Saturday, May 19, 2018

Book Blogger Hop May 18th - May 24th: Rome Won the Battle of Adis and Lost the Battle of Tunis in 255 B.C.


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 were your worst movies based off of books?

So many of the books I love have been adapted into mediocre to miserable movies that, for the most part, I have given up on expecting a good movie adaptation of books that I like.

For example, Dune was adapted into a movie in the early 1980s. I love Frank Herbert's novel Dune, but the movie is simply not very good. The movie also mangles the story, throwing ray guns into a story that explicitly didn't have them, and wasting time with pointless scenes involving "folding space". The movie is a bloated monstrosity with hilariously miscast actors struggling through scenes involving whispers and voiceovers. As far as filmed versions go, I prefer the miniseries that aired on the SciFi channel, although that has a lot of issues as well, mostly stemming from the limited budget it was provided.

Another movie that fails to measure up to the book is the adaptation of Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers, which is a good (although often controversial) book that was made into a hamfisted, slapdash movie. Everything about the movie is half-assed, from the costuming, to the special effects, to the acting, to the incredibly poorly written script. The movie wasn't originally written as an adaptation of the book, and Veerhoven didn't bother to read more than a chapter or two after securing the rights to the name. This sort of lazy approach is apparent throughout the entire film.

The worst film adaptation of a story that I can recall is actually an adaptation of a work of short fiction: Issac Asimov's Nightfall, The story is a classic of science fiction involving a planet with six suns that almost never experiences night. In the story, night does fall for the first time in a thousand years, and the inhabitants do not deal with the darkness very well. The movie keeps the outlines of this premise, but mangles it into a low budget mush involving crystal swords, lots of wind chimes, and an entirely unneeded love triangle.

Those are just the offenders that sprang to mind first. Even as I wrote this out, I thought of several terrible film adaptations of books I like: Peter Jackson's version of The Hobbit, the adaptation of Susan Cooper's Dark Is Rising, the adaptation of Lloyd Alexander's Black Cauldron, and so on and so forth. There are just so many bad movie adaptations of good books that I sometimes wonder why movie studios bother trying to adapt books at all.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, May 14, 2018

Musical Monday - The Special A.K.A. Live! [Too Much Too Young] by The Special A.K.A. featuring Rico


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: February 2, 1980 through February 9, 1980.

Too Much Too Young is the first song in the 1980s Project that I never actually heard in the 1980s. To be blunt, I never heard this song until a few days ago when I tracked it down for this project. I have to say that I'm not particularly enamoured of this song. Maybe I heard it too late. Maybe if I had been 16 in 1980 and heard it then, the high energy, exuberance, and anger contained in the song would have been more appealing. As it is, however, the song seems to me to be barely tolerable chaos.

The interesting thing about this song is that it is not actually the "single" that reached number one on the U.K. charts. What actually reached number one was a five song EP that included Too Much Too Young as well as Guns of Navarone and a medley of Long Shot Kick De Bucket, The Liquidator, and Skinhead Moonstomp. Shortly after this EP reached the top spot on the U.K. charts, the eligibility rules for determining what is and is not a "single" were changed so that another five song EP could never claim the top spot.

Previous Musical Monday: Brass in Pocket by the Pretenders
Subsequent Musical Monday: Do That to Me One More Time by Captain and Tennille

Previous #1 on the UK Chart: Brass in Pocket by the Pretenders
Subsequent #1 on the UK Chart: Coward of the County by Kenny Rogers

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 Special A.K.A     Rico     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Book Blogger Hop May 11th - May 17th: A Plane Can Be Subdivided by 22 Lines into a Maximum of 254 Regions


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: Could you ever pick a favorite book or is it like choosing your favorite child?

No.

I have several books that are at the top of my list of really good books, but I could never settle on just one, mostly because books offer so many different experiences. I mean, I could say that Samuel R. Delany's Nova is my favorite book, but then I would have to overlook Frank Herbert's Dune, and Ursula K. Le Guin's Lathe of Heaven, and J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and Roald Dahl's Danny the Champion of the World, and Mary Nash's Mrs. Coverlet's Magicians, and, well, you get the idea. There are simply too many really good books for me to be able to pick just one as my favorite, so I simply refuse to play that game.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, May 7, 2018

Musical Monday - Brass in Pocket by the Pretenders


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: January 19, 1980 through January 26, 1980.

Songs like Brass in Pocket are the reason I decided to include the UK Charts in my 1980s project. This was the Pretenders first big hit, and reached #1 in the United Kingdom, but had slightly less success in the U.S., peaking at number fourteen. I[m not entirely sure if there is a deeper meaning in this kind of divergence between the Billboard and Cash Box charts and the UK Charts, but it is interesting to see how different the tastes of those in the two counties are.

One additional thing that makes the UK-oriented success of this song interesting is that it contains a some Midwestern-based (specifically Central Ohio-based) slang, such as the reference to the "Detroit lean", although most of the sang used in the song is decidedly British, which makes for a set of lyrics that only really make sense if you spend some time studying what they mean, or happen to have had the exact same life experience as Hynde, who grew up in Ohio, but moved to the U.K. in her early twenties.

