The Man From Primrose Lane by James Renner

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Man From Primrose LaneThe au­thor of this book, James Renner, is a friend of mine.

Reading this book is like watch­ing a freight train bar­rel to­ward you and be­ing un­able to move, while re­mem­ber­ing a time in your past when you watched a freight train bar­rel to­ward you, only to wake up to find out there’s a freight train bar­rel­ing to­ward you.

This is the kind of novel that should ap­peal to any­one, and the in­gre­di­ents it con­tains that aren’t to your taste should be more than made up for by the things that are. There are three acts with a few in­ter­ludes, and by the third act, I was so hooked that I read the last 100 pages in a sit­ting.

It is a deeply per­sonal, emo­tion­ally-charged mur­der mystery/​thriller about an in­ves­tiga­tive journalist/​writer and his search for a se­rial rapist & mur­derer of lit­tle red­headed girls. Sorta. If Raymond Chandler had writ­ten it, that’s all it would be about. It’s also a novel about how in­ter­nal dark­ness cre­ates ex­ter­nal demons. Partially. If Stephen King had writ­ten it, that’s what it would be about. But James Renner wrote this, so it’s about those things, and much more; ob­ses­sion, re­demp­tion, fate, phi­los­o­phy, fu­til­ity and hope in the face of it. There are also plenty of easter eggs for folks who live in or are fa­mil­iar with Northeast Ohio.

This isn’t nor­mally the kind of novel that I read, so it took me awhile to get in the groove with the in­tri­cate de­tail and char­ac­ter­i­za­tion sup­plied dur­ing the ini­tial ex­po­si­tion. I found my­self won­der­ing if all this de­tail was truly nec­es­sary (it is), then that ground­work starts pay­ing off over and over again. I had to keep putting the book down to calm down, such was the deeply per­sonal im­pact that the char­ac­ters ac­tions have upon each other. The struc­ture of the ex­po­si­tion places events that oc­cur at very dif­fer­ent mo­ments in the past and fu­ture con­cur­rent to each other. This re­sults in two things: 1) over­whelm­ing dra­matic irony and 2) the novel be­comes some­thing akin to time travel, ini­tially sim­i­lar to the way that Gene Wolfe’s Peace is a time travel novel.

So if you want your heart-strings tuned, some ex­er­cise for your adrenal glands, your tear ducts flushed, your ac­tion packed and your food thought­ful, read this book.

Science Fiction Book Club List: The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years, 1953 – 2002

Wednesday, 27 April 2005

The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years, 1953 – 2002

I fi­nally man­aged to track down every book on the above list, many are/​were un­for­tu­nately out of print. But I did it. I’ve read them all. Mini-Reviews of all 50 are in­side.

  1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. TolkienI’ve bab­bled on about this book and au­thor far too much. Many peo­ple have no de­sire to read it be­cause so many peo­ple go on and on about it. If any­thing, it be­longs at the top of this list sim­ply be­cause its suc­cess as a pub­li­ca­tion showed pub­lish­ers that money could, in fact, be made from sci­ence fic­tion and fan­tasy in book form. It wasn’t just for the pulps any­more.

    Recommended other read­ing: The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, Roverandom, On Fairy Stories

  2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac AsimovNearly as im­pres­sive as LotR, The Foundation Series and Asimov him­self are re­spon­si­ble for adding a new layer of com­plex­ity to sci­ence fic­tion, the genre ma­tured from ju­ve­nile es­capism in the pulps to com­plex po­lit­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tives. The Foundation Series is a prime ex­am­ple of the ef­fec­tive use of spec­u­la­tive fic­tion as a re­flec­tion of our own so­ci­ety.

    Recommended other read­ing: Caves of Steel, I, Robot

  3. Dune, Frank Herbert

    I read this book my fresh­man year of high school. I re­mem­ber not lik­ing it. I prob­a­bly missed some of the eco­nomic im­por­tance among all the messianic/​prophetic hul­lab­u­loo and sand­worm rid­ing and nukes mak­ing people’s eyes melt. I should prob­a­bly read it again, but I don’t par­tic­u­larly have any de­sire to do so. Lots of peo­ple like it and it was made into an aw­ful movie, so I guess it has some worth.
  4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein

    One of the must-reads for the sex­ual rev­o­lu­tion in the 1960s, Stranger in a Strange Land seems some­what sim­ple now that AIDS is every­where. Nevertheless, the book is still quite pow­er­ful on many dif­fer­ent lev­els, na­ture vs. nu­ture, sex­ual pro­cliv­i­ties, can­ni­bal taboos, you name it. Throughout the book the reader is chal­lenged to eval­u­ate each as­pect of cul­ture by see­ing it through strange but sim­i­lar eyes.

    Recommended other read­ing: Starship Troopers

  5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin

    Anything writ­ten by Ursula K. Le Guin is worth read­ing. A Wizard of Earthsea is a great, easy-to-read com­ing of age tale with a non-white pro­tag­o­nist [quite the dar­ing thing to do at the time] that del­i­cately nav­i­gates the treach­er­ous wa­ters of ado­les­cence and man­ages to im­part a strong and healthy mes­sage with­out sound­ing parental.

    Recommended other read­ing: The Lathe of Heaven, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Birthday of the World and Other Stories

  6. Neuromancer, William Gibson

    I’ve not read much cy­ber­punk, so I’ve not read much Gibson. This was one of the first books I read when I started the list. If I re­mem­ber cor­rectly, this techno-cap­i­tal­ist so­ci­ety is alot like or­ga­nized crime, and the main char­ac­ter is a sort of junkie drug-run­ner equiv­a­lent com­puter hacker, lots of cool tech and cool-like an­ti­hero­ism.
  7. Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke

    Arthur C. Clarke is the go-to guy when it comes to writ­ing sto­ries that turn deep tragedy into bril­liant pos­si­bil­ity. Childhood’s End is prob­a­bly the best ex­am­ple of this. Transcendent hu­man­ity is mixed, in­sep­a­ra­bly with the de­struc­tion of al­most every­thing we know as hu­man. A com­pelling read.

