Spy, a laugh-out-loud comedic marvel marred by intense foul language and sexual innuendo

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Rose Byrne and Melissa McCarthy in Spy (courtesy of Foxmovies.com)

I had an opportunity to see a preview of the Paul Feig/Melissa McCarthy comedy Spy (it will be in theaters June 5th); thanks GoFoBo! So, I’ll give you the quick and dirty and then dive into a few reasons leading to my conclusions: this movie is laugh out loud. It is laugh out loud from beginning to the end. It does not simply rely on cheap humor, though there’s plenty of that to go around; it has story, witty banter and it even has some heart. This would certainly be one of my favorite comedies of the year were it not marred by such intense foul language and sexual innuendo going beyond what’s needed for humor. (I understand that this is relatively tame for Ms. McCarthy but it is beyond the pale for me.) I am quite convinced that, were all of that toned down, the humor would’ve stood out just as well. Indeed, the first part of the movie is comparatively mild in all these respects but once an event happens (which I won’t go into due to spoilers) the floodgates fully open up. I get that I sound a little like Captain America upbraiding Ironman for “language,” but not only could it have been just as funny, a PG-13 rating could have given it a wider audience.

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Melissa McCarthy

Now for the bit more detail. The cast is brilliant. I’m not a large fan of either Paul Feig or Melissa McCarthy (I haven’t seen The Heat), I can be embarrassed by too much physical comedy, yet they work really well on this film. Jude Law plays an American but plays a role he knows so well. Jason Statham plays a caricature of his normal roles on testosterone festooned steroids and is hilarious in it. Rose Byrne plays one of the bad guys and an unpleasant one at that (I think the film would use a b-word here), whilst her compatriot on Annie, Bobby Cannavale plays another suave villain. It was great to see Morena Baccarin, who will always be Inara of Firefly fame to me, although she’s been plenty busy since. Miranda Hart, whom I’ve not seen before, was absolutely brilliant. While this is Melissa McCarthy’s baby, the whole cast comes together and brings the film up a notch; they act as an ensemble.

Paul Feig

Paul Feig

One of the surprises about this film is that it comes across as a big budget film. Not only is its cast amazing, but the production level, the stunts, the location shots and the overall feel of the film is polished. Another nice thing about the movie is that it sustains its humor throughout. So often in physical comedy movies there are pockets of humor with some embarrassment in between. This movie keeps the humor fresh, never tiring throughout the film. Even on themes that repeated, they were still funny at the end. Another nice element of the movie is that it really did have a solid storyline all the way through. Even when the humor was crude, it was clever. Not that every bit was brilliant repartee, but it was clever.

So, would I recommend the film? I cannot. Could this have been a film I would love to recommend maintaining a high level of humor without the need to be bombarded by the F word or such heavy-handed innuendo (and very brief flash of some very inappropriate nudity)? Absolutely.

The Epic Conclusion to the Jean Le Flambeur series, The Causal Angel

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Hannu Rajaniemi’s brings an epic conclusion to the Jean Le Flambeur series in The Causal Angel. He continues to build out his SciFi fueled world in which gentlemen thieves go hand-in-hand with Oortian warriors saving a universe that is on the brink of annihilation at the hand of the All-Defector. While I focused on the complaint of a dearth of explanation for terms introduced in the review of The Fractal Prince (mainly because Adam Robert’s review was so well-written (even when we didn’t fully draw the same conclusions) that I couldn’t bring myself to write a full review. In my review of The Causal Angel, I’ll focus on Mr. Rajaniemi’s detailed, precise and visceral descriptions that help mitigate a need for explanatory passages. In others, I continue my argument from The Fractal Prince focusing on the context of the terms introduced as a viable way to provide much of their meaning. Most of the reasons by I love The Quantum Thief apply here I’ll do this mostly to celebrate well-honed writing. (For a synopsis, go here.)

