The Expanse Part II (Sci-fi)

The entire crew was stunned. The planet was adrift, free-floating in intergalactic space. There was no star or other planet within 100 light-years. Yet, there it was full of Negativum. But, this wasn’t the shocking part. A planet like this should be frozen solid but it wasn’t. In fact, it was quite balmy and full of life, covered in dense vegetation. It defied logic.

The Captain on the deck of the Danu led with the queries.

“Dr. Lenz, how do you explain this?”

“I can’t. This is a major anomaly. To have a living, breathing planet in this location defies all understanding.”

“You must have some sort of theory! Give it a shot.”

“Well, every planet with Negativum in this sector to date has been on a planet with abundant life. The odds of this being a random occurrence are vanishingly small.”

“So, what are you are say Doctor?”

“I just don’t know yet. There is definitely something very odd.”

There was an awkward pause.

Then the Captain gave his order.

“Well, we need that Negativum. However, it got there. You and you’re new away team should go get prepared.”

*********************************************************

Dr. Lenz had never seen anything like it before. For a brief moment he had turned off his search light and through his visor and a small break in the canopy of this alien world, he could see the Milky Way in the night sky – what had been home and now vanquished into nothingness.

“Get off me!”

It was Candace who had taken a dislike to the local fauna, which up to this point had consisted of eyeless bugs that stuck to anything they touched. There were larger creatures but they had kept their distance at least for now.

Dr. Lenz and Candace had been assigned a new team, and Dr. Lenz was secretly wondering how close to them he should get considering what had happened last time. It consisted of himself, Candace and five other males.

“I hate this place Dr. Lenz.”

“I know Candace. Hopefully we won’t be here for long.”

They were now just a few metres from the reading of where the largest reservoir of Negativum was.

But as they fought their way through the vegetation they were astonished to be met by a door.

The Expanse Part 1 (Sci-fi)

The Captain had summoned Dr. Lenz right at the start of his cycle. No time to look out at the great expanse of space or even have breakfast for that matter. He had never thought that this would be his future. But, he also knew that he had been very fortunate to be gifted this opportunity to save humanity.

The Captain was in his room waiting for him and he knew what he wanted to discuss. Where next for Negativum? It was a major concern since the Danu entered intergalactic space. The distance between star systems had now increased exponentially and the Captain was growing increasingly nervous. Dr. Lenz was too, but he dare not show it. The prevailing theory had always been that Negativum had been created during the Big Bang, at the moment of the creation of the Universe and therefore should be evenly distributed in it. But what if that was incorrect and they had already passed the last collection point?

Dr. Lenz had to put his faith in all the great minds that had once existed.

“A location has not been yet been determined. It is more difficult in intergalactic space.”

“I have total faith in you Dr. Lenz but the crew is getting nervous. I’ve been informed that our supply is running low.”

“Yes, I am very aware of that and what is at stake. I’ve been working on this problem non stop.”

“Is there any way anybody else could be of assistance? Maybe Candace, she’s a fine officer and very intelligent. You seem to have a good working relationship.”

“She is a fine officer but..”

“Let me be clear. This is an order. You must share your expertise with others for both the short and long term future of humanity. She will be the first and will be at your workspace within the hour.”

********************************************************

Candace was looking at the array somewhat bewildered. Dr. Lenz was trying to hide his frustration. He just didn’t have the time for this.

“Once again Candace, this is a three dimensional Michovic diagram of space of about three thousand light years across. We are searching for mass – volume anomalies that might indicate the presence of Negativum.

“I just don’t understand.”

“What exactly?”

“You said the anomalies should be near stars. But what about this?”

She point to empty space.

Dr. Lenz looked and was dumbfounded. He had never thought to check such areas. It must be a free floating planet. For the briefest of moments he was overcome with joy and hugged her. It felt good and she didn’t push back. Then he took a step back.

“We have to inform the Captain!”

Why most articles you read about population dynamics are wrong.

So I guess many of you are probably aware that most countries now have sub-replacement fertility. That is, without immigration, their population will decline. This is already happening in Japans, which allows little immigration. Countries such as the United States and the UK will continue to grow in population only if immigration continues.

