From ‘Evil Eye – A Lissa Blackwood Thriller’: A walk across London in the footsteps of the Head of SIG, Colonel Peter Carson, DSO with Bar, MC…

Towards the start of my new Lissa Blackwood thriller called ‘Evil Eye’, her boss, Peter Carson, faces the challenge of knowing that on that day he will be the target of an assassination attempt.

Now fifty eight years old, as a young man Carson had originally intended to train as a chemical engineer. However, in his final year at Cambridge he was recruited by the army to train as an intelligence officer. 20180718_101218_edit4Carson found his natural niche in the army. He rapidly developed a ruthless flexibility, instinct and cunning on missions that eventually made him a highly decorated, front line, special forces Colonel.

His record and total devotion to the Crown, regardless of party politics, spoke for itself, and three Prime Ministers ago he was appointed as ‘R’, the head of SIG, remaining there ever since.

Where the security of the realm is concerned there are the MI5/MI6 assets and missions that sit above the line, and then there is the ‘Special Investigations Group’. SIG is the Prime Minister’s covert intelligence unit, answerable only to the PM’s conscience.

Collage2~shrink

Now Carson is facing a real life or death dilemma. An attempt on the Queen’s life was barely thwarted by his actions and he has just been warned that the same group are seeking to kill him. The warning comes from a potential defector within the terrorist group. Carson isn’t told exactly how the attempt will be made, just that they are relying on his normal routine to pull it off. Carson still has to function as the head of SIG but is starting to suspect that the terrorists have a mole in his organisation:

“I suspect everything and everyone,” – he tells Janet Audlish, one of the few people he feels he can trust.

“I’ll be back in two hours to ask about your progress on the searches. Get this sorted by then, eh? My next appointment will be at the Palace to talk with Her Majesty, and I suspect they already know that. If I was going to kill me, that’s when I’d do it.The irony would make up for some of their failure at killing her. The game’s on as soon as I leave VX.”

London is a crowded city and the attack could happen anywhere..Collage1~shrink

Carson is relying on Audlish to work with SIG’s Quartermaster (another trusted individual, they served and fought together), to find a way for him to be seen heading towards his meeting with the Queen and survive the attack he knows will be coming.

I’m not going to spoil how that all plays out, but when he leaves the SIG headquarters in the SIS Building at Vauxhall Cross, heading across Lambeth Bridge and onto Horseferry Road, he is placing his life in their hands…

It was fun to walk in his shoes in London, seeing the places that I had imagined in real life, wondering how it would feel if you were Peter Carson, perhaps crossing Lambeth Bridge for the last time? …

Collage3~shrink

All pictures (c) Lee Russell, 2018, except the Union Jack backdrop to Tower Bridge which is public domain (see https://www.flickr.com/photos/762_photo/2233328580 )

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Space 1999: the problem with Victor Bergman…

When I was a boy I really enjoyed watching the TV series ‘Space 1999’. I was fascinated by space exploration and the ‘realism’ of an Anderson creation featuring real people made a strong impression on me. Moonbase Alpha

At that time creating a moonbase seemed like an obvious next step towards mankind stepping out properly into space and colonising the solar system.

I think many people still see the Moon as a viable next-step into space but I’ve long moved away from that idea. The Moon is a harsh place to survive on, a poor analogue for the other planets or moons that are better candidates for a colony, and even though its gravity is low, it still presents a gravity-well that makes its a poor candidate for a way-station… why stop there when remaining in an orbit could take less fuel?

