Dramatically Mundane – The Bus

This is the first in my Dramatically Mundane series of flash fiction.  In this series, I will make the mundane more interesting.  The main character is named John.  That’s as generic a name as you can get in the English language.  He’s meant to represent anyone.  Please note that I do not edit these vignettes.  I post them as I wrote them.  I’ll read it after I write it, but I won’t change it.  This is how a first draft would look from me.  Comments are always welcome and encouraged.  So please tell me what you thought.

The Bus

As he stepped on the bus, John glanced around the boxy vehicle. No one looked at him. Several people read books, some looked at their cell phones, a couple had a quiet conversation, and the rest looked outside through the slightly tinted windows.  John wanted to sit down in a seat in solitude.

He stepped forward on the floor, which was covered by a grooved rubber. He sensed the texture through the soles of his shoes as he shifted his weight from his heel to his toes. Each step propelled him forward to his ultimate destination. It waited for him somewhere in the cavernous bus.

There it was. That glorious seat. It was situated on his left, third row from the back in the elevated aft section of the bus. His heart quickened as he stepped up the lone step. He could anticipate the incredible relief he was about to experience.

John stopped at the seat and felt great joy at finding this structure that comforts and supports the human body in a seated position. He turned around and slowly slipped sideways into the seat. His knees bent and his body lowered gently onto the luxurious felt upholstery that covered his fantastic prize. His hand touched the seat and it gave him brief insight into the happiness he would experience.  Finally, his buttocks settled onto the surface of the bench-style seat, and he enjoyed an intense bliss through his entire body and mind.  He was at peace.

But then, a rather large, sweaty man sat next to him, spoiling his paradise.

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The appeal of longevity

My mom’s uncle Johnny died yesterday.  He was a month short of 98 years old.  When he was 96, he was still curling and taking care of his farm.  He was healthy until he had a heart attack 2 weeks ago.

It seems that longevity runs in my family on both sides.  All of my grandparents lived into their 80s and one into his 90s.  It’s pretty impressive, I think.

So what is the appeal of having a long life?  I can’t speak for others, but this is how I feel.  I’ve often said I want to live until I’m 124 years old.  It’s a very specific age, isn’t it?  At that age, I will have lived in 3 centuries.  I will turn 124 in the 22nd century.  But why do I want to live so long?

I have many reasons.  I think one of the biggest reasons is that I want to see how everything changes.  I want to see the changing dynamics between the world’s nations.  I want to see how far technology advances.  I want to see humans return to the moon and walk on Mars.  I want to see my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren grow up and have wonderful lives.  I want to spend it with my wife.  I want us to travel the world.  I want to read hundreds or thousands of books.  I want to write many books.  I want to experience so many things.

So, can it be done?  With the advances of medical technology, many people think it’s quite possible.  I often look to science fiction and see that longevity is a common theme.  People live well beyond 100 years and continue to be very healthy and active.  Much of this is through genetic engineering, some kind of anti-aging therapy, or some other treatment.  I understand that the number of times our heart cells can divide limits us to 120 years.  Research on test animals has shown that they can significantly lengthen their natural lifespans.  I’m pretty sure it can be done for humans.

In the science fiction books I’m writing, people will live longer, mostly due to medical advances.  I don’t know how much longer they’ll live, but it will be a significant amount.  It takes place in the 22nd century, and I’d guess that we’ll see people living to 150 years regularly.

I leave you with a question.  If you could increase the length of your life, how long would you like to live?  What would you do with all that time?

My SF world teaser

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve worked for a long time on a world for my science fiction series of stories.  I’ve got a bit of news about it.  It has a name!  I’m not going to say the name, but I’ll give you a bit of information.

The star is real, and it’s a G-type star similar to the sun, though only 3 billion years old.  It’s the brightest in its constellation, and is a candidate for the search for Earth-like planets.  It is known by its Bayer designation, though it has a lesser-known Arabic name.  I will be using the Arabic name of the star for the sun’s name.  I have a list of names for five of the planets at this time.  The names of the planets are linked to the historical and mythological story of the constellation. The feature planet’s name comes from the alternate name of the constellation.  The name has already been used for a minor body in the solar system, so that may or may not give you an idea what it is.

Can you guess the name of the planet or star system?

What does an earthquake feel like?

Living in Japan, I have to expect to feel an earthquake every once in a while.  There was one a couple weeks ago that was close by, but still was just a minor quake.  But today, there was a big one.  Not the big one, like last year.  But this one was in the same area, and it was magnitude 7.3.  Being a few hundred kilometres away from the epicentre, I’m pretty safe.  There was a lot of movement, but nothing earth shattering.

