Thursday, December 24, 2009

Monkey on Mars - Will apes rule humans?

You almost couldn't make this up - perhaps it has been made up - but a number of sites around the web are reporting Russian plans to send a Monkey to Mars. What makes the whole thing assume a distinct air of lunacy is reports that they plan to send a robot with the monkey to look after it. What doesn't seem to have been explained is if the monkey will receive a return ticket. And no matter how good the robot, this is bound to cause a huge stink, not only in the capsule but with animal rights groups. For me, it does seem unnecessarily cruel. It's also been reported recently that any number of people are willing to go to Mars, even if it is a one-way trip. Much better surely to send human beings who have made the intellectual decision to go on a suicide mission rather than some poor animal. The AFP seems to have the best info on this story. Of course the big worry is that the Monkey and the robot might one day return at the head of a Monkey/Robot death armada and enslave us all!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gene Barry has passed away

Sad news to report. Gene Barry, star of the 1953 movie version of The War of the Worlds has passed away at the age of 90. Barry was most famous for his television work, including Bat Masterson and Burke's Law, but of course for me he will forever be associated with the spectacular George Pal movie, in which he played the lead role of Dr. Clayton Forrester. The movie was arguably the best of the many science fiction movies made in the 1950s, boasting incredible special effects and an above average script in a genre that struggled for respectability. Most people probably consider it a B movie, but for me, it will always score an A. Rest in peace Mr Barry.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Princess of Mars on the cheap

Wow, I love The Asylum, a company that specializes in jumping on the marketing coattails of bigger and more cash rich studios. A few years ago they produced a cheapo version of The War of the Worlds, which capitalized on the Tom Cruise movie, and now they're at it again, though you have to wonder if they've jumped the gun a bit with their version of A Princess of Mars, as the Disney/Pixar version has barely left the starting blocks. The trailer for the Asylum version (the story is in the public domain, so not much Disney can do) is out now, and begrudgingly, doesn't look entirely terrible, even if the star looks like he was hewn from a block of wood and the titular princess (there's a pun in there somewhere) is the infamous Tracie Lords. A couple of fleeting effects shots look halfway decent, and while the terrain hardly looks like anyone’s idea of Mars, this could (I firmly emphasize "could") be a fun beer and pretzels movie. You certainly can't knock The Asylum for their cheek - and I particular like that they’re aiming to steal not only Pixar’s moxy, but are name-checking James Cameron in their publicity. The trailer makes great capital of the fact that James Cameron has apparently mentioned in passing that Burroughs John Carter of Mars stories were an inspiration for his forthcoming 3D extravaganza Avatar. Anyway, you be the judge, here's the trailer.

And here's a fasinating earlier attempt from legendary animator Robert "Bob" Clampett.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Montevideo invaded. Watch the carnage.

I love this. Not sure who put it together or even why, but this is a fantastic modern take on an alien invasion. Giant robots start stomping toward Montevideo and without preamble start trashing the city. For something that has no link that I can discern to a big budget studio, it really is an astounding piece of work. The fact that it's called "panic attack" does make me wonder if someone is thinking Orson Welles with this.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Europe and America sign up for Mars

Great to see that NASA and the ESA have finally inked a deal to work together on a Mars exploration program. The deal will ensure a steady fleet of probes to the red planet, beginning with a European-led orbiter in 2016, with surface rovers to follow in 2018. A network of landers has also been proposed for 2020. The ultimate goal will be to bring a sample back to Earth. I just wonder why we can't bring in some more partners? The Japanese and Chinese are building their space programs up, and so surely there would be much to be gained by creating a worldwide Mars program? More detail on the ESA/NASA deal at the BBC.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Movie The Fourth Kind inspired by Welles broadcast?

A new movie about the phenomena of alien abduction is drawing some comparisons with The War of the Worlds broadcast of 1938, though by the sounds of things it has much more in common with The Blair Witch Project. Of course it's a little known fact that the Blair Witch Project was itself influenced by Welles' War of the Worlds scare, so the lineage is there, if a little far removed. Anyway, the movie purports to be a true story about alien abductions that have taken place in Nome, Alaska. A psychiatrist played by Milla Jovovich begins to find a pattern in the repressed memories of her patients and supposed "real" archive footage adds to the terror. Check out the trailer below.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

SF Crowsnest reviews Waging the War of the Worlds

Doing that really sad thing I'm sure many authors do of googling their own book titles, I discovered that SF Crowsnest has been very kind with a review, using the word "definitive", which is very very flattering and saying "This book deserves your attention and a place on your bookshelf..." which is very very very flattering. The blog I still love radio also carried a very favourable review the other day which also used the same word, and said " book can now serve as the definitive single source for old-time radio buffs and reference librarians everywhere." If you'd like to avail yourself of a copy of this "definitive" book, then has stock. :-)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Listen to my interview on the Paranormal Podcast

I recently had the chance to enjoy a great chat with Jim Harold, the host of the Paranormal Podcast. Jim had very kindly invited me onto the show to talk about a shared passion for The War of the Worlds and old time radio and of course to plug my book, Waging the War of the Worlds. It was a fun interview, and we touched on a number of different panic broadcasts. I was particularly pleased to be able to offer some new insights (detailed in my book) about the 1949 Quito broadcast. The full podcast is available now for download from Jim's site, the Paranormal Podcast, where you'll also find over a 100 other shows covering every spooky, controversial and paranormal subject under this, or any other sun.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

War of the Worlds tribute broadcast for October 30th.

