SCI-FI-LONDON are thrilled to hear about two very different books coming later this year – EMPIRES: INFILTRATION and EMPIRES: EXTRACTION. Written by Gavin Deas (a cunning pseudonym for the writing team of GAVIN Smith and Stephen DEAS), the two books cover the same period of time from two different viewpoints.
The blurb reads thus:
Two alien races have fought a long and bitter war among the stars. And now their conflict has bought them to our world, and the end of humanity is nigh. We have something they want, something which can’t be found anywhere else in the universe.
Neither side can afford to show their hand too early and attract the attention of their enemies, but their plans are in place and their agents are at work. When two men – a soldier and a policeman – stumble into the alien plots, their investigations will lead them to the aliens and, eventually, to each other. And to war.
Each book works as a standalone thriller, but if you read them both – in either order – you get another side to the story. It’s a remarkable piece of writing from Gavin and Steve, and I hope you’ll check them out, in the meantime we have a guest post from them on the subject of… erm.. neurotransmitters.
A Few Fun Facts About Neurotransmitters
The title of Empires: Extraction was very nearly Serotonin Storm. The neurotransmitter serotonin is (without going into a rather spoiler-ish explanation of why) fairly relevant to the plot of both EMPIRES books. Personally I think all neurotransmitters are fascinating in their chemistry and their effects. Maybe that’s just my inner nerd, but take Serotonin, for example: most widely known to be related to mood regulation, low serotonin levels are associated with depression… but low levels of serotonin are also associated with other forms of obsessive behaviour, including falling in love. Deathstalker scorpions have serotonin in their venom.
I didn’t use Serotonin Storm. I still like it, but it turns out it’s the medical condition of overdosing on serotonin (an excess of serotonin can cause headaches, shivers, hyperthermia, hyper-activity, hallucinations and death, largely down to overheating). I didn’t know that, so I thought I’d share that and a few other facts about neurotransmitters that I happened to stumble across along the way.
What is a neurotransmitter?
Imagine, for a moment if you will, that the brain is an enormous field crowded with irritable UKIP(1)(2) supporters. Or authors, or orang-utans, or whatever works for you. Imagine they are packed pretty tight, but not so tight that they’re pressed up against one another. Every now and then one UKIP supporter pokes another UKIP supporter and whispers something bad about immigrants. This makes the other UKIP supporter slightly more irritable. The more neighbours who whisper bad things about immigrants, the more irritable each UKIP supporter gets, until the only way to blow tension is to whisper something bad about immigrants to his own neighbours. Thus dumbass bullshit is passed through the field. In this immensely ridiculous analogy, irritable UKIP supporters (or authors, or orang-utans, or whatever works for you) are neurons, and the whispers are neurotransmitters, responsible stimulating the next idiot neuron in line. Depending on how you define one, neurotransmitters can be anything from single metallic ions and simple gaseous molecules released by a synapse to vastly more complex molecules. So here are three neurotransmitters you may not have heard of and a daft fact or two about each you can use to annoy your friends.
You might have heard of serotonin and dopamine and almost everyone recognises adrenaline. Say hello to norepinephrine, otherwise known as noradrenaline but actually more closely related in structure to dopamine. Norepinephrine is supposed the neurotransmitter of “vigilant concentration.” So basically the neurotransmitter of paying attention.
Anti-histamines are mostly known for fighting allergic reactions. The chemical histamine appears throughout the body and is involved in causing tissue inflammation in response to foreign bodies (making capillaries more accessible to white blood cells so they can get around better by giving them all temporary Oyster(3) cards or something like that). Anti-histamines fight inflammation by cancelling/neutralising histamine production and thus limiting the supply of those handy Oyster cards, but histamine is also a neurotransmitter and operates in the brain where it does all sorts of interesting things. For a start histamine regulates sleep. Lots of histamine means lots of being awake and alert. Not to much histamine means feeling sleepy. The body actually stops production of histamine during REM sleep. So that “may-cause drowsiness” warning on some anti-histamine prescriptions(5) is because the drugs are crossing the blood-brain barrier and getting inside your head and messing with stuff. Be aware, too, ladies and gentlemen, that histamine also plays significant role in other things, including libido. A lack of histamine can mean a lack of. . . yes, other things.
The most prevalent neurotransmitter of all, present at over 90% of the synapses in the human brain. That makes glutamate pretty much essential and involved in almost everything that goes on in the brain, but also sort of dull, in that it doesn’t associate with any particular mood or behaviour. Too much glutamate and your whole brain stops working properly. Too little glutamate and your whole brain stops working properly. But since it’s the most common, it deserves a mention, and here’s why: glutamic acid is a constituent part of any protein and is also one of the five basic tastes your taste bud receptors are tuned to (glutamate is strongly present in cheese and soy sauce). So basically, your most prevalent neurotransmitter is also your most prevalent flavour enhancer: monosodium glutamate. The aliens of Empires may well agree with that. They would certainly appreciate the irony.
- For my American friends who have no idea what a UKIP is, please substitute Tea Party supporters. Tea Partiers ?
- If causal mockery of these glorious institutions of fine, upstanding, empathic and intelligent social conscience causes you difficulty, it may be that Empires isn’t for you.
- For those of you who live outside London, an Oyster card is an access card for the public transport system.
- Also if you have difficulty with sarcasm.
- If it doesn’t have such a warning, that doesn’t mean it’s not an anti-histamine. Some formulations are made in such a way that they can’t cross the blood-brain barrier (don’t ask me how) and so they don’t affect histamine levels in the brain. Oh look, a serious footnote for once.
EMPIRES EXTRACTION and EMPIRES INFILTRATION by Gavin Deas are published in hardback by Gollancz on 20th November, a snip at £12.99