There have been lots of community events organised around Frontier’s games; LaveCons, FantastiCons and EliteMeets to name the most obvious. Frontier had their original launch party too, but this was the first event they’d organised specifically to celebrate and promote themselves. Frontier Expo 2017 was held at ‘Here East’ in the Olympic Park at Stratford, London.
Frontier have come a long way in a relatively short time, with new offices, new franchises and their own ability to publish games. The future looks bright indeed. 🙂
Jurassic World needs no introduction and, whilst it’s not really my thing, Planet Coaster is also a major source of excitement for many. It was clear though, from the cheer that went up, the the majority of folks were there for the most well known franchise – Elite Dangerous.
The Expo itself was a portfolio, a showcase of both past and present, with a collection of past titles and current ones on display, counterpointed by a variety of talks. These were provided by some notable people, with a heavy scientific bent; Professor Brendan Walker, who has the exciting title of “Thrill Engineer”, Astrobiologist William Bains and famous palaeontologist John ‘Jack’ Horner. There were second stage talks too. I’m sure all of these were excellent, but I can’t comment specifically as I never got into any of them during the day – I’m going to watch them online. Reasons for that later. 🙂
I was lucky enough to have a VIP pass, and thanks to the wonderful Bo Marit, I was able to avoid the main queue with my two sons after having a close up look at the scale Cobra Mk3 model outside.
Within, having picked up a ‘Goodie bag’ it was time to say hello to friends old and new. Lots of streamers were already on duty in a special room. I managed a wave at the ones I knew. 🙂 We all crammed in to see the day kicked off by Ed Lewis and David Braben before a huge 4k screen (backlit too, not projected!).
After that, effectively until 5pm, I was talking to folks and signing books. Premonition was on sale on the Frontier store itself, but many folks had brought my other books with them too. It was a great pleasure to do so.
I’ve no idea how many I did sign – I quickly lost count, but it was great to put names to faces, or CMDR names in some cases. I was quite overwhelmed by the response at the Expo to both the books and the storytelling involved. There was huge warmth and affection for it all, which was so gratifying to hear. It was fascinating and humbling to hear how excited individuals and factions were at appearing in the story, even if very briefly. It seems I also got most of the details right too – something I was very much aware of, the ED playerbase is extremely complex nowadays.
It was also encouraging to hear so many folks asking for another ED book. Two is not enough it seems. I’ll keep taking notes and see where we are after I’ve got a bit of my current workload out of the way. 😉
As always it was wonderful to catch up with folks. These meetings serve such an important social function, far behind just the subject matter. The communities built around the game are huge sources of support and friendship. All the old stalwarts such as Lave Radio, Hutton Truckers and so on where there, along with relative newcomers such as the EDRPG crew.
I’d arranged to spend an hour with the Children of Raxxla faction. I think 10 or so were present in total, many from overseas. It was wonderful to meet them in person after all our trials and tribulations in game. In addition, the actors who had played characters on the Zurara and acted out Salomé and Patreus’ altercation at FantastiCon were able to join us for a photo opportunity. Thanks Amelia and Jay!
Whilst our ‘little’ event back in April had its pros and cons, it was great to hear player perspectives, and I even got a little insight from Frontier themselves on how it had gone done. That everyone is still talking about it six months down the road tells you enough about its significance to the playerbase.
Despite all the time I didn’t manage to meet everyone I hoped too, but all too soon it was closing on 5pm and everyone was headed in to the ‘big reveals’.
It’s all covered across the forum and reddit in much more detail than here. Certainly from my perspective Jurassic World Evolution looks very exciting and my youngest son Josh (who’s the Planet Coaster fan in our family) was excited by new features there. As for Elite Dangerous?
I was gratified to see a cure coming for the ‘Beige Plague’! That and promised enhancements to exploration were the main things I took away as exciting for me. The Thargoid story line will be fun to watch unfold. New ships are fun too, particularly one of the old classics – the Krait. The text to speech mechanism in GalNet looks good too (wish I’d been able to use it!). I hope that will mean a narrative resurgence of GalNet itself and that Frontier have some folks in mind to write some good content there – it will need a lot to be compelling.
The future roadmap for the next year seems to be a consolidation rather than a huge step forward, but that’s by no means a bad thing. Many of the things being addressed have been outstanding issues for quite some time.
