NASA Reveals A Blackhole’s Sound And It’s Sci Fi Material

As a science fiction writer, I like to scroll through the news looking for weird scientific happenings or vague, unexplained phenomena that could easily be spun into a fantastical story. 

Sometimes you get bamboozled by clickbait titles and half-baked articles with no research behind them. That’s the game you play. 

But sometimes you get really lucky and find a piece that just clicks. And when NASA put out their video of the blackhole’s sound, it was like getting a whole nugget while panning for gold. 

What Sound Does A Blackhole Make?

Now, one of the things I was taught as a kid was that there isn’t sound in space. That Star Wars was space fantasy, not science fiction, and laser beams and explosions in space don’t make cool noises. Space is a vacuum and sounds are pretty much sucked up into the void. 

Well, whoever told me that, they lied. There ARE cool noises in space, and NASA just revealed an eerie sound coming from a blackhole. Take a listen:

Now, this wailing, windy sound isn’t what you’ll hear if you roll up to the blackhole in your spaceship. It’s taken scientists a long time to be able to parse out these sounds. 

According to NASA, these sound waves were born out of data collected from the blackhole in the Perseus galaxy in 2003. Technically, the “pressure waves” sent out from the blackhole rippled through hot gasses and created these sound waves, but they weren’t on the spectrum of human comprehension. 

A new sonification program just now made the sounds from this blackhole audible to human ears. In fact, the waves were raised by 57 octaves in order for us to hear them!

In NASA’s official press release, they said that they also were able to formulate sound data from another blackhole, commonly known as M87. That video is below:

Spinning Yarns with Blackhole Sound

For some reason, the first thing I thought about when I heard the Perseus blackhole sounds was the big singing sinkhole from Adventure Time. I’m not sure why, but something about sounds coming from large, dark spaces made my brain connect those two things. 

But it got me thinking about the importance of music in SFF media. In Adventure Time, the song from the sinkhole is sweet, and helps Finn and Jake just enjoy the world around them. 

What does the blackhole song mean? Could the sound waves be translated into some kind of code? Will the Fox Mulders of the world latch onto the audio clips and try to dissect messages from aliens?

Perhaps the sound is the hum of an ancient mothership that’s fighting to escape the clutches of the blackhole. Or maybe it’s a warning siren, and blackholes are like the beacons of Gondor, but from space. 

New discoveries like this help drive the SFF collective braintrust, and I’m curious to hear what you all think the blackhole sounds might be. 

Other Neat NASA Happenings

The blackhole sounds videos were just the most recent things NASA released, but they’ve been on a roll for the past few weeks. The James Webb Space Telescope has been snapping some awesome pictures since it replaced Hubble in December of 2021. 

One of the most recent pictures was a stunning snapshot of Jupiter. The image was captured with the Webb telescope and infrared filters were applied to bring out the bright details of the planet’s atmosphere. The filters helped to pinpoint auroras and other hazes that are a part of Jupiter’s make-up. 

jupiter from webb

This picture of Jupiter is mesmerizing because for so long, we’ve seen cloudy or indistinct images, but this one is so clear and crisp. It reminds me of the acrylic pouring videos or a glass marble. It’s beautiful. 

Out of all of the Webb telescope images, this one is my favorite, aside from the Cosmic Cliffs image that was released in July. 
If you’re a fan of space exploration and vintage Space Race literature, you should check out the interview we did with Alan Smale. His new book, Hot Moon, is an alternate history about the US and Soviet race to the moon.

Reading The Dresden Files Book 1 after 22 Years

Two years ago, it was the 20th anniversary of Storm Front, The Dresden Files book 1 by Jim Butcher. There was a special release of the book and all this stuff, and I was mildly interested. 

I picked up a mass market paperback of Storm Front while I was traveling and started reading it on the plane. I got about 100 pages in and couldn’t handle it anymore. 

Harry Dresden was kind of a snob, and the portrayal of women in the novel seemed to lean totally toward their physical appearances. I seem to recall I’d just come off a long stretch of reading pretty dense high-fantasy (The Grace of Kings, perhaps?) and The Dresden Files was a bit too watered down for me. 

But, recently, I was stranded at my new apartment after my car broke down and only had a few books at my disposal. My paperback copy of Storm Front still had the bookmark in it from where I’d stopped before. So, I decided to give it another shot, and here’s what I thought about The Dresden Files book 1, twenty-two years after it was published. 

Is Harry Dresden a Chauvinist Pig?

Like I mentioned, one of my biggest complaints with Storm Front was the portrayal of women, or at least, how Harry portrays women. His views usually revolve around their looks or their sultry voice, or something of that nature. 

When I started my re-read, I paid close attention to these details because I knew they were what bothered me the first go around. But, what I came to notice was that I had pegged Jim Butcher as the one making the portrayals before, when in reality it’s Harry Dresden. The book feels like it could very easily be in third person narration–about Harry–and it’s because things happen so quickly that you might not necessarily be paying attention to the narration. 

I remember distinctly at one point about halfway through the book, I read a part where “I” is used a few times in quick succession. I paused, flipped back through the few chapters I’d read, and thought, “wow, I can’t believe I didn’t realize it was first person.” 

Dresden and Bob

So that all leads up to the point that Harry Dresden is the one who is painting the outdated portrayals of women in the story, not Jim Butcher. 

What I think really helped me accept Harry as this kind of character was his self-awareness. Near the end of the novel, he makes an observation about Karin Murphy’s soft, dainty hands, which he follows up with a thought about how she’d call him a chauvinist pig. So it’s clear that Harry knows he’s kind of a prick, and that makes the narration more palatable. 

In my first read through, I hadn’t gotten far enough to see Harry’s self-awareness, and that’s why I only got 100 pages in. 

No Sense of Time

One of the things I like to do when reading an older book is look for tells of the time period it was written in. Now, for Storm Front, that was only twenty years ago, so not much has really changed. Sure, technology is far better today than it was back then, but is it enough to make a difference?

