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Archive for the ‘Dystopia’ Category

[LISTENED TO: August 2017] The Diamond of Darkhold

The end of the previous book (the prequel) left me in very good spirits about this final book.  This one had not come out while I was working at the public library so I didn’t know about it and the title and cover puzzled me.

But whatever, it was time to see how this series ended (I assume its over).

But, oh no!  Another new audio book reader!  This time Katherine Kellgren.  Kellgren has the unenviable task of following up Wendy Dillon’s establishment as a reader.  It was a little disconcerting hearing Doon and some other characters who had very distinctive voices portrayed differently.  In fact, I wasn’t all that impressed by her reading at first because the characters kind of sounded the same.  But as soon as new characters entered the picture I was really thrilled with her reading.  The diverse voices she brought to the story were outstanding.

So what happens in it?

The story picks up about nine months after the Emberites left Ember.  Winter is coming upon them and things are very hard.  People are also getting sick (some people have died).  (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2017] The Prophet of Yonwood

I did not enjoy the second book of Ember much at all.  I wasn’t even going to continue with the series, but I was intrigued at this being a (shorter) prequel.

This book came out when I was still working at a public library so I remember the cover quite vividly.

But when I put in the disc I was shocked to realize that the narrator was different!  Where was beloved Wendy Dillon?  That was disappointing.  Worse yet, this book was set in the South so the new narrator, Becky Ann Baker, had a whole lot of Southern to speak to us, which I don’t care for in an audio book.

So there were already two strikes against this.  And then it turned out that the story has literally nothing to do with Ember at all.  Well, that’s not strictly true, but it is set in America (at an unspecified future date) where global stresses are tense, but in which life goes on.

Set with a backdrop of global war, the United States is up against the “Phalanx Nations,” and unless changes are made, war seems imminent.

Into this we see Nicole (Nickie) Randolph, an eleven-year-old girl visiting Yonwood, NC, with her aunt Crystal.  Nickie’s grandfather recently died and Nickie’s mother and aunt want to sell the property, called Greenhaven, and be out of Yonwood.  For reasons either unclear or which I don’t remember, Nickie is travelling with her aunt and not her mother, which is a little odd, but whatever. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: July 2017] The People of Sparks

After finishing up The City of Ember this summer, with that promising cliffhanger-ish ending, I was pretty excited to listen to book two.

Holy cow did I hate this book (until the end).  I blame the combination of DuPrau’s writing and Wendy Dillon’s excellent vocal work.  Because as soon as the book started, the sorta main character Torren quickly became the single most irritating character in fiction.  He is bratty.  He is incredibly whiny.  He is a really mean.  And he is unchecked by adults.  Perhaps we are supposed to feel sorry for him, but he is so incredibly unlikable and does such horrible things that I don’t see how one could.

I imagined that this book would pick up where Ember left off–Mrs Murdo finding the note and rallying the city together to come and meet Lina and Doon in the new place.  I imagined a lengthy first part where the characters try to convince the mayor and gather their stuff and eventually work their way out.

But no.  The book begins in the city of Sparks.  Horrible brat child Torren is sitting on a windmill (not sure why they have these windmills if they don’t harness the energy) and sees people marching across the empty land.

Soon enough Lina and Doon are introducing the 400+ Emberites to the 300+ people of Sparks.  The leaders of Sparks: Mary, Ben and Wilmer meet to decide what to do with this huge influx of people. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: July 2016, July 2017] The City of Ember

I enjoyed this book when we listened to it the first time and I enjoyed the graphic novel as well.

But I couldn’t remember enough about the audio book to post about it so I listened to it again.  And what was so interesting this time was how much it sounded like an attack on our current political situation:

A greedy pig in charge of a country; sycophants as his cronies; keeping as much as possible for themselves and allowing the richer to get richer while the country falls apart; shutting down truth; imprisoning dissenters and just to top it off, the mayor is a large man with very small hands (seriously).  The only real difference is that the mayor speaks eloquently and has a big vocabulary.

I absolutely loved the reading by Wendy Dillon.  She has quite distinctive voices for the main characters and some of the secondary characters have wonderful details about them that keeps them individual–the mayor wheezes, another character smacks his lips together, Clary speaks slowly and deliberately almost with a stutter.  It’s wonderful.  And the sound effects, while not necessary, are a nice addition.  Although they are fairly infrequent and can be surprising if you forget about them.

So what’s the story about? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PENGUIN CAFE-Tiny Desk Concert #627 (June 16, 2017).

I recently found out about Penguin Cafe from a piece on All Songs Considered.  I learned that Penguin Cafe Orchestra was responsible for some cool/unusual classical/pop recordings back in he 1970s and 1980s.  And it’s likely that if you listened to NPR back then, you heard some of their music.:

The music of Penguin Cafe is like no other. Its origins date back to the early ’70s, within fever dreams Simon Jeffes had that were brought on by food poisoning. In those dreams he imagined a dispassionate world “where everyone lived in big concrete blocks and spent their lives looking into screens. In one room, there was a couple making love lovelessly. In another there was a musician sat at a vast array of equipment, but with headphones on, so there was no actual music in the room.” Eerily accurate.

