Thursday, September 24, 2015

Not The Years Best!

Every August I look forward to the new annual edition of Gardner Dozois's "The Year's Best Science Fiction". This year is the 32nd edition. One of the better covers in recent years.
I buy these in trade paper or hardcover if possible. I collect less and less - as you get older you realize, your kids really don't want to have to fool with this stuff - but I still collect these. I am missing editions 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 17, and 18. Occasionally I pick one up.

This year the reading went quite a bit differently than usual. The biggest difference was, I had already read several of the stories from other sources. In particular, the excellent Cory Doctorow story and one of the Elizabeth Bear stories were in the excellent "Hieroglyph" collection with I reviewed here; the Lauren Beukes story was in the "Twelve Tomorrows" collection I reviewed here; and the Peter Watts I had purchased as a $1.99 novella.

The last story of The Year's Best is usually a very strong novella. This year's last story was a first contact story by Nancy Kress. Ms. Kress is a top writer and I don't remember not enjoying her stuff before, but this just wasn't a strong effort. Minor twists on the 1st contact theme were OK, but the characters were mostly unlikable. Plus the volume had already had a completely off-the-wall and unique 1st contact story: "Thing and Sick", by Adam Roberts. In addition to being unique, this story was really creepy as well.

There were some other good stories. The Robert Reed was interesting. But all, in all, I think I'd have to pick those other two collections together, "Hieroglyph" and "Twelve Tomorrows", as the year's best.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Music: In, Out, and Over

Let's start it off with music in. We've got more sources than usual this time around.
  • Sunset Hearts, "wwwindswept", 2014. The current main band of my most excellent drumming nephew Max Heinz in Portland ME. 7 tracks, purchased from bandcamp. Very well produced, but I don't think the songs were quite up the quality of their debut album. 3 stars.
  • Marie Stella, "from", 2011. Max's prior band. A lot edgier than Sunset Hearts, very strong alternative rock. 6 tracks, purchased from bandcamp. 3 stars.
  • The Beach Boys, "Ten Years of Harmony", 1980. Ripped from vinyl loaned to me by friend musician Richard Mattingly. He says this was a fan club only release. It covers mostly the same great period as the Beach Boys I had already ripped: "Sunflower" through "Holland" including my favorite "Surf's Up". 27 trecks, including a few I hadn't heard. None of those were standouts, so I just gave the whole thing 3 stars.
  • The KingBees, "Hoodoo Moon", 2013. These guys are a Louisville blues band. My wife and I happened to catch them at Stevie Ray's when we were spending a weekend in Louisville. 5 piece, harpist, guitarist, bassist, and keyboard player all good vocalists. Then at the Tuesday Blues Jam at Weekend Willie's in Naples FL, I wound up playing with the harpist/vocalist Rick Cain - he also has a place in Naples. Last time I played there on a Wednesday night sitting in with Black Cat Bone, he was there and we chatted and he gave me this CD. It is well produced and has some decent songs, but there was also misogyny and sexism that I don't have much use for at this point - songs like "Younger Girls", "I Got My Ex Paid Off", "Gimme My Money Back". 2 stars
  • Tame Impala, "Currents". I love this band's sound, but the songs on this album were not as strong as on their prior album. 3 stars.
  • The Cisco Cliftons, "Is Anybody Out There?". The drummer for this band is young Evan Stripplehoff. He was the 1st drummer of record for the jam I was running at Heny Clay Public House a few summers ago. He got an mechanical engineering degree from UK, worked in the field for 5-6 years, got tired of it, had enough money in the bank to try to pursue music full-time. He's in a couple other bands, this is I think his best. 3 tracks, I think from bandcamp. Well engineered and suprisingly tasty tunes. 4 stars.
  • Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, "Free For All", 1964. Ripped from my vinyl. Art Blakey is an incredibly strong drummer. And for all my normal complaints about jazz not having enough hook, the 1st 2 tracks, the title track and "Hammer Head", both written by Wayne Shorter, are really catchy. 4 stars for those 2, 3 stars for the other 2 tracks.
  • The Blues Project, eponymous, 1972. Ripped from vinyl. Subtitled "A Compendium Of The Very Best On The Urban Blues Scene". Maybe better would have been "White Guys from Greenwich Village play the blues". 4 or 5 mostly solo guitarist/vocalists. Most of the guitar work is very good, the vocals not so much so. It made me think of local musician Willie Eames - a white guy playing traditional blues (and other stuff) - who is 10 times as good as any of these guys. I burned him a copy, hopefully I'll get it to him sometime. 3 stars.
  • The Blues Project, "Live At Town Hall", 1967. Ripped from vinyl. Wow, what a difference. I remember most of this one. Al Kooper on Keys, Denny Kalb on guitar. I think I remember playing "Flute Thing", "Wake Me, Shake Me", and maybe "I Can't Keep From Crying", but I can't imagine what band that would have been with. Put this in the Psychedelic genre - I think the 1st album in that genre that doesn't suck! 4 stars for those 3 tracks, 3 stars for the rest.
  • Bonzo Dog Band, "Urban Spaceman" 1968; "Keynsham" 1969, "Let's Make Up And Be Friendly" 1972. Ripped from vinyl. Also known as the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. They were a British novelty band from Back In The Day, led by Vivian Stanshall. We really liked "Urban Spaceman", but, man, novelty doesn't age well. 3 stars for "I'm The Urban Spaceman", "We Are Normal", "Beautiful Zelda", and "Mustachioed Daughters", 2 stars for everything else. I created a Novelty genre for this. I also put Ween in it.
  • Arthur Brown, "The Crazy World of Arthur Brown", 1968. Ripped from vinyl. Wow, talk about something that did age well. I thought Arthur Brown was a black guy, but he's a British white guy. He was known for his theatrics. I think the song "Fire" was a radio hit. The main instrument on the album is kickass organ, with horns on some songs. I put this in the Unclassifiable genre, really hard to characterize. 4 stars, 3 for "Spontaneous Apple Creation".
  • Joss Stone, "Water For Your Soul". Quite a bit more reggae than Ms. Stone's earlier efforts. It didn't do that much for me. 3 stars.
  • Lianne La Havas, "Blood". I think I heard a track from this on WRFL. Nice vocalist from London, some bossa nova / spanish sounds, but also some more energetic sounds. A nice mix of tunes. 4 stars.
  • Will Nelson & Merle Haggard, "Django and Jimmie". Recommended by my friend bassist Gary Jones. Had to go for it, love both these old guys. A few covers but mostly new stuff. 3 stars.
  • Adron, "Organismo", 2011. Recommended by my friend bassist extraordinaire Jairaj Swann when she was going to be performing in Lexington recently. They are currently both based in Atlanta. Beautiful vocals and guitar work. Consistently interesting songs. Sorry I didn't see her. 4 stars.
  • Cibo Matto, "Hotel Valentine", 2014. Couldn't resist another entry to the "Japanese Chick Pop" genre. Hunh, their other 2 albums I have are from 1996 and 1999, with not many since then. Sounds pretty much the same as those, decent listening. 3 stars
That brings us up through mid-August. 5 new ones in the hopper for next time.

