December 4, 2015

Gun Control in Our Time

Here's an idea.

If you want to keep a legal gun, you have to join the national guard or reserve. There is that sticky clause in the first part of the second amendment that gets ignored. Maybe have a one-time amnesty, where you can turn in your gun and get compensated for part of its cost.

It may sound harsh, but freeing the slaves was done without any compensation on the former owners. From an economic standpoint, it was one of the largest exportations of wealth in that didn't involve a revolution.

That represented a different turning, one where we collectively said that this was no longer a moral way to order society, I think we are at that same point with weapons that exist solely to kill in the most efficient way possible, No other machine has one use that we allow private citizens to hold but that one use is against the law.

Perhaps have some carve out for smaller-caliber single action rifles used for subsistence hunting, but the past week has been too much and federal action is needed.

Prayers don't stop bullets, nor do laws, but a large scale manufacturing industry can be curbed.

December 2, 2015

A Reflection on the Most Recent Mass Shooting

Well, today was a bad day, folks.

I got back from lunch and saw that there was a mass shooting.

Another mass shooting. Just numbers on the screen anymore.
But this one hit home more than most of the last 1000 mass shootings. I haven't had a existential emptiness in my stomach since I was listening to the radio and the number of dead kindergartners was growing by the minute. What was it, three years ago?

It hit home because they hit a place similar to the place I work. I thought people giving service to the disabled was an uncontroversial social good. Maybe I was wrong. No one's been caught, we don't know any motives.

It's just that I never really thought of my place of work as anything but a safe place. I can't be the only one. I had to legitimately ask about safety plans in a similar situation, since I didn't think we had one at work.

It makes me think of how this fear gets normalized. I remember my then-girlfriend calling me the day of the Columbine massacre. The way she described it, it took me several minutes to understand that it didn't happen at her school. There had been some smaller school shootings in the 90s, but nothing of that scale. I remember her emphasizing that all she wanted to do was graduate. School was no longer a safe place for her.

By the time I was teaching in 2007, we had drills. Less than a decade to normalize the threat of violence.

It's not just the schools, but everywhere. I have been to three concerts since the Paris attacks. In the back of my mind, I've had to think that there was a nonzero chance that I might be shot.

That’s a scary world we live in. Typing this makes me think of people who have lived their whole lives under the threat of violence. Black communities in America get telescoped to the whole of the middle east. Today the British Parliament took a vote on if they should bomb Syria and Iraq to fight ISIS (or whatever they’re being called today). That means that each member of parliament will undoubtedly have the blood of the innocents on their figurative hads as many who will die will have had the same thing I wanted - just to live my life in a day to day mundanity. And that’s just two of the many horrible things that happened today that I’m aware of.

What I hate most is how powerless it makes me feel.

November 17, 2015

A Writer Searching for his Depth: Earnest Cline's "Armada"

This book came out in the shadow of the long awaited new book by Harper Lee. Perhaps it is better that it did because much hope existed for Cline after the success of Ready Player One.

I like that first book, noting that Cline has an ear for action. What he misses is that both of those books were maybe a little heavy on the exposition. I had actually liked that first book so much that I preordered this book months in advance and received it on the release day. I read it quickly, and with each page I was madder and more disappointed. I had seen the headlines of some of the early reviews, but I didn’t want to read them because I didn’t want them to ruin the book for me. The headlines could be charitably be called “mixed”. I was getting madder because so much of this book rehashes so much of the first book.

There is so much focus on nerdy popular culture that it gets in the way of the story. And I say this as a member of who should be the target audience - early middle age, white, grew up with the technology and the culture. I didn’t write a review at that time because I was worried about throwing up a review that reflected my fresh hot anger at Cline and running head into an army of fanboys. The problem is that I’m writing this and thinking about the book and getting madder.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a cool conceit. The video games we have been raised with are actually training for the alien invasion. We’re using them to train the best to fight the … buggers. OK, so maybe it’s not wholly original but you can still read both The Forever War and Old Man’s War, right. But it’s also just copying himself. Instead of the games being a reflection of the world, they are the world. Big change - Jazzhands.