But he also imagined a place, the Penguin Cafe, where folks could gather, for pleasure, cheer and music. He wanted to hear what that music would sound like, and so created the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. I was always a huge fan of that original music; listeners of NPR may have heard it often in-between news stories during the many years I directed All Things Considered.

But Penguin Cafe Orchestra is no more.

While Simon Jeffes died in 1997, his son Arthur has been creating new music infused with his father’s original inspiration. He calls his group, simply, Penguin Cafe. You can hear Brazilian sounds in the rhythms, classical and minimalism in the strings, Asia in its harmonium, African sounds in the kalimbas. But honestly, it’s none of these; it’s a universal dream state.

If you’re looking to explore further be sure the listen to Penguin Cafe’s recent album The Imperfect Sea, which nods to Kraftwerk, Simian Mobile Disco and Franz Schubert. It’s none of these.

The band has a lot of strings: Oli Langford (violin) Clementine Brown (violin) Vincent Greene (viola) Andy Waterworth (double bass).  There’s also a ukulele (Des Murphy) which you can’t hear too often, but it is notable on the final song.

“Wheels Within Wheels” is cover of a song by Simian Mobile Disco.  It is nearly five minutes long with slow, building strings and a simple melody that seems to be never ending as it remains the same while the backing chords change.  In addition to the strings, there’s a guy (Neil Codling) playing a dulcitone on top of the real piano (he’s holding his hand up by the end).  And the percussionist (Darren Berry) seems to have a wooden plank to play on.  He uses mallets on the wood to get quite a deep sound.  It’s a really fun piece.

“Protection” has a catchy piano motif (played by Arthur with outstretched arm on the dulcitone) in 7/8 time.  But everyone else plays in 4/4, so the motif changes every time.  After a few bars, it switches to the real piano and the strings are really lovely while that’s going on.  The ducitone player has switched to a large ukulele and the percussion consists of drums sticks on the piece of wood–fast clicking sounds.

“Ricercar” is an old renaissance Italian term.  At the beginning of a fugue you embed a theme that is expounded on later.  This song opens the album and few themes come back later in the album.  Jeffes plays a quiet melody on the dulcitone.  About half way through the song he opens the piano and seems to be dampening the strings with his hand while playing the notes.  The percussion includes a shaker and the mallets on the wood once again.  It’s upbeat and catchy and a lot of fun.

This is a really enjoyable show–classical music for people who like to have fun as well.  As far as the original band goes, if you’ve heard anything by Penguin Cafe Orchestra, it’s probably this piece: “Music for a Found Harmonium.”

[READ: June 24, 2016] Amulet: The Stonekeeper

I have really enjoyed Kibuishi’s Explorer collections, so it seemed sensible to try out his Amulet as well.  And what a great, interesting and unusual story it is.

Although I must admit I was pretty shocked by the fact that the main characters Emily and Navin are in a car accident in the prologue and their father is killed.  What a way to start!

After the death of their father, the family (Emily, Navin and their mom) move out to an old country estate to get some perspective on things.  As they begin to clean up the old house, they go into a room of inventions by their ancestor Silas Charnon.  The story is that Charnon went missing one day and was never heard from again. While Emily is looking over some books, a creepy ghost creatures hovers behind her.

Navin and Emily look around (they don’t see the ghost) and soon, Emily puts her hand on a hand-shaped plate and a necklace–an amulet–is revealed.  Emily puts it on and when Navin complains, she says he can wear it tomorrow.  But that night the amulet speaks to her.  It tells her to stay with her family and keep the safe–they are in danger. (more…)

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pfilSOUNDTRACK: MACKLEMORE & RYAN LEWIS-Tiny Desk Concert #254 (December 3, 3012).

mackI missed the whole Macklemore & Ryan Lewis thing when it happened in 2012.  I was vaguely aware of “Thrift Shop,” but really didn’t know much about him until the hype blew up all over the place.

And now four years later, I’m catching up on him and finding it all pretty great.

This Tiny Desk Concert is interesting for a number of reasons.  All of the backing females vocals are prerecorded, but the trumpet is live (I gather that’s Lewis on the mixing board).  And he and the audience really get into it–I’m not sure when he was in his rise at the time of this show.

I gather that all three of these songs were well-known at the time.  But I’d never heard “Same Love” at all before. It is a surprisingly powerful and moving song about gay rights and human rights.  It seems to start out with a different tone altogether—he is scared that he is gay.  But it quickly turns into something much sweeter and loving. It’s actually quite a tear-jerker.  Then he changes the mood entirely.

“Thrift Shop” has an amazingly catchy melody for the chorus.  The vocal line is a sample as well.  And while I have heard the song before I never noticed the “this is fucking awesome” final line, which has been stuck in my head for weeks now.  This song is really funny.  The R Kelly line is hilarious [Probably should’ve washed this, smells like R. Kelly sheets (Pissssss…) But shit, it was 99 cents! ] and the whole bit about paying $50 for a T-shirt is spot on.  He hops around and is full of infectious energy.  There’s a live trumpet solo at the end.  Lewis plays with a set of sleigh bells and then knocks them off to much laughter.

