The Den of Ubiquity

Friday, June 11, 2004:

When Will You Make Up Your Mind

I'm not much for exercising. Maybe that stems from being two years younger than most kids and thus developing a distaste for Phys. Ed. class. Or maybe not. There's pretty much only two forms of exercise that I don't really mind undertaking--swimming and cycling.

I used to ride my bike a lot, in Grande Prairie. I was a late starter, or maybe not late when you consider my age and not my grade. I was probably eight or nine by the time I could ride without training wheels, which was Grade 5 or 6 for me. But after that, I took to it quite readily. It was nice, several months of the year(I refused to ride in snow and ice)to have that mobility. I could ride to and from school most days, go visit my friend Jeremy, etc. I started out with an ugly purple bike, but that didn't bother me, and I tended to boast that at least nobody would want to steal it.

When I was in high school, we moved to the other side of town, and I kept up with the bike riding. After a few months I discovered the paved trails along Bear Creek, which went all the way down to the G.P. Regional College, not too far from the high school. They were a little hilly, but by that point I had acquired an eighteen-speed mountain bike. I was never any good at shifting gears, though, so I stayed in the same gear most of time--the highest one. And I still got to the point where I could climb some pretty serious hills without always having to get off and push before reaching the top.

Then, after one year of college, I moved to Edmonton for university. My bike didn't fit in the first load I brought down, and it took an entire year for it to get sent down on the bus. I rode it around Millwoods a few times, and I was a little bit out of shape, but not too bad. I kept it locked up with a plastic-sheathed metal cable and a plain combination lock. And it got stolen within weeks. I went out one morning and they'd obviously hacksawed right through the cable. I felt like an idiot. We were renting the top floor of a house, and there was a big gap in the back fence so the downstairs people could park there. My bike had been locked up in plain view of a fairly major street.

And that's been pretty much it. At some point we inherited some ten-speeds, but they had tire leak problems, and we never got around to getting the things fixed. When Sharna was storing her bike with us a couple of years ago, I took it out a few times, and by this time I was so pitiful I could barely ride for ten minutes without coming back wheezing, panting and drenched in sweat.

What I really want, at this point, is an exercise bike. I can do all the wheezing and panting in the privacy of home, without sun and wind and bugs. And whenever I decide to stop, I'm already home.

In the meantime, there's swimming. I took a lot of swimming lessons, though they kept changing the grades so I was never sure where I was. I do recall taking some survival/rescue-oriented stuff at least once, so I'm probably not too bad.

When Nicole and I lived downtown, there was a community centre nearby with an outdoor pool that we visited often in the summer. We got out of the habit when we moved to Grande Prairie, and only really started going back(apart from a few visits to the West Edmonton Mall wave pool)with the kids. They have good kids' facilities at the Millwoods Rec Centre, and even a wave pool.

For the past few years, though, it seems that every time I go to the pool I catch something. At least one ear infection, and possibly more, and most recently a case of athlete's foot, which finally cleared up(hopefully)a week or two ago.

I'd have to say that athlete's foot is less unpleasant than the ear infections. Those things got quite painful, especially when I had both inner and outer ear infections, or both ears at once. Earplugs in the bathtub, eardrops several times a day...not fun. Rubbing some antifungal cream between my toes once a day, more manageable.

But it makes me leery of the pool, now. I've heard that the kid's pool, where we spend a lot of time with Luke and Simon, is the worst culprit, or possibly the hot tub. If I stayed clear of those, I'd probably be okay. But I'll be stuck with the kids' pool for a few years yet. Sigh. Maybe I just need to go by myself for lane swims or something. But that cuts into my personal time that I'd rather spend doing other stuff.

So for now I guess I'll continue being "obese". Taking walks is kind of boring, takes too much time, and hurts my feet. Team sports are just a pain, plus they have to involve other people. Running is like walking, except you exchange time for pain. Public gyms cost money. I climb the stairs at work instead of taking the elevator, which gives me a good five-six minutes of exercise a day.

What I'm really waiting for is technology for rendering exercise and dieting obsolete. Nanobots that keep body fat at reasonable levels, or some way of keeping your metabolism high enough that you're always burning it off. Of course, I'll be dead by the time they come out with any of that stuff. But I can still hope, and it's easier than doing something about it myself.

