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Leopold!

Just got back from a performance of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at Royce Hall at UCLA. The last of the series I bought, and it was great fun. I’m looking forward to future performances. Tonight we heard:

Sarah Gibson’s “Warp and Weft,” a Modernist piece composed specially for LACO. The best I can say for it was that it wasn’t nearly as painful as other commissioned pieces I’ve heard on earlier occasions. That itself was a moral victory.

Mozart: Piano Concerto #17. Very enjoyable, and I don’t believe I’ve ever heard this one before. The pianist was impressive. There’s something about Mozart, though. Maybe it’s all the Warner Bros. cartoons I watched growing up, but I kept expecting Elmer Fudd to chase Bugs Bunny onto the stage, shotgun blasting in counterpoint to the music. I would have paid extra for that.

(And if you haven’t seen “The Rabbit of Seville,” your life is a wasteland.)

Ruth Seeger: Andante for Strings. (1931) Let’s just say this was misnamed. I believe it should have been called “Flies buzzing around a dead cow by a placid lake.”

Beethoven: Fifth Symphony. My first time ever hearing this live, and it was magnificent. There are composers I like better than Beethoven (Haydn, Schubert), and there are Beethoven symphonies I like better than the Fifth (#s3 and 7). But the 5th symphony quite literally epitomizes Classical music. If you’ve seen “300,” it is the Leonidas of symphonies. Instead of screaming “This is Sparta!”, the opening grabs you by the collar, gets in your face, and yells “THIS! IS! MUSIC!!” before kicking you off the stage and into the cheap seats. I have rarely seen a work demand such sustained concentration and intensity from performers. It is exhausting and exhilarating for both performer and audience, and it is something everyone should see at least once.

Merry Christmas!

I hope Santa brought all that you could desire. 🙂

When Paul Johnson writes biography, the intent is not simply to recount the facts of someone’s life: it is didactic. Johnson is an historian who intends to teach a lesson with this writings, to show us what we should draw from the subject’s life, works, and thoughts to better our own lives.

Thus it is with Johnson’s biography of Socrates, the first and perhaps still the greatest of the moral philosophers. Rather than a dry recitation of what we know of Socrates’s life and works, Johnson looks at themes in Socrates’ life –bravery; his love for Athens; an absolute commitment to doing what was right and just; and irony– and uses them to illustrate those things that should be valuable in our own lives, and thus improve our lives for being valued. Johnson reads much into the texts and context, sometimes making assumptions and presenting them as facts because he’s sure they must be true, and there is the occasional odd error, but the broad lessons Johnson teaches (or, rather, relates what Socrates taught) and the beauty in his writing make them forgivable. The Kindle version is clean, with no typos that I could spot, though it is rather expensive for such a  short book.

Recommended as an introduction to the person, to help make the philosophy more accessible.

One of the time-honored genres of science fiction and fantasy literature involves men from Earth who suddenly find themselves on other worlds, whether through super-science, magic, or mysticism, rather than visiting as, say, a “normal” space traveler. The most famous early example would be Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter of Mars” series, but among others are Lin Carter’s “Green Star” books and Andre Norton’s “Witch World” series. In the modern age, the popularity of games such as Dungeons and Dragons in the late 70s and 80s helped revive the genre, with books such as Norton’s “Quag Keep,” Joel Rosenberg’s “Guardians of the Flame” series (especially book 1), and Brian Daley’s “Coramonde” books.

“Starfollowers of Coramonde” is the second of two books, sequel to “Doomfarers of Coramonde,” which introduces us to Gil McDonald, an American soldier fighting in Vietnam. One moment, McDonald and his armored personnel carrier crew are fighting an enemy ambush, and the next they’re in combat with a dragon. (Spoiler: APCs beat dragons. Barely.) McDonald and his men learn they’ve been summoned by magic to Coramonde, a kingdom under grave threat from the evil wizard Yardiff Bey. McDonald chooses to remain behind in the world and helps to restore the rightful ruler, Prince Springbuck, to his throne, foiling Yardiff Bey’s plot. “Doomfarers” ends with Yardiff Bey escaping and taking with him as prisoner Dunstan the Berserker, Gil’s friend.

“Starfollowers” picks up soon thereafter, with Gil, Springbuck, and their friends and allies deciding to take the war to Yardiff Bey and his masters. McDonald and a small party head west to return a magic sword and an infant heir to the land of Vegana, currently under siege by the enemy, as well as to investigate what it is that Yardiff Bey seeks in a long-dead wizard’s writings. Meanwhile, Prince Springbuck forgoes responding to the attacks on his own land and instead leads an army to the lands of the enemy and the city of Shardisku-Salama, wherein reside Yardiff Bey’s masters.

And therein lies the problem with “Starfollowers of Coramonde.” After that set up, the book becomes one long pursuit and series of battles leading to a climactic confrontation in front of the city, itself. The large cast of new characters is thinly drawn, and it is assumed that the reader has all the background information he needs on existing characters from reading the first book. Thus there is little to capture one’s interest and give one a reason to care if one is reading “Starfollowers” first. Without the ground laid in “Doomfarers,” this becomes a rather standard fantasy quest.

But it is well done and enjoyable nonetheless. Mr. Daley showed promise as a writer, even with the occasional tendency toward a Gygaxian abuse of the thesaurus, and it’s a shame he died relatively early in his career. His setting in Coramonde is interesting, and I would like to have seen it developed further. And, similar to other books of that time, I have to wonder if this was the author’s home D&D setting. If so, I would have enjoyed playing there.

I read the book in Kindle format and was disappointed in the quality of the file. There are simply too many typos that could have been fixed with decent proofreading. Not enough to spoil the book or make it impossible to read, but enough to be an annoyance. The publisher should issued a copy-edited revision. There is also a paperback copy available.

On a scale of one to five, I give “Starfollowers of Coramonde” a straight three: enjoyable, but best read if one reads “Doomfarers” first. However, I recommend just that: buy both and sit back for a good late-summer’s read.

 

If you’re like me, the annual sight of blissfully happy couples on Valentine’s Day makes you ill. Not because of their cloying sweetness and dopey “eyes only for you” looks (though that’s part of it), but because you never get to join in. If your romantic life has stunk as badly as mine, you’ve often felt like that little kid looking in from outside the fence and wishing he could play, too, but never gets the chance.

Admit it: every Valentine’s Day is an annoying reminder of that. Don’t deny it, revel in it — wallow in the mire you yourself have created! Give in to the dark side…

And, while you’re at it, enjoy this Valentine’s Day report from The Onion.

You’re welcome.

Happy New Year!

I hope you had a helluva party last night and that you have a helluva good year to come. 😀

Merry Christmas!

I hope Santa brought all that you could desire. 🙂