Book Review: The View from the Cheap Seats

Neil Gaiman is one of those authors that can make any other writer can blanch when comparing their own work with his. From novels and comic books, to even writing screenplay adaptations, he is a highly accomplished author and it would be no surprise if even more of his work was adapted into TV and film in the coming year – I’m already counting the days until American Gods premieres.

I’m breaking into a sweat even thinking about writing a review of of anything Gaiman has written – let alone a book collecting amongst other things his own reviews of other people’s work.

The View from the Cheap Seats is a typical Gaiman creation in that there’s a lot more to it than is evident on a quick peruse. This is one of those collections that you won’t necessarily want to read from from to back in one sitting, and nor do you need to given the varied content broken up into discreet sections. There are reviews of movies, discussions on relationships with other authors and artists, thoughts on science fiction and comics. For mine, the first section is one of the best: thoughts on the importance of libraries, bookshops and Halloween to name three topics. That said, Gaiman’s ability to engage works equally as well in the non-fiction realm and I haven’t been tempted to skip chapters on topics of little interest.

If you’re after a book of essays that are written with skill and passion, then definitely give The View From The Cheap Seats a go. If you’re looking for wild fantasy you won’t find it, but in its place you’ll fine something equally as satisfying.

 

Why We Hate Internet Providers: Example #74737282

Maybe Optus NBN is designed for laptops like this?

Just had to share this:

1. Buy new phone from Optus Store

2. Get phone home and connect it to computer.

3. Message says OS on the new phone is too old to allow transfer of apps / data from old phone backup.

Read: we sold you stock that’s been sitting here a while and Apple have released two updates since then, one of which killed a lot of people’s phone batteries if they dared to use a phone older than the one you purchased today.

4. Start to download update – using Optus NBN Fibre to the Premises 100/40 connection i.e. an NBN connection as fast (and expensive) as you can get in Australia at present.

5. Notice that download is going slow. Stop download and do speed test. Surprise surprise, 4MBps download speeds as has occurred anytime between 8am and 2am the next morning over the past three weeks. Upload speed at 35 MBps.

6. Call Optus. They get me to do a factory reset and allegedly do something their end as well. Now get 10MBps downloads at best. Optus person makes out it’s a great improvement at 10% of what I optimally should be getting (and have gotten close to previously). Am told that there is indeed congestion issues at the exchange , and that they will contact me when resolved (yeah right).

So now I wait for 4 hours to download a software update for an Optus-purchased product on a massively sub-standard Optus NBN connection. Royal Commission anyone?

Oxygene 3: An Unexpected Masterpiece

oxygene3Ahh, sequels. A successful sequel tends to be the exception rather than the rule, let alone a second sequel. Adding to the pressure is the fact that Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene is a seminal work that still has huge relevance today.

When its follow-up Oxygene 7-13 (now renamed to Oxygene 2)appeared 20 years later in 1997, it continued the thematic journey, managing to avoid most of the contemporary fads around more up-beat electronic music. Add a further 20 years and you have this week’s release of Oxygene 3. Even as a rabid Jarre fan*, I was keeping my expectations low. I knew it was impossible to match let alone better the original, but I was hoping for something that was at least a solid, enjoyable listen.

I’m pleased to report that Oxygene 3 is much more than solid or enjoyable. The best compliment I can give it, is that it completes the Oxygene picture in full. It continues beautifully from its predecessor, but even more notable is that it’s a near-flawless transition from the original. If Oxygene 2 had ended up some awful half-attempt mired in late 1990s fads, then this release would have made a perfect follow-up to the original.

There are plenty of healthy nods to Oxygene without being overbearing, but enough new in there to keep things fresh. All the iconic sounds are there without relying too heavily on history. Before completing this review I listened from Oxygene Part 1 to Part 20 and as subjective as it is, it feels like every part is needed and contributes toward the greater work. In that context, ending a trilogy was always going to be a challenge, but in Pt. 20 I’d argue Jarre has found the right balance between grandeur and the personal journey it’s been for him and all of us who’ve been along for the ride.

