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For nearly fourteen years I was able to keep up this daily blog of books and music.

About a year ago I got a promotion and that changed everything.  I no longer had the time to post everything I wanted to.  Heck, I didn’t even seem to have the time to read all the short stories I wanted to.  Amusingly (or not), just before this new position, I had gotten a print subscription to the New Yorker.  This now means that I (like many others) have a two-foot stack of New Yorker magazines that I haven’t even looked at yet.

For a few weeks I was limiting myself to only the concerts that I went to because that was a little easier to write about.  Although back in the good old days, I used to include photo and links, and I pretty much have neither now. And I’m several shows behind as well.

So I’m still reading books and I think I may try to post some thoughts about them from time to time.  I’d also like to think I have time to write about my concerts, but even those are proving to be challenging.

So let’s consider the blog on hiatus more or less, with occasional posts about things I’ve read or listened to.

The good thing is that I like the new position and wouldn’t change it for the world. I guess I never realized how much down time my old position gave me!

[ATTENDED: July 13, 2022] Foxing

I saw Foxing three years ago without knowing much about them.  Their live show blew me away.  So when it was announced that they were playing Philly again, I had a choice. Go tothe Bikini Kill show that I’ve had tickets to for years or go to the Kevin Devine show which I had gotten tickets for just in case it sold out, or blow off them both and go to Foxing.

Well, Bikini Kill was postponed (again) and Kevin Devine was a solo show (which is good, but I’ve seen him solo twice already), so I decided to go to Foxing without having a ticket.  Traffic was light, I got free parking (well, technically it cost 68 cents) and bought a ticket in cash with no handling fees!

The two opening acts were really good and I settled in for Foxing.  They had just announced a new live album that you could get online or you could get (autographed) at the shows.  I bought the LP before the show (only 20 were sold each night) and was stuck holding it the whole time (next time bring a bag).

The lights went down and a recorded song played while fireworks were projected on the screen behind the stage.  Then the band came out.  For some reason I thought there were more of them, but there were only five.  And they were loud enough that they could have been ten.

Foxing released a new album last year and this was the tour for it, so there were lots of “new” songs.  But the fans knew them all (I mean the record has been out almost a year).

Singer Conor Murphy is a dynamic frontman.  He moves around, he jumps, he screams, he engages with the audience.  It’s like every note he sings is personally connected to him.  He has a delicate falsetto (not unlike TV on the Radio) but he can scream, like really roar, with the best of them.

And the way the band jumps from quiet to HUGE is really impressive. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: Hiatus.

[READ: July 4, 2022] Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra

This is the third book in the Charlie Thorne series.  And there will clearly be a fourth.

Sarah brought this home and was very excited about it.  I was pretty excited to read it as well.  Our excitement was justified, because Stuart Gibbs has created a great heroine, an intriguing mystery and a thoughtful historical quest.

One of the things I liked best about this book was the historical information about Cleopatra.  We all know all about Cleopatra.  Except  that everything we know is incorrect!  The course of (male) history has been very unkind to Cleopatra–she was an amazing woman and ruler and has been historically described as little more than an exotic temptress.

In the acknowledgements, Gibbs, heaps praise on the book Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff.  I have just checked out the book and the first chapter is fantastic.

The Prologue is set in Alexandria, Egypt in 30 BC.  Cleopatra was being held prisoner by Octavian–Julius Caesar’s nephew.  Cleopatra and her husband Mark Antony were united in a war against Octavian–but they had lost.

Octavian lied about how he would treat Cleopatra after Mark Antony’s death.  She discovered this and was preemptive about her own fate.  She did not kill herself with an asp–rather, she drank poison and burned down her mausoleum.  And her great treasure was destroyed wit her.

Staying in Egypt, the book shifts to the present day.  At the end of the last book Charlie has escaped from the CIA as well as the Mossad, the national intelligence agency of Israel.

Now she is sneaking into a party in Giza, Egypt, at the penthouse of Ahmet Shah, the oldest son of a wealthy shipping magnate.  Ahmet has a ton of security because he has a ton of expensive things in his house.  But one thing that Charlie wants is not expensive–it is information. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: June 23, 2022] Yuanyuan’s Bubbles

This is the fourth of sixteen graphic novels based on Cixin’s Liu’s stories.  This story, originally called 圆圆的肥皂泡, is the most straightforward one yet.

