Third Review for The Jovian Manifesto… and From Someone Famous!

Third Review for The Jovian Manifesto… and From Someone Famous!

My second novel, The Jovian Manifesto, recently received its third review. Like the previous two, it garnered five stars. However, this one was particularly cool because it came from Prof. Abraham Loeb, a man who I’ve had the honor of speaking to many times over the years (as part of my work with Universe Today).

In addition to being the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University, Prof. Loeb is also the Chair of the Harvard Astronomy Department, the  Director of the Institute for Theory and Computation (ITC) at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the Chair of the Breakthrough Starshot Advisory Committee. In short, he’s kind of a big deal!

Anyhoo, here’s what he said:

Exciting plot with a good foundation in science. This is not surprising given the author’s expertise as an excellent science writer for Universe Today. Inspiring ending. Highly recommended!

How Science Journalism Helped Me Become a Better Sci-Fi Writer

How Science Journalism Helped Me Become a Better Sci-Fi Writer

The following is an article that I recently published with Universe Today. And since it concerns my recently-published novels, I felt absolutely obliged to share it here. Enjoy!

Hello all. I hope our readers don’t mind that I’m taking a bit of a diversion here today to engage in a little shameless self-promotion. Basically, I wanted to talk about my recently-published novel – The Jovian Manifesto. This book is the sequel to The Cronian Incident, which was published last year (and was a little  shamelessly promoted at the time).

However, I also wanted to take this opportunity to talk about hard science fiction and how writing for a science publication helped me grow as a writer. By definition, hard sci-fi refers to stories where scientific accuracy is emphasized. This essentially means that the technology in the story conforms to established science and/or what is believed to be feasible in the future.

So when I set out to write The Cronian Incident, I wanted it to be as realistic as possible, both in terms of technology and setting. Many of the ideas I came up with, and much of the material I drew from, was inspired from my work here at Universe Today. Since I joined the team in 2010 and became a regular member in 2014, I’ve had the chance to write about space-related news, as well as exciting research and scientific breakthroughs.

MESSENGER image of Mercury from its third flyby. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

From the beginning, I felt that what I was writing about was inspiring me in my other major pursuit, which was to become a sci-fi author (something I had been pursuing for years). In fact, it was an article that I had just finished writing for our Guide to Space (The Planet Mercury) that inspired the entire series. After writing it, I began talking to a friend about how humans could make a go of life on Mercury, provided they had the right technology and followed proper precautions.

Basically, I said, Mercury is very metal-rich and close to the Sun, which would make it an abundant source of minerals and energy for our future selves. The only problem is that miners would have to remain on the dark side of the planet to avoid being incinerated. But since Mercury has a spin-orbit resonance of 3:2 – where it completes three rotations on its axis for every two orbits around the Sun – a single solar day works out to about 176 Earth days.

That means that as long as they stayed well-ahead of the terminator (the line between the day-side and the night-side) miners would have lots of time to pull ore out of Mercury without being cooked in their space suits! Meanwhile, I argued, permanent bases could be built in Mercury’s cratered polar regions, which are permanently shaded and have abundant supplies of water ice in them.

View of Mercury’s north pole. based on MESSENGER probe data, showing polar deposits of water ice. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington/National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, Arecibo Observatory.

Inside some of the larger craters – such as Prokofiev, Kandinsky, Tolkien and Trggvadottir – bases could be built where miners would stay between work shifts. Water and building materials could be harvested in-situ, and solar arrays placed around the edges of the craters could gather all the electricity they needed. With the right technology, some of this could even be beamed off-planet to Venus, Earth and Mars.

My friend then indicated that it would be very hard to get people to want to live and work on Mercury, to which I suggested that perhaps only convict laborers would ever be sent there. That set off the light in my head, and before long, a much larger idea began to take shape. I didn’t just want to talk about Mercury and miners, but how we might go about colonizing the Moon, Mars, Venus, and beyond.

I also wanted to do a story that explored the reasons for why humanity became a multi-planetary species. This is an increasingly relevant issue, thanks in no small part to many high-profile individuals who want to see a permanent human presence established on the Moon and/or Mars in this century. These include Elon Musk, Buzz Aldrin, Robert Zubrin, James Lovelock, and the late and great Stephen Hawking.