2.1

That is the average number of children each woman has to have for each generation to replace the last. The extra .1 is to make up for early death. This is really well known and widely reported. But it is wrong! So where does it come from? Well, you see there is a tendency for more boys to be born than girls. Usually, about 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. So, that means that 100 women will have to have 210 babies to ensure that there will be the same 100 women in the next generation.

So what about early deaths? Well, this can vary from country to country. In the US roughly 3% of female births don’t make it to 40. If we assume for simplicity that this 3% doesn’t have offspring, then each woman would 210 / 97 = 2.165.

A significant difference.

But, it becomes truly significant when you look at China. In China, the fertility is about 1.3 children per woman. You’ll read once again incorrectly in newspapers that this is far below the replacement level of 2.1. In China, there has been a practice to abort/kill baby girls. So, instead of 210 boys for every 100 girls, it’s more like 230.

Now I’d imagine life is far harder in China. I could easily see a death rate of 5%

This would give replacement fertility of 230/95 = 2.42.

China has a deficit of 1.12 children per woman.

The world fertility was given as 2.3 a few years ago. The population bomb is now a dud, I reckon if only proper calculations were carried out.

Please let me know what you think of this post and don’t forget to join my mailing list if you have not already done so.

Review of “The Six” by Mark Alpert (novel)

Well, what can I say. I reckon this is the best science fiction novel I’ve read since “Nineteen Eighty Four.” It’s total different but just as captivating and original. The first thing that is different about this story is that the main characters are all terminally ill with only a few months left to live. Hard to imagine them saving the world, right. Adams body is ravaged by Muscular Dystrophy, his muscles rapidly decaying. So too, DeShawn. The others suffer from incurable diseases, mostly cancer.

But Adam’s father had a plan to save his son. Transfer the human mind to a machine that could live on when the body has died. But, during his research he inadvertently creates Sigma, a high level Artificial Intelligence that plots to destroy humanity. Hey, what else is an AI to do?

It quickly takes control of a Russian nuclear missile base, killing all the soldiers stationed there and threatens nuclear annihilation if any aggressive action is taken to stop it.

Time is now running out and the minds of the six volunteers are transferred so they can stop Sigma before it’s too late.

Only Adam’s mind transfer is documented and it is excellently written. There is just about the right amount of ambiguity over whether it is the same mind in the machine, or is just a copy that has just come into existence. The writer also deals very effectively with action and other sequences in the robotic mind.

What follows is all action. At times, it turns dark but just the right amount to keep you glued to its pages.

Interestingly, the author doesn’t consider his work to be science fiction –

This novel is not science fiction. I’m a science journalist, as well as a novelist, so I like to insert lots of facts into my books. The technologies described in “The Six” are real. The electronic brains of the Pioneers are based on experimental circuits now being developed in laboratories. Sooner or later, human intelligences are going to live inside machines. It’s just a matter of time.

Personally, I think he is wrong but it does make for a great yarn. The human brain is still not fully understood. I remember watching a documentary about it once. The smallest brain in the animal kingdom was in some sort of worm. They deprived it of all external stimulation. Still, every now and again, there was a burst of activity from its neurons. It was thinking to itself. This is something that the strongest computers cannot replicate.

But, perhaps something just as good has recently happened. Due to advances in gene therapy, Muscular Dystrophy may soon become a disease of the past.

I give “The Six” five stars out of five. And the best thing is that it is part of a trilogy.

Review of “The Matrix Resurrections” (film)

Well, I think for all people of my vintage, the Matrix trilogy were a seminal moment. Especially, the very first film. The special effects were on a level that had not been seen before. It wax the first time that CGI made its presence known and it felt like things would never be the same again and it was true, they weren’t.

But it was so much more than that. For people of my generation who had witnessed faster and faster computers coming into existence, and becoming ever more important in daily life, the film felt somewhat sinister. Maybe, we all lived in a simulation. Maybe, the film was more than just entertainment, it was a message.

How would we really know for sure?

That, and the colour of pills suddenly seemed so much more important.

Of course in the trilogy Keanu Reaves manages to somewhat sort things with a peace deal with the machines that tragically leads to his death.

So where to now?

Well where’s the will for a nostalgic film, there is a way.

