Incomparable Hugo Book Club Podcast

On the latest episode of The Incomparable podcast, we talk about the five Hugo Award nominated novels from 2012. It's a mixed bag, and nothing that stands out as a novel that we'll be reading 5, 20, or 50 years from now. You can't have a Dune or a 2001 or American Gods every year. But there are great books being written, and these five don't seem like the best five of 2012.

Every contest is based on popularity, but I fear the Hugo process is way too biased towards the partisans of given authors, especially the most popular ones. You have to pay to get a ballot (which also includes free electronic copies of all the stories and novels and other material). Some people read broadly and vote on personal preferences. Others pony up $65 in order to vote for their favorites without having formed opinions of the others.

We had an enjoyable hour, however, talking about the five that were nominated, one nominated for the Nebula Awards, and several other novels. You can also listen to our off-topic and slightly insane mutterings in the After Dark segment.

What where the books, you ask?  In the order of how I liked them:

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold: I had never read any Bujold before — she has a crazy number of Vorkosigan saga books — and I quite liked this as a breezy read.

Redshirts by John Scalzi: It's a good read, but it has a central conceit and then three codas after the main plot. Scattered, enjoyable, but not the heft of a novel.

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed: I like the universe this guy has created, and it's an interesting story with some well-delineated characters. But it lacks the sweep of a novel. It's a short story told at length. It also has some terrible red herrings and loose ends.

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson: I am a huge "KSR" fan. I've read most of what he's written and loved it. This is so bad, I thought I had a stroke. (I wrote about my reaction to about the first half of the book and worrying something was wrong with me for The Economist .) I was bitterly disappointed by the lack of rigor in science, the terrible characters, the stupidity of the plot's resolution. This was a book of KSR's many ideas stuck together with nothing compelling. I read the second half for the podcast, and found it less awful because I had already gotten over my disappointment.

Blackout by Mira Grant: Please don't read this book.

Radiation Induced Heart Disease: Get Screened

Just a few days out from getting a heart stent, I've been wondering why I, as a 45-year-old Caucasian Jew with no real history of heart disease in my family, had a blocked artery. My cholesterol has been an issue, but not so much as to cause this I firmly believe. I don't want to displace blame, but I am rather an unlikely victim on the whole, even though statistics suck when you're on the wrong side of them. A tiny bit of research finds that there's a more likely elevated risk factor that the cholesterol may have played into: radiation induced heart disease (RIHD).

Because there is now a large cohort of people who received radiation near the heart for previously harder-to-cure diseases and have survived for decades beyond that treatment, a previous suspicion now appears to be moving towards statistical confirmation. Radiation treatment, like the kind I received after chemotherapy for my Hodgkin's Disease, can increase the risk of heart disease in younger people and with otherwise lower profiles for such disease. (I'll take full responsibility for any risk I could have reduced, and will take full responsibility in the future for keeping those risks low that are in my control.)

My doctors 15 years ago, and my current G.P. and other practitioners I see aren't at fault in the least for not telling me about this. It's a growing body of knowledge, not fully confirmed, and recent in its increased certainty. Once you're released from routine oncology follow-ups, you're a bit on your own. This is another reason for integrated medicine across many specialties and practices: cancer needs a 50-year follow-up, not just up to a 5-year one.

I suspect the advice today for someone like me is: "You're going to need to be squeaky clean on any factors, like cholesterol, that would otherwise increase your risk, and you need to get a cardiologist and see him or her regularly to keep apprised of whether you're approaching the need for an intervention." That's what I plan from now on.

In fact, I don't have to speculate because as I write this post, I found that the European Association of Cardiovascular Imaging of the European Society of Cardiology and the American Society of Echocardiography (deep breath) released a statement today  from an experts panel saying that all patients who received chest radiation in the past should be evaluated, and that new patients should receive long-term follow-up and future evaluation at regular intervals.

I was told 15 years ago that radiation of the kind I got, relatively limited in dosage and area exposed, would dramatically reduce my odds of recurrence, and that has I believe played out in studies as well. I was also told that radiation treatment increases your risk slightly for contracting another form of cancer in the future, but the tradeoff of no recurrence today for a low-probability new form decades hence seemed like a good tradeoff and still does. You want to beat the cancer you have.

If you've had radiation therapy or know someone who has, I hope you'll view this as a bit of good news: you might be able to forestall the progression of disease or, at the very least, be well aware of when an intervention is needed and prepare for it. Don't freak out (or freak them out), but a consultation can be as simple as an EKG or much more involved. It can save your life or that of a loved one, or even just improve your or their lives.

The stent is a magical thing, and I'm glad to have it, and we are not anywhere near done with new repairs for the heart and its arteries, up to and including artificially grown (or even printed) heart tissue and full hearts.

I'm glad I live in the future. The past is a scary place.  


A Heart to Heart

On Friday, I unexpectedly had a stent put into my heart. That wasn't the plan when I went to the diagnostic imaging office that morning.