    My longer re­viewof Childhood’s End.
    Recommended other read­ing: Rendezvous with Rama, 2001: A Space Odyssey

  8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick

    Philip K. Dick isn’t the best writer, but his cre­ativ­ity is so full of mind-bend­ing psy­cho-hor­ror that his sto­ries over­come their words. This book was made into the amaz­ing Bladerunner [lots of Dick sto­ries have been made into movies, Minority Report, Total Recall, Paycheck, Second Variety] and prob­lems con­cern­ing cre­ation and epis­te­mol­ogy are ul­ti­mately deemed ir­rel­e­vant in this ex­is­ten­tial mas­ter­piece.

    Recommended other read­ing: Selected Stories

  9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley

    The only strictly fem­i­nist book on this list, I didn’t like it too much. Of course, I’m not re­ally the au­di­ence, but I thought that the women, while puis­sant-willed, ul­ti­mately be­came the things MZB was op­pos­ing. To me they seemed bitchy and ma­nip­u­la­tive, and while it could be ar­gued that was their only way to have power, it still re­in­forces stereo­types. Nevertheless, more books with fe­male pro­tag­o­nists would be wel­come.
  10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

    This book is stan­dard high school read­ing list fare, but its worth lasts unto adult­hood as well. The re­pres­sive so­ci­ety re­minds me quite a bit of Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron but Bradbury’s tale ends on a slightly more hope­ful note. I quite like Bradbury, his writ­ing style hear­kens back to sci­ence fiction’s found­ing fa­thers [Jules Verne, H.G.Wells] but he wrestles with time­less con­cerns and adds an­other di­men­sion to his sto­rys by do­ing so. NB: 1984 [search­able on­line ver­sion!] didn’t make this list be­cause it was pub­lished be­fore 1953.

    Recommended other read­ing: The Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine

  11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe [1, 2]

    I hadn’t been too in­ter­ested in read­ing Gene Wolfe, for no real rea­son. I’d been miss­ing a lot. It seems like there are a lot of Catholics writ­ing good sci­ence fic­tion and fan­tasy, and Gene Wolfe fits that mold. The Book of the New Sun is a four-vol­ume meta­phys­i­cal mas­ter­piece that goes al­ways in un­ex­pected di­rec­tions and has a neb­u­lous sense of agency. One of the best books I read on this list.

    My longer re­view of The Book of the New Sun.

  12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.

    I think Einstein said that World War IV would be fought with sticks and stones, and the post-nu­clear ar­maged­don world in which Walter M. Miller puts us is a car wreck rub­ber­neck­ing read that seems to say fear and jeal­ousy will trump good sense as long as hu­mans are hu­mans. There are sev­eral morals here, at least one for every­body who reads it.
  13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov

    Where I, Robot mainly fo­cused on the log­i­cal co­nun­dra of positronic ro­bot­ics and the Three Laws of Robotics with a sec­ondary fo­cus on in­ter­ac­tions with hu­man emo­tion, The Caves of Steel of­fers more poignant sto­ries where hu­mans at­tempt to cope with the dis­trust and fear as­so­ci­ated with cre­at­ing some­thing su­pe­rior to them in all ways.

    Recommended other read­ing: The Foundation Trilogy, I, Robot

  14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras

    This book reads some­what like any other mid-cen­tury child­hood ad­ven­ture book. Except all the kids in this one are su­per­ge­niuses and were os­ten­si­bly the in­spi­ra­tion for the X-Men. During the Atomic Age ra­dioac­tive ac­ci­dents didn’t al­ways end hor­ri­bly. A nice read, if a bit bland at times.

    My longer re­view of Children of the Atom.

  15. Cities in Flight, James Blish

    This thick book is more a com­bined se­ries of novel­las than any­thing else. Early on it of­fers al­ter­na­tives to the sci­en­tific method but as time passes, the mas­tery of anti-gravitic spin­dizzies turn hu­man­ity into the pro­tec­tors of the galaxy, even­tu­ally even unto sac­ri­ficing them­selves as new gods. A Magnum Opus in­deed.
  16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett

    Finally, a bit of hu­mor­ous fan­tasy! Terry Pratchett takes the typ­i­cal ab­sur­di­ties of life, mixes in heavy doses of hu­mor and en­light­en­ing satire and pours this sauce over in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters of myr­iad va­ri­eties. The re­sult: Tasty treats of books that en­ter­tain and il­lu­mi­nate with­out and sense of heavy­hand­ed­ness. There is al­ways some­thing to laugh about.
  17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison

    One of the most am­bi­tious an­tholo­gies of all time, this book con­tains pow­er­ful story af­ter pow­er­ful story, on all kinds of bizarre and chal­leng­ing top­ics. 35 years later the sto­ries might not seem quite so dan­ger­ous, but the writ­ing and con­tent still sur­prise and af­fect. Ellison in­tro­duces each au­thor and each au­thor has a bit of a foot­note about the story at the end of each. A must read.
  18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison

    While Dangerous Visions was a mas­ter­piece, this col­lec­tion of short sto­ries by Ellison didn’t do much for me. Each is con­cerned with humanity’s new gods, dark gods for the most part. I didn’t en­joy this book nearly as much as I en­joyed Ellison’s Strange Wine [and I only en­joyed half of that]. I think Ellison is just too brash for my taste.

    My longer re­viewof Deathbird Stories.
    Recommended other read­ing: Strange Wine

  19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester

    This is a thriller, a jour­ney into the pur­ga­tory of the mind and a thought­ful ex­plo­ration of what telepa­thy might be ca­pa­ble of. A man with every­thing de­ter­mi­nes to com­mit mur­der and get away with it. If he does not suc­ceed he will be Demolished. That is, have his per­son­al­ity ut­terly shat­tered. Will he suc­ceed? Read the book to find out!

    Recommended other read­ing: The Stars My Destination

  20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany

    In post­mod­ern sci­ence fic­tion with a han­ker­ing to­ward shock and awe through sex­ual pro­cliv­i­ties, dis­cus­sions on the na­ture of art in a world of warp­ing re­al­i­ties, in a city where build­ings burn and are not con­sumed, and pro­jected im­ages seem more real that the gangs who con­trol them, who bet­ter to guide you through this than a filthy am­ne­siac mad­man who writes po­etry in the cor­ners of a found note­book?

