Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Jenny Jones and me: the video

Sixteen second clip from BBC Points West, Monday February 24th 2014.

Shows Jenny Jones, Olympic snowboarding bronze medallist at the Mendip Snowsport Centre. Also, in the background with grey jacket and black trousers a novice skier: first descending the slope badly and waving his arms for balance; then drinking some water with his back to the camera to Jenny's right; and finally on right of picture ascending the button lift in the distance.

Dear reader, it was me!

It is steep! It is! This is the last skiing post you'll get from me for a while: promise!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Ski course successfully concluded!

Skied from the top, signed off from the beginners' classes and now the proud possessor of a half-price annual slope pass. I'll be hitting the slopes again - without adult supervision this time - on Wednesday. (There is a bit of a pun there).

Mendip Snowsport Centre - the lower slope from higher up
For the record, just a small crash today and a residue of aching muscles: plus a nice warm feeling of accomplishment!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Jenny Jones and me

I was that close to Jenny Jones today, as she gave media interviews to the BBC and ITN and coached (for the cameras) the kids' half-term snowboarding class at the Mendip Snowsport Centre.

Jenny Jones - slopestyle snowboarding queen

Form a sentence with the words "pride" and "fall" in it. In my brash overconfidence, I managed to crash out on the steeper lower slope and now sport a bruise the size of a hen's egg on my left hip. Some way to go before I can compete with the awesome injuries in Ski Cross though.

Here's a bonus video.

Jenny Jones and the Mendip Snowsports Centre

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"Life after Life" by Kate Atkinson

From the Telegraph review (Helen Brown).
"Ursula Todd is born on February 11 1910. The doctor and midwife are stuck in the snow and the umbilical cord is wrapped around her neck. We feel the panic of “Little lungs, like dragonfly wings failing to inflate in the foreign atmosphere. No wind in the strangled pipe. The buzzing of a thousand bees in the tiny curled pearl of an ear.” Darkness falls. The page is turned. The birth replayed. This time Dr Fellowes arrives in time to prevent tragedy – although he’s brisk about his miracle, being the kind of man whose “patients, particularly their exits and entrances, seemed designed to annoy him”.

"There follows a storybook childhood near Beaconsfield with tennis on the lawn and Mrs Glover’s beef collops and plum pudding for tea. Ursula is the child of Sylvie and Hugh Todd whose Lutyens-esque home (surrounded by a Merchant Ivory checklist of meadow, copse and bluebell wood with a stream running through it) is called “Fox Corner”. Ever the literary trickster, Atkinson has picked a name that echoes both A  A Milne’s Pooh Corner and E.  M. Forster’s Windy Corner as the hub of a book that plays a virtuoso game with the nature of fiction. For in this fox’s corner, the past is neither a foreign country nor a safe haven in which the rawness of human pain and frailty are bandaged by the charms of a vintage wardrobe department.

"This fox corner is a place where the flesh of the human inhabitants is as vulnerable as that of the chickens destined for Mrs Glover’s pot. The sweet peas rambling through the borders are tended by a man who has lost half his face in the Great War. He wears a tin mask with one eye painted on, permanently open.

In the various permutations of Ursula’s life, Atkinson’s cast fall victim to the kinds of horrors and accidents that every parent dreads. The slip from the roof. The paedophile in the lane. The Spanish flu, which leaves “a pale bloody kind of froth, like cuckoo spit” bubbling from a baby’s blue nostril and a mother grieving like a savage.

"Each time Ursula is reborn, she tries to prevent the traumas of previous lives. She’s not exactly conscious of what’s been before, but she feels looming dread and déjà vu. This leads her mother to pack her off to a psychologist who talks of Nietzsche and Amor fati (love of fate).

