Out now: The Space Business

The Space Business

This is my fourth contribution to the Hot Science series from Icon Books, and the first since Astrobiology just over two years ago. The full title is The Space Business: From Hotels in Orbit to Mining the Moon, How Private Enterprise is Transforming Space. That’s quite a mouthful, but at least it’s descriptive of the book’s contents.

My original idea was just to cover space tourism, but when I started writing the book a year ago this was quite a thin subject, so the scope was expanded to cover other commercial uses of space as well. But with the first crewed flight of Blue Origin’s suborbital rocket and the first all-tourist flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon both happening earlier this year, space tourism now looks like its time has finally come. Just in time for the publication of my book!

Needless to say, it’s available from all the usual book retailers and online sellers (ISBN 9781785787454, RRP £8.99). Here’s the publisher’s blurb from the back cover:

Twentieth-century space exploration may have belonged to state-funded giants such as NASA, but the future is shaping up a little differently. Now the biggest dreams and most ambitious schemes belong to private companies and individuals. Dreams like suborbital rocket flights for paying customers, holidays in an inflatable hotel in Earth orbit, or, eventually, passenger trips to Mars. Schemes like fulfilling all Earth’s energy needs through solar power harvested in space, or nuclear fusion using helium-3 mined on the Moon. It sounds like science fiction, but with entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos transforming the economics of space through their profit-oriented outlook and technology like reusable rockets, some or all of these endeavours could well become reality.

Science writer Andrew May takes an entertaining look at the biggest, brightest and in some cases the most hare-brained ideas emerging from the private space sector, assessing which stand a chance of making it off the launch pad and explaining how we can all benefit.

Now available as audiobooks

Andrew May's audiobooks

Although I’ve been writing books for almost ten years now, until the end of last year none of them had been issued in audiobook form. Now all of a sudden four of them have!

The titles available are Pseudoscience and Science Fiction, Rockets and Ray Guns and Fake Physics, all from Springer’s “Science and Fiction” series, as well as Cosmic Impact from the Icon Books “Hot Science” series. They’re all read very professionally – interestingly enough, all by different narrators.

They’re available from Amazon, or direct from the Audible website.

A reasonably productive year

Andrew May writings 2020

In spite of all the difficulties this year, I’ve still managed to do a reasonable amount of writing as the following table shows:

Year Books Magazine articles
2019 3 12
2020 2 9

The main book this year (on the left in the picture above) was The Science of Sci-Fi Music from Springer. I also did a couple of music-related articles for Fortean Times – “Charles Fort and the Viennese Trichord” in FT390 and “The Music of the Spheres” in FT398 (that’s the issue you can see in the picture).

The high-point on the magazine side was a huge (eight and a half pages) article about the Hubble Space Telescope in the April issue of All About Space. This was great fun to write, as the editor wanted some quotes from scientists who have worked with Hubble, which gave me a chance to get in touch with (among other people) an old colleague of mine from the 1980s. The result was probably the best magazine feature I’ve ever written – and hardly anyone saw it, because it came out during the Covid-19 lockdown!

I also had several articles in How It Works, including ones on antimatter and “Deadly Weapons of the Future” seen in the above photograph. Related to the latter subject, my other book this year was The First Killer Robots: Guided Missiles in the 20th Century. This one was self-published, although based on material from several short ebooks previously published by Bretwalda Books.

Hopefully more to come in 2021!

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.com, 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

Out Now: The Science of Sci-Fi Music

The Science of Sci-Fi Music

My latest book has just been published! It’s my fourth contribution to the “Science and Fiction” series from Springer, following on from Pseudoscience and Science Fiction (2017), Rockets and Ray Guns (2018) and Fake Physics (2019). This one is called The Science of Sci-Fi Music, and here’s the back-cover blurb:

The 20th century saw radical changes in the way serious music is composed and produced, including the advent of electronic instruments and novel compositional methods such as serialism and stochastic music. Unlike previous artistic revolutions, this one took its cues from the world of science.

