Then there was Mother's Day. We had won some free IMAX tickets for the Odyssium theatre back at the "book launch", so we thought we'd use them. There wasn't an amazing selection of shows--I wanted to see the "Making of 'The Abyss'" one, but that's probably only at the commercial IMAX outlets. Here it was a choice between "Top Speed" and "Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure". We tried to make it to the 11:00 show, "Top Speed", but underestimated the time it would take to drive. So we had to kill time until the Antarctic one came on at noon.
Simon was uncooperative. He had decided that he didn't want to go out at all, and when we got there he didn't want to go into any of the exhibits or have any fun at all. We did find some "Brain-teaser" games in the upstairs foyer which he liked(I still don't know how you're supposed to balance nine six-inch nails on top of one standing upright), and we managed to lure him briefly into the space-oriented exhibit. But that was it.
The Antarctic film was interesting. It was the story of a failed expedition that set off in 1914, but one that everybody managed to get home from, at least. Shackleton's ship had frozen in the ice before reaching the Antarctic shore, and then was crushed during the thaw; they barely managed to get their lifeboats off and head to Elephant Island, at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. And then, that island being uninhabited, and the currents being wrong to make it to Tierra Del Fuego(which looked much closer on the map), a smaller crew had to set out for South Georgia Island, which had a small whaling station.
Then, when they got to South Georgia, they hit a storm before they could find a place to land, and ended up on the wrong side of the island with a wrecked boat. So they had to hike across the island, through uncharted mountains, until they finally reached the station and could, at long last, get help.
Simon didn't take kindly to the IMAX, either. An old-fashioned flash-bulb effect at the beginning of the movie scared him, or something, and he had his hands up to his face the whole time. I don't think he was covering his eyes, or his ears, but he might have been peeking through his fingers, or just trying to reduce his field of vision to keep from being overwhelmed by the huge screen. He didn't do that last time we were there, but then that was probably a year and a half ago. (That film was about "Caves", and I'm pretty sure that I would've been working on The Shadow & The Flame around that time, which would make it November before last.)
For the afternoon and evening, we went over to Nicole's parents' house, which is now much more organized than it was at Easter. They've had more than a few days to unpack, for one thing. Sharna & Nick were there, too. They were quite nice about playing with Simon, which I confess takes a lot of pressure off of me. I just really don't like playing outside that much, when it comes right down to it.
There was an unfortunate incident after supper, though. Nick was taking Simon down into the backyard to play soccer. They went out to the patio and were going down the stairs to the grass. That is, Nick was going down the stairs--Simon had not started down them yet. Suddenly there was a crack and Nick(from our perspective inside)drops out of sight; Sharna grabs Simon.
The stairs broke off the patio. All but a couple of nails attaching it to the patio had vanished, probably because of wood rotting away or something. The stairs fell flat on the ground, and Nick had a bit of rough landing, bruising one foot, but was otherwise unhurt. Simon had, luckily, not been on the stairs. Since then, apparently, Nicole's dad has nailed them suckers up real good. We'll see if Simon is willing to try them again for a while, though.
Later, Nicole's mom dug out a tape she'd made a while ago of some British animated show from PBS called "Simon In The Land of Chalkboard Drawings" or something like that. "My name is Simon and the things I draw come true," went the title song. I found it pretty funny and not a little bit surreal. My favourite was the cartoon where his sister drew a rock musician on Simon's magic blackboard, and the Land of Chalkboard Drawings went to Hell in a handbasket as a result...until Simon replaced the musician's huge amplifier with a much smaller one. Very 60's, it seemed to me, and pretty cool.
Our basement is not quite back to normal yet, but at least it's been pretty much cleaned. The hallway's been mopped, and the last of the towels covering it up have been thrown out. We found the grating to cover the hole, and it's washed and back in place. The library carpet has been steam-cleaned, though there is still some debris on the bookshelves, and some grit on the books themselves. Once we do get that piece of carpet in there, it'll be mostly back to normal. Not this weekend, though, of course.
Swanwick's Bones of The Earth was pretty good, though it almost split into two quasi-independent plotlines for the last half or more of the book. The initial premise--"What if paleontologists were given time travel?"--was pretty neat, but of course you need a plot as well, or you don't really have a novel. That plot got a little fragmented after a while, as I said, but all-in-all it was okay. It will not be my #1 Hugo novel choice, though.
