Sunday, June 23, 2019

Return to Crete (Part One)

Here I am again on Crete after two years and nine months. I initially left for two reasons – one is under a NDA and the other personal – and I stayed away for personal reasons too. I have already detailed all this, but in my journal. I won’t be writing about it here because I don’t know you well enough!

Knowing I was returning, I kept an eye on Facebook posts from people I know here and from some other local feeds. This last winter here has been one of the worst for a long time. They had so much rain even the Greeks were saying, ‘Enough now,’ and they usually wish for it to top up the ground water supply and because, well, it’s not that common and they haven’t acquired the English detestation of it. I heard about floods, roads washed away and landslides and watched videos of these. Riverbeds, which had been dry for a long time, abruptly ceased to be, washing down masses of bamboo and sweeping it out to sea, which then kindly heaped it up on the beaches and all along the coast. A hotel here called Villea Village was devastated with rooms filled with mud. I noted the usual cries of, ‘This has never happened before!’ and, ‘Oh my god the climate!’ Complete nonsense of course. That there are riverbeds here kinda indicates that they have in the past had rivers. Also, the hotel I mentioned was built right next to one of these whose local village behind by the same bed is called Aspro Potamus, which translates as White River. There’s a clue there. . .

Makrigialos where I go to swim and kayak had a couple of roads taken out, many properties flooded and that bamboo heaped on the beaches. Sitia, on the other side of the island, where I go shopping, was seriously flooded and pictures of it looked like those you see from third world countries in the monsoons. I heard that my village up in the mountains, between these two, was inaccessible due to landslides. I half expected to return to find my house in a pile of rubble at the bottom of the village or to open the door and have to wade inside, or shovel out mud.

During the drive from the airport I saw signs of the damage in Makrigialos, but the roads had been repaired and the beaches cleared of bamboo. When I finally arrived at my house and walked inside my fears proved groundless. Water, of course, runs downhill and my house is 700 metres above sea level. The only evidence of the heavy rain was in my bedroom. When Caroline and I first came here, we stayed one winter and, on New Year’s Eve, it rained for 10 hours straight. We were away celebrating and when we returned it was to find water pouring through at the base of the back wall and making a small waterfall over the step into the kitchen. This is because that wall is underground. I sealed it all as best I could and now there’s a patio area on the ground up there, but the water did get through this winter. However, all I needed to do was put a couple of wet mats outside to dry and later repaint the wall. This house was initially built of stone cemented together with mud and still has mud in the walls. This had soaked through and stained the paintwork.


The most damage I found inside was from local wildlife. Rats had got into the wastewater pipe, flipped up the little chrome drain cover in the bathroom, and come to stay. Their dry shits were everywhere with patches of dried out pee scattered throughout, but the most damage they had done was to chew a duvet cover and a few other items. Their other leavings weren’t really much of a problem since I needed to clean every surface anyway and launder every fabric I could.

I spent the first evening after travel just cleaning and running the washing machine. I slept in a mould smelling bed (no choice – no bedding clean or dry yet) and woke up with my eyes streaming and swelling from an allergic reaction – soon dispensed with using eye drops and an antihistamine. Over the next two days I cleaned throughout while running the washing machine perpetually. I didn’t bother getting any food in and instead headed down to the Gabbiano Restaurant and filled up there. Other snacks included packets of Cheetohs that were three years old, sardines and friganes (dry toasts also three years old). With everything bar the painting done inside I turned to attention outside.

Everything in pots was dead, the garden overgrown, while a structure I had built out of metal rose arches from Lidl bound together with bamboo and wire and up which I had been growing rosemary, had been taken by the wind a year before and deposited across the garden. Weeding therefore involved dismantling this thing as I went along. I cleaned up the garden and surrounding area and dug it over (with a mattock since impossible with a fork here). I then repaired a trellis that had been ripped from the side of the pergola and set about treating all the woodwork of the windows, doors and shutters. While doing this I found the ‘skolichi’ or woodworm had been busy. I had to cut out and replace a chunk at the bottom of one shutter and inset a piece of wood in one leg of the pergola.

Shopping next. I finally got some food and other needed items into the house. I also bought young lettuce plants and seed onions that I put in immediately. I ventured down to my favoured bar and was happy to see Yorgos and Kostis, had a coffee and headed away again. Still too cold for swimming and my kayak wasn’t there. I learned that Yorgos had put it in storage and would bring it out again once I was ready. But I still had work to do at the house and first I wanted to get back to walking in the mountains.

