Friday, September 21, 2018

Limitless - Netflix Series

I watched the first season of this all the way through. It was enjoyable so I give it that. However, I couldn’t help but feel that the whole thing was dumbed down. It rapidly transformed into the usual ‘bright guy helps the police’. It would often begin to explore stuff that was deeper and more interesting then, all of a sudden, go into fast reverse. It also made huge efforts to be ‘less serious’ and displayed the super-brained main character as a bit of an idiot. It occasionally brought in some up-to-date science, like optogenics, and an ‘immortal’ mouse, but then rapidly backed away from exploring these in any depth. The realities of withdrawal and side-effects were looked at, then later on the subject of withdrawal was kind of dropped where convenient. It was as if, all the way through, some executive in charge was saying, ‘No, don’t go there – the audience of this show is thick.’


Fasting Update 3

I’m rapidly turning into a fasting bore. I get these enthusiasms and tend to learn as much as I can about the subject in hand. Thus far, over three weeks, I’ve fasted for a total of 7 days while eating less than I supposedly require for my BMR in between times. And when I say fasting I mean no solid food at all. There is confusion about this what with restricting calories being called fasting – basically promulgated by diet salesmen to create the illusion that by following a certain diet you are 'fasting', when you're not.

The day before yesterday I went for an 8 mile walk with my girlfriend and felt light and energetic. This should be no surprise because I’ve lost a weight equivalent to 4 to 5 bags of sugar. Carry that weight in a bumbag around your waist and see how you feel. But of course the weight is not all, because the fat is living tissue your heart needs to pump blood around. Fasting is good.

Various people offering their cautions ‘oh my god you’re not eating, you’ll die’ I’ve ignored while learning the realities. I now know that muscle wasting and starvation mode are bullshit, but I’ve talked about that before. The people for whom fasting would be a problem in the UK are those who are struggling to eat. Most don’t. Those with health problems otherwise should be cautious, but it would probably do them good. Type 2 diabetics would certainly benefit from it, since it seems this malady is curable with fasting.

I’ve now confirmed my earlier thoughts on keto sticks: they only tell you that you have one of three ketones in your urine, and only because you are not burning them up. Playing ‘my strip is more purple than yours’ is a mug’s game. They give an indication in the first few weeks while your body is trying to get a handle on what the hell is happening to it and until you become ‘fat adapted’, whereupon you’re burning up the ketones, so they won’t be in your urine.

But fasting doesn’t just shed the pounds. Besides reducing insulin resistance there’s that thing called autophagy. It’s a misty goal people aim for and I’ve now learned more about it. It is your cells chucking out or recycling stuff that isn’t working so well. It is something your body tends to be lax on when you’ve got a gut full of burger and chips. You need to go into ketosis and stay in it for a while for autophagy to get going. Protein, specifically one called leucine, knocks you out of autophagy. And it only takes a little. So if you do 5/2 eating 500 to 600Kcals you can lose weight, but forget about ketosis and autophagy. 5/2 is not fasting, it’s dieting. If you want those you have to eat no protein at all for a couple of days. Or perhaps you can take your calories from a cup of olive oil. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Now, at the end of week four of fasting I’ve run through and averaged my weights over that period. My average from the two weeks before I started was 189.8lbs. After four weeks the average is now 180.4lbs, so 9.4lbs lost. As noted before, I intend to continue this as a lifestyle – foregoing food for two days a week but, once down to a weight I want to maintain, increasing my eating on non-fasting days.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Writing Update

I’m repeating myself here but, quite some weeks back I took some text I’d extracted from one of my previous books and began to rewrite, with the intention of turning it into a short story. It’s now turning into a book for which the working title is Jack Four.

For a while now I’ve had the idea that I’ve been writing myself into a dead end. My fiction has been increasingly set in space with plenty of exploding spaceships while the characters, whenever they are human, are uber-human – they always have mental and physical abilities that are way out there. Meanwhile I’ve known that some of my best loved books have a large component set in planetary environments with weird alien ecologies, and contain character that, while not necessarily conventionally human, are more human.

In this book I decided to get away from former and get back to the latter. Jack is a clone whose only advantage is the knowledge of the person he was cloned from. He does not possess that person’s memories and is inexperienced. I also manipulated the story to stick him down in a hostile planetary environment and, to that end, let’s talk about monsters. People seem to like my monsters. So what do you reckon would happen if someone kept a zoo of such creatures in a space station and then, because that station was needed in a war (maybe a prador-human one) dumped all those creatures down on the surface of a planet?

I’m having a lot of fun with this and week after week have been hitting my writing target of 2,000 words a day five days a week. Jack Four has just passed 70,000 words (about halfway). I hope, when it’s done, you’ll have fun with it too!