That last fact is probably part of the reason that Hynde didn't want this song released as a single. She has said in interviews that she didn't think people would understand the lyrics and didn't think that the song would be very successful. Instead, the song went on to be one of the most successful records produced by the band, and was a concert staple for them for years. I note this fact because this seems to be an example of an artist not knowing that the art they have produced is as good as it actually is. This phenomenon doesn't occur often enough that I would call it "common", but it isn't all that uncommon either.

This isn't the first video that I saw Chrissie Hynde in: I first encountered the Pretenders when I saw a video they had made for their cover of the Kinks song Stop Your Sobbing, which they released as a single in the U.K. before Brass in Pocket. Brass in Pocket, however, is the song that forever cemented Chrissie's position as a rock goddess in my mind.

Previous Musical Monday: Rock With You by Michael Jackson
Subsequent Musical Monday: The Special A.K.A. Live! [Too Much Too Young] by The Special A.K.A. featuring Rico

Previous #1 on the UK Chart: Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) by Pink Floyd
Subsequent #1 on the UK Chart: The Special A.K.A. Live! [Too Much Too Young] by The Special A.K.A. featuring Rico

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 Pretenders     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Book Blogger Hop May 4th - May 10th: Aemilianus Was Roman Emperor for Three Months in 253 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 ever feel like you have emerged better for reading a book?

Isn't that one of the main reasons that people read books? I mean, not all books are meaningful, and some that try to be have contents that are counterproductive to that goal (or are aimed at "educating" the reader and directing them towards a goal that I find repugnant), but lots of books are, and that is a big part of why we read them. Reading books is one of the primary ways that we educate ourselves, that we learn how to empathize with others, and experience viewpoints that differ from our personal perspective.

On that note, I suppose it is obvious that my answer to this weeks' question is yes: I have felt like I emerged better for reading a book. The number of books for which this is true is way too extensive for me to even begin to list them, so I'm not going to try. Suffice it to say that my thinking, my outlook, and my life have all been affected by a vast number of books, and will likely be affected by many more in the future.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

2018 Clarke Award Nominees

Location: Sci-Fi London at Foyles Bookshop in London, United Kingdom.

Comments: One of the things that makes the Clarke Award interesting is that its nominees generally have very limited crossover with other major genre fiction awards. I believe the only novel on the Clarke Award shortlist that has also been nominated for another award is Borne by Jeff VanderMeer, which was also nominated for the Locus Award. This lack of commonality with other awards is, in part, due to the fact that this award is limited to genre fiction books that were first published in the United Kingdom, excluding a wide range of books published elsewhere, but it is also due to the difference in tastes between readers in the U.S. and the U.K.

On another note, although they have not done so yet, the "Shadow Jury" participants have announced an intention to provide a "Shadow Shortlist", just as they did in 2017.

Winner

TBD

Shortlist
American War by Omar el Akkad
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock
Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed
Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill
Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfař

What Are the Arthur C. Clarke Awards?

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

Book Award Reviews     Home

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

2018 Locus Award Nominees

Location: Seattle, Washington.

Comments: I don't really have much to comment upon concerning the nominees for the Locus Award this year. It is a good list full of strong nominees, any number of whom would be worthy winners.

The real question to be asked is the one that comes up pretty much every year: What place does the Locus Award hold in the genre fiction world. Once again, this list of finalists came out after the deadlines for submitting nominations for both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award had passed. This means that the Locus Award no longer serves its original purpose of providing recommendations for the Hugo and Nebula Awards. So is the Locus Award to simply be a discount Hugo Award? Is that its ultimate place in the world?

That said, I think that the Locus Award does still have a small piece of ground of its own to stand upon. There are very few credible awards that split their "Best Novel" into subcategories the way the Locus Award does. The only other major award that recognizes anthologies and collections with their own categories is the World Fantasy Award, and that award is limited to fantasy works, leaving out science fiction anthologies and collections. The point here is that there is some room for the Locus Award to exist without being a poor man's version of other awards, although it is a fairly narrow space.

Best Science Fiction Novel
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald
New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson
Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey
Provenance by Ann Leckie
Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee
Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer
The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

Best Fantasy Novel
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett
The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross
Horizon by Fran Wilde
The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard
Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr by John Crowley
Jade City by Fonda Lee
The Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone
Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory
The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

Best Horror Novel
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
After the End of the World by Jonathan L. Howard
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
The Changeling by Victor LaValle
Food of the Gods by Cassandra Khaw
Ill Will by Dan Chaon
Mormama by Kit Reed
The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge
Red Snow by Ian R. MacLeod
Ubo by Steve Rasnic Tem
Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Best Young Adult Book
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor
The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
Buried Heart by Kate Elliott
Chalk by Paul Cornell
The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis
Frogkisser! by Garth Nix
In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan
Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older
A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge
Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi

Best First Novel
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly
Amatka by Karin Tidbeck
The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller
Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

Best Novella
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Agents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
And Then There Were (N-One) by Sarah Pinsker
Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor
The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang
Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle
Passing Strange by Ellen Klages
The Red Threads of Fortune by JY Yang
River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