Artist’s concept for a possible colony on Mars. Credit: Ville Ericsson

Here too, I have had the privilege of reporting on what these plans are and how they have taken shape over the past years. I’ve also learned a great deal about the history of proposals to colonize the Moon, Mars, and other bodies in the Solar System. While various works of fiction helped me learn how authors have addressed these proposals in the past (such as Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Kim Stanley Robinson, et al.) there was also the theoretical work of scientists like Carl Sagan, James Lovelock, Freeman Dyson, Geoffrey A. Landis and others to draw upon.

Looking at this from a contemporary angle, I went with the idea that the main drivers behind off-world settlement will Climate Change and the accelerating pace of change brought about by the Technological Singularity (both of which are expected to culminate around the middle of this century). I also wanted to explore the long-term idea of terraforming, which was inspired by the Complete Guide to Terraforming series I was writing at the time.

This is where the hard part of hard science fiction came into play. In writing about colonies on Mercury, Venus, the Moon, Mars, and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn (the Jovians and Cronians), I did my best to describe the settings based on what is actually known about these bodies. As for how people would live on them, that too needed to be dictated by what we know about their environments and surface conditions.

Artist’s impression of SpaceX’s proposed Mars Base Alpha. Credit: SpaceX

It was a fortunate coincidence that my day job happens to include writing about these very things. That way, when it came time to describe what it was like walking around on the surface of Mercury or Titan, or describing how Martian settlers lived on the planet over time, I had something solid to draw upon.

In short, The Cronian Incident owes its existence to my work here. It also owes its existence to Castrum Press, who published the book after the 18 months it took for me to write it (in the summer of 2017). It’s sequel, The Jovian Manifesto, was published a few months ago, and I plan to finish the series off with a third installment titled The Frost Line Fracture (which should be completed sometime in 2019).

So far, the reviews for the first two books have been quite encouraging. Of The Cronian Incident, Professor Abraham Loeb himself – the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science and the Chair of the Astronomy Department at Harvard University – said that it was “An exciting science fiction adventure into the technological future. An exhilarating read for scientists and fiction lovers alike.”

Artist’s impression of a possible lunar base. Credit: NASA/Pat Rawlings

Various reviewers who posted on Amazon have also had encouraging things to say:

“This was one of the best science fiction novels I’ve read in some time. Its universe is vast in scope, its plot full of intrigue, its characters delightfully well rounded with just the right mix of flaws and strengths.

“This story was a good read that sucked me in and kept me wondering. I particularly enjoyed the world building aspects, and the overarching storyline which is clearly going to continue in the next book.”

“I really like how the action is taking place on various planets/moons of the solar system, and am eagerly waiting for further installments of the story.”

“Mr. Williams delivers an exciting tale in this story. It was a very enjoyable read and I’m looking forward to seeing more from him.”

The Cronian Incident (The Formist Series) (Volume 1) by Matthew Williams is a slow-paced, contemplative science fiction story that fans of The Expanse will really enjoy.”

The sequel, The Jovian Manifesto, has also been well-reviewed:

“I don’t think I’ve been so involved in a science fiction series since I read the Honor Harrington books by David Weber. I snapped up a copy of The Jovian Manifesto as soon as possible, having immensely enjoyed The Cronian Incident when it first came out.”

It’s much faster paced than its predecessor and features some pretty awesome action scenes interspersed into a story involving a conspiracy and a plot to counter the conspiracy. There were also some great twists along the way, which I won’t give away here, and I really enjoyed the characters, who were diverse and well-developed.”

The Cronian Incident by Matt Williams. Credit: Castrum Press

So far, the settings have included a penal colony on Mercury, the floating cities of Venus, domed cities on Mars, a Martian space elevator, circular enclosures on Callisto, honeycombed settlements on Ganymede, settlements within the ice of Europa, and spartan domes on Titan. But before the series is complete, I hope to include descriptions of what life is like on Earth, the Moon, and in the Asteroid Belt in the future.

Beyond that, I also want to get into writing about interstellar travel, since that will give me a chance to explore the concepts and ideas we covered in our article, “How Long Would it Take to Get to the Nearest Star?” And, if all goes well, I would like to write about the greatest science fiction draw of all. You know what I’m talking about – Aliens! No spoilers, but that story arc could involve an idea introduced to me by Professor Abraham Loeb himself – hypervelocity stars that can carry their planets along for the ride!

But that’s all stuff for another day and another discussion. In the meantime, I hope people here will check out this series and enjoy what I wrote. If not, well that’s fine too. In addition to keeping up with the latest in space exploration and scientific research,  honest feedback is the only way I will continue to grow as a writer.

