Monday, July 16, 2018

Musical Monday - Working My Way Back to You - Forgive Me Girl by the Spinners


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: April 12, 1980 through April 19, 1980.

When I was young, I was more familiar with the 1966 version of this song by the Four Seasons due to the fact that my mother had an album of that band's hits. That said, I much prefer this version of the song. While the Four Seasons version is perfectly fine, the Spinners ramped up the tempo by giving it a driving disco beat and punched up the lyrics by making the song into a medley with Michael Zager's Forgive Me Girl. Couple those elements with the Spinners' characteristic choreography and presentation, and this is simply a better performance of the song, even though the bass singer (who I believe is Pervis Jackson) is clearly not a smooth dancer. This is pretty much the apex of disco-era R&B music, and for the most part, also its swan song.

Working My Way Back to You is a catchy peppy song with really quite problematic lyrics. The problem is, the lyrics to the song present a picture of a pretty awful person. The character portrayed by the singer is not only a jerk, he's an abusive jerk. He starts off by admitting that he fooled around, but escalates to saying that he made his girlfriend cry and that doing so made him feel like a man. Now that he's lost her, he regrets his actions and is making all kinds of promises to try to win her back, but this is also classic abuser behavior. The apologies, the promises, the pleas, the "just give me one more chance" routines, they are all almost textbook abuser behaviors, and knowing that gives this song a decidedly darker cast than was probably intended.

Previous Musical Monday: Going Underground/Dreams of Children by the Jam
Subsequent Musical Monday: Call Me by Blondie

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Going Underground/Dreams of Children by the Jam
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Call Me by Blondie

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

The Spinners     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Book Blogger Hop July 13th - July 19th: 263 Is a Strictly Non-Palindromic Number


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: Does a cluttered blog have you not returning? By cluttered I mean too many columns, small type, too many photos, difficult to follow, etc.

I have to preface my response to this comment to say that I don't actually visit very many blogs. There are a few I return to on a regular basis, but between work, the Littlest Starship Captain, the Redhead, keeping up with this blog, and the various other demands on my time, I'm just not able to do a lot of blog reading.

That said, there are a number of things that will cause me to stop visiting a blog. Anything that autoplays, whether it is music or a video, makes me immediately click away from a blog. An overly busy background, especially one that makes it difficult to read any text is a big negative for me. I don't mind icons as long as they are confined to well-defined sidebars, but things should be clearly labeled and the blog should be easy to navigate. Above all, the text of the blog posts should be obvious and easy to read. Nothing will turn me off a blog quicker than page elements that obscure the text of the posts.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, July 9, 2018

Musical Monday - Going Underground/Dreams of Children by the Jam



#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: March 22, 1980 through April 5, 1980.

Through this project, I will come across artists and songs that I have never heard before. This is one of those cases. I completely missed the Jam in the 1980s. Then again, I was twelve when the band broke up and they never made much of a splash in the United States.

The first interesting thing here is that these two songs reached number one in the U.K. in part due to a labeling error. When this record was released, Dreams of Children was intended to be the "A" side and the promoted single. Due to a printing error, Going Underground was mistakenly labeled as the "A" side, with Dreams of Children as the "B" side. As a result, Going Underground got most of the airplay and consequently became the "hit". This was all sorted out later and the two songs shared the top position on the U.K. charts.

The other interesting thing here is that this pair of songs reached the number one position on the U.K. chart directly after Fern Kinney's disco hit Together We Are Beautiful. This sort of rapid shift in tone - going from a disco song to a couple of punkish new wave songs from one week to the next - is emblematic of the chaotic nature of the music scene in the early 1980s. The 1980s would eventually establish their own musical identity, but at this point they were still groping in the dark, lurching from style to style.

