Friday, February 05, 2016

Music (Byrd Song)

A little over 2 months since I last did this.
  • Joanna Newsom, "Divers". Very similar to her last one which I talked about 2 months ago. Funny, still no song even close to being as strong as the one my daughter pointed me at - "Good Intentions Paving Co.". 3 stars
  • Grieg: Peer Gynt Suite #1 & #2 (1876), Piano Concerto in A Minor (1868). I put my Halloween playlist of scary classical music on while I was giving out candy. I noticed I was missing "On October 31 ..." I figured out this was "In the Hall of the Mountain King" by Grieg, the 4th piece of Peer Gynt Suite #1.

    The album also came with the Piano Concerto in A Minor, with which I was very familiar. I think I was introduced to this in college by my friend Charles G. St. Pierre, aka "The Saint" and "Greg". In a piece of synchronicity, I've had some correspondence with Charlie via this blog, and determined that I had started following his economics blog a few months ago. 4 stars for the Grieg.

  • Jim White vs. The Packway Handle Band, "Take It Like A Man". More modern folk than some of Jim White's other stuff. Very reminiscent of Old Crow Medicine Show say. Still some of his witty lyrics, say on "Gravity Won't Fail" or "Paranormal Girlfriend". 3 stars.
  • ELO, "Jeff Lynne's ELO - Alone in the Universe". The Electric Light Orchestra is back! Decent material but nothing to match my favs from the old days like "Mr. Blue Sky" or "Nightrider". 3 stars.
  • Adele, "25". Adele seems so genuine - not manufactured by the recording industry. This album has been an unbelievable smash, weeks and weeks at #1. I don't like it as well as her 1st 2. I think part of the reason for her success is the way she belts out these songs makes them very popular for other people to belt out, particularly in singing competitions. But, I don't know, I'm getting kind of tired of it. 3 stars.
  • Dirty Projectors, "Bitte Orca" (2009). I continue to work backwards collecting this band's music. This one is much more experimental. The sound has not gelled as in the later ones. I'll still go with 4 stars for it. Here's "Two Doves", with one of the females singing lead.

  • Deerhoof, "La Isla Bonita", 2014. These guys are as Japanese, quirky, and energetic as ever. 4 stars. Here's "Mirror Monster".

  • Coldplay, "A Head Full Of Dreams". Very laid back and easy to listen to. It's hard to imagine they are the Superbowl halftime show this year. 3 stars.
  • Charlie Byrd, "Sketches of Brazil, Music of Villa-Lobos" (1967). Ripped from vinyl. Very nice classical guitar etudes and preludes. Prelude #2 is very familiar to me. I think I must have practiced it back when I was taking classical guitar lessons (mid-60s), but the skill level sure seems beyond mine. 3 stars.

  • The Byrds, "Mr. Tambourine Man" (1965), "Turn, Turn, Turn" (1965), "Fifth Dimension" (1966), and "Younger Than Yesterday" (1967). #1, #3, and #4 ripped from vinyl. Finally! I was really looking forward to these, and they did not disappoint. I was 14-16 when these came out, and they were among my total favorites at the time. And when your hormones are 1st kicking in is when the music really burns itself in.

    The Byrds were known for creating folk rock and later country rock; covering Dylan songs; 12 string electric guitar played by Roger (originally Jim) McGuinn; and great 2 and 3 part vocal harmony. I found that my favorite songs were the ones written by Gene Clark, who left the band after the 2nd album due to a fear of flying, and who died in 1991 at age 46 after a life of substance abuse. The David Crosby written songs are the best after that. The history of the band, as per the wikipedia page is really interesting.

    After these 4 albums, David Crosby and bass player and vocalist Chris Hillman both left the band, leaving McGuinn as the only founding member. Graham Parsons was with them for a while and led them to a more country sound, but fabulous session guitarist Clarence White, who can be heard on some of the tracks of the 4th album, joined and I think really defined their sound thereafter. I saw that lineup in Boston in 1972. Per Wikipedia, Clarence White was born Clarence LeBlanc and was from Maine - so, French-Canadian stock. And, sadly, which I never knew, he was struck by a car while unloading equipment from a truck and killed in 1973, after which the band disbanded.

    So, 4 stars for everything except 2 stars for "Captain Soul" from the 3rd album - you just can't play blues licks on a 12-string electric - and several new 5 star songs, yay!

    The song I liked best of all I would not have gotten if I had had the vinyl. "She Don't Care About Time" was the B-side of the "Turn, Turn, Turn" single and never made it onto a vinyl album. They included it when the album was remastered in 1996. A Gene Clark song, with some ripped-off Bach melodies.

    From the 1st album, "Here Without You", another Gene Clark song.

    From the 2nd album, "Wait and See", a David Crosby song.

    Another Gene Clark song, "The World Turns All Around Her".

    Getting psychedelic on the 3rd album, which featured "Eight Miles High", "I See You", by Crosby and McGuinn.

    Finally, from the 4th album, "Have You Seen Her Face", by Chris Hillman. A little cheesy, I don't care, I like it.

  • Buddy Emmons and others, "Suite Steel", 1970. Ripped from vinyl. A compilation of the greatest pedal steel guitar players covering pop songs. The Buddy Emmons cover of "Wichita Linesman" I may already have posted, it is so beautiful, 5 stars. 3 stars for the rest.

That brings us into the new year, I think I'll stop here. Happy New Year!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The First Law

In mid-December I was in Carmichael's Bookstore on Bardstown Rd in Louisville picking up some books I ordered. The store is like 3 blocks from my youngest daughter's house. For the few physical books I buy I've been ordering them online and having them delivered there and then having my daughter pick them up. So my youngest, her son (my grandson), my middle daughter, and their Uncle Bruce, who was running around with me that afternoon, walked down to Carmichael's with me.

After I got my books, my middle daughter wanted me to pick out a book for her to buy me as an xmas present. Somehow, I chose the trade paper version of "The Blade Itself", the 1st book of "The First Law" trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. Definitely a page turner, after I finished its 500 pages I tore through the 2nd and 3rd books: "Before They Are Hanged" (520 pages) and "Last Argument of Kings" (620 pages).

Kind of "Game of Thrones", but with some "Lord of the Rings" and Arthur/Merlin thrown in. Much more sword than sorcery. One of the 3 main narrators we follow is a torturer. He has an assistant named Severard. An homage to Gene Wolf's Severian character, or following the principle that "severe" in a name is appropriate for a torturer?

Definitely a fun read. And I swear, next book will be something worthwhile.

Monday, December 21, 2015

3 2 5

I mentioned last time I figured out I had already read "Three Parts Dead" by Max Gladstone. So I went on and read the next 2 in this series: "Two Serpents Rise" and "Full Fathom Five". These stories appear to be set on Earth, but an Earth with gods, demons, and wizards. But, it is still an Earth similar in development to ours, with 17 million inhabitant mega-cities and magic-based technology and infrastructure. Hmmm, looking up the links to these books, this series is being called "The Craft Sequence" - craft is what magic is called.

They are all good reads, good plotting, pacing, and characters, and the parallel Earth somehow is interesting. But, looking through my old Fantasy posts, I came across a statement that I have to agree with: that science fiction I think does have new concepts, sometimes useful and important, whereas fantasy is pretty much straight escapism. Oh well, still fun sometimes.

The 1st story deals with a captive god disappearing, I think somewhere in North America, and a priest and novice wizardess trying to figure out what is going on. The 2nd story seems to be Aztecs, in a country where the gods have been killed and the wizards rule. The son of the last priest of the deposed gods and a wizardess cooperate in what is basically a corporate takeover gone bad. The third one appears to be in Hawaii, and most of the characters are female: a priestess and a street urchin channeling something are the 2 main narrative threads. The 2nd and 3rd both have some Dilbertish mockery of corporate culture and corporate-speak.

There's a 4th one out, I think I'll wait a while to read it. Still 24 books unread in my iPad, and I'm 2 months behind on the magazine stack.

Meanwhile, so much sci fi & fantasy coming out on TV. I watched Syfy's 6 hour "Childhood's End" by Arthur C. Clarke. It was OK - production values good, but maybe mostly B-list actors. I think overall that the ideas about aliens in it that were way edgy when the novel came out in 1953 are not so edgy now.

I also watched the 1st episode of "The Expanse" on Syfy. Great production values, and I think better actors. I have read these novels. I think that the amount of world-building for this series is large enough that I will enjoy it more if I let some or all of the episodes build up on the DVR and then binge watch them.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Future Visions

"Future Visions", subtitled "Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft", is a collection of 8 short stories and 1 short graphic novel. It has some all-star authors: Greg Bear, Elizabeth Bear, Nancy Kress, Jack McDevitt, Robert J. Sawyer, David Brin, and Ann Leckie, plus a couple of others I hadn't heard of.

Basically, the authors spent time at Microsoft and then wrote stories incorporating 1 of the research areas they had seen. The resulting stories by and large seemed to me to be contrived. (Duh!) I think I liked the David Brin the best, but, from reading his blog, his "Adam Smith Libertarianism" seemed to be bleeding into the story pretty badly.

Well, the collection was free. I'd say I got my money's worth.

Time I think for something more fantastic or magically realistic. Hmmm, I just somehow opened by mistake "Three Parts Dead" by Max Gladstone. We have a winner, ladies and gentlemen!

Or not - starting reading it and realized I'd already read it. A good fantasy, with gods, mages, and gargoyles. I can't find where I blogged it ??? I really, really wished "search this blog" worked better in Blogger blogs. I guess I'll read its sequel(s) instead.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Ancillary Mercy

"Ancillary Mercy", by Ann Leckie, is the 3rd book in the Ancillary series. I blogged on the 1st 2 books here and here. Amazon says the book is 368 pages long. Hmmm, Amazon has put "(Imperial Radch)" after the title of these three books, although that phrase appears nowhere on the cover or title page???

As I started reading the book, my first thought was, "oh no, here we go, more drinking tea and obsessing over china tea services", and was actually kind of dreading going on. But then, I got totally turned around by this passage, regarding the name of a ship:

"What sort of name is that? Didn't Notai ships usually have long names? Like Ineluctable Ascendancy of Mind Unfolding or The Finite Contains the Infinite Contains the Finite?

Both of those ship names were fictional, characters in more or less melodramatic entertainments.

It's an Iain M. Banks Culture novels tribute! Yay! That is the future I want to live in, a post-scarcity, socialist, anarchist utopia.

So that got me rethinking the whole series. The protagonist is an ancillary - a human body wired up to be a remote peripheral to the AI mind of a starship - who is the only survivor when his ship is destroyed. His mind is that of the ship, so a starship AI is the main character of the series. In addition to the ship AIs, every space station is run by an AI.

It's kind of like The Culture v0.3, with a cloned and networked tyrant governing rather than benevolent AIs.

With that mindset, I greatly enjoyed finishing the book. There is a zany alien ambassador who is fun. The conceit of these novels is that the society is genderless. Everyone is a she, and they sure present as women to me. Take for example these passages, the 1st from Chapter 8, the 2nd from Chapter 9.

Why should she not apologize for being oversensitive?

You've been awake for nearly an hour and you've been crying almost the whole time.

So I was shocked by this sentence in Chapter 5, page 4 of 23 in my eBook:
You'd be proud of him.
??? I presume this was a typo. I think that is the downside of a gimmick - that a slight error in execution leaves the reader wondering if it was intentional or not. I think that, algorithmically, it would have been better to do genderless by alternating between male and female pronouns. That might wind up being totally unreadable. I wonder if she tried it that way? Note that ancillaries are referred to as "it", so the genderless pronoun is spoken for.

I think next I am going to read a free collection of short stories from Microsoft. Still 25 unread books on my iPad, so I think I'm going to keep reading more junk until the new year.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Memory of Sky

"The Memory of Sky" is the latest novel by Robert Reed. It is presented as 3 books and is subtitled "A Great Ship Trilogy", so maybe it was initially serialized. Amazon says it has 624 pages.

Reed has done several Great Ship novels and stories. A huge (maybe Jupiter sized?) primordial spaceship that orbits the galaxy comes under the control of humans. There are numerous environments within The Great Ship, in this case a sealed sphere. I am not sure I ever got an accurate picture of how this environment's trees, reefs, and sun were laid out - a diagram would have been nice.

I realized that most of these Great Ship stories are artificial worlds stories. Somehow about 1/2 way through these stories I was strongly reminded of Philip Jose Farmer's World of Tiers stories, although there aren't that many similarities.

The book moves along pretty well. 4 alien children with possibly revolutionary powers completely destabilize society, as factions vie to control the children to exploit their powers. The main child that is follows is sometimes sympathetic, sometimes not.

The ending to the story happens quickly and completely out of left field. It seems to be suggesting more novels with these characters, but in a completely different environment. Again, I was really kind of thrown by the ending. But, Reed writes well, it was a diverting story, not sure there's much edge there. Reed I first remember for some totally edgy stories in Year's Best. So, still worth a read.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Music In - September and October

Right at 2 months since I did this last, not too bad. Here we go.
  • Beach House, "Depression Cherry". Nice, laid back indie pop with female voices. 3 stars.
  • Joanna Newsom, "Have One On Me", 2010. My daugthter Alexis pointed me at this song, "Good Intentions Paving Co.". Great tune, chords you don't expect, great harmony. Ms. Newsom's primary instrument is harp but she also plays piano. She has quite a quirky voice. This was a "3 disc" album. 4 stars for this tune, 3 stars for the rest.
  • Destroyer, "Poison Season". At first I thought this was too energetic for me, but it grew on me. His vocals are so stylized, I would think I'd be tired of them by now. But, not just yet. 4 stars.
  • Ben Folds, "So There". Folds shows some attitude on this album, kind of like he's expecting criticism. It's a great album. Recorded with a full orchestra, the last 3 tracks are a piano concerto, nice! The other 8 tracks are more of Ben's normal catchy pop tunes. 4 stars.
  • Beirut, "No No No". Surprisingly good - not sure why the surprise, this is the 4th album of theirs that I have. Catchy balkan pop tunes from a great Brooklyn band. I think my favorite was actually the instrumental "As Needed", which is unusual for me. 4 stars.

  • Dirty Projectors + Björk, "Mount Wittenberg Orca", 2011. I had been really enjoying the latest Dirty Projectors album, so I decided to go back and start harvesting their earlier stuff. I was pleasantly surprised to find that their previous work was a 7 song suite with Björk, the world's greatest living composer! A lot of fun, the voices go well together. Here's "On And Ever Onward", only 2 minutes. 4 stars.

  • Beach House, "Thank Your Lucky Stars". 2 albums out within 2 months of each other??? More of the same, very pleasant and laid back. 3 stars.
  • Buffalo Springfield, "Retrospective - The Best of Buffalo Springfield", 1969. Ripped from vinyl. Some great songs: "Kind Woman", "Bluebird", "Rock And Roll Woman", "I Am A Child". I had forgotten that Neal Young was in this band for a while, I always thought of it as Stephen Stills' band. Unfortunately, on a few of the tracks one channel seems to fade out. I may see if I can fix it with the Audacity software, but I am not hopeful. 4 stars.
  • Jimmy Buffett, "Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes", 1977. Who knew I had any Jimmy Buffett? All easy to listen to. 3 stars.
  • Gary Burton, "Throb", 1969. Probably still the world's greatest living vibraphone player. The 1st track, I'm going, oof, this guitarist is playing some sucky rock riffs, but, they are not really that bad, and when he switches to more jazz riffs, he's much stronger. Some nice tunes. 3 stars, 4 stars for "Turn OF The Century", which is the only song from the album I remember from Back In The Day.

That brings us up to late October. Only 4 albums in the "_Unrated" list, I guess I'll rip some vinyl next week.