Charles Stross‘ Saturn’s children: a Space Opera (Ace Books, 2008) is not what I’d call opera. Told from the perspective of Freya Nakamichi 47, designed as a sex bot for human pleasure, I would call it a good hard science fiction story. Freya’s trouble begins when she takes a job as a ‘courier’ for a secretive organization. On her voyages from Venus to Mercury, to Mars, to Callisto (a moon of Jupiter) and then finally to Eris (a dwarf planet bigger than Pluto and way out there) Stross explores various forms of interplanetary transport. Realistically. And, along the way, fills in an interesting history of the final era of humans to beyond their extinction in the 23rd century. What happens to the servants, slaves and helpers of humanity after they are gone is an interesting story line.
I picked this book up as it was being advertised heavily at World Con this summer and, at one of the Con parties, one of his fans told me that he was envious when I told him I hadn’t read any of Stross’ work. He said that I was in for a treat when I did.
I liked Saturn’s Children but I didn’t find it spectacular. But there’s no way I’ll give up on Stross (we have computer programming in both our backgrounds), I think I’d like to try Accelerando when I next try one of his books. It sounds like a cool idea.
I was baited into an argument at work today about this habit of bicyclists. I am offended every time it comes up and, not being a very good debater, was very frustrated by the end of it. So I thought I’d blog about it. Not because I’m better at blogging… no, just to be able to get the whole argument out without interruption.
Here’s the argument for the other (dark) side:
Cyclists should wait at their place in the queue at a red light or stop sign and not sidle up on the right by the curb.
Well. I could respond that cars pass me in my lane when I’m travelling by the curb all the time. I don’t think, out of all the thousands of hours I’ve spent cycling, I can think of single example of a car not passing me as I’m on my way.
I could say that, as a cyclist, I try to share the road. It is probably safest, for both cyclists and motorists, to assume that there is a dedicated cycling lane on the right at all times (especially when there actually is one). If I need to turn left I go into the left side of the lane and signal. And, even when I do that, cars coming up behind me pass me on the right and in at least two cases on the left in the opposing lane.
As I cycle every metre/yard is thanks to my own will power and personal exertion, not thanks to some petrochemical pathway to climate warming. Just me. Cars are zipping by me all the time and I’m not going to win any races. Isn’t it fair that I take advantage of that superior flexibility allowing me to pass them when I can?
Finally I could say that I have never seen a car queue up behind me when I’m stopped at a stop sign or red light. Never, not once. And if I did queue up behind stopped cars how much do you want to bet there’d be someone beside me at the next opportunity? If I did it ‘properly’ and ‘took the road’ by going in the centre of the lane do you think the motorist(s) behind me would be any happier? I very much doubt it.
So why do car drivers feel this hypocritical road rage at cyclists who do this? I came up the following possible reasons/motivations:
- the motorist is afraid of hurting anyone not contained in their own half to one ton cocoon of steel
- it’s just not fair
- cyclists are idiots
- the motorist doesn’t like any non-polluting vehicle passing them (and don’t bother bringing up the breathing and/or farting of the cyclist because the motorist is doing that too)
- the motorist isn’t interested in sharing the road
So the answer is no! I’ll keep doing what I’m doing thank you very much.
My wife bought me a fedora as a wedding gift just before we married in 1985 from the Biltmore factory here in Guelph and it has been one of my prized possessions ever since. A loving gift. A stylish and shady gift!
This past Sunday, at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, I was volunteering as the ‘AV’ or ‘Sound’ guy. I had helped the sound company set up the microphones and other equipment that morning and so I was the guy who could solve the problems as they occurred. One of the more complicated sites to set up was the Adisokaun or aboriginal venue because it was long and narrow. So it required extra volume and a special delay speaker set up. So I had to be there when John Ralson Saul and Drew Hayden Taylor began the first session: I had to turn up the volume and make sure it was loud enough.