After thinking about the tech of now versus the tech of the 2000, I realized there were no cellphones in Storm Front. Harry almost exclusively uses payphones, or the phone in his office. And I didn’t notice that detail until I was already finished with the book. I thought, “huh, he really likes his pay phones,” and it clicked that, duh, he had to use pay phones. 

But there’s something about pay phones that added to the vibe of the story. It’s meant to be a noir-ish paranormal detective story, and pay phones have long been a part of noir or crime fiction. 

Plus, one of Harry’s traits as a wizard is that all the technology he’s around starts to go haywire. Radios don’t work, cars stall out, elevators lose power–he’s a walking menace. That little detail was genius on Jim Butcher’s part. Not only does it create a reasonable explanation for Harry’s distrust or disuse of technology, it also helps to extend the life of the series. (Full disclaimer here, I’ve only read Storm Front, so I could be proven wrong by other books in the series). 

There’s no need for Harry to get a smartphone or Bluetooth headphones or any of that stuff, because he can’t use it anyways. So whether you read Storm Front on day-one release or 50 years later, you’ll still be able to relate. 

It’s Urgent – Always

A final point I want to make about Storm Front is the acute attention to urgency that Butcher has. The most important part of a mystery novel is the increasing sense of urgency. It drives the plot, it motivates the characters, it paves the way for the climax and the conclusion. 

Harry’s whole journey in Storm Front happens within the span of three or four days, but it feels like it speeds by much quicker. For most of the novel, Harry’s running from place to place, uncovering clues about the case, and with each clue or realization, the stakes get higher. The mission becomes more impossible, but even more urgent. 

All of it leads right up to the massive storm at the end of the novel, which I believe was intentional. The building storm motif was apparent throughout the book, and its a nice touch. 

But the urgency in Storm Front really makes that climax hit home hard, and that’s the mark of a good detective novel, be it paranormal or not. 

So, after reading The Dresden Files book 1 all the way through, what did I think? I thought it was pretty good all things considered. I had to curb my expectations and just let the story develop, and that was honestly the best thing I could have done. The characters are fun and interesting, the plot was action-packed, and the writing wasn’t watered down like I previously thought, instead it was fast, funny, and softly-detailed. 

I’m excited to continue reading The Dresden Files, and I’ll certainly be at it for a while. With the 17th and 18th books slated for release very soon, I have a lot of catching up to do. 

Top 5 Sci Fi Books With Creepy Crawlies

It’s very easy to combine science fiction with horror. Whether you’re working with sentient artificial intelligence that’s hell-bent on control, or if you’ve got some weird, terrifying landscape that messes with the character’s minds, there’s always some kind of sci-fi fright to be had. 

But, perhaps one of the most terrifying things that authors can do with science fiction is include bugs. Spiders, wasps, slugs–you name it! Creepy crawlies scare the bejeezus out of millions of people, so it’s always been a perfect topic for sci-fi horror stories. 

We’ve collected some of the zanier sci fi books with insects in them, so it’s up to you if you want to pick them up to read before bed, or put them on the DON’T EVER READ list. 

The Bees by Laline Paull

the bees book

This is one of the more interesting, conceptual books on this list. Laline Paull crafts a sci-fi microcosm of a bee hive, where the main character is a worker bee. That’s right, Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a drone responsible for cleaning up the walkways of the hive. 

But, as her role starts to change, Flora 717 finds herself getting closer and closer to the Queen, and closer to uncovering dangerous hive secrets. 

Paull’s book reads kind of like a story from Aliya Whiteley, but the unique take on the phrase “hive mind” makes this a fresh, interesting book. Not the conventional creepy crawlies you might have been expecting, but still worthy of a spot on this list. 

Petal Storm by Paul Kidd

petal storm book

It’s quite possible that Laline Paull’s The Bees was a tip of the hat to Paul Kidd’s Petal Storm. While the hive metaphor isn’t as fleshed out, there’s still a distinct similarity in Petal Storm

In this novel, the ancient civilization of The Hive is stumbling. They’re a warrior-class of bee-like humanoids, but their aging Queen will soon pass. Most of the novel revolves around this conflict, with court intrigue, skyborne battles, and assassinations. It’s a very inventive story, but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. 

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

the metamorphosis

We can’t have a list of books with creepy crawlies without including this classic. This book was one of the first jaunts into the insect-humanoid genre (is that a genre?). It’s been a staple of English literature classes across the world for years, and it’s profoundly an early work of science fiction. 

If you haven’t read The Metamorphosis, you should! It’s a fast read, with an engaging plot. The main character, Gregor Samsa, awakens one morning to find himself transformed into a giant insect, unable to communicate with his family. All sorts of madness ensues, and it’s a lesson in compassion if I’ve ever seen one. 

Texas Chainsaw Mantis by Kevin Strange


This one had to be on the list simply because it’s so weird. Kevin Strange is known for writing, well, strange fiction. 

Texas Chainsaw Mantis is a parody of the popular horror film, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But, instead of people, the characters are all praying mantises. And if you know anything about the praying mantis, it’s that the females rip off the males’ heads after they are done mating with them. 

The main character of this story is a mantis named Matthew, whose wife almost bites his head off and leaves him for dead. But Matthew brings himself out of the garden shed with his trusty chainsaw, intent on destruction. 

It’s a bizarre premise, but a fun, quick read. 

Slugs by Shaun Hutson


If you’ve ever seen the 1990 movie  Arachnaphobia, then Slugs will be familiar. Published in 1982, Slugs follows a classic horror plot, with dozens of characters in a small town having different harrowing experiences with carnivorous slugs. 

It takes the main character, Mike Brady, a good long time to figure out that these dangerous slugs are not only eating people, but poisoning them too. Slugs is a classic 80s horror novel, and definitely a throwback.

Earth’s Next Mass Extinction Might Be 400 Years Away

With all the stuff in the news about solar flares, rising sea levels, and asteroids zipping by Earth, a lot of people are probably getting pretty nervous about the end of times. 

And there are certainly a lot of ways it could go down. A powerful geomagnetic storm could render our communications and electronics useless, leading to mass hysteria. Or, an asteroid could put us right next to the dinosaurs. 