As with all of the Andersons’ creations, the machinery looks functional and you could imagine it working… in space. Eagle

For example, the Eagle spaceships look like viable, adaptable workhorses for many kinds of missions.  For tasks around Moonbase Alpha they are believable, but the series didn’t work so well when they had it flying into planetary atmospheres… it’s not aerodynamic, looks very underpowered for direct lifting from the surface like a rocket, and lacks the ablative shielding that it might otherwise need for a landing. Unfortunately, the more the Eagles are used like that in the programs, the less believable they become…

Which brings me onto the the problem with the character of Victor Bergman, base scientist… Bergman was acted very convincingly by Barry Morse. I have complete respect for the energy and empathy that he put into the role. However, the scripting for Bergman was not convincing, and that’s where the character’s credibility breaks down.Space1999_Bergman

As a boy watching the show I wanted to be Victor Bergman. My friends wanted to be an astronaut or Commander Koenig, but I was struck by how great it would be to have all the answers, to have Koenig’s ear, and be able to solve the massive problems now facing Moonnbase Alpha after it streaked away into space on 9th September, 1999.

The trouble is, watching the show years later as an adult, Bergman looks like a shaman, a bit of a fool spouting pseudo-science at best, when he’s not frequently confessing to not having the answers. Here’s a couple of examples: firstly from Episode 1 – “Breakaway”:

Koenig: “All right, no virus. Then what is it?”

Bergman: “John, I just don’t know. It looks very much like radiation, but…”

Koenig: “But what?”

Bergman: “There is no radiation.” < what? >

and then later…

Bergman: “Hmm. Look at this. It’s a monitoring device from the old Area One. It was used to record the magnetic output from the < Bergman fake science alert! > artificial gravity system  there. When the area was closed down it had nothing to record for five years but now look at it.”

Carter: “A twenty-fold increase in the magnetic field.”Brekaway

Bergman: “And that’s before it burnt out. We’ve been obsessed with radiation. Wrong. This instrument’s given me a lead. < Bergman fake science alert! > I think we’re facing a new effect, arising from the atomic waste deposited here over the years. Magnetic energy outputs of unprecedented violence. < That’s not a very scientific explanation, is it? >

Koenig: “Magnetic energy responsible for the flare-up at Area One?” < looking unconvinced >

Russell: “Magnetic energy causing brain damage?” < looking like she doesn’t believe a word of it >

… later:

Bergman: “Area One burnt itself out in a < Bergman fake science alert! > magnetic subsurface firestorm. < a what? > What worries me now is that the same thing could happen at Area Two.”

So in episode 1 we’re given a pretty good idea of what to expect for Bergman: sometimes he doesn’t know, and what he says he does know can be pretty unscientific with healthy dollops of pseudo-sci-verbage verging on the hope for magic!

Episode 3, “Black Sun” is even worse. It becomes clear pretty quickly that Alpha is heading towards a black hole. Somehow we’re asked to accept that this is a previously undetected black hole lying close to Earth… sigh….

Initially the Alphans don’t know what the Black Sun is. Bergman disappears into his study where he completes some calculations faster than Alpha’s main computer < of course he does! > and discovers a danger that must be reported to the Commander… he rushes back to Main Mission just in time to see astronaut Ryan’s Eagle torn apart by shearing forces across some kind of horizon… and then he tells Koenig…

Bergman: “If anyone’s to blame, it’s me. I suspected it hours ago.”

Koenig: “A Black Sun.”

Bergman: “Right. So, what are we going to do about it?”

Koenig: “What can we do? We’ll all be dead in three days.”

… so Bergman goes off to have another think and work with the computer… and then tells an assembled group of Alpha’s senior staff that…

Bergman: “It’s gravitational pull can become so immense that just a hatful of the stuff can weigh several Alphas. But it doesn’t stop there. The gravitational force goes on getting stronger so that nothing, not radiation, not heat, not even light itself can escape…

Black Sun… then  “… as you know, < Bergman fake science alert! > these eight anti-gravity towers stabilise our gravity here inside Alpha. <yeah, right > And we’re going to use them to < Bergman fake science alert! > create an entirely new force-field effectWe’re going to re-program our main unit generators so that instead of negating the pressure from the black sun, it will simply reverse it. < Presumably powered by an endless supply of unobtainium >

So if the Black Sun is a neutron star (or similar) we’re being told that the Moon and Alpha stands a chance of passing through it? I don’t think so!

