Happy 100th Birthday Robots Everywhere

I have always been a huge fan of robots. I adored ‘Robbie’ in Lost in Space – although I preferred him in ‘Forbidden Planet’.

Gort was great too!

He was the eight-foot robot companion of the alien Klaatu in 1958’s classic ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’. Unfortunately he lacked facial features, but was still capable of more expression than Keanu Reeve who played Klaatu in the remake. And Gort could open his visor and shoot out a death-beam, something else Keanu Reeve can’t do – yet.

Then there is Marvin – ah, Marvin! ‘Brain the size of a planet’, but he’s an android isn’t he?

And of course everybody loves Asimo, the real-life walking and running robot from Honda, who unfortunately stands a little like he might have had a minor oil leak in his metal shorts. Apparently it is a complete coincidence that his name sounds like Asimov, the surname of the SF writer who proposed the three laws of robotics. These are (and surely it’s not just us cool guys who know this?) the following:

1.A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2.A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3.A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Not bad thinking for 1942 Mr Asimov!

I think we can safely say that these laws should apply to androids too – especially Marvin.

Anyway – robots everywhere: happy birthday! You are 100 years old this year! Many congratulations!

It was in 1920 that Czech Karel Čapek published R.U.R., which stands for Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti (Rossum’s Universal Robots). The play wasn’t actually performed until 1921, but it was from his play that the word ‘robot’ soon entered human language. It is now used to define any a machine that is programmed to move and perform certain tasks automatically.

However it is clear from this early photograph from a production of R.U.R. that they were intended to be human-like. In that, they were actually very much like androids – a term that appears in US patents as early as 1863 and, as “Androides” in Ephraim Chambers’ Cyclopaedia of 1728.

Since then robots, and androids – and cyborgs too (a name first coined in 1960 by Manfred Clynes and Nathan S. Kline) – have given us plenty to think about when it comes to being human.

Even the Daleks have had their moments!

So, happy 100th robots everywhere! Long may you rule. Continue reading Happy 100th Birthday Robots Everywhere

The Natural History of Elves, Dwarfs, Men, Goblins, Gnomes and Trolls

The Paleoanthropological Relationships That Exist in the Hominini Lines of Middle-earth like Fairylands

The current resurgence of interest in the more recent history of worlds like Middle-earth, (often classified as Fairylands) in books such as ‘Detective Strongoak and the Case of the Dead Elf’, has come at a time when academic research into the field has also never been more fertile. Perhaps the productive area of investigation has been in the understanding of the Paleoanthropological relationships that exist in the Hominini lines of ‘Fairyland’ and how they relate to what is known about our own (Homo sapiens) developmental history. This article will give a necessarily brief review of thinking in the field and highlight some of the more interesting ramifications especially as they relate to Widergard.

No Fairies in Fairyland
The name of Fairyland is of course a misnomer and harks back to a period when our limited level of understanding of the Realm lead to several suspect classifications of the Hominini species present, including the rather nebulous class referred to as ‘fairies’ – a rag-bag group which could include elves, ‘pixies’ and even gnomes. It is interesting that although current revisions have excluded this division, the name ‘Fairyland’ still remains a useful reminder that there does exist a large body of study of the realm that predates the admittedly revelational works of modern authors. Whether it’s called Fairyland, or indeed other names, places such as Widergard continue to fascinate.

The family tree of the Hominini of Fairyland is given in Figure 1. Although some parts of the relationships are perhaps more controversial and speculative than others, particularly in the dating of the divergence of the dwarf/elf branch from that of gnomes, goblins and men, in general it provides a useful framework for further discussion.


Continue reading The Natural History of Elves, Dwarfs, Men, Goblins, Gnomes and Trolls

Way Back Elf

WOW! Can it really be 3 years today since the self published version of A DEAD ELF came out? Then Harper Voyager come along just weeks later, pick it up for publication and it becomes a #1 Epic Fantasy Bestseller!

Yes it’s true!



Here’s the original cover – designed by a wonderfully talented friend – which is as fantastic as the totally different cover designed by Alexandra Allden! How lucky I am to have two great covers!

Continue reading Way Back Elf

When I was a Legend.


not much of a legend


I once went with a chum to see a recording of a BBC show, for which I had written some comedy material. I was particularly pleased as a comedy actress and writer acquaintance of mine was very involved and I was chuffed to see her doing well.