The real problem is that Cline doesn’t write characters well. It doesn’t have to be a character driven book, but caring about who they are and what they do and how their relationships develop are important to me. It's like my whole problem with Neil Stephenson: Cool world, what are you going to do about it. In Armada the main character *spoiler alert, yo* goes his whole life thinking his dad’s dead only to be reunited with him so that they can use their superior video game skills to defend earth. I felt nothing at the reunion scene. Such a disappointing use of the world he built.

In the end, the book (much like the previous one) is like a video game itself - a medium trying to find its depth despite the promise of what it can do. Video games are getting there. I hope Cline will too.

An Interesting Artifact: Gareth Roberts adapts Douglas Adams in "Shada"

I am vaguely aware that there exists a whole world of in-universe Doctor Who texts and series prior to the reboot that is going on now. When I was a lad at the library, I remember one of the racks of paperbacks always had Doctor Who books, the cover picture looking like some off version of Gene Wilder from his 70’s heyday. That was not why I bought this book

I bought this book because of the name on the cover - not Gareth Roberts, not Doctor Who, but Douglas Adams. I was unaware that he had a record putting together screenplays for the Doctor Who series, but I guess it makes sense that the Hitchhiker's Guide had to come from somewhere.

The problem was that reading it didn’t really feel like a Douglas Adams doing Doctor Who book, but it felt more contemporary. I was about halfway through when I had to look at the front and see that is was much more contemporary - Roberts adapted this book much closer to now than when Adams was tragically struck dead by a treadmill.

So it did feel more contemporary - I read into it the manic edge of Tennant, who is my favorite Doctor of the current crop - and there were some references that struck me as anachronistic for the late 70s. But for the most part this was a fun romp and and enjoyable read; it is just an interesting artifact.

November 16, 2015

On The Perfect Storm

I first read this book when I picked it up as a mass market paperback at the grocery store in the 90s when I was going on a beach vacation. I subsequently watched the movie later because I had read the book.

I think my memory of the movie clouded my memory of the book, since it elides so much of what Junger does in the book, which I reread as a book on tape. What Junger does is teach the reader about fishing on the Atlantic and weather patterns. Neither are sexy, so he uses the story of the ship that disappeared, the Andrea Gail, as a hook into these subjects.

What Junger also did was dissuade me from becoming a fisherman - years before the deadliest catch.

September 23, 2015

Even Lesser Slayer is Still "Slayer!": Spinning "Repentless"

Let’s just say you listened to this album blind.

You were a fan of metal and thrash or other loud aggressive music.

What would you say about it?  

Maybe that it was a bit derivative, with a couple of good songs.

It’s hard to say, with the name on the cover. I saw them this summer for the Mayhem Fest, and loved the whole experience as they went over their career hilights that the crowd wanthed to hear. They mixed in the lead single here, “Repentless”. It might be the best song on the disc.

But there’s nothing that stands out as comparable to what they were thirty years ago. It’s not horrible. Most of us aren’t who or what we were 30 years ago. We all grow an evolve. There’s just a mythology behind Slayer that means that they have to consistently live up to Reign in Blood or Seasons in the Abyss (fill in your favorite here). The band is different, and they still rock.

I called listening to this blind as derivative, but is derivative of Slayer. The history cannot be denied, in spite of the line-up troubles, and they still rock live. This disc just didn’t find a permanent place in my car’s player, and that disappoints me with how much anticipation I had for the album, Maybe my expectations were too high. Or maybe “Cast the First Stone” sounds too much like “Head Like a Hole”.

The Good, The Bad, and the Smug by Tom Holt

Are you trying to fill the hole that Terry Pratchett left in this universe?

Maybe you were more into Doug Adams. Guess what? He’s gone too.

Vonnegut? Long passed. My tears for him are dry.

You know who we do have? Tom Holt!

He likes to mix a fantasy and science fiction universe with jokes and magical doughnuts.

His books feel familiar in your mouth, light and fluffy with a bit of meat thrown in there - cut my own throat!.

What happens in this one? Well, an extended joke about Rumpelstiltskin and hard money monetary policy for one. Some other stuff too. Read it!

The Fire This Time: Coates's "Between the World and Me"

Reading this was like reading
the Fire Next Time.
It’s the world I live in.
But so unfamiliar.

