Saturday, June 30, 2018

Book Blogger Hop June 29th - July 5th: Britain Elected to Join the Gallic Empire in 261 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: Do you have an Instagram account? If so, do you only follow book folks?

No, I do not.

If I did, I would follow more than just book people.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, June 25, 2018

Musical Monday - Longer by Dan Fogelberg


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: March 15, 1980.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

The music of the late 1970s bled into the early 1980s. This is to be expected - it always takes a couple of years before a new decade establishes the musical and cultural identity that it is later associated with, and until that time there is always a holdover from the previous decade. Just like Captain and Tennille's Do That to Me One More Time from a few weeks ago, Dan Fogelberg's Longer is an example of the soft rock of the 1970s leaking into the top of the charts in 1980.

Unlike Captain and Tennille's song, which had a fairly salacious subtext, Longer is an example of the utter blandness of a lot of soft rock. If I wanted to write a ridiculous parody of a love song, the lyrics would probably sound a lot like the lyrics to this song. There's really nothing to it either - this is essentially just a big "I love you" from the singer to an unnamed object of affection that is rendered in some of the purplest prose imaginable. The song is bland, it is syrupy, it is sickly sweet, and it is also entirely inoffensive. It is a butter and sugar sandwich made with plain white bread.

This is also probably part of the reason the song was so commercially successful. I suspect that this song has been used as their first dance for thousands of newly married couples since it was released. It is probably in the repertoire of virtually every wedding band in the English-speaking world (and most of them are probably sick and tired of singing it at every wedding). Cheesy dudes probably learned to play guitar so they could serenade girls with this at college parties. Cheesier dudes probably wrote the lyrics in letters to girls they had crushes on. Syrup sells.

Previous Musical Monday: Atomic by Blondie
Subsequent Musical Monday: Together We Are Beautiful by Fern Kinney

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) by Pink Floyd

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Dan Fogelberg     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Book Blogger Hop June 22nd - June 28th: There Are 260 Days in the Mayan Tzol'kin Calendar


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: For all of you worker bees out there! How do you balance having a day job/career and managing your blog at night? Is it hard or easy to do, and what do people in your work life think of your blogs?

It depends on what one means by "managing my blog". I have an idea of what I'd like to produce on a weekly basis - ideally I'd put up five to six posts a week: One Musical Monday post, three or four substantive posts (mostly book review), and a Book Blogger Hop post. I don't think I have ever actually accomplished that in a week, but I keep tilting at that windmill.

What I actually normally produce under normal circumstances is about three to four posts per week. Basically, I am usually able to reliably put out three to four posts a week. If I were a little bit less foolishly optimistic, I would accept that this is the reasonable standard to expect, but I keep hoping that if I just get my life a little more organized, I can hit the hoped for but never achieved mark.

All that said, the last couple of months, this blog has basically been on life support, in large part because, in addition to work, I have had my time consumed by other concerns. I have spent the last four months or so trying to get an house that I haven't lived in in more than five years ready to sell, and cramming five years worth of routine maintenance into four months has meant that I essentially have had almost no free time. That odyssey seems to mostly be behind me now, so one might expect that I would have more time going forward.

Except now I have to get all the stuff I have in the place I am living in packed up so I can move in a couple months. I guess it will be a while before I'm back to even my normal rate of posting.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, June 18, 2018

Musical Monday - Atomic by Blondie


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: March 1, 1980 through March 8, 1980.

Atomic was the first Blondie song to reach number one in the 1980s, but it certainly wasn't the last. Blondie started its existence as a punk band, which is probably why they were always more popular in the U.K. than in the U.S., but by the time the 1980s rolled around the band's sound had morphed into the weird amalgamation of new wave and disco that you can hear in Atomic.

This song is very much a Blondie song, with an added ethereal-sounding element to it coupled with a Johnny Rivers style Secret Agent Man riff and lyrics that are almost meaningless. The video has a faux futuristic theme to it, with Blondie performing in an outfit that looks to be at least partially made from a garbage bag. Nothing about this song or this video actually makes much sense, but that's more or less what I expect from Blondie, as the band always seemed to have something of an anarchistic streak running through their music, albeit an anarchistic streak that came with a danceable beat.

Previous Musical Monday: Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen
Subsequent Musical Monday: Longer by Dan Fogelberg

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Coward of the County by Kenny Rogers
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Together We Are Beautiful by Fern Kinney

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Blondie     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Book Blogger Hop June 15th - June 21st: 259 Is the Country Code for Zanzibar, Someone Call John Brunner


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: You have just won a $100.00 Visa gift card. Will you spend the entire amount on a rare collector's edition you have always wanted, or buy several newly-published books? Explain your choice.

