Star Maker

I read somewhere that this science fiction novel, written by British writer Olaf Stapledon and published in 1937, is one of the all-time classics. Being a purveyor of fine science fiction stories I was intrigued so I sought it out.

But, it was heavy going right from the start, mostly due to the way it was written. Olaf was a philosopher and pretty much wrote this book while still in heavy philosophy mode, as well as deciding that it should be written in a dry textbook style. There were plenty of words I had never heard before such as cepheid.

Some sentences which did not have any fancy words were still hard to decipher. Here is an example:

This most subtle medium the Star Maker now rough-hewed into the general form of a cosmos. Thus he fashioned a still indeterminate space-time, as yet quite ungeometrized; an amorphous physicality with no clear quality or direction, no intricacy of physical laws; a more distinctly conceived vital trend and epic adventure of mentality; and a surprisingly definite climax and crown of spiritual lucidity.

I found myself going over a sentence again time after time to make sure I understood what was being said. Heavy, man.

But, the actual storytelling was fantastic and quite original, and very large in scale. It was basically about a chap who went for a walk and suddenly found he could mentally transport himself through space and time and visit distant galaxies in an instant. He also found he could mind-meld with aliens he encountered, and together they could travel throughout the universe and mind-meld with other aliens so that they soon became a large space gang observing the cosmos and seeking out the meaning of life. He soon discovered that an all-powerful being was responsible for everything, and was able to have a chat with him. There is a lot more to it, but there is also no real story, it was just him describing what he saw and learned about other aliens, galaxies, and even the stars themselves which as it turned out were also sentient beings.

One interesting thing I learned is that the idea of the Dyson sphere, named after Freeman Dyson, came from this book. Freeman had read the book and it inspired him to write a paper in 1960 about the concept. It is a very pie-in-the-sky idea though, very much science fiction. Arthur C. Clarke had much more obtainable ideas as he is credited as being the inventor of the communications satellite. Read Arthur’s Rama series if you can, brillo stuff.

Good luck to you if you want to make this into a film, it would be like turning Ace Ventura: Pet Detective into a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel…although I would read that.

Highly recommended for those into deep and meaningful science fiction flights of fancy, best read with a pipe and glass of brandy, and the Oxford Dictionary on hand.

After finishing this book I immediately felt like an easy read, so I chose the next book I need to read in the Doctor Syn series titled “The Courageous Exploits of Doctor Syn”. I am also simultaneously re-reading “The Way of Wyrd”, and old favourite.

Book count 2019: 1

Diamond Trail

This is a 1933 pre-code film about the daring adventures of newspaper reporter “Speed” Morgan and his run-in with gangster boss “Flash” Barrett.

Here is the full synopsis from IMDB: Reporter “Speed’ Morgan helps gangster “Flash” Barrett escape an ambush by rival gangster Mullin’s henchmen, and then escape the pursuing police. Posing as a wanted gangster named “Frisco” Eddie, Morgan is made a member of the gang and goes West with them as Barrett is looking for rancher Bill Miller, who was his in-between man on stolen diamonds until Miller dropped a package, found out it contained diamonds and hid and kept them. Miller’s sister, Lois, is unaware of her brother’s connection to the eastern gangsters.

“Hiya Doll!”

This is very simple story telling, and also made very simply. It is all-round simple.

It is also quite genre bending. The film starts off as a 1933 modern day style film, with the moider of a rival gang member by “Flash” barret, which “Speed” Morgan witnesses. Sensing a scoop he helps “Flash” flee the scene of the crime in the hope that he can infiltrate the gang, which he does. We are then introduced to the main plot of the story which takes place in the Wild and Woolly West. The gang members actually drive into a Western town like the one in Gunsmoke or Rawhide in a gangster-style convertible jalopy. The town’s folk are all dressed in cowboy garb of course, and all ride horses instead of driving cars, although there is a car in the town that they can rent if they need it.

“Tell me where da ice is at, or I’ll plug ya. See?”

It is as though the film producers thought it would be a great idea to mix a gangster land story with a western. Perhaps 1930’s America was actually like that…no idea.