All too soon though, it was time to leave. With my two sons (neither 18 yet) alongside I couldn’t stay to the afterparty, so we said our farewells and headed home. I hope this becomes a regular fixture for Frontier – though based on the success of this one they may have to expand on their venue. It was pretty packed throughout!
Overall a great event, and huge thanks to all involved in organizing it – particularly to all those Frontier staff looking after stands throughout – a tough job with long hours. Right on. 🙂
As most of you know I’ve been involved with Elite (in its various forms) for a quite some time.
I played the original game back on a friend’s BBC Micro shortly after it came out on the 20th of September 1984. I was given it as a Christmas present in 1985 for my trusty ZX Spectrum home computer.
I distinctly remember seeing the Kickstarter for Elite Dangerous appear out of the blue on the BBC website – and that date was the 6th of November 2012.
My direct involvement with Elite Dangerous began on the 21st of November 2012 when I launched my own infamous ‘Kickstarter to fund a Kickstarter‘ in order to write one of the first official Elite Dangerous books.
Quite a lot has happened since. 😉
Most of it has been positive. I was able, with a lot of help from the community and permission from Frontier, to write two full length novels set in the Elite Dangerous universe (so far!) and create some memorable, if controversial, characters. This has been a great springboard for my own writing ‘career’.
There have been conventions, podcasts, interviews, twitch streams, community events, official events, in-game events and hundreds of emails. These have all been special, occasionally even moving and emotional. High points included LaveCons and FantastiCons, the various charity events, the official launch event at Duxford, Amelia and Jay performing Salomé and Patreus. I’m sure the Expo will be fun too. Fans even named a section of the Elite Dangerous galaxy after me and I have a ‘Galaxy’ hanging in my hall as a result thanks to the Children of Raxxla and the Galactic Mapping Expedition.
I have met a large number of people, many of which have become friends as a result. The ‘Elite’ part of my social circle is wide and diverse. Friendships forged there will be retained.
The blunt edge of criticism (some of it fair) for the things I tried did dull my enthusiasm for a time, but a bit of vitriol and disgruntled feedback is part and parcel of being a writer, of course. With the Salomé event, I tried something that hadn’t been tried before. It was certainly something which has yet to be matched; I’ll leave time to judge whether it was a success or not.
The game is very much established now. It’s an amazing creation, which is still breath-taking in scope and execution. I’ve been able to make a contribution to its evolution that would have amazed my wide-eyed 13 year old self back in 1984. I tried very hard to put into the game a bit of the elusive ‘content’ that folks asked for. Writing for Elite Dangerous has been a fascinating experience that I will recall with great fondness. It’s been, well, a 5-year mission!
My aim all along – aside from the mechanics of writing books, mission text, GalNet articles and some of the Engineers’ dialogue (Elvira’s flirty prose was one of mine 😉 ) – has been to simply entertain. If I’ve managed that I consider my contribution a success. I’d like to thank everyone who has helped and encouraged me along the way. There truly are too many to list. The passion and the enthusiasm of the community still shines through it all. The sheer dedication and application of effort is staggering.
There is an infinite amount of space out there, both literally and figuratively. Space for more stories, space for other authors to make their mark on the lore and begin new adventures in the void.
Would I write another Elite Dangerous book? I’d certainly consider it. Trilogies are always good and I’d like it to be a 3 book set. Perhaps ‘Elite Dangerous : Retaliation’ as we fight back against the Thargoids, or even ‘Elite Dangerous : Revelation’ – something about the elusive mystery of Raxxla? It would have to end in ‘tion’ whatever happens. 😉 I’ve jotted down a few ideas. We’ll see what the future brings.
For now though, I’m continuing to develop my own SF and Fantasy stories and working on other projects. So, if you like my brand of story-telling, look out for the upcoming Lords of Midnight and the remainder of the Shadeward Saga in 2018 and 2019. I’m actually a little behind on those, in part due to the work on Elite Dangerous, so need to make up time.
Unfortunately this also means that I no longer have spare time to curate my lore pages, so I’ve caveated them with a warning that they won’t be updated post v2.4. If you want content from them please grab it in the next few weeks before they are archived or you’ll have to use the Wayback machine. Frontier are now posting lore direct on the official forum, and most folks are now aware of Obsidian Ant’s excellent videos, so their original purpose has been superceded. Of course, if you want to ask me a question please feel free, I’ll do my best to answer.