Wanting to say eloquent,
knowing it is back
handed. Expecting nothing
less from the Author,
needing him so much
to keep writing.

And in a generation,
There won’t be the need
for books
That remind that reader
of Between The World

And Me

Uneven but Entertaining: Scott Meyer's "Off to Be the Wizard"

I’m not a big fan of exposition.

So at first I was super pleased that this book seemed to really just roll through the introductory stuff.

We learn that the world is a computer program, and it can be manipulated. We also learn that the main character can get himself in trouble very easily. So he then has to make a quick choice to escape to medieval england.

His plan is to be a wizard. He goes and fnds that there are other people who have made the discovery. And then the bulk of the book is the main character going through the learning process. It turns out that the exposition is the thing. There’s some plot, a bit of conflict, but it seems grafted on. I wrote myself a note at page 270 (of 373) that there was only a hint at the conflict that might be going on. Maybe I missed some sign-posts, but this is much more character driven than the cover would suggest.

But the thing is that it is still pretty good. Maybe Meyer isn’t one for a lot of plot, it is more like one of those movies put together by the SNL alums in the 90s where the plot is secondary and it’s mostly just stitched-together sketches. I wasn’t expecting that, so I was a little let down. I’ll probably seek out the rest of the series in the future. At least now I know what to expect.

September 12, 2015

Show, Memory: The Fold by Peter Clines

The basic premise is that the main character is one of the smartest guys ever, and he has a photographic memory that he can easily access.

The main guy has a friend who works for DARPA, and the friend has been trying for years to get the main guy to help him on some projects. The main guy says no because because he’s happy being a single high school history in the northeast. Clines tries to explain this in that the main guy is like Sherlock Holmes’s less ambitious brother, Mycroft. It feels like a hand-wave, but the framing device is used through the book, it is in fact why the main guy is called “Mike” in the book.

So though he keeps saying “No,” in the book the friend has a project so cool that it cannot be refused. The project is that one of the world’s most famous scientist is working on a teleportation project. Actually the thought is that they are folding reality so that different parts of space time are close and allows someone just to walk through these gates. MIke is signed up to observe and see if these people should continue receiving funds from DARPA.

Cool premise, and needless to say, there are complications. It becomes a well-told, nicely paced thriller thing after 150 pages of exposition. Then it wraps up.

Then there’s one more section that takes what had previously happened and sets it up for a sequel, and it is really annoying because the add-on at the end cheapens everything that came before it. It looked like the book would be a self-contained arc, then these new mysterious characters are introduced and Mike has to make a choice (along with his unrealistically portrayed lover interest - why is that necessary?) to join this mysterious group and you know that there’s going to be more to this story. Why can’t authors keep a world in one book?

Couple of things. This is the first book of Clines I have read, and it is well done enough I will seek out others. I stayed up too late reading it more than once, so he can tell a story. But he does lean on some devices and descriptors too much. The main guy gets hurt at the end of the book, and his pain is described as “hooks” in his body an infinity too many times. There’s also how he describes his main character’s photographic or “eidetic” memory. He uses the imagery of ants carrying photos for him to review. It gets to be too much and  a distraction from the story itself. The device of the photographic memory is well done for the most part. Though I’m skeptical of the actual existence of memory working as Clines described it, it does not make the character too robotic. There are also places where it is used to humanize the character, so it works. It was basically background like if someone was in a book that has a mech suit with cameras and a powerful computer. Same thing basically. I wish I had marked the page, but I like that they lampshaded the whole thing in a conversation. Mike is explaining his mind, and another character says something to the effect of “I thought that was only in science fiction stories”.

September 8, 2015

The Shepherd’s Crown: Saying Goodbye With Terry Pratchett's Last Discworld Novel

This was a very hard book to read.

Not that it was bad, mind you. It may have been a bit incomplete. It did feel short - not even 300 pages. If you’re reading this, you might know. The author died.

He died, and the day I heard, I sat at my desk and cried. I’m a grown man, right? So I closed the door and made a coworker who looked in on me feel bad, If you’re like me, you’ve spent hours and hours with Terry. He’s a friend you lost, and this is the last letter he wrote before you lost him.

