Archive for April, 2015

Notes/First Impressions: Thomas Olde Heuvelt – The Day the World Turned Upside Down (trs. Lia Belt)

April 27th, 2015 by Reinder

The Day The World Turned Upside Down at Lightspeed Magazine. 10367 Words, so a really quick read. Don't take me at my word—read it yourself.

Another one that I thought was clearly very good but didn't have any particular resonance with me. The macro/micro/nanocosm conceit is clever and I could see where the author was going with it, but it just didn't sweep me off my feet with it. I should ask some of those who did love it what they thought was so great.

I did like the old women, who I initially imagined as being Fates or Norns, or at least fulfilling a similar role. Much more interesting than Toby, who could have been the protagonist of a Marco Borsato song. Perhaps that's the problem: the idea of breakups-as-the-apocalypse has been thoroughly ruined for me. It goes without saying that the comparison is a bit insulting to the story, which is a good deal better and more artful than that, but still. Something like that gnaws atcha, you know.

And perhaps I should read it in the original Dutch! That option is open to me. I thought that for a non-native speaker, Lia Belt did a good job translating Olde Heuvelt's story into English, but if I'd been the editor, there would have been one or two phrases I'd have had questions about, and one of those was very early on, taking me out of the story a bit. Unlike with Ken Liu's work on the Best Novel candidate, there are no translator's notes, but I did not have the impression that preserving the Dutchness of the story was foremost in Belt's mind, or that it was a desirable approach for this story, whose setting is deliberately kept unspecified.

Ibeyi – Ibeyi

April 26th, 2015 by Reinder

It is entirely possible that Ibeyi are the best newcomers in pop music this year. At least if you ignore that they had an EP out in 2014, but the linked album is their full-length debut.

It is also entirely possible that I am the last person to find this out as there's been a bit of a buzz around them, they've already done a Spotify session and they were at Eurosonic. I have a long-standing habit of missing out on Eurosonic tickets and this year was no exception. Since moving to Hoogezand, I am also deprived of the free Eurosonic gigs, some of which were practically in my back yard when I was living at my old address.

Notes/First Impressions: Liu Cixin – The Three-Body Problem

April 26th, 2015 by Reinder
  • Wow. This was a good read.
  • The one significant flaw of The Three-Body Problem is a somewhat workmanlike, translator-ish stylie that actually comes from it being translated from the Chinese. Translator Ken Liu has a postscript explaining his approach and as a translator myself, I can't fault it, and I can overlook that it doesn't sing like the style of The Goblin Emperor does.
  • This novel is very cleverly constructed, setting its action over a period that's just long enough for contact between Earth and the alien civilization to occur at the speed of light. Science and mathematics are woven into the narrative as needed, no more, no less, and are rarely obtrusive.
  • The earth side of things stays largely within the boundaries of mundane science fiction, except maybe as far as the environment of the "Three Body" game is concerned: no FTL, no laser guns, near-future, no cheating on the quantum physics, at least as far as I can tell as a non-scientist
  • However, Liu has his cake and eats it with the alien side of things, which he happily situates on a very nearby solar system and allows to develop a workaround for communication at a speed greater than light (also, in a Mundane SF novel, the alien civilisation wouldn't exist at all)
  • I'm intrigued by how much of the novel is set during the Cultural Revolution. I would have assumed that writing about it at that length would still be a taboo in China. Shows how much I know. Maybe it's just too big of a part of Chinese history to ignore if you need a timespan between 50 years ago and today. From what I've heard, Liu is very much an insider in China's elites, and also he seems to take great care not to go too deeply into Chairman Mao's role in the Cultural Revolution, describing it as a period of factional chaos instead.
  • In his own postscript to the novel, Liu takes great care also to emphasize that he is not writing social criticism into his Science Fiction work. No message fiction here, no sirree. But one gets the impression that he does not like fanaticism much and that he sees disillusionment as a corrupting influence on people whose intentions are otherwise good. He also mentions that he cannot ignore the realities of the world entirely.
  • This is not a review, and I don't have a lot to say right now about why I think this is good. But it kept me immersed into its plot from beginning to end, and I preordered the sequel within half an hour of finishing the book.
  • More observations may be added here as I think of them.

