Musical instruments sorted by genre

As classified by the genre police.

  • Saxophone – science fiction
  • Trumpet – fantasy
  • Violin – fantasy, urban fantasy and horror
  • Piano – steam punk
  • Harpsichord – Paranormal romance but set in regency England
  • Drums (in general) – fantasy
  • Cello – science fiction
  • Flute – fantasy
  • Xylophone – horror
  • Kazoo – science fiction
  • Triangle – science fiction
  • Tom-toms – science fiction
  • Tuba – steam punk
  • Hurdy-gurdy – steam punk
  • Mandolin – fantasy
  • Harp – the instrument actually writes fantasy novels in its spare time that’s how into fantasy harps are
  • Choir – space opera
  • Electric guitar – surprisingly fantasy but also space opera
  • Acoustic guitar – surprisingly science fiction
  • Accordion – Urban fantasy, steam punk and horror
  • Moog synthesiser – Fantasy. Ha, no only kidding. Science fiction.
  • Theremin – Science fiction, horror
  • Bass guitar – when played by itself, science fiction
  • Bagpipes – Fantasy and paranormal romance
  • Melodeon – Lovecraftian horror
  • French horn – fantasy
  • Upright piano – weird west
  • Ukulele – a forgotten sub-genre of 1940s black and white science fiction film filmed in Ealing Studios about cheeky working class English people on Mars
  • Banjolele – as above but starring specifically George Formby

Currently Reading: The Will to Battle (Terra Ignota 3) by Ada Palmer

How behind am I in the books I intended to read some time ago? Not as far behind as the rest of you because I know you are all even worse and have to live in constant fear that the towers of unread books will collapse on top of you resulting in a headline in your local newspaper about the eccentric person who was eventually murdered by their own book collection.

So where were we? Palmer’s future society of hives (quasi-states that exist independent of physical territory) has learned of the conspiracy of elite leaders centred on Madame and also of the Humanist Hive’s OS operation – the selective assassination of people to keep society as a whole stable. The bountiful but uneasy peace between the many factions of the world is unravelling much as our narrator, Mycroft Canner, originally intended when he was a teenager and committed a series of brutal murders to shock society into conflict.

The possibly less murderous Mycroft’s previous accounts (Too Like the Lightning and Seven Surrenders) charted the events leading up to the revelations. That account is now (in universe) public knowledge. In The Will to Battle Mycroft has been charged with maintaining a secret account of the run up to the apparently inevitable war between the Hives.

Central to the shift to a war footing is Achilles, as in the legendary Greek hero of the Iliad. Or maybe not. Achilles is both a former small plastic toy soldier (known as the Major) owned by the possibly magical child Bridger and also a transformed version of Bridger. The actual nature of Bridger/Major/Achilles is as yet unknown.

I will be continuing the Notes Ignota series, mainly because I enjoy reading the books this way, underlining words and adding question marks and chasing down references.

How Come Cats are All the Same Size?

Good evening, I am Timothy the Talking Cat wearing a clumsy photocopy of a mask of veteran science broadcaster James Burke and tonight I will be unravelling a chain of historical events that answers key questions of modern times.

Tonight I answer the question: how come cats are all the same size?

The Système international (d’unités) standard cat length

Like many modern Americans* I marvel at how convenient cats are compared to every other pet. Each cat we purchase, adopt or are viciously clawed by as we walk down the street is exactly the same size. The average length of a cat varies by degrees so small that it requires specialist equipment to identify. [scene change]

Here I am at the Conseil européen pour la recherche nucléaire or “CERN” in Geneva. Only here at the pinnacle of modern sub-atomic particle research can scientists determine the minute differences in cat length. To better understand our question I have taken two dogs and placed them within the seventeen mile long Large Hadron Collider. Within this massive apparatus, the two dogs will be accelerated to extraordinarily high speeds until, somewhere close to the Swiss-France border the two dogs will collide resulting in a cascade of elementary dog-particles. [background noise of loud barking and somebody shouting “d’où venaient ces chiens?”]

