More from: Writing

Broken Glass – new novel released (for free)

I finally got round to finishing the final edits of Broken Glass, the final novel in the Minding Tomorrow trilogy.

You can read it here, though it’s worth reading Minding Tomorrow and Combat first, or else it will make no sense. All my fiction is released for free under creative commons, so download the ebooks and enjoy!

I’ve no idea why I always put off completing a project like this, but it had been sitting almost-finished since April. All I had to do was make a book cover and do a few rounds of editing, and it would be ready. In total these last steps only took about 10 hours.

So I’ve been 10 hours of easy work away from completing a three novel series of stories that I first attempted writing back in 2003. I started writing the current version of Minding Tomorrow in November of 2008, so the three novels could be said to have taken four years to complete. I planned to get Broken Glass finished in the spring of 2012, but I wrote “Get That Rat Off My Face!” instead, which admittedly takes place in the same universe as Minding Tomorrow. In a way, it could be read as a four book series.

What I’m trying to ask is “Why would anyone not want to have finished a trilogy of novels, especially if it only requires a tiny bit more work?” Well, I’m not sure. I know I’ve been busy with other projects… but not THAT busy!

Personally I think Broken Glass is the best science fiction I’ve written. Unfortunately you have to read two other novels before it, just to set the groundwork and introduce all the characters, and logically those two novels can’t also be the best I’ve written.

All said and done, it’s been a fun journey.

And it’s not over. I’m currently writing another novel set in the same universe, but hundreds of years after the events of Broken Glass. So long, in fact, that it works as a stand alone story, though those who’ve read the Minding Tomorrow trilogy will enjoy it on an extra level.


I’d like to explain why I like to avoid spoilers.


My definition of art is something created by human agency with the intention of eliciting an emotional response from the viewer/reader/listener/participant/etc. This isn’t an unassailable definition, but as an artist and professional performer it’s a pretty handy guide. It also lets me enjoy art that comes my way.

What is important to understand is that the emotional response doesn’t have to be a single kind, or even a positive kind. Joy and laughter is what most comedies aim for, but if all you get is laughs, there’s not much about it that will stick with you in the long term. That’s why comedies try to bring out other emotional responses. Romantic comedies want you to feel warm and fuzzy, others want you to feel uncomfortable in gross-out scenes. One of the strongest emotional responses I’ve had from a comedy recently was watching Bridesmaids, and one scene in which two of the bridesmaids are trying to outdo each other with speeches about the bride had me cringing. I literally had to stop the movie for a few minutes to let myself calm down. It was awesome!

Other comedies, like Groundhog Day, bring the laughs, but also brings about a sense of pathos, and even a sense dread, and makes you think about the futility of life. That, by the end, you are full of compassion and hope for the future is the genius of the movie, and why it is considered a classic.

This all seems pretty obvious, and knowing what is going to happen in advance in most comedies isn’t going to spoil much of your enjoyment. However, there are a few emotions that fiction is no longer able to instill if you know what is coming.


The most obvious is surprise. This is the easiest too, and done well, the least susceptible to spoilers. The movie Final Destination had trailers with scenes not from the movie itself, but featuring audience members jumping out their seats while watching the movie for the first time. I knew it was a movie about people living longer than they should, and death catching up with them one by one. Also, before seeing the movie, I’d heard conversations where people said “Holy shit! The scene with the bus is amazing!”

Great, I thought. Now I won’t be surprised. All I have to do is watch out for a bus, and then I can get ready for…

And if you’ve seen Final Destination, you’ll know how just unprepared I was for the death involving the bus. Even me telling you a bus is involved in one of the deaths isn’t going to spoil it for you, because it is so surprising. That is the genius of that movie, and why there are now a whole slew of sequels (none of which I’ve felt any urge to watch).

The only way to spoil that individual scene is to have seen the movie before. Or, in this case, to have seen that scene before. Which is why the trailer for the movie never showed that scene at all!

