Monday, 27 July 2015

Fool Moon

I finished reading Fool Moon, the second book in the Dresden Files, a series that I have gotten into recently.  I started reading it last weekend, and while I was enjoying it I put it down and only finished it this week.  I think that the first half of the book sets out a lot of stuff that rounds out the world of the Dresden Files, but was mostly exposition, and while stuff got interesting the first half of the book didn't grab me.  However, the second half of the story the shit starts to get serious, and things go down hill for our hero and his friends.  What Butcher was then able to do was ramp the action up to eleven.  From that point on the book became unputdownable.

So yes I finished it, and yes I plan to go out soon and get the next one in the series.  I was really impressed with the writing.  The first book is good, but this is even better.  At this rate I'll be hooked, and a fully paid up member of the Jim Butcher fan club.  If I were a member of this years Worldcon I'd seriously be thinking about voting for his Hugo nominated book Skin Game.  And I tell you why.  I'm a fairly hardcore hard SF fan who likes a bit of Space Opera, and Cthulhu, but urban fantasy has to be really good for me to want to read it.  The fact that I want to go out and buy more books in this series is evidence that Jim Butcher can write interesting and engrossing stories that are outside of my usual taste.  For me that says volumes about him as a writer.

We also rewatched Mad Max 2 aka The Road Warrior, and Jurassic Park this week.  I bought Blu-ray copies cheap off Amazon.  I though with the new sequels/reboots we ought to watch the originals first.  Both films stood up remarkably well.  Mad Max is thirty-four years old and still sets the benchmark for post apocalypse car mayhem.  Some of the CGI is a little dated in Jurassic Park, but ickle pooh dinosaurs FTW.  Then sharp teeth and claw action from less cute velociraptors, and of course the star – Tyrannosaurus Rex saving the day.

We have just finished watching season four of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.  At times the stories crossed the line from silly into cringe inducingly bad, but somehow the show managed to stay true to its core values, which were the relationship between Lois and Clark.  After a considerable break we have also restarted watching Xena Warrior Princess.  Season three and the first three episode of season four were what I'd call hard work.  However, as we move more into season four the stories have gone back to the basics that make the show work; the relationship and adventures of Xena and Gabrielle.

A lesson to be learnt.  Stories are all about the characters.

Writing last week went well.  I managed to edit 9,803 words of Strike Dog, which is five chapters further along to my goal of finishing it.  At the same time I worked on radio call signs and other stuff, to make sure I'd used military phonetic shorthand correctly.  So all-in-all not a bad week.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Interstellar Lucy

I've wanted to get around to talking about seeing Interstellar and Lucy, which we watched over the course of a weekend a little while back.

Let me start with Interstellar.  I was so disappointed.  I'd heard so much good stuff about the science behind the movies, and I would unequivocally agree that the scene with the spherical wormhole, and the rendering the of the giant rotating black hole were stupendous.  However, with regards to the plot, acting, dialogue and story Interstellar just fell flat.  I'm not going to go into the details of each, because I really don't like being so negative about something, but as Interstellar was being sold as the spiritual successor to 2001: A Space Odyssey I just want to say no, not really.

While I can see the themes that made people make the comparison the the technical execution of world was let down by a number of things that were quite frankly outrageous.  The first example was the need to launch the Ranger, a single-stage-to-orbit shuttle, on top of a conventional booster to get into space.  Please explain to me how the Ranger can complete the mission to explore the worlds on the other side of the wormhole if it can't get into Earth orbit by itself? (rhetorical question).

The second blooper is the spaceship Endurance waiting for them in orbit.  Where are the heat radiators?  I admit that Discovery One in 2001: A Space Odyssey omitted them, but here's the thing the Discovery looked like it could carry the reaction mass needed for its mission, whereas the Endurance appears to have some Star Trek style handwavium impulse drive, which in my books doesn't make it hard science.  And then there is the problem of precession while accelerating with   the grav ring rotating, which really is another don't get me started thing.

You know what, Avatar had a more realistic looking interstellar spaceship.

Next we watched Lucy.  There were times during this movie when Morgan Freeman's character was talking about the potential of the brain, and how we only use five percent brain where I went oh really that hoary old chestnust again, but the plot, acting, dialogue and story swept me away.  The special effects were slick, and Scarlett Johansson showed that she could lead a movie as well as any man.

So where's our Black Widow movie?