"In this way, the novel takes us through the two wars. Although Atkinson gets the period atmosphere so spot on you can smell the boiled cabbage, this is not a “wartime novel”. It’s more a case of Atkinson using war to demonstrate the haphazardness of history. Different incarnations see Ursula taking tea with Eva Braun and working as an ARP warden in London. As she drags bodies from the rubble – a friend’s seemingly undamaged torso comes apart “like a cracker” when she tries to lift it – we’re again reminded of our fleshly vulnerability.

"You’d think it would be wearing – unbearable, even – to keep reading the story of one life. But such is Atkinson’s skill that the retelling only builds our affection for and knowledge of the characters."
Perhaps I do read so much science-fiction that my bar is set too low when it comes to the quality of 'real novels'. Yet "Life after Life" has collected more enthusiastic acclaim than most books - plus some notable prizes. In a well-written novel, getting to know the characters like they're family is meant to happen, so perhaps I shouldn't be too impressed that I have a warm and familiar sense of what it's like to be Ursula through all her life variants.

In the afterword, Kate Atkinson describes how she immersed herself in the minutiae of period life: the pre-WW1 period, the thirties and most poignantly the blitz in 1940s London. This research was a labour of love she intimates, and once her research was complete she put all those books to one side and just started writing.

Science-fiction normally loves concepts more than people. But Kate Atkinson doesn't concern herself too much as to how Ursula Beresford Todd gets to relive her life over and over again. Ursula herself suggests that time is like a palimpsest; other characters - disbelieving - throw in doubting references to Buddhist reincarnation.

Nor is it entirely clear how Ursula's rebirths get to change the trajectory of her life (and history too, a little bit, perhaps). Sometimes it seems we get a slightly different Ursula: less passive, more ambitious, more or less suicidal. Sometimes dangerous outcomes are averted second time round by a fragment of déjà vu or feelings of nameless dread. Sometimes a purely random event (did the doctor arrive in time? Does Sylvie, her mother, possess a pair of scissors in the bedside table drawer?) seems to change an outcome decades in the future. In any event, Ursula seems to die an awful lot.

A science-fiction novel would care about these things but I'm not sure the author does so much. The common features of Ursula's lives loom much more strongly: the lack of opportunities for women of Ursula's generation (born 1910, February 11th as you will soon recall through frequent revisits!), the sexual naivety, the way in which different kinds of men (different classes, degrees of education, levels of aggression/placidity) impact upon a young woman. This is all matter-of-fact: no preaching.

Through Ursula, the author explores the different possibilities for an intelligent and educated woman in the early- to mid-twentieth century.  Exotic options are strewn along the route: should Ursula become a spy; should she assassinate a pre-war Hitler when she manages to get access? What in the end is the best life, the one which would emerge from the best of her possible choices?

In the end the author goes for this: choose people, not abstract outcomes.

Telling it like it is

From The Economist Blog today (Democracy in America):
"Viktor Yanukovich is a democratically elected president who has used his powers to eliminate liberal-rights safeguards and jail political opponents on dubious charges. He has reinforced his political position by building cronyistic relationships with powerful business figures. In this system the state creates economic rents and awards them to favoured business interests, who in turn buttress the state's political power, all while maintaining the trappings of democracy.

"In other words, Ukraine looks a lot like Russia or Egypt; more significantly, it looks like other states that are in the early stages of similar threats to liberal democracy, such as Turkey and Hungary. The enemy of liberal democracy today is more often kleptocracy, or "illiberal democracy" (as tiger-mom Amy Chua put it in her book "World on Fire"), than ideological totalitarianism.

"The threat is less obvious than in the days of single-party states and military dictators. But it ends up in the same place: economic stagnation, a corrupt elite of businessmen and politicians, censored media, and riot police shooting demonstrators."
We need to spend a little more time understanding the socio-economic preconditions for a liberal, non-corrupt parliamentary democracy and a little less time (you know who you are!) in smug posturing and denouncing people on vacuous moral grounds for doing things which are sadly but obviously in their best and vital interests.