I’ll also be taking down my unofficial fan-fic series, the Oolite Saga, towards the end of the year. So if you want a copy of those ebooks (they’re free), please grab them soon.
Rest assured I am still playing Elite Dangerous (feel free to add me – CMDR Drew Wagar – I’ve recently returned from Colonia in my Asp Explorer the Dream of Eulexia ). I’ll join in community events and exploration quests where time permits assuming I don’t get picked off by a Thargoid along the way!
I’m sure the game itself will continue to go from strength to strength from this point forward. Personally, I’m looking forward to landing on the shore of an unnamed lake on some undiscovered Earth-like world whilst watching the star set on a panoramic alien landscape from the bridge of my old ship…
So thanks to all of you, particularly those who ‘remember’. As you’ll doubtless recall, Elite combateers always …. always make a difference.
See you in the void and – Right on, Commanders.
A quick update, as time is pressing – a week to go!
Frontier have confirmed that there will be 150 paperback copies of Premonition available at the Expo. I have no idea how popular they will be but the usual ‘when they’re gone, they’re gone’ applies!
I’ll be at the Expo all day, but watching the events during the morning and late pm. If you would like to have a chat, get a book signed or similar, Frontier have kindly given me a spot alongside the streamers, vloggers and radio shows in the community booth area during the afternoon from 1pm-4pm, so catch me there. You can see all who is doing what here.
We seem to be almost set, so look forward to seeing you there to learn more about the future of Elite Dangerous (and some stuff about dinosaurs and roller coasters 😉 ) and of course…
Right on, Commanders!
Chris and I have been working on the novelization of the Lords of Midnight for some time now, infact it was back in June 2016 I started on the project. With Chris’ help on the lore I have made excellent progress on the novel and I’m getting closer to a good solid first draft. We’re currently at 97,088 words. It happens to be the Autumn Equinox today, as good a time as ever to give an update.
However, I’m afraid we have a delay. To cut a long story short, with Chris’ and my publisher’s blessing I have taken the decision to postpone the publication date.
As you know, I wanted to have the book available on the 21st of Dec 2017, to mark the Winter Solstice as per the starting point of the game narrative. Due to a number of factors progress has been delayed during the writing. I might be able to push it across the line in time, but I’d start to compromise on quality and content – Chris and I simply won’t do that. Mike Singleton’s legacy deserves the best we can produce – it means we need more time to get it right.
So how much of a delay? A revised timeline has the book being published at the end of March 2018, around a 3 month delay overall. I think this is realistic based on current workload and my publisher concurs.
I completely understand this isn’t the best of news, and it will be frustrating to those who are eagerly awaiting the story, particularly in time for Christmas. I hope that by letting you know as soon as I can and with a commitment to finish according to a revised plan you’ll understand the situation.
The detail on the delays? As you know, I was working on my previous novel, the official Elite Dangerous book : Premonition. This featured a few …er… ‘novel’ scenarios, not least having to take part in and organize some in-game activity which would impact the end of the book. I underestimated the time required for this quite badly. My contingency time was eaten up and I still hadn’t finished with Elite Dangerous. The editing demands of that story were also considerably higher than expected. I also underestimated the emotional and physical drain involved in putting all that content together, and coping with some of the unexpected and undesirable aspects of the outcome. This was combined with a stressful period in my day job where we were under threat of redundancy throughout this entire period. In short, I got rather burnt out. It took a toll on both me and my family.
Thus it took me a little time to regain equilibrium and get back on track with writing Lords of Midnight. The work situation has improved since and a summer break recharged the synapses. I’ve been trying, but I’ve been unable to catch back up to where I was hoping to be.
Progress is still good overall. I have no concerns with the eventual delivery of the book. It’s definitely coming! Chris and I are confident you’re going to enjoy it. I simply can’t deliver what I want to deliver against the original timescales. I am not working on anything else until Lords of Midnight is complete. Unfortunately this will have a knock on impact to Shadeward 3 as well – so apologies to fans of that series too – I will get on to that as soon as I can after Lords of Midnight is finished.
I hope you understand this was a tough call. But I set my stall out as a writer who won’t compromise on quality and wanted to communicate the moment I had a revised timescale I’m confident I can meet. We get one shot at doing this right, so it has to be as good as it can be. That’s my ultimate aim.