Best Novelette
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Children of Thorns, Children of Water by Aliette de Bodard
Come See the Living Dryad by Theodora Goss
Extracurricular Activities by Yoon Ha Lee
The Hermit of Houston by Samuel R. Delany
The Hidden Girl by Ken Liu
The Lamentation of Their Women by Kai Ashante Wilson
The Mathematical Inevitability of Corvids by Seanan McGuire
Waiting on a Bright Moon by JY Yang
Wind Will Rove by Sarah Pinsker
The Worshipful Society of Glovers by Mary Robinette Kowal

Best Short Story
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Carnival Nine by Caroline M. Yoachim
Dear Sarah by Nancy Kress
Don’t Press Charges and I Won’t Sue by Charlie Jane Anders
Fandom for Robots by Vina Jie-Min Prasad
Fire. by Elizabeth Hand
The Martian Obelisk by Linda Nagata
Persephone of the Crows by Karen Joy Fowler
Starlight Express by Michael Swanwick
Welcome to Your Authentic Indian ExperienceTM by Rebecca Roanhorse
Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance by Tobias S. Buckell

Best Collection
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories by Naomi Kritzer
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
The Overneath by Peter S. Beagle
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente
Six Months, Three Days, Five Others by Charlie Jane Anders
Strange Weather by Joe Hill
Tender by Sofia Samatar
Ursula K. Le Guin: The Hainish Novels and Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin
Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages

Best Anthology
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
The Best of Subterranean edited by William Schafer
The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year, Volume Eleven edited by Jonathan Strahan
Black Feathers edited by Ellen Datlow
The Book of Swords edited by Gardner Dozois
Bookburners edited by Max Gladstone
Cosmic Powers edited by John Joseph Adams
The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin
Infinity Wars edited by Jonathan Strahan
Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction edited by Bogi Takács
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Fourth Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois

Best Nonfiction, Related, or Reference Book
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Don’t Live for Your Obituary by John Scalzi
Iain M. Banks by Paul Kincaid
The Invention of Angela Carter by Edmund Gordon
J.G. Ballard by D. Harlan Wilson
A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison by Nat Segaloff
Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler edited by Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal
Not So Good a Gay Man by Frank M. Robinson
In Search of Silence: The Journals of Samuel R. Delany, Volume 1, 1957-1969 by Samuel R. Delany
Sleeping with Monsters: Readings and Reactions in Science Fiction and Fantasy by Liz Bourke
Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fiction by James Gunn

Best Art Book
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Above the Timberline by Gregory Manchess
The Art of Magic: The Gathering: Kaladesh by James Wyatt
The Art of the Pulps: An Illustrated History edited by Douglas Ellis, Ed Hulse, and Robert Weinberg
Celtic Faeries: The Secret Kingdom by Jean-Baptiste Monge
Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti, illustrated by Omar Rayyan
Line of Beauty: The Art of Wendy Pini by Richard Pini, illustrated by Wendy Pini
The Movie Art of Syd Mead: Visual Futurist by Craig Hodgetts, illustrated by Syd Mead
Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor, and Loki by Kevin Crossley-Holland, illustrated by Jeffrey Alan Love
Spectrum 24: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art edited by John Fleskes
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Imaginarium by Paul Kidby

Best Editor
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
John Joseph Adams
Neil Clarke
Ellen Datlow
Gardner Dozois
C.C. Finlay
Jonathan Strahan
Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer
Sheila Williams
Navah Wolfe

Best Magazine
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Analog Science Fiction and Fact
Asimov’s Science Fiction
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Clarkesworld
Fantasy & Science Fiction
File 770
Lightspeed
Strange Horizons
Tor.com
Uncanny Magazine

Best Publisher or Imprint
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Angry Robot
Baen
DAW
Gollancz
Orbit
Saga
Small Beer
Subterranean
Tachyon
Tor

Best Artist
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Kinuko Y. Craft
Galen Dara
Julie Dillon
Bob Eggleton
Gregory Manchess
Victo Ngai
John Picacio
Shaun Tan
Charles Vess
Michael Whelan

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

Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, April 30, 2018

Musical Monday - Rock With You by Michael Jackson


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: January 19, 1980 through February 9, 1980.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: January 12, 1980 through January 26, 1980.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

I remember when I first heard Rock With You. My family had returned from living in Tanzania for two years and my parents were visiting some friends they had met years before when my father was in graduate school. Their friends had a daughter who was the same age as me, and in an effort to reintroduce me to American music, she put on Jackson's record. I don't know if there is a more whitebread setting for listening to Michael Jackson than the basement of a house in suburban Illinois, but if there is, I've never been in it.

Rock With You was Michael Jackson's first number one hit of the 1980s. The song appeared on his 1979 album Off the Wall, which was Jackson's first solo album in four years and represented something of a breakthrough for the singer. Four singles from the album reached the top ten, including this one. This album was also the first Jackson recorded for Epic Records, which seems to have freed him somewhat from the style that he had established over the years at Motown Records and may have allowed him to be slightly more experimental with his music.

