Paradigms collide in this gripping journey beyond the limits of cosmos and consciousness.
A lone astronaut pilots a vast ice-shelf through deep space in a tugship shaped like a Palaeolithic hand-axe. Lake is in for the long-haul, a one-way ticket to Proxima B, an Earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri – a journey that has lasted nearly two decades of his life already. It’s enough to drive anyone mad, or to drugs.
Stuck in geostationary orbit around its destination the arkship Ithaka has broken off contact. Within its ten vast biomes it contains a cross-section of Earth’s species, plant-life and habitats … all slowly dying of drought, which Lake’s precious cargo will alleviate.
If it isn’t destroyed first.
Alone for years, with only old memory-clips of his life on Earth to keep him company, until one day while out on routine survey across the ice, Lake collides with a creature and finds himself caught in a deadly game of survival.
On the bleak ice-moon of Europa, watched over by the Great Red Spot of Jupiter, a survey is about to commence, exploring the subterranean oceans beneath its frozen exterior. The Ultima Thule is the state-of-the-art Galileo class submersible to be commanded by a select crew of scientists. Searching for alien life, the crew find more than they bargained for…
Within a white room two observers scrutinise the lone survivor of a vital mission…
As realities shift and slide, the fate of humanity hinges on the outcome.
What will survive of us?
Black Box, a dark SF thriller about the consequences of exploration of the Solar System and beyond. A desperate mission to find water – and the possibility of life – on one of Jupiter’s moons, is set against a backdrop of a dying Earth. It explores notions of consciousness – both human and non-human – and challenges the anthropocentric view of the universe. If we were to encounter extra-terrestrial life would we even be able to register its presence, if it was so ‘other’?
Lake opened the sno-cat airlock and stepped outside, his field of vision suddenly filling with a white almost featureless foreground and a deep black sky. With an easy jump he landed softly on the ice, his boots making no sound. He collected his bulky sample case from the external hatch and closed the lock.
By his side a floating cube moved, shifting planes of light.
Inside his helmet, in contrast to the austere silence around him, Chinese death metal thrashed out, fed directly to his brain via his Binditm, an Ace of Spade design implanted by his right temple.
He selected a spot in the compact ice – extending the sample line demarcated by the marker-flags frozen stiffly in permanent salute, and set about taking an ice sample.
His moves were assured; rendered elegant, almost, by the buoyancy of the low gravity.
Through his thick gloves he slowly managed to operate the opening mechanism and initiate the core sampler, its drill extending into the ice. His hands seemed to remember what to do.
But when he stopped to think, his mind went blank.
The scene felt familiar and alien at the same time. Déjà vu, within a dream.
While he watched the titanium bit do its work, gouging into the skull-like texture of the ice, Lake stopped to take in his surroundings for a moment, to stop his head from spinning. A pain behind his temples, as though it was his cranium being trepanned.
Being alive felt like a tight-rope walk, a balancing act over a void.
You could get across if you didn’t look down.
Through his boots, he could feel the vibration of the drill.
To his side stood the rhomboid chassis of the sno-cat with its wide caterpillar tracks, its bright orange paint job incongruous against the cool blues of the vast snowscape around – its three connected cabs blinking with lights and bristling with antennae, sensors and safety equipment, insectoid.
He arched his back to look up.
Stars, beyond reckoning. The universe shaken into new patterns. Constellations, rendered unfamiliar.
And stretching out around him as far as the eye could see.
A chunk of ice the size of Iceland being pulled through space by his tug, five hours back across the berg.
What a place to end up.
Lake scryed the blackness for meaning, contemplating his fate. Could he have known it, by reading the stars better? Could he have discerned the trajectory of his life from them, triangulated his destiny?
What strange geometries guide us, he thought.
The sampler finished its drilling and began to extract the cylinder of ice, which exuded from the head like a stool. Lake unclipped this and packed it carefully in the silver tube of the flask.
Here was history, on ice.
A timeline, preserved in crystal. Each band was a century, a blip of human history: resource wars, leaps of technology, year zeros, anniversaries, regimes, peacetimes, unions, rifts, wastelands, the resurgence…
Lake looked out across the endless ice scape, framed by the black.
No matter how many times he stared, he could never get it to mean anything. It was just ice. Stupid, fucking ice. His albatross, his millstone. Whatever the fuck they were. No, scratch the poetic. Just ice. Three trillion tonnes of it, like a whole crummy ice age. His responsibility, his burden, to lug.
To another star.
