Nick Cook – A Ramble Through an Oxford Author's Imagination and Inspiration

Nick Cook – A Ramble Through an Oxford Author's Imagination and Inspiration

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Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 - A Sci-Fi Masterclass
07:06

Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 - A Sci-Fi Masterclass

My all-time favourite movie since its first release in 1982 is Blade Runner. From that first moment of the opening credits where a craft is flying over that landscape of industrial towers spurting fire into the sky and backed by the haunting soundtrack of composer Vangelis, I was totally hooked. Even to this day I still remember the sense of awe that film invoked in me the first time that I saw it.
Like many who adore Blade Runner, I have seen all the edits and director cuts of that original film. But for me, the original version was already superb.

I will never ever forget the power of one moment in that film in particular.  It's often referred to as the Tears in the Rain speech. In it, Batty, the replicant that Deckar has been hunting down, utters these immortal words... “I've seen things you people wouldn't believe…” The speech that followed was actually written by the actor who performed them, Rutger Hauer. Some things in life are destined to leave a lasting impression on you, footprints in your soul if you will, and this was true for me with this short but beautiful soliloquy. Haunting, moving and utterly poignant.


I can't talk about Blade Runner without mentioning its special effects. When I saw it all the way back in 1982, I was already a huge fan of 2001 – A Space Odyssey, a movie which blew my mind at the tender age of ten when I first saw it. But it was Blade Runner, made long before the advent of serious computer graphics that visually was a stunning tour de force. The pivotal designer responsible for the look of the film was the incredibly talented Syd Mead who sadly recently passed away. A highly proclaimed industrial designer and neofuturistic concept artist, Syd was the person who created that grungy neon-lit sprawling urban metropolis look, a combination of Hong Kong meets New York with a futuristic spin. Even today his vision for the movie feels like a real glimpse of a possible future for our world. And it was Syd who also designed the iconic flying cars that still haunt my imagination. Certainly, as a teenager when I first saw Blade Runner, someone who ate, breathed and slept science fiction, his design style spoke deeply to me.

Of course, there's been plenty of analysis of Blade Runner over the years and I'm not going to be unearthing anything new in this piece. Yes, Blade Runner is ultimately a film about what it is to be human and how that line may be blurred in the future. However, it's a comment from the director of the sequel movie, Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve, that for me was something of a lightbulb moment for me.

In an interview, Villeneuve stated that Blade Runner and his own sequel Blade Runner 2049 were ultimately movies about loneliness. When I read that, it was like being handed a new lens to examine that original movie through. Suddenly I saw Harrison Ford's character, Deckar, in a new light – a man alone in a dystopian world. And then in the film he meets Rachel and forms an instant connection. Of course, the irony is that Rachel is a replicant too and which leads to the ultimate internal conflict for Deckar.

It’s this theme of loneliness that I think Blade Runner 2049 deals with superbly. Yes, the idea of an AI holographic projection becoming a lover is maybe pure fantasy, at least with current technologies, but maybe one day aspects of that vision will come to pass. However, can technology ever be the real answer to human loneliness? Sometimes technology can actually exasperate the problem. That's certainly the flip side of social media that's meant to enrich the connection between people, but has left many feeling increasingly isolated. It could even be argued the social media has helped to reinforce a society where people don't talk to their neighbours, such is the seductive nature of the black mirror that they hold in their hands.

The script for Blade Runner was based on Philip K Dick's story, Do androids Dream of Electric Sheep. I actually read that story long before the first film was released. Although that short book is a great one, I personally think the script behind the movie elevated that story to an extraordinary level.
The original Blade Rubber is still probably my favourite version of all the edits because it used Deckar's character for a voice-over. The irony is this was a knee-jerk decision by the film's backers who were worried about its early screen testings with audiences. However, I actually think Deckar's voice-over made that version of the movie feel more like a book. Also, apart from being a storytelling device, it also tapped into the classic film noir movies feel that often featured a detective talking over the film. That's not to say that the later versions of Blade Runner without it didn't work, just for me it gave that first version of the movie a truly magical feel.