It is full of hope and shows that play is just as important as other scholarly pursuits.

When Yuanyuan was born, the one thing that made her happy was bubbles.  Her mother was a scientist and rather serious.  While her father often chided her mother for being too straight-faced.  But her mother had serious work to do.

Their city–Silk Road City was having severe drought.  If nothing could be done about it, the whole city would have to be abandoned.  Yuanyuan’s mother’s idea was to drop ice bombs with plants in them from a plane.  The project worked–the water helped to keep the seedlings alive.

However, in a rather dramatic early moment, the plane went down and Yuanyuan’s mother was killed.  Yuanyuan’s father was affected by the death of his wife and insisted that Yuanyuan grow up to be just like her mother–serious and thoughtful.  But Yuanyuan had other ideas.  She was still obsessed with bubbles.

Even her teachers noticed her attitude.  But her grades were excellent. Indeed, one of her teachers explained to Yuanyuan’s father that “in this new era, being a  little more relaxed and carefree isn’t a weakness.”

Her father still wants her to take things more seriously, but in the meantime, Yuanyuan has discovered a formula for creating the largest bubble in the world–it’s breaks the world record!

Yuanyuan becomes very successful–her formulas for creating elasticity in bubbles is greatly in demand.  Ultimately, her father asks her for a loan to help keep part of their old city alive.  But she says she cannot.  She is using her funds for her next project–a bubble that can envelope a city.

That’s actually not what she intended, but the bubble does settle onto the city, forcing everyone to figure out how to survive with their oxygen being cut off.  Everyone is furious at Yuanyuan, but she only sees the possibilities–what is she made bubbles that could carry water from he sea to their desiccated city?

No one thinks she can do it.  People make fun of her.  Even her father is disappointed in her.  But she won’t give up.

As with most of these graphic novels, I feel like the story suffers a but from being truncated (I assume it was truncated a lot).  And yet the general tone and tenets of the story come through clearly.  And it’s very cool.  It was translated by Nicholas Blackburn Smith and then written for this book by Valérie Mangin.

The story was illustrated by Steven Dupré and he does a great job creating the images of the bubbles.

SOUNDTRACK:

[READ: June 2022] Sea of Tranquility

S. brought this book home and said she thought I’d enjoy it.  She knows what she’s talking about, and I did enjoy it.

This is a time-travel/pandemic/end of the world novel.  And for all of the time jumps, it’s still pretty short (just over 250 pages).

The book opens in 1912.  We follow the story of Edwin St. John St. Andrew, and eighteen year old aristocrat who has been sent away from him home in England to the wilds of Canada.  I found his story to be quite interesting.  Being the youngest son, he stood to inherit nothing, so he had to make he way abroad anyhow.  But he also hated the way England had taken over India and colonialism in general.  But his parents were born in India raised by Indian nannies and had nothing but fond memories of the place.  So when he publicly stated his disgust with the system, he was told in no uncertain terms that it was time for him to go.

Edward eventually makes it to Victoria, BC.  He is miserable there, too and really doesn’t know what to do with himself.  He wanders into the forest.  He sees, inexplicably, a priest.  And then when he turns to a giant maple, he is struck by darkness, loud noises, music and chaos.  All for about one second.

The next section jumps to 2020 and follows Mirella and Vincent.

We open on Paul, a composer, who is showing off his latest work–a work that uses video footage that his sister filmed.  The footage looks a lot like what Edward saw in the forest.

Paul’s sister was named Vincent.  Mirella had been a friend of Vincent’s and hadn’t know she was dead.  In fact, she had come to Paul’s performance to try to get in touch with Vincent.  Their friendship ended when Vincent’s husband was involved in a Ponzi scheme that brought down a lot of people.

While she is trying to talk to Paul after the show, they are joined by another man, named Gaspery.  He winds up talking to her and she thinks she recognizes him.  But it’s impossible because she recognizes him as a man who was involved in a shooting in an alley when she was a little girl.

