Monday, December 11, 2017

Musical Monday - Christmas Canon Rock by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra


Pachelbel's Canon in D wasn't a Christmas song. Well, okay, that's not technically completely accurate, since no one really knows why Canon in D was originally written, especially as it fell into obscurity for centuries and was only really rediscovered by the general public in the late 1960s. So it may have been written as a Christmas song, but we don't really know and have no evidence that would actually support that conclusion.

But the Trans-Siberian Orchestra got hold of the song, added some lyrics and some amplifiers and turned out this version of the song and probably cemented it in people's heads as a Christmas song forevermore. Although it used to be used for a lot of weddings and funerals, now it is holiday music, which seems odd. Repurposing non-holiday music as holiday music seems to happen every now and then - relatively recently the song My Favorite Things became a "Christmas song", an association it didn't have for its first fortyish years of existence.

I have to question the need to do this sort of annexation of non-Christmas songs by the Christmas season. I mean, we already have a lot of Christmas songs that were specifically written as such, and more are produced every year (although many, such as Last Christmas, are terrible). Does the ever-growing octopus of Christmas need to engulf non-Christmas songs as well?

Previous Musical Monday: There Won't Be No Country Music by C.W. McCall

Trans-Siberian Orchestra     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Book Blogger Hop December 8th - December 14th: Heracias Became the Bishop of Alexandria to Use the Title "Pope" in 232 A.D.


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: If you celebrate Christmas, do you feel the need to stop reading anything but Christmas-themed romances as the holiday season starts?

No. I don't usually do a whole lot of themed holiday-related reading. Most years I am in the middle of an annual reading crunch as I try to get through as many of the year's science fiction and fantasy works before the deadline to nominate for the Hugo Awards arrives.

On a side note, I'm not doing the whole Hugo-nominating and voting thing this year. The arrival of the future star captain four months ago made me dice to take this year off from Hugo voting, mostly because I don't have the kind of time that I would need to really do it right, but I'll be getting back into it next time around.

But even though I'm not immersed in trying to consume as much Hugo-eligible material as possible, I'm still not going to be doing much Holiday-theme reading this year. I have a few books I go back to, such as Letters from Father Christmas, which I mentioned last week, and Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas, but my holiday reading list is quite limited. Most of the entertainment that I associate with the holiday season consists of movies and television programs - White Christmas, Holiday Inn, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Nightmare Before Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Year Without a Santa Claus, and so on and so forth. In my head music and color are so a part and parcel of the season that visual media is always going to dominate.


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Friday, December 8, 2017

1989 Hugo Longlist

The 1989 Hugo Longlist is the result of the work of a dedicated fan (who has, the last time I checked, asked to remain anonymous) going through the pages of decades-old fanzines and digging up posts from Usenet news groups and compiling the resulting data into a usable form. This is a form of fannish archaeology that makes things like the Hugo Longlist Project possible, and fondom is forever indebted to the people who do these sorts of tedious and thankless tasks for no reason other than a desire to contribute to the sum total of knowledge regarding fannish history.

In most cases, the Longlist reveals facts about history beyond just the names of the people and works that had just missed making it onto the list of finalists. The deep dive into the data that resulted in the longlist also revealed a couple of works that would have made it onto the list of finalists if they had not been disqualified. In the Best Related Work category, Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time received enough votes to qualify for the final ballot, but was either declared ineligible or withdrawn. In the fanzine category, Aboriginal SF received enough votes to be a finalist, but was ineligible as it did not publish any issues in 1988. Finally, both Elizabeth Moon and Daniel Keys Moran received sufficient votes to be Campbell Finalists, but were both ineligible as they had their first professional publication in 1986 and 1982, respectively. These facts were omitted from the official published Hugo data until they were unearthed by diligent fan research.

A larger revelation contained in the overall shape of the information provided in the longlist is simply how difficult many fans seem to have found determining eligibility in the pre-internet era. Most of the non-fiction categories had at least one ineligible nominee show up either on the longlist or the list of finalists. The prevalence of ineligible nominees is especially notable in the Campbell Award, where there were not only two ineligible authors would received sufficient votes that they would have been finalists otherwise, but three more ineligible authors on the longlist. The salient detail to be drawn from this data is that prior to the internet making the details of publishing transparent to a wider spectrum of the public interested in such things, Hugo voters seem to have spent a fair amount of time figuratively groping in the dark over eligibility issues.

Best Novel

Finalists:
Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh [winner]
Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Guardsman by P.J. Beese and Todd Cameron Hamilton [nomination deleted]
Islands in the Net by Bruce Sterling
Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson
Red Prophet by Orson Scott Card

Longlisted Nominees:
Alternities by Michael P. Kube-McDowell
Deserted Cities of the Heart by Lewis Shiner
Dragonsdawn by Anne McCaffrey
The Gold Coast by Kim Stanley Robinson
Hellspark by Janet Kagan
Ivory by Mike Resnick
Orphan of Creation by Roger MacBride Allen
The Paladin by C.J. Cherryh
Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Best Novella

Finalists:
The Calvin Coolidge Home for Dead Comedians by Bradley Denton
Journals of the Plague Years by Norman Spinrad
The Last of the Winnebagos by Connie Willis [winner]
The Scalehunter's Beautiful Daughter by Lucius Shepard
Surfacing by Walter Jon Williams

