Thursday, December 27, 2018

Children of Time - Adrian Tchaikovsky

I picked up an Adrian Tchaikovsky book before (Empire in Black and Gold), recollect enjoying what I read of it, but it unfortunately fell during a time when some shitty things were happening in my life and I lost my reading mojo. Now I’ve read Children of Time and am considering going back to take a look at those Shadows of the Apt books.

If any book appears here it is because I finished it, so right away it is to me an enjoyable book. Life is too short for anything else and anything that doesn’t make the grade after a few chapters ends up in the charity shop bag. In fact that usually happens after just a few pages. This one made the grade in spades.

Two story threads weave the whole together with on the one hand the travails of the survivors of the human race travelling out in an arc ship to find the remains of a previous old empire, and on the other an uplift project (the space station concerned of course being called the Brin) – the terraforming of a world and the placement of a ‘barrel of monkeys’ there to rise to civilization. The driver of this is a nano-virus that accelerates evolution by dint of making acquired abilities heritable. This is overseen by Doctor Avrana Kern who, to survive during a rebellion in that old empire, becomes an amalgam of an upload of herself, her cold coffin body and the computer system of the satellite she occupies. The project goes wrong, and what rises to intelligence and civilization is somewhat unexpected. Okay, that’s enough, since I don’t want to give the plot away.

This being a doorstep of a book I had my doubts about whether I could stick with it, but over 600 pages of science fiction goodness I enjoyed myself immensely. The rise of the ‘alien’ race parallels (and nicely diverges from) the rise of humanity and the world-building there is excellent. I did get an ‘oh shit’ moment with the battle of the sexes turned on its head (but for perfectly understandable biological reasons) but fortunately it didn’t lapse into proselytizing on gender politics as seems par for the course elsewhere. The thread aboard the arc ship kept my nose in the book too – at no point did I think ‘Nah, move along’. I cared about the characters there and on the terraformed world.

Thoroughly recommended.   

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Revenger - Alastair Reynolds (A Christmas Story)

This was written a couple of years ago, but it seems appropriate to post this now, since it has baubles in it. 

I recently bought a stack of old SF books from a second-hand shop. Unfortunately it seems my discernment has changed over the years and quite a few of them went into a bag after a few pages to go back to a charity shop. I also went into Waterstones and bought some new books from writers who have never really failed me, and one of those is Alastair Reynolds. Finally giving up on the second-hand stuff I picked up Revenger.

Here we have a far future human civilization after the planets have been broken up and formed into millions of small worlds called the Congregation. There have been many ‘occupations’ of these worlds – the rises and falls of previous civilizations – which have left all sorts of high tech goodies scattered across space. These are often to be found in ‘baubles’ – worlds often concealed under force fields that open intermittently. This opening can be predicted by augury, usually by experts aboard the sailing ships that seek out this treasure. Of course the sailing ships run the perfectly feasible technology of light sails but, you know, there are pirates too.

Arthur C Clarke tells us that ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’. Reynolds takes hold of this and gives us alchemy, a form of phrenology that delighted me, and all the dusty weirdness where advanced technology has become ancient, whipped up with a riff from Pirates of the Caribbean. I had a ball with this.


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Bosch and Chicago PD on Amazon

Beginning to scrabble about to find something to watch on Amazon I had a punt at some of the cop shows available.

The first of these was Bosch, Hieronymus or Harry Bosch. The use of this name and the style of the whole thing leads me to suspect these are based on books. The plotting was tight, I cared about the characters and, frankly, I enjoyed four seasons of this and will probably enjoy more as they appear. The main character plays his role well – I’ve seen him elsewhere too (Agents of Shield). The only problem I have with him is that he is supposed to be a tough ex Special Forces guy, but physically is not at all convincing.

Hoping to find something more in the same vein I next tried Chicago PD. This started out well with a tough cop who had a beat them till they confess technique for solving crimes. The characters and story lines all gelled and his ‘intelligence’ unit had to deal with some nasty crimes using morally grey methods. I enjoyed the subplots with the uniformed officers too and to a certain extent this reminded me of The Shield. However, after a couple of seasons it began to wander off course. Too much lengthy emoting seemed to become the thing – long stretches of cops suffering emotional problems and being hugely empathetic. And, increasingly, the modern disease of TV and film began to encroach. I’m up to Season Four and finding myself fast-forwarding. There doesn’t seem to be an episode now without politically correct proselytizing shoehorned in and, as is the case when this bullshit starts, the plots are falling apart and the characters ceasing to be believable. Shame really.  

