So that was 2015

I'm not always prompt with my end of year reviews, but even by my own low standards, not getting around to this until April is a pretty poor show! Nevertheless, here we are. Better late than never...

In the studio

  1. Ancient Bards -- "A new dawn ending"
  2. The Fall Of Eve -- "Calls from the horizon"
  3. Triaxis -- "Zero hour"
  4. Gamma Ray -- "Empire of the undead"
  5. Bloodbound -- "Nosferatu"
  6. Blind Guardian -- "Beyond the red mirror"
  7. Battle Beast -- "Steel"
  8. Judicator -- "At the expense of humanity"
  9. Orden Ogan -- "Ravenhead"
  10. Battle Beast -- "Unholy saviour"
  11. Control The Storm -- "Beast inside"
  12. Accept -- "Blind rage"
  13. Bloodbound -- "Stormborn"
  14. Evergrey -- "Hymns to the broken"
  15. Absolva -- "Anthems to the dead"
  16. Dendera -- "Pillars of creation"
  17. Metaprism -- "The human encryption"
  18. La Ventura -- "White crow"
  19. Nightland -- "Obsession"
  20. Messiah's Kiss -- "Get your bulls out"
  21. Wisdom -- "Marching for liberty"
  22. Serious Black -- "As daylight breaks"
  23. Dynamite -- "Blackout station"
  24. Diabulus In Musica -- "The wanderer"
As before, this is simply a list of the best albums that I first heard in 2015 (although some were released in previous years). The Ancient Bards album took a while to grow on me. It wasn't quite as immediately compelling as their first two. But after giving it a chance, I really warmed to it. The Fall Of Eve were far and away my best new discovery of the year. Triaxis once more delivered the goods. Nice to see a return to form from Gamma Ray. Perhaps also notable this year were the number of albums from smaller, largely unsigned bands. Joining Triaxis and The Fall Of Eve in the category are Judicator, Control The Storm, Absolva, Dendera and Metaprism.

On the stage

All of the shows I rated 4/5 or higher in 2015. I saw 320 performances at 69 events, both new records. Which was somewhat unexpected given that at the start of the year I'd been wondering if I should cut down on the number of gigs I went to this year.
  1. Evergrey (The Underworld)
  2. Sabaton (Rockstad Falun)
  3. Triaxis (Fuel Rock Bar)
  4. Triaxis (The Cellar)
  5. Triaxis (Boston Music Room)
  6. Uli Jon Roth (Wacken)
  7. Powerwolf (Wacken)
  8. Ancient Bards (Wacken)
  9. Judas Priest (Brixton Academy)
  10. Falconer (Rockstad Falun)
  11. Mötley Crüe (Download)
  12. Ancient Bards (The Underworld)
  13. Hanowar (Bloodstock)
  14. Devilskin (The Borderline)
  15. Blind Guardian (The Forum)
  16. Sabaton (The Forum)
  17. Rock Meets Classic (Wacken)
  18. Accept (The Forum)
  19. Doro (The Garage)
  20. Bloodbound (The Underworld)
  21. Metaprism (Wacken)
  22. Snowy Shaw (Rockstad Falun)
  23. Delain (Islington Academy)
  24. Scorpions (Ramblin' Man)
  25. Civil War (Rockstad Falun)
  26. Powerwolf (Islington Academy)
  27. Sabaton (Bloodstock)
  28. Mötley Crüe (Wembley Arena)
  29. The Sisters Of Mercy (The Roundhouse)
  30. Sirenia (Dames Of Darkness)
  31. Triaxis (The Carlisle)
  32. Copper Garden (The Face Bar)
  33. Delain (The Forum)
  34. Control The Storm (The Haunt)
  35. Satyricon (Scala)
  36. Triaxis (Bloodstock)
  37. Queen + Adam Lambert (The O2)
  38. Wolf (The Underworld)
  39. Gloryhammer (Islington Academy)
  40. Judas Priest (Wacken)
  41. Tom Keifer (Islington Academy)
  42. Nightwish (Wembley Arena)
  43. Falconer (Wacken)
  44. Control The Storm (Firehouse)
  45. The Poodles (Wacken)
  46. Wolf (Bloodstock)
  47. Delain (Bloodstock)
  48. Alice Cooper (Wembley Arena)
  49. Gamma Ray (Islington Academy)
  50. Serious Black (Islington Academy)
  51. Epica (The Forum)
  52. Leaves' Eyes (Islington Academy)
  53. Operation: Mindcrime (The Underworld)
  54. Messiah's Kiss (Bloodstock)
  55. Black State Highway (12 Bar Club)
  56. Dendera (Upstairs At The Garage)
  57. EnkElination (Barfly)
  58. Orden Ogan (Islington Academy)
  59. Wolf (The Underworld)
  60. Xandria (Islington Academy)
  61. The Poodles (The Underworld)
  62. Monument (Barfly)
  63. The Mighty Wraith (Bloodstock)
  64. Freedom Call (The Borderline)
  65. Jizzy Pearl (The Underworld)
  66. Battle Beast (The Forum)
  67. Blaze Bayley (Barfly)
  68. Dynamite (The Underworld)
Every year there are a few shows that stand out above the others. This was a particularly good year for live music, with the top 10 probably all falling into that category. But the top spot went to Evergrey. They had no stage show, no pyro, no anything to detract from the music. Just a band at their very peak playing superbly to a receptive audience. On the basis of performances like that, it's hard to understand how they never hit the big time. On merit, they should be playing Wembley.

