Hav you ever wondered how the planets formed? …

Have you ever wondered how the planets formed? Now you can see for yourself with the updates that are starting to come through from the New Horizons probe’s flyby of Ultima Thule…

“We’re looking at one of the first building blocks that came together to form the planets and moons,” says Jeffrey Moore, a research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center. “It looks like somebody left it out in the back of God’s freezer for the last four-and-a-half billion years.”
The full article is at Scientific American

Picture Credit: NASA, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the Southwest Research Institute

Using a digital voice recorder and YouTube to automatically convert your spoken word into text…

My latest author vlog is now up on my YouTube channel – today I explain how you can use a digital voice recorder and YouTube to automatically convert your spoken word into text – take a look at https://youtu.be/DZnVoV3Qt0c

titlecardThe DVR I’m using is a Sony ICD PX370. The lavalier lapel mic is an unbranded purchase from Amazon, circa £10.

I’m finding this to be a great for ensuring that when I’m walking or driving, that my creative thoughts don’t just get lost!

I’ve now printed the first 4 alpha copies of ‘Evil Eye – A Lissa Blackwood Thriller’…

Back in August I announced that I had finished the first draft of ‘Evil Eye’, and like all writers I immediately started work on improving that copy. ‘Evil Eye’ is my third novel and I’m getting used to that process of polishing and embellishing my work, but this time around I was thrown by some unexpected feedback from an alpha reader who said “Nothing much seems to be happening at the start…”

Wow – that really gave me a pause for thought because the last thing I want to do is bore my readers with what should be an exciting story. It was time to get back to work!

I quickly realised that the story was not properly structured and whilst plenty of exciting things were happening, they were not in the right places. I took the novel apart, scene by scene, and then reordered the entire manuscript in line with the 7-Point Story Structure:



  • Hook
  • First Plot Point
  • Pinch Point 1
  • Mid-Point
  • Pinch Point 2
  • Second Plot Point
  • Resolution

For more about this approach to structuring a novel take a look at this link.

It has taken me 4 months to restructure ‘Evil Eye’ and I am very pleased to have taken the time to do it because the story is now much stronger!

I had the pleasure of printing the first 4 updated copies for my alpha readers today – 3 copies arPrintingTheEvil Eye~FirstFullDraft~281218e already allocated and I’m hoping to get some more helpful feedback before the manuscript is edited next year.

Evil Eye~FirstFullDraft~281218



“Hospital Station” by James White – first published in 1967…

Just finished reading “Hospital Station” by James White – first published in 1967, an auspicious year!

HospitalStation~JamesWhiteI had a strong sense of déjà vu from the first short story in this collection, but the others were new to me. What stands out in this sci fi book is that although it is set in space, the objective is not one of the usual colonise-conquer-survive-kill or destroy tropes. Instead it is set in an inter-stellar hospital where ‘people’ (of all forms) go above & beyond duty to cure other ‘people’.

Being a collection of short 1960s stories you shouldn’t expect a modern Hard-SF read – the level is more ‘General Hospital’ (if you remember that one… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdyNV936KD4 ) than General Relativity – but they tripped along well enough and it was refreshing to read a ‘nice’ tale for change!

“… if you’re stupid enough to be biased against SF you will read SF stupidly…”

An insightful quote from Chris Gavaler on theguardian.com :

Prometheus~Hypersleep Pod~Torbay 2015


“… when readers who are biased against SF read the word ‘airlock’, their negative assumptions kick in – ‘Oh, it’s that kind of story’ – and they begin reading poorly. So, no, SF doesn’t really make you stupid. It’s more that if you’re stupid enough to be biased against SF you will read SF stupidly.”

Full article at https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/nov/23/science-fiction-triggers-poorer-reading-study-finds

Image of hypersleep pod from the film Prometheus (c) Lee Russell, taken at Torbay exhibition, 2015

the international diversification of sci-fi…

I enjoyed this interesting article from the BBC about the international diversification of sci-fi:

Barbican~020817~Russian sci fi artwork~shrinkhttp://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20181203-what-our-science-fiction-says-about-us

Nothing ever stays the same and it is very good for the genre to bring in new ideas and new voices. On the other hand we are seeing an increasingly aggressive China and Russia exerting themselves militarily in several regions – so while the rapid changes in those countries is great for SF, they are also triggers for great inter-cultural friction…


== Image of Russian sci-fi artwork (c) Lee Russell, 2018 – taken at the August 2017 “Into the Unknown” exhibition at the London Barbican Centre.