    An ex­cerpt from my fa­vorite part of Dhalgren.

  21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey

    Anne McCaffrey has pro­duced nearly in­nu­mer­able nov­els about Pern. Dragonflight is the first one, and the only one I’ve read. As books go this one has some cool time and space warp­ing drag­ons an in­ter­est­ing ex­am­ple of cul­tural evo­lu­tion and a pretty be­liev­able fe­male pro­tag­o­nist. It def­i­nitely blurs the lines be­tween sci­ence fic­tion and fan­tasy and is def­i­nitely orig­i­nal in idea, if not ex­actly in style.
  22. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card

    This is more mil­i­tary sci­ence fic­tion, but when it comes to think­ing around things Orson Scott Card man­ages time and again in this book. Ender Wiggin, a ge­net­i­cally bred boy ge­nius is trained to ex­haus­tion in or­der to save hu­mankind from an in­com­ing alien in­va­sion and cer­tain an­ni­hi­la­tion. Another clas­sic must read.
  23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson [1, 2, 3]

    When it comes to atyp­i­cal pro­tag­o­nists, the lep­rous and cow­ardly Thomas Covenant takes the cake. While this book could have dealt quite stun­ningly with the na­ture of mad­ness and psy­chic trauma, it takes a dif­fer­ent path and spends three books wal­low­ing in its own mis­tery. Meh.

    My longer re­view of The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.

  24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman

    In a sense this is more mil­i­tary sci­ence fic­tion, but it is also hard sci-fi, tem­po­ral rel­a­tiv­ity is the prime mover and cause of more men­tal an­guish [kind of a trend here isn’t there? I won­der if it has to do with the time pe­riod these books were writ­ten in…] as a space sol­dier spends sev­eral years sub­jec­tive time fight­ing in dif­fer­ent parts of space, while thou­sands of years pass ob­jec­tively. Haldeman is ex­cel­lent.

    Recommended other read­ing: All My Sins Remembered

  25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl

    Space travel, ex­plo­ration and mis­un­der­stood alien tech are the heart­wood of this be­gin­ning to Pohl’s tales of hu­man­ity and the Heechee. This is a dan­ger-filled ad­ven­ture tale like a walk through dark and strange wood­land.
  26. Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, J.K. Rowling

    Despite its al­most clichéd sta­tus in pop­u­lar cul­ture, the first book in the Harry Potter se­ries was an un­ex­pected de­light for folks of all ages. Just enough hu­mor, just the right mix of fa­mil­iar­ity and strange­ness and a very British feel to it make this book a quick and en­joy­able read.
  27. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

    Everybody should read the Hitchhiker’s Guide. Don’t Panic, it is more com­edy than sci­ence fic­tion, so even if you typ­i­cally as­soc­iate sci-fi with Vogon po­etry this book is funny enough for you to for­give it for be­ing out of this world.

    Recommended other read­ing: The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide

  28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson

    Richard Matheson wrote lots of stuff for The Twilight Zone, so if you ex­pect I Am Legend to be like that rockin’ se­ries you’re both right and wrong. This book was made into a few movies The Omega Man is the one I’ve seen. Look, it is about the last man on earth when every­one else is a vam­pire. A great book.
  29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice

    Most folks have prob­a­bly seen the movie. This is one of the rare cases where I like the movie and the book equally. Anne Rice does an ex­cel­lent job show­ing us what life is like when you are a re­gret­ful he­do­nis­tic vam­pire.
  30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin

    The only rea­son I can think of that this book is so far down on the list is that Mrs. Le Guin al­ready has a book in the top five. She seems to chan­nel her an­thro­pol­o­gist fa­ther Al Kroeber in this par­tic­i­pant-ob­server tale of po­lit­i­cal in­trigue in a land where the an­drog­yne in­hab­i­tants can take on ei­ther male or fe­male sex­ual char­ac­ter­is­tics de­pend­ing on their en­vi­ron­ment. Like I said, any­thing she writes is worth a read.

    Recommended other read­ing: Wizard of Earthsea, The Birthday of the World and Other Stories

  31. Little, Big, John Crowley

    One of the big sur­prises on this list is Little, Big. It is an ethe­real, me­an­der­ing, mys­te­ri­ous and quite po­tent med­i­ta­tion on re­la­tions be­tween our world and Faery. You can al­most pick it up at any place and start read­ing with­out miss­ing much. A book to read more than once, for sure.
  32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny

    On a planet where an im­mor­tal oli­garchy pre­tends to be the Hindu Pantheon, one god, the Lord of Light is con­stantly offed and re­born to op­pose them. Should we be sur­prised that he is the Buddha? Not re­ally. I don’t think I quite got this book. It was weird. I think I missed the point.
  33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick

    The weakest thing I’ve read by Dick, lots of peo­ple say this is his finest work. It is re­vi­sion­ist his­tory as only sci-fi can do it. What if Japan and Germany had won World War II? That is a pretty cool idea but Phil spends too much time dick­ing around in mun­dane events and wor­ries for my taste.

    My longer re­view of The Man in the High Castle.
    Recommended other read­ing: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Selected Stories

  34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement

    This is hard sci­ence fic­tion with a main char­ac­ter who is ba­si­cally a big olé cen­tipede. It is also a sea ad­ven­ture, al­beit on an ovoid planet with the strangest grav­ity imag­in­able. All the char­ac­ters are out for their own best in­ter­ests which makes for some in­ter­est­ing hag­gling and in­ter­ac­tion.
  35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon

    I re­ally like Theodore Sturgeon. His sto­ries are de­cep­tively sim­ple. He hints at things that you only re­al­ize af­ter you put the book down. More than Human is a story about half-wits and half-hu­mans be­com­ing greater than the sum of their parts, ul­ti­mately ex­ceed­ing their hu­man­ity, de­spite or per­haps be­cause of their in­no­cence.