Fasting Update 2

Okay, I’ve been doing some fasting over the last two weeks. Monday and Tuesday each week I ate bugger all, and on each Wednesday did not eat till the evening one week and the afternoon the next, so effectively 72 hours and 68. I also fasted on the Thursday of the first week and on the second ate late in the day. In between times I was eating less than my (supposed) base metabolic rate (BMR).

Here’s some stuff I’ve learned: It made no difference to my ability to exercise. Water loss could be lot and cause large variations in weight. Ketosis was variable but certainly kicked in more on the second week; ketosis is also not a good measure since it too varies with exercise or hydration. Drinking an electrolyte consisting of salts of sodium, potassium and magnesium certainly makes one feel better, it also kills hunger somewhat. At the end of this time my ‘fed’ weight was a minimum of 6lbs lower.

Over the weekend I ate plenty on the principle that my body needed materials to rebuild itself, also because constant dieting is not good for insulin resistance. I did eat nasty carbs (crumpets in the mornings) but that was about all. The rest of the food was veggies, salad and protein. I noticed over the weekend a delay in weight loss. On Saturday morning I was 182.6lbs yet, on Sunday morning after eating on Saturday, I was down to 181.6. On Sunday I ate a lot, finishing off in the evening with rather a lot of preserved sausage (I shouldn’t have) and this morning my weight was 184.4lbs.

I hit the gym early then came home prepared for another day’s fasting. I abruptly felt very tired and light headed and ended up having a snooze at 9.00AM. But then I didn’t sleep well the night before, getting just five hours. Even after I woke I still felt light headed and weak. I checked if I was in ketosis and found I wasn’t. A half litre of electrolyte and a cup of oxo gradually pulled me out of this. I did my 2,000 words.

I’m now interested to find out how much I’ll weigh tomorrow morning.           

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Fasting Update

I did some lengthy fasting last week then in the ensuing days and the weekend didn’t eat vast amounts. The most I had was on Sunday when I ate two crumpets with butter, marmite and peanut butter on them in the morning, a small portion of chips midway in a 13 mile walk early afternoon and then a salad in the evening. Total calories was probably about 1500Kcals which, with a BMR of 1700kcals and the walk ranging between 900 and 1300kcals, still left me with a hell of a deficit. And this week I fasted again on Monday and Tuesday, and will continue through till this evening – effectively 3 days since that salad on Sunday night.

I’m happy with the weight loss. Prior to the week before last I was averaging 188lbs – often straying up over 190. I weight myself in the morning before I’ve eaten or drunk anything and, obviously because of fasting, this morning I was dehydrated, but still I cracked the 180 barrier at 179.4lbs.

Noticeable this time has been ketosis. I bought some ketosis sticks to check on this and last week was disappointed with a reading (pale pink) that indicated a minimum ketone level in my urine of 0.5 to 1.5mmol/l. However, reading up on the subject I found that lots of things can affect this. Hydration dilutes those ketones while, if you exercise, you burn them. The ketones are fuel from your fat so finding them in your urine means unburnt fuel. Still, nice to have some indicator of how I’m doing beyond the weight drop. On Monday I was still getting the same reading. However, on Tuesday evening I started salivating and my pee smelt of fruit (which is an indicator). The reading today is now up to 3.0mmol/l+. Hydration is a factor, but still, I’m happy about that.

Now I have also checked back to when I last fasted the February before last. I notice that I dropped plenty of weight going from approx. 185 to 172, but apparently I didn’t record my weight thereafter for two months. I think I understand why. The fast had been an easy quick fix I felt I could do any time, so I didn’t bother about what I might be putting on. Turns out, two months later, I was nudging 190lbs. Thereafter I often felt very tired and subsequent attempts at fasting often failed. I now, having read a series of blogs on the subject, know why.

It’s all about the body conserving its energy. If you just diet (my fast was just a one-off so didn’t have the required effect) the body tries to hold onto its resources by burning less. This is why dieting has such a dismal success rate. A person will diet, the body resets, and then when they continue eating a lesser amount, because they are burning less they retain more. Also, because of that reset, they feel more tired and miserable eating a lesser amount – a recipe for failure. It is all about insulin and, if you are interested, you need to read through the blog linked on that subject. Conventional wisdom has it that it’s all about calories in, with calories out being secondary. I believed this too but now know it is more complicated than that. It’s about your body’s ability to burn calories. It is more about the calories out than the calories in. And insulin is the lighter.

So what to do? Apparently you need to fast, intermittently, for a longer period – maybe a month – to get your insulin down and reset your body to run how you want it to run. It’s stubborn, the body, and resists change. Read that blog - there are 27 posts.

