You are here: Kaedrin > Weblog
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
The usual roundup of links I've found recently lately:
Sunday, April 19, 2015
The Three-Body Problem
The ascension of geek culture in the United States has meant that long marginalized genres like Science Fiction have become more acceptable, or at least tolerated. Ironically, this acknowledgement from the literary mainstream seems to be part of the current culture war, what with Sad Puppies whining about message fiction and anti-puppies trying to counter the surprisingly successful efforts to return SF to the gutter (as it were). While many have cast this as a political issue, and there certainly is a political component, I've always thought that Eric S. Raymond's analysis of the situation, based more on the qualities of literary fiction, was more cogent:
Literary status envy is the condition of people who think that all genre fiction would be improved by adopting the devices and priorities of late 19th- and then 20th-century literary fiction. Such people prize the “novel of character” and stylistic sophistication above all else. They have almost no interest in ideas outside of esthetic theory and a very narrow range of socio-political criticism. They think competent characters and happy endings are jejune, unsophisticated, artistically uninteresting. They love them some angst.Into this weary situation comes The Three-Body Problem, by China's most popular science-fiction writer Liu Cixin (translated by Ken Liu, no relation). In China, the situation is somewhat different. After decades in which Chinese SF was subject to the whims of Communist Party rule, first as a way to "popularizing science for socialist purposes", then as a pariah that was "promoting decadent capitalist elements", it appears that SF is on the rise again. Liu has capitalized on the rising sentiment, and his most popular books are now getting translated and generating buzz amongst SF fandom.
Liu's work is often described in terms of Golden Age SF, and in particular, the work of Arthur C. Clarke. At first, I was not sure if this book would be living up to that promise. There was a great deal of time and attention placed on cultural forces acting on science towards the beginning of the book (in particular, Liu spends a fair amount of time with the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 60s and 70s). Then there are some interesting, but seemingly not SF occurrences, such as a scientist who notices a number in his photographs. It appears to be a countdown, but he cannot account for how the number is appearing or what it is counting down to. There are a host of other, seemingly impossible events. There is a video game that is oddly hallucinatory and difficult to get through. And so on...
It turns out that this is all window dressing. The historical bits set the scene, the seemingly impossible occurrences generate a crisis amongst Earth scientists, and the video game holds the key to explaining what is going on. This episodic and oddly disjointed setup starts to click at some point, and the pieces start to fall together. Sometimes, it's a little clunky or overwrought, but it comes together well in the end.
At its heart, it's a first contact story, and if you're familiar with those, you know that fiction rarely shies away from the inherent possibilities for conflict there. It was again a bit worrying at the start, because one of the main factions on earth are people who want the aliens to come to our planet because they don't think the human race is worthy of existence (or something along those pessimistic lines), but it seems clear that this is not where the series is going, it's just part of a lengthy setup. The aliens themselves are rather interesting, existing in a Tri-Solar system (one of a few references to the titular "three bodies"), a wildly unpredictable state of affairs that has guided their evolution and frequently destroys their civilizations (when, for example, two or three of the suns are in certain configuration, the planet becomes, shall we say, unsuitable to life.)
This is all a bit unconventional from a Western point of view, and why wouldn't it be? It's also one of the things that makes this an interesting book to grapple with. From a plot or character standpoint, it feels a bit lacking, but there are many rich thematic elements that one could explore here. These basically come down to competition and disruption. The conflict between civilizations at this book's core could easily be applied to more mundane struggles, from industrial competition, to the rise of China in relation to the West. Disruption is a key element of business, creating and/or destroying markets, often through the use of technology. It is how people react to such disruptions that are the point, and the rival factions on earth reacting to the coming Aliens is a good example.
There are some fantastical elements that threaten to break it away from SF, especially earlier in the book. As mentioned above, these do come together well enough in the end, though Liu's cleverness is in the way he sets it up. The early, nearly complete lack of realism sets a point of reference such that, when Liu does get around to explaining why these things are happening, it feels acceptable even though it's mostly hokum. Chaos Horizon explains it well:
While some of the scientific sections are sound, others are deliberately exaggerated. Near the end, there's a bravura sequence where an alien civilization "unravels" a proton from 11 dimensions to 1, 2, and 3 dimensions, and then inscribes some sort of computer on that seemingly miniscule space. It's one of the most fascinating pieces of bullshit I've read in years, but it is bullshit nonetheless.Fascinating bullshit, indeed. I was more than willing to go with it.
