Saturday, March 28, 2015

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Continuing with my posts about what I'm reading right now, we're here with Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Reading this book right on the heels of James S. A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes was an interesting juxtaposition. This book is hard SF. Hard as a friggin' rock. There were times that Robinson would drone on and on about scientific things that I'd never heard of or even imagined in my life, and he would do this for page after page. Luckily these days I read most of my books with my ears. If I were reading with my eyes, I might have grown bored and given up, but since I'm trapped in my car for 45 minutes whether I listen to a book or not, I tend to just continue listening.

After Corey's book about space wars in a solar system populated by the Outer Planets Alliance, the Martian Congressional Republic, and the United Nations of Earth, it was really interesting to listen to an account of the settling of Mars, and the attempts to terraform the planet. Robinson goes into great detail on the geography of Mars too, talking endlessly about places like Valles Marineris, Pavonis Mons, and the Tharsis Bulge. It makes me want to know more about that Martian geography. It makes me wonder what countries in a colonized Mars would be called. I think they mentioned in Corey's book that Alex, the ship's pilot, came from the Mariner Valley. Also we had a story on the Dunesteef called "The Road to Utopia Plain" by Rick Kennett, which is another one of those Martian places...I believe, anyway.

Despite the dense nature of this book, I still really enjoyed it. It's pretty hard not to, really, being a kid raised on Star Wars and Ray Bradbury and similar stuff. I love nothing more than the idea of humans living on other worlds. The idea of Mars with a big blue ocean (although they're nowhere close to that at the end of this first book) is so neat to me. I looked online and found several artist's renderings of what Mars might look like if it were terraformed.

Ones like this:

Or this:

or this one here, which is really just a contour map, but the colors show you what is lowest, and depending on how much water there was, that's what would be ocean bottom:

This really fires my imagination. I've been building a space opera universe in my mind for years, and now it's definitely going to include a terraformed Mars. Maybe a terraformed Venus too. Hell, maybe even the moon as well. A thousand years in the future, they should be pretty skilled at terraforming, right?

Anyway, what's my verdict on this book? Well, I think it takes a certain kind of reader to enjoy it. If you like hard SF then you'll probably love it. There's still story and characters and so forth in there, it's not like it's a textbook or something, but a lot of readers might find it incredibly dull. There were definitely parts that bored me. But all in all, I really liked the book, and will be proceeding on to the next one in the series, Green Mars.

Not immediately though. First I've got a Robert J. Sawyer book, Wake, to read. I've read short stories by Sawyer, so I'm excited to see what he can do in a novel. Also, I want to read part two of James S. A. Corey's Expanse series before I go back to Robinson's Mars for part two. Luckily, my commute is so long, that it won't take me long to get to them all.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Fitness Challenge 2015 #5

This should probably be called #5 and #6, since I totally missed last week's update. But I'm not going to bother. Instead, I'll just report on what's going on.

The reason I missed last week's update was because Friday happened to be my niece's wedding. I was off work so I could attend it. I, therefore, didn't weigh in last week. On top of that, I ate really poorly over the weekend. It started with all the wedding food: cupcakes, Mission burritos at the luncheon, soda, punch, and so on. Then, the day after the wedding, my brothers and sisters all wanted to get together again before they left town to head back to California, so we met at a local Mexican restaurant, and I had more of the same.

I did finally weigh in for the contest when I got back to work on Monday, and was distressed to find that I'd gained weight from my last weigh-in ten days before. I'd gained three pounds. So, ten days wasted, ground lost in my quest to catch the leader, and the likelihood that I would fall into despair at such a result.

I'd dropped to third place after the last weigh in, when someone had amazingly lost 3.5% in one week. Now, after gaining three pounds, I've dropped all the way to sixth place. I used to feel secure in the fact that, because of the way the rules were, I was firmly in a cash winning position. But now that's no longer the case. The way the rules work, there's an overall winner, and then a lead male and lead female winner. Since the guy who has been entrenched in first place all this time is a guy, even in third place, I would still have come away with money. But now I've dropped to third place among the men. There's no money in that. I really needed to step it up.

