First Light

The Red: First Light (The Red #1)
by Linda Nagata

Nagata

Lieutenant James Shelley commands a high-tech squad of soldiers in a rural district within the African Sahel. They hunt insurgents each night on a harrowing patrol, guided by three simple goals: protect civilians, kill the enemy, and stay alive—because in a for-profit war manufactured by the defense industry there can be no cause worth dying for. To keep his soldiers safe, Shelley uses every high-tech asset available to him—but his best weapon is a flawless sense of imminent danger…as if God is with him, whispering warnings in his ear.

This is the third of the sword and laser book picks for June I have read. The first two I didn’t finish. But it’s third time lucky. This is military science fiction about tech-enhanced soldiers in the future. The closest to this I have read is Timothy Zahn’s first Cobra series. Fortunately this is hard-SciFi, the story is heavily dependent on the tech and it drives the story forward. That’s not to say that the characters are badly written, they may be a bit stereotypical, but come across a fully rounded characters. The only disappointment was the ‘villain’ of book. There is little explanation of the villain’s motivations and not much to understand. The story is told in first person and keeps going at a good pace. There isn’t too much internal monologue that can slow the story. This is the first of a trilogy, so next is the sequel, ‘The Trials’. Recommended.
 

Dark Eye

The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav
Game By Daedalic Entertainment (2012)

DarkEye

For centuries the kingdom of Andergast has been at odds with neighboring Nostria, but now first steps are being undertaken toward a lasting peace. But a plague of crows troubles the king, for the birds are acting with unusual aggressiveness, even attacking humans. As the belligerent creatures infiltrate even the castle itself, the king seeks a skilled bird catcher – an opportunity for young Geron to prove that the reputation for ill luck that has followed him since childhood is undeserved. However, the task will prove much more difficult than he expects, leading him on an adventure that will take him to the borders of the charted lands of Aventuria and beyond.

The best thing about the game is the graphics and game-play. The  hand-drawn artworks is good, with a dark fantasy atmosphere.

The game-play is easy, everything is done with the cursor that acts as look and use.

The problem is that the story isn’t engaging, it’s about a bird-catcher that has to rescue a kingdom from ravens. Throughout the game characters will dump large amounts of info that turns out to be not relevant to the story.

The story is very linear and a lot of the puzzles are not that obvious or logical. Without a walk-through I would not  have completed this game. Also, the central character Geron is not very sympathetic or relatable. The face does not match the voice acting.

In total it took 9 hours to complete the game (2/5)

 

Lexx 4.10 & 4.11

Lexx_Logo

 

Lexx 4.10 “Magic Baby” September 28, 2001
After escaping from the clutches of the asylum, the crew meet Uther, who gives them a lift to the space shuttle. Back on Lexx, Uther works his magic on Xev, only to be interrupted by Vlad coming out of the cryo unit. Uther is converted to a slave, and Xev is executed. Vlad proceeds to suck the life out of Kai, and then Stan gets up the courage to kill Vlad using the druid’s staff. Stan then patches up Xev’s body the best he can.

Surprisingly bland, given the episode has the end of the villain. (2/5)

 

Lexx 4.11 “A Midsummer’s Nightmare” October 24, 2001
Loosely based upon A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Stan and Kai take Xev’s beautiful corpse down to the feast of Morgath because Uther vaguely promised that the dead could be risen. There, Oberon recognises the Red Fool, and The Dark man, and dominates the proceedings; attempting to marry Xev for 1500 years. Kai is turned into a joyful singing tree. Xev refuses Oberon, so he turns to Stan, who also refuses him after he realizes that Oberon wants 1500 years of back door sex. Titania saves them by tricking Oberon into marrying her/him for eternity.

Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night wasn’t amusing, neither was this. The sets look cheap and the acting even cheaper. The only thing of note is the beginning and end, taking place at Battersea Power Station,  used on the cover of Pink Floyd’s Animals (1/5)

 

Lexx 4.08 & 4.09

Lexx_Logo

Lexx 4.08  “Vlad” September 7, 2001
Stan gets an urge to revisit Transylvania. As their slave, he takes the goth sisters back to Lexx, where they steal all Kai’s protoblood for Vlad. 790 removes the parablood from Stan, and Kai goes back to Earth to face the divine executioner. Their fight ends up back on Lexx, where Vlad bites Xev and Stan. However, Xev is not affected by parablood and successfully pushes Vlad into the cryo unit.

A much better episode thanks to Vlad the villain. There is more threat and danger to the crew with no obvious and easy remedies. Obviously they win against a stronger foe, but only by working together (4/5)

Lexx 4.09  “Fluff Daddy” September 14, 2001
Prince lures the crew down to Earth. Bunny is told to have sex with Stan. On Bunny’s porn video, Stan notices Lyekka (Loo Loo), and tries to get close to her by being the new fluffer. Prince shows Xev the mortal Kai, who is an actor who really suffers for his art, injecting staples into his feet and sleeping on the stage. He wants celibacy until his show has run (2 – 6 months). Xev eats him anyway, in a fit of cluster lizard hormones. Stan uses Prince and the ATF to access Lyekka. Using her movie “Oval Orifice” as a way to steal the key from Stanley, both Loo Loo and her director go to the Lexx, and releases Vlad. Stan is arrested for theft, and sent to a loony bin..

Another descent into silliness and characters making stupid decisions (especially Stan). Only alleviated by a  surprising ending. (2/5)

 

 

Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a 2014 comedy film written and directed by Wes Anderson, from a story by Anderson and Hugo Guinness, inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig. It stars Ralph Fiennes as a concierge who teams up with one of his employees (Tony Revolori) to prove his innocence after he is framed for murder. The narrative takes the form of a story within a story within a story within a story.

The film is an American-German-British co-production that was financed by German financial companies and film-funding organizations. It was filmed in Germany. The Grand Budapest Hotel was released to widespread acclaim from film critics, and many included it in their year-end top 10 lists. The film led the BAFTA nominations, with 11 nominations, more than any other film, including Best Film and Best Director for Anderson, and Best Actor for Fiennes. The film won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and garnered three more Golden Globe Award nominations, including Best Director for Anderson. It also garnered nine Academy Award nominations, the joint most (with Birdman) for the ceremony, including Best Picture and Best Director. It won the Academy Awards for Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Production Design and Best Original Score.

 

A very strange and stylish historical comedy. Not as funny as promised , but a good ripping yarn in the British style. Ralph Fiennes is great as the main character and there a surprising number of well-known actors in minor roles, including:

F. Murray Abraham
Adrien Brody
Willem Dafoe
Jeff Goldblum
Harvey Keitel
Jude Law
Bill Murray
Edward Norton
Jason Schwartzman
Tilda Swinton
Tom Wilkinson
Owen Wilson

(3/5)

 

Three of a Perfect Pair

King Crimson – Three of a Perfect Pair (1984)

3oapp

Left side:
1. Three of a Perfect Pair
2. Model Man;
3 .Sleepless
4. Man with an Open Heart
5. Nuages (That Which Passes)

Right side:
1. Industry
2. Dig Me
3. No Warning
4. Larks? Tongues in Aspic III

Other side:
1. The King Crimson Barber Shop
2. Industrial Zone A
3. Industrial Zone B
4. Sleepless (Tony Levin mix)
5. Sleepless (Bob Clearmountain mix)
6. Sleepless (Dance mix – F. Kervorkian)

Adrian Belew – fretted and fretless guitars, lead vocals
Robert Fripp – guitar, frippertronics
Tony Levin – bass, backing vocals, stick, synth
Bill Bruford – acoustic and electric drumming

This is the KC album I remember waiting for. Checking the music store weekly until its release in NZ.

