Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Not Part of Its World

You ever admire the heck out of a book and not really like it? I grokked to the Hugo-award winning novel Ancillary Justice when it was lauded on my favorite podcast, Pop Culture Happy Hour. I can't recall which panelist was talking about the book, but the premise--the main character is one piece of a massive star ship's artificial intelligence that has lost its connection to the ship--intrigued, and an inter-library loan got me the book.

I just finished it yesterday, and here are a few of the thorny, interesting, complex, and just-damn-cool ideas it plays with:
  • Consciousness shared among hundreds of bodies and even space ships
  • "Ancillaries" - bodies re-purposed as beings that an AI can control
  • Galactic empires spanning thousands of years--and characters that, as AIs, are immortal and recall all of those years
  • All-powerful alien weaponry that can destroy basically anything
  • A consciousness split among hundreds of bodies that eventually separates and tries to sabotage itself, with one half at war with the other
  • A massive galactic empire that has no gendered words in its language--and a first-person narrator from that empire who keeps the reader at seas as to characters' genders.
But the thing is, the plot of the actual story never really grabbed me. That, coupled with the sometimes-impenetrability of this world, made it a hard novel to get comfortable in. Leckie does very little hand-holding, and a lot of the above-listed conceits (and many others), were opaque to me and took much longer than I would have liked to really understand. So, as much as I liked the ideas themselves, and really wanted to lose myself in this alien world, I just couldn't get there.

Now, of course, this is more a "me problem" than an "author problem," given the praise the book has received and the number of readers that flat-out adored it. I just wasn't one of them. If you suspect you might be one of those who would like it, be aware that the sequel, Ancillary Sword, just came out.

Until Whenever

Monday, October 13, 2014

U2 Ranked: The Album View

So as I continue to look at this list I created, I wanted to see how each album fared - what albums had the highest-ranking songs, which albums had the least - that kind of thing. So - here are the albums and their songs as they ranked, in chronological order:

Boy (Average song ranking: 94.8)

33. I Will Follow
49. The Electric Co.
88. An Cat Dubh / Into The Heart
93. Out Of Control
98. Stories For Boys
104. Shadows And Tall Trees
105. A Day Without Me
111. Twilight
117. Another Time, Another Place
150. The Ocean

It makes sense that U2's first album would be so relatively poorly represented, with its highest-ranking song "only" at #33. But on the flip side, issuing your #33rd-best song right out of the gate is not too shabby.

October (Average song ranking: 107.6)
69. Gloria
70. Scarlet
73. October
87. Fire
89. I Threw A Brick Through A Window
120. Tomorrow
125. Stranger In A Strange Land
127. Rejoice
132. I Fall Down
140. Is That All?
152. With A Shout

October is widely considered U2's weakest outing. That sentiment is not contradicted here. 

War (Average song ranking: 90.9)

6. Sunday Bloody Sunday
25. New Year's Day
55. Surrender
62. 40
96. Like A Song...
110. Drowning Man
116. Seconds
128. Red Light
155. Two Hearts Beat As One
156. The Refugee

War, on the other hand, is widely considered U2's breakout album, and with a #6 and #25 ranking in there it shows nicely, if not as well as I may have guessed when starting out. It also points out the limits of this exercise of looking at albums - while War holds up very well as a cohesive album, some if its songs sound very dated today, to me at least. These rankings are meant to look at the songs apart from the albums they come from, so when you smash them back together like I am doing here, it's not an entirely fair view. 

Unforgettable Fire (Average song ranking: 82.4)
8. Pride (In The Name Of Love)
10. Bad
40. The Unforgettable Fire
81. A Sort Of Homecoming
83. Promenade
90. Wire
95. MLK
99. Indian Summer Sky
158. 4th Of July
160. Elvis Presley and America

Such an odd album. Two top ten songs, and two in the bottom three.  That is some goofy range going on. It also points up the value and risk in experimenting. "Bad" is an experiment that wildly succeeded. "Elvis Presley and America" is one that did not. 

