...or, how to make your bottom drop off in days!

If you met me ten years ago and haven’t seen me since, you might recall a lean guy, almost as tall as Harlan Ellison, with a flat stomach. Since then, the stress of two careers (as I kept a full-time day job going for a long time alongside writing) and long-term sleep deprivation and all the other ills of our time, combined to keep adding weight to my midsection while I continued to work out and train in martial arts. Oops. Now, with the enormous benefits of Combat Conditioning making me a better fighter than ever – I don’t mean world-class, but I do mean better than my previous personal best – I was able to ignore the cushion of fat around my waist for a long time, until the scales a few weeks back indicated 80 kilos (that’s, what, 176 pounds or 12 stone 8, whatever units you choose) which was too much to ignore. If you think that doesn’t sound heavy, that probably means you’re taller than I am! Yet now the excess weight is flying off and I haven’t noticeably increased my training (although my kicks have improved hugely) and I for sure haven’t gone on a diet. Everyone knows that starving yourself is terrible, but people do it anyway, lowering their metabolic rates and encouraging every part of their organism (mind-and-body-as-a-whole) apart from the thin layer of consciousness on the very top (that icing on the cake, or rather atop the lump of structured fat which is the human brain) to eat rapidly and gain loads of weight just as soon as that food becomes available again... which it always does.

Oh and, does this have anything to with the art and craft of writing, or with my stories in particular? You bet.

Writers are ordinary people. (Sorry if you thought otherwise.) There are certain habits that all writers pick up – which is a topic I might explore in the future – while there are other things that are quite individual (such as how fast and how many drafts we write). One of the remarks you’ll hear from writers who’ve produced several novels is that, at some point, a character takes over the story they’re telling, and takes that story in a direction the writer never envisaged. Now think about that...

When I ask myself a question, who is the questioner, and who the questioned? And what is consciousness besides a thought contemplating thoughts?

...while I recall a question my friend Andy Hills once asked me: whether I fancied Yoshiko, the heroine of To Hold Infinity. (That was my first novel in the UK, but if you’re US-based, it’s the fourth book, the one that’s going to appear after the Nulapeiron trilogy.) I might fall in love with a character from a book that someone else wrote, but the idea of me – part of me – fancying Yoshiko who is also a part of me – another sub-personality running inside my brain – just did not compute. So that’ll be a no, Andy, old mate.

By the way, speaking of old friends, this website allowed one of my old pals to make contact with me some time back. Cheers, Vikas, and I hope that NYU is the route to achieving all your ambitions. In fact, I’m sure it is.

Now it’s obvious to me, and possibly to Vikas, and surely to any writer who’s bothered to ponder the matter, that every individual human brain houses a community of neural patterns that might or might not be personalities in their own right. One hugely powerful approach to changing behaviour, neurolinguistic programming, is absolutely based on that concept, since so much of it involves direct communication with the subconscious (NLPers would say unconscious) mind. (And by the way, if you do know about NLP, I’m well aware of why it is fantastically useful to say that: someone’s unconscious.) And in Walter Jon Williams’ excellent novel Aristoi, the aristocrat elite of the title deliberately allow different daemon personalities to surface in their minds, and then use painful psychic and athletic disciplines to bring those personalities under control. (It’s no accident that Walter is a senior dan grade in kempo: all martial arts training is about rewiring the mind-body-spirit as a whole.)

Tom Corcorigan trained in neurolinguistic rhetoric in Paradox, and makes particular use of that training in Resolution (which is easily the best-written of any of my books so far). In New Jerusalem, not yet published but better again (I reckon), the hero is David Wolf, who uses hypnotic techniques to more spectacular effect, behind the Iron Curtain of a rather different 1960s.

I remember at school, when I won the Latin prize, I used the money to buy a book on Gestalt psychotherapy, much to my headmaster’s surprise. If he’d known that I knew The World of Null-A word for word, he might have realized that my interest made sense. It’s interesting that the dictum of Count Alfred Korzybski that is the ongoing refrain of AE van Vogt’s book, and of the General Semantics movement (does that still exist?) is also a tenet of NLP:

The map is not the territory.

Perhaps I should add that I no longer read van Vogt’s stuff: it feels like stuffing my brain through an egg scrambler. And don’t worry, I’m not going to do what van Vogt’s mate Hubbard did, and found my own religion. Unless... what did you say the tax breaks were? And did you mention nubile young acolytes? Blimey...

Ahem. So multiple personalities are a reality. Now there are many ways of looking at brain structure. The left brain/right brain structure (with the bridging corpus callosum) is a well known model, whereas in recent years people have been paying more attention to the cooperation and differences between frontal and temporal lobes. And so on... By observing the brain and mind from many different viewpoints and directions, we may at some point get the notation and theories I called cognitive algebra in Paradox (the basis of logosophical mind-tinkering with logotropes). And if you’ve read To Hold Infinity, you’ll know there’s another world in the mu-space universe where some people have unusual minds. That world doesn’t feature in the (sixth) book I’m working on, but it should feature in the one that follows...