While it is easy enough to get your hands on a copy of the 1938 broadcast of The War of the Worlds, it is a rather nice idea to be able to tune into a live repeat at the exact same time and date it went out in 1938. So thumbs up to the folks behind the new movie Me and Orson Welles, who have organised the website to do just that. Visit at 8pm EST and you'll be able to hear the whole broadcast. Perhaps they can keep the site going and made it an annual event.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Could a War of the Worlds panic occur again?

The 71st anniversary of the Orson Welles War of the Worlds radio broadcast falls on October 30th and recent events seem to indicate that we're still just as gullible and susceptible to this sort of thing as people were back in 1938. I’ve posted the question “Could there ever be another War of the Worlds style scare?” on the history discussion forum and so far the consensus seems to be yes. You can add your own thoughts on the Amazon discussion, but for the record, I’m siding with those who say it could happen. The recent stories featuring Balloon Boy and the Latvian meteor show just how easy it is for hoax stories to gain traction in the Internet age. It’s a subject I cover in a chapter of my new book, Waging the War of the Worlds.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Latvian meteor revealed as a hoax

Did some Latvian pranksters have the Oct 30th anniversary of the War of the Worlds broadcast in mind when they faked a meteor impact? There's no specific suggestion that they did, but the timing is great and the story is all over the Internet, with video emerging of fires burning in a crater that was discovered in the Mazsalaca region near the Estonian border on Sunday afternoon. Uldis Nulle, a scientist at the Latvian Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre, said: "This is not a real crater. It is artificial." I'm sure Uldis is right, though whoever did this either had a lot of time on their hands, or a lot of help, as the crater measures 27ft wide and 9ft deep! A shame that it was revealed as a hoax so quickly - it would have been great fun to watch the story develop.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The balloon goes up

Maybe it's because the 71st anniversary of the Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast is coming up, but it's notable how many stories about the kid who was supposedly trapped in a balloon have inspired journalists to cross-reference Welles' infamous drama. It probably helps that the balloon was shaped like a UFO, and of course it all turned out to be a gigantic hoax by the publicity seeking parents - who deserve to have the book thrown at them by the way - but you can't help but admire the way Welles broadcast has worked itself so thoroughly into popular culture that it can be drafted into service like this. Just set up a Google news alert for the term "War of the Worlds" and you'll be astounded at how often it gets used. It was particularly popular during the run on the banks as I recall, but it's in constant use for all manner of subjects.

War of the Worlds and Desperate Housewives Mashup

This is easily the silliest post I've ever put on this blog, but it's hard to resist a story that brings together The War of the Worlds, Desperate Housewives and Lost in one giant plane crash of an episode. Word has it that Wisteria Lane is to suffer a plane crash, possibly killing off several characters. Apparently pictures have leaked showing the crash scene, though these look to be from the still standing plane crash set for the Cruise/Spielberg version of The War of the Worlds. That's not to say that Desperate Housewives won't end up using a redressed version of that very set, though in a final twist, the plane is expected to carry the insignia of fictional carrier Oceanic, which of course was the plane that crashed in the long running TV series Lost.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Buffalo War of the Worlds celebrations

With thanks to Bob Koshinski, Buffalo's resident expert on War of the Worlds broadcasts, here's the full detail of the event planned to celebrate the declaration that Buffalo has been proclaimed the “War of the Worlds Radio Capital of the World.”

DiPaolo’s To Hold “War of the Worlds” Halloween Party Fundraiser.

New York Governor David Paterson and the New York State Senate today proclaimed Buffalo New York as the “War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast Capital of the World”. This declaration is due to the fact Buffalo New York has been the home of more unique radio broadcasts of the H.G Wells story “War of the Worlds” than any other city on the globe.

As many as eight Buffalo radio stations have either produced and broadcast their own original production of the H.G Wells story or have re-aired the classic Orson Welles 1938 original since 1968. Those stations include WKBW, WWKB, WGRF, WEDG, WNUC, WNSA, WEBR and WNED.

Governor Paterson’s declaration and the Senate Proclamation was presented today by Senator William Stachowski (D 58th) to Buffalo Broadcast Association Chairman Don Angelo at a news conference held at DiPaolo’s Restaurant in Blasdell NY.

To celebrate this distinction, the DiPaolo’s Scholarship Fund will hold a Halloween “War of the Worlds” costume party on October 31st to raise funds for Kids Escaping Drugs and the DiPaolo Scholarship Fund. The DiPaolo Scholarship Fund has raised over $750,000 for local charities as well as scholarships for local high school wrestlers since 1996.

The party will be held 7-11 pm on Halloween. Cost will be $25 per person and will include food, beer, wine and soft drinks. A guest Martian DJ will be provided and great prizes for best costume.

Buffalo’s fascination with the Wells story began in 1968 when WKBW’s Program Director Jeff Kaye created an original War of the Worlds radio production which aired on Halloween night. Kaye, along with Engineer and Director Dan Kriegler created a broadcast that has been featured in books, television documentaries, web sites and has received world acclaim. This unique local production, now known as the most famous radio broadcast in Buffalo history, featured such legendary Buffalo broadcasters as Irv Weinstein, Dan Neaverth, Sandy Beach, Jim Fagan, Joe Downey and of course creator Jeff Kaye.