Latest vlog about “Evil Eye – A Lissa Blackwood Thriller”…

I’ve just shared a new vlog about ‘Evil Eye – A Lissa Blackwood Thriller’ on YouTube – take a look at https://youtu.be/JnADVherxXg

In the vlog I talk about 2 large changes that I’m making to the story.

Firstly I’m removing the references to Brexit – the plot of this book isn’t driven by that and taking it out will give the trilogy more longevity.

Secondly, I’m restructuring the story to the 7-Step Novel Structure. I’m quite a way through this already, and these changes should be finished in 1-2 weeks, which is great because I really want to get back to writing Lissa Blackwood’s “book 2” – she has become a much darker character and I’m enjoying seeing where she is going!

“Day Four” – Sarah Lotz – book review…

I don’t often take the time to simply read a book, mostly because I’m usually after working at my day job or writing my own stories. I’m even less likely to be reading a ‘ghost story’ because they tend to lodge uncomfortably in my imagination. So it has been very pleasing to pass a couple of days reading Sarah Lotz‘s ghost story(?) called “Day Four”.

DayFourLotz has a simple and crisp style of writing that I found easy to engage with. The story is well-paced and I often found myself turning the page at the end of a chapter to see what would happen next. Her writing reminded me of that everyday-yet-out-of-kilter style found in early Stephen King novels, while the plot line felt quite Ballardian with ‘High Rise’ overtones.

The basic premise is simple: a cruise ship becomes stranded in the open ocean after an engine fire and repairs take longer than anyone could expect. The Captain has locked himself away on the bridge and is never seen, whilst the passengers and crew are given meaningless updates over the ship’s loudspeaker system by Damien. The longer the ship is left drifting the more that normal social rules break down, with people grouping into factions, fighting and so on.

So far, so normal. Now add in a heavy dose of mysticism, speaking with the dead, spirits walking the ship, murders, drug addiction and the possible presence of the devil, and suddenly things are taking very different directions indeed.

A pleasure to read, albeit with an unsatisfying, enigmatic ending.


Which Star Trek movie starring the Original Crew is the best?

Well, that’s a divisive question!

I enjoy all aspects of the Star Trek universe from The Original Series (TOS), The Next Generation (TNG), Deep Space Nine (DS9, which actually features one of my favourite episodes of all time, from any series of any program – “Duet” from series 1), Enterprise, The Animated Series, Voyager. Today I’m wondering which film starring the original crew is the best.

I’m not very keen on the recent TOS movie reboots, so I’m excluding those… sorry guys! I’m also excluding Star Trek Generations (1994) because, although it features Kirk, it’s really an introduction for TNG to the movie franchise. So that leaves:

  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
  • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Here come my votes, in reverse order…

Poster~StarTrekTheSearchForSpockIn 6th Place – Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. In my opinion this is simply a weakly plotted film.

The moment when Spock dies at the end of Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan was a sublime moment; the actors and director took their time to let this emotional moment play out properly, and the grief of Kirk seeing his friend die was wonderfully acted by Shatner. Who can forget their closing lines in that scene? …

SPOCK: “Ship …out of danger?”

KIRK: “Yes.”

SPOCK: “Don’t grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many …outweigh…”

KIRK: “…the needs of the few.”

SPOCK: “Or the one. I never took the Kobayashi Maru test …until now. WhaStarTrekII~3t do you think of my solution?”

KIRK: “Spock!”

Spock – falls to his knees, raises his hand on the glass separating him from Kirk.

SPOCK: I have been …and always shall be …your friend. …Live long …and prosper.”

Spock – turns, sits and dies.

KIRK: “No!” <softly>

It seems to me that the intention here was to finish with just 2 films made. They would have been great films, ending on a great movie moment….

And then for some reason the movie franchise continued with Star Trek III. In this film Spock’s body is luckily/almost magically reincarnated by the effect of the Genesis weapon used by Khan at the end of Star Trek II. Fortunately McCoy iStarTrekIII~1s also carrying Spock’s “katra” (soul?) from the end of Star Trek II. Now all Kirk has to do is steal the enterprise from Space Dock, travel to the Genesis world, pick up Spock’s body, take him to Vulcan and get his soul reunited with his body! Simple, eh?

Come on, that is a beginner-level plot for resurrecting the series… making for a pretty dull interlude in the Trek universe.

In Poster~StarTrekTheVoyageHome5th Place – Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Star Trek IV is the necessary step to get the crew back to Earth so that their adventures can continue. The tension of ‘will they be arrested for stealing the Enterprise’ feels shallow and much of the grand Space Opera that Trek is renowned for is instead replaced with what feels like an overly-long comedy sequence back in Earth’s recent history. What? Sorry? What’s happening there?