To coincide with the release, the band set off on a Japanese tour (as can be seen on the Neal and Jack and Me DVD) at the end of the same month, followed by a lengthy tour through the US and Canada, culminating in a pair of concerts in Montreal in July (immortalized on the Absent Lovers album). The album and tour were the final recorded and live statements for the 1980s band, with the various members returning to their solo interests immediately afterwards.

It’s an experimental and unique album that brings 80s contemporary influences into the mix, while also staying true to King Crimson’s legacy of unforgiving vision.

Three of a Perfect Pair
One of the most radio-friendly song by the band to date. The guitars lock in together rather than teetering on the edge of falling apart. There is a steady beat and some of Adrian’s best lyrics.

She is susceptible
he is impossible
they have their cross to share
three of a perfect pair…
he has his contradicting views
she has her cyclothymic moods
they make a study in despair
three of a perfect pair…

one, one too many
schizophrenic tendencies
keeps it complicated
keeps it aggravated
and full of this hopelessness
what a perfect mess…

Model Man
Might be an eighties new wave ballad. It pulses along nicely with minimal frippertronics and a great chorus.

Look at the signs
Look at the symptoms
Look at the slight
Calm before the storm

I feel the silence
I feel the signals
I feel the strain
Tension in my head
Well, what more can be said…

Not a model man
Not a savior or a saint
Imperfect in a word
Make no mistake
But I
Give you everything I have
Take me as I am…

Sleepless
Another great Belew song will a nice call/response between the string players. It is best known for its distinctive opening bass-line which features Tony Levin slapping on the strings to create its pulsating beat. It came from Levin’s habit of tapping the strings in rehearsal as well as at sound-checks. The 2001 re-release features several different versions of the song. The opening bass-line has been used as the show theme for Australia’s RAGE program, since 1987. There was a video made of the song for MTV.

In the dream I fall into the sleepless sea
with a swell of panic and pain
my veins are aching for the distant reef
in the crush of emotional waves…

alright, get a hold of yourself
an’ don’t fight it, it’s over your head
it’s alright, the rumble in your ears
it’s alright to feel a little fear
an’ don’t fight it, it’s over your head
it’s alright, you wake up in your bed…

silhouettes like shivering ancient feelings
they cover my foreign floors and walls
submarines are lurking in my foggy ceiling
they keep me sleepless at night…

hey, can you picture the sight
the figures on the beach in the searing night
and the roaring hurt of my silent fight…
can you pull me out
of this sleepless night
can you pull me out?…

Nuages
brings with it a shift. Building off a beat with electronic pads from Bruford and some Frippertronic noises, it gradually builds into a darkly ambient, floating piece with odd guitar solos from Belew.

Industry
rolls in slowly. Frippertronics take centre stage over a barrelling low end from Levin and Bruford’s shifting rhythm. More modal experimentation, with outbursts from the rhythm section that seem uncertain, sudden, jarring. A distorted guitar fades in threateningly, moving inside and out of the pounding rhythms, now completely maniacal. The piece builds and builds, slowly, but soon all tentativeness is lost. It is marching right out of the speakers at us, coming for us. Soon even the guitars begin to hide in the shadow, screeching and sliding away from the madness.

Dig Me
hearkens to days of yore, with a whacked out guitar rhythm and a rhythm section that sounds like it’s just struggling to keep up, with metric and modal shifts uncertainly off-centre with one another, a disturbed vocal melody that swings in all the chaos, a song on the verge of falling apart completely.

Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part III closes the album well, opening with frenetic Frippian guitar work and moving into an updated interpretation of the old theme from the classic 70s album of the same name, Bruford’s rhythms feel at home in this twisting instrumental, menacing in the right ways but more willing to have fun than the previous versions. More interlocking guitars create off-balance harmonies. Still, it’s just not quite as powerful as the 70s conceptions.

The 80s lineup had lasted less than four years – recording three studio albums and undertaking numerous tours.

