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What will we be eating in 20 years time?  That is the question answered by this BBC article.  Rising food prices, environmental concerns, the growing population – these are all things which are making governments think about the subject.

Some experts think that UK meat prices will double in the next five to seven years.  Will meat become a luxury item?  Some of them are suggesting that insects like crickets and grasshoppers will be ground down and added to burgers and sausages.  I think the squeamish westerners will take a while to get used to that one.  But there are advantages – they are just as nutritious as meat, a good source of protein, and they are easier to raise, with a lower carbon footprint.  There might even be fewer animal rights protesters around farms, depending on the proportion of them who are only doing it because animals are cute!

Growing meat in a lab might be another way to go.  Like insects, it would reduce environmental impact and require less space.  Unlike insects, it’s not currently possible, although scientists at Maastricht University are hoping to produce the first “test-tube burger” by the end of the year.

Algae farms were also given a mention, with seaweed being snuck into our diets without us noticing.

Slightly more on the whacky end of the spectrum, it turns out that food tastes different depending on what you listen to while eating it.  So it’s possible that we could remove most of the sugar from something and then listen to sweetening music while eating it.

One solution that wasn’t mentioned by the BBC is the Soylent Green solution.  On that I shall say no more.

The government is contemplating a scheme in which a firm will wake up teens and drive them to job interviews and work, to get them into the habit.

It’s an interesting plan, but I can’t help but remember an article I read about sleep patterns (which, alas, I can’t find now); teenager’s circadian rhythms actually shift so they go to bed later and wake up later – they are night owls by nature*.  So wouldn’t it make more sense to find jobs for them that start later in the day?  Then they wouldn’t need waking up.

I now have an image of a society where job timings are regulated by your age, and moving to a new timing is celebrated like a coming-of-age ritual.  It would have some interesting impacts, with less adult supervision at the ends of the days and more time spent only in the company of your own age group.

I don’t think it would work, in a practical sense, but it’s an interesting thought.

 

* They claim it shifts back again by the time you’re 30 or so.  Personally I think mine shifted back a little too far.

We’re well on our way, it seems, to using UAVs to help co-ordinate disaster responses.  The UAVs, designed by Professor Nick Jennings as part of the Orchid research project, are semi-intelligent and can co-ordinate as a team to help the humans better.

I’d like to see a story from the point of view of one of the drones.  If they’re semi-intelligent, it can’t be that long before they’ll have a point of view, can it?

Alternatively, we build a huge fleet of them to help with disasters, but they get fed up and take over the world.  Not original, I know, but there’s a reason it’s been done so often!

An adjective is a describing word, used to give more information about a noun or noun phrase.  An adverb is also a describing word, but this time applies to verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, clauses, basically anything except nouns.  Aspiring authors are often advised to remove all adjectives and adverbs from their work, because they are “useless fat”.

In the spirit of discovery, I decided to discover more about adjectives and adverbs, in the hope of answering the question: what’s so bad about adjectives?

Quick Grammatical Summary

There are four types of adjective:

    • Attributive (part of the noun phrase) (That’s a large book),
    • Predicative (linked to the noun with a copula) (That book is large),
    • Postpositive (appears after the noun) (Something large, books aplenty),
    • Substantive (using the adjective as a noun) (The large are seen better than the small).

Adverbs are more interesting, not least because they include things that I, educated in a fairly normal school, didn’t know were adverbs at all.  (I wish they taught grammar better at school).

First the ones I knew about:

    • She walked slowly.

And then we have:

    • They played together. (Where “together” modifies the playing.)
    • She walked quite slowly. (Where “quite” modifies “slowly”.)

It’s become clear to me as I write this that the ones I knew about are only those that modify verbs.  I say again, I wish they taught grammar better at school.

So What Is The Problem With Adjectives?

Now, I can see that too many adjectives and adverbs might get annoying:

It was a cold, dark, windy night, and the old wooden doors were creaking loudly in the strong gusty winds.

But, sometimes they are needed:

The demon approached Bill and said “Tonight, I will feast.”