I’m very sorry about this, but we will get there!
Something a little different today, a guest blog. Nothing to do with SF or Fantasy, but a poignant letter from my sister, Jacqui.
She and her partner, Alena, of 16 years are currently unable to get married because they live in Australia, it remains against the law. Citizens there soon have the option of a vote to change this.
Here’s her story.
As a child I never saw myself getting married, the whole white wedding was never for me. All that money, the stress of public speaking, the fanfare of fabric, hair, makeup, etc., frightening!!
If two people love each other that should be enough I thought.
Looking back, I guess I knew that I wouldn’t be getting married because deep down I knew I was different, and that my life wouldn’t follow the normal route of settling into happily married bliss with Mr. Right like my friends & family expected me to.
It was only in my mid 20’s that I allowed myself to come out, first to myself (hard enough), then to close friends and family (much harder & extremely emotional). This journey was not an easy one, and there were some very dark, and very lonely moments. When you fear losing everyone you know & love, fear being rejected, displaced, ridiculed or worse. I did not choose to be gay, no-one does, who would choose to go through this?
But I am, and I am now a much stronger & braver woman for going through this journey. I am so proud to be a part of this GLBTIQ 🏳️🌈 community that accepts not only me, but who are also so accepting & forgiving of those who have not always been so of us.
I have been fortunate to find the most magnificent woman to share my life with, we have supportive friends & family around us, and have found the majority of people we have met during our time together, from all walks of life, from all around the world, to be accepting & non-judgemental of us. I count myself very lucky.
And so I have found myself wanting to marry, but this has not been an option for us in Australia…
Alena & I have been together for 16 years, and engaged for over 14 years, but we have not been able to celebrate this in the same ways as our straight siblings, because ‘it’s not legal so what’s the point’. Our politicians have continually denied us the right to choose this option, and the future of our beautiful relationship now lies with the people of Australia.
Since this postal vote was announced, I have been walking around my neighbourhood, walking our dog around the park, passing locals & friendly faces, and can’t help thinking that every one of them will have a ‘vote’ on whether my relationship is acceptable to them, whether they consider my relationship to be as valid as theirs?
This has made me angry at times, but most of all it just makes me incredibly sad. There are so many more pressing problems in the world right now that we should be voting on, and denying people the right to love who they love just seems so ridiculous in comparison.
But here we are, and I am hopeful that a result will be a resounding ‘YES’, that our politicians will then accept that vote, and we can finally have our relationship fully accepted, and move on with our lives.
I am eagerly awaiting my form in the post & will be ticking the ‘YES’ box.
YES for my own relationship, YES for my friends relationships, and YES for those relationships & young people I don’t know, because they deserve the right to choose who they love, and how they live without judgement or fear. Let’s get this done Australia! #voteyes 🙏❤️💛💜💚💙
This is one of a series of guides to the Shadeward Universe. You can read the others here.
With a relative lack of technology available to the inhabitants of Esurio, the means of navigating long distances across the planet has been lost to most. There are no compasses or GPS systems available. However it is still possible to determine your location to a high degree of accuracy. The map that Meru finds in the first book is based upon the design below and gives clues as to how it operates. With this knowledge it is possible to navigate successfully.
Whilst Esurio does have a rotational pole like the Earth, it is not useful as the basis of navigation as the rotational period matches the orbital period (tidally locked). All measurements are taken from the ‘substellar pole’, (the point on Esurio where the star is directly overhead). Lines of longitude spread out in circles from this point measured in traditional degrees. Measuring your latitude is thus done in the same fashion as it is on Earth, calculating the angle of the star above the horizon. However, it is reversed numerically. Overhead = 0, On the horizon is 90.
As it was on Earth prior to the invention of clocks, longitude is much more problematic to determine – most cultures are unable to do it. There are no clocks on Esurio, and whilst the sand-timers used to regulate activity can measure elapsed time, this method is not accurate enough. Fortunately Esurio benefits from an additional phenomena that Earth does not, the regular transit of a large planet in an interior orbit. Mayura is a gas-giant (a hot jupiter) in an orbit closer to Lacaille 9352 than Esurio. From the perspective of Esurio, it cross the face of the star on a regular (roughly monthly in Earth terms) basis. This ‘Pass’ is the basis of all time-keeping on Esurio.
