Uncommon Sense

February 21, 2023

Reread Much?

Filed under: Art,Entertainment,writing — Steve Ruis @ 1:02 pm
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I am an avid reader, not fast just persistent. I enjoy greatly fantasy and science fiction works and I learned early on a simple lesson: don’t start a multi-volume work until they are all available. I learned this in college. I acquired a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring (the infamous Ace Paperback version) and while I had trouble getting going once I did, I stayed up quite late for several nights only to learn that it was the first volume of a trilogy. Like a maniac I drove to my favorite bookstore and was able to get The Two Towers, but they had run out of the third volume. So, I searched avidly as I tore through the second volume, finding the third volume just in time.

I followed this rule for a long time. I also broke that rule because several of may favorite authors wrote trilogies of trilogies, sometimes more. One of my favorites, C.J. Cherryh, has written 21 volumes in her Foreigner series (putting her on a path to a trilogy of trilogies of trilogies). I read each one when it comes out; they are just too good. (This series is like an old movie serial short, each book starts up where the previous one left off . . . and I have read all of her other works, too, many, many dozens of them.)

I did make a mistake, however, when I was sucked into the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. The author warned us that he planned on the thing to be 12 volumes. And if you look at the publication history (see below), you can see that the final 14 volumes took almost 23 years to publish. The problem with this kind of work is that it may never be finished. (Will George R.R. Martin ever finish Game of Thrones?) In the case of Robert Jordan, he died before the series was finished! But he left copious notes and Brandon Sanderson was hired to finish/write the last three volumes (which he did brilliantly).

Each book averages 306,277 words and 702 pages, which was good because there was like 21 months to wait for the next volume (on average). But I don’t read that slowly so when the next volume came around, it was many months since I finished the last one.

The Wheel of Time Publication Schedule

The Eye of the World  January 15, 1990
The Great Hunt           November 15, 1990
The Dragon Reborn    October 15, 1991
The Shadow Rising      September 15, 1992
The Fires of Heaven    October 15, 1993
Lord of Chaos             October 15, 1994
A Crown of Swords     May 15, 1996
The Path of Daggers    October 20, 1998
Winter’s Heart             November 7, 2000
Crossroads of Twilight January 7, 2003
Knife of Dreams          October 11, 2005
The Gathering Storm   October 27, 2009
Towers of Midnight     November 2, 2010
A Memory of Light      January 8, 2013
Totals   11,898pp (PB) / 10,173pp (HB)           4,410,036 words            19d 5h 25m reading time

So, for my last birthday, I gave myself a gift. I had since given away my hardbound copies of the Wheel of Time books, so I purchased the Kindle versions and I am re-reading the series. I am currently in volume six. And I am frankly amazed.

I wonder if this is how people with Alzheimer’s disease feel. It is as if I am reading this for the first time. I do remember most of the main characters, but much of the details about them I remembered incorrectly or not at all.

And I love long books. I have read Tolkien’s trilogy many times (as well as listening to the audio versions several times (while commuting). But the number of characters and storylines in this work borders upon the bizarre. And, like many male authors, I find his characterizations of his female characters shallow. I have to ask myself whether half of the characters and storylines advance the narrative at all and we would be better off without them. One count lists 2,782 characters in the series, 148 of which are point of view characters at one point or another. I wish Jordan had followed the Rule of Parsimony, like Jack Vance, say, and trimmed this down to six or seven volumes.

I find myself skipping through parts that drag, being able to pick up the narrative fairly easily down the road. And, yes, things are always more complicated than we think, but this is supposed to be an entertainment, not a lesson in realpolitik.

I am enjoying the effort but find myself shifting to another book for a while when the plot drags. On my eBook reader, another book is just a tap away and I, as usual, have several dozen “in progress.”

December 4, 2022

I Love eBooks!