I'm doing fantastically well and have a really superb prognosis. I feel better the last few days than I have for months and, in some ways, for years. This problem was building for a while, but I was asymptomatic until very recently, and I thought a gradual loss of energy and some other minor problems were a sign of age. 

Nope: my heart. Or, rather, one of the arteries. I feel like I'm 30 years old again, and had been feeling closer to 50 or more recently, so that's a great improvement and likely to last. 

I put on 20 pounds a few years ago, and couldn't get it off. I lost 10 pounds between Friday and Monday, even after they filled me full of saline, and I ate quite well during my brief hospital stay. Clearly, I was retaining water. 

I'm not sure how much I'll write about the whole thing, because it's both fresh and distant. I don't feel much like I cheated death, and the stent surgery is frankly less painful and has less recovery than a pulled tooth. (The stent part has no  recovery. It's inserted permanently, and the healing is just the spot on your body where they thread the catheter in to do the photography of your heart and then the angioplasty to place the stent.) 

The staff at Swedish Hospital's Cherry Hill branch are without a doubt the most caring and happy group of medical professionals I have ever dealt with in a long history of health care, and I will be writing a very nice letter to the administration. It was quite delightful to be under their ministrations. 

I was stented on Friday; back home Sunday; did a full day's work Monday. We live in the future.


Disrupting Newly: A Move

On August 1st, my podcast The New Disruptors will move from the Mule Radio Network over to my new company Aperiodical, which owns The Magazine. I built a modest Web site at that I'd always meant in my (yeah, right) spare time to post more items of interest to those who listen to the podcast. I'll be doing more of that in the future along with hosting the podcast files and show notes (and archives).  A new design and all the back episodes will be up there when the switchover happens. (You should be able to keep your podcast feed pointed to Mule and we'll arrange a redirect to the new feed.)

Because everyone wants to have drama around podcasts moving around or ending, I'll just briefly defuse that: Mule Radio in the form of Mike Monteiro, Jim Ray, Caleb Sexton, David McCreath, Angela Kilduff, and Benjamin Nguyen (to mention the folks I've worked directly with) have all been incredibly supportive since I pitched the show idea through fixing some truly ugly audio I've occasionally recorded to me telling them I'm moving to my own platform.

The Mule folks don't run a charity in either their design or podcasting businesses, but they have effectively pledged themselves to help enable other people's creativity while also making good use of their own. Mike's book (Design Is a Job), the lectures that he and other staff regularly give, the Let's Make Mistakes podcast,  the podcast network's overall approach — yes, there's money involved, but their motivations always seem to arise out of the generous and collaborative influence, not the need to maximize return and screw the folks involved.

I wouldn't have launched the podcast without knowing there was a good home for it; I wouldn't have kept at it this consistently without the friendly advice and support the Mule Radio folks provided, and the knowledge that the expectation was I'd produce it weekly. The community of podcasts at Mule is also great, and I've benefited from being part of that group. So: thanks, everyone! (Advertising will still be handled by Podlexing, my buddy Lex Friedman's podcast sponsorship sales network, the name of which I suggested!)

Now as to why I am cruelly abandoning them. I've devoted a big hunk of my life to The Magazine since last October, first as Marco's editor, and now as its owner. With a platform to publish in place, it makes more sense for me to build and run all my endeavors (especially managing content and building tools) under one roof. The New Disruptors and The Magazine's focus aren't identical, of course, but they are consonant with each other, and I'll be creating stronger ties as appropriate.

Also, as noted back in the sale announcement for The Magazine in late May, I have a plan to launch a podcast that will be a freestanding companion to the articles, featuring interviews both with the authors of articles and by the authors with their subjects. It will be a little bit like a public radio show with segments. Several of our regular writers have radio and podcasting background, and this will be a neat way to expand those interests. That's humming along, and I expect to announce a launch date soon. (It will be free and the plan is to produce weekly episodes, either initially or soon after its start.) 

We're exploring more audio ideas, too, as subscriber benefits and associated with the world of electronic publishing. I'll let you know as those bake and mature more fully, too.

Thanks again to Mule Radio and the gang, and I'll post more information when the new site is fully ready to go. 

Mewling Monsters

I was working on a short article about the history of unit blocks, a mainstay of preschool, and wrote the following, which I then discarded as too off topic:

In centuries past, children were unproductive, mewling, and uncooperative small people who, when the time was ripe, could increase the labor of a family and potentially increase its capital. As industrialization and efficiency improved the quality of life, and hygiene and medical improvements lengthened it, child labor became largely unacceptable and society must needs educate the little monsters during the period from infancy until a point in adolescence.

But it was too delicious to not post. 

Issue 20 of The Magazine Is Out!

An issue a few months in the planning, we brought together various kinds of pre-digital technology that's persisted or gone through a revival in recent years.

Issue 20: July 4, 2013