Author Archives: Tim Hall

The Outing of Requires Hate

Although I have been a reader of science fiction for many, many years, my fandom is music. And I’m glad it is.

Until very recently there was a book review blog called “Requires Only The You Hate”. It’s stock-in-trade was vitriolic reviews of science fiction novels, typically denouncing everything as racist and attacking the author rather than the work. The same blogger was also a notorious troll, posting under a number of identities over a period of a decade, and behaving as a serial harasser to a significant number of people, the majority of them women. Had she been operating in Britain she would very likely have been jailed. Her behaviour really was that bad.

Now her identity has been outed as a new writer under the name of Benjanun Sridankaew, whose new persona as a writer is all sweetness and light.

The whole thing is detailed here, if you have the stomach to read it. It’s nasty stuff.

She has now posted a public apology, but in a situation like this an apology can only be the first step on a long road to redemption. You can’t just wash away a past that bad overnight.

Whether or not we will see any of those who have enabled and encouraged her reign of terror over the past decade remains to be seen, and it has to be said that the list of people listed as supporting her over her victims contains one or two of the usual suspects. These are some of the same names that showed up in the Jonathan Ross debacle, including the one responsible for driving Ross’ wife off Twitter.

But the biggest problem is the subculture she operated within. What sort of subculture considers what can only be described as dehumanising hate-speech to be acceptable provided the target group is more “privileged”? Yet this is precisely the set of values that have taken over a significant part of the SFF world in recent years. It’s stated goals are to promote inclusivity and social justice, but without a commitment to human empathy it’s devolved into a frighteningly authoritarian form of identity politics. It’s created a perfect environment in which an abuser can hide; all they have to do cite the correct buzzwords and they’re given a free pass. There are parallels both with the collapse of the Socialist Workers Party in Britain, and the abuse scandals that have seriously diminished the standing of the Roman Catholic Church.

When the whole Vox Day/SFWA and Hugo nominations things blew up, I was shocked that even a tiny minority would support someone who’s a known homophobic white supremacist rape apologist. But seeing later dramas unfold I’m beginning to understand why a long-term online friend who I’ve always considered a liberal would claim in the comments on this blog to be rooting for Larry Correia and Vox Day for the Hugo awards.

What happens next will be interesting. When SF’s default ideology was a militaristic frontier libertarianism and most books were written by white men with engineering degrees, too many voices got marginalised, and that was not a good thing. But now you’re left with a feeling it’s gone too far the other way, and the scene has adopted a set of values that meant it was only a matter of time before it all imploded. It’s had its revolution, now it’s reached the stage of the revolution eating its children.

SF would be a lot healthier if authors could put whatever politics they liked into the actual books, but SF as a whole didn’t favour one ideology over another. There will always be cliques and partisan sub-fandoms, that’s just human nature. And sometimes they’ll fight and there will be drama. But the bigger cultural war needs to end in a truce with both sides acknowledging the other’s right to exist.

I am still glad my chosen fandom is music. Music doesn’t have this nonsense nowadays.

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Despite not having his collar felt by Operation Yewtree, 70s Radio One DJ Mike Read seems determined to make a criminal record. You can split hairs over whether or not his awful cod-Jamaican accent is racist (I think it is), but the record itself is unspeakably horrible. It carefully combines the worst lyrical aspects of Pendragon’s “Green and Pleasant Land” with the musical grace of Joe Dolce’s “Shaddup You Face”. Ugh.

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Hey Twitter. Instead of shoving random celebrity nonsense we didn’t ask to see into our feeds, how about building a reputation system instead? We could use that to filter out junk from drive-by trolls from our notifications and searches, which are the only parts of Twitter we’re not able to actively curate ourselves.

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Transatlantic – KaLIVEoscope

KaLIVEoscope Transatlantic, the Prog-with-a-capital-P supergroup made up from past and present members of Spocks Beard, Dream Theater, Marillion and The Flower Kings, don’t do things by halves. Not that it’s the fashion nowadays, but you won’t catch them releasing a live album as a single disk of edited highlights. Nothing less than a triple CD containing the full three and a half hour show will do.

