Inventing Aliens

Inventing aliens is exceedingly difficult.

In the course of reading sci-fi over many decades, I have encountered many different varieties.

I have seen intelligent life on other planets represented as gas, slime, blobs, mechanised beings, shape changers or humanoids.

The humanoids usually have big heads, slender bodies, huge eyes and elongated tapering limbs. Some have tentacles, others hands and feet.

It is possible that through the zillions of planets in the universe that we are the only intelligent life. The Earth may be an oasis in a vast desert.

On the other hand, it is also possible that life may be a common occurrence.

As a biologist, I am intrigued.

The earth has existed for a little over 4.5 billion years. It took just short of 2 billion years for the first life to evolve. For the next 2 billion life was merely a bacterial slime. All life on the planet probably evolved from one single instance – a protein/RNA combination. DNA would probably have evolved later.

2.4 billion years ago these bacteria started forming oxygen as a bi-product and transformed the atmosphere so that aerobic respiration could occur and organisms become more efficient and more complex. 2 billion years ago the first complex cells developed.

530 million years ago the first vertebrates appeared.

4 million years ago hominids appeared on the scene.

1.8 million years ago Homo sapiens evolved.

Of course, we are not the only intelligent creatures on the planet. Intelligence is hard to define and we tend to anthropomorphise it.

If we replace intelligence with consciousness then we are inundated. It is even possible that plants have consciousness.

When I look at a human being I see this strange evolution reflected in their morphology. We are modified fish.

But what if RNA had never interacted with protein? Is it possible for some other form of life to have developed? Does it have to be based around carbon?

I have seen theories of other elements but carbon is very useful.

Even if life developed in a similar way does it have to have a four-base DNA code? Could it be six?

When it reached the multicellular stage did it have to develop into a fish? Could it have gone down another route?

If it was a fish did that have to evolve into a quadruped and then a biped?

Evolution is a blind process – which is why our bodies are stuck with so many faults. Those faults – things like our one airway, our fragile necks and exposed brain, our digestive tract confused with our airway at one end and reproductive organs at the other – all could have evolved differently to create more efficient bodies. They didn’t. But perhaps elsewhere in the universe, they did.

Perhaps aliens do not have their brains stuck out on a fragile neck? Perhaps they are not based on the pentadactyl limb – formed from fins? Perhaps their reproductive system is separate from their excretory system and they have multiple airways?

I do not believe that ‘real’ alien life would be found in amorphous clouds of particles or slime. I think it would have a body and organs. But as to whether that body would resemble human beings? That I doubt very much.

It makes it fun to design an intelligent animal that evolved in a totally different way. That allows the imagination to work on what it might look like.

What is Sci-Fi???

Whenever anybody mentions Sci-Fi I can see the shutters going down. For many people this genre is one that they would shun. It is the world of space opera, Star Wars and Star Trek, but not for me (much as I enjoy Star Wars and Star Trek).

When I think of Science Fiction I think of topics and areas that are much more relevant to today. I think of social, political and environmental issues. I think of human beings being placed in situations that test the scope of their emotions, intellect and abilities.

Sci-Fi is about real life.

The great Science Fiction writers include Margaret Atwood, George Orwell, Philip K Dick, Aldous Huxley, Kurt Vonnegut Jnr, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie and Iain Banks – people who involved themselves in real social, political and environmental issues that pertain to our lives.

We live in a scientific age. Science has propelled us into a universe that is vastly different to the world our ancestors inhabited just a couple of centuries ago. The pace of change is relentless and extraordinary. What is science fiction today is tomorrows mundane existence.

Never in the history of this planet has change happened so quickly – and it’s getting faster.

Science fiction is such an enormous genre. That is what attracts me. There is so much potential to look at the future, the past and the present. To imagine different worlds, parallel universes, quantum reality and infinity – and they are real.

In the middle of it are human beings. We haven’t changed. As the world around us, reality and understanding spirals out of all recognition, we are left with the same brains and hormones we possessed back in our first steps on the African savannah. We live, love and have the same feelings and ambitions. Our psyche has not altered.

Science fiction is about how we deal with the new situations that science presents us with. It might be aliens. It could be environmental destruction. It may involve travel through space and time. It might be about inner space, alternative histories, or it could be the propaganda wars.

One thing is certain – science fiction has no limits.

Science fiction is not a cartoon genre. Some of our best writers dabbled with science fiction. Science fiction is about the endless possibility, in the midst of which, ordinary human beings try to solve extraordinary problems and live lives that all of us would recognise.

Science fiction is about people and the universe we inhabit. That’s why I love it.

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Synopsis – God’s Bolt (Spoiler Alert)

*Spoiler Alert*

 

There is essentially only one character and the story starts in the middle.