Please don’t read this review (or the book) if you haven’t already read The Quantum Thief and The Fractal Prince. While there are no spoilers for those that have, there may be some for those that haven’t. Read them in order, you’ll be lost if you don’t.

Hannu Rajaniemi

Hannu Rajaniemi

One of the hallmarks of good writing is that we don’t simply learn about the world of the story, we inhabit it. We see the rolling grasslands of Rohan as we feel the wind from the White Mountains tousle our hair. We ride the waves in the HMS Surprise as we smell the salt tang in the air. We are swept away in the hustle and bustle of the streets of London as the Artful Dodger weaves around another set of legs to reach in another pocket. The books by Messrs. Tolkien, O’Brian and Dickens all are examples of following Anton Chekhov famous writing advice: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” We see this as well in The Causal Angel. A brief example of a place description is in an introduction to the Gun Club Zoku headquarters: “We drink dark tea in the mahogany-panelled drawing room of the Gun Club Zoku’s copper-and-brass sky-train. It rides smoothly along the bright golden curve of the Club’s orbital ring around Iapetus, fast enough to create a cosy half a g of artificial gravity. Our view of the Saturnian moon’s surface through the large, circular viewports is spectacular. We are above the Cassini Regio, a reddish-brown birthmark that stains the white of the icy surface.” While this passage doesn’t provide enough for you to know about Zokus, let alone a Gun Club Zuko, it does provide a picture of where they gather: a bit of old-world and steampunk.

A starkly different example comes from the intensity of personal combat with dangerous creatures: “The gaki emerge from them slowly, like pale tongues from dark mouths. They are emaciated, withered creatures, except for their swollen bellies, filled with dark blood. They sniff the air, and come down the mountain path, hesitantly at first, then in a loping run. Your katana comes out of its scabbard of its own volition, a sliver of bright silver. The first gaki hisses and swings a scythelike arm at you. Its smell makes you gag: excrement, wet earth and decay. Your katana draws a lightning arc in the air. Ash-coloured liquid spurts out from the stump of the gaki’s outstretched paw. It backs off, clacking its teeth together angrily, yellow eyes burning.” Again, you’ve never met gakis and may not know of katanas (real-world slightly curved, single-blade sword originally used by Japanese Samuri). Despite this, you are clearly embedded in the scene with scary, dangerous wild animals coming at you with clearly described stench traveling with them.

A last example come from a less-personal, grand, and speedy battle in space: “She [Miele] gives her gogols access to the Leblanc’s [Jean’s ship] picotech processors. They grind possible trajectories through Nash engines, and come up with nothing that leads out of the tight cone of raion vectors around her. Nanomissiles hit, a tingle on her skin, dump their viral code payloads into the Leblanc’s systems. She sheds the outer layer of the ship’s armour to get rid of them: it feels like tearing off a scab. It floats around the ship, an expanding cloud of dust. A bigger target: another volley of Gödel bombs and kinetic needles flashes through it. One hyperdense projectile passes right through the ship, uncomfortably close to the Hawking containment sphere.” Now, there are a boatload of neologisms and technical terms floating in this paragraph. Once again, even if you don’t know their precise meanings (and you would by this point of the series), you get a sense of the array of armament, the speed of battle and the competently measured response she takes.

Mieli Releases the Sentinels by Laczi

So, rather than provide you comforting albeit a bit boring, exposition, Mr. Rajaniemi provides understanding through iterative contextual descriptions of the term along with the occasional brief exposition. Each time we see the term used, we refine our concept of it. For example, when the word “q-dot” is introduced, you’re simply given: “They are in a q-dot bubble fourteen klicks above the Cleopatra Crater…” From the larger context, you gather that q-dots are substances, they can form a protective bubble that can travel through space keeping you within oxygen. However, the next time it’s you get: “The q-dot sails – concentric soap-bubble-thin rings made from artificial atoms that spread out several kilometres around the ship and can catch sunlight, Highway meso-particles and lightmill beams equally well – look spectacular.” This provides you with a lot more information, not the least of which is that q-dots can form multiple shapes. Later you find that it’s used in wings, torpedos and guns. Now your understanding grows. Just like in real-life. Your aren’t given some long exposition of q-dots but you come to realize, like nanotubes, they are a small, quickly-forming, smart material with lots of applications.

