Saturday, October 18, 2014

Lavie Tidhar - Osama A Novel

Just wrote what I thought was a decent review of this book at Goodreads, and given the dearth of new material here, thought I might crosspost, expecially since Goodreads gave me the option of copying my html easily. Fans of music only please forgive, but I'm scrambling for content here, you know?

I recently discovered Tidhar through the new Dozois Year's Best, which included "The Book Seller," a tale told in the author's "Central Station" universe. Dozois describes this universe as being set ". . . during a time when humanity--including part human robots, AIs, cyborgs, and genetically engineered beings of all sorts--is spreading through the solar system."

"The Book Seller" takes place in Tel Aviv, but as I discovered when I went back into previous editions of Dozois' series, searching for more by the man, Tidhar's stories in the cycle are just as likely to be set on Titan, or on one of the moons of Pluto. "The Memcordist," a story I found in Year's Best # 30, itself spans the solar system, and is certainly one of the best sci fi short pieces published this century.

These two, and others, beyond presenting a somewhat outsider (read: non-WASP) view of the possibilities in the sf field (as both reviewers and Tidhar himself will be proud to tell you), are extremely character-oriented. Tidhar presents his evocative world, introduces a character . . . and then not much happens, the author being content to present the character and his history against the multicolor background. Let me stress this is not a flaw. His characters are so good, they even make the intoxicating variegated future he postulates recede a bit.

Was reading comments somewhere, and the commenter compared the Central Station stories to a less-dense Rajaniemi. That may give you an idea, since Rajaniemi would be pretty fantastic if he just knew how to write characters.

Anyway, all the excitement I felt about the Central Station stories drove me in the direction of the author's non-series novel Osama, which very famously beat out works by George RR Martin and Stephen King to win the World Fantasy Award in 2012. Those who know me and have read here know I've got a few opinions on Global Islamic Terrorism . . . so you might find the review/discussion of the book I wrote somewhat surprising.

But then, Osama is a surprising novel, a fantastic one I wholeheartedly recommend. It's about what you think it is, but only partly so. Perhaps what I've written below will give you some additional things to look for if you choose to read it.


The deliberate internet contrarians who are starting to pop up notwithstanding, I think the comparisons to The Man in the High Castle you see in many of the reviews here are dead on.

Joe's reality at the beginning of the book has simply unraveled by the end of it, and if that ain't Dickian, I don't know what is.

I enjoyed Osama more than I enjoy most of PKD's fiction, and the reason is interesting to me. Dick, for all the gobsmacking he does, for all the times when he turns the reader's expectations upside-down in the span of one paragraph, was quite ordinary in plot and in characterization. You might well then say that this sets up the greater contrast for him, and I wouldn't argue, but the fact is his characters are boring. They have boring jobs, they're married to boring wives, they live in boring places.

Well, not so Joe. He's a deadpan drinkin' 'n' smokin' gumshoe in Laos. How about that for exotic? How about that for coolness? It's as if Dick had written his Deckard in the way that the movie did. I've been obsessed with cool ever since I learned how to behave and affect my way out of being the grade school nerd; of course I wanna read about Joe. Shit, I'd love to be Joe. Cheap suit, bottle of Johnny Walker in the top drawer of the dusty desk, and always two packs of smokes at hand, in case you empty the first one.

Of course, there's somebody else who deep down wanted to be Joe, and that's the ur-Joe, the Joe that existed before he became a refugee, or fuzzy-wuzzy. And Tidhar wants the reader to think about that well.

Sure, you've got the gradual unmooring of reality. Sure, you've got the pain of these clinically-described terrorist acts, but Osama is also a rumination on how we'd--most of us--love to re-write ourselves in response to social and literary tropes.

There's another book with the word "Castle" in its title that comes to mind when considering Osama, and that's Lord Valentine's Castle. Silverberg's book begins as the once and future Coronal ascends an overlook. We the reader know nothing more, and neither does the character. Like Joe, Valentine has had the entirety of his life ripped away from him by an act of war, and like Osama, the rest of LVC is concerned with the discovery by the main character that the life he is living is on every level a fabrication.