After that I read Lois McMaster Bujold's Cetaganda. I've been trying to read her novels in publication order, rather than chronological, and now I don't know if it was worth it. This one was set after The Vor Game but before most of Borders of Infinity and Brothers In Arms. It was pretty good, almost a Dick Francis-style mystery in some indefinable way(even with no horses...*).
But what I had really wanted was to go on to Memory. That's the book that comes chronologically after Mirror Dance, which was pretty damned good, and so I indulged myself in a way that I rarely do--I read two books by the same author back to back. I just finished Memory, and I enjoyed it immensely. In many ways, the main plot involves our hero, Miles Vorkosigan, trying to figure out what to do with his life he loses, through his own actions, the most significant part of it. The mystery subplot, which doesn't really surface until almost halfway through the book, and leaves 50-60 pages of denouement, is...not quite an afterthought, but it does not dominate the book in the same way that it does in Cetaganda.
I will try to restrain myself from going on to Komarr, though. Hopefully I have been sated for a little while. I really should work on some more library books, this weekend--Lynn Abbey's Thieves' World revival novel, Sanctuary, probably being the next one. Sometimes when I go to visit my mom, I get a lot of reading done, but last time, with Luke making strange, it didn't happen. Let's see how I do this time...
Proceeding, as per schedule, with the countdown:
318. Duran Duran:Careless Memories, from Duran Duran
This is one of Duran Duran's darkest songs, from when they were actually "new wave". I first heard it on the B-side of my brother's single for "Is There Something I Should Know?", and it is still one of the best songs of their early career. (It goes well with the book I just finished, too...)
317. Loose Ends:Hangin' On A String, from So Where Are You?
I don't have this album, but I remember this song fondly from its mid-80's heyday. The harmony vocals, the sweet R&B sound, and the melancholy "relationship-going-wrong" lyrics must make me all nostalgic or something. Solid songcraft here, in any case.
There's too much fire from a perfect match --Jefferson Starship, "Showdown"
More prosaically, Quincunx has decided to stop his blog, "'twixt joy and sorrow", and concentrate on his other idiosyncratic web projects. I've had similar impulses, I have to say, especially over the past few months' drought of postings, but I still feel some level of obligation. To finish my countdown, if nothing else.* He does still have some interesting stuff on his site, but no blog any more.
Of course, there are always blogs that I just stop reading, because they grow too strident, or too dull, or too racy. And it's not like I've been keeping up with even the shortened list that I have up now... Well, if I get the urge, I read them, otherwise I don't. It's not a compulsion any more, like it might have been at some point. Sometimes it seems like if something's not a compulsion, I just don't do it.
My current compulsion is still Civilization II. I started up a new game, I think last weekend. I was still working my way through Civ II's new civilizations--yes, I have played less than seven games of it since I bought it however long ago. Before we bought our house, at the very least. I'm playing the Spanish, and I'm using a neat map that I downloaded from Civfanatics, which is drawn to look like a demon. It's very land-rich, and I started out the game following the Expansionist strategy, of basically building as many cities as I could, so of course I am kicking butt. I'm only playing at Warlord level, though. I had finally worked my up to being able to win at Emperor level in Civ 1, but now that the Despotic Conquest strategy doesn't work any more...
But that's what I've been doing with almost all my spare time this week.
Counting the continue down:
320. Thomas Dolby: I Love You Goodbye, from Astronauts & Heretics
I haven't gotten into the rest of this album yet, but this opening track is wonderful. It's very musically rich, with lots of different sounds in it, and a good steady beat throughout. The lyrics start out weird and funny, but by the end they build up an extraordinary power.
319. Danielle Dax: Pariah, from Dark Adapted Eye
I've never been quite sure what she's talking about in this song--the verses she does in a not-very-clear high-pitched voice, and then the choruses drop an octave or more, and are still not completely intelligible. But there's a clear sense of menace in the music, as well as an attractive Eastern flavour, so I'm willing to let that slide.
Mick Jagger:Goddess In The Doorway: I wasn't expecting much from this album, since I'm only occasionally a Jagger or Stones fan, but I actually really liked it, and it should go on my wishlist sometime. Mick has gone into techno-inspired territory, like Madonna did on "Ray of Light", and for the most part it works really well. The title track and "Visions of Paradise" are the standout tracks. There were one or two songs that sounded like he should have let someone else sing them, because his voice was a bit jarring--"Hide Away" in particular. But on the whole it's a great album.