Last week started slow for me as my wrist was still playing me up, so I went and had coffee with a friend, and talked about writing and stuff.  It made a change from sitting in front of my computer editing.  Then the next day I found I needed to go and do a shop at our big Tesco, and by the time I got back I was sodden from the heat.  So treated myself to a long soak in the bath.

However, despite such dalliances I managed to edit another 4,601 words of Strike Dog, added another 666 words bringing the running total up to 102,443 words, and managing to pass the halfway point of the novel in the process.  I also wrote a new scene, and rewrote a segment that involved using phonetic shorthand over the radio.  A big thank you to David Barrow for his input.  In addition  I wrote 910 words for words for my blogs.  So it felt like a fairly productive week, even if at times I feel frustrated by the pace of the progress I'm making.

Catch you all later.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Jupiter Ascending

Just watched Jupiter Ascending this weekend, and had to comment, because really why all the negativity?  The Wachowskis describe their film as being the Wizard of Oz in  space.  I would say while channeling Charles Fort and Cordwainer Smith (the former for the idea that we're property, the latter for the whole Gothic Lords of the Instrumentality, underpeople and stroon).  Its also a rag to riches story, and therefore shares a lot of tropes with the Cinderella fairy tale.

So I'm finding it hard to understand how the reviewers were baffled by the story?

This is not to say that Jupiter Ascending is perfect.  It has a number of flaws, especially for an old fogie like me: explosions too loud, action scenes too long, not enough witty dialogue.  But it's a magnificent visual feast with eye poppingly gorgeous scenes of spaceships and underpeople.  Yes it's Candy floss, but Candy floss turned up to eleven on the scale of awesome flavoured Candy floss.

It also seems to have been received better by women and non-Americans, and I have to wonder if the current zeitgeist in America is moving further away from the tastes of the rest of the world?  If so what would that mean?  I have no idea.

Moving on, my wrist has been hurting me.  So on Sunday I took time off and sat and read all day.  I had several good books to choose from, but my partner wanted me to read the latest Charlie Stross Laundry series novel The Rhesus Chart, so that we could discuss it.  I really enjoyed the book, it kept me glued to my seat and turning pages.  So on that front ten out of ten.

However, I feel the book could have done with another editing pass, because there were several repetitions of jokes that while funny, get rather tired when used repeated; namely the play on Deeply Scary Sorcerer as the real meaning for the job title of Detached Special Secretary.  This is repeated in each book when Angleton is mentioned, and in the case of The Rhesus Chart more than once.  The repetition was clunky.

In addition, I felt that one of the two main protagonists was given the idiot ball.  I got the fact that there could only be one master vampire, but I didn't feel (given the history of the two vampire protagonists) that this come through.  It might be because we were told, rather than really shown what drives vampires to be the only one.  So I wasn't convinced that one of the protagonists would really feel the need to get his hands dirty, rather than use his resources to go underground and ride out the storm.

Also the events leading up to the ending felt rather forced.  Some of the action is told in a rather detached style, as an add-on commentary to what has happened.  It's a technique Stross uses quite often, but this time I found it broke the internal structure of the narrative by jumping back and forth in time within the same chapter.

However, The Rhesus Chart is well worth reading, and it's the best in the Laundry series as the story has consequences that I imagine will come home to roost in the next book.

Last week I managed to edit 6,684 words on Strike Dog, adding to the running total to bring it up to 101,777 words, which makes it now the longest of my three novels.  This also means I'm just a tad sort of half way through editing the novel, having edited a total of 47,774 words so far.  There has been a change in the tempo of my writing during this re-write, but I'm not sure that this is a good thing or bad.  Perhaps neither, but it's a thing for sure.

So that's it for another week.  See you all on the bounce.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Science in Fiction

This week has been one with two halves.  The first part of the week spent editing, and the second half spent at the Science in Fiction conference listening to a series of talks organized by Dr. Dave Clements at Imperial College all topped off with a barbecue at my friends Kate & Malcolm's place.  Sunday we were both a little wrecked from having so much fun on the Saturday.  So I've had a very busy week

I went over to Imperial College on Wednesday and met my fellow Science in Fiction attendees, most of whom were writers, and we all boiled in the room during the hottest day in Londons this year.

The first talk was by Roberto Trotta called Heart of Darkness – Dark Matter in the Galactic Centre?  This  was a presentation on why he and his colleagues are looking for dark matter, and how they hope to do so.  The theory that underpin modern physics are founded on Einstein's theory of Special Relativity and General Relativity, which predicts that the universe must have more matter than we can account for.  These particles are called WIMPs: Weakly Interactive Massives Particles that must have a neutral charge like neutrinos.  Detecting said particles is a bit of a head scratcher for the physicists since the particles go through everything, so it requires a cunning experiment to try and find the evidence that hey do exist.

