Friday, June 30, 2017

Books: The Year`s Best Science Fiction - 29th Annual Collection

(Drivebycuriosity) - I like science fiction. Unfortunately most science fiction novels disappoint. Therefore I usually skim collections of science fiction short stories in order to find some gems. For many years I have been reading the anthology "The Year`s Best Science Fiction" edited by Gardner Dozois (amazon). His compilations have been the market leader for 3 decades and offer a kaleidoscope of plots, ideas and styles. Dozois caters to a lot of different tastes and shows the state of art in science fiction.

I just finished reading his "Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection" which harvests the science fiction year 2011 (the print edition, published in July 2012, has 701 pages). As usual Dozois started with a lengthy summation of important events, trends and publications in the world of science of fiction in 2011. For each story the author wrote an introduction where he outlines the background and most important works of the presented author.

I enjoyed at least 10 out of the 35 stories which seems a passable quota to me. I have 5 favorites:

"Dolly" by Elizabeth Bear focuses on a female robot, called "Dolly", with an almost human like brain who is used as an extremely expensive high-tech sex toy. This android had apparently killed a man, a billionaire with the habit of abusing female robots (fembots). A detective is interrogating "Dolly. Has "she"  deliberately committed murder (to defend herself against the abuser) or is the death just an accident caused by a machine? The tale  touches the question, does an AI have a self-interest and if, what are the consequences?

"Earth Hour" by Ken MacLeod is a slick & sophisticated story set in a near term future - which reminds me faintly of the Shogun novel. An assassin has the order to kill an industry tycoon. Both are using cutting-edge technology in a kind of deadly game with many unknown elements. Untypically for science fiction the author includes also elements of economics & politics.

"The Incredible Exploding Man" by David Hutchinson is set in an alternate world which seems to follow the rules of Quantum Mechanics described by Heisenberg & Schrödinger. The author employs cutting edge physics - including string theory - to tell a weird but fascinating story full of contradictions. Fun!

"The Boneless" by Nevada-Lee. A billionaire undertakes a boat tour with a group of scientists to explore the sea life with unintended consequences - a kind of scientific mystery story.

"Digital Rites" by Jim Hawkins. The story is set in a near future where movie producers use advanced technologies - including quantum entanglement - to create their films. This provokes responses by their  competitors who are not shy of murder - an interesting variation of a technology thriller.

I also liked:

 "The Choice" by Paul McAuley. The plot is set in a future England which is shaped by a rise in sea level. The idea is often used, but the author can write & he describes an encounter with an alien artifact with interesting implications.

"The Invasion of Venus" by Stephen Baxter plays in an intelligent & original way with the fears of an alien invasion - set in a very near future which makes it seem very realistic.

"A Response From EST17" by Tom Purdom. In this elaborated story humans are communicating with & aliens on a distant planet.

"The Vorkuta Effect" by MacLeod. The plot - written in the style of the late 19th century - is set in an alternate Russia in the times of Stalin. Strange things happen.

"The Man who bridged the Mist" by Kij Johnson. The atmospheric & dense novella - again set in an alternate universe - follows an engineer who is building a bridge across a very strange & dangerous river. Johnson focuses on the economic, social & personal aspects.

The selection is very subjective of course and the rest of the stories may cater different tastes. In the moment of writing the kindle version is priced with $7,99. With this price & quality the compilation is almost unbeatable.

To be continued.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Contemporary Art: The Power Of Colors @ Gallery Artifact New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - I like contemporary art.  I enjoy the variety of ideas, styles & techniques. Therefore I am fascinated with a new exhibition @ gallery Gallery Artifact on Manhattan`s Lower East Side (84 Orchard Street artifactnyc).

As usual the art dealer has a group exhibition with interesting new works. I indulge into the expressionist paintings by Linda Manguiat-Herzog (manguiatstudio). Her paintings remind me of the Californian Expressionism, the "Bay Area Figuartive Movement", and painters like Richard Diebenkorn & Elmer Bischoff  (wikipedia). This style is also called "Abstract Expressionism".

