Apologies

•December 10, 2010 • Leave a Comment

My sincerest apologies to anybody who has asked me to update this.

I promise to be back on the case soon. I’m aware it’s been nearly a year.

M. x

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The GREATEST novel of all time.

•November 1, 2009 • 3 Comments

Kim Stanley Robinson has composed a true epic here, first published in 1993.
“Red Mars” in particular and the remainder of the trilogy (“Green Mars”, “Blue Mars”) as a whole are quite simply the best novels I have ever read. I recommend this to everybody, whether they like science fiction or not. While set in the future, the books are ultimately about the characters, how they cope with adversity in many forms, and the trials of moving hundreds of thousands of miles to live on an uninhabited planet. Not entirely unlike one might imagine the old American western frontier, only more multicultural and with primitive space travel.

The first chapter covers the unexplained murder of one of the main characters, and a dispute concerning the building of mosques by Muslim colonists – foreshadowing many of the issues which become prominent later in the story – before jumping back to the very beginning of what initially seems an epic soap opera for want of a better description, about a group of 100 carefully chosen scientists, sent on their way to establish the first permanent colony on another planet, and all their curious personal interactions.

Halfway there, after sheltering in the depths of their spacecraft from an unusually powerful solar flare they consider – as one might expect to happen – that if they are to start a completely new civilisation, why should they be controlled from another planet, and do everything in accordance with NASA protocol? There begins the rebellion, which – a couple of tens of thousands of new colonists later – develops into a guerrilla war for the control and sovereignty of our second home, after Earth finds itself largely under the control of a small handful of trans-national corporations which are now powerful enough to buy small countries.

Subtle changes in living arrangements, both social and architectural among the First Hundred culminate with the discovery of a stowaway on board, and the sudden theft of half the horticultural equipment by a young Japanese lady and the farm crew who eventually re-materialise at the beginning of the second book having established a broadly neo-pagan hippie commune in a network of ice caves, complete with a new religion and a classful of artificially-inseminated children.

It is easy to forget while reading the book, that the author has not actually been to the planet, such is the immense detail, especially in descriptions of the geography, and the first book also contains what is, in my opinion, the best, most vivid literary description I have read to date: the fall of the first space elevator. Having built a huge carbon-fibre tower from the planet’s surface into geo-stationary orbit (a sound concept, but beyond the scope of current real-world engineering), rebels seeking freedom from Earth rule sneak a bomb on board the asteroid which anchors the elevator in place, thereby physically separating the cable, and leaving it to gradually collapse and fold around the planet. Since it is one and half times the planet’s circumference in length, it eventually speeds up and catches fire, flattening anything in its path.

As in his “The Years of Rice & Salt”, a collection of linked short stories which cover 700 years of “alternative history”, in which Europe was hypothetically wiped out in the 14th century, Kim Stanley Robinson likes to set up interesting little philosophical arguments between the main characters. Thus we see the continual disagreement between those who believe we have a duty as intelligent space-faring beings to spread life wherever there is none, and those who believe there is intrinsic value in a barren but untouched landscape, and that it should be left well alone. Extremists amongst both the Greens and the Reds, as they become known, are occasionally motivated to express their beliefs through violence, at various points.

All the characters are very well thought-out and developed (Sax being my favourite), and with a few notable exceptions, all of the technology the author proposes is very “near-future”. In an interesting sub-plot in the second book, the aforementioned Sax, the archetypal “eccentric scientist” – described by his friends as some kind of bizarre human/lab-rat hybrid – has radical plastic surgery on his face and vocal chords, in order to attempt to pass for a Swiss biochemist and avoid the Earth security forces, and in doing so suddenly finds himself attractive to women for the first time ever, in his mid-60s, and manages to conduct a brief affair with a former colleagues who does not recognise him.

Some day, we will attempt to do this for real, assuming we haven’t already killed ourselves off – which is a distinct possibility. The author seems to have covered everything imaginable which might concern the inhabitants of a new planet, including inventing a new system of economics.

