Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Blind Lake

As aforementioned on this blog, I wanted to give Robert Charles Wilson another try. I was dazzled by his earlier novel The Chronoliths, by his clever and subtlety, and the clearness of his prose. With that in mind, I took it upon myself to read Blind Lake, and here is what I thought of it.

At Blind Lake, there is a vast and inscrutable machine that used quantum computing to derive an image from an obsolete satellite array. That image is of an alien subject, living on an alien world, hundreds of light-years away. There is a whole community built around this machine, a whole town, populated by laypeople and scientists, among whom number Ray, his ex-wife Marguerite and their daughter Tess. However, something happens, and the whole town goes under lockdown, no one in or out, save for automated supply trucks. Any attempt to leave results in death at the hands of programmed drones. But something is happening down in the machine, and something is happening with the alien subject. Could all of this be related?

Just like in The Chronoliths, the synopsis is beguiling and misleading. This is a novel both about what I just summarized, and not about it at all. At the top, it is a character study of a cast of normal humans thrust into a stressful and dramatic situation. It is also a very careful study of the Uncertainty Principle - one cannot observe something without changing it irrevocably.

I absolutely adored this novel and I read it in a matter of days. Wilson's characters and prose are textbook perfect. This is obviously a novel carefully designed, and has gone through a million drafts. The craftsmanship is obvious from the onset.

What elevates this novel beyond simple science fiction thriller is the clear warm love of pure science, of observation, testing, experimenting, hypothesizing and tentative conclusions, with never a chance for a definitive answer. Wilson's scientific thesis reminds me sort of Dan Simmon's extraordinary Hyperion Cantos, in which the "villains" of the piece turned out to be godlike machines with power over time and space, a consciousness so alien that any attempts to understand would be the definition of futile.

Wilson's (and Simmons') concept that alien consciousness is exactly that, alien, is a theme used by Stanislaw Lem, and Wilson uses that theme expertly. As mentioned above, this novel starts out as one thing, the observation of an alien who could possibly be understood, and ends as something else entirely, something much bigger and deeper and unfathomable.

This is proper science fiction. Blind Lake deals with some of the most tried and true concepts from its genre, and without a twist. This is pure distilled and refined speculative fiction, written with grace and careful consideration, and it shows with every single page.

However, all is not perfect with the novel. There are a couple missteps. Certainly the climax could have used a bit more... well... something. I wasn't sure I had reached the climax until it had abruptly ended. The seemingly unstoppable buildup to the end fizzled out and left me slightly disappointed.

The climax of Blind Lake does not mar the reading experience I had. Wilson's prose, characters, science and speculation are clearly birthed from intelligence and a very strong understanding of stories. In fact, stories and narratives become a part of this novel, in a very human way. I absolutely loved reading this book, and I cannot wait to read my next Robert Charles Wilson novel.

Which is in queue at the library. To tide me over until I can get my hands on it, I'm thinking of another Margaret Atwood... possibly Life Before Man or Cat's Eye.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Anubis Gates

I couldn't believe it when a found a copy of Tim Powers' long out of print time travel classic The Anubis Gates in a used bookstore. I immediately purchased it, without any hesitation. It was one of my holy grails of out of print books (another being Tom Tryon's The Other) and I was extremely excited to read it.

Brendon Doyle is a professor of poetry, specializing in the works of mostly forgotten William Ashbless. Doyle is offered a job from the mysterious and crazy Darrow, a wealthy man, wealthy enough to have stumbled upon gaps in history that allow certain people to move back and forth in time. But when Doyle is accidentally left behind in 1810, he is thrust into a war of magicians and beggars and doppelgangers and body-switchers. Will he ever be able to return to the present? And who or what controls the Anubis Gates, the gaps in history?

I've read a lot of time travel literature, and this was allegedly one of the classics, one of the best ever written. Unfortunately for me, the excitement and the hype did not live up the book's promising synopsis. I have never been so disappointed in a time travel novel before.