So, what does an earthquake really feel like?  If you’ve never experienced one, it’s hard to imagine the ground moving, and you moving along with it.  It’s a very unusual sensation that isn’t easy to describe.  Some earthquakes give a very sharp jolting shaking, while others are a milder rocking movement.

Today’s earthquake was a long, but soft rocking movement.  There was no sudden shaking.  It started off slowly with a side to side movement, and over time, built up momentum.  It got stronger.  At its peak, I could see anything hanging from the ceiling swinging back and forth vigourously, but I didn’t feel it as strongly.  Imagine standing on a raised platform that’s supported by massive springs and a movement damper.  Without the damper, the movements would be too strong to approximate the feeling of this earthquake.  Now, the side to side movement isn’t a rhythmic movement.  It’s quite random.  You can’t predict how the ground moves during an earthquake.  It’s also not like being on a boat (however, it can be like that in a tall building).  I was on the ground floor of my apartment building when it hit, so I felt the direct movement of the ground.  While the ground is moving, your body feels the movement, yet your brain gets conflicting information from your eyes.  You don’t see the movement, but you feel it.  This causes some people to get motion sickness.  Thankfully, I don’t experience that.  As the earthquake wanes, the movement becomes slower and slower until you can’t perceptibly notice the movement unless you lean against a wall to steady your body. However, toward the end of the earthquake, I could still hear the building creaking.

This description shouldn’t be applied to every earthquake.  I’ve been through some that had much stronger movements, particularly the one on March 11, 2011.  Earthquakes that are nearby have much more intense shaking, while this one didn’t shake, it rocked slowly.  Earthquakes that shake are loud.  This one wasn’t loud, but I could still hear it.

If you haven’t felt an earthquake, can you imagine the feeling now?

What are you doing December 21st?

Friday, December 21st, 2012.  Winter solstice.  I have the day off.  What am I doing?  I’m not sure yet, but I’ll definitely be continuing to live in this continuing world of ours.  This is the only time I’ll say this: No, the world isn’t ending.  The Mayans did not predict the end of the world.

Now, winter is approaching.  It already feels like winter here.  The Japan Meteorology Association has predicted that this winter will be colder than last winter.  Last winter was the coldest in several years.  But this winter will be colder?  I’m not looking forward to that.  It’s no secret that I dislike winter.  I may be from Canada, but I don’t like the cold.  The Tokyo area has a mild winter, but with the lack of central heating and decent insulation, it’s always cold inside.

I have some things to look forward to, though.  New Year’s Day will be interesting.  I’ll be spending it at my wife’s family’s home, where we’ll have an amazing meal, delicious sake, and most likely go bowling.  My daughter’s first birthday is next month, too.  It’ll be an exciting time to see her change from a baby to a toddler.  With the week off that I have around New Year’s, I also plan to do a lot of work on this blog, as well as write as much as I can.

So, what are you planning to do after the non-end of the world?

Book Review – Guards! Guards!

guardsguardsTerry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! is the eighth book in the Discworld series. Pratchett is a master at satirical humour in a fantasy setting, and his books are always great light reading.  Guards! Guards! is one of the better ones.

This book centres around the Night Watch of the City Watch in the city of Ankh-Morpork, the greatest city on the disc.  Carrot is a new recruit from the dwarf mines, while his colleagues are Captain Vimes, Sergeant Colon, and Corporal Nobbs.  Carrot is a young, eager man, ready to please anyone.  He is quite naive, but has great knowledge of the law.  Captain Vimes is the often drunk leader of the group. Sergeant Colon doesn’t like to see much action, and is usually in the office.  Nobby is one strange guy who seems to never play things by the book.  All four of these main characters are delightfully developed, and they go through quite a bit during the course of this book.  Vimes develops into a wonderful character, and has some hilarious drunken thoughts.  Carrot shows amazing initiative in a law enforcement group that basically has no power.  The Librarian, an orangutan at the Unseen University, joins the group.  He is one of my favourite Discworld characters.  Nice to see him here.  Lady Ramkin is another colourful character who breeds swamp dragons.  She is quite funny, and a great addition.  Lord Vetinari also plays a part in this book.  And you can’t forget the dragon.  The ensemble cast was very entertaining.

The story was Pratchett’s usual witty plot, poking fun at various subjects, such as police novels and “hero defeats the dragon and turns out to be the last king’s heir” kind of story.  Unexpected incidents is what I expect with Discworld novels, and this one did a very good job at that.  I expected Keystone Cops kind of buffoonery, but got an actual good story, albeit a silly one.  But it worked remarkably well.  I find that Pratchett has a good comic sense most of the time, though sometimes it isn’t as funny as I’d hoped.  However, Guards! Guards! was very funny.  There was more than one occasion when I laughed (thankfully, no one looked at me on the train when I did that).