Unfortunately, many movie distributers aren’t this kind, and include all kinds of otherwise surprising things in their movie trailers. Which is why I avoid trailers. If I hear the movie is good, I’ll probably get round to watching it eventually. I take long flights all the time, and can fit in four movies while traveling to America or back. On cruise ships there are always recent releases playing, and at home I catch up with anything I’ve missed on DVD.


I love to be shocked by fiction. Characters are going about their lives, or on an adventure, and suddenly something happens or is revealed, and everything changes. This could be for good, but it works far better if it is for the worst.

Unfortunately, unlike a good surprise, a shock can be spoiled if you know what is going to be revealed. Or more to the point, if you understand what is going to be revealed. The difference is subtle.

My name is Luke, so throughout life I’ve put up with people telling me they were my father, normally with a deep voice and heavy breathing. Even before I ever saw The Empire Strikes Back, people would tell me that they were my father. I understood it was a Star Wars reference, but didn’t understand what they really meant. I’d grown up with Star Wars: A New Hope, but Empire Strikes Back wasn’t shown on TV in the UK until the mid eighties, and then only at Christmas, so it was a while until I caught up with it. Then, aged about six or seven, I watched Empire Strike Back for the first time and holy shit!

Of course, I hadn’t understood the shocking reveal because I was just a stupid kid. The shock of it was no less meaningful though!

Now I’m not so much of a stupid kid. If I hear something about any story, be it a movie or TV show, I can usually work out, even before beginning to watch it, what the shocking reveal will probably be. Which is why, if possible, I try to avoid reading or hearing those spoilers.

Years ago I watched the first few seasons of Dexter, up to the end of season 3. Everyone said “Season 4 is the best, and the ending is such a shock!” But they were always sensitive not to spoil it, and I’m thankful for it. I avoided learning anything about it, and any news or discussion about anything beyond season 3.

Over the course of a few months I rewatched the first three seasons along with my girlfriend. I enjoyed them again, but in a different way, and found it fun to experience the surprising and shocking events vicariously through the person sitting next to me. We struck out into season 4, and everything was new.

Then we reached the last scene of the last episode of season 4. I knew a shock was coming, but I didn’t know what. As it turned out, it was way more shocking than anything I had thought up, and way more shocking than anything my girlfriend and I had wished for to shake things up for the characters involved. It was literally so shocking that we had to put on the first episode of season 5 immediately, just to make sure it wasn’t a dream sequence or a trick by the show producers.

And the shock stayed with me! I even had trouble sleeping that and the next few nights as I imagined something similar happening in my life.

It felt glorious. I love the fact that a TV show could make me feel something so visceral. It is one of those peak experience I crave in life. This happens so rarely with TV and movies, but I cherish it when it does, and I avoid spoilers because I want to have these experiences again in the future.


The final reason I like to avoid spoilers, and try not to spoil things for other people, is that I like to be made to feel stupid. And on the other hand, I like to be made to feel intelligent.

Great works of TV and film stand up to repeat viewing, even if there is a twist ending. A twist can be shocking or surprising, but it also works on an intellectual level. Aiming to effect someone intellectually can be part of a work of art, but if that is the sole reason, for me it falls more into the category of lesson, teaching material, political propaganda, etc. However, clever artists use the intellect of the viewer/listener to move their emotions.

So the twist is different to the shock. It relies on the viewer having come to one conclusion, and then the narrative exposing that conclusion as false, and revealing one that fits all the presented facts, and then explains so many more.

An effective twist can elicit two distinct responses. The first is “Oh, how stupid I am! I should have seen all that, but I was totally blind!”

From the buzz about The Sixth Sense, it seemed that 95% of people had this same response. And everyone loved being made to feel stupid. Being tricked, when you knowingly participate in the tricker, feels really good. This is why people enjoy magic shows. They know magic is bullshit, and that the performer is using tricks and mirrors and magnets, but they love the feeling of being fooled.