The novel starts off really strong, stranding the main character in 1810 London, but when the rival beggar gangs and the silly Dickensian cliched plucky orphan gets introduced, the plot grinds to a halt, and leaves the protagonist on the run from bizarre villains who aren't the least bit scary.

At that point, Power is creating excitement and suspense while simultaneously world-building, teaching the audience the rules and the history of this world. However, it's boring. Powers' prose is dull, lifeless, and his main protagonist is blank.

When the real time travel trickery happens, the action and interest picks up again. There's a brief literal detour to the 17th century, which is extremely fun, and fulfills the promise of a couple things planted earlier in the book. However, some of the other time travel tricks are painfully obvious to anybody who has read a time travel novel.

Powers' novel is more of a fantasy novel than a science fiction one. The method of time-locomotion is magical in nature, which lends The Anubis Gates a feel of "anything goes" something I'm not really into for time travel stories.

One of the best elements of The Anubis Gates is related to its nature as a fantasy novel. Powers creates a very complete world for his characters, carefully setting out the rules of magic, and all the backstory necessary to understand how high the stakes are.

This could have been so much better. There's a tendency to drop off interesting characters for new ones, never develop them, and return to to the interesting character if only for a chapter. No single secondary character gets a moment to grow or learn. Even the plucky orphan stays the same until the very end of the novel.

The Anubis Gates suffers from poor boring prose, lifeless characters, and a rather bland time travel plot. What few positive things I can say about this novel do not balance out the sheer disappointment that I felt. I don't think this is a case of mismatched expectations, considering the lavish praise heaped onto this novel. It should have been a lot better.

Oh well. In any case, I'm reading more Margaret Atwood right now and more Robert Charles Wilson. I'm about halfway through Blind Lake so I'll be talking about that soon enough. As always, thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Robber Bride

I had been thinking a lot about Margaret Atwood's fiction for the past little bit, thinking about trying another one of her novels, to see if it holds up to the ridiculously high standard set by The Blind Assassin, so I gave one a try, almost haphazardly choosing The Robber Bride, and this is what I thought of it.

Tony is a female historian, specializing in war - Charis is a hippie, thought to be flightly and ditzy but possessing a strong intuition - Roz is an extremely successful businesswoman in a world where female bosses are rare. All three woman are united by Zenia, a mysterious, lying femme fatale who has had dark designs for their respective spouses. After thinking she has died in Beirut, the women are surprised to see her alive and well in Toronto. Has she come for their husbands? Their sons? Their past, present and futures?

This is one of the most readable novels I have read all year. I flew through this 600 page book in a matter of days. It's a page-turner through and through. Luckily, Atwood is able to juggle that sense of airport-fiction with a deft hand at narrative trickery, and profound ruminations on the state of feminism, gender roles, and the war of the sexes.

Atwood's novel is very carefully structured, as I had hoped it would be. Each lead character gets a spotlight, then the sequence repeats, but delving further into the past, and then the sequence repeats a second time, creating an architecture of threes in threes, like a fairy tale, even.

The motif of the fairy tale crops up in each story, in ways of describing the mysterious Zenia, who steals their spouses and high-jacks their histories. Even the title is meant to evoke the concept of a fairy tale.

Suitably, Atwood isn't satisfied with one literary parody. She manages to tackle different modes all in one book. There's the stereotypical Canadian agrarian lit, the kitchen sink realism, and even a murder mystery, which is mentioned by a character, in a metafictional sort of, thus adding another layer. On top of all of this, there's a couple jokes explicitly commenting that this is a pastiche.

Even though she tackles all of these literary modes in one novel, The Robber Bride never comes off being artificial or stiff. Rather, this is an extremely human novel. Atwood handles each and every one of her leads with careful and fair hands, not being too sympathetic, but having a heart nonetheless.

Of each of the women's stories, there were aspects I loved, and aspects I didn't care for. At no point was I dreading a particular sequence. Even the sections with the dippy Charis weren't cringe-worthy as I feared. In fact, they were the most heartbreaking of all the histories.

