Friday, October 24, 2008

Running: keep on movin'

Today: 5 mins running, 1 min walking, 4.5 mins running. I was puffing along like Ivor the Engine, thanks to my new breathing rhythm thing. Seems to be working, though.

Knee integrity: 80% and falling, sir. Noticeable pain in the right mid-leg area. Recommend going to a non-running status until pain abates.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Waiting for the barbarians

Five pages into "Waiting for the Barbarians", by J.M. Coetzee, I realised that the main character was already as fully-formed and real as any other I had read. Five pages, and I knew enough about the man to like him, understand his motives and behaviour, the world he inhabited, and still want to know more. I guess they don't give out the Nobel Prize for Literature for nothing.

The novel concerns a rural village magistrate, whose easy life is disturbed by the arrival of soldiers preparing to fight the barbarian hordes that threaten the Empire. The prose is simple, direct. No flashy wordplay or obscure metaphors. It does not get in the way of the story. Number of times the word "quiddity" used: 0.

The obvious question in the story is who exactly are the barbarians - the largely unseen nomads who roam the plains and mountains, or the soldiers and villagers who grow increasingly hysterical over the non-existent threat. But there are more subtle themes in here too: what makes a man? Should you ever give up decency and honour in return for safety?

Awesome stuff.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Running: getting better

Today's run: 4 mins running, 1 min walking, 4 mins running, 1 min walking. I got into a little rhythm with my breathing, in time to my footsteps, and that seemed to help. Plus my ipod was out of batteries, so I wasn't subconsciously trying to match the rhythm of the music. Progress has been made.

Knee integrity: 95% and holding, Captain. I get the occasional twinge, but I suspect that's just instrument noise, sir.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Running: start off slow

I'm getting a bit tubby, no -really, I am. Well, thank you, this dress is slimming, but really I am getting tubby. Current weight: 13st 4lb (or 84.4kg). Which is a bit too much; love handles, spare tyres, man-boobs, etc.

So, I'm running. I can manage about 3km without needing medical assistance at the moment, in a combination of running and walking. Current combination: 3mins running, 2 mins walking and wheezing, 2 mins running, 1 min walking, 1 min running, 1 min walking, 1 min running, 1 min walking. Then I sit at home, sweating and trembling for a while until I turn a less frightening shade of purple. When I can manage to run most of the way, I'll start increasing the distance.

I'm going to do this every morning that my legs aren't hurting (looks like every other morning so far). I'll record here what I manage, mostly for my own benefit so that I don't forget and then give up.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Shadows, pianos and rivers

Book review backlog time again.

"A Piano in the Pyrenees", by Tony Hawks (not the skateboarder) is another in the peculiarly British genre of "Humourous Books In Which The Author Does Stuff For A Bet/Laugh/No Good Reason". Hawks is a past master of the form, his first book being "Round Ireland With A Fridge" in which the author makes a bet about hitchiking around Ireland with a small refigerator. Dave Gorman's books are othr examples of this blossoming area. In "Piano", the author buys a house in France. Amusing things occur, and we learn a bit about life in rural France. A funny read, good for passing the time.

(My wife was once sat on the tube in London, reading the aforementioned fridge book, and was asked by the man sat next to her if it was any good. She replied that it was ok, and took no further part in any conversation as is right and proper on the tube. It was only when the man got off that she realised that it had been the author himself sat next to her.)

"River Of Time", by David Brin, is a short story collection. Surprisingly good, considering that I picked it at random from the library. Some great ideas in here about why the universe seems empty of intelligent life.

"A Shadow In Summer", by Daniel Abraham, is another in my seemingly unending backlog of free ebooks I got from Tor's promotion ages ago. Another fantasy doorstop, first volume of an unspecified number. Not bad, the author had made quite a bit of effort to create a non-standard world for his characters. Worth a read.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

I might have the tool for this job.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Radio Free Albemuth

Phil K. Dick's final novel, "Radio Free Albemuth", is weird. That's like saying it is in English. Redundant information. Every Phil Dick story is weird, from his early short stories to the later novels, getting weirder as the author got older.

This one is different, though. There are two main characters: Nicholas Brady, who receives messages from aliens telling him what to do; and Phil, his science fiction writer friend he bounces theories off. Phil is the sane one, Nicholas is batshit crazy. Aliens talk to him through the radio, the soviets send him coded messages in shoe adverts. Or maybe he's not. The aliens also cure his son's birth defect and help him recover from a car accident quickly.

Nicholas and Phil could well be the same person, and read this way the novel is a glimpse into the mind of someone with mental illness. He hears voices, creates theories to explain what to him seems frighteningly real. It becomes difficult to separate the real events from those that may only exist in his mind. Phil K. Dick had a history of mental illness, and this is his attempt to convey what that is like.

Or it could just be a story of aliens and their attempts to depose a tyrannical president of the United States. In which case, the events are all real. There's also a neat parallel drawn between mental illness and religion. Is there any real difference between believing in a benevolent alien talking to us from a satellite and believing in an invisible, benevolent sky father that tells us all to be nice to each other?