Read it, and take it for what it is: an incredibly well-constructed epic story about the human condition, transplanted to another planet. I find this book truly inspiring, and it is one of the only few I re-read at least once every two years.

The second book is about 85% as good as the first one, and strongly recommended also. The third one mainly really ties up loose ends, and is definitely worth a read if you liked the other two, but is certainly nowhere near as groundbreaking.

READ IT. READ IT. READ IT. (Then read the other two).

The nocturnal narrative. aka dreams part 7002.45^3 etc

•November 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Ahhh, dreams. The constant nocturnal narrative.

Some of the more amusing ones which I can recall include :

  • Pandas taking over China with the aid of shipbuilding company Vosper Thornycroft
  • Rescuing a young girl from an evil religious cult run by Richard O’Brien on a small boat who was influencing peoples’ thoughts by means of a device he called the “mind control spider”
  • Finding myself somehow trapped on the set of “Big Brother”, surrounded by druids, in particular a chap called Isaac Bonewits, leader of a group called Ár nDraíocht Féin. As you do.
  • One night I dreamt of a giant LEGO man possessed by the spirit of Bruce Willis, rescuing ships which had run aground by lifting them out of the water. In the same dream, which was unusually celebrity-obsessed, Noel Fielding stole my wallet, and I had to rescue George Carlin from a giant washing machine in the middle of a street somewhere in Norfolk.
  • In another, I found myself on the set of the Mighty Boosh Live theatre show (which I’m not an especially big fan of), but didn’t know any of the lines. I managed to blag it until they asked me to sing a song, at which point I fled, pursued by Noel Fielding again, who cornered me in a toilet, at which point I beat him to death with a chair.
  • In one notable lucid dream, I found myself flying around the solar system on a big leather sofa, which I was fully in control of. Went to visit some of the moons of Jupiter, and ultimately swung by Neptune, which I personally believe is the prettiest planet.
  • In another lucid dream, I found myself aboard my “university spaceship”, which was in combat with Cardiff University’s larger and better armed “university spaceship”, ala the Star Destroyer sequence at the beginning of StarWars. There was a small intelligent hedgehog creature who was my friend and companion, who assisted me in damage control.
  • In another, I went skydiving, but “terrorists” had apparently sabotaged my parachute, which failed to open (ditto the reserve), at which point I was rescued by a large purple dragon, who flew me back down to the ground and safety. At some point after landing, I bumped into a drum circle who informed me that they had “seen I was in trouble, and so summoned the dragon”. Cheers.
  • A worrying number of dreams concerning US breakbeat producer and DJ Elite Force; in one, we were rival DJs in small-town America and he hired a witchdoctor to put a curse on me. In another we were both working behind a bar, and had an argument over my insistence that he release “Mansion of the Snake” and give me a copy on vinyl.
  • Went joyriding in a stolen Apache Longbow, picked up a few friends and somehow made it to Japan, before being forced to land by their air force. Oddly, stealing aircraft is a very common theme in my dreams, along with stairs, being chased, paranormal stuff in general, and strangely, being interrupted by external events during sex.
  • One dream which consisted entirely of the letters “AZF” embossed into white noise and TV static. That was it. Constantly, for the whole dream. Bit peculiar, even by my standards.
  • Having been chased through a maze by kids on rollerblades armed with crossbows, believe it or not, I somehow met (the Christian, presumably) God (who was incidentally, a young black woman) at a farmers’ market and had sex with her.
  • Finally, one of my favourites concerns many years ago being late for work at Currys, and strangely boarding a moored submarine in Poole Harbour, which then drove out into the English Channel and promptly overturned, ala “The Poseidon Adventure”, requiring a full-on naval rescue effort involving DSRVs, after which I was put ashore at Southampton, strangely still with my pushbike and proceeded to cycle rapidly back to work. When I arrived 6 hours late, quite understandably, nobody believed my excuse that I had been trapped on an overturned submarine.
  • That should do for now. Plenty more where they came from.

Nike sponsorship for time machine request.

•November 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

This was directly inspired by a dream the other night, in which George Carlin told me to write it. Actually woke up laughing and immediately transcribed this onto my laptop.