The next section is set in 2203 and is called The Last Book Tour in Earth.  Olive Llewellyn was born on the moon and has written a number of novels–novels that sold well on Earth as well.  She was happy to be on Earth because she could also visit her parents.  Her parents moved back to Earth after she had left for college.

This book, Marienbad, was being made into a film.  So even though it was a few years old, publicity was called for.  She enjoys the trip although she misses her family back on the moon.  Soon though, there is word of a pandemic stretching out across the Earth.  It had been a long time since the Earth had dealt with such a thing, and people didn’t know how to prepare for it anymore.  Emily had written a previous novel about a pandemic and knew, from her research, what she should be doing.  But no one else seemed to be paying any attention.

The last interview she has is with a man who prepares to ask her if she had experienced something strange at the Oklahoma City Airship Terminal.

The story jumps one more time to 2401.  A man named Gaspery.  Gaspery tells us about the first moon colony which was built in the Sea of Tranquility.  There was much interest in immigration and Soon they had moved on from Colony 1 to Colony 2.  The Colonies were meant to replicate Earth as much as possible–including artificial lights that mimicked the Earth cycle.  But when the lights failed and were deemed too expensive to repair, that set in motion the gradual abandonment of Colony 2.

Gaspery grew up living near the house where Olive Llewelyn lived.  It was now occupied by a family with a girl, Talia, who was about his age.  Talia seemed to always want to gaze out of the dome toward Colony 1.  Gaspery’s sister, Zoey, on the other hand, did not ever go near the dome (their mother didn’t like them going there).

When they grew up, Gaspery wound up getting a job at the Grand Luna Hotel in Colony One.  Coincidentally, that’s where Talia has moved and gotten a job (as head of HR).  Zoey, meanwhile had become a super smart scientist working at the Time Institute.  One night in a state of panic, she tells Gaspery that their work has uncovered something. It involves time travel.  It is dangerous.  Gaspery, hating his job and his life, volunteers.  Zoey won’t hear of it, but her coworker, Ephrem, agrees to let Gaspery try out for the job.

A few years later, Gaspery is ready and he is told about the video footage that Paul the composer showed in 2020.  Zoey fears that the glitch in the video, the glitch that Vincent film, the same glitch that Edward saw in 1912, the same glitch that Olive wrote about in Marienbad (which is why the reporter asked her about the airport).  If these glitches are connected…does that mean our world is a simulation (like the Matrix?).

Gaspery is to be dispatched to the above timelines to see what he can learn about this glitch.  The one caveat–the big thing that the Time Institute cares about, is that you don’t mess up the timeline.  Gaspery can’t imagine why anyone would do that.  Then he learns that Olive Llewelyn died on Earth on that book tour.  Because of the new pandemic she was not allowed to go back home to the Moon.  It wouldn’t hurt just to hint that she should end her tour early, would it?

The story unfurls quickly from there with Gaspery leaning a bit more with each time he jumps into.

I enjoyed this story a lot.

S. tells me that Emily St. John Mandel wrote a previous book about a pandemic (Station Eleven).  Interesting, no?

 

SOUNDTRACK:

[READ: March 24, 2021] This is Not the Real World

I really enjoyed the first book in this duology.

That book was about a girl who was forced to work on the set of the retro TV show Stuck in the ’90s (which reveled in 1990’s pop culture).

When I was reading it, I had no idea that Carey was planning to write a sequel.  The end of the book show sequel possibilities (and it sounds like there will be no part 3).

As the book opens, Jess and her fellow cast member Kipps have been free from their show for a few months.  But they are never really free.  Because the production company owns them until they turn 18, they have  to lay low.  Jess has turned 8 recently, but Kipps still has six months to go until he is an adult. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: March 2022] The Last Hero

The Last Hero is a Discworld illustrated short story or fable .  Really what that means is that there’s only one main plot line since most Discworld stories have multiple plots that interweave and then come together.  So it doesn’t really feel short because a full adventure happens–just without all of the ancillary characters.

And, perhaps most striking for any Discworld book is that this one is fully illustrated by Paul Kidby.  Only every other page is full text. The rest are half picture or full picture.  But the pictures are also very deatiled and will keep you busy for a while.  This particualr version has 16 all new pages of illustrations.