Despite the unashamed self-indulgence of the music, it’s difficult to attend a Transatlantic gig and not get caught up in the enthusiasm and exuberance of the band’s performance. The band clearly enjoy every minute of their always lengthy sets. Recorded at a sold-out show in Tilburg in The Netherlands, this recording manages to capture some of that energy and excitement.

This is not a record for the faint of heart. Even frontman Neal Morse even makes references to testing the audience’s stamina and bladder capacity after the opening 27-minute song. Despite the lengthy tracks, with several songs of well over 20 minutes and two passing the 30 minute mark, there isn’t much in the way of jams with extended soloing. It’s uncompromising symphonic prog, all swirling cinematic soundscapes, soaring melodies and stately instrumental passages. “Into The Blue” and “Kaleidoscope”, the two epics from their most recent album are both present, though their even longer opus “The Whirlwind” has to be cut back to a 30 minute medley of highlights. Even in three hours it’s not quite possible to include everything.

But it’s not all bladder-busting epics, and some of the standouts are actually the shorter songs. The raw stripped-back ballad “Beyond the Sun” is a gem, and “Black As The Sky” sees them rock out with a great propulsive bass riff from Pete Trewavas. There’s also an acoustic instrumental improvisation from Roine Stolt and Neal Morse featuring a brief burst of Hendrix.

The encores include several covers; an excellent take on The Moody Blues “Nights in White Satin”, and playful runs through Focus’ classic hits “Sylvia” and “Hocus Pocus” complete with yodelling and a guest appearance from Thijs Van Leer, performed with more enthusiasm and energy that you often get from Focus nowadays.

As every live album ought to do, this album captures what it must have been like to have been there that night in Tilburg, and they’ve left in all the stage banter between the songs, which adds to the experience. The sound quality is excellent, and if the performance is occasionally a little rough around the edges, it more than makes up for it in intensity.

For all the fabled self-indulgence of their sprawling studio albums, this recording gives a taste of just why Transatlantic are held in such high regard as a live act.

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Crimson Sky call it a day

Crimson Sky at Reading South Street Arts CentreSad news that Crimson Sky have decided to call it a day, with brief announcements on Facebook and Twitter this afternoon. They will be making one final live appearance on Sunday 16th Nov at The Louisiana in Bristol, supporting Also Eden.

We are very sad to announce that, after the gig supporting Also Eden on 16th November, we have decided to disband Crimson Sky. Martin, Clive, Moray, Adrian and Jane all thank you for your support. It has been lots of fun, and we’ll all remain good friends.

At the moment the band have no plans to record any of the new material that featured in recent live sets.

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Today’s unsurprising discovery: finding new music through recommendations from trusted friends is a far more reliable method of filtering out the forgettable mediocrity than promos from record companies chosen on the basis of their overheated PR blurb.

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Trolls Are The New Spam

Abi Sutherland made a very good point on Twitter a couple of days ago comparing the troll problem with the spam problem.

A few years back, spam threatened to overwhelm the internet. Our email inboxes were getting flooded with fake Viagra and make-money-fast schemes that drowned out legitimate communications. Likewise bot-generated comment spam meant that any blogger that wanted to enable comments either needed to spend vast amounts of time hand-moderating comments or see their comment sections flooded with garbage.

The spammers and their apologists used to say “Just delete it”, and then whined about freedom of speech every time anyone proposed anti-spam solutions.

We didn’t let the spammers win. Instead we built reputation systems like Akismet, and we added Bayesian filtering to our email, and it turned the tide. They weren’t 100% effective, and did generate the occasional false positive, but they have reduced spam to a manageable problem.