But where did this extraordinary precision come from and why, specifically, was the unit of one cat length chosen? Why, for instance, were cats not standardised to the lengths of rabbits or cows? To understand better I have come here to the Old Wild West. Here we see a scene familiar to fans of cowboy films, the Western Saloon. In the days of Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp a lonely cowboy could here and drink whiskey and spit into buckets. However, the frontier was no place for cats and cowboys had to make do with daguerreotype pictures of cats to provide them with psychological comfort. These proto-photographs were sold as being “incredibly life like” but for ease of manufacture they were printed on standard size paper that was exactly one cat length in width (excluding margins). Without these pioneering cat pictures America would have no pet cats west of the Mississippi and instead the humble armadillo would be the national pet of America. [scene change]

But why were the cat photos printed on paper of this size? To answer that question I have come here to Edinburgh, Scotland. Here the humble cat picture was born in 1933 when Angus McCatpicture pioneered taking photographs of cats scowling at their owners. To re-enact how this very first picture was taken I have put three small pug dogs in this barrel and intend to push it down this very steep road from Edinburg Castle into the city below.[Sound of Scottish person shouting “Hey, get my dogs out of that barrel you psychotic feline.” scene change]

Or was it? In fact, the very first cat picture may not have been in 1930s ‘swinging’ Scotland at all but here in the Indus Valley in the 12th century BC. [Sound of police sirens…scene change]

Or perhaps here on the magnificent Hoover Dam in Nevada. Each day eight gazillion mega-pints of water flow through this dam in a bid to make the whole point of a dam redundant. By placing multiple dogs into the lake above the dam, we can imagine how they might get sucked into the turbines below. Some might say that is a cruel idea but also I am a cat and frankly your ideas of cruelty have no bearing on me or my kind, you sanctimonious primate you. [scene change]

To really unravel this mystery we have to go deeper. That is why I am now here at New Scotland Yard in London. Here classic crimes of the past were solved in ye olden times (cut to library footage of a stereotype English bobby walking through fog-filled cobble stoned streets) but these days the boys in blue of London’s Metropolitan Police Force use more modern techniques to solve crime. Currently they have just made an arrest in a case of international dog-theft and attempted dog-murder. [scene change]

Which takes me to here, The Old Bailey, the seat of English justice. Here the fraught question of why cats are exactly the same size would be determined in a historic court case of “Timothy the Talking Cat versus The Queen and a Whole Bunch of Very Upset Dogs”** [scene change]

Here, amid the historic walls of Wormwood Scrubs Prison we have traced our question through the ages to this one iconic place. What we have learned is that it is not the length of the cat that matters but the width. As it happens I can easily fit through these bars despite my portly appearance. You’ll never take me alive coppers!

*[No Americans were involved]

**[All the dogs got away safely]

Using My Time Machine to Fix Right Wing Views on Climate

Ha! Tricked you all! This is a post about Larry Correia again! Larry has suddenly decided that he is really into more literary science-fiction and is making an assertive defence of Dan Simmons.

Simmons (an author whose books I do actively seek out) went off an a bit of anti-Greta Thunberg thung on Facebook. Many people objected. There was a post at File 770 about it: http://file770.com/dan-simmons-criticized-for-remarks-about-thunberg/

Larry, who has made a point of stating how he nor very few other people read File 770 apparently read the post and was unhappy with people being unhappy with Simmons and discovered that he is a big fan of Simmons. Is it their mutual love of John Keats or the their shared interest in Proust? Larry doesn’t say. He does claim that File 770’s post critical of Simmons led to Simmon’s novel Hyperion being “number one” on Amazon.