    Recommended other read­ing: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon [10 vol­umes]

  36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith

    This book should be much higher on the list. It is a col­lec­tion of all of Cordwainer Smith’s short sto­ries. Mr. Smith is re­spon­si­ble for start­ing the sci­ence fic­tion ca­reers of more than a few peo­ple on this list and his 30,000 year chron­i­cle of humanity’s con­stant strug­gle to­ward even it doesn’t know what is orig­i­nal from the first page to the last one. A bit more from me on Cordwainer Smith and a re­view of Norstrilia.

    Recommended other read­ing: Norstrilia

  37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute

    This book was per­haps the most sur­pris­ing one that I read on this list. I think it should be much higher. It prob­a­bly isn’t only be­cause it isn’t quite as sci­ence fic­tiony as the oth­ers. It is a heartwrench­ingly bru­tal con­tem­po­rary mid-20th cen­tury story of post-nu­clear an­ni­hi­la­tion in Australia. Australia hasn’t been hit, but the jet stream is slowly bring­ing the ra­di­a­tion to the con­ti­nent. Everyone knows they are un­der a death sen­tence. It is an amaz­ing and thought-pro­vok­ing anti-war story that is quite ef­fec­tive at deeply per­sonal level. I need to scrounge up one of the movies [1, 2].
  38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke

    This is more space ex­plo­ration in­volv­ing alien tech­nol­ogy, only this time the hu­mans are in­sidea mys­te­ri­ous and vast alien craft that con­founds al­most all of their at­tempts to ex­plore it. How do you ex­plore the in­side of a sphere? of a cylin­der?

    Recommended other read­ing: Childhood’s End, 2001: A Space Odyssey

  39. Ringworld, Larry Niven

    To quote Niven:

    “I my­self have dreamed up an in­ter­me­di­ate step be­tween Dyson Spheres and plan­ets. Build a ring ninety three mil­lion miles in ra­dius — one Earth or­bit — which would make it six hun­dred mil­lion miles long. If we make it a mil­lion mies wide, we get a thick­ness of about a thou­sand me­ters. The Ringworld would thus be much stur­dier than a Dyson sphere.

    “There are other ad­van­tages. We can spin it for grav­ity. A ro­ta­tion on its axis of seven hun­dred sev­enty miles per sec­ond would give the Ringworld one grav­ity out­ward. We wouldn’t even have to have a roof over it. Put walls a thou­sand miles high at each rim, aim it at the sun, and very lit­tle air will leak over the edges.

    “The thing is roomy enough: three mil­lion times the area of the Earth. It will be some time be­fore any­one com­plains of the crowd­ing.

  40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys

    A story of ma­nip­u­la­tion on mul­ti­ple lev­els and in mul­ti­ple places, Rogue Moon is the story of an ex­plorer who must, by trial and er­ror, find his way through an alien con­struct. The only prob­lem is, each time he er­rors, he dies, and the psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects of this are just as un­known and in­cal­cu­la­ble.
  41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien

    The Silmarillion is my fa­vorite work of Tolkien’s. It is grand mythopo­etic sub­cre­ation, with in­cred­i­bly rich and some­what ar­chaic lan­guage. It is easy to see why this was his life’s work and it would be quite in­ter­est­ing to see what it would have even­tu­ally be­come had he not died be­fore com­plet­ing it.

    Recommended other read­ing: The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Roverandom, On Fairy Stories

  42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut

    Even peo­ple who hate sci­ence fic­tion seem to like Vonnegut. Deeply satir­i­cal and si­mul­ta­ne­ously sen­ti­men­tal time-travel must have atavis­tic ap­peal to most hu­mans. As anti-war books go, this one is prob­a­bly one of the top five.

    Recommended other read­ing: Cat’s Cradle, Welcome to the Monkey House

  43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

    Snow Crash is a cy­ber­punk novel filled with ar­che­typal char­ac­ters with de­lib­er­ately odd lives. Contemporary life is ex­trap­o­lated into a fu­ture where sexy 16 year old sk8r gr­rls wear nar­cotic vagina den­tata, pizza de­liv­ery guys who live in U-Stor-Its are gods of the in­ter­nets, and large Aleutians with glass ra­zors kill peo­ple like noth­ing. It was a good read, but a bit over the top.
  44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner

    This is a deeply per­sonal book, you can re­ally feel John Brunner’s soul be­ing poured into it. Concerned with over­pop­u­la­tion, first world com­pla­cency, vic­ar­i­ous life through tele­vi­sion, and a chronic andacute ex­is­ten­tial anomie, it ul­ti­mately ad­mits its love for all of us, de­spite our im­per­fec­tions.

    My longer re­view of Stand on Zanzibar.

  45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester

    Alfred Bester has two books on this list for a rea­son, his sci­ence fic­tion is un­like any­thing you’ll ever read. He sort of prog­nos­ti­cates the cy­ber­punk genre, es­pe­cially in this work, where a thug named Gully Foyle jaunts around seek­ing re­venge for be­ing aban­doned in a dere­lict space­craft.

    Recommended other read­ing: The Demolished Man

  46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein

    I’ve read this book prob­a­bly eight or nine times since I first nabbed it on this lit­tle quest of mine. It is said to be a rather con­ser­v­a­tive out­look on a mil­i­tary so­ci­ety, but I think it mixes just the right amount of piz­zazz with quite thought-pro­vok­ing civics lessons to come up with the best use of na­tion­al­ism pos­si­ble. This novel is ap­prox­i­mately in­finitely bet­ter than the bat­shit crazy movie adap­ta­tion.