At the beginning and end of the novel, the historian gets to pontificate on the nature of history, and how arbitrary it is, no real starting point nor end point. The reader is left to decide whether or not Zenia's lies and stories are an attempt to create order from the chaos of reality, like an author's machinations to work a narrative from such different characters and moments and places. Certainly, the grand designs that Atwood have never detract from the humanity and readability of the novel, something not very many authors can pull off.

Overall, The Robber Bride is a masterful novel, filled with suspense, great characters, and some very deep themes. While the book might be a little too readable, the themes and ideas Atwood put forth are deep and thought-provoking. The narrative trickery is as good as I wanted it to be. It isn't quite up to the standard that The Blind Assassin is. That novel seems to be a more refined distillation of the themes and ideas that Atwood has put to use in this novel. However, this is the smallest criticism of a terrific book. I eagerly await finishing my next Atwood novel.

Friday, July 16, 2010


This blog had the opportunity to read J. G. Farrell's Booker-Prize winning novel, The Siege of Krishnapur, and the overall opinion was favorable. Now that Farrell has posthumously won the coveted Lost Booker Prize, I went to the trouble of tracking down a copy of the novel in question. Ha ha ha. Here's my review. 

Major Brendan Archer has been discharged from the military after the Great War, and has found himself engaged to a girl he doesn't really know, living in a grand hotel in Ireland, and when he arrives, he's astonished to find the hotel falling apart, with the owners and guests doing likewise.

Troubles is a rather disjointed novel, not quite as funny as Siege, and not quite as cutting either. The satirical elements aren't biting enough, and the elegiac parts not quite sentimental enough. Farrell is aiming for a very stern position on the ignorance of the British Empire, and he sort of hits the mark, but not strong enough.

Part of what makes this almost great but not quite novel is that it's far too long. Troubles could have been halved, and it would have worked so much better. Often, I felt a scene could have been trimmed or excised entirely, while still getting the point across.

The absolute highlight of the novel comes at the end, when the owner of the hotel decides to throw one last grand ball, and the insane situations that come from it are masterfully hilarious, and pace breathless. It's a fantastic sequence, and one of the best party scenes in a novel that I've ever read.

Just like in Siege, Farrell's prose is crisp and clear, his sense of description excellent, and his dialogue true enough. If I hadn't been so impressed with Siege, I would have called Farrell an acceptable and satisfactory storyteller, rather than a true artistic genius that some critics are calling him.

In spite of these criticisms, I still had an overall enjoyable time reading Troubles. I thought it was funny and pointed, even if it didn't reach paroxysms of hilarity or biting satire. Farrell was an impressive storyteller, and I will continue to read his novels, despite the slight disappointment with this novel. The last available novel by him that I can get my hands on is The Singapore Grip, the finale of his so-called Empire Trilogy.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Novel: A Manifesto

The idea that a novel is a puzzle to be unraveled by the reader is one we don't see enough in fiction. There should be serious work by the reader to unfold and open and see inside the novel, whether this means complex symbolism, rich layered narratives, complicated characters (contradictory like real people), or subtle allegories. I believe that a novel is a work of art that should demand much from their reader.
I know this idea isn't terribly popular. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Jonathan Franzen once famously wrote (I'm paraphrasing) that novels shouldn't punish their readers. There's so much other immediate media out there, that the novel should take that into account. I disagree. I believe the novel owes nothing to the reader other to be a complex piece of art.
One novel that I keep returning to, when I think of almost-perfect novels is Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, which I reviewed here. That simple little review does not do justice to the immensity and girth of the novel's complex narrative. This novel does the most amazing tricks while still being about something. On top of all this, Atwood makes it seem effortless, the true sign of a master.

While the novel should be a puzzle, there should be something worthwhile at its center. If the reader is required to unravel the intricacies of the narrative, the author should reciprocate and have the novel's theme be complex and mature. Why go to the effort of working at a novel if its only concern is to show a good time. There should be a real theme at the novel's core. Any theme will do. The more sophisticated the theme, the better. Even a simplistic notion such as a "power corrupts" is better than plainly having characters run about, talking gibberish.
Returning to Atwood, the themes of The Blind Assassin are multiple. The novel is concerned with the composition of history, actual and self, with the dissimilarity between the sexes, the rise of feminism, and the role of sisterhood, figurative and literal. This only scratches the surface. This novel is dealing with huge themes, and the reader is required to work for them - exactly why this novel is almost-perfect.