Longlisted Nominees:
Backward Turn Backward by James Tiptree, Jr.
The Blabber by Vernor Vinge
The Color of Neanderthal Eyes by James Tiptree, Jr.
The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen
Fatal Statistics by Pauline Ashwell
The Flies of Memory by Ian Watson
Nomans Land by Lucius Shepard
The Skin Trade by George R.R. Martin
Trapping Run by Harry Turtledove
Waiting for the Olympians by Frederik Pohl
We Are for the Dark by Robert Silverberg
Wires by F. Paul Wilson

Best Novelette

Finalists:
Do Ya, Do Ya, Wanna Dance? by Howard Waldrop
The Function of Dream Sleep by Harlan Ellison
Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus by Neal Barrett, Jr.
Peaches for Mad Molly by Steven Gould
Schrödinger's Kitten by George Alec Effinger [winner]

Longlisted Nominees
The Earth Doth Like a Snake Renew by James Tiptree, Jr.
Glacier by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Lunatics by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Hob by Judith Moffett
Sanctuary by James White
Two by Pat Cadigan

Best Short Story

Finalists:
The Fort Moxie Branch by Jack McDevitt
The Giving Plague by David Brin
Our Neural Chernobyl by Bruce Sterling
Kirinyaga by Mike Resnick [winner]
Ripples in the Dirac Sea by Geoffrey A. Landis
Stable Strategies for Middle Management by Eileen Gunn

Longlisted Nominees
Eidolons by Harlan Ellison
Mrs. Shummel Exits a Winner by John Kessel
On a Phantom Tide by William F. Wu
Slow, Slow Burn by George Alec Effinger

Best Nonfiction, Related, or Reference Work

Finalists:
A Biographical Dictionary of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists by Robert Weinberg
A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes by Stephen W. Hawking [unclear whether this was ineligible or withdrawn]
First Maitz by Don Maitz
The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village 1957-1965 by Samuel R. Delany [winner]
The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction edited by James E. Gunn
Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror: 1987 by Charles N. Brown and William G. Contento

Longlisted Nominees:
Bare-Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard by Russell Miller [ineligible]
Bio of an Ogre: The Autobiography of Piers Anthony by Piers Anthony
Imagination: The Art & Technique of David A. Cherry by David A. Cherry [ineligible]
The New Dinosaurs: An Alternative Evolution by Dougal Dixon
Strokes: Essays and Reviews 1966-1986 by John Clute
Women of Vision: Essays by Women Writing Science Fiction by Denise Du Pont

Best Dramatic Presentation

Finalists:
Alien Nation
Beetlejuice
Big
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? [winner]
Willow

Longlisted Nominees:
Lair of the White Worm
The Lady in White
The Land Before Time
Nolacon II Gripe Session [ineligible]
Star Trek - The Next Generation: Elementary, Dear Data
They Live

Best Professional Editor

Finalists:
Gardner Dozois [winner]
Edward L. Ferman
David G. Hartwell
Charles C. Ryan
Stanley Schmidt

Longlisted Nominees:
Lou Aronica
Jim Baen
Ellen Datlow
George R.R. Martin
Beth Meacham
Shawna McCarthy
Elizabeth "Betsy" Mitchell
Price, ? (it is unclear whether this is Patrick Lucien Price of Amazing Stories or Robert M. Price of Crypt of Cthulhu)
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Brian Thomsen

Best Professional Artist

Finalists:
Thomas Canty
David A. Cherry
Bob Eggleton
Todd Cameron Hamilton [nomination deleted]
Don Maitz
Michael Whelan [winner]

Longlisted Nominees:
Janet Aulisio
Jim Burns
Vincent Di Fate
Phil Foglio
James Gurney
Tom Kidd
Carl Lundgren
David B. Mattingly
J.K. Potter
Barclay Shaw

Best Semi-Prozine

Finalists:
Aboriginal SF edited by Charles C. Ryan [ineligible]
Interzone edited by David Pringle and Simon Ounsley
Locus edited by Charles N. Brown [winner]
The New York Review of Science Fiction edited by David G. Hartwell, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Susan Palwick, and Kathryn Cramer
Science Fiction Chronicle edited by Andrew I. Porter
Thrust edited by D. Douglas Fratz

Longlisted Nominees:
Argos: Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine edited by Ross Emry [ineligible]
File 770 edited by Mike Glyer [placed in the fanzine category]
Horror Show edited by David B. Silva
New Pathways Into Science Fiction And Fantasy edited by Michael G. Adkisson
Pulphouse edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch [ineligible]
Science Fiction Eye edited by by Stephen P. Brown and Dan Steffan
Weird Tales edited by George H. Scithers, Darrell Schweitzer, and John Gregory Betancourt

Best Fanzine

Finalists:
File 770 edited by Mike Glyer [winner]
FOSFAX edited by Timothy Lane
Lan's Lantern edited by George "Lan" Laskowski
Niekas edited by Edmund R. Meskys, Mike Bastraw, and Anne Braude
OtherRealms edited by Chuq Von Rospach

Longlisted Nominees:
Delineator edited by Alan White
Jane's Fighting SMOFs edited by Jane Dennis and Scott Dennis
Nova Express edited by Lawrence Person
Pirate Jenny edited by Pat Mueller [ineligible]
Pulp edited by Avedon Carol, Rob Hansen, John Harvey and Vincent Clarke
Pulsar! edited by Arlan Andrews
Science Fiction Randomly edited by Hawk and Steve Antczak
Texas SF Enquirer edited by Pat Mueller
Trap Door edited by Robert Lichtman
YHOS edited by Art Widner

