Friday, September 16, 2016

Astounding Science Fiction

My favourite writer of the moment is H. Beam Piper. Well, I say "of the moment", he died in 1964, but from my perspective he's new and exciting. Most of his works can be found for free on the internet (a concept his future worlds couldn't imagine; they still use a lot of film reels and radio) and I heartily recommend them! Try Police Operation as a starter - the first in the wonderful series of "Paratime" stories, written in 1948 and providing a creative explanation for the flying saucer mania that had gripped the USA in the previous year. The exploits of Verkan Vall, policing the countless alternate universes, are my favourites, but you should also check out the extensive series of future-set adventures, creating a whole universe and describing its progress over the millennia.

I'll admit there's nothing strikingly original about Piper's works, but the appeal lies in the way he tells it, and the detail he goes into; far beyond the call of duty for a 1940s pulp sci-fi writer. And there's a great kitsch value to the worlds he depicts where men are real men, always with a pipe or cigarette in their mouths and a wide range of guns in their hands and holsters, getting the job done in the face of namby-pamby bureaucrats. Women are 'girls' and exist solely to be lusted over; atomic energy is the be-all and end-all and the most important development in history, even in stories set thousands of years in the future; and democracy is a silly idea that would never really work. A clear preference for a hereditary feudal system of government is perhaps Piper's most distinctive quirk. But all his works are well-written, imaginative and creative, and hugely enjoyable. Check them out, do!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Faster, Pussycat! Memorise! Memorise!

After really quite a long time of hoping I'd manage to get obsessed with something memory-related again, I've finally managed it this last week - someone pointed out that I was down to position 10 on the Memocamp speed cards high-score list. Tenth? I mean, I never really used Memocamp with any kind of regularity, but I DID do a sub-30-second time on it once, and that's now only good enough for tenth? What is the world coming to?

So I set myself a target of getting back up towards the top of the list, and because I'm approaching it in a slightly different way, it seems to have circumvented the ennui effect of memory practice I've been suffering from of late. For possibly the first time ever, certainly the first I can remember, I'm not having the official one minute of mental preparation time and then waiting for the whole five minutes of memory time to elapse before starting the recall - my aim isn't to practice the way I'm going to be memorising in a competition, it's just to get a good time on this website, by hook or by crook.

(But not by cheating; that would sort of defeat the object.)

And I have so far managed to get a very impressive 22.21 seconds! I'm trying to get used to going at that kind of speed, because mostly I have more gaps than filled-in-spaces when I do that, but I think I'm gradually getting better. A little more of that, another unusually-memorable combination of cards, and I'm sure I can edge just slightly closer to the golden 20-second mark.

Because 22.21 seconds is still only good enough for 5th, nowadays! I still have Alex, Simon, Lance and Marlo all sitting there above me, with times under 20 seconds (something I never managed to achieve, even in my heyday), so I've got them in my sights now. My enthusiasm is back! Ssssssh, don't scare it away...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Walk for memory

Biking up to Birmingham today, I found that part of the cycle route clashed with the Alzheimer's Society Walk for Memory; oodles of people walking along, wearing white T-shirts with the "Walk for Memory" logo on them. I've got one of those shirts, from years ago when I did some kind of promotional thing for the Alzheimer's Society, and it's found its way into my regular rotation, so I thought it was a good thing that I didn't happen to be wearing it today. Imagine, wearing a Walk for Memory shirt while riding my bike and overtaking all the walkers! Someone would take a photo and it'd end up in all the papers. That's the kind of scandal that could bring the Alzheimer's Society to its knees.