Archive for January, 2010

Here come the reviews

Posted in Book news, reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2010 by keithmansfield

Naturally, authors never read reviews. It’s purely an accident I have a Google alert set up to tell me when anyone, anywhere writes something about Johnny Mackintosh. It would be madness to pay too much attention as there are bound to be people who don’t like a book – happily, though, this has been a sane week and people have had only lovely things to say about both Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze and also Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London.

The Bookbag has given Star Blaze a whopping five stars and said such nice things that I’m reluctant to repeat them here. Well, go on – you twisted my arm. Their reviewer, Jason Mark Curley, liked Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London except its title and made my year by saying it was “reminiscent of Rowling”, my writing idol. This one he seems to have enjoyed even more.

“it must be hard to write a sequel to a book that was so good and get it right … I enjoyed the first book so much that I didn’t want to spoil it by reading a duffer of a follow up. I really shouldn’t have worried; Star Blaze is everything that its predecessor was and a lot more besides … shades and echoes of those sci-fi novels I used to read as a kid: Asimov, Clarke, Moorcock and Dick. … great characters, action, mystery and adventure … A great read; go get it. And, more please Mr Mansfield.”

I am blushing as I type and will gladly buy anyone claiming to be Jason a beer should they approach me in a pub. Earlier in the week, the Bridgend County Council posted some user reviews of books in their libraries and the second one they showed was Johnnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London. A young reviewer by the name of Master Dylan James Morgan wrote:

“Awesome! The book cover just makes you want to pick it up straight away because it is so colorful and looks exciting. Flying around in a spaceship disguised as the London Gherkin! WOW!!! This is the first Johnny Mackintosh Book and I hope there will be more to come.”

I hope Master Morgan discovers Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze soon!

The first Star Blaze review of the week was from the lovely people at Chicklish. Even though I’d love everyone to read Spirit of London first, I’m delighted Alexandra picked up that you could read the second book independently and still enjoy it as I worked very hard on that. She’s also given a great short summary:

“In Star Blaze, Johnny becomes involved in a deadly plot against the Earth’s sun. Exploding the sun into a supernova should be impossible but intergalactic enemies have found a way. Only Johnny and his sister appear to know what’s happening. Can they save the day? … You can read this novel without having to read the first in the series. Definitely a hit for sci-fi fans.”

Chicklish is a great site run by authors Luisa Plaja and Keris Stainton.

If you like either of the Johnny Mackintosh books, it really helps spread the word if you post reviews online, with Amazon of course being particularly visible. If you hurry, you can be first up for Star Blaze!

Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze is published

Posted in Book news, star blaze with tags , , , , , , , on January 7, 2010 by keithmansfield

I hope this is the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The second Johnny Mackintosh book has arrived. I’m very proud of Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze and enormously grateful to everyone who’s helped make this day possible. The cover copy reads:

Alien invaders have exploded a nearby star, turning it into a supernova, and only Johnny Mackintosh knows the Sun is next in line. Abandoning school and his football team, he and sister Clara travel to the galactic capital seeking help. Their mission stalls. After a decade missing, Johnny’s mysterious brother reappears, but what was he doing all those years away and whose side is he on?

So begins an epic adventure full of devious aliens intent on ruling the galaxy and killing Johnny along the way. Can he survive to save his brother, and planet Earth, in time?

Keith Mansfield’s explosive space adventure will wow fans of action stories and Star Wars.

If you want more of a taster, you can check out this site’s excerpts section which includes the opening page. The book’s published and should be in all good bookshops (snow permitting). Bookstores are having a precarious existence at the moment (witnessed by the demise of Borders), so it would be great if you popped into your local local to pick up a copy. If they don’t have stock, demand to know why not and ask them to order it. But, if you can’t wait, here are some links to buy online.

Star Blaze cover

Prizes for Johnny Mackintosh

Posted in Book news, Website news with tags , , , , on January 6, 2010 by keithmansfield

I’m delighted to announce Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London is one of twenty titles longlisted for the New Horizons Book Prize. It’s even led me to set up a new (currently rather small) page on JohnnyMackintosh.com called “Prizes and Awards”. It would be lovely if it grew quickly. You can read a little more information about this over at my other blog.

12. Star Blaze

Posted in 12 Days of Johnny Mackintosh, Science, Space, star blaze with tags , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2010 by keithmansfield

“Johnny knew … he had the best seat in the house to watch the greatest explosion in the history of the solar system.” p. 309

Credit: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

First there was the big bang. By definition, nothing can match the initial outpouring of energy that we believe created the universe, but even today there are some pretty cataclysmic explosions. A supernova (the Star Blaze of the new book) happens when a large star reaches the end of its life. Stars fight a constant battle, the outward pressure from the nuclear reactions at their hearts counterbalancing the gravitational collapse due to all that matter being in one place. When the nuclear fuel runs out, there can be only one winner.

