Sometimes those cracks on the sidewalk weren't much help, either.

Sometimes those cracks on the sidewalk weren’t much help, either.

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Monday morning writing joke: “Flowering talent”

There once was a writer from Nashville, /

Who wrote enough songs to fill up a landfill. /

He’d write lyrics all day /

As if he had something to say /

Then sing them for an audience of daffodils.


Three creationists accidentally walked into a tar pit last night. In 6,000 years nobody will care.

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The best recent science fiction – review roundup

Eric Brown on Chris Beckett’s Mother of Eden; Becky Chambers’s The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet; Stephen Palmer’s Beautiful Intelligence; Ian Sales’s All That Outer Space Allows; SL Grey’s Under Ground; Alex Lamb’s Roboteer

by Eric Brown


Chris Beckett won the 2013 Arthur C Clarke award for his novel Dark Eden, about the survival and adaptation of human colonists on a world without light. The sequel, Mother of Eden (Corvus, £17.99), begins generations later, charting the growth and political divisions between the colonists. It follows the rise of Starlight Brooking, a humble fishergirl, and her quest to bring equality and revolution to Edenheart, a settlement ruled by a conservative patriarchy. Beckett doesn’t do traditional heroes and villains: Starlight Brooking is contradictory and flawed, at once brave and vulnerable, and likewise his villains are portrayed with sympathy and understanding. He also eschews easy answers and formulaic plotting; where a hundred other writers would have Starlight triumph over her enemies, her victories are on a more profound and personal level, and not without tragedy. Mother of Eden is a masterpiece.

When the captain of the Wayfarer starship is offered a job travelling to a faraway planet that could make him and his crew financially secure, he agrees despite the dangers involved.Such a precis might suggest that Becky Chambers’s first novel, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99), originally self‑published and shortlisted for the Kitschies awards, is an action-adventure space opera. But this is a slow, discursive novel of character as the motivations of the diverse and likable crew, comprising humans and aliens, are laid bare for the reader’s delight. It is a quietly profound, humane tour de force that tackles politics and gender issues with refreshing optimism.

Stephen Palmer’s marvellous ninth novel, Beautiful Intelligence (Infinity Plus, £8.99), posits a beleaguered 22nd century in which oil has run out, water is scarce, and in a neat inversion of the contemporary world order, Europe is an economic ruin and Africa the promised land. Two techno wizards abscond from a Japanese laboratory, each attempting to develop artificial intelligence according to their own philosophies – one based on the social intelligence theory of consciousness, the other on a linguistic approach – but billionaire tech-mogul Aritomo Ichikawa will stop at nothing to get them back. What follows is a thrilling chase across a ravaged Europe, a burgeoning North Africa and balkanised US, interleaving excellent action set-pieces with fascinating philosophising on the nature of consciousness. A gripping read to the poignant last line.

More at:*gdnbooks

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Stephen Baxter interview: why science fiction is like therapy

The bestselling SF writer talks about the rush to finish the Long Earth series, being the order to Terry Pratchett’s chaos and how maths helps him write

by Alison Flood


In the summer of 2013, Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett published The Long War, the second volume of their Long Earth science-fiction series, about parallel worlds that can be “stepped” into. By the end of that year, the two authors – both prolific by any standards – had completed drafts of the remaining three novels in the series. It was an astonishing rate of work, but there was a deadline that needed to be met: Pratchett had announced his diagnosis with a rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s in 2007. By the summer of 2014, he would pull out of a Discworld convention, citing “The Embuggerance”, which was “finally catching up with me”. He died in March this year.

Stephen Baxter

Stephen Baxter

“I think Terry was aware he was running out of time, and he wanted to do other things as well,” Baxter says. “So we rushed through it a little bit. Terry’s basic vision was the first step, but he also wanted to have a huge cosmic climax at the end, which would be book five … We had no idea how to get there but we knew where we were going.”

The Long Utopia, the fourth in the series, sees settlers on an Earth more than “a million steps” west of ours stumble across a disturbing, insectile form of alien life. Like its predecessors, the novel is compelling not only for its central storyline of exploration and danger and humans doing foolishly human things – and in this case a particularly cataclysmic finale – but also for its slow, unhurried laying out of the minute differences between these empty-of-humanity Earths.

The concept of a chain of parallel worlds, each a little different from its neighbour, was one Pratchett originally had, and set aside, in the 1980s. He told Baxter, a long-time friend and one of the UK’s most respected science-fiction authors, about it over dinner one night, and they decided to collaborate.