Best Fan Writer

Finalists:
Avedon Carol
Mike Glyer
Arthur D. Hlavaty
Dave Langford [winner]
Guy H. Lillian, III
Chuq Von Rospach

Longlisted Nominees:
T.L. Bohman
Richard Brandt
Jeanne Gomoll
Andrew Hooper
Susan Landerman
George Laskowski
Joseph T. Major
Pat Mueller
Leslie Turek [ineligible]
Harry Warner, Jr.
Owen Whiteoak

Best Fan Artist

Finalists:
Brad W. Foster [winner]
Teddy Harvia
Merle Insinga
Stu Shiffman
Taral Wayne
Diana Gallagher Wu [winner]

Longlisted Nominees:
Steve Fox
Alexis Gilliland
Jeanne Gomoll
Jon “Lang” Langford
Joe Mayhew
Ingrid Neilson
Diana Harlan Stein
Arthur Thomson (aka ATom)

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Finalists:
P.J. Beese and Todd Cameron Hamilton
Christopher Hinz
Elizabeth Moon [ineligible]
Daniel Keys Moran [ineligible]
Melanie Rawn
Michaela Roessner [winner]
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
William Sanders
Delia Sherman

Longlisted Nominees:
Andrea I. Alton
Richard Kadrey [ineligible]
Ian McDonald [ineligible]
Loren J. McGregor
Rebecca Ore [ineligible]
Matt Ruff
Mary Stanton

Go to previous year's longlist: 1984
Go to subsequent year's longlist: 2001

Go to 1989 Hugo Finalists and Winners

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Monday, December 4, 2017

Musical Monday - There Won't Be No Country Music by C.W. McCall


I think about my paternal grandfather a lot these days.

When he was young, fresh out of college, having returned from serving in World War II and gotten married, he moved to Montana. This was long before I was born, before even my father was born, but I've seen pictures of him and my grandmother there. He fell in love with Montana, fell in love with the American West, a love that stayed with him for the rest of his life. I still have some of the Charlie Russell prints that his house was decorated with. He loved the wild open spaces. He loved the natural beauty of the unspoiled places of the world. Some of my fondest childhood memories are from camping trips I went on with him in the Rocky Mountains or the Shenandoah, fishing in cold streams or hiking just to see what there was to see.

My grandfather was a fairly conservative man. He served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, went to college after he returned, worked as a civilian for a while, and then reentered the service for the Korean War. He was one of the pilots who was in Florida ready to fly over Cuba as part of an anticipated invasion during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and he flew during Vietnam. All of my memories of him were of him as an Air Force officer or a retired Air Force officer. I have it on good authority that he wasn't real fond of John F. Kennedy, and voted for conservative politicians on a regular basis. Anyone who would think of him as a bleeding heart liberal is simply dead wrong. He simply came from a generation in which conservative thought wasn't incompatible with preserving some part of the country as unspoiled wilderness to be passed on to later generations.

My grandfather is long gone now, and to be perfectly honest, I'm glad for his sake that he didn't live long enough to see the conservative movement in the U.S. turn into what it has turned into now. I'm glad he isn't around to see the GOP set about dismantling the protections that were put in place to preserve the American West that he loved - that were put into place to preserve the wild and free places all over the country. The rapacious political cabal that has seized control of our government is trading away our descendants' inheritance for some transitory commercial gain, and that is an intergenerational crime of epic proportions. Once these places are mined and exploited, what made them a source of wonder is probably never coming back. I'm glad he was spared the realization that while he was able to share these places with his grandchildren, the way things are going, I will never be able to share them with mine.

I miss him every day. And yet I'm glad he didn't live to see what is happening now.

Previous Musical Monday: O Holy Night by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra

C.W. McCall     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Book Blogger Hop December 1st - December 7th: Radium-231 has a Half-Life of Just Over a Minute and a Half


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: What is your favourite Christmas-themed read?

My favorite Christmas-themed read is J.R.R. Tolkien's Letters from Father Christmas. Like most children, Tolkien's children wrote letters to Father Christmas (or as most Americans would know the character, Santa Claus). The only difference for Tolkien's children is that Father Christmas wrote back, sending letters complete with stories about what he had been up to during the year, color illustrations, and a cast of characters that included a somewhat clumsy polar bear and evil elves. Letters from Father Christmas is a compilation that includes all of the letters, as well as commentary putting them into context. The letters are funny, beautiful, and touching. The whole book amounts to an extended love letter from a father to his children using a figure of modern folklore as the focus. I read it every year.


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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Review - Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book Two by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Chris Sprouse


Short review: The complex web of political intrigue set up in the first volume turns into a punching match and a journey through a dreamscape.

Haiku
A complex story
But let's set that stuff aside
And get to punching

Full review: Book Two of A Nation Under Our Feet picks up more or less where Book One left off, and shows much the same promise of brilliance and suffers from much the same flaws as the first volume. It is clear that Coates wants to write a story about the morality of power - who gets to wield it and how it may be used in a just manner - but he keeps stumbling over the inherent contradictions of a world in which hereditary rulers with powers that make them literally superhuman are the heroes and they are opposed by (among others) people advocating for representative government. It seems that in this installment of the story Coates has recognized this paradox, and has tried to work around it, but it still seems like the world the story is set in is simply getting in the way of the story Coates wants to tell. This isn't to say that this is a bad book, but it is rather an attempt to do something that may be bigger than the genre it takes place in can allow, and as a result, it struggles against these constraints. Ultimately, Coates resolves this issue by mostly abandoning the nuance of the first volume in favor of paring the story down to T'Challa against a collection of over-the-top villains who can be punched into submission.