Then on Halloween night 1998 WGRF-FM and WEDG-FM broadcast their own unique War of the Worlds production under the direction of PD John Hager. The broadcast featured staffers Larry Norton, Rob Lederman, Ted Shredd, Tom Ragan, Tom Tiberi and Anita West. It also included WKBW-TV’s Irv Weinstein, WGRZ-TV’s Kevin O’Connell, WIVB’s Don Postles and Carol Jasen, Empire Sports Network’s Bob Koshinski, Erie County Executive Dennis Gorski and even a special cameo from Jeff Kaye.

In fact, Halloween 1998 stands out because on that night stations WGRF and WEDG aired their own unique broadcast, WWKB re-aired the WKBW original and WNUC 107.7 FM re-aired the Welles 1938 original. No radio market in the world had four distinct stations airing unique versions of the H.G Wells classic on the same night.

In keeping with that tradition this Halloween night WWKB 1520 AM is re-airing the 1968 WKBW original and WECK 1230 AM is airing the Orson Welles 1938 version.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

John of Carter of Mars news from William Dafoe

Movie site Aint it cool News is carrying a long interview with William Dafoe in which he touches on his role in the forthcoming Pixar adaptation of John Carter of Mars. Excitement is building for this first live action film from the prolific animation studio (Just saw "Up" today and loved it) and Dafoe seems pretty pumped up about it as well, talking about some early pre-production work that will turn him into a 9 foot tall Martian! He also alludes to some stunning design work that is under way. The full interview can be found here - for those who don't want to work through the other stuff, scroll down toward the end of the interview.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Buffalo declared War of the Worlds capital

The city of Buffalo has declared itself the War of the Worlds Broadcast Capital of the World. It's a claim that it can make with some justification, having suffered not only the original 1938 Orson Welles broadcast, but a 2nd locally produced production by WKBW radio. It was every bit as scary as the original, in fact I'd go so far as to say it was better then Welles production as it seamlessly integrated the story into existing programming and used many well known local news reporters. The initiative to declare Buffalo War of the Worlds Broadcast Capital of the World came from Governor David Paterson and the State senate. However, it's worth noting that there is another contender. Lisbon in Portugal has been hit several times by locally produced War of the Worlds radio broadcasts and of course Quito in Ecuador saw significant loss of life in 1949 when a production went badly wrong. You can read the full story of these broadcasts in my book Waging the War of the Worlds, which tells the history of 10 distinct panic broadcasts around the world.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Read my new War of the Worlds article at

I'm delighted to have a new article published on the website. The article will take you on a little journey through some of the War of the Worlds radio broadcasts that have bedevilled listeners over the years, including a few that until now have been all but forgotten outside the countries that experienced them. It contains a particular favourite of mine, a broadcast in Portugal in 1958 that almost got its creator shot by the secret police! Here's a deep link to the article on the otrcat website, where you'll also find some great Old Time radio recordings.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

New movie Pontypool inspired by 1938 Orson Welles broadcast

A new Zombie horror movie with the innocuous sounding title of Pontypool appears to be tipping its hat to Orson Welles and his infamous 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast. The story is set in the radio studio of tiny station in the town of Pontypool, Canada. The DJ Grant Mazzy (played by Stephen McHattie) begins taking calls from terrified citizens reporting that people are suddenly behaving with extreme violence toward each other. It seems that a Zombie plague is infecting the population, but unlike other Zombie movies, where the disease is spread by bites, in this case the culprit looks to be certain words! Naturally this proves a bit of an impediment to the radio station in warning their rapidly dwindling listeners of the danger.

While I'm not entirely convinced by comparisons to the 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast, the filmmakers are clearly keen to make one. Watch the trailer on the official site and you'll immediately recognise the opening narration as channelling the ghost of Orson Welles. Of course Pontypool turns the concept of the War of the Worlds broadcast on its head. It’s not the radio station broadcasting a fake story, but trying to deal with the incoming news of a real panic occurring in the outside world.

The film is based on the novel Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess and seems to be getting good word of mouth. The trailer for Pontypool is certainly a tense piece of work.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Orson Welles coming home to Kenosha

Orson Welles is returning to his home town of Kenosha in Wisconsin thanks to the local radio theatre RG Productions, who are staging a production of The War of the Worlds. Performances are scheduled on October 17 at the Kenosha History Center and on October 24 at Kemper Hall. More details can be found at the RG Productions website. It looks like they also archive their productions on the site, so those wishing to hear a new version of the play would be advised to check back to see if it's posted.

ExoMars set for new 2018 launch window

The European Space Agency mission ExoMars is now likely to leave Earth in 2018, a two year delay. Mission planners believed the money pledged by the European Union was insufficient to meet mission requirements, so sought help from NASA to defray some of the costs. This approach has now been approved, though budgets will still need to be reassessed before a formal full go-ahead at the end of the year. The current proposal is to use a US Atlas rocket to launch ExoMars, but the US will also lend expertise in controlling the rover's entry, descent and landing. As part of the revised plans, Europe will also look at a less costly 2016 mission, which will deliver an orbiter and a static lander. More detail can be found at the BBC News website.

