The Further Adventures of Commander Cold – ‘Putting the Science in Fiction’

 

To help celebrate the forthcoming publication of the inspirational ‘Putting the Science in Fiction’ (PSF) ten of the contributors are providing further contributions and story prompts based on their field of expertise. Before I became a comedy writer, playwright and scriptwriter I had another identity – I was Commander Cold and you can read about problems associated with freezing biological material, for preservation and reanimation, in the mighty tome that is ‘Putting the Science in Fiction’.

With National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) coming up you might find some stimulus and (frozen) food for thought here in:

The Further Adventures of Commander Cold

Chemical fixatives – the agents used for immobilising the constituents of cells and tissues for structural studies – act too slowly to get more than an ‘averaged’ view of the biological material. Cellular events, like secretory activities, muscle contraction and nerve transmission, are far too rapid to be caught as they take place. That is why ultra-rapid freezing provides a viable alternative for the initial immobilisation of the parts of cell involved in fast processes.

Freezing, particularly using ultra-pure copper cooled by liquid helium, has been successful in capturing even very rapid events like synaptic release. However, helium is not cheap. Other cryogens, like refreezing Freon and liquid nitrogen slush (liquid/solid mix) have their place, but better and more convenient alternatives are always worth looking into.

This helps explain why I was jetting high pressure liquid nitrogen at small lump of muscle, but not why I needed the stockings and the thermal insulation against the gas that got me dubbed ‘Commander Cold’.

On a general point – a lot of this relates to how science is actually done, rather than how the layperson may think science gets done. If you are considering how a scientist might act in your story, do consider a place for improvisation and thinking outside the box .

A company that I had connections to had a good idea. They realised that liquid helium was expensive while liquid nitrogen was cheap. Liquid nitrogen is not actually a good freezing agent though because of something called the Leidenfrost effect (reference book for more information). It is concerned with the small range between liquid nitrogen’s melting and boiling points. This means that if you put something warm into liquid nitrogen you get an insulating layer of gas formed that then slows the freezing rate. One way round this, which doctors use for wart removal, is to direct a high-pressure jet of liquid nitrogen at what you want cooled and the insulating gas layer is thereby striped away and fresh liquid exposed to do the cooling. This is exactly the way you might well see somebody (or something) being frozen in a film or on TV and it usually results in them being frozen in seconds or even milliseconds. This would not be the case – it would be an incredibly inefficient and painful way to kill somebody probably involving them going blind first and stumbling around in agony. The chances of recovery would be zero.

The company’s idea was to ramp up the pressure of the liquid nitrogen considerably and direct the biological tissue requiring freezing into its path. Very small amounts of biological material it has to be emphasised! They needed somebody to evaluate how well the material was freezing. It seemed an interesting idea and it was – in theory. The problem was that the jet that did the freezing tended to spray the biological material all around the room. I tried suitably arranged thermos flasks to catch it, but the jet made finding the sample very difficult.

Of course the room filled alarmingly with nitrogen too – and so ‘Commander Cold’ was born. Incidentally this activity was no more dangerous than what would happen upon filling up a Dewar from a large liquid nitrogen storage cylinder. ‘Health and Safety’ first – just because you may not freeze quickly it doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to kill yourself with coolants, asphyxiation being a prime example.

This is where the stockings came in. A single stocking over the whole jetting apparatus turned out to be the best way of catching the sample – in the stocking toe as it happens. They were flexible and actually thawed quite quickly.

The freezing rate of the jet freezer was never really good enough though.

The idea of jetting liquid nitrogen didn’t leave me though. Thinking about the properties of liquid nitrogen I remembered that you can also produce supercritical liquid nitrogen. A supercritical fluid is any substance at a temperature and pressure above its critical point, where distinct liquid and gas phases do not exist. In effect, if you can keep maintain the pressure of the liquid nitrogen above its critical point as you jet you will not get the Leidenfrost effect and freezing rates of biological material should be excellent.

So I designed the world’s first (probably) Super Critical Liquid Nitrogen Jet Freezer. And very neat it seemed, requiring no stockings at all! I found a company interested in prototyping it for me and all seemed great, until my university’s Business Department stepped in.

They thought a Super Critical Liquid Nitrogen Jet Freezer was going to bring great wealth to all concerned and outlined the various ‘cuts’ they would expect from any profits. At which point the company pulled out. As the company boss said to me, ‘there’s probably only a demand for a dozen in the whole world Terry and at the price they are anticipating it just won’t sell.’

And so the Super Critical Liquid Nitrogen Jet Freezer never did see the light of day, but Commander Cold lived to freeze another day. And always remember, the world of the very small can be just as exciting as the world of the very small. For example: nobody knows what this is!

So have you been having chilly thoughts in your writing? Here are some ideas to get you warmed up!

Story Prompt 1: A scientist thinks outside the box (just as I tried) and discovers a totally new method that allows cryogenically frozen plants and animals to be re-animated – until it all goes wrong of course.

Story Prompt 2: A company that has made a fortune out of fraudulently freezing the dead discovers that the departed have been mysteriously disappearing.

Story Prompt 3: A deep space colony ship has passengers in deep freeze. But is everybody really as inactive as they should be?

And if you want a chance to win a copy of ‘Putting the Science in Fiction simply enter the Rafflecoptor giveaway below:

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Continue reading The Further Adventures of Commander Cold – ‘Putting the Science in Fiction’

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The King of Elfland’s Little Sister – the whole cover!