One of the challenges with this approach is that it makes some uncomfortable; we all like to be in the know up front and moving forward with murky knowledge doesn’t feel like a position of strength. Much like real life; I spend much of my days immersed in murk. The other challenge is that it take a bit more work; this requires engaged, active reading to recall the last time you saw that term and determining whether it is related to a real-life something (even if it’s just a side-reference). Also, there are a number of real-life science terms you may need to look up. My view is that this is well rewarded work. These novels combine literature, science and art references with a number of references to the imaginary worlds of Mr. Rajaniemi. The dialog is clear, the action is tightly scripted and well-described and the worlds are mind-blowing. I know I’m more than a bit of a geek, but I actually enjoy learning new real-world things as well as following cleaver references to real-world stuff I geek-out over (like Game Theory). Also, there’s a reference or two I don’t fully get which has little bearing on my being able to follow the over-all story. You don’t need to get everything to be able to understand and function in this literary construct (again, like the real world). So I encourage you to take the challenge, these are brilliant novels well worth the plunge.

I often go between the Audible version and Kindle version of books (using Whispersync for Voice to keep, well, in sync). I did little of that this time. While I own the Audible version, I was disappointed that the publishers switched from the narrator of the first two books in the series, the fabulous Scott Brick, to Roger Wayne. This isn’t a particular hit on Mr. Wayne, but rather a disappointment that the nuanced voice and pronunciations that I came to know and love from one of my favorite narrators was no longer available in the third book. This motivated me to write a plea to publishers to avoid this whenever practicable. Listening to this different voice was too distracting, so I stuck with the Kindle version. Hence, I don’t have much to say about Mr. Wayne’s narration.

Scott Brick

Scott Brick, erstwhile narrator of the series, but not on the last book

I highly recommend this final book of the Jean Le Flambeur series. It was a delight to read.

Of Monsters and Men Empire A Beautifully Lyrical Homage to Land and Sea

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Of Monsters and Men recently (May 14th) released “Empire,” which will be the fifth track on their upcoming album Beneath The Skin planned for a June release. They’ve previously released “Crystals and “I of the Storm.” In this is the third and final single release prior to the album coming out, we have musical portrait of relationship painted within a lyrical intersection of land and sea. Taken together, these releases point to another amazing album from Of Monsters and Men.

It appears that they love to incorporate images of land and weather in their songs. We saw a comparison to being in the eye of a storm to being in a relationship in “I of the Storm.” In “Empire,” images of weather, sea and land flow over us as we witness the core strength of their relationship. We have nice tight playing among the band that is a bit reminiscent of Coldplay.

For full review: http://fdrmx.com/of-monsters-and-men-empire-single-review/#ixzz3aVSOj8kk

Melissa F. Olson’s Deceptively Well Written Boundary Crossed Reviewed

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Melissa F. Olson is a deceptively good story teller. Boundary Crossed comes across as a fun, light, “beach” read, and it is. More often than not, when we categorize a book this way we also mean there’s no real meat, little in the way of character and that it certainly doesn’t address is compelling issues. Nicely enough, Ms. Olson brings all of that to her “fun” read. So, it’s good story telling without being a difficult story to follow. There’s reflection without much angst (hey, every story needs a little angst), plot without a bunch of artificial plot mechanisms and embedded values without it being a “Message” book. In other words, it’s pretty near the epitome of what a light, summer read ought to be and when we settle for light reads that do less, we’re, well, settling. The book’s the story and setting seem so natural as to have been effortless creations. That’s a little like saying Fred Astaire’s dancing appears effortless and, perhaps not gravity-free, “gravity–lite.” It takes well-honed craft to leave that impression.