Monday, October 12, 2009

War of the Worlds on tour from LA Theatre Works

Readers of this blog based in the USA have an opportunity this month to enjoy the acclaimed LA Theatre Works production of The War of the Worlds, (paired up with The Lost World.) The production is on tour across a number of locations, including Cleveland, Fairfax and Stony Brook, NY. A full tour schedule can be found on the LA Theatre Works website and there are some nice pictures from previous performances on the baylinartists website. If anyone gets to see one of the performances and would like to submit a review, I'd be happy to look at posting it on the War of the Worlds Invasion website.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Orson Welles and Me

My recent book Waging the War of the Worlds would not exist if not for Orson Welles, so great to see a new movie about the great man is on the horizon. The trailer for Orson Welles and Me is now available at Yahoo Movies and it looks like it's going to be good. I'm no fan of Zac Efron who takes the romantic lead, but Christian McKay looks to have nailed Orson Welles and the recreation of Welles' groundbreaking production of Julius Caesar is loaded with atmosphere. Having read just about every book ever written about Welles, it's going to be a blast to see him brought back to life.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

War of the Worlds tribute taken for real

A video that recently surfaced on the Internet purporting to show a UFO pursued by jet fighters has, in a bizarre twist, proven to be a tribute to the Orson Welles War of the Worlds radio broadcast. The viral video was actually produced to promote the Spanish website, and was one of several in a series. The others are extremely silly, but the one that got the Internet abuzz is a much more intense piece of work. A group of fishermen out at sea are seen on shaky hand held footage to be freaking out at something in the sky. Jet fighters roar past, and then the camera manages to focus on a disc shaped object, which abruptly plunges straight down into the sea, ejecting a great plume of water as it submerges. Next second a helicopter comes into view and a voice orders the ship to return to port immediately.

This is fantastic stuff, as a bit of a UFO buff myself, I was very excited to find it, but cynic that I also am, I determined to have a hunt around to see if anything could be found to explain it. It didn't take long. A video detailing how it was all made even exists on the terra website, and the reference to it being a tribute to the Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast is there in black and white, well Spanish to be precise - "Un homenaje de Terra a 'La Guerra de los Mundos' de Orson Wells en su aniversario." As well as the making of video, you can also see some of the other videos in the series on the terra site, including a nice copy of the UFO Jet fighter chase.

Quite odd to think (and a little worrying) that something made to celebrate a fake broadcast could in itself be mistaken for the real thing. I discuss exactly this sort of thing in my book, Waging the War of the Worlds, arguing (I think all too plausibly given this example) that it would not be impossible for a really talented and determined group of people to pull off a scare on the scale of the Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast, though this time on a truly global scale.

Here's an embed of the UFO Jet Fighter Chase.

Monday, September 28, 2009

War of the Worlds: Goliath trailer is up!

The much anticipated trailer for War of the Worlds: Goliath has been posted on the official site for the new animated movie. As trailers go, it gives little away about the plot and the first half is a little disjointed, (more random clips than coherent story) but when the action kicks in, wow, it's edge of the seat stuff! Animated in Seoul, South Korea, Goliath owes an obvious debt to Japanese Anime, but it is equally clear that this movie is not going to be a slave to any one art form, and as such gives every indication of shaping up as something refreshingly different. Let's hope that the extremely impressive visuals and very intriguing premise (15 years after the original invasion, an earth reinvigorated with Martian technology faces a 2nd attack) will be backed up by an equally impressive plotline.

Check out the War of the Worlds: Goliath trailer.

Boston to be invaded

It's that time of year again. October 30th will see the 71st anniversary of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds radio broadcast, and around the world, radio stations and theatres are preparing to mount their own versions. I've now received word of what I am sure will be the first of many such productions. This one is to be held at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, MA, and looks to be a pretty cool going by the very nice website supporting the production. If anyone is aware of other productions, let me know and I'll post information here on the site.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ice to see you - and make mine a long tall cool one.

University of Arizona researchers have made some startling new observations on Mars, having watched a patch of ice appear and disappear on the surface. That may not sound terribly exciting, but some significant deductions have arisen from the observation of the ice, which remarkably enough, was not only on the surface, but far from the North Pole. The ice looks to have been exposed by the impact of a meteorite, which gave the researchers the opportunity to watch how it behaved on the surface, and here comes the really exciting bit. By running some mathematical models, it was possible to make an estimate of the amount of ice likely to be mixed in with the soil, and with that knowledge it became possible to figure out the purity of the water based on how fast it dissipated; a whopping 99%! And that ice may just be a couple of meters below the surface, with the layer itself weighing in at a meter thick! This has got to be a big boost for the prospects of a sustainable human presence on Mars and for the possibility that life may yet cling to the planet. There's a very good and detailed article on the discovery to be found on the Cosmic Log page at MSNBC.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Seeing red on Mars

The term "the red planet" is of course synonymous with Mars, but the prevailing theory that the distinctive colour was a result of rusting causing by water flowing over the surface now has a challenger. Results from the Spirit and Opportunity rovers perplexingly revealed the presence of minerals that should not have survived contact with water, which set researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark on the trail of an alternative process that could explain the red colour. The solution they have proposed is that regular sand, when combined with magnetite (found in black basalt present on Mars) could have produced a red dust. The researchers found evidence for their theory after tumbling pure quartz in a hermetically sealed flask for seven months, eventually flipping it 10 million times. At the end of the process, some 10% of the sand had turned to dust, which when combined with magnetite developed a red hue. Wind action on Mars could have certainly produced a similar effect over millions of years. The chemical process is not yet fully understood, but if this is the explanation, we’ve got a lot to be thankful for. The black planet just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Google comes clean on UFO logo