Sabaton were surprisingly weak at Wacken, but they made up for it with strong shows at Bloodstock, headlining in London and particularly at thier own Sabaton Open Air festival in Sweden. Triaxis continued their remarkable run of outstanding performances. If I had to pick a single best guitarist that I've seen play live, it would probably be Uli Jon Roth. He just makes it all seem so effortless. Powerwolf were outstanding in front of their home crowd, and Ancient Bards put on two very strong shows. It was also the year that Control The Storm came of age, with some vastly improved shows (which makes it all the more sad that at the time I write this, the band are in disarray, lacking a drummer, bassist and singer).

On the screen

I watched virtually nothing this year, in part because the television broke, and we never got around to replacing it.
  • Little red riding hood (2011)
    Surprisingly good, for an adaptation that I wasn't even aware existed, and we picked up the DVD in the bargain bin.

  • Grimm (series 1)
    Made it part way through this when the TV broke. Nothing outstanding, but enjoyable enough nonetheless.

  • Blade runner (1982)
    I generally don't like giving money to cinemas. But they were showing Blade Runner, one of my favourite films of all time, and I'd never seen it on the big screen before.

The printed page

  • Elizabeth Hand and Chris Carter -- "The X files: fight the future"
    Where the previous "X files" novelizations I'd read had been relatively poorly written, this one was much, much better. I suspect Carter's involvement may have helped there.

  • JRR Tolkien -- "Unfinished tales"
    Nothing much to say about this, really. Tolkien remains my favourite author of all time, and I hadn't read this one for ages, so decided to revisit it again.

  • Randall Munroe -- "XKCD volume 0"
    Humorous geeky comic strips.

  • AE van Vogt -- "The changeling"
    AE van Vogt -- "Mission to the stars"
    AE van Vogt -- "The undercover aliens"
    AE van Vogt -- "Earth's last fortress"
    AE van Vogt -- "The third eye of evil"
    A selection of van Vogt's lesser known novels, and it's easy to see why. Most of the stories here are largely forgettable, with poorly thought out and presented plots. The exception being "Mission to the stars", featuring van Vogt's "mixed men" theme that he used in a few other novels. That one stood head and shoulders above the others, and is highly recommended. The rest are really only for completists.

  • Robert A. Heinlein -- "Beyond this horizon"
    A friend mentioned it, and I remembered very little about it, so I decided to re-read it. One of Heinlein's weaker novels for me.

  • Robert Jordan -- "The eye of the world"
    Robert Jordan -- "The great hunt"
    Robert Jordan -- "The dragon reborn"
    Robert Jordan -- "The rising shadow"
    Robert Jordan -- "The fires of heaven"
    Robert Jordan -- "The lord of chaos"
    A huge, epic fantasy series. These had been sat on the shelf for nearly 20 years before I finally got around to reading them. The first few books are pretty strong, but they definitely start to tail off as the series progresses. There is, however, enough to keep me going and I will no doubt get around to finishing the others off in due course.