Given that there are no rare collector's editions of any books that I have always wanted, I'm going to have to go with the second option. There are always new books coming out that I want to buy, so I would have no trouble at all finding books to use the gift care for. In fact, I can think of several books off of the top of my head that I would like to get: Space Opera by Cat Valente, The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander, Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire, Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey, Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty, Raven Strategem by Yoon Ha Lee, and New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson, just to name a few. Just getting those books would probably easily push me over $100.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: Nanjing University Was Founded in 258 A.D.

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, June 11, 2018

Musical Monday - Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: February 23, 1980 through March 15, 1980.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: February 23, 1980 through March 8, 1980.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

Sometimes greatness occurs quickly and from odd sources. Freddie Mercury reportedly wrote this song in about ten minutes and credits the fact that he is not a very good guitar player for it being as good as it is. In other words, because he is a crappy guitarist, Mercury wrote a better song. Given that I am a far crappier guitarist than Mercury was, I suppose that everyone should be expecting my hit record soon.

The Game was the first (and for a long time only) Queen album I owned. I had it on cassette tape, which seemed perfectly reasonable at the time. I played that cassette until the tape stretched and Freddie Mercury's voice on Play the Game sounded decidedly off-key, and to be perfectly honest, Crazy Little Thing Called Love is probably my least favorite song on the the album. The only song that competes with it for the bottom spot is Don't Try Suicide, a song that was way too blatantly didactic to be all that good. Apropos of pretty much nothing, when I was in high school, I made a mix tape to listen to on my Walkman while I was warming up before races, and Rock It (Prime Jive) was on that cassette, but this song wasn't.

Even though this was one of the band's biggest hits (as one of only two Queen songs that reached #1 on the Billboard charts), this song just feels out of place to me, and doesn't really sound like it should be a Queen song. The fact that this was one of their most commercially successful songs instead of something like Somebody to Love, or We Will Rock You, or Bohemian Rhapsody, or Radio Ga Ga just seems wrong. It is a perfectly serviceable song - even the worst Queen songs are pretty good songs - but it is just a rockabilly Elvis tribute, and that shouldn't have turned out to be one of the milestones in the career of a band as good as Queen.

Previous Musical Monday: Cruisin' by Smokey Robinson
Subsequent Musical Monday: Atomic by Blondie

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Do That to Me One More Time by Captain and Tennille
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) by Pink Floyd

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Cruisin' by Smokey Robinson
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Longer by Dan Fogelberg

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Queen     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Book Blogger Hop June 8th - June 14th: Nanjing University Was Founded in 258 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 author have you read the most in the past two years?

So, "the past two years" would extend back to June 2016, which is kind of tricky since I usually track my books read by year. As near as I can tell, the author I have read the most is James S.A. Corey. I have read six of their books in the last two years, all of which were part of their Expanse series. Those books are:


The author I have read the second most in the last two years is Kelly Sue DeConnick. I have read five books by her in the last two years. Two of them are Captain Marvel volumes, and two are from her Pretty Deadly series. The fifth book is from the Bitch Planet series. Here are the five books:


I have also read four books by two different authors. I read four volumes by G. Willow Wilson, and four more by John Bellairs. Here are the books by Wilson, all of which are from the Ms. Marvel series:


And here are the books by Bellairs. Three are from his Johnny Dixon series, and the fourth is from his Lewis Barnavelt series:



Book Blogger Hop     Home

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Review - The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts


Short review: Sunday and the rest of the crew of the Eriophora are organizing a revolt against the A.I. that runs the ship. The only problem is that each crew member is only awake for a few days out of every millenia and the A.I. literally controls aspect of their starship.

Disclosure: I received this book as an Advance Review Copy. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Haiku
Asleep and adrift
Through millenia in space
Now they must revolt

Full review: Sunday is a member of the starship Eriophora, and has been for millions upon millions of years. Traveling at relativistic speeds, spending most of her time in suspended animation, Sunday and her fellow crew members are called upon by the ship's AI., nicknamed "the Chimp", whenever it faces a problem that requires human creativity to solve. Despite being "the Chimp", the ship's computer essentially runs everything on Eiophora, so when it turns out that it is an an amoral and inhuman overseer that regards the human crew as nothing more than mission assets to be discarded when their cost outweighs their utility, fomenting a revolt proves to be somewhat difficult.

