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DSCF6030In case any of you might think that I haven’t produced anything over the last few months: since my last Kindle book was published I’ve published a book and written several articles, but they are all my professional writing and not at home on this blog. But while I summon up energy to get back to Mirabelle’s next adventure, you might be interested in the work in progress. It’s a Julie Smythe ‘Watchers’ story and so quite different from Mirabelle, but it’s set in beautiful countryside (see the picture) and perhaps it may help to while away a few winter’s hours. It’s based around the fourth story in the collection of medieval Welsh tales known as ‘The Mabinogion’, which are set in the area where my family happened to spend our summer holiday this year. Here it is: Watchers 5 so far

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Moving on from Psychohistorical Crisis, what other sequels are there to Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ Series and its galaxy? I’ve mentioned in an earlier post the enjoyable collection Foundation’s Friends. There’s the Caliban series by Roger McBride Allen, set in the galaxy of The Robots of Dawn and Robots and Empire: I enjoyed the glimpse of the more human side of the Spacers, and the first of the series was an original and exciting story — but in my opinion as a reader the remaining two stories of the series lacked the verve of the first. Mirage and its sequels, by Mark W. Tiedmann, set in the same galaxy but more Caves of Steel than Robots and Empire, formed a reasonable light read but lacked that ‘unput-downable’ quality of Asimov. I couldn’t get on with the ‘Second Foundation Trilogy’ series (based around Hari Seldon, Dors, and the galaxy of Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation). I’m sure there were more spin-offs, whose titles now elude my ageing memory.

The trick of a third-party sequel is to introduce new ideas while keeping the essentials of the original work. But what are the essentials? Not simply good ideas, for all the sequels and spin-offs I’ve listed above start from a good idea. Psychohistorical Crisis manages to put its own slant on Asimov’s galaxy and produce an intellectually satisfying adventure while also encouraging the reader to think about Asimov’s original concepts and how they might have worked out in practice. As Asimov’s psychohistory is a branch of mathematics, it needs a mathematician to develop the idea — Kingsbury is a professor of Mathematics — but not every professional mathematician can write novels, so it’s unsurprising that there have been so few attempts to develop Asimov’s concept further.

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I’ve just finished reading Donald Kingsbury’s Psychohistorical Crisis (2001). It’s a compelling read, which kept my interest over the week of evenings it took me to read it; the characters and situations were well described and I enjoyed what Kingsbury did with the ‘Foundation’ galaxy. This is not quite the galaxy of Asimov’s Foundation: locations have different names; in this alternative future Foundation the Earth is still inhabitable, is inhabited by humans, and is known to be the original home of humanity — or, at least, of a form of humanity. There are robots, which have personalities but never take over the story. The places and physical appearance are much more richly described than in the original Foundation series, and in addition there are various in-jokes lurking in the prose. The central ‘original idea’ in this narrative is that all humans have a ‘personal familiar’ or ‘fam’, which is effectively a brain-extension, holding additional memory and analytical ability — the modern mobile phone currently performs the same function. Although as yet(?) no one’s brain is permanently wired to their mobile phone in the same way as a ‘fam’, it’s probably coming …

Psychohistorical Crisis is based in the galaxy of the original three Foundation volumes, not the two continuations that Asimov wrote later. Effectively it continues the events of Second Foundation, but thousands of years later. There is no Gaia-planet and there are no Solarians; yet humans have gene-engineered themselves so that they are very different from the original Earth homo-sapiens, so that the reader wonders what these ‘humans’ of the future galaxy actually look like.

I particularly enjoyed Kingsbury’s characters’ of astrology as a means of teaching the complex mathematics required for psychohistory. Whatever you might think of its claims to be scientific, astrology requires an excellent grasp of trigonometry for starters, the ability to number-crunch, and then maths, maths, and maths.

So, now I’ve finished Psychohistorical Crisis, I must emerge from that galaxy and try to find another one to relax in. Has anyone else written a Foundation continuation on these lines?

 

Foundation

DSCF6334 I’ve been re-reading the Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov.