Previous Musical Monday: Together We Are Beautiful by Fern Kinney
Subsequent Musical Monday: Working My Way Back to You - Forgive Me Girl by the Spinners

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Together We Are Beautiful by Fern Kinney
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Working My Way Back to You - Forgive Me Girl by the Spinners

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

The Jam     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Biased Opinion - The Wailing Ignorance of the Star Wars Fanboys

So, there's a Website named "Remake the Last Jedi" that has a Twitter account by the same name that launched a campaign to, well, remake The Last Jedi and "save" the Star Wars franchise. Here is their call to action:
Our team of producers is offering to cover the budget for a remake of The Last Jedi in order to save Star Wars. Share this and spread the word to let @RobertIger & @Disney know you want this! This isn't a joke, we're ready to have the convo now! #RemakeTheLastJedi #StarWars
I'm going to leave aside the fact that pretty much everything they claim about themselves is almost certainly false. They clearly aren't a team of movie producers. They don't actually have the money to "cover the budget" for a remake. Star Wars isn't in need of saving. And so on. I'll even stipulate for the purpose of argument that The Last Jedi was a bad movie (it wasn't, but we're stipulating for the purpose of this discussion that it is). Let's just move past all of those issues.

The idea that Disney would ever agree to remake The Last Jedi is so delusional that only someone completely out of touch with reality could come up with it. The movie made $1.3 billion at the box office. From a financial perspective, it was wildly successful. In inflation adjusted dollars, it made more money than Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, and Rogue One, and was in the same ballpark as The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Phantom Menace. In fact, the only two movies in the Star Wars franchise to perform substantially better than The Last Jedi were the original Star Wars and The Force Awakens.

It seems that even the "Remake the Last Jedi" guys realize that The Last Jedi was a huge financial success for Disney, so they have constructed a bizarre narrative to explain how it is actually a "failure" that involves home video sales and the movie Solo: A Star Wars Story. It is a chain of thought that is pure nonsense, and I'll let them explain it (the following was originally spread out over three tweets):
The biggest issue TLJ created for @Disney is apathy, as proved by the lack of repeat viewings of TLJ in theaters (losing them roughly $700MM) the abysmal Home Video numbers for TLJ & the Solo disaster. Say what you will about #BoycottSolo, but the fans didn’t boycott because of a movement created online to prove a point, they boycotted because they are no longer interested in the story @Disney is telling w/Star Wars.
There are three claims here: 1. The Last Jedi was bad and as a result lost a lot of "repeat viewers" which is why it made $700 million less than The Force Awakens, 2. The Last Jedi was bad so it had poor home video sales, and 3. fans stayed away from Solo because they were disappointed in The Last Jedi. All three of these statements display a fundamental lack of understanding of movie history (which is one of the reasons that it is obvious that they aren't a "team of producers").

The first point focuses on the fact that The Force Awakens did just over $2 billion worldwide box office business, while The Last Jedi "only" made $1.3 billion. The claim is that Disney therefore "lost" about $700 million due to disappointed fans not lining up to see the movie multiple times. The problem with this train of "logic" is that it ignores the history of the Star Wars franchise. Here is a chart of the box office performance of every Star Wars movie up through The Last Jedi. The middle column is the worldwide box office take for the movie (expressed in millions of dollars), while the third column is the movie's worldwide box office take adjusted to March 2018 dollars to account for inflation (once again expressed in millions of dollars):

Inflation Adjusted
MovieBox Office
Box Office
Star Wars
$786
$3,252
The Empire Strikes Back
$534
$1,629
Return of the Jedi
$572
$1,438
The Phantom Menace
$1,027
$1,542
Attack of the Clones
$656
$910
Revenge of the Sith
$848
$1,088
The Force Awakens
$2,058
$2,171
Rogue One
$1,050
$1,085
The Last Jedi
$1,321
$1,327

Look at the history of the franchise, specifically look at The Empire Strikes Back and Attack of the Clones. In inflation adjusted dollars, the Empire Strikes Back "only" made $1.6 billion, a staggering $1.6 billion drop off from Star Wars. Similarly, Attack of the Clones made $600 million less than The Phantom Menace. If either movie had been released in the age of Twitter, guys like "Remake the Last Jedi" would have been screaming that this marked the death knell of the Star Wars franchise as fans stayed away from films many found disappointing. And make no mistake about it, when one goes back and looks at the reactions to these movies, many contemporaneous observers found both of them to be disappointing.