  • Carl Sagan -- "Contact"
    Another book that's been on the shelf for decades, but that I've only just got around to reading. It turns out that Sagan was not only a scientist, but quite a reasonable author, too.

  • T. Sharper Knowlson -- "The origins of popular superstitions"
    A vanity published book from a century ago. Some interesting snippets, but very poorly written and in desperate need of a good editor.

So that was 2014

Time for another year end review.

In the studio
  1. Delain -- "We are the others"
  2. Grand Magus -- "Triumph and power"
  3. Civil War -- "The killer angels"
  4. Sabaton -- "Heroes"
  5. Primal Fear -- "Delivering the black"
  6. Epica -- "The quantum enigma"
  7. Crimfall -- "As the path unfolds"
  8. Seven Kingdoms -- "The fire is mine"
  9. Delain -- "The human contradiction"
  10. EnkElination -- "Tears of lust"
  11. Judas Priest -- "Redeemer of souls"
  12. Persuader -- "The fiction maze"
  13. Iron Savior -- "Rise of the hero"
  14. Within Temptation -- "Hydra"
  15. Fyrdsman -- "Omen in the sky"
  16. Winterstorm -- "Cathyron"
  17. Neonfly -- "Strangers in paradise"
  18. Voices Of Destiny -- "From the ashes"

As before, I'm listing albums that I first heard in 2014, even if they were released before that. This year was relatively strong in terms of recorded music and I had no problems coming up with a list. "We are the others" was released a couple of years ago, but it's a fantastic album. "Triumph and power" was probably the best release of 2014 for me. Nice to see Sabaton back on form, and the full album from Civil War is very strong too. Primal Fear delivered their best album for many years and Judas Priest showed that there was life after the dreadful mess that was "Nostradamus". Not a stellar album and a bit "Priest by numbers" in places, but welcome nonetheless. There were a few bubling under that didn't quite make the list. Soldierfield's debut album I didn't feel quite lived up to the promise shown by the EP. Saor produced a fine album, but it didn't really stand out (the same could possibly be argued about Fyrdsman, but on balance I preferred "Omen in the sky" to "Aura"). Avatar's "Hail the apocalypse" was decent enough, but again, didn't stand out for me. The same is true for Magion and Thaurorod.

On the stage

All of the shows I rated 4/5 or higher in 2014, a year in which I saw 211 performances at 44 events, which is a few more than the last few years.

  1. Twisted Sister (Download)
  2. Accept (The Forum)
  3. Sabaton (Download)
  4. Triaxis (The Underworld)
  5. Epica (The Forum)
  6. Delain (Wembley Arena)
  7. Triaxis (Fuel Rock Bar)
  8. Sabaton (Sub89)
  9. The Wildhearts (Download)
  10. Ancient Bards (MFVF)
  11. Turisas (Talking Heads)
  12. Monument (Bloodstock)
  13. Viper Solfa (MFVF)
  14. Neonfly (Islington Academy 2)
  15. Doro (Islington Academy)
  16. Skid Row (Download)
  17. Sirenia (MFVF)
  18. Emperor (Bloodstock)
  19. Grand Magus (The Underworld)
  20. Black State Highway (Alley Cat)
  21. Blaze Bayley (The Underworld)
  22. Dimmu Borgir (Bloodstock)
  23. Freedom Call (Barfly)
  24. The Vintage Caravan (The Underworld)
  25. Enemy Of Reality (MFVF)
  26. Winterstorm (The Underworld)
  27. Stuka Squadron (The Unicorn)
  28. Beholder (Upstairs At The Garage)
  29. Lacuna Coil (Bloodstock)

The top 4 were head and shoulders above the rest. Epica showed a welcome return to form. Both Sabaton and Triaxis appear on the list twice, which really doesn't come as a bit surprise. Viper Solfa and The Vintage Caravan both earn plaudits for being bands I'd never heard of before I saw them, but putting on noteworthy performances nonetheless. Emperor were a nice surprise. I'm not a big fan of the band, but they're worth seeing live. Nice to see Stuka Squadron back on the stage again.

On the screen

I haven't really watched much at all this year. I haven't seen a single film in a cinema, and have only watched a limited amount on DVD:

  • House of cards
    The original version, with Ian Richardson. It's fantastic. I'm told the US remake is quite good, but I struggle to see how it could match this. I'll probably give it a go at some point, though.
  • Game of thrones (Series 1)
    Good, but it somehow all felt very rushed compared to the book.
  • Babylon 5 (Series 2)
    This is where it starts to get interesting. From memory, series 3 was where it all kicked off, but this is setting things up nicely.