We don't know our neighbours that well. A couple of years ago we noticed that the fence on one side of our backyard was getting very saggy. Eventually we decided to get it fixed, but we concluded, perhaps cravenly, that trying to get them to pay for half of it wouldn't be worth the trouble. So we told them were going to fix it, and then we got it fixed. (By someone else--we're not handy.)

Now the same thing is happening on the other side. Those neighbours are apparently concerned because the fence is sagging, and they're getting it fixed. But there's more to it than that, because it's sagging due to the junk in our yard pushing on it.

It's not our junk. Well, I suppose it is now, but we didn't put it there. It was there when we got the house, and we never had much of a reason to look at it until now. And now we have to clear it out. We don't really have anywhere else to put it, so we have to call somebody to come and haul it away for us.

We spent some time on Wednesday at least clearing away the stuff against the fence. A lot of fenceposts, probably from where some of our predecessors took out the fence at the end of the driveway so they could extend it and cover it with a carport. Some hollow metal tubes that may have something to do with gardening, I don't know. Some broken chunks of concrete, some rocks, some of that foot-high metal garden fencing. A few other bits of trash--plastic bags, a beer bottle. A big green beetle, and probably other arthropod denizens that I would rather not tally.

There was one cool thing, though, that I may keep. It's a stick, like your average fallen branch, stripped of twigs and bark, but wrapped in canvas. I always loved picking up those branches and stripping them if I happened to be walking in the woods. I did it a lot walking through Bear Creek Park in Grande Prairie years ago, and I did it on the long weekend when we were walking through the woods on my mom and stepdad's farm. But wrapping it in canvas--that's cool.

It's been a slow month or so for books. I read Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising. It says "A Jack Ryan novel" on the cover, and it seemed to have been Clancy's next book after The Hunt For Red October. The first Clancy novel I tried, actually, was The Sum of All Fears, but it didn't take long before I discovered it was later in the series.

However, though I do believe that some of the names in the book are familiar with the other two Clancy books I've read, Jack Ryan was not one of them. Repeat, there is no appearance by Jack Ryan in Red Storm Rising. This is not necessarily a bad thing...but it's a misleading notation. It's like when Escape Velocity was marketed as being in the same series as The Warlock In Spite of Himself, when in fact it's mostly just that the two sets of characters intersect in The Warlock Wandering, as far as I can tell. It's a marketing thing, I'm sure.

In any event, it was not that bad a book. Long, but one expects that from Clancy. I learned a lot about modern warfare, particularly the submarine kind. It included several plotlines, in various areas of the war, but my favourite would definitely have to be Edwards, the Air Force meteorologist who ends up the highest ranking officer on Iceland after the Russians sack an American airfield there, and has to tramp around the island with a few marines and a girl they rescued from Russian molesters. You could've done a book about him right there, although then he might have had to do more than stay out of sight, watch, and radio in once in a while.

I just finished The Caves of Buda by Leah R. Cutter. It's one of my random library paperback rack picks, where I grab a book by an author I've never read before, that's not in the middle of a series. Sometimes they're hard to come by. This one drew me in with Hungarian elements, because I like Hungarian stuff. Mostly because of Hungarian's nature as one of the few non-Indo-European languages in Europe. It's also got some cool stuff with an obsessive-compulsive guy who turns out to be performing actual magic with his compulsive rituals. It doesn't all work, but it's decent enough.

The Caves of Buda took me a week to finish, though, because I was also reading The Watcher's Guide, a "Buffy" companion book. It only covers the first two seasons, but that's mostly okay because we're still working on the fourth one. Still had some interesting stuff, especially some of the interviews. But it meant that I was only getting about thirty pages of Buda read a day, which is slow for me. That's about a half-hour's reading, and I can usually muster a little more than that.

Going back to some books from earlier this year--holy Mowgli, am I still only up to January??? Well, let me soldier on through, because this way I can put off working on my NaNoWriYe novel:

Dave Duncan: Impossible Odds. I'm not quite as enamoured of Duncan's King's Blades books as I am of some of his others, but he still manages to put together a rip-roaring tale of swashbuckling adventure in his thinly-disguised fantasy Europe. This one is in something like fantasy Austria, or something Germanic, at least, with lots of magical twists. A worthy addition to the series, if not my favourite.