The only thing is, Valentine, when confronted by the facts, chooses to resume his earlier life. Silverberg's book is heroic fantasy, and what else would a hero do? Full of duty, he (at times reluctantly) reassumes the mantle of kingship, and goes back to who he had been.

But Joe's no hero, and neither are most of the rest of us. At the end of the book, Joe is literally slapped into recognition of his former life by the woman whom he had loved, and still--STILL--he refuses to go back. He'd rather continue playing the hardboiled detective in the tropical paradise.

Of course there are other things going on. Joe's wife was murdered in ways both brutal and clinical, and that's a pain he'd have had to deal with every day for the rest of his life had he chosen a return.

Yet it remains that Joe took the easy and lazy path. He uncovered the truth and ignored it, and I can only assume it was because he liked the fantasy life--the cardboard fantasy character he was playing--better.

You see criticism of Tidhar's characterization in Osama here and there. I find that interesting because his Central Station stories are almost exclusively focused on character, at least given their particular exotic milieu. So, what? Did Tidhar forget his characterization skills for Osama?

Not likely. Instead, I'm sure that he wrote to pulp trope to serve a purpose, to highlight an uncomfortable truth about us: that we'd play a fantasy role, even a stock one, rather than inhabit the well-rounded, if mundane, one we are all heir to.

OsamaOsama by Lavie Tidhar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sunday, October 5, 2014

As A Matter of Fact I Like Beer

Love living on the northwest corner of the intersection of pop culture components. It's not just like that Heavy Metal Burger Joint in Chicago you've heard about*, or like that not-quite-as-cleverly-integrated Death Metal Pizza joint in Austin*. They don't just mix the music with the food, they mix it with the beer, as well. How about that?

One of my errands yesterday was to go down to the Total Wine & Spirits, and pick up a four-pack of the new Fat Head's pumpkin beer for the lovely curvy missus. It's called "Spooky Tooth," and that got me thinking . . . .

Coolest Music-Inspired Craft Beers

10. "Wake Up Dead" from Left Hand Brewing - Russian Imperial Stout
Named of course after the third- or fourth-best track from Megadeth's revolutionary Peace Sells album of 1986, the label of this heavy duty dark bad baby, like several others on this list, has the iconography down pat.

9. "Racer X" from Bear Republic Brewing - Double or Imperial IPA
Might be higher on this list, except I'm not exactly sure that the beer was actually named after the Big Black EP that got the band going on its path to noise-rock greatness. It may have simply been named after the Japanese proto-anime character, you know, Speed Racer's significantly more badass brother. Which would be cool, but not as cool.

8. "Hellhound On My Ale" from Dogfish Head Brewery - Double or Imperial IPA with Lemon

Well-crafted reference to Robert Johnson, don't you think? After letting it sit on our wire shelving rack for three years, I learned to my dismay that "Hellhound" wasn't actually all that great a beer. But the label is beautiful, and throwing some lemon in there and then saying the tart citrus was in honor of Blind Lemon Jefferson was both too clever and just clever enough.

7. "Fade to Black" from Left Hand - Black Rye Ale
More great iconography, and this is in my opinion, the best-tasting beer on the list. It's damn near a classic. The coolfest is tamped down somewhat by the fact that they honored probably the weakest song from Ride the Lighning. If someone out there wants to do a "Call of Ktulu" Cream Ale, I'm right there, dude.

6. "Bitches Brew" from Dogfish Head - Imperial Stout with Honey and Gesho Root
Haven't had this one yet, and got to admit, I'm unsure about "gesho root," but it looks so pretty on the rack with the Mati Klarwein artwork, plus, you know, Miles.

5. "Spooky Tooth" from Fat Head's Brewing - Imperial Pumpkin Ale
I'm not sure the world needs an Imperial Pumpkin Ale. Yikes, 9%. But Beer Advocate gives it an 86, and getting a pointer in to the wiseacres who brought us You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw is nice. Even if not all that many get the rock and roll reference.