And yet, despite all of that, Rock With You is just about as bland and generic a pop song as one could imagine. There is almost nothing truly memorable about it other than the fact that it was, in part, what launched Jackson to the pinnacle of pop stardom during the 1980s. One tidbit of information that helps describe just how generic this piece of extruded pop product is is the fact that it was offered to Karen Carpenter for her solo album project, and it only got recorded by Jackson because she turned it down.

I have to admit that I was not, and never have been, a big fan of Jackson's music. I don't deny his skills, but on the Prince-Jackson axis, for example, I have always been decidedly on the "Prince" end of the spectrum. In comparison with so many of the other artists of the 1980s, Jackson's music was pretty much inoffensive and vanilla, which I suspect is one of the reasons why he became so popular. It is also probably why a preteen girl in Illinois playing his records was acceptable in a way that playing Sexy Dancer or Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad? might not have been. I don't suppose it is an accident that Jackson's two best songs were different from his usual pop pablum and included guitar riffs provided by Eddie van Halen and Steve Stevens.

I guess this is just a long way of saying that I never really understood the hype that surrounded Michael Jackson but most of his songs (including this one) are generally innocuous poppy tunes that lack any kind of edge that would cut through their blandly pleasant nature.

Previous Musical Monday: Escape (The Piña Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes
Subsequent Musical Monday: Brass in Pocket by the Pretenders

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Escape (The Piña Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Do That to Me One More Time by Captain and Tennille

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Escape (The Piña Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Do That to Me One More Time by Captain and Tennille

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

Rupert Holmes     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Book Blogger Hop April 27th - May 3rd: There Are 252 Ways of Writing the Number 4 as a Sum of Six Squares of Integers


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: Have you ever thought of writing a respectful, but angry letter to an author to ask them WHY they killed off one of your favorite characters in a novel?

No. I have not.

If an author writes a fictional character well enough, and brings them to life vividly enough that you care when they die, that author has done their work really well. That's something to appreciate and celebrate, not something to be angry about.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: 251 Is a Sophie Germain Prime

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, April 27, 2018

Review - Babylon's Ashes by James S.A. Corey


Short review: Earth is in ruins, Mars is in disarray, the OPA is divided against itself, and those are just the easy problems.

Haiku
The Earth on fire
Humanity divided
Can Holden save us?

Long review: Babylon's Ashes is the sixth book in the Expanse series, and is essentially the second part of the story that was begun in Nemesis Games. As this novel opens up, the heroes have been reunited, but the Earth is still under siege and Inaros' splinter portion of the OPA still holds the alien gateway to the thousands of extra-Solar worlds. Even though Holden, Naomi, Alex and Amos are reunited, and Avasarala and Bobbi have survived to try to salvage something out of the wreckage of the inner planets, the "Free Navy" still seems to hold all the cards and our heroes still have their backs up against the wall.

The entire Expanse series of novels has a few themes running through it, and Babylon's Ashes is no exception. The only odd thing about this novel is that one of the themes is not "Holden makes any situation he comes into contact with worse", but the other - "Humans continue to try to kill one another in the  face of inscrutable alien technology" - is definitely to be found here. The grievances that caused Inaros' and his followers to launch their attack on Earth are rooted in the very existence of the alien gateway to the stars that has formed the core storyline that runs through the entire series. Fearful at being left behind now that they are no longer needed, Inaros' radical group of Belters leveraged the existing grievances the denizens of the outer planets had before the protomolecule opened up a thousand new worlds to colonize, and once they had obtained a sufficient power base, they lashed out and murdered hundreds of millions of people on Earth, essentially wrecking the planet (and in the process, almost unthinkingly dooming the people they claimed to be representing). The interesting twist on the running theme is that even though the inscrutable alien technology is the primary driver of the conflict in this novel, it doesn't really appear in it much. The novel is essentially about the consequences of introducing humanity to alien forces, but none of those consequences actually flow from the actions of the alien presence.

This novel continues the practice of rotating between viewpoint characters in each chapter, but unlike previous volumes, the range of viewpoint characters is not limited to a handful of critical individuals. Instead, there are at least seventeen viewpoint characters in this novel, including both Chrisjen Avasarala, Fred Johnson, and Marcos Inaros. The most frequent viewpoint characters are Holden, who is as close as this series has to a central protagonist, and Pa, one of Marcos' fleet captains, but we also have chapters told from the perspective of other familiar character such as Amos, Alex, Naomi, Prax, Bobbie, and even Filip. This works to show just how expansive the conflict is as it reaches across the entire Solar System and affects nearly every human within it, and also emphasizes that every previous element of the series has been leading to the events in this volume, Equally important to the breadth of characters featured is exactly who is featured - the viewpoints expressed come from all sides of the conflict, and in many cases, multiple social levels within each side, resulting in a multifaceted perspective on the interplanetary war. Using the rotating viewpoint has always been an element of this series, but in Babylon's Ashes, the rotating viewpoint is not merely an interesting literary device, it is an integral part of telling the story.