“It was a great idea but Terry’s strength did not lie in landscapes and things,” Baxter says. “He’d get a story by having a basic idea, get two people in a room talking and see where it went from there.”

This is not how Baxter works. His fiction, whether about the colonising mission sent to a planet orbiting a nearby red dwarf star, in Proxima, or the exploration of different evolutions of humanity in the Destiny’s Children series, is meticulously planned and pinned down, rooted in the scientific background from which he comes. He has a degree in maths from Cambridge and a PhD in aeronautical engineering; he is a fellow of the British Interplanetary Society and applied for a guest spot on the Mir space station in 1989, making it through a number of stages on his quest to be a cosmonaut but eventually missing out because of his lack of foreign languages.

Whether Baxter decides to submerge the world (Flood), or make humanity live in the centre of a neutron star (Flux), or keep the sea off Doggerland in an alternative prehistory (Stone Spring), there’s always a hook into something real. “I try to get it right. If you can get the maths right, I figure you’re most of the way there,” he says.

Baxter is fiercely intelligent, in a generous way, sharing his enthusiasms and knowledge on everything from recently discovered exoplanets to the Mars project (he’s not hopeful, because he doesn’t think enough has been done on long-term life support systems). At the British Interplanetary Society, he’s been part of study projects on everything from designing star ships to extraterrestrial liberty, an issue explored in Ark, his follow-up to Flood, in which the scraps of humanity flee their devastated planet in “generation ships” for an uncertain future outside the solar system.

“It’s all very well to plan a five-generation mission to Alpha Centauri, but if you’re one of the middle generations, you live out your life with very little room for manoeuvre,” he says. “So what right do you have to submit your children and grandchildren to a life of slavery like that? You get some interesting ethical issues – do you have rights over people who don’t yet exist, do they have rights?”

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Photo finish Friday: “License”

Inquiring minds want to know where the hunting dogs keep their permit so that it is easily available? Plus, how many dogs can hunt on one permit?

Inquiring minds want to know where the hunting dogs keep their permit so that it is easily available? Plus, how many dogs can hunt on one permit?

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Haiku to you Thursday: “Imagining”

Thoughts like ragged leaves /

Blown by a wind, bright and wild. /

Beloved imagining.

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6 Scientifically-Proven Ways To Boost Creativity

by Carina Wolff

Ever notice how some days you’re brimming with ideas, while others you’re staring at a blank canvas or computer screen and wondering how you ever found inspiration in the first place? Unfortunately, a creative block can happen to the best of us, and it can strike at any time. Feeling unmotivated and uninspired can be a frustrating feeling, but just because you’re feeling stuck in the moment doesn’t mean you’re doomed to unoriginality forever.

When these debilitating moments strike, you can sit and stare aimlessly at the computer until your eyes hurt, or you can figure out a way to kickstart your mind and get those creative juices flowing. If you find yourself at a loss for good ideas, or just need an extra boost of creativity in your life, try the following six strategies that have been proven to help stimulate your thinking.


Take a walk
Studies have found that walking, whether indoors or outdoors, increases creative thinking in the moment as well as the moments after. Even mild exercise can have a positive effect on cognition, so next time you feel yourself in a rut, consider taking even a brief stroll.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, allowing your mind to wander actually boosts your creativity, and it can even help your working memory. Next time you’re feeling stuck, you may be better off letting yourself space out than trying to force yourself to focus, as studies have found that daydreaming does enhance your creative problem solving skills rather than hinder you.

Drink a little
Whip out that glass of wine! Turns out, having a drink or two can help loosen your mind and spark creativity. Researchers have found that having a blood alcohol level of just under the legal limit of .08 helps you perform creative tasks better, likely because it allows your mind to wander to solutions you may have never considered before.

Play some music
Many studies have found that listening to any type of music that you like helps your creative thinking and improves cognitive functioning. It doesn’t have to be just Mozart; as long as you enjoy what’s playing, the song will put you in a positive mood and increase arousal, both factors in how you perform creatively.

Now you won’t have to feel so guilty about covering that work memo in smiley faces and flowers during a meeting. Doodling helps stimulate visual thinking, which helps bring you out of one brain mode and into another. It also frees up working memory space, allowing your mind to wander and access new ideas.

Take a power nap
Not only can a quick 20 minute nap refresh and restore you, but it can also help increase activity in the right side of the brain, which is generally associated with creative thinking and problem-solving tasks. As long as you slip into REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, your nap can help boost your cognitive thinking, improve memory, and enhance your problem solving skills.

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