MelissaFOlson

Melissa F. Olson

Let me step back a bit; the book’s protagonist is Allison “Lex” Luther (OK a little cheesy wink to Superman). She is working at a convenience store when a couple come in for diapers. However, the baby for whom they’re shopping turns out to be Lex’s niece Charlie (daughter of her dead sister Sam). Oh, and they’re vampires. As you can imagine, chaos and danger ensues. It appears that she is stabbed to death but survives and with that survival discovers the world’s not as she once thought. Along with vampires, there are werewolves and witches, of which she’s one.

So here’s a girl who has powers of which she was unaware, living in a world with creatures she recently considered merely mythic and thrust into a world of danger and intrigue. Sound familiar? Maybe, but the devil is in the details and the execution. Ms. Olson’s protagonist is in her early thirties, not a teen. While her reaction to this newly discovered world is initial shock, she doesn’t panic or step into super-mode. he deals with it as a former Army Sargent who has been deployed in Iraq, shocked but functional. In fact, one of the many qualities about this book I love is the plausible way events unfold and the characters interact with them. These characters and this world are believable from the initial introduction to the world to the way it works. Lex spends much of the book recovering from constantly feeling behind-the-eight-ball yet coping. Wouldn’t you? The interaction of the characters with Lex and each other seem to fit. There are few cookie-cutter characters or relationships. It’s all very down to earth, which, if you come to think about it, is a weird thing to say about paranormal world but one of the best complements you could give.

While I feel quite at home in this world, that doesn’t mean it’s tame or dull. She populates her world with intriguing characters, some of whom are easier to peg than others. There’s Simon, the University of Colorado professor and bohemian witch and Lily Pellar, his laid-back sister. There’s their intense Mom, Hazel Pellar, head of the witches in the area. There’s stud-muffin Quinn, who’s a bit of a private detective and fix-it man for the Vampires. I’ve given these folks a quick characterization but they are not caricatures. From John, Lex’s brother-in-law to her dad Richard Luther, former hippie and current shoe entrepreneur, they are colorful and don’t follow a pre-set script. Well, obviously they do, but they don’t appear to. All of these characters, relationships and world building occurs organically within the context of the action and dialog with little exposition.

So what are these things I love about Boundary Crossed?

  • The people are down to earth.
  • Les has some experience (in her early 30s).
  • It feels like a plausible world; the introduction to the world is handle especially well.
  • Lex is overwhelmed but coping.
  • The writing, including dialog, fits the story and the setting.
  • It has the right amount of exposition; most revelations are embedded in the dialog and action of the story.
  • Intriguing characters.

What are some elements of which I’m less fond?

  • Quinn borders on being a perfect guy (with some difficult history, plus vampire).
  • While characters are intriguing and well fleshed-out, we don’t see as much development throughout the story as I would like.
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Kate Rudd

While I went back and forth between the Kindle and the Audible versions of the story (using that delightful bit of magic, Whispersync for Voice), I mostly listened to it. I did this because Kate Rudd is the narrator. In fact, I was drawn to the book because Kate Rudd was the narrator rather than my usual find-the-book-and-hope-the-narrator-is-good mode. (For some other great books she narrates see, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, The Fault in Our Stars, Timebound and Time’s Edge). I hadn’t read anything by Ms. Olson previously or knew much about her. I’ve read and like paranormal/urban fantasy, but it’s not a genre that naturally draws me in. So, while I’m a pretty big fan of Ms. Rudd’s narration, I think it was a particularly wonderful bit of serendipity that has her reading this book. Her voice is grounding. It lends itself towards projecting genuine characters and a rooted normalcy even in the least normal settings. So the genuine nature of Ms. Olson’s world and characters was only enhanced by Ms. Rudd’s performance of her book. If you like audiobooks, I highly recommend buying that version for this book.