Post-show drinks, I went to say hello to acquaintance and she introduced me to her tall, red-headed friend called Damian. I chatted with her for a bit and caught up and then went back to my chum who had been getting drinks.

‘Well?’ said my chum.

‘Well what?’ I replied.

‘That tall guy was the actor Damian Lewis!’ chum said with some urgency.

‘Oh yes!’ I said, ‘thought I sort-of recognised him.’

Chum was aghast.

Now, I should just mention that I am not the most super-cool person on the planet, although I have my moments, but in these situations I am not fazed. The thing is I met the late Russell Steere. Not only met him, he came over and chatted with me.

You don’t know Russell Steere? A great electron microscopist, he was one of the inventors of the freeze-fracture technique that was instrumental to my day job for many years.

That’s right and he came over and actually talked to me!

Celebrity is like that I guess, it all depends on the size of the pool you’re swimming in. I was amused to see myself once described as ‘legendary’ in the context of a pool so small it regularly evaporated on sunny days.

So, sorry I didn’t have time to chat Damian, I might have been an anecdote for you. Probably not, thinking about it.

Continue reading When I was a Legend.

How high is a dwarf anyway?

Dwarfs come in all shapes and sizes; exact figures usually depend on your sources. Generally though you can assume that they will be taller than you were expecting. If they were as short as often portrayed they would not be quite the feared warriors that they are (or were) – even taking into account their fantastically powerful shoulders and upper body strength.

Dwarfs are not gnomes! Do not argue with a dwarf! Don’t argue with gnomes either, but that’s just good manners.

Master Detective Nicely Strongoak and companion
Master Detective Nicely Strongoak and companion (with thanks to the brilliant J.G.)


Dwarfs, especially male dwarfs, are quite often the height of smaller men, but much wider – not at the waist though, well not until they get older. Dwarfs, as a different race, bear little resemblance to human men or women suffering from the medical condition of dwarfism.

Dwarfs also tend to wear pretty big boots with thick soles, which is nothing to do with vanity but a lot to do with wearability (and kickability). Dwarfs do not give a damn about height differences – when you can pull somebody’s arm off you get a little arrogant like that.

Continue reading How high is a dwarf anyway?

A Little Bit of History

Harper Voyager Black 

FROM: The Bookseller

HarperVoyager has signed 15 full-length novels from mostly unagented writers, gathered in a two-week open submissions process.

The books were chosen from more than 5,000 entries submitted back in October 2012, when the imprint, HarperCollins’ sci-fi and fantasy list, put out its call.

Now, the 15 titles will be released digitally, beginning this winter and continuing throughout 2015. The imprint also has plans to follow the e-book releases with short-run paperback editions.

Natasha Bardon, the newly appointed editorial director of HarperVoyager UK said: “Being able to launch this much new talent is fantastic, especially in a genre which is so difficult to break into. It was great experience doing the open submissions, seeing the amount of voices out there was brilliant. Everyone here came into publishing because we were looking for good stories, so it was heartening to find so many. It was a lot of hard work, but we’re not afraid of that.”

Bardon added: “We’ll be releasing one or two a month, trying to give them their own space and seeing how the market responds to them. They cover a wide range of genres, so it will fascinating to see how the audience reacts.”

She said Voyager would “certainly” consider another open submissions process in future.

The Borough Press, another HarperFiction imprint, held its own open submissions earlier in the year.

Among the 15 books are a YA novel about a meteor heading to earth (The Ark by Laura Liddell Nolan), a historical fantasy set in a Viking-esque world (The Rule by Jack Colman) and a large-scale epic fantasy (Among Wolves by Nancy Wallace).

Prices for the 15 titles will vary.

The full list of books is:

Supervision by Alison Stine
Darkhaven by A.F.E Smith
Grey by Christi Whitney
The Machinery by Gerrard Cowan
Ignite the Shadows by Ingrid Seymour
Hero Born by Andy Livingstone
Among Wolves by Nancy Wallace
Exile and Pilgrim by Graeme Talboys
The Rule by Jack Colman
Unexpected Rain by Jason LaPier
Belt Three by John Ayliff
The Ark by Laura Liddell Nolen
The Karma Booth by Jeff Pearce
Graynelore by Stephen Moore

and of course Detective Strongoak and the Case of the Dead Elf  by Terry Newman