His visor was tinted against the glare, a harsh sheen which seemed to want to personally needle him. Some sad souls might find this soothing, might enjoy the solitude, see it as some kind of romantic fucking delusion. But he was no poet. He just drilled, crossed and lugged ice. That was his job, or his sentence. Sometimes they felt like the same thing. An endless routine of brain melting boredom. The stars might change, infinitesimally, each day, but everything else was the same. The same fucking sno-cat. The same fucking sampler. The same fucking vista. Yes, the ice was sculpted by the strange processes of gravity and time into weird shapes – Hell, it was his own private Lunarheim. Marking the bore, Lake contemplated it as he got back in the sno-cat, followed by the glowing Q-bot, and set off on his round … driving across the vast ice-shelf.
Inside the cab of the sno-cat Lake’s shit was everywhere. He flung the digital clipboard on the passenger seat amid the detritus. Festering food pouches, rags, puzzling pieces of hard-ware and wiring, soggy tissues, phials, test samples… One day he’d get around to clearing it up. He was sure some life form could grow amongst the squalor otherwise, but hey, at least he would have some company.
‘Captain Lake, is there something I can be assistance with?’
The male voice made Lake nearly jump out of his skin.
He turned to see the pulsing cube, hovering in the back of the cab.
‘Jeez, you nearly gave me a fucking coronary!’
‘Your life-signs show a spike, but they are now normalizing.’
‘Thanks. And you are?’
The Q-bot seemed to blink. ‘Butler, sir. Is there a problem with your memory? Do you want me to run a neural scan?’
Lake shook his head. ‘No … that’s okay. Let’s get going.’
Wednesday, 13 March 2019
The future is over. Through the cliché of the Post-Apocalyptic, it has been strip-mined of meaning. The ubiquity of the teleological narrative in mainstream media – the end-narratives of the ‘end times’ – has created franchises of nihilism, which advocate a political quietism that shuts down hope. In the schlew of P-A movies since the 1970s onwards we have been seduced by disaster-porn: burning…
Sunday, 3 March 2019
The inspiring success of the recent SpaceX launch – the test flight of the Dragon capsule which will reboot America’s homegrown space programme (since 2011 they have been paying to use Soyuz craft to get to the ISS) – has stirred imaginations. In the year of the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 flight which made Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin the first men on the moon, it is small wonder…
New Year, New Horizons
Thursday, 3 January 2019
As the Earth completed another voyage around the sun and people across our pale blue dot celebrated the new year in staggered waves of time zones, incredible images and achievements from space convey both a sense of awe and wonder at the majestic beauty and mystery of our galactic neck of the woods, and offer us a perspectival shift, reminding us how tenuous are fragile ecosystem is, and also…
Tuesday, 27 November 2018
Dream Movie: visualisation in novel-writing
It has been sometimes said that ‘pictures are better on the radio’. The true could be said for fiction. The problem with so many screen adaptations of our favourite books is the literalisation of the narrative’s ambiguous energies and the corresponding colonisation of our imagination. The vision of each character, each scene – once unique to each…
Thursday, 22 November 2018
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I don't feel fine…
In my eco-SF novel, Black Box, I ask ‘what will survive of us?’ This goes beyond the current trend in what is called ‘Climate Fiction’ or Cli-Fi, and could be termed ‘Extinction Fiction’. I wanted to look hard into the abyss, but crucially still see a gleam of light – an approach I have defined as Goldendark in my PhD…
NaNoWriMo - write til your fingers burn
Wednesday, 7 November 2018
November sees the return of the annual writing marathon, National Novel Writing Month (https://nanowrimo.org/), an initiative which started in Berkeley, California, and is now followed around the world by legions of enthusiastic writers, hammering out their magnum opus while fuelled by caffeine, chocolate and dreams of movie adaptations... or maybe that was me! For after winning a national science…
Goldendark - a creative resistance
Sunday, 4 November 2018
It has been an intense and busy time here aboard the Black Box mothership. I have been preparing for my Creative Writing PhD viva for the last couple of months, and on Monday it took place on campus at the University of Leicester. I had to offer a robust defense of my thesis: 'The Knowing - a Fantasy: a novel enquiry into creative process, form and genre' (a transmedia novel and critical commentary…
Neil and Me
Thursday, 18 October 2018
I was born within a month of the first historic moon-landing on 20 July 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down in the Sea of Tranquility, watched by an estimated audience of 600 million people – an unprecedented moment of global consciousness and the culmination of nearly a decade of effort, sacrifice and tragedy: JFK’s 1961 dream come true. And perhaps being in utero, when Armstrong…
The Music of the Spheres
Tuesday, 9 October 2018
Recently, on 29 September, 2018, a concert was held in the Barbican, London, to mark the centenary of Gustav (Von) Holst's suite 'The Planets'. The BBC Symphony Orchestra played each of the seven planets (as were known to Holst) magnificently, and there was a fascinating introduction to each provided by Professor Brian Cox, who compared what was known about the planets in Holst's time, compared…
The Sprinter and the Marathon Runner
Thursday, 2 August 2018
In writing the first draft of Black Box I tapped into two sides of my writing personality – the sprinter and the marathon runner. With the former, I dashed out 10,000 words for a Literature Works science fiction novel competition, ‘One Giant Write’, a couple of summers ago. The idea had been knocking around in my subconscious, like a billiard ball in zero gravity, for some time. I’d just finished…
The Crowdfunding Model of Publishing
Friday, 27 July 2018
The crowdfunding model of publishing as used most successfully in recent times by Unbound and Kickstarter has a long and distinguished history. Formerly known as ‘subscription’ publishing and in its heyday during the 17th and 18th Century, the likes of William Blake, Jane Austen, Doctor Johnson, Mark Twain, William Morris, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allen Poe, Edward Thomas, and many, many others…
Out of Eden
Tuesday, 24 July 2018
As part of my research for my eco-science fiction novel Black Box I visited the amazing Eden Project in Cornwall. This inspiring initiative, the vision of Tim Smit, transformed old china clay pits into a showcase for Earth's biodiversity and state-of-the-art sustainable design. At the heart of the reclaimed industrial landscape, now bursting with greenery and fascinating art and displays…
Black Box - a new review
Monday, 25 June 2018
This is a review of Black Box from the insanely talented Tom Brown, co-creator of the awesome Hopeless, Maine graphic novel series and illustrator par excellence. I am sure he won't mind me posting his thoughts on the book here, but do check out his wares via the link below, and his blog also. Much wonder awaits the curious.
