• Fiona McIntosh: Voyager Author of the Month

    Fiona McIntosh was born and raised in Sussex in the UK, but also spent early childhood years in West Africa. She left a PR career in London to travel and settled in Australia in 1980. She has since roamed the world working for her own travel publishing company, which she runs with her husband. She lives in Adelaide with her husband and twin sons. Her website is at www.fionamcintosh.com.

    Her latest book, The Scrivener's Tale, is a stand-alone and takes us back to the world of Morgravia from her very first series, The Quickening:


    About The Scrivener's Tale:

    In the bookshops and cafes of present-day Paris, ex-psychologist Gabe Figaret is trying to put his shattered life back together. When another doctor, Reynard, asks him to help with a delusional female patient, Gabe is reluctant... until he meets her. At first Gabe thinks the woman, Angelina, is merely terrified of Reynard, but he quickly discovers she is not quite what she seems.

    As his relationship with Angelina deepens, Gabe's life in Paris becomes increasingly unstable. He senses a presence watching and following every move he makes, and yet he finds Angelina increasingly irresistible.

    When Angelina tells Gabe he must kill her and flee to a place she calls Morgravia, he is horrified. But then Angelina shows him that the cathedral he has dreamt about since childhood is real and exists in Morgravia.

    A special 10th Anniversary edition of her first fantasy book, Myrren's Gift, will be released in December!

     

     

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Taking Photos of the Atom

So you’re into sci fi? But what about sci fact? Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction…

Each month our very own Voyager Science Queen* will bring you interesting, quirky and downright bizarre tasty morsels from the world of science. And its all completely, totally, 100% true!
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As excited as I was by the discovery of the Higgs Boson Particle, I have discovered that this historic event did the scientific community in Queensland no favours.  The day before the announcement, there was another science news story causing waves in the world of Physics. Scientists at Griffith University in Queensland had taken a photo of the shadow of an atom. I was lucky and got to meet with two of them: Professor Dave Kielpinski & Ben Norton, a PhD student.

Professor Dave Kielpinski & Ben Norton – you can just glimpse an image of five atoms lined up on the screen to their upper left. (Photo taken by Lynne Green)

Now, you might think that this doesn’t sound like the most exciting achievement – after all, we’ve all seen those amazing pictures taken by electron microscopes. But electron microscopes are old hat and old technology (heck, I was taking photos of the nematocysts of peanut worms using one back in the 1980s). Taking the photo of a shadow of an atom is a whole new quantum level of technical difficulty – and I’m using the word ‘quantum’ in its correct sense here. Atoms are so tiny and it is hard to manage to isolate just one, let alone managing to photograph it.

Firstly, you have to pick the right atom: Ytterbium (atomic weight 70), because the atom has to be opaque to the frequency of the beam of laser light. The atom has to be big, so it will cast a large enough shadow to register. You have to use a special lens to trap miniscule levels of light – the scientists in Griffith University’s Centre for Quantum Dynamics designed the lens and it was fabricated at the Fraunhofer Institute in Berlin. The atom has to be manageable, in the sense that you can arrange to have a single atom in the beam and not fifty or none. There has to be no vibration, so the atom has to be in a nearly-perfect vacuum so it can’t get ‘knocked’ out of place by other atoms or molecules. You have to slow the atom down with the cold of absolute zero. There are a lot of factors that have to line up perfectly for the photo to happen.

Now, I was lucky enough to see the equipment on the Griffith University Open Day and to meet with some of the team who managed this supremely difficult feat. (And, at this point, I want to mention that one of them, Ben Norton, admitted he had actually READ the Science Page and had heard of me – which thrilled me to no end.) The equipment was as complex, but not dramatically so.  There was a screen above it that actually showed the photo of the atom’s shadow.

Now – some of you may ask ‘Why wasn’t this photo of an actual atom?’ Well, for a start, an atom isn’t a ‘solid’ object as we understand solid. It is more like a vibration, or a cloud, or a spinning particle, and the reality is a combination of all these and so much more. And – as I mentioned – they are tiny beyond our ability to imagine. We tend to think science controls atoms, thanks to CERN and the magic[1] the collider seems to control; this is incorrect. Part of the reason the photo of an atom is such an amazing achievement is because atoms are so hard to control. And our scientists at Griffith University did it without a machine the size of a city and a budget of billions.