It is hard because in the beginning of the book, a beloved character dies too. It was impossible for me to read it without thinking that Terry was a stand-in for the character. There’s a conflation that I cannot escape. The character who passed was a witch, and a special thing about the witches is that they know when they will die, so their rendezvous with Death can be orderly and planned, unlike most of us. Terry knew too. He’d been facing the reality of his impending mortality since 2007. I guess that gives you more focus, and more urgency.

In here, Terry writes: “No long faces, [...] please. She’s had a good death at home, just as anyone might wish for. Witches know that people die: and if they manages to die after a long time leavin’ the world better than they went an’ found it, well then that’s surely a reason to be happy” (61). The world is a better place that Terry was in it.  
As for the book, it is all you could want for a final coda from a friend. We learn more about the Chalk, and we see Tiffany come into her own. What more could you ask?

Remembering Everything: The New book by Derek Zanetti

I don’t know if Zanetti (better known, perhaps, as the one-man-band “The Homeless Gospel Choir”) considers himself a poet.

I think that he calls the things he writes his “stories”. And that’s fine. But what he turns out in both this and his previous work are exquisite little poems on that ring on the same note that Burroughs did for his little routines in “Queer,” or “Junky.” He is a poignant observer of the slice of life, and he lives it out on the page and on the stage.

There are a number of stand out works here, but my favorite was “Some People”, in which Zanetti uses repetition and the meter to drive the point home in the closing line that is like a punch in the gut.

I have to give one caveat. I don’t know the man, but I shook his hand. I told him “Thank you for the art” and I have been a fan since. He has a good bit of my money for merch and art. He should get a bit of yours too.

August 17, 2015

Et in Arcadia Ego?

With potential presidents interviewing in front of whole country, you can hear them lament a falsely-remembered 50's where the manufacturing job was the root of the blue-collar america, what was America in all its greatness. The truth is that the country has manufactured more and more, just with lower labor input through various capital deepening forms like robots.
In fact, the country went through a much more drastic labor shift. At the end of the nineteenth century, fully half of people working were working on farms. Now it's less than two percent of all jobs. Where are the candidates calling for a return to arcadia, where we will once again become a nation of farmers? I want to vote for her.

August 2, 2015

Wool by Hugh Howey: A Novel Story Well Told

The science fiction community leaves me confused. There are literally thousands of reviews for this book on Amazon. And they’re positive. That means that the word of mouth was good, bordering on great. This book is in fact a publishing phenomenon. The writer self-published this thing, without any gate-keepers, and just through the quality of it, he was able to get people to read it and then a traditional publisher came calling. Then Hollywood came calling. These are all the things that you want to happen when you write a book (unless you are the misanthropic sort that sometimes happens to write books about catching and rye).

I say the community is weird because I would not have come across this book unless I was doing what I was doing. What I was doing was making a concerted effort to read some of the more influential science fiction books in the genre that I had not read for whatever reason. This project of mine triggered the recommendation engine to say to me, “You should have a look at this one.” Were it not for that algorithm, I would have never heard of this book.

And heard of this book is something I should have done. There are a lot of aspects that make a book successful in my eyes. You have to have interesting characters, you have to have an interesting world for those characters to live in, and you have to set them at something novel and interesting. This book works on all counts. The three or four main characters have depth and a good back-story, the dystopia Howey places them in is novel (It’s like a giant cruise ship, but buried underground). Then there is a good payoff at the end.

There are a couple of things that detract from the narrative. First is that there is no real back story at the beginning. I like to have some sort of reasoning in realistic sci fi about how the setting and the characters got from where we are at to where they are at during the course of the novel. That’s a bit hinted at during the course of the book, but it is never really explained. I’m a bit hypocritical here, because if they over-explained things, then I get mad at the author for being heavy-handed. Second, reading the book, I had an issue with trying to figure out the scale of the silo in which the characters live. It seems really big, 150 or so stories, and climbing all the way down is a mult-day process, but it seemed a bit flexible in the narrative. There are no schematics in the book, so it is up the inference from the reader.