Joshua Tree (Average song ranking: 43.0)
1. Where The Streets Have No Name
19. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
28. Bullet the Blue Sky
29. With or Without You
30. Red Hill Mining Town
36. Running To Stand Still
37. One Tree Hill
43. Exit
57. In God's Country
80. Mothers Of The Disappeared
113. I Trip Through Your Wires

The Joshua Tree is still my favorite U2 album. But what this exercise forces me to admit is that a good portion of that is nostalgia. As remarkable an album as it is, I have to really look at whether I place it too high given that it was the album I fell in love with the band on. Still, it is the only album with eight songs in the top fifty. That counts for something.

Rattle & Hum (Average song ranking: 80.8)

13. All I Want Is You
47. Love Rescue Me
66. Desire
67. Angel of Harlem
76. Van Diemen's Land
79. When Love Comes To Town
91. Silver And Gold
107. Hawkmoon 269
123. God Part II
139. Heartland

A solid enough showing for an odd melange of an album. And of course there are several covers and live cuts here that do not get ranked. 

Achtung Baby (Average song ranking: 40.6)

4. One
5. Acrobat
9. Love Is Blindness
22. The Fly
32. Until The End Of The World
35. Mysterious Ways
39. Zoo Station
41. Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
51. Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
65. Even Better Than The Real Thing
78. So Cruel
106. Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around The World

And we tie the record, with Tehran eight songs in the top fifty. Also - three songs in the top ten, and only one out of the top 100 (and barely at that)? This is likely my real favorite U2 album.

Zooropa (Average song ranking: 94.1)

20. Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
52. The Wanderer
54. Zooropa
60. The First Time
109. Lemon
121. Babyface
122. Daddy's Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car
124. Some Days Are Better Than Others
130. Dirty Day
149. Numb

This is another example of an album that works much better as an album than if you examine the songs apart from the whole.

Pop (Average song ranking: 81.8)
2. Please
23. Gone
24. Wake Up Dead Man
61. Mofo
74. Do You Feel Loved
80.5 Dsicotheque
85. Staring At The Sun
94. If God Will Send His Angels
112. Last Night On Earth
131. If You Wear That Velvet Dress
141. Miami
154. The Playboy Mansion

I really thought I liked Pop more than the numbers suggest I do. 

All That You Can't Leave Behind (Average song ranking: 48.1)
3. Walk On
7. Beautiful Day
16. Kite
21. When I Look At The World
31. Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of
38. Grace
48. In A Little While
64. Elevation
82. New York
100. Peace On Earth
119. Wild Honey

U2's "comeback" album shows very strongly - four songs in the top twenty-five.

How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (Average song ranking: 64.5)
14. City of Blinding Lights
42. Vertigo
44. Yahweh
45. Original Of The Species
46. All Because Of You
53. Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own
59. Love And Peace Or Else
63. One Step Closer
97. Miracle Drug
118. Crumbs From Your Table
129. A Man And A Woman

This is an album that has fallen some in my estimation since its release. 

No Line on the Horizon (Average song ranking: 49.9)
12. Moment of Surrender
18. Breathe
26. No Line on the Horizon
27. Unknown Caller
34. Magnificent
50. I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight
56. White as Snow
68. Get On Your Boots
72. Cedars of Lebanon
84. Stand-Up Comedy
102. FEZ-Being Born

A pretty strong showing for one of my favorite U2 albums, with six top-fifty songs. 

And after all this analysis, how would I rate the U2 albums? Pretty close to those averages, but with Zooropa and HTDAAB big outliers.

1. Achtung Baby (40.6)
2. The Joshua Tree (43.0)
3. No Line on the Horizon (49.9)
4. All That You Can't Leave Behind (48.1)
5. Pop (81.8)
6. Zooropa (94.1)
7. How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (64.5)
8. Rattle & Hum (80.8)
9. The Unforgettable Fire (82.4)
10. War (90.9)
11. Boy (94.8)
12. October (107.6)

Until Whenever