As the post elsewhere notes:
"But no matter how widespread the fighting becomes, the only country that could conceivably intervene militarily is Russia. (Mr Putin's top Ukraine adviser, Sergei Glazyev, has openly hinted Russia may do so.) That leaves America and the EU with one option: economic sanctions. But economic sanctions will never deter a regime from killing protesters when it correctly understands that it is fighting for its life."
Even a cursory look at the social dynamics in the Ukraine, let alone its geopolitical position, suggests that the chances of a western-oriented liberal-democratic movement taking power and remodelling that country are on a par with similar chances in Syria.

Replace al-Qaeda militias with tooled-up far-right soccer hooligans for a somewhat-better fit.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Ski progress report

My second (Intermediate) ski class this morning. Leveraging previous classes 18 years ago I was signed-off to Advanced level. Such miniscule triumphs; such enormous pleasure!

(So this is the class you have to take before they let you onto the slope at all? Er, yes.)

Not me in the picture and not the slope either

Everything here now signed off - click to see syllabus

Adrian's advice was good: the lower (downslope) ski wants to go where it's pointed .. . Use the knees and ankles to steer it, not the waist. Remember how they ski the moguls!

The actual Advanced lesson is Friday afternoon, where I get to ski the entire 165 metres of the hill. Then next Sunday it's time to morph my rather erratic snow plough turns to something more parallel.

Adrian just asked me satirically whether, assuming I pass, I get a signed photo with my instructor ...

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Gay genes or gay pathogens?

What are we to make of this? (Hannah Devlin, The Times, Feb 14th 2014).
"Scientists have found the strongest evidence yet for the existence of genes that increase the chance of a man being gay. The study, which involved more than 400 gay brothers, identified two small areas on the male genome that appear to be linked to sexuality.

Michael Bailey, from the Northwestern University in Chicago, who carried out the research, said: “Sexual orientation has nothing to do with choice. Our findings suggest there may be genes at play and we found evidence for two sets that affect whether a man is gay or straight.”

In the study, presented yesterday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in Chicago, scientists took blood from 409 gay brothers and heterosexual members of their family. On average, siblings share 50 per cent of their DNA, but ought to have a higher chance of sharing any genes involved in determining sexuality.

In the 1990s the American geneticist Dean Hamer identified an area that appeared to influence male sexuality on the X chromosome, which men inherit from their mothers. The results, however, have remained controversial.

The latest research confirmed that this region on the X chromosome, known as Xq28, is more likely to be shared by the gay pairs of brothers than by the brothers and their other siblings. The study also identified a second genetic region, on Chromosome 8, which also appeared to predict whether a man would be homosexual.

While the pairs of brothers shared gene variants in these regions, however, there were not individual genes that stood out across all the participants in the study.

The findings suggested that overall a man’s sexuality depends about 30 to 40 per cent on genetic factors, while the rest depends on environmental factors, such as the hormones a baby is exposed to in the womb."
Putting aside discredited "nurturist" theories of homosexuality, a leading non-genetic explanation is the pathogen theory advocated by Paul W. Ewald, a biology professor at Amherst College in Massachusetts, and Gregory Cochran, an independent physicist in Albuquerque, New Mexico (outlined in this article by Caleb Crain). Their argument against "gay genes" is that these are so detrimental to reproductive fitness that they would have been removed from the population through natural selection. However, Hannah Devlin's Times article has this to say:
"Previously, homosexuality has been viewed as a “Darwinian paradox” because if male homosexuality were genetic, and gay men reproduced less than heterosexuals, the trait should eventually disappear from the population over time. This has led some critics to dismiss the genetic argument.