Finally, I have to just extol the narrative as a whole. I went to grad school for literature, which means that I over-think narratives. I look at the sentence level and just judge everything I come across. I must give the author high praise here. There was only one point in the whole of the 500 pages where I felt that there was a sentence out of place. It was in the last 20% or so of the book, and the author did that thing where a sentence fragment is used as a point of emphasis and not a whole idea itself. That one sentence didn’t work for me. All the others did.

Decent read, but derivative and forgettable: Scalzi's "Old Man's War"

So, the weird thing about this book is that the cover art makes it seem like an older book than it is. The plot owes a lot to the Forever War - so much that it’s hard to believe Scalzi’s claim that he had never read that book before embarking on this one. Maybe he’s right in that had he read the predecessor novel, he might have made some changes.

I’m also reminded of the training sequences of Starship Troopers, where the new recruits learn how to live in their new skin. In Heinlein it is the mechs, but here it is in new bodies. That’s an original twist. Not sure if how the good giys go about making soldiers in this book is how I would go about it if I were running my own war against the bad guys, but it is an option.

There are a bit of characterizations that seem out of place, like Scalzi doesn’t know what it’s like to be an old man and thus doesn’t really feel like he’s capturing someone who has already lived a long life, but overall the book is an easy read. If that’s good or not is up to debate. The problem with being an easy read and somewhat derivative is that it doesn’t stick with you that well, so it wasn’t memorable for me. One thing I have to salute is that he does give some props to his influencers. There are throwaway characters named Gaiman and McKean, so that was a nice nod to the in-group. Overall, I won’t rule out reading more of Scalzi’s work, but I’m not running to it.

August 1, 2015

The Next Best Thing to Being There: Tony Rettman's "NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980-1990"

If you’re old enough, the scene you came up in helped shape who you are - the people you surrounded yourself with and the music you listened to and the drugs you took (or didn’t take). I was shaped by the early 2000s in Morgantown, WV. There were various scenes there, centered on one of the hippie bars, or the 123, which drew some national acts but was filled most nights with local bands. The punks centered on a house on Pearl Street, that burned down under mysterious circumstances. I was part of all this, and the bands and the people went their way, with no real hit on the national consciousness.

Some scenes stick though. One of those was the birth of Hardcore music out the of the refuse of the punk scene in New York in the early 80s. Some of the bands that came out of that scene still have national relevance today, like Agnostic Front and Sick of It All, and it helped shaped other scenes national from Chicago and DC to LA. In NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980-1990, Tony Rettman explores that scene in considerable depth, bringing the reader the memories of the people who were in the scene and in the bands and worked at the clubs and radio stations.

The chapters are structured as brief conversations about certain aspects of the scene, so there are chapters on a band or a club or a record store. It gives the fan who was not there context for the music as it was developed and the people who put it together. There are also a lot of nice visuals from show pictures to flyers to illustrate the total artistic aspect of the Hardcore scene. It is an amazing document, but it does have some weaknesses. It was as if the writer interviewed the participants in depth, but he cut those interviews up to apply directly to the topic that was being covered. I haven’t read much oral history of music, but I am a big fan of the oral history as Studs Terkel did them, allowing the people he interviewed to share their full stories. I think the method here eliminates some depth of the experience.

A second concern is that when people are interviewed, they are identified only on their first appearance. This means that if you don’t recognize how they fit in the broader narrative the author is trying to create, you have to page back and try to figure it out for yourself. There is a listing in the back, but I only found that out after I finished the book.

Overall, I enjoyed it a lot, and I bought a couple of similar titles, hoping that they can deepen my appreciation of the music I listen too. One odd bit that didn’t fit anywhere: Vinnie Stigma comes off as a very flat character. He just loves being Italian and eating Italian food. There’s got to be more to him than that.  

June 25, 2015

Flying the Confederate Flag

So I've been thinking about this, and I have to play devil's advocate. I never really felt myself a southerner, even spending as much as my childhood south of the Mason-Dixon as I did.

But the recent controversy over the "confederate flag" has me thinking. As far as I can remember, it was just sort of dumb. In North Carolina, I was around so many people of different colors, there was not hate. In West Virginia, there were no people of any color, so any hate was silly.