But the future doesn’t have to be all fire and brimstone. New studies have shown that the timeline for Earth’s next mass extinction is quite a long ways away, and contradicts some of the other climate crisis predictions. 

This isn’t to say that we can slack off right now and continue on our path–we certainly can not–but it gives a bit more time to course correct. 

Rising Temperatures Write Our Future

Climate scientists in Japan have come up with new data that suggests that Earth’s next mass extinction might not take place for another few centuries. 

Kunio Kaiho, a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at Tohoku University, has been studying the events that led to the previous mass extinction events in Earth’s history in hopes of better understanding what the future holds. 

His findings have suggested that for intense climate change events, temperatures had to drop by 7 degrees Celsius or rise by at least 9 degrees Celsius to spark an extinction-level event. 

For context, the previously accepted average temperature rise to trigger a mass extinction was 5.2 degrees Celsius. Kaiho’s estimates certainly give us a much broader timeline than we previously thought. 

But even though we might have a breath of fresh air for a few more years, that doesn’t mean we’re not quickly approaching the next big, worldwide natural disaster. Let’s take a look at the past extinction events so we can see what’s potentially in store:

Sixth One Is The Charm

In all of Earth’s history (or what we are able to assume about Earth’s history), there have been five major extinction events. 

According to the American Museum of Natural History, the five mass extinctions can be identified as follows:

  • Ordovician-silurian extinction – 440 million years ago
  • Denovian extinction – 365 million years ago
  • Permian-triassic extinction – 250 million years ago
  • Triassic-jurassic extinction – 210 million years ago
  • Cretaceous-tertiary extinction – 65 million years ago

The last extinction, which occurred more than 65 million years ago, is thought to have eradicated 50% of all plant and animal species that were alive at the time. And in total, all extinction events have destroyed upwards of 99% of all life, from plants and animals, to insects and single cell organisms.

Most of these extinctions were the result of a few things. Drastic changes in temperature caused sudden ice ages or sweltering heat waves. Other phenomena also played a part in a few mass extinctions, stuff like meteorite strikes or super-volcano eruptions. 

Kaiho and his colleagues believe that the upcoming sixth extinction will be quite hot, with subsequent sea level changes due to melting ice caps. But, their estimation puts the 6th event sometime in 2500, which is far enough away that we’ll never live to see it. 

Timelines Can Change

But, just because our children and grandchildren might not live to see the world end, doesn’t mean there won’t be a build up to the main event. 

Loss of biodiversity is the first big indicator of upcoming extinctions. Data gathered from thousands of different sources suggests that there are more than 40,000 different species threatened with extinction right now, and another 900 that we’ve already lost since the 1500s. 

Things that we grew up knowing and caring for, like Monarch butterflies, might be a thing of the past by the time our grandchildren are old enough to care. 

Kaiho’s prediction of 2500 gives us less than 500 years to right our path, and far less than that if we stay on our current trajectory. In his study, he claimed that the Earth’s temperature is already set to increase more than 4 degrees Celsius by the end of 2100. 

And isn’t that what climate scientists have been saying for years? That our Earth is at a saturation point with pollution, greenhouse gasses, and other human-made problems. 

So even if Kaiho is right, and we have much more time than we thought we did, we can’t slack off now. The next few years are critical for the future. Humanity might survive until 2500, but what will those 470-some years look like? Hot, dry, and filled with plague?

We see so many science fiction stories that portray stark white, technologically god-like societies, or the opposite side, with bleak, dystopian politics and barren wastelands. 

What we really need is a goal, concrete and attainable. Personally, I think Solarpunk presents that goal for now–and while it might not be the end-all-be-all, it’s certainly a start.

Spec Fic Comic Book Review: Cold Iron Issues 1-3

It’s been a while since our last comic book review, so this time we’re tackling something a bit newer. 

Cold Iron is a Comixology original from a great team of artists and writers. This “supernatural thriller” had its first issue hit shelves in May of this year, and it was followed up by issues two and three soon after. 

While this genre is something that’s pretty over-saturated, from TV shows to novels, Cold Iron was a quick, fun read. Let’s dive a bit deeper. 

Cold Iron Background

Like we mentioned, Cold Iron had a star-lineup working hard to get this comic book out on the market. 

The writer Andy Diggle has gained some renown in the comic book scene with his work on The Green Arrow and Hellblazer. And the artist, Nick Brokenshire, has worked on all kinds of projects, including Star Wars and The Once and Future Queen. Diggle and Brokenshire have been friends for a long time and worked on projects in the past, but Cold Iron was a labor of love for both of them. 

Diggle revealed the history of his interest in Celtic and faery stories in a press release from Comixology. “The Isle of Man is a magical place, and holds a very special place in my family’s heart. From neolithic burial sites to Celtic stone circles and Viking castles, the island carries a sense of the ancient in its very bones. I learned at an early age that it’s always considered advisable to acknowledge the Other Folk when crossing the Fairy Bridge on the Port Erin to Douglas road.”

So there’s obviously a personal connection to the lore and story of Cold Iron, and it shows. The story, which is only a 4-issue limited release, is full of rich history and ancient beings. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know it was only a 4-issue story arc until I started writing this blog. There seemed like so much more that could come after issue 3! 

cold iron issue 1

Hold Your Horseshoe Tight

Cold Iron takes place on the Isle of Man, as you might have guessed, and it follows Kay, a young woman who dreams of being a world-renowned musician. Her boyfriend wants her to work at a local restaurant, but Kay’s feisty and defiant, and wants to forge her own path. 

All that changes when Kay encounters Mona, a young girl stranded in the countryside, who is seemingly from another time. Thus kicks off the wild, scary journey through the woods back to town, where Kay and Mona run into a goat-headed man, the stuff of legend. 

Mona is apparently the bride of an ancient Celtic king who resides on the “Other Side”, and she’s managed to escape into our modern world. As such, the devious creatures of the Other Side inveigle and trick, trying to bring her back to the king. But that’ll only happen over Kay’s dead body. 

