Saturday, June 27, 2009

I just finished Ivory by Mike Resnick.

I don't know if there is a term for this type of story, but I have seen other examples, like the movie The Red Violin. Basically, it tells a larger story about the last of the Maasai tracking down the tusks of a legendary large elephant through smaller stories of the people who owned them, or stole them, or tried to acquire them. In this case, the stories range from Mount Kilimanjaro in the 19th century to 7 milleniums in the future, and from Earth across the galaxy.

The main character is the researcher who helps the Maasai. The author tries to make that part of the story interesting by holding back why the Maasai wants the ivory, as well as adding some minor growth in the protagonist, but it's really just an excuse for the mini-stories. The researcher is portrayed as a great puzzle solver, but his work seems entirely to consist of asking his super-computer "Have you found and new data on the tusks yet?".

But that minor quibble aside, it's quite an enjoyable book.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I just finished Dragons From the Sea by Judson Roberts, the second book in his Strongbow series of YA historical novels with horrible covers (see my review of the first book here).

The second book continues directly after the first, with the protagonist on the run and seeking revenge after his family is killed. In this book, he joins up with a ship's crew that is heading off to war against the Franks. The YA cliches do continue, but this book is darker than a lot of YA. The protagonist fights in a few realistically depicted battles, as well as killing a few people when forced, from his point of view.

Everything I said in previous review still holds - good story, great historical focus, some YA cliches and a protagonist with a somewhat a-historical modern outlook. The weakest part of the book is the ending, which comes fairly abruptly and leaves the entire story and characters development hanging. It feels like it is actually one book that had to be broken up for market reasons. The best part is the intense, well written, battle scenes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On the weekend, we saw UP, the new Disney/Pixar animated film.

UP continues Pixar's string of winners. It's not as good as Ratatouille, The Incredibles or even WALL-E but definitely better than Cars.

While I will continue to look forward to Pixar's movies, I think they need to be careful about one thing - over use of nostalgia. UP almost drips with nostalgia, as did the much worse Cars, and it has also been strong element in a number of their other films, including Toy Story and The Incredibles. In UP, I hope it has reached its zenith and Pixar can move on to forward looking, rather than backward looking, stories.
I spent all of last week at the California Bluegrass Association's yearly music camp and Father's Day Festival up in Grass Valley.

Volunteering at the camp was fun, as usual. I was an assistant to Kathy Barwick's level 3 guitar class, focusing on cross-picking and playing up the neck. Kathy is a very good teacher and the class was very informative. I've decided that I need to move away from focusing on technique to going back to focusing on ear training, so it will be a while before I can make use it, but once I come back to it, I think her approach will be very useful for me to get away from just playing in the first five frets.

The rest of the camp seemed to go very well - no major problems that I know of, and I think everyone had a great time.

The festival was also great. In fact, I think it was the best one for me personally. There were a lot of good, hard driving bluegrass acts on the main stage (Danny Paisley and Southern Grass, Junior Sisk and Rambler's Choice, The Bluegrass Brothers), as well as some great sets by California bands, including 49 Special, Blue and Lonesome and Mountain Laurel. One of the highlights for me were the two sets by the Tuttles, a family band put together by Bay Area bluegrass teacher Jack Tuttle.

I also did a fair amount of picking this year, mostly with people I already knew, but I was a lot happier this year with my playing.

I wrote about this last year here.
I finished The Caryatids by Bruce Sterling over the weekend.

The Caryatids is set in an environmental dystopia where global warming has damaged the Earth badly enough to de-stabilize most of the world's nation states. The titular characters are a group of highly dysfunctional clones that become central to global events. The four surviving ones (of a set of seven) all hate each other, and their "mother", and refuse to interact, meet or even talk about each other.

The story was interesting, even though most of the characters are fairly unpleasant, and emotionally over-wrought to the point of annoyance. Sterling's thoughts on the environmental dangers of global warming seem over-blown, given current projections, and his political and economic ideas seem crank-ish, and that's probably being generous.