Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What I'm Reading: A Clockwork Orange

My policy on "classics" is generally to avoid reviewing them because everything that can be said has already been said. So instead, I'm just going to discuss my experiences with A Clockwork Orange because this is a book that's been on my mind for over ten years.

I first gave it a try in high school. For a birthday or Christmas or something sort of present one year, my younger brother got signed up for Easton Press's "Science Fiction Classics" book club. Every month for years he got a luxurious, leather-bound copy of a classic science fiction novel: Dune, Neuromancer, Solaris, and many, many others. One of them was A Clockwork Orange.



I have no idea how many of these my brother actually read (I was always the bigger bookworm), but fortunately he was perfectly mellow with me borrowing whatever one I liked for however long I wanted. One of the ones I borrowed was A Clockwork Orange.

This particular edition came with a glossary of all of the nadsat slang in the back. I'm not sure if that was a good idea or a bad idea: on the one hand if I really didn't understand something I could look it up; on the other hand all the stopping and looking up took me out of the story and probably is what slowed my reading down to a crawl.

I eventually gave it up in favor of other things I wanted to (or had to) read and it became one of those Book Bugbears: you know you should read it, or you even want to, but you just can't bring yourself to sit down and read it. I'm not even sure if that edition had 20 or 21 chapters.

Then, years later, I decided to tackle TIME's Top 100 Novels list, and I saw it on there. I put it off until the end, because I figured: "Well, I've read enough of it. I should read these other books I haven't read at all first."

Well, now is the time. I'm getting most of my remaining books from the Stockholm public library system, which is impressive, but it doesn't have all of the remaining books. A Clockwork Orange was the only book I could find at the branch I visited on Monday so I decided to give it another go.

This time, the going with the writing (and in particular, nadsat) is much easier. I think there might be a few reasons for that.

  1. I'm older now and my reading comprehension has (probably) improved. It's hard for me to tell myself if that's happened, but I would assume that this is the case.
  2. I remember enough of my first go-around that it helps.
  3. The Russian I studied in university hasn't been entirely forgotten. "Itty" seems like it comes from идти, which happens to be one of many, many words for "to go." (I remember it because when you conjugate it in one form, it sounds more or less like "idiot" and these things amuse me.) Same with "slooshy," "viddy," and so forth. 
  4. I've been doing enough reading in Swedish that I've become better accustomed to dealing with words I don't immediately understand in a text.
The only question left is that of the last chapter. Burgess wanted it in; his American publisher wanted it out. Which version is the best? Is the last chapter necessary? Or does it ruin the whole thing?

I haven't finished the book yet (I probably will over the holiday weekend), so I'll have to hold out on that. But if you have any thoughts on the last chapter of A Clockwork Orange, feel free to share them!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Music Monday: I'm On a Boat (because I was on a boat)

First of all, Blogger's "embed video straight from YouTube" option has been really broken for me lately, and I've noticed it's been broken for other blogs too. Frustrating!

Anyway, today's tune:




Because I was on a boat. There are a number of short cruises that depart from Stockholm to the archipelago and other Baltic states, and they're stupid cheap. 

These cruises, by the way, are Swedes' and Finns' favorite way to party. 

But I wasn't on a boat to party. I was on a boat to write. If you've been reading at all within the last few weeks, you'll know that I've been doing NaNoWriMo. This year, the Stockholm NaNoWriMo MLs ("municipal liaisons," for those who aren't hep to the jargon; they are volunteer event organizers within a particular region) announced that for the first time, we would have be having an all-day "skrivkryssning" ("writing cruise"). 

So Sunday morning I woke up at 5 am (!!) to get to Ropsten and get on the boat to Åland, a collection of islands between Finland and Sweden, at which point we'd be shuttled through the deck there to get on a boat back to Stockholm.  


It was a good time, though I didn't write an outstanding amount despite the eleven hours we put aside to write. It was a triple threat of exhaustion, being already past the 50k mark and thus lacking any sense of urgency, and being too distracted by the goings-on on the boat. One of our members won some James Bond trivia they had going on in one of the bars on ship. There was also Finnish karaoke. At 11 am. 

Never too early for Finnish karaoke.