Kay’s world goes sideways after that first encounter with the supernatural, and her dreams of being a famous songwriter seem all but distant as her grandmother helps her load cold iron into shotgun shells and keeps the horseshoe close. 


Andy Diggle and Nick Brokenshire had very little space to create their world, but they still succeeded in fleshing out the setting and conflict within a few short issues. While the Celtic lore and fae mythology is a pretty popular subject for supernatural or paranormal stories, Cold Iron doesn’t seem like a copycat or contrived in any way. 

The story and the art work together to create both an idyllic, pastoral place, and a dark, creepy island of ancient myths. While reading the first few issues, there were times I felt chills, which is a hard thing to accomplish in the New Jersey summer heat. 

Despite the interesting story and unique take on the ancient faery-world trope, I definitely felt like there wasn’t enough Cold Iron. I was expecting at least a 6-issue run, but the 4-issue release is just a taste of what could have been done. 

I hope that in the future, Diggle and Brokenshire get to continue telling stories in this world, which feels like a combination of the Folklords and Monstress. I’d rate Cold Iron as a 8/10. It’s fun, easy to read, and unique. But, it’s too short, and I felt like some of the conflicts needed more time to develop. 

But, I’m interested to read the last installment, which should be out within the next week or two. You can read Cold Iron on paper from Dark Horse comics, or you can read the digital version on Comixology. 

Weird Movies on Netflix: Bigbug

In general, science fiction movies tend to err on the weirder side of media, and that’s just a fact of their nature. But, there are some weird movies on Netflix that fit too nicely in the sci-fi genre, and Bigbug is at the forefront of those films. 

Bigbug was released fairly recently, in February 2022, and it’s garnered meek media attention. This French movie imagines a Jetsons-like future with a sinister twist: AI bent on human humiliation and destruction. 

Keep reading to get the full scoop on Bigbug, one of the weirdest movies on Netflix this year. 

Some Background

Bigbug was written, directed, and produced by Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jeunet and released on Netflix in February 2022.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet has developed a reputation as a science fiction writer and director. Over the course of his career, he’s imagined many futuristic worlds, some bleak, some optimistic. His first feature film, Delicatessen (1991) takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where famine has ravaged much of the population. His characters live above a delicatessen, and are picked off by the butcher who runs the shop, eventually turned into meaty treats. 

Jean-Pierre Jeunet was even the director or Alien Resurrection, and his film Amélie was nominated for a few Academy Awards. 

Suffice to say that he’s a pretty established guy, and Bigbug is his first feature film to come out in the past 10 years. 

Bigbug stars Isabelle Nanty, Elsa Zylberstein, Claude Perron, Stéphane De Groodt, and Youssef Hajdi, among others. The film received lackluster reviews, including a 5.7/10 on Rotten Tomatoes and an even lower score on Metacritic. 

Despite this, I found the film to be profoundly interesting, both visually and narratively, as well as quite odd. Here’s a brief summary of the plot:

Bigbug Summary

Alice, a suburban mother and artist, lives in a smart home that’s equipped with multiple different robots, some of which are designed for cleaning, others act as maids. When the film starts, we see Alice flirting with Max, a man who pretends to take interest in her artistic endeavors and her bookish nature.

As the story continues, many other characters come into the house, including the neighbor, Alice’s ex-husband and his girlfriend, and Alice’s daughter, Nina. Once all the characters are inside the house, the systems AI, Nestor, locks the doors, citing code C4 because the outside danger level surpassed acceptable limits. 

On the news, the characters see a terrible traffic jam, due to automated car malfunctions. And frequently, the television will play the show Homo Ridiculous, which features humans in humiliating situations for the Yonyx clones. The Yonyx are a group of intelligent, violent, AI clones that despise humans. 

Most of the movie revolves around the characters trying to get out of the house, while the robots working to please their human counterparts by searching for what it means to be human. 

Eventually, things come to a head when the Yonyx show up, but I won’t ruin the ending for you!

What’s So Weird About Bigbug?

Bigbug has a bit of a weird feeling to it for a few reasons. First, it was originally in French, but I watched the English dub on Netflix. The voices and the lips of the characters didn’t match up, which made the whole thing rather trippy, especially since there is supposed to be a big contrast between the robots and AI and the humans. But with the dub, it makes everyone feel a bit like a glitching robot. 

Another element of the film that was confusing–and somewhat uncomfortable at times–was the sexual overtones. Pretty much all the of the characters, aside from one or two, were driven by sexual urges, and often ended up being sexually frustrated. Alice and Max spend most of the movie skirting around other characters trying to have sex, while Nina and Max’s son, Leo, have a similar relationship. 

Even the robots get oddly sexual. Monique, the maid-AI, follows around Max trying to be seductive like Alice, and the whole thing just comes off as cringy. 

I think that the sexual nature of the film helps to portray the humans as driven by instinct, which gives them an animalistic feeling. When contrasted with the Yonyx, who are hard, smart, and cold, the humans just feel kind of lame and useless without their technology. 

And that hunts at one of the larger themes of the film, which is whether or not humans are important in a world where robots and AI are ten times smarter, faster, and more efficient than humans. 

It’s a common theme in science fiction, dating all the way back to the 1920s and even something that we are seeing unfold before our very eyes, with things like Google’s AI and Blake Lemoine’s leaked interview. 

The key takeaway from Bigbug is veiled behind flashy suburbanite futurisms and sexual desire. Its message is simply that humans are lucky. Despite their flaws and their antics, their technologies eventually get too smart for their own good. Some might even say that our saving grace is that we’re simple creatures! And being simple isn’t always a bad thing. 

So despite being just a weird movie on Netflix, Bigbug shows us that the more complex we become, the more problems we encounter. What’s wrong with reading books, practicing calligraphy, and drinking vodka shots? Seems like a good way to pass the time to me. 

If you liked this movie review, check out some of our other reviews:

Interview with Astrophysicist & Author, Alan Smale – Part 2

We’re back with the second part of our interview with Alan Smale! His new book, Hot Moon, is rooted in an alternate 1979, where Soviet spacecraft meet NASA ships in space.