Bill laughed and replied, “Is that so?”

Could be this:

The demon approached Bill and said “Tonight, I will feast.”

Bill laughed nervously and replied, “Is that so?”

Or this:

The demon approached Bill and said “Tonight, I will feast.”

Bill laughed confidently and replied, “Is that so?”

Mind you, if we’d already set the scene – Bill is a fearless demon hunter and the demon in question is two feet tall – then the adjective might not be necessary.  Perhaps it is all down to context.

And that, I think, is the key.  If you have managed to successfully set the scene well enough that the emotions behind your characters’ actions are obvious even without adjectives, then you win.

Final Thought

The conclusion I seem to have come to is that adjectives and adverbs aren’t inherently evil, but if you can remove them all from your work and still have people understand what is going on, then your writing has got to be pretty good.

This Friday’s fiction is based on a writing prompt I found somewhere on the internet:

You wake up the day after St Patrick’s day with a hangover, no memory of the night before, and a sore arm.  You discover a tattoo of a map on your arm.  After getting over your horror at now having a tattoo, you wonder where the map leads.

Here it is:

I huddled in the corner, wondering how I was going to survive this.  I wished I had never woken up this morning.

It started like any other morning-after-the-night-before – with groaning.  I pried open my eyes and winced.  The pain in my head rose from “a freight train lives in my skull” to “someone is sticking needles in my brain”.

I became aware of a pain in my arm.  I brushed back my sleeve, and stared, horrified.

Why on earth would I decide to get a tattoo?  What was that anyway?  Some squiggles, a couple of triangles, and a… tree?

A map.  I didn’t know where the answer came from, but I knew it was right.  I had a map tattooed to my arm.

I staggered out of bed.  I had to find out where the map had come from.  I found my phone and called Andrew.

“What?”

He sounded as bad as I felt.

“Andrew, it’s George.  What the hell happened last night?”

“You’re asking me?  You went off with some paddy around 10 and we didn’t see you again.  We were worried about you.”

“I’m fine.  Well, I woke up with a tattoo, but I’m ok.”

Andrew laughed.  “You have a tattoo?  What of?”

I reddened.  “Oh, look at the time.  Gotta go!”  I hung up.

There was only one thing for it.  To find out what happened, I would have to follow the map.

I peered at it.  The squiggles could be rivers, but there are no rivers near my house.  The tree had an interesting pattern of branches.  I knew that tree.  I grabbed a pair of sunglasses and set out.

Flashes of the previous night started to return.  Meeting the Irish man at the bar.  He bought me a drink.  I think it was green.  Asking for proof of something.  Proof of what, I wondered.

Two triangles were next on the map, with a black dot on the left one.  I looked around.  There!  Two vaguely triangular hills.  When I got there it was obvious where to go next.  In the left hand hill was a cave.  I climbed the hill and entered.

It was dark.  As my eyes adjusted, I could see a faint glow ahead.  I moved forward carefully.  There was a strange hissing, and I hoped it was not dangerous.

The light was brighter now, and I entered a chamber.  It was large, and it looked like someone was living there.  There was a bed against one wall, and a fireplace – the source of the light.  I approached the fire.  Just as I got there, there was a flash, and a man was behind me.

“I warned you not to come back!” he said.  He had a very strong Irish accent.  “Now you will pay for offending me.”

He clicked his fingers, and the cave was full of snakes.

I leapt backwards and pressed myself against the wall.  I hate snakes!  The man turned to leave.

“Wait!” I called desperately.  “Who are you?  Why are you here?  Where did all the snakes come from?”

He paused.  “You don’t remember, do you?  I am Patrick.”

He left, and didn’t look back.  The snakes hissed menacingly and slithered closer.

A new aquifer has been discovered in Namibia.  It could provide water for the northern region (40% of population) for 400 years at current rates of consumption.

There are fears that unauthorised drilling could allow the smaller salty aquifer that sits on top of it to contaminate the supply, which is currently potable.

I’ve two thoughts:

If we’ve only just discovered this much water hiding under a country, how much else is there out there to discover?

