Archive for the Battle for Earth Category

Meet the new Johnny Mackintosh

Posted in Battle for Earth, Book news, eBooks, star blaze with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2013 by keithmansfield

Spirit-of-London-eBook-(webStar-Blaze-eBook-(web)Battle-for-Earth-high-(web)

With the kindle version of Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London topping the Amazon children’s chart (across all media) recently, I was horrified to realize I’ve not announced the existence of the eBooks on the site. They were published in December 2012 and I think they look gorgeous.

Each time one of the print books was published I thought the cover superb, but my favourite is probably Battle for Earth. It’s tremendous now to have a standard look that clearly identifies the series to date, even if that’s only for the eBooks at present, and I’m delighted Quercus picked JMB4E as the model.

Of course eBooks exist in myriad different formats for all the various devices. I’ve had to make a choice here, so if you click a cover it will take you directly to the Kindle store. If anyone from Kobo/Nook/etc wants to email me and request I switch the links to a different eReader for a while, I’d be happy to do that.

Johnny Mackintosh lands on Mars

Posted in Battle for Earth, Book news, History, Science, Space with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2012 by keithmansfield

This morning at 6.31 am (British Summer Time), Johnny and Clara Mackintosh (and their Old English sheepdog, Bentley) made history: thanks to NASA and its Mars Curiosity rover, they became the first literary heroes to literally land on another world. And all broadcast live in Times Square – wow!

Johnny, Clara and Bentley, lowered to the Martian surface on the back of Curiosity (courtesy JPL)

The descent was scary (I wrote a piece about it for Bookzone4Boys) – even NASA had described it as “seven minutes of terror”. Eventually the Mars Science Laboratory landed by “skycrane” in Gale Crater, a perfect location to examine millions of years of Martian geology in one go. Onboard was a microchip onto which had been etched the names of some of the people of Earth, the very first ambassadors to land on another planet. And among those names were:

  • Johnny Mackintosh
  • Clara Mackintosh
  • Bentley Mackintosh

I confess I’m delighted to say “Keith Mansfield” was also included.

Some great fictional stories have been set on Mars, but the paper or celluloid that tells them remains firmly grounded here on our island Earth. John Carter may have disappointed in cinemas lately, but Edgar Rice Burroughs’ series of “Barsoom” books are classics. A film that brought the red planet properly to life saw the now-Governator of California star as Doug Quaid in Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s 1990  masterpiece, Total Recall. Why anyone feels the need to remake a movie that was originally so stunning is a mystery, but I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve seen Len Wiseman’s remake.

As a child I grew up reading the late, great Ray Bradbury, whose thoughtful Martian Chronicles helped inspire the stories I’ve written. In the first two Johnny Mackintosh books there are mentions of Mars and Johnny and Clara always intend to go there, yet somehow they never quite get round to it. In Battle for Earth they finally make the trip (I won’t spoil it for future readers by saying whether or not they find Martians).

David Bowie famously sang “Is there life on Mars?” and in a fun Doctor Who tribute, Steven Moffat christened the first fictional human settlement “Bowie Base One”. I’ve written a few pieces on whether or not there’s life of some kind on the red planet over at my Keith Mansfield website.

We’ve always found Martian exploration difficult. On page 3 of Johnny Mackintosh: Battle for Earth we read:

“Johnny and Clara had been planing their first ever visit to Mars, with Johnny telling his sister about all the probes scientists had sent to the red planet, but which had mysteriously failed to arrive.”

and then, a little later on page 61:

“Early space probes had taken intriguing but inconclusive photographs of the Martian surface, showing what were called the Pyramids of Elysium, next to what appeared to be a gigantic human face gazing upward. Johnny had always meant to visit and see for himself. For his part, Alf was curious to hear about the probes that had gone missing, so Johnny repeated the conversation he’d had with Clara, in a little more detail. Given the great expense of space exploration, the failure rate for Mars was unusually high. It wasn’t only Beagle 2 that had bitten the dust as it neared the planet. Over the years, around half the missions launched had failed for one reason or another.”

