The Den of Ubiquity
Tuesday, April 29, 2003:
My Thoughts Are Miles Away
Something disturbing happened to me last week. Well, initially it seemed disturbing, and then it seemed innocuous, and now it's starting to bother me again.
I was heading south on 109th Street, on my usual route home from work. The traffic wasn't creeping along as it sometimes does, but I still ended up having to stop at a red light for almost every intersection.
At Jasper Avenue, I was second, or maybe third, in line. As I was slowing down, I noticed some kids, pretty disreputable looking, high school to junior high age. They had been standing on the corner, but as the lights turned red and the traffic stopped, they stepped out into the street and wove among the cars. I'm used to jaywalking in that area, but more often it's half a block north, and let's face it, they were right at the corner anyway.
One of the kids, who had a sort of short mohawk hairdo, and probably some quantity of Native blood, came close to my car. He raised a T-shaped object in his hand, and for half a second I thought, He's going to smash my window.
But he didn't. He washed my window with the squeegee he had in his hand. My window wasn't that dirty, but he washed it anyway, and then he moved on to the next car. No tapping on the window for money, or anything like that. He didn't even try to get any acknowledgement from me. In fact, I vaguely remember something like the same thing happening last year, or the year before, though I had forgotten it until then.
I was immensely relieved, and it seemed funny after that. How I had reacted, to something so innocuous! This is Edmonton, not L.A. or Toronto or anything--kids are not going to be smashing windows in downtown rush hour traffic. But that was my first assumption. My knee-jerk reaction was fear.
I try very hard to be open-minded. I consider myself to be, if not unbiased, at least tolerant and fair-minded. But apparently I've still got prejudices lurking in there. Not really racial prejudices, though it'd probably be fair to say that Natives can make me uncomfortable. But if I see a group of three or four teenage boys, dressed in what is probably typical teen fashion, I tense up. I am prepared in case they try something. Admittedly, I am mostly "prepared" in the sense that I am running through scenarios in my head in which I react with heroism, inspiration, and ability against my evil teenage oppressors, none of which are likely to happen, but some part of my mind is nonetheless expecting that kind of behaviour. And it has never, ever come.
Maybe it's all those books and movies, where the nice guy who just wants to be left alone is set upon by a nasty bigger guy, and his two or three cronies, who hold the nice guy while the nasty guy punches him up. I remember a scene from the John Stith book Reunion On Neverend, not to mention "Back To The Future", and that kind of stuff. I'm sure I encountered similar situations, never actually getting up but certainly getting harassed, when I was a kid, two years younger than the rest of my class but still apparently more intelligent.
I'd like to know how the heck those kids got into the window washing, though. I bet there's a neat story behind it.
Time to cover a couple of library CDs...
White Town: Women In Technology In 1997, MuchMusic played White Town's "Your Woman" nearly to death. I'm not sure whether they loved the video or the song, but Nicole, for one, got sick of it. It never bothered me that much, and I still think it's an okay song. It took until now for me to check out the album, though. I'd have to say that that track is definitely the most interesting. The rest is very strongly, and admittedly, influenced by 80's synth-pop--the band consists mainly of Jyoti Mishra, with a couple of guests. The only other track that I really liked was "Wanted", which was co-written by Ann Pearson, the guest vocalist who showed up on a few other tracks as well. The other songs didn't hold together, and just weren't as sonically interesting as "Your Woman" was.
I did end up checking out the web site, which led me to Jyoti's actual web site. I found him a bit stridently anti-war, so I didn't spend much time there, but I did check out his "Heroes" page, which led me to be curious about Susan Blackmore. This is getting far afield from music, but what the hell.
Turns out that Ms. Blackmore was one of the leading researchers into out-of-body experiences, and a number of other parapsychological phenomena, but her scientific mind managed to eventually conclude that the whole set of things was just bunk. She basically just divorced herself from the whole field, which I think is pretty courageous. She also wrote a book called The Meme Machine, on a topic(memes, of course), which was dear to my heart; they have the book at the library, and hopefully I'll get to read it soon. She's also written a textbook about various theories of human consciousness--not proposing any one theory over any other, but trying to assess them all impartially. That sounds interesting too, and I'll have to look for that.
Wave: State of Mind Wave is a youthful male duo along the lines of, say, Sky, or Savage Garden. I liked the song "That's How It Feels" that was playing on the radio, and the rest of the album is quite listenable, but not outstanding. "Save A Little Part", and the title track, are also catchy songs.
Bruce Cockburn: Circles In The Stream This turned out to be a live album, from 1977. Most of my favourite Bruce Cockburn songs come after that time, but this was a good listen anyway. I like live albums because they shake up the sequence of the albums, and put songs in new contexts where sometimes I will notice them a little better. For instance, I was quite taken by the song "Arrows of Light", which is on an album I already had, and had never been struck by before.
Gillian Welch: Time(The Revelator) A ho-hum album of roots & folk, with minimalist sound that just doesn't much appeal to me. Sorry, Gillian.
Whizzing ever onward and upward, further up and further in, through the countdown:
326. Ann Mortifee: Gypsy Born, from Journey To Kairos
I listened to a lot of Ann Mortifee as a kid, and this was my favourite of her albums. Her voice almost whispers in the verses, but soars in the chorus, as it tells the story of a girl who yearns for something outside of her narrow life, and finds it in the stories of an old pedlar.
325. A-Ha: Soft Rains of April, from Scoundrel Days
This song, about a man languishing in prison and missing his home, is gentle and understated until Morten Harket's voice soars up into the bridge with power he displays far too seldom.