In this part, we continue our conversation about Hot Moon, as well as Smale’s future plans and writing process.

To read the first part of the interview, click here.

IP: What was it about the Apollo program specifically that sparked the idea for Hot Moon?

AS: One of the great things about the Apollo program was its ambitiousness. We went from zero-to-sixty in space very quickly, with the Mercury and Gemini programs leading up to it. All of which had the obvious aim of sending Americans to the Moon and back again.

And that goal caused a huge amount of technological innovation in a very short time. There were a lot of risks involved and a lot of hairy moments, especially with Apollo 13. There was a great deal of improvisation and ingenuity, on top of those aspects which were extremely well-planned. So I think it’s very fertile ground for fiction.

The Moon landings themselves were incredibly impactful, and it was just great fun to see people bouncing around on the Moon’s surface. In Hot Moon, I tried to bring out that excitement. I mean, the book is a thriller, but I think I managed to get quite a bit of the thrill over the space program in there as well.

Plus, there’s the conflict aspect of the story. In Hot Moon, we see the first space battle, between the Apollo spacecraft, the combined Command and Lunar Module, and the classic Soyuz Soviet craft. These spacecraft were frankly very clunky technologies, and I think those scenes are unlike anything people have seen in fiction before, or at least I haven’t read anything like it. Writing it was great fun, and it was exciting to extrapolate and think about how the technology could have been improved in the late 1970s and early 1980s, if the two superpower space programs had continued on with the same frenetic pace.

So I had a blast writing it and it’s getting good reactions from readers so far. I’m very happy with it.

IP: Had your timeline been a reality, and the US had continued at the same pace, what would your prediction for 2079 be, in terms of space exploration?

AS: When I was a kid, I was convinced that my future lay in space, that by the time I was the age I am now, I’d be living and working in space. In the 1960s, there was no particular reason for me to think that wouldn’t happen. People were talking about going to Mars by 2000, and if we’d kept up the investment in space and everything had gone well, we could possibly have done that.

Of course, there would have been factors that slowed down progress. There would have been a lot of the same societal pressures that happened in our existing timeline. Some people would have been concerned about the cost, and the value of going off-world. 

But if we’d managed to keep up the momentum, I certainly think that we could have visited Mars, and had human flybys of Venus, among other things, in my lifetime.

2079? Whether we could have set up permanent colonies in space by that time, I’m not really sure. I guess if we’d pushed really hard, we might’ve gotten to it in one hundred years, but it’s very hard to extrapolate that far. There are so many factors that go into making space colonies or visiting Mars a reality. The politics, in particular, are challenging. Incoming administrations like to shape the space program in their own way and set new priorities. In our own history, the flow of money to NASA was a constant issue all the way through that period, and remains so today.

IP: Do you think privatized space operations like SpaceX or Blue Origin are improving our chances of getting to Mars and exploring farther?

AS: I think the energy that has come into the human space flight arena from the private sector is generally a good thing. There are obviously some personalities involved that can be a bit problematic, but I think in terms of increasing the pace of exploration, and pushing the envelope, the private space companies are a welcome addition to what NASA is doing.

And, to be honest, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the first human to land on Mars got there as a result of a private space flight rather than a NASA mission.

IP: Is there any level of collaboration between NASA and these other privatized space programs?

AS: Oh yes, there certainly is. A lot of the flights to the ISS, the International Space Station, are being conducted by the private sector. There’s actually quite close collaboration between many of the private companies and NASA.

IP: Interesting! Jumping back to Hot Moon for a second, can you tell me a little more about the Apollo Rising series? Can we expect to see another 15 books or will it be a trilogy?

AS:  I think it’s very unlikely that it will turn into 15 books. I don’t have the energy for that! I put quite a lot of effort into writing Hot Moon.

I originally conceived Hot Moon as a standalone, and that’s how I was marketing it and trying to sell it. My agent was considering it that way when she was sending it out to publishers, too.

But then, once CAEZIK bought Hot Moon, we got a lot of positive reactions and a number of nice blurbs from really high-powered authors. My publisher, Shahid Mahmud, had a lot of faith in the book, and so we started talking about a sequel. I admit, I didn’t immediately jump at the idea. I wanted to go back and think it through.

I took a couple of months to think about where the story would go. Surprisingly, I discovered in reading back through my notes that there were actually quite a few ideas that I hadn’t made the most of. Not loose ends, as such – Hot Moon is still complete in itself, and still reads well as a standalone. But there were characters that hadn’t really come to the foreground in the first book, people who could make a big mark in the second. The ideas started flowing, and I began to see all kinds of opportunities to continue the story, and came up with what I think is a very satisfying plot.

Just like Hot Moon, the second book – Radiant Sky – will stand up on its own, with its own story arc. We have the same lead character–my astronaut, Vivian Carter–and many of the other people from Hot Moon will be returning. There will also be a number of new characters, and the story will go in directions that I don’t think most readers will be expecting.

Whether there’ll be further books beyond Radiant Sky, I don’t know. I’m only contracted for the first two books, so we’ll have to wait and see. If they’re successful, if they find their audience, I’d hope there’s a good chance of a third book. I doubt that I’d want to go beyond three …  but then again, in the beginning I thought Hot Moon would be a standalone. So I guess anything could happen. It’s kind of an evolving process, I’d say.

IP: Have you started writing the second book?

AS: Yes, I have. When I pitched it to CAEZIK I sent a very detailed outline – probably a lot more detailed than they were expecting. They’d asked for something relatively short, but what I sent was eighteen pages of fairly dense prose. In addition to describing the plot in detail, I really wanted to work through the politics in the background, and the new technology as well. I guess I was proving to myself as well as to my publisher and editor that I really had the goods to do this.

I think I must be one of the few authors who pitches books with a technical appendix!

As far as the writing goes, I have about 50,000 words of Radiant Sky written now, but they’re very, very rough draft words.

I still need to do quite a bit more editing on them before I can really show them to anybody, but I’m working through various scenes, fleshing out my ideas, and making sure everything hangs together. I’ve made decent progress, but I have a lot more work to do.