My experience with The Sixth Sense was different. Two girls had a very loud conversation right next to me, and blatantly explained the twist ending, covering many of the relevant points along the way, before I understood what they were talking about. Then I cottoned on, and groaned.

When I went to see the movie at the cinema, I enjoyed the movie well enough, and jumped at some of the shocks, but the twist had very little effect on me. Some of tricks had passed me by, but I’d caught many of the others.

I was robbed of the feeling that I was stupid. Knowing the twist spoiled that element that I could have otherwise enjoyed.

Thankfully there are plenty more twists that make me feel stupid. The Prestige worked great for me in that case, and on so many levels, because all the way through the movie they are telling you that you are being tricked, and explaining the trick right in front of your eyes, and you still miss it.

Or at least I did. And if you worked out the twist without knowing it in advance? Well, that’s the last reason I like to avoid spoilers.


I like to work things out for myself. Making people feel intelligent is opposite reaction to a good twist, and by intelligent I mean the combination of mental ability and relevant knowledge or expereince. If everyone guesses the twist ending, it’s not really a twist. If nobody guesses the twist ending, it’s probably comes too much out of nowhere, isn’t set up properly, and falls more into the shock category.

However, if between 80% and 90% of people are surprised, and 10% to 20% of people say “Oh, I worked it out from this, this, and this” you’ve probably done a good job.

And the 20% of people who worked it out feel clever. Knowing that they’ve used their intellect as the artist hoped, and are rewarded by the artist by the feeling of superiority over the other 80%, even if that superiority is only knowing just that little bit more about specific trivial things.

As much as I like being in the 80% of people who get the satisfaction of being tricked by the twist, I just as much enjoy working out the twist before it arrives. Who knows if I’d have had this kind of enjoyment with The Sixth Sense? Maybe. I do know that when I watched Unbreakable, I did work out the twist, although I fell asleep before the end, and then had to wind back to see if I was right or not. And I guessed the twist in The Village too, though enjoyed that all the way through to the end.

I like to be tricked by movies, but if I was tricked every time, it might get tiresome. I understand why some people don’t like being made to feel stupid by a movie, so if it is spoiled for them they don’t have to worry about it any more. I also suspect that many people who already know a twist like to tell themselves that if they didn’t already know it, they would have worked it out themselves. To be honest, many of the twists I know in advance seem trivial to work out. But then how can I be the judge of that? The only way to really test my intelligence is to go in not knowing, and seeing how the chips fall.

So there you have it. That is why I avoid spoilers. I like to be surprised, to be shocked, to be made to feel stupid, and to be made to feel intelligent. As an artist, these emotional responses are just some of the wide range I like to elicit, and as a reviewer they are experiences I like to leave open as options for my listeners to enjoy.

Idea: every story is based on a true story.

I recently read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and I noticed that so many of these fantastical stories from the 19th Century are frame stories. I love the idea that the author didn’t make up these stories, but received a manuscript and was just passing it along (Connecticut Yankee), or it happened to their uncle (A Princess of Mars (admittedly not 19th Century)), or they are a reporter just passing on the story of another person (The Time Machine).

Each one of them has some telling detail that convinced the author that the “person” they received the “true story” from was not lying. It could be a bit of technology, or something they noticed, or a fact that they otherwise couldn’t have known.

Any, my simple observation is that any story could, in theory, be given the movie tag line “Based on a True Story” or even “A True Story”.

It works like this:
1. Begin each story with someone sitting down to write or read a story.
2. Then tell the story that they wrote or read.
3. End with a scene showing the person finishing the story.

That’s it! The “Based on a true story” claim is only about the frame story of someone sitting down to either read or write the story within the story. As long as that frame character makes no claims to the verifiable truth of the framed story, you’re good to go.

Of course, they can claim they believe the framed story, but that just means that at some point the reader/writer must claim that, and so it is true, and you’re still good to go.