Robert made us all think up haiku during the session, my poor attempt was:

Dark Matter matters
Quantum gravity is maths
WIMPs are aether or

After all the head scratching it was time for a refreshing cup of tea to keep us going on what turned out to be the hottest day in London this year 37 degrees centigrade 98.6 Fahrenheit.

Then Andrew Jaffe came and gave his talk called The Random Universe, which was the study of space and the cosmic background radiation.  This was an excellent presentation showing how astrophysicists have been able to tease out and refine the data they've acquired from looking at the universe through radio telescopes using some very clever mathematical tools to refine the data.  By the end of this talk we were all rather wilting from the heat.

Then we went to the Student Union bar for a drink to hydrate, and a have chat before heading off to have an Indian curry at a local restaurant.  I rescued Susan from her basement workshop so she joined us, and we were also able to celebrate seventeen years together, so it was a nice end to the first day.

Thursday morning I cycled with Susan  to Imperial College, which was a first of sorts.  I've cycled there once before by myself, but could pootle along at my own speed.  Susan was nice, and didn't cycle too fast, so I was able to keep up with her, as she's much fitter than me nowadays.  This didn't use to be the case, but after being hit by a Mercedes Benz back in 2009 I had a period where cycling wasn't possible, and latter not convenient.  So I'm out of shape, and when we arrived I was glowing.

The first talk of the day was really special as we had Marina Galand presenting her talk called  Catching a Comet, which was about the Rosetta mission to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, and Philae - the little lander that could.  She wasn't allowed to talk about everything she knew, because the information is embargoed until publication, but promised there was interesting news to come from the team.  Anyway, it was an awesome talk, and for me the highlight of the Science in Fiction event.

After suitable refreshments the next talk was called Climate Change and the system transition to a sustainable future by Christoph Mazur.  This looked at the evidence for climate change, and the technologies that can be used to mitigate the worst of the effects.  He discussed the various ways of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and the risks arising from if we release trapped methane into the Earth's atmosphere as the temperature rises.  Very level headed, and without any attempt to fear monger.

Then we had a most excellent lunch and chatted together about writing, or at least what I remember is taking the time to talk to the other people there with me all of whom were writers to talk about writing.

The next talk was by Helen Pennington who had been sitting with us as part of the conference, and she gave a talk called How do we work out what proteins do? A genetics and proteins approach.  I found this most informative talk, which I think scared the bejesus out of a couple of my fellow attendees.  The one thing I took away from this presentation was to  accept that banning something doesn't allow one to regulate and control it.  Otherwise one ends up with people in other countries with less ethical practices to set the pace in the development of GM food.

The final talk of the conference was by Faye Dowker called What is Time?   For me this didn't quite hit the spot, because she didn't have any research data to present, so it was rather a generalized open talk about what we understand time to be, and how that fits what the theories tell us.  In short biologic time stands opposite to time as understood by the theories underpinning physics.

So as you may guess my progress last week was impacted by having two days at the conference, and taking the day after to catch up with emails and shopping.  However, I manged to edit 4,509 words, adding another 825 words to Strike Dog, which means it's running at 101,472 words, so not too shabby.

Other than that we've been continuing to watch season three of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.

I also re-read Isaac Asimov's The God's Themselves, which is apropos of my recent posts won the Hugo.  It's been a long time since I first read this book, and I found myself becoming bored with the description of the aliens and their ecology.  However, while Asimov may not be the worlds finest writer for deep characters, what he does do extremely well is describe the complex science behind the ideas and the plot rather succinctly.  He also nails the emotional world of the academic rather well too.  I understand that he considered this to be his best novel, but I still prefer his The End of Eternity, which I think is a more satisfying read.

So that's it for this week, catch you all on the bounce.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Work in Progress: 27th June 2015

Due to last week's marathon reflections on the Hugos I'm behind in my weekly blog post about what I've been doing: writing, reading and watching stuff that I've enjoyed.

Last week wasn't only hectic for all the writing I did, here on the blog, and the editing of my second novel, but also for attending an afternoon's workshop called Ultra-Wearable Physiological Sensing held at Imperial College.  It was five talks on the use of sensors in gathering medical information using new technologies and access routes, for example the ear canal.  The talks were: Challenges in MOD-related wearable sensing by Brigadier Professor Tim Hodgetts, Ultra-wearable sensing: Ear EEG and collocated sensors by Dr. Valentin Goverdovsky, The pulse of performance: Investigating the psychophysiology of performance under stress by Professor Aaron Williamson, Ultrawearable sensing meets complexity science: Stress and consciousness applications by Professor Danilo Mandic, and The role of sleep and the impact of sleep loss by Professor Mary Morrell.