The lazy dog jumps over the quick brown fox.
Add a comment Clix me!
Monday, April 28, 2003:
It's Raining But I'm Not Complaining
Madonna's latest album has, of course, been accompanied by a whole media frenzy, starting of course with the controversial "American Life" video, which might practically have been engineered for the publicity. And then there was the "Will & Grace" episode, whose timing would unquestionably have been arranged.
This doesn't bother me that much. That's Madonna for you. I hear that the album is sub-par, but then I hear that there are some people who still like it. And hey, at least it has "Die Another Day" on it, so there's one good song already. I think I've got most of Madonna's albums to date, with the exception of soundtracks("I'm Breathless" does not tempt me)and the like. "Music" I haven't sprung for yet--it didn't do much for me, besides the title track, but one day I'm sure I will get a copy.
What does bother me, though, is how, in headlines, she is constantly referred to as "Material Girl". This can't be for short, the way one might use "J-Lo" or "Jacko", because, as I'm sure you've noticed, it's longer than Madonna. So why do they use it? Just to try to be clever? To belittle her, perhaps?
Grow up, people. She made one song called "Material Girl", about eighteen years ago, and she didn't even write the thing, and while it may have been one of her biggest hits at one time, it's ancient history now. There are doubtless thousands of people blogging who weren't alive when that song came out. Can we get over it, please? Even if it was an accurate statement of her attitudes at the time, and not just a calculated image assumption(not Madonna!), I doubt that it holds true any more, especially given what I've heard about "American Life".
I've seen a few people refer to her as "Madge", and frankly, I like that better.
But then, I suppose I shouldn't start to expect creativity to come out of entertainment headline writers yet. I sometimes think that they give these people lists of cliches, organized by key words, so that if they're doing an article on Jennifer Love Hewitt, they can find something with "Love" in it, or something with "Wing" or "West" for "The West Wing", etc. I'm sure there's huge quantities of new phrases being coined out there right now, but they're not making it into the entertainment news, I guess...
Remember back when I got my new hard drive? About four posts ago?* Well, it seems to still be working fine. I even figured out, eventually, what "happened" to the /usr/bin files in Cygwin. Apparently Cygwin mounts /bin and /usr/bin at the same place, so that the D:\cygwin\usr\bin directory is actually empty, but you see a mirror of the D:\cygwin\bin directory. I've been reading the cygwin mailing list for a few weeks now, because I'm using this stuff at work, and it's been a real education.
But that wasn't what I wanted to talk about. When I was driving back from the computer store, I turned on the radio, and ended up on CJSR. And what they were playing just floored me.
It was barely music. It was spoken, in a woman's voice. Two voices, really, but obviously still the same woman. One voice had a Southern accent, and was carrying on a one-sided fight with her lover(or his--I'm not sure whether it was intended to be a man or not, but the lover was definitely female). The other voice had a more neutral(American)accent and kept giving instructions, as if through an earphone, to manipulate ordinary objects, which were wired with high-tech capabilities, always "casually". It was spellbinding.
Luckily, I managed to catch the name of the artist, and the title of the track--Miranda July, "Co-Star". I checked it at the library later, and, of course, it wasn't there. But I did find evidence of her existence on the net. And, I confess with some shame, it was the first thing I looked for when I signed up on Kazaa. I'm sure I will eventually try to order one of her albums, but I really want to listen to that one track again. It was magnificent.
What have I been reading in the last little while? I finished rereading Dare by Philip Jose Farmer, and let me say that it was almost a completely pointless book, discarding characters and plot threads with reckless abandon and finishing ultimately unsatisfyingly. Either it should have been a longer book, to more fully explore these things, or it should have tossed some of the junk out to focus more on one thing. But that's not really Farmer's style, I guess.
Then I read Ian Fleming's From Russia, With Love. Yes, I've been trying to read the original James Bond books. The first three I thought were pretty good, but the last one, Diamonds Are Forever was sub-par, and this one wasn't that great either. The movie followed it almost slavishly, so I guess I knew what was coming most of the time. James Bond didn't appear until a third of the way into the book, the preceding parts being all about the Russian intelligence officers who were trying to figure out some way to regain their lost prestige, and eventually hit on an elaborate, nay, overelaborate, plan involving Bond.
The problem was, while the plan was being executed, I was not convinced that the good guys were being quite as stupid as they were, or short-sighted. In short, I wasn't convinced that it would have worked. Fleming tried a little bit too hard. The book also ends, unlike the movie, with Bond dying, apparently, from Rosa Klebb's poisoned boot-spike. Was Fleming trying to finish the series there, like Doyle killing off Holmes? Very possible.
After that, I went on to Kim Stanley Robinson's The Gold Coast. This is the second book in Robinson's thematic "Orange County" trilogy. The first, The Wild Shore, took place in OC in a future where the U.S. was being completely oppressed by the U.N. and had been rendered virtually powerless, with people living near-pastoral lives. The third(which I mistaken read next, thinking it was the second), The Pacific Edge, was in a sort of libertarian utopia, with the plot centered almost entirely on interpersonal interaction--people fell in love, and people with differing goals came into conflict. Both were pretty good, though very different from your average SF plot, more like mainstream, except set in a recognizably different world.
This one was set in the "middle ground", the more realistic(though still unlikely, of course)extrapolation of current trends. Orange County is built up with an entire upper level of freeways, malls, and condos, and there is still, in 2040, a Cold War going on. Our main character is living his life a little aimlessly, searching for purpose and love. His father is working for a defense contractor, and his friends are engaged in such things as drug dealing(though pointedly not seedy drugs here--mind-altering rather than narcotic), industrial sabotage, and living in the niches of the system. His life swings high, and it swings low, and the climax is very powerful. It's heady stuff, once you get into it, and might even make this year's Top Reads list. (Where's last year's list? I'm still workin' on it.)
