Thursday, March 26, 2015

Walking Still...

It’s grey windy and wet right now at 10.20AM so perhaps I won’t bother going for a walk today. I have been walking 7 miles day on most days for months now and that, plus weight-training over the last few weeks, is starting to give me periods when I’m completely knackered. The body needs to catch up.


Meanwhile, over the last few weeks, Spring has sprung. The snowdrops have finished flowering and now daffodils and primroses have opened. On some days I’ve even been able to head off with just T-shirt and jeans.



It’s been the same route every time: out of my house, by road down to Althorne Station, across the track and down to a marina by the river Crouch, along beside the river then up to Althorne and back by road. Each time during this walk I’ve seen the steady progress of this conversion of a water tower into a house.


Interesting views and all that, but it’ll be a lot nicer walking in the mountains of Crete. There I’ll start taking some different routes and start regularly walking some of the gorges.  

The Hive Construct - Alexander Maskill

I decided a few days back that I needed to get back into reading again as a precursor to starting writing again. I think what is happening to be can be described as a slow and error-prone reboot. Anyway, to this end I’ve started reading an hour of Greek a day, and I also picked up an SF book that had been sitting on a shelf for more than a year.


My apologies to those at Transworld/Doubleday who sent me this uncorrected proof copy for comment. Stuff got in the way and I’m more than a bit late for useful comment. I had a slight problem when attempting to start The Hive Construct a number of weeks back but suspect that has more to do with the state of my mind than any fault in the book. This time I slid into it easily over a few days and polished it off late last night. I won’t go into much detail. Cyberpunk staples like hackers, AI, bio-augmentation, civil unrest and nasty corporations are all there, but the tale is engaging, well told and insightful. Suffice to say that it’s not all black and white, good guys and bad guys. I could go on citing this and that but in the end any review is ‘I liked this’ or ‘I didn’t like this’ along with numerous justifications.

I liked this. Well worth a punt for the SF reader. Buy it.    

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Prador Moon Promotion!

This would be good entry level into the Polity for new readers. Prador Moon is on Amazon now for just 99 pence! No idea for how long it will be available at this price.

The Polity Collective stretches from Earth Central into the unfathomable reaches of the galactic void. But when the Polity finally encounters alien life in the form of massive, hostile, crablike carnivores known as the Prador, there can only be one outcome – total warfare.

Chaos reigns as, caught unawares, the Polity struggles to regain its foothold and transition itself into a military society. Starships clash, planets fall and space stations are overrun. But for Jebel Krong and Moria Salem, trapped at the centre of the action, this war is far more than a mere clash of cultures, far more than technology versus brute force. This war is personal.

Prador Moon is one of Asher’s most shocking excursions into the Polity's universe of over-the-top violence and explosive action – a vivid, visceral, brilliantly intense space opera that you won’t forget soon.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Further Update

And now an update on some other stuff. I’m still struggling to take an interest in writing and reading. The most I’ve been doing is a few interviews. I get occasions when I’ll do a bit of fiction and then my interest wanes. I suspect this is not only a result of what happened in January last year – I guess getting your nose rubbed in horrible reality can create an indifference to the fictional kind –  and everything that led up to it, but depression throughout this January and February – probably very much SAD related. As I do, I’ve been fighting this with exercise.



Previously I did this by taking a 7-mile walk every day. Now my routine is 50 press-ups and 50 sit-ups in the morning, that walk at about midday, then going on into the evening weight-training sets while working my way through box sets of DVDs (oddly my appreciation of fiction has returned here). This interspersed with any other writing related work I need to get out of the way, like those interviews. I’ve also cut most of the carbs out of my diet with the result that my weight is down to just over 12 stone. Yesterday I went over the top with 2 lots of weight training plus another 50 sit-ups. One session is two sets each of 15 repetitions of curls, upright rowing, prone rowing, stomach press, and standing presses from chest and then from behind the head, all with a curling bar weighing about 25 kilos. This all keeps depression at bay with the added benefit of making me the fittest I’ve been in many year.




I’ve not been on the internet much – for various reasons I’ve grown sick of it. In fact I feel relieved about heading off to Crete to a house without internet. There I hope to be a bit better mentally and be able to knuckle down to some writing. First on the agenda will be a short story or two … well, that’s what I think right now.

In other news, the second book of the Transformation trilogy will be called War Factory. The original title (after just a working title of Penny Royal II) was Factory Station Room 101. Those at Macmillan didn’t like that much because all the present associations with Room 101 would tell the new reader nothing. I’m happy with War Factory.   

Update On My Eyes

Time for a bit of an update here about my eyes. It has now been over a month since I had refractive lens replacement and the healing process is still on-going. I am sitting here able to read this screen without glasses and I can read printed matter too. There is however, a range to this reading. Text that is at the distance one would normally hold a book is easiest, but double that distance and it is cloudy. My long range vision is good too. When I’m outside looking at stuff I can’t fault my vision but when I’m inside there is a bit of cloudiness for things at about 10 feet, like the time on the DVD player. As with my vision before, the more light the better it is.