The political situation at the opening of this book is essentially the same as it was at the end of the last. The shaman Tatu, assisted by the mind-controlling witch Zenzi is fomenting a rebellion he calls "the People" among the Wakandan people with the aim of wresting control of the country away from T'Challa. The disaffected dora milaje Aneka and Ayo are off in a corner of the country seemingly intent on setting up a woman-controlled enclave. Changamire is still preaching the benefits of representative government and denouncing what he sees as T'Challa's dictatorial control over Wakanda. Against this, T'Challa is trying to regain control of the nation he rules, navigating a political situation in which the ability to punch one's enemies into submission is not always all that useful. T'Challa also continues to deal with the fact that his sister Shuri is locked in a prolonged coma from which he is unable to wake her. With all the pieces in place from the first volume, Coates proceeds to move them about the board, showing the various back and forth machinations as "the People" try to make inroads against T'Challa's power and T'Challa, in response, tries to locate his enemies and bring them to heel, using the teleportation capabilities of his ally Manifold to hop around the country to do so.

The net result of all this motion is mostly anticlimactic and almost disappointingly predictable. Tatu tries to recruit Changamire to his cause, but Changamire refuses, pointing out that Tatu's vision is little more than replacing T'Challa's monarchical rule with his own. This serves to more or less take Changamire out of the "rebellion" part of the story, and sidelines him for the rest of the book. When T'Challa sends soldiers to try to subdue the wayward dora milaje, Tatu shows up with Zenzi to mind control the Wakandan troops, but his attempts to take over Aneka and Ayo's forces is rebuffed and he settles for something of a tacit alliance. In these sequences, Coates seems to be taking T'Challa's various morally "grey" opponents off of the board one by one, clearing the board for a showdown between a heroic Black Panther and a villainous evil shaman. As if to drive the point home just a little harder, the story reveals that Tatu's efforts are funded by the duplicitous Zeke Stane, and has the rebellion engage in some underhanded deceptive video editing to make T'Challa look bad.

The conflict in this volume comes to a head when T'Challa flips the script on his opponents, engaging in a little subterfuge of his own so he can record them making a damning confession and then calling in Luke Cage, Misty Knight, and Storm -collectively called "the Crew" - to help him brawl with Stane and his team of super-villains. Despite the complex machinations that created a multi-faction civil war, this book reduces the conflict to little more than Black Panther having a throw-down with an unscrupulous foreign interloper who is motivated almost entirely by the prospect of monetary gain. All of the philosophical questions concerning the nature of government raised by Changamire or concerning the role of women raised by Aneka and Ayo are set aside so the story can be simplified to a good and evil punching match with a few guest stars involved in the fracas. After the build-up in the first volume, this sequence almost feels like little more than filler, and to a certain extent undercuts the rest of the story even more. The story was already kind of floundering due to the fact that the rebellion was being sparked by Zenzi's mind-control powers, calling into question whether "the People" actually had any kind of legitimate grievance, and now the fact that it is funded by Stane for purely mercenary reasons opens up even more questions about the legitimacy of the rebel faction. Instead of posing hard questions about the nature of power and who has the right to wield it, the story descends into a simplistic tale of white hats against black hats.

The volume is intercut with sequences in which Shuri explores what amounts to a dream-like version of Wakanada, guided by an ancestral spirit as she navigates the history and folklore of her nation. Each vignette illustrates some lesson about Wakandan culture and the proper use of authority. In a way, it seems like Coates is trying to rehabilitate the notion of rule by a hereditary monarch through the application of mystical wisdom from beyond the grave. This section feels like an attempt to back away from the hard questions posed earlier in the story about the nature of Black Panther's role as the unelected ruler of a nation and make it palatable for T'Challa to emerge victorious in the end. Oddly, despite being isolated from the rest of the narrative (or perhaps because of it), Shuri's story ends up being the most interesting part of this book, filling in Wakandan history and fleshing out her character more fully than just about any other in the volume. This story ends just as T'Challa and Manifold appear to have found their way into the dream world where Shuri is, presumably setting up Shuri passing on these lessons in rulership to her brother.

As with the first volume, this book has a "throwback" story, this time the opening of the 1973 Don McGregor story Panther's Rage, featuring Killmonger and Venomm as antagonists. In the first section, Black Panthers tracks down Killmonger and unsuccessfully faces off against him, with Killmonger assuming the hero is dead following their encounter. In the second, section, the reader is introduced to Killmonger's ally Venomm, who then learns to his dismay that Black Panther is not actually dead, leading to a confrontation between the two. The super-hero stuff in this part of the book is pretty standard stuff: Villains do bad stuff, Black Panther tracks them down, they fight. What is interesting about this selection is the background - T'Challa has apparently been away from Wakanda for a while, and his subjects repeatedly chastise him for ignoring his responsibility to protect the people of Wakanda. The question that looms large in McGregor's piece is simply this: Can someone serve as a super-hero and be a responsible leader for a nation? This sentiment is echoed in the Coates' authored portion of the book, where one of T'Challa's advisors says that T'Challa doesn't want to rule, but rather wants to be a hero. The tension engendered by T'Challa being both the Black Panther and the King of Wakanda readily apparent in McGregor's story, which, in a way, serves as a precursor to Coates' story. The McGregor work contained in this volume is not the complete run of Panther's Rage, but it is so good that it makes me want to dig out a copy and read it in full.