Something I really liked is that everyone was wearing a hat of some sorts… those were the days!

Kirk Douglas was 17 years old when this film was made.

Silly entertainment, but entertaining it was, and thought-provoking on many existential levels.

Date watched: February 24th
Score: 6/10
Film count 2019: 4

Alphaville

I tried to watch this in full as the first film of the year, but I quickly lost interest in it and watched The Force Awakens instead. Last night I decided to finish watching it, and while it did get a bit better, I didn’t think much of it overall. It was directed by Jean-Luc Godard, so that basically means this is a high-art film that makes me a film snob just for watching it.

It is lauded on the interwebs as an intellectual, witty, stylish, and age-less film, amongst other adjectives. And yes, I suppose it is all of those, but for me it was strangely paced, a bit sloppily made, and things were happening which didn’t make any sense at all. The dialogue used lines and quotes from a couple of well-known poets which helped to confuse things a little.

The story is about Lemmy Caution, an undercover agent posing as a journalist who drives to Alphaville, a large city controlled by a sentient computer called “Alpha 60”. He gets there by driving his Ford Galaxie from “the Outlands”. Lemmy’s mission was to find out what happened to another agent, kill Alpha 60’s creator, Professor von Braun, and to destroy Alphaville. Lemmy is dressed just like The Bogart in Casablanca, and is constantly taking snaps with an Agfa camera.

Alphaville’s residents are conditioned to not show emotion, and to never say the word “why”, instead they must use “because”. Anyone showing emotion, digs poetry, or shows symptoms of free thought are rounded up and executed by being shot in the back next to a pool, then collected by several women in swimsuits who also do a little synchronised swimming while they are at it. The fellow in the white shirt below makes an emotional speech before getting plugged, but he survives that and continues his speech in the water, so the sychronised swimmer ladies push him under the water until he is quite dead…

There is of course a love interest in the form of the daughter of Professor von Braun (played Jean-Luc Godard’s wife at the time, Anna Karina). She has been brainwashed so cannot show emotion, but discovers she is falling in love, putting her in danger.

Throughout the film we could hear the voice of Alpha 60 talking to Lemmy, and his voice was quite unique, as well as a little annoying. From Wikipedia: The voice of Alpha 60 was performed by a man with a mechanical voice box replacing his cancer-damaged larynx. That certainly explains the weirdness there.

Also from Wikipedia: Despite its futuristic scenario, Alphaville was filmed entirely in and around Paris and no special sets or props were constructed. Buildings used were the Electricity Board building for the Alpha 60 computer centre and the Hotel Sofitel Paris le Scribe.

An American actor by the name of Eddie Constantine played Lemmy. He was popular in Europe and seems to have spent most of his career making French or German films. He named one of his sons Lemmy.

I think I will need to watch this again, perhaps I will understand it better second time around. If it was more polished and some of the editing less jarring it would certainly help to make it easier to watch. It did have some interesting ideas though, and some scenes were fun to watch. Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is a similar kind of film, but does it better in many ways.

Date watched: February 21st
Score: 6.5/10
Film count 2019: 3

JPEGMAFIA x Freaky – The 2nd Amendment

I bought JPEGMAFIA’s “Veteran” album on Bandcamp a while ago and liked it, so I thought I would get this ,too.

The music is a mixture of rap and hip-hop, and is also tagged as punk rap on Bandcamp. The lyrics are political or race related, with the rappers always sounding quite angry.

Overall it doesn’t really grab me much, JPEGMAFIA’s “Veteran” album is much better. But, for only US$5 I am not complaining at all.

The best track also has a video…

Music count 2019: 4

Kretchmer – Music in the Key of Minor

Doing a random search of good music to find on Bandcamp I came across this November 2018 release, and as it was only two pounds I thought it was worth a try.

This release is tagged as “detroit techno” as well as “electronic” on Bandcamp. The musician though is from Nottingham, and has only one other release titled “Music in the key of Major”, from 2016.

The music is nothing overly special, but quite listen able, and some of the song titles are amusing such as the first track which is called “Thinkin’ bout that galaxy, far, far, away”, and the last track “If we die, they live, a win-win situation ver 3.1471”.