On to the music out - and over. It looks like I have retired from being a semi-professional jam musician. I haven't been out playing - or picked up a guitar for that matter - since mid-June. Maybe it will just be temporary, I don't know.

Most of the musicians at the jam have 10 songs in their repertoire, maybe 20. I've done 84 over the years, but had only been able to work in 1 new song in the last year. I get tired of doing the same stuff ("play 'Crossroads'"). And overall, I don't know, sometimes I felt like I sounded good, and people would say I sounded good, but videos of my playing and singing seemed to me to be consistently pretty sucky. And I've always said, I don't do things if I suck at them.

Plus, a few things lately, minor but very annoying health issues, have reminded me, I'm getting old. I don't need to be staying out late in bars drinking, smoking, and otherwise abusing myself.

And, I seem to have very little inclination to practice lately - too many books to read, too many tweets to tweet.

So, the guitar cases stay in the basement for a while. We'll see how long, I guess.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Europa Report

Last night I watched the movie "Europa Report" (2013) on Netflix. It's about a manned spaceflight to Jupiter's moon Europa. It's not bad. Rather than using "jumpy cam" is uses "cutting in-and-out cam" as a suspense mechanism. The pacing and suspense are good, as is the exciting conclusion. So, worth a watch.

I thought it might be foreign made - Canadian or British - but the credits call out only the Film Bureau of New York. More importantly though, the credits roll on for page after page to NASA, JPL, and Lockheed-Martin. So basically the film is an infomercial for manned exploration of the solar system. Early on the woman who is the corporate project manager says that they we have to send people because people contain "unquenchable will to make things work and get the job done." or some such.

The film totally fails as an informercial. In fact, it is a testament against manned space exploration. I'm going to go into details, so, if you are going to watch the movie, please go do so and read the rest after you're done.

* * * SPOILER ALERT * * *

I'm just going to list all the bogosity here, in no particular order.

  • Most of the 6-person crew (4 men, 2 women) are way too high strung to be astronauts, particularly for what would be a, what, 3 or 4 year mission. Particularly the female oceanographer who sits around looking tense all the time. Astronauts like airline pilots I would think are chosen to be stolid, phlegmatic, unemotional.
  • Space missions only "wing it" when absolutely necessary. They totally go by the numbers unless it is completely unavoidable. The 1st crew death occurs as a result of when a damaged solar module won't come out and the 2 guys working on it decide after about 4 seconds discussion to pry and yank it out. The 2nd crew death occurs after the oceanographer, at the limit of her range from the lander on Europa, sees glimmering lights, decides to move after them, and the commander in the lander says "Yeah, go for it".
  • Plot tension is generated by having the lander miss its target by 100 meters (the oceanographers walk). They wanted to land on an area showing thermal anomalies - heating. As soon as they are down, they find out the thermal anomalies are melting the ice and making it unstable - duh!
  • The "compelling purpose" of the mission was to look for life in the seas of water underneath Europa's icy shell. And finding other life "would be the greatest discovery in the history of science". Wrong, wrong, wrong. I guess sometimes scientists, NASA administrators, etc. do speak like this, trying to build excitement for budgets, but, it just ain't so - it ain't science. Science is The Scientific Method, and 10000s of discoveries over the history of mankind, always building to some extent on prior discoveries. Science is a team sport. I see finding other life as pretty inevitable. When it happens, it will be just another brick in the wall.
  • The whole concept - send 6 people to Jupiter with no backup, no contingency plan - just seems so wrong. I'd guess at least a 50% probability of it being a suicide mission - hey, I was right, they all die! But, the last 2 alive scavenge life support to repair their busted Earth comm so they can get the news back. Surely there's a better way!
There is a better way - let our friends the robots do it for us. They are currently doing amazing work! Look at this picture of Pluto, of all places, on what looks like a close flyby!

Or this one, of the odd shiny spots on the largest asteroid Ceres.

When we do want to try to create human presence off of the Earth, say on the Moon or Mars, why not send teams of robots to first setup facilities to build more robots (if possible), and then build the structures for humans to come inhabit? It will take a fraction of the cost, and greatly delay the inevitable PR blowback from the 1st human deaths, which we know will eventually occur.

This seems like the only way to go that makes sense to me. You're going to have to have the facilities to create raw materials, particularly oxygen and water, for human inhabitants sooner rather than later. Let's let the robots do it!