Despite how sh*tty my life has gone recently, especially this week, I didn't allow myself to fall into that emotional eating/comfort eating pit. So many times this week did I want to eat something to make me feel better, but I fought it off. It may have to do with my new secret weapon: M&M's.

I picked up a couple of bags of them last week to use as mini sugar shots when I'm really craving something bad. I used this to my advantage the last time there was a weight loss contest that I won, and, after having several difficult days, I decided I was missing something important. Just like last time, I keep the bags of M&M's in my car's trunk, and when I go out to grab some, I only allow myself four to six M&M's at a time.

It's seeming to help me fight off cravings that I get sometimes. There were a lot of days that I came home from work simply ravenous, and I lost control and ate a ton of food, until my stomach was so full that it actually hurt. I would do it two or three times a week, which was really killing my progress. But this week, I didn't have one of those days.

When I weighed in today, I had lost those three pounds that I gained last week. As well as five pounds on top of that. I'm now down 7.64 percent. Not sure where this puts me in the rankings, but if everyone stayed completely flat this week, I would be back at third place in the contest. It's progress, at least. Where I should have had none. Hopefully, I can keep it up and catch that dang guy that's in the lead.

A cool thing that's besides the contest, I have lost 33 lbs. since January 1st. 10.5% of my weight. Eat your heart out Clay Dugger (you might as well, you'll never catch me).

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey, The Expanse Book 1

Shirley: "Shut up, Leonard. I found your YouTube page. What's the point in reviewing frozen pizza?"

Leonard: "You're talking about it."

Shirley: "Oh, that is true."


By chance, I was looking at old blog posts the other day, and I came across posts of myself talking about what I was reading. I don't know why I stopped doing that. It seems like a worthy use of this space, and I hardly post about anything anymore, so I thought I would get back to it.

I recently finished reading James S. A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes, and I have to say, what a damned cool book. It's the kind of thing I've been wanting to see for years. I only chanced upon it because I was looking for new stuff to read, and I used the Hugo Award nominees as my guide. It was nominated for best novel in 2012, but lost to Among Others by Jo Walton. I haven't read that one, but I'm sure it must be a good one. Maybe I'll get to it someday.

It's a space opera book, but it's not the kind of space opera that you see more often, you know the kind of stuff that is similar in vein to the Star Wars trilogy, what some people call space fantasy. Instead, it's grounded much more in reality. The people in the novel actually have to deal with things like gravity, or the lack thereof while tooling around in space.

There's just something so refreshing and neat about that. This book is basically one or two steps beyond what our own space program has reached right now. Every space opera-type story seems to be a hundred steps beyond, so you can't really see how we got there from here.

On top of that, gravity...or the lack thereof...changes other things as well, like the people. The story itself takes place in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Those who were born and grew up on the stations out there have bodies that are much different because of the micro-gravity that they developed in, than those who come from the power centers of the solar system, Earth and Mars. Belters are very tall and very skinny. Earthers are considered short and thick, and Martians are somewhere in between.

The book involves a war that takes place between the Outer Planets Alliance, or OPA, and Mars. Eventually, Earth is also dragged into it. Then, our main characters discover that there is in fact something else...something truly dangerous...that's actually behind it all.

The author is James S. A. Corey, which is not a person at all, but the pen name for the collaboration of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Daniel Abraham I know from writing the story Flat Diane, which I heard on Pseudopod in 2007, and the story The Cambist and Lord Iron: a Fairytale of Economics which I heard on Podcastle in 2009. Both of those were nominated for awards like the Nebula, Hugo, or World Fantasy Award. As far as I know, I'm not otherwise familiar with Ty Frank.

