The frustrations of near-future speculative fiction writing

As the only other near future speculative writer I know, I just had to reblog Chris James’ post about replicators and their links backwards [to Star Trek] and forwards [to 3D printing] in time.
Near future speculative fiction writers [sticks hand up] extrapolate from the /now/ to the future. Sometimes we get it wrong…but the times we get it right, it’s worth celebrating!
Go Chris. 😀

Chris James's blog

I’m generally loathe to discuss my writing on this blog, unless I have a new title to publicise.  The reason for this is that I really want my books to do the talking for me.  However, every once in a while something happens that makes me want to shout: “See? That’s what I said would happen!”  So, this week I deliver a thoroughly wordy and nerdy post for you, for a change.

On Tuesday, The Guardianpublished a story on how 3-D printing has, for the first time, produced edible food (well, just about).  In the Repulse Chronicles, set in the 2060s, there are devices called replicators, which I intended to be the next step on from 3-D printing.  There are construction replicators, marine replicators (read the books if you want to know ;)) and replicators that produce water and food.  However, there are snags and the food…

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Little Miss Tukti – caught in the act

The Tukti are vegans, and a staple of their diet is the seed of the plains grass. Unfortunately, the delicate purple flower of the plains grass contains a sweet nectar that the little ones love.

The nectar is fine for a special treat, but too much can make you sick. Tell that to the kids though!

The Little Miss in the image is being naughty… and knows it. 🙂


The Hyena – nature’s feminist

I was on Robbie Cheadle’s blog recently and was intrigued when she described some of Southern Africa’s wild life as ‘the Big Five’ and ‘the Ugly Five’! I had to ask, right? Well, here’s what Robbie said.

Robbie: The “Ugly Five”, comprising of the warthog, hyena, wildebeest, marabou stork, and vulture, aren’t as well known, but also play an important role in the southern African eco systems. The hyena, marabou stork, and vulture are all scavengers who help ‘clean up’ the bushveld.

One of the most interesting of the “Ugly Five” is the hyena which is one of the most misunderstood and persecuted animals in history. Throughout history, hyenas have been regarded as vermin and a liability to local communities. Disney’s movie, The Lion King, also perpetrated the myth of hyenas as despicable animals.

Me: Having watched The Lion King many times when the Offspring was little, I knew that the hyenas were depicted as evil henchmen to Mufasa, the uber villain of the story, so ugly and despicable. But what did Robbie mean about them being ‘misunderstood’?

Robbie: The reality is that hyenas are very interesting creatures with surprising social behaviours. They also play an important role in the ecosystem.

The spotted hyena is the most common hyena in sub-Saharan Africa and, while not yet threatened, their populations are declining. Historically, they lived in groups called clans, comprising of up to eighty animals. Currently, spotted hyenas live in clans of between ten and forty individuals in the game reserves and national parks of southern Africa. Hyena clans are led by a dominant female and all females are dominant over the males. The alpha male has a lower status in the clan than the lowest ranked female.

Me: Whoa! I knew that in a pride of lions, it’s actually the females that do the bulk of the hunting, but the male is definitely the alpha. So why are hyenas so different? You will not believe the answer!

Robbie: The genitalia of the female hyena closely resembles that of the male. The clitoris is shaped and positioned like a penis, it is a pseudo-penis, and it can become erect. The female has no external vaginal opening as the labia are fused to form a pseudo-scrotum.

Female hyenas chose their mate, and the males perform a bowing display to females before mating. Due to the females pseudo-penis, mating is difficult and males cannot force themselves onto females.

Female hyenas have three times more testosterone than males and this results in an unusual and risky labour process. Birth takes place through the pseudo-scrotum and the birth canal is approximately one inch across. Consequently, suffocation in the birth canal is common for hyena cubs and the mortality rate for first-time mothers is high.

Me: Biology and genetics are my passions so I was astounded to learn just how different hyenas really are from most other mammals. Why do female hyena have three times more testosterone than the males? And why do the males have so much less?

It’s a puzzle. Evolution usually favours mutations that lead to greater reproduction, yet amongst hyenas, their biology is actually counter survival: less offspring leads to a greater chance that the whole species could die out.

Luckily, the differences don’t stop with reproduction.

Robbie: Hyenas have a reputation for being scavengers that feed on leftovers from other carnivores kills. While it is true that hyenas are opportunistic feeders, they are also excellent hunters and directly kill between 60% and 95% of their food.