And if it is actually a black hole, that not even light can escape from, we’re to believe that they can pass through it? I don’t think so!

Unless the Black Sun is something else, with the mass of a black hole but without a core? That they can pass through? I don’t think so!

Undetected near-Earth black holes, working faster than the computer to ‘save the day’, anti-gravity, new force-field effects… it’s all in a day’s work for Alpha’s science-shaman!

Fortunately I was impressed enough by Bergman to get a science degree myself… so something came from it… and it was (still is) quite exciting! Just don’t expect realism!

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Pictures from http://catacombs.space1999.net  (fair use)

Space: 1999 is copyright ITV Studios Global Entertainment

Crawling around inside Nuclear Bunkers…

Kelvedon Hatch entrance

I was stuck on how to make a section work in the closing scenes of ‘Evil Eye’ (my latest thriller novel) – it all revolves around moving unseen inside an active nuclear bunker – but these are intimate places and, looking at images online, I was getting very bogged down. The (now) cliched fiction solution is to crawl around in the air vents/ducting (Alien / Aliens / Die Hard), bit I like to base my fiction in reality and I wasn’t feeling sure about that…

So I reached out to the “Cold War Bunkers” closed group on Facebook for advice and they just blew me away with the depth of their knowledge and sharing… my thanks to all the guys in the group … you were great and all your help is much appreciated – I now have a solution to the problem!

DDR missile bunker

Thanks to Al McCann, Ben Cooper, Bob Ames, Craig Robertson, Dave Salloway, David Godfrey, Ed Combes, Gareth Baldybloke, Grant More, Jim O’Neill, Michael Scott, Mirko Krumm, Nick Carrière, Nick Lofty Combes, Roger Griffiths, Steve Gardener and anyone else I’ve missed…

Image of entrance tunnel to Kelvedon Hatch bunker by Scott Wylie on flickr.com (‘Nuclear Bunker’)
Image of entrance to ‘Abandoned Russian nuclear missile bunker in former DDR’ by Nicole von Trigoburg on flickr.com
– both images are Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licensed.

Just 5 more scenes to go and then the first draft of “Evil Eye” will be complete!

I’ve just added another 1300 words to ‘Evil Eye – A Lissa Blackwood Thriller’ this morning. There are now just 5 scenes left to write and the first draft will be complete!

Those 1300 words surprised me – they come at a moment when Lissa Blackwood is trying to work out how to poison the main antagonist, ‘Malocchio’. I knew roughly how the scene was going to work but not exactly how she was going to do it. What I hadn’t expected was for Malocchio to make her the offer of becoming his partner … writing is full of surprises!

Now she has administered the poison all she has to do is warn the governments of Europe that Malocchio’s terror attack is about to begin, make sure he dies and escape – easy?

soldiers~cropped2

Disappointed with ‘Annihilation’ on Netflix…

So, I just finished watching the sci-fi movie ‘Annihilation’ on Netflix, and I have to say I was underwhelmed and disappointed.

Annihilation~NetflixA March ’18 review on DigitalSpy ( http://www.digitalspy.com/movies/feature/a852095/netflix-annihilation-explained-ending-spoilers/ ) described it as “… one of the most intellectually challenging films of the year” – I don’t think so.

Here’s a quick summary of the so-called ‘plot’: Female protagnist ‘Lena’ just happens to be ex-Army and a biologist. When her Army husband ‘Kane’ reappears at their house after being missing-in-action for a year, we’re already quickly working out that he is not what he seems, a la ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ and its subsequent derivatives. Lena is kidnapped by ‘the government’ and taken to a base just outside of ‘the Shimmer’ – think a combination of Stephen King’s ‘The Mist’ and ‘Under the Dome’, with a side order of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s ‘Roadside Picnic’. Lena eventually enters ‘the Shimmer’ with an all-female team, making for ‘the lighthouse’ where it seems to orginate from – think Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ with a dose of Daniel Myrick’s 2008 movie ‘The Objective’.