Now I've started Universe 8, one of Terry Carr's SF anthology series from the 70's. Short-story books are almost always harder than novels, especially multiple-author ones, because you lose momentum with each story, and, let's face it, the authors vary in skill, too. I've read many short stories by people whose novels I would not buy. The first one, Michael Bishop's "Old Folks At Home", is a bit on the long side, but it's an interesting look at a possible future as it pertains to the elderly, as opposed to the young or mature adult.
Why am I reading it? Well, to be honest, it is, as far as my records can tell, the book that I bought the longest ago and still haven't read. I've been keeping a list of my books for many, many years, though it didn't include dates until about 11 years ago. This book is probably one I bought in 1990 or '91. I've given up on the strategy I had for a while, of only reading books in the order I bought them, but I am trying to make some progress on these relics from a distant past. I don't always like them, but hey, there might be a good story or too in here...
Now it is the time for the counting down to be taking place!
328. Ginger: Solid Ground, from Far Out
The Grapes of Wrath was one of the great Canadian bands of the late 80's, but in the 90's one of the mainstays of the band left, and the rest continued at Ginger. They were pretty good, if not always as good as the Grapes. This song, from their first full-length album, is pretty good, with music reminiscent of some of the more psychedelic elements of the last Grapes album, "These Days", and Tom Hooper's vocals going from murmur to impassioned cry.
327. Depeche Mode: But Not Tonight, from Black Celebration
This song has great associations for me, bringing to mind all sorts of late-night excursions with my brother and his friends when I first moved to Edmonton. Most vividly, I recall listening to it, standing at a bus stop on 100th Street at the top of the Walterdale Hill, with the small snowflakes of late fall coming down. So maybe this is mostly a nostalgia entry, but it's also a great synthpop song too.
A sine curve goes off to infinity or at least the end of the blackboard.
Add a comment Clix me!
Sunday, April 27, 2003:
Trying To Find Gold In A Silver Mine
Two weeks less a day since my last post. Is this a new record for me? You don't care, do you?
Well, I hope I will be able to turn this around. I've been reading Biz Stone's book on blogging, and it might be getting me a little more motivated. I'm going to try to do some half-hour blog entries--the monsters I tend to crank out usually take an hour or more, and leave me depleted of time and topics.
In my defense, last week's free time was mostly taken up by our belated rush to do taxes. (For those of you outside of Canada, I should mention that our tax deadline is April 30th, not 15th or 5th.) Rather than go to H&R Block like we have the last few years--or Nicole has, anyway--we invested in an actual tax software package, QuickTax. Then we had to organize all of Nicole's writing expenses, and then our house-related expenses for the past year, because she can claim about a tenth of that because she works at home. That's what takes the time, and that's what we put off.
We did finish it, though, and we will be getting about a $2600 refund. That's mostly because of the way I set up my taxes--for my paycheque, I'm not using any deductions that I could be getting if Nicole's income is low. That way, if she makes money, then she may have to pay taxes(because publishers never deduct them), but I won't. And if she doesn't make any money(or not much--she had some readings and e-book sales this year, but no big new contracts), then she doesn't have to pay any taxes, and I get a refund. Also, I'm helping to support the Canadian government by leaving my money with them for several months, to gain interest, rather than selfishly keeping it to myself.*
And then there was the Cult of Pain meeting, which was last night. We had three pieces to critique, and being me I barely got around to reading them before the day of the meeting, let along critique them. But I did, finally. And then there was a big snowstorm, and our two Calgary members(who were driving up for the meeting)were trapped by highway closures. So we only had one of the three authors to comment on.
I also finally gave in and tried Kazaa, and have managed to find a whole bunch more of the old Frantics radio shows that I've been looking for. So that took up some of my time, too. Just the searching for them--I haven't gotten around to listening to most of them yet.
So that's been my last couple of weeks. Oh, and there was Easter in there too, but since we actually stayed in town, we didn't have as much for family commitments--Wayne dropped by on Saturday, and then we went to Nicole's parents' new house in Beaumont for Easter Sunday dinner. My dad was down for a couple of weeks, too, but he spent some of that visiting other people out of town; there was another "Easter" dinner on Palm Sunday with some of his family, including my cousin who's getting married this summer.
Has my topic wandered enough? Well, I've still got ten minutes left...
In the Biz Stone book(whose title I am too lazy to go upstairs and check, so let me just check his web site instead), Blogging: Genius Strategies For Web Content, he covers some basic blogging techniques that I already know, but he also does cover some interesting things I hadn't considered. One of them, for a possible moneymaker, is the Amazon.com Associate program. I mean, I discuss a lot of books and CDs, and theoretically someone could be moved by my review to click through and buy it right away online, right? Yeah, maybe it's just optimism and crass greed, and let's face it, I get about 15 visitors a day as it is, so my odds of making any money would be slim. So the question is, would the minimal chance of slight additional income justify the effort of searching on Amazon every time I mention something they have in stock? We'll have to see.
And now it's time for another countdown installment:
330. Elton John: Honky Cat, from Honky Château
I remember listening to Elton John's "Greatest Hits" album as a kid, though I didn't retain a lot of the songs in memory. But this one certainly sounded familiar to me, and it's held up over the years. It's got a great light, bouncy feel to it, with lots of brass and piano. Also contains a four-letter word(well, in present participial form, anyway), which I didn't clue in to for many years.