"However, there is now some evidence that genes linked to male homosexuality could increase fertility in women. One study by Italian scientists found that female relatives of gay men tended to have more children than those of straight men."
Ewald and Cochran rejected this argument as explained at the end of the Caleb Crain article:
" ... perhaps homosexuality is an unintended side effect of a gene for something else—a side effect more marked in one gender than the other. That might explain why more men than women are exclusively homosexual. Hamer, the discoverer of the Xq28 link, favors this explanation. “Suppose you had a gene that tended to make men gay, but the same gene in women made them more reproductive,” Hamer suggests. He proceeds to give examples. “If you had a gene that made people more attractive and intelligent, it might make men gay, but it might make women more likely to reproduce. Or suppose you had a gene that made people attracted to men. If you gave it to a guy, he would probably be gay, but if you gave it to a woman, she would simply be . . . well, let’s say, ‘exceptionally attracted to men.’ ”

"But Cochran and Ewald doubt this explanation, too. Evolution tends to balance out any gender inequity as severe as Hamer describes. After a while, some mutation would come along that jiggered our hormones to reduce the gene’s fitness cost to men, while retaining its benefit for women. “In the long run,” Cochran says, “sex-antagonistic genes are tamed.”
The argument for a sex ratio of 1:1 male-female (which means reproductively-capable males and females) was one of the first great triumphs of quantitative population genetics, going back to Ronald Fisher in 1930. Here's the argument as presented by W. D. Hamilton.
  1. Suppose male births are less common than female.
  2. A newborn male then has better mating prospects than a newborn female, and therefore can expect to have more offspring.
  3. Therefore parents genetically disposed to produce males tend to have more than average numbers of grandchildren born to them.
  4. Therefore the genes for male-producing tendencies spread, and male births become more common.
  5. As the 1:1 sex ratio is approached, the advantage associated with producing males dies away.
  6. The same reasoning holds if females are substituted for males throughout. Therefore 1:1 is the equilibrium ratio.
In modern language, the 1:1 ratio is the evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS). In a population of individuals playing the ESS (i.e. producing equal numbers of sons and daughters), any other strategy (e.g. 51% sons and 49% daughters) would have lower fitness, and hence would be selected against.
What would resolve this debate would be to know more about the genes hanging around the Xq28 region and on chromosome 8 and what they do. Then some modelling of the evolutionary dynamics. Without a quantitative analysis this debate will run and run, even without all the social agendas swirling around.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"Neuromancer" by William Gibson (1984)

That famous opening sentence: "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

I first read "Neuromancer" a long, long time ago and remembered nothing of the intricate plot. So now I get to read it again (after a romp through Walter Jon Williams'  "Hardwired") and I guess it's the difference between gold and bronze. Gibson is original, edgy and writes scintillating text; Williams is solid, workmanlike and highly-derivative.

Here's what SF Reviews.net had to say about "Neuromancer" (excerpted) in 2007.
"That its protagonist, Case, is described as a console "cowboy" is no coincidence. Gibson is working within well-worn tropes here. Case is the classic thousand-faced hero, the loner of a million westerns who doesn't come looking for trouble even though trouble has a knack for finding him. His story, in turn, is the Hero's Journey dressed out in techno-chic. Over 20 years later, yes, Neuromancer's capacity to totally blow you away, dude, has dimmed somewhat. It is still an entertaining story to read, and one can see how Gibson's approach certainly had what it took to awaken a fairly stodgy genre from whatever publishing torpor it was in at the time.


"Gibson didn't invent a whole lot in Neuromancer, but his masterstroke was in the delivery. Gibson simply turned everything up to "11". The seedy, run-down landscape of the Sprawl has already become the most overused cliché in SF since warp drive. But at the time, thanks to both this book and Blade Runner, it was gloriously new and a welcome riposte to the spotless and squeaky-clean steel and glass futures, inhabited by people who apparently never so much as shed skin cells, presented in media SF like Star Trek. (During our interview, Gibson mentioned going to see Blade Runner while working on Neuromancer's early drafts and coming very close to binning the book as a result, fearing accusations of ripoffery.)