It seems only fair to now give you the full effect of the glorious cover for the new Detective Strongoak adventure: The King of Elfland’s Little Sister.
It’s already receiving very positive feedback I’m delighted to say and I should have the publication date very soon.

Continue reading The King of Elfland’s Little Sister – the whole cover!

President of the Rings – politics and fantasy

Just so you know: there’s politics in my fantasy world, because there’s politics everywhere.

To which you might well reply:
“We’re overrun with politics now; can’t we have a break please? I like my fantasy to make me feel better not worse!”

Sorry, fantasy is the real world now. However, politics doesn’t have to be all bad – honest

The politics in Widergard (Wider-earth, gedit?) is different, not just because it was the elves that introduced democracy when they returned from Overseas, but because Widergard is a modern(ish) world with many different races. You know, the usual suspects: men, elves, dwarfs, goblin, trolls etc, who all now have to get on together.

That’s what politics is all about after all, isn’t it? Getting on together – or at least it should be.

You think we have problems here? Just imagine trying to draft a Race Relations Act when there are six different races? Well, seven if you count the Pix, but nobody really does – which is strange as they are some of the oldest inhabitants of all these fantasy worlds.

They don’t get a lot of press the Pix – I think writers worry about them bringing down the tone.

Continue reading President of the Rings – politics and fantasy

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.

fairy1

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

What’s in a Number?

Writing recently about ‘The Prisoner’ recently I forgot to mention that Patrick Mcgoohan’s previous incarnation as John Drake, ‘Danger Man’, was known, for reasons I never quite worked out, as ‘Secret Agent’ in the USA. Probably broadcast elsewhere by this name as well – maybe.

I thought it would be jolly to have a listen to the opening credits, because ‘Danger Man’ had one of the best themes ever! All praise to the late Edwin Astley, who also wrote the theme for ‘The Saint’. No way could ‘Secret Agent’ beat that! It couldn’t, of course, but I did recognise the theme as the song ‘Secret Agent Man’ sung by Johnny Rivers and written by P. F. Sloan‎and Steve Barri (of ‘Eve of Destruction’ fame).

When it got to the chorus I sort of stopped and my heart skipped a beat (didn’t really).

Here it is:

“Secret agent man, secret agent man
They’ve given you a number and taken away your name.”

So, the question must be: was the whole of ‘The Prisoner’ inspired by the lyrics of ‘Secret Agent’, the American name for ‘Danger Man’?

To is there something else we don’t know about going on here? Continue reading What’s in a Number?

Writing – it’s a funny business (or not)

An update on the next Detective Strongoak novel.

Those of you who have been paying attention will know that ‘Detective Strongoak and the Case of the Dead Elf’ was a #1 Kindle Bestseller in the Epic Fantasy genre. It has sold some 5300 ‘units’, which is pretty good for a book published initially as an ebook with a Print On Demand paperback only coming out some months later.

It’s also had some 120 Amazon reviews with an average of something like 4.3 Stars!

Thanks for that everyone!

Sadly the road to publishing continuity can be a bumpy one. Suffice to say, the next Nicely novel has been completed – as has number 3!

I am hoping that they will be with you ASAP.

In the meantime there is a co-written SF comedy coming your way soon with fantastic cover art and an accompanying – Ok, can’t tell you that!

Hopefully some of you have had a chance to see and listen to some of my work on the feature film ‘Chasing Robert Barker’, which is available on Video On Demand services like itunes and Amazon.

Plus I have started work on a game story for a fantastically talented writer/artist/game maker. That’s going to be a more long-term project, but it’s just phenomenal – already!

That’s just how writing goes sometimes, but it beats working for a living. Continue reading Writing – it’s a funny business (or not)

Happy Hogswatch! The problem with Fantasy Holidays.

Happy Hogswatch – the problem with Fantasy Holidays.

Fantasy holidays, by which I don’t mean a month in the Seychelles, but a holiday set in a fantasyland, can be quite trick. Actually I had a month in the Seychelles once and it was a lovely place, but I could never get over the fact that they had ‘Bus Stop’s written on the road. Not randomly, at actual bus stops, but it made the Seychelles just slightly like a tropical Croydon.

Holidays in fantasylands then, as I realised recently, are difficult to set up. Except for Hogswatch of course. Hogswatch, and the scary Santa that is the Hogfather, are fantastically realised by Sir Terry because they are actually what the story is about (mostly). If, as a writer, you just want to slip a holiday into your story – along the way as it were – then it’s harder. The reason is that holidays are events with long histories that are steeped in a society or culture’s history. Christmas didn’t happen overnight after all, and neither did Hanukkah or Diwali.Detective with snow

As a writer you need to embed your holidays in your world’s culture. You are generally OK handling a ‘mid-summer’ or even a ‘mid-winter’ festival, but New Years can be tricky. I’m, still rather in favour with a new year starting on the first day of spring myself. Such seasonal events are relatively straightforward although they can appear a bit ‘weak’ and unimaginative. Other events need careful thinking about because they might bring up the dreaded subject of religion and religion in your fantasy books is something you may not want to get into.

In Narnia, famously, it was always winter but never Christmas. But as the Witch’s hold is weakened along comes Father Christmas, but shouldn’t he actually be Father Aslanmas?

You might not want to go there. Just think how ‘Game of Thrones’ would have suffered with a tagline of ‘Christmas is Coming.’ Not the same is it?

So, I think I might be writing a ‘Winterfest’, unless inspiration strikes. Until then: Continue reading Happy Hogswatch! The problem with Fantasy Holidays.