The Last Hero is Cohen the Barbarian.  We last saw him in Interesting Times when he became the Emperor of the Agatean Empire.  But, well, being in charge of things is kind of boring.  And, frankly, it’s no way for a hero to go out.  When one of the Silver Horde died by choking on a concubine–I think you mean cucumber– Cohen decides they need a plan.  So he gathers the rest of the Silver Horde for one last adventure.

The very first hero, “Fingers” Mazda, stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind (analogous to Prometheus), and was chained to a rock to be torn open daily by a giant eagle as punishment.  Cohen’s plan is to give the fire back–in the form of a giant explosive packed into a large sled filled with explosive Agatean Thunder Clay. They plan to blow up the gods at their mountain home, Cori Celesti. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: April 14, 2022] Thief of Time

The Death stories allow Pratchett to play around with new characters (in addition to old favorites).

So this story features a new character named Jeremy Clockson.  Jeremy was a founding left a the Clockmaker’s guild.  He is uncanny in his precision and was ultimately kicked out of the Guild for being too high strung.

One day a woman walks into his office (he makes the most precise clcks in Ankh-Morpork.  her name is Myria LeJean.  She is obnoxious and haughty and demands that Jeremy make the best clock that has ever been invented.  He, knowing a thing or two about clocks, says that he has already created the most precise clocks ever.  But she tells him about a clock that can be even more.

She offers him a lot of money to build it even as she knows that building such an amazing clock will be all the reward that Jeremy wants.

This is when Death gets involved.  Because it turns out that if this clock is built it will literally be the end of the world–this clock will capture and stop time.

Many Death stories have to do with the Auditors, and of course the Auditors are behind this, too.  The find humanity too messy to deal with, and they want to remove humanity so that the universe will run more smoothly.  They have sent Myris as a human to try to learn.  But she soon becomes taken over by human behavior and she kind of… likes Jeremy.

She also sends Jeremy an Igor to work with him.  I love the Igor characters and was delighted to see another one make an appearance.

As with most of the latter Death stories, Death is really enforced by Miss Susan–Death’s granddaughter.  Death him self cannot get involved when the Auditors cause trouble.  But Susan can stop them as long as Death doesn’t reveal too much.

I loved seeing Susan’s life as a teacher (her headmistress doesn’t like her, but the kids love her)

In the other major thread, we meet Lu-Tze–a powerful member of the History Monks masquerading as a humble sweeper.  There’s some wonderful karate movie shenanigans in this story.  With Lu Tze presenting as a lowly sweeper when he is indeed the most feared member of the Monks.  He works with a monk who creates with weapons called Qu.

And yet whenever he is called upon to do something that involves attacking or violence, he seems to just use trickery to get things to happen.

He is also given an apprentice, Lobsang.  Lobsang is a name that jumped out at me so much, that it made me think I must have remembered this story very well and yet I didn’t. I just remembered the name Lobsang.  Huh.

Lu-Tze and Lobsang are in charge of making sure that time isn’t destroyed.  Lobsang is considered a pain in the butt by the other monks.

Lobsang is a spoiled kid, who is bored at school and cant be taught because he knows everything.  Even Lu-Tze is not impressed with him, until he is able to bend time is ways that only the eldest Monks are able to do.  In fact, no one should be able to do the things he can do.  Lu-Tze realizes that Lobsang is naturally gifted at time shaping, he just needs to know how to control his gift.

Incidentally, the main abbot of the monastery has been reincarnated serval times.  He is presently a baby but he is also very wise, so his conversation is constantly interrupted his baser needs.

‘Ah, Sweeper,’ he burbled, awkwardly tossing aside a yellow ball and brightening up. ‘And how are the mountains? Wanna bikkit wanna bikkit!’

‘I’m definitely getting vulcanism, reverend one. It’s very encouraging.’

‘And you are in persistent good health?’ said the abbot, while his pudgy little hand banged a wooden giraffe against the bars. ‘Yes, your reverence. It’s good to see you up and about again.’

‘Only for a few steps so far, alas bikkit bikkit wanna bikkit. Unfortunately, young bodies have a mind of their own BIKKIT! ‘You sent me a message, your reverence? It said, “Put this one to the test.”’

