Saturday, September 27, 2014

Song Review: The Logical Song by Supertramp

I stumbled across "The Logical Song" on Pandora the other day and it was a real blast from the past. I think it's probably been decades since I last heard it - at least 20 years or so. I think it was on at a dentist's office? It had existed on my distant periphery but if you hummed a few bars I probably could have finished the rest.

But it's been on a constant loop for me this week ever since I heard it again - I'm simultaneously hooked on it and fascinated by it. The entire point of the song is that the guy says 'they' sent him away to learn how to conform and how that just made him into an unthinking vegetable, and how free thinking will get you called a commie liberal just because you refuse to live in the Man's button-down world. 

Today, this song is deep science fiction, as if Roger Hodgson had written had written about how it's liberating to breathe nitrogen on Neptune's moons. Let's dive in and examine closer...

When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical.
And all the birds in the trees, well they'd be singing so happily,
Joyfully, playfully watching me.

OK straightforward. Before I went to school, life was 'beautiful, magical...'

But then they send me away to teach me how to be sensible,
Logical, responsible, practical.
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable,
Clinical, intellectual, cynical.


There are times when all the world's asleep,
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man.
Won't you please, please tell me what we've learned
I know it sounds absurd
But please tell me who I am.

Now that I am intellectual and dependable, I have completely lost my sense of identity. Can't I just be an ignorant flake again?

Now watch what you say or they'll be calling you a radical,
Liberal, fanatical, criminal.

I don't know what pop culture was like in 1979 but in 2014 this is the exact opposite of reality. The thought police live almost exclusively on the left and will not tolerate even the mildest dissent

Won't you sign up your name, we'd like to feel you're
Acceptable, respectable, presentable, a vegetable!

Ha. Ha.

In short, being clean cut and religious and conservative today is about the most daring, dangerous, counter-cultural, subversive thing you can do. Greg Gutfeld says it better than I can:

In short, liberalism is based on one central desire: to look cool in front of others in order to get love. Preaching tolerance makes you look cooler than saying something like, "please lower my taxes." This is why the only true form of rebellion left on this planet is conservatism. Conservatism, by rejecting the trademark forms of romantic rebellion (anarchy, activism, [etc.]) turns out to be far more subversive than anything on the planet. The conservative, every day, knows that he or she says things that aren't considered cool among the media elite. Yet the conservative still comes out and says it. This is why Dick Cheney is closer to the Hell's Angels than Hunter S. Thompson ever could be. And why Jon Stewart is about as daring as a diaper filled with Nilla Wafers.

Still, great song. The best part is probably the 'take it take it take it!' part that segues into a blazing saxophone solo. And at 97, this guy has aged better and sounds better than he did when he was like 30.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Book Reviews: The Flight of the Silvers and The Scorch Trials

The Scorch Trials, by James Dashner

Having hated The Maze Runner, I moved on to the sequel, The Scorch Trials, to see if I would hate that as well. I listened to the Maze Runner on Book on CD, and while the prose and story and characters were all written at the 3rd grade level, the voice acting was top notch. And these are not lengthy books; each one takes about 4 days of driving to and from work to get through. So I gave this one a shot.

The story was somehow even less interesting than the Maze Runner. This one is set in the desert. Thomas and the other Gladers meet some zombie people and some other teenagers. There's the 'way too friendly' Brenda and the 'very spanish' Jorge, whose every other word is 'muchacho' (the spanish word for 'moustache,' if I'm not mistaken, and I'm not). Together, they'll have to make it through the 'scorch' to get to the end of the desert and get the cure for the Flare, which is a disease that the whole world has that turns you into a gross zombie.

They make it through the desert. Some not very exciting things happen. Characters come and go. A guy that attacks them is strongly hinted to return later. He never does. Some killer robots appear at the end. The Gladers mostly kill them. There's a lot of bad lightning. It kills more of the Gladers. By this point, there should be about negative 7 Gladers. But there are several (and yet we still only know the names of 4 of them). 

The writing is painful. This is a nearly verbatim quote:

Thomas was shot! He closed his eyes. It hurt. It hurt really bad. He felt bad. 

The characters are reduced to personality traits that run about 2 microns deep. Newt's personality is based around being irish and saying the word 'buggin'' a lot. Jorge, 'muchacho,' Minh-ho, 'slim it, guys!' and so on. And Thomas remains the most boring and 1-dimentional main character ever. He's not smart, he's not brave, he's not interesting, he's not cool. He just exists. 

But now I'm roped in and have to see how this whole big mess ends and if there was a point to anything that has come before, so on to the 3rd one...

The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

This one was much better, but I don't know if any of my readers would like this. It's a tough genre to peg - I guess sci fi would be the closest. There's a touch of fantasy, maybe? The plot is pretty complicated, so bear with me.

Basically, some strange angel-like people save the lives of a few people as the world is ending. They put silver bracelets on their wrists and the world kind of disappears. The people wind up in San Diego on an alternate Earth that is the same as our Earth but their timelines diverged in 1913. This Earth has figured out how to do a lot of really interesting and cool things with time. With technology, they can move extremely fast, or slow time down to a crawl. Some devices work like microwaves and restore food to when it was new. Some machines can repair injuries by sending the person's body back to before they were injured.

There are unknown plans for these saved people, who some scientists gather and call "the Silvers." There is a bad guy who is repeating the last 5 years over and over who hates them and is chasing them. They break out of their scientific center when they are attacked by people who think that their being in the world has disrupted time and will cause major problems. And there is a FBI-like woman who is pursing them.

This isn't a great synopsis, but with a story with this much plot and this elaborate of world building, it's tough to condense. The most impressive thing is how well thought-out the world of the book is. There are really interesting applications of the time technology and how the Silvers find that they can do all of those time things themselves without technology, and what affect that has and what different 'powers' everyone has. One girl can summon time portals and send herself notes back through the past. One guy can summon visual and audio representations of past events that occurred at whatever place he's at. But rather than make that a one-off power, the author makes it part of the technology tha the world has discovered and so the police use it to re-create crime scenes, and he talks about what affect that had on society and crime and all sorts of other interesting applications. There's also movie theatres where people can watch a 3-hour movie in 20 minutes, or restaurants where you can have a leisurely lunch in 2 minutes but it takes hours, etc. Really great details.

I was also glad that there was really surprisingly little language in it, up until the end. This book could easily be made into a PG-13 movie without sacrificing any of the story or characters. If this gets popular (I think it just came out in 2014), it would be a great movie. But it's pretty lengthy (17 discs, which is 700 pages or so, maybe?) and, if it has one flaw, it's that it has WAY too many characters. There are literally about 25 people that you get to know to some degree. Even really minor characters get a back story. There are also some minor plot holes, but hopefully those get worked out in the sequel that the author is just now finishing...