To this end I intend to make intermittent fasting a habit. I will continue with it strongly until I am down to a suitable weight. I have always had a low regard for BMI calculations because, apparently, I need to be between 130 (9st 4lb) and 170 (12st 2lb). BMI is all very well until you start weight training, I felt. The idea of going midrange here at about 150 (11st 10lbs) seemed frankly ridiculous. Now I am not so sure. I remember, shortly after my wife died, getting down to that weight. Mentally I was a mess, but physically I was very good. I felt light, clothing fitted well, and, as I recollect, I was fit enough to do10 miles of gorge walking in the Cretan mountains followed by a swim of a mile. The method was effectively the same as I intend now, which is not eating much and exercising a lot, though the impetus behind it was not so good. I intend to aim for that region, but for better reasons.

However, I have been weight training and put on a lot of muscle, so, it seems feasible that my ideal weight should be somewhere in the upper range of my BMI. 12st seems like a good target. I’ll aim for that and see how it goes. In the end it comes down not so much to BMI or weight, but how much fat there is around my waist and, as I once noted long ago, whether or not I can tuck in a T-shirt and feel I don’t have to hold in my gut.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Salvation - Peter Hamilton

Structured a bit like Hyperion with a group of travellers heading towards a McGuffin and telling their stories along the way. In Hyperion the connecting thread is the Shrike the travellers eventually encounter, and that’s about all (as far as I can remember). I didn’t think I would like this book because I’ve often found stories told within a story irritating and irrelevant to the main plot. Page fillers. Here, however, there are multiple connections between stories and the destination of these characters. At no point in any of them did I think, oh get on with it, but then they’re liberally sprinkled with boosted mercs, weird aliens, agents and double agents, nasty weapons and advanced technology. The main advanced technology here is that of the entangled portals used for transport around Earth and beyond. Mr Hamilton obviously had some fun thinking about the implications of that. Lots of interconnected, one might say entangled threads, steadily weaving together towards a revelation, and a thoroughly enjoyable read I polished off in a day and a half. There’s more to come too, and I’m looking forward to the next books. 

Recommended.

    

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Fasting Again

Here’s a Facebook post from Tuesday:

Noting that, despite the weight training two to three times a week and the walks of twenty or so miles in total each week, my waistline has been getting no smaller, I've decided to fast. Since my last fast over a year ago I've tried on numerous occasions and failed at the finish line, gobbling down loads of food in the evening. Yesterday I finally succeeded and intend to continue today. I want to do something like the 5/2 diet. That strategy for a man is to eat 600kcals two days a week. My way is to take in my only calories on two consecutive days through the milk in my tea. I want to get into ketosis fast, and to continue limiting my eating on the five other days. If I do fail a complete fast on those two days, I'll limit that failure to the aforesaid 600kcals. Fed up with this spare tyre!

My last fast was more than over a year ago. It was back in February of 2017. Here are a couple of my posts from that time: Burning Muscle and One Week Fast. Rereading those now I’ve made a few corrections, but still probably haven’t got it right. I still believe muscle wasting does not occur on the level claimed by some who want to sell their snake oil, but wouldn’t be surprised if some does on the basis of my logic there: to keep the most essential organ functioning, the brain.

Thursday 6th September:

Monday was hard, but I seem to have reclaimed that earlier mindset. It’s difficult to ascertain why. I take a lot of supplements and decided, as is my want, that there is too much bullshit out there on the subject, and that I would quit them. This caused a return of some anxiety, so I started them again, telling myself I would give them up as they ran out then see how I feel. My aim then would be (if I felt rough, tired or whatever) to take a more scientific approach: trying one at a time to see its effect. In the midst of these considerations I read about supplements, tiredness and anxiety and remembered something. I used to take B vitamins for mood, the most essential one being B12, of which my brother (so similar genetic makeup) suffered a deficiency. I started taking it and quickly felt an increase in energy. Placebo effect? Maybe, but I carried on.

Another thing might be that I am in a much better state mentally. My private life has vastly improved, I’ve written to (almost) completion the Rise of the Jain trilogy and have been belting along with the next book, called Jack Four (thus far), while it has also been well over four years since the death of my wife, Caroline. At a bereavement group I was told that on average it takes about five years to get back to anywhere near normal. What is cause and what is effect is debateable, and will remain so. Life has no easy answers.     

Tuesday was not so difficult but, wary of my previous failures I kept a rigid mental grip on myself. I really wanted to get through the day, and especially the evening, without turning into a glutton. I did take in calories in the form of milk in tea and coffee, three small glasses of creamy milk in which to mix a lipophilic supplement and other supplements. The total would have been at most about two hundred calories each day. On Monday I hit the gym for 45 minutes, then on Wednesday I carried on with gym again and then no food throughout the day, then a 7 mile walk in the evening followed by food. The fast was effectively 3 days and the salad I ate was about 700kcals.

Difficult to ascertain weight loss since there is a huge water loss involved which despite drinking a lot, it doesn’t come up to normal when one is pissing like a race horse. I was averaging about 188lbs before and went down to 182.6lbs at one point. However, my deficit was about 2,000 + 1,500 + 2,000 = 5,500 and we are told that fat is about 3,000kcals a pound, which works out at, miserably, under 3lbs. Since I don’t feel particularly hungry today, haven’t eaten anything and it is now near midday, I intend to fast through till bedtime. 