Lena eventually discovers that an alien lifeform crashed into the lighthouse and is now creating some form of field (‘the Shimmer’) that ‘refracts all DNA’ (sigh), essentially creating new plant-animal/animal-plant hybrids (think ‘The Thing’). I won’t spoil the final ending… but it’s not much worth waiting for.

The main problem is that the film is SLOW and an obvious pastiche of many other (better-executed) films and novels. I’m afraid ‘Annihilation’ only gets 3/10 from me…

Online Science Fiction Book Club: Robert Heinlein Society Panel interview, June 2018…

I’m feeling very pleased and honoured to have had one of my questions about the science fiction writer Robert Heinlein answered in a recent panel interview organised by the Online Science Fiction Book Club (https://www.facebook.com/groups/130411676997908/ ).

Heinlein-faceHeinlein is one of my all-time favourite writers with  published work spanning from 1947 to 1987, and posthumously in 2003 and 2006 (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_A._Heinlein and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_A._Heinlein_bibliography for more information) .

A prolific author, he produced some stunningly classic stories like ‘The Puppet Masters’ (novel 1951, and a film from 1994 starring Donald Sutherland, Eric Thal and Julie Warner), “Starship Troopers” (1959, and also that awful film directed by Paul Verhoeven), “Stranger in a Strange Land” (1961), “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” (1966) and “Friday” (1982).

When I read Heinlein’s stories I get feelings about the need for a strong sense of duty and “doing the right thing”, along with the need to take the hard decisions, avoid expediency, sometimes mixed with that magic ’60s sense of sexuality.

StarShipTropersMoonIsAHarshMistress

I was really pleased by the opportunity to ask the experts on this panel what they think is the major theme running through Heinlein’s writing – this is what they said:

Keith Kato: “Just IMHO, competence and personal responsibility for action.”

Geo Rule: “In addition to Keith’s answer, a definite desire to show you that at least in human relations there are no final victories (you always have to keep refighting battles –like slavery), there are no answers that are always and universally right every time.

“Starship Troopers is followed by Glory Road and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which show very different views of military service. The libertarian paradise of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a socialist hell by the time of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. Slavery has transferred to the stars and must be defeated again in Citizen of the Galaxy. No final victories.

“Also, think for yourself, don’t sign up for gurus. And from the juveniles to everything else, education and continuing education (whether formal or informal) is a key to greater and greater adventures.”

Sense of Duty, Do the Right Thing, Competence, Personal Responsbility, Know Right from Wrong, Think for Yourself, Learn Truthsthat’s a great list of desirable personal attributes that is as relevant today as it was for Heinlein when he was writing.

My thanks to the panel for sharing these insights into the writing themes for this Sci-Fi Grand Master.

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Keith G. Kato obtained his Ph.D. in plasma physics at the University of California, Irvine under the direction of SF author Gregory Benford. He is a Charter Member of The Heinlein Society and in 2014 was selected by the Board of Directors as THS’s fourth President. He was fortunate to meet Robert and Ginny Heinlein three times.

Geo Rule has authored, co-authored, or has been an editor on various online articles having to do with the works or history of Robert A. Heinlein. He currently serves as the Vice-President/Secretary to the Society.

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Cover shots of Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – my own photos of copies owned by me.

Photo of Robert Heinlein by Dd-b, taken at the 1976 World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City MO USA – Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported License

 

 

“Spectral” – Netflix (2016)…

Just finished watching ‘Spectral’ on Netflix – yep, it’s a 2016 movie that I just got around to watching. That’s actually pretty up to date for me, I’m usually 5-10 years behind!

Spectral - MovieholicHub.comAn ‘OK’ hokum entertainer of pseudo-baffle ‘science’ lashed together with soldier-dudes and plenty of gun play.

Don’t let that mislead you though… as long as you disconnect your intelligence and go along for the ride you’ll find that it’s exciting fun!

 

More at https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/80098200