As Esurio orbits in the same plan as Mayura, it possible to calculate longitude based on the observed angle of the transit. if the transit is ‘flat’ you are observing from the ‘centre’ line of the planet, the meridian. If the transit is measured at an angle, you are away from that centre line by the observed amount.
With the star constantly over the substellar pole, the areas immediately below that point receive immense amounts of infra-red energy (heat). As latitude increases, the star is lower in the sky until is lost from view. With the star motionless in the sky some areas are too hot and others too cold, with a relatively narrow temperate area between them where conditions are suitable for life. You’ll note on the map above that most cities are between 50 and 70 degrees of latitude. Outside of this, Nireus (Lat 74) is particularly cold (on the borders of the Frozen Wastes) and Airea (Lat 43) is extremely hot.
Given its nature, Esurio does not have North, South, East or West. Directions are either directly away from the star (Shadeward), or towards it (Sunwards). You can also move with the sun on your right (Sunright) or with the sun on your left (Shaderight). Both of these latter directions will ultimately describe a circle of longitude.
Amaris , in the land of Amar is Latitude 61 degrees Shadeward, Longitude 38 degrees Sunright.
Daine, in the land of Drayden, is Latitude 56 degrees Shadeward, Longitude 17 degrees Shaderight.
The Frozen wastes typically start at Latitude 70 degrees Shadeward.
This is one of a series of guides to the Shadeward Universe. You can read the others here.
The Shadeward Saga is a four part SF series cataloging events upon the planet Esurio.
The Planet was colonised by refugees from Earth at some point in the distant past. Unfortunately, most of the records of the colonisation have not survived to the present time. The following history has been put together from incomplete records.
Red Dwarf Colonisation Target
The Lacaille system, officially ‘Lacaille 9352, Red Dwarf Class M2V’ in the stellar catalogue, was not originally a primary colonisation target. Red dwarf stars were considered generally poor candidates and the system was relegated to the lower end of the league table. The only reason it was considered at all was that, at a distance of just over ten light years from Earth, it was within range of ships powered by the new atomic pulse engines, a factor that eventually became critical.
It had been known for some time that there were several planets in the system. Esurio, along with four unremarkable gas giants and a series of rocky dwarf-worlds, had already been catalogued and studied in some detail by Sol based orbiting telescopes and, more recently, by high speed atomic space-probes. The returning data was greeted with initial enthusiasm.
Esurio lay just within the outer boundary of Lacaille’s ‘goldilocks zone’, close enough to support liquid water and far enough out to prevent it evaporating away. It maintained a thin oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere with sufficient greenhouse gases to raise the ambient temperature above freezing. Around a more familiar star the planet would have been considered the ideal target, a close parallel of the home-world. A red dwarf would naturally mean that metals would be in short supply, but that could be countered by technology. It might support a simple agrarian culture.
Difficulties in establishing a Colony
Lacaille’s peculiar properties made the colonisation of Esurio problematic for many reasons. The star was extremely faint and cool, with the planet in an alarmingly close orbit. Conditions on the surface ranged from the extreme to the astonishing. Tidally locked to its parent star, one side of the planet always faced the glow of ruddy sunlight; the other was shrouded in eternal night.
An everlasting hurricane raged on the sub-stellar pole, fed by ferocious evaporation from the surface due to the intense heat. At the terminator, kilometre high cliffs of eternal ice and glaciers that dwarfed anything ever seen before marked the transition onto the dark side. Images showed a temperate zone between the two extremes. High wind speeds due to enormous convection between the hot and cold sides were noted in a number of places, coerced by significant mountain ranges.
The atmospheric pressure was too low to support humans unassisted. Either some significant terraforming would need to be undertaken or genetic modifications would need to be made for any prospective colonists.
Lacaille’s brightness dropped precipitately as sun spots periodically blotched its surface, far bigger than the tiny motes that affected the star humans called ‘the Sun’, causing dramatic temperature drops. Fortunately, it appeared that Lacaille did not suffer from the dangerous flares that so often plagued such stars.