When I first heard they were making a sequel new movie, I was more than a little bit worried. After all, how could they follow up to one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time? But I needn't have worried because Blade Runner 2049 is without doubt also an extraordinary piece of moviemaking. Ross Gosling's performance is excellent in the movie and is a perfect adjunct to Harrison Ford’s reprisal of his Deckar's character. Blade Runner will probably always be my number one movie, but now it’s been joined by Blader Runner 2049, an astonishing companion piece to the original film. The soundtrack penned by the ever-talented Hans Zimmer and who I'd love to score the film version if any of my books hit the big screen one day, was breathtaking and frequently echoes musical refrains from Blade Runner. Like Vanegellis's original soundtrack, Zimmer's compositions frequently elevates the film to mesmerising heights.


So what did you think of either movie? Loved them, hated them, or somewhere in-between? If you are a fan were there any particular moments that really stood out for you from either movie like the tears in the rain scene did for me? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so do please leave a comment below.

Finally below for you to watch is the famous Tears in the Rain scene. As you'll see it's just as poignant today as it was when it was first made.



"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time to die."

– Batty's Tears in the Rain speech from Blade Runner




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War of the Worlds Experience
04:48

War of the Worlds Experience

“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.”

― H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

My wife Karen and I headed into London to see the new War of the Worlds Experience based on Jeff Wayne's album.

We didn't know quite what to expect but as a fan both of H.G Wells original book, the great 50's movie adaption and indeed Jeff Wayne's great album, we headed into it with high expectations.

So what's it like you're probably wondering. I'll try to write this without revealing any plot spoilers...



To start with the experience is based in the Old Metal Exchange in London and through the two hours that you're in there, you move through multiple locations as the story unfolds around you. Great use is made of screen projection holograms along with amazing sets. But the absolutely standout element for us were the actors who brought everything to life. The nearest thing to this would something like Secret Cinema that combines live actors and film. However, The War of the Worlds goes beyond this in one key area, the use of VR.

There were many occasions where we donned the headsets, toppers as they were referred to by the actors, and were dropped into the virtual alternative world of H.G. Well's imagination with the Martian war machines towering over us and Big Ben at one point!

Now as you may know in my former life I worked in the games industry as an art director and artists, so this is something I know a reasonable amount about.

The state of current technology means that the virtual locations aren't photo-realistic by any means. Give the technology another five to ten years and we may be approaching that point. But despite the limitations of the current tech, The War of the Worlds Experience really managed to create an immersive experience.

One area that worked really well with the VR was one of the earlier locations where you are physically moving around a location wearing the topper and a backpack. This hugely enhances the experience, particularly as you can see the other members of your team moving around with you. However, the tech isn't without its problems and bugs such as where the characters' legs briefly took on a life of their own like a mad Irish jig gone wrong or the VR world temporarily glitching out to reveal the landscape grid. These aspects obviously need to be ironed out, but that aside overall the experiences worked really well.



Another highlight was the observatory where you see a Martian machine has crashed landed on the common. The actor in this area was superb and really brought it to life. We then had to take shelter in a house and were just sitting down to some biscuits with the maid when the lights went out and... Well, I'll leave that part to your imagination.

So all in all, a truly ambitious production that has a few kinks to be sorted, but in every other way is a truly unique experience and blazes the way towards an exciting new area of entertainment.

Do I recommend it...well if you're a gamer you may be disappointed by the VR as it's not state of the art and has some bugs. But if you can mould your expectations accordingly, you'll have a fantastic time.