At my last check-up it transpires that this cloudiness is likely due to debris in my eyes. After these operations stuff floats about in there and sticks to the lenses. This can be cleared at a later date with a short procedure with a YAG laser. However, they won’t do this until after the healing process, which takes a minimum of 6 weeks. I’ll be in Crete by then so it’ll have to wait until after I get back. This is not a problem since the light out there is much more intense than here and I’m managing fine without glasses anyway.

Also during that last check-up it turned out I was suffering from dry eye which, since they provided me with eye drops, I’ve found out was also a cause of cloudiness in my vision. Apparently dry eyes are also a by-product of healing.


Another problem is halos. If your job were to involve a lot of night-time driving I would not recommend the multifocal lenses I have. Bright lights on a dark background all have a series of concentric rings around them. I get this with small items like the small lights on various electronic devices. I get it round titles on the TV that are on a dark background. And it was especially noticeable during the last leg of my journey back from Chester this weekend – from car headlights when it got dark. Then again, my eyes did not feel tired from the drive and I also wonder if the effect will decrease after the YAG laser and when my eyes are less dry.


The upshot then is that I’m still not sure if this operation was a great idea. However, this might well be due to my own lack of patience. I was hoping for quick good results. My vision has improved but I doubt I can properly judge the success of the operation until a year down the line.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Second Eye Operation

I went back to Harley Street for my second operation on Friday the 13th – not an auspicious day if you believe in that nonsense. This time I took a camera in the hope of getting some shots of the procedure, so be warned if you’re squeamish – the shot of me in a hair net is quite horrible.


When I arrived there I was still slightly worried about the cloudiness in the eye that had been operated on. I use the word ‘cloudiness’ rather than ‘blur’ because it wasn’t as if I was straining to focus but to see through a dirty glass. After a chat with my surgeon Mr Samer Hamada (a guy whose letters after his name are about twice as long as his name) and his inspection of my eye, I felt reassured. Swelling from the surgery causes astigmatism until it goes down and there are also debris in the eye that take a while to clear. Sometimes these debris stick to the lens but can be quickly cleared at a later date with what’s called a YAG laser – this takes just a few minutes.


Also noticeable during this consultation was when he checked what I could read on a card. I could read even some of the small print not commonly used. The vision in that eye is improving daily.


Anyway, after a bit of a wait I had the drops in my second eye then, after a further wait went into surgery. I handed the camera over to one of the nurses and climbed onto the surgical table. Same procedure as before, obviously, though slightly different pains and lots more fluid squirted in. Maybe he was making sure to be rid of as much of the debris as possible.


Afterwards my vision had improved noticeably – there certainly didn’t seem to be any of the cloudiness as from the first operation. I went home, put my eye drops in then later found myself even able to read the text on my Ipad without strain. I later went to bed with two eye shields on and looking like a bug.


The next day things were a bit blurry but I didn’t let it worry me. I took a train into London yet again for an inspection at the Optimax clinic in Finchley Road. Everything was still looking good. This morning I’ve seen another improvement and suspect that the slight blurriness I now have is due to the scotch I drank last night rather than the surgery.


Later I’ll try to find a video animation I watched in the clinic yesterday showing in detail the procedures I’ve undergone. Can’t find it at the moment.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Eye Operation

A number of years ago, like most people heading into their 50s, I found that reading was starting to become difficult. Mostly it was a light thing. I picked up some +1.5 reading glasses which I used when the light was crappy and that is how it has always been. I could read in good light even when I moved to +2.5 and then admitted that my eyes still weren’t right and had them checked. About this time I suffered from a lot of styes mostly in one eye and it turned out that eye had developed astigmatism. Also it seemed my body had adjusted to the age-related inflexibility of my eye’s lenses by giving me one eye for reading and one for distance.


Because Caroline had had good results from laser eye surgery I went to see what could be done. Turns out that I had a choice: I could have my eyes lasered so I needed glasses only for reading or alternatively only for distance. Since I did not yet consider my distance vision sufficiently crappy I was a bit reluctant. Another alternative, at much higher cost, was refractive lens replacement. I booked to see the eye surgeon next time he was in the clinic but the appointment was cancelled because he wasn’t coming, so I just let it go. This was in 2012.
  

Over the ensuing years my vision worsened. The disparity between my eyes made it difficult to watch TV – I could read the time on the DVD player with one eye but not the other – and to drive at night. I ordered some glasses over the internet using my prescription but with the reading element taken off. These I used for driving at night, and then started to use for driving during the day. My eyes felt perpetually out of balance and tired.


Meanwhile, through my science reading, I learned about the new multi-focus lenses now being used in refractive lens replacement. So I decided to look into it again. I booked an appointment with Ultralase – where Caroline went – and learned that the clinic in Chelmsford had closed down. It turns out that Ultralase was bought out by Optimax and some clinics closed during the reorganisation. I went to a place in Southend and the results were much as before for laser, but by this time I was thinking what the hell, I’ll have the replacement lenses. The success rate for 20/20 vision is well into the upper 90%s and most failures can be corrected anyway. I am also aware that nothing is 100% and that usually the failures in any kind of surgery are with those who have something very seriously wrong or other health problems. Also the operation was a lot cheaper than previously quoted. And, in the end, an SF writer with cyborg eyes? Gotta be done. I paid the deposit and booked in.