Take a listen for yourself here. Using my fave music tracking website LastFM I found that I am one of only 49 people listening to Kretchmer, which puts me in an elite group I suppose.

Music count 2019: 3

Leningrad Cowboys – Total Balalaika Show

This is a CD album I have been seeking out for years, but I was just not able to find it anywhere here. It is available on Amazon Japan used for the nutters price of 20,000 yen (NZ$263, US$181)…some people!

Doing a search for it elsewhere was not getting far until I came across it on Discogs for the very fair price of 7.50 Euros. A chap in Germany was selling it, and I immediately bought it. Postage was also 7.50 Euro, but I was more than happy to pay it. It arrived this morning, only four days after it was posted in Deutschland.

I have heard this album several times before, but it was not very good quality, and as I enjoy the album so much it was my main purpose in life to find it on CD.

It is a live concert of the Leningrad Cowboys and the Red Choir, recorded in Helsinki in 1993. The sound quality is superb, and there are two discs worth of rock ‘n’ roll along with traditional Russian songs. There was also a DVD of the concert released, you can watch them perform the song “Delilah” here. I may consider getting the DVD too one day.

Unfortunately one of the songs did not rip well due to a slight scratch on the disc, so I am bummed about that, but it ain’t no big thing. And our pet bird, who recently loves to munch on paper, bit a small chunk out of the back CD liner (the CD was sent without the plastic case to save on postage costs). So if you have a bird just be aware of this potential situation.

An excellent listen, and my all-time favourite live album.

Edit: I ripped the song that was messed up again, this time using error correction, and it worked out just fine. Yay!

Music count 2019: 2

The 23rd Grammy Awards

The 23rd Grammy Awards were held on February 25th at Radio City Hall, New York.

Christopher Cross was a big winner, getting Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist. All of this for his “Christopher Cross” album (released in 1979), and the song “Sailing”. He was the first artists to win all four of these awards in one Grammy show.

Click on the image to hear the song

Best Comedy Recording went to Rodney Dangerfield for his No Respect.

Best Instrumental Composition and Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or a Television Special both went to John Williams for The Empire Strikes Back. Totally deserved.

Best Country Vocal Performance, Female went to Anne Murray for her song “Could I Have This Dance?”, again totally deserved.

Anne released her final album in 2007, and her last tour was in 2008. She is 73 now, and seems to be taking life easy.

“On the Road Again” won Best Country Song, a given really. Willie released an album last year called “My Way”…

He is still touring, even at the age of 85. If he was to come to Japan I would certainly go see him.

Moody’s Mood” snagged George Benson the award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Male. George has won ten awards in all in the Grammy Awards. George also won Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male for “Give Me The Night”, an excellent choice there. I must buy a George album on vinyl.

Best Album Package was for the Against the Wind performed by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band.

Click on the image to listen

Kenny Loggins won Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male for his song “This Is It”. Kenny is now 71, and released his last album back in 2009. He seems to be doing charity work these days.

Pat Benetar won Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female for her album “Crimes of Passion”. Here is perhaps her most well known song from the album…

Her last album was in 2003, but she is still touring.

Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male went to Billy Joel for his “Glass Houses” album. The album sold 7.1 million copies. His last album was in 2001, but he is still touring.

I wouldn’t say it was a stellar year for the Grammy Awards, but there were some decent winners there.

If you click here you will see the top albums for 1980 in which the only Grammy winner to appear was Billy Joel. Clicking here will show you a list of number one albums in New Zealand in 1980 (and beyond), and here for England just for comparison.

Here are the top singles for 1980, many classic tracks there, but my pick of the lot would have to be “Funkytown” by Lipps Inc.

That song would turn out to be their one and only major hit, and they disbanded in 1985. It was a huge hit though, with the single going platinum in the same year it was released.

Some other albums from 1980 included “Remain In Light” by Talking Heads, “End of the Century” by The Ramones, “Pretenders” by The Pretenders, “Black Sea” by XTC, “Songs the Lord Taught Us ” by The Cramps, and “Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables” by the Dead Kennedys.