Above you can see how the artist uses rough brushstrokes to create her images.

Above some of her abstract works which also benefit from her technique.

                                               Fascination With New York City 

I also like the cityscapes by Miho Takai. It seems the artist shares my fascination with New York City which is my home now.

To be continued.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Culture: The 100 Greatest Metal Albums Of All Time - Why Is The Rolling Stone So Conservative?

(Drivebycuriosity) - The "Rolling Stone" declared "The 100 Greatest Metal Albums of All Time" (rollingstone). The magazine is the Vatican in the world of popular music. So the article got my attention. It´s a disappointment. First, the list is pretty outdated. No album from the recent 20 years made it in their top twenty! The youngest album there is "Ænima" by Tool from 1996 on place 18. There is just one album from this century in the first 40: 'Toxicity" by System of a Down from 2001 on place 27. Did Heavy Metal disappear or did "The Rolling Stone" get it wrong?

The few recognized heavy metal milestones of the 21th century all got placed on the backseats. The celebrated "Sunbather" album by black metal band Deafheaven (2013  pitchfork) made it on place 94;  "From Mars to Sirius" by the up and coming French band Gojira  (2005) landed in place 97. The extremely dark & heavy drown album "Monoliths & Dimensions'"  by Sunn O))) (2009) got just place 98;  and "Oceanic" by Isis (2002) deserves better than place 72.

To make it worse, some great & very heavy albums were just ignored, including "The Beyond" by Cult of Luna, "Out of a Center Which Is Neither Dead nor Alive" by Minsk  and "Australasia" by  Pelican. Instead they put stadium rocker Van Halen`s '"Women and Children First' (1980) on place 36 (you can listen to it here  youtube). That`s ridiculous.  The album is neither "heavy" nor is it "metal" (as defined by Black Sabbath, who are celebrated as inventors of Heavy Metal). Van Halen delivered just good old hard rock. The same with "Pyromania" by Def Leppard (1983, place 52) - which Wikipedia defined as "radio-friendly glam rock and hard rock" (wikipedia ) "Holy Diver" by Dio (1983 place 16) and "British Steel" by Judas Priest (1980) on place 3.

There is nothing wrong with solid Rock 'n' Roll & "radio-friendly glam rock and hard rock", but those albums certainly  don`t belong on "greatest metal albums," especially when many landmarks were neglected. I don´t deny the head banging qualities of these albums, but they are also delivered by the Ramones , The Clash and many other Punk bands.

It looks like that the "Rolling Stone" magazine doesn`t like Heavy Metal and does not understand it.

PS For illustration I chose an album cover by Black Sabbath.

Monday, June 26, 2017

New York City: Impressions From Gay Pride Parade 2017

(Drivebycuriosity) - Yesterday New York City was even more flamboyant as usual. The metropolis celebrated the traditional Gay Pride Parade 2017 and a huge procession streamed down Fifth Avenue. Many thousands participated in the parade and as spectators along the march and celebrated the summer, life & the ongoing sexual liberation.

My wife watched and enjoyed the grand spectacle and being an enthusiastic amateur photographer  I took the occasion to take some snapshots. We spotted an orgy of colors & many fanciful costumes.

There were a lot wagons with enthusiastic musicians and others, all celebrating the LGBT event.

And the spectators were partying as well.

The audience was as flamboyant as the paraders, often dressed in the rainbow colors of the LGBT movement.

                                              Beautiful Crowd

Even whole families immersed into the beautiful crowd.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Contemporary Art: What Recently Caught My Eyes @ Lower East Side Galleries

(Drivebycuriosity) - I like to go to art galleries in my neighborhood, New York`s Lower East Side. There is so much to discover. The gallery Thierry Goldberg belongs to my favorites ( 103 Norfolk Street  thierrygoldberg). The art dealer now has a group show called "Look Her Way" (through July 14th 2017).

Especially 2 paintings caught my eyes. Above you can see "Soft Truce" (2017, oil on canvas) followed by "Breakfast" (2017, oil on canvas) both by Danielle Orchard.

