Book Recommendation: A Canticle for Leibowitz

A Canticle for Leibowitz

Given my post history, you may have noticed that I’m a fan off the Fallout game series. Although my posts are basically all focused around Fallout 4 (at least so far) I have played some of the previous titles such as Fallout 2 and 3 earlier in my life. Needless to say, a post apocalyptic future captivates me whether it’s after a nuclear war or zombie infestation. So when a good friend of mine talked to me about a major inspiration for the Fallout series I knew I had to give it a try. Back in 1960, Walter M. Miller Jr. published a book called A Canticle for Leibowitz which today is considered a classic science fiction novel and ultimately led to much of the influence of the Fallout series. Miller was primarily a short story writer; in fact Canticle is the only completed and published novel he ever put out during his life time. So it should be no surprise that A Canticle for Leibowitz is actually a collection of three novellas that he tied together in the same world but with each one set 600 years apart.

Logically these three books do not follow one main character, but rather an order of monks known as the Albertian Order of Leibowitz who reside in an abbey located in a desert in the American southwest. The group was founded by Leibowitz himself shortly after the war and the order continued for centuries to preserve historic, scientific and religious (primarily Catholic) texts and artifacts so that the world may never forget them.

The first book is called Fiat Homo and is set in the 26th century, 600 years after the nuclear war when Leobowitz lived. At this point, man is basically still in the Stone Age. It closely follows a young monk who goes into the desert where he ends up meeting an old wanderer. Shortly thereafter, he ends up stumbling into an underground passage where he finds a bomb shelter and relics that possibly belong to Leibowitz himself.

Fiat Homo is the second book and it is set another 600 years later where civilization is now slowly but surely crawling its way back to where it once was. But at this point in time it is more in a social sense than rather a technological one. While there are nomadic tribes that wage war, other societies have also emerged such as peaceful states and cities. Political tensions also are beginning to run high though and the possibility of war is on the horizon. One fledgling civilization sends a secular scholar to visit the abbey to work with the monks and study their relics. During this time the monks, tending to their studies and experiments, make a miraculous discovery that ushers man into the next era.

Lastly, the final book is called Fiat Lux and it is again 600 years later in 38th century. Man has long recovered back to where it was before the war 1,800 years ago and is now leaps and bounds ahead. There are now colony planets outside Earth’s own solar system and space travel. The monks continue their preservation of relics, artifacts, and all knowledge in the same abbey. Unfortunately tensions between nations are still a common problem. This, coupled with the destructive technologies developed over time can now potentially set back man into the stone once again.

It’s been a little while since I read this one so I hope my spoiler free summary above was half accurate and left enough open for someone reading this to be at least slightly intrigued. Travelling 1,800 years in one book gives the book a fresh feel in each section, from stone age to the renaissance to the future each feel like a new world being explored as you read on. Compared to my first book recommendation this is a much trickier read but not impossible, I found that given the themes it touches on its appropriate. Regarding those themes, Miller touches on some major ones focused around civilization and society. The pious monks strive to preserve both their religion and scientific relics which can seem contradictory but seem to bring noble merit to both the monks and the knowledge. With the revival of civilizations politics comes into play during the second book, this brings up the issue of the church vs. the state during the story. Morality is also brought into the picture during some gruesome events as well where again we see the church working hard to keep the high ground while understanding the logic behind some immoral actions. Lastly, and possibly the most important one, is the nature of man’s path which seems to come full circle over time. There are many others touched upon as well but these seem to be the major ones.

I went into this book primarily expecting something feeling like a Fallout game. Perhaps a wanderer traveling the wasteland seeking something out. Perhaps a village struggling to survive the harsh land fill style terrain. Or maybe bandit tribes caught in constant war with each other. While I didn’t find the book matched my expectations I was rather impressed with its thought provoking pages nonetheless. I can definitely see how the Fallout universe was inspired, both from the first two’s desolate wasteland to the last books vision of a future that is well passed ours. If you’re a Fallout fan I highly recommend this one, and if you have any general interest in philosophy or retro futurism this is a great read too.

Album Recommendation: With a Lifetime to Pay

 

When I was younger, I remember seeing footage of concerts such as Metallica (or any other popular band from the 80s or earlier) and noticed that they still sell out huge shows and that much of the crowd were older folks. This was in the early 2000s and my teenage mind couldn’t quite comprehend why such bands were still huge and why these fans haven’t moved onto newer music. Now being a bit older I realize that I’m no different. I too would much rather listen to some of my older punk albums than the new music being made these days. I think it’s natural for most people to care less and less about new music the older they get. To a kid only burdened by homework, a part time job and possibly a girlfriend and video games, life isn’t too complicated or hard. Going to shows and keeping up with the latest news on the music scene was a priority to many during those youthful years. As you get older, responsibilities, obligations, long term goals, and other interests tend to push music on the back burner. So when they do decided to listen to something, most people would prefer a nostalgic tune from their younger years. Don’t get me wrong though, there are definitely some new tunes that catch my ear and they find their way into my music collection. They just tend to be few and far in between nowadays. So that being said, most of my musical recommendations will most likely be from the late 90s or early 2000s and if you happen to be in your 30s and like punk, industrial, or hard rock, you might just enjoy them too.