A few hours ago Google posted an explanation for the weeks long mystery of their UFO themed logos. Not as exciting as some had suggested, with theories ranging from a new Google product launch to an alien take-over, nor unfortunately can I now continue to claim that they are promoting my new book, Waging the War of the Worlds, though you have to admit, the timing was great. No, the truth is, as some had suspected, that Google are celebrating the birthday of H.G. Wells. So today a new logo goes live, and it's the best yet. Here it is, along with the previous 2. Click for bigger versions, and here's the full explanation of the UFO logos from Google.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hopes dwindle for Spirit rescue

The Spirit rover has now been mired in sand since early May and the chances of finding a way for it to escape are looking increasingly grim. Mission controllers have been using full-scale versions of the rover here on earth to simulate various options, but it may be that the rover is now permanently stuck, though this is not necessarily the end of its mission, as it can continue to relay scientific observations from a static position. An excellent summary of the efforts to free Spirit can be found on the spaceflight now website. A fabulous image has also been released of Spirit, snapped by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Look for the little white dot to the left of the Home Plate volcanic feature.

Credit: NASA/University of Arizona

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Google UFO logo mystery solved: It's my book!

Google has been playing a merry game with its users the past few weeks by substituting its logo with ones featuring a hovering UFO. There's no official explanation from Google, which is famous for altering its logo to tie in with significant events like anniversaries, holidays and historic events, but this is the first time the logo has changed without any overt reason. That sent the internet abuzz with speculation.

The first logo appeared last week, and at roughly the same time Google posted a coded message on their Twitter account, 1.12.12 15 1.18.5 20.15 21.19. Using the simple cipher that 1 is A and 2 is B, etc, the message was quickly translated as saying "your o are belong to us", which tied in with the logo as the UFO was abducting a letter o from the word Google and also refers to a famously awful Japanese to English translation of the line "All your base are belong to us" from the Japanese video game Zero Wing. This became an Internet phenomenon in 2000-2002, spreading as a meme far and wide. So far, so weird.

Then this week Google did it again, posting a second UFO themed logo, this time featuring crop circles. Again, the Google Twitter account provided a clue, with the posting of a map co-ordinate: 51.327629, -0.5616088. A quick check confirms that these are the map reference co-ordinates for 1-7 Woodham Rd in Woking, England. Wells happened to live in Woking, though at Maybury Road. However, it was in Woking that Wells wrote The War of the Worlds and it just so happens that he was born on 21 September 1866. So is Google planning a H.G. Wells logo next week to celebrate his birthday?

Could be, but there is a more obvious explanation. Last week saw the publication of my first book, Waging the War of the Worlds. I can therefore now reveal that Google is of course planning to celebrate this momentous event with a Waging the War of the Worlds logo. Look out for it next week, and in the meantime, you can buy Waging the War of the Worlds from all good online booksellers. (And perhaps even some of the bad ones.)

Monday, September 14, 2009

My new book published - Waging the War of the Worlds

I am delighted to announce the publication of my first book. Waging the War of the Worlds is the most detailed account ever produced (so I firmly believe) of the 1938 Orson Welles War of the Worlds radio broadcast, but it also tells many new stories of radio panics, several every bit as exciting and calamitous to listeners as that first momentous transmission. Learn how Martian attacks have paralysed Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Portugal, with detailed chapters containing masses of newly uncovered material never before presented in English. Waging the War of the Worlds is available direct from the publisher McFarland and from all the top online stores such as Amazon.

Go to Mars young man

While NASA is struggling to find the money to get to Mars, there are those who think that space exploration (and Mars) represents our best hope for survival. Asked by New Scientist magazine for ideas to make the world a better place, luminaries from both science and business put space exploration high on the list of vital endeavours. J Richard Gott, professor of astrophysical sciences as Princeton University was vocal in his belief that Mars represents a bolt hole for the human race, commenting that a permanent presence on Mars would "...make us a two-planet species and improve our long-term survival prospects by giving us two chances instead of one." Virgin entrepreneur Richard Branson also spoke up for the merits of space exploration, though of course he would as he would reap some of the rewards via his Virgin brand spacecraft. Find the full range of comments at New Scientist.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Manned Mars mission in doubt

A long awaited report into the future of NASA will, much as expected, throw a giant spanner into the works, concluding that the agency has nowhere near enough money to even get to the Moon, let alone Mars. Though the full report is still to be released, a summary sent to the White House last week makes for gloomy reading, suggesting that NASA will not be able to break earth orbit for the next 20 years if present expenditure levels are maintained. However, the report also sounds for the first time as if some real level headed thinking is taking place. NASA has see-sawed from one goal to another since the Moon landings, but never really had a long term strategy, so there is hope that the proposals outlined will give the agency some much needed focus. The report proposes a number of scenarios, including the idea that astronauts would travel to Mars but not actually land. This is not quite as crazy as it sounds, since the idea would be to use the orbiting astronauts to control robotic landers and rovers. The time lag between Earth and Mars is such that live remote control of probes is impossible, but having astronauts on hand, combined with cutting edge rovers, would be a potent combination. Not as romantic as a manned landing perhaps, but should such a mission provide compelling evidence for life, then the pressure for human footprints on the surface might well become overwhelming.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