And, how many stories could be inspired from this one little discovery?  You could have the large political drama about the use of the water that was discovered.  Or a smaller story about the fortunes of one family in the area and how it affects them.  Or a family who move to the area because of it and discover that it’s not that much different.  Or… the possibilities are endless.

How many more can you think of?

Wow, these guys are insane.  Brave, but insane.

They’re attempting to beat the record for highest free fall – currently standing at a staggering 24.5 kilometres.  The mind boggles.

Repeated attempts to jump from ridiculous heights have taught us a lot about how to survive it – don’t open the parachute straight away (you’ll take too long and freeze to death), and use a smaller “drogue” chute to stabilise you so you don’t spin too much, to name just two.

What really caught me about the article, though, was the story about a previous attempt, in 1966 by Nick Piantanida.  It was his third attempt, with mechanical problems on each of the previous ones preventing him completing the mission, and unfortunately this time was no better.

Everything was going according to plan, with the gondola at 17.5 kilometres on the way up, when the ground crew heard a sudden whoosh on the radio, followed by Piantanida’s startled voice: “Emergen…”

He never completed the word.

Not to make light of the tragedy, but I’m wondering; the crew came to the conclusion that there was a mechanical failure, but what if he’d seen something that startled him?  Could there have been some aliens flying by, or something more sinister?

 

A while back, I mentioned the make up of the solar system, specifically the outer planets. Now, I don’t want to confuse you, but it turns out I may have been wrong about Pluto.

The debate over what Pluto actually is has been re-ignited recently by the discovery of a fifth moon.  It has more moons than all of the inner planets combined.

Mind you, having a moon is not the definition of a planet, so all it’s done is make people start talking about it.  In case you were wondering, to be a planet an object needs to be spherical, orbit the sun, and have a gravity strong enough to clear its orbit of smaller objects.  It’s on that last point that Pluto fails.

Some people think that Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, should be classified as a binary planet system (the IAU doesn’t agree).  I wonder, what would it be like to live on a binary planet?  Would it even be possible or would there be gravitational problems and such like that prevented an atmosphere forming?

Is there anyone out there with a better grasp of astrophysics than I who could comment on the possibility?

And has this been done already?  I could definitely be interested in reading a novel featuring this idea.

On Friday 20th July, Syria disconnected almost the entire country from the outside world for 40 minutes.

Up until now, Syria’s internet connection has been relatively stable.  It’s not known (at least not by people who are admitting to it) whether the disconnect was sabotage or government-sponsored.

So here’s the question.  The internet is becoming so ubiquitous that access to it is beginning to fall into the same category as access to education, books, and free speech.  In the UK, it is as easy to get to the internet for free as it is to get to books – practically every library now has at least one computer that you can use.

In countries where those things are held sacrosanct, how long will it be before it is regarded as a right, not a privilege?  And how long before that spreads to the rest of the world?

And, Fahrenheit 451-style, how long before it is banned and ISPs turned to evil?

Artemis Junior is the name of the latest “small step” in the direction of a permanent lunar base.  It’s a new lunar rover designed by scientists at NASA and currently being tested in a Hawaiian volcano.

The rover is designed to prospect for water, ice, and other fun and useful things.  Water is one of the things that would make a lunar base possible – we need it to drink, to split apart to make oxygen, to make hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel, and more.   And on the moon, there isn’t much hope of a quick resupply when stocks get low.

Previous lunar missions have shown that there is probably water around the poles, so that is where Artemis will probably be sent once the design is perfected.

I for one am interested in the volume of stories that you could come up with for a lunar base – there’s sabotage, of course, and aliens, but also psychological dramas about low numbers of people trapped in a confined space together for long periods of time, and the possibility of some disaster befalling Earth or the team’s contact with it, leaving them stranded and the last hope for all mankind.

What other ideas can you think of?

The Author

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something martial artist who runs two Brownie packs and works full time. She somehow still finds time to write.

Her favourite genres are near-future and alternate world science fiction and fantasy.

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