Still, I wrote over 3000 words, or about twice the daily quota needed to hit 50,000 words in thirty days. Nice, though about on par with the word count I've been averaging for all of November. More importantly, I was able to wrap up my story (my only goal for the day). NaNo total: 72,600 words. Manuscript total: 84,100 words. That's about on par with, among other things, Cry, the Beloved Country.

My sense of relief upon having finished a damn first draft during NaNo (something I haven't done since 2011) was something like Frodo's at the end of Lord of the Rings:



Despite my writing degree, I've don't always take what I write during NaNo too seriously. Sometimes (like this year) I use the month to hash out a lot of work and words on an idea I had earlier. Other times I don't have an idea until just a few weeks before NaNo begins and I write it basically to have something to write during NaNo. This is the first "serious project" whose first draft has seen completion in November, and so that means it gets to be the first to get revised and edited!

I'm not sure what I'll do next year. I have a YA fantasy novel (YES ANOTHER YA FANTASY NOVEL, AS IF THE WORLD NEEDED ANY MORE) I worked on two years ago that I keep outlining and plotting despite myself; NaNo 2015 might be the push it gets to see completion. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Trek Thursday: Wink of an Eye

#53: Wink of an Eye




In case you forgot: The Enterprise answers a distress call from a planet, only to find it complete devoid of life. Or so they think: turns out the life there moves so fast that everyone is invisible to the crew of the Enterprise. Kirk gets kidnapped by one of these aliens for the purposes of breeding, and the entire Enterprise has been hijacked.

Aliens who pass through time at an entirely different rate than humans do is a cool idea. The way it's implemented is a bit silly, but if you can accept that, then the whole episode plays out pretty nicely. I have to commend the directors/producers for sneaking crap past the radar on this one: the scene with Kirk putting his boots back on and Deela brushing her hair is such an obvious "THEY JUST DID THE NASTY" shot, and yet the censors never noticed it?

McCoy and Spock figure out what's going on fairly quickly, all things considered: there isn't much idiot ball going on in this episode.


All that, said, there's a pretty big "if" up there. The idea that radiation speeds up time and makes you invisible is one of the sillier conceits in the show. Wink of an Eye is fun enough but the goofiness of that particular conceit hangs over the whole thing for me.

I'm also not sure how I feel about those alien fashion choices. Tin foil scrubs and half of a jumpsuit? Not a look that's aged well.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Music Monday: Carmina Burana

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I was pumped for the Carmina Burana performance we were going to see. Well, it happened, and it was awesome!

It was put on by Sweden's Folkoperan, and included a dramatic/performance art element in addition to the music. I knew it was going to be more than just straight music, but I wasn't quite sure what to expect.



JV has always been a fan of Folkoperan. Their motto is "opera for all" and this seems to be a dual goal: affordable opera and intellectually accessible opera. This is in contrast to the Royal Opera, which is, you know....standard fancy shit. They perform in minimal costume (as in basic, not as in showing skin) and with bare bones set design, which I suppose is an aesthetic choice as well as an economic one. He's seen four or five other shows they've put on, including Don Giovanni.

For me, however, this was my first Folkoperan performance.

I should also say that Carmina Burana is especially important to me because it was one of a whole collection JV mailed me (physically mailed me!!) on a burned CD-rom when we had first gotten to know each other. He sent a whole shitload of Elvis Costello albums, some Cake, Dilated Peoples, Corporate Avenger, Apoptygma Bezerk, and Carmina Burana. That was the first I had ever heard the entire set—before that I only know, like everyone does, O Fortuna—and I've always associated Carmina Burana with JV because of that. So going in it was going to be a more ~emotional~ experience for me than most other people, maybe.



Anyway, the details of the performance itself:

The project for this began development in 2012. ~They~ (the conductor, I assume, at the least, but who knows who else designed the show) wanted to incorporate dramatic set pieces, I guess you could say, along with the music, and so they began asking people questions: what is your greatest love experience? and what is your greatest tragedy? They didn't ask just anyone, however; they decided to ask people aged 80 or older so that there would be a wealth of lived experiences, and they decided to ask women because the author(s) of the original Carmina Burana had been men. Equity! Folkoperan released a whole video about the dramatic and artistic decisions they made. For my Swedish readers, here it is:



You can also read more (in Swedish, but Google translate is your friend) about the artistic background and intention with this project on Folkoperan's official webpage.