Gallery Onetwentyeight in the close neighborhood (128 Rivington Street  onetwentyeight) also shows interesting art works. Above you can see works by the late Japanese sculptor Hiromitsu Morimoto.

They also display some wonderful paintings by Maru Mayumi.

To be continued.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Economy: Do We Need An Universal Basic Income?

(Drivebycuriosity) - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls for an universal basic income as a solution for inequality: "We should explore ideas like universal basic income to give everyone a cushion to try new things" he said recently during a speech @ Harvard University (fortune). The idea of an universal basic income—in which the government unconditionally pays all citizens a small amount of money to cover basic needs— isn`t new. In the 1960s Milton Friedman recommended a negative tax rate (nytimes). People who earn less than a certain amount should get money from the state, he proposed.

I find the idea very charming. I would be happy if the government would pay me a nice monthly income for doing nothing. It reminds me of the German fairy tale from the "Schlaraffenland", about a country where everything is for free and milk & honey flow in abundance. I think an universal income will make sense - and it will be realized - when the economy is (mostly) run by robots and there are not many jobs for humans. But we are still far away.

Today an universal income would cause too many problems. Some people might stay poor because they spend this money quickly for alcohol, drugs, gambling and other purposes. Some people may stop working because they don´t need that anymore. Economists call this a disincentive to work.

The biggest problem is the question, how to finance this generosity. In 2013 the Swiss had to decide about an universal basic income in a poll - and they rejected it. A group of political activists had proposed an income for everyone by the government (businessinsider). The organizers wanted that every citizen should get 2,500 Swiss francs (then $2,800) per month from the state. This would have made $33,600 per capita and year and would have cost the government in Bern around $270 billion per year, around a third of the whole Gross National Product (GNP). The activists suggested, that around 70 billion Swiss Franc could be taken out of the cash boxes of the social security (nzz). This would have been a gigantic theft, the largest robbery since the Russian revolution, because the extracted money would have reduced the benefits (health insurance, pensions) for the insured drastically who had trusted the social security system. The proposers recommended that the rest - about 130 billion Swiss Franc  - should be financed by raising consumer tax and other royalties. This would of have caused a price jump and damage the Swiss consumer industry, including retail. No wonder that the Swiss voters disapproved.

The US is less wealthy than Switzerland - the country has a per capita income of $56,115  (Switzerland $80,999  worldbank) - so the relative burden would be even greater. Sharply higher taxes and less incentives to work could cause a serve recession.

Billionaire Zuckerberg doesn´t need to care about such economic problems. His job is making Facebook great. Uttering popular claims is good marketing. And maybe some day he will want to run for President. 

PS For illustration I chose the painting "Das Schlaraffenland" by the medieval Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel der Ältere.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Culture: Impressions From Punk Island 2017

(Drivebycuriosity) - Punk is still alive and kicking. Yesterday my wife and I pilgrimed to Randall´s Island, an island east of Harlem, New York City. There we attended "Punk Island", a free of charge annual rock festival, which celebrated its 10th anniversary. We followed a beloved tradition. We have been going to these events for years and had always enjoyed them because they offered a broad spectrum of styles, even that all focused on the rough realm of punk.

Randall´s Island replaced the former venues, Governors Island & Staten Island, which also belong  to New York City. I think the change is a good idea. There were more green meadows and plenty of trees which provide shade against the torching sun.

About 100 bands played on 7 stages. We were overwhelmed by the sheer size of the festival and the summer heat. So we watched just a fraction of the performances, but we took pleasure in what we heard & saw. I apologize to all the bands we missed. Above images from "American Pinup", "Scarboro" & "The Jukebox Romantics".

"Punk Island 2017" was a very peaceful and friendly party as in the years before. Those who liked to let some steam off participated at the dynamic circle runs and jump dances before the stages.

Others enjoyed the concerts sitting in the green grass like attending a family picnic. 

Punk Island was a lot of fun again. Thanks to bands & organizers.