Of course the “giant face” is no more than an optical illusion, but sometimes you can’t let details like that get in the way of a good story. I first came across the pyramids through Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and these don’t only feature in Johnny Mackintosh – Total Recall also centred around the mysterious “pyramid mine”.

Nowadays we know a huge amount about this near neighbour, not least because there are actually three satellites in permanent orbit around the red planet. In the 1970s we sent the twin Viking landers to search for life (you can see a third in the Smithsonain Air and Space Museum in Washington DC). These tantalized, but also frustrated. Given the track record of previous Mars missions, this one played it relatively safe so the spacecraft set down in what proved rather dull areas – and that’s where they remained. The great thing about Curiosity is that it’s mobile.

Mars rover family portrait showing Sojourner, one of Spirit/Opportunity and then Curiosity (courtesy NASA)

We’ve come a long way in a short space of time with Mars rovers. The first was Sojourner, a little add on to the Pathfinder mission that landed in 1997. It was the size of a remote-controlled child’s toy and could only travel a few metres from the main landing station, getting up close and personal with a few interesting nearby rocks. Sojourner started the ball rolling, and the momentum was magnificently maintained by another pair of twin landers, the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which set down early in 2004.

Mars panorama using composite images from Opportunity, showing the rover’s own tyre tracks (courtesy NASA)

Larger, more independent and mobile, it was hoped these two would function for around 90 days. Spirit lasted fully five years, becoming immobile on 2009 and finally ceasing communication in 2010. Opportunity is still going! These two have shown that we are more than capable, not just of landing on Mars, but traversing its surface.

Curiosity being put through its paces on Earth (courtesy of JPL)

Curiosity is in a different league altogether. Weighing nearly a tonne, it’s around the size of a small car. It doesn’t move quite as fast, travelling at what’s almost literally a snail’s pace, but wherever it goes, Johnny, Clara and Bentley will go with it. I hope they and I are able to move across the surface of this faraway world for many years to come.

Buy the first book in the series, Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London.

Buy the third book in the series, Johnny Mackintosh: Battle for Earth in which Johnny and Clara visit Mars.

Battle for Earth is Published!

Posted in Battle for Earth, Extracts with tags , , , , , , on September 1, 2011 by keithmansfield

Hurrah! Johnny Mackintosh: Battle for Earth publishes today (Thursday 1st September, 2011). To celebrate, here’s my first ever attempt at a computer-based audio recording . Click the “play” symbol and you’ll get to hear me reading from the opening of the book. On the days after publication I’ll follow it up with three shorter extracts, so keep coming back for more.

Chapter 1, Part 1:

Chapter 1, Part 2 (added 2nd Sept 2011):

Chapter 1, Part 3 (added 3rd Sept 2011):

Chapter 1, Part 4 (added 4th Sept 2011):

Congratulations if you’ve listened all the way through to the end of the fourth clip. I hope it encourages you to read on. It’s always good to support your local bookshop but if you’d prefer to buy the book online, of course that’s great.

Influences on Johnny Mackintosh: Harry Potter

Posted in Battle for Earth, Harry Potter, Influences, Writers with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2011 by keithmansfield

Most of the entries in this series of things that have impacted on the Johnny Mackintosh books have been either science fiction or science based. I have though saved the biggest influence until last and it comes from another world, but one which many readers will know well: Jo Rowling’s spectacular creation, Harry Potter.

Some people might have heard the story of how I came to begin reading about the boy wizard from Godric’s Hollow, but for those who haven’t here goes. Of course as a publisher I’d heard about Harry and his creator JK Rowling, but I figured he was for kids and I had no interest whatsoever in books about witches and wizards and magic and broomsticks, even though the buzz about this remarkable creation wouldn’t go away.

I was working for a company called Addison-Wesley who were based in Boston, Massachusetts, so had been spending time over there. At the end of the week everyone from the office was out a party in a club (I think the House of Blues) and I would be heading back to the UK the next day. I was approached be someone looking a little sheepish who said she had something to tell me – that everyone in the office thought I was Harry Potter.