Let's put it this way, I've been getting flashbacks all week since experiencing it and I mean that in a good way! This truly is a new form of entertainment that takes things to the next level. Just don't blame me if you and you start to dream of Martian invasions machines invading our world.
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A Transport Revolution is Coming
03:03

A Transport Revolution is Coming

Revolutions by their nature are often very disruptive to the traditional order. Change can be a gradual thing that often creeps up on people. Then as people become aware of the full implications, vested groups often see these new emerging developments as a direct threat to their interests. Exactly that is happening right now and here history can be something of a guide.

Back in 1764, James Hargreaves from Lancashire, England, applied for a patent for a machine called a Spinning Jenny. This event, along with the invention of the steam engine, were two of the direct contributors towards the beginning of the industrial revolution that was to change our world forever. The Spinning Jenny inspired the creation of mechanised looms, something that a group known as the Luddites took an exception to. They saw the new automated weaving factories as a direct threat to manual worker jobs and set about destroying them. However, despite the Luddites considerable protests and resistance, the industrial revolution carried on regardless.

Today, we are once again witnessing the beginnings of a similar paradigm shift and this time concentrated on the area of transportation. Currently, there is a gradual movement away from the combustion engine towards alternative forms of propulsion, specifically electric vehicles, EVs, that is rapidly gaining traction.

I have to declare an interest here as I am lucky enough to own a Tesla that I absolutely adore. Therefore as owner, in this article, I'm going to attempt to counter some of the misinformation about EVs that are out there. 

These are some of the arguments against owning an EV that you may have heard are:

  • Electric vehicles only have a range of a hundred miles.
  • They lack performance.
  • They aren’t really that green because their energy comes from the fossil-fuelled power stations.
  • The batteries don’t last very long and need to be replaced frequently.
  • Electric vehicles are expensive.
  • Lithium batteries use cobalt from regions that exploit child workers.
  • Electric vehicles are always catching fire and blowing up!
So let’s step through each of those points in order.


  • Electric vehicles only have a range of a hundred miles.

Range anxiety is one of the biggest things that puts people off buying an EV. However, to clear one thing up straight away, EVs today have a far greater range than 100 miles. Tesla, which is currently the EV manufacturer to beat, has 230 useable miles for its base range MS 75D model. For the 100D model, this range rises to 335 miles. Not enough range for you? 

Well to put this into context how much do you drive in a typical day, below a hundred miles? And how often do you have to queue for fuel? Once a week? Most of the time with an EV you charge at home so you nearly always start your day with a fuel tank of energy.


So what about those longer trips where internal combustion engine, ICE, vehicles come into their own. I don’t know how big your bladder is but I need to stop every so often for a comfort break. Tesla once again leads the pack here with their extensive Supercharger network and it looks like other manufacturers are starting to follow this philosophy. 

The speed that these chargers can recharge your vehicle can be remarkable. To give a real-world example, I thought I’d stop for lunch next to a Supercharger in Norfolk recently. In twenty minutes, faster than it took for my food to arrive, my car had been recharged to eighty per cent. Pretty impressive. And just think for a moment how you use motorway service stations, at least in the UK. Most people typically stop and grab something to eat, and then maybe buy their fuel afterwards (if you can afford the exorbitant price of motorway service stations). With an EV car after your lunch your car is recharged and ready to go, so need for that extra fuel stop that ICE vehicle owners have to do.

Additionally, battery technology is advancing and you can expect to see far great range in future generations of vehicles.

  • They lack performance.
This impression is probably based on the very first electric vehicles but is certainly no longer true. My car, for example, is the base Tesla MS 75D model and the performance is astonishing with 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds. Combine this with ease of launch and even vehicles that are faster on paper often have a hard time keeping up with a Tesla from a standing start with its endless supply of torque. And we are talking about the base model here. The Tesla P100D performance model with its famed ludicrous mode pushes the 0-60 time to 2.3 seconds is faster than many supercars. All I can tell you is that in a real-world situation my slow Tesla is plenty fast for me and certainly faster than any vehicle I’ve owned previously.

