Life on Mars: The Vikings are coming by HUGH DUNCAN
Did you know that something or someone was sabotaging space missions to Mars especially in the 20th century? Since 1960 when Russia’s Mars 1M was supposed to do a flyby of the red planet there have been 28 failures compared to 19 successes. Something spooked those early attempts, and some said it was the Martians themselves. At last we now know how—in this new novel, Life on Mars.
To be fair author, Hugh Duncan, writes this QM meets laugh-a-minute novel with a wicked SOH but with such insights into the Martian characters I know he’s onto something. It all makes so much sense. IF there were sentient life on Mars then surely they’d object to their neighbouring planet trying to invade it and so hide. It helps that most of the Martians look like rocks and can remain motionless for eons. What a trick.
I had the urge to ask Hugh Duncan, the Life on Mars author, James-Webb-like searching questions and cats escaped out of the bag:
1) Hugh. I love the premise of Life on Mars: life is there but don’t relish Earth people messing with them. Does this come from your own fear of strangers – especially strange writers? If not, where did the idea originate?
What a strange question. I’m a little worried about meeting you now! Seriously, in answer to your question, what have humans done? Not content with destroying their own back garden, it’s as if they are throwing their rubbish over the proverbial garden fence into the neighbours and we are filling the solar system with our space junk and who knows one day destroying it to infinity and beyond. I don’t have fear of strangers but fear the proved danger and destructive nature of our own species! We’re doing it to our own planet already! HELP! Oh, that got heavy quite quickly. Better take my medication.
2) Like myself you’ve used a teaching career to pay your way. Was there nothing else you could have done? (as I’ve often asked myself).
When I was a teenager I wanted to be a rock star, however I couldn’t sing or play very well, but that didn‘t stop me trying. Sadly the punk noises I have made have not paid for much. Not yet anyway. My dad had been a university lecturer and he said to me son don’t be a teacher and I said don’t worry I won’t! However, arriving at the end of my astronomy degree and finding no one to pay me to look at the stars, I saw most of my astronomy friends were going off to solve the shortage of maths and physics teachers. Oh, I thought, I’ll do that for a year or two as a stop gap then find a proper job. 40 years later, I was still teaching and have only just retired. I guess I have the time now to find out if I can do anything else…
3) I really enjoy retreats to write, read, layabout, etc. My favourite is on Methana. Do you have a favourite writing, thinking and spacing-out place away from home?
My only real retreat is in my head. If there is a physical place it is at my desk, headphones on with disconnecting music playing, but it has also been walking in the countryside and talking ideas into an old cassette player, or most often at the wheel of the car or in an unexpected queue or lying in bed before sleep and I escape to whatever world I’m writing about and I think about the ideas.
4) The book that inspired me to take up writing, again, was Tibor Fischer’s The Thought Gang for its whacky but logical premise and his love of word play. Are there fiction books that
reboot your writing urges?
Of all the writers that I have grown to like, I cannot deny that I would probably look forward with most anticipation to the release of the next Ben Elton novel. I love his quick-fire humour plus his very taunting and thought provoking themes. I have even ended up staying awake to read them to the end. And each time I find myself saying, ‘I want to be able to write books like that!’ Then I remember that I can’t write like that so I adjust my cry to ‘I just want to write!’
5) Considering that we writers spend hundreds of hours writing for very few pennies, do you regret all that time you’ll never get back?
I spent decades collecting coins until I realised it was pointless. I built up a 3000 strong library of music CDs now you can’t even buy a car with a player! Drunken nights and what do we have to show for it? Life is made up of a string of activities that may seem pointless in the end, yet we love doing them at the time. I don’t regret the coins or CDs or drinking. I love writing and would continue to write, even without the pennies.
6) Pick one character from Life on Mars and have them ask you a question on their existence.
Amazing question! Did you teach philosophy? I asked my eldest daughter Anais to pick one for me and she said Quicksilver, the liquid horse.
‘So Mr author how in the name of Hellas can I be alive?!’
‘Well Mr Quicksilver, or can I call you Quick?’
‘Sure, if it answers the question. I mean I’m a horse that’s made of liquid, mercury it seems, how’s it possible that I exist? And how can I even move?!’
‘Well Quick, I’m still learning all the science of the biosphere on Mars, but you seem to be made of a kind of non-Newtonian liquid, so, by exerting enough pressure you can behave like a solid and hey, aren’t most creatures on earth just bags of liquid, mainly water and they manage to get by.’
‘I suppose so… but how can part of me still function separately like Minisilver does when he’s been scooped out of me?’