 

In the year 2178 A.D. Helen Southcote is the only scientist left on the international space station when Earth is destroyed by an asteroid. With no hope of rescue, Helen has to come to terms with her situation.

 

Helen’s backstory unfurls; her family, relationships, colleagues and involvement with SETI – the search for extraterrestrial life.

 

Her main focus is the ‘Wow!’ message from the constellation of Sagittarius, recorded by Jerry Ehman in 1977. She works on SETI, searching for signs of intelligent life and sending her own radio messages towards Tau Sagittarii, the place where the Wow! message emanated from, 122 light-years away.

 

The events leading up to the destruction of  Earth are dramatically depicted – the discovery of an asteroid, the political and social implications and the desperate measures taken to deal with the menace.

 

Alone on the space station, with only the ship’s computer, Eunice, for company, Helen considers her options and formulates a crazy plan.

 

She has Eunice fertilise the ova harvested from her body and cryogenically freezes her embryos.

 

Helen continues to send her radio messages through the 122 light-years of space, towards Tau Sagittarii. She takes the space station out of orbit around the shattered planet and begins a futile 150,000-year journey.

 

The last human being heads into the stars on a journey she will never complete.

Themes that pervade my Sci-Fi novels.

Themes that pervade my Sci-Fi novels.

All my writing has purpose. I like to base my work on sound science, social and environmental reality, human psychology and philosophy.

I am intrigued by the concept of infinity, by quantum theory, string theory, black holes and quasars.

As a biologist, I studied genetics and have kept up with the developments in genetic engineering. I am intrigued with the idea of how this could impact on human development and that of all other living creatures and plants. We now have the power to change, improve or create both ourselves and the plants and animals we share this planet with. We can create different human beings, different species and a different world.

I studied psychology as part of my degree and found this incredibly useful in education. I also apply it to my writing. It is useful to build characters around psychological traits and personality types.

Living through the twentieth century has provided me with a great perspective on social change. I doubt any other century has seen such a degree of transformation. Science propelled a social revolution that changed the world. That is a useful element to draw into my writing. What changes are going to shape our progress? What will a future world look like?

As a biologist I have been greatly distressed by the impact mankind has been having on the environment. Extinction rates have soared as humans destroy habitat and pollute ecosystems. Our sheer numbers are swamping nature. Once the world was considered infinite and nature something to be exploited without thought. We now realize this is not the case. Even our primitive hunter/gatherer ancestors greatly impacted on the environment. Now we have the capacity to destroy it to a far greater extent. If our numbers and activities are not regulated we may well ruin the very life-support system that sustains us. It is a theme that occurs in most of my work.

What is the purpose of life? It is a question most of us ask at some point and it is one that has a basis in my writing. Whether it be spirituality or creativity, accruing material wealth or power, or seeking truth, wisdom, happiness or fulfilment, it is one of the factors that drive human beings. It is a theme worth developing. It brings people into conflict.

Whether setting the action in the future, in a different dimension or an alien world, these are themes that I tend to enjoy exploring.

The Process of Redrafting.

The Process of Redrafting.

I love writing but I used to hate redrafting and editing. As my skills developed I have grown to love them both. They do not create such a feeling of satisfaction but they are fulfilling. Redrafting and editing is hard work. There is always great enjoyment to be gained from completing something difficult.

After I have produced the first draft I immediately start redrafting while it is still fresh in my mind.

I read through and begin fleshing out the bones. While my first draft may be forty or fifty thousand words, my second draft could be a third longer. It is as if the first draft is a skeleton on which I then place the flesh.

This is also the time when I attempt to focus on the areas that do not really work and rework them. This is when I flesh out characters, look at consistency, address areas of the plot so that it makes sense and start addressing grammar, punctuation and flow.

Usually, I will then leave the novel in order to gain more objectivity.

When I am ready and eager, I come back to it. The second redraft is the process of making the reading a smoother process. This is where I begin addressing sentence and paragraph structure in order to make the language flow.

My second redraft will usually add more words to the novel.

By the time I have completed the second draft I am usually ready to edit, but I may well play about with certain sections that I have been unhappy with until I am satisfied.

At this point, I am usually exhausted by the process and the novel. I need a break from it. Writing and redrafting require great concentration and effort. You have to hold the whole structure of the book in your head and mentally manipulate it. I always need a break.

As I normally have two or three projects going at the same time I can turn my attention elsewhere and happily leave it.

By the time I have completed redrafting it is ready to go off to my editor. Editing requires objectivity.

The Sci-Fi novel Green and the Green Movement

Green and the Green Movement

The setting for this novel was in the distant future. The planet is heavily overpopulated and polluted. Nature has been ravaged.

I was exploring the philosophical nature of mind and whether the inner universe is infinite.

The other major theme was that of the Green Movement. In a last desperate attempt to safe Nature from complete destruction, they were trying desperately to get the government to take drastic action.