The printed page

  • Gail Z Martin -- "Dark haven"
    Gail Z Martin -- "Dark lady's chosen"
    More of the "Chronicles of the necromancer" series. Good, but not outstanding by this point.

  • Benedict Jacka -- "Fated"
    I'm not a huge fan of "magic in the modern day" stories, but this one is reasonably well done. It is, however, trying to be a Harry Dresden book. Perhaps trying a bit too hard at times.

  • George RR Martin -- "A dance with dragons 1: Dreams and dust"
    George RR Martin -- "A dance with dragons 2: After the feast"
    It took me a long time to get around to these. A friend whose opinion I respect didn't like these books at all, feeling they marked a distinct shift in writing style and story telling. I didn't get that at all. For me, they're just carrying on from where the previous books left off.

  • Barbara Hambly -- "Planet of twilight"
    A Star Wars book. Not one of the better ones IMHO, but not the worst either, and I like Hambly's writing style.

  • Alexander Tchaikovsky -- "Dragonfly falling"
    Sequel to "Empire in black and gold". Another wonderful book.

  • Victor Santoro -- "Disruptive terrorism"
    A dry and largely uninformative work on how terrorists could achive disruption rather than loss of life. It's pretty much all common sense stuff anyway.

  • Kevin Hearne -- "Hounded"
    Kevin Hearne -- "Hexed"
    Kevin Hearne -- "Hammered"
    Kevin Hearne -- "Tricked"
    Kevin Hearne -- "Trapped"
    Again, these are reminiscent of Dresden. But there's something compelling about them. The story of an ancient Irish druid in the modern world. Worth reading.

  • Roger Zelazny -- "To die in Italbar"
    Fairly nondescript science fiction. Zelazny has called it his worst novel.

  • James White -- "Tomorrow is too far"
    An intriguing little science fiction book. It was published in 1971, but it feels much older, and the writing style at times tends more towards the golden age.

  • Charles Stross -- "The atrocity archives"
    Bureaucracy and ISO 9000 certification fighting Lovecraftian horrors in the British secret service. Interesting premise, but I remain unconvinced by Stross's writing.

  • Paul Kearney -- "Kings of morning"
    Quite good high fantasy. Apparently this is the 3rd in a series. I may go back and read the others.

  • Jim C Hines -- "Libriomancer"
    Books contain words and thus magic. Some books are too dangerous to allow the public to read. The problem here is that there are a number of plot holes and it doesn't quite work.

  • Hugh Cook -- "The wizards and the warriors"
    Hugh Cook -- "The wordsmiths and the warguild"
    Hugh Cook -- "The women and the warlords"
    It's been many years since I read these, so I thought I'd give them another go. The writing is largely poor, although the 3rd book seems to have a different (and IMHO much better) writing style to the first two.

  • David Eddings -- "The emerald throne"
    David Eddings -- "The ruby knight"
    David Eddings -- "The sapphire rose"
    At some point, Eddings apparently learned to write. I love The Belgariad and The Malloreon. But I couldn't claim they're particularly well written. This is much better, though. Sparhawk is an engaging lead character. Sephrenia is a bit too much of a reincarnation of Polgara at times, but that's a minor complaint.

  • Michael Moorcock -- "Count Brass"
    Michael Moorcock -- "The champion of Garathorm"
    Michael Moorcock -- "The quest for Tanelorn"
    I've never read much Moorcock, and I start to see why. The writing style just does nothing for me, and I'm not a fan of the multiverse theory or the concept of the eternal champion. That said, this was my first encounter with Elric, who seems to be a character worthy of further investigation.

  • Poul Anderson -- "Gypsy"
    A novella about unsettled settlers on an alien world.

  • Eric Frank Russell -- "...and then there were none"
    A novella about Gandhi devotees facing imperial bureaucracy. A few too many "but it wouldn't have happened like that" moments for my tastes.

  • Isaac Asimov -- "Profession"
    Asimov is probably my favourite author after Tolkien, and this is a perfect example of why that is. A story about the unconventional.