329. Les Misérables: One Day More, from Les Misérables Soundtrack
This montage piece from the musical checks in with a number of characters as they prepare for one of the most eventful days in the entire story. It works best because of its fugal structure, I think--each character introduced singularly at first, and then intermingling almost cacophonously in the middle until at the end they come together in one glorious passage of harmony that rarely fails to bring me to tears. This song is one of the reasons I still like musicals so much.
Take a fantastic multimedia voyage inside your own body!
Add a comment Clix me!
Monday, April 14, 2003:
There's Nobody At The Wheel
I've started doing dishes during the week.
I've never really done that. Well, that's not quite true. I used to wash dishes during the week, when I wasn't working full time, but I would then wait until we were out of a lot of things before I would condescend to do them. When I am working full time, then I generally would wash them on the weekend, in a two-hour or longer session, because that's what happens when you let them build up for a week. Often we would still run out of something during the week, and then I, or Nicole, would have to wash it anyway...but it got dirty again immediately, so that didn't really count.
When Simon was drinking bottles, I would also have to wash bottles at least twice a week, because we just didn't have that many bottles in the house.
But for a while now I have been increasingly frustrated with how little spare time I actually have on the weekends. And I had this extra time that was coming from my shorter hours at work, which was not really "spare" because it fell into the pre-supper family time slot. So I thought, why don't I do some dishes during the week? We could still socialize, and I would still get some free time later in the evening.
My original plan was to do dishes every night for a week and see how it worked. That didn't last...well, it didn't really start. But I have been doing them consistently every two or three days for a few weeks now, and I think I like the new system. There's less counter/sink/stove space taken up by dirty dishes, and I do have a little bit more time on the weekend.
I don't actually dislike doing dishes, really. Like many tasks, I am initially reluctant to do it, but once I get into it I am dedicated monomaniacally to the task until it is finished, or I am forced to stop. Really.
Thinking about that makes it all too clear to me how Dissociative Personality Disorder(sometimes called Multiple Personality, or, incorrectly, schizophrenia)works. It's like if I turned into Dave the Dishes Guy whenever I did dishes. There would be one personality(or a number of them)that hated doing dishes, so they would send Dave up to the front whenever dishes-doing presented itself. I, the core personality, would say that I hated doing dishes, and luckily I didn't actually have to do them. And so on. Except that normally, instead of doing dishes, it's surviving parental abuse or something. Though I remember a writer I heard saying on Fidonet, once, ended up with his characters living in his head as separate personalities. He called them "the peanut gallery".
Nicole's parents are finally moving down here. Yay! Her mother came down to take possession of the house on the 1st, and so we saw her for a few days. Their house looks pretty big, but then all houses do with no furniture in them. It's a bi-level with a mostly finished basement, and apparently a pretty good garden as well. I'm no aficionado of gardens, or plants in general, but occasionally I will admit that flowers look pretty.
As I understand it, they were moving their stuff out of the house(or movers were, perhaps)today, and they'll be moving into the new house tomorrow. It's still an 8-hour drive or so down the highway, but at least we won't have to do it again, or at least not nearly as often.
I'm totally looking forward to their being closer to us. Luke is still being super-fussy with strangers, but hopefully Grandma & Grandpa will not be strangers for long. So then we will be able to get out to more movies, get more free time(writing time for Nicole during the day, of course, which I am hoping will mean the occasional free evening for me), etc. It sounds selfish, but our children claim so much of our time that, frankly, we need time for ourselves as well. Especially being so introverted...
It's been a while since I updated you on the roller coaster that is Edmonton weather. Right now our snow is all or almost all gone, though it was cold today, and rainy this evening, so a little dusting of snow overnight might not be outrageous. We got up to 18° Celsius a few days ago, but it isn't that long since we got a big dump of wet snow that I had to shovel off the driveway. It's what I call "Indian Winter".
Most days it's cold in the morning, and hot in the afternoon, especially in the car on the way home. So it's hard to find the right combination of clothes to wear, especially when I don't really have that many choices. I should savour this, though, because we'll probably have another hot summer of retreating to the basement during the day and baking with no covers in the upstairs bedroom at night.
A while ago I was trying to figure out some heredity. As part of my Colony World people project, I wanted to try to add some realism by giving them actual physical characteristics--hair colour, eye colour, height, etc. Maybe even tongue-rolling and ear-wiggling.* So I went onto the Internet to see what information was out there.
It wasn't particularly satisfying. What's out there is a lot of regurgitation of 25-year-old textbooks, and a lot of very technical Human Genome Project-type data that was not comprehensive yet, nor, often, comprehensible.
For eye colour, the simplistic view is that there are two genes, one for brown eyes(Bey) and one for green eyes(Gey), each with two alleles. If you have one dominant Bey allele, then you have brown eyes. If you have no dominant Bey alleles but some dominant Gey alleles, you have green eyes. If you have all recessives, then you have blue eyes. But in reality there are more like five genes determining eye colour, I think, and obviously the above doesn't fully explain eye colour that changes over time, let alone hazel, grey, and all those in-between colours.
For hair colour, even the simplistic view is hard to find, but it sounds like there are supposedly three genes for that, one for reddishness and two for darkness. To get blonde hair, you have to have all recessives; the more dominants you have for dark hair, the darker your hair is. If you have light hair, and dominant red genes, then you have red hair. But again, the situation is more complex. There are links between hair and eye colour genes, too, not to mention skin colour, and then there's texture, curliness, thickness, etc.