    Recommended other read­ing: Stranger in a Strange Land

  47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock

    This dark fan­tasy is dri­ven by a pro­tag­o­nist who is in­her­ently evil, an alien be­ing who is mo­ti­vated and wracked by shad­owy emo­tions. It is vi­o­lent, es­cha­to­log­i­cal, and quite short. I didn’t par­tic­u­larly en­joy this book be­cause Moorcock is so ef­fec­tive at cre­at­ing twisted be­hav­ior, strange emo­tion and alien­ation that I had noth­ing to hold on to. Just be­cause I didn’t en­joy it doesn’t mean it sucked though. Moorcock wrote many other books in the Stormbringer se­ries.
  48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks

    This book should not be on the list. It is ter­ri­ble. The only book I didn’t fin­ish on this list. It is so un­abashedly a cheap and lame and crummy Tolkien rip-off that I got 200 pages in, re­al­ized that plot point for plot point the novel was copy­ing Tolkien and stopped read­ing. A large num­ber of other sci­ence fic­tion and fan­tasy books could re­place this one. I think it only made it be­cause of its pop­u­lar­ity. Even Terry Goodkind would have been a bet­ter choice.
  49. Timescape, Gregory Benford

    Hard sci­ence fic­tion with deeply per­sonal char­ac­ters, this novel deals with the in­her­ent dan­gers of time travel, but only time travel com­mu­ni­ca­tion, not phys­i­cal time travel. There is a lot of physics in this book, but Benford makes it rel­a­tively easy to un­der­stand. The world is be­ing de­stroyed due to pol­lu­tion and a few sci­en­tists are try­ing to speak to the past in or­der to change the fu­ture. The ef­fi­cacy and af­ter ef­fects of this are some­what am­bigu­ous, and Benford, like a good sci­en­tist, lays out the prob­lem as he sees it, and lets the reader de­cide.
  50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip José Farmer

    Everyone who is dead wakes up on this Riverworld. No one knows why, or how. The main char­ac­ter seeks to find out why and how. He ends up get­ting killed, but then dis­cov­ers that he just wakes up the next day some­where else on the river. So, play­ing the odds, he loses any re­straint on keep­ing him­self in­tact and hops from death to death hop­ing even­tu­ally he’ll come to the end of the river. Along the way he runs into all kinds of fa­mous peo­ple, Nazis, Neanderthals, you name it. A re­ally fun book.

Ten Books I rec­om­mend you read from this list [in no par­tic­u­lar or­der]:

  • The Rediscovery of Man
  • Dangerous Visions
  • The Silmarillion
  • Little, Big
  • The Foundation Trilogy
  • Starship Troopers
  • On the Beach
  • The Left Hand of Darkness
  • Dhalgren
  • The Book of the New Sun


Monday, 30 June 2003

Powerman 5000’s lat­est LP, Transform, marks a tran­si­tion for the band from gothic space-rock to a niche be­tween n?-metal and stan­dard hard­core. Its not as good as it used to be, but at least it ain’t Linkin Park or Limp Bizkit.

If it is any­thing, Transform is one of the strangest calls to arms I’ve ever come across. It is a much blunter ex­pli­ca­tion of PM5K’s anti-es­tab­lish­ment oeu­vre than they usu­ally spit out.

Tonight the Stars Revolt! was a metal­lic bar­rage with a dis­tinc­tive Ziggy Stardust space­man feel. Transform, is lit­er­ally more down to earth. Spider One, is de­cidely in just about everyone’s face: the gov­ern­ment, cor­po­rate bu­reau­cracy, and es­pe­cially sil­i­con breasted, boy­band mar­i­onettes who pass them­selves off as artists in­stead of en­ter­tain­ers. At the same time he wants “hands up to mis­fits, the ones that don’t fit.” Granted, not the most elo­quent of verse, but the point is clear enough.

The mis­fit mus­ter­ing songs don’t re­ally do much for me lyri­cally, and on the whole, while the blunt­ness is ap­pre­ci­ated, and the drool­ing in­vec­tive in songs like “That’s Entertainment” makes me grin and sing along with in­fer­nal de­light, the mu­sic is what makes the al­bum.

Nothing in par­tic­u­lar is out­stand­ingly orig­i­nal here ei­ther. The first eight true songs all rock, but the al­bum kinda ends flat­footed. None of the songs are overly long, most are pretty catchy, and good to rock out to, but with­out the ‘space-vibe’ it misses some­thing. This will def­i­nitely be an al­bum I take with me on long car trips. It re­ally isn’t some­thing I just want to sit back and lis­ten to, it does not de­mand that much at­ten­tion.

This is a good tran­si­tion al­bum for PM5K. They ef­fec­tively changed their sound, but avoided be­com­ing a n?-metal clich? by ap­peal­ing to ac­tion from their angst-filled de­mo­graphic in­stead of com­mis­er­at­ing with pul­ing whine-songs. Hopefully their next al­bum will com­plete the trans­for­ma­tion. Knowing Spider One’s metic­u­lous and de­mand­ing ethic to be a dif­fer­ent kind of rock force, this is likely to be the case.

Recommended songs: That’s Entertainment, A is for Apathy, Sterotype.
Rated: 6.5÷10.

Thursday, 26 June 2003

Deloused in the Comatorium [DITC], the new se­man­tic ex­pe­ri­ence from The Mars Volta. Read my pompous re­view, but first go buy the al­bum.

When At the Drive In split a while back, my friend Kyle was pretty miffed, they were one of his fa­vorite bands. From the splin­ters of this band emerged two new mu­si­cal di­rec­tions: Sparta and The Mars Volta. Unfortunately Sparta seemed to get their act to­gether a bit too fast, and in­stead of a new mu­si­cal di­rec­tion, the band’s sound foundered in the seas of medi­oc­rity [at least for me it did]. Their brand of rockin’ was a bit too, um, un­o­rig­i­nal and cooki-cut­ter for my tastes. In fact, I couldn’t tell you what one of their songs sounded like right now, de­spite hav­ing seen them in con­cert, and lis­tened to their al­bum, and I must not for­get pal Kyle.

The Mars Volta, took con­sid­er­ably longer to pro­duce a full al­bum. Wisely so, if this de­lay has in­creased the qual­ity of DITC. Granted, they re­leased the Tremulant EP awhile back, but its three songs, seem to me more of a test bed for their sound, be­fore the full blown ex­pe­ri­ence emerges [and getes paid for].