In hindsight it’s obvious. At the time, as you can see, I wore ridiculous round battered glasses, had black messed up hair, spoke with an English accent and (though I normally cover it under mounds of foundation) I do actually have a lightning-shaped scar on my forehead. Then there are all the mad things that seem to happen when I get angry, but that’s another story…

The next day I found and bought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone at Logan International Airport and read it on the flight home. Curiously, although I may have read all the Harry Potter books 20-40 times, I’ve still never read the Philosopher’s Stone version of book one where it all began. At that time Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was also published so I bought that at Heathrow Airport on the way home, and Prisoner of Azkaban soon followed. I loved this world that the woman who was to become my writing idol had created. It’s a tribute to her that she could even make things like magic and dragons and Quidditch sound interesting. But most of all it was what we call the voice of the books, and the cleverness of telling everything from Harry’s point of view, even when he got the wrong end of the stick.

It had never occurred to me to write the sort of books that children might want to read (as well as adults). I’d been trying to pen the ultimate cutting edge modern novel, a kind of cross between Iain Banks, Paul Auster, Tibor Fisher and Irvine Welsh (there’s a thought!) when one day, walking back from the writing class I’d been going to it hit me like a sledgehammer. Although I enjoyed reading authors like those four listed, there was nothing I loved reading more than Harry Potter. Just as it was books from my childhood that had left further, indelible marks on me. And that I felt that about Harry despite, not because of, the subject matter. How much better it might be if I could write the same sort of story, but replacing magic with science, and having aliens instead of goblins and house elves, and football instead of Quidditch, and pack it with fun gadgets and computers.

I began writing Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London. The other novels I’d tried to create had all been hard work – this was like reading my all-time favourite book, but it was up to me how it developed. It flowed so well. And, many twists and turns later, it’s remarkable that the third in my own series publishes tomorrow.

I have no doubt that Jo Rowling is the greatest writer and storyteller of her (my) generation and seriously underrated. I suspect a lot of it is due to jealousy of her success. Whenever I read other books aimed at the same market, often by lauded authors, I find myself picking holes in their writing and technique, but I can’t find fault with the writing behind Harry Potter. When I was first working on the Johnny Mackintosh stories I would actually read the Harry Potter books in a continuous loop to remind myself of the incredible voice I was trying to find. If a new book was coming out I might have to pause my own writing for a while so I could time it perfectly to finish, say, Goblet of Fire, the day before Order of Phoenix came out so I could carry straight on into the new book.

Sound a little obsessive? Maybe, but I am Harry Potter’s number one fan and don’t let anyone tell you different. In fact, here’s a Harry Potter Quiz I once wrote for the Sunday Telegraph magazine, just before The Deathly Hallows came out. They asked me to create something ungooglable. They also wanted me to include a fair amount of film stuff (as they didn’t realize fans cared about the last book being released, not the fifth film). Also, they wanted multiple choice and so I gave five answers to each question, but the final piece was printed with only four possibilities, so not all the questions work as intended. But I’m still proud of it. The STEWS setting was my idea too.

When I pitched the Johnny Mackintosh books to agents and publishers the 10 second sell I began with was “Harry Potter in space” (or sometimes “Harry Potter meets Star Wars in case they thought at this stage that Harry Potter alone hadn’t made enough money). People who know me will know that dreams are a big part of my life  and I suspect the same is probably true of JKR, because of the way she weaves Harry’s into the stories. I’ve done the same. The best bit about the Potter books is the way so many clues are hidden in plain sight. It’s wonderful trying to spot them – for instance, Chamber of Secrets is particularly packed full of clues that point to events into the far future, even including books six and seven. I’ve tried to do the same. Up until about draft 30 of Spirit of London (yes you read that right) I think my setting for Johnny was too similar to that of Harry’s, in that I had my own hero living with foster parents. Then, after a year of rewriting and plotting, I came up with the idea of Halader House and the children’s home in which my story begins.

