The NASA Voyager Recordings
Music and bands are the dullest conversation topics 99% of the time with that 1% for actual musicians and people engaged in courtship seduction rituals. These conversations tend to quickly veer into the realm of status posturing and one-upmanship.
“Oh yeah, well have you heard of this stoner-core, emo, noise, dark ambient, anti-rock, Bolivian band?”
Blah. Who the fuck needs it?
But that said, I feel the irresistible need to share my latest musical obsession with you all: the NASA Voyager recordings. Five hours of pings, whirls, whoops and whistles mixed with persistent hums and the occasional shrill squawk, much of it stemming from non-audio data such as radio waves trapped in a planet’s atmosphere and particles bouncing off of a magnetosphere. Not to mention plasma and other junk distorted by pressures beyond imaging. The audio is actually just a way to make the data comprehensible, much like the colors on most space photography doesn’t exist unless you start fiddling with the data and making radio waves and the like visible.
Anyway, I recommend this stuff and say give it a listen.
And remember the best thing about ambient music, is that even when you turn it off, you’re still listening to ambient music.
Every now and then I think of spending a whole year reading nothing but books on Project Gutenberg. I’m unsure if this would be a great idea or a terrible one. To this end I will download heaps of books and put them on my kindle. This is what happened yesterday, and while I don’t know if I’ll spend a whole year reading Gutenderp it’s likely a lot more forgettable Victoriana and Alexandre Dumas will enter onto my to be read pile.
The picture is from Pappy’s Golden Age Comics Blog. I have dozens of screenshots taken from there. Unfortunately I can’t always remember the artists, so I’m not comfortable posting them. This picture is from this anti-Communist comic. After Comrade Colonel Sanders says this about the old books he burns the Bible.
I finished Gilbert Highet’s Poets in a Landscape. It was pretty great. I recommend it.
It’s the type of book you can read a chapter of and then put aside for weeks or months and then pick up again when you’re on the way to the can or wherever, read another chapter, and continue on this way until the book’s done. It’s a collection of biographies, so it never feels like you missed anything.
Here’s a bit about Nero’s swinging megadungeon:
“What they saw as a labyrinth of rooms within a mound of earth, with tunnels and cells buried deep in darkness and trees growing high above its topmost story, had originally been a large and sumptuous mansion on the street level, open to the air and sky all around, and that it had simply been buried by age, disaster, neglect, and oblivion. They looked at the richly decorated halls, far beneath the level of what they knew as Rome; they saw the elegant and comparatively fresh decorations, satyrs and garlands and wreathed columns, sacrificial emblems and trumpeting tritons; they decided that such fantasies were appropriate for the subterranean orgies of a bad emperor, and that, just as Tiberius had gone to the topmost summit of Capri to indulge his nameless vices, so, Nero, to hide his delights from the eye of heaven, must have buried himself in a subterranean cave, a grotto, secret but brightly lit and brightly decorated.”
Lastly, in all the books I’ve read about Rome’s history (this is three books) there’s always mention of how in the Middle Ages Rome consisted of mostly fortified noble houses from which the nobility would fight one another in the ruins. AND THAT’S IT, like one little footnote. I want to read a book all about that. Seriously. If there was an Osprey Book, Gangs of Medieval Rome, I would eat that shit up.
In other news, Pelican died. I was sad. Now I have to play a paladin. It sucks.
And, Elmore Leonard died, which also sucks. I’ve only read one book by him, though I have a few of his Westerns here on my shelf. His books are one of the half dozen or so ubiquitous ones you find in expat used book store coffee shops.
“Lonely people write letters, so that they can communicate with those whose eyes are turned elsewhere. Often such letters are merely negative, calls for sympathy, cries of despair. Often they are dreary personal reports, tedious self-analyses, lists of miniscule happenings within one tiny system.”
– From Poets In A Landscape by Gilbert Highet (the Horace chapter).
Assorted Game Updates
I’ve been gaming with some regularity. Here are various updates:
In Ur, the party hired a cohort of orc magi and assaulted the ghoul stronghold, where they slew plenty, and one or two of them was nearly slain themselves. They encountered one Helemor the Awakened, but were unable to defeat him. He escaped down to the lower level where strange machines emit eerie lights and a column of pitchlike darkness rises to fill the sky above the complex. They’re peering about, regrouping, and preparing to go below.
Then I started playing in a 3.5 Pathfinder game out in Gyeongju. The game’s a bit more character design oriented than I like, but fun just the same. Here’s Pelican, 16 year old sorcerer, and hillbilly son of a dryad. He likes to burn things for fun and profit:
Next, Dennis ran his own megadungeon campaign and I got to play in that. This game is more my speed with roll 4d6 drop lowest and place in order. In that game, I rolled up a halfling named Paisley Frogsbody, and based him on Glum from the old Adventures of Gulliver cartoon. He’s a hoot to play, and his battle cry is: “I foresee the worst!” So far it has served him well.
Finally, I’m finishing up my summer classes by playing games. I’ve got one class playing Condottieri, and they seem to enjoy it. They know the game’s set in Italy, but don’t really care about Renaissance history. Mostly I’m using it to teach numbers with the lower-level class. What I really like about that game is how it’s simple to learn, but spirals upward nicely in complexity.
My other class I have exploring the Haunted Keep from Moldvay Basic.
No, it’s not actual D&D, but a much simplified creation along the lines of a Fighting Fantasy game or something. I just called it The Ghost Fighter Game, and had them each make a Ghost Fighter. We did character gen one day along with drawing the playing pieces, and then started playing on the other.