Today we’ve got a huge problem with trolls. They reduce the signal-to-noise ratio across so many sites that “don’t read the comments” and “bottom half of the internet” are commonly used phrases. They harass people online to the extent that far too many people with something worthwhile to say end up being hounded off social media.

Trolls can kill productive conversation. “Just ignore them” is equivalent to “Just delete it”.

Dealing with trolls is a hard problem. Trolling is vastly more subjective and context-dependent that spam. Building an equivalent reputation system based upon who’s favourited or blocked blog comments and social media posts won’t be an easy task. Building one that reduces the impact of bad behaviour without creating dangerous echo-chambers may prove even harder. But it can’t be an impossible task either.

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Gamergate’s complaints about agenda-driven reviews make me wonder how on earth gamers would have reacted had the video game press been anything like as bad as the “mainstream” British music press has been for decades. Have there been reviews remotely equivalent to Dave McCulloch’s dismissive one-star review of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” in Sounds? Are there any gaming journalists as appallingly bad as Julie Burchill?

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Threshold – For The Journey

Threshold - For the JourneyAfter a long gap between 2007′s “Dead Reckoning” and 2012′s “March of Progress”, Surrey-based prog-metallers Threshold are back with another new album, their second since the return of singer Damien Wilson for his third stint in the band.

You know what you’re getting with a Threshold album. Everything you’d expect to hear is here; razor-edged riffs, highly melodic twin guitar leads, huge anthemic choruses, and even the occasional widdly-woo synth solo. Damien Wilson remains a class act as a old-school rock vocalist, and as ever, production is slick and polished.

Highlights include “The Box”, a lengthy number building from a balladic introduction through an frenetic prog-metal wig-out to an majestic climax, and the symphonic-tinged “Siren Sky”, the one number penned by most recent recruit Pete Morton. But the whole album is characterised by strong songwriting and, by the standards of progressive metal at least, tight arrangements that don’t stray too far into self-indulgence. Only the bonus track “I Wish I Could” doesn’t quite convince; the reworking of drummer Johanne James’ song from Kyrbgrinder’s “Cold War Technology” lacks the fire and fury of the original.

It’s true that there is little on this record that’s not been heard before on previous albums. Threshold can be criticised for sticking too rigidly to the formula they established by the end of the 1990s, but that’s beside the point. They are still very good at what they do, and they do have a clearly identifiable sound and identity. Even if this record breaks no new ground, it’s an enjoyable listen and a worthwhile addition to their canon.

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The Pineapple Thief – Magnolia

Pineapple Thief - MagnoliaThe Pineapple Thief are one of those bands within the progressive rock scene who take a modern streamlined approach to their music, focusing on textures, atmospherics and strong melodies rather than complex instrumentation. Their last few albums have taken a zigzagging musical course, with the moments of dance/electronica on “Someone Here Is Missing” and the harder-edged guitar-driven sound of “All The Wars”.

“Magnolia” takes a slightly less experimental approach. Perhaps more consolidating than groundbreaking, it comes across as an amalgam of the best elements of their past few records. It’s very song-focussed, all shorter songs, mostly three or four minutes. The emphasis is on Bruce Soord’s vocals, with soaring minor-key melodies strongly recalling one of their best albums, 2008′s “Tightly Unwound”. Steve Kitch’s keys add tremendously to the atmospherics, including plenty of all-enveloping swirling Mellotron. Soord also impresses on guitar, going from Tom Morello-style abrasive blasts to evocative slide playing.

Highlights include the title track and the elegiac ballads “Seasons Past” and “From Me”, but this album is both consistent all the way through and contains plenty of variety; from epic balladry to full-on rock, from big walls of sound to stripped-down intimacy.

This is not only their best record since “Tightly Unwound”, but also one of the most accessible things they’ve done. Despite the tighter and more focussed approach to songwriting it’s still got all the depth of their earlier work. This is an essential album for fans of new-generation progressive rock, but fans of progressive-tinged mainstream rock acts like Muse or Elbow ought to find a lot to like about this album.

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