Gordon R. Dickson: Soldier, Ask Not. You know, for the most part I've been pretty take-it-or-leave-it with Gordon R. Dickson, though I'd never really read much of his Dorsai series. Well, this one might have sold me on it. While dated in some respects(the female characters, for instance), I found it a spellbinding tale of a man with great power learning to use it for good instead of evil. Sounds hokey when put like that, but that's what it boils down to.

Lois McMaster Bujold: Diplomatic Immunity. I held myself back from reading this one after devouring the last few Bujold books. Mirror Dance, Memory, Komarr, and A Civil Campaign were all amazingly great books. This one is pretty good, but not her best. Perhaps the fact that Miles seems to finally be happy in his personal life has taken some of the edge off, and there's little to no Mark in it either. It didn't quite gel the way the others did, which makes it still a good book, just not a superlatively great one.

Terry Pratchett: Night Watch. Pratchett still continues, as the Discworld series goes ever on, to get better with each book. He did have a misstep or two there, with The Fifth Elephant in particular, but the last few are some of the best of the entire series. I waited for this one to come out in paperback, for some reason(and I'm still waiting for Monstrous Regiment, or even The Wee Free Men), but it was worth it. Sam Vimes is once again the main character, as he is so often of late, but Pratchett shows us yet more facets of his character as he goes back in time to mentor his younger self. Reminiscent of Les Misérables in places, and probably A Tale of Two Cities and other French revolutionary works.

Gordon Korman: Island(Shipwreck/Survival/Escape). This is really one novel released in three tiny volumes, so I read them all at once. Korman moves fairly firmly into YA thriller territory here. He's still got a wacky character or two, but he's not playing everything for jokes. Instead, his young characters have to deal with, well, surviving a shipwreck and escaping, with a few sinister subplots. He rises to the occasion and creates a spellbinding tale. He's got a few other of these "trilogies" out now, and I wish they'd stop releasing them like that--it's silly.

Michelle West: Sea of Sorrows. Michelle West pulls off a good moment here and there, but somehow her books seem to drag. In this, the fourth book of her "Sun Sword" series, every single scene seems to be imbued with ponderous significance. A single fight scene contains three chapters' worth of flashbacks. And because of the way the previous book ended, we have to spend the first half of the book catching up with one entire set of characters until we can reach the point when the last book ended. When you do get back to the other characters, things are picking up mightily, and things are starting to come together. Still, it's hard to believe that she's only got two more books to try to wrap up the series. Hopefully she won't introduce too many new plot threads in there.

Gordon R. Dickson: Three To Dorsai!. I was really looking for Tactics of Mistake, but what I found was this book, a three-volume omnibus also containing Necromancer and Dorsai!, which I was pretty sure I'd read before. However, since I couldn't remember very much from those two books, I decided to reread them anyway. I'm glad I did, because now, with Soldier, Ask Not under my belt, I felt like I had a much better handle on the structure of the Childe Cycle universe, and I could tie the names of planets and characters into what I read in other books. Now I'm wondering, did Dickson ever finish his Childe Cycle? I remember huge volumes like The Final Encyclopedia and Young Bleys coming out, but I know that there were supposed to be historical novels in there too. Of course, the whole Childe thing seemed to be predicated on a misunderstanding of the nature of evolution, as if it were some search for the perfectibility of organisms instead of something much more haphazard and contingent. If I believed in an afterlife, I'd hope that Stephen Jay Gould was setting him straight.

Mercedes Lackey: Magic's Promise. I've been moving slowly through the Last Herald-Mage series. Vanyel seems just a bit too tragic a figure for me, sometimes, and I know that his ultimate fate is not going to be good. It's engaging in parts, but in other parts is trying to be too cute or something. I imagine I'll finish the series sometime.

Philip K. Dick: Eye In The Sky. This was a reread of what I think is the first Dick book I ever read(unless it was The Unteleported Man). It's still one of my favourites, and it holds up well, as a group of characters thrown together by an accident at a nuclear facility find themselves moving through a strange sequence of worlds of their own creation.