This final piece of that studio output is augmented with extra tracks including all of the mixes of Sleepless, two slabs of electronica and the band’s only recorded excursion into barber shop quartet vocals complete with humorous lyrics “We’re the King Crimson band, we don’t do 21st Century schizoid Man..’ Ultimately, a King Crimson lineup including all four members of the 80s band, would perform Schizoid Man, but that would have to wait for another decade.

Discipline

King Crimson – Discipline (1981)

Discipline

“Discipline is never an end in itself, only a means to an end”

Adrian Belew – electric guitar, lead vocals
Robert Fripp – electric guitar, devices (Frippertronics)
Tony Levin – Chapman Stick, backing vocals, bass
Bill Bruford – drums

Side one
“Elephant Talk”
“Frame by Frame”
“Matte Kudasai”
“Indiscipline”

Side two
“Thela Hun Ginjeet”
“The Sheltering Sky” (Instrumental)
“Discipline” (Instrumental)

This is the second KC album I purchased, after getting Beat (1982). It was King Crimson’s first album following a seven-year hiatus.

Right away it is clear that this is a unique album. There is a distinctly eastern feel to the music. And it came at a time when Fripp was starting his guitar lessons and devising his alternative guitar tunings.

Tony Levin kicks off the album, with a crazy chapman stick riff in “Elephant Talk”, a perfect opener if there ever was one. Tony and Robert’s parts collide with each other into one powerful force, accumulating into great chemistry between them. Adrian Belew’s vocals and rhythm guitar lines add a sense of spontaneity to the band. While the other members are primarily musicians, he’s definitely a bit of a showman and personality. Adrian’s yelps of, “Talk, its only talk. Babble, burble, banter, bicker bicker bicker. Brouhaha, boulderdash, ballyhoo. Its only talk…” introduces a sense of eccentricity that is fields away from the serious nature of middle-70s King Crimson.

“Frame By Frame” continues the story of “Elephant Talk”. The lyrics don’t seem to have any specific meaning, but there is a chance that they are completely interpretational due to their broad nature.

“Matte Kudasai”, is s brooding chilled-out lullaby. It features some of Adrian’s best vocals on the album and contains a seagull effect that can be seen on the live DVD performance.

“Indiscipline” is similar to the first two tracks. But rhythmically more conventional. Adrian rambles a bit before coming up with:

“I repeat myself when under stress”
“I repeat myself when under stress”
“I repeat myself when under stress”
.
.
“I Like it !”

“Thela Hun Ginjeet” (an anagram for “Heat in the Jungle”). It’s funky, spaced out and weirdly fun, but still has a strict King Crimson personality. Robert Fripp plays his guitar in 7/8 time while everything else plays in 4/4, eventually coming into syncopation with each other later.

While the track was being recorded for the Discipline album, Adrian Belew, walking around Notting Hill Gate in London with a tape recorder looking for inspiration, was harassed first by a gang and then by the police. On returning to the studio, he gave a distraught account to his band-mates of what had just happened to him. This account was recorded by Fripp without Belew’s knowledge.

“The Sheltering Sky” shows Fripp and Belew feeding off each other perfectly. Robert Fripp’s Frippertronics system is in full effect. The track is named after and partially inspired by the 1949 novel of the same name by Paul Bowles. Bowles is often associated with the Beat generation, which would be an inspiration for ‘Beat’.

“Discipline” is the highlight of the album, in intricate intertwining of repeating odd time-signatures between two of the most thought-provoking guitarists ever and creates a flawless statement in minimalism.

King Crimson made a vital progression with this album, instead of keeping with the same sound like so many of their progressive rock contemporaries. Robert Fripp’s guitar lines have never been so refreshing while Tony Levin’s chapstick device and Bill Bruford’s expansive drum sound added another layer to King Crimson’s ever growing domain.

Red may be more influential and sentimental, but Discipline manages to better it in a lot of different ways. It’s sad that ‘In The Court of the Crimson King’ might be considered their best, because in reality, Discipline and Red betters it out by a wide margin.