I heard that they have just finished the complete mapping of the Human Genome Project(I thought they had already done that, but I guess it was just an early draft), but I imagine it will take them a while to be able to figure out what all the genes actually do. Still, I got the impression that, in some cases at least, the information is known, but has not yet been translated into a good readable layman's text.
In the meantime, I guess I will have to muddle through with my imaginary people as well as I can. I still have to figure out how the starting people's genes are determined; my first attempt, giving a 50% chance to each allele, left me with hardly any blondes. I need the seed the populations more carefully, I guess.
Nicole has been reading S.M. Stirling's Nantucket series recently. When one of us is reading a book that the other has already read, then there are generally continual demands for progress reports and discussion of the plot, predictions on where it's going and hidden smiles at the accuracy or lack thereof of those predictions.
What I didn't expect, though, was that it would make me want to play Civilization again.
I was a nut for the original Civilization game, when I first tried it, and I played it almost nonstop for years. I brought each world to the pinnacle of completed development, as few squares uncultivated as I could manage. But Civilization II, when I got it, proved to be too much. I have finished maybe four games of it, and generally it languishes. I keep the link on my desktop, but it is rarely clicked, nor do I often dig the CD out of the drawer.
But the whole idea of a small but high-tech civilization being plopped back down into a world with well-developed Greek, Babylonian, and Egyptian cultures, among others, sounded interesting. So I tried to put together a little scenario. Civilization II has an actual "Cheat Mode" in the game, with a number of tools that are fairly usable for building scenarios...but I still found it frustrating and a little limiting.
What I settled on was just a Nantucketer civilization that had a very high level of technology, and the other ancient civs being slightly more populous. I didn't try to add the empire-building rogue Nantucketer defectors from the book. Maybe I gave the Nantucketers too much of an edge, because they ended up in control of the world pretty easily. That was actually fine with me, because quite frankly one of the reasons I don't like Civ II as much is that it's too hard. I am seriously not looking for a challenge; I just want to build my cities. I played at Chieftain level, and I used Cheat Mode a few more times. Unfortunately, I screwed up something somewhere, probably in the scenario flags, and I was unable to build my colony ship to Alpha Centauri. Oh, well. It's still holding my interest, for a while at least, but there are still portions of the Earth not well-populated--Canada, Australia, India(!), and the whole East Indies--that I have to fill up. That may be where I bog down. And I'm sure I will want to get back to Sims someday...
For books, I finished Until The Celebration, and it was okay. At least I finished off the series. Then I went onto Servant of The Empire by Raymond Feist & Janny Wurts.
I'm not a big Raymond Feist fan, really. Somebody--probably my grandma, who's give me a lot of cool gifts over the years--gave me a Riftwar boxed set at some point. I slogged through the two volumes of Magician, in general being unimpressed. The next two, Silverthorn and A Darkness At Sethanon, picked up a bit, but overall I didn't feel much of an urge to read more of his.
I did pick up Daughter of The Empire, the first book in his collaborative series with Janny Wurts. The whole premise of the Riftwar was that wizards from another world with a very warlike culture found their way into your generic dwarves-and-elves fantasy setting("Midkemia"), and started trying to conquer it. In Daughter of The Empire, though, we got into the warlike culture itself.
It was a very Japanese culture, the Tsurani. The first book followed a young girl, Mara, who is left as the head of her House after the rest of her family(the Acoma)are killed. She manages to survive on her wits and with a motley crew of outcasts, until she manages to regain her family's honour and take revenge on their killers. I read it a long, long time ago--back before I was married, for sure, so sometime between 12-15 years ago.
In this book, the rest of the killers' family(the Minwanabi)get into the act as well, but Mara's power is growing. Then she bought a bunch of Midkemian slaves, and ended up falling in love with of them(Kevin--great fantasy name, huh?). This was done not too badly, though it could probably have been done better. Throughout the book, while she tries to survive the Minwanabi and assorted other enemies, her relationship with Kevin changes the way she sees the world, until she risks everything she has, not for her own survival, but for the survival of her entire culture.
It was surprisingly good, actually. It did drag from time to time, as a chapter of actual tension, battle, and/or confrontation was followed by another chapter or two of recovery, renewed plotting by her thwarted adversaries, etc. There was one very effective sequence, where she, the heads of two other Houses, and what few soldiers they can muster, are trapped in their apartments in the Imperial Palace for one long night, waiting for the Emperor's return the next day, while wave upon wave of soldiers and assassins besiege them. The nightmarish scene came across very well.
I also found it interesting that, while the culture was predominantly Japanese in many ways, including most of the names, there were other influences as well, mainly from the Central American cultures like the Aztecs. I could picture the two cultures becoming integrated far back in their past, but I could still tell the difference between a name like "Minwanabi" and, say, "Xacatecas". Similarly, the use of feathers in adornment, and a few other traditions, were more Aztec than Japanese. It's nice to see that they plundered Earth culture a bit more originally...
I will try hard not to take as long to get to the next installment.
Right now I'm rereading Dare by Philip José Farmer, which I also read a long time ago from the Grande Prairie Library. It's only 200 pages long, at least. I don't recall it as one of his best. The premise is that a number of "lost" colonies and groups of people(like the Roanoke colony, for instance)somehow ended up on another planet, one populated by creatures looking very much like unicorns and satyrs. The satyrs(/sirens, the female counterpart)seem to be routinely discriminated against, and sometimes even killed, in what is all too reminiscent of, say, the Deep South of a hundred years ago, or less. Our protagonist, who has been inducted into the "KKK" of this world, has deep doubts about it, and I seem to recall eventually chooses the right side.