My first walk was hard. The seven mile walks I was doing occasionally in Essex simply do not compare. In fact, physically, I am much more active here in every way. There are more steps and slopes, and all the jobs outside. The rubbish here is not collected from the house but goes in a bin that is some way down the road beside the village. If I only shop at Lidl that’s similar to a shlep to the supermarket in the UK, but often I have to go into the town for things, and for a frappe, and for the joy of walking around in the sunshine. Already, with all this and the work I was doing, I was experiencing all sorts of aches and pains and finding it difficult to stay awake beyond 10 in the evening.

I decided right away to go on the long walk: to Voila (pronounced Voyla). One day I am going to write a book called ‘Walking to Voila’ covering my experiences here, the death of Caroline, the after-effects of that and much else beside. One day. Voila is a place I first walked to when fighting depression here. I felt pretty crappy one day and decided to walk until I felt better or dropped. Now I don’t believe in supernatural stuff, however, after crossing the mountains and heading out on some roads, the walking had its positive effect on me and reaching a junction I stopped and decided it time to head back. There I looked down and in the white line at the side of the road, in black lettering, were the words ‘Never Stop writing’. I think they were done with a stencil and had something to do with those who paint the lines? I don’t know. But those were some of the last words Caroline spoke to me before she died.

This walk entails a track with one steep slope and I felt that in my calves immediately. Next comes a slope up to the top of a mountain where wind turbines stand. This slope is over 45 degrees in places – the track concreted to stop it sliding away. It pleased me that though walking slowly I didn’t stop. I would put it as akin to walking up about twenty staircases. Euphoria hit after that on the top of the mountain and I shouted something about being ‘Back in Kriti!’ I completed the walk – past the ruins of Voila (a Turkish settlement with its ‘Tower of Tzen Ali), through the village of Handras, round a track to the village of Armeni, through that then back across the mountains past Agios Georgos to home. In all about 8 miles. Midday I slept for about three hours. I then went to bed at about 9PM and slept for a further nine hours. But thereafter I walked to Voila just about every day. 

To be continued.    

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Book Signing

I will be signing copies of The Warship at Forbidden Planet London on Wednesday 1st May from 18.00 till 19.00. The link is here.

Their nemesis lies in wait . . .

Orlandine has destroyed the alien Jain super-soldier by deploying an actual black hole. And now that same weapon hoovers up clouds of lethal Jain technology, swarming within the deadly accretion disc’s event horizon. All seems just as she planned. Yet behind her back, forces incite rebellion on her home world, planning her assassination.

Neal Asher was born 1961 in Billericay, Essex, the son of a school teacher and a lecturer in applied mathematics who were also SF aficionados.

Prior to 2000 the Asher had stories accepted by British small press SF and fantasy magazines but post 2000 his writing career took flight. The majority of his novels are set within one future history, known as the Polity universe. The Polity encompasses many classic science fiction tropes including world-ruling artificial intelligences, androids, hive minds and aliens.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

The Warship on Audible

I’m happy to say Peter Noble will be reading the audiobook of THE WARSHIP. But, as Peter is booked up, the audio will be released a little after the physical book - on 13th June. But stay tuned for earlier extracts as soon as it's recorded.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Senolytic Self-Experiments

I’ve written about this before but I think it worth going over again to clarify it in my own mind and for the interest of others.

Over the last few years I’ve read a lot about longevity and increasing healthspan. I’ll admit this is not for the usual reason I read science articles (grist for the writing mill) but for selfish reasons. Like anyone of my age (now 58) I am at the point where, for some years, I’ve noticed things are beginning to break down. Over five years ago I was a drinker and a smoker. In my thirties when I drank excessively and didn’t really suffer hangovers, but they came and steadily grew longer. At one time I smoked rollups without filters. Chest pains introduced filters, then nicotine gum in the mornings to delay the first cigarette, and an inhaler to open up my airways so I could sleep. Anxiety and depression kicked in after the death of my wife. This stopped the drinking because alcohol is a depressant with the aftereffect of anxiety, meanwhile a bigger focus on health along with the arrival of the electronic cigarette stopped me smoking. 

My health improved markedly from stopping these and from years of exercise to counter the anxiety. My anxiety waned and this steadily revealed that even with the improvement in my health, aging was having its effects, of course. Throughout this time, for the anxiety and looking for health improvements, I investigated and took all sorts of vitamins, herbal remedies and nootropics. This led into reading about longevity and healthspan, whereupon I discovered stuff about senescent cells and the substances that target them, senolytics.

