Disturbing the Universe

David L Clements, science and science fiction

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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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My LonCon Programme

This is my LonCon programme for those who might be interested.

Universally Challenged: Scientists vs Writers Quiz
Friday, August 15 2014, 10:00 pm

Secrecy in Science
Sunday, August 17 2014, 1:30 pm

Sunday, August 17 2014, 4:30 pm

The War on Science
Sunday, August 17 2014, 6:00 pm

Tall Technical Tales
Sunday, August 17 2014, 9:00 pm

Fermi Paradox Book Discussion
Monday, August 18 2014, 11:00 am

Monday, August 18 2014, 1:00 pm

The Scientific Culture
Monday, August 18 2014, 3:00 pm

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Sitting at the Top of the World

I’m back on Mauna Kea to make some observations with the James Clerk Maxwell telescope, but we’re doing nothing at the moment. This is because we are surrounded by fog and rain, some of the worst rain I’ve seen on Mauna Kea.

It’s one of the odd things about being an observer that you sometimes fly halfway round the world to use highly expensive and sophisticated equipment only to be scuppered by the weather.

Still, it could be worse. When I was here in January the summit winds got up to 120 mph and we had to run away.

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IR Astronomy Book – a first glimpse

My publishers have set up a web page for my IR Astronomy book. You can find it here.

It’s a while before publication, but there should be some offers, freebies and other interesting things to be found here as we approach the publication date in november.

This is all quite exciting!


Pythagoras’ Trousers and Herschel

Several of us were interviewed by Chris North at a recent Herschel meeting about what we thought were the highlights of the mission. This was broadcast on Radio Cardiff on 19th May as part of the Pythagoras’ Trousers programme. I don’t know where they got that title but at least they know how to use apostrophes.

You can now hear this section of the programme here.

At the end of the segment, starting at about 17 minutes in, is an attempt to explain the Herschel mission in ordinary plain language, using a script by Jon Brumfitt & Leo Metcalfe read by me. I’m glad that’s all clear now.


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