I might write a script that adds a scene of someone sitting down to read an ebook to the beginning of every novel in public domain, and then publish them all here on my blog.

“”The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells” by Luke Burrage – A True Story!”

Again, maybe this idea should just stay in my head.

I love to read comments and feedback about my blog posts. Please email me, I reply to every message:

New fiction – Get that rat off my face!

I just published a new science fiction novella that I wrote last year!

Get that rat off my face! front cover

You can find it here: Get that rat off my face! It’s totally free, released under a creative commons license.

Blurb about the story:

thought experiment: noun
an experiment carried out only in the imagination.

But what if you wake up one day and find yourself inside a thought experiment? Watch out, because the stuff of imagination is now your reality.

Physics, love, politics, music, the mind, the nature of reality, telepathic monkeys… Get that rat off my face! is an irreverent look at the most important things in the life of an obsessed science fiction reader.

You can find all the stories I currently have published, for free, on my fiction page.

Elite Skeptics, Elitist Skeptics, and me.

A bunch of nerds at TAM London 2010.

Many people get a lot of attention on the internet for saying or writing things like “Atheist and skeptics are just the same as religious people!”

They go on to say things like “Skeptics like to take down the beliefs of others, but they never question their own beliefs.”

Near the end of the rant, you’ll probably find accusations of elitism and arrogance.

Personally I think there is a confusion between the labels of “elite skeptics” and “elitist skeptics”. There is some overlap between the groups, but from my own anecdotal evidence, not very much.

I have no problem with people who are not skeptical about every one of their beliefs. My problem is with those people who aren’t skeptical of the reasons they THINK they are skeptical.

It’s a tricky concept, but maybe I can explain.

Not everyone can be skeptical of everything. There are loads of areas where I don’t think skeptically at all. This is the only way to get through my day, otherwise I’d never get anything done. I’d spend all the time investigating every tiny detail of every tiny truth claim, and never be able to have an awesome, albeit slightly random, life.

Who can really be that skeptical? Not us everyday people. And yet “skeptics” come under fire for NOT examining every single thing. And because we believe some things without question, and challenge a certain set of beliefs of others, we are called arrogant and elitist.

For that attention to detail we rely on elite skeptics. These can be professional scientists, or they can be trusted journalists or public figures who communicate the current state of scientific thought.

When Ben Goldacre says “Homeopathy is bullshit” I don’t rush out to do my own tests on diluted water. I just take his word on it. There is a virtuous circle of trust among scientists and science writers that allows them to reach a consensus on certain topics.

Yay for the elite skeptics!

My problem is with elitist skeptics, and I have a good working definition of the term.

First, let me state that I have no problems with any single belief or stance on any issue an elitist skeptic might talk about, or browbeat others about. The chances are they are 100% correct on the matter when held against the standards of modern science.

My only problem is the reason that they THINK they are skeptics, and are therefore scientifically right. The reason they believe they skeptics is their own intelligence.

Which leads to them believing everyone who believes something scientifically incorrect is stupid, or at least less intelligence than they are.

THIS is elitist skepticism, in my opinion.

I experienced it many, many times at the TAM London conferences in 2009 and 2010. More so in 2010. There would be a statement from the stage about how stupid religious people are, or how people are stupid for not knowing this scientific fact, and the audience would erupt in applause and cheering. It made me feel very uncomfortable. Same with my brother and sister-in-law, who attended one and two of the events respectfully.

The truth of the matter, as I see it, is that fact that you are a skeptic has nothing to do with your own intelligence. Instead it has everything to do with circumstances of your birth, your upbringing, and the society in which you live.

If this wasn’t the case, we could look at the most incredible minds throughout history, and they’d all be atheists and skeptics.

How about Isaac Newton? Oops. Was totally into alchemy and all kinds of batshit crazy stuff, as well as being a Christian. Same with every other intelligent person up until the Enlightenment.