A senescent cell is a kind of zombie cell. It goes wrong and instead of entering apoptosis (cell death) it goes into senescence, which means it won’t die but it also won’t replicate. The theory is that it does not sufficiently broadcast its damage for the body to destroy it; that the partial shutdown is a response to prevent it becoming cancerous. However, in that state it produces inflammatory chemicals that disrupt healthy cells around it. More and more of these accumulate as we get older and scientists are steadily revealing them as a root cause of many of the diseases of aging. If only we could take something to kill them off. . .

A gobsmacking study on mice appeared. It had been discovered (somehow) that a combination of the cancer drug Dasatinib and the supplement quercetin were a senolytic. When given to aged mice their health improved markedly throughout their bodies and it extended their lifespan by 36%. Many people began experimenting with this combo and I too considered it. Unfortunately trying to get hold of Dasatinib is a risky business since it is prescription only. There are many places that sell it, especially in China, but will you actually be getting the real deal? I’ve also yet to see much on any positive effects from the self-experimenters. I put the idea aside, since I’m not dead yet, and continued reading.

After the success of the above combo (in mice) researchers began looking for other senolytics and testing them. Two were highlighted: fisetin, a flavonoid like quercetin but found in strawberries and piperlongumine a constituent of the long pepper. Fisetin it turned out was better than Dasatinib and quercetin, it also has no known ill effects when taken by humans and is a supplement you can buy. I read the mouse study and made the calculations – there is a formula to convert from a mouse to a human based on skin area. It turned out, that to do the equivalent of the mouse study in me, I would need to take (roughly) 640mg of fisetin per day, with some form of oil since it is lipophilic, for five days. I upped this to 1000mgs for maximum effect.

At this time I had also had further health improvements through fasting two days a week and dropping a lot of fat, getting some better sleep through using melatonin, and was still taking a variety of supplements on top of that. I also became a regular gym goer. So one must judge anything I write about this with caution. In no way have I conducted a carefully-moderated clinical trial. At the time I also found it difficult to recover from my work in the gym. I felt very tired all the time. I dressed up my response to this as ‘power napping’ but really it was an old bugger needing to take a snooze. I took a couple of courses of fisetin as detailed, over a few weeks, and felt particularly rough each time – like I was developing a cold – a had anxiety (maybe a nocebo effect since I aimed to kill certain cells in my body). Afterwards I just ate well when not fasting. Had it done anything? I thought not, and I thought that even if it had I might not notice effects. However, some weeks after this I noticed I no longer needed my power naps. This could have been an effect of fasting, or the melatonin or something else I was taking. It could all be placebo. But I found it encouraging enough not to dismiss it, and maybe try it again.

What percentage of my senescent cells did it destroy, if any at all? How quickly do senescent cells build up in the body? These are questions I simply cannot answer. I decided to try again on the basis that I probably still had plenty of senescent cells in me and the side-effects aren’t too nasty. Last Sunday night I took my first dose. On Monday I took another while fasting through till Tuesday (beginning with a dry fast of 16 hours) – 40 hours in total. I took doses through until Thursday. I felt particularly rough. I had symptoms of a developing cold again, a cold sore attempting to break out, feelings of extreme cold even when eating (so not an effect of fasting), a crappy mood and a lot of anxiety. I needed to have a sleep during the last day and that lasted two hours, followed by eight hours that night. I am now into my first day without a dose and am recovering quickly. 

Again I must make the point that this is in no way scientific. However, I simply cannot put the nasty effects down to anything other than the fisetin. This is also confirmed by someone else who has done the same as me. Perhaps such large doses just fuck me up big time and kill no senescent cells at all. But worth a punt. I will see in the ensuing days and weeks if any positive effects are noticeable. Meanwhile I look to the increasing number of biotech companies developing their own senolytics and putting them through trials. 

Interesting times.  

Monday, March 25, 2019

A Couple of Short Stories Published.

Again about stories I recently wrote when I had time to spare from work on my books. A few of them have been taken now and two are now available. The first is Monitor Logan – basically a far future High Plains Drifter and this can be found in the World War Four anthologyfrom Zombie Pirate Publishing.  

The second is Berserker Captain a story of sword-wielding violence appropriate for Ian Whates’ Legends Three from Newcon Press in homage of David Gemmell.

More to come. . .

Visiting Galleries

Some may have noticed, if they follow me on Facebook or Twitter, that I’ve been wandering into a few art galleries and museums lately. The blame for this can be laid squarely at the door of one Julie Ann McCartney, and she’s also to blame for a change in my usual morning reading of ten science articles. They now make way for two or three articles on art and history. I know that some are a little concerned about this change: Oh hell, is he getting all cultural and artsy? Is he going soft on us? Never fear.

