July 2010


I was all set to walk past Waterstone’s today. I’ve spent a lot on books recently and some are still to be read. In fact my to read pile is pretty high now, and in danger of toppling over. Plus I’ve got a paperback to arrive, and I’ve subscribed to CrimeWave with an additional novella still to come.  So, I had already decided that I wouldn’t be tempted by Waterstone’s and not even go into the shop for a browse. However, the buggers are sly.

Passing the shop I noticed through the window that all paperbacks are 3 for 2, even all science fiction paperbacks. So I went in and had a look. They have changed a lot of their stock too. I looked at PK Dick books but there was only Do Androids … which I already have. I remember seeing Rendezvous at Rama by Arthur Clarke some weeks ago and nearly bought it but there was no sign of it this week. None of the Classic SF interested me either. As usual a lot of the SF was actually Fantasy and I’ve never been much into that.

I had a look around the crime and mainstream sections too but there wasn’t much of interest, so I went back to the SF section and bought three Neal Asher books. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read from him so far. So for my three for two I bought Line War, Brass Man and Shadow of the Scorpion. At the moment I’m halfway through an old pulp, The Spider – I got a reprint of two novels from eBay for under a fiver including postage – but I think I’ll let myself sink into one of Asher’s novels afterword.

A little lacking in posts this month. The following has been ninety percent finished but has been sitting on my USB portable drive for close to a month. The good news is that I can get two posts out of it.

This is one of my favourite Bob Shaw novels, whether it is called Ground Zero Man or The Peace Machine. I first read it in paperback as Ground Zero Man and it fairly rolls along. It’s a cracking read and in my opinion is Shaw at his peak as a writer. The update, issued in hardback by Gollancz as The Peace Machine in 1985, is more or less Ground Zero Man with some updates on a topical references such as television shows – although they are now ancient history references to televisions shows.

Shaw mentioned this novel in his HOW TO WRITE SCIENCE FICTION Book, making a comment that some people thought he should move into thrillers on the basis of this book. And I agree that Shaw would have made a good thriller writer. At his best Shaw is not only a master at plotting but also a master at building suspense and piling the pressure on his characters.

It starts off intriguingly, with the main character telling us ‘My finger rests lightly on the black button’ and who wouldn’t be intrigued by that?

The rest of the novel is in the third person and brings us answers to questions posed in the prologue. Lucas Hutchman is staring at a piece of paper and finds himself in a cold sweat. He is in his office and despite interruptions from other people the thought dancing through his head and filling him with excitement and some fear is ‘I can make neutrons dance to a new tune’. Hutchman takes the afternoon off and as he drives home we get an inkling into his marriage and the personality of his wife, and while he is pursuing his hobby of archery we learn that his ability to control neutrons meant he could build a nuclear machine; one that Hutchman insisted would be an anti war machine.

Then comes the news that Damascus is in flames because a nuclear bomb exploded over the city. This affects Hutchman deeply and deepens his resolution to create the machine that will stop all governments from keeping nuclear weapons. As his relationship with his wife goes back and forth Hutchman commences the project of building a machine that he hopes will bring peace to the world. Hutchman too goes back and forth about the Peace Machine; if he can be brave enough to use it or if he knew deep in his heart that he would never cross that line.

The decision is taken from his hands and Hutchman by the actions of his wife and Hutchman is put on a path that eventually brings him to the attention of the authorities. Intrigue, kidnaps and deaths follow as Hutchman tries to stay ahead of the authorities and use his invention to save the world from itself.

I found it a very enjoyable novel when I first read it in paperback and equally enjoyable when I read the updated and revised edition in Gollancz hardback when it was reissued in 1985. As I’ve said I feel this is Bob Shaw at his finest. The writing is crisp and elegant, the book is well plotted and the characters feel real, even minor characters. The situation isn’t as relevant or as oppressing as it was in the seventies when it was first issued and in the eighties when it was re issued. Nineteen eighty five was a few years before the fall of the Berlin wall and the USSR. After the fall of the USSR nuclear weapons and the nuclear standoff that is pivotal in this novel more or less disappeared. Nowadays the enemy is a lot more difficult to identify and no one knows where to point their nuclear weapons.

The epilogue to the book, like the prologue, is in the first person, and the book ends a little pessimistically but this doesn’t detract from any aspect of the book and is, in a way, quite fitting.

My U3 portable drive has been acting up a little lately, and it feels loose and ready to fall apart. I’ll use it for as long as I can but I’ve invested in a new drive for under a tenner as a replacement.

I bought another Sandisk Cruzer drive but the U3 installer insists that it isn’t and turned its nose up at it, refusing to acknowledge its existence let alone install the program on it. So I installed the free portableapps menu on it and copied over files and documents. It meant downloading some programmes again in portable app format instead of U3 format and that ran away with a fair amount of bandwidth, but it does come with its own backup program. On the U3 drive the program that I use to backup comes in two flavours, low volume free and unlimited paid for.

One of the good things about using the portable apps instead of U3 is that it lead me to a site where there was a program that allowed you to use Windows Live Writer on a portable drive – I’m using it to write this post – along with a few other programs I looked at before but never tried. Unlike U3 – the U3 website has totally gone now and I don’t think it will be back – all the portable apps programs are free. U3 had a lot of free programs but also a lot were paid for. The prices for the programs ranged from dirt cheap to bloody extortionate.

I haven’t read a novel in weeks. The last one was Ghosts of Manhattan, a pretty decent story of a hero in an alternate world at the early part of last century, even if it was about a third too long. (It was while reading that book that I noticed –some- books nowadays have at least 1 1/2 line spacing and not single line spacing: when did that start and how come I didn’t notice it before?) Since then it’s been short stories all the way; the Captain Midnight hardback edition  (paperback edition) ordered a few months ago has arrived, The Worlds of Philip José Farmer 1: Protean Dimensions signed by six contributors also arrived this week and I’ve dipped into that, and the latest issue of Interzone dropped through my letterbox this week too.

Well, more a serious malware program to be accurate. I came across something like it before at work. It stops anti-virus and malware programs from running so they can’t remove it from your system.  The one I experienced before didn’t stop web browsers so I could go online with information about it and find a way to remove it. The one that recently infected my machine was worse: I couldn’t reboot the machine successfully, or even load Windows in Safe Mode.

Norton Ghost came to the rescue. I slapped in the disk and loaded it up, less than an hour later my computer was in the state it was five days previous. It does automatic backups every Sunday and am I glad of those? Yes I am.

I checked the programs I have on the computer – some of them are dependent on activation – and they all ran fine. A little weird in that the Windows update history is completely gone. My computer says it is up to date but there is no list of all the updates that have been installed over the years.

And as I store all documents on my U3 disk I don’t have to worry about losing any recent files.

I never found out what the malware/virus was. I have malwarebytes on the system which I run every now and then. I’ll get a couple more as a precaution, maybe try and find one that works in real time. I’ll also see about getting a different firewall and not relying on the one that comes from Microsoft. Although it’s good it’s sort of anonymous and so a little unnerving as I’m unsure of what it’s blocking and what it’s letting through.