  • They aren’t really that green because their energy comes from the fossil-fuelled power stations.
Once again this is a blinkered look. In the UK, a country that has been shifting over to a greener grid for some time now, a huge proportion of the energy produced is increasingly supplied from green sources such as wind and solar farms. The move towards renewable sources is accelerating every year and this trend isn’t set to reverse with coal powered power stations being rapidly phased out.

In addition to this, as an EV owner, you can take the matter into your own hands and install solar panels on your roof that you can then charge your car with, or export the excess back into the grid. After your initial investment has paid for itself you can harvest free fuel for your EV.

With ICE vehicles there is another energy cost known as Wells to Wheels. This is the cost of energy required to get fuel from a hole in the ground to a car. It takes far less energy to distribute energy, whatever the source, to an EV.

This is straight from a report from the Vehicle Technologies Office of the US Department of Energy:

“The national average is 4,815 pounds of CO2-equivalent emissions for a typical EV per year as compared to the average gasoline-powered car which produces 11,435 pounds of CO2-equivalent emissions annually.”

In other words, an ICE car creates more twice as much carbon pollution as an EV. And as energy generation goes greener the lower that figure for EV pollution will become.

  • The batteries don’t last very long and need to be replaced frequently.
Not true with Tesla vehicles at least. In a number of countries, Teslas are sometimes used as taxis. Some of these cars have already passed 300,000 miles with battery degradation at the ten per cent mark. Compare that to an ICE vehicle of a similar mileage and the effect on its range and performance, and these Tesla numbers are outstanding. And we haven’t even touched on the much cheaper running costs of electricity compared to petrol and diesel. There is also a far lower maintenance cost as there’s little to wear out on EV when compared to an ICE vehicle, with even the brakes lasting an exceptionally long time because of regenerative braking used by EVs.

  • Electric vehicles are expensive.
That is true today for an EV vehicle compared to an ICE alternative, but this has everything to do with the cost of batteries and that cost is currently falling. Right now it’s around $209/kWh. By 2025 it’s predicted to be $100/kWh and this is a very significant marker. Why? Because at that price point EVs become cheaper to manufacturer than an ICE comparable vehicles. And the good news here is that it will make EVs far more affordable for everyone to buy.

  • Lithium batteries used cobalt mined from regions that exploit child workers.
This is probably the hardest arguments to counter as much of the world’s current cobalt production comes from the Congo where awful child labour conditions exist. However, once again things are beginning to change and Tesla are amongst the leading manufacturers in tackling the problem. Tesla recently announced a move towards a new design of battery with a much lower use of cobalt. Tesla specifically, sources their cobalt from the Philippines and Canada. In addition, as the demand for cobalt raises the case of creation of new mines in less geopolitically sensitive countries, will start to be opened. The Congo is not unique in having cobalt deposits.


  • Electric vehicles are always catching fire and blowing up!
How many times on the media have you seen an EV fire reported and often it makes headline news. You may be under the impression that driving an EV is like riding in an unexploded bomb. This is a highly false impression brought on by media bias. To put this reporting into context, in the US there are 152,300 combustion engine fires every single year. By contrast, there are a handful of EV fires and even factoring in the far great number of ICE vehicles on the road, you would still have to have ten times the number of EV fires to get to a close percentage. The problem and very real danger of ICE vehicles is that they use a highly combustible fuel source. EVs are inherently safer and the statistics back this up. Lithium fires can be more tricky to put out, but fire crews are being trained about how to do exactly this. The problem for the media is that ICE car based fires are so common that they are not viewed as worthy of being reported unless the fire blocks a considerable amount of traffic. Consider that the next time you hear an EV fire once again making headline news.

Conclusion

This article isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of arguments to support the adoption of EVs, but at the very least will hopefully help to counter some of the misinformation out there that you may have heard.