Much of the action in this book is centered on the ongoing war started in Nemesis Games. The book opens with the Earth still subjected to the asteroid bombardment that has killed billions, the Martian government in disarray, and the OPA so divided against itself that it is often difficult to determine who is friend and who is foe. While one might go into the novel feeling like the heroes should rise up in righteous rage and retaliate for the atrocities committed by Inaros' Free Navy, the authors don't let them have that easy of a solution, and that is what makes this story so very compelling. The plot turns as much on delicate political negotiations as it does on military strategy and derring do, which is perfectly in keeping with this series. The only drawback to this is that if one goes into this story expecting to see the villains punished and the virtuous vindicated, then you are likely to be disappointed. Attaining victory, or even something that resembles a settlement, requires compromise and sacrifice from everyone involved, and those who are unwilling to do either almost inevitably end up on the short end of the stick. Corey has created a harsh, unforgiving universe, and this is a harsh, unforgiving story.

Even though the Expanse series is destined to become a nine book series, this volume feels like the end of a major arc. Certainly it is the second half of the story started in Nemesis Games, but it is more than that. This book serves as an effective conclusion for most of the plot threads that have run through the series since Leviathan Wakes. Conflicts are resolved, allies and enemies die or are otherwise removed from the board, there are losses, victories, and compromises, and long-held secrets are forced into the open. This is not to say that there are no remaining mysteries to be solved: The inscrutable alien technology is still inscrutable, at least two inimical forces still lurk out in the void, and while the raging fires have been put out, one can still see the smoldering embers that litter the landscape of the Solar System. Ultimately, this book manages the difficult trick of being both an ending of a number of long-running story arcs, and a promise of a fresh set of new ones at the same time.

By the time a series reaches its sixth volume, it is relatively common for the series to begin to drift, with books filled with padding simply providing pages of nothing to increase the word count. With Babylon's Ashes, the Expanse has managed to avoid this fate. Instead, Corey grabbed all of the characters and plot threads that have been built up over the five previous books and wrapped them into a story filled with action and intrigue. After Babylon's Ashes everything about the Expanse is clearly going to be dramatically changed, but the series is in no danger of slowing down at all.

Previous book in the series: Nemesis Games
Subsequent book in the series: Persepolis Rising

2017 Hugo Longlist
2018 Locus Award Nominees

James S.A. Corey     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, April 23, 2018

Musical Monday - Escape (The Piña Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: December 22, 1979 through December 29, 1979, and January 12, 1980.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: December 22, 1979 through January 5, 1980.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

According to Cash Box, Escape was the first #1 single of the 1980s. According to Billboard, it was the second. I mention this because before I began compiling records for this project, I thought that this song had been released a couple of years earlier. It just sounds like a song from 1977 or 1978, and not what I would think of as a song from 1980.

That said, this is a terrible song. The story that runs through it is of a guy in a relationship that has gone stale who answers a personal ad only to discover that the person who placed the ad was his own partner. Once the two realize who the other is, they both share a laugh about the fact that each was willing to toss aside their relationship and run off with someone based on four lines of newsprint.

But that's not what makes this song really terrible. The really terrible part is that the allegedly enticing ad created by the lady that the singer is "tired of" lists just about as banal a set of "shared interests" as one could come up with, and the fact that neither member of the couple has thought to bring these up seems to indicate that they basically never talk to one another. Let's go through them:

If you like piña coladas

Okay, so a shared interest in coconut flavored frozen drinks. That seems to be a kind of flimsy basis to build a relationship upon. Also, if one was that concerned about a shared interest in frozen alcoholic beverages, one would think that one of the two people featured in the song would have brought it up at some point. I mean, I only discovered that my wife liked piña coladas after four years of marriage because I asked her in the context of listening to this song, but neither of us really considers the other's preferences in frozen alcoholic drinks to be a big deal one way or another.

and getting caught in the rain

This one is weirdly specific. I mean, its not just calling for someone to enjoy going out into rain, but rather someone who enjoys getting caught in the rain. On the other hand, I can see this not coming up in normal conversation, as it is really quite specific. That said, a love for finding oneself unexpectedly in downpours seems like an odd basis for a relationship.

If you're not into yoga

Now this line just makes me question the relationship the characters in the song have. Making not being into yoga a big deal seems to imply that they both think that the other is into yoga. I am just picturing the two of them pushing the other to regularly go out and do some yoga while secretly hating every second of the experience because they mistakenly think their partner is into it. I'm not sure how they would have both come to the same mistaken conclusion other than the fact that these two apparently never actually talk to one another.

if you have half a brain

When the singer finds out that his "lady" had written the ad, this line should eat at him. She's looking for someone with half a brain to run away with. The obvious takeaway from that is that she thinks he doesn't have half a brain. I may not be an expert on relationships, but if you've been together long enough to have "fallen into the same old scene" and she is looking for someone with "half a brain", it doesn't matter if you have a funny little story of meeting up when you thought you were meeting someone else, your relationship is probably doomed.