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to you with an unusual request; please hear me out.

I am a Chemistry student at Portsmouth University. Last night, I was visited by the spirit of the almighty George Carlin (peace be upon him) who informed me that unless I complete my final piece of coursework by the end of the week, a chain of events will be set in place which will have horrific geopolitical ramifications for the world’s energy supply.

Furthermore, I will never get to invent a reliable means of extracting an oil substitute from algal blooms en masse (suitable for use as aviation fuel), and my band will not unite the world, align the planets and facilitate communication with all species of animals. Some might say that funk has had its day, but we disagree. It is quite healthy and indeed undergoing something of a revival, as we speak.

Nevertheless, to facilitate this goal (completing my final piece of coursework), I have constructed a time machine which is cunningly disguised as a public phonebox. I don’t believe this has been done before. George said he would help me himself, but he can’t because he’s been dead since 2008.

My time machine, needless to say, makes the deuce of a racket upon arrival at its destination, and I thought with the addition of a few banners and a new paintjob, this would be the perfect way to advertise Nike footwear throughout history!

I will need to travel to a few places in order to complete my assignment. It may be necessary for instance to kidnap August Kekule from Germany, but I will return him unharmed at the end of my project and with appropriate renumeration for his troubles; in the event of this coming to the attention of the authorities, your firm will in no way be held responsible.

Please consider my plea carefully. Time is running out.

If you care as much about the future of our planet and our children as you do the manufacturing of quality footwear, you will please honour this request.

Yours with honour and respect for the space-time continuum,

Mikey X

Earthlights (?)

•April 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Something strange happened to my friends and I, on a number of occasions between 1997-1999. As we would be walking down a very specific street in Dorset, a small glowing object, approximately the size of a football, I would guess, would float out across the rooftops quite happily, and drift slowly, until it eventually left our line of sight.

The first thing I immediately thought of was some kind of paper balloon contraption like that which we made in a science lesson when I was a kid. Essentially, you can construct an ultra-lightweight balloon from paper, which is heated by a candle, held in place by a balsa wood frame. It couldn’t have been that, though. This was right in front of us; close enough to throw stones at. Often less than 10m above the ground, almost literally grazing the chimneys. It looked precisely how I would imagine a glowing ball of hot gas or plasma to look. There was definitely no manufactured structure there.

I will show you precisely where the location is :

They always seemed to appear from a park towards the bottom of Lower Blandford Road, in Broadstone, Dorset, and float across the road into the housing estate on the other side. Always that direction. On only one occasion did we see one anywhere, and that was still within a quarter-mile of this location.

On a windless day, they would still sometimes drift as with the wind (note well that wind strength and direction often changes dramatically with even small altitude changes), but they were always close, always glowing a bright orange.

Usually they were met with, “look, it’s that weird glowing thing again”, and we would watch it until it either rose high enough to be no longer visible, or it would drift horizontally so that we couldn’t follow it, and it was lost above the rooves of the housing estate. On at least one occasion, I attempted to give chase and find out where it went, just out of pure curiosity, but even if it was only floating at a modest walking pace, its ability to float above the rooftops while I was stuck with roads and paths meant I would eventually lose it again.

This happened quite frequently, maybe at least once every few weeks, for two years. We discussed it very little, since it was usually forgotten. Even now, I usually only think about it when something else triggers the memory. A few years after all this took place, I happened to mention it to an old Canadian lady named Heather, in a shop where I worked, who said that sounded precisely like “earthlights”.

A brief investigation on the internet suggests there is indeed an unexplained phenomenon which goes by this name. The most common theory suggests that these are caused by some kind of emission of gas, likely to do with faultlines, but there is no tectonic activity that I’m aware of in the south of England.

The International Earthlights Alliance are an organisation who research this phenomenon, which has apparently been noted throughout history. I haven’t a clue whether what I saw is anything to do with what they report, and indeed if they are the same, then my sightings seem to be some of the closest ever…

All ideas welcome. I would be particularly interested to know if anybody who lived in that area ever saw anything similar.