This being the first book in a trilogy, little is resolved in the end, though it does finish on a positive note and it leaves you wanting more. The next volume is scheduled to be published next year, and I'm greatly looking forward to it, which says a lot.
I read this earlier in the year as part of my Hugo Award coverage. It came out late last year and was steadily building steam, and once it was nominated for a Nebula award, I thought I should check it out. I'm glad I did, and it made my Hugo ballot, but once the official nominees were released (and this book wasn't on their), I kinda scuttled doing a full review. However, since this year's Hugo awards are so weirdly contentious, one of the Best Novel nominees dropped out of the race. I'm not sure if this is unprecedented or not, but it's highly unlikely nonetheless (authors often refuse their nomination, but are given a chance to do so before the finalists are announced - this situation where an author sees the lay of the year's Hugo land and simply opts out was surprising) and many were expecting this to mean that the Best Novel category would only include 4 nominees. After all, adding the next most popular nominee would tell everyone who got the least nominating votes (info that is only published after the awards are handed out) and honestly, given the current situation, this precedent seems ripe for abuse. Nevertheless, the Hugo administrators opted to fill the open slot with The Three-Body Problem (a non-Puppy nominee, though from what I've seen, the Puppies seem to really enjoy this book). From left off the ballot to potential winner, quite a turn of events. Of the two nominees I've read, this is clearly ahead and could possibly take my number 1 vote. It is a bit of an odd duck, but I quite enjoyed it.
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Weird Movie of the Week
Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we covered a movie that revolved around a secret formula for growing hair using peanut butter. This time, we've got two weird movies for the price of one! Doggiewoggiez! Poochiewoochiez! is a remake of Alejandro Jodorowsky's 1973 film The Holy Mountain (itself one of the weirdest movies of all time, along with the rest of Jodorowsky's oeuvre) that is composed entirely of salvaged clips from old dog movies and VHS tapes. Naturally, the film was made by the Everything is Terrible crew, a group of people that wallow in the detritus of old VHS wastelands and the like (usually to hilarious effect). It makes the Kaedrin watchlist sheerly for the audacity of attempting a remake of a Jodorowsky film and coming up with a premise that actually makes it seem like they might pull it off. Having watched The Holy Mountain, I can tell you that it's a miracle that someone could even come close to thinking of something that might rival that film's weirdness. Can they actually fulfill that potential? Only one way to find out!
Sunday, April 12, 2015
Link Dump: Hugo Reactions
It's been about a week since the Hugo finalists were announced... and there's been way too much commentary to comb through. I'm going to post a few links here, but know that there are others who are doing a far better job summarizing the commentary, and to be quite honest, I'm already burnt out on the politics of the thing. This will most likely be my last post on the subject, though I suspect I'll get pulled back in depending on how recklessly No Award is deployed in the final tally. For the record, I think Sad Puppies 3 was far more successful than anyone thought (which includes them) and as such, I'm going to be somewhat leery of slates in the future (my preference would be for Sad Puppies 4 to simply encourage participation and maybe include an open post about eligible books as opposed to a straight slate). I have a hard time believing most of the conspiracies being thrown around, and am emphatically against the abuse that's been generated (which goes both ways). I don't like guilt by association and generally assume good faith in participants. Many nominees are being thrown under a bus for petty reasons, and that seems silly to me. As always, I plan to read and vote accordingly. Anywho, here are some other folks commenting on the slate.
Tuesday, April 07, 2015
So the comments on here have been broken for a few months and I haven't been able to figure it out. I'm finally taking some measures to get this stuff fixed. All of which is to say that things may get a little wonky around here for the next couple of days, but we'll hopefully be upgraded to the newest version of Movable Type and comments should work too. Fingers crossed!