The plot is that the crew are returning home when a huge, mysterious cylindrical spacecraft arrives at Earth and starts beaming a message into the oceans for the whales. The trouble is that whales are now extinct in tStarTrekIV~1his timeline. What’s the solution? Why, “time warp” of course! Now all the crew have to do is fly their stolen Klingon ship very fast and pass very close to the Sun, which apparently means they can then travel back in time, recover some whales (and simultaneously save them from being hunted), time warp them back to the ‘present day’, drop the whales into the ocean and let them talk to the cylindrical probe. All’s well that ends well: Kirk is forgiven, sort of demoted to Captain, and given command of the Enterprise NCC-1701-A.

Poster~StarTrekTheFinalFrontierIn 4th Place: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989). Now the choosing is getting harder. This is a good film but over-shadowed by the Top 3.

After some (under-believable) male bonding between Kirk, McCoy and Spock in Yosemite National Park, the crew set off for Nimbus III in their new Enterprise, NCC-1701-A, in order to rescue the human, Klingon, and Romulan ambassadors who have been taken hostage.

StarTrekV~2When they arrive, the crew discover that Spock’s renegade half-brother, Sybok, has used the ambassadors as bait to lure a starship to Nimbus III. Sybok has embraced his emotions and learnt how to use a mind-meld technique to heal a person’s mental pains. Sybok captures the Enterprise, with only Kirk and Spock resisting him. He then takes them to what is presumed to be an impenetrable barrier at the center of the galaxy, beyond which lies a mythical planet called “Sha Ka Ree”.

StarTrekV~1Sybok manages to penetrate the barrier (of course) and they find a single blue planet. He travels down to the surface with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, where he expects to find God. When an entity eventually appears it wants to take control of the Enterprise. Kirk is attacked by it when he asks “What does God need with a starship?”, and Sybok comes to realise that this entity cannot be God. He mind-melds with the entity, allowing the others to escape.

There is also a small sub-plot involving another Klingon starship, but that adds little to the film, in my opinion.

Now we reach the Top 3!

Poster~StarTrekTheUndiscoveredCountryIn 3rd Place: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. This is a good film and I have often enjoyed re-watching it. The film begins with the destruction of the Klingon moon called Praxis, their main source of energy. Without Praxis the Klingon Empire can’t continue in its current state for more than about fifty years. The Klingons don’t have the resources to both solve their energy problems and remain hostile towards the United Federation of Planets, so they have started to sue for peace.

Before the Klingons revert to a more militaristic solution, and probably all die fighting, Starfleet sends Kirk to meet with the Klingon Chancellor, Gorkon, and escort him to negotiations on Earth. StarTrekVI~1After their rendezvous, the humans and Klingons share a very tense (sometimes funny) dinner on board the Enterprise. Later that night the Enterprise appears to fire a pair of photon torpedoes at the Klingon ship, disabling its artificial gravity and enabling two figures in Starfleet spacesuits and gravity boots to beam aboard and grievously wound Gorkon.

In order to avoid conflict between their 2 ships, Kirk surrenders to the Klingons. He and McCoy beam aboard and McCoy unsuccessfully attempts to save Gorkon’s life. When the chancellor dies, Kirk and McCoy are found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment at a frozen Klingon prison called “Rura Penthe”.

While Gorkon’s daughter, Azetbur, continues diplomatic negotiations, Kirk and McCoy eventually escape from the prison with the help of a shapeshifting alien called ‘Martia’. They evade a double-cross and are beamed up to the Enterprise by Spock.

A race is now on to get to at Camp Khitomer, where the latest Peace Conference is being held. Spock has learnt that some Sarfleet officers are afraid of the changes that peace might bring and have plotted to sabotage the peace talks. He also discovers that it was a cloaked Klingon starship that fired the torpedoes at Gorkon’s cruiser.

When they arrive above Camp Khitomer, the Enterprise (and Sulu’s Excelsior) have a skirmish with another Klingon warship, before they can eventually beam down and save the day.

The film closes with Starfleet ordering the Enterprise immediately back to Earth to be decommissioned. The crew decide to take their time travelling home and Kirk gives them the course of “Second Star to the right, and straight on til’ morning” (from Peter Pan).


A well-acted and exciting film, with good special effects and an excellent plot… which is beaten by the runner-up in this review of the best ‘Original Crew’ Star Trek movie by…

Poster~StarTrekTheWrathOfKhanIn 2nd Place: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Of course some of the special effects in this film can’t match the quality of those found in the later films, but that misses the point. This film brings back one of Kirk’s old enemies from the original TV series, Khan Noonien Singh, wonderfully played by Ricardo Montalban in both that series 1 episode “Space Seed” and this film.