John Carter movie gathers pace

The omens are good that the long gestating John Carter of Mars movie is now a certainty, with further casting announcements having been made. English actors Samantha Morton, Dominic West and Polly Walker have all joined Disney's adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs book series. Morton plays Sola, a Martian who befriends Carter; West plays Sab Than, prince of the Zodangans and Walker takes on the role of the merciless Sarkoja. Taylor Kitsch (best known by genre fans as Gambit in the recent Wolverine movie) has already signed on as Carter. Andrew Stanton, a long time Pixar alumni (his credits include the marvellous Wall-E) is directing for a 2012 release date.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

War of the Words

I often find it amusing to see how often The War of the Worlds radio broadcast of 1938 is used as the go to metaphor in doom and gloom stories. I would not normally mention a specific example, but I am strongly impelled to in this case as it gives me an opportunity to deviate off message and register my disgust at the negative attacks on the NHS presently clogging the American press.

I’m a British resident with a mother in her 80s and I also have a young daughter, so I can talk from experience of both ends of the spectrum. I’m particularly incensed that according to certain American commentators and politicians, my mother should be dead under the NHS. Well, here’s the truth. She would be dead, if NOT for the NHS. During a recent serious illness, at no point did anyone suggest she should be discarded, tossed aside, left to die! She was treated without question of cost – in fact, when we suggested that private care might be best to speed things up (because yes, the NHS can be slow) her consultant, (who would have pocketed the fee) urged us to stick with the NHS as he would have better access to the full suite of medical resources. My daughter also has had exemplary treatment. What American commentators seem to forget in their pathological hatred of anything that smacks of socialism, is that here in the UK, you can get private care quite easily, so we’ve got the best of both worlds. I’ve seen television programs showing thousands of impoverished Americans turning up at charity health fairs, some having travelled hundreds of miles in a desperate quest for free treatment. So how dare the right wing disparage our NHS when America clearly can’t look after its own people with anything approaching care and dignity. Rant over. Normal service will now be resumed.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What an Opportunity

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has snapped an image of the Opportunity rover. Taken on its 1783rd sol (Mars day) on the Red Planet, the image clearly shows the tracks of the rover, which had driven some 130 meters on the previous day. Astounding images like this are routinely used by the Opportunity operations team to plan out the path taken by the rover, which is presently making for the Endeavour crater.

Opportunity Imaged by HiRISE (ESP_011765_1780)
Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Inflatable heat shield test

Packed into a 15-inch shroud payload, a newly developed inflatable heat shield was recently put through its paces by NASA engineers. Launched to a height of 124 miles, the shield automatically inflated itself into a 10-foot diameter mushroom shape of silicone-coated fabric. Given the success of the mission, which splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, NASA is hopeful that the shield will be useful not only for re-entries into the earths atmosphere, but also as a shield for future Mars missions, where space and weight are at a premium. More info at

Friday, August 14, 2009

Rock and a hard place

There's a community of ardent armchair researchers to be found on the Internet determined to prove that intelligent life once existed on Mars. To this end, they're scouring images returned from Mars looking for a smoking gun. One of the most perplexing images that has turned up in this search appears to show a monolith like object on the Martian surface, in fact not a little like the famous monolith in 2001 A Space Odyssey. But of course at the other end of the spectrum, scientists working in the field of Mars exploration are less than thrilled to be told they are covering up the existence of life on Mars, though I've yet to see it explained why they would send probe after probe to Mars with all the attendant risk that they'll be rumbled. And so to the Monolith, snapped by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Scientists at the University of Arizona are equally determined to put the monolith down to natural causes. Most likely says Alfred McEwen, "it's more likely that this boulder has been created by breaking away from the bedrock to create a rectangular-shaped feature." That sounds pretty reasonable to me, but while my strong inclination is to err on the side of caution, that's not to say that one-day, some amateur observer might spot something missed by the experts. But for now, the scientists at NASA really are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Friday, July 31, 2009

War of the Wolds: Not a typo!

No, it's not a typo. This really is The War of the Wolds, and it's fantastic! Made by film maker Robin Smith on a shoestring budget, this is a short film in the style of a trailer for a War of the Worlds movie. It's been entered into the Virgin Media Shorts competition. You should check it out and if you like it as much as me, show your support. So what is a wold? In this case, it's an area in the North Lincolnshire area of England. Specifically, Smith has his Martians laying siege to the town of Barton.

This is an extraordinarily professional looking piece of work, with stunning special effects. The moment a Martian Tripod straddles an underpass under which a group of people are trapped is jaw dropping. If Smith can win, he bags £30,000 of film funding to shoot their next film with the UK Film Council and Virgin Media. My hope is that he takes his speculative trailer and amps it up to a full on movie.