The operations were to be in Harley Street – first one eye on the 6th February with a check-up in Southend on the 9th, second on the 13th with a check-up on the 14th (this time in London). I’ve now had the operation on my first eye. I was nervous about this and still wondering a little if I was doing the right thing. Were my eyes sufficiently bad for this? Would the result be a marked improvement or sort out the vision problems I had but just replace them with other drawbacks? I had read about problems with halos and adjustment to the change. In respect of eyes being sufficiently bad (or ripe for change) I learned from the surgeon that the earlier the better. The harder the lenses are when removed the higher the likelihood of damage to the eye during the operation.


After a talk with the surgeon and the signing of some ass-covering forms I sat in a room, had a x penned on my forehead to mark the eye to be operated on and drops put in to open the pupil to begin numbing it. I then went into the theatre where more drops were added and then some sticky fabric was used to hold my eyelids open. I was a bit worried because my eye did not feel numb at all. I could see nothing but three glaring lights. A nurse offered to hold my hand but I manned up and folded them on my chest. The surgeon began furtling about in my eye and I could see movement. He then told me the next bit was going to sting. It did. I could feel my eye being cut, but only briefly. More furtling ensued – painless – and then the operation came to an end. Briefly I noticed something: I could see individual diodes in two of those lights. Next an eye shield went on and I went into recovery – just a blood pressure check and five minutes sitting chatting to a nurse – then I headed off  home. In all I would classify this operation as much less traumatic than having a filling at the dentist.


My vision was heavily blurred and it was more comfortable to keep my eye closed. My eye felt as it does when you have a stye. I also felt quite tired afterwards – maybe stress. The blur remained throughout the day but even through it I can read the time on my DVD player, which I could do before with that eye. At one point I did notice halos but they’re not much of a bother. They only seem to be there when there is a bright light nearby. During daylight there is no sign of them. The blur reduces each time I put my eye drops in – two lots 4 times a day consisting of an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory. Now, on the second day the blur has reduced by half, the eye more comfortable and I’m keeping it open more. I’ve popped a lens out of my reading glasses since wearing them makes the blur in that eye worse.


I’ll do some more blog posts about this later. I might even take a camera to my next operation to see if it’s possible to get a few pictures…     

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Looking Good...

"Beautifully paced ... does just as well as at slam-bang action scenes as at painting frightening pictures ... This is space opera at a high peak of craftsmanship."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“What Asher delivers here is state-of-the-art SF on so many levels … a compelling, smart read.”
—Paul Di Filippo, Locus

"An exciting, intricate, and unabashedly futuristic story rife with twists and turns ... Asher returns to his popular far-future series, Polity Universe, with another fast-paced space opera filled with his trademark technological marvels and elaborate world building."
Booklist

"Hardboiled, fast-paced space opera epic ... Asher’s books are similar to the world of Iain M. Banks’ Culture universe, but the Polity is arguably a much darker and more vicious environment—and all the better for it.”
The Register

"Perpetually on the knife's edge, and this constant tension works wonders for creating a page-turning atmosphere. It's a damningly gripping and infecting book."
Upcoming4.me

"A superb novel and Asher has an amazing talent for world-building, for writing larger-than-life characters, for weaving gripping plots and for imagining exotic alien races and wonderful technologies. Huge ships! Big weapons! Space battles! Ground battles! Treason! Revenge! This is New Space Opera at its best."
Sense of Wonder

"One of his best works so far ... Asher is a modern master of sci-fi."
Starburst magazine

"[The Polity books] are SF novels that mix early cyberpunk’s insouciance with the widescreen baroque spectacle of space opera and the pacing of an airport action-thriller. But even by Neal Asher’s standards, there’s something particularly grisly about Dark Intelligence.”

SFX

Paul Di Filippo reviews Neal Asher - Locus Online


locus magazine banner

I particularly like this bit:

 "It’s a scenario that trembles on the edge of the Singularity while still being comprehensible to, and inhabitable by, the humans of the era and of course to us 21st-century dullards as well. Novelty and neologisms dominate nearly every page. Handled badly, such a strategy becomes confusing and frustrating. Asher does it well, though. And yet the reader needs to keep pace. There is just enough authorial guidance, but no condescending hand-holding. This type of SF is really the litmus test for separating serious readers from, say, media fans who might groove to Guardians of the Galaxy but blanch at A. E. van Vogt..."


Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Dark Intelligence Review - Starburst

BOOK REVIEW: DARK INTELLIGENCE / AUTHOR: NEAL ASHER / PUBLISHER: TOR / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Neal Asher is one of those well known sci-fi authors who has produced a whole range of novels set in the same world, known as The Polity. This makes his work a little intimidating for new readers. Luckily, his latest work,Dark Intelligence, is a good jumping-on point. It also happens to be one of his best works so far.