Space Telescopes – book and Guardian article

Space telescopes book

I’m very pleased that yesterday’s Observer newspaper featured an article by me about space telescopes, which is now free to read – under the title Cosmic Time Machines – on the Guardian website. That’s one of the most prestigious mainstream news sites here in the UK, so hopefully I’ll reach a wider-than-usual audience with it.

The article ties in with my latest book, Eyes in the Sky, which was published last month by Icon Books. As with my previous books for them, it’s part of their “Hot Science” series – actually my 6th contribution to it. Here’s their blurb from the back cover of Eyes in the Sky:

Over 50 years ago, astronomers launched the world’s first orbiting telescope. This allowed them to gaze further into outer space and examine anything that appears in the sky above our heads, from comets and planets to galaxy clusters and stars. Since then, almost 100 space telescopes have been launched from Earth and are orbiting our planet, with 26 still active and relaying information back to us.

As a result of these space-based instruments, such as NASA’s iconic Hubble Space Telescope, we know much more about the universe than we did half a century ago. But why is Hubble, orbiting just 540 kilometres above the Earth, so much more effective than a ground-based telescope? How can a glorified camera tell us not only what distant objects look like, but their detailed chemical composition and three-dimensional structure as well?

In Eyes in the Sky, science writer Andrew May takes us on a journey into space to answer these questions and more. Looking at the development of revolutionary instruments, such as Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope, May explores how such technology has helped us understand the evolution of the Universe.

Zen Dynamics – book and website

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I was very interested in both Zen meditation and Zen Shiatsu, being particularly impressed by how practical and results-focused they both are – quite different from the fluffy mysticism often associated with such subjects. To get some of those ideas across, I set up a website called in 2001 which was centred around a Javascript/PHP personality test that I’m still quite proud of.

The idea of producing a Zen Dynamics book has been on my to-do list for ages – in fact I produced a short outline for one 22 years ago when I first created the website, and then a second outline in 2012. One reason the book took so long to see the light of day is that I wanted it to focus on practicalities, but I couldn’t see how to dive straight into them without spending a lot of time on “Buddhist theory” (or my understanding of it) first. But all that theoretical side was covered in my book Is Buddhism Scientific? (2019), so now I’ve finally got round to writing my Zen Dynamics book – and polished up the website (hopefully making it a bit more usable on mobile devices) into the bargain.

The book’s full title is Zen Dynamics: Putting Buddhist Theory into Practice, and it’s available as either a paperback or a Kindle ebook from, Amazon UK and all other Amazon sites. Here is the blurb from the back cover:

Buddhism can sometimes come across as abstract and philosophical, but it has a strongly practical side too – and that’s what this book is all about. It focuses on four areas in particular:
– The analysis of personality types, both in Buddhism and traditional Chinese medicine, showing how this can enhance self-awareness and personal development;
– How “karma”, or the law of cause-and-effect applied on a personal scale, functions in an entirely non-mystical, non-supernatural way within the flow of human thoughts and emotions;
– How meditation techniques are used in different schools of Buddhism to calm the mind and provide insight into its inner workings;
– A “demystification” of Zen Buddhism, showing how its seeming illogicality and iconoclasm actually serve a serious practical purpose in developing the human mind.

New book: How Space Physics Really Works

How Space Physics Really Works

This is my fifth contribution to Springer’s “Science and Fiction” series, and in some ways my favourite so far, because it deals with a subgenre of SF that particularly appeals to me. The full title is How Space Physics Really Works: Lessons from Well-Constructed Science Fiction, and that really sums up what I’m talking about – SF stories that take the trouble to get their physics right. Here’s the blurb from the book’s back cover:

There is a huge gulf between the real physics of space travel and the way it is commonly portrayed in movies and TV shows. That’s not because space physics is difficult or obscure – most of the details were understood by the end of the 18th century – but because it can often be bafflingly counter-intuitive for a general audience. The purpose of this book isn’t to criticize or debunk popular sci-fi depictions, which can be very entertaining, but to focus on how space physics really works. This is done with the aid of numerous practical illustrations taken from the works of serious science fiction authors – from Jules Verne and Arthur C. Clarke to Larry Niven and Andy Weir – who have taken positive pleasure in getting their scientific facts right.

The book has just been published and is available from all good bookshops, as well as online retailers such as and Amazon UK (paperback: ISBN 978-3-031-33949-3, ebook: 978-3-031-33950-9).

New book out now – The Science of Music

The Science of Music

My 5th and latest contribution to the “Hot Science” series from Icon Books has just been published, The Science of Music: How Technology has Shaped the Evolution of an Artform. This is a book I’ve written about a couple of times previously (here and here) – but not to be confused with The Science of Sci-Fi Music, which is a completely different book that I wrote a few years ago!

Here is the publisher’s blurb for the new book:

How can music – an artform – have anything to do with science? Yet there are myriad ways in which the two are intertwined, from the basics of music theory and the design of instruments to hi-fi systems and how the brain processes music. Science writer Andrew May traces the surprising connections between science and music, from the theory of sound waves to the way musicians use mathematical algorithms to create music. The most obvious impact of science on music can be seen in the way electronic technology has revolutionised how we create, record and listen to music. Technology has also provided new insights into the effects that different music has on the brain, to the extent that some algorithms can now predict our reactions with uncanny accuracy, which raises a worrying question: how long will it be before AI can create music on a par with humans?

Astrobiology Illustrated Edition

Astrobiology book editions

Icon Books have just brought out a new edition of my Astrobiology book, originally published in their series of ‘Hot Science’ paperbacks. This is a double first for me – the first time any of my books has made it to a genuine ‘second edition’ (for the same market as the original, as opposed to translations for other markets) and my first ever hardback book. It looks really great – packed with informative graphics and colourful photographs. I had very little to do with this, which was all done by the book-packaging professionals at UniPress. My only input was to update the text in a few places and offer suggestions for some of the image captions.

The book shown in the above photo is the ‘British and Commonwealth’ edition published by Icon Books, which is out now – details here. I believe UniPress are also doing a separate North American edition, which should be out in May 2023.

Science of Music playlist

Science of Music videos

My new book The Science of Music will be published by Icon Books on 16 March 2023. I’ve already alluded to some of the musical works used as examples in the book (in this post from last year) and there’s a fuller “playlist” in the back of the book – running in chronological order from Mozart’s Dissonance Quartet and Beethoven’s Battle Symphony to Miss Anthropocene by Grimes and Djesse vol. 3 by Jacob Collier.

On a more self-indulgent note, I’ve created another short playlist on YouTube of compositions I wrote myself while trying to get my head round some of the techniques discussed in the book – particularly algorithmic (i.e. computer-assisted) composition and electronic music production using a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). Here is a link to it:

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 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