Beat

King Crimson – Beat (1982)

 

Beat

 

Robert Fripp: Guitar, Organ, Frippertronics
Adrian Belew: Guitar, Lead Vocal
Tony Levin: Stick, Bass Guitar, Support Vocal
Bill Bruford: Drumming

Sometime in the early 1980’s I would regularly browse music shops. It was a time before CDs, Vinyl LPS were the most popular medium for music. In a bargain bin of LPs I found an album with a blue cover. I was vaguely aware of the musicians but I had not heard of the band. This would be the first King Crimson album I would buy, and one to come back to as a touchstone of progressive music.

The first side is mainly songs written by Adrain Belew. These were almost pop songs, but with a harder edge.

“Neal and Jack and Me” (4:22)
The album’s catchy opener features Fripp on Hammond electric organ, and Belew’s quirky lyrics (which are full of references to the Beatnik writer duo, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy).
The ‘Jack’ of the title is Beat writer Jack Kerouac, while ‘Neal’ is Kerouac’s best friend Neal Cassady.

“Heartbeat” (3:54)
Undeniably cheesy, this is still a great song, and you may actually hear it on the radio from time to time (a rarity with King Crimson). Subtle time signature changes and a moody guitar melody underscore Bill Bruford’s textural drumming and the “backwards” guitar solo.

I need to feel your heartbeat heartbeat
so close, feels like mine
all mine
I need to feel your heartbeat heartbeat
so close it feels like mine
all mine…
I remember the feeling
my hands in your hair
hands in your hair
I remember the feeling
of the rhythm we made
the rhythm we made
I need to land sometime
right next to you
feel your heartbeat heartbeat
right next to me…..

“Sartori in Tangiers” (3:34)
The antithesis of pop, this Stick-based instrumental is very much Tony Levin’s creation. Opening with a pseudo-classical intro, it quickly moves though Hammond and guitar leads, ending only too soon. Note: The title is a clever twist on Kerouac’s classic, Satori in Paris. This remains a favourite track. For years I tried to find music like this.

“Waiting Man” (4:27)
Similar to “Discipline” (from the likewise titled album), this tune reflects KC’s fascination with world music. Bruford uses his Simmons electronic percussion pads to create a counterpoint to the bass line.
Unfortunately, the lyrics and vocals are not Belew’s finest moment.

I come back, come back
You see my return
My returning face is smiling
Smile of a waiting man

I, I’ll be home soon, soon, soon
Soon cry on your shoulder
Your shoulder against my burning tears
Tears of a waiting man

One two three four, one two three

I wait every moment
I wait, wait for my chance
I wait for my friend to say
Hello, you’re waiting man

Feel no fret, feel no fret, feel no fret
You can wait and feel no fret
And so I wait, so I wait, so I wait, so I wait

I return, face is smiling, be home soon cry on your shoulder
Tears of a waiting man, every moment wait for my chance
My friend say hello, feel no fret, feel no fret

The second side is more Fripp than Belew. It first I didn’t like this side as much, but after years of listening to music on the edge of sound, I like it more and more.

“Neurotica” (4:48)
One of the great crashing intros. With Bruford’s free-form drumming supporting Belew’s bizarre, paranoid lyrics this song comes off as full of demented imagery that describes the insanity of a big-city night.

“Two Hands” (3:23)
A nice little love song, or is it ?
Like The Police Song ‘Every Breath You Take’ it appears to be about a stalker or observer.
Always loved the shifting guitar textures that underpin the song.

Oh they’re touching
They’re touching each other
They’re feeling
They push and move
And love each other, love each other
They fit together like two hands…

I am a face
in the painting on the wall
I pose and shudder
And watch from the foot of the bed
Sometimes I think I can
Feel everything…

The wind is blowing
My hair in their direction
The wind is bending my hair
There are no windows in the painting
No open windows, no open windows, no…

“The Howler” (4:13)
This excellent tune name-checks Allan Ginsberg’s classic poem, “Howl”. Another catchy guitar figure and nice lyrics.