Ms. Olson does a beautiful job presenting her world, characters and crises in plausible ways while keeping the book light and fun. I look forward to her second book in this series, Boundary Lines, due in October and will add the Scarlett Bernard series to my ever growing TBR list. I commend Boundary Crossing for your beach, plane and park (and any other location) reading pleasure.

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Fun but Weak on Story And Why That Matters

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Avengers: Age of Ultron was both better than I expected (my expectations had been lowered by what I had been reading and hearing about it) and is a harbinger of worry for the direction of film. That’s not to say I didn’t have fun watching it; I did. I liked the humor even if it was predictable and a bit repetitive. While convoluted and disjointed, there were the makings of a story in it; with a little squinting you had yourself an overarching narrative. The action was terrific; the visuals and sound were amazing. So, fun. Should a popcorn action movie do more? Yes, and we’ve seen it done. We’ve even seen it done by this director (Joss Whedon) in this franchise (The Avengers). The best piece I’ve seen discussing this is Sady Doyle’s Age of Robots: How Marvel Is Killing the Popcorn Movie — Medium. While I suspect that Ms. Doyle and I don’t share a common worldview, her arguments are compelling. I highly encourage you to go read it; read all of it to get its full meaning even if you don’t agree with some or all of it. It’s an equally moving piece about story and story’s importance in our lives as it is a commentary about Marvel’s potentially deleterious influence on movie making. Go ahead, I’ll be right here when you’re done.

Sady Doyle

Sady Doyle

It’s a little embarrassing that I’ve come to expect an outline instead of a genuine story out of popcorn movies. It’s a little like, once upon a time, we all expected baked chicken with rosemary, were led to lightly peppered chicken strips using breast meat and have succumbed to eating processed nuggets. I think it’s OK to have an occasional nugget, but Ms. Doyle suggests that we’re heading into a world dominated by the cinematic equivalent Chicken McNuggets.

I enjoyed watching Age of Ultron, I even like the bad guy more than most, but, upon reflection (and with a little nudge from Ms. Doyle), I see the emptiness of that meal. I wouldn’t worry at all if this were a one-off, but I do see the concern that the Marvel franchise will unduly influence filmmaking. I agree with Ms. Doyle that, even in the most popcorn crunching summer adventure film, we should always demand genuine story. It doesn’t have to be some angst-ridden François Truffaut film, but it does need to have a narrative arc that makes sense.

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Joss Whedon

Now, we certainly know that Joss Whedon can tell a story in the midst of action and fun. But let’s think about how this plays out. It’s not in explanatory monolog. It’s not in long dialog. We’re not talking about Waiting for Godot. No, it takes place in those interchanges constantly occurring between characters in the midst of action. It builds over time. It happens at the end during those moments in Firefly episodes where they meet at the dining table and reflect their adventures. We consistently see two things happen: characters are developed and the narrative is moved forward. “Reveals” come organically through the action and dialog and directly tie into the current story as well as foreshadow future events. Ms. Doyle points out that this is missing from Age of Ultron because future movies are foreshadowed with no tie to the current movie (embedded advertisement), characters are not developed either explicitly or through the action and dialogue and short substitutes are used for doing this work. Now every medium has its benefits and limitations. For example, Firefly was able to develop character and story lines over a longer length of time due to the serial nature of the TV series. For all the wonders of the movie Serenity, that really wasn’t available in its time frame. Nicely enough, it was mostly busy tying up loose ends or killing off favorite characters (Wash, we hardly knew ye). The salient point, however, is that a 2 ½ hour movie does not a TV series make. Similarly, visual medium, be it TV or movie, cannot develop characters and story with the same richness as those in a book. A lot of this simply has to do with the narrative space available to paint your characters and build your story. Books have the most and movies have the least. So, when you take an already limited media and further limit it through formulaic storylines and embedded commercials, you’re left with very little canvas on which to paint. (Of course, it’s not just length of time, as we saw with Deathly Hallows I & II and The Hobbit I, II, & III.) That’s the concern; the Marvel influence on the industry will push more formulaic stories (as if we needed more) and more embedded commercials than ever before. This road is especially tempting when the cost of producing these things is astronomically high with the requisite amount of risk of seeing a return on the investment equally high.