Of course, we know that in fact neither movie had such impact, and in fact, The Empire Strikes Back is now regarded as one of the best movies in the franchise. The drop off in the box office didn't serve as any kind of indication of how fans felt about the franchise over the long term. The numbers seem to indicate that the middle movie in a trilogy can expect to make less money than either of the bookends, and can probably expect to garner a negative reaction until the lens of time focuses and the movie is placed in its proper perspective. In short, claiming that the box office results for The Last Jedi are an indication that the franchise is in trouble is an incredibly dubious proposition.

The second claim is that The Last Jedi had low home video sales because people didn't like the movie. The first problem with this is that making any kind of claim concerning relative levels of home video sales is really difficult at best due to the shifting nature of the market. Finding reliable information concerning the volume of sales from movies made even just a handful of years ago is difficult, and even if one could get such data, it probably wouldn't be useful as a means of comparison given how much the market changes from year to year. This means, for example, that finding reliable home video sales data for movies such as The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith is simply not possible, and as a result, there is no real way to make a comparison with the sales data for the more recent Star Wars movies and what is "normal" to expect.

The bare facts are this: The Force Awakens has made roughly $189 million in combined DVD and Blue Ray sales, while The Last Jedi has "only" made about $72 million. This is taken as evidence that the bulk of fans hated The Last Jedi and decided not to buy the DVDs and Blue Rays as a result. The first major problem with this analysis is that it is comparing apples to oranges.

The comparison being made is inapt because the home video sales figures given for The Force Awakens are taken from a period extending for more than a year and a half, while the home video sales figures given for The Last Jedi are taken from a period of less than a month. If one compares the first month figures for both movies, the difference is far less dramatic: The Force Awakens made about $127 million in its first month. That is still more than The Last Jedi has made, but when one considers that The Force Awakens was an anomaly with a box office take that was notable for being historically high, it isn't that surprising. In addition, The Last Jedi has not benefited from the Christmas sales season, which in 2016 alone accounted for about $10 million of The Force Awakens' home video sales. The Last Jedi will probably never catch The Force Awakens in home video sales, but the gap is certainly going to close. Further, as far as the data available shows, The Empire Strikes Back has always lagged behind Star Wars in home video sales as well.

The second problem with this analysis is that The Force Awakens is probably not an appropriate baseline for comparison with The Last Jedi. The Force Awakens is the second highest grossing movie in the history of the franchise, only outpaced by the original Star Wars. In inflation-adjusted dollars, The Force Awakens made almost $550 million more at the box office than The Empire Strikes Back, the third movie in the rankings. The distance in box office receipts between The Force Awakens and The Empire Strikes Back is almost twice as great as the distance between The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi, which is the sixth movie on the list. This is more or less a long-winded way of saying that The Force Awakens is something of an outlier in terms of box office performance for Star Wars movies.

There is really no way to determine what the "normal" level of home video sales for a Star Wars movie should be. There is little data available for older movies - for example, The Phantom Menace is listed as having about $265,000 in home video sales, but that is based on a single week's worth of sales in 2015. Similarly, the original Star Wars is listed with about $30 million in home video sales, but that is based on two weeks' worth of DVD sales in 2006 and a month of Blue Ray sales in 2015. Obviously, none of these figures are reliable. Even if they were, the market for home video sales has changed so much in the last couple of decades that comparing sales for movies from 1999 or 1977 to movies released in more recent years is a fool's game. Even comparing the home video sales of the most recent set of movies to those of 2005's Revenge of the Sith would be a waste of time.

The only movies that are viable comparisons in terms of home video sales to The Last Jedi are the most recent movies. As noted earlier however, The Force Awakens is not a good comparison for any movies in the franchise for any purpose, due to its status as one of the extreme outliers in the franchise. This leaves only 2016's Rogue One, the Star Wars movie closest temporally to The Last Jedi as a comparative. Rogue One had a total box office of $1,050 million ($1,094 million in inflation adjusted dollars). Over the course of eight months of reported home video sales, Rogue One garnered about $83 million. In its first month on the market Rogue One sold about $62 million worth of DVDs and Blue Rays. In comparison with Rogue One, The Last Jedi's home video sales look much better. This isn't a perfect comparison, but it does give a much better indication of what might be "normal" to expect for home video sales. None of these comparisons are conclusive, but what they do highlight is reading a massive fan backlash against The Last Jedi into the home video sales performance is simply not supportable with the available data.