Also, atheists have no problem saying “If you were born in Saudi Arabia, you’d probably believe in Allah, if you were born in Texas you’d probably believe in Jesus.” Which is totally true. This isn’t a statement about the mental capacity of any religious person, just the admission that people are shaped by their surroundings.

So why do skeptics think they are any different?

I was brought up in a hardcore Christian home, and I’m now an atheist and a skeptic. Is it my intelligence that took me down that path? I’d say no, just a great many incidences and coincidences along the way. My Christian upbringing probably contributed more to me being a skeptic now than other people’s secular upbringing, to the point where they’ve thought as much about the existence of god as the efficacy of Homeopathy. As in, not at all.

I have an identical twin brother who also attended TAM London in 2009 and 2010. He was also brought up in a Christian home, of course, and is now probably more hardcore atheist than I am. Did we reach the same beliefs because we are both as intelligent as each other? Well, no. It could be said that I’m objectively more intelligent than he is, as measured by grades at school. But even our grades at school had more to do with our only very slightly different life experiences up until age 16.

We took different paths to our skeptical mindset, at different paces, but in each case it took a repeated exposure to the skeptical mindset of others, each time totally outside of our control. After a time, by applying skeptical tools we’d picked up to our own beliefs, we came to the same kinds of conclusions. This had nothing to do with our intelligence levels, and way more to do with the fact that skepticism itself works. We didn’t invent it, we only slowly, and by accident, learnt it.

So what next?

Thinking other people are stupid because they are religious or not skeptical is totally misguided. It becomes worrying when these elitist skeptics think they should also be elite skeptics, or worse yet, elite members of society in general.

You may be CORRECT about the topics of which you are skeptical, but that doesn’t mean the “stupid” people should be sneered at and then ignored. They should, instead or at least, be educated.

As a final argument, I’d like to bring up the parallels between elitist skeptics and Randian thinkers on economics.

“I got to where I am today, financially, due to my own skills, intelligence, and hard work! I am the 53%! Pull yourself up by your boot straps!”

The common rebuttal is something on the lines of “Really? You didn’t rely on your parents? Your schooling? The circumstances of your birth? Your parents’ economic standing? Your gender? The colour of your skin? Your reliance on the wider society to provide the safe environment in which you can flourish?”

Soon the claims that someone, anyone, got to their current financial position due to their own abilities falls flat. It involves long chains of coincidence, circumstances outside of the person’s control, and the actions of other people. All these things combine to bring any single person to any point in their life. There is no fate, there is no destiny, there is no god in the machine. If you are a hardcore skeptic, you won’t believe in true free will, only in the illusion of free will. You are only the culmination of matter and energy playing itself out in the universe.


“I’m a skeptic, and have all the right answers, due to my own skills, intelligence, and hard work! I have the same religious beliefs as all these Nobel Prize winning scientists! If you weren’t so stupid, you’d be just like me!”

My rebuttal is exactly the same as before. “Really? You didn’t rely on your parents? Your schooling? The circumstances of your birth? Your parents’ economic standing? Your gender? The colour of your skin? Your reliance on the wider society to provide the safe environment in which you can flourish?”

Yes, even skin gender and colour. How many black women at TAM London in 2010? Maybe there was one, but she was hidden among the sea of caucasian men. Then again, only middle-to-upper-class people could afford the money and time to attend TAM, and we all know that white men, aged 25-40, only reach that position through their own intelligence and hard work. Ho hum.

To conclude: Some people DO rely solely on their outstanding mental capacity to independently formulate the principles of science and skeptical thought. Good on them. But these people are few and far between. I’m not asking you to defend the ancient philosophers’ intelligence compared to the general population. It’s obvious they had the chops to rise above the rest, and have influenced world history since their times.

No, I’m asking you to defend your OWN intelligence compared to the general population. Is knowing the truth about some subjects, and knowing a method of thought to reach true conclusions on other subjects, reason enough to sneer at everyone else?

I think not.