While I love books more than movies and TV, I still love those media. I hate to see a further degradation of story presented visually and sonically as only movies and TV can do. Each type of media has its place, but there is a minimal expectation for story no matter the media.

Long live the narrative! We have seen time and again that audiences appreciate stories and characters (think original Star Wars as opposed to prequels) over mere visual glitz. As is often the case, Hollywood may find itself playing the safe card only to lose in the long run.

Plumb’s Exhale Album is Where Her Theological-wheel Meets Life’s Asphalt

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Plumb

Plumb (Tiffany Lee) separates herself from the Contemporary Christian crowd with her lyrics and genre-bending music, sometimes alternative rock or electronic dance music, that just doesn’t fit into the peg holes of genre. She seems less willing to follow a winning formula for popularity and more willing to open the nitty, gritty world of living the Christian life in this “not yet” time. She does so in spades in Exhale. It is a worship album without being insipid elevator music and rather than being based on general theology, she lays out how her theological-wheel met asphalt; it lives where rubber meets the road.

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Throughout the album, the themes of God’s loving us where we are, the church being called to be a safe place of God-enabled love for those who are not only broken but are still breaking and the focus of our lives in not how great we can be for God but how great our God is and what He has already done through Jesus for us shine.

For full review: http://fdrmx.com/plumb-exhale-album-review/

Paramore and Joy Williams’ Beautifully Matched Voices Sing Hate to See Your Heart Break

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Paramore's Hayley Williams with Joy Williams

Paramore’s Hayley Williams with Joy Williams

Paramore’s Hayley Williams is joined by Joy Williams (formerly of The Civil Wars) for the music video of “Hate To See Your Heart Break.” This video stands out because they sound like twin daughters of different mothers (no, they’re not related), they portray friendship without beating you over the head with their relationship and their controlled passion suggests they know something about heart break This all speaks to a genuine warmth between the two expressed through beautifully matched voices.

For a full review of the lovely music video, see http://fdrmx.com/?p=23298

Of Monsters and Men Clever I of the Storm

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Of Monsters and Men recently (April 28th) released “I of the Storm,” which is a track on their upcoming album Beneath The Skin (Deluxe Version), coming out in June. There is an Alex Somers remix as a bonus track; you’ll definitely want to get the deluxe version. I suspect this Icelandic band feels like it has been in the eye of the storm since rocketing in the public eye in 2010.

The storm referenced in this song isn’t one of life’s general events. The song is about loss, but is it about loss of life, or loss of love? Like a number of their songs, including Crystals, the other song released from the upcoming album, this track presents us with multiple meanings.

For full review, see: http://fdrmx.com/?p=23268

Angèle Dubeau and La Pietà Starkly Beautiful Portrait of Ludovico Einaudi

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Ludovico Einaudi: Portrait is a stunning album of contemporary orchestral music. While you’re probably well aware of Ludovico Einaudi’s work, it’s relatively new to me. What I find so intriguing about his music making is that he seems to embed narrative movement in music; his pieces either tell stories or evoke emotions as part of stories. At first blush, you may be tempted to pass off his music as background or new-age music. There’s a grain of truth in that you could read a book with this intensely involving music playing in the background, but really it’s background in the same sense that rain, wind, or sunshine are  background to a camping trip. They are an integral part of your experience and deeply change what that experience is like. His music’s visceral sonic impact is more immediate than “Spring” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is for most diners in a café. These are moving, musical stories that help us build images and experience in our minds in a new way. A perfect example of this is the track “Experience.” It’s been used in a number of different videos where, typically without words, some life experiences are shown. The emotion is wrapped up in the music and images which combine to communicate powerfully. I’ve previously heard Mr. Einaudi’s “Divenire” but this recent album (released March 31, 2015) beautifully transitions the music to a fuller texture and richer sound.