  • Rudy Rucker -- "Wetware"
    Poorly written cyberpunk, backed by poorly thought out science.

  • Easton Royce -- "The X files 3: bad sign"
    For some reason, the novelisations were aimed at young adults, and suffer from it. Too superficial, and the subject matter deserved better.

  • Randall Munroe -- "What if"
    Serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical quesions. What if the sun went out? What if you hit a baseball at 90% of the speed of light? What if you had a mole of moles?


No summary of 2014 would be complete without also mentioning that I did this :-)


So that was 2013

Time for a year end review. I'm late again this year. Ho hum. Anyway...

In the studio

  1. Audrey Horne — "Youngblood"
  2. Battle Beast — "Battle beast"
  3. Powerwolf — "Preachers of the night"
  4. Týr — "Valkyrja"
  5. Motherload — "Black and blue"
  6. Sirenia — "Perils of the deep blue"
  7. Tristania — "Darkest white"
  8. Ancient Bards — "The alliance of kings"
  9. Lacuna Coil — "Dark adreneline"
  10. Civil War — "Civil war EP"
  11. Sabaton — "Carolus rex"
  12. Queensrÿche — "Queensrÿche"

Another year where there are two contenders for the top spot that are too close to separate. As before, this is a list of albums that I first heard in 2013, even if they'd been released earlier. I'd seen Audrey Horne at Sonisphere a few years back, and they'd impressed despite being a bit too close to alternative rock. But the new album is amazingly good. I'd been vaguely aware of Battle Beast for a while and heard rave reviews about the eponymous second album. I picked it up to see what the fuss was about and they were right. Female fronted heavy metal at its best.

In other years, Powerwolf might have been in the top spot with another strong album. Týr have produced the best album of their career. Motherload are a band I discovered at a festival and loved their performance. They have a great debut album. A welcome return to form from Sirenia and another good album from Tristania (although for me, not quite up to the standard set on "Rubicon"). Ancient Bards are fantastic, although I later got their second album which is OK but not as good as this, their debut. Civil War are the band formed by the rest of Sabaton when they split, with Nils Patrick Johansson on vocals. That was always likely to work out well. Sabaton themselves released a solid album, but it wasn't as good as some of their previous efforts. Queensrÿche had finally got around to kicking out Geoff Tate and as a result, they managed to record their first album in 20 years that sounds like Queensrÿche. Again, it's a solid album, but I'd have liked to see a bit more oomph to it. Still, it's a step back in the right direction and new vocalist Todd La Torre is fantastic.

On the stage

All the shows that I rated 4/5 or better in 2013:
  1. Last In Line — Bloodstock
  2. Triaxis — Asylum 2, Birmingham
  3. Powerwolf — The Underworld
  4. Rammstein — Download
  5. Battle Beast — The Underworld
  6. Uli Jon Roth — Islington Academy
  7. Therion — Islington Academy
  8. Accept — Bloodstock
  9. Audrey Horne — The Underworld
  10. Delain — MFVF, Belgium
  11. Iron Maiden — The O2 Arena
  12. Skid Row — The Electric Ballroom
  13. Dalriada — MFVF, Belgium
  14. Dyonisis — The Underworld
  15. Satyricon — Islington Academy
  16. Motherload — Bloodstock
  17. Queensrÿche — Islington Academy
  18. Evil Scarecrow — Bloodstock
  19. Eve's Apple — MFVF, Belgium
  20. Darkest Era — The Garage
  21. Pain — The Borderline
  22. Absolva — Bloodstock
  23. Motherload — The Black Heart
  24. Avantasia — Bloodstock
  25. Uli Jon Roth — Mother Live
  26. Pretentious, Moi? — Nambucca
  27. Triaxis — Fuel Club, Cardiff
  28. Evil Scarecrow — Face Bar, Reading
  29. Tristania — The Underworld
  30. Tigertailz — The Underworld
  31. Grifter — Bloodstock
  32. Gamma Ray — The Forum
  33. The Faces Of Sarah — Mother Live
  34. Primtai — The Black Heart