I could wax lyrical about the boy who lived for days/weeks/months, but I’m sure you get the idea. Tomorrow my third book will be published and it’s a huge thank you to Jo Rowling for helping that happen. And now I might just pop out and see if I can buy a copy of and then start on a book I’ve still never read: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Influences on Johnny Mackintosh: Edith Nesbit

Posted in Battle for Earth, Influences, Writers with tags , , , , , on August 30, 2011 by keithmansfield

One of the great things about books is how long they last. We’re still able to read stories from thousands of years ago, many of them being continually remade as films or television stories. One book that made a lasting impression on me as a child was something that was written over a century ago: Edith Nesbit’s The Story of the Amulet.

The book features some brothers and sisters who acquire an ancient amulet that will apparently give them their hearts’ desire – to be reunited with their parents. But there’s a catch. They only have half the amulet and only when whole will their wish come true. But there’s hope because the amulet can form into an arch through which you can cross time and space. Sound familiar? Of course Clara Mackintosh is always creating such archways, which she models on the Arch of Lysentia that she and brother Johnny pass through in the Spirit of London.

What was great about the stories was how the children affected time through their travels. For instance, I think when they were being held prisoner in ancient Babylon they showed their prison guard a twopence piece and that was apparently how the Bablyonians came upon the idea of a minted coinage/currency.

*****SPOILER ALERT – DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU’VE FINISHED JOHNNY MACKINTOSH AND THE SPIRIT OF LONDON*******

Along the same lines, something that always stayed with me was when the protagonists travelled to Atlantis. They were there right at the end of the legendary city and escaped through the amulet’s arch just in time. This was very much my inspiration for having Johnny and Clara visit Atlantis and do a very similar thing. And another example, similar to Nesbit’s weaving in the Babylonian coinage, was the way I had Johnny wipe out the dinosaurs by accident, being responsible for diverting an asteroid onto a collision course with Earth.

***********END OF SPOILERS******************************

There’s so much great new writing nowadays that it can be easy to forget the classics of the past, but Edith Nesbit was a great writer and definitely deserves to be read and remembered. She also wrote The Railway Children, which is always being performed on stage or serialized. Tomorrow though, I’ll bring us right up to date with unquestionably the biggest influence on Johnny Mackintosh and the publishing phenomenon of recent times.

Influences on Johnny Mackintosh: Douglas Adams

Posted in Battle for Earth, Influences, Writers with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2011 by keithmansfield

It may surprise a great many people who always know where their towels are that I’ve never really read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books. I admit I do own the very first and did start reading it decades ago, but something about the writing in book form didn’t work for me. However, that’s because I listened to the original radio series, almost as it happened. It wasn’t quite live, but the summer of 1978 I was away on a camping holiday with friends and a guy called Ron Knott had recorded the show from a couple of months earlier (I think it was still just about the days of reel-to-reel tape recorders). Ron – wherever you are, I owe you a huge debt of gratitude.

In these pages I’ve written of how I’ve been fortunate enough to have met Carl Sagan, Iain Banks, Steven Moffat and Brian Cox, but I do which I’d had an encounter with the genius Douglas Adams who created the Guide. Sadly, he died ten years ago.

The radio series became a book series and a TV series and feature films, I suspect getting worse through each iteration but I confess I didn’t see the recent movie. Nowadays Eoin Colfer even writes additional books, but I haven’t read those either. When something becomes enormously popular there’s a terrible temptation for people to try to make as much money out of it as possible – sometimes it’s best for the original to be left well alone in its purest form. After all, how can you compete with the sound effects of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop or the voice of Peter Jones as “the book”?

The most direct link between the Guide and the Johnny Mackintosh books are the means of understanding alien language. If you have a story where humans go off into space they (and the reader/listener) have to understand what’s going on. I never liked Star Trek’s highly convenient “universal translator”. Adams came up with the brilliant idea of the Babel Fish. In his universe, these seem highly common. You put one in your ear and it telepathically translates the language of every being you’re speaking with.

I was looking for a method of translation for Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London and came up with the Hundra, which in many ways are like Adams’  Babel Fish. They’re not as portable and if you touch one they kill you, and they come with an ancient, lost history (of course I know what it is but couldn’t possibly say at this point!) but they do a similar telepathic translation trick. And because Johnny Mackintosh can touch them he ends up being unique in having a very Babel Fish-like personal arrangement, which can be highly convenient. For when Hundra aren’t around, I also invented a galaxy-wide form of language called Universal whereby different races can still communicate.