Glen Cook: Star's End. The end of his "Starfishers" trilogy, which is not one of Cook's greatest works, but satisfying enough. Cook's science fiction rarely seems to be as good as his fantasy, for some reason. The books in this series didn't seem to hang together that well, either. Well, I'm getting closer to being caught up on his earlier works...

Catherine Asaro: Skyfall. Nicole has been raving about Asaro's Skolian Empire series, so I thought I'd try this one when she had it out from the library. It's in the nature of a prequel, featuring the parents of the main characters from later books, so I tried it first. It was interesting, but it did seem to suffer from prequelitis, where the author knew the way things had to turn out to be consistent with later books, but somehow it didn't always feel natural. But it got me interested in the series anyway.

Piers Anthony & Robert Kornwise: Through The Ice. I used to buy Piers Anthony all the time, until the double dreck of The Colour of Her Panties and Firefly turned me off him. Somehow I've ended up with a few of his collaborations on my shelves, and I'd heard good things about this once when it came out. It still reads like a typical Piers Anthony work, but at least not an especially bad one.

Robert Silverberg: The Stochastic Man. One of Silverberg's many novels from the 1970's, I think nominated for a Nebula Award or something. It's an interesting tale of precognition and freewill, as well as politics. Is a man who sees his own future is reduced to nothing more than someone reading lines from a script? Read and find out!

Catherine Asaro: Primary Inversion. And then I leapt right into the actual first book published in the Skolian Empire saga. It has a very different mood from Skyfall, with the main character being a high-tech fighter-pilot type, but it's not a military novel by any means. She gets post-traumatic stress disorder, and she gets into serious difficulties when she finds herself falling in love with the enemy empire's heir apparent... Leaves a lot of loose ends at the finish, so I'm not surprised that there's another half-dozen or so books in the saga, with more to come.

Jack L. Chalker: Balshazzar's Serpent. Chalker has almost reached the Anthony point. Not a sudden, swift decline, but a slow one where I keep hoping that he'll find his feet again. But he hasn't written much decent since the Wonderland Gambit series. This book feels like it could have been a shorter part of another book, with gratuitous complications added to pad out the part of the plot that is actually relevant to the rest of the series. Of course, I could be wrong, there could be more stuff that will be relevant later, but I highly doubt it. Come on, Jack, you're using up your accumulated goodwill here.

George MacDonald: Phantastes. An odd book, very nineteenth century in tone, about a man who finds himself wandering in Fairyland. Key word here is "wandering". So there's not much in the way of plot, though partway through the book we do get a shadow-self somewhat after the style of A Wizard of Earthsea, which spiced things up a bit. But otherwise a fairly languid book.

Simon R. Green: Winner Takes All. Holy Mowgli, how long ago was it that I read the first book, Hawk And Fisher? Loooong time ago. It was a decent, if thin, book about cops in a medieval fantasy city. Bears some resemblances, I notice now, to Glen Cook's Garrett series, and also occasionally to "Grimjack". It has an anachronistic feel to it, without any overt references to really jar the reader. This one is based around city politics, for instance, which don't seem really medieval but don't seem modern either. Maybe a bit of Thieves' World in here too, come to think of it. But Green makes it work fairly well.

Guy Gavriel Kay: The Last Light of The Sun. Set in the same fantasy historical setting(not to be confused with Dave Duncan's fantasy Europe)as The Lions of Al-Rassan and The Sarantine Mosaic, this novel moves up to Saxon-era England. We've got marauding "Vikings", cattle-stealing "Welshman", and a king who's trying to hold it all together. And there are the same occasional traces of fantasy, this time mostly in the form of Faerie. It's not quite as majestic as some of his work, and it's not the revelation that Tigana was, but it holds together fairly well. One conceit that Kay repeats over and over again is to take a minor character you will never see again, and paint in the broad strokes of what happens to them for the rest of their life. It's occasionally a bit annoying, but it must fit in with his theme or something.

China Miéville: Perdido Street Station. I'd tried this one before, from the library, and never made it through. But after reading The Scar and liking that one, I bought this one in paperback and gave it another try. I don't think I like it as much as The Scar, but it still has its moments. Sometimes it feels like the author's thrown in a few too many things, almost first-novelitis(though I gather that King Rat was his actual first), but in the main it hangs together.