Eventually they worked it down to a handful of women (not professional actresses so far as I can tell, but the actual people whose stories these were?). There were about six at our performance, but apparently there were two more women who had been involved with the project who had since passed away, one of them just a few weeks ago. The concert opened with six plain white chairs in front of the curtain. The women walked on (in just regular "old Swedish lady" clothes), took their seats, and then stood and told their stories (greatest experience in love, and greatest tragedy) at random. They were all pretty sad, as you can imagine, and bittersweet at best. One woman talked about how she could never have a close relationship with her mother. More than one talked about husbands who had left them. Another said she had decided to tell someone else's story, the woman who had died just a few weeks ago, instead of her own: how her own tragedy was outliving her husband.


This was all in Swedish so I'm fuzzy on some of the finer details of some, but I could follow enough to be entertained and not be entirely perplexed.

The last story was about a woman who had been in love with a boy since she was 9 (and he was 15). The boy had loved her back (not in any sexy way), but had grown and married another woman and had two daughters with her. His wife died young and so he married his childhood sweetheart, the woman on stage, two years later, which was sweet, but then eventually he left her for another woman. They divorced and he took the stepkids with him to his new wife. He also took some of their shared possessions—"yes, even the television~"

And right at the end of that story, after she had said, "yes, even the television" the music started and there is nothing for a lol like someone lamenting the loss of a television only to be followed by the opening bars of O Fortuna. A+ art direction, Folkoperan.

For the first few songs, the women remained on stage in their chairs, though moved from facing the audience to facing inwards, towards center stage, with periodic commentary (most often in the form of someone repeating one of the lines in the lyrics in Swedish). At one point one of the women got up and gave everyone else roses and floral crowns. After receiving floral crowns, the women left the stage and the Jumbotron cut to an obviously pretaped video of them in the same clothes and the same floral crowns going shopping in the ICA supermarket down the way (before the Jumbotron was, as usual, a zoomed-in live feed); behind the stage there was another video of older women (maybe the same women?) in black body suits doing some kind of interpretative dance slowed way the fuck down, as well as a Swedish translation of all the Latin text.

Yeah, for a company that's dedicated to simple, barebones "opera for all," it got a little technically involved.

Anyway, the women all went out shopping, which lasted for maybe three or four selections, and then they "came back" on stage with ICA bags. While they were rolling the shopping video clip, a long white table had been brought out and the chairs were placed around it. There was also a small fake little living room, with an upholstered overstuffed chair and a floor lamp stage right.

The Jumbotron video cut back to its live feed of the stage (instead of the grocery store shopping spree) and for the remaining selections the women carried out a great pantomime feast in front of the choir and orchestra.

To give you the basic gist of it.
Bonus points for sexy baritone soloist standing on the table and taking off his shirt while the women fawned over him. (The above photo is not from the performance I attended; our baritone was much younger and better-looking than the guy on the far right here.)

Other snippets included an ensemble of female dancers and one of the women wielding a small chainsaw on stage (just revving the engine, not actually destroying anything). At one point there was a third video feed, just a little camcorder on stage, that the soprano soloist and then one of the women carried around and stared into the whole time (the old woman set it down and used it as a mirror to apply some lipstick). Then, for the end, the women were escorted offstage with masses and masses of glitter and the dance ensemble, the children's choir, and the soloists waving goodbye to them, then waving goodbye to the audience.

And that was what happened, in a nutshell. In addition to the music itself. It sounds weird in the telling of it (and it was weird in the watching of it) but the introductory monologues and the ongoing dramatic...I don't know, tableaux, I guess?...didn't detract from the music in any way. Orff originally envisioned the piece as something a little more than just a musical cantata, after all; I just don't know if he envisioned something quite so surreal.

Did the dramatics augment the musical performance? Tough call. Some people might find it distracting, I guess. On the other hand, I can see how having something visual going on could actually help people stay focused on the music more: it does keep your attention from wandering off the performance entirely. And with the Jumbotron, the video backdrop with the lyrics, the tableaux up front, or the "selfie" live feed from the camcorder on stage for a while, there was always something to watch. The monologues, however, were a solid net positive for me. They complemented the thematic elements of Carmina Burana quite well (both in terms of the Latin text and the musical elements). It made for a nice "warm-up" or introduction to the music. (I think if I were directing things I would have staged the monologues throughout the performance as thematically appropriate, but hey, that's just me.)