As the apocalypse looms, Death recalls that he and the other four horsemen must ride forth.  But it has been a really long time and War is now married (he has to ask his wife if he likes meat–no it gives him wind).  Famine and Pestilence aren’t that keen on doing anything either. Leave it to Death to find the long lost horseman of the Apocalayse–a man who is now a milkman named Ronnie Soak.  Ronnie hasn’t thought about riding forth in years. But he becomes essential to the plot.

There is a huge pile of time travel in this book, as well as eastern philosophy and thoughts of what it means to be human,

There’s some really high concepts in a story in which the bad guys are defeated with chocolate.  And in which other characters are decapitated with no ill effects.

I love Susan as a character and the way that the Jeremy story and the Lobsang story combine is pretty masterful

And don’t forget Rule One.  Rule One is “Do not act incautiously when confronting a little bald wrinkly smiling man

 

It’s a great story.

Here’s the list of all Discworld books in order:

1. The Colour of Magic
2. The Light Fantastic
3. Equal Rites
4. Mort
5. Sourcery
6. Wyrd Sisters
7. Pyramids
8. Guards! Guards!
9. Faust Eric
10. Moving Pictures
11. Reaper Man
12. Witches Abroad
13. Small Gods
14. Lords and Ladies
15. Men at Arms
16. Soul Music
17. Interesting Times
18. Maskerade
19. Feet of Clay
20. Hogfather
21. Jingo
22. The Last Continent
23. Carpe Jugulum
24. The Fifth Elephant
25. The Truth
26. Thief of Time
27. The Last Hero
28. The Amazing Maurice And His Educated Rodents
29. Night Watch
30. The Wee Free Men
31. Monstrous Regiment
32. A Hat Full of Sky
33. Going Postal
34. Thud!
35. Wintersmith
36. Making Money
37. Unseen Academicals
38. I Shall Wear Midnight
39. Snuff
40. Raising Steam
41. The Shepherd’s Crown

SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: April 2022] The Truth

This story is set in Ankh-Morpork but it’s not about the Watch.  Or Lord Vetenari.  Well, it sort of is about both of them, but not really.

This story is about The Truth.  And also about a new character called William de Worde.  William is a black sheep of a famous and wealthy Ankh-Morpork family.  He has always been interested in writing and in finding the truth.

His job was to write an occasional message to various important figures around the Disc with information about what’s going on in Ankh-Morpork.  He quickly learned that he could write his message, have the Engraver’s guild print multiple copies and just change a few things for each one.  This made him a lot more money.

Then there was big news in Ankh-Morpork–the arrival of movable type from the dwarfs, particularly Gunilla Goodmountain.

William, through a series of events, inadvertently becomes the spokesperson for the movable type (even though he had nothing to do with it) and starts a newspaper. The paper is supposed to be named Ankh-Morpork Items but they get the type wrong and it became The Ankh-Morpork Times.

He is assisted by the dwarfs and Sacharissa Cripslock–a fiery reporter who proves very useful. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: April 2022] The Fifth Elephant

This is a story of Ankh-Morpork and progress.  Ankh-Morpork has just introduced a series of clacks–semaphore towers–to provide quick communication between distant places.  It’s expensive, but businesses in the know are all getting c-mail addresses.

Incidentally, the movie The Fifth Element came out in 1997 and was clearly an inspiration for the title–although very little about that film falls into place here.  Rather, the fifth elephant of the title is believes to have been one of the elephants who held up the world but who fell to the Disc and caused craters of fat deposits that are found underground in Uberwald (which produces the best fat on the disc).  Fat deposits are a very valuable commodity.

Uberwald factors heavily in this story.  Ankh-Morpork now has the largest dwarf city on the Disc.  And the progressive dwarfs in Ankh-Morpork are able to sway elections back home–where the more traditional dwarfs (deep down dwarfs) don’t think highly of the dwarfs who have left.

An upcoming election for Dwarf king was swayed by the Ankh-Morpork contingent and Rhys Rhysson, a progressive dwarf is set to become King.  But this has made many old school dwarfs very unhappy and rumors of an internal war start brewing. Continue Reading »