Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Sci-Fi Bike Commute: Part III


"When I bought my bike last August and committed myself to riding to work, I added the following spontaneous and bizarre stipulation: I would listen exclusively to science fiction audiobooks."

Phase 8: I ride 25 miles a day. I've gained 13 pounds in four months. What the fuck?


The Book: I can't decide if this would be the world's hardest book to market, or easiest. Or maybe its success just dumps all over the concept of genre marketing. Because its popularity suggests people who like short stories also like novels, and people who like literary fiction also like science fiction, and people who like Raymond Chandler also like Raymond Carver, and Patrick O'Brien, and Lewis Carroll. Shit, my mom likes this, and she's still trying to get me to read Tuesdays with Morrie.  There's a lot to say about Cloud Atlas, and I'm sure it's all been said. I haven't read a thing about this book, and I don't want to. I love how it works as a piece of meta-fiction, how it keeps denying the connections my mind is so desperate to make. I want there to be webs of overlapping consciousness, but they really only exist superficially. The story makes for a fantastic audiobook (John Lee, are you stalking me?). Richard Matthews as Frobisher is perfect. I'm something like 387th in line at the library to get a copy of the DVD.

The Ride: For much of the ride I'm smothered in an oil sandwich. To the west, a mile out to sea, the ever-present oil tankers unload their cargo into a pipeline that travels along the sea floor to the massive Chevron refinery directly to the east of the bike path. I'm not going to call it ironic, that I ride my man-powered vehicle through this toxic hoagie, because I still do plenty of driving. And I can still fill up a 60-gallon recycling bin every week with plastic junk and Chinese restaurant menus. So this isn't even remotely about sanctimony, yet it still seems bizarre. Boats and oil and trains and tanker trucks. You could reset humanity a thousand times and I bet we'd end up right here every time. I wonder what happens when that pipeline fails, when the local beaches get covered in brown crude. I think I know what happens.

The Confluence: Okay, four months into this thing and my brain is on fire with this sci-fi shit. I love it. And I love the breadth of the genre, how each unique story helps me cobble together a reasonable vision of the future. The problem though is that riding my bike to work is making me fat. This makes less sense to me than Sloosha's Crossin'. Or maybe it makes perfect sense. Riding a bike burns calories, sure, but you're still just sitting on your ass. And now that I ride to work, I've forsaken all other forms of exercise. I used to jog after work, so I wasn't done with my chores (commute, work and work-out) until 5:00 (calm down, I start very early), which was close enough to dinner time to keep my from squeezing in an extra meal. Now that I combine my commute with my work-out, I'm home by 3:30. Generally, I walk in the door and take off my helmet. Then I pull out my earphones and put my bag on the floor. Then my eyes turn red and burn like pits of frothing lava, razor-sharp claws extrude from my finger tips, and I buck and snort like a rutting water buffalo. And then...I attack! I range through the kitchen in a fevered hypnotic trance. It's the kind of mindless face-stuffing that leaves you with a bloody lip and something I like to call cracker-neck.

Phase 9: Whaddya know, I can sure ride real fast when I'm drunk


 The Book: Back to the Commonweath Saga. These books are the core of this project, and will be for as long as Peter F. Hamilton keeps writing the story (which he currently is, I understand). They are straight-forward narratives about humans living in the future. There's nothing funky or experimental about the writing or the structure, no great philosophical points being made. It's the ultimate diversionary escapist stuff, perfect for blocking out all thoughts of the actual world you live in. The concept of the Void is dangerously similar to the Dyson shields from the first two books, and I'm at first a bit disappointed he didn't take the whole thing in a completely different direction. But ultimately it's clear that the mysterious gigantic round energy shield surrounding an earth-like planet containing a population of beings who pose a threat to the galaxy from the first two books is nothing like the mysterious gigantic round energy shield surrounding an earth-like planet containing a population of beings who pose a threat to the galaxy from this book. Whew!

