29 September 2013

Old school wise words

"I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than badly-cooked meals and untidy ways. Men are now so well served out of doors - at clubs, hotels and restaurants - that, to compete with the attractions of these places, a mistress must be thoroughly acquainted with the theory and practice of cookery, as well as all the other arts of making and keeping a comfortable home." 
Isabella Beeton - The Book of Household Management

Book sharing rant

Isn't it incredible how one can freely share one's books and magazines (I'm talking 'real' paper versions here) without reprisal, yet when one decides to share one's books or magazines in electronic form it is considered piracy. This is utter rubbish and a complete double standard.

Good literature should be shared. This is how culture grows and changes. People learn stuff. The world becomes a richer place.

I advocate the free non-profit sharing of our literature and I recommend you check out TUEBL - The Ultimate EBook Library. This is one such site that sees things the way I do.

26 September 2013

MUSIC REVIEW: Dream Theater - Dream Theater

Here's a follow-up review of the new self-titled album from Dream Theater that I previewed a couple of months ago [preview HERE]. I have to say that it only took one listen to realize that this album is one of their best. The band seems to have got a whole new lease of life after the old drummer/new drummer situation was forced on them. What follows is a review from the excellent rock and metal music website Loudwire.com ('cos I couldn't have put it any better myself).

The first introductory strains of the “False Awakening Suite,” which kick off Dream Theater‘s new self-titled album (due Sept. 24) seems to actually transport the listener into a theater. Images come to mind of the lights going down in some wildly ornate medieval house of drama, the orchestra has signaled the overture, and it is time for the massive sweep of something liberating, powerful and profound to roll forth.

There may be other prog metal outfits that blend dazzlingly crunchy riffs with swirling, dramatic strings and keyboard textures. But nobody does it quite like the supreme lords of the genre, and with this relatively short (2:42) three-sectioned suite (i. Sleep Paralysis, ii. Night Terrors, iii. Lucid Dream), it is clear that we’re in for a fasten-your-seatbelts show.

Was it really two years ago that Dream Theater entered the post-Mike Portnoy era with the triumphant ‘A Dramatic Turn of Events’ (which featured their first-ever nominated Grammy single, ‘On the Backs of Angels’)? With that album, and their newly minted drummer Mike Mangini, the band not only dismissed any concerns about their future, but they seemed to solidify the fact that they are here for the long haul.

Now, with this thunderous and confident new album, musical promises are delivered in the form of a blistering effort that throttles, dazes and exhausts in all the right ways.

Sure, there are things Dream Theater fans expect that are delivered in boatloads. All the jarring, complex barrages of precise musical mayhem are delivered with their usual sparkling efficiency. After all, for pure playing prowess, John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess, John Myung and Mike Mangini have few mortal equals.

But this is not just some Herculean contest to see how many notes or time changes can be delivered per second or per pound. Remember, what separates this band is their ability to take that rocket power and convert it into regal, elegant, even stately song forms.

Which is why new songs like ‘Behind the Veil,’ ‘The Looking Glass’ and ‘Along for the Ride’ work so well. Little homages peak out from time to time; a rush of some Rush, a nod to Yes and ELP, but led by the ever soaring and empathetic vocals of James LaBrie, these tunes are instantly unique and accessible. That is one aspect of this record that I think will lure new listeners in.

Sure, there are the sprawling epics (we’ll get to that) but the album features enough intensely inviting melodies in shorter-form tunes to really give it the feel of a commercial, not just artistic force of nature. Years ago, this would have been called a seriously radio-friendly album, and not just because it includes some beautiful, mid-tempo ballads. And while newer listeners may need to get up to speed on the knotty, pulse jarring signature shifts and pressure drops, the military pounding of the first single, ‘The Enemy Inside,’ is itself a crash course on the band.

The rugged musical landscapes on ‘Dream Theater’ are naturally punctuated with gusts of wildly inventive solos courtesy of Rudess and Petrucci, both of whose playing, stupefyingly, seem to have notched up even more than the last record. They create their own weather system, dueling, erupting and hypnotizing before always bringing it back to some rewarding musical space, be it a lush symphonic meadow or some evil metallic cauldron. Dream Theater have never been more vital or ambitious, and without showing off, they prove what makes them the best at what they do.

As for the true album epic, we are treated to the kaleidoscopic, 22-minute opus entitled ‘Illumination Theory,’ a five-part piece broken down as follows: i. Paradoxe de la Lumière Noire, ii. Live, Die, Kill, iii. The Embracing Circle, iv. The Pursuit of Truth, v. Surrender, Trust & Passion. This is what many Dream Theater purists will have arrived for. The monster. Jam-packed with a head-spinning mix of quiet interludes, face melting jams and, courtesy of bassist Myung and Mangini, forests full of rhythmic majesty, this suite plays like a mini album in itself. Petrucci’s solos in this piece seem to defy logic at times, yet the warmth and emotional tone is never sacrificed. And Rudess scales heights impressive by even his own lofty standards.

Then, as simply as it began, it ends – quiet, peaceful and full of hope. The show is over. Lights, up. Towering and atmospheric, ‘Dream Theater’ pushes the envelope into some new musical dimension, a cosmic realm reserved for the best. The band also seems to be expanding their appeal beyond the faithful with some punchy, stylish and tuneful songs that seduce immediately. Good thing, too. Because the more people that can hear an album like this, the more faithful there will be. Sure, that’s good for Dream Theater. But it’s also good for music.

