Category Archives: Reviews

Memoria: A Melancholy Tribute To Final Fantasy IX

Here, have the album on while you read this:

A few weeks ago, I happened to have some MP3/video/ebook credit on Amazon, due to choosing No-Rush Shipping for a few things. Determined not to let it expire this time, I went looking around the music.

The problem is, if there’s a CD, then I’d rather have that and rip it to hard drive, than just have the files. Same with movies and DVDs – only then it seems more critical because you never know how long Amazon (or the like) will have that item available for streaming.

Getting nowhere slowly with just browsing the selection, on the off-chance I did a search for Final Fantasy. I’ve been playing the series since I got IX when it was pretty new (my PlayStation was second-hand, though, and still works fine). A few years earlier, a friend of mine had raved about how good Final Fantasy VII was. Now I own I-IX (III on DS, the rest on PlayStation).

I played VIII and IX most heavily at the time, I have now finished those and VI. I’m a way into VII now, but just haven’t been playing it much.

I’ve liked the music all the time, had a bunch of MIDIs from VIII and IX, which I listened to a lot on my phone. More recently, I’ve discovered the Distant Worlds series of CDs (plus others that are harder to get on CD over here – until recently, GrooveShark was my friend in that regard).

Among the Amazon results, were some albums by “TPR” – “Memoria: A Melancholy Tribute To Final Fantasy IX”, “Fragments Of Memories: A Melancholy Tribute To Final Fantasy VIII”, and some others. VII and X.

I did a search for these albums elsewhere, and found they came from a YouTube channel that had the tracks separately, but also videos of the full albums. Yay for Try Before You Buy!

The tracks are well-played, they sound great. Some of them are very close to the originals, some have been rearranged to fit the style. I’ve got to say, it all works. And the track selection was great – the opening track, “Terra”, is a tune I’ve particularly liked over the years, and it’s not one you encounter much on albums and collections.

The only problem with the album is that I wish the last track, “You’re Not Alone” (one of the most popular FFIX tracks) would go on a whole lot longer.

“Leave ’em wanting more”, as the ancient Chinese proverb goes.*

Music has a few particular uses in our house. Obviously there’s what someone listens to on their own, but the other main place is to have on in the background at mealtimes. We have lots of music that fails that particular test, but this album seemed to go over well, and pass that test. Even before the next paragraph.

This moment in our lives, shall we say, is a good time for some melancholy music. That’s why I write about this today, while I was thinking about what to write about, and other stuff going on at the moment, I was humming some of the tracks from this album. Rose Of May, Steiner’s Theme.

If you’ve got some tough stuff you’re going through in your life, remember: “You’re Not Alone“.

The album can be found on Amazon here. And yes, I did spend that credit on this album.

*Probably not Chinese.

Review: The Market For Liberty

The Market For Liberty is a book by Morris and Linda Tannehill. I found it on Podiobooks, read by Ian Freeman.

Starting from the notion that government is always a coercive force, and it can do nothing without violence and the threat of violence, the book goes through various ways that the coercion is applied, how even when government tries to be constructive it ends up being destructive, and goes on through ways the market (even when it’s not totally free) can signal the reality of things, how things could work out in a society without a government, and How We Can Get There.

Overall, I enjoyed it. I’m not sure I quite agreed with everything, and perhaps I should have paused it at certain points to I could think more: Mr Freeman kept the words coming thick and fast, there.

The quickness didn’t all seem to be down to the reading style, though. Because a wide range of subjects were covered, there wasn’t quite enough time to spend giving more than a cursory look at alternative viewpoints. They do spend some time on them, all too often to quickly dismiss them. Some of those quick dismissals seem justified, some less so. As ultimately a free market, anarchist society would be a breeding ground for competing ideas, and the best ones would theoretically do better, it seems that in places a “well ok, give it a go, see how that turns out” response might have been better. But when your publication is restricted in size, and you’re trying to spread your particular ideas, it’s probably pretty hard to not come across as heavy-handed.

I know the book was written in the ’70s, and a certain industry hadn’t become quite the monolithic parasite it is today, and that many of the problems we have with that industry are precisely because of government meddling, but still, I can’t say I was very fond of the emphasis the book places on insurance.