Posted on June 19, 2018 by gothicmangaka
Friday, 18 May 2018
Fancy an author's tour of the National Space Centre? One of the rewards on offer for patrons of Black Box.
Splendid, enticing rewards await those who sign up to this mission to save planet Earth and pledge to support Black Box. Amongst the delights on offer are: original artwork of a character or setting of your choice from within the novel’s story-world; custom fiction based upon the…
Filming in a Nuclear Bunker - new video!
Friday, 11 May 2018
Wanting to create a more atmospheric video to promote the novel, a couple of weeks ago I arranged to film in a remarkable location - a perfectly preserved nuclear bunker high in the Cotswolds, next to Broadway Tower. The bunker is part of the much-loved, ridiculously photogenic National Trust property - the highest point of the Cotswolds. It is one of a network of over a thousand monitoring stations…
Friday, 11 May 2018
An unusual, but insightful interview - pour yourself a cuppa and enjoy!
Blake And Wight . com Steampunk fiction, reviews and interviews
Soup Of The Day with sci-fi author and poet Kevan Manwaring
Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats…
Black Box - first review!
Friday, 11 May 2018
Black Box is a science fiction novel from Kevan Manwaring. It is a text poised to be unleashed upon the world and I think it’s exactly the kind of story we need right now. Set against the backdrop of a dying Earth, the story manages to both square up to the disaster we are unleashing upon ourselves, while refusing to give up all hope. It is, in every possible way, a journey into utter darkness…
The Alien DJ
Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Is it me or am I the only one who finds it hard to separate Sci-Fi from soundtrack? It is almost impossible to think of the opening credits of Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope without the adrenalin-surge of John Williams’ classic theme-tune blasted out to the backstory disappearing to its vanishing point (or Darth Vader and his stormtroopers without the Imperial march); the shock and awe of the…
Under the Ice
Friday, 4 May 2018
In the vast silence of the black ocean a distant murmur disturbs aeons’ old sleep. Eyeless eyes seek the source, incensed at this invasion into its hermetic kingdom. A rumble, penetrating the ice-sheet – a ten-kilometre thick door no one had opened, until now. Suddenly a glow appears in the under-ice. A glowing red eye. Brighter and brighter – burning through the black. A seismic scream. The pain…
Europa Survey Base
Friday, 27 April 2018
Commander Boone killed the engine on the skiddoo and gazed back at the base, a sense of pride filling her. The complex of hexagonal units resembled a carbon ring. The designers had coded into its architecture the building blocks of life. An apt structure for the Europa Survey Base and its search for life on Jupiter’s apparently bleakest of moons. For that to be a sustainable search the crew, vulnerable…
The Sci-Fi Croft
Wednesday, 25 April 2018
Some background behind writing the first draft of Black Box.
As I was up in Edinburgh doing research in the archives for a week I thought, what the hey, why not have a Highland fling? But instead of tossing the caber willy-nilly, so to speak, I decided my ‘fling’ would involve a 9-10 day solo writing retreat in a remote croft on the coast of Wester Ross. Boy, I know how to party! Actually, I…
Survival Manual for the Human Race
Friday, 13 April 2018
Things may seem pretty bleak out there at the moment - geopolitical unrest, climate chaos, displaced populations - and threats are real not only to the peace and security of our families and communities but to the very existence of humankind as the dominant species upon this planet. It all feels like The Eighties: the sequel. It was back then, living in the shadow of the Cold War as a teenager, that…
These people are helping to fund Black Box.