Tremulant pre­pared lis­ten­ers for the in­ven­tive se­man­tic mumbo-jumbo and ex­per­i­men­tal punk [re­dun­dant or just that mar­ginal?] sound that The Mars Volta had de­fined as their own. Their lyrics are shall I say, in­choate. An ad­mix­ture of var­i­ous lan­guages [eng­lish then span­ish are the heav­i­est thank­fully] and spack­led to­gether phonemes and mor­phemes, lis­ten­ers pretty much have to rely on the singing to get a han­dle for what the songs are about. The lyrics for Eunuch Provocateur off of Tremulant can be found here. [As you will note, one of the lines from this song be­came the ti­tle of the LP].

Stupidly, the lyrics for DITC are go­ing to be avail­able for mailorder pur­chase some­time next month, mak­ing them that much harder to ac­cess. You re­ally have to want to know what the fuck he is say­ing if you are will­ing to pay for it. Personally, I will wait till some­one does buy them and then sticks them on the ‘net.

The vo­cal pirouttes of Cedric Zavala are what make this al­bum for me. His tenor is crisp and clear and loud, but thank­fully not pierc­ing. Its like wind off of a moun­tain, or if you live in the city, what your clothes smell like af­ter you toss in about eight dryer sheets with them.

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez can wring some mighty wild sounds out of his axe let me tell you.

DITC be­gins with a steadily grow­ing sound of syn­the­sizer and dis­tor­tion, and then Cedric comes in with his elec­tron­i­cized voice, and you know some­thing huge is about to hap­pen, then you are teased with some false starts be­fore C re­ally lets it rip into the first true song ‘in­er­ti­atic esp.’ This seems pretty straight­for­ward The Mars Volta, the mu­sic is seg­mented into sev­eral modes, usu­ally with quick but full stops be­fore launch­ing into the next sec­tion. Beware though, The Mars Volta can switch gears seam­lessly if they want to, and some­times they want to.

‘roulette dares (the haunt of)’ presents a slightly more melod­i­cally vari­ant, though smoother, ex­pli­ca­tion of what­ever the hell C is singing, it rises and val­leys, then peaks and then falls again, some­times precipices lurk right in the mid­dle of things, but the song is quite mel­low and quite cathar­tic at the same time.

‘drunk­ship of lanterns’ bor­rows its end from their Tremulant fin­isher ‘Eunuch Provocateur,’ and ‘ci­c­itriz esp’ is al­most just like Tremulant’s ‘Cut That City’ ex­cept quite a bit longer. I don’t feel that they are just re­cy­cling this be­cause they can­not hack it. To me it seems that Tremulant truly was a test­ing bed, and they took what worked from that EP and beefed it up for this al­bum.

This was re­ally hard to write, be­cause DITC is so queer. Somehow The Mars Volta has made it pos­si­ble for two ob­jects to ex­ist in the same space at the same time, con­trary to the lit­tle mu­si­cal physics I am ac­quainted with. Songs can be mel­low but un­re­pen­tantly cathar­tic from one sec­ond to the next. It works. 810. Thanks to Phil for the rec­om­men­da­tion.

The Decemberists: Castaways and Cut-outs

Friday, 30 May 2003

Hell, I’m al­ways on the look­out for some good new mu­sic. Unfortunately my search of­ten re­sults in less than good new mu­sic. There are far too many bands out there with delu­sions of grandeur, weird gim­micks, and stranger sounds, all of which don’t par­tic­u­larly agree with my con­sti­tu­tion.

Thankfully, The Decemberists al­bum Castaways and Cut-outs does not fit this bill.

[ini­tial­ize pom­pos­ity]

They are from some­where in the Pacific Northwest, Washington or Oregon, or some­place. Treehuggers. Their sound on the other hand, seems to draw on in­flu­ences from the world over, merged into a very in­die feel. The vo­cals fo Colin Meloy gives the band a very Irish sound, he’s got an Irish name too, but he is from Missoula, Montana. Some of the song con­tent is also quite rem­i­nis­cent of rel­a­tively cur­rent events in Ireland. “Leslie Ann Levine” in par­tic­u­lar would fit quite well as a med­i­ta­tion on the rife sub­ject of teenage preg­nancy, abor­tion and the Kerry ba­bies case.

The songs are quite seedy in con­tent, and cre­ate within me a sense that the en­tire al­bum is a pe­riod piece of wharves, docks, and sundry other salty top­ics from a 19th cen­tury sea story. Petticoats, camisoles, cast­aways, and men at war, all blend to­gether to cre­ate a sub­tle and sin­is­ter lyric-scape that is only height­ened by the peppy mu­sic. You en­joy lis­ten­ing to the songs but then when you think about the lyrics you’re, like, whoa!

“A Cautionary Song” is prob­a­bly the best ex­am­ple of this. Its a song about a mother who whores her­self out in or­der to feed the kids. It rol­licks along though, to a concertina/​accordion, in a sea-shanty sailor rhythm. You might find yoru­self tap­ping your feet as you hear about how she goes through an en­tire ship in a night.

and the next time she feeds you col­lard greens
re­mem­ber what she does when you’re asleep

A nice zinger to end the song, eh? So sorry kids.

Their mu­si­cal abil­i­ties are an amal­gam of coun­try, pop, stan­dard rock, and var­i­ous man­i­fes­ta­tions of form [i.e. the shanty] through­out the al­bum. It might end on a note of hope, but it is a bit hard to tell, “California One/​Youth and Beauty Brigade” is the clos­est the Decemberists seem to get to truly mod­ern cookie-cut­ter false unity/​alienation, yet the lyrics seem ironic, as if join­ing the Youth and Beauty Brigade might not be such a good thing. Perhaps this irony is meant to ex­pose the shal­low­ness of the “Youth of a Nation” vs. “Broken Home” di­chotomy that so much crap mu­sic to­day seems to feed off of.

The Decemberists’ Castaways and Cut-outs should def­i­nitely be added to any self-re­spect­ing audiophile’s li­brary.

an­other link

[end pom­pos­ity]

The Matrix: Reloaded — Gothic Production Values

Sunday, 25 May 2003

The sec­ond en­try, and then I must needs say no more about ma­tri­ces till November.