Another countdown entry:
332. Timbuk 3: Rev. Jack And His Roamin' Cadillac Church, from Eden Alley
Timbuk 3's second album was a fair improvement over their first, I think, and may be the best in their admittedly mostly obscure catalogue. This song, fairly harmonica-dominated, has a great bluesy feel to it. The lyrics are not as scathingly antireligious as one might expect, focusing more on the fact that people just need something to believe in beyond themselves.
331. Meryn Cadell: Window of Opportunity, from Bombazine
"Bombazine" is nowhere near as consistent as Meryn Cadell's first album, "Angel Food For Thought", but the earlier album, with its short spoken pieces, is harder to pick out standout tracks from. This one is mostly spoken as well, though Cadell's voice is amply demonstrated as entirely adequate to the task of singing. The lyrics have a sardonic tone and mainly concern sabotaging one's own chances at success. (As in "Falling out the...")
He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts. Stephen King, "IT"
Add a comment Clix me!
Tuesday, April 08, 2003:
Now I Moan, And Now I Holler
Once again trying to catch up, without having the time to write about much of real-life import. This entry I will devote to the CDs I've been listening to recently, as always mostly from the library.
I should announce one bit of real news, though--I'm getting another story published! This brings my total to four, I believe in real professional markets. The story is "The New Paranoia Album", which started as one of my many four-word stories, the four words in question being "Goose Corn Paranoia Album". The goose and the corn didn't survive too many drafts, but the Paranoia album caught my interest from the very start.
I actually have rewritten the story quite a few times by this point, which is impressive for me because I hate to rewrite. It's always been one of my favourites, though, probably because music was so intrinsic to the story. Each rewrite was mostly an attempt to add a little bit more onto the end to make it "finished"; the editor said that he liked it a lot on first reading, up until the ending, so at his request I rewrote it yet again, and he bought it. It will appear in the Canadian SF anthology Open Space, which I believe is scheduled for release at this year's Worldcon.
So I'm psyched, and maybe one of these days I'll get off my butt and send out another story. The email submission process for the anthology was much easier than the whole printing & mailing thing, especially since it's Nicole's computer that has the printer... But mostly it's just excuses. Mostly I'm content with my writing career as it is, though. At least it doesn't take up too much of my time.*
Okay, on to the CDs...
Aaliyah I like her name, but I classed her with all those black singers making uninteresting music--Brandy, Monica, Nicole, etc., and their male counterparts as well. But I read some good things about her, posthumously, so I decided I would check her out. Well, I can't say that hearing this album turned my world upside down--it was mostly pleasant, but innocuous, though the track "I Refuse" was a bit more powerful and I liked it.
Palace Music:Arise Therefore It took some detective work to find the name of the "group", since it is nowhere on the album. You can look it up at the All-Music Guide(along with Palace and Palace Brothers)if you're curious. Essentially it's one guy, but he usually likes to use "Palace" or one of its variations. It's not as inaccessible as some of the stuff I've tried at random(like Sparklehorse, for instance)--it's fairly sparse, but with a little bit of a beat to it, country-folkish. It was hard to pick a standout track, but the opener, "Stablemate", caught my attention. If I have a chance, I'll give it another listen.
Destiny's Child:Survivor I liked the title track, which I caught the video for many months ago, and finally got around to checking out the album. It's not that much more interesting than Aaliyah, so maybe I wasn't wrong when I initially pegged them as En Vogue emulators. "The Story of Beauty" was also an interesting track, but very similar to "Survivor" musically.
Sonic Youth:Murray Street Grabbed this one off the shelves to see if Sonic Youth have moved in any direction to make them more listenable to me. They haven't, though the first track almost fooled me. One track is eleven minutes long, the last two-thirds of that being mostly guitar feedback. I still figure I'm not missing anything.
Paul McCartney:Back In The U.S. I think it would've been better to actually be at one of these concerts, but sometimes I like to listen to live albums because they break songs out of the album context and make it easier for me to actually listen to them. This one, I've already heard most of the songs, and have most of the albums(though some were still unfamiliar), so it wasn't as much of an experience that way. I still don't think much of "Freedom", but then I've only heard it a couple of times.
They Might Be Giants:Mink Car After "Factory Showroom" I slowed down on buying TMBG, and then I think there was an album("Long Tall Weekend"?)only available on MP3 or something. But this one is a bit more back on track. They're still not the band from "Lincoln" & "Flood", but they've turned out some songs that are closer to the quirky pop us long-time fans still love the best. "Man, It's So Loud In Here" is a nice pop number, "Older" is quirky, "Hopeless Bleak Despair" is charming, and "I've Got A Fang" is just silly. Definitely a wishlist item.
Ray Charles:Wish You Were Here Tonight Total impulse grab, off of the "Black History Month" rack back in...Black History Month, I guess. (February?) I've never listened too much Ray Charles, and I confess to generally being dissatisfied with early R&B recordings, however much-touted and much-covered they are. This one was of 80's vintage, and turned out to be mostly covers of country songs, and it really worked. I had to check to make sure that this wasn't the original version of "Let Your Love Flow", for instance, because it's pretty much just as good. The other standout track was "String Bean", a charming song about the gawky girl all grown up and lookin' fine... Time to check out some more Ray, I think.
Nash The Slash:Thrash Wow, I swear it was over a month ago I listened to this one--I am so far behind. Anyway...he was in the band FM, whose early-80's album "Black Noise" I reviewed a while ago. In the mid-80's FM went pop, and probably eventually disappeared. This album, though, is not pop. It's back to the experimental sounds of early FM, somewhere in the same direction as Pere Ubu but nowhere near as inaccessible. It's a good listen.