Ordinarily, an achievement of this magnitude would have created a buzz that would have lasted for weeks. Only news that they had discovered the Higgs Boson was big enough to push it out of the headlines. As a footnote … I also saw a plasma dot on the same day and in the same laboratory. All-in-all, I had a wonderful day. )


[1] Using Arthur C Clarke’s definition of Magic. If you don’t know it, go look it up! I’ve mentioned it before.

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*The Voyager Science Queen is also known as Lynne Lumsden Green- find out who she is in About Our Contributors!

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Folly from the Newtown Review of Books brilliantly reviews both Bridge of Swords by Duncan Lay and The Dark Divide by Jennifer Fallon. Thanks guys!

The Newtown Review of Books

Celtic and Japanese cultures give visual and emotional charge to two recent fantasy novels.

There is much richness and complexity on offer in fantasy writing, as well as extraordinarily varied and layered resources available to the writer. Two recently published books demonstrate this for me with heaps of panache. Interestingly, they both use aspects of Celtic and Japanese cultures, in very different ways, to give a visual and emotional charge to their narratives.

Bridge of Swords  (Part One of Empire of Bones) opens with an elf thrown from his hidden land, Dokusen, as a result of machinations within his realm concerning the decay of magic and the bitter rivalry between his brutal father, the tyrant at the head of the council, and the equally untrustworthy controllers of magic, the magic-weavers. His name is Sendatsu. He must leave behind his adored motherless children and his unattainable love, Asami, and seek the…

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Highlights from the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival 2012

Yes, we are both Gemini; no we didn’t ring ahead to colour coordinate! Isobelle Carmody (left) and Kim Falconer (right) at the Byron Bay Writers Festival 2012

Last year, HarperVoyager had a strong presence at the Bryon Bay Writers’ Festival. I shared the stage with Fiona McIntosh and Traci Harding, and we had the time of our lives. We enthralled audiences with talk of magic spells, quantum physics, time travel, totems and how best to portray the sounds of screams from the dungeon. With our then Voyager publisher in the audience, Stephanie Smith, we were all on fire. The memory was so buoyant, I wasn’t sure how this year’s festival would measure up.

Being the only Voyager author, I wasn’t sure who I would connect with this time around, but that all changed in a flash. There was another speculative fiction author present and when I met her I was immediately reminded of the binding tie that makes fantasy authors kindred spirits no matter what ‘house’ they hale from. Sharing the stage on topics of fantasy, creativity, dreams and the spirit of the written word was the well known and loved fantasy queen, Isobelle Carmody. I had the pleasure of being ‘in conversation’ with her to a packed house of YA fans, a most enjoyable session. I can attest without doubt, the love of speculative fiction is alive and well! What a fabulous experience.

Other highlights included Wild Things, a tribute to Maurice Sendak. His books have expanded the way we think about children’s literature and what is possible to write, treating children as ‘people’ with strong emotions, drives and desires. On similar topics were panels addressing education, literacy and the future of books. A personal favourite of mine, ‘The Perfect Pitch’ was a lively panel where publishers, including HarperCollins publishing director Shona Martyn, listen to six hopeful writers try to sell their work. Very exciting!

At the extreme end of the reality scale was the ‘Righting the World’ discussion with Australian environmentalist Ian Lowe, author Niromi De Soyza, who ran away from her family home in Sri Lanka at 17 to join the Tamil Tigers and fight for her country’s freedom; Indonesian author Andrea Hirata; and American author Katherine Boo, who is known for her works on the disadvantaged and poverty stricken. They shared horror stories but every one of them ended in hope, a most moving and uplifting panel.

I was pleased to see again this year how every session at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival began by acknowledging an empty chair. This is part of the PEN program and represents a writer who is in prison for writing what someone in power, somewhere in the world, believed is ‘off Limits’. Acknowledgement of the Pen empty chair reminds us all the freedom of expression we otherwise take for granted. Sobering.

On the nuts and bolt of writing side of things, I gave a workshop on writing, selling and promoting genre fiction. You can see the PowerPoint presentation with live links here. All in all, though I missed my Voyager sisters, it was a wonderful Byron Bay Writer’s Festival 2012.

Karl and Bertha Benz

So you’re into sci fi? But what about sci fact? Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction…

Each month our very own Voyager Science Queen* will bring you interesting, quirky and downright bizarre tasty morsels from the world of science. And its all completely, totally, 100% true!