Also, I’ve been in danger (not huge danger) and something like the buried primate brain took over, too fast for conscious thought. And once the circumstances were faster and more violent than that, and I went straight to reptile mode, with only problem-solving left and not a trace of emotion. That’s another part of the cognitive model.

Skip the next paragraph if you want to ignore workout descriptions...

Part of this explains why Combat Conditioning is great, with exercises that involve deep breathing with hard physical work: since respiratory control can be accessed by both the conscious and subconscious mind, it forms a bridge between them. Those Hindu pushups and squats, followed by the neck bridge, create an implacable mental focus because of that connection. If you like lifting weights, or want to try it, don’t let me put you off. Here’s the core of my own weight training currently, using heavy dumbbells: a tri-set (mini circuit) of three exercises – squats, bench press and one-arm row. After warming up (preferably including those three exercises with light weights) I go for either 3 sets of 10 reps or 5 sets of 5 reps, using the same weights for both protocols. Those are major complex (non-isolation) exercises. Abs are required as well. I’ll usually have done abs first, as part of a Combat Conditioning workout (with fifty to one hundred push-ups and one to two hundred squats: for me that’s a low number of reps) before I do the weights. I like dumbbell squats, because they’re half-way between a squat and a deadlift, which are both killer exercises. I’ll then add secondary exercises, maybe supersetting (alternating) overhead presses with straight-legged deadlifts (with light dumbbells) and biceps curls supersetted with a triceps press or extension of some kind. I also add slow kicking movements: front, side and back kicks.

...but as in sex, the conscious mind can largely be switched off during training, which is why people who say they get bored with exercise simply aren’t training hard enough and sinking into the joy of it. Downloading (or would it be uploading?) human personalities into computers would require emulating the entire body, or the minds would no longer be human. And you might wonder what this has to do with the weight-loss I’m having so much fun with.

Yet this part is really simple. I’ve researched hypnosis and NLP (and other psychological disciplines) by reading and watching videos, but until twenty days ago I’d never been in an induced trance. A few years back, Eric Furey, master practitioner of NLP (and husband to Maggie, no relation to Matt) showed me a tape of Richard Bandler sending someone deep into trance with a gesture. Eric also told me about some of the techniques which Tom uses in Resolution (and which – okay, I’ll admit it – I’ve field-tested and found scarily effective). But still, I’d never been an hypnotic subject until I used the Paul McKenna audio CD (which is called I Can Make You Thin, which means you can make yourself thin) and did the trance thing in the comfort of my own hotel room.

I lost five kilos in the first two weeks, and my energy levels are through the roof. If you thought I was adrenalized before... The behaviour patterns are exactly what I did before when I was lean, so I already knew it would work. Yet it doesn’t require belief.

I’ll soon be at my fighting weight, for good. I’m lifting heavier weights than before. And no, this is not the most important area of my life... oh, and I burst out laughing several times in trance. It’s a laugh. Life’s fun. We know that, don’t we?

Leap for the future, live the now, love yourself and the universe. Fly high, Pilots. Fly true.



Just thought I'd try a larger font. What do you think? Today's real blog entry is the one I posted earlier, just a little way down the page. But there's some stuff a proper professional probably would've mentioned in a previous post...

The US edition of Context is out, and it looks fantastic!

There's a review of Paradox in Asimov's at which is most excellent. The final sentence reads: "Prometheus Books have scored a coup in obtaining the series to open their new SF imprint; let’s hope they bring the rest of the sequence to us without delay." Well, Context is the next volume, and it's here!

The Publishers Weekly review of Context is reprinted on both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble pages for the book. B&N also conducted an interview with me and have their own review of the book, and I'll post a link to that when I've got it.

Fly straight, Pilots...

So as I sit here writing in my superhero costume... Well, no, I’m not that sad. Or am I? The last part of today’s writing stint had me on the edge of my seat. That might be partly due to a thrilling story – I’d like to think so – while another factor might have been the little orange-and-white pussycat who was occupying most of my chair. (Does that make me sad?) If you think I’m soft, the only factor I know of that can stop Charlie Stross from delivering more exciting words at a blistering pace is when one of his cats falls asleep on his hands. (I haven’t seen it happen, but I’ve heard of it.)

In the UK it’s Batman day plus one, with the DVD of Batman Begins out on sale. Yvonne and I watched it at home last night. I saw the movie when it was on general release, in a modest movie theater in Connecticut. I liked it then, and I like it now.