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

The Spatterjay Trilogy on Audible UK


A little while ago some complained to me that this trilogy was not available on Audible in the UK. Bella Pagan investigated this and now tells me Audible's licence for it had expired. Macmillan has now bought their audible file and the trilogy will be reappearing in all the usual places on 29th November this year.


The Medicis to Borgia

I do like historical dramas because I often learn something I never knew before, either watching the thing itself or because it piqued my interest and I do a bit of research. But, as ever, only if they are done well. I was interested in this because my first editor, Peter Lavery, loves Italy, and had talked about its history on occasion. So I had great hopes for the Medicis.


The first couple of episodes I enjoyed, but thereafter the whole thing began to fall apart. Cosimo De Medici was an interesting character who moved into power in Florence with much Machiavellian manoeuvring. He thereafter caused (or assisted) a bit of a renaissance there by funding arts, artists and rebuilding. He ruthlessly acquired power and wealth and then used it to a good end, besides feathering his own bed, of course. He expanded the Medici Bank all across Europe. But here, after the first few episodes, there wasn’t much about this. 

It seemed, to the program makers, Cosimo De Medici was a man who spent most of his time staring at people with a mean-and-moody expression. He was a bit naïve and ineffectual and rose mostly by luck and happenstance. And, political correctness rearing its ugly head, the women around him were stronger and more manipulative than him. Yes, they might have been that way, but in reality the power they were allowed mainly concerned family life. The bad guy in this was also a silly cipher – cardboard. Meanwhile, this series having lost its way, far too much time was spent with people staring into each other’s eyes, while the music volume cranked up to try and make it all dramatic. 

Next looking for something else in a similar vein we started watching Borgia. The accent of Roderigo Borgia immediately put me off, especially when in contrast with Art Malik who spent much time talking at his shoulder. It was like, many many years ago, hearing John Wayne as a Roman soldier saying, ‘Truly this mayn was the son of Gaad’. Having watched and much enjoyed the 1981 BBC production The Borgias, I prepared myself to be disappointed. However, thus far, I haven’t been.


It’s a truth that if a drama has been on Netflix for a number of years and there is only one series, it’s probably crap. There’s only one series of The Medicis, but there are three of Borgia. I grew used to Roderigo’s out-of-place accent and was drawn into his ruthless pursuit of power, and idiot nepotism. The drama is played well with all the characters pulling their weight. I much enjoyed the portrayal of the cardinals' religious debates that often ended in fist-fights, and their manoeuvring for power and wealth. And I am learning something about the political structure of Italy with its city states back then, and the world. It can be horribly bloody at times – I am thinking of a man hung upside down and the introduction of a saw – but not unnecessarily so, and strikes me as sincere thus far. I hope it does not lose its way later on, since we are presently only watching series one. 

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Breaking the Twitter Addiction

I recently quit Twitter or, rather, I deleted it from my computer and Ipad so as to remove that temptation. My Twitter account is still linked to my Facebook account so anything I put on the latter appears on the former. 

The social media have been promotional tools, or at least that’s what I told myself. They are also a support in a profession that is pretty introverted. I get to chat with fans, some of whom have turned into friends. I tell them what I’m doing, have exchanges about science fiction, science and politics but, as ever, it is this last that is a problem.

There’s a difference between Twitter and Facebook to me. It could be that Facebook has a more mature demographic than Twitter. It might also be that the latter is more amenable for the drive-by comments, the trolling and brief spats during which no one has the time or words to calmly explain themselves . . . or that the medium attracts those who don’t want to. However, as people have suggested, it is more likely that this is just a matter of who I allow to be ‘friends’ and who I either block or mute. This has some validity since for years I’ve been very selective on Facebook in cutting out those whose opinions annoy me. But the problem I feel is also me. 

On Twitter I allowed more of the angry political stuff and vented more myself. Ranting has its attractions, it’s letting off steam, allowing oneself to blow . . . but as time goes on it becomes an addiction. I find myself scrolling through Twitter (I visualize myself staring at the screen with a moronic expression) just looking for stuff to be angry about; looking for stuff I can make cutting comments on. This is all very well if you have time to waste, but I do not. I have books, blog posts and other stuff to write, a website to update, a garden and a house to keep tidy, books to read, a life. 

Anger is also a negative emotion, and I have had quite enough of those for four years now. I can go on Twitter, get only involved peripherally in some spat, and it still makes me feel sour. And what does any of this achieve on the political front (where most of the anger resides)? In the end our effect on the politics of our country is limited to one vote every now and again and, as has been demonstrated recently, that vote can be all but ignored. Some argue that one must make a stand on the basis of the old aphorism that ‘for evil to prosper all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing’, which I have to counter with the reality most sensible people have come to understand, that arguments on the social media change no one’s mind, they just leave people pissed off. 