Check out the full entry below.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Spirit is willing, but the wheels are weak

The Spirit rover continues to be stuck up to its hubcaps on Mars, but JPL engineers have put together a simulation of the conditions Spirit has encountered and are busy attempting various scenarios to drive the plucky rover free of its sand trap. The same technique got sister rover Opportunity out of a similar jam back in 2005, so JPL are hopeful they can work the same magic again. A fully operating twin of Spirit is now in a box of sand in Pasadena and Wired magazine have an excellent article online detailing the preparations to build the simulation.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Europe's Mars rover launch delayed

The European ExoMars mission, seen as one of the most ambitious yet mounted to the red planet, has suffered a further setback (its 3rd delay) with a new launch date now likely to be in 2018. Mission planners are putting a brave face on things, pointing out that the delay will have benefits, rolling the mission up with the NASA program. The plan now envisages an American Atlas launcher delivering an orbiter in 2016 which will hunt for methane traces (a key indicator of life) and it is also possible that their might be payload room for a static lander. Then in 2018, ExoMars, accompanied by a smaller rover based on the Spirit/Opportunity design would arrive, targeted toward any promising Methane finds from the 2016 orbiter. So we've got a bit of a wait, but the payoff could be enormous is this combined mission finds evidence of actual life now on Mars. The full story is on the BBC website.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Bolden hints at refocused NASA

Details have emerged of a meeting at NASA at which the new NASA head Charles Bolden introduced himself to staff and laid out some of his vision for the agency. While precise details were lacking, it is clear from his comments that Bolden believes the agency is burdened down with too many conflicting projects and is lacking the vision and focus needed to get a manned mission to Mars. Encouragingly, Bolden repeated again his determination to get a NASA mission to Mars off the ground. A two-time space shuttle commander and retired Marine Corps major general, Bolden looks to be the sort of decisive leader the agency needs.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mars predictions say presence by 2019

There's a big debate brewing right now about the path NASA should take in the coming years. Former President George W Bush tasked NASA with a return to the Moon prior to a Mars mission, but it seems new President Obama is not so keen, and we're not really sure yet what this bodes for Mars, though as previously noted in this blog, we've got a Mars focused NASA administrator and now Dr. Charles Elachi, director of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has chimed in with his predictions. Speaking at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference, he was very upbeat for the prospects for manned exploration of the solar system, predicting a presence on Mars by 2019! That seems a tad optimistic to me, but it's good to see more senior people in the American space program pushing for this kind of commitment. Elachi also brought with him a super cool full scale model of the 2011 Mars rover named Curiosity.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

NASA's administrator aims for Mars

Nice to hear that NASA's new Administrator Charles Bolden Jr is firmly supporting the prospect of a manned mission to Mars. Speaking to The Associated Press, Bolden sounded every inch the enthusiast, making the goal of reaching Mars sound pretty personal to him, which is exactly the passionate attitude you want in someone in his position. Bolden told the AP that, "In my lifetime, I will be incredibly disappointed if we have not at least reached Mars." Given that he's in his early 60's, it sounds like we can expect fast progress under Bolden's tenure. Even better, he went on to observe that he "did grow up watching Buck Rogers and Buck Rogers didn't stop at Mars." A science fiction fan in charge at NASA? The sky may not be the limit! Read the full AP story here.

Red hot and molten

New research published in the journal Nature Geoscience suggests that the planet spent a considerable period of time with its surface in a molten state, with temperatures in the region of 1000 degrees celsius curtailing the chances of life developing for at least the first 100 million years of its existence.

International scientists from the USA, Belgium, and Australia looked at a rare type of Martian meteorite called a Nakhlite (named after Nakhla in Egypt where the first one was found.) By measuring radioactive traces of exotic elements such as Hafnium, Lutetium, and Neodymium, the team were able to postulate that the early atmosphere would have been composed of a thick steam, keeping the surface trapped in a molten state.

Eventually the surface tipped over, allowing the crust to solidify. More detail can be found at

Monday, July 20, 2009

Apollo Astronauts push for Mars

Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins have called for a mission to Mars rather than the present NASA focus of a return to the Moon. Speaking at a gathering of the Apollo 11 astronauts, including a rare appearance by Neil Armstrong, both Aldrin and Collins expressed a desire to see a Mars landing. Praising the achievements of the Apollo program, Aldrin nevertheless said, "The best way to honour and remember all those who were part of the Apollo programme is to follow in our footsteps; to boldly go again on a new mission of exploration." Collins added, "Sometimes I think I flew to the wrong place. Mars was always my favourite as a kid and it still is today." The return to the moon program is of course by no means certain, and the Obama administration has been somewhat ambivalent about the idea. What this might do for the prospects of a Mars mission is presently anyone’s guess.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Life on Mars tantalisingly closer

Analysis of images from the HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera, on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter seems to indicate that warming weather on Mars may have melted ice-rich soils as recently as 2 million years ago. The geographical features that point to this event were originally thought to have been volcanic in origin, but Matthew Balme, a research scientist with the Tucson-based Planetary Science Institute has looked afresh at the images and now believes they were formed by the expansion and contraction of ice due to freeze/thaw cycles. If true, then the equator region would be an ideal place to look for signs of past life.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

New War of the Worlds tripod model

It's always great to learn of a new War of the Worlds product, and it's particularly exciting that a forthcoming War of the Worlds model represents a first commercial project for fan Neil Hughes. Neil has been crafting his vision of a Martian tripod for the last six months, and going by the pictures on his blog, this has been a labour of love. The model is intended for use in the rather wonderfully named war-gaming scenario Glorious Adventures in Science Loosely Involving Generally Historical Times, or G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T for short. Eureka Miniatures will be selling the tripod, but to see some shots of the model in progress, check out Neil's blog.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Cast Recording of Wayne's War of the Worlds available for pre-order

