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 thought 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 For Fiction 2015

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.


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