If you’ll forgive me a little tangent:

One thing I liked about Asimov’s Robot series of books, was that he wrote the Three Laws of Robotics, and then a lot of the stories were spent trying to break them. What if this law was modified? What if a law was accidentally broken? What if all these robots were programmed with the laws, but one of them had certain knowledge that would make the application look different? What would the long-term effects be on society?

Similarly, in Babylon 5, the creator JMS talked about creating your characters, writing them up into a tree, and then throwing rocks at them. It’s the same sort of concept: create the world, and then try to break it.

By the end of this book, it really seemed to me that we need to see some good strong stories coming out of the voluntaryist/libertarian/anarchist communities.

I mean, this book did give sketches galore about what this could look like, how that could work, and so on. That’s well and fine, it just doesn’t have the scope within it of really putting it under a microscope, trying to break it and see what happens. We need to start seeing fleshed-out fictional societies working in this model, to help us figure out a clearer way to get there, and envision what problems there might be along the way. The Market For Liberty said spreading the idea of liberty among everyone was a good way to help them desire it. I don’t disagree, but I think that fiction is going to have the edge in this regard.

1, fiction is less threatening, less didactic and more exploratory. 2, fiction doesn’t demand immediate action when the reader isn’t ready for it. A lot of people comfortable in the status quo.

Having said this, regularly listening to The Survival Podcast might just do it for ya, even though it’s not fiction. Jack sometimes manages to get quite a bit of mileage out of “what if?” questions on this topic. I like his concept, “you can be as socialist as you like, just don’t make me participate.”

Review: The Ra Expeditions by Thor Heyerdahl

In 1947 Thor Heyerdahl set out to prove that South American people could have reached the Polynesian islands before Christopher Columbus’s time. Using just the materials and technologies that were available to the people back then, he made the balsa raft Kon-Tiki, based on illustrations by Spanish conquistadors, and made the trip, proving it was possible. Recent DNA evidence seems to back him up.

Following that trip, Mr Heyerdahl recreated a reed boat found in Egyptian archaeology, to prove that the Egyptians could have reached South America. This connection was theorised due to the similarity between step pyramids in Egypt and South America. Following the advice of modern shipbuilders, he modified the design, which proved to be a big mistake. Ra I fell apart in the ocean.

Armed with the knowledge gained from experience for why the original design was the way it was, Mr Heyerdahl and his team built Ra II (the right way), and indeed proved that the Egyptians could have reached South America.

There was lots of extra interesting stuff in the book about anthropological similarities between ancient Egypt and some South American cultures, as well as finding exactly which cultures have built reed boats, when, and how easy it was for those people to do. It’s really interesting.

The book itself I found a bit dry, translations can be hard to convey the same kind of feel. So it was a bit of work, that was more to do with the style than the content.

Western culture has a notion of Progress that it clings to. Oversimplisticly, it says “What people used to think, do and believe was dumb, we know better now”. You can see it in religion (easy example, after splitting from the Roman church, Luther changed some stuff but still kept some other stuff pretty dear, a lot of which has now disappeared even from the Lutheran tradition). You can see it in politics and society, how many times have you heard “This is the 21st Century, we don’t do that kind of thing any more!” (as they protest someone else doing “that kind of thing”, thus rendering their argument ridiculous). Sometimes it seems we’re quick to remove parts of the walls and parts of the foundation of the house, more as time goes on, without any thought to whether this might end up having negative effects on those who happen to be in the house.

In short: people in previous generations were a lot smarter than we think: we could stand to learn some stuff from them.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that Older Is Always Better, just that we’re quick to disregard what those who came before us have to say, without any real effort to understand the underlying Whys and Wherefores.

This book contains some vivid examples of this, and seems to be easy to explain and describe.

The Ra Expeditions is available Used on Amazon.com, and New at Amazon UK.

Footage of the expedition can be found on YouTube. IMDB lists a documentary about it, but it doesn’t seem to be available anywhere.

Comment below with your favourite stories of ancient wisdom putting today’s to shame.