Jeremiah Freed: This is mostly just teen angst-rock, in the style of Creed et al. Credits for an interesting name, but that doesn't necessarily improve the music. Best moments come at the very beginning of the album, on the song "Stranded", where they start with a single guitar and voice, the rest of the guitars not coming in until two minutes into the song. Unfortunately the relentless crunching guitars stayed there for the rest of the album.
David Wilcox:Rhythm of Love: This is the Canadian rocker David Wilcox, of "Layin' Pipe" and "The Natural Edge", rather than the American folk musician. He swung through pop territory in the late 80's, but here he's back to a bluesier kind of rock, which I don't like as much. "Hook It Boy" was a bit interesting sonically, but the rest of the album didn't stand out for me.
Alicia Keys:Songs In A Minor: Well, I liked this album better than India.Arie's, but I guess it still isn't my thing. I still like the single "Fallin'", but the rest of it didn't stick with me.
Field Day:Dawn of A New Day: This is that punk/emo stuff that I don't like, and that's all I can really say about it. At least it was short.
Type O Negative:Bloody Kisses: I had some trepidation about this album, but it wasn't the death-metal I was expecting. It's metal, for sure, but not overpowering, so fairly listenable. They gave an indefinable impression of having fun with the whole metal genre thing, though not in any overt way. They weren't over the top, but they were certainly peeking up at it. Much more fun than I thought it would be, and I will try to check them out again.
Hooverphonic:Blue Wonder Power Milk: This was definitely a good album, probably wishlist caliber, though maybe not up to the level of "The Magnificent Tree". There didn't seem to be as many standout tracks, at least, but their alt-lounge kind of sound was still there. "Lung" was the song that most struck me.
Christina Aguilera:Stripped: Maybe this isn't any kind of creative breakthrough for her, since Linda Perry did a lot of the songwriting, but it's still far, far better than her first album. "Beautiful" was a great song, as were "Fighter" and "Make Over". Now I'm not sure whether it's her or Britney on top...
Steve Miller Band:Greatest Hits 1974-1978: I am mostly familiar with the "Abracadabra" Steve Miller, or maybe "I Want To Make The World Turn Around"(which is still my favourite of his), but I was curious about his earlier stuff. I've heard so much about "The Joker" and "Fly Like An Eagle"... Well, it turns out that those two tracks were disappointments, as was most of the album, but I didn't mind "Rock'n Me". It's one of those songs I heard all the time but didn't know who did it, so now I know, at least.
The Pursuit of Happiness:Sex & Food: Greatest Hits: I still tend to like their first album best, but The Pursuit of Happiness had five pretty decent albums nonetheless. This album is a great retrospective of their career, complete with liner notes by lead singer Moe Berg, and several bonus tracks as well. Out of those, the best are "Wake Up And Smell Cathy" and "Take You With Me". It's weird hearing Berg talk about Todd Rundgren, who produced their first album, and his "daughter" Liv--who later, of course, discovered that her father was actually Steven Tyler.
Labour of Love--The Music of Nick Lowe: Nick Lowe is one of those albums I have heard more about than I have heard. I mostly associate him with songs like "I Knew The Bride"(which I am entirely sick of--every wedding I went to for about ten years played that song), and "Teacher Teacher". But I ran across his version of "Cruel To Be Kind", which I was sure I had heard before. This album is of course cover versions, but, without having heard the originals, I still liked some of the songs; Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' "Cracking Up" and Marshall Crenshaw's "Television" are both good. Some of the other artists were too folky or bluesy for me, but oddly enough I liked Sleepy LaBeef & C.J. Chenier's version of "Half A Boy & Half A Man".
Look At The Sunshine: This was one of the series of compilation albums intended to cover territory that the "Nuggets" series didn't--British pop of the 60's. On this volume, they covered mostly British bands recording in the vocal harmony style of the Beach Boys et al. Mostly bands I'd never heard of, of course(there was The Knack, but I think it was different from the "My Sharona" group). Interesting, but didn't strike my fancy.
Sea Level:The Best of Sea Level: I didn't know anything about this band when I picked up the CD; now I know that it was formed by some former members of the Allman Brothers Band. There's a band I have no urge to check out...and I didn't get much out of this one. Late 70's rock-jazz fusion, doesn't do much for me.
I also picked up a few library booksale CDs...