It was well that I did since neither John nor Drew liked the idea of doing their interview on the platform we had set up. So I brought the mike down and set up their chairs. This was in the glaring stare of the full sun so I offered John my hat when I finished the set up. He accepted and so I have a terrific picture of a great Canadian intellectual and writer, and flashy dresser to boot, wearing my hat.
Afterward, impressed by both of them, I purchased A Fair Country: Telling Truths about Canada and Me Funny at the Bookshelf table afterward and had them both sign their book. John, ever the gentleman, thanked me for saving his life in writing in my copy of his book!
I first heard of Michael Occhipinti through his work on the album Creation Dream – The Songs of Bruce Cockburn wherein he arranged 11 of Bruce Cockburn’s songs in Jazz form. Being such a die-hard Cockburn fan I was impressed with what Occhipinti had accomplished. He’s a gifted guitarist with a generous, dynamic and completely unassuming presence on stage.
This past Saturday I was lucky enough to attend the first part of Michael Occhipinti’s 2pm Sicilian Jazz Project set in the free Jazz tent on Wyndham Street. The roots of this project stem from two sources: Occhipinti’s own search for his roots (musically and familially) in Sicily after the birth of his daughter and a recording of the 1954 field recordings of musicologists Alan Lomax and Diego Carpitella. Michael (electric guitar) was joined by his brother Roberto (double bass), Domenic Mancuso (vocals and classical guitar), Maryem Tollar (vocals), Ernie Tollar (sax), Louis Simao (accordion) and Barry Romberg (drums). They were so awesomely amazing, beyond tight and entertaining to watch, I immediately bought the album when I left the tent.
The gig started with an accapella call and answer song (unfortunately not on the album) called/sung by Mancuso and answered/sung by the rest of the band in what I assume is a Sicilian dialect. He called out names of the players introducing the audience at the same time. Invigorating and an excellent start.
The first band song was called (I think) Chilobe and we were told it was a Tuna Fishing song by Michael. This was done in a traditional jazz form with each band member contributing a part. I enjoyed it but it paled in comparison with the next song.
The Almond Sorters was a song by women in the monotony of sorting almonds on flat pieces of rock. Lomax only recorded a few minutes of an hours long ballad and Occhipinti brilliantly arranges a wonderfully enchanting weave of melodies around the fragment beautifully sung by Maryem Tollar. Michael’s percussive guitar work at one point midway through (different on the album) really grabbed me! As did Ernie Tollar’s sax.
I could only stay for these first three pieces as I had committed myself to volunteering at a community table from the Guelph documentary film festival (Nov 6-8 this year) down the street for the rest of the afternoon. I could only hear a little bit of the rest of his set.
Even though the one-of-a-kind magic I heard at the concert is not what you find on the album I would still wholeheartedly recommend it. I keep playing The Almond Sorters over and over again. Of course, if you have the opportunity to see Michael Occhipinti live you should definitely drop everything to do it.
I will see examples of the arrangement work of his brothers, David and Roberto, on Sept. 26 when my family and I see the Art of Time Ensemble’s Abbey Road concert. Can’t wait!
The Professor’s Daughter published in 1997 by First Second (New York, NY) was drawn by Emmanuel Guibert and written by Joann Sfar. I didn’t find it delighted me as much as Gene Luen Yang’s books from the same publisher. This is a more whimsical topic, of course, and I did enjoy the drawings and water colouring. But I found the story too disjointed: it hopped from point to point with little to connect it or to motivate the reader to care about the urbane protagonists Imhotep IV and Lillian Bowell. Even the very beginning was rushed into from my perspective as reader.
Although very pretty I find this work too frustrating to recommend to anyone but those who appreciate comic drawing and don’t overly care for story.
I found two graphic novels by Gene Luen Yang at my local library and thoroughly enjoyed them both. They were:
- American Born Chinese, 2006 First Second, New York, NY
- The Eternal Smile by Yang and Derek Kirk Kim, 2009 First Second, New York, NY
American Born Chinese is really two stories intertwined in a coming of age tale. The first is that of adolescent Jin Wang growing up in America and, the second, the cultural story of Monkey King and Wong Lai-Tsao. As the title indicates, there is a meeting of America and China in these pages.