As a film, The Matrix [orig­i­nal] was au­then­tic in its raw­ness of mise-en-scene, tight plot, char­ac­ter con­struc­tion and phi­los­o­phy. The Matrix: Reloaded, has the mangy paw of Hollywood over­pro­duc­tion and ov­erengi­neer­ing all over it.

Now that the goth look is main­streamed [hoo­dathunkit?] it is at the same time ex­tremed in the Matrix, Hollywood knows who its de­mo­graph­ics are and plays to them, even putting in vam­pires and ghosts. Every good guy is gothic while in the Matrix. Zion even has that re­tarded rave/​orgy/​infernal masses se­quence, where every­one porks to heavy bass beats. All of the guns from the last flik have been re­placed by a va­ri­ety of weapons [katana, longsword, tri­dent, sai, mace, etc.] that don’t do much good ex­cept look cool. Then, of course, you’ve got the gothic château in the moun­tains, the gothic retro tech­nol­ogy [old TVs etc, still cool] and the rusted out ships of Zion.


The cos­tumes in the orig­i­nal Matrix were in­deed quite cool, but their cool­ness was sec­ondary and the man­i­fes­ta­tions of the mind that wears them. In TM:R the clothes were cool be­cause Hollywood de­cided it must be so, and they fail at it. Keanu in a cas­sock, is a bit pre­pos­ter­ous, Trinity main­tains skintight pleather, and the only no­tice­able dif­fer­ence in the agents and Morpheus is that they’ve got spiffy new shoes. The Zionists can’t man­age to clothe them­selves de­cently [ex­cept for the el­ders] de­spite their abil­ity to hew an ex­is­tence near the earth’s core. The bad­dies just wear white or black vari­a­tions in suit themes. Who re­ally cares.


Schizophrenically pol­y­se­mous. Dragged a bit, then had some über-cheesy part, fol­lowed by an über-philo­soph­i­cal part. Rinse, re­peat. This is where I found the con­flict be­tween a smart film, and a Hollywood film to be most preva­lent. The cheese parts [the n Smith fight, rave, the Seraph fight, sex scene, uber­car chase, the other n Smith fight, the you saved me di­a­logue at the end] are Hollywood. The smart parts [Oracle, Merovingian, Architect, back doors, Keymaker] re­minded me most of the orig­i­nal film, de­spite the fact that the Merovingian and the Architect still had some ob­vi­ous dis­trac­tions to them [yesterday’s post]. Although, the Keymaker, when de­scrib­ing how to get into the main­frame, re­minded me much of the Old Man From Scene 24 in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. There is also the whole Keymaster of Gozer thing from Ghost Busters as well.

CG/​Special Effects

They were cut­ting edge last time, but main­stream this time. Bullet time/​slomo adn the spin­ning cam­era moves were the same stuff from the last movie. The CGs were pretty ob­vi­ous too, sup­port­ing my the­ory that dig­i­tal still has a long way to go be­fore it can ren­der as well as film stock can pick up the min­ute de­tails of a person’s face. Thus, some­times Neo and Smith look quite CG, be­cause the sub­tle shad­ows and fa­cial ex­pres­sions are not there. Rendering fab­rics is pretty damn hard as well. Thus, Neo’s id­i­otic cas­sock goes from be­ing nice and tex­tured to smooth as silk when he is CG. The wire-work le­git­i­mately seemed ripped off from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.


Sound ef­fects and Foley work was im­pres­sive, though the mu­sic was most def­i­nitely cre­ated with the sound­track in mind, and of course con­tained tracks from the most gothic sell­out — Rob Zombie. Hell, it even had a track by Dave Mathews. [*pukes*] I did like what Juno Reactor did with many of the songs though — mix­ing stan­dard techno/​trance with the score in many in­stances.


The shot se­lec­tion was also a bit schizoid. The OTS shots were so repet­i­tive i could pre­dict what was go­ing to hap­pen next [MS1a, MS2a, MS1b, MS2b, MCU1a, MCU2a, etc.]. At the same time, the dig­i­tal stuff with Morpheus fight on the trailer, and the mo­tor­cy­cle shots — were pretty damn amaz­ing. The washed-out hot­ness of the whites, and the sub­tle lows of the blacks seemed ap­pro­pri­ately gothic and also helped the CGs fit into the the film bet­ter, since so much data was lost by in­ten­tional over­ex­po­sure.

Morpheus says the prophecy should have come true if Neo reached the source, but Neo did not reach the souce, he went af­ter Trinity, some­thing that I only re­al­ized post facto the movie. There is no men­tion of it in the flik it­self.


I liked TM:R, don’t get me wrong, I just didn’t like it as well as the first one. I give the 1st an 8 and this one a 6. Mostly be­cause, it is ob­vi­ous Hollywood tried too hard as usual, only ap­prox­i­mated what it feels is au­then­tic — rather than go­ing for the real thing. Ergo, all the peo­ple are goth­ically se­ri­ous ex­cept for Link who is more a fam­ily man thug than any­thing else — and the won­der­ful Merovingian ass­hole. The bad guys are much more in­ter­est­ing than the good guys. It leaves no room for any type of those once plugged in than the gothic. Someone should crack a joke or play a prank or per­haps wear com­fort­able clothes that are non­de­script. Right? I think it is too shal­low be­cause it is too pre­ten­tious.

Probably much like this re­view.

The Matrix: Reloaded — Fides et Ratio

Saturday, 24 May 2003

I’ve seen The Matrix: Reloaded twice now. Fittingly I will give it two en­tries, one on phi­los­o­phy and one on its cin­e­matic qual­i­ties. This is the philo one. Most likely they will both con­tain spoil­ers.

To start out, those who say that this sec­ond film lacks [in sub­stance and thought pro­vok­ing ma­te­rial] are id­iots.

They must have ig­nored [slept through, dis­missed be­cause they did not un­der­stand] the Oracle, the Merovingian [who is ridicu­lous awe­some], and the Architect. Granted, much of the rest of the film is cot­ton candy [to be cov­ered in the next en­try], but the afore­men­tioned seg­ments are any­thing but.