"Gibson also knew that pacing was key. The story has a forward momentum that, at least in the early chapters, allows for no indulgent digressions. Finally, Gibson's language sparkled with moments of sheer visual poetry, adding a texture to the story that made his information-age future all the more real. We'd never really had an SF author talk about "the music of the street" before, or allow us the visualization of the inner workings of a computer matrix as literal landscapes in the way Gibson did. In even the most ruthless techno-future, Gibson found the artistry within the circuitry."
Can't agree with the reviewer that its lustre has dimmed: still blew me away, dude. The visuospatial model  (here called "the Matrix" - yep, somewhat like the film) is not the current metaphor for the Internet .. but as VR improves it could be.

As someone who has dabbled in computer and network security for a living, I kept trying to bridge between malware/security-system interaction today and Gibson's physical-biological vision (ICE and sharks and dark 'n' dangerous blobby clouds and leech-like phages). Yep, it could go that way, you know.

The prequel is the short-story collection "Burning Chrome" and the next volume is "Count Zero" (the trilogy completes with "Mona Lisa Overdrive").

And Molly? I can see why he'd be attracted to her.


Today we're going to contemplate the merely average.

1. Penetration Bomber

An early reality-TV programme followed RAF pilots training for low-level penetration missions. Specifically they were tasked with dropping nuclear bombs on Russia. One of the rookie pilots was a bulky, walrus-type guy. His instructor assessed him to camera: "He's OK, but frankly, he's never going to set the world on fire!"

We were so profoundly grateful to hear that.

2. Snow

The first snow of winter this morning.

A sprinkling in our back garden

It's gone now.

3. Interview

Do you remember the standard answer to this tough interview question: "What would you say was your greatest fault?"  ...
"I think my greatest fault is that I can be too modest."
Love it. I think my greatest fault is that I can be too imaginative.


As a bonus, this gem from Abstruse Goose.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Technique conquers fear

Panic. A woman lies on a Welsh hillside,  weeping uncontrollably and shaking with fear. The instructor has walked away, abandoning that first attempt at a paraglider flight off the hill. I lean across and speak insistently: "When the canopy inflates above your head it will take your weight, you will not fall. Have faith."

At this point of my life I already had a hang-gliding 'club pilot' certificate and a similar qualification for towed paragliding. I knew how to launch a canopy, I knew it would support me in the air and I knew how to land. How sad that confidence per se isn't that transferable.

Viewing the ski slope as a relative novice, you would be insane not to be apprehensive about descending the whole thing.

The lower part of the run

You can't even see the top of this 165 metre run, curving away into the woods. But it's just technique I need to learn and internalise before Sunday Feb 23rd.

When I'm scheduled to ride that slope top to bottom as my ski course graduation.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Mendip Snowsport Centre

My first skiing lesson for eighteen years this morning at the Mendip Snowsport Centre, about half an hour's drive. We were a mixed bunch: two posh young  ladies, one middle-aged woman and several teens; the only other bloke was Damien who certainly looked the part - slim, athletic with designer stubble - but proved to be absolutely inept.

In this first class we learned to stay upright, snowplow and use the button lift. We finished with some simple snowplow turns. I'm booked on the next lesson, the Intermediate, next Sunday.

Two of us got as high as the Blue Zone on our last run

This is where you try to stop- and that's our instructor, Mark

The cafe - quite snug inside; four or five tables

It takes four lessons to be allowed free access to the slope. The pictures only show the lower portion of the slope; at the top there's a dog-leg and it vanishes up into the woods. Assuming I pass lesson four, I will have skied from the top.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

"The Man in the High Castle" by Philip K. Dick

I put off reading Philip K. Dick's "The Man in the High Castle" over the decades. Who wants to read an 'alternate history' story - not a genre I have much time for?

I'm an idiot of course: Philip K. Dick's novels are never about what they seem. The book is brilliant.

First things first: here's an outline of the setting (I hesitate to call it a plot), excerpted from Adam Roberts' excellent review.
"The novel is set in West-Coast America in the 1960s, but a 1960s in which the Axis powers won the Second World War. The old USA has been partitioned, with Nazi-run Eastern and Japanese-run Western portions and a notionally non-aligned buffer-zone along the Rockies.