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Another look at Ecigs

Recently I put up a so-called science article on vaping in which the writers repeated the popcorn lung myth and even went so far as to say, "There is still no definitive answer on whether these risks (of vaping) outweigh the benefits of switching from traditional tobacco cigarettes". This is despite even the BMA, who were anti ecigs in the beginning, rating them as 99% less harmful than tobacco cigarettes. 

Numerous comments ensued, some by those whose lives, and health, have been vastly improved by switching from smoking to vaping, some by those who are against it. I found myself getting irritated by the latter, and somewhat defensive. This of course is not unusual in someone who has used vaping to quit cigarettes. I smoked for about forty years. I took my first puff on a cigarette before I reached my teens and was a full-time smoker by the age of sixteen. I grew up in a society in which smoking was common and allowed just about everywhere. I had heard of course that smoking is bad for you but, as with many, the reality of this did not impinge on me until I felt intimations of mortality in later life. From my 20s to 30s I smoked unfiltered roll-ups but started noticing chest pains, in my 30s to 40s I was using filters but the pains returned. In my late 40s I was delaying the first cigarette of the day with nicotine gum. Throughout all this time I made numerous attempts to quit, on a couple of occasions giving up for as much as a year. I tried NRT and it wasn’t much help. This bears out the statistics on NRT with its dismal quit rate and massive cost to the NHS for each smoker who does quit using by it. By my 50s I had crappy facial skin, frequent eye infections, often used an inhaler to be able to sleep at night and at other times too. 

Six or seven years ago Caroline and I had come to the conclusion we had to quit soon – smoking was fucking us up. Out on Crete we saw it in the people around us, with just about every smoker in their 60s facing serious health problems: heart stents and bypasses, emphysema, asthma and of course cancer. Out there Caroline became ill and this gave us a final push and, before heading back to the UK, friends gave us a box of quit smoking items. The usual NRT stuff was in there, but also some early vaporizers. These, when they actually worked, worked very well. Back in the UK I investigated further and discovered a vaping subculture and through that the next generations of vaporizers. Using these more advanced devices we both quit with surprising ease. In my case, within just a few weeks, I no longer needed the inhalers and the pain left my chest. Over further time my skin cleared up and the eye infections all but went away. As I have detailed here before, Caroline died of bowel cancer. Whether that was due to smoking can never be ascertained, but I would say it certainly didn’t help.

On my return to Crete I discovered other changes. My first time swimming again, rather than have to stop after a few hundred yards to catch my breath and cough the debris from my lungs, I swam a straight mile with ease. Also any form of exercise was easier and I did a lot. As a smoker it had almost felt like a pointless pursuit. Vaping had been practically miraculous for me and, in the ensuing years around the world, smoking rates plummeted because of it. But there was a big nasty worm in this apple.

I was utterly baffled by the rise in anti-vaping propaganda. Here was something – a product of small industry – improving and saving people’s lives. I read much of this nonsense: a Daily Mail article screaming about the carcinogens in ecig vapour, it later turning out that the quantity was minimal – no more than in NRT nicotine patches – and below the threshold were any effect could be detected; the panic about diacetyl in ecigs producing popcorn lung, despite the fact that there is more of the stuff in cigarettes and not much in the way of popcorn lung in smokers; ecigs as a ‘gateway’ into smoking for ‘the children’ when all research showed that they did the opposite. Article after article appeared whose sum aim seemed to be to stamp down on, control and even stop an activity that was saving lives. It even became legislation in the EU with the damned Tobacco Products Directive reducing the size of ecig tanks and the strength of their liquids so that they were a lot less effective than they had been. I even began hearing the madness that vaping was worse than smoking. Where was all this coming from? 

Crazily a lot of it came from people in the ‘health lobby’. It was almost as if, having spent years singing the ‘quit or die’ mantra and pushing to make cigarettes illegal, they were jealous of something that had turned up from outfield to do a better job than them. Further one can suppose that they were protecting their jobs and inflated salaries. Not so crazily Big Tobacco and drugs companies were against it. The Tobacco Products directive was partially the result of their lobbying of the corporatist (crony capitalist) EU. In both cases this was about sales, in the first sales of cigarettes and in the second the shitloads of money the drugs companies were making from NRT and, if you want to be really cynical, from the medication of smoking related diseases. Governments themselves are also culpable. Ecigs are a disruptive technology and governments are resistant to change, especially when it comes to sources of revenue.