I’m gathering my thoughts on movie violence and martial arts for a forthcoming interview, so I might as well mull over my reactions now. Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger – have I got the title right? You know which one I mean – is not a favourite of mine. I’m now in my thirty-fourth year of martial arts training (and how did that happen?) and I’ve not yet floated up into a tree or dangled in the air while delivering kicks to five opponents. Wirework was exactly the right technique for the Matrix, because the whole point was that the characters were caught in a visual reality, a game scenario that felt tangible but wasn’t. In other movies, I’d rather see some realism, thanks.

The Bourne Identity and the Bourne Supremacy got it right. There was a scene in the first movie where Bourne uses a rolled-up magazine as a weapon. In the cinema where I watched it, a group of young men found that hilarious, whereas I and the two veteran martial artists I was with (one also ex-special forces) were mightily impressed. The featured martial discipline was escrima, by the way, which I’ve only ever trained in during a jeet kune do seminar conducted by the famous Dan Inosanto (Bruce Lee’s main man, and the guy responsible for Lee’s approach to training becoming an art in its own right). Escrima’s knife disarms are awesome and don’t involve grabbing, but they are sophisticated moves – at least the ones I experienced were sophisticated – and to me that implies constant practice is required to nail them down as reflexes. (They don’t work for me because I don’t practice them, but they sure as heck work for Dan Inosanto.)

An art whose training methods map immediately into simple street-effective defence, particularly for anyone who trains already in a striking art (karate, boxing, kickboxing, taekwondo etc.) is krav maga. That’s the Israeli fighting system which has obviously been proven in real situations... so you could argue that its effectiveness is due to all the wrong reasons. But it is effective.

In Batman Begins, the fighting art is the Keysi Fighting Method.

Keysi is pronounced Casey, which I hadn’t known until I watched the Extra Features DVD. I’ve read about the art, though, and seen some photos. I’m not entirely sure, but I believe that one of the art’s two founders has a jeet kune do background, and that he was there during that Dan Inosanto seminar I attended. The fighting style is very different from anything most people will have seen, including agile moves from all angles, and an innovative use of elbow techniques (which are hugely devastating when wielded by thai boxers or by karateka – karate fighters – who’ve trained properly). For those who’ve seen a lot of arts, there are influences from the Malaysian silat styles, and also from the eclectic American style known as Jailhouse Rock, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a survival method developed by American convicts. I’m not kidding.

Anyway, I don’t plan on visiting a jailhouse anytime soon, thanks all the same, but the Keysi Fighting Method (or simply KFM) looks good to me. If I get a chance to investigate it hands-on, I’ll let you know. For sure, Christopher Nolan and the other folk involved in Batman Begins were impressed, since they featured it so heavily on the DVD.

Does any of this have any bearing on my books and stories? Actually, yes. Dan Inosanto pointed out that escrima, while largely a striking (not grappling) art, has no focus (in the particular sense in which I want to use that word: in Japanese one says ‘kime’). In karate and other striking arts, focus involves tensing the striking limb and usually the entire body, turning it into a rigid weapon in other to poleaxe the opponent. It’s hugely effective, but only if that tension is for a fraction of a second, just on impact. (Otherwise you’re tensing agonist and antagonist muscles simultaneously, and slowing yourself down. Taken to the extreme, that means standing like a statue while you have a little isometric workout. Not the done thing in the midst of a fight.) Now, most martial artists would tend to think – I reckon – that striking arts are about focus and grappling arts are about flow. I realized, after reading an interview with Guro Insosanto and then training with him, that those ideas are limiting. Like yin-yang, every technique from a throw to an elbow strike can mix appropriate amounts of flow and focus... Hence the fighting art that Tom learns (which has been influenced by Pilots and developed by some of their ordinary human undercover agents, though that’s not explicit in Paradox or the sequels) is called flow/focus, with an alternative fancy name of phi2dao, which of course means pretty much the same thing.

Also, KFM’s use of space and agility reminds me an awful lot of the Pilots’ fighting. One of the images in my mind when I concocted the first real fight scene with a Pilot – the one that Tom witnesses at the beginning of Paradox – was the way that shotokan expert Dave Hazard moves. He’s at such a high level that his expression of the art is a style in its own right, and he does in fact flow in such a manner, though it’s not the way the average shotokan dojo trains. (I once watched Sensei Hazard slap around a huge muscular third dan as easily as if the guy had been a child.) Such are my formative moments!

Blimey... Anyone would think the disparate parts of my life were beginning to integrate into some kind of coherent whole.

Oh, did you notice that Christopher Nolan begins shooting next year on the movie of The Prestige? Blimey again. I didn’t know that until Martin Sketchley told me.