There was no evidence of any intelligent life, yet there was something there; sensors confirmed the tell-tale presence of methane in the atmosphere and there was evidence of widespread vegetation. None of the probes had the resolution to peer down to the surface during their brief encounters as they flashed through the system on a one way journey. The planet’s magnetic field was detected, weak as expected, the planet slowly losing its atmosphere under the fierce assault of Lacaille.
With long term viability uncertain and the rigours to be endured by any prospective colonists considered insurmountable, Esurio was marked as ‘non-viable’ and overlooked in favour of more conventional spheres by the committees of the home-world.
That was, until those same committees were awakened to the knowledge that before long they would have no home-world.
The resultant programme was rushed, with provisions and equipment pared to the absolute minimum. The timescales allowed no other outcome. The known issues were immense and intractable, but they were overcome, though often by controversial and experimental means.
After much sacrifice and difficulty, Esurio was colonised.
Only the brave and hardy survived.
STOP PRESS – Elite Dangerous Premonition just came out in paperback on Amazon as I was writing this blog. I would really appreciate it if folks who’ve already read and enjoyed the ebook version could give it a review. Reviews make a massive difference to the visibility of the book and are the best thing you can do to help out an author. Many thanks!
This weekend I attended FantastiCon up in Hull. This was the fourth one, but at the same venue as last year – the magnificent Guildhall. My two boys Mark and Joshua were immediately ensconced with their PCs and loading up the latest games and my wife Anita and Mark’s girlfriend Abbey chatted to the attendees. For me it was a chance to meet friends old and new and catch up on all that’s happened over the last year.
Fantasticon is run by my publisher, the indomitable Dan and his long suffering, but wonderful, wife, Gabi of Fantastic Books Publishing. It’s a mix of modern and retro computer and tabletop gaming, books, creative arts and socialising, with quite a lot of impromptu mucking about into the bargain, particularly when the alcohol starts flowing. 😉
One of my first assignments was to have an on stage chat with another of Fantastic Books’ authors, Stuart Aken, who was launching his latest book “War Over Dust“. It was fun for us to compare notes about how we approach writing, develop characters, do our research and so on. Turns out that I’m a ‘plotter’ and Stuart is a ‘panster’ – I plot out everything to the nth degree and Stuart prefers to write by the ‘seat of his pants’!
I, along with two of my longest standing ‘Elite’ buddies, also formed the ‘Drinklings’ (a little homage to the famous ‘Inklings‘) at the Con. Expect the unexpected. 😉
My main event for the Con was something Elite Dangerous related though and this occurred on the second day.
Whilst writing for the game I’d been fortunate enough for part of the in-game story to have been voice acted by two very talented voice actors – Amelia Tyler (@AmeliaTyler) and Jay Britton (@VoiceJayBritton).
The reaction to the work that they did was remarkable throughout the Elite Dangerous community, with huge enthusiasm and thanks for it being the first example of its type in the game. To see an example of their work in the game and how the community responded – check out this stream segment from @Pumpkinberry who chanced upon the spooky wreck of the abandoned spacecraft ‘Zurara’. (warning – some strong language!)
— Jay Britton (@VoiceJayBritton) April 23, 2017
Amelia, in particular, brought a character to life that had long been in the Elite mythos, the mysterious old woman, Rebecca, who features in my Oolite Saga.
Between the three of us, we’d concocted something a bit special for the Con. In fact, it was almost entirely Amelia and Jay’s work, with me adding in very small amounts of direction. They’re that talented that I hardly had to do anything but look on in admiration for nailing the characterisation straight away.
Here’s Dan introducing me and then me introducing the segment.
We chose a scene from my latest Elite Dangerous book ‘Premonition’ (which has just come out on Amazon!) and Amelia and Jay acted it out. For me, as the writer, it was very strange to see characters that you’ve imagined and worked hard to make real, actually become real before your eyes. It was quite surreal.
Amelia played Kahina Tijani Loren (aka Salomé) the embattled heroine from the story, whilst Jay played the Imperial leader Fleet Admiral Denton Patreus, one of Frontier’s powerplay characters from the game. I’ll let you watch what they did with the scene I gave them.
Suffice to say the reaction was as I’d hoped. Huge appreciation for both the story and the work both of these actors put in. For some in the audience, who were present at the in-game event where Salomé herself met her death in April this year, it was a poignant moment indeed to see her in the flesh before that final crisis. You can read the story of the Children of Raxxla in the book.