If you like making love at midnight in the dunes of the cape

Okay, so this is really telling. This pair have clearly been together long enough that they should have at least some idea of their partner's lovemaking preferences. I mean, I don't expect couples to talk about their preferences for accidentally getting caught in thunderstorms, but if you've been with someone long enough to get "tired" of them and don't know that they like making love at midnight, then you've got a problem. I suppose one could say that the key there is that it is making love "in the dunes of the cape", but that kind of begs the question: If everyone knows what cape one is referring to, then maybe knowing that someone likes to have late night sex on them isn't information that should be so hard to come by.

Then I'm the love that you've looked for, write to me and escape

All right, we have a drink preference, a weather preference, a desire for someone to be halfway intelligent, and a desire to have sex in the middle of the night on some sand on a cape. And this is the basis for a relationship? Or rather, this is what defines "the love that you've looked for"?

In a later verse, the singer responds to the personal ad, leading off by saying that he does, in fact, like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain, but adds a line of his own in response:

I'm not much into health food, I am into champagne

First, this seems to me to be nonresponsive. The original personal ad mentioned neither health food or champagne. I suppose health food and yoga could be connected, but this text seems to raise similar questions as the previous yoga reference - is he currently being force-fed health food by his girlfriend who also hates it and only chokes it down because she mistakenly thinks he likes it? There is also another reference to a beverage preference, which seems kind of trivial. I mean, liking champagne is nice, but that seems like a thin strand to base a relationship on, especially given that it is probably one of the most common kinds of drink out there. His response is as trivial and meaningless as her initial personal ad. But it gets worse:

I've got to meet you by tomorrow noon and cut through all this red tape

I left wondering who has "red tape" in their relationships? What kind of dating has this guy been doing that he thinks that they need to cut through some red tape in order to get together? Does he also have organizational charts that he refers to when dating? Spreadsheets? Balance books? Of all the ridiculous lines in this song, this one about "red tape" has got to be the most ridiculous.

This relationship isn't destined to fail because he got "tired of his lady" and found out that she was tired of him too in a humorously ironic twist. No, this relationship is destined to fail because these two people have no idea how normal humans communicate.

Previous Musical Monday: Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) by Pink Floyd
Subsequent Musical Monday: Rock with You by Michael Jackson

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Please Don't Go by KC and the Sunshine Band
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Rock With You by Michael Jackson

Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Rock With You by Michael Jackson

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

Rupert Holmes     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Book Blogger Hop April 20th - April 26th: 251 Is a Sophie Germain Prime


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: How do you organize your books for review? Does it work for you or have you had to change it?

I keep my review copies in three place: A pile, a box, and a shelf. That's pretty much the organizational system. If the books are in the stack, then I'm planning on reviewing them soon, where "soon" means "I aspire to read and review them in the next year". When I am picking the next review copy to read, I just pull the one from the stack that seems interesting at the time. The books that are in the box under the stack are the books that I am intent on reviewing after the stack is done - sometimes I explicitly move books from the box to the stack to show their improved status as being in the "soon" category. My remaining review copies are on a bookshelf that I have designated for review copies. These are "the books that I will get to someday".

I also keep electronic records of the books I own, and all of the review copies I have are marked as such. When I read and review a book, I note that in the records. Theoretically this means that if I were to misplace a book I would still have it marked as one that needs a review. In practice, I have so many books that my electronic records are voluminous enough that there is a pretty good chance that I wouldn't notice a book that slipped through the cracks that way for a while.

That's it. That's my organizational system: Barely controlled chaos.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: Diophantus Wrote Arithmetica in 250 A.D.

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, April 20, 2018

Review - Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer


Short review: Alex Lomax is the only private eye on Mars, and and everyone comes to him with their problems. Unfortunately, these problems involve murder, greed, and treachery and frequently pose serious hazards to Lomax's continued health.

Haiku
When in New Klondike
You can go hunt for fossils
But it's dangerous

Disclosure: I received this book as a 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.

Full review: Red Planet Blues is a noir-ish science fiction novel clearly inspired by the works of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Set on Mars and featuring Alex Lomax, the red planet's only private investigator, the novel presents a set of interconnected mysteries involving murder, money, and insanity with a healthy dose of alien artifacts and imaginative technology to complicate matters. The novel winds through a series of smaller mysteries, that are threaded together by the facts that almost everyone on Mars lives in one relatively small settlement and Lomax is really the only option people have to turn to when they need a crime solved.

Alex Lomax lives in New Klondike, a domed city on the surface of Mars (which is also the only city on Mars), exiled from Earth for somewhat mysterious reasons that are only revealed near the very end of the book. Without much in the way of technical skills, Lomax plies his trade as a private investigator, filling in for the mostly disinterested local police force. The fictional future world Sawyer created for him lives in is dominated by the technology of identity transfer, a development managed by the "NewYou" corporation, and which allows people to move their consciousness into a new and usually much improved body that is often stronger, more durable, and can be made more attractive, even to the point of changing one's appearance to match that of a well-known celebrity. "Transfers" as individuals who have undergone the process are called, also don't need to eat, sleep, or breathe, can comfortably work unprotected on the surface of Mars, and are exempt from certain life-support related taxes, which quite understandably makes transferring quite popular among the denizens of New Klondike. Despite some legal controls, in short order it becomes relatively obvious that this technology, if abused by someone with nefarious intent, can be used to hide one's identity, and make it very difficult to identify who is actually in a particular body.