I first read the original trilogy as a teenager in the 1970s. I loved the vast arena, the sharp one-liners, the humour and the vision of a far-off positive future. I thought that the first book and the first part of Foundation and Empire were thrilling; I was more uncertain about the Mule; but I thought Arkady in The Second Foundation was brilliant. She was a heroine that I could identify with, right down to her desire to write best-selling novels. As for the Second Foundation, they were intriguing but not particularly worrying.
Years later I read the Foundation Series again. I now realised that the story is based on the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — that reference to the last emperor Dagobert is the dead giveaway. So the disintegration of the empire is followed by the rise of religion, carrying forward science and knowledge into the Dark Age; followed by Traders (a dash of the Pirenne thesis) and then merchant princes, followed by autocracy which is overthrown by the brave new world of democracy. Arkady now seemed a bit of a kid. The Second Foundation were still intriguing.
After re-reading the series I went in search of Asimov’s more recent works and found the continuations: Foundation’s Edge and Foundation and Earth. I enjoyed both, but the character of Fallom in Foundation and Earth was particularly intriguing. Did Asimov continue the story beyond Foundation and Earth?
I was very disappointed to find that he didn’t. I read the two prequels, Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation, and the earlier stories which linked the Foundation series to the Elijah Bailey detective stories: The Robots of Dawn and Robots and Empire. I also found some spin-off series written around these ‘Robots’ stories and the Spacers, and read them with enjoyment. There were also some spin-off stories about the start of the Foundation, but I didn’t get on so well with them: I was more interested in what happened after Foundation and Earth.
Move on again many years to last month: I’ve been re-reading the stories again. I now see that the Second Foundation’s empire, if the Second Foundationers are allowed to set it up, will be a nightmare of mind control. Galactica looks like a much more friendly solution. I went in search of further sequels and with the help of the Wikipedia page found the wonderful collection Foundation’s Friends (ed. Martin Greenberg), a collection of short stories put together by Asimov’s friends and fellow science-fiction writers, and a treat for all Foundation fans. Now I’m reading Donald Kingsbury’s Psychohistorical Crisis, which imagines the new Galactic Empire if the Second Foundation were to win.
Obviously, no one can write like Isaac Asimov, but it’s interesting to see how other writers have interpreted his visions and developed his ideas. Are there any more sequels or spin-offs out there?

Before anyone panics — no, I don’t intend to venture into continuing Asimov’s ideas. I’ll stick to parodies of Edgar Wallace.

… but the taxman would take away most of what I earned.

(Spot the author who has recently filled out her tax return!)

So I’ll continue to publish stories that I enjoy writing, for the people who enjoy reading them. And I won’t pester the people who don’t want to read them into reading them. Why make lots more money just for the taxman?

 

Healing dogs

Readers of Watchers (the first Watchers book) will remember Nodens, the holy greyhound at a former Roman temple located overlooking the Great River.

Not so far away from this, a metal detectorist has discovered a hoard of 4th-century Roman bronze artefacts, including a ‘licking dog’ — a dog which licks humans to heal them. The report suggests that it ‘may be linked to the Roman healing temple at Lydney’ — yes, folks, that’s the one in Watchers.

Read about the find here: http://www.gloucestershirelive.co.uk/news/gloucester-news/amazing-discovery-could-evidence-hidden-542056

and there are some pictures of the dog and other finds here:  http://eveandreski.zenfolio.com/p789221425

‘Gloucestershire could be home to a previously undiscovered Roman temple!’ says the report. Of course the Roman temple at Lydney has already been discovered.

 

 

DIGITAL_BOOK_THUMBNAILI’ve just uploaded the 6th ‘Just Woman’ story to Amazon Kindle. This time I used Amazon’s ‘cover creator’ to create a cover reminiscent of the Edgar Wallace hardbacks of the 1930s. (I’m still working on a good 1920s cover …).

Price: the lowest price, as usual.  Book description:

Mirabelle Leicester has always known that her husband Leon Gonsalez is the ‘possessor of innumerable coats of arms, quarterings, family mottoes direct and affiliated’ (in the words of Edgar Wallace), but since their marriage she has  discovered that he also has a real family, including a revolutionary cousin from Barcelona and an aristocratic aunt. When the cousin asks for Leon’s and Mirabelle’s assistance in clearing his name, the investigation takes them to Spain: trailing kidnappers, dodging gunmen and encountering old friends.