Creating electronic sounds, in the early days, required a well-equipped laboratory and an understanding of acoustic theory. Composition became increasingly “algorithmic”, with many composers embracing the mathematics of set theory. The result was some of the most intellectually challenging music ever written – yet also some of the best known, thanks to its rapid assimilation into sci-fi movies and TV shows, from the electronic scores of Forbidden Planet and Dr Who to the other-worldly sounds of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

This book takes a close look at the science behind “science fiction” music, as well as exploring the way sci-fi imagery found its way into the work of musicians like Sun Ra and David Bowie, and how music influenced the science fiction writings of Philip K. Dick and others.

The Science of Sci-Fi Music is available from all the usual places, such as Amazon.com or Amazon UK, either as a paperback or an ebook.

To give a flavour of the contents, here’s a link to a short video preview of the book:

Out now: Astrobiology

Astrobiology cover

This is my third contribution to the Hot Science series from Icon Books, after Destination Mars and Cosmic Impact. The publishers decided on the book’s title (and even advertised it online) before I was assigned to the project, which was a new experience for me. And it was more than a little daunting that the title contains “biology” – a subject I know next to nothing about. When I took the book on, I planned to focus mainly on the “astro” part – my comfort zone – but in writing it I got more enthusiastic about the biology side, which ended up filling a fair chunk of the book after all.

Astrobiology: The Search for Life Elsewhere in the Universe is available from all the usual places – for example Amazon.com or Amazon UK – both as a paperback and an ebook. Here is the back-cover blurb:

Extraterrestrial life is a common theme in science fiction, but is it a serious prospect in the real world? Astrobiology is the emerging field of science that seeks to answer this question.

The possibility of life elsewhere in the cosmos is one of the most profound subjects that human beings can ponder. Astrophysicist Andrew May gives an expert overview of our current state of knowledge, looking at how life started on Earth, the tell-tale ‘signatures’ it produces, and how such signatures might be detected elsewhere in the Solar System or on the many exoplanets now being discovered by the Kepler and TESS missions.

Along the way the book addresses key questions such as the riddle of Fermi’s paradox (‘Where is everybody?’) and the crucial role of DNA and water – they’re essential to ‘life as we know it’, but is the same true of alien life? And the really big question: when we eventually find extraterrestrials, will they be friendly or hostile?

New book: Is Buddhism Scientific?

Is Buddhism Scientific?

This is another book, like The Science behind Jules Verne’s Moon Novels last year, that I wrote purely because I wanted to. There are plenty of books and websites on the subject of “Buddhism and Science”, but they say so many different things that I just ended up confused. When I finally succeeded in disentangling it to my own satisfaction, I decided to write it down before I forgot – and hopefully other readers will find the result useful too.

The book is available as a paperback from Amazon.com, Amazon UK and all the other Amazons around the world, and in due course there’ll be a Kindle edition too. Here is the back-cover blurb:

Is Buddhism Scientific? It sounds like an archetypal “question to which the answer is no”. Buddhism is a spiritual tradition aimed at improving the human condition, while science seeks to analyse and explain the physical world. How can the two have anything in common? A number of claims have been made – that Buddhism anticipates quantum theory, for example – that just don’t stand up to close scrutiny. Yet there are striking parallels between the way science and Buddhism approach their very different subject matter – and in that sense, Buddhism really could be called “scientific”. This book takes a careful look at both sides of the argument.

Fake Physics: Spoofs, Hoaxes and Fictitious Science

Fake Physics Springer Science and Fiction

Out now – my third contribution to Springer’s “Science and Fiction” series, after Pseudoscience and Science Fiction (2017) and Rockets and Ray Guns (2018). Those two were based around pet subjects of mine – the two-way interaction between SF and pseudoscience in the first case, and genuine Cold War science in the second. In contrast, this new book came out of a suggestion by the series editor, who drew my attention to a large number of spoofs – often vey funny – produced by professional scientists and presented in the form of serious academic papers.