But though the above explains some of the reasons for much of the propaganda it does not fully elucidate it. The ‘fake news’ and such pushes for legislation, control and bans, cannot operate in a vacuum because they need lots of people inclined to believe the first and on board with the rest. Why are many people without financial motives against ecigs? Having had many discussions about this I’ve come to some conclusions.

First off the public has been subject to decades of social engineering – indoctrination – against smoking. Some don’t quite understand how deeply rooted in their minds this is while, admittedly, others have always disliked smoking. A portion of both are against ecigs because they cannot see them as different from smoking. A person is breathing in ‘addictive’ nicotine and producing a visible cloud. How is this different from smoking? The simple reality here is that, on the whole, only those who have smoked and quit by using ecigs fully understand the differences. Over years of social engineering people have also been told nicotine is an evil addictive substance. This is a fallacy. Nicotine is only ‘evil’ by association with smoking. By itself it causes little more damage than the addictive substance caffeine. It is the delivery system – the cigarette – that causes the damage with its carcinogens, tar, monoxide, burning leaves and heavy metals. Ecigs don’t do that. ‘But you’re addicted!’ we hear the cry, because obviously this is a bad thing. Is it? Why is addiction, per se, a bad thing? 

Again this is association. Addiction has, historically, always resulted in damage – to health, to finances, to the mind, whatever. Whenever people hear the word they immediately think of smokers, or someone shoving heroin into their arm, people stoned out of their skulls in rotting tenements, people skull-fucked on cannabis and all the outfall of these. However, if addiction results in none of the above, why is it bad? Quite simply it isn’t. The attitude to addiction is a mind-set, programming, irrational. 

Beyond addiction we come to the vapour an ecig produces. Part of the indoctrination against smoking has been the risible ‘studies’ about the damaging effects of second-hand smoke. These studies have even slid into the Twilight Zone of third-hand smoke. Many people (not all) have been taught to fear it and be disgusted by it, even more than the car fumes that are doing them more damage. To a certain extent I agree with these reactions, but my agreement is limited. Anyone suffering from a lung complaint has reason to abhor cigarette smoke. And they of course have every right to complain. As for the disgust . . . it is only when you stop smoking do you realize how strong it smells and how much it lingers. Is it a bad smell, though? To some people it always has been, but to the majority it has only become such after being subjected to the aforesaid indoctrination. Very few people thought tobacco smoke was horrible fifty years ago, many in fact liked the whiff of a cigar or a pipe.

Now, when some see ecig vapour, which is little more than flavoured steam with a nicotine quantity that has practically zero effect on them, they react as they have been indoctrinated to react to cigarette smoke. Laughably many of these same people will be going home to put a new cartridge in their plug-in air freshener that does much the same thing as an ecig. Ecig vapour dissipates fast and the biggest ill effect most people will get from it is being subjected to a whiff of caramel or banana. Yet, they will wave their hands and cough dramatically to try and exclude the horrible social pariah who, despite all the evidence, they still think of as a smoker.                  

But here comes the ‘however’. Though many are reacting as they have been indoctrinated to react to cigarette smoke, there are others whose reaction may be perfectly valid. When I’ve been involved in discussions about this I’ve heard mentioned, with some ire, big clouds of vapour. My own ecig produces a brief waft of vapour that disappears in a few seconds and in some situations I will ‘stealth vape’ i.e. hold the vapour in long enough for it to settle so I breath out nothing visible. But, unfortunately, there are vapers for whom the objective of the practice is not to quell addiction, enjoy a hit of nicotine or the flavour of the liquid they are using, but to produce as large a cloud of vapour as they can manage. When I first saw this, in light of ecig advocates fighting to prevent bans and killing legislation, I felt it was madness. Such a cloud can affect the breathing of others, especially if they have some sensitivity or ailment like asthma, and it can piss off those with none of these. 

Here I have to add here that because of the aforesaid indoctrination many are already predisposed to be pissed off, and to have hysterical reactions which could be the root of ill effects. It’s not just the indoctrinated, but quite often ex-smokers. Part of the requirement of many of the latter, in giving up, was learning to hate their habit, and anything remotely like it.