Continuing the de­bate that was ex­humed in the orig­i­nal Matrix, this film deals time and again with the an­tag­o­nism be­tween choice/​free will and causality/​predetermination. Its pretty ho hum, and the screen­writ­ers are ei­ther ge­niuses or stayed up all cram­ming and then re­gur­gi­tated the an­swers. I lean to­ward the bile side my­self, be­cause the Oracle, the Merovingian, and the Architect all con­tra­dict them­selves in their so­lil­o­quys on choice v. causal­ity.

The Oracle

An ‘in­tu­itive’ com­puter pro­gram that cre­ated a ver­sion of the Matrix that 99% of test sub­jects ac­cepted as long as they were of­fered a choice. Neo looks to her for guid­ance and ques­tions her re­gard­ing choice. If she knows the an­swer to the ques­tions she asks him, what does his choice mat­ter? She tells him that his choices have al­ready been made, Neo is now sup­posed to un­der­stand why he made/​making/​will make these choices.

But then, ‘we can’t see past the choices we don’t un­der­stand.’

All of this time, while dis­cussing choice, the dis­cus­sion has re­ally cen­tered on causal­ity, the Oracle seems to be hint­ing that choices do not mat­ter. At the same time, she tells Neo to makes choices.

For her it ap­pears that choice is merely an il­lu­sory mech­a­nism of causal­ity. But not see­ing past the choices we do not un­der­stand gives her the lie, for un­less she un­der­stands all choices, how can she see the fu­ture. To me it ap­pears that for causal­ity to func­tion is must be con­cerned only with hind­sight. It can only prove its ve­rac­ity by show­ing com­pleted cause and ef­fect re­la­tions as some­thing in­evitable. It should only be able to pos­tu­late the fu­ture, not pre­dict it.

The Merovingian

This guy is my fa­vorite char­ac­ter in the en­tire film. We’ll just get that out of the way.

This ex­quis­itely con­temptible French pro­gram ap­par­ently touts causal­ity as its cham­pion. He says choice is an il­lu­sion given by those with power to those with­out it. Ostensibly, as a means of con­trol [see The Architect]. He states the hu­mans run on in­stinct, and proves this by en­chant­ing a hot chick with a pro­grammed piece of aphroditic choco­late and mak­ing her all horny. Thus, dou­bly prov­ing his point [if you were even lis­ten­ing to his mono­logue] be­cause most likely the au­di­ence watch­ing the film was more in­ter­ested in the warm spot in hot chick’s crotch than what the Merovingian was say­ing.

He says that those with power are those who ‘un­der­stand the why’ of things.

To me ‘why’ is a word that deals with choice. To know ‘why’ you do some­thing is to know the rea­sons you made the choice. To un­der­stand ‘what’ is to un­der­stand causal­ity. ‘What made you do some­thing’ — this rec­og­nizes that an out­side, pre­de­ter­mined, non-will­ful stim­u­la­tion re­sulted in an act. Why is sub­jec­tive, thus con­trol­lable, What is ob­jec­tive, and causal.

When Persephone screws him over, in a beau­ti­ful throw-away re­mark af­ter his re­cent homily, he de­mands to know the rea­son she lets Neo have the Keymaker: she says some­thing about causal­ity and re­torts with — Cause? There is no cause for this!

The Architect

Like the Merovingian se­quence, The Architect uses a shit­load of mon­i­tors show­ing dif­fer­ent things to dis­tract the viewer from the dis­cus­sion.

The Architect ex­plains about the means of con­trol within the Matrix, that Neo is an ex­pected anom­aly re­sult­ing from the in­abil­ity of the cause/​effect na­ture of pro­gram­ming to ad­e­quately cope with the de­mands of im­per­fect hu­man de­sires and choices. The hu­man mind is lesser or, per­haps, not bound by the de­mands of per­fec­tion. To deal with this the ma­chi­nes use life out­side the Matrix, and Zion, an ap­par­ently oft de­stroyed and re­built city, as an­other method of con­trol. Neo is also ap­par­ently the sixth anom­aly, so Zion is in its 5th rein­car­na­tion.

Besides all that, The Architect points out the flaws be­tween causal­ity and choice. He of­fers Neo a Lady or Tiger choice, choose a door. This is where the philoso­phies get a bit shal­low for me. Cause and ef­fect seem to hang on Neo’s choice. Except, Neo seems to think he only has two choices, one door or the other. He has plenty of op­tions.


Where is the re­li­gion? TM:R uses the de­vices of re­li­gion [Morpheus as a prophet, men­tions of prov­i­dence, the need for faith, etc] but never deigns to il­lus­trate the ef­fi­cacy of these de­mands, nor to ex­plain what it is peo­ple are to have faith in. Are we to as­sume that faith should be placed in Neo. Who should Neo have faith in then? Only him­self? Morpheus faith seems bound to his ideas about choice and prov­i­dence, but at odd points these eat each other. He says every­thing hap­pens for a rea­son, his prov­i­dence, but he also says every­one has a choice. In the di­alec­tic set up within the Matrix, these are at cross-pur­poses.

They could how­ever, be ex­plained in re­gard to faith. Yet, they never are.

Last BS

I think, though I am quite pre­pared to ad­mit that this could very well be wrong, that what the Architect spoke of, that 99% ac­cept the Matrix as long as they are of­fered a choice, hints at a pos­si­ble twist. Perhaps while Neo and Trinity, and Morpheus, et al. think they are out­side of the Matrix, they are ac­tu­ally still within it. Thus, The Matrix en­com­passes both the Zion-world and what we have come to know as the Matrix it­self.

This is ex­plained both through what the Architect says, as well as in Neo’s freaky light­ning abil­i­ties at the end. He can sense the sen­tinels in the ‘real world,’ and can EMP-bake them with his hand in the ‘real world.’ I think he re­al­ized he was in an­other level of the Matrix, and sent his con­scious­ness forth into a higher state of mind. Yeah, it sounds a bit new-agey.

or, per­haps while he was in the main­frame, he gained a new abil­ity, to trans­port him­self di­rectly into the Matrix, with­out plugs.

Hell, like I know what I’m talk­ing about.