Monday, 21 December 2020

History Illustration: Angevin Lands

There was a time when the kings of England ruled a large part of France. Or rather I should say the Angevins of France ruled England as well. Henry II was the founder of the Plantagenet dynasty of English kings. The last of the line was Richard III whose body was dug up in a Leicester car park in 2012. Henry was also the overlord of the Angevin empire — he was lord of more land in France than the King of France himself, Louis VII. His territory stretched all the way from the Scottish border and Ireland to the Pyrenees mountains south of France.

As you can see from the illustration, as well as England and a large chunk of Ireland, the Angevins ruled Normandy, Brittany, Maine, Anjou, Touraine, Aquitaine and Toulouse. It is from Anjou that the Angevins got their name. Henry II was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine, a powerful woman in her own right. They had four sons, Henry, Richard, Geoffrey and John.

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

Science Fiction and Religion

Christmas is almost upon us, and as a Christian I put the most emphasis on the birth of Jesus. I love the decorations and the presents and the food, especially with children around, but we should remember the event that started it all. With that in mind, it occurred to me to look into how science fiction has treated religion.

Saturday, 28 November 2020

History Illustration: Alina’s Ghost

The last illustration in the book Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth was not one I requested from my talented art student (now qualified). She was inspired by the story and produced this:

Monday, 16 November 2020

Research: Replicators

‘Tea, Earl Grey, hot.’ said Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

And the replicator dutifully produced not just the tea but the cup holding it.

In Star Trek replicators mostly produced food but later on could provide almost anything small enough to fit into the microwave-sized machine. Replicators solved two problems at once. There was no need to carry any more than emergency supplies (in case the replicators broke) and the ship’s waste products were efficiently recycled.

Star Trek Replicator and 3D Printer

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

History Illustration: Oystermouth Castle

This month’s illustration from Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth is a dark and brooding Oystermouth Castle, symbolic of the tempestuous times that the Lordship of Gower went through.

Alina lost everything in the barons rebellion and ended up in the Tower of London. Not only that, but she was given into the care of Hugh Despenser the Elder, the father of the king’s favourite. He gave her a hard time and she had to give him the only inheritance remaining to her: the Sussex estates, including Bramber, that she had from her father. Her son John was permitted to inherit the Mowbray estates.

Monday, 12 October 2020

Research: When Robots Exceed Humans

Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku p.101

When we finally hit the fateful day when robots are smarter than us, not only will we no longer be the most intelligent being on earth, but our creations may make copies of themselves that are even smarter than they are. This army of self-replicating robots will then create endless future generations of robots, each one smarter than the previous one. Since robots can theoretically produce ever-smarter generations of robots in a very short period of time, eventually this process will explode exponentially, until they begin to devour the resources of this planet in their insatiable quest to become ever more intelligent.

This idea, carried to extreme, is called the ‘Singularity.’ Once Earth is consumed, robots will find a better, faster way to reach the stars and gradually consume them also.

What do you think? Will computers take over the universe some day? When? Soon? Will humanity be safe in their care?


Saturday, 26 September 2020

History Illustrations: Queen Isabella

This illustration is a great one. It reminds me of Elizabeth I in the film, when she gave her speech to the army: I may have the body of a woman but I have the heart and stomach of a man.

The two Despensers' hold over King Edward II not only caused resentment among the barons and the court, but, understandably, with the queen. Isabella was the sister of the king of France, Charles IV. When a dispute arose between England and France over Gascony, Isabella managed to persuade the king to send her to her brother to make peace, and so escaped from court and from England.

Monday, 14 September 2020

How Does a Ray Gun Work?

When you're writing a novel set in the real world you sometimes have to stop and research something. What's the procedure at the police station when you get arrested? How does the control panel work in a power station? Any number of things you need to get right.

But what about a novel set in a science fiction world (or a fantasy world, but anything could happen once you introduce magic)? There is much you have to invent, on top of the characters and the plot. I have no background in science so I find it particularly difficult with machinery of any kind, to make it sound plausible. How does a ray gun work? Or a plasma rifle or laser pistol? What's the difference anyway?

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

History Illustrations: The Battle of Boroughbridge

The barons' rebellion that went so well in bringing Edward II to heel (see Order of Banishment post), did not last. The king looked for an opportunity to get back at them and when the queen was refused entry to Leeds Castle he seized the opportunity to declare everyone who opposed him to be traitors went to war against them. As soon as Edward could he recalled the two Hugh Despensers, father and son, back from exile and they were soon up to their scheming again. Hugh the Younger in particular wanted revenge on those who had him banished.