The Ride: Some people don't get it. You walk, bike, jog, skate, rollerblade, on the right side of the bike path. Okay? ON THE RIGHT FUCKING SIDE! God damnit! Oh, this makes me mad. It makes me boil over in a rage, because I'm powerless against them. I can't crash into these wrong-way assholes on a bike like I could as a jogger. There's too much potential for injury and litigation. If there's one cause in this world that calls to my social conscience, it is this. These shitheads must be stopped. All of them! The misdemeanor offenders are simple ignorant assholes, people from other countries who don't know better (which is no excuse). They generally learn their lesson when I whizz past them barely clipping the fabric of their shirt sleeves as I shout indignantly (I've become one of them). But then there are the felons. Oh boy. They do their thing on the wrong side of the path...intentionally. Oh God, why? Why! Help me understand these monsters. Is it self-righteousness. Is it arrogance? Defiance? What? What is it? And if you try to tell me it's a safety thing I will flay you and salt you and put you in a hot car.

The Confluence: If there's one thing Peter F. Hamilton likes to point out about humans in the future, it's that we haven't evolved beyond our base appetites. People still love to eat and drink and have sex. And boy do they have good sex in the future. There are sensory implants and drugs and multiple multiple(!) partners, all leading to very non-futuristic, non-scientific screaming orgasms. Which makes for some interesting listening, especially if you've been out at Happy Hour after work and have a good beer buzz kicking around while you pedal extra fast and somehow don't get tired. Maybe the sun is shining, the bonfires are burning in their beach pits, the pelicans fly in graceful swooping lines, and you've got a smile on your face as wide as the High Angel's buttcrack, all while vivid descriptions of erections and vaginal wetness are narrated in stereo sound by some (now creepy sounding) old British guy, who you can almost hear blushing through his microphone.

Phase 10: Dear Diary, I think I just hit that pile of dogshit on purpose

The Book: Hi, Mr. Hamilton, it's a huge honor to talk...what?...oh, speak into the microphone?...like this?...is this better?...okay, sorry...so, hi, um, I'm a little nervous, sorry...I was wondering how my beloved science-fiction space opera alien invasion quantum singularity wormhole techno-saga turned into a pastoral medieval superhero Police Academy VII love-triangle telenovela? Thank you.  

The Ride: I've got to lose weight. My wife is pregnant and I promised I'd drop as many pounds as she gained. I'm doing it for my health, for solidarity, and because I have to take a life insurance physical. So now I'm looking at riding to work, then riding home, and then, what, working out some more? Are you kidding? I've got to somehow burn more calories during my commute, which means pedaling faster or in a tougher gear, which just gets me home even earlier and starts the Tasmanian eating frenzy that much sooner. Gads! How dumb are our lives allowed to get? My solution is to extend the ride home, by traveling in the opposite direction of my house when I leave work. Try this sometime. Leave work and move in the opposite direction of your house. You will feel a tug, like gravity has pivoted 90 degrees. You will feel like a dying spawning salmon. And the pounds will melt away.

The Confluence: Hamilton's greatest strength is his imagination. His books are full of fascinating and weird details about life in the future. Things like "going multiple," which is cloning yourself many times over. When you go multiple you live in a big house with all yourselfs, keeping your poor worn-out girlfriend up all night, every night. There's also the gaiafield, a network of human thoughts and emotions, like an organic internet you log into with neural implants. I'd love to have that gaiafield working during my bike commute. I need to know what people are up to. There's far too many of them out there doing shit I don't understand. Like the guy I see every day who sits on his bike seat and pushes himself along with his feet, instead of pedaling. But the seat is really high, and his feet barely touch the ground, and it looks like he's just squashing the hell out of his nuts the whole time. There's another guy I see whose dressed in full plastic plated body armor, including a Iron Man-type helmet. I assume he's been hit by a bus in the past and isn't taking any more chances, but I don't know. I need the gaiafield. I need the gaiafield to tell me what people do for a living, how much they make, what song they're listening to. I need it to tell me why you'd run a hang-gliding school on a bluff over the beach, and stand there day after day steadying your hang-glider in the wind, and apparently never ever ever actually go fucking hang-gliding.

 Click here to read Part IV

Click here to read Part I

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