LIFE ON MARS: THE VIKINGS ARE COMING!
Hugh Duncan hatched in Leicester in 1957. He studied astronomy at University College London and, though very lazy, got his degree. His final thesis was on Martian craters and, after, he worked at the UCL observatory cataloguing the Viking Mission photos.
Having fallen in love with a French woman and wanting to live happily ever after, he ruined that plan by becoming a science teacher. The temporary job became a lifelong career, first in the UK then for 32 years at the International School of Nice, from which he has recently retired. A few years ago, UCL launched the maths journal Chalkdust, in which Hugh has had a number of articles published. In 1997 Oxford Study Courses, asked him to write revision guidebooks for IB Physics, which continues to
this day. Hugh started in science fiction aged five, when he wrote ‘Dr Who goes to the balloon planet’ and some have said it’s his best
work to date. Nearly sixty years later, Life on Mars is his first published novel. Inspired by the Mighty Terry Pratchett, for school charity projects he started writing his own ‘Deskworld’
stories, parodying his school as one for witches and wizards. Three dozen stories sold using a captive audience scared of getting bad grades if they didn’t buy them, hmm…Hugh has been married for 40 years and has four children –
most don’t seem to want to leave home in spite of being adults and having to listen to his songs and stories all the time. He lives in the South of France, not very far from the village with two famous house martins who appear in Life on Mars. He owns a Hermann’s tortoise called Sophie Rose.
1. What genre do you write or do you write more than one?
My three favourite authors are Douglas Adams, Ben Elton and Terry Pratchett. I enjoy science fiction and fantasy, mixed with a bit of humour, but I also like the thriller, edge of the seat genre with the big ethical questions thrown in, as Ben Elton does so well. I’d like to think I have managed to make a few steps in those directions with my present writing style.
2. Why did you choose this genre?
I think I have been a scientist from a very early age. I remember watching Dr Who when it first came out in 1963, when I was barely six and by the end of that first series I’d written my own illustrated Dr Who book! At the same time I recall being fascinated with a comic called Metal Men and that puppet series Fireball XL5. I have always been a bit of a clown so it isn’t surprising that I ended up writing humorous science fiction. Humour and science seem to be part of my DNA so it just feels right that I have taken up that mix of fiction writing.
3. What is your latest book?
Life on Mars-The Vikings Are Coming is my first and only science fantasy book to be published so far. It is the fifth sci-fi book I have completed and the second one I sent for publication.
4. Is it part of a series?
I would like it to be the start of a series of books about these and similar characters on Mars and even other bodies in the Solar System. For example there are further encounters possible with a number of new craft visiting Mars and the amusing adventures they could create. But also, even within themselves, the creatures on Mars create a rich source of possibilities that need no reference back to Earth. For example one novel in the series is likely to be called ‘Eddie the Escher’s School of Etiquette’, where a bunch of the piranha like sand grains decide they want to change their ways and set up a school to educate the angry and aggressive multitude with unusual consequences. They do this within the carapace of an unsuspecting tortle.
5. When did it release?
The e copy came out on 12 th August while the paper version was launched on 12 th September. It was available for pre order a month or so before each release date. The book will hopefully be featured at Novacon in Buxton in November.
6. What do you hope they learn from/like about your work?
Interesting question! Though I am a retired teacher, I didn’t have education in the forefront of my mind when I wrote the book. I hope people will be entertained. Laugh or at least smile at the jokes and amusing situations. Perhaps if there is any learning going on, it might be the gaining of enjoyment of science and the fun of creative writing. Maybe inspire others to put pen to paper and bring their own ideas to life.
7. Do you have any new stories on the go?
Yes indeed I do. I have started a prequel to Life on Mars, taking place two million years before the Viking Missions called Pyrites about how Captain Masha got her name and why humans were already a threat back then. I also have a sequel called One of Our Tortles Is Missing, which follows one half of the characters taking a break on Phobos but with a hidden agenda. Outside the Mars World, I have a couple of dozen stories I have already started but the front runner is an idea for a comic strip/graphic novel about Billie the Bubble, a sentient soap bubble that gets reincarnated into the next bubble when he pops. I was pleased with ex student Natascha’s artwork for the Mars book so I am delighted she has agreed to work with me on this project.