Ludovico Einaudi: Portrait is part of a larger series in which Angèle Dubeau and her string orchestra, La Pietà, arrange the work of contemporary composers (Philip Glass in 2008, Arvo Pärt in 2010 and John Adams in 2011), for violin and string orchestra to change, in Ms. Dubeau’s words: “its texture, rethinking its character while bringing a new sonic dimension.” I’m delighted to be stretched a bit with contemporary orchestral music, as I’ve previously noted.

Another benefit is that not only is the music superbly played, its production is first rate. In the case of Mr. Einaudi’s music, she brings out the meaning behind his music. It’s also great to hear what was originally focused on piano now given a larger setting.

Go here for full review.

A couple examples of experiencing his music are:

To learn more about Angèle Dubeau and La Pietà: http://www.angeledubeau.com/

The Brilliant Jean le Flambeur Series Continues with The Fractal Prince

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FractalPrince

Jean le Flambeur is on a mission whilst being hunted – of course, this calls for deft timing and brilliant distraction all while trying to get in a Schrödinger box to borrow a powerful jewel… or not. So begins The Fractal Prince, the second book the Jean le Flambeur series. (Go here for a review of the first book, The Quantum Thief. Also, read them in order.) The Oubliette is replaced with Sirr, a city on Earth ravaged by wildcode. The European steampunk culture is supplanted by an Arabian culture partially under the thumb of the Sobornost. Meanwhile, a small boy version Matjek Chen (a founder) is roving the beach. Mieli, Perhonen and Jean must figure out how much their trust has grown and how closely they keep within the Pellegrini’s wishes.

I love the The Fractal Prince for, essentially, the same reasons I loved The Quantum Thief (reviewed here). There are a few reviews that outline why they liked Quantum Thief but not Fractal Prince; I really don’t get those. They seemed along the same line. It appears that the reader was already worn out with either delayed or slight exposition of terms and concepts used. I’ll address this issue later.

Some things uniquely great about The Fractal Prince are

  • The Arabian Nights inspired Tawaddud and her people and the city of Sirr
  • The notion of Wild code, Jinn and their role as well as the ones who track it down.
  • Schrödinger’s box and the trial set before them.
  • The relationships and sacrifices made between a number of characters.
Hannu Rajaniemi

Hannu Rajaniemi

This is going to be a little different review. I read Adam Roberts’ review in The Guardian and commend it for your reading: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/sep/26/fractal-prince-hannu-rajaniemi-review. I won’t lie, after I read his review, I began to reflect seriously on whether I should continue to write reviews since, alas, his is so much better than mine. I then remember that I’ll read books he doesn’t and there is still a place for me in the world of book reviews. Also, despite the brilliant writing, we differ in minor ways. In fact, I liked the writing in his review so much that I bought his book Jack Glass; I’m in the midst of reading it now. It does not disappoint (review to come since he really can’t review his own book – hah).

Adam Roberts

Adam Roberts

I will not, however, inflict you with a full review of the book (do read Mr. Robert’s). Rather, I’ll address an issue to which Mr. Adams alludes, namely that Hannu Rajaniemi’s writing style is overly difficult due to using new or unfamiliar terms or concepts without any introduction or exposition. Folks frustrated with this aspect ask: Are you just supposed to figure out what the mean by context? You’re kidding, right? So I’ll look at ways in which the charges seem true but draw a very different conclusion. I’ll also show that some the criticism is not accurate.