“Requiem” (6:38)
This instrumental track is the most avant-garde of the album. At this point I had not heard Fripp’s solo frippertronics albums so was surprised with the odd sounds.
Beginning with a distinctly Frippian guitar solo, Bruford’s jazzy drumming and Levin’s subtle additions flesh out the tune, making for one of the darker Crimson pieces.

 

Aurora

Kim Stanley Robinson – Aurora (2015)

 

RobinsonKimStanley_Aurora

AURORA tells the incredible story of our first voyage beyond the solar system.

This was read as part of the Sword and Laser Podcast June picks. I

I began this book with some trepidation.  The previous Kim Stanley Robinson book I had read was ‘Forty Signs of Rain’ and I hadn’t finished that.

This starts with a domestic setting on a lake in a spaceship !. The story appears to be about young -adult and her interactions with some rebellious children. Not what I would expect  of a Sci-Fi novel. Fortunately  chapter 2 begins with some hard-Sci-Fi explaining the current situation. We are on a ship that has been traveling for  over 100 years to a planet. Then it’s back to the kid. At this point I wondered if the whole book would be like this. So I checked out a few reviews. One of the best indicators of a book I don’t like is the comments in the 1-star reviews. Usually if there are a good number that use words like ‘dull’ and boring, I will be agreeing with them. Of the 453 reviews, 10% are 1-star.

According to Liz Seber:
I have been reading science fiction for 55 years. I have read all the greats – Asimov, Heinlein, Niven etc – and, sometimes, their efforts haven’t always been good. But this book must be the dullest and most boring sf effort I have ever read. A good concept ruined by pages and pages of philosophizing and an unsatisfying ending. I never fully understood the main character who was never completely filled out and I don’t think the author understood her either. This should have been a lively story (see Brian Aldiss’s Non Stop, which is a similar theme, for a returning space farers story that works) but it failed in all respects.
Doug Minear calls it a ‘slow boat to Aurora” . And Heather; I had to force myself to finish.

This book is 148k words long so instead of persevering through the remaining 87%, I’m moving on the the next Sword & Laser pick for June.

 

 

 

 

Lexx 4.06 & 4.07

Lexx_Logo

Lexx 4.06 “The Rock” August 17, 2001
Stan goes to Newfoundland to inspect his loyal subjects, but they spit in his face because he is a duplicate of “Brud”, the village shyster. Brud figures this out pretty quickly, and takes on the role of Stanley, meeting Bunny, who had been sent there to seduce Stan. Bunny cradles his rock, but Brud leaves for Lexx anyway, taking all her money. He attempts to seduce Xev using a bad rendition of Greensleeves on his portable keyboard. 790 pushes him off the command deck. Meanwhile Stan is lynched, and Kai plays the tavern pianoman, with endless variations of “Yo Way Yo”. Priest nukes Newfoundland.

This one had a bit more spark and energy in the script and direction. It’s the only episode directed by Stephen Reynolds, maybe that made all the difference (3/5).

Lexx 4.07 “Walpurgis Night” August 24, 2001
Kai needs to go to Transylvania to explore his curiosity. In the tavern, they bump into bats, superstitious villagers, Van Helsing, and 3 goth girls. They are invited to the castle for the Walpurgis feast, which is hosted by a British actor playing Dracul. Stan has “dead thing pie”. Kai is trapped in a spiked coffin by Grenfield, the owner. The goth girls do various things to Xev and Stan, and then stamp on Dracul’s plastic teeth. Stan incites a riot back at the tavern. The castle is stormed, and Dracul is killed (ex contract). The goths wake Vlad with a sample of protoblood. Lionel Jeffries appears in this episode in his final role.

It’s Lexx vs Hammer Horror. And Hammer Horror wins due to this mess of a script. (2/5)