ars libertatis

Brief comments on some of the books I’ve read, films and series I’ve watched, and music albums I’ve listened to, ordered by the publication year of the original release.

See also recommendations.


Books

2016

La vraie vie : Appel à la corruption de la jeunesse by Alain Badiou: I dislike old communists corrupting the youth, but the philosophical references were diverse enough that it was somewhat interesting, though it was predictable and meandering.

The title of Gernot Böhme’s Ästhetischer Kapitalismus sounded very enticing since I’m interested in both aesthetics and capitalism, but the book was disappointing. There’s the usual criticism of capitalism, and the aesthetics are unfortunately and continuously subordinated to this and rather superficial. It’s good that towards the end of the book he talks about specific examples, like the Gläserne Manufaktur, the Nordwestzentrum in Frankfurt am Main, or the Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Luzern (KKL).

Death’s End by Cixin Liu, the last novel in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, received a lot of praise but I have to qualify this praise by stating that it is mostly a novel of ideas. The writing style is middle-rate, it doesn’t detract from the ideas that are presented but it’s not poetical or noticeably honed. The plot is a bit disjointed at times and the characters are distant from the reader. But it’s nonetheless a good book if you like sci-fi that develops end explores large scale philosophical, political, and societal concepts.

I read Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter’s Long Earth series because of Baxter not because of Pratchett and now that the fifth novel, The Long Cosmos, has been released I must say that the series is too long by three books. The series’ premise was interesting (and literally escapist) enough to develop it over two books but after those the plot began to look inflated and I didn’t care much about the characters.

Alastair Reynolds’ Revenger is an interesting and suspenseful science fiction novel but more conventional and smaller in scale and scope than many of his other novels, especially those set in the Revelation Space universe.

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong is a great overview and detailed look at microbes and their interactions with humans and other animals, and how bacteria and viruses on and in our bodies influence us physiologically and psychologically.


Possibly interesting books that I haven’t read yet: Stephen Baxter’s short fiction collection Obelisk, which includes Proxima and Ultima stories. Harry Underwood’s essay collection Experience of Beauty. Robin Hanson’s The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life When Robots Rule the Earth. Alastair Reynolds’ novella The Iron Tactician.


2015

Haruki Murakami’s Von Beruf Schriftsteller (Novelist as a profession, 職業としての小説家) is a collection of outspoken and detailed autobiographical essays. He talks about his past, both as a pupil and student, and then as a jazz bar owner and a writer, how and why he became a novelist, but not much about his wife, his marriage, his house, his desk or other details of his personal life. The chapter about running and fitness is mostly a repetition of what he stated in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. The chapters about his artistic influences, about literary prices, about his readers, about his writing process, about his writing style, about originality, and about his characters are thoroughly informative, but I would have liked to know more about his surrealism and magical realism, his settings and the distinct atmosphere he creates in his stories. When talking about his style, it would have been enlightening if he had quoted a passage from one of his books and explained why he used specifically these words, these phrases, this dialogue, these descriptions, etc.


Films & Series

2016

The Man in the High Castle had its second season released this year. It was quite gripping and the characters were laudably grey, but the condition for enjoyment is that you like the two main topics: A dystopian world where Nazi Germany won the Second World War and conquered half of America, and the permeability of this alternate history to an alternate reality that is closer to real history. The ending is a good mixture of happy ending and tragedy. Not having read Philip K. Dick’s novel that was the inspiration for this TV series I cannot comment on the accuracy of the adaptation. Unfortunately many of the actors who portrayed native German speakers had noticeable Anglo accents which hampered realism and immersion.


Music

2016

I didn’t listen much to Aesop Rock’s albums before The Impossible Kid though I never disliked his music, but this newest album convinced me that I should play all of his albums more often. The most notable song, because the topic is quite unusual, is Kirby which is about his cat Kirby.

Singer-songwriter Agnes Obel has a really good new album called Citizen of Glass which combines good music, a melodious voice, and poetic lyrics. Favorite line, for its metaphorical value, is:

And our love is a ghost that the others can’t see

The cover of Astronautalis’ Cut The Body Loose makes it clear that the album is a mixed bag, and since it didn’t hold my attention I didn’t listen to it much.

Atmosphere’s Fishing Blues is not blues but hip-hop and one of their more average releases but they still have many tracks that tell little stories with successive plot development.

Current Value has two very solid drum and bass releases, Biocellulose, and Rethink, but neither has an outstanding track.

Der Blaue Reiter is back with the neoclassical Fragments of Live, Love & War which is satisfactorily atmospheric.

The Dillinger Escape Plan’s mathcore Dissociation is enjoyable but I found the screaming and some of the more dissonant music parts to be grating.

Many people seem to be very delighted about Metallica’s Hardwired…to Self-Destruct but I quickly forgot how it sounded after listening to it.

I like Nacho Picasso’s AntiHero Vol. 1 a lot, but I have to admit that in this case the music shouldn’t be judged by the cover because the cover artwork is of distinctly lower quality than the music though it suits some of lyrics which can be rather vulgar in both word choice and content. Most memorable is Attack of The Titan.

Prezident, one of the few good German rappers, has a new album, Limbus, and it’s almost as great as Kunst ist eine besitzergreifende Geliebte and Kleiner Katechismus. A bit more conventional in both music and lyrical themes and less philosophical and less personal at the same time but nonetheless one of 2016’s music highlights. Two lines I especially liked:

Wir schmeißen Steine nicht, obwohl wir selbst im Glashaus sitzen
Sondern grade weil, lassen Splitter regnen

Salo Sessions has the high quality one can expect from Sadistik but it’s not as great as Ultraviolet or Flowers For My Father.

The Shin Godzilla soundtrack by Shiro Sagisu is fantastic but often similar to his Neon Genesis Evangelion soundtracks so it doesn’t add much newness to a music collection which already includes those.

Thrice have another great release with the post-hardcore album To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere. They’re lyrically far above average, though the quality is quite variable, and of this album’s songs Black Honey has my favorite lyrics which begin with:

I keep swinging my hand through a swarm of bees ‘cause I …
I want honey on my table

Soundtrack producers Two Steps from Hell also have a new public album called Vanquish which is of good but not remarkable quality.


The most beautiful album artwork has Alcest’s Shoegaze Kodoma, but I’m very partial to lily and lotus ponds, and Moanaa’s Sludge Metal Passage both of which also have great music.