These papers tend to fall into two categories – spoofs written purely for entertainment, such as April Fool jokes, and hoaxes designed to make a serious point – of which Alan Sokal’s nonsensical paper on quantum gravity, which was accepted by the editors of a professional journal simply because it pandered to their preconceptions, is the best-known example. I’ve combined these with more familiar examples of science-fictional “fake physics”, particularly when perpetrated by writers who were also professional scientists – such as Isaac Asimov, whose “Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline” (1948) bridges both genres: t’s a spoof science paper as well as an SF story.

The result is Fake Physics: Spoofs, Hoaxes and Fictitious Science – on sale now from all the usual places, including Amazon.com and Amazon UK. Here are some words from the back cover:

People are used to seeing “fake physics” in science fiction – concepts like faster-than-light travel, antigravity and time travel to name a few. The fiction label ought to be a giveaway, but some SF writers – especially those with a background in professional science – are so adept at “technobabble” that it can be difficult to work out what is fake and what is real. The boundaries between fact and fiction can also be blurred by physicists themselves … examples range from hoaxes aimed at exposing poor editorial standards in academic publications, through “thought experiments” that sound like the plot of a sci-fi movie to April Fools’ jokes. This entertaining book is a joyous romp exploring the whole spectrum of fake physics – from science to fiction and back again.

Good reviews for Cosmic Impact

Sky at Night Cosmic Impact review

As you can see from the above picture, the current issue of the BBC’s Sky at Night magazine includes a review of my book Cosmic Impact. It’s a really nice review, too, by Katrin Raynor-Evans – who says, among other positive things: “The text is superb … It is informative and clear, and May manages to encapsulate everything you need to know about the potential risk to our planet and species.” She gives it four stars out of five.

Cosmic Impact also gets four stars from Brian Clegg, at his Popular Science  book review site. Again the review has lots of positive comments, including the following:

This short book is ideal to get a good overview of the subject without having to delve into too much technical detail – and May makes it approachable by giving the subject context from the many science fiction and popular culture scenarios … where something hits the Earth from outer space.

Finally, although I haven’t seen it myself, I’m told I got a very brief but favourable mention in New Scientist, in the issue dated 2 February 2019. It’s in the “Don’t Miss” column, under the subheading “Read”. After recommending the Penguin Book of Outer Space Exploration to “armchair adventurers” they go on to say:

But if hiding under the sofa is more your style, try Cosmic Impact: Understanding the Threat to Earth from Asteroids and Comets by Andrew May.

If you want to do just that, you can find it in any good bookstore or via the following Amazon links:

Postscript 10 May 2019

Another excellent review in the May issue of How It Works magazine – this time with a five-star rating:

How It Works Cosmic Impact review

Cosmic Impact – out now!

Cosmic Impact

Following in the footsteps of Destination Mars, my second contribution to the Hot Science series has just been published by Icon Books. It’s called Cosmic Impact: Understanding the Threat to Earth from Asteroids and Comets, and here is what the publishers say about it:

As end-of-the-world scenarios go, an apocalyptic collision with an asteroid or comet is the new kid on the block, gaining respectability only in the last decade of the 20th century with the realisation that the dinosaurs had been wiped out by just such an impact.

Now the science community is making up for lost time, with worldwide efforts to track the thousands of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects, and plans for high-tech hardware that could deflect an incoming object from a collision course – a procedure depicted, with little regard for scientific accuracy, in several Hollywood movies.

Astrophysicist and science writer Andrew May disentangles fact from fiction in this fast-moving and entertaining account, covering the nature and history of comets and asteroids, the reason why some orbits are more hazardous than others, the devastating local and global effects that an impact event would produce, and – more optimistically – the way future space missions could avert a catastrophe.

Cosmic Impact is available either as a paperback or an ebook from all the usual places. If you’re an Amazon customer, here are some quick links for you: