Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Lots + 1 + 1

I'm still attempting to ignore reality for a while, so, more science fiction!

I had not read any short stories for a while and noticed I had Just Over the Horizon The Complete Short Fiction of Greg Bear (Book 1) so I went for it. Greg Bear was one of my favorite authors in the 1980s, particularly his "Eon/Eternity" books and "The Forge of God/Anvil of Stars", "Blood Music", "City of Angels", and his fantasy series "The Infinity Concerto/The Serpent Mage". Lots of good physics. I have read all of these books multiple times. Hmmm, he is 73 days younger than me.

The short stories were OK, but I think he is much better at longer form writing. The short story version of "Blood Music" was fun to read again. Some of the things that dated some of the stories were interesting. One example, a cafeteria in a medical facility that had a smoking section. Ha ha, of course all medical campuses that I know of now are completely smoke free.

I then noticed I had a short story by John Scalzi, "An Election", 24 pages. The eBook was $0.99. I hadn't read any Scalzi in a while. The story really didn't do much for me. I think it was supposed to be cutesy, not so much to me. In a finger to the eye of the puppies, the protagonist is married to another man. Progressive SF is definitely in favor of LGBTQA inclusion.

Finally, I noticed a novel that seemed to have come to the top of my eBook reader: "Among Others", by Jo Walton, 2011, 304 pages. This book won the Hugo and Nebula for best novel. I guess since the protagonist is 15 YO, it is yet another YA novel that makes excellent reading for all ages. It is a fantasy, but I liked that it wasn't until 3/4 of the way through the book that you knew that for sure. Up until that point, it could have been a mainstream novel about a troubled young woman with schizophrenia including as a symptom extreme pareidolia.

The protagonist is also a voracious reader, mainly of science fiction. There is much discussion of various authors and titles, all pre-1979/1980, when the story is set. This reminded me of some movies about movie-making, where the gist seems to be "We make movies, movies are magic, we're really cool!" In this book, though, this did not come across as nearly so self-congratulatory. It wound up being fun, as the authors were mostly among my favorites from Back In The Day, and I had read most of the titles discussed - but 40 or so years ago!

I have been (exercising in the morning,) reading in the afternoons, and watching movies at night. I powered on through this book last night and finished around 11:00. With about 10 pages to go, my iPad ran out of juice - the charging cable had come unplugged! So a slight delay to reaching the very satisfying conclusion. This was a very enjoyable book.

Next up to read, "The Chemical Wedding" by John Crowley. I really enjoyed much of John Crowley's work, going back to the late 1970s. Very self-referential - I remember a couple of his novels where the characters gradually come to understand that they are characters in a fairy tale. I hadn't seen anything from him for a while, so I backed this kickstarter.

My reward was a hardcover copy of the book, which came last week. But, somehow, my reward also included 5 x 500 page hardcover books (9" total thickness) - The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, 17th-21st editions (2004-2008). I had the 4th and 8th editions of this series, so there was a place for it on my bookshelves. I guess the publisher had a bunch of these in a warehouse somewhere and wanted to get the space back, but still, when I saw what had been included, I was definitely like "post-scarcity utopia"!

Thursday, December 01, 2016

2 + 1

I continue to evade reality reading science fiction. 2 novels and 1 novella since last time.

The 1st novel was "Death's End", by Cixin Liu. 608 pages. This is the 3rd novel of the "Rememberance of Earth's Past" trilogy. I recently blogged on the 1st 2 in the series. The novel starts out mostly backfilling events of the 1st 2 novels, but then does carry the narrative forward aggressively. Like the 1st 2 novels, the physics is the best part of the story. Some very creative invocations of aspects of modern thinking in physics. I think the series could continue on to more books, I have not read if that is intended or not.

Next up, the novella, "Everything Belongs to the Future", by Laurie Penny. 128 pages. Near future, very expensive drug regimens allow lifespan to extend to 150 years, with youth and vigor. Our current economy seems to be becoming increasingly an experiment in social darwinism, it only gets worse when life itself is involved. Extended lifespan seemed to be something to hope for, but, as I have mentioned before, when the 1% or the 0.01% claim it exclusively for themselves, they will have at last succeeded it out-feudaling the feudal ages. This is a good (and short) read.

Finally, "Palimpsest", by Catherynne Valente. 2009, 367 pages. I seriously thought about not finishing this book. It is very wordy. Palimpsest is another world, a fairyland where everything must be described in excruciating detail. You get there by having sex with a person who has a portion of the map of Palimpsest on their skin. Then you get a piece of the map on your skin too. So the 1st part of every chapter is working into a sex scenario, of pretty much every combo of male/female, followed by the rest of the chapter concluding in Palimpsest. Once I get an ebook in my iPad, I feel like I need to read it at some point. So this one I wish I hadn't got in my iPad. Ms. Valente writes very well, but, way too many words for the value delivered.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Tennessee, Land of Crazy People

* * * * * RANT ALERT * * * * *

I am of course extremely depressed by the election result. I am trying to ignore it as much as possible. I'm definitely taking a few months off. I've unsubscribed from maybe 50 political mailing lists - my inbox is much smaller now - and muted most political tweeters for 30 days.

Only time will tell whether this election will be the turning point in history which puts us on a direct line to Hunger Games, or maybe a good correction in the US as the world's only superpower, or who knows what. Meanwhile ...

My wife had some time off work, so we decided to spend a couple of nights (November 17 & 18) in Nashville. We stayed at the Hermitage Hotel downtown - very nice, old detailed architecture that my wife loves. The first afternoon there we walked around downtown and wound up at the Tennessee Bicentennial Mall State Park. We were taking a rest sitting in front of a fountain feature when we were approached by 2 women. They were in their 30s, white, attractive, well groomed and well dressed. The younger 1 was pushing a stroller with a baby in it. Here's the gist of our conversation.

Older of the 2: "Can we talk with you?"

Me: "Sure."

Older of the 2: "We wanted to share stories of faith and spirit with you. We are both ministers."

Me: "Arrggghhh! I'm an antitheist, I definitely do not want to share stories of faith with you."

Younger of the 2: "What's an antitheist?"

Me: "It's someone who believes that religion harms the human race - that we would all be better off if people quit including nonexistent supernatural beings in their decision making. Please go away and leave us alone." I was at this point making "go away" motions with my hands.

Older of the 2: "OK, well then, where are you from?"

My wife: "Lexington, KY"

Older of the 2: "OK. Have a nice day."

These 2 women's affects were both very laid back and spacey - kind of like they were stoners. I guess they were high on religion. My wife and I were both annoyed at this intrusion of unreality into what had heretofore been a pleasant afternoon.

That evening we had dinner in the hotel's restaurant, the Capitol Grille. The dinner was OK but nothing special. We were eating at 6:30 and the place was pretty crowded. Our server told us that it was because there was a 7:30 performance of "Book of Mormon" at the Tennessee Center for the Arts, which was 2 blocks up the street.

A few tables over, a couple in their late 30s or early 40s came in. The couple was fairly attractive. The woman had very expensive looking thick curly blond hair past her shoulders and was wearing an evening dress. After a while they were joined by another similarly aged and dressed couple. The woman in this couple was a brunette.

My wife and I both noticed that both men seemed to be totally focusing in on the blond, who is expounding vivaciously. We kind of felt sorry for the brunette. Then during a lull in other conversations, we hear some of what she is saying: "with Jesus's love", "ephesians" ...

At that point, I'm like, crap. Are these people all crazy? This is what is important to them???

And I immediately flashed on this behavior as evolutionary sexual selection. I usually characterize sexual selection as "because chicks dig it", but here we have a woman, proudly flashing her peacock's tail of all the brain cycles she apparently can afford to waste on theories of imaginary superfriends. She was doing it in what appeared to be a courtship / mate selection environment. And the males seemed to be eating it up!

A "peacock's tail" is the archetypal example of a feature of a species that is an extravagant waste of energy, which serves to demonstrate how fit the individual is to be able to waste that much energy, implying that they are obviously superior breeding stock.

Year's ago, I got really discouraged and cut way back on following evolutionary psychology and cognitive science as I kept seeming to find that so much of what we hold dear - our minds, language, music - were all peacock's tails. They were all sexually selected. They may have had some species survival value but that was overwhelmed by the "because chicks dig it" aspect. So it really is all about who are the cool kids in middle school. I found this very depressing. So I think we can add religion to this list.

I have speculated in the past that religion may have species selection effects, in that it increases the survival potential of a group by creating a mechanism which allows for the justification of killing other humans. This may be more or less significant than the sexual selection effect.

This was particularly painful after the presidential election. 80% of white evangelical christians voted for Trump, who appears to be mostly amoral and completely lacking in common human decency. So these same people wanting to share "stories of faith and spirit" and expounding on "Jesus's love" probably voted for this evil man. If I ever had any doubts about evangelical christians being full-of-shit hypocrites, they are all gone now. I'll also bet that most of the audience at this performance of "Book of Mormon" were evangelical christians, who would laugh uproariously at this completely blasphemous play. Blasphemy, the victimless crime.

For many of them, the abortion issue overrides all else. This is yet another example of the harm caused by delusional thinking based on religion rather than facts. Driving in the south, you see the billboards with a fetus thinking, "My heart is beating at 14 days." Well, in pretty much every animal with a heart, it starts beating fairly early in development. So what? The question about development that has meaning is, when is there enough brain to support a human personality? The answer to that question is, around 20 weeks, which is around the time that abortion decisions do indeed become harder.

Oh wait, I'm forgetting the soul. Once the zygote? blastula? fetus? has been given a soul by god, then terminating the pregnancy is murder. I believe Steven Pinker has pointed out that is a totally slippery slope. Who exactly can identify the time of soul implantation? If you take the extreme case and posit that is at the time of fertilization, you still have problems. The genetic material of sperm and egg does not fuse instantaneously. And once it has fused and formed a zygote, a large percentage of zygotes fail to implant in the uterine wall or otherwise spontaneously abort. So I guess god wasted those souls? Or murdered them? Well, we know god does not have any problem with letting children die in countless horrible ways.

My overall conclusion is, believing in nonexistent beings and nonexistent souls makes it much harder to make rational decisions. It reminds me of my older brother, who was an officer in the US Navy for 20 years. He is a bright guy, but at other times seems to be somewhat of a doofus, which I have always attributed to his time in the military. When you belong to an organization where refusing to follow the orders of a superior, no matter how stupid or irrational, can lead to imprisonment or death, I don't believe you form the best problem analysis and decision making skills. Religion is 10x worse than that.

I generally avoid being stridently antitheist. Of me and my 6 siblings, only 1 of us still practices religion, despite having been raised by a devoutly catholic mother. But I have cousins and a few friends who are religious, and, overall, I try to avoid poking sticks in people's eyes. But this election really drove home to me how harmful religion mostly is. The good news is, Pew Research says that 20% of Gen Xers are unaffiliated religiously, and 26% of millennials. So once again, it's on the youngsters to save our old white butts. Come on kids, you can do it!

Friday, November 04, 2016

New Stuff

The Old Fart's Blues Jam had been going on Sunday evenings, primarily outside, at Shamrock's on Patchen Drive. The attendance wasn't that great, I think primarily due to the fact that it was so damn hot through July and August. They quit having the jam when football season started.

To get my playing fix, I started playing as a duo with Steve Konapka, aka Fuzzy, at Coralee Townie's Monday night open mic at Willie's Locally Known. They have a great house PA and a soundman working the board - what a luxury to not have to worry about levels.

Steve is an incredibly versatile harp player. He's been coming over most weeks for a 2 hour session where we work up songs. It is so interesting to see how he will try 2 or 3 different harps to figure out which one sounds best. He also plays a chromatic harp ala Stevie Wonder. We've got around 30 songs worked up and add another 5-10 every time we get together. It's been a lot of fun, and we will probably audition for a paying gig at Azur, and maybe other places.

Meanwhile, the Jam has restarted at Life BrewPub off of Richmond Rd. They also have a board out front. I've only been once, sang some killer harmony with Brent Carter and Matt Noelle on "Thunderbird".

Prior to that, I talked to Willie about having the jam at his place. A little receptive, but not too much. They have live music 7 days a week, and he seemed discouraged at the level of local support they are getting. I think we have a problem with not enough music buzz around Lexington. The Herald-Leader music critic Walter Tunis has been here forever - he started in 1980, we moved to Lexington in 1981. He does a great job, but I think we need like 4 of him. I may have some ideas on that.


I have a new source of music in - Steve has been loaning me some CDs. Just what I needed.

  • Jeff Beck, "Loud Hailer". The world's greatest living rock guitarist teamed up with a new female songwriter and vocalist for this effort. The songs don't do much for me. 3 stars.
  • Antonio Carlos Jobim, "Jobim", 1973. I ripped this from vinyl after talking with fabulous young guitarist Jeff Adams about how the 1st track "Águas de Março" was basically a list of nouns, and the last track "Waters of March" is the same song in English rather than Portuguese. Many years ago my daughters listened to both several times and decided they liked the Portuguese better. This is probably my favorite Jobim song. 4 stars for those 2 tracks, 3 for the rest.

  • Thank You Scientist, "Stranger Heads Prevail". Not sure where this came from. Prog rock performed with great virtuosity, a little Zappaesque. A little more energetic than I really like at this point, but still, 4 stars. Here's a live version of "Caverns".

  • Poco, eponymous, 1970. Continuing with our Poco theme, I think this album came out right after "Picking Up The Pieces", blogged last time. Here's a fast and a slow, both of which I remembered well.

  • Of Montreal, "Innocence Reaches". The disco / glam just keeps on keeping on. Maybe not as good as some earlier work, but still very good. 4 stars. Here's a very instructive video of "it's different for girls".

  • The Byrds, "(untitled)", 1970. Ripped from vinyl. The 1st Byrds album of the Clarence White era. It was 1 live disc and 1 studio disc. The live disc is a reminder of how bad live albums used to be engineering-wise. I saw this lineup in Boston in maybe late 1972 or early 1973. Clarence White was a really interesting player. I did not know until nosing around while ripping this album that he died in July, 1973, age 29, struck by a drunk driver while loading equipment into a car. Most of the live songs suffer from the engineering, and the only real notable of the studio songs is "Chestnut Mare", still fun to listen to. 4 stars for it, 3 for the rest.

  • The Head and the Heart, "Signs of Light". Very pleasant vocals, very listenable, but no real standout songs. 3 stars.
  • Various, "All My Friends: Celebrating the Songs & Voice of Gregg Allman", 2014. Lent to me by Fuzzy. A great lineup of artists doing Allman Brothers songs. 26 total tracks, and not a bad one. 4 stars.
  • Bon Iver, "22, A Million". A very experimental sounding album, very interesting. Reminds me of some of the work of the world's greatest living composer, Björk Guðmundsdóttir. The songs have lots of weird typographics in their titles. 4 stars. Here's "10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄".

  • Regina Spektor, "Remember Us To Life". I like Ms. Spektor's work, but I find some of her vocal stylings annoying. 3 stars.
  • Van Morrison, "Keep Me Singing". Wow, Van the Man keeps on putting out great albums. Very nice tunes. 4 stars. Here's "Every Time I See A River".

That catches me up to the end of September. I keep meaning to do this more often but ...

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Science!

I went on and forged ahead with the "The Dandelion Dynasty #2": "The Wall of Storms", by Ken Liu. I was prepared to be disappointed with it, but it twisted and turned its way into being even a more compelling read than the 1st one. And, added to the enlightment, we have Science! There is nice content with characters using the scientific method and explaining as they go. Here's a nice description of wave phenomenon:
One showed me that light was like waves, ant the other showed me that deviation from an expected pattern of interference could be used to detect minute variations in thickness.
Liu also uses other storytelling techniques, with a couple of longish backstories injected into the main narrative thread. Ha ha, I also liked where he quoted from a tale that involved a queen waiting 10 years for her husband to return, borrowing from Ulysses and Penelope of Greek myth.

I should have mentioned that, although the setting is feudal, it is definitely more Chinese than European. There are rival schools of philosophy, the dominant one of which appears to be an analog of Confucianism. Checking briefly on Chinese philosophy, the other fictional schools do not seem to adhere closely to the real world.

One thing he did in a few places that I questioned was to include passages in their native language like the one below. Are we supposed to read these aloud like poetry?

“Mogi ça lodüapu ki gisgo giré, adi ça méüpha ki kédalo phia ki. Pindin ça racogilu üfiré, crudaügada ça phithoingnné gidalo phia ki. Ingluia ça philu jisén dothaéré, naüpin rari ça philu shanoa gathédalo phia ki.”
This and other recently published sci-fi novels seem to have updated to common zeitgeist features that echo recent positive developments in our world (the 1st 2 anyway):
  1. Gender roles are fluid and/or feminism is rising.
  2. All sexual orientations are welcomed.
  3. Characters die - the "Game of Thrones" effect - although most of the time the authors do not kill off characters as heartlessly as Martin does.
This novel ends in a less resolved state that the 1st one, which I think is the norm for trilogies. I'm looking forward to the next one. Meanwhile, I just purchased Liu's short story collection, "The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories".

Here are the new vocabulary words from the book:

  • kennings - a compound expression in Old English and Old Norse poetry with metaphorical meaning, e.g., oar-steed = ship.
  • chiaroscuro - the treatment of light and shade in drawing and painting.
  • pleonasm - the use of more words than are necessary to convey meaning (e.g., see with one's eyes ), either as a fault of style or for emphasis.
I'm feeling like reading more escapism before economics (tension builds as the election approaches), I'm on the magazine stack now.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Letter to the Editor

Andy Barr's TV ad condemning Nancy Jo Kemper on the Iran nuclear deal is shockingly delusional.

Before the deal, Iran was 1 month from having enough uranium to produce a nuc.

After the deal, Iran is 10 years from producing a nuc once they restart their nuclear program - which they show no signs of doing - and we will know if they do. To be clear, it's not 10 years from the agreement, it is 10 years from now, with "now" moving forward into the future indefinitely.

The main architect of the deal was Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, former chairman of the Department of Physics at MIT. Moniz enlisted the top Nuclear Scientists in the US to do the math and science on this deal to absolutely assure that Iran had zero path to nucs. And let's remember that joining the US in the deal were the UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany.

It is hard to know how to describe Andy Barr's ad. Delusional? Ignorant? Disingenuous? Cynical? Lying? We know he is a lapdog of the big banks, how much money is he getting from the military-industrial complex, who were dying for a war with Iran?

The Iran nuclear deal was a victory for diplomacy and peace over belligerence and war. Andy Barr represents the worst of chicken-hawk GOP tradition, always pushing for another war, then repeatedly voting to deny our veterans the benefits and help they deserve and desperately need. I'm sorry, but I'm disgusted.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

1 Novella & 2 Novels

Based on my success in reading stuff by new authors last time, I decided to go that route again.

1st up, a novella, "Hammers on Bone", by Cassandra Khaw. The copyright page gives copyright to Zoe Khaw Joo Ee. I wonder why she went with the anglicized name? I suspect I got this story from the tor.com blog. I liked the title.

Anyway, the story is set in London. The protagonist is a film noir cheap detective who is also an Ancient One, the last of a race of - demons, maybe? So we've got Sam Spade meets H.P. Lovecraft. The plotting seems to be off in the 1st half, where our detective is nosing around on the case. The film noir dialogue is a bit too campy for my taste at times, but, that's not completely unexpected. This definitely reads like a new author, getting her feet under her. I'm glad it was only novella length.

Next up, "Company Town", by Madeline Ashby. Set 20-40 years in the future on a community of towers grown up around an oil rig off the coast of Nova Scotia. It was interesting how the book pretty much completely inhabits this single locale. We are told next to nothing about the rest of the world, except that nanotech and implants are now the norm.

The protagonist is a bodyguard and is a well-developed character. Overall, the book wasn't strongly plotted. At times it was like, "OK, so maybe that's where the plot is heading now?" The ending reminded me of a James Ellroy serial killer novel where at the end the killer is some random person we have not met before. Ellroy's mother was murdered, possibly by a serial killer, and her murderer was never found. So the ending is a bit out of left field. It also involves some hard sci-fi concepts that could have used more exposition. Still, this was an enjoyable read.

Finally, "The Grace of Kings", by Ken Liu. Kind of Game of Thrones-ish, with a feudal setting where an emperor has conquered the other 6 kingdoms. Similar to GOT, the emperor's death sends the empire on a race to the bottom. There are also squabbling Olympic type gods sticking their fingers in. So, I was kind of like, yawn, yeah, whatever - but then one of characters kind of tries to start The Enlightment, FTW!

“Do you think we are words written on a page by the gods, and that there will always be rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless, noble and commoner? Do you think that all our dreams are doomed to forever fail?”
I definitely poured through this one. Battles and tricks across the world. A plot that twists and turns enjoyably. A very good cast of characters - I liked that the super-warrior was literally over 8' tall. I've got the 2nd in the series on my iPad, I think I'm going to go on and forge ahead. I guess I approved of his world building.

Also, something important, I learned that the plural of "emphasis" is "emphases". I don't think I've ever used that word.