Looking through my music collection, punk rock is definitely more prominent than other genres. I tended to lean towards punk for its energy. Fast drumming coupled with screeching guitar just caught my ear more than anything. Throw in some satirical commentary and immature puns and I was sold. Bands like NOFX, The Vandals, Descendents, Tiger Army, Propaghandi, and Strung Out were such a staple of my music collection growing up. Despite so many albums that I’ve repeatedly listened to back in those days, there were virtually none that I could listen to every track and call it a perfect album (unless you include NOFX’s “The Decline”, but that’s cheating as it’s the only track on there and it’s a great song). The closest album that truly can listen to from start to finish I would have to say is Zero Down’s “With a Lifetime to Pay”.

There are many albums in my collection that I simply don’t listen to anymore. Sometimes, I only put my favourite songs from a record onto my iPod, and sometimes just a few songs from a band all together. Hell, there are some bands I don’t even have on there anymore and haven’t had an urge to listen to in years. That’s not the case with Zero Down. Every few years I find myself pulling this one out when I’m walking my dog, biking, or at the gym. And when I do throw their songs back on my iPod, the whole album goes on, nothing is missed.

As I pointed out early, I tend to like the immaturity many punk bands incorporate into their lyrics, however Zero Down doesn’t do this. Some songs focus on social commentary such as The Way It Is, Bite the Hand That Feeds, Empty Promised Land, and A Million More. While other tracks such as No Apologies, Going Nowhere, It Ain’t Over Yet, and Self Medication shift their focus on self-reflection. But given the quality of their sound I don’t mind a lack of humor, more mature lyrics work better in this case. But to me, the two strengths of this album are purely instrumental. I find they deviate from your usual punk band by utilizing melodic tunes with their guitar and bass as well as Jim Cherry’s choruses (not to mention he has a great voice that perfectly suits the more serious topics he sings about). Second, the drumming is not in typical fashion either. While the drumming is fast, there are definitely sections in this album where they get creative with it. If you put all these together; the melodies, the rhythmic drums, the lyrics and Cherry’s voice you get a unique and great punk rock album. This is an album even people who are not fans of punk rock can enjoy and it doesn’t sound like a punk band that’s purposely tailored for radio.

You would think my first music recommendation would be my favourite album from my favourite band, but this isn’t my favourite album of all time, nor is Zero Down my favourite band. In fact I don’t know if I can even pick a favourite, but if I did this would be a heavy contender. I chose this one because of the fact that I find myself pulling this one out every few years and listening from start to finish for a few weeks. There are not many albums that I know of where I can do either of those, let alone both. Sadly singer Jim Cherry died early in life at age 30 and Zero Down disbanded due to this. “With a Lifetime to Pay” was their only album made and alone it gave me countless hours of bliss. A must listen for any music fan.

Show Recommendation: Twin Peaks

 

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Though an older and widely known show, I’m still going to write a little review on the early 90s show Twin Peaks as I’ve just finished watching the last episode the other night. If you’re aware of David Lynch’s movies, you’ll somewhat know that his work tends to be very, for a lack of a polite word, weird. That’s definitely a big plus in my books though and not offsetting.Compared to some of his movies though, the bizarre aspect has been toned down. In that department, it is definitely not on par of something like Eraserhead. If you’re a fan of murder mysteries, quirky characters, seemingly unexplained paranormal events, and even cheesy soap opera dialogue then Twin Peaks is right up your alley.

In the sleepy mountain town of Twin Peaks, the community is rattled by the murder of home coming queen Laura Palmer. Suspecting a serial killer linked to another murder, FBI agent Dale Cooper rolls into town. After quickly concluding there is indeed a serial killer afoot, Dale works with the local sheriff and they begin an investigation by interviewing possible suspects linked to the murdered beauty. Little time passes before Dale realizes just how many peculiar characters inhabit this quiet little town. As if the quirky population in town isn’t enough, Dale begins to have bizarre dreams and visions that seem to give hints towards the killer’s identity.

Though the initial intrigue is the mystery of the original murder, Twin Peaks core focus seems to be on the characters and their individual tales. Even our protagonist Dale is a likeable eccentric with a tragic past. As more of the cast is introduced, it becomes clear that this seemingly uninteresting town has more than its share of secrets. Furthermore we learn how many of these colourful characters are connected to each other, unfortunately most of the time it’s due to an illicit reason. Drugs, affairs, shady business deals, prostitution, murder, coffee, and damn fine cherry pie are a few of the things that seem to keep Twin Peaks together. One thing almost everyone in town seems to have in common is that they all connected to the deceased Laura. A population where everyone has something to hide and knows the victim means Dale has his work cut out for him, and it also means the viewer will likely be guessing until the end.