The  links between the Hitchhiker’s Guide and Johnny Mackintosh don’t stop there. There are a few specifics in Battle for Earth that fans of Adams might spot, but I hope there’s also something about the storytelling style. What Adams did was right insightful but witty science fiction. Something I feel has been a little absent in the first couple of Johnny Mackintosh books has been that they’ve not been as funny as I’d like. As a storyteller, I like to be funny. As someone who scripts entertainment TV shows, I have to be funny. Even though the story of Johnny Mackintosh: Battle for Earth is at its heart a serious adventure, I do think there’s a better balance with more humour thrown in this time.

Curiously, the Guide came out within three months of the original Star Wars movie (nowadays known as Episode IV: A New Hope). One of the things I’ve tried to convey to my readers is the sheer wonder anyone must feel at the sights they encounter in space. When we have the beauty of Saturn’s rings in our own solar system, just imagine what else is out there waiting for us to find and hopefully share, a little like Rutger Hauer’s final lines of Blade Runner (the “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe” speech). One of those sights must be the spectacle of a double sunset in a binary star system. It happens in Star Wars but I remember it very well from the Hitchhiker’s Guide as something I’ve always been desperate to see.

Arthur Dent, the accidental Earthman hero of the Hitchhiker’s Guide describes the double sunset he sees on the legendary planet of Magrathea as:

“I’ve never seen anything like it in my wildest dreams. The two suns … it was like mountains of fire boiling into space”

to which Marvin the Paranoid Android replies:

“I’ve seen it. It’s rubbish.”

When I wrote my blog about Blake’s 7 a few days ago I remember now (!) I meant to say my quantum computer Kovac is actually a kind of terrible cross between the Blake’s 7 computer Orac and the android Marvin – both were funny. For Arthur Dent, seeing this sunset is his first experience of standing on an alien world and I wanted to give Johnny Mackintosh the same thrill. When he first lands with Captain Valdour on Melania, he gets to see the twin suns of Arros and Deynar setting together and it’s something that stays with him throughout the books. Just as the Hitchhiker’s Guide has always stayed with me.

Influences on Johnny Mackintosh: Doctor Who

Posted in Battle for Earth, Influences, television, Writers with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2011 by keithmansfield

Unless you’ve been living on Mars the past few years, you can’t help but have been sucked into the hype surrounding the reboot of the Doctor Who franchise, with Doctors Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant and then moving onto current incarnation Matthew Smith. Even if you have been living on Mars, you can still catch the shows within an hour depending on where we and the red planet are in our respective orbits. The current series restarts tonight in the UK (and very probably in the US too as they’re so much better synchronized nowadays) so today of all days feels appropriate to post on the connections between Johnny Mackintosh and the sole surviving Time Lord from Gallifrey.

I grew up with Dr Who, John Pertwee being my first Doctor but Tom Baker the main and best one from my youth. Although there was a time when the ridiculous TV schedulers put it up against Gerry Anderson’s Space 1999 (Moonbase Alpha won that particular battle for me way back then) I’ve watched Who pretty much all my life when available. The paperback of Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London contains all sorts of time travelling adventures, and my publisher Quercus even referenced Doctor Who on the cover (we’ll swiftly gloss over the mention of Alex Rider).

When I first heard Eccleston was leaving and Tennant was taking over, I was very disappointed – how wrong was I? For me, David Tennant now bestrides the Who universe as the greatest of all Doctors, not least because he so clearly loved the role when it always appeared Eccleston felt a little above it.

For Who trivia fans there’s a great scene in the movie Jude (starring Eccleston as the title character) where the man Jude is drinking in an Oxford bar. He’s slagging off the Oxford scholars and ends up in a slanging match with one such, none other than Tennant himself. While Tennant’s character fits effortlessly into his surroundings, Eccleston’s Jude is deliberately awkward and it’s always reminded me of their respective Doctoral personas.

Perhaps it’s a precursor to Moffat doing one of those Five Doctor specials with everyone returning to save the universe from a particularly thorny problem?