Why do some vapers produce these big clouds? I think it partially relates to the hand waving and dramatic coughing reactions I mentioned above. People can be pushed but only so far, then they push back. The big cloud vapers are probably saying, ‘I can do this here, it’s legal, stop your dramatics and just fuck off.’ There’s a sense of rebellion in it. They were smokers who were turned into pariahs, found a way to stop smoking, only to then discover that some people still classify them as social pariahs, and they’re holding up a middle finger. It’s not clever and it’s not helping along this health revolution, but as we know, whenever a good thing comes along there are always those inclined to screw it up. 

Friday, November 02, 2018

Book Sale Last Page

See the first page in this series for contact and postage details.

Book Sale Page Six

See the first post in this series for contact and postage details.

Book Sale Page Five

Contact details and stuff about postage and packing is in the first post about these books, so check back. Obviously some of the books in the previous posts will be gone.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Book Sale Page Four

As before, contact details and stuff about postage etc are on the first of these posts.

Fasting and Fisetin

As far as I understand it fasting has a multitude of benefits beyond just losing weight. You have autophagy and apoptosis, an increase in growth hormone, a reduction in insulin resistance, a reduction through the loss of fat in production of oestrogen and much else besides on the cellular level. You’re also reducing or getting rid of that damaging visceral fat. In fact, many new drugs being developed for dealing with what has been dubbed ‘metabolic syndrome’, i.e. poor lifestyle choices, have effects that are the same as those fasting produces. Psychologically you’re taking control of your body and that, though I hate the word, is empowering.

Combine fasting with exercise and the benefits ramp up. I’ve been fasting now for nigh on two months spending two days a week without food. Also, throughout this time, I’ve been walking longish distances at the weekends and hitting the gym for 50mins three to four times every week. I’m steadily closing on having lost 20lbs of fat, feel light and have better muscle definition, and am feeling pretty good about that. But, as ever, I have to go one step further.

My weight loss has been steadily declining. At the start of this fasting period I was losing (if you discount the large water loss) getting on for 3lbs a week. It’s now down to about half that. I know from my reading that the longer you fast the longer you spend in ketosis and autophagy so the greater benefits you get from them. Because Julie was going away this last weekend I decided to go for a four-day fast and see how I got on with that.

Other reading added something else too. I know that to retard the effects of aging and for good health, weight loss (best through fasting) and exercise are two of the things we as individuals can do. But now another looms on the horizon. A lot, if not most, of the damage of aging comes from senescent cells. These are cells that have malfunctioned but, due to the nature of that malfunction, have not been destroyed by the body. They sit inside us producing SASP – Senescent-Associated Secretory Phenotype – which causes inflammation and has been linked to many disorders. Now studies have shown that by using a senolytic – a drug that causes apoptosis (death) of these malfunctioning cells – one can to a degree reverse some of the effects of aging.

Few senolytics are available. The most effective (in mouse studies) has been a combination of a cancer drug called dasatinib and an over-the-counter supplement called quercetin. The quercetin doesn’t do very much by itself. But there are others that are easily available to us. One is in long pepper – a substance called piperlongumin. Another is fisetin – the flavonoid that gives strawberries their colour. Apparently this last may be best of all and can work without a toxic cancer drug involved. So I decided to use some.

Apparently just a few fisetin capsules don’t have the required senolytic effect. You need to megadose with it, but this stuff supposedly has nothing in the way of adverse side effects. My searches and calculations gave me a dosage of 640mg of pure fisetin (the capsules you buy will have a percentage of fisetin) per day for five days. It is also lipophilic so taking it with an oil of some kind will promote absorption. I raised the dosage to 1000mg a day since I was doing it for four days and not five. The first two days I emptied the capsules into MCT oil and drank it. The stuff tasted foul and after the first two days I could not face it like that so took it in capsule form with fish oil and an MCT/coconut oil coffee on top. That was better.

Now, on the day following all of this, I don’t yet know what effects it has had beyond the immediate effects of the fast itself. The fisetin might not have been sufficiently bioavailable taken by mouth. It might also be the case, as with exercise, that the best results only show up properly after rest and food. Of course I may see nothing at all. Killing off senescent cells does not turn one into superman, but returns one to a previous normal – while the effects of aging are very gradual indeed. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Book Sale Page Three

Okay, please read this post before contacting me.

The new copies of Polity Agent and Line War below have gone. One and three on the list below.

Details on contact, postage etc are on my first post about these. Scroll down. Also be aware that some of the books in the previous posts have gone. Sorry to disappoint.