Book Two of A Nation under Our Feet is, as Book One was, a tantalizing but flawed book. The difference is that it is flawed in completely different ways, While Volume One tried to fit a complex political story of competing philosophies of government into a super-hero story, Book Two more or less abandons most of the nuance that had been present in the story to focus on some punching. While the first installment in this series seemed overly ambitious, this volume reveals the cracks in the patina, and simply feels vaguely unsatisfying. That may be due to the fact that this is neither the beginning nor the end of the overall story, and thus kind of has to avoid any real substantive resolution, but even so, the direction the story appears to be going as revealed in this volume feels somewhat disappointing. One can't really conclusively call this a bad story, at least not yet, but one can't really call it a good story yet either. I suppose the most accurate description would be "ambitious and potentially great, but kind of adrift and unfocused at this point".

Subsequent volume in the series: Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book Three by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze

Ta-Nehisi Coates     Chris Sprouse     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, November 27, 2017

Musical Monday - O Holy Night by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra


I have a confession to make: Once I hear a Trans-Siberian Orchestra version of a traditional Christmas song, all other versions are pretty much ruined for me. I mean, I used to really like, for example, Josh Groban's version of O Holy Night, but now when I listen to it, the song just seems so slow and flat. I keep expecting a lead guitar to cut in and drive the song forward. I'm not really sure what this means other than I apparently prefer my Christmas season with lots of electric guitars, but there it is.

Previous Musical Monday: The Pumpkin Spice Lament by Molly Lewis
Subsequent Musical Monday: There Won't Be No Country Music by C.W. McCall

Trans-Siberian Orchestra     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Book Blogger Hop November 24th - November 30th: 47 U.S.C. § 230 Provides for Protection of Private Blocking and Screening of Offensive Material on the Internet


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: What's your immediate feeling when entering a bookstore, as compared to how you feel when entering a department store?

I don't really go to department stores all that often, although I have walked through them on the way to other things in a mall - most commonly a food court. On those occasions that I do go to a department store, I am usually there to get something specific, and my aim is to get into the store, find the thing I came in to get, pay for it and leave in as short a time frame as possible. I suppose the feeling I get when I enter a department store is basically "let's try to get this over with as quickly as we can".

When I walk into a bookstore, especially a used bookstore, I might be intent on getting something specific, but even if I am, I will usually spend some time perusing the shelves. I am apt to spend an hour or two in a bookstore if I am left to my own devices. I can't stand browsing for things like clothes or most other items, but I'll happily spend extended periods of time hunting through stacks of books, looking for that out of print book I had been wanting to find, or locating something unexpected, like a book that I didn't know existed by one of my favorite authors. The best description I can come up with for the feeling I get when I enter a book store is "anticipation".


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Friday, November 24, 2017

Ad Astra Review - C3PO by Ef Deal

What Is It? Chopped vegetables, pineapple, and pecans in cream cheese.

Haiku
Cream cheese and peppers
Pineapple, onion, pecans
It's C3PO

Review: C3PO is a pretty simple recipe. It more or less consists of a can of crushed pineapple with chopped bell pepper, onion, and pecans all mixed into a pile of cream cheese. That is basically it. The only change I made from the text of the recipe was that I used a red bell pepper instead of a green bell pepper, mostly because I had a red bell pepper on hand. The end result is a spread than can be used on crackers or fresh vegetables. The end result is also delicious.

I must admit, I was a little bit apprehensive about this recipe, mostly because it is so very simple. There are no spices or anything else added to the mixture to flavor it up. Despite my misgivings, this recipe turned out to be quite flavorful, with the sweetness of the pineapple combining with the sweetness of the bell pepper to give the whole a fresh taste that was tempered just enough by the onion so that the whole wasn't cloying. The only element that really kind of disappeared were the pecans, which I really couldn't taste and didn't seem to provide much additional crunch. The dip is a bit chunky, as all of the ingredients are basically just diced and mixed with the cream cheese, so if one wanted something smoother I suppose you could run it through a food processor or blend it with a stick mixer, but there is not really a need to do so other than personal preference.

I made this as an appetizer for Thanksgiving, and we had it with crackers and an assortment of vegetables. It went over well with everyone, with the redhead going so far as to declare it to be the best recipe from Ad Astra thus far.

One final note on the name, for anyone who doesn't get it: It is an acronym that results in a Star Wars reference. It is cream cheese for the "C", pineapple, pepper, and pecans for the "3P"'s and onion for the "O". Sadly, the recipe doesn't actually look like a golden robot, which would have been cool. It is quite tasty nonetheless.

Previous recipe in Ad Astra: Big Bang Brussels Sprouts by Sean Williams
Next recipe in Ad Astra: "Chilly" Sauce by Nancy Springer

Ef Deal     Ad Astra Cooking Project     Home

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Review - Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary


Short review: Henry is an ordinary boy who lives on an ordinary street who finds an ordinary stray dog and has adorable ordinary adventures.