I did have to reflect a little on the wisdom of writing strong and memorable characters in my books – they are tricky things to handle as you can see!
A few years ago I hadn’t even considered the possibilities offered by audio. Suffice to say it’s now a big part of my plans for my books, both current and future. Stay tuned for details.
I was also given a wonderful present. Those behind the Children of Raxxla faction and the Galactic Mapping crew, gave me (and Zac Antonaci of Frontier) a wonderful map of the Elite Dangerous galaxy in recognition of the work I put in producing the book. I even have a small spot (well – several thousand cubic lightyears!) of it named after me. Humbled wasn’t the word.
Fantasticon remains my favourite ‘Con’. It’s not very big when compared to the enormous SF and Fantasy conventions, but it contains a wonderful and closely knit community of friends who really look out for each other, despite many of them having huge challenges and difficulties in their lives. It has an intimacy that you can’t find elsewhere. I count myself very lucky and humble to be part of this group. They are collectively awesome.
So many folks to thank, and they all know who they are, but shout outs, in particularly, to those setting out and tidying up, and all those working the stands for long hours. Bravo!
And so the day dawned.
But it wasn’t good news. I could tell from the light filtering through my tent that there was no sun. I got outside and was greeted with thick and heavy grey cloud in all directions. The car was wet, the tent was soaking. Not sure if it rained during the night or not. Either way, not good. 🙁
The folks next to me were already packing up and moving out, planning on heading west. However, without any intel on how thick the cloud was or how far it extended it was a gamble. There was also the problem of traffic. Reports had been filtering in of massive traffic jams in certain areas along those single track highways I’d driven up on. What to do? Risk a move and take a gamble on escaping the cloud or stay put and hope it would clear? It was three hours until ‘first contact’.
Two other eclipse watchers were headed into town, so I decided to join them for a trip to get some breakfast and get some wifi! At least then I could have a look at the satellite maps and see what was going on.
When we got there the skies were a bit brighter, but it was still overcast. However it was clear now that this was a fog bank that had settled in overnight. The question was, above that, was there cloud or not – and would the sun burn it off in time?
Satellite images looked encouraging, but it was nerve wracking!
Back at the camp site, the sun was making a valiant effort, by 8.30 we had tantalising hints of blue sky.
With the rising temperatures and a brisk northerly wind the fog surrendered and the sun blazed forth. We were in business! Back to check the equipment again!
I intended to snap pictures of the sun every 5 minutes from the point of first contact (about 10.30) all the way through the eclipse and out the other side until last contact, around 13:20. This worked fine in practice and I was pleased that my minimal kit that I’d brought with me worked well.
And then. It started!
It was mesmerising, watching the moon slowly roll in front of the sun. You get quite a strong sense of how celestial mechanics works when watching this. Everything is in motion all the time and this is one of the few times you can see orbital motion like this happening in front of your eyes. It’s remarkable to watch.
The moon progressed steadily. The skies stayed clear – only the strong north wind provided a bit of an issue as it was rocking the tripod – this caused me a few problems for later images with long exposures.
Then, all the waiting, the planning, the travelling came down to 2 minutes and 30 seconds of totality. A vast shadow swept in from the west, towering up into the atmosphere. You could see it moving (it’s travelling at over 1,000 miles per hour – I have a video I’ll upload later on). The light became thin, and then twilight was upon us. Totality! I hastily pulled the filters from the camera and spun down the shutter speed.
The photos are amazing, but they still can’t do justice to standing underneath this amazing phenomena. The sun was now a dark blue hole in the sky, ringed by its own atmosphere, the ‘Corona’. It wasn’t as dark as I expected. I saw no stars, but did see the planet Venus shining bright off to the right. All around the horizon was aglow like sunset in all directions.
Standing there, after all the effort it had taken to get there left me trembling at the sheer spectacle. I’ve never seen anything like it and I may never again, but it was astonishing, overwhelming and exhilarating all at once. You did feel a strange connection to the cosmos, as if some greater power was gazing down upon you. Folks cheered, cried, shouted. Some even did some kind of strange pagan dance.
All too soon it passed on. We saw Bailey’s beads (light shining through the mountain valleys on the moon and then the diamond ring. Within moments the brightness level shot back up and the moon was on its way once more.