Khan is a genetically-engineered uber-human from the late 20th-century Eugenics Wars. His belief in his own abilities, both physical and mental, is total: he believes he is the superior man. In the TOS episode Khan tries to steal the Enterprise from Kirk. He very nearly succeeds and Kirk eventually leaStarTrekII~1ves him with his crew on Ceti Alpha V, a dangerous but habitable world.

Kirk believes that is end of the story with Khan. However, when the USS Reliant visits the Ceti Alpha system, Captain Terrell and Commander Pavel Chekov learn that they have visited Ceti Alpha V, not Ceti Alpha VI as they thought. They are captured by Khan who then takes control of their minds using some Ceti eels that wrap around their cerebral cortex, leaving them extremely susceptible to outside suggestion.

Khan captures the Reliant and a memorable battle follows when he ambushes the Enterprise, inflicting massive damage. Once the Enterprise is ‘dead in the water’ Khan reveals himself to Kirk. Khan says he will spare the crew of the Enterprise if Kirk beams aboard with data about the Genesis device. Kirk hatches a quick plan to send an override code in their data transmission about Genesis which will lower Reliant’s shields. This hasty plan works and the Enterprise is able to fire back, causing Khan to withdraw.

A small sub-plot then follows where we learn more about the Genesis device while the Enterprise is repaired and Khan steals the Genesis device.

StarTrekII~2We then come to the final action scenes in the Battle of Mutara Nebula, where Khan’s inexperience in space battles enables Kirk to disable the Reliant. In his final act of revenge, Khan activates the Genesis device and the Enterprise barely escapes in time. Of course this is also the moment that Spock dies, as we saw earlier, making for a downbeat ending to an otherwise exciting action flic.

And now we’ve reached the Top Spot, and my vote for the “Best Star Trek Movie Starring the Original Crew” goes to… Star Trek: The Motion Picture!

Poster~StarTrekTheMotionPicturePart of me can’t believe that I’ve voted this way for the Top Spot. When I first saw “The Motion Picture” I mentally dubbed it as “Star Trek: The SLOW MOTION Picture”. It is a film that seems to take forever to get anywhere and spends much too long dwelling on very similar shots (especially the journey into V’Ger). However, over the years I have come to appreciate the time that is spent on these scenes. We are now very used to fast-paced films, driven by action and not dialogue, but the pace of this film reminds us that sometimes extraordinary things take time to work out.

In this film a massive energy cloud is detected moving toward Earth that is destroying everything in its path. The fear is that if it reaches Earth it will destroy that planet as well. The only starship in intercept range is the Enterprise-refit, and Admiral Kirk arranges to take command of it from Captain Decker. There is some obvious tension between Kirk and Decker, but the latter executes his roles of Science and First Officer well. Decker saves the ship when improperly calibrated engines nearly destroy it. Spock arrives a little later, having failed a VStarTrekI~1ulcan ritual to purge all of his emotions: he takes on the role of Science Officer, helps to fix the engines and explains that he has felt a consciousness emanating from the cloud.

When the Enterprise intercepts the energy cloud a probe appears on the bridge that abducts the navigator, Ilia, a former girlfriend of Decker’s. Ilia is later returned as a robotic probe, sent by V’Ger to study the crew. When Spock eventually takes a spacewalk further into V’Ger he attempts a mind meld and discovers that V’Ger is a living machine.

Star_Trek_VGerCloud_freecomputerdesktopwallpaper_2560~shrinkWhen the Enterprise reaches the centre of the energy cloud they discover that V’Ger is built around an Earth probe called Voyager 6, which had been believed lost in a black hole. Voyager 6 was repaired and upgraded by an alien race of living machines which interpreted its programming as instructions to “learn all that can be learned and return that information to its creator”.

[the image here is “V’Ger Cloud” by David Metlesits from startrekdesktopwallpaper.com]

By the time it had returned to Earth, V’Ger had gathered so much knowledge that it had become conscious. In the closing scenes of the film Decker and the Ilia merge, allowing V’Ger to convey its information to the Creator in person.

For me, the opening scenes of this film where Kirk sees the refit-Enterprise for the first time, when she leaves Space Dock, the Klingons’ attack on V’Ger, and the Enterprise’ slow progress into the energy cloud are wonderfully timeless moments, conveying the grand scale of everything that Star Trek means in its quest “to boldly go where no one has gone before”.


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