Update: The upgrade is complete, but I'm still dealing with some issues. Comments are working on my generalist blog, but not on the beer blog (no idea why), and I'm having trouble publishing new entries now. Super duper. Not even sure if this update will make it out there... In any case, bear with me. We'll be back and running soon enough.
Again Update: Huzzah! I think all issues have been resolved. Comments are working again, and I'm able to actually publish updates. And the world rejoiced! Or, well, I am rejoicing.
Sunday, April 05, 2015
The 2015 Hugo Awards: Initial Thoughts
The nominees for the 2015 Hugo Awards were announced yesterday, and the entire world is losing their shit because the Sad Puppy campaign has pretty much run away with the slate. Assorted thoughts below:
So there you have it. I don't think I'll be spending much time on the whole political war going on with this stuff, but I suspect it will be unavoidable in some places. Expect some link roundups in the near future, followed by reviews. I will still try my best to let the works speak for themselves though. It may be a few weeks before I finish off my current reading, so I probably won't get to any reviews until May-ish.
Sunday, March 29, 2015
Adventures in Brewing - DIPA Updates
My Crom-approved, Conan yeast DIPA (tentatively titled The Enigma of Steel) has been happily fermenting away for about two weeks now, and it's been dry hopped for the past week or so. In previous batches, I only dry hopped with 1 or 2 ounces, but this time, I went with two additions of 2 ounces, because why not? Can't have enough aroma, I say. So here's what I used:
1 oz. Citra (first addition, about 8 days)
1 oz. Galaxy (first addition, about 8 days)
1 oz. Citra (second addition, about 3 days)
1 oz. Amarillo (second addition, about 3 days)
That Galaxy smelled absolutely fantastic, and makes me want to do a down under IPA of some sort (incorporating stuff like Motueka and Riwaka, maybe Nelson Sauvin). Anywho, kegging will commence in the next couple days, and I'm really looking forward to this sucker. The fermenter itself smells rather awesome. Cannot wait.
Update 3/26/15: And it's in the keg! It smells absolutely amazing. All sorts of juicy tropical fruits, just a little floral character, pretty much exactly what I was going for. Now I just need to force carbonate it. This is going to be so great. The little sample in the picture below is a bit on the turbid side because all the sediment is coming out of the keg right now, but it has a nice light color and will look great once the yeast settles and gets expelled...
Trying to decide what my next batch will be. I was originally thinking about some sort of summer saison, but I might be able to squeeze something in before it gets warmer out...
Update 3/29/15: It appears that my zeal in dry hopping and lack of vigilance in transferring the beef from the fermenter to the keg means that too much hop sediment made its way into the keg and have now clogged up the dip tube (i.e. the tube thingy that the beer goes through on its way to the tap). This is most distressing! I tried letting it sit a couple of days, I tried agitating the keg a bit, and I even tried throwing the CO2 line in through the out connector (i.e. shooting CO2 down the dip tube), but it's still clogged. I was really hoping to get this resolved without having to crack open the keg, but that seems unlikely at this point. I'm pretty sure I'm going to lose some aroma when I release the pressure, and I want to avoid doing that as much as possible. I actually grabbed another keg, and will be racking the beer from the clogged keg to the new one, being extra careful while transferring to ensure no sediment makes its way through (will probably use one of those mesh strainer bags over the end of the racking cane to minimize debris). Lesson learned!
Sunday, March 22, 2015
Weird Book of the Week
Last time on Weird Book of the Week, we pondered a sorta recursive centaur-thing. This time, we've got a mystery on our hands. Behold!
I found this on Twitter a while back, on the Pulp Librarian's feed (which is just chock full of awesome pulpy book covers), but there is no title on the artwork, and no one mentions it in the responses (one person does ask, but there did not appear to be a response). I would really love to read the book this was created for. Barring that, I'd settle for a high quality print, because wow, just look at that thing. Sheer brilliance.
Thoughts and ramblings on culture, movies, technology and more; updated every Sunday and Wednesday.
Kaedrin Beer Blog
And Now the Screaming Starts
Back of the Cereal Box
Movable Type 6.1
Copyright © 1999 - 2012 by Mark Ciocco.