IP: In addition to the Hot Moon sequel, what other projects do you have in the works?

AS: I do have a number of new ideas rattling around, and I still have some activity going on with my first trilogy, Clash of Eagles, which came out from Del Rey. Those books are set in a completely different world, in which the Roman Empire survives into the 13th century in its classical form and is now moving into North America.

The Clash trilogy was published between 2015 and 2017, and even though the series is finished, there’s still quite a bit of interest in them. I still get interviews with people wanting to talk about those books. I might go back to that world in the future for some shorter fiction, and I still think about that a lot.

But I do like dotting around history and exploring various times and places. I have several pieces of short fiction fermenting in my mind, and when I get time I’ll start on those.

Also, Rick Wilber and I collaborated on a long novella, or maybe a short novel, called “The Wandering Warriors” which was originally published in Asimov’s, and then came out as a book from WordFire Press in 2020. Rick and I are very keen on this world that we made. It’s a time travel story that combines his passion for baseball and my interest in ancient Romans. So we’ve actually written a story about Roman baseball, and it was quite successful. And he and I are working together again, throwing ideas back and forth about how we might write a sequel to that. It’s a really open-ended concept that we could continue to have a lot of fun with.

So I have various projects going on in the background and a lot of ideas percolating, but promoting Hot Moon and writing Radiant Sky are really my main focuses right now.

IP: So this is kind of a different question. How do you manage keeping a balance between writing fiction and writing professionally for your job? Can you describe what that process looks like?

AS: Yes, certainly. If there are days when I’ve done a lot of technical writing for work, like writing a paper or a report, I would say it’s very difficult to write creatively after that.

But there are other days where I spend a lot of time in meetings, reading up on something, or talking to people. On those days I can really focus on writing in the evenings. For obvious reasons, I do most of my writing on evenings and weekends. I have a lot of very busy weekends where I’m trying to get down to as many words as possible and also do all the day-to-day life stuff that I have to do.

So, I’m not sure I have a process as such, but I do have to manage my time very carefully. And yes, it is sometimes hard to get my brain to do all the things I need it to do!

A big thanks goes out to Alan for having this chat! If you like the sounds of Hot Moon, it’s available for pre-order now from most major retailers.

The book is slated for release on July 26th, 2022.

To learn more about Alan’s writing, check out his website!

Interview with Astrophysicist & Author Alan Smale

It’s not often that you see a hard science fiction novel crafted with such care and meticulous research as Hot Moon by Alan Smale.

Astrophysicist by day, award-winning author by night, Alan Smale’s newest book is about an alternate 1979 where the Soviets are bent on wresting the Moon from NASA’s hands. This sci fi novel features accurate details of orbital mechanics, daring feats of ingenuity, and a thrilling battle in space.

We sat down with Alan to discuss how he started writing, the inspiration for Hot Moon, and his future plans.

Isaac Payne: So Alan, I know that not only are you an award-winning author, you’re also an astrophysicist for NASA. Tell me, how did you decide to get into astrophysics?

Alan Smale: Sure. It really started when I was a kid. I was always interested in astronomy, and fascinated by the Apollo program as well. I used to go out in the backyard with my dad when I was young and look at the Moon and planets, the stars and galaxies. I stayed interested in astronomy for all of my formative years.

And then later on, I went to college to study physics at the University of Oxford, they had optional astrophysics courses in the first and third year, and so I took those and enjoyed them thoroughly.

After my bachelors degree, I was accepted for a doctoral program. It’s actually called DPhil in Oxford, Doctor of Philosophy, rather than a PhD, but it’s the same thing. I did optical and x-ray astronomy research there for three years or so while earning my doctorate. After that I did a post-doc at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, part of University College London.

When my first post-doc ended, I moved to the States to take up a job at NASA, at the Goddard Space Flight Center. I’ve been with NASA ever since.

IP: What kind of research do you do at NASA?

AS: I study low mass x-ray binaries, which are binary star systems that are quite tightly bound, and one of those stars is a compact object, either a black hole or a neutron star. These are extremely dense objects. Material from the more normal companion star spirals into that compact object, and that’s where the x-rays come from. If we study those sources by looking at both the x-rays and the optical emission, we can learn a lot about them.

IP: So obviously you’ve been pretty ingrained with science and astronomy since you were young. Were you an avid science fiction reader, too?

AS: Oh, yeah, I cut my teeth on all of the old classics. When I was growing up, I read a lot of Isaac Asimov, Ursula Le Guin, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Larry Niven. All of this stuff was really prevalent in the atmosphere around me at the time.

I’ve been interested in science fiction all my life, as well as science and astronomy. In fact, all the sci-fi I read probably played a big role in my interest in the sciences. The space program, astrophysics, and science fiction have always coupled together quite tightly, for me.

IP: And when did you start writing science fiction? Did you start pretty early on with that as well?

AS: I started writing science fiction in a very juvenile kind of way. When I was a kid I used to write what now would be called Star Trek fan fiction. But I really started writing seriously for publication when I turned 30. I was already living in the States and working at the Goddard Space Flight Center by then. I’d finished my academic studies, and I was no longer a student at that point, so I had a little more free time. Then, pretty soon after that, I started having stories accepted.

IP: What was the name of your first publication?

AS: It was a short story called “The Breath of Princes” and it appeared in the A Wizard’s Dozen anthology from Harcourt Brace, edited by Michael Stearns.

It was actually a fantasy story, which is kind of funny looking back on it now. In fact, my first two or three published stories were fantasy, but over the past fifteen years, most of my writing has been alternate history or hard science fiction.

IP: What about the genre of historical fiction do you find fascinating?

AS: I’ve always been a history buff. Growing up in England, there was a lot of history around. My family used to go to Hadrian’s Wall for vacations, and to Bath, so I got to explore a lot of Roman ruins and remains there.

I’m not actually sure what the precipitating event was that made me focus on historical writing, but one thing about it is that it’s very different from my day job. I feel as though I’m using very different mental muscles when I’m writing history-based speculative fiction than when I’m doing academic research.