I'll also add here, just on the off-chance, that I have a load of paperbacks of these in German if anyone is interested. Perhaps some Germans read this, or language students, or someone with other connections to that country?

Monday, October 29, 2018

Book Sale Page Two

Contact details and information regarding postage and packing are on the previous post. Unfortunately the uncorrected proof copy of Polity Agent at the bottom here is now gone. I left that on there just so you will know that if you want something, then order it quickly. As on the previous post: first come first served.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Book Sale!

Page One

Mainly so I can keep track I'm going to put these up over a few days. To the prices here I will have to add postage and packing. Dependent on where you are this can amount to as much as if not more than the price of the book. The last time I did this books went missing in the post, so these will have to be either signed for or tracked or both (I haven't sorted that out yet). If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter you can contact me there, otherwise neallewisasheratgmaildotcom. First come first served. Please don't ask me about books that do not or have not yet appeared in these posts.

I will sign the books and write in some message as preferred. You'll also get one of my home made (signed) bookmarks with each purchase.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Hannibal - Netflix Series

I enjoyed this to begin with as it covered the ground of Red Dragon and expanded on it. The lurid murders, convoluted plots and the psychological interplay between the characters satisfied something in my twisted psyche. The camera work was also excellent with some equally satisfying dream sequences. It was of course utterly fantastical but I did not find it an effort to suspend disbelief. But at the back of my mind resided the sure knowledge that the franchise would be extended and the series would probably die, as many do, by stretching an increasingly meagre plot over many episodes. Then along came series two starting out with a sequence from some months in the future that raised my hopes that this would continue to adhere (loosely) to Red Dragon and that it did have a beginning, middle and then end.

The second season started out well with this, but then came an expansion of the psychobabble, the dream sequences and the ‘artistic’ camera work. These last two kinda reminded me of the new Blade Runner film where art forgot story and went wandering off by itself. It even had the same ramping up of the music volume in an attempt to impart meaning where there was none. But I stuck with it because of that initial sequence. In season three it slid into the plot of the film (and book) Hannibal but with its own particular twist on those. Maybe it would have been okay if someone had reined in the ‘artistic filming’ but I suspect someone told them it was really good so they did more of it. The psychobabble also increased to fill the growing void and segued into the nonsensical. The plot was being stretched thin and hardly covered the holes. A few episodes in I finally gave up. Other viewers also gave up because this was not renewed after the third season.

This is, unfortunately, common in many series I see on Netflix. Franchise extending kills them. Film makers should have the courage to propose series that end rather continue sucking at that teat. At best, if they don’t, what starts out as promising turns into soap opera. The money men and executives behind them should also learn from this growing catalogue of failure. I don’t hold out much hope. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Writing Update

 Now checking my journal I see that is was at the end of July when I took a 20,000 word plot thread, extracted from The Warship, and decided to turn it into a short story or perhaps something longer. I mucked about with it for a bit then, cutting away about half of it, and then turning it into something very different. I changed it from third person to first person and ran with it, little concerned about endings, structure or putting together a coherent plot. I would just stay with my protagonist and see where he went.

Inevitably, the human mind always searching for patterns and the author mind always searching for a story, I began to reveal both. Connections began to appear, whether unconsciously created or exposed by chance and I began to impose coherence. My protagonist – a clone sold by some nasty types to the prador for coring and thralling – was called Jack Four. The rest of the clones were Jacks, and Jills, but their story was shorter and not much fun for them. Jack Four then became the working title of something that just kept on growing.

I’ve stated before that my aim when writing a first draft is to write 2,000 words a day five days a week. But for odd days out and one or two rest days I’ve pretty much stuck to that. There’s no doubt now that Jack Four is to be a book since, as of today, it is at 114,000 words (my books range from 125 to 175,000). I seem to be back to the form I had when I wrote the Transformation trilogy. 

Jack Four has no enhancements beyond knowledge, loading to his mind from quantum storage crystals in the genetic material from which he was fashioned. He’s human and vulnerable and has a fight on his hands to survive, initially in the prador king’s ship and then elsewhere. Of course I can’t say too much about that ‘elsewhere’, but suffice to say that alien monsters in his future, along with the nasty types who sold him, the prador that bought him, and the question of who he was, in the genetic sense, and who he will become.  