One really cool thing that I just discovered recently was that the series was picked up by the SyFy channel to be produced as a Game of Thrones-style show. Each book in the series will be made into a ten episode season. The book series is called The Expanse, and SyFy seemed to have learned something from the Game of Thrones series. For some reason HBO called the series Game of Thrones, the title of the first book, instead of The Song of Ice and Fire, which is the title George R. R. Martin had for the whole series. Now, they're in book four, but it's still called the title of the first book. SyFy made the wise move of calling the series The Expanse instead of Leviathan Wakes.

Don't know when that starts, though. My guess is fall of this year.

The book itself is a really worthwhile read, and I highly recommend it. Hopefully you'd enjoy it as much as I did.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Fitness Challenge 2015 #4

Lost two pounds exactly this week. Some people would feel good about that, because, after all, it's progress. Other's would feel crappy about it, because, after all, my goal was four pounds, so I only got halfway there.

Me? Well, I'm sort in the middle. I don't feel bad, because I did lose, and I don't feel great, because I didn't make my goal, but I'm fine with it.

I'm not losing fast, and I'm not sure why. When You're plateaued, one of the common answers is to up your exercise to another level. That's good advice, but I'm not going to take it. Instead, I'm probably going to downgrade my exercise. I released an Anklecast yesterday where I talk about finding the right time to write. I ended up deciding that I needed to write in the evening.

I was thinking of recording an extra Anklecast this month where I talk about that. I've decided that I'm going to do it differently. Writers write, after all, that's why they call them write-ers. There was a recent blog post that, while mostly just being an a-hole on an ivory tower bloviating about how he's better than you, also called out people who complain about not having time to write. In that particular case, he's right.

Writers find time to write, they make time to write. Dreams don't come true, they're made true. I'm going to keep eating like I am now, so, I'll keep losing weight, slowly perhaps, but it'll keep happening. I'll get there eventually. I may not win the contest...then again I may. Who knows.

But what I do know is, I'll be writing. I've got a five year plan, and I need to get moving on that thing.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Anklecast 24

Things didn't get better. Instead they seemed to have gotten worse. Something must be done, but what?

Music was "Crossing The Divide" courtesy of Kevin MacLeod of

Right click HERE to download the episode, select Save Link As, and save the file to your hard drive.


Friday, March 6, 2015

Fitness Challenge 2015 #3

So, it's Friday again, which is weigh-in day.

I had a weird week this week. My mother died of colon cancer when she was 50 years old, and my doctor said that when you have a first degree relative that had colon cancer, you have to start getting colonoscopies ten years previous to when they were first diagnosed. So, now that I'm 40, it's time to start getting probed.

So, on Monday, I had my procedure. A colonoscopy is a kind of a weird operation, because you have to clear the area out before they can go in. So, I spent the weekend first on a "low-residue" diet, then a "clear juice only" diet, and lastly...well, evacuating anything that was left.

By the time I was done, I'd lost something like six or seven pounds. Unfortunately, I wasn't going to stay empty like that forever. So, the pounds came back.

Tuesday and Wednesday nights, I had moments of weakness upon arriving home from work, and wound up pigging out a little bit. Those should have been good days for me, instead, I was lucky if I broke even.

I tried really hard Thursday night to avoid that same pit that I fell into on Wednesday and Thursday, which helped a little.

So, today, when I weighed in for the contest, I was down, but only down 2.2 pounds from last week, falling nearly two whole pounds short of my four pound goal.

I had big weeks earlier on, so I was ahead of my planned overall goals, but I'm not any longer. So, this week is going to have to be a really big week. I can't have the Tuesday and Wednesday breakdowns that I had this week. To keep with my goals, I have to lose 4.4 pounds.

The percentages came out earlier this week, and I have risen all the way from last place, to tenth place, to fifth place, now to second place. I don't know if this week was enough to keep me in second,  but I hope so. I'll have to kick it up a notch this week.

My total percentage is 5.24 this week. By next week, it needs to be at 6.71.  We'll see how it goes. Wish me luck.