In that moment, the light from a single star outshines the rest of the galaxy that contains it. When you realize our own Milky Way contains at least 100 billion suns, we begin to understand just how bright and powerful a supernova really is. The image here is an artist’s vision of a supernova, based on Chandra X-Ray Telescope observations. Subramanian Chandrasekhar, who did more than anyone to enhance our understanding of stars and black holes, was one of the greatest scientists of last century. The telescope’s named after him, and I’m honoured that he called me his friend. At the start of Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze, I give the great man a name check.

It’s because of Chandra that we know our own Sun won’t, at some future stage, become a supernova, as its mass is less than the Chandrasekhar Limit. It’s also because of him that we know we can treat some supernovae as “standard candles”, which help us measure the scale of the universe. And it’s because of these yardsticks that we’ve recently discovered that the rate of expansion of the universe is speeding up rather than slowing down, accelerated by something called dark energy, the same force that powers the Spirit of London’s engines.

Although a supernova marks the death of a particular star, it’s part of the continual process of rebirth in the universe. None of us – not even Earth itself – could exist without the first stars exploding. We’re all made of different types of atoms, the basic elemental building blocks of the universe. The big bang only produced the two lightest elements, hydrogen and helium, with a minuscule amount of lithium (the next one up). All the other, heavier elements have had to be made since and the place they are created is in the heart of stars. Only when those stars die, becoming supernovae, can those atoms be spread across space and come together to form such things as people and planets. Carl Sagan first said, “We are all made of starstuff.”

Today marks the end of the Twelve Days of Johnny Mackintosh, but only because tomorrow sees a new birth.

An interview with BFKbooks

Posted in Book news, Interviews, reviews, Website news with tags , , , , on January 5, 2010 by keithmansfield

There’s a page on this site called “What other people say about Johnny Mackintosh” which is where I began listing reviews, but now realize I’ve been very lax about updating it. In particular, I’ve only just added a review and link to an interview that I did a while ago for BFKbooks.

I loved the interview – Jayne asked some great questions – and she wrote some very kind things about Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London. I hope she enjoys Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze just as much.

BFKbooks is a great site to raise awareness about adults with autism. I’ve been interested in the subject ever since I edited a book by Simon Baron-Cohen (yes he is related to Ali G) and Patrick Bolton called Autism: the Facts. We’re used to acknowledging that there are children with autism and recognizing the difficulties they must sometimes face, but of course those children grow up. I hope some of you are able to visit their pages.

11. Titan

Posted in 12 Days of Johnny Mackintosh, Science, Space, star blaze with tags , , , , , , , on January 5, 2010 by keithmansfield

“He landed on a rocky outcrop which looked out across a vast … plane.” p. 292

Credit: NASA/JPL/Michael Carroll

Only two days of Johnny Mackintosh to go. I’ve jumped to much further on in the book, taking us to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon and the most planet-like of all the solar system’s satellites. Apart from Earth, it’s the only other body we’ve found that has permanent liquid features on its surface – oceans, lakes and rivers. Only, on Titan, the surface liquid is thought to be complex hydrocarbons.

We know a reasonable amount about it because it’s the body furthest from Earth on which a spaceship has landed. On 14 January 2005, the Huygens probe (carried by its mother ship Cassini) descended through the moon’s thick orange atmosphere and touched down safely on Titan’s surface. The joint ESA/NASA/ASI mission (ASI is the Italian space agency) was an amazing feet, and there’s a rather odd video of the descent at the NASA site. It’s like watching the landing through a fish-eye lens and only really comes into its own towards the end of the movie, but worth sticking with it. It’s a shame that the probe wasn’t able to carry a more regular camera so everyone could have been captivated by extraordinary pictures from the surface of another world.

Titan’s unique as the only moon in the solar system with a notable atmosphere. It’s so thick that, with the lower gravity, humans could strap on wings and fly through the air, soaring over the plains like the one above. I started the Twelve Days of Johnny Mackintosh by saying the first place I’d visit, if I had my own spaceship, would be Saturn, but I’m sure I could take some time out from the majestic rings to have a bit of a play on the solar system’s second-largest moon.

It’s the final day of Johnny Mackintosh tomorrow and we’re going out with a bit of a bang.

10. New York City

Posted in 12 Days of Johnny Mackintosh, Buildings, New York with tags , , , , , , on January 4, 2010 by keithmansfield

“With the last of his strength he stumbled out and saw … exactly how high up he was – in front of the Empire State building”, p. 133

Anyone who knows me will realize it’s a great achievement to have kept myself out of these pictures so far. Sadly it couldn’t last. This is me, taken by me, on top of New York’s Rockefeller Center (the Top of the Rock).

For reason’s that will become clear if you read Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze, I’ve spent a fair amount of time writing the book from 70 floors up on the Rockefeller Center’s observation deck. Behind, I expect you’ll recognize the structure behind me. I’m holding up the cover of Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London to compare London’s Gherkin with New York’s Empire State Building.