Neil Young:Are You Passionate? I am hit-or-miss with Neil Young, but this album was solid through and through. I particularly liked "Let's Roll", about the passengers in the plane that went down on September 11th. Definitely a wishlist item--he's rarely sounded better, IMHO.
Jill Sobule:I Never Learned to Swim This is a compilation of songs from her first decade or so--that long? I'd only heard her self-titled album before, the one with "I Kissed A Girl"(though I liked "Karen By Night" better), and this album is proof positive that she was capable of equally good songs all the way through. She reminds me of Kirsty MacColl in a way, so I hope that(since she never learned to swim)she doesn't try to go boating in the Caribbean. "Pilar(Things Here Are Different)", a song about encountering entrenched sexual prejudice in Latin America, is really the standout track.
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band The standard wisdom for a while, especially in the 80's, was that Paul McCartney's post-Beatles work was crap, while John Lennon's was innovative, interesting, and creative. That's far from the consensus these days, and I'm glad, because albums like this one have apparently not aged well. The best song on the album, "Working Class Hero", was already covered to great effect by Marianne Faithfull on "Broken English", rendering this completely inessential. I'd rather listen to "Double Fantasy" anytime, or even Yoko Ono's "Approximately Infinite Universe".
The Pretenders:Loose Screw The Pretenders have also been a bit hit-or-miss since at least "Get Close"--I think that album was pretty good, too, but others disagree. But then, I find their first album pretty lackluster too. Anyway, this is a strong return to form. Really, it is. Much better then "Packed!", better than "Last of The Independents", hardly a weak track on the entire album. Wishlisted.
Pele Juju I was actually looking for the band Pele, but I tried this one instead just to see. What we have here is an all-female(I think--it's hard to tell from the photos and the names, and what does it really matter, anyway?)band doing new-agey-worldy-music. They remind me a lot of the Parachute Club, with sometimes painfully earnest lyrics, but often a good beat to go with it. "Lost & Found" was the only keeper on this one, though--the rest tended to be a bit too samey, but this one sounded like it had some real emotion behind it.
Gene:Olympian I confess I didn't give this CD a good listen, but from the first few songs I got a strong impression of The Smiths. "A Car That Sped" was the only song that really struck me, and I have to admit that the album did show a little more breadth as it went on.
The Stranglers:Hits And Heroes This was a compilation of singles, which mostly reinforced for me that I really liked the Stranglers better after they settled down and worked some of that punk out of their system. While "IV(Rattus Norvegicus)" can be entertaining, I really prefer "Golden Brown", or some of the songs from "Aural Sculpture". So this was mainly good for the chance to hear some of the songs from around the "Golden Brown" era, like "La Folie" and "Strange Little Girl"(which I'd only heard the Tori Amos cover of).
Things of Stone & Wood:The Yearning I'm not sure what to say about this album--it didn't make a strong negative impression on me, but not a strong positive one, either. It was pop-rock, it had lyrics which were probably very meaningful, and it didn't have music which made me want to listen to them. "Barkly Street" and "Single Perfect Raindrop" were the most interesting tracks.
Ryan Adams:Gold Now, while this guy may be filed under Country, I think he's got a much broader appeal than that. This was a very strong album, and covered a lot of musical territory, so hopefully he will get the audience, and success, that he probably deserves. As long he doesn't get confused with Bryan Adams too much. (And Bryan's star has mostly faded these days anyway.) "Enemy Fire" and "New York, New York" were my favourite songs, though "Cannonball Days" was a good track from the mostly-acoustic "Side 4" bonus disc. I'm not sure if this is a wishlist item or not, but it might be...
Linkin Park:Hybrid Theory Okay, now I think I've got these guys straight from Blink 182.* They're more on the serious metal side of rap-metal, not the goofy side. Mostly they were too heavy for me, but "In The End" was appealing. I'm sure I'd heard it on the radio, anyway.
Jack Grunsky:Dreamcatcher This is another children's one that I got for Simon; it didn't catch on with him, so I didn't listen to it as much as I did "Imaginary Window"(whose songs I could probably all sing from memory). It didn't seem to be quite as good an album, either, but it might have grown on me.
Sarah Harmer:You Were Here This one started off quite strongly, but lost some of its momentum as it went on. The first few tracks, particularly "Basement Apt.", were great, and had a bit of a beat to them, but when they got more acoustic I lost interest. Just the way my mind works a lot of the time. But I will check her out again.
David Gray:A New Day At Midnight I don't tend to like the male singer-songwriter types as well as the female, and I'm sure there are a variety of reasons for that. Suffice it to say that David Gray does not violate that rule much on this album. "Be Mine" was mildly interesting, but in general the album made little impression.
3rd Force:Vital Force I guess 3rd Force is a mostly, or completely, instrumental group, somewhere in the vague region of Shadowfax, but with a little more rock to them. The album sounded okay as a whole, but it still didn't stick with me.
Russ Ballard:At The Third Stroke I don't even know why I got this album. It's a CD repackaging of a late-70's rock album that didn't have much to distinguish it.
And that's the library CDs. Since I've been listening to music so little at home recently, I've started grabbing some of my own CDs(computer-selected at random, of course)to listen to. Often I just don't get to know these albums as much as I could, probably just because, by this time, each album comes up only once every year or two in my overall cycle. But since I wasn't listening to albums from my cycle anyway, I felt no compunction about listening to stuff out of turn. This is a big step for me, really...*
Now another entry in the seemingly never-ending, but actually finite, countdown of my 750 favourite songs:
334. P.J. Harvey: Down By The Water, from To Bring You My Love
I'd never heard of P.J. Harvey when I first saw the video for this song, and I have to say I'm not sold on the rest of this album, either, but this song is so musically striking I couldn't help but like it. It manages a tone of menace without being abrasive.