Spotted hyenas are able to eat and digest all parts of their prey except for the hair, hooves and keratin sheaths of antelope horns. Spotted hyenas also have an incredibly strong bite force which can break the leg bones of a giraffe. Their ability to break and digest bones gives them a food source opportunity that isn’t available to other animals.

Me: Ah hah! So what the hyena loses in reproductive capability, it gains back in its ability to find food where other great predators can’t. And make no mistake, they are predators.

Robbie: Hyenas have a reputation for laughing. If you hear a hyena laughing near by you in the bush, RUN! The hyena laughs to signal excitement that it has found food. The pitch of their laugh indicates their status in the clan.

Me: I have to admit, the bit about the hyena laughing to signal that it has found food does send shivers down my spine. The thought of being caught and having my bones cracked by those incredibly strong jaws is not…pleasant. My respect for hyenas has gone up…a lot!

This is a photo that Robbie sent me:

Photo credit: Spotted hyena eating a dead buffalo (that died of natural causes) in the Madikwe Game Reserve. Picture by Robbie Cheadle

I have no idea how Robbie took that photo, but my respect for her and her hyenas has skyrocketed. I always knew she could write, but since doing this post, I’ve come to realise just how knowledgeable she really is.

And creative.

In her latest book, ‘Lion Scream, Syllabic Poetry About Southern African Wildlife’, Robbie combines an amazing knowledge of the native fauna of her homeland with a style of poetry that touches the heart as well as the head.

This is one of the poems from the book, and it’s about hyenas, of course!

Nature’s Trick

My gender is obscure

One of nature’s tricks

I have the same appendages as my mate

I am also bigger

Much more aggressive


Birthing is difficult

My babies – stillborn

After suffocating in my birth canal

Only the strong survive

To continue my line


When my pack makes a kill

I get my share first

When all females have fed, and

then our offspring

Then, and only then

Do the males partake

‘Lion Scream’ also contains some fabulous info. about the ‘Big Five’:

‘The “Big Five” group of African animals is a well-known concept among lovers of African wildlife. Who doesn’t know the lion, buffalo, rhinoceros, elephant, and leopard? The “Big Five” is so well known, there is even a fondant version which live in the Chocolate Land Zoo.’

The Fondant Five from Sir Chocolate and the Fondant Five story and cookbook, by Robbie Cheadle

And yes, Robbie did sculpt all of those gorgeous beasts from fondant [icing]!

For those who don’t know, Robbie Cheadle is an award-winning, bestselling author, who has published thirteen children’s book and three poetry books. Her work has also appeared in poetry and short story anthologies.

Robbie also has two novels published under the name of Roberta Eaton Cheadle and has horror, paranormal, and fantasy short stories featured in several anthologies under this name.

The ten Sir Chocolate children’s picture books, co-authored by Robbie and Michael Cheadle, are written in sweet, short rhymes which are easy for young children to follow and are illustrated with pictures of delicious cakes and cake decorations. Each book also includes simple recipes or biscuit art directions which children can make under adult supervision.

Robbie’s blog includes recipes, fondant and cake artwork, poetry, and book reviews.

You can also find Robbie on her website, Youtube channel, Goodreads, and Twitter. Or why not go straight to her Amazon page to check out her books?

My thanks to Robbie for sharing her amazing knowledge of hyenas. I thoroughly enjoyed this post, and I know I’ve learned a lot as well. I hope you enjoy it too. 🙂

Have a great weekend everyone,


I confess, I’ve been very, very lucky. I haven’t been doing my backups as often as I should, but last night I backed up ALL my most important works-in-progress.

Lady Luck must have been looking out for me because when I booted up my pc this morning, the harddrive on which I usually save all my data was…’inaccessible’.

When I looked at the map of my harddrives [I have two], my data drive didn’t even have the NTFS operating system structure. I had to format the drive in order to be able to use it again. Needless to say, I won’t be using it for anything critical from here on in. Once I can afford to have another one installed, it’ll be gone.

I have lost some data, including the most recent pics used in my blog, and a heap of raw footage from videos I’ve worked on, but at least all of that stuff was completed. The pics were uploaded to WordPress and the finished videos were uploaded to Youtube so I haven’t lost anything critical. That’s why I say I’ve been so lucky; if this had happened a few days earlier, I would have lost a week’s worth of video-in-progess. And if I hadn’t backed up last night… -shudder-

In case you’re wondering, I backup periodically to an external harddrive that can take masses of data. In between times, I backup work-in-progress data to a thumbdrive that sits on my desk all the time and is quick and easy to use. Unfortunately, I don’t back up data often enough.