Karl Benz

Think about this name for a second:

Mercedes Benz

It is a name synonymous with style and quality – and so it should be. Karl Benz was the German counterpart to Ford. It was his genius that made the first internal combustion engine, which in turn lead to the development of the modern automobile. However, his star glowed bright thanks to the flame being fanned by the support of his wife, Bertha

Benz was born Karl Friedrich Michael Vaillant in 1844, in what is now part of modern Germany. His mother married his father, a locomotive driver, after he was born, and he was named after his father after the poor man died tragically when Karl was just two. Even with such unfortunate start to his life, he was a brilliant student of the sciences. At one point, like the great Richard Feynman, he was interested in locksmithing; however, his studies led him into locomotive engineering and eventually he gained a degree in mechanical engineering.

Even at this early stage in his career, he was focused on the concept of the horseless carriage. It has been theorized that Benz got the idea from riding his bike and from his bicycle business; I can see that, for I might fantasize about other forms of transport while riding on a wet, cold, dark day. However, I think that diminishes the accomplishments of Benz, because it infers he was trying to escape from drudgery rather than inventing the horseless carriage for its own sake. A mind that loved the complexity of locks would want to solve the puzzle of the horseless carriage.

For it was a puzzle! Benz’s first automobile did have wire wheels like a bicycle, but it was its motor that made it unique. Rather than slapping a steam-engine on a carriage or wagon, Benz had designed and developed his own four-stroke engine that ran on gasoline. At that time, gasoline was not a fuel, but a cleaning product you bought at a store. However, it was gearless and something of a bugger to steer.

Bertha Benz

At this point, I would like to introduce the peerless Bertha Benz – née Ringer –was born in Germany in 1849. She helped fund her then-fiancé’s business and his efforts into making his inventions by donating her dowry. Bertha was not a silent partner, for it was she who suggested the use of gears – to assist in controlling the vehicle. After they were married and had five children, she had a test-drive of her husband’s latest vehicle (without Karl’s knowledge) and went on to make sensible suggestions on improving the invention. She was the actual inventor of the brake lining. Bertha was also a marketing whiz, because she took her own sons along for the trip while she was making the test drive, and made sure the trip was well-publicized. It increased public interest in the invention enormously.Now, in Victorian times, a woman was still meant to be a helpmeet to her husband, but that usually meant she was confined to her home as wife, mother and hostess. I think is says a lot about both Karl and Bertha that he obviously appreciated her intelligence and independence, and had no qualms about letting society see that their marriage was a union of equals rather than a Victorian patriarchy.

Benz went on to design trucks and buses as well. He invented and patented the spark plug, the radiator, the gear-shift and clutch, the carburetor, an ignition system and a speed regulation system. Not everything he invented worked, but what did work was often adapted by other car manufacturers into their designs.

He remained married to Bertha all his life, and pre-deceased her in 1929. Bertha remained in their final marital home until her own death in 1944. But their name lives on in both their descendants and the car …
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*The Voyager Science Queen is also known as Lynne Lumsden Green- find out who she is in About Our Contributors!

New free novella by Nicole Murphy!

Dream of Asarlai Book Three

Nicole Murphy has written a free novella continuing the story of her Dream of Asarlai trilogy, and she’s given us an extract  and a little intro to share with our fellow Voyagers:

It’s been twelve months since Rogue Gadda hit the shelves and the Dream of Asarlai trilogy came to an end.

It was a happily-after-ever ending. But it was never my intention for everything to go back to normal. That’s not how life works, when major events occur. Things change. We change. The fate of the world shifts and new possibilities and threats rise.

That meant that there was room for more. More about the guardians. More about the world of the gadda. More about the tension that arises from trying to keep your existence secret in a world where you’re the clear minority.

The first of those stories, answering the ‘what happens next’ question, is a novella ‘The Festival’. It was released on July 12, an auspicious date as it marks the Festival of the Star, the greatest day in the gadda calendar.

With the blessings of Voyager – I’ve self-published it and until the end of July, it’s available for free.

So if you’ve not been game to try the Dream of Asarlai trilogy – here’s a chance to do so without it costing you anything. I’m pretty confident that once you’ve read it, you’ll be running out to grab the other books and see how this story began.

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Dream of Asarlai Book One

IT’S BEEN A YEAR SINCE ASARLAI WAS CAPTURED, BUT THINGS ARE FAR FROM SETTLED IN THE GADDA WORLD…

If you were the member of a secret magical race, how would you hide from humans?

The bardria and its guardians have decided to hide in the open by showcasing the gadda stronghold

 of Sclossin to the humans as a tourist destination, in the process proving the residents are normal.