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Fasting Blood Pressure

About six years ago, when I was drinking, smoking, slightly overweight and not getting enough exercise, my blood pressure reached 140/90. It came down during those periods when I had a dry January and once dropped much lower when Caroline and I were dancing to a Wii thingy for a month, but was still in the range now designated as pre-high blood pressure. My reading of it subsequently was intermittent – probably because I really did not want to know – but I do recollect it went up again when I went back on the booze and lack of exercise.

Stopping smoking brought it down a bit and, over the last five years as I’ve steadily given up booze and got a lot more exercise, it dropped further. However, it still stubbornly remained in the pre-high range. Usually it lingered around 130/80. This was despite going on frequent 7 mile walks and hitting the gym for 2 or 3 hours a week. 

About ten months ago I went to the doctor (worried about chest pains that turned out to be the result of a pulled muscle through weight training) and he checked my pressure. It was higher than the readings I got at home, but I noted that he had the wrong cuff for my size of arm. Also referring to my record and a cholesterol test I had many years before, he opined I was on the edge of problems, and suggested statins. I of course read up on statins and ignored his advice. I did not see the point of risking all sorts of unpleasant side effects for a microscopic, positive effect seen in highly-debateable and heavily-biased drug company clinical trials. 

Over last year I was still in that pre-high range, though venturing into ideal on occasion – normally the diastolic pressure what with readings like 125/75. At this point I told myself, oh well, I’m getting old so have to expect this. However, while fasting, my pressure started to come down more and more. Within about 3 weeks of two-day fasts each week (exercise continuing) both systolic and diastolic were venturing into the 'ideal' range. It is now, after seven weeks, firmly there with a reading of 117/69 this morning.

I'm feeling smug.

Note: After a recent conversation I am reminded that while I was suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, my doctor also wanted to put me on the SSRI anti-depressant Citalopram. This was utterly contraindicated because my problems were the result of a delayed grief effect I needed to push through. With that I also looked at the side effects, the trials and people’s experiences with the drug and decided fuck no. There you see it: if I’d meekly done as I was told I would probably be on anti-depressants and statins now, steadily in a decline that in fact can be delayed in a big way. ‘Consult your medical practitioner’ they tell us. We need to be thoroughly aware of the dangers of relying on doctors and their big pharma pushers. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Destination Universe! A E Van Vogt

I haven’t been disappointed until now on rereading Van Vogt. Here is a collection of short stories published in 1953 which, it usually being the case, were probably written in a previous decade. They weren’t hugely dated in terms of mores, but the technology (where described) was risible to modern sensibilities and in two separate stories we had humans walking about on Venus and Mars without any necessity for suits. I guess these would have been no biggie if it weren’t for other problems. The stories did not feel solid and coherent, in a couple of cases they meandered until the writer produced an ending out of his hat. That being said, some of them were enjoyable, I just suspect the publisher pulled together some sub-par offerings to bulk out the collection. 

Fasting Update 5

It’s a fact that when you exercise, the positive changes that happen to your body – increased muscle, fitness, lung capacity etc – do not occur during that process. They occur afterwards during sleep, resting and through eating the right foods. This too, it seems, is the way things work for fasting. Yes, when you fast your glycogen gets depleted, you dump water and your body start to eat its fat. You do see your weight drop. Autophagy and (later) apoptosis occur. However, these are only part of the process – the body stripping out the damaged and the useless, burning up excess fuel – and to complete it fasting must be complemented with ‘feasting’ and sleep. 

I’ve noticed my weight going down a lot during fasting then coming up again during refeeding, but every time my weight has been steadily declining overall. This is all good, but I noticed that where the fat was disappearing I had loose skin and that the weight returned to the same place. Then real changes occurred with sleep that was unusual for me: for example snoozing for an hour during the day, then flaking out for nine hours in the night. This has happened a few times during refeeding and, each time, I found that my weight had stabilized at a lower level, fat had melted away and my skin had tightened up.

Now for some negative effects: The worst day of fasting each week is always the first. I feel tired and often cold. I reckon it’s because on that day I’m making the changeover from the calories I’d been eating to fat burning again. This doesn’t particularly slow down a gym session in the morning or stop me writing during the day. I don’t feel particularly hungry either, probably because, having done this for so many weeks, I’ve accepted on some unconscious level that I am simply not going to eat on that day. On the following day the cold and lethargy go away and I don’t feel hungry then either. The hunger only returns when I actually start eating again.     

