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I found an old notebook on the shelf.

It’s not dated, but judging from the handwriting and some of the things that are referenced, I’d say it starts around sixth form (that’s age 17) and goes up to some time after I went to university.

It’s a fun read – it begins with what I think was my first real attempt at properly planning a story – character maps and notes on the world government and all.  There are even some notes on architecture and little drawings – to scale – of some of the physics involved.

The story plan concerns the (highly probable) situation in which the moon’s orbit has started to decay.  Scientists managed to find a way to prop it up on giant struts, but clearly in the process some damage was done to the Earth’s atmosphere.  Now, everyone has to live in the shadow of the moon, otherwise they die of radiation poisoning.

Shadowland plot

The radiation has caused strange mutations in the twilight lands, where people get a reduced dose of the sun’s rays.  They don’t die outright, but they have mutations in the genes which cause features such as white fur to reflect the rays, dampeners in their eyes to reduce glare, etc.  These twilight people feel bitter because they are thought of as freaks, when in fact they are better suited to life now.  They grow crops which have also mutated, and try to sell them to the shadowlanders.

My main character was called Tim, and he was an “ordinary person” in his late teens/early twenties, who was claustrophobic – a problem since the moon hangs so low in the sky and everyone lives in a tightly packed space with lots of tunnels.  Apparently his parents were accountants!

For entertainment’s sake, I thought it would be interesting to take some of what I wrote then and compare it with what I would do now.  I reproduce it complete with spelling errors, amendments and so on.

Then:

Tim stepped out into the clear night air.  A slight breeze stirred his short brown hair.  Involuntarily, he glanced upwards, and shuddered.  His sad blue eyes closed, and he swallowed.  He could see the moon’s craters with his naked eyes.  It was too close, too close.

He looked out across the city, taking in the skyscrapers which rose tall as far as he could see.  Some of them were so tall you could almost reach out and touch the moon from the top of them.

Walking briskly down through the concrete jungle, Tim wrinkled his nose at the all-pervading stench of moon dust.

I bet they first men on the moon didn’t realise how bad it smells when the first put man on the moon, 2 centuaries ago, he thought bitterly.

And now:

Tim stepped out of the airlock and listened to the door swish closed behind him.  Within moments he was covered in a fine layer of moon-dust.  He cast a glance over his shoulder to check that the green ‘ready’ light had come on, confirming that he could re-enter the complex whenever he wanted.  It shone brightly, cutting through the gloom like a beacon welcoming him home.  With a slight pang he thought of his sister, left behind for now.  I will come back for her, he vowed, once I’ve found them.  We will be together again.

He settled his dust-mask more firmly on his face and squinted at the world.  Around him, towers rose high into the sky, packed tightly together.  Windows were few and far between, especially at ground level.  There was nothing to look at, after all, apart from dust and more towers.  He deliberately didn’t look up.  Tim had heard that from the highest towers you could see amazing views, even as far as the edge of the Shadow.  He’d heard that from the very tallest towers you could reach out and touch the moon.  He’d never been that high, of course.  Only the richest citizens were able to afford to live above the dust.

The gully he was in now was one of several that ran throughout the complex.  They were designed to give access to the outside of the massive building, for the maintenance crews.  In reality they were hardly used.  The complex was given the minimum maintenance possible to keep it standing.  There was no money for anything else, and no spare materials to do it with.  All of the dwindling resources of the planet were focused on one thing: the Struts.

He moved forward to the first cross-gully and looked to the left.  In the distance he could just make out Strut Three.  There were eight Struts in all, spaced evenly around the edge of the complex.  Each one was a couple of miles wide at the base, able to support massive weights on its own.  It still took eight of them to hold up the moon.  He shuddered as he considered what would happen if (when!) the Struts failed.  With the ozone layer and most of the upper atmosphere stripped away when the moon descended, the entire human race was packed tightly in the shadow lands.  If even one Strut gave way they would all be destroyed.

Tim smiled grimly.  Not all, not if the stories were true.  He hoped, needed the stories to be true.