Dialogue is absolutely paramount to the effectiveness of a novel. Without realistic or appropriate dialogue, a particular novel is a failure. There's nothing more annoying than coming across a piece of dialogue that could never be spoke aloud.
One of the most well-known rules of writing is for one to say out loud the dialogue one is writing. This way one can hear the believability and flow of the dialogue.
Great authors of dialogue include William Gaddis, Richard Price, Richard Yates, and yes, even Bret Easton Ellis.
There is an exception to this rule, if the dialogue is designed to be unnatural, like in Don Delillo's fiction, for example. That's why I said "appropriate" above.

A novel's length should be proportional to its point. If a novel only requires 200 pages to make its point, then going any longer is a violation. Sometimes, novels need to be over a thousand pages. Sometimes, there is enough plot and enough characters to get across the central theme, and to do so with anything less would compromise the thesis. Long novels are sometimes more highly regarded than shorter novels because they take their time and breath. However, some shorter novels are masterpieces of brevity and economy, something very important to the reader. Their time is just as valuable as the author's - this being in conjunction with the Second Rule.
A good example of a short, but perfect novel is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Could anyone imagine the novel being any longer? It would distract, tire the reader. But The Great Gatsby is absolutely perfect. Not a word need to deleted, nor a sentence added. One can read it in one sitting, and never get bogged down.
On the other hand, an example of a long novel that needs its length is Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. The plot is so utterly complicated, and features two narratives separated by fifty years, that Stephenson needs the 800 pages to plot his pieces across his chessboard. The overall effect is brilliant, and worth the trip. (An even longer example is Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle, with an ending even more satisfying as it unites all preceding 2500 pages)

The novel's job is to provoke thought. First and foremost. No exceptions. Entertainment, frustration, excitement, anger: all of these emotions should be byproducts of the novel's ability to make one think. If when the reader has finished a novel, and spares it not another thought, then the novel has utterly failed. The novel should stick with the reader.

These are five rules that I judge a novel by. I refuse to compromise on these. Notice that no where did I say that a novel should be required to entertain the reader. Sometimes, a work of art has to be unpleasant. Some of the harshest truths are the most painful to understand. But, the novel that exposes me to pain is required to be meaningful.
Unless, of course, the meaning is to be meaningless, which is a true meaning in of itself. That's one of those circular relativistic arguments that I don't much care to be drawn in.
I think some readers are afraid of demanding such things from a novel. They're willing to let a novel just slip past them, airy and translucent, but I am not. Ever since I graduated university, I've been on a mission to challenge my brain. Yes, sometimes I will read pulp, but the majority of novels I read are ones that I hope will make me work.

Right now, I'm reading J. G. Farrell's Troubles, winner of the Lost Booker, and The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood. I'm taking a break from Paul Scott's Raj Quartet, but I'm excited to continue with him. As always, check back with this blog for reviews and discussion of what I consider to be my most important medium of art: the novel.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Jewel in the Crown

I have finally finished the first part of Paul Scott's epic Raj Quartet. I realize it's taken me awhile, but it is a difficult novel, and there's lots to discuss in terms of a review.

On the surface, The Jewel in the Crown is about the rape of an English girl living in a small Indian town by a group of Indians, possibly peasants. Daphne, the raped girl, has been hanging around a young Indian by the name of Hari Kumar, or Harry Coomer, as he was known in England, where he was raised. This relationship is looked down upon by most people, including the malicious police captain, Ronald Merrick, who has designs for marrying Daphne. Unfortunately, Hari is arrested by Ronald for the rape, and subsequently imprisoned, while Daphne and Hari refuse to co-operate in the investigation. Only they know the truth of what happened that night.