Second Five Star Review for The Jovian Manifesto!

Second Five Star Review for The Jovian Manifesto!

My second review has come in! And this one comes from my friend and colleague Rami Ungar. While we are friends and fellow-writers, I can always count on him to be honest. I tell you, I owe this guy several reads and reviews at this point! In any case, here’s what he had to say (like I said, honest!):

A deep and action-packed follow-up

I received an eARC from the publisher and was eager to read this book. I really liked the first book in the Formist series, so I wanted to see how the sequel held up.

Turns out, it holds up pretty well. It’s much faster paced than its predecessor and features some pretty awesome action scenes interspersed into a story involving a conspiracy and a plot to counter the conspiracy. There were also some great twists along the way, which I won’t give away here, and I really enjoyed the characters, who were diverse and well-developed. I do hope they show up in the sequel.

If there were any issues, it’s that my copy had some typos in it. Just a letter or word missing here, some bad punctuation there. Nothing really glaring or book-ruining, but they were there. But that might’ve just been because I got an eARC and the actual book is free of these issues.

Anyway, if you liked The Cronian Incident, you’ll enjoy The Jovian Manifesto, so don’t hesitate to check it out and take a look.

Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Five

Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Five

Okay, I admit it. I’ve been completely derelict when it comes to this challenge. But I hope to amend that by finishing it things up and acknowledging all the books that have inspired me in the past.

Okay, so as usual, here are the rules of this challenge:

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why it was so influential to you.
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Thanks once again to RAMI UNGAR for the nomination, and you can find him at ramiungarthewriter.com. And for this latest entry, I would like to select the Singularity-themed sci-fi classic Accelerando, by Charles Stross.

Have you ever read a book that felt it came along at exactly the right time? Or one that spoke to you and your particular interests at the time? Well, this was one such book for me. Rather than being a single story, this book is actually a collection of shorts that Stross wrote during the early 2000s, but which were all connected by a common theme. Essentially, the six shorts tell the story of three generations of the Macx family, and take place before, during and after the Technological Singularity.

What I loved about this book is how it takes a look at the near-future and how the accelerated pace of technological innovation will make life very interesting (and complicated). It also speaks about several key innovations that are expected, ranging from AI, additive manufacturing (3-D printing), nanotechnology, neural uploads, and commercial space travel.

Looking at the more distant future, it shows how these trends will lead to a breakneck pace of change that will leave most of humanity struggling to remain human. It also throws is some truly interesting and entertaining bits about extra-terrestrial intelligence, a possible answer to the Fermi Paradox, and humanity’s long-term destiny among the stars.

Basically, this book covered all the bases that I was voraciously trying to learn about at the time for the sake of my own writing. It made predictions, both realistic and fantastical, that just spoke to me. And what especially impressed was the way that Stross, writing these stories at a least decade prior to me reading them, predicted so many trends that were slowly coming true. As such, I consider this book to be both inspirational and quintessential to my more recent education as a science fiction writer.

Next up, I nominate Joachim Boaz and his blog, Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations!

Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Four

Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Four

And I’m back with another entry in the Ten Day Book Challenge. I’ve been very bad at keeping up with these, but I am determined to share my choices for the top ten most influential books I’ve ever read. So what I lack in punctuality, I hope to make up in sincerity and selection :).

Okay, so as usual, here are the rules of this challenge:

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why it was so influential to you.
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Thanks once again to RAMI UNGAR for the nomination, and you can find him at ramiungarthewriter.com. And here’s my third selection for the challenge, the post-cyberpunk classic The Diamond Age!

This book takes place in the 21st century after the world has been fundamentally changed by the introduction of nanotechnology. If Eric K. Drexler’s book The Engine of Creation was the authoritative treatise on how nanotechnology would change our lives, The Diamond Age was definitely the fictional counterpart. In this novel, Stephenson treated fans to his usual mix of weirdness, genius, historical and social commentary, education and growth.

For me, this book remains immensely influential, not because it introduced me to the concept of nanotechnology, but because it did so in a way that had such depth. Anyone who reads this is sure to feel that this book came along at exactly the right time to offer commentary on a concept that was slowly moving from the realm of science-fiction to science fact. And as this concept becomes more and more realized, I feel that this book will become required reading for people looking to understand the evolution of nanotechnology.