Filed under: Art — Steve Ruis @ 8:19 am
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I have spent a good part of my life hunting books. Some took years to find, others took weeks or months. Back when there were small bookstores, actually now bookstores of any kind, I almost couldn’t drive past one; I had to stop for a quick browse. One set I collected over many, many years was the Andrew Lang “Fairly Books” that were differentiated by color, e.g. the Yellow Fairy Book, the Green Fairy Book, etc. These books were collections of fairy tales from various countries, and these were the non-Disneyfied versions so I found more than a few shocking.

There is a scholarly opinion that these tales were written to prepare children for the greater world around them, so scaring the Hell out of them was appropriate.

In any case, I just got all nine volumes, which I think that is the whole kit and caboodle, in two sets for . . . wait for it . . . less than $5, total. I gleefully paid $5 for a single volume at a Friends of the Library sale, often more.

Now eBooks do not have all of the feels and smells of physical books, but they also don’t have the weight or require the book shelf space as those paper books, either. And I do miss cruising around in bookstores. But. . . .

I am oh, so happy!

Postscript I have been lightening the load over the past years (so my son won’t need a dump truck when I die) and have given away many, many books (and more, but books are what I had most of). This is why I no longer had the hard copies of those books. And, if a book is cheap enough, I will buy it and donate my hard copy to the Friends of the Library or other good steward.

October 1, 2022

Repetitious Comedy

Filed under: Art,Culture — Steve Ruis @ 12:00 pm
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One of my favorite comedians is Jim Gaffigan. (Relax, I also like Dave Chappelle.) In any case Mr. Gaffigan was quoted in an interview recently, saying:

As a standup, I’m on my 10th hour now. And I view standup shows as a conversation among friends. And the friends we really like, they challenge us. Whereas the people that only want to have the same conversation with you, over and again – you get bored of them.

When I read the phrase “the people that only want to have the same conversation with you, over and again – you get bored of them” two words popped into my head—Victor Borge.

As far as I can tell, Mr. Borge, a Danish-American comedian, told the exact same jokes for at least 60 years. I saw a live performance of his in San Francisco very late in his career, and it was very funny and very enjoyable, yet we all knew what the punch lines were and when they were coming. (Mr. Borge’s timing was world class.)

Now, Jim Gaffigan was making the point that stand-up comedians had to evolve, while at the same time doing familiar bits to satisfy the wants of the audience. I suggest that the wants of the audience are often “tell the ones I know,” rather than “whip a new one on me.” If you have ever attended a rock concert, the loudest audience responses are from the “old hits.” Maybe we just want top hear our favorite recordings in live performance, I don’t know. I do know that bands like the Beatles admitted that they often rearranged their old hits so they wouldn’t be bored to tears playing them, so there is that aspect, too.

August 14, 2022

A Response to the Salman Rushdie Attack

Filed under: Art,Culture,Politics,Religion,writing — Steve Ruis @ 1:51 pm
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After seeing the attack on Salman Rushdie, I felt powerless to do anything and then I remember the Barbra Streisand Effect. So, I went online and bought a copy of Satanic Verses and I will read it, thereby spreading the message the religious idiots wanted to suppress. I suggest that you do the same. It puts a few dollars in the author’s pocket and spreads words that the zealots don’t want spread. Let’s drive Satanic Verses to the top of the bestsellers lists . . . again.

May 26, 2022

Signposts on the Way to Oblivion

Filed under: Art,Culture,writing — Steve Ruis @ 10:54 am
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I just read this year’s (2021) list of winners of Nebula Awards. Of the writings listed I discovered that I had just bought one of them (at a great discount, which I assume will disappear now the book is a Nebula Award winner).