But I have seen very passionate remarks on both sides of the current debate. So that made me think of Ferdinand Saussure, like you do. He was talking about language, but any symbolic system fits. There are two sides to every symbol. The symbol itself, and the meaning that people take from it, The rebel flag seems to have two meanings. It is both a symbol of exclusionary hate, and of an in-group pride. These seem to be mutually exclusive. The people claiming it as a symbol of pride are not necessarily overtly racists. They feel that an attack on the flag is a personal attack, especially when the flag has existed for so long   without a concerted call-out as has come about with the recent Charleston tragedy.

The flag is a symbol with separate meanings. As if you asked a North Carolinian native to the red dirt to imagine a tree, the same imagination would conjure up a different object to the person from Maine. A pine tree is not a maple tree.

So the context matters. What's important is awareness of the context. I don't really feel like I have a heritage in this country as I moved around so much as a kid. When asked, I say I'm Polish and Croatian, and a mix from my Mom's side. Here's the thing. I realize context, The current Croatian flag, which is my patrilineal heritage, has this cool red and white checkerboard pattern, It has a long history. The funny thing is that it was appropriated by the Fascist government that ruled the area during the second world war. It is my heritage, but I realize that it is not something to celebrate. So I don't defend it. Period.

Basically, that means from my point of view, the people that defend the confederate flag or any derivation of it are not overt haters, but people that lack context of the ill that was done in its name. It is still a point of contention, but not something to lose friends over. It's something to talk about. Unless they are racists. Then fuck them.

June 19, 2015

High Praise for Robert Charles Wilson's "Spin"

I just finished this. Normally when I finish a book, I put it on my pile and I think to myself that I will review it when I get some downtime, or when that pile gets so high that I feel like I have to make some progress on the reviews.’

Not this book. I had to review it right away. I’ve been making my way through science fiction giants lately, and I keep finding myself disappointed. If there’s not an issue with the world then there’s one with the characters or the plot that goes on with the world and the people in it. So many writers in the genre have such great imaginations, but are not storytellers or students of how people interact. Nor are they experts in the craft of writing. Wilson excels at all of these.

The book is so good that I found myself wanting to read at the detriment of my other responsibilities. I started this book on Monday. This week is the end of my semester, and I have three papers due and a two presentations to do. Today is Friday, and I somehow finished it in spite of all the other things I have going on.

One small structural point. The book is mostly linear, and you figure out what is going on at the same time as the characters. There is peril, and you want to see if or how it is resolved. The weird thing is that interspersed with the linear chapters is a different section that shows a different storyline which is the characters in the future. It signpost that the big issue has been resolved. This is interesting, but it eliminates some of the tension around if or how the thing is resolved. I’m not sure why he structured it like that.

So then it comes to the end, and it sets up for more books and more adventures in the world he built. Here’s the thing. I liked this book so much, I’m a bit scared of reading the following books in the series. I probably will though. I hope I’m not let down.

Review: Niven's "Ringworld"

I picked up a graphic novel adaptation of this several months ago.
The problem with that adaptation was that it was really only the first half of the book, and just when some action started, then the book ended.

So I had to get the book, because I wanted to know what happened.

And I read and enjoyed the book There is a quest to a mysterious world, and there is an interesting if maybe two-dimensional cast of characters. The problem for me was that it didn’t really get going for me until about page 200 of my edition. You could chalk that up to me having read a good bit of it already in graphic form, but the reality is that there is a lot of exposition done through a sort of “we’re getting the band back together” sport of way. I suppose when this was written it was more like a magnificient seven sort of way, but I digress.

So it does get going, there is some loss of characters you grow to like, and then it ends.

Not in a satisfying way, but one that seems like it was set up for sequels. The problem was that though the book was good in itself, I’m not sure if it was good enough to make me want to read more in the world. At least the exposition is out of the way.

May 25, 2015

Recent Science Fiction Stand-Out: Claire North's "The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August"

Recently, I have been trying to read as much science fiction as possible, because I think I’ll like it. Overall though, it seems to me that most of the canonical writers were more focused on setting up cool scenarios than creating characters that were interesting and giving them something to do. I read Haldeman, Clarke, and Heinlein and ended up disappointed in all three. Basically I want everyone to be Douglas Adams or Vonnegut, but they set very high bars.