They’re my advanced class, and enough of them have taken to it that those not so into it don’t mind getting swept along. They all like rolling dice to open doors, hit monsters, and stuff. Plus it beats memorizing words in English. For my part it’s fun to see them get excited at, well, the exciting parts: can we get initiative and attack first? Who can hit the monster? etc. Two of them are really in character gen and two others are into killing stuff. (The last is just sort of into doing this funny dance whenever she has to roll the dice.) Here’s some of the party:
From left to right, it’s Sparta Ghost Sword, Wolf Girl, Super Blue, and Witch Tiger. Meteor Crocodile, the last party member, can be seen in the other picturet behind Wolf Girl and Super Blue on the left.
That’s all. Vacation begins in 21 hours.
Last Rites Audio
The audio podcast of my story “Last Rites For A Vagabond” is now available at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. It’s 21 minutes long and read by Rajan Khanna. Listen to it as you drive to work, do laundry, or any other task in which you might listen to stories. Ideally, you should listen to it at work, so that way you make money while you listen.
I finally saw Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer, and without so much as a spoiler alert I’ll say it mixes chem trails, John Galt the Social Darwinist, a wonderfully absurd school room scene, lots of ultra-violence, some fey aegyo, Tilda Swinton doing a creepy malevolent Ms. Marple the School Marm impersonation, and a nod to Ursula K. LeGuin’s “Those Who Walk Away From Omelas” all together to make a satisfyingly bleak action picture. Not to mention it has characters who are actually characters instead of character-shaped holes that set pieces go BOOM! around. (*cough* Pacific Rim *cough*)
Hopefully this talk about cutting twenty minutes from the picture’s US release to make it more “understandable” winds up being nothing more than horseshit. Unfortunately I doubt it, and the ending I saw won’t be the ending my friends see back in the USA.
Meanwhile in Ur…
A bumper month for laying about on the couch reading!
1. Mindplayers – Pat Cadigan
In 1955, EC Comics launched a comic called “Psychoanalysis”, and it was pretty much exactly what you’d expect for a comic called Psychoanalysis with a nameless doc talking to people laying on a couch. <i>Mindplayers</i> is sort of like that comic, except it’s SF from 1992, so the psychoanalysis is done via VR you access directly through your optic nerves after you remove your eyeballs. The book has more an episodic than a three-act or whatever structure. I suspect it might be a fix-up. It’s not a problem, but it’s the novel’s style and expectations should be set accordingly.
Also lots of eyeballs get removed and that takes a bit of getting used to.
2. The Glorious Ones – Francine Prose
The Glorious Ones are a troupe of actors made up of archetypes and each tells their story, parading forth their dreams and obsessions. It’s set in 17th century Italy but you wouldn’t know it from reading it. One of those books about stories and the power of stories, probably not for everyone, but a refreshing read just the same largely because it is short.
3. Yellow Black Radio Broke-Down – Ishmael Reed
A pulpy irreverent satire of America’s founding with voodoo priests, drag queen cattle ranchers, nymphomaniacs, beatnik presidents, and the pope – in other words something to offend everyone. Definitely worth tracking down.
4. Status Anxiety – Alain De Botton
I suppose there are some folks out there that object to De Botton’s “pop” philosophical style and shake their heads at his conclusions. I’m not one of those people.
5. Hong Kong – Jan Morris
A fascinating read. I definitely recommend it even though it took me a few months to make my way through it. Hong Kong’s history is depicted in alternating chapters of past and present (1989), and as it is I’m curious if and how Morris has expanded the book in recent years since China regained control of the colony. Morris writes in a Mandarin (in the Cyril Connolly sense), somewhat gossipy style; she seems to know everything about everyone, and in a lot of ways lives up to her description of a student of British Imperialism. In more than a few sections I was reminded of China Mieville’s Embassytown.
6. The Discovery of Witches – Matthew Hopkins
Matthew Hopkins was an infamous 17th century Witch-finder active during the English Civil War who took it upon himself to hunt for witches around the area of Norfolk, all for a modest fee of course. This pamphlet contains the transcript of Hopkins’ interrogation at the hands of magistrates hoping to understand his qualifications. It’s largely a question and answer tract on Hopkins’ witch finding methods and casually brings up torture, imps, and the differences between devil’s marks and hemorrhoids. All in all if the magistrates sought to intimidate Hopkins with their question, they failed, because he turned their questions around and made the whole case an advertisement for his abilities and services.
You can download a copy at Project Gutenberg.
7. and 8. Babel-17/Empire Star – Samuel R. Delany
Two fun reads that play with SF adventure stories and have a neat relationship with each other. In the Babel-17 universe all the characters reference Empire Star and it’s character Comet Jo as he’s sort of the Harry Potter of the future.
9. Elisha Barber – E. C. Ambrose
A historical thriller with magic, warfare, and buckets and buckets of bodily fluids. Elisha Barber can be an exhausting read where all the character spin on their heels and snarl breathlessly instead of speaking. That said, I dug it.
10. Nightside, the Long Sun – Gene Wolfe
I used to make this joke about how I wished more secondary world novels featured mundane details, like, and this was my go-to example, I wanted to see how people bought groceries. Well, I have now read that novel and I liked it.
The whole story takes place over two days in a massive hollowed out intergalactic generation ship where a slum priest learns his parish was sold to a crime boss. The priest decides to break into the boss’s house and talk to him. It’s the dullest heist ever, but it’s pretty great too. Then there’s an exorcism, but before that the priest eats some green tomatoes. Nightside, the Long Sun has to be the most mundane of all mundane SFF novels ever (actually no, that prize goes to China Mountain Zhang). It’s… something. Unfortunately it’s not a stand alone novel.