I have been reading science fiction and fantasy books since I was 13. I am now 75, so it has been 62 years over which I have read myriad such books (all of Edgar Rice Burroughs, all of the Wheel of Time, all of Andre Norton, all of C.J. Cherryh, Tolkien, Jules Verne, all of Isaac Asimov, most of Robert Heinlein, all of Robert Silverberg, all of Michelle Sagara, All of C.S. Friedman, much of Mercedes Lackey and Anne McCaffrey, all of Jack Vance, all of P.K. Dick, much of Katherine Kurtz, and on and on . . .) and I still read dozens and dozens of such books every year. The interesting thing to me is that when I looked at the Nebula Award works, including the runners-up, I did not recognize a single author’s name, not one.

I have officially been passed by.

April 25, 2021

Netflix, Please Give the Atmospheric Scores a Day Off

I tuned in to watch a new Netflix movie, Without Remorse, with Michael B Jordan, an actor I like to watch. I had to turn it off several minutes later because of one of Netflix’s bad habits. It funds many movies and most of them have very “atmospheric” soundtracks, that is the music is almost continuous and mood setting. It also makes the movies hard on those of us who are a bit hard of hearing.

After struggling to hear and then make sense of the dialogue, I get frustrated and just turn the show off. And it is not that I haven’t tried other things. I watch a fair number of foreign generated shows, which use subtitles for those who don’t speak Korean, or Japanese, or Spanish. I do not mind this but it has certain limitations. When an English language show is on, I can go to the bathroom or the kitchen and still follow what is happening. If I am dependent upon subtitles, if I lose sight of them all I hear is words I do not understand. I either have to pause the show or rewind it when I get back (sometimes the bathroom calls strongly).

I do understand what a good movie soundtrack does, but I am learning what a bad movie soundtrack does now. Are any of you experiencing the same issue?

February 27, 2021

Made You Look—A Documentary

Filed under: Art,Business,Culture — Steve Ruis @ 8:33 am
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Last night I watched an interesting documentary about a massive art fraud in New York City. In the late 1990s and much of 2000s $80 million of fake paintings were sold as if legitimate. The pieces had sketchy provenance, so they were often “authenticated” by experts.

This is a fascinating documentary, well done, but a number of points were never mentioned or were glossed over.

The Authenticating “Experts” Were Full of Shit
Various experts were asked to “authenticate” these paintings and often did so wholeheartedly, even though they turned out to be fakes. This process has been shown to be flawed over and over but keeps being used. If a new painting is discovered, one not seen in catalogues of the artist’s works, an expert should go no further than to comment something along the lines of “It appears to be in this artist’s style and the painting appears to be of an appropriate age.” That’s it. But these “experts” were stumbling all over themselves to state that the paintings were authentic, something that couldn’t be told without extensive testing. When the extensive testing was done, some of the pigments hadn’t been invented until after the artist died, which is kind of a clue, don’t you think?

The experts basically should limit there comments on a previously unknown painting to “is worth further testing.”

Collectors were Glowing About the Fakes
When the fakes were purchased, the new owners loved those paintings, gushed about how beautiful they were, etc. so they were good art, no? But when they were proved to be fakes the collectors were outraged. Clearly they were not buying art for the sake of the art. They, instead, wanted to brag about how much money it cost, or that it was painted by a famous painter, or looked at it as an investment, but these people never say things like: ”It was such a good bargain, I could see myself selling it for a nice profit is just a few years.” or “I wanted to snatch this up before a bidding war started. It will be much more valuable in time.” So, these hypocrites gush over the quality of the painting but are outraged when they find out that it was faked. Apparently they can distinguish between fake beauty and real beauty . . . not.

This Has Been Going On for Years
This was mentioned a couple of times. It was not a surprise to find out that the forger/painter was a Chinese gentleman. Whether he was a willing participant in the fraud was not determined because there is a tradition in China of copying other works (and not just China). These copies are often sold quite cheaply to people who could not come close to affording the real thing. Much like we have posters of famous art works to hang on our plebian walls. It was suspicious, of course, the lengths gone to to use period and artist correct materials, which would not be necessary for “decorative art pieces.”