So I’m out of that. I’ll leave Twitter alone for a couple of weeks, then go back to do some muting and blocking. I’ll also adjust my settings to limit comments to my followers only. Thereafter I’ll check in only intermittently. 

This is better for me. The sour political world of Twitter can bugger off.  

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Beyond Skyline and Warcraft


Having dived back into reading (I’ve read more books this year than in the previous 5) I reckon it’s been a month since I turned on my television. Scanning through what was available on Netflix I felt no urge to get back involved with any of the interminably extended franchises so looked at the films. 



First up was Beyond Skyline – an enjoyable, derivative and all-over-the-place sfnal romp. It is science fiction you can enjoy just so long as you’re prepared to NOT take it seriously. It has aliens in there that are like Predator, a bit of, ‘Oh my God it sucked out his brain!’, plenty of Kung Fu Fighting and is full of enough holes to drop a space ship through. I would style its attitude as close to Guardians of the Galaxy, but with more people ending up dead.


Next up, because I did not feel at all tired, did not want to read now and was in sofa sloth mode, was Warcraft. It had caught my attention before whereupon my response was, hmm, that’s going to be some crap fantasy based on a game. I decided I would lose nothing by taking a look at it and, damn, straight in with some of the best fantasy CGI I’ve seen. The orcs were brilliant and, it could be argued, had almost more character than the human actors. But I’m not disparaging the human actors – they were damned good too. It grabbed me and I realised that here was a great story, with characters I cared about, battles and fight scenes that were excellent, interactions that worked. I enjoyed it immensely.

I understand that this film has been panned and I totally disagree. Recommended. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Languages of Pao by Jack Vance


It’s interesting returning to the kind of stuff I used to read rather more years ago than I care to think about. Some writers are now just an immediate ‘no’ because too much in their books has dated. Social mores and technology have changed so much since these books were written that some of them are risible. Also, since having written a fair few books (I dunno, 25?) I see stuff now I wouldn’t have seen when I was a naïve teenager. I see the holes, the ideas started and abandoned during the book, the diversions, the padding or rather lack of an editorial hatchet.


Thus far those that had stood ‘my’ test of time have been books by A E Van Vogt and now to him I add Jack Vance.


The Languages of Pao by Jack Vance has a damned good idea as its basis: changing a culture by changing the languages the people speak. In fact, having learned a lot of Greek, I can see how strongly a language reflects its culture and how a reversal, as in this book, might be true. I enjoyed this, the characters, the strange cultures described, and the conclusion. It is notable how both Vance and Vogt are very vague about the technologies their characters deploy – here we do have tech that is indistinguishable from magic – and describe settings that are only loosely based on the writers’ own time. In this way it is much less likely for their books to go past their use-by date.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Cosmic Engineers

This one was a no-no right from the start. Two reporters on a space ship, one of them turning a dial to tune in the radio, gave me difficulties with suspension of disbelief right at the start. People from the 50s supposedly in a future three thousand years away from us. Other things in the science and the narrative were appalling. A guy getting into a pressurized spaceship through the front screen was risible. Then there was a woman, after a 1,000 years in hibernation during which she was conscious, waking up and behaving as if she's been a bit stir crazy for a few days and, incidentally, speaking the same language as the reporter who freed her. Nah. This makes me realize how much SF I swallowed with a naive hunger when I was younger.


This is not really a review since I didn't get more than a chapter or two into the book.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Battle of Forever - A E Van Vogt

After Syzygy (previous post) and a failed attempt to read With a Strange Device by Eric Frank Russell, I resorted to one who has never disappointed: A E Van Vogt. The Battle of Forever snared me immediately. Sure, published in 1971 it’s a bit dated, but I didn’t find myself cringing at any of the technology, just a little bit at the mores. Of course not: this is Van Vogt and right from the start it’s far future super-science.


Modyun is one of the thousand remaining members of the human race, incredibly long-lived, peace loving and totally rational. He doesn’t suffer much from all that emotional gland-related stuff because, well, as this starts out he hasn’t got very much of that icky stuff going on, being mostly a bloody great head with a negligible body. But then he must venture beyond the barrier out onto the rest of the planet, which is now occupied by animals uplifted into human form and intelligence. To do this he grows and eight-feet-tall body to support that head, and begins to experience its effects, especially when he discovers Earth has been conquered by aliens…

It’s the good old stuff.         

Syzygy - Michael G Coney

Syzygy by Michael Coney was first from that stack of second-hand books I picked up in Hastings. I immediately found it a little disappointing. If I had read it when it was published in 1973 my reaction, as a voracious consumer of any SF, would have been different. But the world has moved on since then, and so have I. 