I got to ask a couple of questions, which surprised me, as I hadn't expected to be able to ask anything sensible.  I was also quite surprised that one of the research teams work was effectively re-inventing the wheel from first principles.  This is not a condemnation of their work, because it was rather lovely to see them validate research in my specialist area without any of the political infighting that has beset psychological therapies.

After this most stimulating set of afternoon talks we rushed over to hear the inaugural lecture of Professor Arttu Rajantie called Playing the quantum field, which you can watch by clicking the link, explaining the standard model, and his work into magnetic monopoles.  Fortunately, because I've been reading Our Mathematical Universe by Max Tegmark, I was able keep up with most of the talk, except for the squiggly mathematics stuff, but one can't be good at everything.  Then to cap a wonderful day off we went for the post lecture supper, which had a very nice cold buffet selection, and a rather yummy apple pie dessert.

This week we've finished watching season two and started on season three of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.  It's light and fluffy, and we like it despite the silliness of the stories, because it keeps true to the emotional stuff.

Writing wise I've written 4,651 words for the blog, added 471 words to the current draft of my second novel, while managing to edit 7,754 words last week, and 9,778 words this week.  I'm now writing a new scene for chapter fifteen before moving onto act three.  So this has been a productive week for me.  Next week I'm attending Science in Science Fiction at Imperial College run by Dr. David Clements who also write science fiction.

Catch you all on the bounce.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Hugo Reflections: Part 7 The Future


Part 1 link
Part 2 link
Part 3 link
Part 4 link
Part 5 link
Part 6 link

So what if anything can I draw from this series of posts that reflected on the books I've read during the course of my life?

Adding up all the books I've mentioned in my posts I see that I've read 43 of the 62 Hugo award winners, and 91 of the 227 works that were nominated.  This adds up to 153 out of a total of 289 books.  Sheesh I've given away or sold off more books than that during this time.  Even taking this into account the total number of books is less than 10% of the total number I've ever read.  Also, the problem is that back in the day (circa 1953 of thereabouts) 150 books were published in a year, and since then this has risen to a peak of about 1500 books releases over the same period.  That's a ten fold increase.

Meanwhile the Hugo nominees have remained around five over the entire period.  Perhaps this needs looking at in light of the changing volume in the genre?

However, I think I need to point out is that anecdote is not data.  While the numbers of books I've read can be quantified, I'm a single point.  Or put in other words a data set of one.  Therefore one cannot draw any real conclusions about the state of the Hugos from my narrative.

But here's the thing; you knew this was coming, because otherwise why would I spend all this time talking about the Hugo awards.  My point is very simple.  The Hugos have been awarded to sixty-two books, and yes that makes them a thing worth winning, but it doesn't mean that all the other books that didn't win weren't good books.

So yes it sucks not get a Hugo, because it always sucks to lose.

But voting and stuff is not a simple problem.  One only has to look at the arguments around first past the post versus proportional representation, and whether or not instant run off voting is best, to realise that this is the case.  If it were not the case we'd already have a perfect answer that was fair.  But, like lots of things in life, things are not fair.  Not because we don't want them to be, or because we don't think it's worth striving to be fair, but because some things are just difficult to achieve, and subject to forces one cannot control.

I always tell people who complain that life's not fair that I'm glad it's not fair, because if life were fair then everything bad that happened to me would have happened because I deserved it.  Therefore, by analogy, if the Hugo awards could be made to be totally fair, and you deserved to win and lost, then you would have been were robbed, which would be totally unfair.

So in short; cue Highlander meme, there can be only one!*

And finally, in relation to people on either side of the puppy debate getting angry because other people were angry.  No matter how angry one gets about something, venting one's feelings doesn't help.  It's worse than that.  Venting your anger will reinforce what you're feeling, and increase the intensity of your anger, not reduce it and leave you feeling better.  Furthermore, getting angry just makes it more likely you'll become angry again, which is why I wrote this piece the way I have.  Better to look at the positive side of things.

In this case the positive thing to take away from the Hugos is the years of  pleasure I've had from reading books, where 90% have never won an award.  And no-one can take that away from me.

* Sometimes two if there is a draw.