’t something they did or wanted to do, despite numerous NASA astronauts attending past US Worldcons.

This was going to require some lateral thinking.

Fortunately, I have some other contacts, and through these we reached out to the world’s other great space power, Russia, to see if any cosmonauts might be interested in coming.

It took a long time, and we didn’t know for sure that a cosmonaut was coming until only a few weeks before the convention. There were UK Border Agency hoops to go through and much more besides, but on Thursday afternoon I got the call – Anatoly Artsebarsky had landed.

I dashed off to help greet him, and shook hands with someone who has spent almost 5 months in space, and 33 hours on space walks. He’s a quiet man with a very firm handshake, but is really quite impressive.

A couple of days later I got another call – would I like to come and have drinks with Anatoly and another visitor – Helen Sharman, the first British astronaut who had flown on Mir at the same time as Anatoly.

Of course I’d like to! I was off in a shot and had a very nice time chatting to her, Anatoly and others at the reception.

I have to thank UKSA for this.

If we hadn’t had to get round their dislike of science fiction I would never have met two genuine space travellers. The likely best result if we had been able to go through ESA or UKSA would have been the attendance of someone still training to go into space.

But I think it’s UKSA’s loss. Instead of waving the flag for the UK government’s renewed interest in space, and crewed spaceflight in particular, to 7500 enthusiastic Worldcon attendees, we instead celebrated the achievements of a different country. But hopefully we have also inspired future generations of British and other SF fans to ever greater efforts in space, and maybe one day we’ll have people in the UKSA who can see past out-dated stereotypes, and realise that SF fans are true friends of space and science.

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Science for Fiction 2014

As a glutton for punishment, I’ve been ignoring the run up to LonCon 3 by running Science for Fiction 2014 yesterday and today. The idea for this is to have an event where writers can hear talks from research scientists and then have plenty of time to discuss the talks and other issues that they might find relevant for their fiction.

This is the fourth time I’ve run Science for Fiction, though there’s been a bit of hiatus the last two years thanks to the London Olympics in 2012 and my commitments to the Royal Society Summer Exhibition in 2013.

This year we have an excellent crop of authors and talks. I certainly leant things yesterday and I expect to learn more today. Topics being covered include:

Star & Planet formation

Planetary auroras

The Higgs boson

The human microbiome

Quantum computers

Dark Matter and Dark Energy

but the discussion goes much further than that!


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