The Greens were split into three distinct factions who argued fiercely among themselves.

One faction believed they could gain public support and force the government to take action through the sheer force and rationale of their argument.

A second faction believed that big business was too powerful and that most people were simply not interested enough until things became so bad that it directly impacted on them, by which time it would be too late. They believed force was the only way to get big business and politicians to take notice. They were using terror and attacking the polluting industry.

A shady third faction believed that the problem was people. They hated mankind and believed that there was an inherent flaw in all people. There was no hope while humans were around. They believed it was only a matter of time before we destroyed the world. Consequently, the only way to save the planet was to eradicate mankind.

It set the background for the intrigue and drama as the two themes interweaved.

Why not give it a read?

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Star – the way the Sixties youth rebellion was incorporated into the story.

Star – the way the Sixties youth rebellion was incorporated into the story.

The main idea that I was playing with in this book was the youth rebellion of the nineteen sixties.

Having lived through it and, as a student living in London, being heavily immersed in it, I felt that I knew a lot about the sixties phenomena. I found the idea of taking the underlying principles and applying them to the future quite inspiring and intriguing.

I set the book in the future in the sixties of the year 3167 AC. We had an intergalactic civilisation. Rock Music performed, not in stadia, but huge arenas in space on a gigantic scale.

There were a lot of elements to bring together.

The glue that held the sixties movement together was Rock Music. I had to create a band featuring a larger than life Rock Star – based on Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Arthur Brown, David Bowie and John Lennon.

The Civil Rights movement was an important element. I had to create an alien species who were subjected to abuse and yet were highly intelligent.

The antiwar movement was another. I had to create two competing powers and a proxy war being waged on a remote planet.

I then incorporated many of the events and people from the sixties in many guises. There was the Black Panthers, the Yippies, the Fugs, the Chicago riots, Peace Park, free festivals, Woodstock, Altamont, Games in May, Martin Luther King, the antiwar marches, the raising of the pentagon, the civil rights marches, Bob Dylan’s motorbike accident and many more.

My main story was the way the lucrative Rock Music business was being controlled by big business and the mafia. Behind the scenes, my Rock Star was subject to all manner of forces. His manager, based loosely on Albert Grossman, Peter Grant and Bill Graham, was caught up in the politics. My star was trying to remain true to his principles but the pressures were building.

Would the revolution change society? Or would it be incorporated into the money-making establishment?

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What readers said about New Eden by Ron Forsythe – a Sci-Fi novel.

What readers said about New Eden.

‘The measured, seemingly almost real-time narrative made it even more chilling in its pragmatism. The glacial momentum carried over into the horror of unstoppable inertia. Who hasn’t contemplated the almost ubiquitous runaway human population growth and its sequelae for our planet? The meek shall inherit the Earth…and probably do a much better job.’

‘A great read of a disturbing future. Well written and delightful in places, shocking in others – all too real. It tells the story of over-population and a world government’s attempt to solve it. You could really identify with the characters and the scene were pictures in your head. You’ll cry in places. If you love good Sci-fi then you will enjoy this book.’

‘An incredible read! If you’re a fan of futuristic books I would definitely recommend this book. It is so realistic because a lot of the problems we face today are shown in the future that may just come true if we don’t solve them soon. Really loved reading this!’

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A Review of the Gordian Fetish

A Review of the Gordian Fetish

I liked this review – not just because it was so positive, but because it captured a lot about what the book was about – the satire, the humour and the serious underlying questions.

I don’t know who wrote it, they did not leave a name, but thank you! (Douglas Adams, Michael Moorcock and Rob Grant were all much loved by me – it is great to be mentioned alongside such greats.)

‘An ambitious sci-fi novel packed with serious ideas and amusing moments. The alien perspective on humankind is sometimes hilarious and often thought-provoking in this racy, zany and sometimes politically-satirical story. It’s never sentimental and creates convincingly detailed worlds, with a solid biological and scientific feel. The novel explores multiple viewpoints with the thoughts and reactions of a huge range of characters and I sensed many influences, from the American sci-fi greats to – particularly, I think – British writers like Douglas Adams and Michael Moorcock. But it’s never other-worldly and I liked it that the question of what it is to be human is central to this stimulating story.’

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The Gordian Fetish – is there, somewhere in the galaxy, a zoo dedicated to conserving intelligent aliens?

The Gordian Fetish – is there, somewhere in the galaxy, a zoo dedicated to conserving intelligent aliens?

There is in my novel. It contains human specimens. The manager likes furry specimens and is fascinated because humans have sex.

My conservation institute is really a zoo for exotic alien life that is considered endangered. There are trillions of humans but a dodgy dealer manages to interest the manager in purchasing a pair.

I felt this was a good setting for a Sci-Fi novel with a bit of humour in it (as well as some more serious ideas).

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