The third claim is that the poor performance of Solo: A Star Wars Story at the box office is evidence that disgruntled movie goers are staying away from Star Wars movies because they are upset by The Last Jedi. Once again, this claim requires a lot of assumptions that seem dubious at best. What is true is that Solo has only made $370 million at the box office thus far (although given that it is still in theaters at the time of this writing, that figure is likely to rise a bit more), which is considered somewhat disappointing, in large part because the production costs were reportedly quite high as a result of the fact that virtually the entire movie was reshot following the replacement of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller with Ron Howard in June of 2017.

The first problem with the claim that the poor performance of Solo is due to the supposed distaste movie-goers had for The Last Jedi is that there is really nothing to support this notion. There is no indication that Disney will look at the two movies' comparative box office performance in this way, and to be blunt, no reason to expect that they would. From Disney's perspective, the failure of Solo is an indictment of Solo, not of The Last Jedi. Disney knows that The Last Jedi made $1.3 billion and Solo only made $370 million. What that tells Disney is that they need to make more (from their perspective, preferably all) movies like The Last Jedi and fewer (from their perspective, preferably no) movies like Solo. What Disney really does not care about are angry fans writing denunciations of The Last Jedi on social media sites decrying how "awful" they thought the movie was. So long as the movie did well at the box office, they don't care how angry anyone is about it.

Additionally, one has to question whether one could have expected Solo to perform much better than it has. The entire concept of the "side story" movies is an experimental idea to begin with, and Solo is also the first Star Wars movie to focus on the backstory of an individual character. The nearest comparisons one can make are the movies from Disney's other successful movie franchise: The Marvel Cinematic Universe. The 2012 Avengers movie made about $1,519 million at the box office, which puts it right in the same ballpark as most of the Star Wars movies in that regard, but the various movies introducing the individual characters have generally made much less. Iron Man, for example, grossed a total of $585 million. Thor pulled in $449 million, and Captain America: The First Avenger only made about $370 million at the box office. The Incredible Hulk made $265 million, and Ant-Man made $519 million. What all of these movies have in common with Solo is that they are movies about individual characters featuring stories that are only loosely connected to the larger franchise plot arc. Placing these movies in chronological order and adjusting their box office performance for inflation yields the following (once again the last column shows each movie's box office take expressed in millions of March 2018 dollars):

Inflation Adjusted
MovieBox Office
Box Office
Iron Man
$585
$683
The Incredible Hulk
$265
$334
Thor
$449
$502
Captain America: The First Avenger
$370
$413
The Avengers
$1,519
$1,664
Ant-Man
$519
$549
Solo
$370
$370

Despite the fact that Solo is on the low end of this chart, it is not out of place at all. The movie outperformed The Incredible Hulk and is very close to Captain America in total receipts. Even the highest grossing of these first generation single character movies didn't manage to make twice what Solo has made thus far. If Disney expected Solo to perform substantially better than it has, then they were probably fooling themselves. A box office take of somewhere between $500 million and $700 million would have probably been a reasonable expectation, but anything more than that would have been demanding too much from the film. The truth is, Disney probably knew this. Any movie that had the kind of on-set drama that Solo had is almost certain to result in a weaker movie than it could have been, which is reflected in the box office receipts thus far. However, even if Solo had performed at the top of the range that it would be reasonable to expect - say in the $700 million range - that would still have been seen as a failure by the "Remake the Last Jedi" crowd. They would be saying that since it didn't make a billion dollars Disney was "losing" money it could have made due to fans staying away because they hated The Last Jedi. And if Solo had made a billion dollars, they would have said that was evidence of failure because it had not made two billion dollars. And so on. The claim that fans hated The Last Jedi and consequently stayed away from Solo is not based on any real evidence, so there is no reason to believe that any volume of box office receipts short of outperforming The Force Awakens would affect this claim in any way.

