Thursday, January 24, 2013

Lineup is out. I have notes

That's right, the Coachella lineup was released about 20 minutes ago, so like the good little obsessive fangirl I am, I have THINGS TO SAY

click to make legible
For those of you wondering how my wishlist panned out (aw, thanks!), I made it easy for you:

YES:
  • Bat for Lashes
  • Yeasayer
  • Grizzly Bear
  • Grimes
  • Janelle Monae
  • the xx
  • Paul Oakenfold
  • Sigur Ros
NO:
  • Garbage -- No! This was a serious missed opportunity, I think. They just reunited and released an album; this should have been a no-brainer.
  • Friendly Fires
  • Glitch Mob
  • HAIM -- Another huge missed opportunity. An indie group out of Los Angeles that is starting to get huge buzz should have been an easy get for Coachella.
  • Gabriel and Dresden
  • Royksopp
  • Massive Attack
  • School of Seven Bells -- This wouldn't have been an obvious choice, I don't think, but they had a new album out this year...
  • Dash Berlin
  • The Knife/Fever Ray -- I would have called this a long shot, except that Primavera Sound festival just announced their lineup and The Knife was on it! So I actually started to get my hopes up that this was actually a possibility for Coachella. Bummin' now.
  • James Lavelle
  • Pendulum
  • Monst
  • Burial
  • The Antlers -- I also think this should have happened, since they had a new album too.
  • Ladytron
  • and, of course, though it will never happen... Daft Punk -- It didn't happen, so no shit
Also excited about: Bassnectar, Metric, Four Tet, Phoenix, New Order, Moby (!!), Tame Impala, Dead Can Dance, La Roux, Adrian Lux.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Book review: Your Voice in My Head by Emma Forrest

Goodreads: “Emma Forrest, an English journalist, was twenty-two and living in America when she realised that her quirks had gone beyond eccentricity. A modern day fairy tale of New York, Your Voice in My Head is a dazzling and devastating memoir, clear-eyed and shot through with wit. In a voice unlike any other, Emma Forrest explores depression and mania, but also the beauty of love—and the heartbreak of loss.”
 
Wow, this book, you guys! I honestly really loved it, but probably in that way that, much like the list of movies that once appeared on Pajiba, I’ll still never want to read it again. It is painful and heartbreaking to read Forrest’s account of her depression and loss, and a lot of it hits really close to home. Amazingly, she accomplishes this emotive clarity without being overwrought or histronic, even when recounting subject matter that drew her close to suicide.

I was really worried that a memoir from a young 30-something about depression would come off as self-indulgent and pretentious. In truth, based on other reviews, people have felt that way about it; however, I didn’t sense that at all. For one thing, it helps that she didn’t try to tell her entire life story — mostly, the book focuses on the fallout from a particular set of events in her life. Of course, much of the book sets the contexts for and leads up to this moment, but it never feels like she’s trying to give herself or her life more significance than she’s earned. Forrest seems to have a remarkable sense of humor about herself, even regarding her darkest moments, and despite the subject matter, she tells her tale with an ounce of levity. I’d imagine a book like this coming out of a roundtable discussion between Frank McCourt, Sylvia Plath, and Nick Hornby.

In short, I really enjoyed this book, despite it sometimes being gut-wrenching and sometimes wanting to read it through my hands covering my eyes. It stops just short of being a ‘five-star’ book, but that’s mostly because that rating is for books I’m likely to want to read over and over again. As much as this was a great read, it’s too emotional to want to go there again.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Where are you, Coachella lineup?

In years past, before Coachella released their lineup, I wrote up a quick wishlist of bands I hoped would be there. The lineup should be out by now, but since it's not, I'm going to sneak in my list and revisit it when the lineup is released.
  • Garbage
  • Bat for Lashes
  • Friendly Fires
  • Yeasayer
  • Glitch Mob
  • HAIM
  • Grizzly Bear
  • Grimes
  • Janelle Monae
  • James Lavelle
  • Pendulum
  • the xx
  • Gabriel and Dresden
  • Royksopp
  • Massive Attack
  • School of Seven Bells
  • Dash Berlin
  • The Knife/Fever Ray
  • Paul Oakenfold
  • Monsta
  • Burial
  • The Antlers
  • Sigur Ros
  • Ladytron
  • and, of course, though it will never happen... Daft Punk

Thursday, January 17, 2013

My winter 2012-2013 playlist

It's been awhile since I've done a music post, since I relegated all of the songs of the day over to Tumblr, which is much more suited for short brain queefs than Blogger is.