Some folks were straight in their cars the moment the light came up, hoping to beat the traffic home. I stayed in place, to capture the receding parts of the eclipse, so I could do a montage of the whole thing.
My family had left me with a card with strict instructions not to open it before the 21st. On opening it there was a lovely homemade card and a balloon! 🙂
But there were more surprises in store. Cake for my birthday was provided! 🙂
And Kathy took me for a drive in her classic 90s Corvette. 🙂
But all too soon it was time to go. I had to get to Denver that evening and so I began saying fond farewells to the folks at Wells Ranch, Alliance, Nebraska. I hope I come back this way again one day. 🙂
I reached the hotel in Denver at about 8pm… the first leg of my journey back home to the UK complete. Tired, exhausted even, but happy. What a day it had been! 🙂
Sun up on the 20th of August. I was here, I was actually here. Alliance was pretty much bang on the centre-line of the Eclipse zone, and Wells Ranch (about 3-4 miles south of the town) was exactly on it. That meant 2 minutes and 30 seconds of totality at around 11 o’clock the next day.
First job was getting up and getting the equipment ready and checked. Fortunately it’s all pretty robust and seemed to have survived the rigours of travelling without any damage. The batteries had held their charge and the cameras, after a little tweaking, seemed to be operating well.
I had both DSLRs working. One with the 6mm wide angle lens and the other with the 500mm zoom. A bit of duct tape and the focus and the zoom locked in place. The sun was showing some great sunspots, which was really useful for focusing! So far so good.
With all that sorted it was time to say hello to a few folks. This didn’t take long, only about the entire rest of the day. 🙂 Everywhere I went I got variations on “It’s the Brit!” “It’s the hat!” “You must that Drew guy from the blog!” or, and my favourite, “You’re that crazy British dude, aren’t you?” 😉
Turned out that lots of folks had been following my blog, and once a few of them cottoned on, they’d shared it with everyone else. So it seemed that everyone knew who I was before I even turned up! 🙂
So much so, that pretty much where ever I went, everyone wanted a selfie with me. It was all great fun and really good humoured. I certainly didn’t feel alone out in the middle of a foreign country. Quite the reverse. People showed me around their RVs (still don’t know what RV stands for! – they’re huge self contained houses on wheels), gave me tours of the cars and chatted at length about my adventures to date.
There were hundreds of people at the camp site, some with big telescopes, others just there for the experience of seeing the Eclipse. I spent the whole day wandering around and talking, enjoying the glorious sunshine and saying hello to people. Even when I went back to my tent I had people wander up and ask if I was the “British guy.” 🙂
Later in the day we went for a ‘Hay Ride’. This involves bolting a trailer to a tractor, throwing on some hay bales to sit on and then driving across a field trying to drink beer, but mostly sloshing it all over yourself and the trailer. I got a real sense of how big the ranches out here are. Thousands of acres of land. Astonishing from a UK perspective. Everyone was in good spirits… with plenty of beer available… and speaking of beer… 😉
I happened to mention that one of my ‘bucket list’ items was to drink some Coors Beer. Not because I was a particular fan, but because it was the beer featured in the movie “Smokey and the Bandit” where they smuggle it from Texarkana to Atlanta using a Tranz Am and a big rig. A quick discussion on cool American cars and then thirty seconds later…
More folks to meet, more stories to swap. I have to say that everyone was amazingly friendly in a way that just doesn’t happen in the UK. Folks went out of their way to get to know me, I got to play games, sing songs and even met some folks who have read and enjoyed my books – how’s that for cool? 🙂
Everyone was helping everyone else out. Some folks had come from a great distance within the US, driving overnight to arrive in Nebraska from East and West coast areas, others had come up from Texas and Arizona.
Lots of people had brought interesting cars with them and it seemed I’d made a great choice in bringing the Ford Mustang along. I think every approved. Some folks even asked how I’d managed to get a car that matched my tent. 🙂 Being a fan of cars seemed to go down well, so well that a little surprise was organised for me – more of that in tomorrow’s blog. 🙂
As the evening wore on more craziness ensued. Somebody fired a cannon because… well, because. It was loud. My ears were ringing!
Folks cooked marshmellows around a camp fire and the stars came out. I even read some of the kids a story. I lost track of the number of times I was told “Oh my god, I love your accent!’ 😉
We were all set. the weather forecast was good. The Eclipse was coming.