Although Russell T Davies was the man who brought Who back onto the small screen, many people would say it was the writing of Steven Moffatt that really stood out. He penned such seminal Tennant episodes as “Blink” and “The Girl in the Fireplace” (pictured). I had a long chat with Moffat, lead writer and executive producer of Dr Who at this year’s Royal Television Society awards – Moffat had won a gong for lifetime achievement while at least I’d been rewarded with a very lovely dinner. We talked for a long time about our shared love of the show and he even said he’d try the Johnny Mackintosh books out on his kids.

The brilliance of Who is that it’s true entertainment for all the family. It’s become a televisual event – one of those must-watch shows that’s talked about by the watercooler. Great writers such as Moffat occasionally borrow and it seemed to me that “The Girl in the Fireplace” owed much to Audrey Niffenberger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife.

In Johnny Mackintosh: Battle for Earth I borrowed what I thought was one of the great lines from Doctor Who himself. They’re the very final five words spoken by Tennant’s Doctor: “I don’t want to go”. You’ll have to read #JMB4E to see why they’re spoken, but echoing Tennant’s lines was partly put into the book as a thank you to Tennant and Moffatt for the great pleasure they’ve given me in watching their work.

One of the strands of Doctor Who, certainly in the recent reboot, has been the way the Doctor’s time travelling influences real events. Those of you who’ve read Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London will know that’s a strong theme of the first book in my own series.

Interestingly, I can’t help feeling that the influence might sometimes have gone the other way. The Piccadilly, one of the Spirit of London’s shuttle craft is in the form of a flying London double-decker bus, something used later on Who in the Easter special episode, “Planet of the Dead”. Then, as we reached the halfway point of the current series there were headless monks dressed in scarlet robes at Demons Run (in the episode “A Good Man Goes to War”). These looked pretty much deadringers for my own (also headless) Owlessan Monks who first appeared in Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze and continue through Battle for Earth.

Like all fans, I can’t wait to discover how the current series arc all fits together. The curse of being a writer is that you often can’t help spotting the subtle clues planted along the way, so right now I’m confident of a lot of good guesses, but doubtless there’ll be plenty of surprises too. If you’re a fan of the Doctor and haven’t yet read any of my books I’d definitely recommend you start at the beginning with Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London.

Not long until the Battle for Earth

Posted in Battle for Earth, Book news, Influences with tags , , , on August 14, 2011 by keithmansfield

Thanks to everyone for their patience and enthusiasm for the third book in Johnny’s (and Clara’s) adventures. If you live in Europe, Johnny Mackintosh: Battle for Earth publishes on Thursday 1st September 2011.

If you’re in North America you may have to wait a little longer. I was just in Canada where the pub date was being announced as 1st December 2011 and it’s the same in the United States. Perhaps I’ll combine a Christmas shopping trip to New York with a book launch?

If you want to pre-order the book (or buy any of the earlier ones) click on the three covers together to go to the buy the books page or support your local bookshop by going in and ordering direct.

In the run up to publication I’ll be publishing a series of posts about the influences on Johnny Mackintosh and tweeting about the new book using the #JMB4E hashtag. And I do plan to have a London launch but I’ve been so busy it’s not likely to happen until late September or early October. Watch this space!

Cover preview of Johnny Mackintosh: Battle for Earth

Posted in Battle for Earth, Book news with tags , , , , , on January 3, 2011 by keithmansfield

Here’s a sneak preview of what you have to look forward to later in 2011:

I’ve been lucky to have had three absolutely fabulous cover designs so far, each striking but different. They all have their strengths, but what this one does is tie the story to Earth in the here and now, which is always something I’ve been very keen on. When books are branded “science fiction” it can suggest “a long time ago in a galaxy faraway” and immediately exclude 95% of your potential audience. Of course I love the genre, but have always tried to write for a general readership.

I do like that bold, slanted text, which I’ve not seen on other books. Perhaps, as word of Johnny Mackintosh spreads, we’ll be able to re-cover all the books so they match and we can establish a series identity.

Happy New Year!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.