Non-Blog | Channing Whitaker

What I've Been Reading: May 2019

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So technically I'm listening to this one but let me tell you why.

While I was in Houston for a convention, I had the pleasure of speaking with several fellow authors one of which was Nebula award-winning William Ledbetter who had just recently released an exclusive audiobook story called Level Five. That's right, you can only get it as an audiobook, in fact, it's even exclusive to audible. However, Mr. Ledbetter caught my interest, and as I had some travel back home ahead of me, I picked up the audiobook. This has also meant I stopped on another book, which I'll finish up for a future post.

I'm also not quite to the end of the book, so I might add to this post in the coming week, but for now…

If you like to imagine a future where technology grows ever more prevalent, and ever more dangerous in our lives, Level Five is for you. In the story we see the first generation of AI seeming to grow into sentient beings, we see the nearly limitless possibility of nano-tech to spy on us, and we also get to see the same sort of tech help people tremendously – reminding us why we would create such a thing in the first place.

The examination this story offers on technology is quite nuanced, which I love. If you're in favor of more reliance on tech, you can find arguments in this story to support that view, but likewise, if you are cautious about tech, you can find your arguments as well. On top of this, Ledbetter has created multifaceted characters, each with their own personal pains, goals, and flaws, including the most prominent AI.

It's clear that Ledbetter is in touch with the current landscape of technology. The story seems very well rooted in what's possible today and then takes everything a few steps further. Thus, nothing presented seems far-fetched or purely sci-fi. Instead, much of it seems more of an inevitability. This makes the audiobook even more consuming. The future painted seems like one I might live to see.

I'm excited to finish the story, and I'm sure I'll have a few more thoughts.
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What I've Been Watching: May 2019

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I found the first season of True Detective compelling, surprising, well cast, and deliciously gritty, but like many, when the second season came out a year later, it failed to capture my interest or live up to its predecessor, in spite of boasting an intriguing and veteran cast itself. For those who aren't familiar, each season of the show functions as a mystery mini-series with a new case and independent characters. Then, after over three years, the third season premiered in January of this year and starred the ever-engaging Mahershala Ali. It piqued my interest, but with the dig of season two, I didn't race to my TV to get started…I should have.

Season three begins with the disappearance of two children in a small Louisiana town, and we're quickly introduced to Detective Wayne Haze (Ali) and his partner Roland West portrayed by Stephen Dorff, who I'd always considered more of a B actor and wasn't even aware was cast in the series until I started watching. Ali is excellent from the start as a solemn, tortured soul, but a dedicated detective who puts his whole self into his work, particularly this case. What surprised me early, however, is that Dorff matches Ali's chops beat for beat even though he plays more of a supporting role and we don't follow him nearly as much off the job as we do Ali's character. Whenever Dorff is on screen, the two detectives' chemistry and partner loyalty are evident along with palpable strife that feels akin to the bickering if a married couple which comes off as wholly believable.

Dorff wasn't the only surprising stand out of that cast. Carmen Ejogo, who plays Detective Haze's wife, Amelia Reardon provides a counterpart with whom Haze brings his work emotions home to, causing inevitable relationship pressures. But Ejogo and her character go a step further, as she is an author, who is separately endeavoring to write a book about the same missing children case. The character proves to be a shrewd investigator herself, and thus not only do Haze and Reardon butt heads in their home life, but they also step on one another's toes in their respective investigations as well.

Finally, and perhaps the most fascinating layer of complexity which season three brings to the table is jumping in time through the life of Detective Haze at three points in his life, all tied to the same investigation. We see him as a young detective when he first caught the case, about ten years later when the case resurfaces and he gets involved again, though he is a family man by then, and finally, another twenty-five years later, when he is retired, and the case rears its ugly head once more. I don't want to spoil a great deal. The show creates moments of mystery in Haze's life by showing how one timeline leads to what we see in another. One aspect worth sharing is that the oldest version of Haze, in his seventies, is suffering from significant memory issues, as many aging people do but more severely than average, and thus his best chance for finally laying all the aspects of the case to rest, comes to him only when his mind is at its weakest.

Suffice it to say, I loved this season of the show. It's compelling, at times gut-wrenching, and totally worth the watch.

Furthermore, I said that I started and never finished the second season of the series, however as I looked up some actor names and such on IMDB, I noticed that the episodes of season one of True Detective all carry around a 9.0-star rating out of 10, which is fantastic. The season three episodes carry about an 8.5, which is still great and comes as no surprise, but season two actually has a better than 8.0 rating across all the episodes, which is surprising.  Thus,  I tempted to give it another chance. Maybe it picked up interest a few episodes in, and perhaps I let some early negative reviews in the press affect my opinion a bit too much. Who knows? Maybe I'll write about it in

Final thought: Besides murder, there's another element that appears in all three seasons, ethyl alcohol. If you didn't already suspect as much, all the seasons of True Detective drive home one consistent notion, murder detectives are booze hounds, big time. Now, don't you forget it.
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What I've Been Listening to: May 2019

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This is one that totally came from catching my eye on iTunes. Billie Eilish wasn't on my radar before her new album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, came out a little over a month ago. I have an eclectic taste, but the pop and club influences I can detect in Eilish's music don't usually draw my attention. However, the haunting quality of Eilish's musical sound, voice, and lyrics are all captivating.

Her music gives me more the feeling of a horror movie soundtrack than a dance club, but her lyrics and themes go quite a bit further than horror background music. They have a life of their own. Since my writing encompasses horror, as well as darker sci-fi, mystery, and fantasy, Eilish's music is right at home in my office filling the room with an eerie mood as I crank away on a particularly dark story. I'm sure I'll return to Eilish again when I'm in need of such a musical muse.
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