Fred Eaglesmith:50-Odd Dollars: I always get Eaglesmith confused with Ron Sexsmith, and Darren has been trying to get me to listen to him for years. So I picked this one up, and it's pretty damn good. The sound reminds me of Greg Garing's "Lost", dark rock tinged with blues, folk, and electronic at the same time. Interesting note: Eaglesmith co-wrote several songs on the Chris Knight album mentioned above. Also, this album was produced by Scott Merritt, whose 1986 album "Gravity Is Mutual" is a favourite of mine.
Kurt Weill:The Threepenny Opera: I was mostly just curious about this, I guess. I don't know if I'll actually keep this CD, or listen to it that often if I do. It's all in German, of course, and not always that well-sung. And, let's face it, "Mack The Knife" is not on here, not in the form that was popular in the English-speaking world. Maybe this is due for an English version one of these years...
I also have a Rollins Band one that I haven't listened to yet.
Still with me? Well, now it's on to some books. Last I left you, I was reading the Universe 8 anthology. That was, of course, a bit uneven, but it had some good stories on it. Low point may have been the Michael Cassutt story "Hunting", whose plot was buried a little too deeply for my tastes. The high point was, of course, R.A. Lafferty's contribution, which may have been why I bought the book in the first place. Lafferty is(was?)a genius of the bizarre SF short story, and this one was no different. "Selenium Ghosts of the Eighteen Seventies" was a humorous mock-factual account of a series of very early television broadcasts, inextricably intertwined with the drama going on behind the scenes.
Greg Bear's story "Scattershot" was interesting, but its ending came a bit too quickly--maybe it would work better as a novel. (For all I know, he's already done it...) Cynthia Felice's "David & Lindy" was spoiled a bit by Terry Carr's introduction, but was still an interesting examination of friendship and self-sacrifice when one telepath is in a coma and his best friend tries to decide if he's willing to pay the price to help him... Gordon Eklund's "Vermeer's Window" was very detached, about a rich boy who has Vermeer's personality implanted inside him and ends up reproducing all his paintings, but doesn't know why he's painting them.
After that I went quickly through Cherylyn Stacey's I'll Tell You Tuesday If I Last That Long. It's a young-adult book published by Tree Frog Press, the small press that did two of Nicole's early books. I seem to think she might have gotten it from them as a free sample or something, but I'm not sure. In any case, it's not bad for a book with a fourteen-year-old female protagonist. She matures a lot over the course of the book, and doesn't annoy me the way younger protagonists often do.
I just finished Dennis McKiernan's The Dark Tide. He's one of a few authors where I never can find a starting point to read in bookstores, new or used, so finally I got around to checking out the library. It's weird to think that when this book came out, twenty years ago or so, fantasy was not the publishing phenomenon that it is today. Anyway, while it has some very Tolkien-ripoff moments, it manages to acquire its own unique voice and storyline nonetheless. I may yet check out more book in this series.
Next is probably Tanith Lee's Black Unicorn, first in one of her trilogies. I have a wack(sp?) of library books piling up on me this month. There's Lynn Abbey's Sanctuary, which looks to be the start of resurrecting the old Thieves' World series. Then there's Kim Stanley Robinson's Days of Rice And Salt, and Michael Swanwick's Bones of The Earth, two of the Hugo nominees for best novel. We've read two of them already, and we're still waiting for the fifth one, China Miéville's The Scar--even though neither of us got very far into his Perdido Street Station. And Nicole picked up Stephen R. Donaldson's The Man Who Killed His Brother, the first book in a mystery series originally published under the pseudonym "Reed Stephens". Nicole's read three other books in the series, but the first one's just been reissued, I guess. So I might try that one, too.
I also bought War And Peace. When I saw it on the booksale table I couldn't resist. It doesn't look actually that much longer than Les Misérables, and I finished that one... So one day I will actually take the challenge, and read the book. I will be known as "the guy who actually readWar And Peace". I will be a man of wealth and mystery! ...But not just yet.
C U T O N
O N D W
322. The Bangles: Return Post, from Different Light
This is a nice bluesy song, Vicki(?) Peterson on the vocals, and the trademark harmonies in the chorus, about a long-distance relationship in trouble. A classic.
321. Tears For Fears: Memories Fade, from The Hurting
"Songs From The Big Chair" was Tears For Fears' crowning achievement, but their first album had some decent tracks too, like this one. It reminds me of Debbie Gibson's "Foolish Beat", another story of a teenager who wonders if they will ever love again. Ah, youth, and its lack of perspective... Still, Roland Orzabal brings a convincing amount of emotion to the lyrics, and the musical backing is strong as well.
Sorry, it just sort of hit me like a two-ton...um...heavy thing.