The purists, however, believe the best solution is to remove the gadda from all contact with humans. The Festival of the Star, the biggest celebration of the year, is the perfect place to begin their campaign.

The guardians are sure they’re ready for anything the purists throw at them. But are they ready for the resurrection of an old enemy?

WARNING: The Festival contains spoilers for the Dream of Asarlia trilogy, and hot steamy sex.

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July 11, 8pm.

It was time.

The meal had been superb. Many bottles of wine had been consumed. The atmosphere around the large table was convivial, with laughter and raised voices and the occasional thump on the wood to punctuate a story.

Councillor Robert Yarrow gestured to his butler, who left the room. The councillor stood and waited for the noise to die down and for all attention to come to him.

With every head that turned, Yarrow’s back got straighter, his shoulders more relaxed, his chin higher.

“My friends,” he said, smiling at the twenty faces that looked at him. “My most wonderful friends. Your sacrifice will be lauded for generations.”

Twenty faces took on varying hues of green and white as they recalled why they were here.

The door opened, the creak shocking in the silence. The butler came forward, bearing an ornate silver bowl on a matching tray. He placed it on the table before Yarrow and then stood at his master’s shoulder.

Yarrow lifted the lid and the rank odour assaulted his senses. He fought to maintain a stoic appearance—he wouldn’t convince anyone to eat if he showed the scent alone was this terrible.

Dream of Asarlai: Book Two

Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one close enough to smell it. Lisa Jane gasped and held her napkin to her face.

“We can’t eat that,” she said.

Everyone leant forward, the people at the far end of the table standing to do so. All recoiled, although Yarrow knew they couldn’t possibly all smell it.

“I understand your concern.” As he spoke, Yarrow used a pair of tweezers to pick up one rancid piece of beef. The green coating on the meat was foul. He lay it on the pile of cheese slices that rested on the other side of the silver tray and pulled the corners of the top slice around the meat. “But we agreed that your food poisoning be natural rather than an incantation, so the guardians won’t suspect a plot.”

He rolled the morsel between his palms so the cheese encased the meat. Then he dipped the ball in a small tureen of mustard, before laying it on a small plate and handing it to the person on his left. As he made more, the plates were passed around the table until everyone had one. Meanwhile, the butler refilled the wine glasses.

All twenty of Robert’s guests stared down at the poison pill before them and their thoughts were clear on their faces—dread, fear, disgust.

“We do this to save Sclossin and all gadda,” Yarrow said quietly. “We do this to ruin the festival and so reveal how terrible the plan to invite humans into our village is. You will be revered for your actions tonight.” He lifted his glass in a toast then swallowed, both to mask the smell with the bouquet of the wine and to hide his smile. He was so glad he wouldn’t be eating the meat.

As one, his guests picked up the poison and swallowed. None chewed, and each grabbed their wine and used it to wash the horrid meat down their throat.

“Now, I suggest you all go home and make yourself as comfortable as possible. I pray that you will not suffer too much tonight.”

One by one, they transferred away, disappearing from view in the blink of an eye. Yarrow put the lid back on the silver bowl and his butler took it away to safely dispose of it. No one in the Yarrow household was to be harmed by the tainted meat.

Yarrow went to his study and sat in his armchair. His port was open, a crystal glass standing ready. He poured himself a drink and sipped it slowly, easing into the leather upholstery with a relaxed sigh.

Everything was in order. Each of his different groups had their task and combined, they were going to spell disaster for the festival tomorrow. The bardria would have to re-consider making the town of Sclossin more accessible to humans and the next step in cutting all access to humanity would be taken.

Yarrow shook his head. It astounded him that it wasn’t clear to all gadda that for the sake of their survival they needed to cut ties to the human race. At the human population bloomed and their technology improved, the chances of them discovering that in their midst lived a secret race with powers beyond imagining grew.

It would be disastrous. Everyone agreed on that. Either there would be gadda who would use their power to try and rule humanity, or there would be humans who would find a way to use vulnerable gadda for their own vices.

Some people thought the answer was to hide in plain sight. Be right in amongst the humans. People wouldn’t conceive of the concept that their neighbour, workmate, friend wasn’t human.

Robert’s entire being quaked with the stupidity of that idea. The only salvation was to leave the humans to their lives, their world and hide the gadda away.

It was the right way. Tomorrow’s decimation of the festival would prove it. And the best part of his plan was the guardians couldn’t stop it.

Robert Yarrow downed the last of his port with a smile.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/181532
Thanks Nicole. You rock!