"The main characters are a number of San Francisco Americans getting on with their lives in their various ways. The Japanese overlords are totalitarian but honourable, and many of them have a penchant for collecting old US-memorabilia -- civil war pistols, 1920s comic-books and the like, a market a number of Americans are happy to supply. Meanwhile the Germans have landed astronauts on Mars, drained the Mediterranean for farmland, and have almost entirely liquidated the black African population in an extension of the 'final solution'.

"Dick's use of detail to sketch out his alternate reality is well-nigh flawless, a model for others to copy: not too egregious, but always suggestive and thought-provoking. But the masterstroke of the book is the character Hawthorne Abendsen, the author of the pulp bestseller The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. Living in the castle of the book's title in the Rockies, Abendsen has consulted the ancient Chinese Book of Changes, the I Ching, and used his readings of it to write a sort of Science Fiction potboiler, an alternate-reality tale in which America and the Allies win the Second World War. His book has become a popular success, so much so that the Nazi high command want him assassinated."
The one- and two-star reviewers on Amazon were disappointed that the novel isn't the American-noir they were expecting. The Wikipedia article gets it better:
"The interpretation and confusion of true and false realities is the principal theme of The Man in the High Castle; it is explored several ways:
  • Robert Childan grasps that most of his antiques are counterfeit, thus, becomes paranoid that his entire stock might be counterfeit; a theme common to Dick's writing (cf. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), wherein the counterfeit is better than the original, because it is functionally real, e.g. the .44 caliber Colt Army Model 1860 revolver indistinguishable by anyone but an expert armorer, as Tagomi's shoot-out demonstrates.

  • ...

  • Several characters are secret agents traveling under assumed persona and pretenses; the gentile "Frank Frink" is the counterfeit persona of the Jew "Frank Fink".

  • The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, the book-within-a-book, postulates an alternative universe where the Axis lost World War II to the Allies, albeit with an alternative sequence of events. It is an alternative history analogue of The Man in the High Castle. The interpenetration of two false realities illustrates that the idea of a false and a true reality is inaccurate, because there exist more than two realities.

  • ...

  • Novelist Hawthorne Abendsen, the eponymous Man in the High Castle, lives in a house after having lived in a castle (fortified house) that was more prison than home, yet, for the sake of perception (false reality) he perpetuates the myth of his fortified isolation.

  • At the end of the novel, Hawthorne Abendsen and Juliana Frink consult the I Ching—it tells them they are living in an immaterial (false) world.

  • ...
The I Ching - so central to the novel - is a Taoist work, a tool in seeking the wisest, most harmonious course ("the Way") within life's eternal struggle between opposites (the dark and the light, yin-yang). Dick has the I Ching as the real 'author' of the novel-within-a-novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, itself a representation of  "The Man in the High Castle" which we know Dick wrote by consulting the Book of Changes.

If you like this kind of self-referentiality, you'll find this novel awesome!

My take on "The Man in the High Castle" is that Dick is trying to work out how different life-philosophies deal with good and evil. The Nazis, as depicted, are stomach-churningly nasty, sadistic and genocidal. Westerners such as the ethical Abwehr agent form an active, highly dangerous resistance; the Buddhist character Tagomi struggles to reconcile non-violence with the need to confront really bad people while the artisan characters of Taoist folklore (the Jew Frank Frink and his estranged wife Juliana) seem to act harmoniously in accordance with their true natures - in the moment as Taoism suggests.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The I Ching app

Reading Philip K. Dick's "The Man in the High Castle" has got me interested in the I Ching: Book of Changes. I acquired Brian Browne Walker's excellent app which he explains here.

I'll add to this post to explain why it's a mistake to discount the I Ching as a glorified Chinese horoscope. But in brief consider this: when you're stuck on a decision, try tossing a coin on the basis that if the coin comes down heads, you'll do it.