The Eternal Smile is three stories assembled together:
- Duncan’s Kingdom is about Duncan and his struggle to extricate himself from fantasy.
- Elias McFadden’s Gran’Pa Greenbax and The Eternal Smile is an intriguing moral and ecological tale. It reminded me of Scrooge McDuck stories. It was sad what happened to poor Filbert and the twins Polly and Molly were interesting characters.
- Urgent Request is quite a different tale involving Nigerian Prince Henry and the resilient Janet. I just wish I could have seen something bad happen to Mr. Hoffman.
Both books are quick reads and recommended, especially the first!
How relaxed can you be with such an undertaking,
so despotic of my time, and sorely attempting?
When the time to heal will stretch on for months and months?
Can it be surprising that my tries feel in the hundredths?
Excitement flares so briefly in my head
that my trudging hardly falters. Instead
I keep starting. Worrying about quality
and freshness fuel procrastination ability.
So why try?
Because it’s worth it. That’s why.
As I’ve indicated before I’m a big fan of Robin Williams so it’s no surprise that when Karen brought home The Final Cut, a 2004 sci-fi movie, I was very interested. Like One Hour Photo, this is a serious Robin performance. He plays a Cutter (Alan Hakman), a man who cuts people’s life memory implant footage to create a flattering portrayal of their lives.
This Zoe implant may sound like a gimmick but the ideal is well fleshed out and then dissected as the plot progresses. There is a group who actively oppose the implant and the ex-Cutter Fletcher (Jim Caviezel) re-enters Alan’s life trying to get the implant of an Eye-Tech lawyer (the producers of the Zoe implant) to try to discredit the company.
It’s an unusual science fiction film as there are so few special effects running the show. They’re there but only to subtly provide authenticity. I have to give Omar Naim full marks as writer and Director for bravely letting the story sit in the driver’s seat to allow such an interesting film. Such a different tack for an American sci-fi movie. This is thrilling and psychological and feels realistic. The plot is complicated (like a good science fiction book) but worth it. It is extremely well acted, too.
The last scene (which I won’t describe as it would be a spoiler) is beautifully done. So Brecht!
Very highly recommended.
The F. Scott Fitzgerald short story The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has apparently little to do with the Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett movie of the same name. I’ve only seen the film (Eric Roth wrote the screenplay with help from Robin Swicord on the screen story) so I can’t say yet but it does look as though the only things preserved from the original Benjamin Button story were the name and the fact that Benjamin grows young. The Wikipedia article seems to indicate that he wasn’t as much of the saint Brad Pitt portrays.
Still, it’s an enjoyable film with good acting by Pitt and Cate Blanchett as Daisy. A historical fantasy much like Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump.
My favourite acting is done by Taraji P. Henson as Queenie of the large heart and Jared Harris as the larger than life Captain Mike.
I really want to read Fitzgerald’s story now but will recommend the movie until then.
Josh Brolin stars as George W. Bush in this Oliver Stone film (written by Stanley Weiser) about the life and times of the 43rd President of the US.
I think it’s an honest and realistic portrayal of a very political man, his family and entourage. There is some brilliant acting here especially from Brolin, Jeffrey Wright
as Colin Powell, Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice, James Cromwell (one of my all time favourite actors) as George Bush Sr., and a truly outstanding performance by Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney.
One of the things that struck me was the interesting comparison between the two Iraq conflicts with both Bush’s and with Cheney and Powell at different stages in their lives. Fascinating to see the similarities and differences depicted. Another was the conversion between the aimless playboy to the born again, Texan man of pure politics. It’s also fascinating to see the American political system with its famous checks and balances being eroded slowly by political megalomaniacs peaking in George W. Bush (we can hope in pray). Those checks and balances were meant by the US Constitutional fathers to prevent tyranny. Nothing’s perfect.
Highly recommended viewing.