However, I want to focus on a particular criticism of Greta Thunberg that I’ve seen from Simmons, Correia, and other right wing science fiction writers:

“Oh yeah, and it’s the ultimate Motte and Bailey play, because they can put an uneducated teenager with no scientific creds at all in front of one of the biggest government bodies in the world to demand socialism now or else, and when you go LOL WUT they switch to We Just Want A Clean Environment Why Do You Hate Children. It’s total bullshit.”

OK, there’s a germ of a point there – after all Greta Thunberg isn’t a climate scientist. How about instead of a school kid they got the most relevant and credentialed scientists up there instead! [Yes, we will ignore that Thunberg was speaking at a youth conference with multiple amazing young people trying to make their world a better place https://www.insider.com/greta-thunberg-activists-climate-change-who-are-they-2019-9 ]

OK but I can fix that with my time machine. Clearly what these authors need to see is not kids but scientists. Show them authoritative people, who know their stuff and the whole “no scientific creds” issue is dealt with. Yet, it’s no good doing it now when the warming is already substantial. I need to CHANGE THE PAST! Instead of scolding these guys they want hard science and reason and they need it years ago!

OK – to my time machine! I’ll be right back!

[weird groaning noises as if a Tardis is dematerialising and then rematerialising which are then revealed to be a fat cat snoring…]

Phew! Fixed it! I’ve changed the timeline! I went all the way back to 1988! Hopefully enough time to change everybody’s mind! Instead of scolding people I changed the past so the UN got together an international panel on climate change with experts from around the world! If you check Wikipedia you can now see in our new timeline an entry on the IPCC: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intergovernmental_Panel_on_Climate_Change

What’s that you say? My new amazing timeline with the UN promoting highly credentialed scientists to explain the detailed science of climate change for the past 30 odd years is EXACTLY the same? But, but, that’s not possible! For that to be true it would almost have to be that these conservatives never gave two shits about the science and where just moaning about credentials because Greta Thunberg was actually making a difference and got climate change and global warming back into the headlines!

Review: Mindhunter Season 2

Well this is odd. I was convinced I had written a review of season 1 but I can’t find one on my blog. The link and summary to that review would go around about here: [empty space].

Mindhunter is a difficult show to summarise. It is not hard to provide a straight-forward description: The show follows the formation of the FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit and the development of psychological profiles of serial killers by following two agents (Holden Ford & Bill Tench) and a professor of psychology (Wendy Carr) as they investigate murderers across the USA in the 1970s and 80s. That description is deeply misleading.

The show definitely rests on the aesthetics and dynamics of other serial killer stories (or fringe unit stuck in an FBI basement such as the X-Files) but otherwise ditches much of what you might expect. Very few cases get solved. In the first season, no serial killers are caught and the second season, well…it would be a spoiler to say but the figure doesn’t leap quickly above zero. Some crimes are solved but often by regular police work and the role of psychological insights or interview techniques is questionable.

Nor is this ineffectual or ambiguous nature of the profiling being developed unintentional. The show repeatedly explores the extent to which the team may be fooling themselves or finding their own expectations thrown back at them. The three core characters (brilliantly played by Jonathon Groff, Holt McCallany and Anna Torv) each have their own epistemological style: Ford is convinced of his own brilliance and his intuitions, Tench is more sceptical and Carr more concerned with consistent methodology. The idea of characters with cognitive styles isn’t new to law enforcement shows (e.g. Mulder versus Scully) but Mindhunter offers far more nuance.

Season 1 focused primarily on Holden Ford [“It’s funny in Australia”], the apparently straight laced but intellectual curious and inquisitive young agent who has the initial idea of interviewing convicted serial killers to learn more about their motivations. Season 2 provides more insights into Wendy Carr’s character but the primary focus is on Bill Tench and the impact of his work on his family. Apparently there are five seasons planned.