The musical performance was excellent. Folkoperan is no less talented than the Royal Opera despite their "opera for all" credo, so it's not like they're second-rate bums because us plebes can't afford the good shit. There were no interpretive weirdnesses, which is to say it "matched well" with that recording I have from JV (the London Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta, with Sumi Jo (S), Jochen Kowalski (A), and Boje Skovhus (B)).

The one significant departure was over what my choral nerd friend Bov called "that goddamned goose part." In the recording I have (and the only version I've listened to straight through), that particular tenor solo ("Olim lacus colueram") is performed "straight," as it were. It's sung well and technically correct. But apparently it's a viable artistic option to intentionally break your voice on that part to convey the pain and suffering of the swan, as it's quite literally being roasted alive. Folkoperan went with the voice-breaking interpretation, which is a bold choice and one that can take you out of the experience if you don't know any better. Which I didn't. (But now I do!)

The instrumentation of this performance was also a bit different than what I'm accustomed to: it sounded heavier on strings (especially viola (or maybe violin? or both?)) and lighter on woodwinds than I've heard before, either on that 1992 London Philharmonic recording or others I've found on the Internet.

I've seen my fair share of symphonic music performances. But I think this was the first time I went into a concert being extremely well-acquainted with the material, and that can really make all the difference. Or it could just be that Carmina Burana is music that punches you right in the face.

All in all, a brilliant project that was flawlessly executed. I hope they go international with this performance, it's absolutely stunning.

And as a reward for reading all those words, here's the official trailer:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Read Play Blog: Favorite Science Fiction Game

Read. Play. Blog. is a meme about video games and books, posted every 16th of the month. Bloggers are encouraged to answer a discussion question, and recommend a video game that is similar to a book they liked. Hosted by Happy Indulgence & Read Me Away.

What is your favorite sci-fi game?

I'm trying to dig back and remember all of the sci-fi games I've played. Alternative futures and fancy tech is something that gets explored a lot in video games, after all. There's no shortage to choose from.

I think the earliest sci-fi game I played that wasn't just a future alien shooter (I still love you, Contra) was Beneath A Steel Sky, though I played it nearly ten years after its initial 1994 release. It's a point-and-click adventure game set in a future dystopic Australia, ruined after humans went crazy with pollution and/or nuclear fallout. It was a lot of fun, though I never finished it (I got close but then couldn't solve some last puzzle). It won loads of awards and is almost always on "Top Whatever" lists, yet somehow I missed out on it entirely until 2003, when JV insisted I try it. I think because in 1994 I was all about the SNES and the only PC games I was into were of the edutainment variety. Also, I was 8, and I can't imagine my parents would have been down with the gritty violence in the opening story.

The creator (Charles Cecil) collaborated with Dave Gibbons on this project. Yeah, that Dave Gibbons. If you're curious, it's still available as freeware, available to play on the ScummVM environment. A sequel is now in the works, though no word on when it's going to be released.



My current favorite, though, is Fallout 3. I don't care much for Bethesda's other behemoth, the Elder Scrolls series, but I am totally in love with the post-apocalyptic universe they've created in Fallout. I'm also in love with the diversity of that world, with a variety of race and ethnicities and interesting characters of both sexes. And the VATS system, since I can't aim for shit.

I can count, though! Which is all you need with VATS.

 I haven't played the first two Fallout games (or Fallout 3: New Vegas); they're on my list of "games to catch up on." I just have so many other games to finish first....


Recommendation

Since right now I'm deeply entrenched in my rotating trilogy of Ni no Kuni, Fallout 3, and Diablo 3, I'll branch out a little bit into a game I've always wanted to play myself (but never have) that also fits nicely into this sci-fi theme: Douglas Adams' Starship Titanic. (Which happens to tie in nicely with the book theme as well! Douglas Adams is, well, Douglas Adams, but also Terry Jones later adapted Starship Titanic the game into Starship Titanic the novel. I have no idea if it's any good, though.) There are a few Let's Plays of it so I can live vicariously through other people on the Internet, but that's not quite the same, y'know?