It should be noted that the first ten chapters of this novel are a moderately rewritten version of the previously published novella Identity Theft, and they work pretty much as a stand-alone story. This is not to say that the first section is disconnected from the rest of the novel, but if one were to read through to the end of chapter ten and stop, one would have read a reasonably satisfying complete story. The novella (and thus, the novel) opens up like most hard-boiled detective stories do: When a beautiful woman named Cassandra shows up in Lomax's office asking him to find her missing husband. Both Cassandra and her missing husband Joshua are not only transfers, they own the local NewYou franchise. Cassandra's missing husband is located in relatively short order, but that only causes the mystery to deepen and the tale of greed, kidnapping, and murder ensues that takes a couple of interesting twists and turns and hinges on the use (or rather misuse) of identity transfer technology and the attendant difficulties that logically ensue concerning how do you prove who someone actually is, or how one proves which one the "real" version of someone is. By the end of the opening novella, the villains have been foiled, the innocent have been vindicated, and at least some modicum of justice has been served.

Even though the remaining plot of the novel is something of a "fix-up", Sawyer is a skillful storyteller, which means that he is able to pick up the slender threads left by these opening chapters and build the rest of the novel upon them to create a coherent whole. The mystery that runs through every section of the book concerns the Alpha Deposit, a legendary find that kicked off the Great Martian Fossil Rush as hungry fortune seekers flocked to the planet hoping to find alien fossils they could ship to collectors back on Earth for huge profits. The location of the Alpha Deposit, and the fate of Weingarten and O'Reilly - the two explorers who found it - is unknown, and, given the fact that anyone who could answer these unknowns would find themselves immensely wealthy, there is keen interest in being the person who can answer them. There is a further mystery involving a notorious passenger ship and the horrors that took place upon it that wraps into the narrative, adding still more intrigue to the story. Everything is told in Sawyer's extremely readable style, and the text of the entire book just flows smoothly. I have always found Sawyer's prose to be extremely enjoyable and capable of being consumed at a rapid clip, and this book is no exception.

There are only a couple of minor flaws to Red Planet Blues. The first concerns the identity transfer technology, which is described as being a well-established technology that has been in use for decades and so well-entrenched in society that only adherents to fringe religious groups object to its use. Despite this, the inhabitants in the story seem to be frequently surprised or unprepared for the realities of dealing with "transfers". For example, Lomax carries a handgun, which is pretty much useless against transfers due to their incredibly durable artificial bodies, but he seems to act like the weapon should serve as protection in such cases, even while simultaneously pointing out that it won't be. Many of the twists in the story turn on people being caught off-guard by what should be pretty routine ways of exploiting transfer technology, and so on. One is also left wondering why everyone who can doesn't simply transfer - as presented in the book, transferring makes one younger, stronger, and essentially immortal. Given the fact that everyone who isn't regarded as a crackpot holds the opinion that identity transfer is a safe and proven process, there doesn't really seem to be a reason for anyone to not do it.

The second flaw concerns the women in the book. Pretty much everyone who shows up in the story gets involved in the deadly hunt for the Alpha Deposit from geologists to down-on-their-luck thugs, to housewives to writers in residence to police officers, each of whom plays a part. While the men are described as coming in all shapes and sizes, almost all of the women are described as various stripes of beautiful with the one notable exception being a woman who is described as looking like an ape - if a woman isn't sexy, apparently the only other option is for her to look simian. Lomax spends his internal monologue leering at and salivating over these women no matter what circumstances he encounters them under, which serves to make him seem kind of sleazy and unlikable.. Further, this collection of women seem to find Alex improbably attractive, even the ones who would seem to have no real reason to. To a certain extent, this is probably an effort to mimic the noir detective stories that inspired Red Planet Blues, after all, beautiful women who fall for hard-boiled detectives are kind of a staple of such novels. The problem is, the trope sticks out like a sore thumb when imported into this novel, and doesn't really do much other than give the story some uncomfortably creepy segments.

Despite these small missteps, Red Planet Blues is a good science fiction detective story. Lomax is a flawed but ultimately engaging and enjoyable character who inhabits a world that is both interesting and plausible. The mysteries that he is confronted with are just cryptic enough to keep the reader guessing but still sufficiently well-laid out that it feels like the author is playing fair. In the end, anyone looking for something akin to The Maltese Falcon on Mars is likely to come away from this book feeling like they got what they came for. If a noir-era mystery in a science fiction setting sounds like something you would enjoy, this is pretty much exactly what you need to scratch that itch.

2006 Hugo Award Finalists
2006 Hugo Award Longlist
2006 Nebula Award Nominees

Robert J. Sawyer     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

2018 Prometheus Award Nominees

Location: Worldcon 76 in San Jose, California.