Making sure his rucksack was firmly settled on his back, he set out towards the distant structure.  Soon he was breathing heavily.  Each breath in caused more dust to settle on his mask, clogging the filter.  Every time he breathed out he tried to dislodge some of it, only to have it settle again moments later.  He forced himself to carry on.  There would be less dust further out.  Everyone said so.  He tried not to think about how “everyone” knew such a fact when “no-one” went outside.

He wished he could have made this part of the journey inside.  The complex was interconnected all the way to the twilight lands, and even the broken-down air conditioning units and recycled oxygen would be better than this.  Ever since the corn riots last year the towers had been segregated, though, and coming up with good enough reasons to cross further and further from his home would be difficult.  He did not want to get arrested for travelling without permits or whatever made-up crime the government had come up with this month.

He plodded on, trying not to think.  After what seemed like hours he was jolted out of his half-doze by a sudden increase in the light.  He flinched, cowering towards the walls.  How had they found him so quickly?  He thought he had hidden his departure well enough that nobody would even be looking yet.

When nothing happened he looked around and laughed.  Along the walls of the gully lights were flickering on, illuminating everything.  It was night, and the lights were on a timer.  Almost every other bulb had blown, but the light was still brighter than the dust-filtered sunlight available during the day.  Why the outside lights were on when nobody worked out here he didn’t know.

Now that he had stopped he realised how tired he was.  Sinking down against the side wall he leant his arms on his knees and rested his head on them.  The movement knocked his dust mask sideways, and he breathed in a face full of moon-dust.

So there we go!  Leaving aside the totally plausible science behind the situation, I think my writing has improved. What do you think?

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At the moment, I would have to say, New Scientist.  They recently (well, less than a year ago) started a digital magazine called Arc.  It’s produced quarterly and contains a mixture of popular science articles and short stories.

It’s focused on the end of the world.

Issue 1 was “The Future Always Wins”.  Issue 2 was “Post-Human Conditions”.  Issue 3, out now, is “Afterparty Overdrive”.  The world is ending, not in war or disaster, but in party mode.  Smash and grab is an online/real world role-playing game, celebrities are cloned for fun and profit (up to and including Jesus), and more.

The best bit?

For a limited time, they’re giving issue 3 away free.  Go here to grab your copy!  It doesn’t say anywhere how long the limited time is, so I would go now if I were you.

Since they’ve been so generous, I got myself a copy.  It’s going to take a while to read through it all.  So far I’ve read the two stories I mentioned above.

The celebrity-cloning story, Changing Faces, was mediocre.  The imagery of an army of Arnies, or seven Mother Teresa’s with machine guns, was fun, but I felt the story lacked something.  I did like the use of Kim Dotcom as the first human to be bittorrented, though.

Limited Edition, the story about smash and grab, caught my attention because it was set in the city I live in.  I recognised a lot of the places mentioned, and could visualise it really well.  The style was not my favourite (lots of text speak and colloquialisms), but once I got used to it I realised that it was used very well to give a feel for the culture these people live in.  It also had a better plot than Changing Faces.

The popular science articles included read more like the editorial pieces that New Scientist run – heavy on the speculation and light on the actual science – so they are accessible to people who don’t know a lot of higher science.

All in all, a good read, with something for most people in it.

But which world?

This is artist Kelly Richardson’s depiction of the future of Mars.  Littered with dead and dying robots, gusts of wind blow sand and dust in gentle swirls.  Nobody is coming.  It’s possible nobody has been there.  It is a sad scene.

Yet somehow soothing.

The Antarctic winter was closed around us like a frozen blanket, suffocating us, chilling us to our bones.  Even inside the habitation module where the heating was turned up high we were cold.  We hadn’t seen the sun in months.

Claustrophobia was rife, and we took any break in the blizards to be an excuse for an outdoor excursion.  The morning of the end of the world was no exception.  It was late August, and the winter was starting to retreat.  We expected to see the sun today, if only for a few minutes.