4. "Brown Shugga" from Lagunitas Brewing - Barley Wine
Everyone gets this reference, which is, perhaps, to its detriment. How come you taste so good lyrics on the box, for sure, but no Stones iconography, which would have helped hammer it all home. Still, as far as I'm aware, this is the best Barley Wine anywhere, the completely over the top and ridiculous Bigfoot notwithstanding.

3. "Purple Haze" from Abita Brewing - Fruit Beer
Perhaps the most well-known brew I've included in this list, but a review at the top of the page at Rate Beer suggest it's a little "artificial seeming." I would suggest it's sort of like Hendrix' pop-rock work in that it's a bit overrated.

2. "Brother Thelonious" from North Coast Brewing - Abbey Ale

Best taken straight, no chaser, this is a beer so good it gets up from the piano bench and starts dancing around while the rhythm section carries the groove.

1. "Johnny Cask" from Dogfish Head - IPA Blend with Maple Syrup
Actually now simply called "75 Minute IPA" and the whys of it may make an interesting story. It appears some on the internet believe that Dogfish Head may have gotten a cease and desist from the Cash Family Trust. Which is why they put the glasses and bushy mustache on.


*Wait. You mean you haven't heard about that Heavy metal Burger joint in Chicago? (Return)

*It's here. (Return)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

McCartney Forgets Song He Wrote


  Just read on CNN that Paul McCartney signed the open letter asking the Scots to vote to stay in the UK. The article mentions "Mull of Kintyre," but fails to mention another, earlier song.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Name of This Band Is . . . .

Boing Boing directed me to an interesting article at The Atlantic about the use of the definite article in orchestral and popular music band names.

The history lesson it gives going back to the 1890's is illuminating, but me being me, I'm most interested in the bands I listen to, most of which have flourished since the beginning of the '60's.

In thinking about music going back that far, it seems to me that the use of the definite article was the more usual one. The Beatles named themselves in deference to The Crickets, who themselves had taken inspiration for their name from the doo-wop groups of the '40's and '50's, who were almost invariably had names of the form /The [songbird]s/.

The Byrds got generic with it, and a little freaky. The Yardbirds got in a jazz reference. And everyone else figured that even if you moved away from our fine feathered friends, you still had to put the word "The" in front of the name of your collective.

The Rolling Stones and The Who and The Kinks and The Beach Boys and The Ventures and The Turtles and The Monkees and The Zombies and The incredible motherfucking Sonics and The Kingsmen and The Trashmen and The Shadows of Knight and The Mindbenders and The Count Five and even The Beau Brummels.

Starting in 1966, that began to change. Small Faces were sometimes advertised with the The, but on their albums were always just Small Faces. They were instantly huge in Britain, though they didn't make the American charts until 1967. Strangely--or maybe not so much--the single that broke them in the US, "Itchycoo Park," credited the band by using the definite article.

American bands to pick up on the trend started by Messrs. Marriott and Jones and Lane and Mclagan were led it seems by San Franciscans. Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jefferson Airplane come rapidly to my mind. A more detailed search of Billboard's Top 100 by year shows that "Somebody to Love," released as a single in April of 1967 makes Jefferson Airplane the first band in Billboard's Top 100 to skip the The.

"A Whiter Shade of Pale" from May of the same year makes Procol Harum the second. Small Faces could have been third, right? In 1968, Billboard's list would include Cream, Steppenwolf, 1910 Fruitgum Company, Blue Cheer, and Vanilla Fudge.

So, raise your consciousness and drop the definite article, everyone.

But consciousness-raising is hard, I guess. It's worth noting that Jefferson Airplane and Cream, although they were never credited on a record with the definite article, were often credited on posters and gig flyers that way.

Status Quo made Billboard's list for "Pictures of Matchstick Men" of course, and when they did so, they went by their name with the definite article attached. In 1969, they decided that they wanted to drop it, so you can date your copy by whether or not "The" appears on the sleeve or the label.

