New book: The First Killer Robots

The First Killer Robots

Several years ago I wrote a number of short ebooks for Bretwalda Books, mainly on high-tech weapons and their historical context. When Bretwalda downsized their catalogue the rights were returned to me, so I’ve taken the opportunity to reorganize the material into a single 180-page book. I’ve also filled in several gaps, both in terms of technology and historical conflicts, that weren’t covered in the original ebooks.

The result is called The First Killer Robots: Guided Missiles in the 20th Century. It’s available as a paperback (ISBN 9798674359425) or Kindle ebook from, Amazon UK and all other Amazons around the world. There’s also an ebook version for all other platforms (ISBN 978-1-71665-501-2), which should be available in due course from a range of retailers.

Here is the back-cover blurb …

From the flying bombs of World War Two to the nuclear arms race, from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the Scud attacks of the Gulf War, from the shooting down of a CIA spyplane by Soviet surface-to-air missiles to the accidental downing of airliners, guided missiles made alarming headlines throughout the latter part of the 20th century. This book cuts through the complexities of the subject to give an insight into the world of these first “killer robots”, explaining how they work, how they were employed, their historical impact and their legacy for our own times. Illustrated with over a hundred photographs and diagrams.

… and here’s the contents list:

  • Chapter 1: Robot Warfare (The Basics of Missile Guidance; Some Terminology)
  • Chapter: 2: Surface-to-Air Missiles (Technical Challenges; SAMs and the Cold War; From Vietnam to Kosovo; SAMs at Sea; Stingers and Strelas; Countermeasures)
  • Chapter 3: Air-Launched Missiles (Vietnam: An Asymmetric War; Air-to-Air Missiles; The Anti-Satellite Missile; Air-to-Surface Missiles)
  • Chapter 4: Surface-to-Surface Missiles (Flying Bombs; Going Ballistic; Scud Wars; Cruise Missiles; Anti-Submarine Missiles)
  • Chapter 5: Nuclear Missiles (The Ultimate Weapon; Political Missiles; ICBM Secrets; The Arms Race)
  • Chapter 6: Anti-Missile Missiles (Nuclear ABMs; Countering TBMs)
  • Chapter 7: Enter the Drone (Drones in the Cold War; Eyes in the Sky)
  • Chapter 8: The 20th Century’s Missile Legacy (Soviet Missiles in the 21st Century; The Continuing Story of the TBM; Nuclear Proliferation)
  • Appendix A: Glossary of Technical Terms
    Appendix B: Missiles Mentioned in the Main Text
  • Appendix C: 20th Century Missile Conflicts

Rockets and Ray Guns

My second contribution to Springer’s Science and Fiction series is out now – Rockets and Ray Guns: The Sci-Fi Science of the Cold War. It’s in a similar style to Pseudoscience and Science Fiction, and even includes some pseudoscience of its own (e.g. UFOs, ESP and mind control) as well as the more obvious topics such as nuclear weapons, guided missiles and space warfare.

The Cold War saw scientists in East and West racing to create amazing new technologies, the like of which the world had never seen. Yet not everyone was taken by surprise. From super-powerful atomic weapons to rockets and space travel, readers of science fiction had seen it all before.

Sometimes reality lived up to the SF vision, at other times it didn’t. The hydrogen bomb was as terrifyingly destructive as anything in fiction, while real-world lasers didn’t come close to the promise of the classic SF ray gun. Nevertheless, when the scientific Cold War culminated in the Strategic Defence Initiative of the 1980s, it was so science-fictional in its aspirations that the media dubbed it “Star Wars”.

This entertaining account, offering a plethora of little known facts and insights from previously classified military projects, shows how the real-world science of the Cold War followed in the footsteps of SF – and how the two together changed our perception of both science and scientists, and paved the way to the world we live in today.

The book has already received a couple of nice reviews:

  • By Tom Reale (“a work that will delight science, history, and SF buffs alike”) on the AIPT website
  • By Brian Clegg (“a solid contribution to the history of science fiction and its relation to the real world”) on his Popular Science blog

Needless to say, Rockets and Ray Guns is available from all good booksellers, including and Amazon UK.

Cold War Update

Cold War Sci-Fi ScienceI just realized that it’s been four months since I last posted an update on this blog. I’ve been too busy! Anyway, my Cold War book now has a working title – Rockets and Ray Guns: The Sci-Fi Science of the Cold War. I’m about two-thirds of the way through writing it – hopefully it should be out some time around the middle of 2018.

Basically the book is a follow-on to Pseudoscience and Science Fiction, which was published last year. While the first book looked at the way SF anticipated and cross-fertilized with various well-known tropes of the pseudoscience industry, the new one will do the same for the real (or in some cases, allegedly “real”) science of the Cold War.

The picture above gives a quick taster of the kind of thing I mean. The illustration on the left comes from a short story by John W. Campbell called “When the Atoms Failed”, from the January 1930 issue of Amazing Stories. The picture on the right is an artist’s conception of a space-based electromagnetic railgun, dating from July 1984. This was a real-world proposal for an anti-ballistic–missile defence system, using technology that had already been demonstrated in the laboratory.

Cold War research

Cold War books

Having thoroughly enjoyed doing the research for my book on Pseudoscience and Science Fiction last year (see a selection of research materials here and here), and then The Telescopic Tourist’s Guide to the Moon earlier this year (see my Lunar Research blog post) I’ve been wondering what to do next. One idea that occurred to me is something about the Cold War … so I’ve been dutifully immersing myself in research on the subject, as you can see from the picture above.