Besides the wide array of odd characters, Twin Peaks does a wonderful job of setting both an eerie and uniquely odd tone. There are a few factors that contribute to the feeling the show conveys to the viewer. There are many paranormal events that happen throughout the show. A few characters have seemingly random visions from early on, Dale himself has bizarre dreams and visions throughout the entire show too. Sometimes a character’s dialogue (both actual and in paranormal events) seem to be fairly cryptic and don’t make much sense at times. Most of it gets explained near the finale of the show, but it will involve potentially another dimension, a demon or two, and more coffee and cherry pie. The show does use these things lightly though and sprinkles them throughout the episodes so it does not go all haywire for the viewer.

Another key piece to the overall atmosphere of Twin Peaks is the music. This kicks off right away with the recognizable introduction song. The song itself is used not only for the introduction, but in the show as well. This is usually around when some characters have some satirical soap opera style dialogue. The show also utilizes a lot of other synth music and atmospheric hums, but a fan favourite is definitely the cool jazz that plays from time to time. If the music isn’t enough to remind you that you’re watching a show from 1990 the videography will. Though I’m sure the cameras weren’t anything bad, the filming of the show does seem to reflect its age. However, this contributes to the overall feel of the show so it is definitely not a bad thing.

As the old organic theory goes, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. This is the case with Twin Peaks. Many murder mystery shows are out there, plenty of paranormal activity shows too. A boat load of soap operas and even more shows from the 90s with synth music. Oddball characters and cryptic messages are nothing new to TV either. Granted it’s not for everyone, Twin peaks does a wonderful job of putting all these aspects together to build an extremely unique experience.

In addition to the two seasons, there is a movie called Fire Walk With Me. Though this should be watched only after the TV show as it contains major spoilers. The movie tends to be more bizarre than the show, but it is great background information to the original story. Just don’t go in expecting a longer than usual episode of Twin Peaks, but rather a David Lynch movie. In May 2017, 26 years after the cancellation of the show, Twin Peaks will be back on the air for a third (and last) season. So if you’re interested, get caught up and tune in!

 

Book Recommendation: Ready Player One

If I ever were to dabble in reviewing novels or literature, you’d better believe it would most likely be related to comics or video games. While I admit I don’t read novels as often as I should, I did get a recommendation from a friend for this book and had a lot of time to kill on flights to Europe and back so I decided to pick up and copy and take it with me. Published in 2011, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is a must read for those with the love of all things 80s, video games, virtual reality, and a story reminiscent of classic childhood adventure movies.

Set not too far into the future, most of the world has become a filthy place both in a literal and metaphorical sense. An energy crisis coupled with the decay of the environment has spurred a new era of poverty and near collapse of society. Most of the common populace live in stacks of old trailers that offer little refuge from the acres of garbage below. In terms of wealth, few are comfortable and even less are considered wealthy except a few. For many, the only escape is into the OASIS, a virtual reality and MMORPG which almost the whole world plays. The OASIS is not simply a game though, it’s an entire virtual world. The OASIS credits are valued more than real money, school systems have moved entirely into cyberspace, and many people spend 100% of their waking time in the OASIS. Upon his death, the creator of the OASIS let the world know that if anyone were to find a hidden Easter egg he placed within the virtual world, they would be heir to his vast fortune. And so, the greatest scavenger hunt the world has ever known began, and five years later there was no progress. That is until Wade Watts stumbled upon the very first clue and the adventure took flight.

This book is a fun read all together, especially if you’re old enough to remember growing up in the 80s. From beginning to end, this book packs a thrill ride loaded with nostalgia that would make even a bored reader think “Hey I remember that!” It’s jam packed with references and throwbacks to some of the best of 80s culture such as old school arcade and video games and classic TV and movies.

Cline also does a great job of creating the virtual world of the OASIS as well. Aspects of all sorts of video games are lumped into the digital world that most of the book takes place in. Just like today’s MMORPGs, our group of characters grow stronger and level up, upgrade their weapons and spaceships, travel across galaxies, send in-game video messages, and post to forums about the OASIS. He also does not shy away from detailing the VR experience from the outside. Cline creates tiers of VR systems to log in and experience the OASIS. From a basic VR headset with some simple haptic gloves for feedback, to the full blown upscale apartments dedicated to life in the OASIS complete with full haptic body suits and ceiling apparatuses that mimic all motions experienced in cyberspace.

The book itself is not an overly difficult read and does not try to be too vague or complex. Great for younger readers who are at the height of their fondness of video games but not too simple to bore more mature readers. The story isn’t overly prolific, and sometimes even slightly predictable or clichéd, yet still manages to be satisfying and keep readers wanting to flip the page. The adventure itself seems to be a throwback on its own as it heavily reminded me of child adventure movies like E.T., Stand by Me, The Goonies, or the more modern Stranger Things (which was set in the 80s of course). Though I wouldn’t say Ready Player One is a ground breaking prolific novel that can rival Shakespeare, I will still give the book great praise for its entertainment factor that many millennials (or even younger) will enjoy.

As a side note, Ready Player One is in production to become a movie in the near future and I’m more than excited to see Simon Pegg as a major character (though I don’t think he really fits the particular role). If you’re a fan of reading a book and comparing the on screen adaptation then get on this!