Haiku
A boy and a dog
Living on Klickitat Street
In six fun chapters

Full review: Henry Huggins was Beverly Cleary's first book, written after she spent years as a librarian struggling to find books to recommend to young boys. The book recounts the adventures of Henry Huggins, an eight year old boy living in an unnamed town in the Pacific Northwest as he, among other things, finds a dog, has an unexpected fish explosion, catches worms to pay off a debt, and tries to clean up his messy pet for a dog show. This book doesn't chronicle big events that change the world or recount pivotal moments in people's lives. It is simply stories about an ordinary boy with an ordinary dog living on an ordinary suburban street doing ordinary things. It is also wonderful.

The format of the book is fairly straightforward. There are six chapters. In each chapter, Henry finds himself confronted with a problem that might plausibly face an eight-year-old boy living on Klickitat Street and he solves it in a reasonably plausible yet humorous manner using little boy logic. Sometimes he gets a little help from his friends, and other times he gets a little help from his parents. Each chapter is more or less self-contained - this book isn't really a novel, but is rather a series of sequential short stories that use many of the characters and the same setting but are only loosely connected otherwise.

The six chapters are: Henry and Ribs, where Henry finds a stray dog and has to figure out how to get him home from his trip downtown on the municipal bus. The complication is that the municipal bus doesn't allow dogs and Henry has to get home before dinner. In chapter two, Gallons of Guppies, Henry buys a pair of guppies that soon turn into a half dozen guppies, and eventually hundreds, ultimately occupying pretty much all of the jars Henry's mother intended to use for canning fruits and vegetables. Pretty soon produce comes into season and Henry has to figure out what to do with hundreds of guppies now that his mother needs her jars back. In chapter three, Henry and the Night Crawlers, Henry loses his neighbor's football and has to figure out how to get the money to get him a new one, and sets about industriously capturing worms for another neighbor who wants to go on a fishing trip.

One interesting element to the book is that Ribsy becomes more important to the stories the further one gets into it. He's the focus of the first chapter, but in the second and third chapters he's not really all that important to the story. In the fourth chapter, The Green Christmas, Ribsy is responsible for the accident that gets Henry out of an unwanted role in Henry's school's annual Christmas pageant. The fifth and sixth chapters - The Pale Pink Dog and Finders Keepers - are pretty much all about Ribsy. In The Pale Pink Dog, Henry enters Ribsy in a dog show and after Ribsy gets dirty in the middle of the show, Henry resorts to some rather humorous means of trying to cover up the mud. In Finders Keepers an older boy shows up, having seen Ribsy in a picture from the dog show of the previous chapter, and says that Ribsy is actually named Dizzy and that before Henry found him in the drugstore in the first chapter, he had belonged to the boy and he had come to get him back. Essentially, as the book progresses, Ribsy becomes a more integral part of each chapter, which serves as a subtle means of showing how the dog becomes progressively more ingrained in Henry's life.

The other notable element of this book is that it now serves as a somewhat unintentional snapshot of the world of 1950 America, which made it more interesting for me, but may serve to make it somewhat less than engaging for younger readers. The most obvious marker is the technology in the book - early in the book Henry must make a telephone call to his mother using a pay phone and he has to stand on a telephone so he can speak into the wall-mounted transmitter, a situation that would probably be almost entirely alien to any child born in the last decade. The other plot element that makes the stories show their age is the comparatively extreme freedom that Henry is given by his parents. In the opening chapter, the eight-year-old Henry has taken the municipal bus downtown after school so he could swim at the YMCA and has stopped off to buy himself an ice cream cone before he takes the bus back home. Henry makes this expedition on his own, and the reader is informed that this is a weekly practice for him. While tweens using a bus to get around is probably still commonplace, children as young as Henry is supposed to be almost certainly do not any more. Throughout the book, Henry's parents practice what can more or less be described as benign neglect when it comes to supervising Henry, allowing him the freedom to get himself into trouble on a regular basis, and then expecting him to solve whatever problem he has created for himself pretty much on his own. It is almost impossible to imagine that any suburban middle-class American child of today being given as much free reign, as much responsibility, and as much leeway to work his way out of difficulties as Henry is given in this book.

Despite its somewhat dated nature, or possibly because of this, Henry Huggins remains a delightful book. Originally intended as a book about an ordinary boy doing ordinary boy things and written for ordinary boys to read, age has made it into a snapshot of the Americana of a bygone era as idealized by time and distance. Regardless of its unintentional time capsule status, this book remains a perfect way to introduce children to Beverly Cleary's world of books, and is an almost must read for a complete childhood.

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Musical Monday - The Pumpkin Spice Lament by Molly Lewis


We are almost to the end of pumpkin spice season, which will be the start of that dark time of the year when there aren't hundreds of pumpkin spice products on the shelves. Soon we must content ourselves with just making pumpkin pie during the non-Thanksgiving parts of the year to get through this long national nightmare until pumpkin spice season comes around again. Pumpkin spice season is the bright spot in an otherwise dreary year.

Even worse, we are about to enter peppermint season, which is simply awful. On the other hand, we do get egg nog season at the same time, but good egg nog is so hard to find and there just aren't as many egg nog flavored products as there are pumpkin spice flavored products. Besides, the only truly great thing about egg nog is the nutmeg, and nutmeg is already in pumpkin spice, so egg nog is just discount pumpkin spice.

