April 24, 2006

Spin echo [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at April 24, 2006 3:17 PM

I'll be going to Coachella this weekend, and I will definitely be blogging about it afterwards. I may try to do some liveblogging by phone barring technical problems.

Robert Charles Wilson: Spin: Next time Zifnab recommends a book I'm just going to clear my weekend schedule. This novel was nearly impossible to put down and I devoured it in two sittings over the last two days, mainly at the cost of sleep. The central premise is very compelling: an unknown entity enshrouds the Earth in a bubble that alters the flow of time inside, so that for every year that passes on Earth a hundred million years elapse outside. The efforts of human scientists to understand and work around this, and the reaction of society to the event and the threat of the expanding sun, were what kept me turning the pages. Unlike the last sci-fi novel I read, this one had thought through the science a little more carefully, and most of the issues that came to mind related to slowing down time on the Earth were addressed in the book. (I suspect there are some problems related to general relativity with the way the Spin worked, but I've not studied GR.) I also felt that the author had an astute political eye; depictions of societal development under the Spin were entirely plausible.

On the other hand, I didn't like the characters very much. I'm not sure they were meant to be likable—one of the recurring themes is the psychological stress imposed on the generation growing up under the Spin, and the Spin itself makes a good metaphor for the emotional difficulties of the protagonist. But the fact that I found him annoying meant that I didn't care very much about the more personal storylines, and preferred to read about the large-scale effects of the Spin and the central mysteries of the book. Fortunately, there was plenty of interest to be found there.

The book has some comments to make on sustainability, and even though the ending seems optimistic, it was only optimistic in the context of the fictional universe, whereas back in the real world we're still pretty much fucked when the planet runs out of resources. It's sobering to come away from the novel and realize that we may really be facing the end of the world in a few decades, albeit via resource exhaustion or global warming rather than an expanding sun. Rating: 4/5

Pretty Girls Make Graves: Élan Vital: Like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, PGMG have calmed down a bit, but in this case it has led to their best album yet. Their tone has moved from angry to confident, while mostly preserving the dark elements of the music. I was unimpressed by "The Nocturnal House", which was released early and appears as the opening track, but it is followed by four excellent songs. "Pyrite Pedestal" is my favorite of this set and of the album, but labor anthem "Parade" is nearly as good. The second half of the disc (after an interlude) is not quite as strong as the first, but is notable for "Pictures of a Night Scene" and "Selling the Wind", the latter featuring an accordion and sufficiently piratey lyrics to be added to my Sept. 19 playlist. I feel like there's a bit of a fall-off in quality for the final two songs, but the initial quality level is very high indeed. Rating: 4.5/5

Tags: Books, Music, Open Thread

I need to borrow that book from Zifnab after I finish Amber and Iron and the last two Death Gate Cycle books. Once I'm done with these three, I will feel better about playing with skipping over other books in my queue. (Although the first book in the Dark Chronicles will be coming out soon, and that may well also be primed for skipping over lots of books.)

Posted by: Mason | April 24, 2006 4:34 PM

I have a deep to-read stack (well, procedurally a queue but physically a stack) but (now that I've read Spin) everything in it is from before 2005. I've been skipping newer books to the front so that I can stay somewhat current, but it may be time to catch up on the backlog.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | April 24, 2006 5:49 PM

Actually, I think you should keep them in a heap--that would be a sufficiently pun-worthy data structure that also maintains the minimum subset of important properties (next book is always on top)

Posted by: Lemming | April 24, 2006 10:54 PM

My skipping has to do with particular books coming out that excite me more than what's waiting (and for short-story collections, I typically read only a couple stories at a time). In the case of the Death Gate stuff (which I ought to have read years ago), I also figure it's worth borrowing them while I live near someone who has them. Otherwise, I'll end up blowing even more money on books than I already do.

There's also my nice little backlog of scientific papers, but those get read based partially on urgency and partially based on what projects my students are keen on when I give them some choices. (Student researchers are a superb way to force oneself to learn new things.)

Posted by: Mason | April 24, 2006 11:33 PM
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