Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Archive for April 21st, 2009

‘Froggies’ by Laura Whitton

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It is some sort of cruel joke putting this straight after Le Guin’s story and Sarrantonio manages to contribute his worst introduction yet: he slaps himself and Dan Simmons on the back for discovering Whitton whilst pretending not to and at the same time simultaneously over-praises and denigrates her work. According to isfdb this was both her first and last published story.

In contrast to Le Guin, Whitton puts her xenoanthropologist centre stage. Unfortunately Jo-ann, her main character, is possibly the worst xenoanthropologist imaginable. Advanced life has been found on a new planet but apparently this species shows no sign of intelligence so the whole planet has been handed over for mining to the company that discovered it. Jo-ann sets out to prove the species are intelligent after all. (How she manages to get to another planet and set up her research centre without any apparent backing is never explained.) Her methods are even more baffling. The warning signs that she is not perhaps the most serious researcher are there from the beginning with the fact she is happy to call them Froggies. This doesn’t prepare the reader for the fact that she then kidnaps a Froggie and raises it as her son. “The ethics panel would have a field day with her methods.” No shit.

The Froggies are intelligent and quickly learn to speak English. Rather bizarrely this is not considered evidence of intelligence, that would supposedly only be proved if they had their own language. Again, this is never explained nor is it made clear how an alien species can seem entirely unintelligent to a trained xenoanthropologist survey but quickly learn English after being given a hug.

Somewhere in this mess there is some interesting stuff about how the Froggies perceive the world in their natural state. Mostly this is lost by the stupidity of the story.

Quality: *
Shiftiness: **

Written by Martin

21 April 2009 at 15:16

Posted in sf, short stories

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Howl

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Chino, a maximum security prison, was where convicts were evaluated and assigned to the most suitable prison to serve their time. On his third day at Chino he was sent for the mandatory psychological assessment and presented with a set of tests. A significant part of those, he was shocked to realize, had been written by himself, 14 years earlier, when he had been one of America’s leading psychologists […] The completed tests clearly showed, to the surprise of anyone who had read newspapers during the previous decade, that Dr. Timothy Leary was docile, conformist and meek. He was, the paperwork insisted, in no way an escape risk, and no one was prepared to argue with the paperwork.

Jon Evans has been reading I Have America Surrounded: The Life Of Timothy Leary by John Higgs.

The local authorities initiated a zero-tolerance policy with the ‘long-hairs’. Scores of arrests followed, as did many allegations of beatings and police brutality. People were arrested for jaywalking. Laws against riding skateboards were introduced and enforced. A ‘Gay Squad’ was created to entrap homosexuals. According to Rolling Stone [ed. note: in an article by Joe Eszterhas, who would go on to script Basic Instinct and Showgirls], other measures to defeat the menace that were raised at council meetings included permanent police barricades on both of the roads into town, the dynamiting of the caves in Laguna Canyon where the hippies were believed to hang out, and the mandatory removal of vocal cords of all resident dogs at birth to prevent the hippies from using guard dogs to alert them to police presence. A local columnist even went as far as to argue for conditional use of permits for the building of sandcastles. “No sandcastle may be built if the shape deviates from the established norm of sandcastle construction,” he proposed. “A copy of the norm is on file with the chief of police.”

Written by Martin

21 April 2009 at 15:14

Posted in books

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‘The Building’ by Ursula K Le Guin

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This is the sort of anthropological science fiction Le Guin is famous for and this is a particularly good example. Our unknown narrator sits outside the story reporting the evidence to us in a voice that is both scholarly and companionable:

I am not comfortable with the phrase “specific obsession,” but “cultural instinct” is worse.

That “obsession” is to build the Building, a gigantic ever-growing stone structure that is thousands of years old. There are no characters, just the warm, academic voice of the narrator half-explaining, half-tasting the culture. Excellent stuff.

Quality: ****
Shiftiness: ***

Again Sarrantonio uses the introduction as an opportunity to inform us that all he is really interested in is good storytelling and this is a virtue above all others for writers. He tells us nothing of the story itself. I am begining to think I should just skip these.

Written by Martin

21 April 2009 at 10:49

Posted in sf, short stories

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A Free-Thinking Pecker Like Bonnie Old Me

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Will Oldham is an awkward bastard and I love him for it. His band (including double bass and fiddle) clump in the middle of the stage whilst he prowls around the edge. He has no idea what to do with his hands. The music is relaxed and playful though.

This was a much better gig than last time I saw him. Obviously it leaned strongly towards the more recent material which is good because Beware feels like an album that wants to be performed live. The barnstorming instinct to progressively increase the tempo is sometimes a bit wearing but generally suits. This more straightforward country approach works surprisingly well for the songs on The Letting Go too, rendering a melancholy bunch of songs into something much more forceful.

Moving further backwards through the catalogue means greater re-invention of existing material. We get a good chunk of Ease Down The Road which includes a manic thrash through Sheep and a mournful waltz through Grand Dark Feeling Of Emptiness but also some more indifferent overhauls. Even further back and there is breath-taking version of I See A Darkness which is one of the few times he embraces the stripped down sound of a lot of his recorded music. All in all it was a whirlwind tour through a very diverse collection of songs played in a pretty diverse range of styles.

(The less said about Susanna, the support act, the better. The lead singer had a decent set of lungs but no idea what to do with them and all three played their instruments like they were wearing gloves and performing at a funeral. The highlighted their deficiencies with a leaden version of Oldham’s Joy And Jubilee and what was pretty much a massacre of one of my favourite songs, Who Knows Where The Time Goes?)

Written by Martin

21 April 2009 at 01:20

Posted in music

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