As for DVDs... I mentioned that I watched Batman Begins at home, but what I meant was, on a laptop. I finally gave in and bought a DVD player a few months back, now that they’re really cheap. When I took it home, I found there was nowhere on the TV to plug the thing in... Our telly is too old to have a SCART socket.

And the moral is... If you want to be a writer, television should be of really, really low importance in your life. If you don’t believe me, believe Stephen King. (And read his book, On Writing.) But I will get round to getting a new set, any year now. Then I can re-watch my Firefly DVDs (thanks Chris and Penny!) the way they deserve. I liked Serenity loads. I hope you managed to see it.

The sky outside is a little darker, and I have a date with a punchbag. Some kata practice first, though, since my choice is to combine both classical and contemporary training methods. As always, life is fun!

Be good to yourselves, Pilots. Stay calm, keep equilibrium, and flow as well as focus. (Resourcefulness grows out of that mix.) Ciao from the Labyrinth.



...just waving. In passing. Never one to suffer URL envy, I've just returned from a brief foray into Neil Gaiman's website. Blimey! Obviously he has a demon doppelganger to write the blog entries, just as Charlie Stross has a virtual daemon personality construct to write his. I've been very remiss in posting here recently, but all of my personalities reside inside the one skull, with only one pair of hands. I guess that's the drawback of touch typing (which by the way, for any budding would-be writers out there, is a MUST HAVE skill that I suggest you develop with one of them there typing tutorial programs); otherwise I could use two keyboards at once, split-brain-wise. Though I possess no doppelblogger, I promise to be here regularly for y'all from now on.

During the week I had an interesting discussion with some fine folk in Edinburgh (hi to Tracy, Simon, Lynn, Peter and Steve) while we perused the websites of Barry Eisler (a most excellent thriller writer whom I've mentioned before) and Neal Stephenson (whose books I'm assuming you know). Once upon a time, Mr Stephenson's site was a kind of anti-page, an unformatted page of html that told the world to leave him alone so he could write (unless you wanted to negotiate movie deals, in which case he provided the address of his agent). Now the site is prettily formatted, but delivers very much the same message. Barry's site, on the other hand (, is cool, noir, professional, and welcomes contact with his readers.

The idea that this website could deliver any hint of my personality is subtly disturbing.

Two Sundays ago, I was travelling Up North, and as I passed through Euston Station I decided a visit to the coffee shop was in order. (Predictable? Moi?) There I bumped into famed Canadian author Steve Erikson. He was in the country as GoH (that's Guest of Honour, if you're not a convention-attending veteran fan) of the British Fantasy Con, which I hadn't noticed happening. Oops. But this was a random meeting. As Steve said, he knows about 30 people in the whole of Britain, so the chances of bumping into someone he knows are a little steep (about one in 20 million, depending on how you define the probability context). The world is weird.

Last week, as I said, I was in Edinburgh. Got to meet up with old friends and new while I was there, including Charlie Stross and Feorag, Ken MacLeod and Iain Banks. Charlie's Family Trade series has been called Zelaznyesque, which I think is the rarest of (deserved) compliments. I forgot to tell Charlie that I own a signed copy of Nine Princes In Amber, just in case he materializes in my home in the middle of the night, then whisks the amber volume into an alternate world that I can't reach.

I think I've mentioned this elsewhere, but you know that Zelazny divided the universes into the true world of Amber, and the Shadow worlds it casts? Have you tried saying that in French? The universes consist of l'Ambre and l'Ombre. Neat, eh? (It works reasonably well in Spanish, too.)

Ghoulish thought of the day... It's getting late and I haven't yet worked out today, but I will. Hindu squats, hindu push-ups and bridging are going to be the core of my workout: they take only a few square feet of floor space. Hey, you've heard me mention Combat Conditioning before, but did you know this? Indian wrestlers base their unrivalled conditioning on exercises that take up no more space than it takes to for their corpses to be buried in. Isn't that a pleasantly ghastly image to hold in your mind, while energizing yourself?

My alternate history cold war thriller, New Jerusalem, is finished (for submission). I'm a long way into the first draft of a new horror/fantasy thriller which I hope everyone will like. After that, there's another Pilots book on the way. Ya heard it here first.

I'm not able to attend Octocon (the Irish national SF convention), though I'd love to: Charlie Stross is GoH, and visiting Ireland always allows me to see Anne McCaffrey and her folks, and Maggie and Eric Furey, who are good friends. When Yvonne and I returned from Worldcon in Glasgow, we found that being boarded (in a veterinary surgery) had been too stressful for one of the cats, Nutmeg. He was very ill. Future cons are going to have to take some planning. With luck, next month I'll be able to pop up to Novacon for a day, cos Al Reynolds is GoH, and it would be nice to see him and Josette again.

Squats and pushups await. Think positive, Pilots. Fly straight, take care.