• 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!

     

     

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!

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The Mundaneum

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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This is one for the ‘I can’t make up stuff this great’ files. Back in the last throes of the Victorian era, the field of information science was already well developed. Forget Google. Forget Wikipedia. Before all that, and the Internet, was the Mundaneum. The Mundaneum was the proto-World Wide Web.

A normal day at the Mundaneum

A normal day at the Mundaneum. Photos via the Mundaneum Museum

It was first conceived and co-founded in 1895, by two Belgian gentlemen lawyers: Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine. It started existence as the Institut International de Bibliographie, in Brussels.  Otlet and La Fontaine began with a collection of index cards, with the intention of cataloguing facts, all the facts … they meant to record and file every fact in the world. They had over 400,000 entries by the end of 1895. By 1937, it was estimated there were over 15 million index cards, housed in a left wing of the Palais du Cinquantenaire, Brussels, and staffed by librarians. Otlet and La Fontaine convinced the Belgian government to support the creation and running of  the Mundaneum for most of the first four decades of the Twentieth century.

Imagine the thousands of drawers that would be required to file so many millions of three inch by five inch index cards. Those librarians were made of stern stuff.

The stated goal of Otlet and La Fontaine was to gather together all the world’s knowledge, and then classify and catalogue it according to a bibliographic and library classification system they developed called the Universal Decimal System – it was based on the Dewey Decimal Classification system. This system meant that retrieval of the facts was relatively straight forward, even from such an enormous data base. The system allowed (and still allows) related fields of knowledge – such as text, maps, charts – to be linked and so form a coherent whole. Now, this is where the Mundaneum started to really resemble the modern construct of the World Wide Web.

From 1896, people could apply – by mail or telegraph – to the staff of the Mundaneum for answers to specific questions. Otlet set this function up as a fee-based service, to help cover the costs of running the service and continue funding the collection of facts. By 1912, this service was answering around four or five queries a day, or the equivalent of 1500 queries a year.

Paul Otlet hoped to see a ‘city of knowledge’ (as he nicknamed the Mundaneum) in each major city around the world, with Brussels holding the master copy. The attempt was made to make this a reality, but the sheer size of the project created problems in duplicating the collection.  But this isn’t to say La Fontaine wasn’t a dreamer too; both men hoped to help create a world with information available to all and education provided to men and women; both men proposed and supported the idea of organizations such as a world school and university, and a world parliament. Henri La Fontaine went on to win the Nobel Prize for Peace, partially due to his support for these ideals.

Unfortunately, even though the founders of the Mundaneum were men of peace, it was WWII that derailed their great project. The Belgian government withdrew their funding and support as the 1930s drew to a close and war loomed. The Mundaneum had to be moved to smaller, less suitable quarters.  The amount of index cards, even with the brilliant classification system, was unworkable at the new site; if only the system had been able to use computer storage systems like we have today. Then, when Brussels was invaded in 1939, the Nazis destroyed many of the boxes of index cards. To be fair, they destroyed the index cards not so much out of malice as from a lack of understanding of the files’ true value. After the war, with files in disorder and no chance of funding, the Mundaneum was all but forgotten.

The Mundaneum was allowed to moulder until 1968, when a student named W. Boyd Rayward rediscovered the remnants of the index cards and created a renewed interest in what the project had achieved. Eventually, what remained of the project was housed in the Mundaneum museum in Mons. In a twist that astounds and thrills me, Google is talking about funding a travelling Mundaneum exhibit. If it makes it to Australia, I’ll be one of the first in line to see it.