This above synopsis is honestly only the sparsest of plot details. In reality, this novel is huge in scope. The evening of the rape, the most important date of the plot, occurs during a mass riot, due to political machinations relating to Britain's rule of India. This riot is examined in minute details from a military, civil, and personal point of view by numerous characters. The events in question are dissected and agonized over again and again, like the novel is a mystery, a whodunit, but the rape is figurative, not literal.

Paul Scott is interested in themes of power, power over race, political power, military power, power over people, and how it corrupts. Ruling India, or ruling anything, corrupts, Scott is trying to say, and he does so in the most sweeping and epic manner.

His skill at employing different voices, different people to paint a mosaic, is unbelievable. Every time I read this book, I was taken to India of the 40's. I was there with the characters, who were real, dynamic, and breathing. This is a masterful creation of characters.

However, the chronology, and the minute attention to detail left me breathless, sometimes. For example, at the end of the novel, when another account of that fateful night is being unfolded, the whereabouts of a bicycle are related to the reader in pages upon pages. The detail was almost too much.

This is facetious criticism considering I've volunteered to read 2000 pages about the same few events told by a huge cast of characters, going back and over everything again and again. An insane level of detail is to be expected.

It seems Scott needs this amount of detail. He is telling a huge story full of emotion, raw and stinging. You can almost feel the bile and disdain that Scott has for the concept of the British Raj. But he never lets it touch the characters. Even the most unsympathetic fellows in the novel are treated fairly by the author. It seems most people are pawns of a larger, more sinister game, one of colonialism and imperialism.

Post-colonial literature is something I've always been interested in, and have taken up once again. With Barry Unger's bitter Sacred Hunger, and J. G. Farrell's Empire Trilogy, this makes an excellent critique of British imperialism, and is an important text in the study of post-colonial literature. This stands as an excellent quintessence of what these authors were doing: a re-writing of history that shows imperialism and colonialism in its true light. I look forward to reading more and learning and engaging with the text.

Other than a small quibble concerning attention to detail, The Jewel in the Crown is a fantastic novel. Paul Scott is interested in huge themes with vast panoramas with multiple characters, and he proves able to do so. However, this novel is only the first of four. He has merely set the stage it seems. Bear with me as I keep going, keep reading.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Review: Bottomless Belly Button

I know that just a couple days ago I wrote a quick diatribe about the state of comics. Well, at my local library, I saw a comic I wanted to read for a long time, but never had the chance, which is Dash Shaw's behemoth called Bottomless Belly Button, and I'm going to review it for you.

Even though the book is about a million pages long, it's really an intimate and sensitive portrayal of the Loony family at one moment in their lives, the weekend that the adult children have been called back to their childhood beach house where their parents announce a divorce after 40 years of marriage. Each of the three children deal with this in widely different ways, and this is the story of that.

While the title is stupendously awful, the comic is actually very enjoyable. Shaw is primarily a cartoonist, it seems, rather than an "ar-teest". His true skill lies in mining emotional territory, and creating absolutely gorgeous character portraits (figuratively). Each character was living, breathing, and feeling. It's a miracle that Shaw pulls this off considering the thinness of the plot.

The cartoony style of the comic added to the overall experience in an abstract way. I feel that if the art had been more photorealistic, I would have hated this. Shaw makes this his own, which is definitely a requirement, again, considering the plot.

I keep mentioning the plot because it seems that Bottomless Belly Button takes its plot machinations from the American indie film textbook, filled with quirky characters, frank sexuality, and a lack of resolution. I feel like I've seen this movie before, to paraphrase Bernie Taupin. However, this doesn't entirely detract from the comic. Any surreal antics or bizarre occurrences would have made the emotions completely obsolete. It's a credit to Shaw that he doesn't indulge in anything supernatural (in the strict definition of the word - not the vampire/ghost sense of the word).

I really liked this comic, but I didn't love it. Bottomless Belly Button conveys some real emotion, and features stunning character building, but the plot leaves me cold. It isn't something one would be desperate to read again. If I had bought this book, I would have been disappointed.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The 10 Best Lost Episodes

Lost can be a frustrating show. For every answer it provides, more questions are asked. Likewise with episode quality - for every awesome moment in a particular episode, there is filler, and often annoying characters, such as Kate. To make a top ten list of best episodes is to judge the overall worth of the given episode. A different list would be made if it was top ten best moments, which might be coming to this blog in the future. Until that day, I give you my personal top ten episodes of Lost.