There are, of course, a lot of vested interests who want to see manufacturers like Tesla fail: from oil-rich countries, who see the rise of EVs as a threat to their long-term profits, to rival traditional car manufacturers that have been till now slow to react the disruptive EV (Spinning Jenny like) effect on their core industry, And of course, let’s not forget many of the shorters of Tesla stock, some of which who have a very real incentive to see Tesla fail (Tesla is the most shorted stock on the market).


Regardless of what happens next, much of the world of transport is going to move towards EVs and that is a change for the better. Many traditional car manufacturers are at last getting serious about EVs and will be releasing new vehicles over the next few years. And that is nothing but good when it gives the consumer a greater choice in their purchasing decisions. The shift towards EVs was always one of Elon Musk's stated aims with Tesla, to show just how good EVs could be and to encourage other manufacturers to move towards them. With a wide range of companies now planning to release their own EVs, you could say it's mission achieved for Elon Musk.

I'll close this article by saying, based on my own experience, my own Tesla is by far the very best vehicle I have owned. From performance to the sheer relaxation of driving one, to how the car is continually improving with over the air updates (just like your mobile phone), to the very impressive Autopilot system. If you don't think EVs are a viable alternative to an ICE vehicle, I encourage you to grab a test drive in one because I think you will be seriously surprised.

So what do you think? Are you considering an EV for your next vehicle? If not, why? Let me know in the comments below.



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The Signal Has Arrived!
00:59

The Signal Has Arrived!


For decades radio telescopes have scoured the skies for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence but have found none. Why? Could it be we really are alone in the universe? Or is it that the truth has been withheld from us by a global conspiracy of silence?

When radio telescope operators Lauren Stelleck, a woman with a special gift enabling her to literally see certain sounds, and Steve Andrews, a diehard sci-fi geek, detect a signal like no other at Jodrell Bank in England, a chain of events is unleashed that propels Earth towards all-out nuclear war. Can Lauren and Steve unlock the secret of the signal before our species tears itself apart?

The Signal is a prequel novella to the Fractured Light trilogy, and is part of the Multiverse Chronicles, an epic series of interlinked stories that follows the struggle of humanity to survive across parallel universes.

Watch the skies because the darkness is coming for us.


Today is the culmination of years of work as I launch myself into the world of indie publishing with my new company, Voice from the Clouds. To mark that launch I’m giving away The Signal, a novella set in my new Multiverse Chronicles series. If you love epic science fiction storytelling that spans many interlinked tales, then this series will be for you.

To mark this special moment I’m going to make The Signal free to the readers of my newsletter. All I ask is that you subscribe and in return, apart from being able to read The Signal for free, I’ll keep you updated with news about my books and other books that I think you might love too. I also want to hear back from you on here, or via email, or on Facebook. I view the journey ahead as a collaborative one between me the author and you the reader. 

Subscribe and let that journey into a multiverse where humanity is battling for survival, begin right here, right now.

Please note that there is the occasional use of strong language in The Signal and the story deals with adult themes. Recommended age is 16+.

Do remember to leave a review on Amazon or alternatively you can buy a paperback version heremybook.to/TheSignal-Nick-Cook

Links


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When Fan Art is Taken to a Whole Other Level
09:11

When Fan Art is Taken to a Whole Other Level

What do you think of this beauty?

I've run a lot of writing workshops over the years and have been given quite a few drawings by students inspired by Cloud Riders. But today I received an email with an attached image that took this to a whole other level.

This is the work of David Carpenter, an exceptionally talented illustrator who I had the pleasure to meet at the MCM Comic Con in London a couple of years ago. Out of the blue yesterday, he sent me this amazing image and it's like a scene straight out of the movie that Cloud Riders so needs to be turned into one day.