Photographic portrait of Paul Otlet and his surviving files from the Mundaneum

Photographic portrait of Paul Otlet and his surviving files from the Mundaneum
Photos via the Mundaneum Museum

The whole concept of the Mundaneum fascinates me. Unlike Babbage’s Difference Engine and Analytical Engine, the Mundaneum was an intellectual dream that saw the light of day and had an actual useful existence for over forty years. Not to denigrate Charles Babbage – we all know how much I adore the man – but Otlet and La Fontaine were able to see the fruits of their ideals blossom and thrive. Sadly, Paul Otlet died in relative obscurity, and it is only recently that he has gained recognition as a visionary and the father of information science. He died in 1944, and Henri La Fontaine died in 1943, so neither of them lived to see the development of the Internet and the World Wide Web. More’s the pity. They would have loved the Information Age.
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*The Voyager Science Queen is also known as Lynne Lumsden Green- find out who she is in About Our Contributors!

Behind the Mask(elyne)

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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This is a story about a family that is too interesting NOT to share: the Maskelyne clan. It is claimed this is a branch of the family descended from Dr Nevil Maskelyne, the fifth English Astronomer Royal. I can’t find any proof, except that the grandfather, John Nevil Maskelyne, father, Nevil, and son, Jasper, were all brilliant and clever men and brains obviously ran in the family … and they all spelt Neville as ‘Nevil’, which would suggest it was a family name.

The first of this clan was John Nevil Maskelyne. He was the kind of gentleman whose brain was set on ‘high’ and didn’t have an off switch. I’ve picked him as our first mad scientist for the year, because he also contributed a metaphor to the English language, and wrote a very famous book. John was born in 1839, and started his working life as a watchmaker (what is it about watches that so fascinates inventors?) but he was also fascinated by stage magicians and spiritualists.

His break into show business came about in a most peculiar way. He was watching a pair of shysters, the Davenport Brothers, use a ‘spirit cabinet’ and he clicked onto how they engineered their sham. He publically announced he would duplicate the cabinet using no magical devices.So John Maskelyne and his friend, Mr George Cooke, successfully built their own version of the cabinet, exposing the Davenport brothers as the frauds they were.

From that point on, he became an inventor of stage illusions, put together an act of his own with Cooke as his partner, and they became a famous stage act. However, he also had solo successes; he also went on to write several successful books, including the bestselling Sharps and Flats: A Complete Revelation of the Secrets of Cheating at Games of Chance and Skill. He inventedthe public toilet door lock, which opened with the insertion of a coin, and so gave rise to the euphemism of ‘spending a penny’ when explaining your trip to the toilet. He also continued to investigate and expose frauds claiming supernatural powers. He was an active member of The Magic Circle and the first editor of their society magazine, The Magic Circular.

I don’t know how he found the time, but he managed to marry and raise a family. One of his sons was also a famous stage magician, inventor and writer, Nevil Maskelyne, born 1863. He was a bit of a scamp and the very first ‘hacker’. When Marconi was giving a public demonstration of his wireless telegraph, using Morse code, Nevil – who was also interested in the wireless – used his skills to disrupt the demonstration. Before the actual message was due to arrive the telegraph began to issue the word ‘rats’ over and over, and then proceeded with a rude limerick at Marconi’s expense, “There was a young fellow of Italy, who diddled the public quite prettily.” This was followed by more rude suggestions and some quotes from Shakespeare. As you might have guessed, Marconi was unimpressed with these doings, but Nevil Maskelyne felt that Marconi had taken an unfair advantage in taking out patents. However, his hacking did little other than embarrass Marconi, who went on to dominate the field.

 His son, Jasper Maskelyne, was born in 1902. He was a stage magician, like his father and grandfather. However, the inventor mad-skills turned up in his genes too strongly to ignore. During WWII, he was supposedly using his skills as a master of illusion to create camouflage and techniques for subterfuge for the Allied Forces. After convincing officials of his skills, he was placed in the Royal Engineers Camouflage Corps and sent to Egypt.Jasper and his ‘Magic Gang’ were supposed to be able to do everything from making jeeps look like tanks up to and including hiding entire cities and the Suez Canal from the German Bombers.

Now, to me that sounds like something from an alternative history fiction book, but Jasper wasn’t the only person to plan and construct these diversions. Hollywood special effect men were also part of this sort of subterfuge for the war effort. However, some historians deny that such escapades ever took place. I prefer to think they did, and that magic was used to save lives.