Cue all our favorite characters are back, through the use of DNA sequencing. There’s no time for any nature/nurture debate here. You are your DNA and your DNA is you.

What follows is somewhat credible. But, it doesn’t leave you with the same dread that the real world is a simulation. It’s too narrow. But you get great fighting scenes and a belief in the goodness of humanity and at least some AIs.

This won’t be a cult classic, think Terminator III.

I did enjoy it though, it gave me that fuzzy, warm feeling.

So, four stars out of five for me.

The day the Earth died (Part 3)

He grew increasingly nervous as he approached his parents’ house down a steep suburban hill. The rotting carcass of a woman, he once knew lay half submerged in the yellow and dark sludge in the middle of the street.

It was freezing now, much colder than he had ever experienced before. His hands were going numb. He kept slowly trudging on-wards, past the burned houses with broken windows until he turned and faced his former home. The thick sludge had covered what was once a beautiful garden and was beginning to engulf the bungalow in its entirety. The front door was just about visible.

Knock, knock, knock.

No response.

Bang, bang, bang.

“Who is it?”

“It’s me Mum!”

The door swung open and they embraced.

It was a bittersweet moment. Boils were already clearly visible on her famished face.

He walked in and she closed the door behind him. The only light came from candlelight. It was not much warmer inside.

“Where is everyone?”

“They didn’t make it Colin, I’m sorry. There wasn’t enough time.”

His heart sank but stoically he held firm not wanting to add to her anguish.

“Here, I brought some food.”

“Keep it for yourself, I’m not hungry honest.”

They went in to sit on the couch and Colin went to take off his shoes. His feet were a deep blue and boils now covered them. They continued on up his leg, he dare not look how far.

They embraced trying to keep warm as it grew colder still.

His Mum talked less and less into the night till not at all. At least he had been there for her at her end. It was his last thought as he too drifted away.

The day the Earth died (Part 2)

The transmission continued with warnings to stay inside and to put wet towels under the doors. That the radiation would shortly envelope Ireland. The broadcast continued for a further hour before it abruptly stopped without warning.

A pang went through his body, as if he had stabbed. He now felt truly alone. He peered through the curtain. Windows were being smashed by a gang of yobs, the day was still bright. The fools, they were wasting valuable preparation time. Sean went and rested on his couch and slowly drifted off from the days exertions,

He woke to the sound of screams coming from the street outside. Leaping from the couch, he went to peer through the curtains. What had been a beautiful, sunny day was now a twilight, caused by a thick, opaque mist which had descended. The screams continued and his heart began to pound.

Running to his bed, he lied down and tried to cover his ears. The cries were coming from the apartment beside him now where a couple lived with their young child. There were roars of alarm that it was seeping in under the door, that there was nowhere for them to go. Colin knew that any attempt to save them and it was his death too.

So, he listened as their roars of anguish became whimpers to be replaced by an awful silence as tear gently rolled on to his pillow. Then an age seemed to pass, an unrelenting darkness. From him occasionally eating to satisfy his hunger, he guessed two days must have passed before he woke to the sound of heavy rain beating against his window. Finally, there was some light. Then he heard some cheers of joy coming from outside. He felt a sudden urge to go join them, but he knew it was too soon. The radiation level would still be too high.

All too quickly, the rain stopped and it began to darken once more. A few hours later, the temperate began to plummet. He wrapped himself up in his bed to try and stay warm, trying to dream of better times before all this happened.

Days passed. It remained dark and cold. It was time for him to venture outside and make what was once a short trip from Castle Street to Beechgrove in the suburbs. It had snowed, if you could call the putrid yellow stuff that. There were no words his new world. On getting to the street he barely recognized the place. Among the rotten corpses that strewn the street, there were those clinging to life with large boils oozing a yellow substance covering their flesh. All the leaves were gone from the trees, their barks black. Even the building with their smashed windows and radiated walls looked alien in the dim sky.

Step by step, he began to make his way through the sludge trying not to think of what awaited him. Each milestone made him feel that bit happier. First, there was the McDonalds, what had a bright, yellow building now grey and lifeless, then the Dublin Bridge over a frozen and poisoned canal. Onwards, he trudged before finally reaching Beechgrove. It looked as void of life as anywhere but he had to hope, believe even. Otherwise, it would be impossible to put one foot in front of the other.