Last In Line were Vivian Campbell back playing Dio songs again, along with Vinny Appice, Jimmy Bain and Claude Schnell. I was expecting it to be OK but nothing special, but I was very wrong. Absolutely fantastic, and vocalist Andrew Freeman does justice to the man himself. Triaxis are unsurprisingly up there again. They're always a great live experience, but their show at The Asylum was probably the best I've ever seen them. Powerwolf had impressed at Bloodstock a few years back and there was no way I was going to miss them when they returned to the UK. Particularly given Battle Beast were supporting. Great performances from both. Uli Jon Roth put on a show of old Scorpions classics in a performance that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, ably assisted by the vocal talents of Nathan James. Iron Maiden were back on form and gave the best performance I've seen from them for many, many years. Dalriada came out of nowhere at MFVF. I'd never heard of them before but they were one of my highlights of the festival. Similarly, Darkest Era were very good supporting Gloryhammer, and I'd never heard of them before the show either.

On the screen

I watched much less this year than previous years. Not entirely sure why.
  • Swordfish (2001)
    A Travolta thriller, with Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry. Apparently this tanked at the box office but I always quite liked it. It's not outstanding and some of the IT is cringeworthy. But it's enjoyable enough.

  • Sherlock Holmes (Series 2)
    Cumberbatch is without doubt an amazing Holmes. Probably not quite as good as the first series, but outstanding nonetheless.

  • The devil rides out
    Hammer House Of Horror at its best (or should that be worst?)

  • The X-Files (Series 5)
    Starting to tail off a bit by this point, but still worth watching.

  • Learning Hebrew (2012)
    A "gothsploitation movie". Directed by and starring several people I know. It's quite a bizarre experience watching a film where you know the people and locations involved.

  • The Wolverine (2013)
    Disappointing. Cashing in on the success of the X-Men films rather than making a film about the character because they had a story to tell.

  • Man of steel (2013)
    So so. Cavill makes a reasonable enough Superman. The story isn't fantastic but it creates an OK world and I'll give the subsequent sequels a go.

  • Star Trek: Into darkness (2013)
    Scotty doesn't deserve to be played for laughs like this. Kirk is good and works well. Spock less so. The other characters are average but largely forgettable.

  • Bergerac (Series 2)
    Carries on from where the first series stopped. Celia Imrie works well here and really adds something. I'd forgotten how good it was.

The printed page

  • Paul J. Willis — "No clock in the forest"
    Poor. A sort of Narnia like story of the modern world interacting with some strange goings on in the mountains. I found it very dull.

  • John Wyndham — "Sleepers of Mars"
    John Wyndham — "Wanderers of time"
    A couple of collections of Wyndham's short stories. He came up with some fantastic ideas.

  • David Lee Roth — "Crazy from the heat"
    I have a soft spot for rock star autobiographies.

  • AE van Vogt — "The weapon shops of Isher"
    AE van Vogt — "The weapon makers"
    It's been a long time since I last read this. One of my favourite authors and a couple of his better stories.

  • Kevin J. Anderson (ed.) — "Tales from the Mos Eisley cantina"
    Lightweight fluff.

  • Rowena Cory Daniells — "The king's bastard"
    Rowena Cory Daniells — "The uncrowned king
    Rowena Cory Daniells — "The usurper"
    Not a bad little fantasy series. Nothing outstanding and the writing's a bit lightweight at times, but I enjoyed them.

  • Jack Campbell — "The lost fleet: Dauntless"
    Jack Campbell — "The lost fleet: Fearless"
    Jack Campbell — "The lost fleet: Courageous"
    Jack Campbell — "The lost fleet: Valiant"
    Jack Campbell — "The lost fleet: Relentless"
    I'd decided I needed to read more science fiction, and found the first of these books in a bookshop and gave it a go. I enjoyed it so I picked up the rest of them too. It's military SF verging on space opera at times (which is a good thing in my book). I didn't like the main character's self loathing, and there were times when I had "but they wouldn't do that" moments. But on the whole, not bad.

  • Robert A. Heinlein — "Take back your government"
    Heinlein's practical advice on running for local government. The world has changed since this book was written. Some of the advice probably still holds. Much of it doesn't.

  • Edgar Wallace — "The council of justice"
    OK, I suppose, but it's over 100 years old and it hasn't aged well. The writing style feels awkward and I think the art of storytelling has improved since then.