The optimist in me hopes for a second trilogy – the crackling flames at the very end of the album shows the fire is still burning. The pessimist in me however, can’t see how that would be anything but a road to ruin. So it’s best probably to see this as the end of an era. If you’re new to Jarre, you’re probably best to start with the original instalment, although this release can stand up on its own merits. For those who have been there for most or all of the last forty years, Oxygene 3 may not fully match your expectations but I’d argue it goes as close as it’s possible to in that regard. This album can stand tall in a small room of admirable, substantive sequels.

*My appreciation of Jarre’s work started in 1983, as a high-school student in a drama class. We were doing some sort of relaxation / visualisation session, all of us lying down on the carpeted floor, with lights off. The ‘Drama’ room had had all its windows blacked out and the walls also painted the same colour, the only other customisation a Yamaha stereo system with pretty decent speakers mounted on the wall. On this day, the Drama teacher asked us all to close our eyes and then he played the first couple of tracks from Oxygene. To say it made an impression was an understatement. Since then I’ve bought pretty much everything Jarre has released and even spent a fruitless couple of years trying to chase him down for an interview.

New iDongle Universal Adapter

With the mission Apple is on with removing as many ports from their products as possible, it’s time for a universal adapter to make everyone’s life easier:

idongle-apple

 

Cyndi Lauper As You’ve Never Heard Her Before

cyndi_lauper_-_i_drove_all_night_-_youtubeI’ve been a fan of Cyndi Lauper’s for more than thirty years and over that time it’s been amazing to watch how she’s continued to go from strength to strength.

Her voice is as brilliant as it’s ever been and it got me thinking. I saw someone had done a 33rpm upload of Dolly Parton’s Jolene and I immediately wanted to try the same with one of Cyndi Lauper’s songs. And what a gem it’s turned out to be.

Check out I Drove All Night on vinyl at 33rpm.

What do you think? Would love to hear your thoughts

Review: Hole In Your Pocket – The Panics

562871_5f525ddd5b5c43b78b6c255a2e7ab09bmv2_d_2000_2000_s_2I don’t know what it is specifically about WA-bred bands, but they know how to write some big songs.

As someone who rates The Triffids as one of the best bands to ever come out of Australia, I’m more than willing to put The Panics in that company. And they’ve produced enough great songs to give Born Sandy Devotional one hell of a run for its money. Yes that’s a big call but i stand by it.

Hole In Your Pocket is the fifth album from The Panics and it’d be unfair to say they’ve hit their stride as that arguably happened more than five years ago. This album is polished without sounding self-assured and passionate without being florid. Cinematic is a term often applied to this group and it’s for good reason – the scope of these songs vary but they all feel like significant events.

Highlights for me are Carparks of Greschen, Not Apart, Not Together and the first release from the album, Weatherman. That said, at nine songs the album has no flab anyway so it’s an academic exercise finding outright favourites.

If you’re after fist-pumping four to the floor rock then look elsewhere – although this outfit are no slouches in the live arena either from the couple of gigs I’ve seen. They’re about to hit the road in coming months in support of the album.

If you like some real meat on the bones of your rock music, then you may just want to check out Hole In Your Pocket and pretty much every other release from these guys.

Check out Weatherman right now:

The 2016 Hugo Awards: An Overview

Introduction___The_Hugo_AwardsThe Hugos are on again, and I’ve managed to read the novels. The range this year is varied, with series science, high action fantasy, and completely original takes on old themes on the nomination list.

First of all, I have to say that I have avoided getting into the problems that the various puppy groups have bought to the Hugos. It’s not a question of do I think they are right or wrong – personally, the points that they bring up about the direction of the genre prove we have a  living genre that is always evolving.  Instead, I have taken each book on its merits and have been impressed this year with the overall quality of the writing. If this was an award based entirely on writing ability, the decisions for those voting would be difficult given the high level of writing. What I did find was five varied novels, although this year the nominations seemed to lean towards fantasy, with three of the five in that setting. It was the settings that impressed , be it the steampunk of the Cinder Spires, the barren rocks of the Fifth season, or Russian folklore of Uprooted, all three are good fantasy novels, and were reading time well spent. Leaving Ancillery Mercy and Seveneves.

 Ancillery Mercy, the closing of a trilogy, continued to an ending that was nice and clean. Seveneves was a wonderful, well-written book, let down by a final act that could have been removed without ruining the novel.