But, as I said, this book went beyond mere technological commentary, and contained some very interesting thoughts on social change, historical patterns, and the role of culture in development. While I didn’t agree with everything he asserted, it was interesting to see Stephenson detail how specific cultures may go about embracing technology differently, and how the pendulum of history can swing back and forth depending on the time and place and what means are available to people.

If nothing else, it got me thinking in a very serious way, like most of his works. And it was also delightfully fun to read and inspired me as a science fiction writer to take more risks and tackle issues I felt were previously inaccessible to me. Again, I highly recommend this book.

Okay, now for my nomination. This time around, I nominate the Tousled Apostle herself and a long-time friend and colleague of mine, Jamie A. Hughes!

 

Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Three

Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Three

In an effort to catch up on this challenge, I am making my third post on the heels of my second. Hope no one minds! Anyhoo, here’s my third selection for the books that have inspired me the most.

But first, a little book keeping. Here are the rules of this challenge!

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why it was so influential to you.
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Thanks again to RAMI UNGAR for the nomination, and you can find him at ramiungarthewriter.com. And here’s my second selection for the challenge, the cyberpunk classic Neuromancer!

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This book, which was published in 1982, is the first book in the Sprawl Trilogy – so named because all three take place predominantly in the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis (BAMA). Also known as the Sprawl, this mega-city extends along the entire eastern seaboard and is contained by geodesic domes. The story takes place in a semi-dystopian 21st century where the world is controlled by multinational corporations, the Cold War continues, their is a massive divide between the rich and the poor, and the criminal underworld consists of cyberjockeys, cyberninjas and Yakuza assasins.

This book was immensely influential on me because it introduced me to the world of cyberpunk, with its combination of high tech and low life! I got an introduction to these elements from movies like Akira and Johnny Mnemonic (which is based on a short story by William Gibson, btw), but it was not until I read this book that I really got what it was all about. It also illustrated for me what Gibson brilliantly said (I’m paraphrasing): “All science fiction novels are about the period in which they are written.”

Also, interesting fact, William Gibson coined the term cyberspace in this novel. Yes, roughly a decade before the internet became a reality, Gibson predicted what a global network of free-flowing information would look like. And his vision was incredibly influential, as exemplified by the countless movies that pictured the internet as some massive virtual environment filled with neon icons and streaming lines of code (think Hackers, the Matrix, and any movie involving internet crime combined). As he described it in the story:

“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…”

I strongly recommend this book for anyone who would like to learn where many of the concepts that have become a staple of science fiction came from. And now for my nomination, I choose you, Phyllis Moore, aka. the MythRider!

The Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Two

The Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Two

Hello again, all. First, please forgive my tardiness in posting this. It’s been a busy weekend and an even busier year! I shall try to catch up over the next few days, though I can’t imagine life is going to get any less busy in the near future. Even so, I got plenty more books to talk about that have had a profound effect on me and influenced my decision to become a writer.

But first, here are the rules of this challenge again!

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why it was so influential to you.
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Again, I would like to thank RAMI UNGAR for the nomination, and you can find him at ramiungarthewriter.com. And for day two of the challenge, I would like to select the book that taught people to take science fiction seriously – Dune!

dune

Much like Lord of the Rings, this timeless classic was one I learned about growing up, but didn’t get around to reading until my 20s. And just like with LOTR, once I did read it, I could see why its influence has been so pervasive. While Frank Herbert wrote many science fiction novels during his lifetime, none have had the same impact as the first installment in his six-book Dune series. And while I myself read all six twice, the first book is arguably the best.

For starters, the story involved one of the richest, most-inspired and most-detailed universes ever created in the history science fiction. Based on the concept of a galactic empire where politics, the economy and all social norms are essentially combination of the futuristic and medieval, the setting of Dune would go on to inspire Lucas’ Star Wars universe. What’s more, many of the planets in the novel have been formally adopted by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) as place names for features on the Moon and Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

But it was the complex interweaving of real history, religion, environmentalism, resource dependency, and cultural and social commentary that blew me away and has ensured that this book is likely to be included in any top ten lists of science fiction books that you can find – not to mention one of the top ten books people pretend to have read. And to round it all out, it has a very deep plot that examines the enduring mystery of prophets and messiahs in human history, and the paradox of prescience. As Frank Herbert himself wrote, “to know the future is to become trapped by it.”

I could go on and on, but I’ve already reviewed this book more than once and don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. And if you’re one of those people who haven’t, get on it!

And now it’s time for me to nominate someone new. And so I call upon Lady Muse herself, Khaalidah Mohammed Ali!