As the song ends he grabs the Emmy and says, “Thank you, we’re outta here.  Peace.”

The final song is “Can’t Hold Us.”   The chorus of that song sounds so familiar.  I’m sure I’ve heard it before but I can’t imagine where (maybe roller skating?).  But man, is it catchy.  For this version, Ray Dalton sings with them.  I guess maybe he’s the guy who sang the original?  It sounds like there’s also a recording going with it, though, so who knows, and who cares.  The live trumpet is a nice touch.

As Bob notes: “The live, sweet, soulful sounds of singer Ray Dalton belting, ‘Like the ceiling can’t hold us’ had Macklemore standing on my desk and shaking the dust off the ceiling tiles.”  It is fun an exhilarating.  And as the show fades, you can hear him ask, “You guys have a shower?”

[READ: February 8, 2016] The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

Saunders wrote this novella during the Bush administration. But it feels shockingly more relevant now.  This is the story of an unqualified buffoon who takes charge and attempts to force his will on a country.

But in typical Saunders fashion it is over the top and somewhat absurd, except that it is all quite real.

The story is about a small country called Inner Horner.  Inner Horner is so small that only one citizen can stand in it at a time.  The other five citizens must stand in The Short-Term Residency Zone.  Outer Horner is huge with lots of empty space.  The Outer Hornerites don’t really mind the Inner Hornerites being in the Zone, but they didn’t want to offer any of their own land to Inner Horner because, well, what if other countries wanted land too.

Then one day, a seismic shift makes Inner Horner even smaller.  Now only 1/4 of a citizen can fit in Inner Horner at a time.  Leon, an Outer Horner Border Guard noticed that this citizen (whose name was Elmer) was mostly in Outer Horn and he sounded the alarm that meant Invasion in Progress.

The Outer Horner Militia (Freeda, Melvin and Larry) came over and glared at Elmer.  They don’t believe in the shrinking–decent countries don’t shrink.  But the militia doesn’t know what to do.  And then Phil, a guy standing nearby, says why not tax them?

Phil was in love with Carol, a citizen of Inner Horner. But she had married Cal (another Inner Horner citizen) and they had a child, Little Andy.  This made Phil very bitter.  (more…)

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thrilignSOUNDTRACK: ADIA VICTORIA-Tiny Desk Concert #544 (June 30, 2016).

adiaAdia Victoria has a rough, raw voice that goes well with her simple, exposed guitar sound.  The blurb says her music “carries the singular perspective of a Southern black woman with a Seventh Day Adventist upbringing, who never felt like she’d fit in.”

She sings three song, mostly in a great, raspy voice.  For “Stuck in the South” she actually seems to be gritting her teeth as she sings: “I don’t know nothing ’bout Southern belles / but I can tell you something ’bout Southern hell.”  When the first verse ends, and her band kicks in, it adds such interesting textures.  a distorted bass and a lead guitar playing quietly distorted sounds.  This song is really captivating.

“And Then You Die” with its swirling sounds and keyboards has a very distinctly Nick Cave feel–gothic in the Southern sense of the word.  Indeed, the first verse is spoken in a delivery that would make Nick proud. This is no to say she cribbed from Cave but it would work very well as a companion song  I really like the way it builds, but the ending is so abrupt–I could have used some more verses.

After the second song the band heads away and Bob says “They’re all leaving you.”  She looks at them and growls, “Get off the stage!” to much laughter.

She sings the final song “Heathen” with just her on acoustic guitar.  It is a simple two chord song.  It’s less interesting than the others, but again, it’s the lyrics that stand out: “I guess that makes me a heathen, something lower than dirt / I hear them calling me heathen, ooh like they think it hurts.”

I’m curious to hear just what Adia would do with these songs when she’s not in this Tiny format.  I imagine she can be really powerful.

[READ: November 23, 2016] McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales

For some reason or another I have put off reading this McSweeney’s volume for many years.  This is technically McSweeney’s #10, although it was also released in this printing from a  major publisher. Sadly for me, my McSweeney’s subscription had expired sometime around here so I’ve never actually seen the “official” Volume 10 which I understand has the exact same content but a slightly different cover.

One of the reasons I’ve put off reading this was the small print and pulpy paper–I don’t like pulpy paper.  And it was pretty long, too.

But I think the big reason is that I don’t really like genre fiction.  But I think that’s the point of this issue.  To give people who read non-genre fiction some exposure to genre stuff.

Interestingly I think I’ve learned that I do enjoy some genre fiction after all.  And yet, a lot of the stories here really weren’t very genre-y.  Or very thrilling.  They seemed to have trappings of genre ideas–mystery, horror–but all the while remaining internal stories rather than action-packed.

Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy anything here. I enjoyed a bunch of the stories quite a bit, especially if I didn’t think of them as genre stories.  Although there were a couple of less than exiting stories here, too. (more…)

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