‘It seems to be like that homeopathic effect when a dilute part of the medicine still works like the original.’
‘Oh, like a piece of a hologram still contains the whole 3D image?’
‘I guess so.’
‘Okay Mr Author but why do I exist in the story in the first place? What’s my purpose? And don’t say the voices in your head told you to include me!’
‘Damn! That’s my get out clause! Look, you have a pivotal role in the story. How could they begin to save Mars without you?’
‘Well if you put it like that, I’m glad I was there then.’
‘Can I go now?’
‘For now, yes, but don’t leave the planet.’
Thank you, Hugh, for such gripping replies. And now for your delectation, grab that popcorn and enjoy this short excerpt from Life on Mars: The Vikings are Coming: NOTE: A previous excerpt exists on the blog of Mark Iles here
8 Dimitry the quantum tunneling worm helps the team get through a closed door
Katya realised something then fumbled in the folds of her fur, pulled out her notebook and pen and put them to one side, then rummaged further and threw out a small Martian rock, a snowball from the North Pole and then a cicada hopped out and half-flew, half-jumped across the corridor.
‘It’s amazing what things accumulate if you’re not tidy,’ she said to her curious best birdies, ‘Ah! Here it is…’
With that she produced what appeared to be a worm-like larva, small, off-white and segmented and it had a very slight luminous glow. It was nothing compared to her powerful, traffic light green brightness, but it shone nonetheless.
‘Good job I hung onto you,’ said Katya to the worm.
‘This is a vermis eorum suffodiendis cuniculis,’ she explained to her friends, ‘or Cutie Worm as it’s commonly called.
‘Hey!’ said the worm, ‘I’m more than just a species!’
‘Oh sorry,’ said Katya, genuinely remorseful, ‘I didn’t mean to be rude. I’m actually amazed at what you can do…’
‘That’s as may be,’ said the Cutie Worm, ‘but I do have a name you know.’
‘Sorry,’ said Katya, ‘please accept my apologies and do introduce yourself…’
‘Well, I’m Dmitry…’
‘Nice to meet you,’ said Katya.
‘And don’t call me Dim,’ said the worm with attitude, ‘it wasn’t even funny the first time I heard it.’
‘I shall make sure I don’t,’ Katya promised, ‘now if you’ve forgiven me, I need a favour from you.’
‘Depends what it is,’ said Dmitry, ‘but I can probably guess what.’
‘What’s he on about?’ asked Martin,
‘Well you’d never guess what this worm can do,’ Katya started, ‘hey maybe I can show you…’
‘No!’ snapped Dmitry, ‘You’re not going to do the swallowing trick. Everyone does the swallowing trick. I’m fed up with it!’
‘What’s the swallowing trick?’ said Martin. ‘Besides. We’re house martins, not swallows – everyone makes that mistake.
‘Okay, I won’t do the swallowing trick,’ assured Katya, then turned to her friends, ‘but it is good!’
‘What do you want me to do then?’ asked Dmitry.
‘Right,’ said Katya then turned to the birds, ‘well gentlemen, you remember my lesson forty-three?’
‘What, about how particles can get through a barrier by letting their probability wave extend beyond the barrier?’ said Martin.
‘That’s the one! Five points to House um, Martin! Well This Cutie worm, sorry, Dmitry, operates on that principle, so if I take him and push him against the door…’
‘Wait,’ Dmitry started, but Katya was over enthusing about the peculiar property of this special species.
‘Dmitry’s probability wave will first start to enter the fabric of the door…’
‘Stop pushing me please…’
‘That’s fascinating,’ said Martin.
‘Yes and normally Dmitry’s too big to ever stand a chance of making it through…’
‘Can you stop?!’
‘But with a high enough pressure, a large enough portion of his wave function will stick out the other side of the door and if we wait long enough, he himself will suddenly appear on the other side of the door!’
‘You don’t need to do this!’ Dmitry shouted.
‘I said you don’t need to do this!’
‘But we need you on the other side of the door so you can unlock it for us.’
‘There’s an easier way,’ said Dmitry, a little fed up.
‘Really? I worked out you need a pressure of three hundred kilopascals to raise the probability to getting through in the next few hours…’
‘What about exerting no pressure in the next few seconds and let me just crawl through the gap under the door…’
End of excerpt. Love that sliding-under-a-door cliff-hangar, so to speak.
You must be gagging to read the whole of Life on Mars by Hugh Duncan (which has the amusing anagram of haunch dung) so here are LINKS
Geoff Nelder’s web page
Amazon page for Geoff Nelder https://www.amazon.co.uk/Geoff-Nelder/