So which is the best? I looked back at the previous winners, and those that I have read. It seemed to me that the Hugo award should go to a novel that was original in content, with well written characters, and taking place in a possible world that made sense within itself and presented the reader with some wonder.

This narrows possibilites down. Uprooted, The Fifth Season and Seveneves seemed to fulfill these criteria the best.

Which makes the final cut difficult. Which one will win? Often, it appears winning the Nebula is pretty good indication of Hugo results, in which case, Uprooted would the be pick.

However, after reading it, my mind keeps coming back to the images that Seveneves  put in there. The cramped living quarters so close to the vastness of the universe, as well as the science it explained along the way. This was a novel that extrapolated the current situation, and made it credible. In terms of a science fiction novel, this one fulfills all the needs that we have when we read one.

Which is why my personal feeling is that Seveneves should be the one to win the Hugos this year.

Review: The Cinder Spires – The Aeronaut’s Windlass

jim-butcher-aeronauts-windlass-cover-530x800Jim Butcher does fantasy and does it very well. In The Aeronaut’s Cutlass, Butcher shows how well. In the fantasy world he sets up, the population live in a number of spires which are accessed through airships.

Once this is set up, the action starts, as an attack is launched between two spires, and the pace barely slows from there.  In a fantasy novel, the setting is the major thing. The steampunk setting is very well realised with the information dumps and techncal details kept to a bare minimum. The canvas for the story is  easy to picture thanks to Butcher’s descriptions. What I found interesting was that I saw all this in an Anime setting, which is not something I usually do.

Caught up in all the action are spire guards, half crazed magicians, intelligent cats, and a disgraced air ship captain. The characters that we meet are all so very confident of themselves and of those around them, which results in not much personality depth. However, given the fun that this book is to read, it can be quickly forgiven. This is the first book of a series and sets the tone and the world very well. With the high adventure and enjoyable characters, this novel would not be out of place sitting next to your David Eddings.

Review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

sevenevesThe name of Neal Stephenson is one that has come across my desk and various internet feeds over the last couple of decades, and was always on my to do list. With his newest novel, Seveneves, I get to tick that box.

Stephenson starts the novel with the moon being destroyed. After that, things get worse. With characters based on Neil Degrasse Tyson,Elon Musk and Hilary Clinton, you know that things are going to be interesting. This is certainly true during the first two thirds of the book. As the human race deals with the consequences of the explosion, characters appear that are well developed, as is the habitat they now live in. There are sections here where Stephenson’s descriptions are so good, you start to feel the claustrophobia, smell the unclean people, and see gaunt figures moving around. That’s not to say that is entirely engrossing. To start with, there are information dumps on orbital mechanics; if you were looking for a primer on the subject, this would be a good place to start.

It is the ending where this novel is really let down. If a reader was to close the book and walk away before the final act, they would end with an ambigious ending that would have made this story a near perfect science fiction novel. Instead, we get this last act which feels almost tacked on. While it is interesting, it felt unnecessary.

If you are looking for a piece of hard science fiction, this would have to be one of the best examples around at the moment. It extraplolates current science and throws in some well developed characters, but is disappointed by its final act.

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

us-uprooted-e1433948641794When a novel starts with a dragon taking a girl, you may begin to suspect that you are about to slip into a few hundred pages of cliches .

In Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, you can feel at times that this is the case. Novik draws on Eastern European mythology for the framework of this story, and this was helped by the narration on the audio book by Julia Emelin’s accent. Given how many tropes are floating through the book – village girl plucked from mundane life, powerful wizards,  an ancient evil that must be defeated – it is very easy to see where this book is going to go.

Don’t let this dissuade you though. By not having to spend as much time on the story, Novik is able to spend more time creating a unique world , which becomes very vivid. Given the story, there are milestones that are expected to be reached, and the reader is guided to each as the main character grows from the simple village girl to where she’s gotten to by the end of the novel. Along the way, characters are introduced and developed with the care that is required for you to really feel for them. This is where Novik is at her best. Despite feeling that this story is familiar, I found myself caring for these people, and any interruption to the audio presentation was seen as annoying .

Overall, for those who enjoy a rip snorting fantasy that’s light on the politics but has a  coherent mythology, then this one’s for you. And it’s contained in a rarity for the genre – a single book.

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