The Glue of Truthiness

Doing some self-directed training at work made me think about our current controversy over alternative facts. And that, in turn, made me think about an insight from fictional detective Harry Bosch in the novel The Black Ice by Michael Connelly. As Bosch pieces together the clues to a cop’s murder, he recalls something he was told early in his career: you can have all the facts you want, but facts mean nothing without figuring out the glue holding them together.

That’s a great insight on Bosch/Connelly’s part (Connelly was an L.A. Times crime reporter before turning to fiction). What is the glue that holds the facts together? If you investigate deeper, you piece together the meaning, the truth.

Of course, we all have deep convictions we often hold onto no matter the contrary evidence. We are all also guilty of reacting to contrary evidence by clinging even stronger to our convictions. Or we cherry-pick stuff that supports our convictions.

But, what if we dig deeper? Will we find the facts and their truths are as flimsily held together by edible Elmer’s paste as a kindergartener’s art project? Or will we discover a solid bond held together with Krazy Glue?

I love questions like this. It’s one of the reasons I love fiction and believe fiction is truthier than nonfiction. Of course, it’s usually also much more entertaining. And that’s a fact!

— Todd

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Review: Scalzi locks readers in with ‘Lock In’

In this near-future thriller, John Scalzi blends his fast-paced science fiction with suspense to yield a vivid world in which a portion of the human population is locked inside itself as a result of an insidious disease, known as Haden’s syndrome.

Technology has advanced enough — primarily through research for a disease cure  — those who suffer with the disease can live virtually by integrating their consciousness into other willing (mostly) human “Integrators” or hooking into androids known as “threeps” (yes, it is an allusion to that android).

Newly minted FBI agent Chris Shane (a Haden’s victim) partners with veteran Leslie Vann and the two wind up investigating Haden-related murder, following a suspect who might have been integrated with a Haden. The investigation is pretty standard, or as standard as the world Scalzi presents, given the murder suspect lives inside another human being, but only temporarily.

While transferring human conscious is a standard SF trope — one that Scalzi explores in his Old Man’s War series as well — Scalzi does a bang-up job making the technology plausible, especially a consciousness transfer into an android. With the novel, like all good SF, or all good fiction for that matter, Scalzi puts forth the questions of “What is human? What is it to be human?” Are the threeps human? They only seem to come to life when a human consciousness occupies them. Are you fully human if you allow another consciousness to temporarily possess your mind?

Although not quite as mindbending as his Hugo-winning Redshirts, Lock In supplies you with a good mystery story wrapped in the questions of future technologies.

— Todd

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The Martian: A review

So, I must admit I am apparently the only person — at least on this planet — who hasn’t seen The Martian on the big screen, but I’ve finally jumped on the bandwagon and read the book.* (A nice review of the movie by Melinda Snodgrass is here. She reviews the movie and book and includes some of George R.R. Martin’s commentary about book/movie adaptation. I’ve written some about book/movie adaptation in a review of Sideways.)

Like most readers, I loved book. It’s the kind of SF I think even Sad Puppies might enjoy, given it has space ships and white guys sciencing the shit out of stuff. It does, I suppose hearken back to classic SF — whatever that is.

But, its appeal is Mark Watney’s voice and the gallows humor Andy Weir has bestowed on Watney’s character. (It almost seems as if Weir had Matt Damon in mind as he was developing Watney’s voice. Of course, that could simply be the hazard of reading a novel when a movie is out that makes the voice sound like Damon’s. Or could it be Matt Damon lives inside my head?)

The book also serves as a really good study of keeping the tension flowing in a story, although there are moments when you want Weir to let up a little, and maybe let someone have a picnic at a peaceful beach or something.

For a non-science guy like me, the science in it is readable and I have to commend Weir on that. Given he has a science background — computer science — I’m pretty sure he knows how to science the shit out of stuff, or at least research enough to make the science sound plausible. The science even got Neil deGrasse Tyson approval, and that’s no small feat.

So, read the book. It’s good fun. And eventually, I will launch out at some point to see the movie.

— Todd

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*Editor’s note: I hope you will consider buying the book through this Amazon link. While I don’t want to be too agressive of a marketer, I would also like to monetize this blog a little. Thanks for your support.

 

Origins: Jonathan Walburgh on Cannibals and Vixens on the River Styx: A Journey Into ’80s Music

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I know Jonathan Walburgh from my newspaper days. Besides that experience, we both shared the experience of growing up in the 1980s, and getting our ears filled with everything from Madonna to Michael, but also Metallica and Men Without Hats (and you know what you can do with friends who don’t dance.) Paging through Jonathan’s book makes me nostalgic for ear-splitting Quiet Riot concerts (1984, Reunion Arena, Dallas, Texas was my first) and girls in Chic jeans doing their best to look like Duran Duran’s Simon LeBon.

Here’s Jonathan to tell us more about rock and/or roll ’80s style:

There’s the cliche “Write what you know.” Well, there’s also the saying “Write the book you want to read.” With Cannibals and Vixens on the River Styx: A Journey Into ’80s Music, I did both. There have been many good books about the music and pop culture of the 1970s but very few about the 1980s, so I felt I needed to fill that void.

Having experienced that decade firsthand (I’m 38) I’ve always been annoyed at how Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen get all the credit for the decade’s musical innovation. While all of them certainly contributed some quality work, there were some other acts that were pretty creative as well. The 1980s saw Neil Young take a total left hand turn and incorporate synthesizers into his music on his album Trans, while Lindsey Buckingham collided sound effects with songs on his album Go Insane to create new musical textures and soundscapes. Acts like Huey Lewis & the News and the Bangles updated the styles of the 1950s and ’60s by incorporating synthesizers into the mix to create music that sounded both retro and new at the same time. I also wanted to include other acts such as The Cars, Men at Work and Def Leppard whom I feel have never gotten the credit they deserved for creating some great music.

Being a major music buff, the biggest temptation was to focus on every obscure act that I loved, but I realized that would make pretty boring reading, so I narrowed my subjects down to the ones that whose music I felt the most passionate about and had the most interesting stories to tell. I spent three years researching the book, combing both through libraries and my own personal collection of musical memorabilia. I hope anyone with an interest in 1980s pop music reads Cannibals and Vixens on the River Styx and finds it enjoyable and informative.

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Buy the book: Amazon ¦Barnes and Noble