Here is Project Hessdalen, where they have been observing a similar phenomenon for some time.

Dreams and creativity.

•March 8, 2009 • 1 Comment

Strange things, they are. Whoever says “I don’t remember my dreams” is unfortunate. I’d like to think I may be able to help you with that. I’ve made it one of my life-goals to master the art of lucid dreaming, and I’m getting better at it, though still nowhere near being able to induce them at will.

Nevertheless, the other night I had another one which had a very clear plot which I remembered completely coherently upon awaking, and importantly for me – since I’ve wanted for years to try to fictionalise some of them and somehow turn them into short films – this one would work on an absolute minimal budget with zero special effects (except for a little blood from a stab wound) and only four actors. No supernatural entities, helicopter thefts, giant lego men possessed by the spirit of Bruce Willis, or borderline incomprehensible metaphysical threats to the gravitational constant involving a small black hole and a Citroen 2CV. None of that usual shit. Merely a simple stabbing in a supermarket car-park. Well, okay, and a small soft toy mouse which also happens to play techno when you squeeze it, and somehow facilitate time-travel – integral to the plot, and my preventing the aforementioned violent assault on a stranger.

I wouldn’t be who I was today, without this constant bizarre narrative in my head when I sleep. To me, that’s perfectly normal. The original reason I became fascinated by lucid dreams, and indeed the whole greater concept of being conscious during sleep, was due to a dream many years back, in which I composed a complete ambient drum&bass tune (think Bukem et al, but with lots of water samples and a jazzy piano riff) in my sleep, which I was able to recall well enough to be able to notate when I woke. I never wrote it, but that’s not the point.

I routinely compose music in my sleep, but I almost never remember it coherently afterwards. It made me realise that there is far greater creative potential in our sleeping lives, than most of us realise, and I’d love to be able to help others unlock that. But in order to be able to teach other people how to do it, I’d need to understand it completely, myself.

The chap who invented the sewing machine claimed the entire idea came to him in his sleep, and he spent some years trying to perfect the device, based on this original blueprint. Ditto Kekule, the discoverer of the benzene ring (one of the foundations of organic chemistry), who dreamt of a snake eating its own tail, which in turn led to the realisation that he was looking for a hexagon shape of some sort.

Sleep well, and try to remember your dreams, all of you 😉

(www.lucidity.com/)

More scientists inspired by dreams.

Stephen LaBerge – “Exploring The World Of Lucid Dreaming”

The “Triple Jump” is NOT a real jump.

•February 24, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Foul.

There is a Facebook group dedicated to this crusade, for those who are interested.

Bear with me on this. I have limited real interest in the world of professional athletics, but there is one thing that has always irked me, since I was a youth and forced to take part in field events at school, and that’s been the Triple Jump. Not only is it not a real jump, but it is also a travesty against real vaulting skills.

The long jump and the high jump are perfectly legitimate vaults (I would also consider the pole vault, because it looks cool). Furthermore, their practice can be proven to have had evolutionary advantage to early (and indeed perhaps modern) humans. The triple jump though… you try crossing a river in that manner, and you will either fall in the river, or be mauled by an alligator, as appropriate.

My second complaint concerns the measurement of this “jump”. All the triple jump really is, is an overblown long jump with a gay little skip added towards the end. It infuriates me when the commentator says, “Hooray, he’s just jumped 18m.” NO HE HASN’T, HE PUT HIS FEET DOWN, TWICE. In any other event, that would be considered a foul, so we can also say that the triple jump encourages bad form. It does NOT make you “jump further”.

All the energy and concentration which is required to perform the gay little skip which is integral to the “triple jump”, could be expended on a proper long-jump. Utterly pointless and beyond my comprehension.

Thousands of schoolchildren with little athletic aptitude are further humiliated across the country by attempting to perform this incredibly camp and wasteful action, when clearly their efforts could be directed elsewhere.

The triple jump is a travesty against real vaulting skills, and must be excised from modern athletics contest. Thankyouplease.

This, however, is a hardcore event :