Poor Jasper couldn’t get his career as a stage magician up and running after the war. The Maskelyne line of magicians died with him in Kenya in 1973, as I can’t find any evidence that he ever married or had children. But all three of the Maskelyne magicians made history, one way or the other.

Now, you have to admit, that was a family with style!

This Science Post is dedicated to Phillip Berrie, who provided me with an article on Nevil and Marconi and introduced me to this amazing family. Why don’t they teach this stuff in school?

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

Time Travel, Tattoos & Gone With the Wind

     We’re such an ingenious species that the story of how we spread across the face of this magnificent planet reads more like a cross between science fiction and epic fantasy than real life. For that reason when it came time for me to write my series I knew it had to be based on time travel.

 I wanted to be able to send my intrepid heroine anywhere…to solve any mystery our cunning little human minds could spin! So, of course she had to be a time travelling detective…which opened up adventure in any conceivable time or place. When you throw a slightly alternate past and present into the mix, then the adventure gets really exciting because anything can happen – and frequently does.

 There are so many possibilities! What was Joan of Arc really like? What secrets are encoded in the Voynich manuscript? What were Buddha’s last words? What was written on the Mayan codices destroyed by the Conquistadors?

 So my Timestalker series is about a time travelling detective. The first book, Gladiatrix (2009) was set in ancient Rome, while the second, Hoodwink (out now) is set in Hollywood in 1939. Each book in the series solves a mystery set in a different time and place.

 Hoodwink starts with a body covered in a Mayan occult tattoo being discovered cemented into the floor of a Hollywood film set. It’s the body of a famous film director who went missing in 1939. Kannon is hired to return to 1939 to find out who killed him. While on the set of Gone With The Wind, mixing with the big stars of Hollywood, she stumbles onto a mystery that stretches back to the Civil War…

 ‘Why Gone With The Wind?’ you say. ‘Isn’t that just some old film about a Southern woman’s determination to survive the American Civil War and its aftermath?’

 Good question!

 Well…I wanted to write about a murder on a film set in 1939, the most glamorous period in the Golden Years of Hollywood. So I had to choose a movie that would give me the maximum room to explore the feeling of the 1930s as well as yield some interesting plot points I could play with.

 There was only ever one real choice…

 If you’ve ever seen any of the documentaries on the making of Gone With The Wind you’ll wonder why a murder didn’t actually happen… The producer, David O Selznick, was said to be a slave driver addicted to Benzedrine, who went through multiple directors to make the film – one of whom was supposed to have been driven to the brink of suicide. Most of the cast was hiding outrageous secrets, ranging from simple old adultery through to operating as a British spy in pre-war America.

 And that was just for starters.

 Some claim that Gone With The Wind is ‘the greatest film ever made’, whether that’s true or not it certainly seems to be one of the most watched in history. It’s still playing somewhere even as you read this sentence. Hell, the last time I caught a QANTAS flight to Los Angeles it was one of the choices on my personal viewing module…??? According to Wikipedia (with adjustment to 2010 prices) it is the highest grossing film of all time and stories abound concerning its influence on world culture in all sorts of unexpected ways… The book the film was based upon was banned by the Nazis during WW2 and was reportedly a favourite with the French Resistance who prized it as an example of courage under foreign occupation.

 But make no mistake Gone With The Wind is a paradox because it’s both incredibly inspiring and deeply racist. And such a flawed film is…of course, the perfect setting for a murder.

 A personal reason for the choice is that a key memory of my childhood is when my parents took me to see Gone With The Wind.  I was ten and at the time I wondered why they were so keenly affected by a movie that was about the American Civil War. I saw it again as a teenager and connected with the strong, central female character, Scarlett O’Hara, who out-survives all the macho men around her. But it was only when I became an adult that I realised that my parents’ attachment came from their experiences in WW2. Gone With The Wind was made in 1939 and its central theme is how ordinary people can endure and even triumph over unendurable tragedy.