The Courier’s New Bicycle: a review

The Courier's New Bicycle In case you needed any more convincing to go and read it, Nalini Haynes great review for The Courier’s New Bicycle  for the Dark Matter Fanzine blog really should do the job!

The Courier’s New Bicycle is a masterpiece; I haven’t felt this way about a work since Wings of Desire.  Highly recommended; this is brilliant speculative fiction not to be missed. ”

 

Be sure to check out more great posts and reviews over at the Dark Matter fanzine blog!

Modern Day Alchemy

So you’re into sci fi? But what about sci fact? Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction…

Each month our very own Voyager Science Queen* will bring you interesting, quirky and downright bizarre tasty morsels from the world of science. And its all completely, totally, 100% true!

Intumescents

mercury thiocyanate

Mercury Thiocyanate
Image: Tomasz Szymborski, Creative Commons License

In the English language, ‘intumescent’ is a word that means distressfully or abnormally swollen, or something in the process of swelling. In chemistry, intumescents are substances that – upon the application of heat – result in the production of enormous amounts of ash, many times the volume of the original substance. This ash will be less dense than the original substance. In the past, intumescents have been used in pyrotechnics and in the production of fire retardants.Probably the most spectacular tumescent is mercury thiocyanate. Upon application of heat, this chemical expands and coils in a serpentine manner to form a yellowish or greyish mass of tentacular ash; it looks more like the hair of a Medusa to me. A quick surf of the internet will supply you with video clips of this spectacular process; it is referred to as the Pharaoh’s Serpent or the Pharaoh’s Snake. Mercury thiocyanate used to be a popular compound for fireworks, but its toxicity became an issue and it is no longer used as much.

When mercury thiocyanate is ignited, rapid oxidation causes it to decompose into carbon nitride, mercury sulfide and carbon disulphide. Notice the original substance contains a cyanide compound, sulfur and mercury, so it is extremely toxic, and the fumes released during the decomposition are poisonous. Even after its transformation, the ash is toxic enough to kill anyone ingesting it – like small children; tragedies have occurred. As interesting as this process is to observe, I would recommend just watching the video clips.

If I were a modern day alchemist and discovered mercury thiocyanate, I believe I would dedicate of this chemical to Cthulhu. However, it is suspected the first person to synthesize the compound was a chemist, Jöns Jacob Berzelius, in or around 1821. No pentacles or tentacles were involved … what a shame.

Non-Newtonian Fluids

First off, let’s look at Newtonian fluids, so that we have a an idea as to why non-Newtonian fluids are so weird. A Newtonian fluid will remain a fluid regardless of the kinetic forces that are acting upon it, in other words, the viscosity of the fluid should be dependent on its temperature and pressure and not the forces action upon it. Water is the perfect example; if you stir or shake water it will remain a fluid, but a change in temperature or pressure can turn it into ice or steam.

This is not the case with non-Newtonian fluids. Under a sudden change in sheer forces, certain non-Newtonian fluids will lose viscosity and act like a solid. Cornflour (also known as corn starch) mixed with water acts in this manner. The faster you try to stir the mix, the stiffer it becomes … stop stirring and it slumps back into liquid. If you try to ‘throw’ a bucket of the mix, it will stay in the bucket. However, if you tip the bucket onto its side, the cornflour and water mixture will flow out like a fluid. As the water and cornflour mixture is entirely harmless, I can recommend playing around with it. I’ve seen the men from Mythbusters attempt to run across a pool of cornflour and water … with mixed results (pun intended); you can see this on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GWhOLorDtw

On ‘The Big Bang Theory’, our intrepid band of scientists used the vibrations of speakers to ‘stress’ a similar mixture: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CJJ6FrfuGU

There are liquids that act in the exact opposite way to cornflour and water, like most house paints; they remain thick while at rest and become more fluid when stressed – or all the paint would drip off the walled once applied. These are non-Newtonian fluids as well, because their viscosity is affected by the kinetic forces acting upon them. Some polymer clays start out as quite stiff and become more elastic as they are ‘worked’; again, they can be classified a non-Newtonian fluid.

As an alchemist, I would rate a non-Newtonian fluid as super loony, but still pertaining to the element of water, so I would imagine it was ruled by the Moon. Or, if I may postulate a sixth element after fire, water, earth, air, and aether,  and suggest they are just FUN!
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*The Voyager Science Queen is also known as Lynne Lumsden Green- find out who she is in About Our Contributors!