The story of The Freeze-Frame Revolution starts off by establishing the "normal" that Sunday lives within. The Eriophora is a massive ship carved from rock surrounding a black hole that has been flung around the Milky Way on a mission to build gates, presumably to pave the way for other travelers to follow. The ship is mostly run by an A.i. dubbed the Chimp, which pilots the ship and builds gates on its own most of the time, but once in a while it confronts a problem that its extensive programming is ill-equipped to handle. For such situations, the Eriophora has a crew, who spend years on end in suspended animation and are thawed out once in a great while to troubleshoot. The exact number of crew is never stated, but they clearly number in the thousands, with only a handful being active at any given point in time, brought out of hibernation in groups that are determined at the whim of the Chimp. When the novel opens, the Eriophora has been traveling for the equivalent of sixty-six million years (although given relativistic effects, there is a serious question about what that actually means), and has made at least one complete circuit of the Milky Way.

On the surface, The Freeze-Frame Revolution is about a revolt, or more accurately, a conspiracy to stage a revolt. Sunday and her friend Lian are frequent work partners and occasional sex partners, so when Lian starts expressing doubts about their mission in general and the Chimp specifically, Sunday is forced to examine her own thoughts on the matter. When Lian dies in what is written off as an accident and Sunday makes a rather horrifying discovery concerning roughly three thousand crew members who were "deprecated" by the Chim, Sunday finds herself drawn into a long and secretive conspiracy in which crew members communicate with one another across thousands of years by hiding messages in songs, artwork, and other secret communiques. The trouble the conspirators face is that not only does the Chimp have cameras and monitoring devices throughout the Eriophora, it can literally look through their eyes using implants that all of the crew members carry within themselves. Thus, the conspirators must not only communicate secretly, they must do so in a manner that hides their communications even when they are reading them.

The difficulties the conspirators face are further compounded by the fact that the Chimp essentially resides throughout the entire ship, and can move itself from place to place at a whim. This means that not only do they have to figure out a way to topple a nigh-omnipresent A.I., they have to find a way to do this when it is vulnerable and more quickly than it can react. This, as one might expect, proves to be a difficult prospect. The story runs through some twists and turns, but the real depth of the book comes from the oddities and unanswered questions. The Chimp is an inhuman creature, without emotion or feeling, and in some cases without memory or even an understanding of what it has done in the past or what it is doing in the present. For all of the characterization that it is presented with in the story, and all of the emotion that Sunday invests it with from her end, time and again the story reminds the reader that the Chimp is merely an A.I. and only as good (or as evil) as its long-dead programmers made it.

Much of the book is framed as a conflict between humans on the one hand, and an inhuman A.I. on the other, but Watts' includes background details that call that assessment into question. The crew are ostensibly human, but as the details of their childhood and training come to light, one starts to question that categorization. Though never explicitly stated, the details that are peppered throughout the story suggest that the crew members were specially selected for the mission, and were quite possibly engineered specifically for it. There are strong hints that they were trained, conditioned, and physically modified in ways that seem to have stripped at least some of their humanity away. The end result is that one has to wonder if they can fairly be characterized as human any more, or if they are, as the Chimp views them, merely components of the Eriophora to be evaluated solely on the basis of their usefulness to the mission.

But questions about the humanity of the crew only serve to raise questions about the continuing humanity of those who were left behind. At the time the story opens, the Eriophora has been travelling for sixty-six million "Earth" years, enough time for the Tyrannosaurus Rex to evolve into a chicken and longer than the time it took for humans to evolve from shrew-like creatures. Given that length of time, and the fact that the Chimp apparently hasn't heard from "Mission Control" for millions of subjective years, one has to question whether there is anyone left "back home" to benefit from the mission. Further, in light of this realization, the infrequent mysterious "monsters" that burst from freshly completed gates take on a potentially different character: Could they be the descendants of humanity desperately trying to communicate with the Eriophora and trying to get the ship to stop its now counterproductive mission?