A few random thought that may or may not amount to anything

April 23rd, 2015 by Reinder

I'm on vacation, and one of the things I'm doing, in addition to picking up my drawing tools and my guitar, is thinking about future projects. A few thoughts keep creeping up:

  1. I have an encyclopedic recollection of the science fiction I read in my youth, and could probably find any specific quote from at least some of those books by cracking them open at where I expect the page to be. I'd expect this ability to become less accurate the later I've read any novel for the first time, but it's there.
  2. I have a hugely complicated relationship with Heinlein in particular.
  3. I will never again have the time to draw long comics, and perhaps it's time I should put that ambition to bed (there are scenarios for my immediate or more distant future in which I do have that amount of time. They all have the word "unemployable" in them and are extremely bad for myself and worse for my family).
  4. I have, however, written up to 5000 words a day for the past few days, or edited the equivalent based on cost per word. I am probably in a much better position to write prose if I put my mind to it.
  5. Reworking concepts that other authors have used but that didn't really work when they did them, is apparently a thing that is more or less acceptable if you're clear about it and actually do a good job.
  6. My own life and thoughts actually offer some original ideas that I might add to the mix, if I bother to record them. And they wouldn't be obvious ideas either.
  7. In the past few years, since switching careers but also since turning 40, I've noticed an odd kind of halo effect affecting me. I have become invisible to people who want to sell me crap, but people I work with seem to automatically assume that I am supercompetent and have lots of expertise. I am not and don't, but I don't have to work hard to pretend. Why wasn't I warned that this would happen?
  8. There is a big market for traditional science fiction.
  9. A large section of that market is almost eager to be trolled in a big way.
  10. NaNoWriMo is in November

Do I dare to?

Notes/First impressions: Katherine Addison – The Goblin Emperor

April 22nd, 2015 by Reinder

Review and synopsis of The Goblin Emperor by Martin Wisse.

I liked this, but not as much as Martin did. For me, something was missing. I found the relentless focus on the protagonist, for a novel written in the third person featuring court intrigue, did not work for me. Because I also had a hard time remembering the names of characters and places*), I did not get a sense of conspiracies developing and the two that feature prominently in the story rather erupted out of nowhere for me. As they must have if I had been in the protagonist's place.

That's not a fault of the book. It's the result of perfectly good artistic decisions by the writer. But I prefer a more caleidoscopic approach most of the time, and I found The Goblin Emperor a perfectly enjoyable, well-written, well-structured novel that simply isn't the thing I go for. That happens, but it does mean it's not going to be my # 1 choice for the Hugos.

*)There is an appendix that would have helped if it had been easier and less disruptive to flick back and forth in the eBook within iBooks. This is one area where paper books still have a strong advantage, although solutions do exist.

Albums bought January-April 2015

April 21st, 2015 by Reinder

The pace of my record-buying slowed down in the first trimester of 2015 as I focused on putting back more money to pay down my mortgage. Alsom I went on a physical media fast after I put my CD collection and my books into storage in preparation for a move. However, the budget did allow for a few purchases here and there, and now that tax refund/vacation allowance time is coming, I've loosened the restraints a little. Here's my list for the first few months:

Deep Purple - Stockholm 1970 (Vinyl)
Fatoumata Diawara & Roberto Fonseca - At Home Live in Marciac (CD)
Ian Gillan - Access All Areas (CD)
Zoe Keating - Into The Trees (Bandcamp)
King Crimson - Live at the Orpheum (iTunes)
Richard Thompson - Strict Tempo (CD). Strictly speaking, I ordered this from Bol.com in late 2014 but it only arrived early in the new year.
Tuner - Totem (Bandcamp). This one was technically free to download, but I dropped in a few bucks because I could.
Rokia Traoré - Bownboï (CD)
Stephen Wilson - Hand.Cannot.Erase (iTunes)

But that wasn't all the new (to me) music I added to my library. I also acquired the following releases through the Bowers and Wilkins Society of Sound, which I became a member of last year:

9Bach - Tincian
Berlin Philharmonic String Quintet - Antonin Dvorák - string Quintets
Edwyn Collins - Studio Live Session Liechtenstein
Samantha Crain - Kid Face
Sir Colin Davies, LSO - Sibelius Symphony No. 2 and Pohjola's Daughter
Valerie Gergiev, Marlinsky Orchestra - Shostakovich Symphonies Nos 1 & 15
Valerie Gergiev, Elena Mosuc, Zlata Bulycheva, LSC, LSO - Mahler Symphony No. 2
The Will Gregory Moog Ensemble - Undercurrents
Bernard Haitink, London Symphony Orchestra - Bruckner Symphony No 9
Ethan Johns - Live at Kings Place
Kalbata & Mixmonster - Congo Beat The Drum
Bernie Krause - Particles of Dawn - Scenes from the Great Animal Orchestra
Radiophonic Workshop - S/T
Roller Trio - Tracer
Roman Simovic, London Symphony Orchestra - TCHAIKOVSKY Serenade, BARTÓK Divertimento
Three Cane Whale - Holts and Hovers
Universal Togetherness Band - S/T
Samyel Yurga - Guzo