Most of Pratchett’s books involve more than one setting location, but Guards! Guards! took place about 99% of the time in Ankh-Morpork.  I got to know the city better through this book, and sometimes revisited locations I’d seen in previous novels.  It’s a very interesting city in many ways, but I wouldn’t want to live there.  It’s a city that works with Guilds for thieves and assassins, who legally do their illegal work.  The city has a lot of unusual characters, shady neighbourhoods, and a dangerous, yet popular bar.

I think you should visit Ankh-Morpork through Guards! Guards! and take a tour with the Night Watch.  It’ll be worth your time.  So far, this may be the best Discworld novel I’ve read.  Highly recommended!

So, I will give this a full 5 stars.

Beer, wine, and sake and how they affect me

I’m not a big drinker.  I occasionally like a drink, but I never feel like I need a drink.  However, I have developed my own preferences for different kinds of alcoholic beverages.  So, I started thinking about how three different drinks affect me.  They all have alcohol in them, but I react differently to each one.

Beer

This is the staple alcoholic drink of many countries, including my home country of Canada and my adopted country of Japan.  When people go out drinking, most will drink beer.  Beer in Japan is very similar to beer in Canada.  I would describe it mainly as a lager type beer.  With an average alcohol content of 5 to 5.5%, this beverage has the lowest level of alcohol of these three.

I like beer, but I find that the last bit in the glass is so bitter that it makes me shudder a bit.  I don’t do well with strong bitterness.  But the more I drink, the easier it gets.  It takes a lot of beer to really affect me.  A glass does very little.  I start to feel it after 2 glasses, but after 4 or 5, I have trouble walking completely straight.  The alcohol in beer sneaks up on me.  It slowly affects me, and it slowly goes away.  It leaves me with an unpleasant aftertaste.  But I still like beer.

Wine

I’m not a big wine drinker.  In fact, I can count the number of times I’ve had wine on one hand.  My first experience with wine wasn’t very positive.  I just didn’t like the taste.  I had wine tonight.  It was decent.  It was like dry, alcoholic grape juice.  It wasn’t so fruity, but it was quite dry.  What I drank was a red Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina with a 13.5% alcohol content.  I only drank 2 glasses, and when I was finished, I still didn’t feel the alcohol.

So, how does wine’s alcohol affect me?  It takes a while for it to show itself.  About 50 minutes after starting to drink it, I could finally feel it a bit.  Since I had only 2 glasses, it wasn’t really much.  I felt a little lightheaded, and the feeling kept growing for about half an hour.  It seems like wine’s alcohol has a delayed reaction for me.  Within an hour, I felt nothing from the alcohol.

Sake

Japanese rice wine, or sake/nihonshu, is my biggest alcoholic love.  I absolutely love this stuff!  Hakkaizan from Niigata prefecture is my favourite at the moment.  With an alcohol content of 15%, this has the highest level of alcohol of the three drinks.  It also tastes the best, in my opinion.  While beer’s bitterness makes it a bit unpleasant for me, and tonight’s experience with wine was similar, sake goes down so smooth.

It is very easy to drink, yet it is the strongest.  Even if I drink it slowly, the alcohol goes to my head very quickly.  Even the dry sake is easy to drink.  I don’t feel that it’s bitter, which is a bonus.  The alcohol affects me quickly, but I recover very quickly, and I don’t feel the alcohol within a couple of hours.  Although it has a higher alcohol content than beer, its effect is much shorter for me.  And I don’t have any kind of bad aftertaste.  It seems that sake is the perfect alcoholic drink for me.

Conclusion

While beer is the cheapest, and I drink it the most, it isn’t my favourite.  I think my level of satisfaction with the flavour is on par with wine.  Sake wins in all aspects other than price.  It is the best tasting, the easiest to recover from, and the most satisfying experience.

Of course, alcohol affects different people differently.  I’ve noticed that many Japanese people can’t handle alcohol very well, and this has a good explanation.  Most Asian people have an enzyme that prevents the efficient metabolisation of alcohol in their bodies, so it makes them drunk faster.  I have 3 or 4 drinks with little effect on me, while many Japanese people turn red-faced with only one drink.  This is known as Asian flush reaction.  It’s amazing how most people in Japan can’t handle alcohol well, yet it’s very common to go drinking with colleagues and bosses every week. But some people have such low alcohol tolerance that they can’t drink alcohol at all.  It makes them feel sick with just a little bit to drink.

As I said before, I don’t have much experience with wine, but I am interested in trying different kinds.  What’s your favourite kind of alcohol?

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