So when I came across this book, and I read it, I was pleased. I read it strongly and deeply. I enjoyed the premise: There are a few people who remember their past lives when they die. The thing is that they get put back in the same life when they are reborn. It seemed novel to me. The only thing that was similar was the movie Groundhog Day, but that’s only one day and as far as we know, only one person. This set  up allows you to live life over and over and learn as much as possible. Harry was a doctor and then a scientist and then a mathematician. I liked the set up so much, I was somewhat disappointed when the conflict started being introduced. There’s another like Harry who doesn’t want to play by the rules they have set up -- he wants to bring the future as far forward to his time as possible to learn more about the world. Living the same life over and over means that your potential death is pretty set by biology. The bad guy through his efforts creates what would be now current technology in the early 70s.

I liked it so much that it wasn’t until about 300 pages in, and after North has a couple of characters talk about time travel paradoxes, that I thought there was a flaw in the premise. I don’t know if others might see it or if it is idiosyncratic to me, but it lowered my enjoyment of the book - which I would still recommend. So here’s the thing, it’s like the “fixed points in time” thing that feels like a big hand-wave in the Whovian universe. Even though the people relive their lives over and over, they don’t become big names. In fact, the things that are big events are said to usually happen, in a sort of off-hand manner. In fact, if I recall correctly, Harry is able to use the date of the Chernobyl meltdown as a way to get in touch with others of his kind. To me, though, it seems as if they should be travelling on multiple timelines, especially since there are people repeating lives all throughout time. But they remember each other and seem to live on the same time line. It doesn’t seem like much, and I can’t explain it well, but it felt like a hole. It feels that way because the bad guy is more or less threatening to end the world, but it seems to me like it should be only on one timeline the world is ending. The repeating lives should mean multiple timelines and thus less is at stake if the world is ending on one branch. That was all it took to take me out of the created reality, and it lessened my tension as a reader. I will still be looking forward to North’s future books, however.

Empty Worlds: Haldeman's "The Forever War"

I think the most compelling thing about this book is that Haldeman tried to get his science right in telling his story. In fact, it is the key driving point of the book. Time dilation at near light speeds means that travelling at those speeds means that time passes slower relative to people not speeding along at those speeds. This means that if near light speed is possible, then people will be able to time travel to the future, but the past is left behind.

The least compelling thing about the book was the main character. I didn’t really care what happened to him as he stumbled through the war and the centuries. That he ended up alive at the end, so that he would live amongst a more evolved version of humans than he left is one of the more interesting possibilities of the plot, but even that wasn’t developed enough. It was as if Haldeman was so focused on getting the science right as possible that he forgot to make a character to root for.

S-L-O-W Science Fiction: Arthur C. Clarke's "Rendezvous With Rama"

Maybe I’m missing something obvious.

Man has colonized the solar system, but there are no extraterrestrials. Rama, which is first though to be a comet or asteroid is too perfect to be either. It looks designed.

Some generic scientists (but they are progressive, one guy has two wives on different planets) go explore it. It must be weeks they’re exploring. It turns out to be a spaceship. There are creatures in it, but they don’t seem sentence. Some stuff happens. The people who live on Mercury try to blow it up. It gets some power from the sun and then goes away.

Is it just me, or was this a boring book? Maybe I don’t get science fiction at all, and this is supposed to be some sort of philosophical meditation on something. Whatever it is, it is a really slow book where it feels like not much happens. It might work as a set up for a deeper series, but it looks like the continuation books of the series are poorly reviewed. I don’t care about the characters, but I did want to know more about Rama. It is obvious Clarke thought deeply about the construction of the ship, I just wish he thought more about what to do with it.

Starship Troopers: The Movie's Better

This weekend, I watched a movie where I had read the book first - and I was disappointed in it, where it dealt differently with some situations, and totally changed the ending. It was the movie adapted from the French novel known as “Blue is the Warmest Colour” in English. I think I had a right to be mad, as changing the source material may broaden your potential audience at the expense of people who liked the original stuff.