There are four categories of terms that seem to fall within this criticism:

  • A currently used, legitimate term; typically a technical or scientific term. An instance of this is Hawking Radiation
  • A concept based either directly off of an in current use, active term – Hawking Engine
  • A concept loosely based off of another – a stranglet missile or q-dot guns.
  • A brand new term not directly based on anything in the real world – Sobornost.

Now, Mr. Rajaniemi certainly keeps exposition at a minimum and often delays his exposition, but to say he doesn’t introduce terms or ever describe his concepts is simply false. Below are some examples of his exposition. Note: I will take my examples from the first book, The Quantum Thief, since many of the concepts he introduces are in his first book.

  • As early as page 18 in his first book, The Quantum Thief, he describes a both Perhonen and q-dot sails. “I was right: Perhonen is an Oortian spidership. It consists of separate modules, tethered together by nanofibres, living quarters spinning around a central axis like an amusement park ride to create a semblance of gravity. The tethers form a network in which the modules can move, like spiders in a web. The q-dot sails – concentric soap-bubble-thin rings made from artificial atoms that spread out several kilometres around the ship and can catch sunlight, Highway meso-particles and lightmill beams equally well – look spectacular”
  • In that same volume, on page 38, he describes qupting: “He has yet to get used to the zoku method of qupting. Sending brain-to-brain messages directly through a quantum teleportation channel seems like a dirty, invasive way to communicate compared to Oubliette co-remembering. The latter is much more subtle: embedding messages in the recipient’s exomemory so that information is recalled rather than received.”
  • We also see q-dot gun defined: “Her right hand contains a q-dot gun, a linear accelerator firing semi-autonomous coherent payloads.”
  • On pg 108 in The Quantum Thief, he describes exomemory and qevulot: “‘This is how it works. The exomemory stores data – all data – that the Oubliette gathers, the environment, senses, thoughts, everything. The gevulot keeps track of who can access what, in real time. It’s not just one public/private key pair, it’s a crazy nested hierarchy, a tree of nodes where each branch can only by unlocked by the root node. You meet someone and agree what you can share, what they can know about you, what you can remember afterwards”
  • He also uses his naming as a hint- exo (out of or external) + memory (like exoskeleton). Or Oubliette means dungeon with an opening in the top – this is both a name for the Martian city and a description.

So we have cases where the concept is new but built on real-world physics ala Hawking Drives or their naming reveals the meaning. Finally, we have flat out descriptions or definitions of term. Now, are the references to Physics a bit esoteric? Sure. Is the naming a bit hidden? Yes. Are the explanations awash with previously defined terms so that you have this layered, labyrinthine definition to unravel? Yes. So more of a challenge, but I actually think that’s part of the fun. It’s a bit like trying to figure out the mystery before Arsène Lupin (or Sherlock or Hercule Poirot). So, at least for me, not only does it avoid the problems to the narrative flow of long expositions, it adds to the mystery and the fun. Plus it’s a lovely exercise in humility. If I ever start thinking I’m pretty smart, I’ll just read a little of Hannu Rajaniemi and, voilà, perspective is restored. I’m not so bright after all.

Scott Brick

Scott Brick

I switched between the Kindle and Audible versions of The Fractal Prince. I listened to the audiobook. Because it’s dense material, I don’t recommend that be your only way of taking in the content, despite it being an excellent recording. Scott Brick does his usual fabulous job narrating. As I’ve noted before, Mr. Brick is in my pantheon of favorite narrators. His pacing, emphasis, and enunciation are nearly flawless, which is a particularly challenging feat since it’s loaded with technical material and new terms. Alas, while he narrated The Quantum Thief, he does not narrate A Causal Angel. More about this switch and the narration here.

There is no doubt that Mr. Rajaniemi’s books contain densely packed concepts and provide a bit more intellectual challenge than the average book or, even SciFi book. From my perspective, the payoff of great storytelling, allusions to historical literature, pop-culture and science swirled together to build amazing worlds is more than worth it.

I cannot commend this book and series enough.

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