All of them digital downloads in CD quality (Higher resolution available but I haven't bothered with that). It should be obvious from the length of that list that it is the Society of Sound that, for a subscription price of EUR 40/year, supplied me with a large and incredibly diverse selection of music in a wide, wide range of genres. Several of these titles could be qualified as 'a bit quirky' and one of the things that I enjoy most about this is that month by month, you never know what you're going to get. Is it a band playing classical tunes on old monophonic synthesizers with only some of them having prior experience as keyboardists? Is it a bunch of old geezers recreating the creative milieu of the BBC studios in the 1960s? Or a carefully restored 40-year-old tape from a hot dance group that was tied to a school at the time of recording and was not intended for commercial release? I look forward to being surprised every month, even if not everything makes it to the regular rotation.

Notes/first impressions: Ian Gillan – Access All Areas

April 18th, 2015 by Reinder

* Live recording from the Naked Thunder tour, 1990(ish)
* Probably not from a single concert, and at only 11 tracks, not a full concert set, I think. Fade-ins and fade-outs between songs
* Songs from Gillan's career from Deep Purple through original version of Gillan, plus Naked Thunder and Gillan/Glover tracks
* Ian Gillan in good voice, full and powerful sounding but with a ragged edge to his vocal tone; less so after he warms up
* There's a bit of Hammond organ there, but otherwise sound palette is very late '80s, early 90s hard rock with dominant drums and synthetic textures
* Band professional but not stellar, similar to Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow or Whitesnake in the 1990s. Sounding good and powerful but not bringing anything extra to the table like Deep Purple at their best
* In the years just before and during Gillan's absence from Deep Purple, Deep Purple weren't at their best and didn't bring anything extra to the table either, and this live album is better than Purple's Nobody's Perfect, at least.
* On the whole, I like it. Good to hear "Gut Reaction" and "No More Cane on the Brazos" again.

Reading for the Hugos

April 18th, 2015 by Reinder

Following this year's bullshit surrounding the Hugo Award nominations, I've decided to get involved. I got a supporting membership for Worldcon 2015, which should give me the right to vote and possibly an electronic kit that contains parts of, some, or all of the nominated works, depending on how this year's rights negotiations go.

In the wake of the effective takeover of the nominations by not one, but two politically-driven slates of varying rabidity, with the slate of the most noxious, fascist organisation being the most effective, three different basic strategies for responding have emerged:

1. Nuke It From Orbit: the Hugos have lost their legitimacy and even non-slate winners would be tainted by having had to compete with works that were not selected on merit but as part of a right-wing campaign. Therefore, vote No Award on everything and try again next year. This is the position of Phil Sandifer, among others.

2. Cauterize And Amputate: Vote all slate nominees below No Award or leave them off the ballot altogether. Ensure that only works nominated on merit get awards, even if that means there will not be a Hugo Award in some categories. Several reasonable people have suggested this, though I can't remember who right now. There are guides for how to vote if you want to do this.

3. Business as Usual: Read what you want, until you don't want to anymore and vote whichever of the nominees you think deserve the award the best. The system is robust enough to deal with this intrusion. This is the position taken by George R.R. Martin and John Scalzi, among others.

As is my wont, I can see merit in all these positions and actually go back and forth between them. I don't know which approach I will take, though I expect No Award will sweep up a lot of my votes. I have, however, decided to base my reading approach on Strategy 2: Cauterize and Amputate. What this means:

I will read in the following order:
1. Non-slate books get read first, and I won't wait for the Hugo packet. I'll pay for those.
2. If I still have time after that (my fiction-reading time has been so limited, I only read two novels last year), I will, at my sole discretion, pick some of the nominees that were on the Sad Puppy slate but not the Rabid Puppy slate that I think might have made it to the list on merit, if I squint a bit. I will look at sales figures and the authors' general reputation, and I may or may not decide to pay for the works.
3. After that, other Sad Puppy Nominees, but only if they are in the Hugo packet.
4. After that, Rabid Puppy nominees not called Vox Day/Theodore Beale. If I wanted to read the self-published works of a fascist and literary fraud hanging with scumbags in Italy, I have some Ezra Pound poems stashed away somewhere. I will not pay for any of these.
5. Vox Day/Theodore Beale has already got all the consideration that he deserves from me, which is less than none at all.

I have a vacation starting today, so I'm starting tonight with Katherine Addison, The Goblin Emperor.