  • Melinda M. Snodgrass — "Circuit breaker"
    A nice little story about politics and legal wrangling in the space

  • Mike Hally — "Electronic brains: stories from the dawn of the computer age"
    The book of a Radio 4 series about the beginnings of the computer era. Much of it I already knew, but there was certainly some I didn't. The early Russian computers, for example, were completely unknown to me.

  • Gail Z Martin — "The summoner"
    Gail Z Martin — "The blood king"
    Not bad at all. A promising start to a high fantasy series.

  • John Varley — "Steel beach"
    John Varley — "The hall of the Martian kings"
    John Varley — "The Ophiuchi hotline"
    "Steel beach" is a novel, albeit a somewhat longwinded and rambling one that didn't really work for me. Varley is much better at short stories, and the other two showed that perfectly. I'd avoided his work for a very long time, largely because he'd been given the "cyberpunk" tag, which is a genre I really don't like. But it turns out that Varley is exactly what cyberpunk should be, not the clumsy writing of Gibson. The only blot in an otherwise excellent collection was "The persistance of vision" which I found to be a very weak story. The rest, though, are superb.

  • Vernor Vinge — "The children of the sky"
    "A fire upon the deep" is one of the finest novels ever written, and its sequel "A deepness in the sky" was fantastic as well. This is the third in the series, and as such I bought it as soon as I became aware of it. It's by far the weakest of the three, and for me focuses too much on the human interaction (or should I say, character interaction) rather than the technology and loses out a bit because of it. I want to read more about the zones of thought, but this is entirely set in the slow zone.

  • Alexander Tchaikovsky — "Empire in black and gold"
    Wow. Another impulse buy and a very successful one. The strongest start to a fantasy series I've read in a very long time. I'll definitely be buying the rest of this series. My one complaint is that certain races are claimed to be incapable of operating even the simplest of machinery, which seems unlikely. But other than that, it's excellent.

The UpGoerFive text editor

From major_clanger via bibliogirl:

Can you descrive your job using only the 1000 most common words in the English language? The Up Goer Five XKCD comic inspired the Up-Goer Five text editor, which tells you if you've entered allowed words. Here's my attempt (it's not exactly right, but it's not too far off):

I tell computers how to let people place money on which team they think will lose a match before it ends, or how many times the ball will cross one of two lines and go between two bits of wood. I take some of that money for helping them out. I tell computers how to decide which team will lose a match. Other people don't agree with that. I take their money. Also, I tell computers how to place money on both teams in a way that lets me make money no matter which team loses or how many times the ball crosses the line.
  • Current Music
    Meden Agan -- "Black sky"
max headroom

Buying music

The music industry isn't what it used to be. It's increasingly hard to sell albums, and bands are becoming more and more reliant on selling merch at live shows. There are some upsides to this. I'll leave out T-shirts for now and just talk about CDs. The most obvious upside one is that the band gets a much higher percentage of the sale than if the customer had bought the same CD in a shop or online. I don't know the exact figures these days, but it used to be that a band would get maybe £2 (and that's an optimistic figure) from a CD sale, of which half went to the songwriter(s) and half went to the artist(s). However, when selling a CD at a gig, there is no distributor to pay, no retailer to take a cut and so on, so the band directly get the sale price, less whatever it cost to make the CD (or buy it at trade price from the record label).

So, it's in the band's financial interest to maximize the number of in person sales at shows. I have personal experience of this in a slightly different field, selling Ferret's book. We discount it 25% when selling in person, because it encourages sales and we still make more than when people buy it through other channels (retailers and distributors typically only pay 50% of RRP or less)[1]. So I find it baffling when I look at bands' pricing of CDs. Last night, for example, Ensiferum were selling their latest album for £20. Huh? I can buy the same album (including the bonus DVD) for £10 online, including free shipping. Why would I pay you twice as much for the privilege of buying it in person? I'm happy to buy in person as doing so supports the band and makes it more likely that they'll make more music in the future. But doubling the price? Seriously? If you'd priced it at £8, I'd have bought one and you'd still have made significantly more than you'll get when I buy it online. Hell, I'd probably have bought it at £12, and you'd almost certainly have sold many more copies. I just don't understand the logic behind the pricing here.

[1] That's not strictly true. We make the most when people buy through Amazon, but only because we're exploiting a loophole in the process. We're making the most of it while it lasts, but I'm sure they'll close the loophole at some point.
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