Finally, although it probably had very little impact on the box office performance of the movie, the reality is that the "hardcore fans" who organized the "Boycott Solo" protest in an attempt to get people to stay away from Solo, to the extent that they had any effect at all, almost certainly did themselves a massive disservice. Solo is, for want of a better word, a massive dose of fanwank. The movie is squarely aimed at devoted fans of the Star Wars franchise, answering questions that, to be blunt, almost no one outside of that small group really care about. Hard as it may be for some Star Wars fans to believe, most people who go to see a Star Wars movie see Han Solo as a character who is mostly cool because Harrison Ford played him. For the bulk of movie goers, questions like "How did Han Solo meet Chewbacca", "How did Han Solo win the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian", and "How did Han Solo make the Kessel Run in only 12 parsecs" are trivialities that are of almost no consequence. The only people who are concerned with these sorts of issues are the most obsessive fans of the franchise. Solo was Disney's attempt to cater to the "core" Star Wars fan base, and the failure of the movie tells Disney not to bother to try to do that any more. To the extent that the "Boycott Solo" movement had any impact, its net result was to make it clear to Disney that the hardcore Star Wars fan base is either too small or too fickle to worry about.

What this all adds up to is simply this:  The Star Wars franchise is not in trouble and doesn't need saving. Disney is going to make more movies like The Last Jedi. Disney won't make more movies attempting to cater to nostalgic grognards like Solo. Disney is likely to call upon Rian Johnson to make more Star Wars movies. People like the "Remake the Last Jedi" guys will impotently rant about these decisions while Disney ignores them.

Biased Opinions    Home

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Book Blogger Hop July 6th - July 12th: The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus Was Destroyed by Invading Goths in 262 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 were stranded on a deserted island, which ONE book could you not live without?

The Unreal and the Real by Ursula K. Le Guin

If I can only have one book, I'm going to go with one that is a collection of short works, because that's the only option that is likely to give me the variety of option that will keep me going. What I want to read depends heavily upon how I am feeling at the time, so having the option to pick from a wide array of works is a key element for me. To that end, I'd take The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin by Ursula K. Le Guin. I have never made a secret of my love for Le Guin's writing, so a giant compilation of her short fiction would be exactly what I would need to sustain me on a deserted island. My only real regret is that I wouldn't be able to also take the companion volume The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin with me as well, so I would be missing out on a huge amount of her short fiction. Also, the box set on the shelf is going to look wrong with the one volume missing.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: 263 Is a Strictly Non-Palindromic Number

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, July 2, 2018

Musical Monday - Together We Are Beautiful by Fern Kinney


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

By 1980, disco was essentially dead in the United States. Popular sentiment had tu7rned against the music genre, with the most notable event in killing it off being the "Disco Demolition Night" promotion run by the Chicago White Sox on July 12, 1979. There were a few dying embers that cropped up here and there, but for the most part disco didn't survive the 1970s in the United States.

In the U.K. and the rest of Europe, on the other hand, disco hung around for far longer, and artists like Fern Kinney were the beneficiaries. This disco-ish song reached #1 on the U.K. chart in 1980, but didn't even touch the U.S. charts. Kinney's best performing single was Groove Me, which reached number six on the Billboard dance chart, but had little impact on the Billboard Hot 100, topping out at number twenty-six.

Kinney is also an example of a black performer from the United States who had to leave the country to find success. Though her music was mostly met with indifference in the U.S., she fared much better overseas, most notably with this song which was a big hit in both Australia and the U.K.

Previous Musical Monday: Longer by Dan Fogelberg
Subsequent Musical Monday: Going Underground/Dreams of Children by the Jam

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Atomic by Blondie
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Going Underground/Dreams of Children by the Jam

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

Fern Kinney     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

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, New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson, and Amberlough by Laura Elena Donnelly, 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.

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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