Oh well. I'm going to enjoy pumpkin spice season while it lasts, and then grit my teeth and try to endure until it comes around again next year.

Previous Musical Monday: Big Bang by the Doubleclicks featuring Jonathan Coulton
Subsequent Musical Monday: O Holy Night by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Molly Lewis     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Book Blogger Hop November 17th - November 23rd: Area Code 229 Apparently Shows Up in a Lot of Rap Songs


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: If you had an author-only Thanksgiving party, who would you invite?

Well, first, I would invite Ursula K. Le Guin, because I always pick her for things like this. She is simply one of the greatest authors of the last century, and seems incredibly interesting otherwise. She's the only author on this list that I haven't actually met and don't actually know.

Second, I'd pick Alethea Kontis, because she's also an awesome author, and she'd be likely to bring some fantastic Greek food with her. She's also incredibly fun to hang out with and would be pretty much perfect at any gathering. She wrote several books that are a kind of curveball style take on traditional fairy tales, and she knows more about fairy tale stories than anyone I know.

Third, I'd invite Ceillaigh MacCath-Moran, partially because she is awesome and partially because she'd bring her husband Sean, who is great to hang out with, and also because she's working on a Ph.D. in folklore, and I'd really love to listen to her talk about myths and legends.

Fourth, I'd invite Fran Wilde, who is a fellow Cavalier and also a fantastic author and just generally a great person to spend time with. She is also one of the editors of the SFWA Cookbook, so you know she has a lot of great recipes on hand.

Fifth, I'd invite Tom Doyle. As long as I'm having a Thanksgiving that involves people who are going to be talking about folklore, why not have a guy who wrote an entire trilogy based upon various folk traditions being real and serving as the foundation of a hidden world of magic. Plus, he's a great guy in person, so he'd be a perfect Thanksgiving guest.

Finally, I'm going to throw Ursula Vernon into the mix here. She's another great author, and many of her stories have very obvious folkloric elements, so she'll be able to add quite a bit to the conversation. Plus, she's apparently got a huge garden so she can probably bring some really good fresh vegetables.


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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Review - The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman


Short review: A collection of eighty-five works of nonfiction covering a range of topics from book stores, to the comics industry, from boons to video games to movies, and from authors to refugees.

Haiku
Pull up a chair and
Listen to Gaiman expound
On almost all things

Full review: The View from the Cheap Seats is an eclectic mix of selected nonfiction drawn from a wide swathe of Neil Gaiman's career. The works include the transcripts of speeches, introductions to books, memorials to departed writers, liner notes from albums, interviews, and pretty much every other form of writing that one can think of. The topics covered range from libraries to bookstores, from authors to books to music, and from comic books to refugee camps. While this volume is not a complete collection of Gaiman's nonfiction (assembling which would likely be a nigh impossible task), it does contain a broad spectrum of his work, both in terms of style and substance.

Normally, I would describe a volume like this as a collection of essays, but in the case of The View from the Cheap Seats, that would be a misnomer, as these are, for the most part, not essays, but other pieces of writing. The various pieces in this volume are grouped into ten broad categories, each with a relatively loose theme. Because these pieces appeared in a variety of outlets often separated from one another in both time and venue, many of them return to the same themes (and in some cases, the same anecdotes) so reading them one after another can be a little repetitive at times, as Gaiman returns to the same rhetorical well in one article after another. This is somewhat exacerbated by the groupings, as, for example, Gaiman's thoughts on what he believes generally have similar tempos and hit the same notes over an over again, which means that putting them all together in the same section has the effect of highlighting their similarities.

That said, this is Neil Gaiman's work, and as a result, it is almost all top notch, even when he does repeat himself a bit. The sections are: "Things I Believe", which are mostly speeches and articles in which Gaiman expounds upon some element of art, myth, or writing. "Some People I Have Known", which are either introductions to books or memorials to authors who have passed on. "Introductions And Musings: Science Fiction", which are introductions to books and one Nebula Awards speech. "Films and Movies and Me" which is basically Gaiman expounding upon film, mostly filmed work he has been involved in. "On Comics and Some of the People Who Make Them", which consists of articles about various comic book properties and creators as well as some insightful speeches about the genre. "Introductions and Contradictions" which is a grab-bag of introductions Gaiman wrote for books that don't really fit in any of the other categories. "Music and the People Who Make It" consisting of album liner notes, a couple of stories about Amanda Palmer, and his interview with Lou Reed. "On Stardust and Fairy Tales" a section that, given the title, has far less about Gaiman's Stardust than one would think, but a lot of commentary about fairy tale stories. "Make Good Art", which is the only section that is comprised of a single essay, whose title is the same as the section. "The View from the Cheap Seats: Real Things" the last and probably most personal section has essays that are clearly important to Gaiman but cannot really be categorized with the rest of the material in the book, and includes both his harrowing article about visiting a Syrian refugee camp and his intensely personal essay about the loss of his friend and collaborator Terry Pratchett. Every section contains brutal, brilliant, and insightful pieces in which Gaiman explores such a wide variety of topics that one has to wonder how he keeps up with all of them.