The sfnal idea here is of oceanic plankton breeding every 52 years and, in the process, forming briefly-lived minds to protect itself. These minds control the local blackfish (sharks really) to attack and kill the fish that would feed on the plankton. This effect spills over onto human colonists causing a telepathic amplifier feedback effect on emotions, resulting in violence and various irrational behaviours. In essence: you really don’t want to know what people think of you. The human government responds to this with an attempt to poison the minds and, becoming aware of the humans, they respond by trying to drive the humans into the sea to be torn up by the blackfish. 


Intertwined in this is a human story concerning a bereaved husband falling for the sister of his dead wife, along with a mystery about how she died – all resolved in the final scenes. I’ll go into no more detail about it than that. I found it all a bit prosaic and a struggle to get through because, really, I was after the sfnal hit. In fact, beyond the plankton minds, it all struck me as a bit lacklustre. This could all have been about mind-controlling plankton arriving at the coast of some US town in the fifties. While in science fiction one must suspend disbelief, in old SF one must extend that suspension to cover, in this case: fifty-year-old technology on a colonised planet, and the mores of that time. One just has to laugh a hollow laugh when only a woman is capable of properly cleaning our hero’s house, and when that same hero, upon sensing the thoughts of a pipe-smoking psychologist, has a homophobic reaction that would today have the writer strung up by the thumbs, albeit the reaction was that of the protagonist.  

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Reading Again


When I was in my 10s, 20s and 30s I used to read huge numbers of books. Over some early years it averaged out at 10 books a month. Maybe this was because the books I read back then were slim SF volumes from the likes of Asimov, Blish, Aldiss etc. As I transitioned into a full time writer that number grew smaller but I still always had a book on the go. Events four years ago (which I have gone on about enough) killed my urge to read, but it has been slowly recovering. Now it seems I have broken through some barrier thanks to Terry Pratchett.



Over the last month I polished off 12 Pratchetts in the collection above. I then felt the urge to return to my habit of old which was wandering around second-hand bookshops in search of sfnal (and fantasy) gems. Last week Julie and I went down to Brighton and then Hastings to visit my old editor, Peter Lavery. There I wandered into a shop and this happened:



My first choice out of these was perhaps the best and, reading Philip K Dick’s Zap Gun reminded me of why I have none of his books in my collection. But onward and upward! Next I’ll try a Van Vogt who, thus far, has never disappointed.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Half Breed



"Jackal is proud to be a Grey Bastard, member of a sworn brotherhood of half-orcs. Unloved and unwanted in civilized society, the Bastards eke out a hard life in the desolate no-man's-land called the Lots, protecting frail and noble human civilization from invading bands of vicious full-blooded orcs."


Readers here may remember how a number of years ago I was writing stuff for a Heavy Metal film. One story requested was an orcs and elves battle based on Rorke's Drift (Zulu). I needed superior weapons to keep the hordes of orcs at bay so I went with arbalests wielded by immensely strong half-breed orcs (the children of rape). I called the story Half Breed. Here’s Skander, the leader of that party of orcs.


Because this was story written on request and therefore owned by Tim Miller, who was putting together this Heavy Metal film to sell to Paramount (yeah, Deadpool Tim Miller), I couldn’t publish it. The thing languished in my files and then, as the Heavy Metal thing fell through, continued to languish there. I’ve since written another one called Brawl that might be used in another project I probably can’t talk about (name change from Skander because of US legal wankery). I’ll have to check on whether I can use these when I finally get round to publishing a collection of fantasy short stories.  

Friday, June 08, 2018

The Old Stuff on Kindle and in Paperback

I’ve mentioned elsewhere my steady climb up the writing ladder so I’ll not go into it here, suffice to say that before the big publisher took me on I’d put my hours in with the small presses. As a result of this I did have a number of small things published before Gridlinked hit the shelves.






Some years ago I heard about self-publishing on Kindle, so I put some of these items on there and they’ve been selling in increasing amounts ever since. The last thing I put on there was a collection called Runcible Tales and, while doing that, I saw that Amazon gave an option to publish it as a paperback too. This was interesting.






Runcible Tales sold nicely but there were always those asking about getting hold of the thing in paper which, for whatever reasons, I was reluctant to do (or too lazy).





Recently, after finishing editing Book III of Rise of the Jain (The Human), I decided to have a sort out of my short stories. I put those that were in collections into files of the same names, so I had Runcible Tales, The Engineer ReConditioned and The Gabble. This left many single stories that might have been published here and there in anthologies put out by others. I decided to put together a small collection of Polity and Owner stories and called it Owning the Future.





Also in there I found Mason’s Rats. This was a collection of just three short stories that many had enjoyed. They were first published in a small press magazine called Kimota, whose editor, Graeme Hurry, who then published as a small booklet he handed out at an SF convention. I published these on Kindle too.




Next it was time to bite the bullet so I started off by publishing Runcible Tales in paper form on Amazon. That went well enough so I did the same with the rest. There were some hiccups concerning pagination and the covers are quite plain (something I must look into in the future), but now all of the above are available on Kindle and in POD paper. The links below each will take you through to the Amazon UK, but these are also available in the US and elsewhere.   