10 The Incident (season 5)
This is where the Lost writers are strongest, when juggling all the great balls in the air, and still keeping the emotions true. This episode has everything: answers, questions, Jack crying, Sawyer being badass, and a hydrogen bomb. What more could you ask for?

9 Exodus (season 1)
Epic is the word for this episode. When everything goes bad, at the end, on the boat, you know the next season will be crazy.

One of Ben's strongest episodes, one that pays off a scene from earlier in the season, and sets up some great mysteries for the next season, and a better arc for Ben about his daughter. This is an action-packed, explosive end to the best season of all.

Where everybody learns about the Others, and about Michael. Every season finale has moments where Jack says screw it, let's kill 'em all, but this is the ultimate one.

6 Jughead (season 5)
A great time travel story that answers some questions, and poses a bunch more. I like Locke's cavalier attitude to the time travel, just sauntering where he likes and saying what he likes. That's Locke for you.

5 Deus Ex Machina (season 1)
Other than the annoying title of the episode (my ribs are bruised from where the writers have been elbowing me), this episode has an amazing moment at the end, when Locke demands a sign from the island, and is given one. This moment doesn't pay off until later, but it's still great. On top of this, Jack has a fantastic episode.

4 Lockdown (season 2)
Henry Gale turns out not to be what he says he is. Absolutely stunning character moments for Locke and for Ben. This starts their bizarre relationship, and sets in motions a much greater arc.

Balls to the wall action, and the most intense finale in the series' history. Has some fantastic Jack moments, too. 

2 The Brig (season 3)
What clever writers they are. A culmination of both Locke's and Sawyer's arc, this is the episode in which the man from Tallahassee, aka Locke's father, gets his just dessert, but not from who you expect.

1 The Constant (season 4)
Easily the most emotional and stirring episode. This is the one where Desmond goes across time and space to tell Penelope that he loves her. This is how time travel should be handled. The best that Lost has to offer, as aforementioned: clever sci-fi, great emotional moments, and more mysteries than the writers can handle.

There are many awful episodes, though, many episodes filled to the brim with terrible dialogue, predictable plot movements, and nary a straight answer to be had. On the whole, I still love the show. It's certainly not as good as the hype around it, but overall, a better quality show than most of what airs nowadays. 

You know what's a better time travel, mystery show? Life on Mars, the UK version. I'm just about to start watching the follow up series, Ashes to Ashes. I'll let you know how it is.

Monday, July 5, 2010

"Where have you been?" part 2

I haven't posted anything of substance for awhile, and there's a reason for that, I swear. Working the two jobs is hard on my concentration; I can't read as much as I'd like to. However, good news, the two jobs thing is over. I have about a month and half before school starts for me, if I pass my aptitude test this week.

So the question is, what have I been consuming, art-wise, since I last posted. Well, in this mega-post, I'm going to detail them, starting with what my g/f and I watched compulsively.

We finished the fifth series of the revamped Doctor Who series this week. I previously reviewed the first episode, which you can read here, but then we waited until the series was finished transmitting before watching. We stomped through the first half over the course of a couple days, and then gaped slack-jawed over the second half in one day.
Clever is really the only word I can use to describe the series, particularly the finale, which for some bizarre reason is confusing the multitudes. I can't say either the g/f or myself were confused over it. Maybe I'm inclined to understand the various paradoxes and predestination stuff if only because I've read a lot of time travel stories.
The sheer cleverness almost overwhelmed the emotional aspects of the finale, I have to say. I never felt for Amy Pond or the Doctor during the whole escapade. Perhaps with the next series, Moffat won't feel the need to show off so much, and find the balance between Davies' exceedingly emotional writing and Moffat's own inventiveness.