The most notable thing about The View from the Cheap Seats is that, with two notable (and entirely understandable) exceptions, Gaiman is relentlessly positive. I suppose it is kind of sad that a collection of writing that is almost entirely about how much the writer loves the things he is writing about is unusual in that regard, but it does make reading this book an enjoyable experience. It doesn't matter what Gaiman is writing about, he seems to always try to find what he loves in the subject. If he is writing about libraries and bookstores, he writes about the things that he loves about libraries and bookstores - even when writing about the creepy adult book store that somewhat inexplicably had a stack of old science fiction paperbacks on a back shelf. When he writes about books, he focuses on the part of the book that he found transcendent and sublime. When he writes about authors, he writes about the things they created that moved him.

Gaiman even generally keeps the tone positive when writing memorial pieces about authors, which he seems to often be having to do. It is probably a function of Gaiman coming to prominence at a relatively young age, but he seems to now be in the position of being the one who is called upon, by virtue of his relationship with the deceased, to write a tribute to an author or artist who has passed away. He is, to a certain extent, now in the role of being the man who remembers the great authors, artists, and singers of the past for those of us who were not fortunate enough to know them. For the most part, these memorials are sad and wistful, but focus primarily on what great art the departed made while they were alive, and how they touched the lives of others in beneficial ways. The one time Gaiman lets his anger at the loss of someone shine through is late in the volume, in A Slip of the Keyboard: Terry Pratchett, his essay about the passing of his friend and collaborator, but in the end he turns to focusing on the good things about Terry and leaves behind the fury at having him taken away too early.

The one essay which sees Gaiman angry is his piece about Syrian refugee camps titled So Many Ways to Die in Syria Now: May 2014. This is markedly different from the other works in the book, because its subject matter is the human tragedy playing out in dusty UN refugee camps in the Jordanian desert rather than books, music, authors, or artists. Without denigrating the rest of the work in this volume, this essay is definitely the most powerful and moving in the book, in large part due to the seriousness of the subject matter, but also because the plight of the Syrian refugees seems to bring out the very best in Gaiman as he works very hard to make sure their voices come through in his writing. Gaiman has done some news articles in the past, although most of his work seems to have been fluffy celebrity pieces - he did, after all, get his start writing a book about Duran Duran, but this article shows that if he hadn't moved into comics and fiction writing, he'd have been an excellent news correspondent.

In the end, The View from the Cheap Seats is five hundred pages of Gaiman writing about the world around him, and mostly writing about the things he loves. To a certain extent this book can be seen as Gaiman's attempt to pass on the things he loves to the reader, hoping that by extolling their virtues, his enthusiasm will rub off on his audience. By and large, at least for me, this worked, and I came away from the book with a list of new writers to read, music to seek out and listen to, and movies to watch. This is an excellent survey of Gaiman's work, that is likely to appeal both to those who have never read any of his nonfiction work and those who are hardcore fans of his, and is definitely worth reading.

2017 Hugo Award Finalists

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Musical Monday - Big Bang by the Doubleclicks featuring Jonathan Coulton


In the Doubleclicks' most recent album Love Problems, Angela seems to have opened up the floodgates of her thoughts on relationships and breakups and unleashed a collection of some of the most devastating nerdy songs that has been put forth. Big Bang is fundamentally a break-up song that tells the story of two people who long for the past, don't quite understand how everything went wrong, and resent the present. There isn't anything new or unusual about a break-up song - Taylor Swift has made pretty much her entire career out of break-up songs - but the difference here is that the Doubleclicks couch their break-up song in the language of nerdy references.

One might say that this is banal - break-up songs are common, and just taking a standard tale of a splintered relationship and draping it with imagery about the Big Bang and molecules is just doing something conventional with a genre-style façade. The thing is, I think this is not something ordinary, but is instead something quite valuable. Angela has taken something conventional and translated it into a language that will speak to a specific segment of the population. Phrasing stories and art in a way that it reaches a different audience is important. This is why, for example, you generally won't hear me dumping on romance novels - I don't care for them, but they speak to a particular audience. My science fiction and genre fantasy novels probably don't speak to romance fans either, even though there are probably a lot of crossover in the fundamentals of the stories.

Telling a story in a way that your intended audience can identify with it results in a sublime piece of work. And I can definitely identify with Big Bang. I've been exactly where the characters in the song are. I remember how that felt - the listlessness, the confusion, the disappointment, the resentment. I've lived through a dead relationship and this song captures that feeling perfectly for me in a way that "conventional" break-up songs just don't. On that ground, just writing "love songs with nerdy references" isn't a bug, it is a feature.

Previous Musical Monday: Lord of the Rings by the Doubleclicks
Subsequent Musical Monday: The Pumpkin Spice Lament by Molly Lewis

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Book Blogger Hop November 10th - November 16th: Shah Arshadir I Conquered Parthia in 228 A.D.


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: What is your favorite part of blogging? Is there a least favorite part of blogging?

My favorite part of blogging is the writing. Organizing my ideas and getting them into written form is really the main reason that I blog at all, and as a result, it is the best part of the process. I don't really write for anyone else, so I don't really care about feedback that much. I mean, getting comments is nice, but it isn't why I blog, so I don't see it as ll that big of a deal. I suppose one could say that the reading is a great part of blogging, but I'd read the books I read whether I was blogging or not, so that's not really part of what I would count as blogging. So the best part has to be the writing.

My least favorite part of blogging is the writing. Getting my thoughts down in written form coherently is often like pulling teeth. I have a stack of books that need reviews sitting on my desk that are simply mocking me as I struggle to find the right words to discuss their contents. It usually doesn't matter what I actually think about the book in question - writing about a book is almost always a draining and difficult process.


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