David, as you can see, has a serious talent and if you're are after a concept artist or storyboard designer, do please check out his website here: https://www.stormcg.com/storyboards-illustration/

David, thank you so much for sending this to me. It absolutely made my day. Hollywood/Netflix, see what Cloud Riders could look like on the screen!
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Voice from the Clouds - Episode 5 - Interview with Roz Morris about Indie Publishing
02:58

Voice from the Clouds - Episode 5 - Interview with Roz Morris about Indie Publishing


For my latest Voice from the Clouds vlog, I interviewed the fab Roz Morris, something of a superstar in the world of indie publishing who also has considerable traditional publishing experience. It was such great interview with a lot of material covered that we decided to split it to make it easier to watch.

Apart from Roz's great success and also her excellent writing book range, Nail Your Novel, she is also a very successful ghostwriter. We also discussed her great new book, Not Quite Lost - Travels Without A Sense of Direction. If you like Bill Bryson you'll love her new book.

In part 1 we covered the following two topics:

(1) What attracted you to the world of indie publishing over traditional publishing?

(2) What have you found to be the most rewarding aspect of publishing your own work?



In part 2 of the interview we covered the following topics:

(1) What’s been the most challenging aspect of indie publishing?

(2) Your own books cover a variety of topics. With your latest book, Not Quite Lost, you take the reader on a wonderful journey filled with often very amusing and fantastic anecdotes...move over Bill Bryson! Do you find your readers stay loyal and follow you from one book to another, or are you unearthing a fresh readership each time?

(3) Have you any amusing stories about marketing books?

(4) You are a very successful ghostwriter, Roz, so how do you balance this with having enough time to pursue your own work? What about the current debate regarding celebrity authors in children fiction?

(5) What would your advice be to anyone considering moving into indie publishing?

(6) What do you believe the future holds for indie and traditional publishing?

(7) Do you think covers play an important part in the buying process?

(8) What’s your all time favourite film and why?



For more info about Roz, her website is here: https://rozmorris.wordpress.com 



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The Evolution of the Human Species
07:20

The Evolution of the Human Species



The tricky thing about biological evolution is that happens over prolonged periods making it difficult to monitor actual progress. Some experts even argue that the evolutionary period for homo sapiens has effectively ceased and has shifted from a biological to a technological basis.

Some even suggest that partly due to our increasingly sophisticated lifestyle we may see a deterioration in human intelligence and evolution will go into reverse. The Morlocks from H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, anyone?

But then, of course, we come to directed evolution. Why should we wait for centuries of natural evolution to change us when we can directly tinker with our own bodies? Screening various conditions has already become increasingly effective, as has our ability to use early drug treatments as a result.

And then we have the rapid growth in understanding about human DNA from gene therapy to target relevant organs for treatment, or even altering the genome of an individual to deal with an underlying condition (germ-line therapy). Beyond this, we start to head into areas where ethical questions start to be raised: children with genetically enhanced intelligence, beauty, or increased sporting ability, or even just being designed to be a nice person.

And what happens if we discover a way to turn off the ageing process? Where are the resources of an already strained Earth if people start living to 130 years, or even longer?

Then we have the exponential march of computing and the direct interfacing of this technology into our bodies.  You could argue the smartphone in your pocket is just the current step of this on going process. There have been some remarkable developments in the area of robotic prosthetics, with sensors to convert nerve impulses into commands to control the robotic limbs movements. But what lies beyond this? A direct computer interface to our brains. Maybe such systems will even directly augment our ability to recall facts and process information. Will future human beings increasingly look like cyborgs?

And what about a Matrix type future where our consciousness is uploaded into the computing cloud and we reach an immortality of sorts, for human consciousness. Nightmare or dream scenario?

Of course, out there are planets to be explored, the most immediate being the colonisation of Mars. Will future humans be engineered to cope better with that environment?

All of these questions have provided rich pickings for science fiction. And that is exactly as it should be – for us to gaze into our potential futures and explore the benefit and threats of these developments. Certainly, in our rapidly evolving technological times, we increasingly need to ask ourselves what it means to be human and what destination we want to evolve towards as a species?



Photo credit: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC
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