I've been reading, and I'm two thirds done, Paul Scott's The Jewel in the Crown. One of the reasons why it's been so slow going is that I tried reading Gravity's Rainbow at the same time, and that just made things really hard. So I gave up on Pynchon for now. In terms of Jewel in the Crown, I have to say that for a 400 page novel, it feels like War and Peace in terms of size, but in a good way. This is a huge novel unlike any I've read in a long while.
While Farrell's Siege of Krishnapur and Forster's A Passage to India cover some of the same ground thematically, Scott takes a huge panoramic view of the social, emotional, and political problems facing the British Raj in India.
I'll take a deeper critical look once I've finished it, but some quick thoughts about it. The unorthodox nonlinear narrative approach, made up of letters, interviews, third-person omniscient, etc, and the extremely complex chronology make the novel slow going and much more meatier than I had expected, what with my first Scott experience being Staying On, a novel I complained of being "slight". Wow, was I mistaken!
There is a lot being asked of the reader, and I am more than happy to acquiesce to such a request. This is exactly why I read novels predominantly now, rather than comics, because I choose novels that constantly challenge me, and I love it.

In terms of music, I confess I am exclusively listening to cult prog-rock band, Marillion, much to the dismay of my g/f, who is prejudiced against them. I have been listening to them non-stop, from the Fish-led era, consisting of four albums (three of which are standout masterpieces), and the Steve Hogarth-led era, mostly focusing on the three almost-masterpieces, Seasons End, Brave and Marbles (which I can't get enough of).
There's something about the dramatic, complicated longform song structure that I enjoy. Fish's lyrics are dense, allusive, and very literate, while still conveying the emotion intended. Combine that with the musicianship of the rest of the band, particularly the amazing drumming, and you've got a great lineup.
A lot of Marillion fans split at this point, with many continuing the follow the Hogarth version, but with more abandoning them. Hogarth is a weaker lyricist, but a much more contemporary sounding front man, capable of more vocally. Marbles seems to be their masterpiece from this era, a weird ambient lush-sounding double album that demands to be soundscapes like Radiohead. I love it.

That's pretty much it. I have ignored comic books almost altogether. I've read a couple issues of a couple things here and there, but there seems to be a distinct lack of cleverness. Every new storyline being introduced right now, with each hyperbole-filled quote from writers, frustrates me, rather than annoys me.
Superman, a man who can fly, is going to walk across America? That sounds so utterly saccharine and cloying that I cringe just typing about it. Spider-man's deal with the Devil is going to be reset? No shit. Bendis is writing a million Avengers titles about the same pet characters? Again, boring. Geoff Johns, his Green Lantern obsession, and his Silver Age fetish has tapped my patience out.
Don't get me started on Wonder Woman's "daring" new costume change. She looks like the 90's era Superboy.
Only Grant Morrison seems to be doing anything of interest, and I'm just not that interested in Batman's return from the "grave", frankly. It's an instance of the right writer in the wrong story.

But, it doesn't matter. The list of books that languish unread on shelf is increasing, alarmingly. I have J.G. Farrell's other two Empire novels to read, Delillo's Underworld, Wallace's Infinite Jest, and another 1700 pages of Paul Scott to read. I also want to read some more Robert Charles Wilson, who really struck me, and I never kept going with him. So bear with me as I continue to read seemingly random novels and amateurishly review them!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

New discoveries

Here are a couple YouTube videos I've discovered, or been recommended, that I thought were frigging awesome.

Stornoway playing their song I Saw You Blink, part of the Watchlistentell series. Recommended to me by a fellow blogger, booya.

Here's Stornoway's lead single Zorbing (whatever that means) that has an amazing feel to it.

Pomplamoose doing their amazing cover of September. Nataly, the singer, has this amazing old-sounding voice, but I'm pretty sure she's younger than I am.

This girl has done some wonderful covers, but this one is just an improvement over the original, Baby by Justin Bieber, by far. Her voice is far more powerful, and her minimalist arrangements highlight the structural beauty of the song.

Bon Iver's cover of Peter Gabriel's Come Talk To Me, one of my favourite songs of all time. This is part of Gabriel's cover series, which is producing interesting results.