 And that memory of triumph over tragedy is what my parents re-experienced when they sat there in the dark of that movie theatre.

 Who can not relate to that?

Rhonda Roberts is the author of Gladiatrix & Hoodwink, which is out now!

Threshold and Tutankhamun

So, the other weekend, I had a trip to Egypt.

From the website for the exhibition: http://kingtutmelbourne.com.au/

Not the actual Egypt– oh, how I wish it had been. But I went to Egypt in terms of the artefacts and the culture via the Tutankhamun exhibition in Melbourne. I also went to Egypt in the literary sense by re-reading one of my favourite books – Sara Douglass’ Threshold.

 Re-reading Threshold was not just about paying a kind of homage to Sara, but I was interested to see the impact it would have on me when I then went to the exhibition.

 First, for those few who haven’t read Threshold, a quick recap – A young woman and her father are forced into slavery by his unpaid gambling debts. Because of their skills in working glass they are taken from their homeland to a place far south – a place of sand and heat and where the spectre of Threshold, a giant pyramid, looms over all. There, the horror of Threshold unfolds and along with new and discarded loves, she must fight to defeat the evil and restore balance and peace to the land.

 Oh, there’s so much to love about Threshold. Not just the uniqueness of the Egyptian-based setting (and when this was published in the 90s it was truly unique) but also the idea of number and mathematics as the basis of a magic system. Fabulous!

 Threshold the structure was created by a mountain of slaves – first when making the building, then the artistry as theentire thing is encased in glass. I was struck on this reading as to how difficult it must have been, particularly for those doing the most intricate work, to have faced the fact they had to destroy their creation to save themselves. A piece of you goes into everything you create – years later it still resonates and you see where you were, what you were needing and feeling at the time.

 There was a sense of that wandering around the exhibition and seeing the extraordinarily beautiful things that were there. Honestly, we in our day and age tend to think we’re pretty damn cool, with what we can create. Then you look at the delicate, precise, astonishing things that could be done 3000 years ago, without all our so called technology and education and think – art really does surpass all of that. And those artists put their heart and soul into these pieces, to honour a man they considered a god.

 And yet, they were doing all this and it was going to be locked away, never to be seen again. Art is meant to be viewed, is it not? Admired and seen and interacted with and loved. So it must have been a bitter sweet thing to both spend all those days and hours creating these incredible objects, and know that few people would ever get to admire it.

 The whole push of the building of Threshold is about the search for immortality. This is where it divulged from the Egyptians – their belief was that you were already going to be immortal, that this was just a step to the next life. You’re going to live forever, so let’s make that next life a good one by being good in this one.

 In Threshold, there was no sense of thinking of the implications beyond that of having what had been dreamed of for generations. I think that some of those chasing had plans for what they would do when they were immortal, but I didn’t get the sense that they thought through all the practicalities.

From the website for the exhibition: http://kingtutmelbourne.com.au/

 In this, the ancient Egyptians were to be admired. The tombs were filled with everything a good man or woman could need to have a comfortable life in the next place. Tut had games buried with him. Don’t want to spend the afterlife without something fun to do – how boring would that be?

 But most interesting was that Tutankhamun came to power at a terrible time for Egypt– his father had tossed out the old gods, established a new one and it had caused ructions throughout the empire. In just the nine years he was pharaoh, Tutankhamun turned all that around and left Egypt once again in touch with its pantheon of gods.

 At the beginning of Threshold, the people of Ashdod are under a thrall to The One, but that is tearing the country apart. It’s easy to see that Threshold may indeed have been heavily influenced by the story of Tutankhamun and his need to rebuilt his fractured country and make them whole again.

 Unfortunately, I’ll never have the chance to ask Sara Douglass if that was the case.

Nicole Murphy is the author of The Dream of Asarlai trilogy: Secret Ones, Power Unbound and Rogue Gadda