21 September 2013

BOOK REVIEW: The Secret Hunters by Ranulph Fiennes

The Secret HuntersThe Secret Hunters by Ranulph Fiennes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 1997 a journal is found in an all weather shelter in Antarctica. Travelling back to England the finder reads an extraordinary story of depravation, war, survival and the thirst for revenge. It is the autobiography of Derek Jacobs, who as a child was an inmate of the Nazi concentration camps where he saw his mother horrifically abused, particularly by one man. Unlike his mother, he survives the camps and the death march to be brought up in Canada. There, as a young man forging a career in the environment movement, he comes across the same man. The meeting unblocks the suppressed memories of his childhood and Derek savours the heady flavour of revenge. He is co-opted by 'The Secret Hunters' and with dogged patience they track their prey through a web of intermediaries, discovering that he and his cohorts believe they can re-establish the fascist state. On a secret mission to mine valuable minerals in the Antarctic Derek confronts him. The result is deadly - but for which man?

Is it fact or is it fiction? A very good question.

This book leaves you wondering if it really is a true story. Basically it's a story based on a journal found in an abandoned Antarctic hut.

It is the journal of a 55-year-old Jewish Canadian of German descent named Derek Jacobs who had been stranded at the hut in the early 1990s. The journal proved to be Jacobs' account of his life, from the death march of wartime Germany to the advance of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in 1974 to the Arctic, where Jacobs had come as a member of the Secret Hunters, an organization devoted to seeking out Nazi war criminals.

The story is fantastic and I found that I liked to assume that it was true. It's been called fiction by the author due to "several uncheckable facts that forced the decision to label the book as fiction rather than non-fiction".

Nonetheless, a very interesting story about a man who gets put through the meat grinder a number of times.

I'd love to meet Derek Jacobs...if he really exists at all.

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18 September 2013

Paraprosdokians (?)

Paraprosdokians (Winston Churchill loved them) are figures of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected; frequently humorous. Enjoy! 

1. Where there's a will, I want to be in it.

2. The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on my list.

3. Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

4. If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

5. We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.

6. War does not determine who is right - only who is left.

7. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad..

8. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.

9. I didn't say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.

10. In filling out an application, where it says, 'In case of emergency, Notify:' I put 'DOCTOR'.

11. Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.

12. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

13. I used to be indecisive. Now I'm not so sure.

14. To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.

15. Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.

16. You're never too old to learn something stupid.

17. I'm supposed to respect my elders, but it’s getting harder and harder for me to find one now.

09 September 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Hawks by Andrew Grant

HawksHawks by Andrew Grant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the best "ripping yarn" books that I've ever read. It's an action-packed tale with a great plot, realistic characters and good action.

Set among the wild New Zealand back country and the people of the helicopter deer recovery industry, we follow shooter Gray, an ex-army Vietnam vet with a few demons from his past along for the ride. Gray gets himself involved with a capture company and quickly becomes one of the best there is at his craft. Throw into the mix some superb aerial hunting action, crazy pilots, helicopter crashes, hard-core drinking sessions, some complex love interests and a bit of sex, hey-presto...we get a brilliant story worthy of so much praise.

An excellent read and the characters couldn't be any more apt. I know a number of people who have read this book and all have come away hugely impressed.

The real gem in this book is the Epilogue. While very sad, it is actually my favourite part. The mixture of happiness and bitterness that encompass Gray throughout the story all blend together to form a very satisfactory conclusion.

Andrew Grant (real name Grant Shanks) is a superb author who knows his subject matter well, and knows how to put it all together into a great story. Hawks is one example.

Read it.

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06 September 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Salvage by Eric Brown

SalvageSalvage by Eric Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Salvageman Ed saves Ella Rodriguez from spider-drones on the pleasure planet of Sinclair’s Landfall, he has no idea what he’s letting himself in for. Ella is not at all what she seems, as he’s soon about to find out.
What follows, as the spider-drones and the Hayakawa Organisation chase Ed, Ella and engineer Karrie light-years across space, is a fast-paced adventure with Ed learning more about Ella – and about himself – than he ever expected.
The Salvageman Ed series of linked stories – four of which appear here for the first time – combine action, humour and pathos, from the master of character-based adventure science fiction. 

This is the first short story collection of Brown's that I've read, if you can call it that. It's a group of stories that are all linked together by the characters and the general 'journey' of the stories, similar to Kethani which is another collection of his stories that blend together into a fine novel length book.

Salvage reads great and has a really fun 'pulp sci-fi' feel going on that I totally loved. At times I was reminded almost of some old Perry Rhodan stories that I've read but with a little more finesse. There's all the elements there for great stories - FTL star ships, robots , AI, aliens, weird and wonderful planets and species. The lot.

The use of words to describe people, places and things is absolutely fantastic and made me chuckle at times. I used the dictionary feature on my Kindle a number of times for some of the more impressive words. Check these two examples:

“They left the prison of the flesh, which by any definition is finite, and became immortal. They reside now in a realm of their own devising, free of the corruption of the physical, a hundred million of them in a virtual universe tied in a way I can barely comprehend to the nano-strings that bind the quantum universe. Their new home might very well last for ever.”
The creature said, raising itself on its multiple limbs, “I thank you for your hospitality, my friends, and now I must repair to my berth and void the excess of foodstuffs partaken. Good night to you.”

I love this stuff, right good yarns with heaps of well-proven sci-fi tropes and ideas all done in a fun an much entertaining way.

Overall a great little book that, once again, confirms Eric Brown as one of my all time favorite authors. I'd like him to do more work like this. Highly recommended.

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