The day the Earth died – Part 1 (Dystopia)

Colin rolled over in his comfy bed before deciding that he couldn’t put it off any longer. It was time to get up. No point wasting his Saturday in bed. He quickly got dressed and wondered what he would do today. He was living in a small, cramped one-bedroom apartment above a fish and chips in the heart of Mullingar, a busy marketplace town of twenty thousand souls in the middle of Ireland. But it was cheap and close to his new place of employment, Westmeath County Council.

He could have stayed living in the suburbs, but decided that almost twenty-three years of age it was time for him to become somewhat independent. And anyway, it was just getting awkward telling women in The Fence that their place would be better at the end of the night. Of course, his Mum still collected his dirty laundry. He wasn’t a zealot.

He switched on the television and went straight to Sky News to see if they had any updates on the Ukraine War. It had escalated massively in February when Russia tried to invade the whole country. Colin, like the rest of the world had expected a rapid collapse in the face of the Russian juggernaut. He remembered feeling anger at the projected loss of another democracy. But the Ukrainians fought back and the world imposed crippling sanctions on Russia. Now, barely six months later it was September and the Ukrainians with the aid of heavy weapons from the West had liberated most of their country and were about to take out the last major city controlled by the Russians – Sevastopol.

Colin couldn’t help but feel a bit queasy when he heard about this yesterday. This was a city that had voted to become part of Russia itself and they had a shared history going back hundreds of years. The new Russian dictator Aleksy Zhuravlyov (who replaced a poisoned Putin), a Russian ultra nationalist had threatened an all-out nuclear strike if the city was taken. That if Russia could no longer maintain its dignity in the world, better for there to be no world at all. The Ukrainian President Zelensky who had nearly died months earlier and President Biden of the United States chaffed at the threat saying Russia was in no position to threaten anyone.

Sky News was a disappointment. Only the latest Boris Johnston scandal about him fathering another child with some unknown woman. Flick, flick, flick and onto CNN.

One of their reporters was in the historic centre of Sevastopol, that had apparently escaped the devastation other parts of the country had endured beside an impressive statue of a Russian soldier, smiling in delight stating that the last defenders had fled the city. The message was flashing across the bottom of the screen in red and white. Colin continued to eat his cornflakes before deciding that it needed a drop more milk.

He had turned his back to the tv, before rapidly turning back when he heard a sinister change of tone. The feed from Sevastapol had been cut and they had gone back to their Washington office where a solemn presenter began to speak.

  • This is directly from the US military. The Russians have launched an all-out nuclear strike. The United States and its allies will respond in kind. Please take shelter. This is not a joke. You need to get to a shelter as soon as possible.

Then the message went on repeat. Colin knew that he had to act. A nuclear strike would only take thirty minutes at most to reach their targets. His hand began to shake as he rang his Mum on his mobile.

Mum, you need to listen to me.

Colin, what are you on about? You okay?

There has been an-all out nuclear strike. You need to listen to me. You, Dad and Sean need to go inside right now. Close the windows, curtains. Do not step outside for two days, drink water from the tank. You only have minutes.

Are you sure about this Colin? You do get a bit

Yes, tell Dad to turn on CNN. I’ll try to get.

The line suddenly went dead.

Colin hurried over to his front window and looked down on the street. It was relatively quiet with the odd ambler and car going back and forth. Panic had yet set in but that would change quickly. It was very unlikely that Mullingar itself would be directly targeted, but the fallout and possible nuclear winter that follows would be a major problem, to say the least. One Sarsmat or Satan II missile was enough to obliterate all the major urban centres in the UK. At least some of that radiation would make its way to Ireland.

Knowing that time was of the essence, he stuck his wallet in his pocket and ran out the door and down the stairs and up the narrow lane to the street, Thinking it better not to alert others, he slowed down to a fast walk. He felt the warmth on his face and looked up at the beautiful blue sky, perhaps for the last time. Fortunately, the local Supermarket Dunnes Stores was just across the street.

Everything was normal inside with shoppers leisurely walking around enjoying their Saturday morning. He walked out the back to the car-park where the trolleys were and took one before heading to the aisle where the tinned food was kept. He filled it three quarters of the way getting a bemused look from a middle-aged woman before throwing some toilet rolls on top to conceal what he was getting.