A little similarly with Pink Floyd. Syd Barrett originally named them "The Pink Floyd Sound" which got shortened to "The Pink Floyd" before they signed and then was further chopped to "Pink Floyd" after the release of their first single, "Arnold Layne."

Pink Floyd's mates at the UFO club took a little longer to figure out which they preferred. The Soft Machine was the name of the debut from Robert Wyatt and company, and Volume Two was credited to The Soft Machine as well. But Third was distributed without the "The" on the cover, and every album thereafter while the band was extant. The posthumous--and uneven--Kings of Canterbury revived the definite article, though most other posthumous releases just called 'em Soft Machine.

And give credit where it's due to the collective defined by David Byrne but made great by Eno--they never had any doubt about eschewing that definite article. Maybe it was that the band felt locked in once Eno had written "King's Lead Hat" in their honor, or perhaps they couldn't convince Mr. St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno to write another anagrammatic tune entitled "Led Giant Shaketh."

File under: Nomenclature

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Roger Waters and Neil Young

Roger Waters at the Israeli West Bank Barrier
Notes on how complicated things have gotten:

Stumbling about the internet yesterday, I became aware of a letter to Neil Young that Roger Waters had written, and then when he got no reply, posted to his Facebook page.

Evidently, Waters had heard that Young had scheduled a concert in Tel Aviv this week, and wrote the letter trying to convince Young to join the BDS movement, those who want the world to Boycott, Divest of, and Sanction the Israeli state.

There was some regret that I was having to think about this at all, but I found myself glad that Young had not responded, and had not cancelled the show.

Yay, team.

Although I am not religious, I was raised Jewish. Although I am liberal, I support the struggle of the civilized world against the forces of terrorism. I support the State of Israel, and I condemn Hamas.

So I've come to the conclusion that Roger Waters, no matter his erstwhile contributions to music, is at this point nothing more than a clown and a tool.

And that's a terrible conclusion to have to come to. I wish that Waters understood about Hamas' 13-year campaign of missile strikes against Israel. I wish he understood about the true and avowed terrorist nature of Hamas. But mostly I wish that the world in its flaws did not require a man to come down on the wrong side or the right side here. I wish that the next time I pull out Animals, I didn't have to deal with the dissonance to the art that the man now provides.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse Tel Aviv 2014
Reading this morning that while Young himself never pulled out of the show, the Israeli police, citing security concerns, have done it for him. Too many missiles coming down, they concluded, for a large crowd to be safe.

Fucked up world, my friends, fucked up world.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Comments Elsewhere: On Led Zeppelin at Consequences of Sound

Sheldon Pearce at Consequences of Soundoverstated, I thought, the amount of critical shit Led Zeppelin took in their early days.  So I posted something.

John Mendelsohn and Rolling Stone reviews notwithstanding, Led Zeppelin’s quick success was not a surprise to very many.

Check out Tony Wilson of Melody Maker, quoted on the back of the first Yes album–

“At the beginning of 1969, I was asked as were all Melody Maker writers to pick two groups who I thought would make it in the following year.
One of my choices was LED ZEPPELIN. A bit obvious perhaps, but then we all like to back a winner occasionally.”

A later unsigned review of Led Zep I at Melody Maker said “Jimmy Page triumphs!” with the exclamation point intact.

Or Felix Dennis at long-forgotten OZ magazine:

“VERY OCCASIONALLY a long-playing record is released that defies immediate classification or description, simply because it’s so obviously a turning point in rock music that only time proves capable of shifting it into eventual perspective. (Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home, The Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday, Disraeli Gears, Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? and Sgt. Pepper). This Led Zeppelin album is like that.”

And even Mendelsohn called II “a fucking heavyweight.”

It’s clear there were some bad reviews of early Zeppelin, but I think the article overstates their preponderance; and more importantly, their significance. Bad Reviews of Physical Graffiti, for example (maybe in Creem?), would have perhaps pointed to Zeppelin’s bloatedness, which in the light of the coming of punk rock, were somewhat accurate charges which thus would have meant more than some dude in 1969 simply failing to get it.