Legends. I'd read a few bits from the anthology already--the novella version of "New Spring", Tad Williams's "The Burning Man", Ursula Le Guin's "Dragonfly", and the Terry Pratchett story. This time I went through and read the whole thing. I don't feel like I'd really missed that much, though. The Terry Pratchett one, featuring Granny Weatherwax, I reread this time as well, and still enjoyed. The Terry Goodkind one, "Debt of Bones", did not inspire me to any greater haste in starting that series. Raymond Feist's "The Wood Boy" did not inspire me to read much more of his Riftwar books. The Robert Silverberg Majipoor story was okay, but not a revelation. No, what I was reading that book for was George R.R. Martin's "The Hedge Knight", and that was a really good story, a fine, if peripheral, addition to "A Song of Ice And Fire". Also surprisingly good was the Stephen King Gunslinger story, "The Little Sisters of Eluria". Let's see, am I forgetting anything? Well, the Anne McCaffrey one, "Runner of Pern", was slight and inessential, but not painful to read. The Orson Scott Card one, "The Grinning Man", was also interesting but not revelatory.

And I think, if I may go into another paragraph here, that that's the problem with the anthology. The authors are trying to produce a story which introduces their world to people who haven't yet encountered it, and in most cases are trying not to put anything into the story that will be crucial to the series, for people who don't read the story. Terry Goodkind's had an ending which contrived in a very prequelly fashion to explain something which was probably already a fact of life by the beginning of the series. Robert Jordan's was also very prequelly, but as someone who is devouring everything he can find on the series, I don't mind that. But "The Hedge Knight" was practically the only one that stood on its own two feet.

Dick Francis: Comeback. Continuing to work my way through my Dick Francis backlog, though since he seems to have gone on indefinite hiatus there's not as much hurry. This book is a great read anyway, with a diplomat's son coming back to his hometown to help out some chance-met friends whose veterinary business(there's the horse-racing angle, of course)is under threat from an unknown saboteur. Has loads of Francis's spot-on characterization details, and the bit of romance he often manages to work in. A worthy sample of his opus.

Stephen King: The Drawing of The Three. At least partly inspired by the story from Legends, I finally(after some years of neglecting it)went on to the second Gunslinger book. The first one didn't really grab me that much, but this one hooked me pretty early in. I loved the first section of the book, though I can't say I was quite so enamoured with the rest of it. The interaction with our world caught me off-guard, but it was a great way to spice up the book a little bit, considering how desolate Roland's travels tend to be otherwise. I'm not sure if that makes me look forward to trying The Waste Lands or not.*

Robert W. Chambers: The King In Yellow. Now this one was a little bit deceptively marketed. Touted as psychological horror by one of the masters, it only partially fills the bill. It's a collection of stories, ostensibly all linked by the titular work of fiction. (I first encountered references to it, by the way, in James Blish's story "Let There Be More Light".) The first few stories are interesting enough, avoiding the Lovecraftian mold while still following similar outlines. But as the book goes on, the psychological horror elements recede further and further, until all we have is tepid stories of young artists in Paris falling in love with woman of questionable morals. And very little is revealed about the actual King In Yellow, or "King In Yellow"--you'll get more of that from the Blish story.

Anne McCaffrey: The Coelura. "Runner of Pern" did not inspire me to read this book--its thinness did. And that was even before I realized that this was an illustrated book, with drawings on about every third page. It's a glorified novelette, really, printed in a large font and padded with pictures. And, to be honest, it reminded me in a few ways of Asaro's Skyfall. But it was a decent enough little tale--I just hope I didn't pay full price for it.

William Goldman: Boys And Girls Together. I think that this is the same guy who wrote The Princess Bride and Marathon Man, but you could hardly tell it from this book. Predating the others by ten years or more, this reads like some attempt to write a Great American Novel or something. It has its moments, but it sprawls, following a number of different characters whose lives seem to take too long to converge. And the plots are nothing special, either--I got heartily sick of the girl who falls in love with the married man. Maybe that was a groundbreaking thing to write about back in 1964, but these days it's banal. There's homosexuality in it too, and perhaps I couldn't judge, but Goldman seemed to deal with it a little ham-handedly. I'm so glad he got better than this, and I'm almost sorry I read it.

