A couple of years ago I had fun researching my book on The Science of Sci-Fi Music. Now I’m working on another music-related writing project – and having yet more fun in the process. This one isn’t solely about electronic music, but that’s a large part of it, as you can see from the research material illustrated above. Most of the items depicted are obviously electronic music, but in a few cases the connection is more subtle. For example, the Xenakis CD consists purely of string quartets, although the first (and most famous) of them was composed with the aid of a computer – all the way back in 1962. Five years later, the Doors Strange Days album featured one of the first uses of a synthesizer in rock music. And the last three items in the bottom row, while not obviously “electronic music”, use so much technology in their production that they would have been inconceivable without it.
Incidentally, I don’t care that CDs have plummeted out of fashion with everyone else – I still enjoy having a physical trophy that I can put on a shelf (it’s the same with books and DVDs – my house is full of them). For info, the CDs illustrated here (about 4% of my entire collection) are: Edgard Varese Complete Works, Iannis Xenakis String Quartets, Karlheinz Stockhausen Kontakte, Milton Babbitt Philomel, The Doors Strange Days, Kraftwerk Autobahn, Isao Tomita Snowflakes Are Dancing, Brian Eno Discreet Music, The Art of Noise Who’s Afraid Of…, Pet Shop Boys Behaviour, The Prodigy Experience, William Orbit Pieces in a Modern Style, Bjork Homogenic, Kanye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Jacob Collier Djesse volume 3, Grimes Miss Anthropocene.
I made the cover of How It Works magazine for the third month in a row! The above screenshot is from the publisher’s website where you can buy copies even if you missed them when they came out. As you can see, the subjects are pretty eclectic. November’s feature was all about UFOs, which is a longstanding interest of mine (the weirder aspects of the topic are covered in my book Pseudoscience and Science Fiction, although the magazine feature is focused on more mundane causes of unidentified aerial phenomena). Then my December piece was about the James Webb Space Telescope, currently on its way to explore the depths of the universe – an online version is available on the LiveScience website. Finally this month’s article is about the huge nuclear-fusion-producing laser at the National Ignition Facility in California – that one is online too.
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.
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.
In spite of all the difficulties this year, I’ve still managed to do a reasonable amount of writing as the following table shows:
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.
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:
I’ve been writing books, ebooks and online articles for about 8 years now, but it’s only recently that I can add print magazines to the list. Until 6 months ago, my only experience in this area was for Fortean Times, where I’ve had 15 short pieces published since 2012. But as unique and prestigious as FT is, that only averages 2 articles per year. Then back in June I made contact with another great magazine called How It Works, after they gave my book Cosmic Impact a 5-star review. I’ve had a steady stream of assignments from them since then – plus a few from its sister magazine All About Space – as you can see from the pile of issues pictured above.
All the covers have features by me mentioned on them. Most prominent is the one about the Big Bang for All About Space. I’m also responsible for “Secrets of Apollo 11” – the one in small print on the top-left How It Works, not the main cover feature of the same title for All About Space (my contribution to the latter issue being “Do We Live in a Multiverse?”). In the other HIW issues, look out for “Your Guide to Time Travel”, “The Amazing Power of Antimatter”, “How Jupiter Saved the Earth”, “Mapping the Milky Way” and “Deadly Weapons of the Future” – they’re all by me. Slightly miffed about the last title, though, as the article itself is mainly about non-lethal weapons!
There are a few other pieces by me hidden inside some of the issues, plus more on the way. I’ve added a new page to my website to keep track of them.
There are plenty of books about sci-fi music – particularly film scores, or songs with SF-inspired lyrics – and the “science” of music in the sense of acoustics and the physics of sound waves. I’m not trying to compete with books like that. As I said, I’m more interested in three-way overlaps, which narrows the field considerably. The picture above shows some of the research material I’ve been consulting!
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?
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.