Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Tales from Two Elizabeths

I enjoy reading, but I'm not the speediest reader on the planet, particularly compared to DW and my sister. Heh, compared to the two of them, I'm barely beyond the "see spot run" stage. Perhaps because of that, I usually stick to reading the work of only a handful of authors at a time. Unfortunately, I'd recently hit a sort of dead-end with my current stable of authors -- I'd either read everything they have out in paperback, or the quality of their newer work really didn't justify investing my time. Harsh, perhaps, but like I said, I'm not the swiftest reader.

Anyhoo, I was on the troll for a new author at the local Barnes & Noble when the cover of an Elizabeth Bear novel caught my eye. I know there's the whole "don't judge a book by its cover" colloquialism, but I've generally found that cheesy artwork graces the cover of cheesy fiction. So, I picked up Scardown and read the blurb on the back. Near future... semi apocalyptic... alien technology... tough-as-nails female lead. Sounded intriguing. It was the second book in the series, but Hammered wasn't on the shelf, I didn't know if I'd even like the author, so I decided to pick it up and see how it was. I barely got through the first chapter when I decided that I just had to start at the beginning. It's not that Bear's a particularly gifted writer -- there are times that I definitely stumble over her phrasing or find that I have to re-read a paragraph in order to make sense of it. I also found myself a bit annoyed that one of the antagonists is an AI based on the over-hyped, super sexist professor Richard Feynman. Nonetheless, Hammered and Scardown are fun novels and I tore through both of them with uncharacteristic speed. I just picked up the recently released WorldWired and hope that it continues the trend.

The other new author I picked up is Elizabeth Moon. Ages ago, I really enjoyed Sassinak, which she cowrote with Anne McCaffrey. Whether it was that memory or the nominal link to Elizabeth Bear that caused me to pick up Trading in Danger, I'm glad I did. Moon is a much stronger writer than Bear, but the story is just as compelling. Kylara Vatta, the main character of this series, is, on the surface at least, the polar opposite of Bear's Jenny Casey. She is young and inexperienced and her challenges stem from her powerful family and their limited view of her abilities. Marque and Reprisal is a strong sequel and I'm eagerly awaiting the release of the third book in the series, Engaging the Enemy; 'though the paperback probably won't be out 'til late next year at the earliest.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Cool site for music fans

A coworker sent me a link to Pandora "a music discovery service designed to help you find and enjoy music that you'll love." The service is based on the work of the ambitious members of The Music Genome Project (MGP) who, according the website, spent the past five years listening to and analyzing the music of over 10,000 artists, quantifying "everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony."

I haven't found a new favorite band yet, and I definitely don't like all of the music they've suggested, but it has a lot to recommend it. First off, it's free! There's also a subscription if you want to avoid ads, but so far they're quite unobtrusive. Maybe if enough people buy music (from Amazon or iTunes) through the service, it'll stay that way. Also, their player uses Flash, so you don't have to download some proprietary media player or get stuck with something awful like... Real.
You start by creating a "station", seeding it with the name of a song or artist you like. The player then plays what it considers a "typical" song by that artist, followed by those it considers to be similar. You can click on a song to get various options. Why did you play this song? gives you insight into how the MGP catorized songs. If you like the song, you can add it to your Favorites list, which can be printed and also includes links for buying the song from iTunes or Amazon. Finally, you can give the song a thumbs up or thumbs down to govern whether Pandora should play it again in the future.
You can have up to 100 stations and you can share them with others by clicking on the down arrow at its right end and selecting e-mail this station to a friend. I haven't tested it yet, but presumably you can e-mail them to non-friends too. ;P
Check it out!