My most recent book, Hot Moon, is very technical, hard science fiction, but until I got to that book, most of my fiction writing was in a different head-space from the day-job work I was doing. Doing scientific research is very different from writing about history, so it was a complete break for my brain, the two sides didn’t bleed into each other.

It feels very refreshing, somehow, when I’m working hard at both science and writing. A change is as good as a rest!

Anyway: I’d always been fascinated by history, and by some of the older alternate history tales. Books like Lest Darkness Fall by Sprague de Camp, and The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick.

The past is a very fertile playground for fiction. And one of the things I like about alternate history is that it kind of holds up a mirror to the real history; I get the resonances of what really happened, underlying the tale that I’m telling, and they both reinforce each other and play off each other.

If you know the real historical events, then you’ll know that the events in a given story are different because of a different result in a war, or an election, and perhaps different people are in the foreground. And by doing that, it kind of makes you think about how history is made. Who the important people are. How history really works.

I just found myself gravitating more and more to that kind of writing over the last 10 or 15 years. Over that period, a lot of my reading has been historical non-fiction, and most of my writing output has been historically based.

IP: You mentioned that Hot Moon is hard science fiction, as well as being an alternate history. Can readers expect for Hot Moon to stay within the bounds of 1979 astrophysics, or does the book move into science fiction with more advanced technologies?

AS: I definitely stay within those bounds. There’s nothing in Hot Moon that wouldn’t have been possible with the technology that they had back then. I spent a lot of time researching the Apollo program, which was a real labor of love because as I mentioned before, I was really into it when I was a kid.

I spent a lot of time getting into the nuts and bolts of the technology, really getting deep into figuring out what was possible and what wasn’t. I obey the laws of physics throughout the book, which is actually a pain because orbital mechanics are quite complicated and it really constrains what my characters can do! They need large amounts of fuel for relatively small orbit changes, for example, and things like that.

So in the first book, there is nothing that wasn’t possible with the technology of the time. The Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft, the Lunar Rovers, and other hardware in the book either existed in the 1970s, or could have been in existence in that timeframe if the US and Soviet space programs had continued. There would have been no technical showstoppers with implementing any of the vehicles, machinery, or bases in Hot Moon.

In the second book we’ll certainly see more of the speculative technology that was suggested at the time. These are ideas that people had done a bit of experimentation with, some prototyping and technical development, but which never came to fruition. There were a lot of bright ideas around then, but a lot of those programs ended up being canceled, or not coming to fruition for other reasons.

So, overall, I’ve tried really hard to keep the science very close to reality. There’s a key political difference in how we get to the world of Hot Moon in 1979. And one of those differences is that the US involvement in Vietnam is much more limited, and of a shorter duration.

As a result, the US has quite a lot more money. In reality, the US couldn’t possibly have pursued the war in Vietnam and the Space Race simultaneously without making huge concessions elsewhere. So, a different Vietnam War, and a rather different Cold War, are central to the Hot Moon universe.

Make sure to check out the second part of our conversation with Alan Smale, right here on the Signals from the Edge blog on Thursday, July 14th!

In the meantime, check out another one of our interviews:

Gods of Jade and Shadow Chapters 23-35

Today we’ll be finishing up our SFF Read-Along of Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. This section will cover chapters 23 through 35. 

If you’ve missed the first two installments of our read-along, you can view them here:

We have quite a lot to talk about today, so let’s get into it!

Plan Against Waning Gods

In the last read-along, we discussed how Hun-Kamé started to display more mortal tendencies. He slept, he dreamed, and he ate food, all of which he never would have done had he been full-god. 

But now, as Casiopea and Hun-Kamé ride yet another train on their way to Baja California, Hun-Kamé seems to be fighting hard against the mortality in him. At one point he calls it a “taint” and plans on removing it as soon as possible. 

More than that, he dismisses Casiopea’s plight as less than his. The fact that she left her whole life behind to help him doesn’t seem to hold up to his own plight, which is having been overthrown by his brother. 

Once again, we see Casiopea as the stalwart companion, even though she’s constantly giving to Hun-Kamé for the promise of very little. He says that at the end of their journey he’ll make sure she’s rewarded with all her desires, but she starts to question if he’ll follow through. 

Regardless, she knows that her other options aren’t nearly as good, as Hun-Kamé’s brother, Vucub-Kamé plans on erecting a temple in Baja California and sacrificing human lives to fuel his growing empire. 

Hun-Kamé reveals to Casiopea that the whole journey, their trek out of Uukumil through Merida and Mexico City, has all been part of his brother’s plan. And if that’s not a sobering fact, I don’t know what is. 

A Single Sigh

So we’ve already gone through a bunch of Chapter 23 in the last section, but we need to talk about the sigh. 

Casiopea tells Hun-Kamé about her daydreams, dreams of them riding in automobiles together, and despite Hun-Kamé’s previous harshness, he softens. He holds her hand and almost goes in for a kiss, and it’s a whole drawn out, agonizing scene, but in a good way. 

But they don’t kiss, instead they touch heads and sigh. “The things you name do grow in power, but others that are not ever whispered claw at one’s heart anyway, rip it to shreds even if a syllable does not escape the lips. The silence was hopeless in any case, since something escaped the god, anyway: a sigh to match the girl’s own.”

In the next chapter, Vucub-Kamé uses his gift of prophecy and his magic owls to listen in on Casiopea and Hun-Kamé, and he hears the sigh. He knows his brother is growing less godly each passing day, and is falling into mortal emotions, and he plans on using it against him.

There’s an interesting dynamic at play with the idea of godliness and mortality. Hun-Kamé seems to be at war with himself, fighting the mortality creeping up on him, but also embracing it, as evident by the sigh. Vucub-Kamé knows this and plans to make the fight more difficult for his brother. Casiopea doesn’t seem to know what to feel about it quite yet, but that soon changes. 