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Owning The Future


I've just put this collection up on Kindle. It will also be appearing as an Amazon paperback sometime soon . . .


I have a varied collection of short stories in my files and, of course, the temptation is there to dump them on Kindle, take the money and run. However, though I think some of them are great, some aren’t, and some are profoundly dated. I am aware that there are those out there, who will just buy these without a second thought, so I have to edit, be selective, and I damned well have to show some respect for my readers. Kindle in this respect can be a danger for a known writer, because you can publish any old twaddle and someone will buy it. Time and again, I’ve had fans, upon hearing that I have this and that unpublished in my files, demanding that I publish it at once because surely they’ll love it. No they won’t. A reputation like trust: difficult to build and easy to destroy. 

I’ve therefore chosen stories other people have published here and there, and filled in with those I really think someone should have published. Here you’ll find some Polity tales, some that could have been set in the Polity (at a stretch) and some from the bleak Owner universe. Enjoy!

Neal Asher 04/06/18

  
Stories:

Memories of Earth
I believe I wrote this one as a publicity exercise for Tor Macmillan while they were publishing the Owner trilogy, but then it wasn’t used. I subsequently shunted it off to Asimov’s and they published it in their October/November 2013 issue. There’s also an audible version on Starship Sofa (No. 383).

Shell Game
This appeared in The New Space Opera 2 edited by Gardner Dozois and Johnathan Strahan published in July 2009.

The Rhine’s World Incident
First appeared in Subterfuge from Newcon Press in 2008, next appeared in In Space No One Can Hear You Scream from Baen Books in 2013. This is the story where the swarm AI the Brockle makes its first appearance.

Owner Space
Appeared in Galactic Empires published by Gardner Dozois in 2008

Strood
First appeared in Asimov’s in December 2004, next in Year’s Best SF 10 published by Hartwell and Kramer in 2005. StarShipSofa did an audible version: No. 463

The Other Gun
Cover picture story in Asimov’s April/May 2013. This is a backstory for the Rise of the Jain trilogy – it concerns the Client.

Bioship
This appeared in George Mann’s Solaris Book of New Science Fiction in 2007

Scar Tissue
Not appeared anywhere at all!

The Veteran
There’s an audible version of this on Escape Pod, episode 118, read by Steve Eley – went up there in 2007

Friday, June 01, 2018

Mythos - Stephen Fry


It was good to read stories I vaguely knew written out clearly. That Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection is enduring. Here I learned how the water nymph Echo related, and how the flower came to be. Prometheus’s unfortunate sojourn on the side of a mountain, with vultures eating his liver, was another story elucidated . . . in fact, there wasn’t a story here I did not know some part of, which shows just how ingrained Greek myth is in our culture.  


I particularly enjoyed the language connections that Fry elaborated on like, off the top of my head, that the ‘Ge’ in Geo words like Geology comes from Gaia, the Earth goddess. Having learned Greek (allegedly) and having spent many years on Crete, I also felt this mythology gave me further insight into the working of the Greek mind. It is a fact that your language informs your perspective on reality (and that learning another one gives you a deeper perspective), while Greek myth is firmly intertwined with their language (and ours, though not so firmly).

Do I recommend this book, what with most people reading this blog being SF readers? Well, it was a mostly easy undemanding read, except in some sections, where genealogical lists tended to the boring. But you know what, it’s nice to know, for example, the history of the names in John Varley’s Gaean Trilogy. SF writers have used Greek myths and names more than one might suppose, so go on, educate yourself.   

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Fun Police


I do a lot of walking along the sea walls around here – they are in fact some of the best places to ramble in agricultural Essex. A favoured walk is from St Peter’s Chapel out at the end of the Dengie peninsular, round past Bradwell power station to Bradwell Waterside, there to recuperate with a drink and a bag of nuts in the Green Man, then back to the starting point. In all it’s about 8 miles. While taking this route it’s nice to stray onto the beach for a while, or pause to take in the scenery. A good place for doing the latter is from the tops of pillboxes (WWII defences) incorporated in the sea wall. They provide a perfect platform. Or, at least, they did.


Now it seems the nanny state and the fun police have struck again. Can’t be having us plebs walking out on these things. No safety rails you see. Someone might fall off and instead of this sensibly being seen as a valuable contribution to the Darwin Award, it’s to be frowned on. Of course, the council, or whoever put these fences here, is not entirely to blame. In my childhood, should I have fallen from something like this, my father would have added to my injuries with a clip round the ear for being such a dozy prat. In today’s litigious society, that’s not what happens, and woe betide any council that allows the children of generation snowflake to stray near potential harm.