Reading Program – Starting On Audio

I haven’t managed to regular-read quite as much as I would like so far in this summer’s Reading Program (so much to do!). But as I said in an earlier post, reading to people and being read to by people counts, and so do audiobooks.

I caught up on the episodes of a podcast that I was listening to on my MP3 player, cleared them off the player, and added some audiobooks (for the most part from podiobooks.com) that I’ve downloaded but haven’t listened to over the past few years. I’ve got folders labelled that I downloaded the contents in 2013, 2014 and 2015 – some I obviously didn’t get to last time round.

The first book I listened to this time round, though, was not from Podiobooks, and I already had it lurking on the player.

Some background: Back when I was working nights in a distribution center, I came across the wonderful world of podcasts. One of the shows I listened to back then, was The Signal podcast, which is/was for the most part Firefly/Serenity themed. (Their segment about other shows you might enjoy was the main exception to the theme, and I’ve investigated, watched and enjoyed some of those shows.)

One episode (Season 3 Episode 7), an ambitious young writer weaselled his way onto the show, talking about a novel he was serialising on Podiobooks. The author had managed to get Nathan Fillion to read “The Story So Far” on one episode of the book. The show’s hosts, in their banter between segments, mentioned enjoying the progress of the book, “7th Son”, over a bunch of following episodes.

The 7th Son Trilogy (Descent, Deceit and Destruction – you get to the end of Deceit and say to yourself, “The NEXT book is called Destruction?!??!”) was the first audiobook I listened to in my grown-up life (the Transformers Tell-A-Tales and Disney Read-Alongs of my childhood being very distant now). J.C. Hutchins sucked me into his world (which I periodically revisit), and set the stage for me enjoying many more worlds.

In January 2014, Mr. Hutchins set out on a new project: The 33. The 33 are a a bunch of misfits with particular skills. When something beyond the scope of public knowledge threatens the world, a few would be selected to go on a mission and save the world. J.C. intended to release one episode a month, a sort of experiment.

As experiments are wont to do, this one didn’t go quite as intended. He got 7 episodes into the project: less than he intended, but not a bad run.

I think Mr Hutchins had a plan for each months’ episode to be about an hour long, and had a notion of how many parts each story would be. Unfortunately, he’s a wordy bastard like me, so the first story, “Pramantha”, was advertised as 4 parts: Part 1 clocked in at an hour and ten minutes, Part 2 was an hour and a half, Part 3 was two hours and a quarter, and Part 4 ended up split into two files (“Side A” and “Side B” – 1hr58m and 1hr52m respectively).

“Ten Minutes” was kind of a bonus episode that was sort of “Thanks for being patient” (13mins long). Then we were back to regular episodes, “Needles” Parts 1 and 2. Part 1 was again an hour and ten minutes, Part 2 was 2hrs37m.

One can’t help but wonder if announcing in advance how many episodes a story would be, pushed J.C. into a corner: if you’ve allocated the time for writing, editing and recording an episode that’s 1hr10m, and two of your episodes end up twice that and another is nearly four hours long, coming to the conclusion that such effort is unsustainable, is very understandable.

I hadn’t listened to Needles, yet, so that became my first audiobook of the season.

J.C.’s reading voice is solid, as always. J.C.’s writing is characteristically suspenseful, and again he was on fine form. Lots of these scenes are easy to picture in your head. There’s some stuff that has the potential to make really good screen (and it’s already really good audio and book).

Needles seemed less “Oh dear, the world is going to crack open like an egg” that I felt with 7th Son and Pramantha. That did not seem to be a particular weakness. There was still plenty of tension, plenty of characterisation, the team when it got along and also when it didn’t.

Most memorable part: probably a point in Part 2 when there was something that shouldn’t move, and it did. (Not wanting to be too spoiler-y.)

I hope Mr Hutchins finds a way to resume experimenting.

J.C. Hutchins’ stories are not “family friendly”. I enjoyed notorious horror author Scott Sigler’s comments at the end of a 7th Son episode, saying that J.C. writes material that is much more screwed up than Sigler’s. There is plenty of language (most of it English, and some of which is swear words).

But remember folks: it’s only Not Safe For Work if you share your headphones. Stay safe out there.