But lest you think I'm all books and angst all the time, fear not; I'm still equal parts books and angst and music, and as such I decided to put together a little playlist that encompasses the songs I've been pretty obsessed with for the last few months. And when I say obsessed, I mean obsessed -- like, play it again I'm not sick of it yet obsessed.



A bit more about this playlist -- it's mostly electronic, and mostly, hm, introspective? The energy level definitely changes, since realistically it's more of just a collection of songs I really like lately than a cohesive playlist. But yeah, if you want in my mind recently, here you go.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Book review: Foundation + Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov

I’m sorry SF fans. I’m well aware that the Foundation trilogy is classic, seminal, well-loved SF, and the Hugo “Best Series of All Time” and all that… but I didn’t like these books at all.

In a very quick summary, the trilogy concerns the establishment of the Foundation, which was apparently conceived as a scientific enterprise tasked with documenting all of the knowledge of the galaxy in a Galactic Encyclopedia. Shortly after its initial settlement on a remote planet, it is revealed to Foundation scientists that the true purpose of the Foundation is not, in fact, simply to create the Encyclopedia, but rather to develop into the new dominant political power that will supplant the current failing Empire. The majority of the books chronicles a series of “crises” that the Foundation must overcome in order to achieve the predicted political goals of the Foundation founder and lead the galaxy out of centuries of “barbarism.”


I need to clarify quickly that I only read the first two books in the trilogy, Foundation and Foundation and Empire. I was just not enjoying them and didn’t want to trudge through the third. Both books (and the third as well, from what I’ve heard) are actually composed of short stories, which chronologically detail the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the crises and how the Foundation pulls through them. Because this is going to be a mostly negative review, I’ll start by saying what I did like. First, the world-building is first-rate. Secondly, the concept of “psychohistory,” the scientific art that propels the story, is pretty cool. I’m grabbing this directly from Wikipedia, since several editors have spent — I’m sure — painstaking hours perfecting this short definition, and it’s better than I am likely to do on my own: psychohistory is “a concept of mathematical sociology (analogous to mathematical physics). Using the laws of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale; it is error-prone on a small scale. It works on the principle that the behaviour of a mass of people is predictable if the quantity of this mass is very large (equal to the population of the galaxy, which has a population of quadrillions of humans, inhabiting millions of star systems). The larger the number, the more predictable is the future.”

In practice, what this means for the story is that a premier psychohistorian has mapped out the future of the Empire and the Foundation and has foreseen the crises that the Foundation will need to overcome in order to assume its rightful place as the dominant power in the galaxy — and that brings me to my first complaint, which, as it turns out, was apparently something that Asimov himself had anticipated when writing Foundation. Though the *idea* of psychohistory is a pretty significant contribution to our collective imaginations and the SF canon, it’s application here makes for a pretty clinical, repetitive story that lacks true conflict. Because we already know that the Foundation will emerge from the predicted crises, the crises themselves fail to hold any weight. The stories add up to “Oh no! Something bad is happening! This must be a crisis!” “Fear not, I am here to play the role of the clever hero in this tale, who will outsmart our opposition and secure victory for the Foundation!” “Oh, whew, that was a close one!” over and over again. While it’s momentarily fun to read the exact way that said hero overcomes the crisis, it’s expected. As a reader, I felt no tension, and considering the high drama of terming these obstacles “crises,” I’d like to experience a bit more of that drama for myself.

Asimov altered the formula a bit in Foundation and Empire with the introduction of The Mule, a character who alters the predicted the course of the galaxy, since his role in everything was not foreseen by the initial psychohistorian-puppetmaster. Unfortunately, even though the second novel does end up dealing in that kind of suspense and uncertainty I was hoping for from the first, I was already so tired of what I felt to be a formulaic — and frankly kind of boring — experience that I just couldn’t continue, despite the novel ending in a very unresolved place.