Right from when I was writing my first short autobiographies or answering interview questions, I told of how I chose to be a writer. When I was a kid I had interests in all sorts of things. These included biology, painting and drawing, electronics, sculpture, chemistry, writing of course and other things besides. However, in my early 20s (if not before) I decided I had to concentrate on just one of these if I was ever to achieve anything. If I did not I would be a Jack of all trades but master of none. I chose writing because in that I could incorporate all those other subjects. In the respect of my science and technology interest this was especially the case when it came to SF.

But all is grist to the writing mill in the end. I should also add that the mill needs feeding and often with something new. If you don’t feed it yes, sure, you can still produce but ideas might be lacking. And if you feed it the same old stuff all the time what comes out may well get stale. Please excuse the extended and increasingly contorted metaphor. But what I’m getting round to here is that new experiences, ideas and perspectives can be invigorating for a writer, and they have been.

As I said in previous posts I recently turned from writing novels to writing short stories (though am now back editing the latest novel). I started out with a fairly traditional alien contact story, got into some Polity biotech stuff that produced one story and germinated an idea for a novella. I then wrote another novella that concerned my recent reading on longevity and the new biotech start-ups we are seeing. Next I started writing a story about a woman with moveable tattoos that transformed into something strange about her skin having an implanted AI, and in this I found myself in the Polity art world.

Now I was really using those gallery and museum visits. That story completed I then had a seriously weird dream about a biotech future, sat to write that down before my morning visit to the gym while still in a bit of a dream state, and glanced at a book Julie bought for me for my birthday on the artist Hieronymus Bosch. It fit at once. This start has now turned into another weird one: far future biotech and the monsters of Bosch born to exact vengeance for a crime. I’ve completed that at 20,000 words and will finish editing it later.

Glad I visited those galleries.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Writing Update

As is usual I haven’t been blogging very much so time to catch up. Early last year I finished the first draft of the third book of the Rise of the Jain trilogy – provisionally titled The Human. Thereafter I thought it time to get down to writing some short stories. I used an extracted plot thread of 20,000 words with the intention of turning it into something short. It actually turned into a novel called Jack Four I completed to first draft on the 21st November. I then really did get down to working on some short stories – as with the books between spells of editing and writing other bits and pieces.

It’s been fun rediscovering my enjoyment of the tight writing and invention of short stories. In December I wrote a completely non-Polity near future story called An Alien on Crete. Shortly after that, in the same month I completed The Host – a Polity story involving weird alien biology and a forensic AI. I felt an idea in The Host could be expanded and did so, completing Moral Biology (a novella) in early January. My science reading has included a great deal about longevity, and I completed another novella called Longevity Averaging near the end of the month, then at the end of the month another Polity story called Skin, set in far future London and involving, well, skin. I’m now venturing off into something deeply biotech and weird, with links to the monsters of Hieronymus Bosch and guess I’ll have that done in a week or so. 

But this interlude, enjoyable as it has been, must come to an end when I return to editing The Human ready to be handed in to Macmillan in a few months. One thing I rediscovered while writing these stories was just how good it is to print then damned things out to check them. I’ll do the same with the book going through it a chapter at a time with a pen. I also have in mind a small epilogue I need to add, so there’s that.

In all it has been a productive time and I’m happy to have returned to form. Ciao for now.  

Friday, January 04, 2019

Man in High Castle on Amazon

Another series I found on Amazon TV, which I have only just finished watching, is Man in High Castle. Based on the Philip K Dick book of the same name it gives us a parallel world in which the Nazis and the Japanese won the war.

This is grim and bleak but the acting is good and the characters engage. Films are turning up in this parallel, from that Man in High Castle, of events in our own world and are disseminated by rebels, though it is never clear what effect they could possibly have. Maybe the knowledge that things could be different is enough? Mainly this covers the day to day lives of the people in that world – what it is like to live under such a regime – though the bones of story begin to appear with travellers from other worlds, the growing rebellion and the Nazi’s awareness of these and their response. However I wonder if it has the legs to go much beyond the three seasons shown. Mostly it is reliant on its world-building, of the shiver one feels seeing those black uniforms in places like New York, of swastika flags hanging on familiar buildings, and Japanese soldiers beheading citizens – the brutality of it all running on for decades beyond the war – and the frisson one feels seeing monsters like Himmler, Mengele and Hitler himself living on into the 60s. It relies in the end on it being a well-imagined parallel world, and that is not enough. I hope it does keep on its feet since it is very good, but I suspect is will die in the long whimper of extended franchise.