I have no compunction complaining about that. With  the book for Starship Troopers, I didn’t like it, but I didn’t like it because it diverged so much from the movie. I knew that the movie from the 90s wasn’t true to the source, but it was a fun postmodern romp. The book here is this boring procedural thing told in the first person that really doesn’t have much tension. A good bit of it is the sort of soldiers in training thing that could be really well done like in “Full Metal Jacket” or in the books of James Jones. It’s weird, since the plot of the book is that they are fighting a war against aliens who have wiped out an city on Earth. I think that maybe the first person view is a distraction, because I never gained any sympathy for Rico but it limits what can be told about the whole situation of the war.

The strange thing is that the action sequences are more just narrated in a way that is matter-of-fact except for the opening chapter. The book starts in the middle of things and then flashes back. That opening chapter is a good hook, but the rest of the book doesn’t live up to the promise that part introduces. It’s a shame, too. The movie was so good, and there are very few instances where the book isn’t better than the movie. This is one of those times.

May 21, 2015

New Toy: Gretsch G5440LS Electromatic Hollow Body Long Scale Bass Guitar - Orange

Cat Not to Scale
I just unpacked this, a little present to myself for my new promotion. I went downstairs and plugged in and played a little Slayer. This really isn’t a Slayer axe, but there’s no better break-in music.

First impressions:
I like it. Which is good. I spent a bit of money on it. It looks nice, but I am a fan of the hollow-body shape and the open sound holes. It is a bit bigger than I thought it would be. The body is pretty much the size of an acoustic guitar, and almost as deep.

First, a bit of where I’m coming from. I have only been playing bass a couple of years. I started out with a Squire P-Bass, but I traded that in to another P-Bass, but this one is a Fender Blacktop. It has the same double humbucker pick-up setup as this one does, but the bridge pick-up is closer to the bridge. The neck pick up is further from the neck. When I play that one with a pick or my fingers, I usually anchor my striking hand with my thumb on the neck pick up.
What that means is that I tried to replicate that same motion with this machine. The problem was that the strings even in standard tuning had too much slack for me, and I was finding myself playing with my hand anchored down on the bridge pick up instead. That’s not an issue but it shifted my conception of where my fret hand was. I thought I was on the ninth fret, but I looked left and I was on the twelfth fret, It was a mental block, but I think I got the hang of it.

New factors:
This is not a solid body bass. It has that sort of bluesy soul and not really the rock vibe, but it works.
The hollow body means that there is some resonance, and I will be able to practice without plugging it in. I bet that excites my pets. The body is bigger than my Blacktop. Where the Fender machine ends, here there is more bass. That’s not bad, it just means that I need a longer strap.
The strings on this are further away from the body of the machine. That means nothing for finger-style, but I found that my standard style of pick playing didn’t work, I can’t anchor my thumb on a pick-up and play. It seems as if the best playing style with a pick is a floating hand, but I need some work with that (I know, I know, you never use a pick. But “Raining Blood” has some power-chords.).
The biggest drawback is that there is some neck-dive. My Fenders have been well-balanced, so I never really knew what people were talking about when they said this phrase. Now I know. I found myself having to give some support to the neck with my fret hand, which was a new experience.

Overall, I’m very pleased, but it is easy to feel that way right out of the box. Should it break tomorrow, I’ll come and update this.

May 7, 2015

On "Hooligans United" - a Rancid Tribute

It was about time for a Rancid Tribute album.
I preordered this pretty much as soon as I heard about it, in the “Please Take My Money” sort of way.
It is a double album chock full of songs that were originally performed by Rancid.
So a couple of things I learned listening through this several times:

11)      Part of what makes Rancid so distinctive is Tim and Matt’s singing voices. I’m a big Anti-Flag fan, and they get the first song on the first record. They do a straight-forward cover, but it feels a little thin – Justin and Chris can’t quite match it.
22)      Tim, who released a solo album under the title “A Poet’s Life,” really is a poet. His songs work well even when singers who enunciate sing his songs.
33)      The most interesting covers are the ones that take the songs in an entirely different direction than the one you’re used to singing along in.

Overall, it is an interesting record for the Rancid fan, but I’m not sure how heavy of a play it will earn on turntables.