The violence of the show is notable. There is very little on screen violence. However, there are frequent and vivid descriptions of deeply disturbing crimes. Season 2 in particular deals with child murder, the details of which are very distressing. The show does centre killers as characters but does also look at the emotional and personal aspect of victims and the people around them. The effect is one of tension through out and the use of sinister music makes often mundane scene feel like they are building up to a jump-scare when actually the show doesn’t use them.

Disturbing is the best adjective to use. Very well acted and often unsympathetic towards its central characters. It’s very much not what you might expect from a show about serial killers. There are some similarities with David Fincher’s film Zodiac in how it treats the subject matter of serial murder. Fincher (along with Charlize Theron) is a producer of the show but Mindhunter is even less of a conventional serial killer narrative than Zodiac.

Ersatz Culture’s Gender Graphs

Ersatz Culture has been systematically graphing all the awards (well, lots of them but maybe not all of them) in terms of gender and very systematically.

https://sf.ersatzculture.com/gender-award-charts/

There are a host of different patterns in those graphs – note these are my observations not those of Ersatz Culture. Some awards are more volatile than others and, of course, some awards are very recent. Overall, there has been the shifted already noted from:

  1. Mainly men
  2. More men than women but many women
  3. Mainly women

The nearest graph to one that splits neatly into these phases is the Nebula Award for Short Story https://sf.ersatzculture.com/gender-award-charts/index-nebula-sfwa.html#nebula-award-short-story but as with any narrative overlaid on data, take it as the speculation it is.

There are few examples of an award bouncing around a 50/50 split. The Arthur C Clarke award though seems to have less of a trend and more of a noisy wobble around a 70/30ish split. https://sf.ersatzculture.com/gender-award-charts/index-british.html#arthur-c-clarke-award-best-science-fiction-novel

Young Adult awards have been more favourable to women. Fantasy awards have tended to be more favourable to women also. Any shift in a generic award towards YA or fantasy therefore might also lead to a shift towards women.

New writer awards (the former-Campbell Award, Locus Best First Novel) have often had a better split (not always a good split) than other awards in the same year. That is interesting as they might be a leading indicator of future award demographics in these awards.

Events…

In the UK the Supreme Court has ruled that Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament was unlawful ( https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2019/09/u-k-supreme-court-boris-johnson-suspension-prorogue-parliament-unlawful-illegal.html ). The ruling doesn’t itself bring a solution to Brexit any closer (except in terms of the no-deal deadline getting closer just by the passage of time) but it is a hefty blow to Johnson trying to play the authoritarian strong-man role.

Jeremy Corbyn remains in the ironic position of ending up in a classic error-mode for Labour leaders: avoiding taking a clear position of the day because of their own personal doubts on policy and fear of alienating a set of voters. Of course in the past, the policy problem bedevilling a Labour leader is when they try to sit on a more centrist fence when a better policy lies to their left which, as a frustrated support, you think they could win voters over with IF ONLY they they got fully behind it. I sympathise with his dilemma but it’s also clear that what’s needed from the opposition is a far more assertive Remain position.

Meanwhile, In the USA it really looks like there is movement towards impeachment of Donald Trump. Of course, that is a long road but it is another area where tactics and necessity have (apparently) been hard to resolve for the more progressive side of politics. In the end though, Trump’s boundary pushing for Presidential behaviour has to have a response from Congress if precedents are not to be set. Already, Trump has demonstrated the extent to which an otherwise incompetent person can get away with extreme mismanagement and unethical behaviour once they are in the office of the President of the United States. The US and the world has been lucky that so far Trump’s on cognitive limitations have helped thwart some of his worse intents. Looking at the real human damage Trump has already caused and reflecting that this is not as bad as he could have made it if he could think more coherently is deeply alarming.

Meanwhile, across the world from West Papua to Kashmir to Hong Kong to Xinjiang to Tibet to the West Bank, nationalist governments of various kinds are increasingly open about suppression and abuse of human rights. Trump and Brexit are a distraction in a real sense, as in events that we have to pay attention to but which suck attention from deeper horrors.