Monday, 10 August 2020

Research: Expert Systems

Today, many people have simple robots in their homes that can vacuum their carpets. There are also robot security guards patrolling buildings at night, robot guides, and robot factory workers. In 2006, it was estimated that there were 950,000 industrial robots and 3,540,000 service robots working in homes and buildings. But in the coming decades, the field of robotics may blossom in several directions. But these robots won’t look like the ones of science fiction.

The greatest impact may be felt in what are called expert systems, software programs that have encoded in them the wisdom and experience of a human being… [O]ne day, we may talk to the internet on our wall screens and converse with the friendly face of a robodoc or robolawyer. (Physics of the Future by Michiu Kaku p.77)

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

History Illustrations: Order of Banishment

Edward II was a weak king, who paid too much attention to his favourite companions, Hugh le Despenser the Younger and his father the Elder. Eventually the barons lost patience with him and rebelled. When the barons first rebelled against Edward, they won.

Saturday, 11 July 2020

Moore’s Law

I recently bought a copy of Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku and I discovered Moore’s Law. Simply stated it is that computer power doubles about every eighteen months to two years. It’s not a law of physics, just an observation from history. Kaku gives a neat little summary of development so far:
Vacuum computer Harwell Dektron

Thursday, 25 June 2020

History Illustrations: Alina’s Wedding

My medieval history books are illustrated with beautiful line drawings by a very talented artist, Carrie Francis. I thought it would be good to do a series to show them to you and tell the part of the story they illustrate.

William de Braose, the Lord of Gower, was given the wardship of John de Mowbray. John's father, the 1st Baron de Mowbray of Lincolnshire, died before his son reached his majority (age 21). So William was entrusted with bringing him up and teaching him to be a knight and a lord.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Research: Collecting Asteroids

According to A Brief History of the Future in 2343 work began on collecting asteroids for water ice:
Ideas had been proposed as far back as the 20th century about using lasers to melt portions of asteroids and focusing the gas to drive them through space. Therefore experimental laser tugs were sent to the Asteroid Belt to bring water ice back to the Moon. The only modification that was made to the three-hundred-year-old design was that a funnel was used to direct the outgoing gases. This meant that the lump could be directed more accurately to its destination without causing too much mass loss.
To my surprise, when I researched this topic I found very little on the internet about collecting asteroids made of water ice. I found an article on Popular Mechanic about why it matters that there's so much water in the asteroid belt, but not actually about harvesting asteroids. It seems a lot of the water isn't in frozen form, but embedded in minerals within the rock.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Swansea Castle Illustration

My medieval history books are illustrated with beautiful line drawings by a very talented artist, Carrie Francis. I thought it would be good to do a series to show them to you and tell the part of the story they illustrate.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Birthing Centres and Virtual Children

Birthing Centres
The idea of an artificial womb is not a new one, but a functional one has not yet been achieved. There are more important questions than the technical ones, however, and they are about ethics. The question is not 'can we?' But 'should we?'

The question already exists over gene editing. Today it's possible to edit genes, with the hope that genetic diseases could be cured or even prevented. But it also raises the possibility of designer babies. There are many opinions about that.

Monday, 20 April 2020

Medieval Castle Ruins Digitally Reconstructed

Sometimes when you visit a ruined castle they have on display an artist’s impression of how the castle looked when it was complete. Sometimes there is even a model, like this one of Dinefwr Castle:

These days it’s amazing what they can do on a computer. I found this article showing seven digital restorations of European medieval castles. I hope you enjoy it.

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, and book two Alien Secrets, are out now. Follow her at

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Research: Lunar Accelerator

The next prompt from Charles Joynson’s A Brief History of the Future for my research into the future was the lunar accelerator. Here is the passage:
Long trip times getting from Earth to Mars caused many researchers to investigate ways to increase shuttle speeds… However in 2267 the concept of the lunar accelerator was proposed. This used the same concept as the Skylifts but would be built on the Moon. 
The lunar accelerator was created by using 3D printing technology to make a magnetic levitation track across the surface of the Moon. Firstly a cementation surface was printed followed by a film of conductive metal, and finally solar panels were printed to one side of the track. 
Building a perfectly flat track meant levelling the lunar surface by removing boulders and hills, and filling craters and holes. The track followed the solar plane and only one direction of launch was allowed in case of collisions. 
The 50-kilometre track was finished in 2289 and the first shuttle launched after arrival from Earth in 2290. However shuttles could only be launched towards Mars when the Moon was in the right position and then only when Mars was close enough to Earth to make the journey as short as possible, which up until the accelerator was operational had been just once in every twenty-six months. 
In practice the accelerator’s launch window was once a month during each six months of closest approach when the accelerator was mono-directional and later twice a month after 2314 when it was converted to allow bi-directional launches.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Chester Castle and Auckland Castle

Here are two items of news I picked up in recent weeks:

Chester Castle’s Agricola tower has been undergoing restoration and, when this crisis allows the tourists out again, you will be able to go right to the top of the tower and enjoy the fabulous view. In the mean time, here is a short article with a video of the view.