Dave Duncan: A Man of His Word. That last book left such a bad taste in my mouth that I decided to go and reread something that I knew I liked, Dave Duncan's Magic Casement. This was the first book of his "Man of His Word" tetralogy, and when I finished it I went straight on to the rest of them--Faery Lands Forlorn, Perilous Seas, and Emperor And Clown. I'd have to say that, on rereading, the first and last books seemed to be the best. In fact, very little seems to happen in FLF, but perhaps that's because very little of the information that the characters were discovering was news to me, having read it before. But the finale of the series is very fine indeed, and worth getting to. There's also a sequel tetralogy, which I didn't like quite as much, but by this point I may end up rereading it sometime as well.

Frederik Pohl: The Gold At The Starbow's End. This is a collection of stories, so naturally a little bit uneven. Two of the stories, the title one and "The Merchants of Venus", are novella-length. The title story is a bit outlandish in its premise--a group of astronauts are sent out to a fictitious planet, in hopes that in their spare time they will solve a number of scientific problems. While the Earth falls apart behind them, they progress much farther than anticipated. The other novella is set in the Heechee universe, and is a fairly straightforward of trust and betrayal on the surface of Venus. "Call Me Million", a ten-page story in the middle of the book, is probably the best story there, with "Sad Solarian Screenwriter Sam" and "Shaffery Among The Immortals" being more played for humorous effect.

Roger Zelazny: The Hand of Oberon. Another book that I read for the first time many years ago, and barely remember now. I read it as part of an omnibus, too, so I barely noticed when one book ended and another began. It's the fourth book in his Amber series, for anyone who doesn't know, and while it deals with some of the complications introduced in the series, it's building for a climax of sorts in the fifth book, the end of the original series. There's five more after that which I never have read, though I'm not sure if they're any good. I'm sure I'll try them.

Kevin O'Donnell, Jr.: Lava. Third book in his McGill Feighan series--one more was published, but the series was never finished. The first part of the book, dealing with "office politics" on Earth, was more interesting to me than the alien world he visited for the rest of the book. He found out a few more things about the Far Being Retzglaran, whose minions had warped his life, but not enough. And it's not like the next book will tie it up or anything. Well, I'll get around to it sometime, I guess.

And I'm done! The next book I read was Red Storm Rising. Whew. So, that's about five months worth of books for me. I just started The Dark Side of The Earth by Alfred Bester, another short-story collection, and I've got Charles de Lint's Spirits In The Wires and Dan Simmons's Ilium out from the library, so I've got my reading cut out for me.

This episode: Nick Danger stumbles endlessly on through...Alfvaen's 750 favourite songs!

283. Belinda Carlisle: You're Nothing Without Me, from Live Your Life Be Free

This is an interesting song, a little bit harder-edged than much of Belinda's work(no, really?). She's trying to play it cool while her lover leaves her, warning him about how horrible his life will be without her, but there's an undercurrent that she's really trying to make herself believe it. So, a caustic, bitter breakup song with a hint of underlying vulnerability. Yummy.

282. Massive Attack: Protection, from Protection

Fairly low-key trip-hop, with Tracy Thorn's warm vocals setting the tone for the song. Not as edgy as, say, "Safe From Harm", but effective nonetheless, as Thorn sings of dealing with feelings of being responsibly for other's safety and well-being.

281. Dire Straits: Why Worry, from Brothers In Arms

Mark Knopfler's near-whispered vocals and slight keyboard and guitar backing produce this near-lullaby, urging optimism in the face of anxiety.

280. Eurythmics: Conditioned Soul, from Be Yourself Tonight

The Eurythmics make the best of their full-band sound on this song, with soaring harmony and sturdy basslines on the chorus and Annie Lennox's edged vocals in the verses.

And that's that. Bleah. Sounding a little uninspired there, but what do you expect? It's late.

Pardon my circumlocutions, I seem to be soliloquizing.

Aaron // 12:06 a.m. Clix me!

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