Race Along The Black Road

Skipping ahead a little bit here, we finally see Casiopea and Hun-Kamé reach their destination, and they are greeted by Martín and the Uay Chivo’s brother, Anibal. The pair are welcomed into Vucub-Kamé’s mock temple, a casino, and once again Martín tries to convince Casiopea that she must abandon Hun-Kamé else the whole family will suffer. 

Casiopea refuses, of course, and her and Hun-Kamé have a meeting with his brother, in which a race is proposed. Whoever can make it to the Jade Palace along the Black Road of Xibalba first wins, except it’s a race between Casiopea and Martín not Hun-Kamé and Vucub-Kamé.

It’s a dangerous challenge, and rigged from the start, since Martín has been training with Anibal to know the Black Road’s tricks. 

Before Casiopea agrees to the race, she and Hun-Kamé go down to the ocean and talk it out. This scene is probably one of the most powerful in the whole book, as it’s the breaking point for emotions that have built up over the course of the journey. 

Hun-Kamé, whose mortality is stronger than ever, begs Casiopea to stay with him, for them both to lead normal, mortal lives. That part was predictable, and we certainly saw it coming after the sigh scene. But what Casiopea does is far less predictable. We’ve seen her desires build up over the course of the story too, but in a much more muted way. Going into this turning point. I wasn’t really sure how she’d choose. 

Casiopea says, “Life may not be fair, but I must be fair. I cannot turn away,” in which she refers to Vucub-Kamé’s bloody plan at world domination. After, she admits she doesn’t feel like a hero, but even Hun-Kamé admits that she is. She chooses the hard path, even though she knows if she succeeds she won’t get what she wants. And that’s one of the truest lessons of the whole book, and it couldn’t have been framed in a better way. 

A World Set Right

There’s certainly more we could discuss about the ending of the novel–about the Great Caiman, Martín’s ill-conceived murder attempt, and Vucub-Kamé’s suddent change of heart–but overall, the story ends in a good way. We’re not handed a perfect ending. It’s not even a particularly happy ending for Casiopea, but she manages to come out unscathed, and better off than she was when she started. 

The only part that I can’t shake is when Loray rolls up outside Tierra Blanca in Anibal’s car, ready to pick up Casiopea. He’s a demon, and he did smei-conspire against Hun-Kamé, but he shows up as a friend. It’s a bit odd, simply because he appeared for one chapter at the start of the novel. But, it’s a nice final scene, with Loray and Casiopea becoming traveling companions as they wander their way through the world. 

And Casiopea finally gets to drive her automobile, albeit without Hun-Kamé, but she’s happy nevertheless. 

Overall I really enjoyed this book. It could have ended in a much more cliche way, but it has integrity and tact, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of mythology and urban fantasy. 

Thanks for joining us for this first SFF-Read-Along! If you have any book suggestions for the next installment, or if you’d like to suggest improvements leave a comment down below. 

Arc Manor To Release NFT Ebooks of Robert Heinlein Novel

Ebooks have made reading more widely much more accessible. Don’t have $30 to spend on a brand new hardcover? You can get the ebook for half the price and start reading immediately. 

But, there’s something unsettling about having a whole library of books you can’t see on a shelf. The tactile nature of physical books makes it easier to feel like you have a collection. 

That might be changing soon, as Arc Manor announces they plan to release a set of limited edition ebooks as NFTs. 

Ebooks as NFTs? Is It Possible?

With the rise of NFTs and blockchain technology, we’ve seen some wild things. There have been entire genomes minted on the blockchain, as well as medical and chemical research that’s been funded through the sale of utility NFTs. 

Not to mention the rampant collectible NFTs that made national news, stuff like Bored Apes or Crypto Punks. 

It appears that there’s a broad spectrum of NFTs–some of which sit on the far end of collectibility, with no other value than to exist, where on the opposite side, we have NFTs that have real-world applicability. Is there a middle ground between the two?

That’s where collectible NFT ebooks come in. Books have long been sought after as collectible items, but they also have another purpose, which is obviously to be read. 

Shahid Mahmud, owner of Arc Manor, says “There is a huge market for paper-based book collectibles. Now we have the ability to create a similar market with digital books.”

This comes on the wings of the announcement that Arc Manor has partnered with Curate, a mobile NFT marketplace, to create a line of collectable, sci-fi ebooks. 

Blockchain technology makes it possible for ebooks to have a collectible value, because no two will be the same. While you might not be able to get your NFT ebooks signed on the title page, you can own a rare collectible edition that holds more value than less-rare variants. 

The Pursuit of Pankera

What books will be minted on the blockchain first? Well, Mahmud chose The Pursuit of Pankera by Robert Heinlien as Caezik Crypto’s debut NFT. 

The Pursuit of Pankera was released in 2020, and is the last Robert Heinlien novel to be published, albeit posthumously. The manuscript was rediscovered and lovingly edited by Patrick LoBrutto and the staff at Caezik. 

The Pursuit of Pankera: A Parallel Novel About Parallel Universes is tied tightly to another Heinlein novel, The Number of the Beast. In fact, the first part of the book reads the same as The Number of the Beast, but it quickly deviates from its predecessor, creating a parallel timeline. 

Among the Golden Age sci fi writers, Robert Heinlein was certainly one of the pioneers. His fiction reached wide audiences, and he influenced many of the current science fiction dynamics with his novels. It’s only fitting that he will once again be reaching into new territories as the first NFT ebook. 

The Pursuit of Pankera will be released on Curate’s mobile NFT platform, with 500 unique, numbered cover variations. 

Arc Manor also plans to release two more ebooks as NFTs: Midnight at the Well of Souls by Jack L. Chalker, and Reboots: Undead Can Dance by Mercedes Lackey and Cody Martin

Where To Get These NFT Ebooks

Like we mentioned, Arc Manor has partnered with Curate to make these NFT ebooks possible. You can access Curate on their mobile app or on their desktop version. Creating an account is fast and easy, but you will need a cryptocurrency wallet to purchase any NFTs. 

To learn more about how purchasing NFTs on Curate works–and what currencies you can use–check out their website
And to keep up to date on the NFT ebooks coming from Arc Manor, sign up for their mailing list over at