Thursday, April 28, 2016

Three-Body Problem Dark Forest

Earlier in this month I read "The Three Body Problem" and "The Dark Forest", by Cixin Liu. Liu is China's leading sci-fi author. The 3rd (final?) book "Death's End" will be out in September. I have it on pre-order.

The best part of these books is the physics - very creative and interesting. The chaotic orbit of a planet in a trinary stellar system (the title of the 1st book) is very well explained. The speculative post-standard model physics is very good stuff.

The books also adopt, as per the title of the 2nd book, the view of interstellar civilization that I first remember from Greg Bear in "The Forge of God". They are sweeping in scope, both in space and time.

The plotting was also pretty good. After at times lulling you to a point of approaching boredom, wham, action! Kind of like "Breaking Bad".

The odd part was some of the characterization. You are reminded that China is still a Communist country. Who else has "political officers" on their vessels as main characters? The 1st book opens in the 1960s with the Cultural Revolution, and, in some ways, it seems the books keep that "revolutionary zeal" feel. And that feel is the opposite of "noirish cool". Even the chain-smoking cynical detective character still has the approval of the powers-that-be, i.e., the party officials.

Here's some samples of uncoolness and other weirdness from the 2nd book:

"Mr. Shi, we haven't been working together long, but I really respect you."

A humble respect so rarely seen among modern people seemed to be in his blood, able to manifest at any time.

there was the principle of fairness in battle opportunity. ... a fair number of ships could not have been considered to have taken part, leaving them nothing in the history books but eternal regret.

They looked so noble and perfect, from the captain to the lieutenants, and their eyes shone with a godlike wisdom.

Earth now had the calm confidence to face any sort of enemy.

Yet Zhang Beihai's calm eyes were a strong force field that upheld the stability of the formation and helped them maintain their military poise. Children cast aside into the endless night needed a father most of all ...

his eyes full of a fatherly concern that gave her an undreamed-of sense of comfort ...

So, exposure to a different culture is a good thing I guess. Even if some of the attitudes seem, what, phony or insincere? Or juvenile? Quaint? Or just definitely Not Cool. Or maybe it's a translation problem, but I don't think so.

Still, the books are well worth the read, and I'm looking forward to the 3rd one.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Time For Music Again

How the time does fly. New music for the 1st 3 months of this year.
  • David Bowie, "Blackstar". Amazing that Bowie made this 7 track album knowing he was dying. It is a fitting memorial. The 2 videos from the album are both disturbing and haunting. 4 stars.

  • Bloc Party, "Hymns". A very nice album from this British group. Catchy tunes, good dancers. Here's "Into The Earth". 4 stars.

  • Ra Ra Riot, "Need Your Light". Not as good as their prior album, but some good tunes. I will give it 4 stars out of respect for their earlier effort and because I suspect it will grow on me.
  • Lake Street Dive, "Side Pony". Their 2nd album. Kind of like the Ra Ra Riot. No songs jumped out at me. Plus, the engineering I thought was a little suspect. It seemed like it needed more, something closer to the Phil Spector wall of sound. 4 stars.
  • Bonnie Raitt, "Dig In Deep". I read somewhere how this was her 1st album of new material in several years. It does not seem like that long. Again, how the time does fly. This is a great album, man can that woman play slide guitar. I am working up "Shakin' Shakin' Shakes" for the jams. 4 stars.

  • Lucius, "Good Grief Deluxe". Their 2nd album. About the same quality as their 1st, I think. 4 stars. Here's "My Heart Got Caught On Your Sleeve".

  • Vandaveer, "The Wild Mercury". I read a review of a recent local concert by this group, out of Louisville. The guy who writes the material and sings lead is from Lexington. He has a female harmony singer. Genre-wise, iTunes made it "Folk" - it's kind of in that folk-country-alternative blend like, say, Lonesome Bellow. Very listenable. 3 stars - mostly because everything else has been 4! I have to pretend I still have some powers of discrimination!
I am hopefully back to playing at jams for a while. I played at the Groove Jam in Richmond, and the Sunday jam at Shamrock's. Despite not practicing much, I think I acquitted myself fairly well. I'm also working up a couple o new songs.

Monday night I went to open mic at Willie's Locally Known. This has relocated from the north side to Southland Dr, in the (cursed) site by the railroad tracks that used to be Trump's (and then the execrable ShowMe's). They have done a great job with it. Rustic wood look. The end by the stage has raised seating along the walls for an amphitheater effect. I loved their bourbon bar as well. Q: Which bourbons do you carry? A: All of them.

The open mic is run by Coralee of popular local band Coralee and the Townies, who I have never seen. So she did 1 song on vocals and acoustic guitar, then started calling people up to do 2 songs. It was not so good for a while. Late-in-life guitarists without much touch, out-of-tune guitars, etc. Amateur night.

Then this 20 YO kid got up and played originals on ukulele and vocals. Totally odd chords, very distinctive voice, completely fresh and original. I talked to him afterwards, need to get his name. I was hesitant to do it, so as not to taint his originality, but I suggested he listen to Tune-Yards - another alternative ukulele player. I'd buy his album right now, but what tremendous potential.

Next up a 15 YO kid playing Preston Reed / Kaki King open-tuned acoustic guitar type stuff. Very good.

Then a 16 YO kid playing a mandolin. First a very jazzy instrumental, very nice, then singing a country song with a great, expressive voice.

So it wound up being a worthwhile evening of live music.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Twelve Tomorrows

I read the 4th edition of "Twelve Tomorrows", published by MIT's Technology Review magazine. As in past years, it is a very good collection.

The Stross story, "Life's a Game", explores the end(game) of gamification as drolly as you would expect. "All the Childhood You Can Afford" by Daniel Suarez paints a picture of a very different and unique type of future dystopia. The John Kessel story "Consolation" features a global warming dystopia that is quite possible - and, while there is some degree of schadenfreude in southerners and particularly Texans as illegal aliens in a north that is now part of Canada, one hopes nonetheless that we don't go there. "The Design Doyenne Defeats the Dullness" by Paula Antonelli finally gives us a post-scarcity future, with art of course reigning, and presiding over a ritual suicide.

I was disappointed but not particularly surprised that there were quite a few more dystopias than utopias. The only story not mainly dystopian was the Antonelli.

But the last story kind of threw me. It was titled "The Ancient Engineer", by Bruce Sterling, who is a great author and futurist, and who edited this collection. The story is about a 2nd century Roman engineer??? So, I'm not sure what he was thinking in giving us "11 Tomorrows & 1 Yesterday".