We had bundled up so that no part of us showed.  The only way we could tell who was who was because we had our names on our jackets.  As we left the module we faced into bitter winds, but the sky was clear.  We did not go far.  To do so would be suicide in this climate.  After twenty yards we stopped, facing the lightening sky.

With almost religious devotion, we watched the sun emerge from its long sleep, casting harsh shadows on the ice.  We thought that the tremor was our imagination, the world reacting to the return of day.

The next day, the sun did not return.

When we went to investigate, there was a blizard blowing.  It was like no blizard we had ever seen before.  No snow here, or ice.  This blizard was pure ash.  It covered everything, got into every crack and crevice, filled the sky.  We retreated in confusion.

Our computers had been monitoring everything.  When we consulted them, we discovred the truth.  On August 14th, just as the sun was rising over Antarctica, there had been a massive earthquake.  From the readings we were getting we calculated the epicentre, and that, with the ash storm, told us we were doomed.

Yellowstone National Park no longer exists.

Our radio tower was taken out by a storm in June.  All we can do is wonder.  Will the first plane arrive as we expected, in three months time?  Or will they all be too busy dealing with the erruption?  Will anyone remember us?

We have four months supplies remaining.

 

Note 1: For the picky among you, yes, I know that Yellowstone errupting would not cause ash to fall in Antarctica.  It would probably cover most of the US, but the southern hemisphere would be largely unharmed (except when the global temperatures began to plummet and so on).  Call it artistic licence.

Note 2: Inspired by this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-19255320

 

Or not.

Amazon have announced that they now sell more books on Kindle than in physical formats.  No doubt this will be seen as a sign of the impending book-opalypse by many, but there are several good points made in this article which those who only read headlines will miss.

Firstly, Amazon are the only way to get kindle editions, whereas you can buy physical books loads of places.  Of course they’re going to sell more kindle editions.

Secondly, Amazon also said that their physical book sales continue to increase.  Yes, they’re selling more kindle books, but they’re also selling more normal books.

Looks like the world isn’t doomed after all.

It’s the silence that gets you, that drives you slowly mad.

I never realised how loud our world was until it fell silent.  It seemed that nowhere I went could escape the drone of cars, planes, trains.  The murmur of air conditioning and the muttering of ten billion voices seemed to follow me wherever I went.

Even the birds are silent now.

Once, I hunted for quiet, stalked it with all the intensity of a lion near a herd of gazelle.  I searched the highest mountains and the deepest woods, but still found no peace.  I searched to the depths of the ocean, had myself modified to survive down there.  It was that which saved me, I think.  When the end came, I was cut off.  I didn’t even know it was over until I emerged, weeks later.  Alone.

I used to pray for silence.

Now I pray so that there is none.

Apparently, yob culture affects 1 in 5 businesses in the UK, and costs on average £20,000 per company affected.  And they expect the cost to rise as the economic situation continues.

Mostly it’s broken windows and doors, and graffiti, but also petty theft and intimidation.
So I was wondering, would there be a point where there were so many young people out of work that the yob-damage overtook the economic benefits of businesses, and everything collapsed in an ever decreasing spiral of despair?  It might be interesting to do a story from the point of view of one of the yobs, who doesn’t think anything of the broken window that was actually the straw that broke the camel’s back and caused the collapse of western civilisation.

How would it feel to be that person?  Would they ever find out that they were responsible?

From the New Scientist:

Forty years ago this spring, three idealistic young computer modellers wrote The Limits to Growth, a book that detailed the first effort to use computers to project possible global futures. … In this follow-up book, 2052: A global forecast for the next 40 years Randers makes predictions based on current data, simpler calculations and a lifetime’s experience analysing global systems.

In The Limits of Growth, the modellers used the ways that global population, food, health, and so on interact to simulate what would happen for the next 130 years under various scenarios.  The result?  Complete collapse of society.  We used up all of the resources and nothing could save us except giving up material concerns entirely.

It has never been disproved.

The follow-up book focuses on the next forty years and, from a brief glimpse at the Amazon Look-Inside, seems to be well written, interesting and informative.  I shall be adding it to my reading list (but that’s quite long, so expect a review in a few months time).

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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