My other major complaint — and I’m sorry, because I know this is a more modern concern to impose on a novel of this time, but I just can’t help it — is holy shit, where are the women? When I complained about the sexism in Stranger in a Strange Land, back when I reviewed it for CBR4, what I didn’t realize at the time was that, apparently, I should have been pleased that Heinlein even bothered to include women at all! There is one woman in Foundation, and if I’m remembering correctly, she appears for about 1 page to nag at her husband and get all moony-eyed over some jewelry. And that’s it! So like I said, I guess I should have given Heinlein credit for bothering to remember that women exist, even if the way he wrote them was colored by his time. I know people will always gripe that feminists want to shoehorn women into places where they aren’t appropriate, but I can’t help but wonder why these people have the imagination to accept human civilization across a galaxy, with such cool inventions as nuclear reactors that can be worn around the wrist so as to give someone a personal deflector shield, but something like including a few women here and there (which is actually pretty realistic, hello) absolutely runs up against the edge of the fantastical things we can create. We do get a significant female character part of the way through Foundation and Empire, and though she’s exactly the kind of woman I would have expected from this book — somebody’s fancy, emotive wife, with a powerful maternal/protective instinct — I was happy to have her after 500 pages with almost nary a lady in sight. (Okay, Beyta becomes more interesting right at the end, but for most of the book, I feel my assessment is accurate, if harsh.) So, like I said, I know it may not be exactly fair to hold this book to my more modern standards, but it’s my review, damnit, and this kind of stuff is seriously distracting and alienating for me. And it’s also bullshit, quite frankly, because literature from times much earlier than Asimov’s manages to include more than one gender without patronizing them, so I reserve the right to be not impressed.

So, all of that goes to say, I’m sorry world, but Foundation wasn’t for me. I’d like to say that I can kind of understand why it has the reverence that it does, but honestly, I don’t really get it. Even if I put aside all of my lady-concerns, the completely formulaic nature of the first book (and half of the second) have me scratching my head as to why this is still considered the be THE BEST of sci-fi. It would be one thing for people to say “This was great at the time, but it hasn’t aged well,” but it seems like Foundation still tops a lot of best-of lists, and, well, I’ve read a lot better.

Book review: Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Goodreads summary: “Humanity has colonized the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond – but the stars are still out of our reach. 

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations in the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, The Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why. 

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to The Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that the girl might be the key to everything. 

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

Read a review for this on CBR4, and thought “Aha! A space opera! I MUST read this!” I was not disappointed. Main complaints first: it was a bit unnecessarily long. There were a few chapters that, in my eyes, advanced neither the character development nor the plot. Also, and this may have been just my personal preference, but I was a lot more interested in the Holden chapters than in the Miller chapters. I’ve heard the “former superstar detective fallen from grace” narrative enough times at this point that Miller is essentially a stock character, so while I appreciate the effort to give him dimension, those parts of the story dragged in the first half. Finally, I felt that the dialogue was a bit rote and sometimes lacked finesse. To be fair, though, that’s kind of a snooty criticism, because my impression is that our main characters are mostly working-class, and more to the point, they are “Belters.” Whether raised in the Belt or relocated there, the people are depicted as being generally rough around the edges and not overly concerned with Earth and Mars standards of decorum.

All that said, I still raced through this. The book had a lot to balance: politics between interplanetary governments, sociological considerations among humans who’ve adapted to different planets, interpersonal relationships, and the central mystery that drove the plot forward. For a “space opera,” the scope here is still relatively small; everything takes place within our solar system. I found this intriguing, as it suggested at a plausible less-distant future. Idiomatic and physical differences between planetary “races” are given consideration as to how the characters interact and perceive each other, and there are realistic (and relevant) discussions of the effects of different levels of gravity on the human body. Though sci-fi is often allegorical, with its more imaginative events and concepts paralleling our real-world issues, this book felt even more immediately relevant.

Leviathan Wakes is equal parts noir, horror, science fiction, and classic drama. It doesn’t shy away from gruesome description in some parts, and it depicts a range of realistic human responses to the atrocities portrayed. I also, personally, enjoyed the gender politics. A lot of the “classic” sci-fi falls really short in this aspect (see: my upcoming review for Foundation) and is, unfortunately, a massive obstacle in my overall enjoyment. I mean, you create this whole universe and can’t imagine equality in it? But I digress; Leviathan Wakes avoids similar pitfalls. Overall, I’d recommend this. I think it’s great modern sci-fi, and I understand that (like everything else) it’s part of a series, so I’ll probably be picking up the next installment.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Book review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Amazon summary: “On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? 
 
As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?”

This book was fantastic. The pacing was spot-on, the plot fascinating and realistic, and the characters are… well, they are something to behold. I really want to avoid spoiling it, so I’m going to put the rest of this review behind a cut. I’m still not going to include any obvious spoilers, but I will be talking about the characters in a way that requires having read the whole book to come to the conclusions I did — so. Click through at your own risk!

Note: The start of 2013 marks the start of the Cannonball Read V, which is the newest edition of the read-a-thon I participated in last year! So expect to be seeing the reviews again regularly, since I'll be back in the swing of things.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy 2013...

Symbolic of nothing outside of its exact context, this is an accurate representation of my NYE weekend...