Saturday, November 15, 2014

NaNo and Carmina Burana

God, there are a thousand things I should probably be blogging about, like the Philae landing or that dude's shirt with the half-naked ladies, but I'm going to have to miss those awesome blogging opportunities (or write about them later) because all of my spare energy has been thrown into my NaNo project this year, Your New Fan.

The title is subject to change but I think it's a good one.

This is an idea I've been sitting on for a couple years, at least in a vague way. You see, I listen to a lot of NPR in the states, and my particular affiliate (WDIY out of Allentown, PA) has a really great mix of indie music, local events, and syndicated NPR material. ("I'm Terry Gross and you're listening to Fresh Air.") But my favorite show, by far, is the three-hour weekday afternoon indie binge that is The Blend. If it was a good day at work, we'd have the dial tuned to NPR and those three hours during the slow winter months would just fly by. Then an hour of the news and then it was closing time.

It occurred to me on a drive once, on a day off, that it would be really easy for a mentally unwell person to fall in love with the DJ of just such a show, with only the music selection, the DJ's voice and a bit of banter or explanation in between songs to go on.

This year I finally decided to make that story happen. I also decided to go a little postmodern/House of Leaves with it and present the whole thing as a "found footage" story-within-a-story: someone discovers the letters addressed to a local DJ in their new apartment and presents their own commentary and thoughts on the letters; the more we learn about the author of the letters the more we also learn about the person who found the letters.



It is almost aggressively complex and ~literary~ but why not? I think this NaNo, more than my other attempts, is becoming a useful psychological exercise for me, but that's a topic best left to another day.

So, anyway, that's why I haven't been posting so much. And it isn't even NaNo that's prompting me to post today, but the fact that THIS IS HAPPENING AND I HAVE TICKETS FOR IT AND I'M GOING TO SEE IT IN A FEW HOURS:



I know Carmina Burana is like the super sexy popular kid of Modern orchestral music and is probably way overplayed but I don't care, I think it's a fantastic concert cantata.

If I lost you at "Carmina Burana" let me embed a selection from it that you absolutely positively know because at this point it's become something like a musical trope (especially in movie soundtracks).



Thursday, November 13, 2014

Trek Thursday: What Are Little Girls Made Of?

#54: What Are Little Girls Made Of?



In case you forgot: Kirk and Nurse Chapel square off against Chapel's (ex?) fiancé, Roger Korby, and his android henchmen, including Ted Cassidy. Twist ending: Korby is himself an android.

This is the only episode where Nurse Chapel (aka Future Mrs. Roddenberry) gets to have some time off the Enterprise. While Kirk spends most of the episode being the hero, Chapel at least doesn't get endangered or in the way, which is refreshing. (Though, if she hadn't been a major recurring character in the series/dating the head writer, she might not have been spared.)

Spock is also sharp enough to catch on to robo-Kirk right away and takes immediate and sane action, compared to other possessed/fake/etc Kirks that pop up later in the series. Not catching on to a body-snatched individual right away is one of my biggest Trek-related pet peeves. In the course of daily life here in the real world we of course never encounter that kind of situation but this is Star Trek, for fuck's sake. Everyone on the Enterprise has probably seen weird, freaky shit we can't even imagine. Body-snatching seems like it would be pretty high on the list of "weird shit that happens in space."

(Weird Shit That Happens in Space would be a good alternative title for Star Trek.)

The whole court scene in Turnabout Intruder bugs me for this very reason.

Korby attempting to prove his humanity to Chapel and Kirk is a little bit funny and a lot bit sad.  ("I'm not a computer. Test me. Ask me to solve any... equate... transmit...") His suicide comes totally out of left field, too, so that's a bit of a gut-puncher.

Somehow Kirk manages to get an android to fall in love with him, just by forcibly kissing her? Ugh. I don't think I need to explain how unappealing that is. (Thought: how awesome would it have been if Kirk had taught Ted Cassidy the power of love, instead of Sherry Jackson?) Really, the whole "androids are people too!...or are they?" theme is another iteration of "why man is superior to the computer" and it never brings anything new to the discussion.


What bugs me the most, though, are the implications of the method Kirk uses to foil the android-making process. If he is so easily able to "overwrite" his friendship and fraternal feelings for Spock by just focusing on one snarly bigoted comment about Spock's Vulcan heritage, how deep is the friendship, really?