More and more I see the future Britain full of strictly controlled and managed parks, where blobby people can motor along the neat paths on their invalid scooters, and where children bounce along looking like the Marshmallow Man in their safetywear, perhaps pausing to inspect the patches of stinging nettles and thistles growing behind Perspex screens.        

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Red Sister and Sharp Ends

I haven’t been reading many books over the last few years. I put this down to events of over four years ago when I ceased to take pleasure in anything. By and by my enjoyment of most things has returned but with the reading, not so much. Too often in the last few years I’ve picked up books and then lost interest in them – the whole idea of continuing to read them seeming a chore. I therefore began to think that maybe this was a pleasure that would never return and that, after years of reading books and years of writing the buggers, I’ve become jaded with them.

To a certain extent, this may be the case. I’ve found that books I used to love quite often annoy me, especially when I hit continuity errors and other mistakes, and slip into a dispassionate editing mode. Or when I read others and find myself baffled by my earlier enjoyment of them, or when I read a writer whose language I loved and now find just irritating.

However, I do still come across books, and writers, who do the job. David Gemmell is one such writer, while Peter Hamilton is another. Recently, while in a bookshop, my girlfriend waved a book at me that for some time I’d been talking about buying and reading. This was Red Sister by Mark Lawrence. I took that and, while there, noted Joe Abercrombie’s short story collection Sharp Ends, and picked that up too.


Incidentally, both of these writers were introduced to me by way of their publishers hawking them around for nice comments to put on the covers. In each case, I had no problem with this. I have ARCs of The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie and of Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, and then went on to buy the ensuing books of, respectively, the First Law and the Broken Empire trilogies.


Anyway, these two books . . . I polished them both off in under a week. I guess this is the point where I should wax lyrical about the hard gritty fantasy of these two writers with its lack of fluffy elves, and its excellent memorable characters. Perhaps I should mention how unputdownable was Red Sister, or how just a small bit of dialogue between characters in one of the Abercrombie short stories had me snorting tea out of my nose? No, I will not. All I will say is that for this jaded old misery these two books are the good stuff.

Recommended.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Reddit AMA

The author AMA is now open:
https://www.reddit.com/r/sciencefiction/comments/8jn3kw/im_neal_asher_science_fiction_writer_ama/

Reddit AMA

I'll be doing a Reddit AMA (ask me anything) at 6PM UK time.

https://www.reddit.com/r/sciencefiction/comments/8igmgj/upcoming_amas/

You should be able to find it somewhere here at that time:

https://www.reddit.com/r/sciencefiction/

Hello people, Neal Asher here.

Here are the nuts-and-bolts of who I am, or maybe more correctly, what I do: I once was a hungry aggressive SFF writer struggling to get the odd thing published and writing new stuff on the back of rejection letters. I spent years running at that particular brick wall with my head, until something finally broke . . . I then spent years of getting short stories, novellas and the like published in the small presses (and earning some way below zero for them). A big publisher, Pan Macmillan, finally took me on and brought out my first full-length SF novel, Gridlinked, in 2001. A year or so later I took the risk of giving up my day job and now I’m about 25 books in. Most of my stuff is set in the ‘Polity’ – a far future human/AI society that is pretty utopian, except for the hostile aliens at the border, the occasional psychotic AI, a war that burned up a few hundred worlds and a civilization-destroying alien technology . . . you get the picture. If this is your kind of thing (described as post-cyberpunk space opera, apparently) then search engines will turn up all you need to know. You can find my website at nealasher.co.uk. The blog there is copied across from http://theskinner.blogspot.com while I can also be found on Twitter @nealasher, on Facebook at neal.asher and of course here on Reddit.    

My latest book, The Soldier, is the first in a new trilogy with the overall title Rise of the Jain. Jain technology is the one mentioned above. You might like to ask me why I named a hostile alien technology after a peace-loving religion and my answer will be suitably glib!

Here’s the blurb:

Her mission is vital. Her failure is unthinkable.
A hidden corner of space is swarming with lethal alien technology, a danger to all sentient life. It’s guarded by Orlandine, who must keep it contained at any cost – as it has the power to destroy entire civilizations. She schemes from her state-of-the-art weapons station, with only an alien intelligence to share her vigil. But she doesn’t share everything with Dragon . . .
Orlandine is hatching a plan to obliterate this technology, removing its threat forever. For some will do anything to exploit this ancient weaponry, created by a long-dead race called the Jain. This includes activating a Jain super-soldier, which may breach even Orlandine’s defences.
Meanwhile, humanity and the alien prador empire keep a careful watch over this sector of space, as neither can allow the other to claim its power. However, things are about to change. The Jain might not be as dead as they seemed – and interstellar war is just a heartbeat away.
The Soldier is the first novel in the Rise of the Jain series, by bestselling science fiction author Neal Asher.


This is an AMA so go ahead and ask me anything. I can’t guarantee I’ll answer, or maybe be any more than flippant, but I’ll give it a shot.