The mood suddenly changed as he approached the check-out. First, screams in the distance and then a group of people ran in trying to take whatever they could. A security left his resting area beside the exit to try and stop them. Colin changed direction and simply walked out into the mall area. In the distance, he could see a number of cars pulling up in the car-park. The other shoppers had gone quiet, stunned.

Colin walked out of the store and towards his apartment. There were a group of teenage girls crying in disbelief. But time was critical, ever second precious second so on he went. His heart was racing as he made his way down the lane-way and hauled the trolley up behind him. For a brief moment after locking the door behind him, he let himself rest. Then he went to the window and outside at a developing traffic jam. Drivers were beeping at first but rapidly they got out of their cars and began to fight.

Colin closed the curtains, best not to draw attention to himself and turned on the tv. All the foreign channels had gone off air. There was only RTE left and the journalist Caitriona Perry reporting from the newsroom in Dublin. Her eyes were red and her voice sombre.

There are reports of massive explosions all across Europe and The United States. Hundreds of millions are presumed dead and the worst is still to come. May God have mercy on us all. We will continue broadcasting for as long as possible.

The Droid Apocalypse (Part 5)

They took cover behind a boulder, still their survival would depend as much on their suits, which shielded them from the great heat. They looked down at the ground. Suddenly, they could hear the roar of the Danu’s powerful laser beam as it thrashed and obliterated any droid or dreadnought in the in the vicinity.

When the ground finally stopped vibrating they peered over the boulder at a thoroughly devastated moonscape with clouds of ash rising up through the air. They looked at each other relieved as they saw a lander flying in their direction. It’s hatch opened to roars for them to get inside.

They were already on their way when Herbert stopped in astonishment. Missiles were being launched in the distance, not at them but into space ostensibly towards the Danu.

“How?” he heard Candace ask.

“I fear this civilization was more advanced than what we had envisaged. We better go.”

There was a crew of three with the lander and they gave the duo a heroes welcome.

“You were the only ones to retrieve any Negativum. You have saved us,” the pilot explained.

The lander engine ignited and they hurtled towards the upper atmosphere.

Soon they were receiving reports of the Danu sustaining heavy damage and they were informed that they would be hyper traveling upon docking.

Herbert took one last look at the world below and wondered if this would be last they’d see of this civilization.

Review of “The Day of the Owl” by Leonardo Sciascia

One of the great things about the modern world is that with the internet and a multitude of television stations is that you can learn about things that previously there would be little chance of one coming across.

And so it was that a few months previously I was watching some opaque tv channel about Italian crime fiction and its great novels, of which “The Day of the Owl was one”.

Italian crime is grittier and the line more blurred between good and bad than its American or British equivalents. “The Day of the Owl” is quintessential Italian crime fiction. It was originally published in Italian in 1961 and as best as I could tell, it was set in the nineteen fifties. The location is Sicily, the traditional heartland of the Mafia. It gives an insight into the poverty and rural nature of the area. The people struggle to eke out a leaving as peasants and smuggle cigarettes. The landed gentry send their eldest son to the monastery to become educated and then skip out to become a lawyer. There is no banking system other than borrowing at extortionate interest and every penny must be paid on time. However, the very existence of the mafia is disputed just like it would have wanted.

The story begins with a man getting shot running for a bus one morning in a small, Sicilian town. Even though the bus was packed, nobody in the bus including the driver saw the murderer. The case is given to a Carabineiri captain, Bellodi from Parma. He is not from Sicily and believes in the power of the State and the rule of law. In Sicily, family connections and informal relationships come first.

Bellodi ensures a proper investigation is carried out, against push-back from the establishment. The man who was the owner of the small company refused to pay protection money, and despite being small scale, was set an example of.

For a time it looks as though, he might make a major breakthrough and even arrests the local don after some crafty, on the line methods.. But murky forces ensure that it all goes away and any mention of organized crime dissipates.

In true Italian style, there is no happy ending only what might have been.

Probably, just as interesting as the novel, is what happened afterwards. It was part of the slow awakening of Italian society to the threat posed by the Mafia.