When in New York I always used to go to the top of the twin towers, often the Windows on the World bar in the North Tower (because you’d get the magnificent views to yourself and whoever you invited) but sometimes the South Tower because that way you’d get out on the roof. There’s something magical about being outside so high up. Even though I share Clara’s terror of heights, I never felt frightened there and the Rockefeller’s the same. Plus it has magnificent all-round views, including out over Central Park, though sadly yesterday’s Chrysler Building is largely blocked off. Another of my favourite New York roofs is the top of the Metropolitan Museum, watching the sunset over the city.

Needless to say, when Johnny’s in the big apple he doesn’t have much time for sightseeing…

9. The Chrysler Building

Posted in 12 Days of Johnny Mackintosh, Buildings, New York with tags , , , , , on January 3, 2010 by keithmansfield

“We’re in the Chrysler Building – Nymac owns the top few floors.” p. 118

My favourite building in London is obviously the Gherkin; in New York it’s the gorgeous Chrysler Building. I took these pictures on my phone when last there in summer 2009. Some action in Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze takes place inside the building but, try as I might, I was only able to spend time in the lobby.

To be sure I gave a reasonable description of the upper floors, it was fascinating to read about the building and its construction which briefly led this architectural wonder to become the world’s tallest (overtaking the Eiffel Tower), before its ugly nearby sister took over. The spire on top of the building was constructed in secret inside the main body, and only revealed and added on once a nearby building, also attempting to become the world’s biggest, was completed.

The art deco Chrysler building has beautiful gargoyles and its radiator grill top section. Nowadays, builders rarely leave room for either design or craftsmanship – I can’t fathom how some of London’s skyscrapers are allowed to be put up when their simply steel and glass cuboids. If something’s to dominate a city, it’s got to be worth looking at. As I sit at my desk writing this, I have the lights of the Gherkin in front to the left and those of the newer Bishopsgate tower on the right. Sadly, some very dull buildings are going up in between, but at least they won’t obscure the view.

8. Alnitak

Posted in 12 Days of Johnny Mackintosh, Space, star blaze with tags , , , , on January 2, 2010 by keithmansfield

“Alnitak is a binary system that, from Earth, appears as the left-most star of Orion’s belt.” p.91

Credit: Digitized Sky Survey, ESA/ESO/NASA FITS Liberator; colour composite: Davide De Martin (Skyfactory)

For me, the star of the winter night sky is the constellation Orion. The three stars of its belt, coupled with the hunter’s sword, make it one of the most recognizable objects in the heavens. Alnitak, the leftmost star, is actually a binary system made up of two blue suns, one a supergiant and the other a large companion star. Both of these are known as “type O” by astronomers, meaning they emit large amounts of radiation and so produce especially strong stellar winds. Perhaps if we took yesterday’s solar sail there, it would fly especially well.

I like to imagine a sunset on a planet orbiting Alnitak, perhaps the beautiful blue blaze reflected in a calm ocean, a line leading all the way to the observers on the sea shore, with the many nearby nebulae appearing in the sky overhead.

Tomorrow we’re back to Earth with a vengeance – it’s off to New York!

7. Solar Sails

Posted in 12 Days of Johnny Mackintosh, Science, Space, star blaze with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2010 by keithmansfield

“scientists think you can fly a spaceship with the stellar wind, the particles a star gives off when it shines. If the sail’s big and light enough.” p. 83

Credit: Rick Sternbach, The Planetary Society

Happy New Year!

One of the biggest difficulties in spaceship propulsion is having to carry your fuel on board. The more mass your ship has, the more energy it needs to accelerate to faster and faster speeds. Scientists have come up with an ingenious solution – not carrying any fuel. Instead, a solar sailing ship has been proposed to surf the currents between the stars. When the Sun shines, it gives off a steady stream of subatomic particles called the stellar wind. Individually these are insignificant, but add up all their effects and they can become quite sizable.

When solar sails were first mooted, it was thought that this “radiation” pressure might be enough to fly a ship on its own. Nowadays, scientists calculate that we have to give a solar sailing ship a helping hand by firing lasers into the sail to push it along. The Planetary Society have been at the forefront of solar sail research and launched Cosmos 1 back in 2005 to demonstrate the theory. Sadly, a rocket failure meant the first ever space-bound sailing ship never reached orbit.

Undeterred, Lightsail is a new initiative from the same organization – they plan to launch the first prototype before the end of 2010 (and you can even send your name or a message into space with it). Lightsail 1 will be restricted to flights in Earth orbit, but ships 2 and 3 will be more ambitious.

I first came across the concept of solar sails in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s 1974 novel The Mote in God’s Eye. Nowadays, I remember little else about the book, but think it was trying to use the same “science in fiction” approach that I’ve attempted with Johnny Mackintosh. After you’ve all read Star Blaze and while you’re twiddling your thumbs waiting for me to finish the third instalment, you may want to take a look at it. Jerry Pournelle also wrote A Step Further Out, which was a manifesto for investing in space travel.

Tomorrow we’re taking one of those steps, travelling to a star in the constellation of Orion the Hunter.

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