Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Map of Time (El mapa del tiempo) by Felix J. Palma, trans. Nick Caistor

Mr. Palma is apparently an accomplished writer in Spain, but The Map
of Time
is his first book translated into English. It's a mind-bending
story set in Victorian London, which seems to be about time travel,
but will likely completely scramble your notions of time and time travel.

I generally don't like time travel - the paradoxes and parallel
universes bore me, and besides that I find the whole notion
implausible. But there were slim pickings in science fiction books on
the new books shelf at the library, so I spared this a second glance.
Also, the fact that it was translated intrigued me, and the
exaggerated "dear reader" introduction was different from norm. This
impression was borne out by reading - the book's style is one of a
kind, at least in modern science fiction. (As the back cover states,
it harks back to the pioneers of science fiction, Jules Verne and HG
Wells.) The style also seems distinctly Spanish to me - there is a
rhythmic flow to the sentences, and the word choice is more direct
than writers in English would normally use. The narration, however, is
anything but - in a Victorian way, Mr. Palma takes his time getting to
the point. But it's an enjoyable ride because of his jovial tone and
humorous choice of images and analogies. I quickly realized the novel
is laughing at itself the whole time. By the end I understood why -
this isn't an adventure story, but a novel about writing and about
time travel through reading, storytelling, and illusion.

So about the time travel (and the plot). Another reason I didn't mind
reading about time travel is because nothing is as it seems in this
book. Mr. Palma surprises you once and you think you have it figured
out, but he pulls the carpet out from under you again, and again.
Additionally, the plausibility of the various time travel methods
quickly becomes irrelevant, because at their core, the three connected
stories that form the novel are not about grand historical events that
have to be averted or preserved - although the novel does touch on a
few - but about the human bonds that span the abyss of time and are
perhaps our truest measurement of time.

As a writer, I enjoyed the book immensely, mostly due to its humorous,
self-referential style and the commentary on writing through the medium of
HG Wells, who features as a major character. People looking for an
epic adventure may be disappointed, but if you don't mind a change of
pace for the sake of some laughs and mind-bending twists in your
perception of time, this is a gem.

Amazon has a letter from author about the novel, which I have not yet
read, as I don't have a pdf reader on this computer:

The author has another book titled El mapa del cielo; I'm wondering if
this is the sequel and whether it might be translated sometime
soon..hope so.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Black Dahlia Murder, Nile, Skeletonwitch, Hour of Penance - 4/17/12 at Ram's Head Live, Baltimore, MD

A night of heavy-hitting metal with three different flavors of death
metal (broadly speaking). It was an enjoyable show, although not as
mind-blowingly heavy as I had hoped. Like with the Amon Amarth show, I
had the feeling that I was really at a metal show - a very "metal"
crowd (long hair, death metal shirts), lots of headbanging. Besides my
friend K. and I, there were only maybe 3 or 4 other girls there.

We missed Hour of Penance altogether. In fact we were late for
Skeletonwitch - we got there during their first song. S. calls them
blackened thrash, but to me they sound more like thrashy melodic death
metal. The sound quality was excellent - I heard some melodic bits in
their songs that I never noticed before, which along with their fast
and furious tempo, made for a fun experience. In recordings, the
singer's barking singing style turns me off, but during the live show
it was all right; it fit with the ferocity of their music. They
seemed to play a very short set - only 25 minutes or so.

Nile was next, and of this lineup I was looking forward to them the most. They play slow-ish, dark and heavy technical death metal based on ancient
Egyptian history and religion. I expected earth-shaking heaviness from
them, and they were pretty heavy, but I feel like I've heard heavier.
There were a few boring spots where they decided to show off their
technical prowess, without necessarily doing anything melodic or epic.
Mostly though they dominated with heavy riffs and demonically low
vocals. The crowd was kind of weak though - their "death metal voice"
was pretty thin and the pit was empty much of the time. I think I
should have gone in the pit for Nile rather than Black Dahlia Murder -
that would have been a better contribution to the atmosphere.

I was not sure what to expect from the headliner, Black Dahlia Murder since I had only listened closely to a few of their songs. I thought they'd be
fast and crazy and I wasn't wrong. They play extreme metal -
fast-paced, with harsh and/or screamed vocals, and some grindcore
moments. In truth, they were the best performance of the night
actually, with fast and catchy riffs, furious vocals and a lively
crowd. At least, the fast and crazy parts were great, but I felt that
the slow heavy parts were not quite heavy enough (compared say to when
I saw Suicide Silence). "Stirring the Seas of Salted Blood," which
they introduced as a "slow and low" song for "head-banging from the
waist," was great though. The pit was wild, with a couple of vendettas
going on. I went in once or twice near the beginning and got dragged
into one of circle pits, but toward the end I stayed out because it
started to get too brutal and seemed like some fights were about to
break out.

Overall this was a good show. These are three great bands and they put
on a good performance, although it wasn't as overpoweringly awesome as
I'd expected. Still recommended though just for the death metal experience.

Next concert: Rammstein, 4/25/12