Another noticeable negative effect has been an increase in anxiety. This would probably not be a problem if you are not prone to it, but I have been for a number of years now. It’s been said, wrongly, that your body will slow down and go into starvation mode whereby it tries to burn less and hang onto more. During dieting, and perhaps towards the end of a lengthy fast for someone not carrying piles of fat, this may be the case. However, during intermittent fasting the body does not get the chance to do this. The metabolism actually speeds up by dint of adrenaline and cortisol. And this of course can lead to increased anxiety. 

Oddly, I have only experienced this in a way I rarely experienced while suffering from it long term. I don’t consciously notice it as I go about my daily routines, but do when I relax. Then I get a burning sensation mostly in my arms, but also elsewhere. My understanding of this is that it is the end of anxiety. The body fights for its own preservation by drawing the blood in around the major organs, when you finally relax, the blood returns to your extremities and hence this sensation. There are other effects too of this process, but they are not so bad that I am tempted to give up – the weight loss and other positive effects far outweigh them. 

Monday, October 01, 2018

Fasting Update 4

I’m into my fifth week of fasting for two days a week and eating sensibly on the other days. It is getting easier and easier to do. After an initial big loss of weight I’m now averaging 2lbs a week. I’ve kept going to the gym so there has been no muscle loss (in fact my gym sessions have increased in number and length). It is noticeable how, on refeeding, my muscles expand again. This brings home to me that the scare stories about you burning up your own muscle and piling on the weight after fasting probably relate to glycogen storage. Every gram of that stuff is stored using 3 to 5 grams of water so of course that weight will go up and down.

Nice this weekend to have to punch some more holes in my belts. Nice also to put on clothing that has been shaming me from inside the wardrobe for some time. My energy, mental acuity, libido and self-esteem are all up, while my negativity has dropped through the floor. As far as autophagy is concerned I don’t know – the aforesaid are probably a result of that. It will be interesting to see what other changes occur as I get down to my target weight, which is some weeks away yet. I’m still aiming for the upper end of my BMI.

A further note here on that ‘refeeding’. I have not noticed any tendency at all to want to gorge myself. I can be very hungry and eat (and thoroughly enjoy) a lot of food, but no more than I ate when not fasting and, over a day, usually less – when I count up the calories in a day they’re still below my BMR. This last may be because my body has adjusted to fewer calories for efficiency, but still, I’m not putting it all back on. It is also the case, because I’m in the groove of this, that I want to avoid carbs and think more carefully about what I eat. It would be ridiculous to go to this effort and then throw it all away.

This is well worth doing. It takes practise of course, and one must accept any failures and just carry on.

Fury - Henry Kuttner

This is a really old one. First published in Astounding Science fiction in 1947 one would expect it to be full of anachronisms, dated mores and all sorts of silliness. It does have old sfnal idea of Venus being a planet occupied by a massive hostile jungle, but this can be found in SF books published 20 or more years later and I wonder if here might be the first time it was used. The human race, having destroyed Earth in a nuclear war, is now resident in ‘keeps’ under the Venusian seas. It is sinking into decay under the overly cautious rule of immortals and needs someone to pull it out of that. Enter Sam Reed . . . I enjoyed this very much and didn’t find much in the way of the stuff that has made me wince in other SF books. As for Venus being a jungle planet it was easy enough to forget the reality.

Recommended, even though this is 71 years old. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

The Warship

Here's the US cover of The Warship - book two of Rise of the Jain.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Alien Way - Gordon R Dickson

It can be difficult reading old SF because not only do you have to achieve the usual suspension of disbelief required for reading it, but you have to suspend disbelief that arises from the science and mores of the time in which it was written. Here we have the old attitude to women, the pipe-smoking hero, wire telephones and other electronics you can immediately visualize as consisting of wires, transistors and capacitors, while research is conducted with books and paperwork. Contrasted with that is a technology that can link a human mind to an alien one light years distant, and it’s jarring. Where Dickson did well here is in visualizing the difference between the ways the aliens and the humans think. But even this was, unfortunately, buried in the New Wave ‘soft science’ psychobabble that was fashionable in SF of the time. Annoying too were the aliens themselves. They were bears and, despite their different society and ways of thinking, that jarred too. However, I did enjoy this because it was well written and engaging. Also, like other SF books written many years ago, it does give one an insight into the mores of that time, and the science, to contrast with how things are now and shine a light on how our world had changed.

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. 



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.