The fact that the Eriophora has lost contact with humanity gives the entire story a kind of unmoored, dream-like quality, and also serves as a metaphor for the lack of humanity that seems to run through both sides of the conflict in the book. What makes The Freeze-Frame Revolution so good, like so much other good science fiction, is that the story is filled with questions that eat at the reader long after they have finished the book. For example, one is left wondering what the crew of the Eriophora plan to do once they throw off the yoke of the Chimp - even if they could get off the ship, which seems unlikely, they seem to have no skills other than those needed to aid the ship in its mission. Will they simply continue to travel the galaxy building gates until they die, just without the Chimp being around? It is fairly apparent that keeping all (or even a substantial part) of the crew awake all the time would rapidly deplete the ship's resources, so who gets to decide who is awake and who sleeps, and how the crew is rotated (if they are rotated at all). The ship has a vast archive of stored information, and finding space for this enormous volume of data is a significant plot point in the story, but one is left wondering what the point of keeping the archive is. The archive can't be sent "back" for anyone to use, and no one aboard the ship seems to use it for anything in particular. One crew member hopes that the mission will last long enough that he can watch the ongoing heat death of the Universe, but he seems to be motivated by nothing but idle curiosity. It seems that the ultimate point of The Freeze-Frame Revolution is that there is no point to human life. That idle curiosity is all that we have to motivate us, and that may have to be enough. That the only purpose human life has is to make one's own choices and there is no further goal than that. Watts seems resolutely determined not to offer any easy answers, and that is part of what makes this book brilliant.

In the final analysis, The Freeze-Frame Revolution is a multilayered story that has a set-up that seems to be little more than a conspiracy to revolt set in a hard science setting, but which reveals deeper questions about the nature of the characters that inhabit the story and the nature of humanity in general. Watts presents a dystopia that, even if the protagonists succeed, will only be slightly less dystopian, and forces the reader to confront the ways in which this dystopian vision so closely mirrors the world we currently live in. This is a book that is full of big ideas, intricate conspiracies, and countless thorny questions that will stick with you long after you have turned the last page.

Peter Watts     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

2018 Campbell Award Nominees

Location: Campbell Conference Awards Banquet at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas.

Comments: As usual, the set of Campbell Award nominees heads in a different direction than most of the other major genre fiction awards, with fairly minimal overlap between this award and its various competitors. This is something that is interesting in itself, but is also something that I see as being emblematic of the healthy nature of genre fiction as a whole. Every year there are far more top quality books published than can win (or even be nominated for) awards, so having an award that marches to a slightly different beat helps highlight more of those books.

There is also some irony in this list. I've only read one of the nominees, and it strikes me as a book that John W. Campbell would have absolutely hated. I've been reliably informed that most of the other books on the list share this characteristic. I find this to be very amusing.

Best Novel

Winner:
The Genius Plague by David Walton

Finalists:
After the Flare by Deji Bryce Olukotun
Austral by Paul McAuley
Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
The Moon and the Other by John Kessel
New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson
The People’s Police by Norman Spinrad
The Rift by Nina Allan
The Stargazer’s Embassy by Eleanor Lerman
The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley
Tropic of Kansas by Christopher Brown

Go to previous year's nominees: 2017
Go to subsequent year's nominees: 2019

Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, June 4, 2018

Musical Monday - Cruisin' by Smokey Robinson


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: February 16, 1980.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

This has got to be one of the smoothest songs ever written, sung by one of the smoothest singers of all time. When Smokey Robinson released this single, he already had a twenty year recording career. He had sung more than two dozen hits that reached the top twenty on the charts. He had been the producer of numerous albums, and had written a pile of songs for other artists that had also reached to the top echelons of the charts.

I point all of this out, because I suspect that most people now don't remember this version of his song, but are rather familiar with the cover version put out by Huey Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow in 2000 as part of the soundtrack for the movie Duets. I advance this notion because almost everyone I played this song for over the last couple weeks as I got ready for this Musical Monday said some variation of "Hey, its that song that Huey Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow sang!" when they heard it.

And that's really kind of a travesty because, in my opinion, Smokey Robinson is one of the most important figures in music in the last half century or so. He had fairly substantial hand in shaping what modern music is, whether as a singer, songwriter, music producer, or record executive, and the idea that his legacy is basically that he was covered by Paltrow for a movie that almost no one went to see seems almost to ridiculous to be real.

Previous Musical Monday: Coward of the County by Kenny Rogers
Subsequent Musical Monday: Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Coward of the County by Kenny Rogers
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Smokey Robinson     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Book Blogger Hop June 1st - June 7th : There Is a Pac Man Themed Restaurant in Illinois Named "Level 257"


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 do you think your blog says about you?

I think it says that I am a person who reads a lot of science fiction and fantasy. On the other hand, I think it also says that I am a person who will read pretty much anything.

Furthermore, I think it says that I'm kind of quirky as "book bloggers" go. Not that there is anything wrong with book bloggers as a group, but other than our shared love of books, I'm just not a very good representative example, a fact that I am reminded of frequently by the many memes, blog questions, and other blog activities that get passed around.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: Nanjing University Was Founded in 258 A.D.

Book Blogger Hop     Home