Racing against time, Jade and her friends must hide evidence of Life on Mars to stop the probes from Earth finding them. Jade is on her way to meet up with her dad, Elvis, for her sixteen-millionth birthday (tortles live a long time in spite of the harsh conditions on Mars), when she gets side-tracked by a strange object that appears to have fallen from the sky. Elvis’ travelling companion Starkwood, an electrostatic plant, is hearing voices, claiming that “The Vikings Are Coming”, while their football-pitch-sized flying friend Fionix confirms the rumour: the Earth has sent two craft to look for life on Mars. It then becomes a race against time to hide any evidence of such life before Earth destroys it for good. Can Jade and her friends succeed, with help from a Lung Whale, a liquid horse, some flying cats, the Hellas Angels, the Pyrites and a couple of House Martins from the South of France? Oh, and a quantum tunnelling worm – all while avoiding Zombie Vegetables and trouble with a Gravity Artist and the Physics Police?! A gentle and lightly humorous science fantasy adventure.
Read an excerpt from Life on Mars: The Vikings are coming:
The umpteen aged tortles encounter the deadly Eschers:
Then the Eschers, like a murmuration of starlings, all started moving in synchronisation. No
longer individual creatures, but one, much larger, much more terrifying, hungry monster.
They had noticed the Maxi best of Jade and Grit with fries and a coke. The dust devil swirled
into action and like the most perfectly choreographed chorus line in three dimensions, they
tilted their vertical spiral at an angle to head in Grit and Jade’s direction. The two only had
seconds to finish burying themselves, which was clearly not enough time.
Grit and Jade stared death in the face, well thousands of tiny little vicious faces, mini, jagged
sand grain-sized creatures whose mouths were like half equators round their bodies,
resembling pac-men with the top and bottom rows of teeth leaning one way and the other,
like old gravestones, making them look like deep-sea anglerfish. Staring crazy eyes and
topped with an equally crazy looking chaotic hairstyle. No body, no limbs, just a head with a
big mouth and big teeth, but each the size of a piece of gravel or smaller.
Masha stood proud on Grit’s back and stared at the marauding enemy. Her new crewmates
stood behind her in the same power stance. On Jade’s back, Raffi did the same pose, as did
his crewmates, accompanied by a few cries of ‘AH HAAR’. Many that had been digging had
bounded back on board, though a few remained on the ground. Masha looked across at Raffi
and he looked back. He nodded. She nodded back. Masha then pulled out one shiny silver
weapon with her right arm. The other pyrites all did the same. Then she pulled out a second
one with her left hand and the others followed. A third then fourth weapon appeared with
each of the remaining limbs and now the tortles’ backs were a forest of spikes, clubs, spears,
slingshots and chains and just about every kind of weapon you could think of. A few others
had weapons you wouldn’t think of, like a toilet plunger and a food mixer. Masha’s fourth
weapon looked like one of those wire mesh nets that Gladiators would have used in a Roman
stadium, so she was clearly ready for business.
‘Battle Antenna on!’ cried Masha to her crew and led the way by slipping on some armoured
horns that enveloped her long, spindly hooked-forward aerials. They normally looked like
coat hanger hooks but the horns now gave her a more formidable bullish appearance. Her
crew followed her gesture. Some had spikey antenna, others forked, fishhook extensions and
others antlers, like a stag in the rutting season. Masha glanced at them, then did a double take.
‘Aye Cap’n,’ he said, adjusting his headgear.
‘What are those?’
‘Ah, I be as usin’ my drag lice accessories ma’am,’ and he fussed to get them both
‘They look like feathers!’
‘They is from my panto act ma’am, you know, the pink boa, when I does the song ’n’ dance
‘And they’ll protect you?’
‘As by distractin’ the little critters Cap’n, which is then that I am catchin’ them underwears
Masha was about to reply, then thought better of it. Natural selection, she realised, would
decide whether Terry’s DNA remained in the gene pool or the next pool of blood on the
The next moment there was a clash - not of Titans but Tiny-tans, creatures on the other end of
the size scale, the diminutive pyrites risking life and limb against the milliscopic (that’s
millimetre sized – the Eschers were too big to be called microscopic) foes that were clearly
outnumbering the crews of the tortles. The noise was deafening (for the little creatures) as
sword hit sand grain, as hammer hit dust particle and food mixer chopped up gravel, the
limbs of these normally sluggish lice were slicing through the air like expert chefs cutting up
How to get in touch with the Author:
Elsewhen Press: https://bit.ly/LifeOnMars-Vikings
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