Disturbing the Universe

David L Clements, science and science fiction

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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!


Infrared Astronomy book submitted!

Those paying attention will know that I’ve spent quite a lot of my time over the last ~9 months writing a popular book on infrared astronomy.

Yesterday I submitted the book!

The FTP upload of the MS and all associated source materials was pretty big – you get that when using some of the lovely images form Herschel and Hubble as illustrations – and took about an hour to upload. The printing of the hardcopy manuscript was a little more interesting as my printer was running out of toner. It stopped at one point, saying it was out of black toner. I’d ordered some new cartridges and was pleased to find they’d come in. But this didn’t include the black cartridge!

So I resorted to the old fashioned technique of shaking the toner cartridge, in the hope that some was left behind.

I had to do this twice, but it worked and the manuscript is now winging its way to my publisher. 

So – now it’s done, and I can think about spending time on other things!

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Writing News: Paradox – the Fermi Paradox Anthology

A few days ago I got news that I’ve had a short story accepted for the Paradox anthology, a new collection of SF stories being published by NewCon Press at the London Worldcon, 14-18 August this summer.

The editor, Ian Whates, put the final table of contents up on his blog today. I’m awed by the list of stellar writers who are contributing, and amazed that I’m sharing the Table of Contents with such luminaries. The full list is:

1. Introduction
2. Catching Rays  – Dave Clements
3. The Big Next – Pat Cadigan
4. Baedecker’s Fermi – Adam Roberts
5. Zeta Reticuli – Paul Cornell
6. The Ambulance Chaser – Tricia Sullivan
7. Lost to Their Own Devices – Adrian Tchaikovsky
8. In the Beginning – Gerry Webb
9. The Trail of the Creator, the Trial of Creation – Paul di Filippo
10. Stella by Starlight – Mike Resnick & Robert T Jeschoenek
11. Fermi’s Doubts – George Zebrowski
12. Audiovisionary – Stephanie Saulter
13. Aether – Robert Reed
14. The End of the World – Keith Brooke & Eric Brown
15. The Worldmaker – Rachel Armstrong
16. Atonement, Under the Blue-White Sun – Mercurio D Rivera

and more can be read about the anthology on Ian’s blog.

I’ll add more details of the book, and how to order it, when they’re available.

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Book progress

The major editing pass is done, with everything re-read and, where necessary, rewritten. Thanks to my various beta readers for their efforts!

A good thing this stage is finished as the book is due to be submitted next week.

Next stop – sorting out some latex issues, hopefully with the help of the publishers latex expert, and then some annoying publishing bureaucracy by way of permissions forms and checklists.

Going through the book I was actually enjoying reading some of it. This may be a good sign, or maybe Im just biased.

Publication is due for November, assuming all goes well!


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Writers Blog Tour

My friend and fellow Milfordian the writer Liz Williams has tagged me for a blog tour of writers. The idea is to answer four questions and then link to two other writers who can also answer the questions.

I’ve done this a bit late (sorry Liz) and have yet to find my second victim, so this is all a bit of a shambles really, but never mind – on with the show!

1. What am I working on?

I’m working on a number of things. First and foremost is my non-fiction, popular book on Infrared Astronomy – with a developing web page attached to this blog. This is due with my publishers in the middle of May, which is one of the reasons I’ve been a bit delayed in answering these questions. The book tries to show much of the current state of our knowledge of the universe and how observations at infrared wavelengths have helped get us there.

Next is the short fiction. As well as writing non-fiction I also write SF, as anybody paying attention to this blog will probably have realised. I’ve been writing short SF for a while and continue to do so, though I’m in a bit of a dry patch as far as having submissions replied accepted or (I’m looking at you Analog) replied to. Current short fiction work in progress concerns environmental recovery, uploaded consciousnesses, and some rather worrying nanotech, as well as hidden agendas and identities. And there’s some politics in the subtext as well. 

Finally there is the Novel In Progress, which has been in progress for quite some time. I was going to be working on that rather more in the past few months, but the non-fiction book contract had to come first. The book’s working title is The Bourbaki Conjecture, it is set in a future where human civilisation in the inner Solar System has been destroyed in an event known as the Collapse, and concerns events a hundred years after this when the small crew of a cargo ship find a survivor during a salvage mission. The elevator pitch tagline is: ‘If knowledge can kill you, what is the price of ignorance.’ The book is, in theory, the first of a trilogy.


2. How does my work differ from others in my genre?

In the non-fiction real, my work differs in that I try to tell a story at the same time as I’m presenting facts, and in that I try to present some idea of what life as a professional astronomer can be like. The opening section of each chapter in the IR Astronomy book is a small vignette from my experiences.

My non-fiction differs from others in that I am trying to write not only fairly hard SF – in that I try not to mess with real physics etc. too much – but I am also concerned with the conduct and meaning of science as well as its results. Being a working scientist provides me, I think, with an unusual perspective on this.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I write because it’s fun. When writing fiction – at least at first draft – it’s like watching a movie or listening to the radio but the pictures are better and nobody, not even you, knows what is going to happen next.

The non-fiction came as a bit of an accident, but it has led me to find out more about areas of astrophysics I’ve not worked on before and to look at the broader picture of some of what I am doing. Communicating my work to a general audience has always been important to me, and this book is part of that.

4. How does my writing process work?

This is not an easy question, as I think my writing process is still evolving. I certainly needed an entirely new approach for the non-fiction book.

For fiction I like to have an idea of where I’m starting – this can be as little as a phrase or a single image of a scene – and where I am going. Getting from one to the other is then something of an adventure.