Once the coin has been thrown, consider how you feel now the decision has been "made" for you - you are not bound by it.

The eight I Ching trigrams

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Solar PV installation now completed

The scaffolding is gone and the solar panel project finished. We went with IKEA because of the brand, but their prime contractor is Hanergy, who did a great job. Local subcontractors were yourenergyuk and the scaffolders. No significant problems and recommended in particular for good customer care.

Twelve panels @ 120 Watts (peak) = 1.44 kWp

On a couple of sunny days recently we have seen our electricity meter going backwards!

Nostalgia and its discontents*

The occasion - my sister's wedding back in late 1978 (we ourselves were married in February of that year). Clare was pregnant. What was my excuse for looking like a refugee from a second-rate rock band?

The author and his wife c. 1978

Now that nostalgia for the nineteen seventies and eighties is back in fashion, it's good to be reminded of how it really was ...

* Here's the reference.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

"Hardwired" by Walter Jon Williams

This cyberpunk novel is one for fans of Neuromancer, the 1984 novel by William Gibson. Here's an excerpt from this review of "Hardwired".
"Hardwired is the story of two people fighting against the impersonal forces of their time. Cowboy is a former Delta Jockey. Born before the Rock War, where the Orbitals used Kinetic Kill weapons on the earthbound corporations the war was fought with, he was a pilot when flight was still possible. Smuggling drugs, weapons, mail from one part of the former United States to another. As time passed, the deltas (jet planes) ended up being ground based hovercraft called panzers (similar to the armored tanks of Germany in World War II), where he fulfills the same functions, smuggling food, drugs, weapons, what ever from one part of the country to another.

"Sarah is a former prostitute turned killer / bodyguard for hire. Her brother Daud is still in the flesh trade business, and early in the book is injured and ends up under medical care, the hook that is used by the author to have her life, and Cowboy’s, interest. From that point on it is a running battle on the streets, in corn fields, in computer databases and in person for the two of them.

"They both have been surgically augmented the better to survive in their damaged and dangerous world. Cowboy modified to interface directly with the vehicles he drives, Sarah with chemically activated enhanced reflexes and one of the most innovative weapons created for all of Science Fiction, the cybernsnake, which is named Weasel.  They both have skills relating to their career fields that complement each other, and in the course of business they are paired together, the relationship comes into existence, the partnership that with help will bring about lasting change in their world.

"Hardwired is a great read. It has some excellent fight scenes that are realistic in their depiction. The computer hacking is more believable than the interface style of the Neuromancer styled books, more akin to modern day hacking and data retrieval than surfing brain first into a computer. Along with believable characters and a plausible societal and world setting this raises the book into the Top 10 of the Cyberpunk genre in the view of this reviewer.

"This novel is one of the most influential on the genre. Along with the Neuromancer novels from Walter Gibson and the works of Rudy Rucker, this reviewer feels that Hardwired has had almost the greatest impact on the development of Cyberpunk during the mid to late 1980s, the heyday of the movement."
I go along with this about 90%. Walter Jon Williams writes good descriptive prose, creates believable characters and has a fine tactical sense of action. What lets him down is his strategic plotting: too easily we get carried along by the in-the-moment excitement without much of a sense as to where this is all going.

More seriously, we can end up bored, not caring too much about the eventual resolution and just drop out of the book. A shame because invariably the ending is a well-crafted surprise.


In other news:
  • Our new solar PV panels generated over a kilowatt peak power in today's sunshine; we observed the electricity meter running backwards.
  • After five days without a mobile phone (still stranded at my mother's house where I forgot it) my IQ has dropped by around a third as I can no longer google on random whims. I also read the paper less and pay more attention to those around me. A complete negative then!
  • Having now seen the final episode of The Bridge I'm in total awe of writer Hans Rosenfeldt. Series 3 has been commissioned; how on earth will he get out of the Sherlockian cliffhanger with which we were left?