Comments: The Prometheus Award continues its track record of not really being a "libertarian" award, or at least much of one. The ideologies represented by the list of nominees for the award are all over the place, ranging from Scottish socialism, to reactionary conservatism, to a kind of, sort of libertarianism. This is not a new development for the Prometheus Award - for the last several years I have been trying to figure out what the point of the award is as the libertarian element seems to have faded to an faint background note at best. The odd thing is that writers on the conservative (many of who style themselves as libertarians to a certain extent) have spend the last several years complaining that non-explicitly ideologically oriented genre fiction awards such as the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award have been dominated by factions pushing an ideological agenda, this award, which is supposed to have an explicit ideological bent, has seen its ideological bent leach away into nothingness.

Best Novel

Winner:
TBD

Finalists:
Artemis by Andy Weir
The Corporation Wars: Emergence by Ken MacLeod
Darkship Revenge by Sarah A. Hoyt
Drug Lord: High Ground by Doug Casey and John Hunt
The Powers of the Earth by Travis J.I. Corcoran
Torchship, Torchship Pilot, and Torchship Captain by Karl K. Gallagher

Hall of Fame

Winner:
TBD

Finalists:
As Easy as A.B.C. by Rudyard Kipling
Conquest by Default by Vernor Vinge
The Island Worlds by Eric Kotani and John Maddox Roberts
Starfog by Poul Anderson
With Folded Hands . . . by Jack Williamson

Previous year's nominees: 2017
Subsequent year's nominees: 2019

Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, April 16, 2018

Musical Monday - Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) by Pink Floyd


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: March 22, 1980 through April, 12, 1980.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: March 22, 1980 through April 5, 1980.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: December 15, 1979 through January 12, 1980.

Some songs are so inextricably linked with larger works that it is almost impossible to talk about them without referencing that larger work. Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) was part of Pink Floyd's concept album The Wall, and later appeared in the movie also named The Wall which starred Bob Geldof. Because the album wove the various songs together into something of a coherent narrative in which Pink, the protagonist of the story, loses his father, grows up with an extremely protective mother, slowly builds a metaphorical wall around himself that serves to isolate him from everyone around him as he slowly descends into madness, it is difficult to evaluate this song without also touching upon the themes of abandonment and alienation that run through the entire album.

I have seen Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) described as an anti-education song, and the repeated refrain "We don't need no education" would seem to back that up, but I think that is an erroneous interpretation. What the song rails against is conformity and authority, not education. It is just that Waters identified the British education system as enforcing a kind of subservient conformity that is the antithesis of knowledge and understanding, In the context of the story told by The Wall as a whole, this song marks out that Pink's experiences in school formed some of the earliest foundations of the wall that he surrounded himself with. There is an undercurrent of rage that runs through this song, but it is a rage that is corralled and suppressed by the system and can only surface much later in self-destructive ways.

For me, in 1980, that level of analysis was all in the future. I first heard The Wall some time in the summer or autumn of that year. My family had recently returned from Tanzania, and my parents had some function they had to attend. They hired a teenage girl as a sitter for my brother and me, and she brought The Wall with her. In retrospect, it seems obvious that she had just acquired the album and simply could not wait to listen to it, so she took it with her to a job watching an eleven year old and a six year old for the evening. I remember almost nothing about her other than the fact that she worked part time as a model for a local store and that she introduced me to Pink Floyd. I can't even remember what she looked like, let alone remember her name.

I do remember the album though. I remember listening to the songs and trying to connect them with the artwork on the jacket. Even though the movie The Wall wouldn't be released for two more years, the animation style that ended up being used in it was pretty much already fully formed on the album cover in 1980. I was hooked. Maybe it was partly because it was an album brought to my consciousness by a pretty, older (she must have been at least sixteen!) woman, but I was completely drawn in by Pink Floyd's music, which was unlike anything I had previously heard.

I also remember this as the first time I disagreed with my father concerning music - when I brought it up with him, he pretty much dismissed the album as juvenile junk. The odd thing is that he wasn't really all that old - in 1980 he would have been thirty, which made him younger than Roger Waters and David Gilmour. It seems that he turned into a curmudgeonly old fogey pretty early in his life, at least so far as music is concerned.

Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) topped all three of the charts I am using for the 1980s Project, but it topped the U.K. Chart well before it topped out either the Billboard or Cash Box lists. It reached number one on the U.K. chart in December of 1979, but didn't get to the top position on either of the U.S. charts until March of 1980. This seems to be something of a pattern for British-based acts of the era: They made their mark in their home country first, and then made waves in the U.S. after something of a delay, with the reverse being true for those American acts that had success in Britain - for example, in 1976 the Bay City Rollers were able to have a hit in the U.S. with S.A.T.U.R.D.A.Y. Night, a song they had released in the U.K. in 1973. Even in the 1980s, culture was still localized enough that something could make a big splash on one side of the Atlantic and not be noticed until later on the other. The pond was getting smaller, but in the 1980s there was still frequently a delay between a song hitting the charts in the U.K. and a song hitting the charts in the U.S.

Previous Musical Monday: Please Don't Go by KC and the Sunshine Band
Subsequent Musical Monday: Escape (The Piña Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Call Me by Blondie

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Longer by Dan Fogelberg
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Call Me by Blondie

Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Brass in Pocket by the Pretenders

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

Pink Floyd     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home