333. Tom Waits: Martha, from Closing Time
From Tom Waits's first album, before he started to go all gravelly and stuff. I've heard his earlier albums written off as "lounge singing", but I guess it depends on whether you think that is bad. This is lacking even the gritty feel of the underside of society that developed quite early on, and is mostly just a sentimental piano ballad, but I guess sometimes I like sentimental.
No one can ever know for sure what a deserted area looks like.
Add a comment Clix me!
Thursday, April 03, 2003:
Until I Lose My Senses
It's really time to catch up on something, even if I don't have time for one of my full-fledged novel-length entries yet. So I'll try to get up to date on my reading, because I've been going through a lot of books recently.
Last time I got up to Son of The Mob, I guess. After that I went onto Dick Francis's In The Frame. As you might have guessed from the title, the main character is, not a photographer, but a painter. Who mostly paints horses, and enjoys going to races, though he doesn't seem to ride much himself, but there's still the horse racing element there. It's not as strong as some of his, but it still holds the interest. There's forgery going on, and he ends up going down to Australia, and the characters are great and spot-on. But it's still a lesser work.
Then I read In The Problem Pit, a short story collection by Frederik Pohl. I find Pohl a bit uneven-- Gateway was great, for instance, but the rest of the Heechee series doesn't quite measure up. And so do the stories in this book vary in quality. The stories range from the 1950's to 70's, and by this point I can barely remember them. The title story, one of the longer ones in the book, features a strange sort of think-tank, and had too many characters for its length--I had to keep flipping back to remember which one was which.
On the nonfiction side of things, I also read theough Why People Believe Weird Things, by Michael Shermer, a well-known skeptic. Darren lent it to me, and I did enjoy it, though the title was a bit misleading. It's more like it goes into a number of weird things that people believe, and documents the author's own experiences with them, both as a skeptic and from his earlier, credulous phase. It doesn't get very much into the whole psychology of belief as much as it could. One of the more interesting sections was on Holocaust-doubters, because this is like a case where the skeptics are the ones who are wrong, which shows the limit of skepticism.
Michael Coney's The Celestial Steam Locomotive was an odd book, too. It takes place on a far-future Earth, and is done very consciously as a tale being told to the reader--there are digressions to cover all sorts of topics, from intervening ages of history, and sometimes they get a bit annoying. And then, it's only Book One of "The Song of Earth", so in many ways it doesn't reach much of a conclusion. Book Two, Gods of The Greataway, I haven't found yet; and I think that I've already read the next two, Fang The Gnome and King of The Scepter'd Isle, which unite the series with the Arthurian mythos in a very odd, and not altogether successful, fashion. But it does have an interesting style to it, and is extremely inventive.
After that I went on to The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving. It was only last summer that I read A Prayer For Owen Meany, but I felt like reading this one anyway. I'm glad I did, because this is probably my favourite of his that I've read since The World According To Garp. In some ways it suffers from the same flaw as the Michael Coney, where the narrator of the story bounces around in time, sometimes in the middle of an exciting incident, to digress for two pages about something that occurred earlier or later. But its climax is a powerful action scene worthy of Dick Francis, and its characters are all incredibly weird, but completely believable at the same time. By turns touching, thrilling, and funny, in Irving's best style.
Now I'm reading Until The Celebration, third and thus final book in Zilpha Keatley Snyder's "Below The Root" trilogy. I picked these books up partly because of the author's name("Zilpha" is a great name!), and partly because I once saw an Apple computer game based on these books. The books themselves are not great, with less-than-fully-developed characters and a somewhat predictable plot, but a mildly interesting world. It's one of those "lost colony world" settings, with almost a fantasy feel at times(and it does say "Fantasy" on the spine), with no real high tech, except for some psychic powers and the like.
I'm also slogging my way through Billion Year Spree by Brian Aldiss, which I started a few years ago and bogged down in then. It's a history of science fiction, at least up to the early 70's, and I'm still only up to H.G. Wells. I guess I'm just really not that interested in the topic, in early forms of science fiction, and whether this book qualifies or that one does, and all the dozens of utopias that seem to be produced whenever people feel complacent enough. Maybe it'll pick up once we get into the pulp era or something.
That's all you get, for now; time for another countdown entry:
336. Laurie Anderson: Same Time Tomorrow, from Bright Red
On her last few albums, Laurie Anderson has done less of the music-backed storytelling that came up so often on her early albums, but this is one of her best. It is featured both on her more musical album "Bright Red", and her more story-oriented album "The Ugly One With The Jewels", and seems to fit in equally well on both of them. Although I have to say that I hope the cliche of not being able to set the clock on one's VCR is getting a bit dated by now. I mean, c'mon, people, it's not that hard, right? Nowadays they do it automatically--if you happen to have a PBS station in your time zone. Plus, how else are you going to do timer recording? And do they flash "12:00" anymore, either?
335. David Byrne: Don't Fence Me In, from Red Hot And Blue
I don't know which Cole Porter musical this is supposed to be from, but I always gathered it was supposed to be done as a twangy country song or something. David Byrne's cover version, with the array of Brazilian drums in the background, takes it up a notch in energy and tempo and makes it much more fun.
Telemann once yodeled to Bach, "Flounder is critical with wine." --Racter
Add a comment Clix me!