Art students are often seen in museums copying masterworks as exercises. And when the originals are being sold for millions, the temptation is there. In this case the works copied were those of American Expressionists (not my cup of tea) which are random enough to be more easily copied, also materials of the age these were created (1950s and 1960s) are still available.

Fueling all of this were prices of hundreds of thousands paid by the art dealer for paintings that sold for much more, even millions. This was a point critics say should have cause alarms to go off, but since greed is the driving force of this age, no one noticed anything sketchy for over a decade.

December 23, 2020

/The Social Dilemma

Filed under: Art,Culture,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 10:24 am
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The documentary of this title is currently available on Netflix and I had passed over it quite a few times before viewing it, which I did last night.

The documentary mixes in taking head segments with little scenes in an ongoing drama of how social media affects a family. I could have done without the vignettes as the talking heads were quite spectacular. These were all people who either had something to do with the development of social media companies or had studied the effects of their existence in some detail.

The basic premise is that social media use algorithms to line their pockets . . . nothing wrong there, except that the algorithms have no mores, they just want to feed your attention more of what you are interested in. This results in a massive case of positive feedback for everyone who participates. Positive feedback is almost never a good thing.

The talking heads point out that we who participate are all being manipulated against any judgment applied either by us or the providers and it is dangerous.

Bless them as they say that there are no villains here. Nothing was done with intent to cause the problems that now exist. They found the inventor of the “like button” who explained what was behind its creation. An unintended consequence stems from the fact that we evolved in small social groups, in which it was important to be liked by a majority of one’s fellows. The social media platforms have extended that circle to thousands of strangers, often leading young participants into doing bizarre things to accumulate “likes ” from them. And to what end?

An expert on AI systems says that we all worry about when artificial intelligences get so powerful that they overwhelm human strengths, like SkyNet in the Terminator movies (accompanied by the crunching sounds of humans skulls beneath the feet and treads of robots . . .). But well before that point we would reach point in which AIs could overwhelm human weaknesses, a point they did not claim we are at yet, but they easily could have.

They discuss the effect of social media upon political polarization, even on whole nation’s stability and elections, and what might happen should an autocrat really use social media effectively.

From thinking I knew the topic well, I found myself much better educated for having viewed this doc. If you have also viewed this documentary, what do you think?

November 6, 2020

Ever Want to Write a Fantasy or Science Fiction Novel?

Filed under: Art,Education — Steve Ruis @ 12:43 pm
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I have been engaging in the Q&A site Quora for quite some time and lo and behold, two Grand Dames of fantasy and science fiction, Mercedes Lackey and C.S. Friedman are dispensing fabulous advice to writers on Quora. Check them out of this interests you. I consider some of their advice to be priceless, and they are founts of wisdom on other issues as well. Ms. Lackey is an expert on birds, for example.

May 4, 2020

Now and Then

Filed under: Art,Culture,History — Steve Ruis @ 10:03 am
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I just read an obituary for Tony Allen, the drummer’s drummer and one of the eulogizer’s pointed out that he sought for someone who could play his pieces as Tony had, but that drummer was not yet born, apparently. Musicians who are transformative often prove hard to impossible to replicate.

A little more than a century ago when such a musician died, the best that we could hope for in a musical legacy was sheet music, and of course the effect that musician had on his fellow musicians. But listeners had no way to observe the effect, other than in memory once that musician died.

Before written sheet music, the best we had was that so and so was taught by “him,” you know. “He was a student of . . .” was another way to say the same thing. But there was no way to share that with future generations.

Now, we have sheet music, commentary, video, and audio recordings, autobiographies, etc. so as far as musical immortality, we are much closer to that, but still people bemoan the loss of people who cannot be replaced.

The life lesson is that replicating the past is important, especially is we want to know “where we came from” in a tradition, but what is more important is what we create next. Having just a focus on the past gets to a state of stale rapidly. Taking what was offered and moving up to new highs, now that is a challenge, a challenge Tony Allen met, extraordinarily well. He survives in recordings as an inspiration to all future drummers and musicians.

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