I hope that most of what I lost was of the ‘might come in useful one day’ variety, but I won’t know until I go to use something and find it isn’t there. I tell myself I’ll be more organized next time, but I know my good intentions won’t last. How I wish each pc came with a dedicated backup drive and backed itself up at the end of every day…


Please…if you haven’t backed up your important data recently…go and do it now. I was lucky. You may not be.


From strawberries to Tukti to Redbubble

In between harvesting strawberries and making passata from our homegrown tomatoes, I’ve been making another Tukti. This is the first one I made:

This is the new one:

And the reason I made a new one is that I’ve discovered Rebubble, a print-on-demand company for things rather than books. 🙂

As with Amazon, you provide the design, and Redbubble does the rest. I’m not sure if any of my designs will appeal to buyers, but there is at least the potential of turning my graphics into a passive income.

I can’t show you any of my ‘products’ yet, but I will say that the Tukti look great on socks! I figured if nothing else, I’d buy Tukti socks for winter and become a walking advertisement. 😀

Ok, enough fun. Time to harvest some more tomatoes.


Proof! Home grown strawberries do taste better.

We’ve been growing pots of strawberries for about five years now, and while they are always smaller than their commercial cousins, the flavour has more than made up for their size. Now, there is actual, real research that explains why home grown tastes better:

The culprit? Fungicide. Apparently fungicides not only kill fungus, they can also have a detrimental effect on the strawberry’s ability to produce sugars and other nutrients. Ergo, the commercial products don’t taste as sweet as home grown. 😀

As home gardeners, we’ve also noticed that our tomatoes are incredibly sweet. Much sweeter than the ones I used to buy from the supermarket. If anyone knows why, I’d love to know.

Oh, and it goes without saying that NOTHING in our garden is sprayed with herbicides, pesticides or fungicides. We are as organic as a home garden can be without being officially certified. I’m proud of that. 🙂

Here are some pics of our bounty:


Peaches and tomatoes

More tomatoes

And more tomatoes coming!


A new kind of storytelling for the 21st century

A gamer friend introduced me to Sabaton, a heavy metal band on Youtube, but it was not Sabaton’s music that made my jaw drop. No, it was the combination of music, animation and history in their videos that has me gobsmacked.

In the first video I watched – First Soldier – I learned about a short, farm boy who became one of the most decorated heroes in France. In this video, I learned about a Serbian woman who became the most decorated woman in history.

Watch for yourself and tell me this is not storytelling for a new age?


Innerscape’s robotaxi?

This is not quite how I pictured the fully automated taxi’s in the world of Innerscape, and they don’t talk, yet, but I kind of like the shape/design. And it helps that they’re real:

Zoox is not the first self-driving vehicle to be invented, but I suspect it may become the fore-runner for all taxi’s in the future. I’m just a wee bit surprised it’s happened so soon.

You can read the full, New Atlas article about the Zoox here.


Interview with a Gargoyle

I’ve been a huge fan of D.Wallace Peach’s writing for years now, and this delightful ‘interview’ shows exactly why. It’s an introduction to two of Diana’s latest characters, and I can hardly wait to get into their story. Enjoy!

Myths of the Mirror

I’ve never met a gargoyle before, let alone interviewed one, so despite the invite, I’m a little nervous when it shows up at my door. It’s one thing to make it a character in my novella. It’s entirely another to look into those shiny black eyes in person.

The gray monster is the size of a five-year-old but looks like it could bench-press my car. It has horns, claws, and leathery batwings, complete with hooks at the joints. Pointy yellow teeth jut from its thin-lipped muzzle, and I hope it’s friendly.

I’m tempted to call the whole thing off, but behind him, a pretty brown-skinned character is sweeping her long dreadlocks behind her shoulders. She’s wearing an India-print skirt, love beads, and combat boots, and a giant jar of peanut butter is tucked under one arm.  She sticks out her hand. “I’m Tali.”

I reach over the gargoyle and shake…

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9 minutes of brilliance

My heartfelt thanks to Esme for introducing me to an artist like no other. You may or may not like the music, but you will be mesmerised by the story. I loved both, and I really didn’t think I would. Just listen :


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