For non-fiction, I think the key to me has been finding a story to tell. This can be the simple narrative of how something was discovered or how a technology developed, or it can be how a particular problem was worked on from different directions. Finding this story has proved crucial to how I’ve written the different chapters in the book. Before the story there was just a set of results. After I find it, I have a structure on which to hang the results.


Next victim: Guy Martland: http://guytmartland.blogspot.co.uk

And another victim will be added shortly!

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Infrared Astronomy: First Draft Done

So, the first draft for the Infrared Astronomy book is done!

Lots more still to do of course – today I went through and totted up about 15 figures and diagrams that still need to be done, but I also did one of them, so they hopefully won’t take too long. I also have esteemed colleagues, both from astrophysics and writing, reading the draft to provide comments on both the content and the writing.

The whole experience of writing non-fiction has been interestingly different to writing fiction. At some level I have lots of things to write about in non-fiction but have to find a story, while in fiction I have the story, and have to build other things around that. But it’s not that, and not just that.

The other odd thing I’ve found is that non-fiction writing seems to exercise different writing muscles to writing fiction, at least for me. At the same time as writing the book I’ve been working on fiction as well – nothing large, just some short stories – and I haven’t found that an hour or so of non-fiction writing before I come home interferes with an hour or so of writing fiction once I get there. The only difficulty is in having enough hours in the day!

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Is Gravity Science Fiction?

I just wrote the following response to an article and blog comment on lablit.com suggesting that the film Gravity should not be classified as Science Fiction. I thought I should add the comment here as well.

What’s the beef with science fiction?

There are several issues with Gravity that to my mind make it more Science Fiction than Science Fact. The convenient locations of the various places on orbit is already noted, but there are other operational issues in Gravity which elide the facts to make it more convenient (and survivable) for the characters. These include the amount of time taken to put on (and take off) a space suit, and the amount of time it takes to repressurise an airlock.

But above and beyond all these, is the key science fictional idea that drives the film: Kessler syndrome, the hypthesised debris cascade that would result as space debris hits other satellites causing even more debris, and eventually wiping out everything in low Earth orbit (LEO). Even ignoring the fact that the data linking satellites, TDRS, that are used to link communications across LEO are in geosynchronous orbit (GEO) and thus immune from the effect – something the film ignores to add narrative tension – the Kessler syndrome is not something that has been probed to be real. It’s plausible, but it is not a scientific fact, confirmed (thank goodness) by experiment.

To my mind that makes Gravity science fiction more than anything else. Hard SF, for sure, since they try as hard as possible to get everything else as right as they can given the story they want to tell, but SF nevertheless.

I’d contrast this with another film that is borderline SF: Deep Impact. This posits the possibility of a large asteroid impact threatening all life on Earth. Most people would call this film SF, but, unlike Gravity and the Kessler Syndrome, we know that such giant impacts have happened in the past – one wiped out the dinosaurs.

Would you classify that as SF, like most people, or as something different?

I think what lablit.com does is great, and have a couple of things published there, but the site is oddly allergic to science fiction, trying to distance itself from something they have, to my mind, more in common with than differences.

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The Year in Words

Not my most prominent year in terms of published writing:

1 new flash fiction short story published online in Jan 2013

1 reprint for my old Nature Futures piece in the Imperial College arts magazine, Phoenix (along with associated interview and some of my photographs – I think I made things a bit too easy for the editors!)

Several submissions that got associated rejections, one of which is outstanding at Analog, and I really must send a query.

I also had some scientific papers published, as that’s my job 🙂

But the big news was signing a contract for a popular non-fiction book on Infrared Astronomy to be delivered to the publishers next May, and, as I understand it, to be published towards the end of 2014. So, hopefully, next year will be a big year in terms of writing!


Book Deal!

I’ve signed the contract now, so I guess this is as official as it gets so…

I have a book deal!

I’m writing a popular book on infrared astronomy for the Taylor and Francis imprint CRC Press – these are the people who publish, among other things, the tome known in science labs across the world as the Rubber Bible.

Working title for the book is ‘Infrared Astronomy: Seeing the Heat’ and it will present a run down of the achievements of infrared astronomy across the whole of astrophysics. Since working in the infrared has now become part of the bread and butter of astrophysicists, this means that the book is also going to be a summary, to some extent, of the current state of play in much of astronomy, form planets to cosmology.

All more easily said than done, since I now have to write it.

Those of you paying attention will have seen that a second page to this blog, titled Infrared Astronomy Book, popped up not so long ago. Various things associated with the book will end up there – additional material, links to images, that kind of thing. I may also say something about the writing process on these pages as I bring my way through it.

I’ve already found that there are some interesting similarities and differences in writing fiction and non-fiction. The IR Astronomy book, for example, is already well outlined – this was part of the proposal process – while my approach with fiction is that as long as I know where to start and how to finish, I don’t find a detailed structure that useful (quite the opposite in fact).

I’ve finished the first draft of the chapter in infrared detectors, and am now writing the first astronomical chapter to be written (though not the first astronomical chapter in the book), which is about the lives of normal stars.

I’m also writing this part of the book at an observatory, since I’m working at the Submillimetre Array in Hawaii for the next week.

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Book Deal!

Not me – but Al Robertson, upstairs neighbour and fellow writing group member, has just got a two novel deal with Gollancz for his first novel, Crashing Heaven, and a sequel.

I read an early draft of Crashing Heaven and was most impressed, and Al is a great writer anyway – his story Of Dawn was a deserving BSFA award nominee a couple of years ago.

You can read more about Crashing Heaven at Gollancz’s website, and read more about Al on his blog.