Archaeologists in Durham County, northern England have discovered the remains of a monumental medieval chapel destroyed during the English Civil War. It was feared Bishop Bek’s 14th century chapel would never be located, but archaeologists discovered the religious site was hidden on the grounds of Auckland Castle all along.

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, and book two Alien Secrets, are out now. Follow her at

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Research: The Second Great Walking

Seven months ago I wrote about the First Great Walking in 2095, caused by climate change. As I make my way through A Brief History of the Future I come to the Second Great Walking, in 2243. 

If you read my previous post, I wondered if it might come sooner than expected. So too with this date. Here is the prediction:
By the 2240s planetary warming had made some hot and dry parts of the Earth impossible to live in. After formerly vegetated parts underwent desertification people began leaving in 2243. In reality the Second Great Walking was more about fresh water than it was about heat... a billion people were on the move. 

Because of population decline there was actually competition to adopt these refugees. This meant that unlike the First Walking this crisis was solved amicably without disputes or wars between migrants and adoptees.
Interesting that the first was caused by too much water and the second by lack of it. Also the comment about population decline. At the moment the population is still increasing (despite the Corona virus). Experts say it will plateau but Charles Joynson says it will decline, to the point where the migrants are welcomed.

Food for thought.

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, and book two Alien Secrets, are out now. Follow her at

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Dolbadarn Castle and the artist William Turner

An interesting article appeared today on the North Wales News site about Dolbadarn Castle in North Wales. You can read it in full here I have written a lot about castles, particularly in south Wales and Gower, but this castle was the first Welsh castle to be built in stone, guarding the Llanberis Pass.
Dolbadarn Castle and Lynn Padarn (North Wales Live)

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Research: Living Longer

A Brief History of the Future  makes the following speculation:
In 2224 the continued research into animal symbionts discovered a bat hosted species which doubled the life span of the bats. Initial scepticism was overcome when the symbiont was tested and proven to have the effect in short-living species such as mice and rats.
My research into this led to increasingly complex scientific papers, which were not very useful to me, but it showed that symbiosis is critical thing for some animals, plants and bacteria today.
A section of a root nodule cell showing symbiosomes enclosing bacteroids

Monday, 27 January 2020

History Question

My last history blog post brought to an end my series on Building a Castle and the question is, what next? I don't want to scrabble around each week looking for any old thing to fill the space. I'm very concerned that if I'm bored writing, you're going to be bored reading it.
Here's a list of what I've done previously, and a link to the first post of each series:
My history books are about medieval Gower and I don't want to go outside the medieval period. It would mean researching a new period from scratch, which I don't have time for right now.

So, over to you!

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, and book two Alien Secrets, are out now. Follow her at

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Research: Advanced Technology for All

Parts of the world today have a generally high standard of living while others are very poor. We categorise countries as developed or developing, but it's not straightforward. Some countries have advanced enough technology to have a space programme while huge numbers of the population endure subsistence living. Will it ever even out? Will all the world ever be classed as developed?

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Building a Castle: Meals

We looked previously at the food supply and the kitchen, so we finish this long series by looking at meals. There is a chapter on meals in my free book Life in a Medieval Castle which you get for joining my mailing list. 

The main meal of the day was dinner, served about 11am. People may grab some bread and some ale before they started work at sunrise, but they then all came together for dinner. The Lord and his guests would have chairs at a table on a dais, but everyone else sat on benches at trestle tables which could be easily moved out of the way to free up the space in the hall. The word banquet comes from the French for little bench, banquette.

Friday, 10 January 2020

Research: Solar Panels in Space

Solar power is already widely used, from individuals with panels on their roof to great solar farms covering acres of land. But the major drawback is the atmosphere, which filters the sunlight, and the weather. Solar power only works when the sun is shining, or when the cloud cover is thin. If the panels could be placed outside the atmosphere those problems would be avoided.

However, solar panels in space have other problems, the first of which is getting them into space in the first place. Current rockets are expensive and the cost of getting large panels into space outweighs the benefits. Most satellites have solar panels for power once they are deployed, but the cost of getting them into space is offset by the benefits of the satellite's function.