The stage version of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds is turning into something of a worldwide phenomena, having toured Australia and New Zealand and heading this year to Ireland, Holland and Germany. For the UK leg of the 2009 tour, each performance is to be recorded and made available for purchase just minutes later. You can pre-order the performance of your choice right now on the Concert Live website. Each 3 CD set will contain the recording of your choice, plus 20 photographs from that night’s performance. For those lucky enough to have tickets to one of the shows, this strikes me as a really superb memento of what is sure to me a fantastic concert experience, but of course you don’t have to attend a concert to buy one of these albums. The only real difficulty then is which date you pick. For more info and to pre-order The War of the Worlds CD, visit the Concert Live website.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Spring blooms detected on Mars

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has captured extraordinary images of geological activity as Spring arrives on the Red Planet. The beautiful images almost look as if they are biological in nature, but in reality they are caused by plumes of carbon dioxide vaporising from solid blocks of dry ice. During the Martian winter, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere builds up an underground layer of dry ice as much as a metre thick. As the planet warms up in the spring, the ice returns to a vapour, and as it finds weak points or cracks in the surface, it pours out, bringing with it a payload of dust that forms bizarre looking patterns on the surface. More details are available at the JPL website.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

First Mars 500 mission begins

On March 31st, an intrepid crew of 6 entered the Mars 500 spacecraft simulator in Moscow. The hatch was closed and sealed, and will not be reopened for 105 days! Over the coming months, the crew will simulate a trip to and from Mars, including a landing, though 105 days is not in reality anywhere near enough time to simulate a real mission to Mars. However, this experiment is just a precursor to a much more ambitious follow up experiment, which will see another crew of 6 locked up for 520 days. The experiments are critical to the development of a real mission to Mars, which will require a crew to share tiny quarters for over a year. The psychological and physical strains this will create need to be well understood before any real mission is launched. You can follow the mission on the ESA website and the official Russian site is here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Deimos captured in new light

The previously rather drab little Martian moon of Deimos can now be seen in a new light, thanks to the latest pictures shot by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, on board NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Captured on February 21st, 2009, using near-infrared, and red and blue-green filters, the new images show subtle colour variations on the surface. These are probably caused by the exposure of surface materials to the space environment, which leads to darkening and reddening. Brighter and less-red surface materials have seen less exposure to space due to recent impacts or downslope movement of regolith. The pictures can be seen here.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Usagi Yojimbo v Martians

Usagi Yojimbo is a rather bizarre comic book written and drawn by its creator Stan Sakai for the last 25 years. Its hero is, wait for it, a Samurai rabbit! But if Sakai has his way, his Japanese Bunny will soon be battling Martians. Usagi Yojimbo is generally set at the beginning of Edo period in Feudal Japan (the early 17th century) and was inspired by the famous Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, but Sakai has also branched out on occasion, even going so far as to transplant a version of the character into space for a spin off series. Celebrating the 25th anniversary of his character, Sakai spoke at the recent WonderCon convention, and revealed he has plans to pit the Samurai against H.G. Well's Martians. Said Sakai, "It would be set two hundred years before Wells’ time and would involve a very old Usagi fighting a Martian tripod."

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Drip drip of evidence builds for water

The jury is likely to be out for some time, but intriguing images have come to light that seem to show drops of water that had formed on the landing strut of the Phoenix Mars lander. The "drops" are seen over a period of days to form, drip and merge down the struts. Study leader and Phoenix co-investigator Nilton Renno of the University of Michigan believes that the drops may have started life as saline mud that was splashed up onto the struts during the landing of the Phoenix probe. Salt in the mud would then have absorbed water vapour from the atmosphere to form the watery drops. The "water" might contain a substance called perchlorates, which acts as a powerful antifreeze, so though the drops may have partially frozen at night, they would have been in a liquid state during daylight hours. However, caution is urged, as it would not be likely that this highly salty water would be a good place for life to form.

Recent water on Mars - in a manner of speaking.

Planetary geologists at Brown University have found a gully fan system on Mars that they think was formed about 1.25 million years ago by flowing water. That may seem like an age, but in geological terms it's a blink of an eye, and if ever proven, means Mars had flowing water a lot more recently than previously supposed. The gully system is located on the inside of a crater in Promethei Terra, an area of cratered highlands to be found in the southern mid-latitudes. Mars Daily has an excellent story on the discovery.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Methane on Mars detected

One of the clearest indicators yet of the presence of life on Mars has been discovered as scientists release the results of a 7-year study of the Martian atmosphere. Using telescopes in Hawaii, researchers detected up to 19,000 tonnes of methane on the planet. Most exciting of all, the methane appeared to build up in the Northern hemisphere during summer months on the planet, which would also be indicative of some kind of biological process. However, caution is being exercised, since it is not impossible that the process producing the methane is geological. We might be seeing something called serpentinisation, which occurs when rocks rich in certain minerals react with water, releasing methane, but the odds certainly now seem to be 50/50 that some kind of primitive microbes are thriving on Mars.